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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Filed under Book Thoughts

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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Filed under Book Thoughts

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