Amongst the kindle vs tree discussions, death of the midlist articles in professional magazines, plagiarism scandals blowing up all around and - I'm not kidding - a blogpost on how to write how-to articles, I managed to spend the first month of 2012 writing 2000 words a day and sitting by the fire in the evening reading books for pleasure.
At the end of the Christmas holidays, - 12th night; I know how to stretch a feast! - I was still reading Meat: A Benign Extravagence by Simon Fairlie. Fascinating stuff as a famer and omnivore sets out to get to the facts behind the slogans about meat eating, social justice and sustainable food production.
Straight on to Alan Bradley's I am Half-sick of Shadows and then one I've been looking forward to since last September when I met the wonderful Donna Andrews and found out that as well as her bonkers birds series she's written four mysteries featuring Turing Hopper, an artificial intelligence program detective. The first -You've Got Murder - is just splendid. Turing herself is an engaging character and the limitations and frustrations of her life make for a claustrophobic atmosphere throughout the novel that fits perfectly with the mounting tension of the plot.
At this point I found out that Val McDermid was coming to Berkeley and decided to re-read The Mermaids Singing. I'd forgotten how good it is, especially the structure and pacing. For me structure (and pacing) are like film scores. If they're terrible, they ruin it; if they're pretty good, I don't notice them; only if they're fantastically brilliant do I ever think "Boy this is fantastically brilliant".
This book is a masterclass on handling tricksy structure without it seeming tricksy, just exactly what you need to read when you're writing a new book. It made all things seem possible. And so I decided to go back to the first Kate Brannigan novel Dead Beat and re-read that too. Also a great book, not such a great idea. Inspiration tips over into intimidation so gently you don't know it's happened until you're sitting at your computer eating chunky kit-kats dipped in salt (a taste sensation) and asking yourself why you should bother.
A third tip-top crime novel would have finished me off at this point, so I read Tracy Kidder's House, Tawni O'Dell's Sister Mine (risky move, almost bought more kit-kats) and John Kenneth Galbraith's The Great Crash, after hearing a review on R4's A Good Read. It's 1929 in Dandy Gilver's world now, so I thought I should know what happened. I didn't expect to enjoy it as much as I did and also - cover of the month, hands down.
And then all buoyed up with research and non-fiction and a book about Pennsylvania mining communities that there was no point getting jealous about, I finally went back to a book I started last August staying overnight in the writer's suite at the home of McKenna and Brenda Jordan of Murder by the Book in Houston: Denise Mina's Garnethill. It was hard work not to steal it to finish on the plane. Well, I finished it yesterday and it's fabulous. Just delightful. The best fictional family I've read about for as long as I can remember. And the best fictional best friend ever. How can I not have read this trilogy before?
And yet, I'm not sure it's book of the month. It's definitely novel of the month, but I think book of the month might be
even though Shug looks scarily like Vic Reeves with the new hair-do. This book's running at 3/3 so far: the roasted beetroot soup with horseradish cream was scrumptious, the parsnip and ginger soup was incendiary, just the way we like it, and last night's sweet potato and peanut gratin was a revelation. I was ready to love it anyway since it had three tablespoons of peanut butter "lightened" with half a pint of double cream and a slug of olive oil, but it was mermaidssingingly, garnethillishly. you'vegotmurderously great.
Hmm. Quite a lot of food for a blog about reading.