Tag Archives: Daniel Keyes

World Book Night 2012…

I was going to give the blog a day off but then I received an email about all this so thought that I would pass some of it on. I know that actually World Book Night is months and months away (April 23rd 2012 in fact) so some of you might not be interested but an email this morning reminded me about it and the fact that you can vote for your favourite books to be given away. I was also a bit over excited when I read this specific email as previous givers, and you can see what I gave away and how I did it earlier this year, two people could win a chance to be on the World Book Night Editorial Selection Committee (theres a mouthful), well of course how could I not want to do that?

So what did you have to do? Well, give them your details, tell them what you gave last year and name the “top 10 books you most love to read, give and share for 2012” now initially I thought  they meant books out in 2012 then twigged they just meant your favourites. You then had to write, in 100 words or less, an impassioned argument for your number one book. I did it in ninety-nine.  

I liked the idea of this list of ten books you would want to pass on and realised that not all my very favourite books would pass the test of being books I would avidly pass on, those tend to be books I have liked a lot but not enough to keep on my own shelves, this however is the list of ten books I would happily buy other people and pass them on in that way… 

  1. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
  2. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
  3. Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin
  4. Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood
  5. Perfume by Patrick Suskind
  6. The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford
  7. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
  8. Annabel by Kathleen Winter
  9. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
  10. The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark

I couldn’t choose ‘One Day’ (which I am desperately telling the Aunty Who Doesn’t Read So Much to read before she sees the film next week, will she listen…) or indeed ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ because both books were in the list last year and given away. I like the idea of some classics being given away in 2012, some corkers though, not necessarily the same old ones. You can guess which books I might mean but I will never tell, ha.

I am pretty sure that I won’t be picked as one of the World Book Night Editorial Selection Committee, though if it did happen I would just be over the moon, partly because I have blabbed about it on here. It gave me a think about books though, and a chance to give you all a list of books to try should you have not read them so far. You can find more out about World Book Night 2012 here. What would your ten be? What are your thoughts on the whole World Book Night idea?

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Are You Reading Comfortably?

I do love it when a book illustrates the habits that we have, and some of them are unconscious, when it comes to reading. Some of the responses to reading Neil Bartlett’s ‘Skin Lane’ over the weekend made me think about comfort reading, and I don’t meant the books that we read when we need a read we can trust, are having a bad time or need a gentle reading break. Not do I mean our ‘guilty pleasure reads’ on the sofa with a cup of tea and endless supply of chocolate hobnobs (or is it just me that does that?) I mean those books that take us out of our comfort zone and make us look at things we might not be prepared for.

I will use ‘Skin Lane’ as an example. It interested me that when we announced the NTTVBG earlier in the year I had some comments and some emails apologising that people wouldn’t be reading my choice because ‘it just isn’t my cup of tea’ or ‘I wouldn’t like it’ and I thought ‘fair enough, each to their own’ as I don’t judge anyone’s reading habits as reading is pleasure and can be a personal thing but in my head it begged the question ‘how do you know you wont like it if you don’t try it?’

I can understand where people were coming from in respect to ‘Skin Lane’ as it has a subject and plot many won’t be quite at ease with. It’s the tale of a man in his mid forties who is a bit of a loner; works in the fur trade (interestingly a part of the book that people found most shocking in some cases) and has fallen into an obsessive love with a boy of sixteen he dreams of torturing and killing. It’s not an easy subject or everyone’s cup of tea but interestingly people who didn’t think they would like it but still went for it and read it thought it was a good and in some cases great book. Some didn’t like it but they still tried it. Interesting how those who did read it and liked it were very hesitant to say they ‘enjoyed it’ because of the subject matter. Is there something wrong with you if you like a good murder?

‘Blacklands’ by Belinda Bauer, which I read earlier in the year, is another good example. Many people slated it for being a book about a paedophile in prison and a young boy on the outside world. It was pretty much what the subject was about but the book was about so much more. It did look in a fictional way at some of the murder cases of the 80’s, it was also an interesting and sometimes moving look at how a family survives the murder of a child weeks, months, years and decades on, the way that it changes a family and personalities within that family forever. People would miss out on that because of the paedophile aspect, would they miss out on any book about slavery or war as they aren’t comfortable subjects in reality and yet they seem to have been deemed okay subject matter now. It is all fiction though.

I used to be in a face-to-face book group I have discussed before where we used to choose five books and vote. Now I am not sure if one of the members did this just to sway the votes or genuinely but if a book had murder, abuse, rape, killing (knocks out all war books not just crime books as you might initially think) or violence in it. Now try and whittle that down to a book a month for a few years, it’s just a bit of a nightmare. It also brings up another subject of ‘don’t join a book group if you don’t want to open up your reading’. I also wonder if some people only read ‘happy books’ and I wonder what the point of that is?

I am very aware I have been mentioning others and their comfort zones yet this is my blog of my bookish thoughts so I should really talk about my habits. I like a read that challenges me and takes me to places and experiences that I might never have been or ever go to be they the light and good or the dark and bad. I will admit I can be a hypocrite, come on we all are sometimes. Some book genre’s make me think ‘oh no I wouldn’t read that’ fantasy is one; I just don’t think it’s for me. I do try it now and again though. I am not really on about genres though more subject matter with this post.

The book group I am currently in brings up some good examples, though I will only use the one for now.  ‘Flowers for Algernon’ by Daniel Keyes was a book chosen that when I heard the blurb I thought ‘oh no’ I just didn’t think a book that was firstly a science fiction classic (genres do have comfort boundaries for me sometimes) it was also about a mouse that became supremely intelligent and then a mentally disabled young man that did the same. It just sounded really out of my comfort zone, and yet I loved it, was incredibly moved by it and have been raving about it ever since. Isn’t that what readings about?

I decided after Sunday to make a pact with myself that I would read some of the books over the next year, this is not a challenge but a little guide line to follow now and again, that I don’t think would be my cup of tea such as;

  • More 18th century books (I find the style a little off putting)
  • Read some of the Russian greats (I imagine they are boring and I know in my head I am wrong)
  • Read more sci-fi and try some fantasy

I am sure there are more books I turn away from because of comfort so I might add to that list. If you have any titles that fit the above criteria and are rollicking good reads do let me know as I like a challenge, in fact dare me… throw a gauntlet down.

Do you only stick to books within your comfort zone? Do you only read happy books and if so why? Which books do you just simply think you won’t enjoy? Do you think books are about reading what you know and like and sticking with it or do you prefer to challenge yourself with every other read? Which books have taken you completely out of your comfort zone and yet have been amazing reads? Do let me know.

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Flowers for Algernon – Daniel Keyes

If you haven’t heard of Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes (no relation as far as I know to Marian Keyes) then don’t worry as neither had I. However since it became the latest choice for book group after Jackie’s choosing I found out that actually this is rather a cult novel. First published as a short story in 1959 and then rewritten in novel form becoming and award winning classic, such a classic infact it has been turned into a film and even a musical in the late 1970’s starring Michael Crawford. Who knew, the things you learn. What about the book though, would this work for me as it does come under the science fiction umbrella?

The Algernon in ‘Flowers for Algernon’ is actually a mouse and though isn’t the main character is certainly pivotal to the plot. This is no ordinary mouse as Algernon has undergone some experimental surgery that means he is a super intelligent mouse. It is from this successful operation that the people and researchers at Beekman have decided to try this out on a human and through this we meet our narrator Charlie Gordon a 32 year old cleaner in a bakery with an IQ of 68 who is mentally disabled. It is Charlie’s diaries or ‘progress reports’ from just before the operation and its effects afterwards that we read as the story unfolds.

I have to admit that when I started reading this book and knowing it was science fiction I just didn’t think this would be a book for me. It didn’t help that the first part of the book is written phonetically as Charlie cant spell. I was wrong though as after getting used to Charlie’s initial bad grammar and spelling (which does pass) and following his journey as he changed and saw the world change around him I was gripped. There were two reasons for this. The first was reading his personal history how his parents couldn’t cope, how his sister hated him and how people picked on him, something he hadn’t realised before his level of intelligence was altered and makes for quite heart breaking reading and looks at the way people with mental disabilities are treated in some cases. There is also quite a twist in the tale as Algernon starts to behave oddly with wild mood swings and his intelligence deteriorates, what will happen to them both?  

It’s such a though provoking read that I am sure book group will have been filled with fascinating discussion (I am posting quite a bit ahead at the moment so we haven’t met as I type). What will we make of the two women who come into Charlie’s life, his teacher Alice and his crazy fabulous neighbour Fay, and their treatment of him? What was Keyes trying to say in this book, and where did the inspiration come from? Do we all feel we have been able to gain additional insight into what it is like to have learning and mental disabilities? I know I feel like I have made to think about the subject more than any other book has made me do. What about the ending, did anyone else cry a bit… I shall say no more about it (and don’t anyone else give anything away); they could be happy or sad tears you will have to read the book to find out.

It is books like this, which I know had I seen this in the book shop I would have not read, that show why book groups can be so great. Has it changed my not too high opinion of science fiction? Yes in a way, I have realised now its not that I don’t like science fiction (though no Star Wars or Trek on any account) it’s more that I am daunted by it. If I can find more science fiction that hits me like this I can see myself becoming much more of a fan of the genre.

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Filed under Book Group, Books of 2009, Daniel Keyes, Review