Tag Archives: Walter Tevis

Reading With Authors #1: The Man Who Fell To Earth – Walter Tevis; With Belinda Bauer

Welcome to the first ‘Reading With Authors 2011’ I have popped the kettle on, there’s a mountain of biscuits for everyone to help themselves too, now all we need is out guest co-host for todays events. Oh hang on, I think she’s at the door, there goes the doorbell.

  

Firstly Belinda, though do make yourself comfy on the sofa with that cup of tea, I want to say thank you so much for choosing this book and making me read it. I have to admit the fact that I don’t tend to gravitate towards sci-fi, I don’t think I would have read this – especially with ‘aliens’ being highly present. I am so glad that I did. What made you choose this book for our little book club?

Hi Simon, lovely tea and biscuits! I chose The Man Who Fell To Earth because I loved the film directed by Nic Roeg, which I first saw in about 1980. I really like sci-fi, but particularly the earth-bound near-future kind, so this fitted the bill. Actually I’ve been meaning to read the book for ages, so thanks for the opportunity!

So I guess the first thing we have to say is did you like it, I think it’s rather obvious that I clearly did, what were your thoughts after the final page?

Well I did like it, but ultimately I was left feeling slightly disappointed. I felt that Nic Roeg had captured everything that was amazing about the book, and left out everything that was weak about it, which to me makes the film the better representation of the story. I’d be interested to know how you felt as you finished the book. Also whether there were aspects of it that irritated you or did not ring true…

Well, looking back on it there were several aspects of the book that didn’t quite ring true with me. I mean, the whole alien humanoid coming to earth for one, I don’t really believe in aliens. However what amazed me was how Tevis made me believe. I honestly could imagine there were possibly these humanoid’s walking amongst us and the spell never broke for me. I was thinking about this book all the time. Initially I have to say that I wasn’t sure I was going to like Thomas Jerome Newton, the humanoid of the title, very much. I couldn’t work out his intentions, especially in the way he cashed in on the technology that he had. I felt I couldn’t trust his motives initially, did you feel the same?

I tried not to think about the film as I read the book, so that I would come to it fresh, and I agree that Tevis builds quite a nice bit of tension in his depiction of Newton. I definitely felt as though his extreme frailty might be a red herring and that he would suddenly turn out to be some kind of superman/demon. But I like the fact that that did not happen.

This of course completely changed. I don’t think I have ever read a book which seems to capture an utter loneliness and the sense of being, by all appearances, part of society and yet is a complete outsider. It really pulled at my heart strings and was truly, erm, alienating (forgive the pun). I did wonder if this was a device that Tevis had used on purpose, it evokes sympathy don’t you think?

I totally agree. I feel that it’s the book’s greatest strength – this sense of the sheer heartbreaking REALITY of this alien far from home, missing his family, on a doomed mission. It’s so at odds with most depictions of alien life, and I think that’s why the book still has a following now. It definitely evokes sympathy, because I found I was very quickly on Newton’s side, and rooting for him to succeed.

There were genuinely so many things I loved about this book, one had to be the unrequited love between Betty Jo (who I adored) and Thomas, it just seemed so touching and also we all know about being in love with someone who doesn’t love us back don’t we? Did you think Thomas took advantage of Betty Jo’s feelings or did you think he simply didn’t understand it?

I like to think he simply didn’t understand it, because he treats her a bit like a pet. Or possibly that he was being faithful to his wife, even though there was a good chance that she could be dead. Mind you, I think it’s quite interesting that Tevis paints Betty Jo as a rather blowsy drunk…

I think that’s why I loved her…

…rather than someone a hero would conventionally fall in love with. Do you think her feelings would have been reciprocated if she had been a beautiful young virgin, or a drop-dead gorgeous siren? Maybe Betty Jo –who is indeed a marvellous creation as an alien mouthpiece – is more a symptom of the way women were viewed in the late 50s/early 60s when Tevis wrote the book? A reader of the time might understand exactly why Newton does not reciprocate!

I have to admit that I did get very upset; I am wondering if you can guess where this was…

Well I was obviously devastated by the disastrous experiment performed on Newton at the end of the book, which is just so cruel and ignorant. But both in the book and in the film, my most uncomfortable moments were watching Newton descend into alcoholism and lose focus on his mission. I think it is a gut-wrenching depiction of the slow slide into addiction. How about you?

I have to admit, his first dealings and introduction to alcohol I found quite comic. I wondered if Tevis was making a point by making what was initially comic spiral out of control in such a dark way. Weirdly though this book is never melodramatic is it? I found the prose was quite to the point, I am not saying it wasn’t wonderfully written as it was, but there is a certain distance and coldness which forces the reader to put emotions into the actions towards Thomas and in a way how alien his outlook on the world is. Did you find this the case?

Yes, I think Tevis has the perfect prose style for this book. There is certainly a sense of alienation and distance, which is a wonderful mirror of his protagonist. I’d be interested to know whether it was deliberate on his part, or whether this was simply his usual style and the story played to his strength.

The book was first published in 1963; did you think it has aged well over time?

I think the basic story is still very resonant now because it concentrates on very human emotions and vulnerability. However, the detail in the book is what makes it feel outdated. What the film did which the book does not, is carefully avoid any direct reference to exactly what these amazing technologies are that Newton has brought to Earth with him. That means that the film stands the test of time better than the book, which seems set very squarely in the 60s, or even in the 50s in that Cold War paranoia that prevailed about aliens and flying saucers. Some of the technologies described, like the little steel balls for playing music, have a certain prescience about them but much of Newton’s empire was built on rapid development of 35mm photographic film, which of course now seems almost laughably quaint. This is always the danger with reading classic sci-fi, I realize, but it does interrupt the flow of the narrative, and interfere with the suspension of disbelief. I guess that sci-fi writers hope that if their ideas become dated, it will be because they are so close to what really comes to pass.

The whole way through I felt that all the nuclear wars and the carnage that Thomas leaves behind on Anthea (what a name for a planet, it made me think of Anthea Turner) was a warning to what could happen on earth as technology evolves. Would you agree that Tevis was making his position clear on his concerns for the future of the world?

Yes, I think that can hardly be in doubt. Newton indicates as much to Bryce. In this respect, Tevis was certainly shrewd, if not visionary. Even the extent of the terrible drought which is killing Newton’s planet seems like a precursor of climate change. I believe Tevis taught English at a university in Athens, Ohio, so I guess that had some bearing on the name he chose for the planet!

Would you read another of Tevis’s novels?

I would, would you? I like his cool, succinct style and I’m quite intrigued that he wrote The Hustler, which is about bar-room pool players and was also filmed. But his book Mockingbird sounds great – a future where robots rule over illiterate, drug addicted people. I think I’ve lived there… Thanks for the inspired idea Simon (not to mention the McVities digestives!). I’m embarrassed to say that this is the only novel I’ve read in the past two years because I’ve been so busy writing. It was really good to read something that wasn’t about crime and death! I hope your readers enjoy the rest of your series of chats.

No thank you Belinda, it was so nice of you to pop by. I am also thrilled you chose this book; I honestly wouldn’t have read it and now am keen to read much more, the robots ruling book sounds good… I’m not so sure about the bar-room pool players I have to say. Right let’s see what the other readers have to say… come one everyone have a seat, grab a biscuit and tell us what you thought.

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Simon’s Bookish Bits #30

I thought whilst I am busy with ‘The Book Cull of the End of Reading Days’ today and various meetings with Waterstones and my co-host Adam for Mondays delights I would bring back my bookish bits (they haven’t been seen since January so needed a bit of dusting off and airing) which have as of today hit the big 3-0! So here are some links and the like that I have loved of late…

  • First up, which is probably old news but was new news to me, the Guardian’s First Book Award has caused some kerfuffle by sharing its submissions. I can’t decide if I like the idea, we have been debating it for The Green Carnation Prize (which extended its deadlines this week due to so many submissions), or not to be honest. I do like the fact you can vote for a title not on the list though, so maybe it’s a good thing? What do you think?
  • Speaking of awards (and indeed the Guardian again) what has become one of my favourite events of the year, the Not the Booker Prize, opened this week. You can vote for one title to be put forward (as long as it is eligible of course). I have cast my vote, which was for the wonderful ‘The Proof of Love’ by Catherine Hall – I know I haven’t shut up about it, but its that good – let me know if you vote, there has already been some, erm, disharmony and mass voting. Ha.
  • Speaking of disharmony that leads me to a little plea for people to come and join the Man Booker Forum. I don’t know how many of you are currently reading the longlist but you are a lovely lot and it would be nice to see some friendly faces, even if you are behind a nickname, on their as its all got a bit tetchy on there… I might have got a bit grumpy about it and said my piece.
  • The lovely Kimbofo has done a brilliant list of other literary links that you should have a look at. She has also had my bestest friend in the world, since the age of three, and book blogger Polly of Novel Insights on her Triple Choice Tuesday this week so do look at that too.
  • Remember tomorrow is the first in the ‘Reading With Authors 2011’ series. Belinda Bauer and I are ready to be live on the virtual sofa all day with tea and biscuits tomorrow so do pop by for a discussion on ‘The Man Who Fell From Earth’ by Walter Tevis.
  • Finally a reminder that on Monday in the heart of Manchester there is a new literary salon called Bookmarked starting. You might know one of the hosts, in fact their was an interview with him over on Nick Campbell’s A Pile of Leaves blog. This month is ‘Debut Night’ and will see Sarah Winman and SJ Watson on a very real sofa at Waterstones Deansgate AND you could win a chance to meet them for a private chat, and a glass of wine, before hand. I so hope to see some of you there.

Right off to cull books, good weekends ahead all of you, any plans or any special reading ahead?

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Reading With Authors 2011

Back in February (I am surprised it was this long ago) I mentioned the fact that after having loved doing the Not The TV Book Group I fancied doing it again, sadly the other hosts weren’t sure what they could commit to this year, so I was mulling the idea of doing something similar and different over the ‘early summer months’. Well its not the early part of summer, but summer it still is, and finally (and possibly a little last minute – but you guys are great at rallying round) I can reveal my plans for ‘Reading With Authors’ which is going to be taking place during the Sundays of August and September 2011., and something which I am hoping you will be able to join in the whole lot of or on and off…

Why has it taken so long? Well, there’s been all of the Bookmarked (only 8 days to go… eek) and Green Carnation Prize madness whirling in the background and also the authors taking part are busy bee’s and so choosing titles together and dates that they are free has been a tricky process, but now it is done and here are the books we would love you to read along with us and when…

(thanks to Gav Reads for the image)

  • Sunday 7th of August 2011: The Man Who Fell To Earth by Walter Tevis with Belinda Bauer
  • Sunday 14th of August 2011: Pigeon English by Steven Kelman with Naomi Wood
  • Sunday 21st of August 2011: Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann with Paul Magrs
  • Sunday 28th of August 2011: Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively with Natasha Solomons
  • Sunday 4th of September: Ruby’s Spoon by Anna Lawrence Pietroni with Beatrice Colin
  • Sunday 18th of September 2011: Even The Dogs by Jon McGregor with Isabel Ashdown

There are two more authors and their choices of books to announce in the next week, but I wanted to get the information out there sooner rather than later as the first one, with the lovely crime writing Belinda Bauer, is only a week a way! If you are thinking ‘only a week, that’s no time’ well I had that slight panic too. However Walter Tevis’ novel ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’ is only 186 pages and it’s stunning! I have a feeling that, as with ‘Flowers For Algernon’ by Daniel Keyes, this is a sci-fi book that is about to make me rather emotional and cry quite a lot. Who knew?

The idea behind all this is that it brings books, authors and readers together in a new way. The weekly author and I will have discussed the book, that will go up on the blog, and then we hope those of you who have read it too (pretty please) will come by comment and myself and the author will add comments creating a great discussion.

I am hoping that all the other books are going to be as good as the first promises to be. Some of them, as you can see from the list, are quite recent, some might have been chosen for the Man Booker (Naomi and myself chose ‘Pigeon English’ a while ago, neither of us having read it at the time, and were patting ourselves on the backs on Tuesday) some are cult classics and some are ones that have gone under the radar. All of them are books that the author and I were eager to read… do we all like our choices? You will have to wait and see! What do you think of the list so far?

I do hope you will be joining in!

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July’s Incomings…

I decided that after seeing all of your thoughts and responses on incoming posts, and discovering that you like them, I would carry on doing them monthly. However what has changed is the way I deal with books that have arrived. Id I have asked for them then they go straight on a special part of the TBR (which is getting a big update and cull this week), or they get read within a few days. If they are for The Green Carnation then they live with all the other (and it’s a vast amount) of submissions. As for the unsolicited ones… well… I decided instead of just piling them all up until then end of the month I would try and do ‘instant elimination’. So now I try and dip in and read a few pages here and there in the book, after reading the blurb, and decide if it’s a book for me, my Mum, Granny Savidge Reads or the charity shop. So far the system is working and so there are fewer books in this month’s incomings, let’s take a look at them.

First up the paperbacks…

  • August by Bernard Beckett – I saw this on The First Tuesday Book Club as Jennifer Byrne recommended it and it sounded intriguing, plus I loved the upside down title. When I saw I could bagsy it from We Love This Book HQ I did… obviously to review for them (and for you).
  • The Legacy by Kristen Tranter – unsolicited copy, this is a ‘9/11’ book I believe and whilst I am not sure how I feel about those, this one sounds like it might be from an angle you wouldn’t expect.
  • The Player’s Curse by Brian Thompson – unsolicited copy (but a very me one), this has reminded me I need to read the first in this series still, so I will be digging that out. I think this might be the third and I can’t read out of sync so will have to get the others if I like the first.
  •  Your Presence Is Requested At Suvanto by Maile Chapman – unsolicited copy, a tale set in a hospital deep in a wood, how can I not want to read this one?
  • Conference at Cold Comfort Farm/Westwood by Stella Gibbons – unsolicited copies, now I haven’t read Cold Comfort Farm yet so this is a timely reminder to, in fact these books set me off wondering if I am reading too much contemporary modern fiction currently.
  • The Tiny Wife by Andrew Kaufman – I said yes to this one, not because I had read his previous novel, but because it was a novella and also one that sounded like a fairytale.
  • Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck – I asked for this one because I saw it somewhere and it sounded really spooky, so I cheekily asked when the publishers were sending me something else.
  • Bitter in the Mouth by Monique Truong – unsolicited copy, not sure why I fancied this one now, but I did.
  • No Great Mischief by Alistair MacLeod – unsolicited copy, this won awards in 1999 I believe, but seems to have been reissued. I want to know more.
  • Things We Didn’t See Coming by Steven Amsterdam – unsolicited copy, I fancied this because of the cover (shameless) but sadly you can’t see how quirky it is.
  • Two Cures for Love by Wendy Cope – Cope was the cure for my poetry fears, I have this collection of Selected Poems awaiting me.
  • A Mind To Murder/Unnatural Causes by P.D. James – after having met her and then done an article about her I want to read more of her. I also got her ‘Talking About Detective Fiction’ which I couldn’t find to photograph. Oops.

The Hardbacks…

  • Everything That Began After by Simon Van Booy – this nearly went off to my Mum, as it’s set in Greece and she loves the country as she teaches classics, however I then looked him up and thought ‘I want to read this first’, I have and thoughts coming soon.
  • Bed by David Whitehouse – sounds like a really, really interesting and quirky debut novel about a bedridden boy.
  • East of the West by Miroslav Penkov – unsolicited copy, which came with a lovely hand written note from the publicist saying just why she loved it, you can’t not try a book when a publicist does that.
  • Rivers of London/Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch – I asked for these as I keep seeing them everywhere and when I read the blurbs I thought they sounded like a lot of fun, and a fun escapist read is what you need now and again.
  • Solace by Belinda McKenn – unsolicited copy, I am glad this turned up, there is a huge buzz about this book building so I want to read it before it all starts getting over hyped. Watch this space.
  • My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher – unsolicited copy, this sounds like a brilliant young adult novel and one I am going to read before passing onto my sister.
  • Pure by Andrew Miller – I resisted this book until I heard it was about cemeteries and I have a strange fascination with them, I do miss tour guiding at Highgate so much.
  • The Ascent of Isaac Steward by Mike French – I am trying to say yes to more independent publishers, I feel its something I am missing so am going to give this a whirl.
  • The Cold Eye of Heaven by Christine Dwyer Hickey – unsolicited copy, heard lots of praise about her last novel, and this one seems short-ish, so why not?
  • Jubilate by Michael Arditti – I read Arditti many years ago and it was quite an impressionable read for me in my late teens so I wanted to check in on him again with his latest.
  • The Picture Book by Jo Baker – Again this was all thanks to the publicist and the passion for the book in an email, I couldn’t say no.
  • You by Joanna Briscoe – I liked Joanna Briscoe’s debut Sleep With Me which I read before I blogged, I think, and it was a darkly delicious unnerving book. This one sounds very good indeed and also like it might have some interesting twists, its next to read.

Now before I go onto what I bought for myself I wanted to share two proof copies I got that are so simplistically stunning I couldn’t not show you…

I know nothing of Kevin Wilson, though I think ‘The Family Fang’ is a brilliant title, and have enjoyed a previous Ellen Feldman novel. But aren’t these so nice to look at? There’s no cover picture to judge, just the title, the author and the blurb. I really like it.

So what did I buy myself this month? Well there were the car boot bargain books but until Friday nothing else. I had to hunt out a copy of ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’ by Walter Tevis for a project you will be hearing more about later today. I then accidentally walked into Fopp and it gained three new friends because they were only £1 each (some random one day offer)…

  • Easter Parade by Richard Yates – I was trying to remember which blogger specifically made me want to read this but then realised there was a whole host of them.
  • The Quarry by Damon Galgut – we long listed his ‘In A Strange Room’ for The Green Carnation Prize last year and I never reviewed it, which was silly, I liked it and wanted to try more. This isn’t his most famous by any stretch but it starts with a random murder that gets out of hand and I thought sounded worth a try. I have already polished it off.
  • The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan – an utterly random purchase where I thought ‘oh I will risk it’. I loved the title, the cover and the blurb, simple as that.

So what do you think of this month selection? Any you would recommend I race to read or would like me to read soonest? Also, what do you think of my new filtering regime for books. Do you have any system in place that you could recommend?

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