Books I Read in December

January 5, 2023 · 7:07 pm

For Richer For Poorer by Victoria Coren is the Only Connect presenter’s 2009 memoir about how she became a professional poker player and the first female winner of the European Poker Tour in 2006 in London. Overall, ‘For Richer, For Poorer’ will probably be appreciated the most by those who already know a fair amount about poker. However, if, like me, you only have some basic knowledge of the game, ‘For Richer, For Poorer’ is still very enjoyable to read, mostly because Coren is very skilled at writing about poker in a way that will make at least some sense to those who haven’t played before. From her first games as a teenager attempting to impress her brother’s friends to her appearances on the Channel 4 TV series Late Night Poker to the highest stakes at the EPT, Coren paints excellent pen portraits of her fellow players in the poker underworld and the book is as much about the mysterious characters around the table as the game itself and how much it has changed since the popularity of online poker exploded. A very witty memoir.

Bitter Orange Claire FullerBitter Orange by Claire Fuller is the author’s third novel set in 1969 in an isolated and dilapidated mansion called Lyntons, where unmarried 39-year-old Frances Jellico meets a glamorous and charismatic young couple, Peter and Cara, whose bohemian lifestyle strongly contrasts with her sheltered existence following her mother’s death. While Frances catalogues the contents of the garden, Peter and Cara rent the first floor of the building and work on the interior. However, it soon becomes clear that some of the secrets that Cara has been sharing with Frances might not be entirely true. Inevitably, the sense of claustrophobia and dread gradually increases, and there are some supernatural elements which are subtle and not too overdone. Overall, Fuller has produced a quietly unsettling psychological character study which simmers in the background right up until the well-judged ending.

No Place Like Home Gary YoungeI am fairly sure that No Place Like Home by Gary Younge is currently out of print in the UK at least, but I was pleased to find a second-hand copy of this book on eBay after reading Another Day in the Death of America a few years ago. In his 1999 travelogue, Younge boards a Greyhound bus and retraces the route taken by the Freedom Riders in 1961 from Washington to New Orleans to test the ban on segregation. Younge was born to Barbadian parents and grew up in Stevenage in the UK and many Americans he meets are stunned by his British accent. His comparisons between British and American attitudes and reactions towards race and racism are thought-provoking, eloquently written and often funny or shocking. Over 20 years later, I wonder how a similar journey would compare today.

Novelist as a Vocation Haruki MurakamiTranslated by Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen, Novelist as a Vocation by Haruki Murakami is a collection of 11 short essays in which the famed Japanese author sheds a little (but not a whole lot of) light on his methods and path to becoming a novelist. Murakami’s first novel Hear the Wind Sing was first published in 1979 and this book was released in Japan in 2015. He doesn’t care too much for literary prizes or festivals and places more emphasis on diligence and developing a fixed routine, particularly where redrafts are concerned. Essentially the message is the same as that of so many other authors: success is all down to a lot of hard graft and a lot of luck. Anyone looking for practical writing tips will probably want to look elsewhere, but ‘Novelist as a Vocation’ is an engaging snapshot of a memoir. Many thanks to Vintage Books for sending me a review copy on NetGalley.

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