Thursday, 20 July 2017

May 2017 Reviews

The English Patient
Michael Ondaatje
Bloomsbury 1992 Paperback
Mummy's Library

An improvement on the first book of his, I think it helped that I knew the story from the film. I enjoyed the beauty of the writing and the intricacies of the narrative. Like Anil's Ghost the story leaped around in time, which could be confusing at times. But It was better handled with more in depth characters. 

I loved the sections with moose, which was explored more thoroughly in the book than in the film. The relationship between Kip and the Patient and Hannah is also more detailed and interesting. In fact I'd say Kip was the most interesting character in the book. What was a nice detail that the film captured in a more nuanced way was the musical aspect of the Patient's personality and the use of music in the film is expertly applied. That's more difficult to get across in the book and actually there was far more of a focus on the books and reading that he had done than the music. I'm into that...

Very enjoyable read. I'd say the style is still a little flowery for me, but it calmed down to carry a great story. 

Dirty Great Love Story
Richard Marsh and Katie Bonna
Bloomsbury 30/4/2013 Paperback
Birthday gift from Z

Fabulous. I read it in about 2 hours and absolutely loved it. In fact I wanted to read it DURING my own birthday party and got told off. It's a transcript of a play that we went to see, a two man show that tells the story of Katie and Richard and how they met.

The experience of reading it was very different from the performance, but I think it helped that I was able to imprint the voices of the actors as I was reading. Similarly the pauses and visual gags which I remembered as I read it again. Not only is this is brilliant play as itself, its such a good gift because I have the memory of the night out with the girls as well.

The play is written in rhyme and is modern and funny, with clever ways of invoking scene and atmosphere. It's a two person production which is dealt with brilliantly live. The actors each play at least two other characters in the story which is done physically and vocally on stage. In print this is easier to get across as the character name changes. I loved rereading this and as the play is no longer touring I recommend reading the play version.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Joining the Mainstream

The key danger of jumping head first into the rushing torrent of mainstream reading is accidentally smashing your brains against the spiky rocks of spoilers. Standard procedures apply, if you're looking to avoid spoilers of your new favourite obsession avoid Twitter and Instagram and pretty much unfollow your friends and favourite authors on every platform. However, some of the responsibility lies with the Spoilererer - the one carelessly throwing out spoilers at the water fountain and live tweeting the latest episode. We expect that these people should at least warn us slow pokes by placing in giant capital letters that there is a SPOILER ahead.

The only way to truely avoid the disappointment and pain of reading or seeing a spoiler is to opt out of mainstream culture entirely. Unfortunately, that does mean that you are left on the riverbank quietly reading a book that no one else has ever heard of and watching true crime documentaries on YouTube. While this has a hipsterish appeal of liking what you like and not following the bend of any trend, there is a loneliness to not reading the one book everyone is talking about.

Furthermore, if you resist the pull of the latest big book/book everyone read in school, then before you know it a studio will pick up the TV or Film rights and you end up having to avoid watching it until you've read the book! It's the ultimate spoiler and those pesky Hollywood studios just keep doing it! A classic case of this for me is The Handmaid's Tale.

I never read it at school and all of a sudden everyone was talking about it because of the new MGM series. The title had appealed to me for a number years because so many authors have Atwood as a key influencer, particularly for dystopian or feminist books. It had mildly been on my TBR and suddenly it rocketed to the top of my list, as well as the best seller lists in America in the lead up to Trump's inauguration.

All of a sudden I was faced with the dilema read the book before I start watching the series? Dip a toe into the first episode and see if I'm hooked enough to read the book? Binge the whole series and then read the book after? Or just binge the series and forget about reading the book entirely. In the end I went with option 3. I devoured the whole of The Handmaid's Tale series and then ordered the book once I'd finished. Personally, this did not affect the reading of the book at all, but if you're fussy about adaptations I wouldn't recommend this method. However, it meant that I am now able to stand at tea stations and recommend both to everyone.

My advice is to avoid this whole mess by reading the popular book alongside everyone, because you'll only be behind when the inevitable series or movie comes out (if it is really good). I had mere weeks to read Gone Girl before the film came out. For years I'd turned my nose up at the popular fiction everyone seemed to love but I'd decided I wasn't interested enough in it. Meanwhile, agents were furiously penning contracts behind the scenes.

The thing is, when it comes to big best sellers and pop culture of any kind... most people are right when it's good. That's why recommendations are so important to readers. Trust the hive mind and get behind the latest sensation and get on the good side of the spoilers. Plus the good bit of all of this is talking about books without worrying about spoiling it for others. I think everyone just needs to jump on the band wagon and avoid the danger completely by gently floating along with the mainstream peeps and enjoy the gems. :)

Thursday, 22 June 2017

April 2017 Reviews

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender
Leslye Walton
Candlewick 25/3/14 Hardback
Internship Haul

Since I tried to read one hundred years of solitude I tend to stay away from magical realism. But unlike the unreadable mess that is OHYS the Ava Lavender story is the stuff of true imagination. It's a beautiful story of love, or acceptance and of strange brutality. I was captivated by this book. The madness of the events is smooth and although the characters talk to ghosts or turn into canaries or don't talk at all, I believe that all of the characters have so much human depth.

It's aimed at teenagers and was a fairly quick and easy read. I read it at the start of my holidays and it was perfect for that half asleep reading that might happen on a plane.  It's beautiful for younger readers and capturing imagination, just the sort of thing I would have read at 15 or 16 and loved. I think I could find my self rolling my eyes at the ridiculousness of some of the story which is why it only got 3 out of 5.

A Little Life
Hanya Yanagihara
Picador 21/5/15 Kindle

I can sum up this book in one word. Powerful. I finished the last 400 pages at once and spent the whole day in bed to finish it. If you don't cry while reading this book, that would be surprising because it is overwhelming. The Man Booker podcast said that people might find A little life to be a difficult read. I interpreted that as very highfalutin writing, but actually they meant in terms of harrowing story line. It follows the friendship of four friends throughout their lives. But largely focusing on the character of Jude. If you've read Jude the Obscure, or any Hardy novel you'll know its one awful thing after another and I'd say apply the same expectation to this.

It should come with a trigger warning on it for sensitive issues and I did find it quite upsetting. Its a very raw story. Overall, I think it is worth reading the Man booker prize winner. It's long and moving and well written. I'd probably want it to be a couple of chapters shorter, but then you don't get the level of set up that I think was wanted. I found my self skim reading some of it to get to the juicy emotional stuff, which was plentiful. It that way it was a little bit like live plastic surgery, you can't really look away, but the gruesome bits are the best.

The Colour Purple
Alice Walker
1982 Paperback
Mummy's Library

Great book. From the start Walker will have you hooked. There are subtleties in the writing which are genius. at the start the language is halting and colloquial, but but the end there is a confidence in the voice.

I had seen the film before I read the book but I was absolutely carried away with the narrative the loops of which I think are simplified and left unexplored in the film. Plus of course the book goes further into their lives after the climax.

It got my tear of approval, I don't think it is possible to read this book and not cry at some of the most harrowing or uplifting moments. The relationships between Celie and everyone she interacts with are nuanced and detailed and give a real insight into the character's thoughts and opinions. I actually think it is the kind of book I would pick up again.

The Sultan's Organ
John Mole
Fortune 26/4/12 Paperback
Mummy's library

What a fun and interesting little book. An edited almost original manuscript of someone who thought to document their voyage to Istanbul. Complete with misadventures and too much wine eventually the delivery of the organ is made. Actually there wasn't nearly enough focus on the organ itself or people's reactions except that the sultan was pleased. Unfortunately the organ itself was destroyed by the sultan's brother who took an axe to it. Which is a real shame.

The history of this gift is very interesting, but the book doesn't quite do it justice. It is also a shame that none of the original organs by the same maker have been preserved and so there is no comparison to visit in the UK. Luckily I had an interest in the subject having listened to a podcast about the relationship between England and Istanbul in the 18th century. It's a quick easy read (1.5 hrs) but a little too much focus on the voyage rather than the events in Istanbul.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

March 2017 Reviews

The Essex Serpent
Sarah Perry
Serpent's Tail 27/5/16 Hardback

The Christmas book of the year I think, this gem was in all of the bookshop windows and I was lucky enough to be given a copy. It is a beautiful gift edition with gold embossing everywhere. But as beautiful as the book was the writing inside it. Historical fiction, which perfectly captured the climate of medical and anthropological history at the time. Women's emancipation is also in sight, in the age of  Mary Anning and George Elliot and Cora Seagrave, the fictional widow in the story. On a hunt for the mythical Essex serpent she makes friends with the people of Aldwinter.

I was swept away in the tide of descriptive language particularly descriptions of the illness of consumption. This is her second novel, the first being After Me Comes The Flood, an infinitely more difficult read, I found that her writing had come on leaps and bounds but the same skill of weaving an intricate story full of mysterious and eccentric characters remains. But beyond the characters and their lives, there is the wider narrative of the serpent itself. I found my self googling the myths and legends that must have inspired Perry. Her research is evident in the pages and I find myself talking about various little facts I've picked up, only to discover that I read it in The Essex Serpent. A great gift and a good second novel. It can be slightly rambling, as her first book was, and I expect that the writing will be even tighter for her next. I look forward to reading it!

The Vegetarian
Han Kang
Portobello Books 1/1/15 Kindle

Winner of the Man Booker International Prize, and on a personal recommendation, I had to pick this one up. There were so many things I liked about this book. The perceived lack of mental health for the protagonist, guided by culture, and then the very real deterioration. The translation is immaculate and one of the best I've seen in terms of readability. Its hard to describe the book because the plot is an unusual blend of realism and fantasy, but more like talking through someone's imagination.

My absolute favourite section was the middle where the formation of an art work is talked out in the writing. It was sensual and beautiful and so evocative. In fact the whole book is very visual and I had the experience of being able to see everything I was reading. The only reason it's not a five star review is because it devolved into madness. Which I think was the right call for the plot, but it put a distance between me and the protagonist that I was less keen on.

Anil's Ghost
Michael Ondaatje
Vintage 24/4/01 Paperback

Much harder to read then the previous two books, where beauty of language becomes unfollowable. I felt like I was reading a number of disjointed sentences that were beautiful but meant nothing. Eventually things came together in the last 10 pages or so, but I felt no empathy with the characters, and very little interest in the political point that I think was trying to be made.

Perhaps nothing appealed to my interests and that's why I couldn't connect. But the main character was so unlikeable and had so few redeeming qualities. Often in these books you're not meant to like the protagonist. But I think I was meant to. Not a fan of this book at all. But it did not stop me from reading The English Patient. Put it this way, no one has made a film about Anil.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Books in Flight

I have been directly affected by the UK ban on electronics arriving on flights from selected airports. I was ready for my holiday to Istanbul, having only recently been more open to reading on a Kindle, A Little Life loaded smugly onto my light weight e-reader complete with portable power pack and cable.

Leaving the UK is no problem, laptops, tablets, all manner of decadent electronics are allowed to fly through the air without alarm. My flight back to the UK was delayed for an hour as the land crew painstakingly searched and assessed every single bag. Mine was scanned twice for an electric toothbrush. Infuriatingly the delay was not the caused by the passengers, I arrived an hour before boarding and got through to the plane at 8:55. The scheduled take off time was 9am but looking at the queue there was no way we were leaving soon. 

Although news articles and websites were clear about tablets and laptops it was not until the morning of my flight that I received notification that portable battery packs (and hard drives by the way) above a certain size were not allowed in hand luggage OR in checked luggage. I put mine in the hold and didn't mention it. But several passengers had their batteries taken away. Where? Into a red cooler bag that the steward carried to the back of the plane cabin. So it's still in the cabin, not in the hold, and sitting next to a bunch of other electronics and batteries likely to blow. 

Aside from the general frustration at this inane attempt by the government to look like it is making an effort to stop terrorist attacks, which makes no technological sense at all, the difference on the flight was noticeable. I clearly think it is a pointless and unhelpful security measure, but I loved the reappearance of books, newspapers and magazines on the flight. More people slept on the flight than working, which probably made them happier on the other end. Although many people turned to their phones to play games, or detonate a device hidden in hold luggage (which is only scanned once and with no question about your destination), several people pulled out books. 

I'm not suggesting that some people don't always carry a book on a plane anyway, but without kindles I could see what everyone was reading, what language they were reading in, and how far they have got left to read. I loved it and used half an hour of the trip just snooping into other peoples book habits. The rest was powering through my current book while half listening to the family of five behind me reading a children's book together. 

I still sneer at the restrictions, but welcome back books!

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Book of the Year

As is tradition, every year in May I tot up how many books I've read and more importantly how many I've read since the start of this blog page. It makes it a bit weird to count from May to May, but its a tiny piece of nostalgia that I like to do.

May - Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
June - The Old Man & The Sea, Queenie, The Signature of All Things, The Guernsey Literature and Potato Peel Pie Society
July - The Moth, Binge, The Widow, Armada
August - The Man in The High Castle, Eat Pray Love, Leaving Atocha Station
September - Look Who's Back, Queen of Shadows
October - The Box of Delights
November - Blackass
December - Love Letters to the Dead,

January - Captain Corelli's Manolin, Othello, Playing With The Grown Ups
February - Half of a Yellow Sun
March - The Essex Serpent, The Vegetarian, Anil's Ghost
April - The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, A Little Life, The Colour Purple, The Sultan's Organ

Book of the Year May 2016- April 2017 has got to be Love Letters to the Dead.

Love Letters to the Dead
Ava Dellaria
Hot Key Books 01/05/2014 Paperback
Movellas Haul

This book was perfect to get me out of my depressed, I'm-not-even-reading-right-now, slump. It was aimed at teenagers, so lacks the pretension that might make my head hurt, but has beautiful writing elements that would wake me up to my love of reading and language - something I needed to find again.
As an epistolary novel, the protagonist relates her daily struggles of high school to her heros. They are cleverly chosen, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, Amelia Eirehart, John Keats; the people that you discover for the first time at that coming of age stage of life. As the story comes out, the people that she writes to the most come to the foreground and reveal something of the character and her friends in what they have in common. For example she only write to Amy Winehouse a few times, and she is inspired to do so because her new friend sings Amy Winehouse music. As it transpires Amy and the best friend have a lot in common, and it speaks to the moulding of the character as well as the protagonist discovering the musician.
It is very clever.

More than anything I will cherish this book because in a world where my depression had leaked into every aspect of my life, colouring even my happy times with darkness and bitterness, I reclaimed reading as mine. People see me as a reader and without books I wasn't myself.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

February 2017 Reviews

Half of a Yellow Sun
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Forth Estate 9/03/2017 Paperback

In the spirit of reading more broadly and outside of my comfort zone, as well as having read Americhana last year, I picked up Half of a Yellow Sun. I found both of Adichie's books difficult to read, although this one was definitely more difficult to follow. Part of my reasons for reading is because I feel I ought to self educate my self on other cultures. But unlike Americhana, where I felt I was learning and changing my opinions on how things work in Nigeria and the US and London, as well as finding the answers to those ignorant questions I might have asked, I felt completely out of touch with the characters in Half of a Yellow Sun. 

It was a difficult read to pick up, I loved the storyline set in a time of revolution, but I somehow really struggled to connect with its protagonists. Half way through I voiced my scepticism to my Grandmother, who has both read the book, and remembered the forming and dissolving of Biafra. For her it was a touching memory, and captured the atrocities and the feeling of the time. She told me of how Biafran children were promoted for adoptions, and the starvation. Suddenly I had new eyes and finished the book quickly with new appreciation for these people living their lives amongst it all. 

I've called it a 3 out of 5 because of that; "well maybe you had to be there" feeling that I had in the first instance. It is the only book I read in February and it slowed me down. A difficult, but overall a good read.