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

Sunday, 28 March 2010

My Cool Caravan by Jane-Field Lewis and Chris Haddon

Whenever someone buys me book vouchers as a present, I always try to buy something that feels like a special purchase that I will keep. So when I came across this wonderful book it was straight to the checkout with my vouchers and a smile, because anybody who knows me will know about my obsession with caravans.
I owned my own caravan, a static on a farm in North Wales, for 10 years, and she was my pride and joy. Sadly Big Bertha is only with us in spirit now, through photos and many happy, and almost legendary, times there, so I now indulge my obsession with pictures of other peoples caravans.
There was a time when caravanning and caravaners had taken a back seat to holidays abroad, and the modern caravanner was a dying breed, but I know many people of a certain age will harbour secret childhood memories of rainy family holidays staying in vans across the countryside. Like all icons of nostalgia, the caravan is enjoying a revival, for lots of different generations, and types of people.
This book ticked every box for me, lovely pictures of old retro type caravans, lovingly restored by their owners, with a piece for each one and their doting human companion. I wanted every one.
Every iconic type of van is represented, from The Teardrop and The American Airstream, to customised hybrids, trailers and other roadworthy dwellings. Some travel around, others are summer homes in the garden. All of them are highly loved and furnished with a befitting quirky style. Forty caravans are represented, of all vintages, and from across the world.
This is one of those books that not only gives me huge pleasure when I pick it up, but it also helps me realise there are many others who share my passion. There are others who understand.
I don't know if I will ever own another van. I think I have assumed that one day another will come my way, a Big Bertha II, or a Little Bertha. Who knows? Until then I have this book to keep me going.
There are many groovy caravan enthusiasts and societies about. If you feel inspired to see more caravan pics, check out this Static Caravan Appreciation Society set up on flickr.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Atonement by Ian McEwan

This book was bought for me, as a present, by a work colleague after I had enjoyed the film 2 years ago. I have had a mixed relationship with Ian McEwan's books. The first one, Enduring Love, I really enjoyed, and I have recommended it to a number of people. I quite liked On Chesil Beach (click for review). I found Saturday interesting but also disappointing, and I didn't get on so well with Amsterdam either.
I waited a while after seeing the film of Atonement, which I loved, so as to get it out of my head, then a few weeks ago a friend told me she was reading it. It was time to pull it from my TBR pile and give it a go.
It tells the story of a family broken apart by the younger sisters accusation, fuelled by an over active imagination, with consequences that last for the rest of their lives, most tragically for her sister Cecilia, a ward of the family called Robbie, and herself, Briony, the accuser. It spans from 1935, a summers day at a country house, and then throughout the second world war, and finally to 1999 where the far reaching consequences are laid to rest.
I was captivated from the first page, and it did not let me go until the last. The words are rich and skillful, and there is a sustained quality all the way through. I wish I'd taken some of the passages down to share with you, but I couldn't put it down long enough. I intend to go back over it and revisit certain passages for my own pleasure. It was memorable throughout.
I don't know if I enjoyed it more because I had seen the film first, and I have tried to imagine how the book would be for those who do not know the story. Every location is vividly recreated in my head. Each character wrenched my heart as I read about their predicament. The ending brought tears, even though I knew what was coming.
I loved it, and it has joined my list of favourites. I recommend it with enthusiasm. Totally heartbreaking. Brilliant and complete.
For reading groups you can click on the link for Atonement discussion questions.
For Ian McEwan's website click the link.
Also, there are plans to turn Atonement into an opera, and you can read the report on The Guardian Book Blog by clicking the link.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Where have you visited?

I found these maps over on Katrinas Reads, and decided to make my own based on the countries that I have visited during my literary adventures. The top map is the countries covered during my reading in 2008, the 2nd during 2009, and the bottom map is my progress this year so far (obviously needs a bit of work). I am quite impressed by 2008.

Anyway, if you would like to make your own map, click the link

Sunday, 7 March 2010

The Zahir by Paulo Coelho

This book was lent to me by a friend who had previously recommended The Alchemist by the same author a few years ago. I had quite enjoyed The Alchemist, although it never reached the 'life changing' heights as it has done with so many others. The cover illustration for this one had caught my eye when it was first published so I was glad to try it.
The story is narrated by an unnamed author whose wife, Esther, a war correspondent, has gone missing. The story starts just after our narrator is being questioned by the police in Paris, where he lives, regarding her disappearance. It is known that she was reporting in Kazakhstan, but it is not known whether her disappearance was voluntary or if she was kidnapped, or even if she is ill somewhere. Our author determines to find her but his search for her and her absence becomes an obsession, a Zahir according to Islamic tradition, that takes over his mind in an unhealthy way. Is his search for her as she is or for her as he wants her to be? Is his obsession built on selfish grounds because he cannot stand the thought that she needs time away from their relationship, which had become stale? His wife has initiated a change that he was not ready for.
The narrators search takes him on a physical and spiritual journey, where he meets many characters who have come across his wife on her own spiritual journey. He learns a lot about her and their relationship. But mostly he learns about himself.
This book was really quick to read, the narrative style being simple to follow. I found it a little more involving than The Alchemist which is probably down to the translation, the original being in Portuguese.
I found the story quite interesting, following each step of the narrators journey of discovery and enlightenment. Some of the life lessons seemed a little obvious at times, although sometimes it is good to be reminded, to make you think. I know Coelho has legions of fans whose lives have been touched by the life lessons that come over in his books. Sadly I have never felt quite so strongly, or been touched so dramatically by his words. I did like this book though and found a lot of its points interesting. I am sure that his books will provide a lot for book groups to discuss. Will I read any more of his books? That remains to be seen.
You can have a look at Paulo Coelho's blog by clicking the link.

Hay on Wye

Hay on Wye