Books in March

Sometimes I actually read things rather than watch them flicker before my eyes. March was actually a good month for reading, so makes a good starting point for my monthly summary of what I’ve read. (Plus I didn’t watch much TV so haven’t got much to write about on that front.)

Neil Gaiman – Sandman Vol 1: Preludes and Nocturnes
A couple of decades ago at university (oh, how it hurts to write decades) Sandman was the thing that all my friends obsessed with. It’s taken me this long to get round to finally reading it and I was left significantly underwhelmed. Nothing about it worked for me. I’m going to blame 3 factors.
1) I don’t really get on with graphic novels. I find it hard to take time to ‘read’ the pictures rather than just the words. I also didn’t really like the graphic style of this one.
2) I don’t really like it when I’m forced to join a lot of the dots together. I struggled to keep track of some of the characters given the jumping time frame and never really cared about any of them.
3) As I was reading I couldn’t help but think of how obsessive people got about the series, particularly of course the more goth end of the spectrum of my friends. That just made me feel rather grown up and dull.
I don’t think I’ll bother reading the rest of them, I certainly won’t buy them, as they’re a far more expensive cost per minute than non-graphic novels, and I don’t get the proportionate increase in enjoyment.

Agatha Christie
There’s something comforting about Agatha Christie. I’ve never read one and been disappointed, although I can’t say as I’m ever blown away by them either. It’s like settling into a comfy sofa with a good friend and a nice cup of tea – relaxing, unchallenging and just plain nice. I read two this month, both very cheap on Amazon kindle.
Mysterious Affair at Styles: has a fairly mercurial Poirot as seen through the eyes of a rather dim-witted Hastings, investigating a family full of pretty unlikeable people. Poirot’s smugness gets a little waring at times, but as Hastings feels the same way, it has a muted impact on the reader. The mystery develops very well and I found it satisfying that I was sometimes ahead, and sometimes behind of the reveals.
Cat Among the Pigeons: A slightly odd Agatha Christie, given that it’s billed as a Poirot novel but he doesn’t turn up until about 2/3 of the way through the book, giving it an odd lack of focus. I’m not sure the mystery is one of her best, and the setting at a posh girls’ school and all the usual character types is also a bit cliche (although of course it may not have been at the time). So it’s not one of her great classics, but it’s still perfectly readable.

Roger Zelazny – Amber 1: Nine Princes in Amber
It’s always interesting to finally get round to reading classics, they can feel cliche because so many have imitated them, but there was something still very fresh about Zelazny’s work. It comes from an era of SF that didn’t waste any words or pages, leaping straight into things and just getting on with them. The initial amnesia of the central character is both a useful way to introduce the audience, but also very carefully done with the gradual realisation of memories and experiences. It wasn’t something that I finished and immediately jumped on the second book, but I think there’s a good chance I’ll continue reading the series.

Genevieve Cogman – The Invisible Library
A first time author who has come up with a passable excuse for throwing together all the tropes that she wants to. You’ve got steampunk zeppelins, great detectives, magic, werewolves, dragons… pretty much anything you want. It’s quite blatant, but the glue holding them together is just about solid enough that she gets away with it. I’m not sure anything made a huge amount of sense, but things move along quickly enough it doesn’t matter. The central character is vibrant and pleasant company, although everyone around her is rather one-dimensional and clunky. A fun read and I’m not ruling out picking up some more books in the series.

London Transport Museum – London by Design: The Iconic Transport Designs that Shaped our City
This is a beautiful book, but ultimately rather unsatisfying. Visitors and curators at The London Transport museum picked their favourite pieces of design, an impressively wide sample including specific posters, architecture of stations, specific types of bus, pieces of equipment, fonts and layouts of public spaces. Each item then gets a double page spread, mostly comprising of photos with a short quote from a member of the public about why they chose it, and a very short piece from a curator explaining its importance. The problem is that I wanted to know more about most of the things, and I wanted it to be told a bit more chronologically about how each type of item (eg design of tube stock) evolved. It whetted the appetite but left you nowhere to go next.

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