Wednesday, 20 October 2010

It was a disappointing process finding a decent book to read last night, and it reminded me of how rare a thing actual good writing is. It took a while for me to find something decent to snuggle up with. The disappointment started with a book I had been happily reading until then, Adam Shand's King of Thieves, which is a non-fiction book about Australian robbers operating in London in the 1960s: the Kangaroo Gang. I had been going well with this for a week, but then I hit a problem I've encountered with Shand's other books: it's too easy to lose track of the subjects he's writing about. One nom-de-crime blends in with another until the tale starts to gel in a solid lump with no specific focus. I'm pretty convinced that this failing is the result of lack of care, and that if Shand had spent more time on the book it would not have occurred.

So I put it down and opted for Michael Lewis' The Blind Side, another non-fiction book. I have read several books by Lewis and usually find him an excellent companion. He's not just an entertining writer, he's also a thorough one, with an eye for telling detail that enables the reader to follow a complex story without getting confused. But the subject matter here turned out to be too technical for me to follow. It's hard to work through a book about American football if you don't know what a running back or a wide receiver is. So this one, too, went by the way and I reached for a new diversion.

I chose Karen Armstrong's Muhammad, a biography of the prophet of Islam, a religion that has become cause for renewed interest from the wider community following events going back, now, almost a decade. In fact, Armstrong - who writes often about religion and is generally well-respected - says in the introduction that she rewrote the book, which had been published originally in 1990, as a result of the September 2001 events in New York and the public outcry that ensued. But I found it a bit dry and under-written. Armstrong knows her facts but is not the kind of writer to dress them up in elegance.

Next I took down from the shelf Chris Masters' Jonestown, the 2006 biography of the now-retired radio announcer and Sydney personality ('colourful' would apply but I don't like to stoop to convention). Reading the introduction, I found that the book was the cause of rancour between the author, a journalist, and Alan Jones even before its publication. I braced myself for intrigue but all I got was a dizzyingly-confusing story about Jones' grandfather and his children. Genealogical writing is hard at the best of times but, I'm convinced, it doesn't have to be this difficult to follow. Down it went, on the floor.

I strolled into the library and picked another book off the shelf: Pico Iyer's The Global Soul. Published in 2000, it predates the big event of the following year already alluded to. It's well written but it's also a curious book because those momentous events, had they taken place before he finished it, must surely have made him write it differently. As they had not yet occurred, we find ourselves in a sort of parallel universe of multiculturalism without the overarching paranoia. So far, for me, the aesthetic prognosis is good, and we'll see how long this one keeps my attention.

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