Saturday, 5 April 2014

Some books of note

In and amongst the Doctor Who and Star Trek and H.G. Wells I've been reading so far this year, there are some other books that have made an impression on me. As well as the ones described below, I've particularly enjoyed Unnatural Creatures, a collection of monster stories edited by Neil Gaiman; the third volume of Saga, still the best comic out there right now; and Paul Magrs's gorgeous novel Could It Be Magic? 

I conclude several things from my recent reading. Firstly, I really do read a hell of a lot of Doctor Who related stuff. Secondly, I am still mostly reading books written by men, and need to read more written by women. Maybe I should spend six months only reading stuff by female authors. Thirdly, I should probably spend more time with non-fiction.

Junk by Melvin Burgess, 1996

Recommended to me by my good friend Naomi. Quite why I'd never picked up a Melvin Burgess book before now is beyond me; I'd heard great things about him, but never read his work. Junk (called Smack in the USA) is a very adult children's book, telling the story of two teens who run away from home, and slowly descend into heroin addiction and its related joys and horrors. It's written in an easy style, but harsh in its truths, and doesn't flinch in showing the junkie lifestyle in honesty – both its attractions and its consequences. It's not a story where anyone really comes off well; everyone has their selfish reasons for doing what they do.

Adventures With the Wife in Space by Neil Perryman, 2013

An utterly charming account of the life and love of Neil and Sue Perryman, and their monumental quest to watch all of Doctor Who together, as long as their marriage could stand it. Neil is the sort of obsessed Doctor Who geek I can easily relate to, who has achieved such magnificent feats as planting a Cyberman at the peak of Kilimanjaro. Sue was never a fan, she didn't like Jon Pertwee because he looked like her mum, and she was more interested in carpentry than production styles. Who better to find new things to say about the series than Sue, who had no fan preconceptions? She calls the third Doctor a cunt and the first Doctor a “total knob.” It's a joyous read, funny and sweet, and now I have to go and read the whole blog from start to finish. And, like most men following it, I've developed a bit of a crush on Sue.

The Doctor and the Eye Doctor by Aboud Dandachi, 2014

A very different account of Doctor Who, this one. Aboud Dandachi is one of the many Syrians displaced by the civil war, and lived through some of the worst events of its first years, sneaking reports to the BBC. During the time before he finally fled to Turkey, he discovered Doctor Who, and his intermittent downloads of the latest series gave him a comforting distraction from the horrors around him. Comparing the Doctor's approach to that of the murderous dictator and incompetent Bashar al-Assad is a strange concept, but works surprisingly well. The Doctor and the Eye Doctor takes a look at life, death and warfare that is eye-opening and sobering, yet good-humoured.

The Railway Man by Eric Lomax, 1995

Eric Lomax grew up with a love of trains. My own obsessions are self-evident, so I can understand a man with a desperate need to understand engineering specifications and line layouts. During WWII, Lomax was stationed in Singapore during its capture by the Japanese, and became a prisoner of war. He was part of the brutal slave labour team that was forced to build rail links between Bangkok and Rangoon. This was not the worst of it, though, and he was later imprisoned for crimes against Japan and interred in a truly appalling prison. The treatment of these prisoners by the Japanese was horrific, and enough to break any man's spirit. Lomax, however, was able, with great difficulty and support, to move beyond his experiences, and even came to befriend and forgive his former interrogator. It's a very upsetting read, powerful in spite of the plain prose, and quite humbling. Having been to Kanchanaburi, the location of the POW camp where Lomax was first imprisoned, and seen the River Kwai Bridge, and the graveyards there, made reading the first-hand experiences of one of the labourers all the more powerful.

One final conclusion: perhaps the best way to be happy with oneself is to be serious about hte silly things, and silly about the serious things. Spend less time dwelling on the failures and sufferings of our past, and more time on train timetables and episode guides. We all need something to obsess about.

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