Holiday reading

Malaysia iPhone 005Just back from a fun, if very hectic holiday — over two weeks in Malaysia, we fitted in Taman Negara, KL, Penang, Langkawi and Tioman, amongst others, phew… I’ll write a travel piece about it soon, which I’ll post up. The pic on left was taken in the Perhentian islands, one of the most beautiful spots we found on our travels around the country. Great place to chill out and relax — and read a few books. Here’s what I took with me.

1. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski and published by Fourth Estate

Gloriously well-told story of a boy who cannot speak, but who nonetheless communicates brilliantly with animals. It’s about 600 pages long, but you’ll wish, by the end, that it was much, much longer. This is Wroblewski’s debut book — but there’s not the slightest whiff of the rookie about him. The slow start aside, I loved it.

2. The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perotta.

A very good holiday read. It’s a funny and revealing story of a sex ed. teacher, Ruth Ramsey, in America who is forced to start advising her students to practice abstinence rather than safe sex. There’s an extremely sharply painted and honest portrayal of a recovering addict in the book to boot — Tim Mason has kicked drink and drugs and bought into the church instead –but is it really the right decision? And what’ll happen when he encounters Ruth Ramsey? From the author of Little Children and Election, this book made me v curious to investigate his other books.

3. The Death of Bunny Munro by Nick Cave and published by Canongate

I’m not completely finished this one yet, so I’ll return to update this soon. For much of the black-humoured book, it’s all talk of vaginas, Kylie and Avril Lavigne alongside a plotline about a zany father, a fragile son and a death in the family. Cover art — featuring a giant, dodgy-looking bunny — is cute.

4. An Expensive Education by Nick McDonell and published by Atlantic

I was curious about this one, mainly because McDonell is a bit of a literary wunderkind — born in 1984, he wrote his first book at the age of 17. An Expensive Education does many things extremely competently — it’s an arch look at the American education system, the lives of the rich and privileged, and a searching account of a young CIA agent and a guerrilla leader in Africa. To be honest, though, there’s something important missing from this book — heart, I guess you’d say. My backpack was pretty heavy, so I’m afraid my copy now has a new home in Malaysia.

5. The Female of the Species by Joyce Carol Oates and published by Fourth Estate

I brought this one by accident — confusing it with a JCO book I hadn’t read. Some of it, at least, was worth rereading, though. A collection of suspenseful, often gothic short stories, JCO may often not trouble herself overmuch with style — she’s often content to have her prose look quite raggedy — but she has a brilliant grasp of story and character.

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