Now that’s what I call a Christmas present 2009! The best of the Books

Douglas Coupland can be relied upon to be himself, the Screenburn and Wire writers, a recap of Pohl, Fischer and Eggers, comics on t’internet and the positive side of bookstore receivership…By Hattie French

Like most of the country, the double whammy of Christmas and New Year’s in close succession has turned my brain into a slightly alcoholic mush.  So to make life easy for myself, here is my own version of the festive round-up: a look over the books I was given for Christmas.

Some of you may be wondering if I have actually read these books I’m about to review, so soon after the holidays.  Well, wonder no more: I haven’t (not most of them anyway).  But if eight years as a bookseller has taught me anything, it’s that you can judge a book by its cover.  Particularly as the author’s name will appear somewhere on it.

Consistently Douglas Coupland

Douglas Coupland is a case in point.  His last novel, J-Pod, was suspiciously similar to his earlier novel Microserfs – both featured a group of young, eccentric computer programmers musing on society and their place in it.  Now I have received  Generation A, in which five new social commentators are brought together by a seemingly random event, mirroring Coupland’s earlier Generation X.  He doesn’t even try to hide the resemblances, which is amusingly flagrant.  But Coupland’s novels always seem more like vessels for his philosophy in any case, and his ideas are so dazzling that he may as well give up the charade and just use the same names in every book.  I wouldn’t mind.

Charlie Brooker, please!

I made the mistake, when writing my Christmas list, in describing this next book as “the one thing I really, really want this year.” Inevitably, then, I was ignored – and nobody gave me a copy of Charlie Brooker‘s The Hell of it All, so I had to go out and buy it myself.  However, I did receive his earlier collection Screenburn.  Both of these books are made up of Brooker’s brilliant, bilious articles on television and life.  You can sample his work through the Guardian website, and I strongly recommend that you do.  One piece, Planet of the Spiders, made me cry with laughter at a bus stop – as Brooker described instinctively trying to slash with a breadknife at someone thrusting a spider in his face…

Don’t startle someone with a knife in their hand … Next time I’ll go for the eyes.”

Every sentence is a work of savage, scathing art.  His many articles on Big Brother make the existence of that show entirely worthwhile – quite an accomplishment.

After The Wire…

More television-related books: I was given The Way Home, which is the new novel by George P. Pelecanos.  Like his other works, it’s a black look at the underground world of Washington D.C. You may, however, recognize Pelecanos’ style from The Wire, which he co-wrote in parts.  And if you don’t already love The Wire, it’s probably because you’ve become jaded by the endless raving enthusiasm it engenders.  Sorry about that.  But if you can, get hold of the series one box-set and set aside a weekend to enjoy it.  You can thank me later.

Wild Things – Eggers continued…

A while ago, we reviewed the new Spike Jonze film Where the Wild Things Are on these pages.  But when I asked for the new Dave Eggers novel this Christmas, I had no idea that it is the novelization on which the film (which Eggers co-scripted) was based.  The book, titled The Wild Things, is a kind of demonic Peter Pan, which takes Max, the hero of the (ten-sentence-long) children’s book, and paints the real, modern world around him – and then adds the monsters.  It’s just the kind of playful, darkly comic and slightly deranged thing that Eggers has a name for.  Whether or not it has turned out readable remains to be seen…

Best of the rest – The return of Pohl and Fischer

No such qualms about Platinum Pohl – a collection of the best short fiction by Frederik Pohl.  As I’ve said before, Pohl is possibly the greatest living writer of science-fiction and is never short of an idea.  This is one book that can’t be long enough for my money.  I can’t wait to read it.

Oh, and I did get a copy of Tibor Fischer‘s Good to be God.  And a book of Dilbert cartoons, which, for a cartoon, is second only to Calvin and Hobbes in my eyes.  Did you know that you can get a free daily email of each of these comic strips through and respectively?  You’re welcome.

And Finally…get thee to a Borders!

One more tip before I go: now is the time to organize a raiding expedition on the sinking ship of Borders Books, before all that’s left are dismal biographies of Spice Girls and Jeffrey Archer paperbacks.  If anyone out there has any recommendations for me, I’d love to hear them.  In the mean time, a happy – if belated – new year to you all.


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