Natasha

Ah, sod it. I can’t be bothered. I’ve started to write the minutes (well, I’ve written two and a half sentences so far), and I now discover that I can’t be bothered after all. The sun is shining, I’ve got stomach-ache and I feel fed up. So, no, I’m not talking to any of you right now. I’ll try again tomorrow okay? This was a false alarm.

Okay. Time to try again. Let’s see how far I get this time. I suppose introducing the book would be a start. We read Natasha by David Bezmozgis, and it was James’s choice, on the recommendation of his sister. He also chose the pub – The Market Porter, and that choice would have been a bad one if it weren’t for Ilona arriving earlier than anyone else and grabbing a table for us.

James enjoyed the style of the book – he likes short stories because they can be picked up and dropped. The reader doesn’t get bogged down at all, he says. Mind you, if he habitually drops books down the bog then I want my copy of The Curious Incident back now. That would be one curious incident too far. James didn’t believe in all the stories, but the style was convincing.

He especially failed to believe in the The Worlds Second Strongest Man, but he was very fond of the dog death. He says that the concept of adults getting their pets out of proportion struck a chord. I quite understand – I can’t stand miniature mutts either. Or perhaps he meant that he killed one of the little buggers. In which case, good job!

He liked the book for not attempting a pathetic ‘we’re poor, pity us’ style – they accepted their lot and got on with trying to improve it. He can’t understand why his sister and The Guardian short-list people raved about it. I can. They’re Guardian readers, and therefore borderline illiterate. He’s glad he read Natasha thought. I’ve got a feeling ‘Glad I’ve Read It’ (GIRI) is the new ‘It Was Great’. He didn’t read it at all. Did you James?

This is great. Now I’ve established that James can’t read, I can insult him at whim.

Sarah could see why Natasha should be shortlisted. It should be included in a shortlist of books not to read. It was a quick read though – which was a blessing because she didn’t enjoy it at all. That said, she liked the holocaust memorial story and the second strongest man. I say ‘liked’, I should have said ‘disliked’ – but she didn’t dislike them as much as the other stories, so by comparison they were quite good. She really liked the insults though – it reminded her of her own school days.

Was Natasha autobiographical? She doesn’t know. I suspect that she doesn’t care either.

Jon thought that Natasha was really good. No, really. Really, really good. Great even. Too short though. Like James, he likes short stories (although he doesn’t generally dip them in the khazi). He thought that the book was an interesting slice of someone’s life, but he isn’t sure if it’s autobiographical or not. He didn’t believe in Natasha herself or the drug dealers – he thinks it was just chucked in to provide a sexual awakening story. He liked the feeling of lives spinning out of control – although I must admit that I can’t remember feeling that my own life was out of control when I was a spotty yoof. He also liked the dead dog story. Jon would read more by David Bezmozgis – but he thinks that a new cover artist is required. The cover of Natasha is rubbish!

Ilona also enjoyed Natasha. Hmm. That sounds a bit sapphic. She liked the ‘snapshot’ style and being able to dip into the book at random without feeling that she was missing anything. It was an easy read – and it was cultural too. She doesn’t read many books about other cultures, she says. What? Is this an admission that you didn’t read The Book Seller of Kabul after all? She enjoyed reading about the struggles for acceptance, and the obstacles that the family came up against. She was particularly fond of the little details – like the father needing to be told to advertise his business by the local rabbi. She’d recommend the book to anybody – but not at eleven quid. That’s too much!

I started reading the book on a lazy April afternoon, sitting on the grass outside The Princess of Wales pub in Blackheath. I had a beer in my hand, and a girl by my side (Sarah) – what could have been better? Well, a different book would have improved the scene considerably.

I liked (in the same sense that Sarah ‘liked’) the story of the dog’s death – I hate small dogs, and the story of the strong man. With regard to little details, I liked (in the dictionary sense) the bribing of the KGB. I thought that the title story was pointless, and not based on any fact. A teenage bimbo inserted to provide feeble sexual interest only.

I wasn’t worried by issues of truthfulness – I didn’t consider the book to be autobiographical. As far as I was concerned, the book was fiction. Reading Natasha was like being stuck at a boring party, surrounded by people who are all trying to tell you their pointless anecdotes. That said, I am glad I read it. It provided food for conversation, and I’d say it was a good book-club book. But don’t read it for any other reason, I beg you.

Other than Natasha, James read nothing. Well, unless you count Ceefax page 371. He read Empire magazine too (the position of the month is ‘The Mission’ary. f’narr f’narr). Oh yes! And he read the minutes for last month’s book club. They were cracking, he says. They take longer to write than the do to read, he opines. Isn’t that always the way? He appreciates the effort that goes into them, so he feels honour bound to read them properly. They were drier than usual though – he prefers the minutes to have a little fruity piquancy.

Sarah read Vernon God Little by D. B. C Pierre. It was shit, and she doesn’t know how it won an award. Nonsense from start to finish. It’s about a redneck oik boy who’s wrongly arrested for murder. She’s happy to lend it to anyone who feels they’d like to waste their lives on a tripe book.

She also read The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. It’s great. Her sister, Sam, recommended it – and Sarah says that Sam’s recommendations are always to be trusted. It has great characters. It’s set in 1920’s New York, and she had to read the ending twice because it was quite confusing – but well worth it.

A Christmas Card by Paul Theroux is about a family who get lost on the way to a cottage, which they planned to stay in over the Christmas holidays. They take refuge in a strange ‘hotel’, and they’re looked after by an odd man who gives them a magic card that tells them how to get to their destination. I did type ‘odd’ by the way – it’s not a typo. He’s old too, if that sets your minds at ease.

An old book-club book, Holes by Louis Sachar, was very good. I won’t discuss it again here – I hate to repeat myself repeat myself. Jon was very pleased by the fulsome praise heaped upon Holes by Sarah. He chose it for the book-club – lest we’d forgotten!

What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt was amazing. So, so good. Sarah can’t lend it out though, because she only lends out shit books (anyone want to borrow Vernon God Little?). Besides, it isn’t her copy to lend. It’s about two couples living in a flat. It has affairs, divorce, drugs, madness and crime in it. Stop reading these minutes, go out, and buy a copy now!

Sarah also read the minutes for the last book-club. She thought they were dry and less entertaining than usual. She liked the typeface though. I don’t know why. It was just boring old 12pt Times New Roman – although I did chuck in a funky 36pt Copperplate Regular drop cap.

Ilona, who grabbed our luxurious table, read The Other Side of the Story by Marian Keyes. It was an easy, predictable, read. There are three stories about three women, and the stories gradually merge as the book progresses. It was trashy, but fun.

Sorting Out Billy by Jo Brand was an easy but slow read. It’s a girly comedy about – er – three women. A sense a theme here. All the women had been abused. Ilona wondered if it was drawn from any of Jo’s experiences as a psychiatric nurse.

Running With Scissors by Augustin Burroughs is an off-the-wall memoir. More mental health shenanigans then. It’s a true story, and very strange – almost like living with The Addams Family. It’s an embarrassing, occasionally funny, book to read, but she’s glad she read it. It’s not one to read on the train though.

Ilona also read the minutes for the last book-club. They were very good.

Jon read nothing except the minutes of the last book-club. He liked them so much he read them over and over again. He was especially liked the lack of personal stories about his childhood, and the lack of lies about him killing his brother. Shomemishtakeshurely? I didn’t write anything so slanderous did I? Oh. Perhaps I did. Can’t remember.

Deep breath. I read loads of books. More, I’m sure, than I remembered at Book Club. I’ll do my best though. Black Cabs by John McLaren is a tail of intrigue, murder and finance. A group of cabbies set up a share syndicate taking punts on the basis of private conversations that they hear in their taxi’s. It starts out as low level naughtiness and ends up with with murder. I’m not saying by whom or where it all ends up – if you’re interested, then read the book yourself. It’s highly entertaining pulp fiction – but great literature it isn’t. James commented that it sounds like a late night TV movie combined with Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less – although I think it’s a little harsh to compare John McLaren with Jeffrey Archer.

Sleepers by Lorenzo Carcaterra claims to be a true story. But let’s face it, so does A Fish Called Wanda (and if you don’t believe me, watch the credits for that excellent film again). I found Sleepers to be highly entertaining, pulp, fiction. It’s about a group of boys who accidentally cripple someone, are sent to prison, are abused and. Er., and what happens next. Yes, it’s another badly written story – but still well worth reading. Sarah claims that it’s as badly written as the notes she was taking – but I think that’s a little harsh. Lorenzo’s writing wasn’t that bad.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien is far superior to Lord of the Rings. There’s less tedious poetry, and far fewer tedious battles. In short, it’s a good kids story written in the days when Tolkien’s writing hadn’t got stuck up its own arse. Excellent fun. Actually, that’s harsh – LOTR is good too if you ignore the poetry, battles and the films.

The Great Automatic Grammatizator by Roald Dahl is a collection of twisted short stories. There’s nothing new here, they’re all in other compilations. Dahl is good even when he’s bad though, so I loved it. Particularly the story about the land lady.

Ben Elton’s Inconceivable is the story of a couple who are trying to have a baby. It’s drawn from Elton’s own experiences, and it’s good. Ben Elton has always had good plots, but his early books were dreadfully written. Inconceivable is mostly reasonably well written, and it’s all entertaining. His books are much better than his stand-up!

I also read a mystery book about four loonies who try to commit suicide, meet each other just before the attempt, and then don’t. Instead they help each other out – although one of the suicidal’s had to have her head sat on. It’s a dreadful load of old rubbish. I’m not saying who wrote it (although it’s bound to sell loads of copies just on the authors name), or what it’s called (because it hasn’t been published yet). All I’ll say is that this is a good year not to buy any books about people committing suicide.

This months book is Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. It was Jon’s choice – and I reckon it’ll prove to be quite popular. See you all, in a pub of Jon’s choosing, on Tuesday 17th May.

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