Monthly Archives: April 2009

The Lesser of Two Bookish Evils

What I love about Booking Through Thursday is that it always makes me think. I generally end up waffling on (as I am sure I will do today) and find varying tangents to discuss. It makes me think out the box though and this weeks question “Which is worse… finding a book you love and then hating everything else you try by that author, or reading a completely disappointing book by an author that you love?” has not only made me think more about books and what I have read but also how I read.

Out of the two I don’t think I could say which is worse because of some ‘reading rules’ I have, in fact I think I may have to do a blog in the near future on reading and reviewing rules I have, though they aren’t set in stone. If I read one book I absolutely love by an author I will undoubtedly pick another of their books up but it might take me weeks, months even years for me to read another of their books or for them to write another if it’s their debut. If I couldn’t wait (very rare that that happens) and the next one was rubbish I would sadly probably write them off. There is a clause in that statement though in respect of if someone whose opinion I trust raved about another of their works I would possibly give them a second chance.

So what about an author I love who releases a dud book? Well in order to love an author I have to have read more than three/four of their books. If one of them was a dud before that the rule above would apply so they wouldn’t be an author I love. I only at present have authors like that Daphne Du Maurier, Ian McEwan, Stella Duffy, Tess Gerritsen and Susan Hill all who so far with all their varying writing styles and genres haven’t failed me once.

I do get nervous reading the next of their works though that it might be the one book by them that will really bad or put me off them (in my head for some reason I am thinking of McEwan’s ‘Saturday’ instantly which I haven’t tried yet but worries me in advance) as yet none of them have written a bad word. If one did… I would be disappointed but I would forgive them. It has happened with one author who would have made my favourite readers amount to six not five and that is Kate Atkinson whose books I love only I had a really, really hard time with ‘Behind The Scenes At The Museum’ which was the second book I read of hers after ‘Human Croquet’. I didn’t get on with ‘Behind The Scenes…’ and so much so, though I am going to try again, I was tempted not to bother with her again. Luckily three people recommended ‘Case Histories’ to me and my oneside relationship with Kate has never looked back.

So not only has today’s blog made me think about my reading in a different way its also made me look at my reading pattern (is that what you call it) as I have noticed I have quite a lot of books I have absolutely loved and either not read another word by that author yet or (like Margaret Atwood) read the second one a year or so down the line. I am thinking maybe I need to start reading the whole works of some authors such as Margaret Atwood, Anne Tyler… oooh who else? Any recommendations, what about all of you?

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Filed under Anne Tyler, Book Thoughts, Daphne Du Maurier, Ian McEwan, Kate Atkinson, Margaret Atwood, Stella Duffy, Susan Hill, Tess Gerritsen

The Name of the Rose – Umberto Eco

So… the latest Savidge Reads Big Reads (nee Savidge Big Weekenders) and one which as I mentioned on Monday I very nearly came to give up on. However despite my initial struggles with The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco I carried on (struggling) right until the end. Was it worth it? In honesty the jury is still out on that for me to be I don’t think I have ever felt so confounded by a book or so annoyed that I found a book so difficult.

The Name of the Rose is set in 1327 in an Italian monastery where Monks are dying in mysterious ways. In a time where the Catholic Church is dividing and differing Catholic communities are accusing each other of heresy emotions are running high. Brother William of Baskerville and his companion, and the narrator, Adso arrive after the first death and turn detective and sidekick as they try to unravel the mystery. Now this makes it sound like your average historical murder mystery but it is so much more than that.

Umberto Eco’s novel is undoubtedly a masterpiece, however for me it was an alienating one. Unlike when I read The Blind Assassin a few weeks ago the hard work didn’t seem to pay of with The Name of the Rose. I am not a religious person, I have nothing against it at all – the Non-Reader is Catholic, but I do find the history of religion interesting. However when the history of it is told for five pages a chapter and the same stories of heretics and the anti-Christ are reworded and repeated making what would be a great 250 page mystery into a 500 epic even a die hard theologist would have trouble with this book.

The prose is stunning though in all honesty I think Eco might work by the rule of ‘why use one word when I can use a paragraph’. The interspersed Latin I found slightly pretentious and a bit ‘look how clever I am and you aren’t’ which slightly alienates a reader, well it did me anyways. I don’t want a book to make me feel stupid. Now bare in mind I know some Latin, my mother being a Latin, Classics and English Literature teacher, I am not even someone who has no knowledge of it and I found it grated on me and to only then be reworded in English just seemed like more words to bulk up the book.

I also never felt I got to know the characters as there were so many of them and though I did really like Brother William of Baskerville and Adso as characters I never quite felt on side with them because sure enough one of them would soon be spouting paragraphs of Eco-isms and I would be put of them for a fair few pages. As for all the other characters well with all the similar names I would sometimes think that they were talking to a character that I would suddenly realise had been dead for a few pages. Back to the positive however I thought the book had moments of genius, the mystery and suspense was wonderful when it was in the book and not being shrouded by Eco-isms. Joining William and Adso as they ventured through the dark twisting labyrinth of corridors, secret passages, turrets and the amazing library of the monastery did have me on the edge of my seat. I just wish the whole book had been like that, that would have been superb.

I would give the book 2.5/5 it wasn’t awful (I hate giving bad reviews – I try and see the best in all books, especially when I have always wanted to read them and when the Non-Reader has bought me a book… a very rare event) and had moments of spell binding brilliance but to me it was as my mother (it’s normally my Gran that is famous/infamous on this blog) said only yesterday “oh I thought that book was a really good mystery surrounded by pretentious twaddle” and I have to say I think she was right. Though don’t tell her that I wouldn’t hear the end of it! She also said “it’s one of the rare books that is better as a film” I shall find out as I have ordered it from Lovefilm to see if it makes more sense that way.

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Filed under Review, Umberto Eco, Vintage Classics

Maisie Dobbs & The Detective Series

After reading the first in the series of Patricia Cornwell’s Scarpetta Series Phenomenon I asked for you all too kindly recommend other detective series that I might find a treat. I didn’t realise there were publishers listening however it appears there were… The delightful people at John Murray (and in particular the delightful publicist Caroline) sent me a parcel filled with Maisie Dobbs Mysteries – as you, they, the cat next door and some people the Outer Hebrides know I can only read a series in the right order. Now I have to apologise and admit that I had never before heard of this series or their author Jacqueline Winspear but somehow I think they are going to be right up my street from what the blurb of the very first one says…

…“Young, feisty Maisie Dobbs has recently set herself up as a private detective. Such a move may not seem especially startling. But this is 1929, and Maisie is exceptional in many ways. Having started as a maid to the London aristocracy, studied her way to Cambridge and served as a nurse in the Great War, Maisie has wisdom, experience and understanding beyond her years. Little does she realise the extent to which this strength of character is soon to be tested. For her first case forces her to uncover secrets long buried, and to confront ghosts from her own past! In Maisie, Jacqueline Winspear has created a character that readers will immediately take to their hearts. Her first case combines a gripping investigation with a moving portrait of love and loss. It marks the beginning of a wonderful new detective series”.

The era is perfect as for some reason I have become slightly obsessed with the 1920’s and 1930’s in my reading this year. Maisie herself sounds feisty yet with a past which looks like it could be filled with a mixture of secrets and loss. I absolutely love the covers and frankly anything that Alexander McCall Smith is raving about is almost certain to be something I want to give a go. But will it live up to any of these that I love so much?

I noticed yesterday that Elaine of Random Jottings had done a wonderful blog on the Miss Silver Books by Patricia Wentworth which I might frankly have to have a delve into, plus people keep mentioning Josephine Tey and someone recently mentioned I would really like the Bryant & May series by Christopher Fowler… anymore for anymore?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, John Murray Publishers

Thats What Friends Are For

Isn’t it odd how you can be given book advice from the people that you least expect? I know today should be my review of the Savidge Big Weekenders but once again I haven’t finished the book (are you all loosing faith in me yet) and so am thinking of doing the Savidge Big Reads instead, less pressure and if I just say which days we will discuss it then you can all join in… would that be a better idea?

Anyway I would normally have had the review ready yesterday as I like to be a day ahead. However Umberto Eco’s masterpiece The Name of the Rose and I weren’t really getting on. I managed a just under a hundred pages of wonderfully written but never ending descriptions and scene setting and Catholic history in the park in the Sun on Saturday morning and into lunch. I then didn’t pick up the book again until Sunday afternoon. I kept finding that I had something more important to do like Hoover the lounge, de-fluff the sofa, Hoover the lounge… again, clean out the fish you name it I ‘needed’ to do it.

I then packed it in my bag for the tube ride to town to meet some friends. I worked with G a few years ago and we became like one unit, she is a wonderful blunt beautiful Italian lady and myself, the non-reader, G and her husband were meeting for dinner and to organise a trip to Rome in August (they have houses there so really it was more to organise flights). When routing through my bag for my diary G shouts “Umberto Eco… that’s a masterpiece… are you enjoying it? No? Oh its amazing you must, must try and read more you will be hooked.” Well coming from someone who doesn’t like books that was quite the accolade. So on the way home I picked it up and tried, and tried all the way into town again today, through lunch and all the way home… and now believe it or not I am hooked. Only about 200 pages in but as G promised I am hooked. So there will be a review but more like on Wednesday, tomorrow’s blog is already done.

I have asked G to recommend me some other Italian books for Rome and instantly she said The Women of Rome by Alberto Moravia I haven’t read any of him have you? Apparently it’s the perfect book for Rome. Any other idea’s for the perfect books set in Rome? I have until August but thought would ask now anyway.

But back to friendships and books, have any of you had any experiences of people you know aren’t readers suddenly telling you what to read or championing a book? Have you ever fallen out with someone over a book? I recently almost got put off being friends with someone as they only ‘read books which are movies, I always run out and buy one as its what everyone is reading isn’t it?’ Let me know. Right am off back to read about monks and murder in the 1300’s and revel in it.

Oh before I forget the next Savidge Big Reads blog dates for discussion and the books are:
Tuesday May 5th – Midnights Children by Salman Rushdie
Monday May 11th – Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh
Do join in!

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The White Tiger – Aravind Adiga

Now I have decided with the Man Booker Winners that as I read them I am not going to compare them to what else was long listed and short listed that year which I might have read. I don’t actually see any benefit in debating if it should have won if a) I haven’t read the whole long list and b) it doesn’t make any difference as I can’t change history… I know, I know, my mystical powers are weak! I am simply going to tell you what I think. Have I ever done a blog on how I review a book before? If not do let me know and I will do one in the coming weeks. Anyway onto the book in question…

The White Tiger is Aravind Adiga’s first novel and it is an incredibly accomplished first book which paints a vivid if slightly dark picture of ‘the real India’. We follow the story of Balram Halwai son of a rickshaw puller also known as ‘The White Tiger’ (which is of course the rarest of all the feline family) and his journey from a boy in a small village to ‘an entrepreneur’ in the big city via a life of servitude as a driver and, rather ominously, murder.

The story is undoubtedly a dark one and one in which Adiga is telling us of the corruption (which as Dovegreyreader brilliantly summed up in her review “just slimes off the page”) in India, its globalisation and how it has faired since the British moved out and American culture moved in. We see the darker sides of life out there that ‘tourists’ to India might not. Though this is a hard look at India and is very gritty for the reader, amongst the dark though there is humour thanks to such a wonderful protagonist. If you are puzzling over how a murderer could be likeable and funny then you need to read the book. Mind you there are a few other novels where I have felt that way too… oh dear, should I worry?

Balram’s personality changes as his surroundings do. He starts of as a naïve but clever school boy, and then becomes a disheartened young man in the tea shops before becoming a wry, calculating and knowing servant to his repugnant masters. He tells us; actually he isn’t telling us his story he is telling it to someone else. We read his story told in the form of letters to The Premiere of China. Which is oddly the only bit of the book that I didn’t really take to as I couldn’t work out why you would tell such a tale and admit to the things that he does if it might very well end up on the desk of someone as important as that.

Bar that one glitch I found the book incredible. It’s so readable and that was all down to Balram and his character (the font of a book helps though I find, more on that next week). I thought the way Adiga managed the plotting and story so we got to see so much of Indian life quite remarkable. We started in the villages looking at education, death, marriage and people who may be poor but make their life as rich as possible through the hard times (Balram’s Gran is a brilliantly calculating old woman – but then you would need to be). In Delhi we get the mix of the richest of the rich, the corruption of the government, the globalisation and Americanisation of the cities and all its gloss and glamour and the in contrast the prostitution, slum dwelling, and the life of those in servitude – the cockroach scenes freaked me out. All in all a great narrator, an unusual look at, and insight into, India and a highly accomplished debut novel.

I look forward to more novels by Adiga and hope that we see more novels from him. Arundhati Roy is an author I always wanted to read more works of after ‘The God of Small Things’ her Booker Winner but sadly we never did, maybe she is biding her time? One thing I will add about the book is the amount of people that I have seen reading it on the tube, I was going to do my report on that this weekend but I am going to hold off another week as am finding it quite interesting. Right I am off to read in the glorious Sunday sunshine.

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Filed under Aravind Adiga, Atlantic Books, Books of 2009, Man Booker, Review

Books for the new Budget…

Now I promise that I won’t go all political in this blog as that’s not really what it is about. However I did have an email a couple of weeks ago from someone who wishes to remain nameless who sent me an email that said…

I read your blog regularly and love to read your reviews. I have always been an avid reader of books but hardback books are just completely out of my price range and my library rarely stocks anything new, if it does then their tends to be a waiting list that goes past the publication date of the book in paperback. I know there are charity shops but even these seem to be expensive, if a book is in good condition its over £2.50 which is a bargain but still isn’t cheap, you could pay a pound more in Tesco’s. I just wondered if you knew anywhere else.

I felt a little bit like a book agony uncle, which is a nice feeling! The email really made me think though. I am very lucky and get some books sent for free from publishers and am in a job that means I can pay for my book addiction too. I dont tend to touch hardbacks myself (bar the ones lovely publishers send) unless its a very special author and I simply cannot endure the paperback wait as I do think they are really expensive and far too big for commuting bags, though they do look delightful. I am being cautious though with my spending as I think everyone is.

Now of course the best place for cheap, well actually free, books in an ideal world is your library, however (unlike the lucky Americans who pop by on this blog) we don’t have the best library system in the world here in the UK and certainly not in my borough. I know it’s better than a lot of library systems in the world but it does have its pitfalls. I went a few weeks back and couldn’t believe they charge you £3 to order a book in, now that’s more than buying a book in a charity shop that you can keep or pass on after. My local library is currently closed (see picture below) so I also have a bit of a trek to the nearest one and though I came away with some great books (of which I have not read one yet and renewed twice – whoops) none of them were on the hit list I had written before I left. The new library might be better, we will see.

So then of course there are second hand book stores and charity shops. I don’t begrudge paying over £3 in an independent book store as its their livelihood and I certainly don’t begrudge giving money to charity but charity shop books have shot up in the last year, has anyone else noticed this? Of course as you will see from last weekend there are still some gem charity shops to be found (18 books for £5.50) you can’t go wrong but not everyone has such dens of sin locally. I have now found a surprising new high street store though where you can find cheap books quite by chance!

I had gone to the high street with the Non-Reader to pop to the pound shops as they sell some amazing Brazilian (the Non Readers homeland) coffee, now my area in South London has lots of little pound shops but recently after loosing Woolies the empty store has been filled with one of the chain pound shops (this seems to be happening everywhere) and its huge. Imagine my complete surprise when I came across a book section! Imagine my increased joy when I saw that there were actually good books all for just £1…

I was very restrained and only came away with three. I picked up The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank by Ellen Feldman who is in the Orange Shortlist (more on that very soon, very excited) with her latest novel Scottsboro and also The Facts Behind The Helsinki Roccamatios by Man Booker Winner Yann Martel. I also bought a copy of Digging To America by Anne Tyler for my Gran to take when I go home ‘oop north’ next week as she likes Anne Tyler and I read this last year and loved it. I could have walked away with many more. I already had How To Talk To A Widower by Jonathan Tropper, though I could have bought it for a few other people, there was also Patrick Parkers Progress by Mavis Cheek, The Rain Before It Falls by Jonathan Coe, and Inside Little Britain as pictured. Plus as I mentioned there were titles by Anne Tyler as well as DBC Pierre and many, many more. I was pleasantly surprised but didn’t get carried away as had the word ‘budget’ going over and over in my mind.

Have any of you found some gem bargain book places? Do let me know! Now I must get back to The Name of The Rose by Umberto Eco which of course is this weeks Savidge Reads Big Weekender choice, enjoying so far but am shockingly only about a hundred pages in.

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Offshore – Penelope Fitzgerald

I personally think that when you open a book that you know very little about and start to read it you give it a much fairer chance than you would a book that everyone has been raving about which I think makes you judge it more harshly. So what about a book that people you know and trust choice wise don’t really care for? I tend to write them off from the start and having heard some reviews of Penelope Fitzgerald’s 1979 Man Booker winning novel Offshore, I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about this book at all. But I have set myself the challenge of reading all the Man Booker Winners and so I gritted my teeth and… enjoyed it.

Offshore is set just as it says off shore. The shores in particular aren’t some glistening desert island but instead London in the late seventies, which was actually ‘the now’ when the book was released. In a small little community ‘belonging neither to land nor sea’ we meet the various residents of the houseboats of Battersea Reach. There are three main characters in the novel that we follow; Richard a man in a mainly unstable marriage who tries too keep everyone’s spirits up and is in some ways ‘the captain’ of the community, Nenna who has randomly bought a boat to live on with her daughters and husband, that latter of which never moved in and Maurice a male prostitute by occupation who is also looking after stolen goods.

How does a book that is only 180 pages and less than 50,000 words manage to encapsulate this society through the day to day and slightly unusual dilemma’s I hear you cry? Well that’s why I think it won the Man Booker. Though I could actually have read a lot more by the end of the book there isn’t much left to add. Just as quickly (and as wonderfully descriptively) as you are thrown into these people’s lives you are equally quickly (and wonderfully descriptively) thrown back out. These are snapshots not life stories and I quite like that in novels, especially with such a jumble of characters as this book has.

I happily meandered through their lives (it isn’t a fast paced book at all), some mundane and average, some dramatic and emotional like a barge meanders down the Thames taking in all the scenery along the way. It is very much a London book and very much a book about normal real people, both factors I like in any book. I have to say my favourite characters and therefore parts of the book because they were in them were Nenna’s children Tilda and Martha. I wanted to join them on the muddy banks of the river finding hidden treasure’s and running wild. This is a very economic book, sparse in words but full of vivid imagery and characters. I am so pleased that I had taken up the challenge and found what may not be on of my favourite reads of all time but fine example of simple, pure literary fiction from an author whose work I want to read more of.

This book has also brought up a little something that I did want to mention though and that is the timing of reading books and how you might relate to a book dependent on mood, where you are etc. So for those of you who have read the book and think I might have gone crazy, I will leave you with an image of where I was reading it (it’s very short so only took me a few hours)…

I think the surroundings whilst I was reading were quite perfect for this novel.

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Filed under Flamingo Books, Fourth Estate Books, Man Booker, Penelope Fitzgerald

The Winner Takes It All (Hummed in B Flat)

I completely and very rudely forgot to blog about a recent arrival (this blog could have lots of Abba connotations – for no reason – if I am not careful, blame a random Abba-fest on the iPod) here at Savidge Towers that popped through my letter box the other day. A lovely copy of The Earth Hums in B Flat by Mari Strachan published by Canongate. This book has already had a glowing review from Catherine O’Flynn who wrote the wonderful, wonderful What Was Lost and was 90% sold to me from that however lots of bloggers have been raving about this book too. One such blogger was the lovely Lizzy who had a competition to win some copies and I am one of the lucky ducks who won! I hardly ever win anything so was over the moon, big thanks Lizzy! It’s all part of what is then going to become an interview with the author so I will have to have my new “Book Notebook” to hand the whole way through, I am very excited. I think this will be the first read after this weekends Savidge Big Weekender ‘The Name of the Rose’ (do feel free to join in the reading) I just need to get another Man Booker Winner finished before I start on the Umberto Eco classic.

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Filed under Mari Strachan

Why Do We Read?

Today’s question on Booking Through Thursday is a bit of a mammoth one and one I don’t know quite how to answer, so as usual I will probably go off at quite a tangent so apologies if so. The question is “My husband is not an avid reader, and he used to get very frustrated in college when teachers would insist discussing symbolism in a literary work when there didn’t seem to him to be any. He felt that writers often just wrote the story for the story’s sake and other people read symbolism into it. It does seem like modern fiction just “tells the story” without much symbolism. Is symbolism an older literary device, like excessive description, that is not used much any more? Do you think there was as much symbolism as English teachers seemed to think? What are some examples of symbolism from your reading?” Now for me this sounds very like a mix of a bookish problem page and an English literature A-level question and as I have been discussing on and off on my blog of late my late school years almost put me off books and reading for life. I can’t blame the teachers (my English teaching mother would kill me) it’s their job, but it needs to be done carefully as I was severely put off books almost for good.

I didn’t feel that my English teachers particularly made me seek symbolism; I think they made me try and look at books in a different way but sadly to a point that makes you over analyse books. I do think that the curriculum killed all Shakespeare it touched and many other classics such as A Room With A View, through endless analysis and over egging of the literary pudding. it made it an effort, where was the fun in that?

I think all books have different symbolic references to different people, characters might symbolise people you know or issues that are going on in society, the world, you name it. Each and every individual will take something completely different away from a book. From reading The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood recently I didn’t feel any review I did could do the book justice in terms of all it symbolised and discussed and yet there are books I read that are simply a story. That I think is the objective of every author, to tell a good tale and take you on a journey, the rest of the work I think should be done by the reader taking as much or little out of it as possible or as they want, reading shouldn’t be a chore or a bore.

English teachers taught me how to read books differently I suppose, how to look for hidden messages and sides to the story you might not initially see and reading The Blind Assassin I wanted to thank them for teaching me that, to a degree. They did somewhat take the enjoyment out of reading, making it too much of an exercise and less of an enjoyment. This all made me think… why do we read? The latter of the two is particularly is the reason that I read the others are escapism, relaxation plus learning about things or people that interest me or cultures and events I might not know about without certain wonderful books. Maybe that’s not the academic way to read a book; it’s certainly the most fun way. What about you, why do you read? Do you need symbolism or just wonderful words that make you escape and make you think while relaxing as hours while away?

Oh P.S loving the new/re-released after 20+ years Du Maurier (see below) but am limiting myself to a short story a day to make the delight last!

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All Reading Is On Hold…

Until I have finished reading what I came home to find had been delivered today and what has now moved past everything on my TBR pile to climb straight to the top…
Yes the new collection of Daphne Du Maurier (my favourite writer) short stories which isn’t out until the second week of May! I am beyond thrilled to have got this book from the very kind people at Virago and frankly cannot wait to read it… so I wont! Thankfully I had finished Offshore before I got in!

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Daphne Du Maurier

Memoirs of a Midet – Walter de la Mare

If it hadn’t been for the lovely people at Telegram Books emailing me to see if I would like to read any of their books then I would quite possibly have never read Memoirs of a Midget and yet it is a classic, one maybe many of us haven’t heard about but a classic never the less. I actually thought from the cover it was a very new book, it turns out it’s just a new edition. I hadn’t heard of Walter de la Mare but doing some research I found out he lived from 1873 until 1956 and he was a well loved and respected poet. This was his fourth book was published in 1921 and won the James Tate Black Memorial Prize for fiction. Already before I had read a single page I was intrigued by what appeared to be a forgotten classic.

Though I admit I have never read a Dickens (though I have seen many on the television – which I know isn’t the same) or read any Thomas Hardy I have had quite a few on audio book. In fact from around the age of around ten until around fourteen I loved nothing more than listening to Tess of the d’Urbervilles and often. The reason I mention these two authors is the fact they have written great books with a huge landscape of characters and that is just what Walter de la Mare does in this novel.

‘Memoirs of a Midget’ is the life and times of Miss M, told by none other than Miss M herself. Born from two ‘non-midget’ parents we follow her through her childhood and then through her early adult life and onwards after her parents both pass away. This indeed is mainly a book about how society deals with people who are different and looks at how Miss M is vilified by some, loved by others and isolated by many, written in the time it was it somehow doesn’t seem to have aged at all and in some ways could have been written quite recently. For me the tell tale signs it was a much older book were of course the fact that technology wasn’t up to date but there were other signs that it was a classic like the names of characters such Pollie Muggeridge or Lady Pollacke. There are many other wonderful characters with no actual name just a Mr or Mrs and then a wonderful surname like Bowater, Hubbins or Crimble.

All these characters were wonderful and added to the density and panorama of the book which has a huge scope and travels around Britain as it goes leading up to Miss M’s arrival in London. My favourite character partly because she was so bolshie, lovely and then suddenly serpentine was Fanny Bowater (every great classic has a character somewhere in it called Fanny, honestly, you have a think) who in some parts actually stole the show (literally) completely from Miss M.

Miss M is a fascinating character though, for a while I got slightly annoyed I couldn’t work out exactly how tall she was or wasn’t as it made her hard to visualise but eventually I worked it out and from then on was completely swept along by her story. I found the tales of the people she met and how they reacted to her and the fact she was so different very moving, occasionally funny and always touching. If you like big great long adventures with one protagonist as they struggle through the highs and lows of their life then this book is definitely one for you to read, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

This book has left me really wanting to dig out more classics; I need to get my hands on a copy of Tess of the d’Urbervilles sharpish, until then though what next? I think its time for me to get some short books read. I have loved being totally swept away for pages and pages by such wonders as this and of course The Blind Assassin but I do think I need a few shorter reads just for a few days, I have no choice as the next Savidge Big Weekender fast approaches with The Name of The Rose as the next choice, do let me know if you are joining in on that one.

So short books and novella’s… what would you recommend? You all know I always love to get your opinions. Maybe I am in the mood for a guilty pleasure, why I call them guilty pleasures I have no idea, I feel no guilt when reading them, none whatsoever. And of course do let me know what you think of the sound of Memoirs of a Midget, you never know Telegram could contact you… they found me through my comments on another book blog!

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Filed under Review, Telegram Books, Walter De La Mare

Getting To Know You

I dont do Meme’s very often but the lovely author David Llewellyn sent me this one on facebook, apparently he thinks I am a ‘literary geek’ which is quite flattering, so as running very short on time today to write the review that Memoirs of a Midget deserves I thought I would put this up so you can learn more about my reading history, do it yourself and then I can learn more about yours. Go on have a go, how can you resist a Meme about books?

1) What author do you own the most books by?
It would have to be Daphne Du Maurier, followed swiftly by Ann Tyler, Stella Duffy, Susan Hill, Kate Atkinson and of course the legendary, but guilty pleasure, Tess Gerritsen… all ladies interesting. Oh no add Ian McEwan read lots of his.

2) What book do you own the most copies of?
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, I have one copy I read and re-read and two copies that are rare and pristine.

3) Did it bother you that both those questions ended with prepositions?
Should it?

4) What fictional character are you secretly in love with?
I don’t tend to fall in love with characters more with places and era’s. At the moment I am very much in love with the 1930’s.

5) What book have you read the most times in your life (excluding picture books read to children; i.e., Goodnight Moon does not count)?
I am not a big re-reader. I have read Rebecca a few times and Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret and Patrick Suskind’s Pefume twice.

6) What was your favourite book when you were ten years old?
The Whitby Witches by Robin Jarvis, and still rates quite highly.

7) What is the worst book you’ve read in the past year?
Hmmm… I don’t like negative reviews as everyone thinks of books differently and has different tastes. I may take away something very different from a book you read and love. Also I think reading timing comes into play I might just not have been in the mood for that book at that exact time.

8) What is the best book you’ve read in the past year?
Probably To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee though I could have said about five.

9) If you could force everyone you know to read one book, what would it be?
Hmmm it would be a toss up between Rebecca by Daphne or The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins.

10) Who deserves to win the next Nobel Prize for Literature?
Oh now you are asking… can dead people win it? Oh… I would actually like Margaret Atwood to win it, and yes I know she is very much alive.

11) What book would you most like to see made into a movie?
Any books that I wouldn’t want to read that way I can’t be disappointed or have Keira Knightly ruin one of my favourite characters etc.

12) What book would you least like to see made into a movie?
Any of my favourites for the above reason, mind you Hitchcock’s version of Rebecca is wonderful.

13) Describe your weirdest dream involving a writer, book, or literary character.
I haven’t had any… yet.

14) What is the most lowbrow book you’ve read as an adult?
The Bitch by Jackie Collins, I just had to try it. I don’t like the term lowbrow though, well all read different things in different moods.

15) What is the most difficult book you’ve ever read?
Having just read The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood I am tempted to say that. You have to work really hard at that book but it definitely pays off. Not a book you can read half heartedly.

16) What is the most obscure Shakespeare play you’ve seen?
I don’t really like Shakespeare; I blame schools and there force feeding of him over and over again.

17) Do you prefer the French or the Russians?
I am gonna sit on the fence and say both.

18) Roth or Updike?
Updike but only for The Witches of Eastwick.

19) David Sedaris or Dave Eggers?
Sedaris but only because I have never heard of Eggers.

20) Shakespeare, Milton, or Chaucer?
I have explained about Shakespeare the other two I haven’t tried yet.

21) Austen or Eliot?
Austen but only as havent read Eliot yet, god this questionnaire is making me feel like an inadequate reader!

22) What is the biggest or most embarrassing gap in your reading?
Classics I would say which I am slowly but surely rectifying.

23) What is your favourite novel?
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. Such a dark moody novel, very me.

24) Play?
An Inspector Calls.

25) Poem?
Something from Gargling With Jelly by Brian Pattern.

26) Essay?
Anything by a Mitford.

27) Short story?
Ali Smith is the queen of short stories but actually Sophie Hannah’s The Octopus Nest is wonderful!

28) Work of nonfiction?
The Mitford’s: Letters Between Six Sisters. Wonderful wit, encapsulates a huge amount of time, and follows family drama through all those involved.

29) Who is your favourite writer?
Du Maurier I would have to say clinches it for me; as yet I haven’t read a book by her I didn’t like.

30) Who is the most overrated writer alive today?
Hmmm, Stephanie Meyer apart from that I couldn’t say I might change my mind and be won over.

31) What is your desert island book?
Possibly The Bible, have never read any of it.

32) And… what are you reading right now?
Just finishing Memoirs of a Midget by Walter de la Mare, I thought it was a brand new piece of fiction but it’s from 1920 and has been reissued. Going to start Penelope Fitzgerald’s Offshore next am having a Man Booker winner phase.

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Whoops… More Books

A few days ago I mentioned that myself and Jackie from Farmlanebooks were planning to read all the Man Booker winners. We still haven’t come up quite with the how’s and the when’s but one thing that we did do last week is compare how many books we have both already and my five to her fifteen seems a little pathetic. So I naturally have some catching up to do. I also have quite a lot of books to get my hands on. So whilst taking a break from the latest Savidge Reads Big Weekender Read (which is Memoirs of a Midget by Walter de la Mare) I met up with a friend and we hit my favourite second hand book shop and look what I managed to find…

Seven of the Man Booker winners that I didn’t already own (ok actually in the first shop I only found four I found another three in a charity shop that was having a half price sale on books for the day) so now I have gained Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald, The Siege of Krishnapur by J.G. Farrell, Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively, The History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey, The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje, Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth and Vernon Little God by DBC Pierre. Now those of you who know me well and those of you who may have seen something behind the books in the above picture (not the fish, there’s a clue) will see that that’s not quite all I bought.
Yes I bought just a few more books. My aim and mission was for Man Booker Winners only however I then saw The Clothes on Their Backs by Linda Grant which was shortlisted for the Man Booker so I thought that sort of counted. I always like the shortlisted books. I also saw Theft by Peter Carey which of course says “twice winner of the Booker Prize” all over it, so that sort of counted too. I spotted two more Prize Winner related books (which is sort of a good excuse) Bel Canto by Ann Patchett which won the Orange Prize in 2002, I am thinking of doing all those winners at some point. There was also Drown the debut by Junot Diaz who won this years Pulitzer Prize with his second book The Brief But Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao’ which I will be reading very soon. The other two books? Well those I blame on some of you, the delightful Dot Scribbles absolutely raved about She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb and Harriet Devine has been raving about Henning Mankell’s Wallander series the first of which is Faceless Killers. Now having totally scrapped my original reason for book shopping I thought in for a penny in for a pound…
And I got five more books (partly because the shop that normally does 5 books for £2 was actually doing 15 for £3 this weekend to get rid of as much stock as possible before they move over the road) that I just plain and simply wanted to read. I have been after a copy of Black Dogs by Ian McEwan for ages as I am a big fan of his work, Scoop by Evelyn Waugh has been on my hit list for ages as has The Secret Life of Bee’s by Sue Monk Kidd. I loved Pilcrow by Adam Mars Jones earlier this year and him writing with Edmund White who’s works I like seemed like a great collection of co-written short stories, plus its quite hard to get. While England Sleeps by David Leavitt was an accidental purchase as I got Leavitt mixed up with David Ebershoff who wrote The 19th Wife but never mind, after all this whole collection only set me back £5.50. No more buying books for a very long time I think. Did I make good choices? Have you bought any great bargains lately? I have seen Dovegreyreader has had a similar shopping experience to me this weekend, have any of you?

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Public Reads…

Now a fair while back at the beginning of March I did a blog about ‘Conversation’s About Books’ one I had overheard in a charity shop and the other on a tube. Rather than make you go all the way back to the blog (though I have put the link up in case you should) I have copied, pasted and edited one of the conversations that took place on the tube and then gave me a little project. So here it is with a lovely picture that I think sums up today’s post…

I took the Non Reader to see ‘The Little Shop of Horrors’ which is on tour and afterwards on the way home I couldn’t help over hear (as they were talking very loudly and a little merrily) two friend’s one male one female and their conversation which suddenly turned to books. He asked her what she was reading to which she replied ‘The Journey or something’ only to then pull out The Return by Victoria Hislop a book that I have to admit I have quite fancied reading. She explained it was ‘about the civil war in Spain, I was going to give it to my mum but its very sad and she’ll probably cry, so I think best not, what about you?’ He suddenly produced the most delightful 60’s copy of Brave New World by Aldous Huxley which he’d ‘just finished today actually, its dead good, a classic, everyone knows it’ sadly she didn’t but he gave it to her. I almost had to stop myself from reaching across and snapping it out her clutches for the delightful old cover alone. This conversation made me think, on the walk home from the station that I should partake a study of what people are reading on the tube. I work from home normally but have lots and lots of trips to town in the next seven days, and a train journey to Manchester and back next weekend, so ample opportunity. I wonder what insights this week will produce.

…Well it produced a lot however partly as no one was on the train to Manchester that weekend and also this was back in the very early days of me getting a Blackberry and where I stored this list of books I have absolutely no idea, I simply cant find it. So on Thursday I was thinking of things I could blog about while I took part in this weekends Savidge Reads Big Weekender (which is Walter de la Mare’s Memoirs of a Midget should anyone pass a bookshop and want to join in) as I will be reading so much, so I thought I would make the pact again. As of Monday will note down (on a pad me and my Blackberry get on very well now but it cant be trusted) all the books I see people reading on the tube over the top of which ever book I am reading on the tube. I have received two lovely new candidates today Virago have sent me All the Nice Girls by Joan Bakewell (as she has become an acclaimed book critic it will be interesting to see how she fairs) and I received a lovely book from its author this week after the lovely Karen Campbell asked me if I would read her new novel After The Fire so you may well see me with these and a notepad peering at you from the corners of my book.

I did look at what people were reading on Thursday and Friday and mainly it’s, you guessed it, the Twilight series. No comment. I was very pleased to see lots of Kate Summerscale’s wonderful ‘The Suspicions of Mr Whicher’ being read most diligently and by a lot of people in 48 hours. Did I see anything I myself haven’t read and now want to? Well I did see one book and that was ‘A Pair of Blue Eyes’ by Thomas Hardy a book of his I have never heard of before but the girl reading it looked deeply engrossed and that sold it to me. If someone is reading something devotedly on the tube and I can’t see what it is it drives me to distraction. I will tell you some of the slightly strange lengths I have gone to discover just what book it is when I report back next weekend. What books have you seen people so engrossed reading you have to pick up a copy yourself? Have you ever bought a book just because you have seen a lot of people reading it on your travels? Do let me know?

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