Dead Babies by Martin Amis
I read Martin Amis’s first book The Rachel Papers in a dizzyingly slipstream of great swingeing cringes and belly laughs before picking up its successor and discovering that by some occult power of literary woo-joo Dead Babies is somehow even better. Basically just 200 pages of Masonic-worth threesomes and drug orgies, things take a dark turn with the introduction of a mysterious and threatening letter promising a violent retribution upon several of the characters at around the halfway mark. I won’t give away any spoilers by revealing just exactly how the plot twist is terminated. All I’ll say is that if you’re a fan of Amis’s usual cocktail of fisticuffs, blowjobs and some seriously funny black comedy, then Dead Babies is fully deserving of a spot on your Christmas list.
Graven with Diamonds: The Many Lives of Thomas Wyatt by Nicola Shulman
I’ve always been a fan of a good biography and even more so when its subject is one of my favourite Renaissance poets, Thomas Wyatt. Shulman’s account of the ‘courtier, poet, assassin, spy’ (as the book’s Mills and Boon-recalling subtitle intriguing trumpets) ranges widely, including everything from a grittily detailed reconstruction of Wyatt’s attempted assassination of Reginald Pole, to an enlightening discussion of the ways in which early modern origami techniques can help us with a knowledge of how the manuscripts of Wyatt’s poems might have been transmitted. A really informative little book, I’d recommend Shulman’s study to any Part 1 students looking to conveniently gen up for their Renaissance paper, as well as any kind of history/literature buff more generally who’s in search of an interesting read.
Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre
Vernon God Little is a brilliant book, but don’t just take my word for it: the novel was awarded the 2003 Man Booker Prize by a panel of judges who unanimously opined that its use of the English Language was some of the most dazzlingly expansive and poetic since Shakespeare. The plot’s not too bad either, following 15-year-old feckless virgin and veteran panty-sniffer Vernon Gregory Little as he lusts after the gorgeous Taylor Figueroa and attempts to avoid indictment for a Texas high-school massacre he never committed. Touching on a number of serious weighty subjects such as contemporary gun crime, as well as being stuffed full of such wonderful little phrases as “her buttocks locomote in denim”, DBC Pierre’s debut novel is as equally as worthy an ex-Booker winner as it is of a place on my bookshelf.
The Odyssey by Homer
Homer’s Odyssey is one of those books which everyone wants to have read but nobody wants to actually read. Which is a shame because I think it’s really pretty great. One of the things that shocks readers about the Odyssey when they sit down and leaf through the epic for the first time is that a lot of the poem isn’t actually about Odysseus but the exploits of his son, the heroic and dashing Telemachus, who sails out to find his father under the tutelage of Athena after the goddess reveals to him he is still alive. Homer’s famous poem then is as much about questions of family, identity and inheritance as it is about sirens and great feats of arms. And well worth a read if you haven’t already done so.
In a swoop of misplaced optimism in the wake of my not-quite-as-disastrous-as-I-expected-they’d-be-prelims, last summer, I brought myself a copy of the King James Christian Bible. My intention was that I was going to breeze through its couple of thousand or so pages by October, ready for a new year of Englishing. To date I have read about 150 of those pages – a fairly paltry effort by anyone’s standards – but I include it on the list of worthwhile books I’ve got upon my bookshelf nonetheless. My reasons for doing so are pretty simple: 1. I like the way its swollen, waddy figure looks as it jostles for space somewhere between a weather-beaten copy of Portnoy’s Complaint and my Riverside Chaucer, and 2. Just over half of the 150 pages of it that I managed were surprisingly not completely unreadable, quite an achievement for a text that was supposedly magically breathed onto an iron tablet or something by an imaginary sky daddy and then copied down by a group of sun-baked Israelites with the range of vocabulary and grammatical insight of a precociously-literate 6 year old boy.