Friday, 30 November 2012

A Good Read

A quick hit to the limestone playground of Catalunya is the perfect tonic for climbers getting bogged down by the wet and cold at this time of year.  I was only out for a week, but it was enough to forget about the winter dark at home, and I managed to climb lots of brilliant routes at a range of crags, and to have a couple of fruitful redpoint battles.  There's nothing quite like that rare feeling of satisfaction when you're climbing seem's to be going OK.

Highlights were a quick redpoint of Jam Sesion, a cool 7b contrasting burly tufa with delicate wall climbing at Les Bruixes, Terredets, and somehow managing to onsight the 35m Ay Mamita! at El Pati, Siurana, as the last route of the trip.  I think being surrounded by very good climbers (Iain set the scene by flashing 8a on day 1, and onsighting 7b+ seemed fairly routine) made me raise my own expectations, not least because I knew they could get my clips back when I failed!

Anyway, a while back Blair wrote this blog about his favourite novels, prompted by how important reading during downtime on climbing trips is for him.  He reminded me about it on this trip (he was reading a very serious-looking translated French novel), so I've decided to do the same.  It's taken a wee while to think about these and compile a list, and I've tried to go for books that I enjoyed for their content, and for books that have meant something more to me. 

So, my top 5 novels of all time (so far...):

Salamandastron, Brian Jacques.
A slightly odd inclusion, not least of all because it's a childrens book about warring tribes of woodland animals.  I first read this when I was 8 or 9 years old, and it was the book that really whetted my appetite for reading.  My brother was given it for Christmas and I have vivid memories of sitting by the fire at my parent's cottage, engrossed in the woods on winter evenings before bedtime.  From then on I lapped up all of Jacques' books from his Redwall series and started to explore further afield. In fact, I kept reading his books as an adult, up until he died in 2011 (although Wikipedia tells me 2 more have been published posthumously - must get them!). 

The Pickwick Papers, Charles Dickens.
I must have been in my late teens when I read this, and it was a revelation when I discovered that stuffy old classics could actually be incredibly funny, poigniant, intelligent, satirical and, well, modern.  It was one of a few books that led me into me reading lots more 'classic' literature.  The book tells of the loosely-related adventures of the pompous but well-meaning Mr Pickwick and his friends in the Pickwick Club as they romp around Victorian England.

Black Dogs, Ian McEwen.
I always love Ian McEwen's books.  He writes about people so well, in a way that allows books in which not very much actually happens to be utterly enthralling from cover to cover.  This was a toss up between Black Dogs and A Child in Time, but there's something about the character Bernard in this book that I like.  Bernard believes that science "can cure the world's 'wretchedness'"; and is embarrassed by his wife June's "unbounded credulousness," her eagerness to buy into religion and mysticism.  I think I agree with him!

Tess of the d'Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy.
A classic Classic.  I've got a soft spot for Hardy: why use one word when ten will suffice?  As a bit of a country bumpkin myself, I think this description from Wikipedia part explains why I like the book:  [Tess] portrays "the energy of traditional ways and the strength of the forces that are destroying them".  Also, while perhaps not being a cynic, I do consider myself a reallist, and I know that sometimes life can be downright cruel; this is the story of Tess

The Children's Book, A. S. Byatt
This one's a bit of a cop out, as I've not actually finished it yet.  So far (I'm about halfway) it's been amazing; a tangled web of relationships among the artistically and politically active families that live around Romney Marsh at the turn of the last century.  The details and descriptions are so well written, and all of the (many) characters are mysterious yet somehow believable.  I'm including it for 2 reasons: firstly, I'm hopeful that it will become one of my favourite books, and secondly, it's a symbolic inclusion.  As the book I'm currently reading it's a nod to the never-ending journey of books.  There's never really a definitive favourite.

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