The true university these days is a collection of books.
-Thomas Carlyle

Sunday, 30 November 2008


Just so you don't think I am neglecting my blog duties I thought I would update you with where I am at...
I am currently making slow progress with Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels, a novel recommended by a friend. It is very well written and an interesting story but I am being very slow reading it. It may be that my mind is not as focused as usual because it is not a long book. I have had many distractions lately too (a bout of flu, getting new kittens, and the sad death of a friend, plus Christmas coming up a little quickly). I am hoping to get some serious reading done this week and post a review. Then I can plan an attack on the TBR pile, which is now 3 piles of about 40 books. I am itching to get to some of them.
I have enjoyed reading all the posts about Thanksgiving in the US. Being a Brit I have found the variety of traditions and preparations really interesting. I didn't know about making desserts from sweet potato for this holiday until recently, for instance. I think different parts of the US must have their own traditions too. Naturally I have also enjoyed all of your reviews and news.
Have a great Sunday.
This post was co-authored by Tilly, one of our new cats!

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby

This is not really a review of this book because I read it about 8 or 9 years ago. To properly review it I would need to read it again, and I think I am going to add it to my personal challenge list for next year. The reason why I have brought it up is because this fantastic, unusual and enlightening book has been made into a movie which I saw over the weekend.
This book was recommended to me in about 1998. It is only a small book in size, so quick to read, but huge in its bravery, optimism and inspiration.
It is the true story of the editor of Elle magazine in Paris, a successful journalist, a womaniser, a father of three, who suffers a stroke at 42 years old and as a consequence suffers the rare and agonizing condition of 'locked-in syndrome'. This is where the mind functions normally but the body is entirely paralyzed, only able to communicate with one eyelid. It is with this eyelid he is able to dictate his book, with the help of his dedicated speech therapists, family members and the publishers, letter by letter as they go through the alphabet and he blinks on the right letter. A painstaking work of love and determination, his book tells of his experiences with an eloquance, humour and insight which can only inspire the reader.
Sadly, Bauby died in 1997, just months after the book was published, but he has managed to voice a truly moving account of his thoughts, his imagination and his condition. It is not depressing, although I got a little teary in parts, and it has been on my 'books you should read' list forever.
I was intrigued about how on earth they were going to make this into a film, about a man who cannot move at all, his thoughts and feelings. It could have been awash in sentiment and sympathy, or too light and fluffy. Or even the opposite, dreary and grey. But I honestly think they have got it spot on. It is a vibrant piece of work. The cinematography is wonderful and the movie sticks pretty faithfully to the book. The performances and casting are excellent in a film that must have been quite an undertaking. It is entertaining, moving, imaginative and does full justice to Bauby's words. I loved it and wanted to urge people to read the book or watch the film. Both are excellent and will make a difference to those who encounter them.
It is not often that a movie can be said to match a book but both hold their own this time within their own form, and come out very much on top.
Click here for a review of the film by someone who has also suffered a stroke:-
You can click on the following link for a reading guide to the book:-

Monday, 10 November 2008

The Amnesia Clinic by James Scudamore

This book was lent to me by a friend I met on holiday in Mexico and Guatemala. We have both travelled through parts of South America since then and she thought I might like this book because it is set in Ecuador.
The story is about two 15 year old boys who are friends. Anti tells us the story in retrospect, a short amount of time after the events he describes have happened. It is set pretty much in the present day. He is English, living a polite existence in an ex-pat bubble, quiet and a little unsure of himself. He becomes friends with Fabian at school, an adventurous and charismatic boy who lives with his unconventional uncle after the death of his parents. The two of them live on stories that they tell each other, enjoying each others ability to lend their imaginations to the everyday, bending reality to suit their will.
Anti loves to visit Fabian at his uncles grand house, where Anti is allowed a more liberal lifestyle than at his parents house. The only thing that is out of bounds is talking about the death of Fabian's parents. That is until one evening Fabian, aided by tequila, tells a fabricated version of their deaths in a road accident, where his mothers body was never found. Fabian believes she is still alive but has lost her memory. To help his friend, Anti constructs a newspaper article about an Amnesia clinic on the coast. Anti thinks that the rules of this game are clear, an indulgent story that keeps the reality at bay. That is until Fabian persuades Anti to skip school and go on an adventure with him to find the clinic that doesn't exist. From then on it is unclear who is playing what game and with who.
This book is a coming of age story that explores the use of construction to replace a painful reality, and how deeply those illusions can run and become confused. It is easy to read, although some sections are a little long winded. There are some interesting descriptions along the way. I enjoyed the episode in the service lift...
"The interior was padded with thick brown material, put there to absorb the blows of furniture or appliances as they were delivered to the show apartments above. It had absorbed more than that, too -the smells of stale sweat, of coffee and polution... It was as if I had momentarily slipped into an alternative version of reality. Even the ping of the doors...was louder, and more ragged, as if some crucial, restraining parts of its apparatus had been snapped off... I reached up, pressed button number seven and wiped the oily deposit this left from my fingertip on to the brown cladding. The machine jerked into action."
I found that the story held some surprising developments, especially towards the end, and it was difficult to predict exactly where it was going. I found the boys friendship a little unconvincing at times. Because it is based on lies and fabrications, and also on deep needs, it is never really warm, despite the way Anti describes it. I also found Fabian's tantrums annoying. I was left wondering why no one stood up to him. Mostly though, I found it a pleasant read that kept me interested on the whole, especially near the end. The place descriptions and South American setting intrigued me. However, I suspect that it did not have enough to remain in my thoughts much after it has finished. Time will tell.
To read an interview with James Scudamore, click on the following link...

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Simon Armitage at the Liverpool Literary Festival

I was here last night at the Bluecoat Chambers in Liverpool to see Simon Armitage as part of the Liverpool Literary Festival: Shipping Lines. He was reading some of his poetry and taking part in a Question and Answer session.
I first came across Simon Armitage's poetry in a second hand bookshop in Whitby called Endeavor Books and I have bought some more of his poetry collections since then. I have featured The Dead Sea Scrolls previously and you can read that post here.
I love to hear a poet read his own work and being from Huddersfield in Yorkshire, Simon's accent lends an interesting slant to the poems that we heard last night.
The small room where he performed was packed full and people were trying to buy tickets on the door, asking for cancellations. I think that his poetry is very accessable and both entertaining and often emotional. There are unusual subjects that play with the reader and their perceptions of the world. I also find his poetry to be very current and I nearly always connect to something that I recognise or that excites and inspires me.
Another interesting part of the session was the Q&A part. Simon was asked about his own poetry influences and also his musical influences because of his passion for being in a rock band and writing music. He spoke about Ted Hughes and Bob Dylan among others, of his admiration and inspiration. He was on for an hour, which went over quickly, but it was good to have been there, and to have taken part of the Literary Festival too.

Hay on Wye

Hay on Wye