My one resolution for 2017 was to read 100 books. Here’s what I read in January, plus a few quick thoughts.
1 – What’s Left – Nick Cohen
Witty, powerful and comprehensive look at everything wrong with the modern Left: The instinctive anti-Americanism that blinds us to the evildoings of far more oppressive states, the lie that the politics of the far Left are fundamentally more moral than those of the far Right. Uncomfortable but important reading.
2 – The Last Days of Jack Sparks – Jason Arnopp
Essentially a ‘found footage’ novel about a Louis Theroux/Jon Ronson-esque protagonist who sets out to expose the lies at the heart of the supernatural/psychic industry, with horrifying results. The Exorcist for the Twitter age. Great fun with an amusing asshole for a main character.
3 – The Fight – Norman Mailer
Beautifully evocative record of the famous Rumble in the Jungle between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. A classic of the ‘new journalism’ era, and just like Capote and Hunter Thomson, Mailer inserts himself into the narrative as a background character, poking his head in now and then to muse about life, the universe, the concept of greatness.
4 – Life Moves Pretty Fast – Hadley Freeman
Part eighties movie guide, part biography, part feminist tract. Super funny and insightful. What did we know about making movies in the eighties that we’ve forgotten in the interim? Partly its economics, partly its shifting social mores. A quick and breezy read with some big ideas behind it.
5 – Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits – James Wong
Farcical futuristic kidnap romp, set in a sort of libertarian dystopia world where capitalism has gone full balls mental and life is cheap.
6 – The Big Nowhere – James Ellroy
If you’ve seen or read LA Confidential, this is part of that sequence of books (‘the LA Quartet’), centred on the Hollywood communist witch hunts of the fifties. Huge, sprawling pitch-perfect evocation of a crazy time full of booze, bullets and total bastards.
7 – Into The Woods – John Yorke
(Not the fairy tale musical one) A veteran screenwriter breaks down what makes stories work. You might be familiar with the idea of the monomyth, popularized by Joseph Campbell, the idea that all stories follow essentially the same rules. This is a good primer on that geared specifically toward writers for film and tv, with in-depth case studies on classic scripst like Raiders of the Lost Ark.
8 – Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
This was a cheat, I’d read it before and was in the middle of a re-read before Christmas, so I finished it and counted it. (Two books per week is hard). Anyway, obviously this is a staggering work of genius so painfully brilliant it makes me want to chop my hands off.