Monthly Archives: July 2012

Airport Books & Holiday Reads…

As it is the summer in the UK, not that you would really know from the weather we are having, talk here there and everywhere in the bookish world has been of ‘summer reads’ and ‘holiday books’. Just yesterday BBC’s Woman’s Hour did a feature on it which was rather interesting and you can listen to hear. I digress. I have been thinking of summer reads a lot recently, and if I read differently at this time of year which I don’t think I do. Having just come back from an amazing break away I took my usual fare of books with me, some of them just happened to be set where I was staying and some had to be gripping to take me away from the induced fear of being on the plane for several hours of torture for me and anyone who flies with me.

I don’t like flying at all, oddly though I do really like airports. In the hours, generally filled with fear and nail biting, awaiting getting on the tin can that will fly me 35,000 (or more, which just isn’t what humans were meant to do) above the ground to some delightful destination I wander the shops to keep me occupied. You try out aftershaves/perfumes you would never normally by, have a coffee or two and of course hit the bookshops.

I had a good browse and didn’t really find anything that was particularly up my street, but not because there was only ‘holiday reads’ as I have heard many people complain, I thought it was nicely varied I was just under the watchful eyes of The Beard who had only a few hours before been rolling said eyes as I popped the fourth book in my case and two in my hand luggage for the flight there. Only people who really love books can understand why you need to take so many away with you, even on one of those dreaded ‘K’ machines. Mind you, I did feel very smug, whilst also sweating with terror, when the plane back from Italy had to wait in the middle of the airport as it was delayed (due to bad weather in the UK which led to turbulence, vile) and everyone who had a Kindle/e-reader had to turn them off. I proceeded to very loudly turn the pages of Mary Beard, smuggity-smug.

So I thought I would ask you if you all read differently over the summer than you do the rest of the year? I don’t think I do apart from the fact I wouldn’t really read a ghost story, they seem more appropriate for long blustery dark nights, oh hang on we have those in the UK at the moment so it’s fine. What are your thoughts on ‘holiday reads’? What gems of books have you discovered at an airport book shop? Do let me know, I will be catching up on comments and blogs today so will respond very quickly which I have been lax with of late. I will also be reporting on the trip away soon, where shock horror… I did no reading really!

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Two Cures for Love (Selected Poems) – Wendy Cope

I really must educate myself more on poetry. I think in my head somewhere I have decided that I am not clever enough to get it. That said when I went to an open day at The Reader Organisation a while back we all read poetry allowed and the realisation that ‘there is no right answer’ finally hit me after several decades of feeling like I was rather in the dark. However there are two poets I have always loved, as a child Brian Pattern (and I can still recite many of them) was the bees knees and now as an adult I am a huge, huge fan of Wendy Cope. I tend to dip in and out of her collections but sometimes, when I am a little low or out of sorts, I will pick them up and just devour the lot as I did with ‘Two Cures for Love’ one morning a week or so ago.

Faber & Faber, 2010, paperback, poetry, 112 pages, kindly sent by publisher

‘Two Cures for Love’ is a collection of selected works of Wendy Copes from 1979 to 2006 and so it isn’t a collection that has an exact narrative, I see it more as a ‘Best of So Far…’ kind of affair, though of course there has been the collection ‘Family Values’ since this. What these poems all have in common of course are Wendy Cope and her wonderful style. I think I love her poems so much because be they happy or sad, or indeed a mixture of the two, they are human and they are in my kind of language.

I don’t really go for over flowery prose in fiction and so it is no surprise I like my poetry to be similar; it helps me to connect to the words in front of me. I also rather like, and here I may sound a complete philistine but in for a penny in for a pound, poems that rhyme as I seem to find the patterns easier and the rhythm. Not all Cope’s poems do rhyme though yet because the poems are down to earth rather than airy fairy I find that I can cope with them. But what about the poems I can hear you asking; well before I talk about them further let’s have one that I love…

Loss

The day he moved out was terrible –
That evening she went through hell.
His absence wasn’t a problem
But the corkscrew had gone as well.

Isn’t that just brilliant? It combines the utter devastation of losing someone you love or being left and then in her wonderful way Cope makes light of it. Yet she can be just as heart breaking. I don’t want to include it because a) its too long and b) I think you should all be rushing off to read all of Cope’s poems, but ‘Tich Miller’ is just one of the saddest poems I think I have ever read. Every time I read it it just gets me. ‘Being Boring’ is another stunner as it celebrates the joys of the everyday, in fact I think that really sums up Cope over all, everyday emotions of all ranges are celebrated in her work. Time for another poem I think…

Valentine

My heart has made its mind up
And I’m afraid it’s you.
Whatever you’ve got lined up,
My heart has made its mind up
And if you can’t be signed up
This year, next year will do.
My heart has made its mind up
And I’m afraid it’s you.

I can’t really sum up a collection of poems, partly because with the selected works in ‘Two Cures for Love’ they are glimpses of an author at differing stages of her career and I would have to sum each one up and possibly look too deeply into them which might ruin the magic Cope weaves. There is also the fact that with poetry the reaction you have to it is very personal and very individual (yes, I know this is the case with fiction too but with poetry I feel it is stronger maybe deeper). All I can say is that I love Wendy Copes words and I would heartily recommend you read her if you haven’t already.

Wendy Cope is basically the poet I am using to slowly but surely shoe horn my way into poetry properly. Who else would you recommend?

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Filed under Faber & Faber, Poetry, Review, Wendy Cope

Books By The (Hotel) Bedside…

So today in my only post not scheduled before we flew to Italy, where I am now, I thought I would bring you one of my ‘books by the bedside’ posts (where I share what I am reading in the hope you’ll share what you are) with a holiday twist as these are the books I packed…

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The Beard did raise his eyebrows at this amount however…I have to pack more books that it is likely I will read on holiday as you never know what you might be in the mood for when you get there do you? I also have to have a crime novel (like the Kishwar Desai) or a funny book (which I think Kerry Hudson’s is meant to be) for the flights as I hate flying and need something to concentrate on. The Desai was perfect on the way here.

I also like books set where I am going. I could have packed William Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ for Verona (we went to the balcony which I’ll be posting about when we are back) but it was a brief stint there though I did read some Mary Beard while we were in the Roman Arena as it felt apt.

In Florence I have been struggling with ‘The Villa (set in Florence) by Lucretia Grindle, it’s good and it’s teasing me that it’s going to be quite a thrilling mystery if I keep at it but there’s a lot of ‘his hair was like a lions mane’ and ‘she ate systematically if delicately, like a horse’ which is slightly grating so I might switch to Salman Rushdie’s ‘The Enchantress of Florence’ instead.

There is one major temptation though, the hotel we are staying at has the most stunning library (the building was once home Italian journalist and writer Ugo Ojetti, who held literary and art events here) and its brimming with books I want to read…

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So I might be tempted away! Anyway, we are having an amazing time and the suns out so I am off to the pool! What have you been reading of late and what’s on your bedside table? Do you pack more books than you really need for a holiday?

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The Long Earth – Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter

If you visit this blog regularly (and I don’t dare to presume that you all do) then you might be surprised to see me writing about Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter’s first collaborative novel ‘The Long Earth’ because I don’t really read much in the way of science fiction at all, if anything really. However if you listen to the podcast The Readers which I co-host with Gavin of Gav Reads, my having read this book may be less of a surprise as you will know that we had the honour of interviewing Sir Terry and Stephen for a special episode, which if all has gone well should have gone live today (I am on holiday though so can’t quite guarantee it), and so I threw myself into the novel and the genre in advance.

Doubleday, hardback, 2012, fiction, 352 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

I have to admit that I might struggle to summarise the premise of ‘The Long Earth’ because it is rather complex. This actually concerned me before I had even started the book that I was going to get very, very lost by it. You see ‘The Long Earth’ is centred around the idea that as well as our earth, or Datum Earth as it is known in 2015 in this book, there are infinite parallel earths. Most people up until 2015 haven’t been aware of them, however on a single day the design for a Stepper leaks, a device which can transport you to them all one at a time and can be made using items easily found around the house. So children start stepping and disappearing. Yet there are people how can naturally ‘step’, and we discover there have been for decades and even centuries. One such natural stepper, Joshua Valienté, attracts attention when the other kids at the children’s home he lives in start vanishing and he saves them and brings them back. Police and big corporations want access and guides to ‘The Long Earth’ and so from here we follow Joshua’s journey and discover with him as he goes.

I admit writing that made my head hurt a little, so therefore reading it might have done, yet it isn’t as complex as it sounds. There is also much more too it as really I have only described the setting up of the story, much more happens from here on in. Yet at the same time it doesn’t… Let me explain. You see my other initial concern, after how would my head cope with all these earths, was that with endless versions of earths ahead this book might become a little repetitive and dull, yet it never quite did. There was a small moment at one or two points where I thought ‘come on, where is this going’ but they were brief.

Pratchett and Baxter create a really interesting Datum Earth, they also create many possible back stories with characters like Private Percy Blakeney who we meet ‘stepping’ during the war in 1916. There is a real sense of humour to the novel, one of the characters initial appears as a vending machine to which there were some giggles from me when he ‘lets a can go’ as it were, there is also the side effects of stepping too. It also looks at big subjects affecting earth now. There is a strand to the story which is about divides, some people simply can’t step even with the machine, and so the debate about ‘difference’ is part of the book as is human nature. As soon as new planets are found some people go to find their own private Idaho, yet some go to pillage and consume, other want to control.

My only slight qualm with the book was that it did feel like the first in a series. The fact the book does rather slowly, if with moments of adventure and discovery, trawl through each parallel earth made me think ‘this isn’t nearly the whole story’ and also the ending very clearly suggests there will be more. I should state that I knew beforehand there were more books coming so that could have been in the subconscious part of my brain but if I am doing a fair and honest review (which is always my aim) I sensed it throughout, I could feel things were being slightly reined in for the future and the bigger picture.

That small quibble aside I was rather surprised how much I enjoyed ‘The Long Earth’ being as it is not my normal reading fare at all. I lost myself in the world/worlds that were created for me and had a bit of an adventure along the way. I can’t say I will be throwing myself into science fiction from now on but I will certainly read the follow up to this and will definitely be trying some of both Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter’s other solo novels in the future.

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Filed under Doubleday Publishers, Review, Stephen Baxter, Terry Pratchett

The Uninvited Guests – Sadie Jones

It isn’t really the time of year to curl up with a truly spooky ghost story, and yet sometimes I do want something a little surreal and supernatural to escape into. Having heard various reports about Sadie Jones third novel ‘The Uninvited Guests’, and having kindly been sent a spare copy from Simon of Stuck in a Book a while back, I thought this would be just the kind of book for me at just the right moment.

Chatto and Windus, hardback, 2012, fiction, 272 pages, kindly sent by Simon T of Stuck-in-a-Book

In the country house of Sterne, somewhere on the outskirts of Manchester, it is the last day of April 1912; it is a big day for the Torrington family. Firstly it is Emerald’s, the middle child of the family, 20th Birthday and she is lost in the preparations of what she hopes will be her most fabulous birthday party yet. It is also an important day for the family as Edward, the head of the family, is off to Manchester on urgent business, business that could save the family. As day progresses into night there is an awful train crash nearby, the survivors of which are sent to Sterne filling the house with rather odd strangers, one in particular who will make himself especially well known to the whole family with some rather ulterior motives.

That is all I can say for the premise without giving anything away, well, apart from the fact that the youngest daughter of the household, Smudge (a rare delightfully precocious fictional child), has also seen this night as the perfect night for her ‘Great Undertaking’ which adds much humour to the novel, rather than the sinister possibilities the title conjures. Smudge was one of the characters that really made this book for me, even if the storyline was utterly farcical and it is the characters that set this book alight for the reader. Charlotte, who is rather at the crux of the story, is the mistress of the house and is utterly wonderful to watch as she starts gaily making merry of the day only to become more bitter and bitchy as the day goes on and on.

This is the other aspect of the book that I really admired. Nothing is initially what it appears. The Torrington’s themselves are not straight forward, Smudge is indeed the only child of Charlotte and Edward, Clovis (the only character I didn’t care much for) and Emerald being from Charlotte’s previous marriage and while Sterne initially seems a grand Edwardian estate it is in fact crumbling all around the edges, facades are slipping left right and centre and I don’t just mean with the house. Also with the mysterious stranger I started guessing just who he was from his arrival, changing my mind continuously and by the end having been proven wrong every time.

Sadie Jones also throws in a wonderful sense of humour to the book, occasionally dark and biting sometimes light and a little camp, yet the book never slips into a full blown farcical camp bit of nonsense which it could easily have done in the wrong hands.

I love ghost stories and I love books set in rather crumbling old houses. ‘The Uninvited Guests’ really does hit the spot on both levels. It isn’t a book that will have you shaking with fear, though there are some uneasy sinister parts to the book, but it might have you shaking with laughter at the barbed words between its characters and the situation as it gets more and more surreal. Like Julian Clary’s ‘Briefs Encountered’, which I read earlier this year, this is a ghostly book one set out to entertain rather than scare. I saw someone review another book very positively recently calling it an ‘entertainment’ and now I know just what they meant.

I haven’t read any of Sadie Jones other novels yet. I have heard that this is a very different novel to her previous ones though, I am intrigued. Have any of you read this or have you read, and would recommend, any of Sadie Jones’ other novels? I am rather keen to give them a whirl after this one.

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The Man Booker Prize 2012

So today is the big day and we will find out what the judges of the Man Booker Prize 2012 have decided as a collective are their best 12 or 13 books of the past year. I personally love all the waiting and the guessing in the lead up to the announcement as well as all the discussion once the list has been announced; all of the ‘oh I can’t believe that this was on the list when that wasn’t’ etc. The debate it creates about books is fantastic and who can complain at that?

I also really love trying to guess the books that will make the Man Booker longlist each year. I am always way of the mark and look completely inept but who cares, again it is all part of the fun. I was asked by the lovely Katie at We Love This Book, rather in advance as I am away; if I would suggest some titles I would love to see on the list this year. You can see it here (which will open in a new window).

These are not my predictions though, I doubt my tastes will match five judges, I also think that we will see a lot of familiar faces this year (Amis, Carey, Banville etc) with previous listed authors being automatically being entered again. I have been thinking about this recently I can’t decide if I think that this is a good thing or a bad thing to be honest, there are pro’s and con’s.

As I mentioned before I am sadly out of the country while the announcement and all the initial debate is going on (the joys of being able to schedule posts ahead of time) which will be lovely as I will (hopefully) be relaxing in the sun but I am miffed that I will miss it all going on at the time, I will have to wait until I am back. So I thought I would ask you all a little favour…

I am hoping that some of you will please leave your comments (which I have been rubbish at replying at, sorry, I will be better when I am back and have had a proper break) below with your guesses or books you would like to see listed (or links to them), thoughts on the books when they are listed and what you would have liked to have seen appear on the list as well as or instead of. Then I can come and join in with you all when I get back – especially as I don’t have Facebook and the Man Booker website forum pages have vanished in the revamp. Oh and… Are any of you planning on reading the lot?

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Do You Have Divisions of Authors?

I have been back in Derbyshire visiting my Gran and also visiting my old childhood haunts this past weekend. Gran was in good form, despite having had a nasty fall last week, and can now almost lift her foot (whilst nearly going blue in the face with effort bless her) and can move her left thumb and slightly squeeze her hand so it’s all good. She can also read again and this of course led to talking about books, which brought up the subject of divisions of authors. (I thought I would pop a picture of her bookshelves here that I took this weekend as a bit of book porn and because I don’t like posts without pictures… oh dear.)

Gran’s Bursting Bookshelves

I have been trying to recollect the exact way this conversation came up but I know it came down to Gran wanting to know if I had read Anita Shreve.  I mentioned that I hadn’t, as I had mistakenly thought that (from the covers) she was chick-lit, but had recently bought ‘The Weight of Water’ as my mum had lots on her shelves and then Kim of Reading Matters reviewed her and reminded me she too was a big fan. At the moment I mentioned chick-lit my Gran frowned and said ‘I wouldn’t say that, I would say she is more a second division author…’

I have never heard of this expression before, or even given the ideas of divisions of authors so there was an odd silence afterward whilst I was getting my head around it. She then quoted Somerset Maugham who apparently said something about this, of course I have now completely the quote, but I think I can paraphrase by saying he always aimed for first division but knew he would remain in second – which I think a lot of people would disagree with.

I do find the idea of an author division league, oddly like football which I never thought I would mention on this blog, intriguing even if I don’t quite agree with it. Would it be a case of authors going from first to second if they wrote a dud one etc? I may possibly have over thought this, I was wondering how it would work with debut novelists would they have to work their way up no matter how good their debut novel?

I have been thinking of having a Hall of Fame for my very favourite authors on this blog, maybe its time to pull my finger out and do it! What do you think? Do you have divisions of authors? How do you categorise the people you read, is it a case of favourites, ones I like and the ones that I don’t? I would be interested to know and will report back to Gran (who I will grill a little more on this too) when I next visit her.

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