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

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

September Roundup

A few days late with this post due to a nasty little cold virus I picked up at the weekend. Been taking the Rosehip Syrup I made a few weekends ago which is rich in Vitamin C as well as A, D and E, and it tastes good too, hence the picture to your left. The only good thing about being holed up is having a little more time to read...
Read - 2 books
Completed -
An Awfully Big Adventure by Beryl Bainbridge
The Mystery of Grace by Charles de Lint
Currently Reading - Tethered by Amy MacKinnon
and also The Magic Apple Tree by Susan Hill
TBR Pile - currently at 81 books (according to GoodReads) with one book added...
The Magic Apple Tree: A Country Year by Susan Hill
Challenges - I set myself the challenge, in my directional reading post at the beginning of the year, to read another Charles de Lint novel, and I have now done that with The Mystery of Grace. The review will follow soon.
Wishlist Additions -
The Human Bobby by Gabe Rotter
The Summer Book by Tove Jansson
Discoveries - I guess you could say I have rediscovered an enthusiasm for Charles De Lint novels.
Events - It is not a reading event in itself, but has lead to the acquirement of books on the subject so I am going to include it for that reason. I went on a Herbal Medicine course in Manchester, run by the Low Impact Living Initiative (LILI). It was a brilliant day at Hulme Community Gardens, and so inspirational that I not only immediately went off making lots of remedies that I learned on the course, but I raided some local bookshops for books on the subject. I didn't include them above because they are reference books and not novels, but I wanted to share them just the same...
The Readers Digest Ultimate Book of Herbs
Grow Your Own Grugs: A Year with James Wong
The Holistic Womans Herbal by Kitty Campion
The Food Pharmacy by Jean Carper
Herbal Medicine:The Natural Way to Stay Well with The Herb Society by Dian Dincin Buchman.
Most of these I got second hand so it didn't break the bank and I have had a lot of fun increasing my knowledge in this area. It has been especially useful in looking up cold and flu remedies in the last few days!

Sunday, 19 September 2010


A couple of bibs and bobs that have come my way this week as well as some booky things to share with you.
As many of you know it has been Book Bloggers Appreciation Week this week and although I haven't played a very active part in it I do think it is an good way for book bloggers to interact and learn more about each other. It is an excellent source for finding new blogs and there have been some good articles and interviews too. One in particular caught my eye about the difference between American and British blogs, but there are lots of articles of the above link if you fancy a look for yourself.
The Chapter and Verse Festival is running again at the Bluecoat in Liverpool from the 9th to the 19th October. Tickets for various sessions are now on sale. Follow the link if you want to know more.
The Poetry Book Society is encouraging readers groups to try poetry for one of their meetings based on one of the nominated books for the T S Eliot prize. The poets included are Derek Walcott, Simon Armitage, Seamus Heaney and Annie Freud. From the 21st October you can download discussion questions, biographies and photos for these authors books. I think this is a great way to get groups to read poetry and if you want to read more about this scheme click the link.
I released another BookCrossing book just over a week ago in the Bluecoat gardens. The book was Amsterdam by Ian McEwan and it had been taken later in the day so lets hope someone logs it on the site and I can follow its progress.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

I must be one of only a handful of book bloggers who have not read this book...until now. We did do some chapters at school, but not the whole book. It was time to correct this and complete my 'read another American classic' category in my directional reading challenges for this year.
The story is told through the point of view of 2 children, Scout and Jem in the Deep South during the 1930's, and the lead up, during and aftermath of a trial where there father, Atticus, is defending a young black man accused of raping a white girl. Racism, class and childhood are all explored during this episode of their lives.
The story is told with warmth and humour, and a lot of the first part of the book follows their childhood games, curiosities, schooldays, friendships and rivalries. Because it is told from the childrens point of view, particularly Scout the youngest daughter, we are given a nostalgic take on the other characters, quirky neighbours, poorer class mates and the tales and adventures we all recognise from when we were younger. The adult world of court rooms, prejudice and politics are recounted as an interjection in their lives, and with an incomprehension that we as adult readers can share with them. Their simplistic view of the proceedings makes the adult complexities seem absurd at some points. However, the wisdom and kindness of their father, a literary hero of famous proportions, is a joy.
Like so many other readers, I loved this book. I was surprised by how much of a back seat the trial took, especially during the first part. I enjoyed the humour and the Deep South accents, and those important times during a young persons life where games overtake reality, in a way that makes them just as real. I also found that the lessons within it were not rammed down your throat.
While reading around the internet about this book, obviously most people speak with affection about it, but I found more than a couple of comments saying it was the most racist and unsavoury book ever written. I am glad that there are a variety of views but I feel these people have missed the point and I cannot agree. The story contains the views of some racist characters during a much earlier era, to which the book is sympathetic and consistent. In highlighting the racism that was rife at the time, where black Americans were easy targets for abuse and exploitation, the book brings attention to the injustices of the past in a balanced way, and this is important historically as well as a sociologically. It is also entertaining and very human and it is clear to me why this book is so highly regarded.
This year celebrated the 50th anniversary of this influential and much loved novel and there is a dedicated website for To Kill a Mockingbird 50th anniversary, just click the link.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

The Vagrants by Yiyun Li

I had heard a lot about this book on the blogs last year and then bought it as part of a 3 for 2 offer at Waterstones. I took it on holiday as something different to read after being surrounded by Jane Austen.
It starts in 1979, in an industrial town in China called Muddy River, just a few months after the death of Chairman Mao. It is also the day that a young woman called Gu Shan, is to be executed in the town for losing her faith in Communism. We follow several people through this day and the effect it has on them, her parents, the TV news presenter who has to report on the execution, Nini, a young crippled girl, the seven year old schoolboy Tong, the young layabout Bashi who is looking for a girl, and a few others along the way. The second part of the book moves forward a number of months to the day of a public protest over her death and the repercussions this has on many of them for years to come.
The political situation plays a very tangible backdrop for the stories of these very ordinary people, a lot of whom we can easily relate to. The writing is easy to follow and I was quickly caught up in the characters lives, concerned about where they were going and how it would progress for them. I found Yiyun Li's style captivating and skillful in making the thick grey atmosphere of fear and oppression, and also poverty, very realistic. You can feel it closing in on you as you read, and are grateful that you were not born in such a society.
The shocking elements in the book are told in such a matter of fact way I sometimes re-read them to make sure I had read it right. Without sensationalism we are given quite a few scenes that made me reel, and are more worrying for being almost an aside at times. This was everyday for those in China at this time. But these are recognisable people too, kind people, mean people, ambitious people and those just trying to survive. I particularly liked the Hua's and the baby girls they had tried to adopt along their way, in the absence of any children of their own. I also liked the story that followed Nini, a crippled burdon on her family so therefore an unpaid slave, and her friendship with Bashi. There were some moments of humour too, such as the comments about the women getting perms now that it was no longer thought frivolous.
This is a serious story though, important to be told and well written. It is not light hearted, and it is difficult and harrowing in parts. There were times that I wanted to put it down and do something cheerful for a bit before coming back to it.
An excellent choice for book groups as there is a lot to discuss about the historical context, the writing style and different personal opinions about the book. I am glad I read it, because of its significance on a human level. I was also glad that I was able to leave that world behind at the end, and seek out something more light hearted, so as to counteract the heavy damp cloudy feeling that I had after reaching its last few pages.
You can download a readers guide for The Vagrants by clicking the link.
There is also an interesting interview with Yiyun Li, if you are interested, follow the link.

Hay on Wye

Hay on Wye