My month in books: February 2020

Overall, this was kind of a disappointing month for reading. I finished five books, and some were good, but none of them really knocked my socks off in the way that January’s highlights did.

After starting it at the end of last month, I finished Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames, and it was a damn good time. The book is inspired by 70s rock, so the wizard is named Moog, and the ‘band’ of mercenaries goes through bards like Spinal Tap goes through drummers. But for such a silly concept, it also has a surprising amount of heart – when its motley collection of middle-aged blokes prepared for the climactic battle by telling their friends how much they loved each other, it almost brought a tear to my eye.

Sadly I didn’t enjoy my next book nearly as much. I picked up Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be? from a charity shop, as another book by the same author has been on my list for a while (Motherhood). It turned out to be a disappointment. There are occasional moments of sparkle, but the main character (who seems to be Heti herself – it’s one of those trendy autobiographical novels) is often just annoying, and so are her artsy friends. There are also lengthy passages about how her insufferable lover is great at sex, which are absolutely diabolical to read. I may give Motherhood a miss.

On to more traditional things, and a novel set in World War II. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is widely beloved, and has won multiple awards. And my view is: it’s fine. But it’s also quite twee, and too long.

My fourth read of the month was Adventures in the Screen Trade by William Goldman. In 1983, when the book came out, his credits included screenplays for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and All the President’s Men. (He later wrote The Princess Bride, which is obviously perfection.) The book is part memoir and part guide to Hollywood. I most enjoyed the final segment, in which he adapts one of his short stories into a screenplay – after finishing his adaption, Goldman shares it with (from cinematographers to soundtrack composers), and it’s really interesting to see what they pick up on. If you’ve got any interest in screenwriting, you’ll definitely enjoy this.

I also had high hopes for This Is How You Lose the Time War, a sci-fi novel which, unusually, is written by two authors – Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone (the author photo features them posing with swords). The book focuses on rival time-travellers who begin to leave gloating notes for each other and accidentally fall in love. On paper, this book is right up my street; in practice, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I hoped. Some of the writing is beautiful, but the epistolary nature of the book means that the plot often takes a backseat to increasingly florid professions of adoration. Some people will love this, and I can understand why, but it didn’t entirely land for me.

I didn’t finish Slow Horses by Mick Herron until the very start of March, but I didn’t have much to say about it anyway.

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