Monthly Archives: May 2008

The Great Book Ban

Since getting married things have changed slightly, when I used to accidentally come back from town with 3 or 7 second hand books under my arm, or have taken some to the charity shop and come back with quite possibly more than I left with, it was fine, now there are sighs, slight eye rolling and the occasional dare I say it ‘tut’.

It happened today and has ended in quite severe circumstances. After doing some serious shopping I wanted to get some nice new shelve to make my books look wonderous as they have been in boxes I ‘borrowed’ from the office for months. The shelves were too heavy and going to be another £40 to deliver so we thought we would hold fire until we moved. So instead I bought some fantastic new slightly art deco boxes to put my books in instead. It looks like this…

I think it looks really good, (the cat didnt come free with them) and yes I do actually have 12 boxes worth of books plus the piles elsewhere. I decided as I was moving them from box to box I would get rid of some of the books I knew I was never going to read to either readitswapit or give to charity. Several hours later, just before the shops shut, I left the house with several bags of books. I came back with one. Now to me this is a fair exchange, yes? Apparently not, I am now under a book ban! Yes a ban on buying books, as apparently I will never read all the 500+ I have in the boxes, I am most unimpressed.

I wonder if I can actually manage it? I’ll keep you posted.

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The Hostess & The Alien: A Nobel Prize Winner

I watched the fascinating BBC show ‘Imagine’ tonight which featured the Nobel Prize for Literature 2007 Winner Doris Lessing. I can sadly say that as of yet I have never read any Doris Lessing, and yet I dare to call myself a book lover. I have seen several of her novels since but have just never picked one up. This is more than likely to change after this show.

The show seemed designed to show how amazing she was, agreed, and also to give some of the background into who the writer is and why she writes what she does. The film opened with the announcement that she had won the Nobel Prize, to her returning from shopping to the paparazzi to be told the news of her win ‘oh Christ’ she replied. I knew I was going to like something about this woman.

Her background has been something that she has said her books are based on, particularly her latest novel ‘Alfred & Emily’ which is based on the lives of her father and mother both in a biographical sense in one half, then imagined as if there had been no war and they had never met (she was his nurse) in the way they did or have had a relationship. Her parents seemed to have a strange relationship; she couldn’t wait to leave home and yet now is so grateful to them for bringing her up with imagination and a love of books. She discusses how displeased her parents where with her second husband especially after the way her first marriage ended.

Her personal life has also been one deemed shocking when she divorced her first children and left her children behind. This was something she wasn’t keen to discuss on the documentary firstly saying ‘I have written about all this in great detail’ she then admits she just ‘couldn’t stand the life’. She now thinks that she would have turned into her mother ‘living a life she couldn’t bare’ or she would have become an alcoholic. She discusses this situation a lot in her autobiography ‘Under My Skin’. She is exceptionally upfront, another admirable quality.

I loved that her first novel ‘The Grass is Singing’ got the review ‘that book is a book and a half, that woman is a writing mother f***er’ from no less than James Baldwin in 1950. Discussing a still dangerous topic of racism back then it was an instant hit novel starting of a long spanning career.

The documentary talked to fellow authors on how they felt her work had inspired them, such as Maggie Gee and people she knows like A.S. Byatt. They also spoke to some of her readers whose lives she changed. One was a woman who wrote t her saying how her novels changed her, back when books were an expense. Lessing wrote back saying if she couldn’t afford books she would send her some. The reader has now started a youth reading group for those who don’t get the opportunity to read as much or talk about books. Lessing also wants to change the amount people can read where they can’t even afford food in Africa where she grew up. She is truly inspirational.

Lessing does sadly feel her last book was her last, she isn’t sure that she has the time. I am now off to get one of her books; I’ll do it on readitswapit as I am still under the Book Buying Ban… not that I am sticking to that particularly well. ‘Imagine’ was a fascinating insight to a fascinating woman, her books and her life.

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Second Chances

I don’t know if anyone has seen the piece in The Independent today about James Frey, or seen the American book charts and that his new novel ‘Bright Shiny Morning’ is doing really well. So far… so what? Well some people will know the uproar that James Frey’s first book caused and that he messed with one of the book world giants ‘Oprah’. I’ll explain…

Obviously here we have ‘Richard & Judy’, in America ‘Oprah’ is the book group queen and one of the books she chose back in 2005 was James Frey’s ‘memoirs’ called ‘A Million Little Pieces’. With the help of Oprah’s book club and her whole hearted embrace of the book ‘the man who keeps Oprah awake at night’ it soon became a best seller charts selling over 5,000,000 copies. Now had this ‘memoir’ not been such a saddening and shocking tale (I have still not read it yet) of his addiction to drugs, time in prison, rehab and the suicide of several of his friends. It was a harrowing tale, and an extreme one. The extreme nature of the novel left some to wonder and some to research on in particular (thesmokinggun.com) found that he had not been in prison for the years he stated but actually a few days. It soon became apparent that Frey’s ‘memoir’ was in fact pretty much pure fiction. Within a few months he was invited back on Oprah where she questioned him and said he had ‘duped’ her and all the readers.

Now some people would think this would be a publishers dream, endless publicity equals high sales? Not in this instance. The public followed and naturally so did the press. Random House issued a statement saying that anyone wanting a refund could have one. They subsequently dropped James Frey. James himself was berated in the press and became some kind of hate figure. He was reduced to going into hiding.

Why bring the subject up now years after the events. He has been signed to Harper Collins and his new novel ‘Bright Shiny Morning’ is selling nicely and is going to be a forthcoming Waterstones Book Group Book. Readers are giving him a second chance, is this something that I could do?

I don’t mean with James Frey. I have however now put A Million Little Pieces on my ‘to read’ pile. What I mean is could I give a second chance to a book or author I have tried before and either hated or never finished? For example could I read another Martin Amis after the diabolical ‘London Fields’, or finish Lionel Shriver’s ‘We Need To Talk About Kevin’? Well I have now put the latter and ‘Success’ by Martin Amis on my ‘to read’ pile along with A Million Little pieces, so I guess time will tell. Could you give an author or a book a second chance?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Lionel Shriver, Martin Amis

What Was Lost – Catherine O’Flynn

Despite the frankly hideous cover, and these can serioulsy put a reader off, I loved this book. Seriously 100% loved this book. Catherine O’Flynn’s debut ‘What Was Lost’ is frankly a wonderful book. The Guardian awarded it debut of the year and it was long listed for both the Orange Prize and the Man Booker Prize. This and the praise from several authors such as Susan Hill and bloggers like Dovegreyreader means that when you start it you either know you are on to a good thing or you are going to be heavily disappointed. I must join the queue of people who will be raving about this book for a long time to come.

The book is set in Green Oaks Shopping Centre in two separate times, the first in 1984 when ‘young detective’ Kate Meaney and her sidekick Mickey a craft kit cuddly toy hide around the centre looking for people who might be criminals on every corner. She then goes missing. In 2003 we join Lisa, an unhappy music store manager and Kurt an unhappy security guard in Green Oaks. How do the two intertwine? Who is the mystery girl seen wandering on the security footage at night? Will anyone ever know what happened to Kate?

I loved the character of Kate so much; I thought O’Flynn got into the mind of a ten year old perfectly. At first I didn’t realise that she was a young girl until on the way to a stake out she buys a copy of ‘the Beano’. O’Flynn writes with humour and in such a way I couldn’t stop reading Kate’s part of the story for lines such as “Kate ate the burger and perused the first Beano of the new year, while Mickey kept a steady eye on some suspicious teenagers below”. She’s one of my favourite characters to read in a long time, and I was saddened when I knew that her part of the book had ended.

Another thing that I loved about this book was both its humour and its serious sides. You could read lines like ‘anyone who asked for chocolate limes was a killer’ and yet this book also deals with a missing girl, depression and even suicide. While you are not taken into the mind of a killer which stops this book short of being a crime novel, it is still a mystery novel.

Some people have said the ends tie up too nicely, and in some ways they do but with a point and a purpose. I won’t spoil it; you need to read this book first hand to experience it yourselves. Catherine O’Flynn has created a world that is believable, she was a market researcher and worked in retail so there is a slight consumerism side to the novel, and crafted some wonderful characters. I cannot wait for her next novel she is a voice to be watched.

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Filed under Books of 2008, Man Booker, Orange Prize, Review, Tindal Street Press

The Turn of the Screw – Henry James

Hmmmm, I don’t know what to say about this book. I have heard it being called ‘the greatest ghost story ever written’ I am unsure. On publication apparently Oscar Wilde said that it was ‘a most wonderful, lurid, poisonous little tale’ and maybe back then it was. I found it a little dull though actually I did physically jump twice, I can’t say when for ruining the suspense if you choose to read this.

The tale is that of a governess who comes to look after two children Flora and Miles, who at first seem like dear little children. As strange things and sightings start to happen in the family mansion it appears that the children might know more than they are letting on. The last scene of the book is disturbing though it did take a few reads for the penny to drop. I just wasn’t as spooked as I wanted to be. I would say give it a go, its very short and it’s a good read for when your alone in the house one winters night!

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Filed under Henry James, Review, Vintage Books

So Many Books, So Little Time – Sara Nelson

A book about books… What more could you ask for? Indeed I did devour Sara Nelson’s book within the space of a few hours and there were a couple of books that I own that have now gone higher on my ‘must read’ pile, one being ‘The Crimson Petal and the White’ which Sara Nelson enjoyed so much she bought several copies to give out as Christmas presents. Would I give this book out to several people for Christmas, possibly, but they would have to be real book lovers.

Sara Nelson has been a book reviewer for various magazines for years in America (you can get this book on Amazon but not in the book shops here, you can also get it on ReadItSwapIt) and she one day decided to log all the books that she read in a year, the original idea was one a week and she had a list of books that she wanted to read. Within a week the list had been rearranged and completely veered off. That was what I loved about this book; it was an honest account of books read in one year. She wasn’t preaching either, which was refreshing, and for someone who reviews books in some very well established magazines, you never felt she was trying too be too clever like some reviewers can.

I loved how you could relate to her tales, like when someone recommends her a book, she doesn’t like it and it slightly changes the way she thinks about her friend. The reverse is true when she loves a book raves about it and people are seriously unsure, have they changed their opinion of her? Has she changed her opinion of them? I could relate to these quandaries, there is also a very funny bit about partners who don’t read, again I totally empathise. She also discusses how you chose a book or a book chooses you, she doesn’t like baseball but when her son is really getting into it she finds a book that has it as a theme and so reads on, is the book any good, read Sara’s to find out.

Sometimes what I didn’t love so much was the books that she was reading but then we seemed to have quite different taste and this alienated me a little, but maybe this blog will do that to people in cyber space? I really love it when a book either makes you want to buy ever single thing the author has done, and with a book about books you would expect to walk away with a list for Amazon as long as your arm. I had heard of a few of them but not all of them, then when I looked at one of the Appendix where she stated all the books she had read and not included I felt a tiny bit cheated as some of them I would love to have read about her reading about… confused yet? It has a human feel although I didn’t need to know so much about her and her husband’s rows, I thought that was slightly strange.

This is a definite for serious book lovers/geeks like myself, you will be sat there chortling and saying ‘I so do that’. Sadly for someone who says a books cover can really put you off, I was confused with the cover they have given the book. That’s a small complaint though, I’m being picky.

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The Book of Dave – Will Self

I was bought ‘The Book of Dave’ by my friend Michelle as we had a bit of an in joke on all things ‘Dave’ related. When it came to my shortlist of five books for book group I decided to add this one on as I could imagine that Will Self would be a perfect author for book group and this book in particular seemed to be something very different from what we have read up to now. It was chosen.

Will Self is an author that is a bit hit and miss with people, people either love his quirky tales and devour him or people are put off by the fact that he can come across as being too clever or pompous he can also be seen as being dark and this book is quite bleak, well very bleak, but he is an author that if you work at reading you will get so much out of. ‘The Book of Dave’ is set in the recent past and the distant future. The recent past tells the tale of Dave Rudman a London taxi driver and the lead up to his marriage and then onto its break up, a break up that affects him so much he writes a book to his estranged son. A book that is discovered in the distant future and spawned a major religion, in fact everyone lives by ‘The Book of Dave’ or else. Self uses this present to show us just what could happen in the future, and it’s not the prettiest of pictures.

This is by no means a quick or easy read. Firstly Dave is not instantly a hero or a likeable chap, he is normal, extremely flawed and at first I just thought he was a waste of space, my opinion did change as his character did. The alternating chapters between the future and the recent past are made more complicated by two things, firstly is the fact that they are not in chronological order, secondly you need to learn some Mokni. Self has done something which I was originally annoyed by slightly, the lazy reader in me, and then very impressed by… he has created his own future version of cockney based not on rhyming slang but on phonetics. I should add that there is a glossary in the back of the book that helps you, though a note in the front to tell you that would be helpful as I know that lots of people put the book down after finding the Mokni a challenge and not knowing the glossary is there.

The fact that it’s not in chronological order is slightly confusing but many writers use this style in order that by the end everything slots into place and with this book it does, and it has some very clever twists. My only slight problem was all the same names in the distant future, I got totally confused a few times, however with perseverance I was fine in the end. People will either love this book or they will hate it, it’s not for everyone. However if you persevere it’s a very clever story from a very clever author and one that I would recommend as being worth the effort.

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Filed under Book Group, Penguin Books, Review, Will Self