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

Sunday, 30 December 2012

December Roundup

It has been more like rain in the North West this December than snow, with a few frosty days which were pretty. Cold weather means sitting by the fire with a book though, whenever you get the chance.
Now I am on a roll how did the reading go...
Read - 1 and a half books
Completed - one book, The Organic Year by Patricia Gallimore.
Currently Reading -
The Kite Runner by Khalid Hosseini
Literary Genius edited by Joseph Epstein
TBR Pile - currently at 128 (according to GoodReads) with 7 novels as Christmas gifts added. I also got 3 other books over Christmas...
The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy
Cities of the Plain by Cormac McCarthy
The Thread by Victoria Hislop
Winter in Madrid by C J Sansom
First and Only by Peter Flannery
Common Ground: Around Britain in 30 Writers
Shakespeare Off The Record by Stanley Wells
Dickens Off The Record by Paul Schlicke
RHS Latin For Gardeners by Lorraine Harrison
Challenges - Still haven't bought any new books throughout all of 2012. All of the new books in December were Christmas presents.
Wishlist Additions - just the one...
Gossip from the Forest by Sara Maitland
Discoveries -
I loved the Jim Carrey CGI version of A Christmas Carol which was on TV on Christmas Eve. Wouldn't be Christmas without some form of Scrooge. Went very well with a Festive glass of Port I can tell you.
Events - Apart from Christmas... I did watch the 2011 version of Wuthering Heights on TV last night, having read it earlier this year. It didn't have a great write up and I could see why. Long winded, not really a love story, frustrating characters, cold rather than passionate and endlessly melodramatic, the TV Times said 'unremittingly grim'. Just about everything I thought about the book to be frank. For all of the films frustrations it was exactly how I envisioned the story, a bunch of degenerate, unpleasant people in the middle of nowhere while endlessly blowing a gale on the moors. On that point it was a winner.

2013 is almost upon us, I hope you all have a wonderful New Year!

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

This book was bought for me as a present for my birthday, along with another Cormac McCarthy novel. I was familiar with some of the films from this writers novels but this was the first that I had read for myself. I was in the mood for a book that took me to the wild prairies of America and the ranching life.
Book One in The Border Trilogy and set somewhere between the two World Wars (but surprisingly timeless), the story follows John Grady Cole, from Texas, a young and intuitive rancher with a deep love and understanding of horses. He and his friend, Lacey Rawlins set out for Mexico to find ranch work and the life that they love. On the way they pick up a young boy runaway, a decision that changes the course of their adventures and also their future. Encorporating a love story, friendship and stunningly beautiful scenery, this book was called 'One of the Greatest American Novels of this or any time' by The Guardian. So does it live up to this claim?
Coming from a less skillfully written novel before this one it was clear to me within only a few pages that Cormac McCarthy is by far a talent to be celebrated. The first page contained a 'sit up and take notice, in-take of breath' moment, and the writing was deliciously beautiful, in an indulgent, chocolate caramel way. The type of writing that causes involuntary sighs from the reader because of the satisfying beauty of the prose. Some of the passages in this book are some of the most beautifully written paragraphs or sentences that I have ever come across.
This is only four pages in...
'He rode back in the dark. The horse quickened its step.The last of the day's light fanned slowly on the plain behind him and withdrew again down the edges of the world in a cooling blue of shadow and dusk and chill and a few last chitterings of birds sequestered in the dark and wiry brush. He crossed the old trace again and he must turn the pony up onto the plain and homeward but the warriors would ride on in that darkness they'd become, rattling past with their stone-age tools of war in default of all substance and singing softly in blood and longing south across the plains to Mexico.' (p6)
McCarthy's use of repetition also served to validate the prose...
'When the wind was in the north you could hear them, the horses and the breath of horses and the horses' hooves that were shod in rawhide...'
or '...the women and children and women with children at their breasts all of them pledged in blood and redeemable in blood only.'
and I found it provided a rhythm that was comforting. I also liked the maturity of the voice telling the story, an assuring account of human nature that only comes with an experienced eye.
John Grady is the kind of hero we miss from old stories, steadfast, strong, reliable and entirely human. His sense of fairness compliments his passionate nature, for his own life, the woman he loves, his friend and the horses he surrounds himself with. You wouldn't go far wrong with this bloke on your side in an argument. These are men whose senses are heightened and do not spend much time on conversation.
The deceptively girlie title of the book hides the masculine content. This is an often brutal account of life on the land, with very few female characters, and a violent second half that had me holding my breath. Shocking circumstances left me wondering how on earth will they survive, only to lead to more shocking developments.
This is a gorgeous book on so many levels, the descriptions of the landscape and mans relationship with it, working with it and the horses. Also the accounts of friendship, and the determination to survive when others are determined that you will not. It was exciting and moving and a wonderful read.
Highly recommended for anyone wanting to visit a wild west that is about to be lost to machinery and corporate management very soon afterwards. Also for those who love quality writing that enhances sense of place and conveys tangible characters. I can't wait to get my hands on the 2nd novel of The Border Trilogy.
Reading Group Guides have discussion questions on All The Pretty Horses.
To go to Cormac McCarthy's website use the link.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Merry Christmas!

The great Gene Wilder, in his most famous role as Willy Wonka. I first saw Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory when I was about 7 years old and it was shown on TV during the Christmas season. We're talking the 1970's. It was pure magic and I loved it. The chocolate room delighted me and the tunnel scene scared me witless, but it was Gene Wilder who captivated me most. Intriguing, unpredictable, beguiling, I was hooked and watched it many times, as a child and as an adult (now owned on DVD!).
I have seen the Tim Burton version but I found it tried hard to be dark and wierd and didn't quite work. The first version is much more sinister, but also warmer and very funny. Of course the original book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was by Roald Dahl and a teacher in my primary school read us the story over a series of tuesday afternoons. A whole class mesmerised, and the perfect way to keep us all quiet. The joy of a good story.
So here is wishing you all a Merry Christmas with a little Festive Magic thrown in for good measure.

Coming soon... my review of All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy.

Friday, 14 December 2012

September, October and November Roundup

I have been missing for a little while, due to lots of reasons, mainly an inability to read for 2 months over the summer. This was mostly down to being hugely distracted after I came back from Italy, although my reading has returned again now, thank goodness. Together with a very slow laptop and generally being busy the habit of blogging fell aside. Sometimes life just happens. I did wonder was this it for my blog? Had it reached its conclusion, and there has been some anxiety over what to do and finding time, but with determined effort, and missing talking about books, I am back again.
So here is the last 3 months in summary...
Read - 6 books
Completed -
All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
Harry Hop-Pole by Wispy Gorman
The Comfort of Strangers by Ian McEwan
The Arrival by Shaun Tan
Notes From Walnut Tree Farm by Roger Deakin
I Was A Rat by Philip Pullman
Currently Reading -
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
The Organic Year by Patricia Gallimore
TBR Pile - currently at 122 (according to GoodReads) with 2 added...
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Shakespeare's Flowers by Jessica Kerr
Challenges -  I still have not bought any new novels in accordance with #1 of this years personal challenges. Both books that are added to the TBR pile were second hand buys.
Wishlist Additions -
The Forgetting Tree by Tatjana Soli
A Winters Night by Valerio Massimo Manfredi
Discoveries -
Decided, during a recent visit to Nottingham, to try and find The Kite Runner in a second hand shop after failing to find a copy in my home towns excellent selection of shops. Visited lots of charity bookshops and expected to find it easily because it feels like one of those books that you see everywhere. This was not the case but led to the discovery of some brilliant Second Hand Bookshops in Nottingham...
Bookwise on Goose Gate- very friendly, nice atmosphere, and an excellent selection of books. This was where I finally found The Kite Runner.
Books And Pieces in the West End Arcade- filled to the brim in a tiny shop as you navigate piles of books on every surface, this is book browsers paradise. The owner looked for the title I wanted on a computer and told me straight away that they didn't have it.
Events -
The Kite Runner is making its European stage debut at the Liverpool Playhouse next summer.

So there it is, 3 months in a nutshell. Amongst the Christmas madness I am looking forward to reviewing the books I have read in that time, and of course I am still on GoodReads.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Bits and Pieces

The Manchester Literary Festival is due to kick off next month, from the 8-23 October in various venues around the city. You can join Simon Armitage, Clare Balding or Iain M Banks among many other names, in talks, debates, readings and even walking tours of the city. To view a full calendar of events use the link.

Bookbrowse have compiled a list drawing together all of the movies that are released this autumn that are based on books, with trailers to whet your appetite. Some highlights include Anna Karenina, On The Road, The Hobbit, The Life of Pi and Cloud Atlas. To view the Movies From Books, Autumn 2012 list, use the link.

I ran across a blog called Bardfilm, written by a literary professor celebrating all of Shakespeare in movie form. It also covers plays and other uses of Shakespeare. Recent posts include pieces on the use of Shakespeare quotes in Friends and Star Trek, as well as the Tempest speeches during the London Olympics opening and closing ceremonies, by Kenneth Branagh and Timothy Spall.

Lastly, I am having a dry spell reading wise, and have got behind on my reading. In fact I have read about 9 pages in a month. I am enjoying the book but am finding it difficult to concentrate. I am blaming my lovely holiday in Italy for my distraction and hope to be back on form soon. The last time that this happened was about 3 years ago, when I couldn't lift up a book then either. So bear with me for now, and you will be the first to know when this strange mood has passed.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

August Roundup

My apologies for the lack of posts in August but I do have a good excuse...I was here in Florence and Tuscany for a few weeks. It is a beautiful part of Italy and I was retracing some of the places I had been when I visited 15 years ago. It has always been one of my favourite places, along with Siena and San Gimignano.

On to the books...
Read - not very much at all (even though I took 3 books away with me!)
Completed - none
Currently Reading -
All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
Notes From Walnut Tree Farm by Roger Deakin
The Organic Year by Patricia Gallimore
TBR Pile - currently at 125 (according to GoodReads) with 2 novels added...
Harry Hop-Pole by Wispy Gorman
Chef of Distinction! by Wispy Gorman
Both of these were sent to me by the publishers, acorn books, after seeing Harry Hop-Pole on my wishlist last month. Received with thanks.
I also picked up a beautiful little book in San Gimignano called The Unhappy Trees by Alessandro Togoli, giving voices to some of the figures depicted on antique urns. Its a gorgeous book and a lucky find.
Challenges - I still have not bought any new novels in accordance with #1 of this years personal challenges.
Wishlist Additions -
Art In Nature by Tove Jansson
The Light Between Oceans by M L Stedman
Discoveries -
Alessandro Togoli's book, The Unhappy Trees.
Events -
Visiting the lovely Villa Vignamaggio in Chianti, Italy which was the location for the film Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare starring Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Keanu Reeves, Denzel Washington, Michael Keaton and Maggie Smith.
Rediscovering Florence and Tuscany, a region portrayed in many novels and films.

Friday, 10 August 2012

The Lost and Forgotten Languages of Shanghai by Ruiyan Xu

I first saw this book on the Bloomsbury website and thought that it had an unusual premise that promised to be touching as well as different. I was also drawn to a modern story set in China.
A happily married business man is badly injured in an explosion at a hotel when a shard of glass hits him in the head. Following emergency brain surgery he eventually regains consciousness but can only speak rudimentary English, a language he left behind in America when he was 10 years old and has never spoken since. He can understand Chinese but no longer has the ability to form the words in order to speak them. His wife throws herself into taking care of their house, their son and his business. Unable to help him the hospital sends for a neurologist from America who specialises in such cases, to rehabilitate Li Jing to speak Chinese again. Dr Rosalyn Neal has her own reasons for wanting a break from back home and is battling her own demons. It is not long before doctor and patient become closer, sharing more than just a common language.
The chapters are told to us from each of the main protagonists point of view, with some shorter sections from Li Jing's son, Pang Pang, so that we are given a very rounded view and understand how each person is feeling during this complicated situation. The language is descriptive but straight forward to read, with a lot of exploration paid to how central language is to our communication as humans, not only the words said, but the pitch and expression of those words. How we use our language for courtship, or how it becomes part of our character, our own personal speech characteristics that others notice and like about us. Also there is the ease and speed of being understood. When this ability is taken away how much of us, and our relationships, can still be the same?
There were some very interesting themes in this book, a lot to consider when a skill many of us take for granted, is lost. However, as a novel, I wish I had liked it more. It took me ages to find a footing with the story to keep me going, and I did almost give up on it more than once. It seemed bogged down in endless description that had me willing it to get on with the job. I felt that the amount of detail at times was unnecessary and caused the book to plod significantly.
I also had issues with the characters, mainly Meiling, the wife. Her screaming reaction to her husband speaking English was akin to his eyeballs having fallen out and resting on the pillow beside him. She continually views him with disgust and disappointment, pulling her hand away if his brushes hers, not wanting to share the same room with him. He is clearly distressed and retreats within himself because of her reaction and lack of sympathy or support. Granted she is consumed by keeping their life together, but it is clear that the reason she spends so much time at his job, at the expense of time with her son, is because she loves it, the power and position, she gets off on it. When Doctor Neal arrives Meiling uses her to avoid contact with her husband, forcing them together. It is no wonder, in the absence of any loving care or affection, that he turns to Rosalyn Neal. Meiling is more than willing to learn about stock markets and shares, but makes no effort at all to learn to communicate with Li Jing, in English, sign language or anything. In fact she is unwilling to stay in his presence long enough to try. Her stoic emotionless face, and tailored black suits, are her whole personality, and here lies my other problem with the book...stereotypes.
Both of the women are heavily stereotyped, to represent the stiff and clinical Chinese, exact and proud, as opposed to the loud, bohemian American, who wears her heart on her sleeve, every thought and emotion expressed on her face. Rosalyn is free spirited, wears bright colours from ethnic markets, and laughs and cries in equal measures. Differences in national identity can be interesting, but not when it becomes so characatured as I found it here. People are so much more complicated than that, and Meiling especially I found difficult to accept. At least Rosalyn is quite likeable. It was hard to sympathise with Meiling, and yet the picture on the cover and the blurb on the back led me to believe she was the one to feel sorry for. I also found the ending wanting, but do not want to reveal too much here.
It is quite a shame that this book did not hit the mark with me. Book groups would find a lot to discuss and not everyone will agree with my view I am sure. Indeed I have read good and not so good reviews about it. Some of the exploration of the importance of language has provided thinking material, but sadly I do not feel this one will stay with me.
Bloomsbury have a Reading Guide for the novel on their site.
Ruiyan Xu has her own site which gives you more information about her and what influenced the book.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

July Roundup

This evocative black and white photograph was taken by my friend Kim Smith. You can view and also buy her cards and prints online at and it is well worth a look. I chose this picture (called Life Saver) to represent July because it reminded me of summer evening walks down to the beach while on holiday. There is a Celtic quality to the shape of the life saver on its frame too, which I liked. There are more brilliant pictures to browse through on her site.
On to the reading life of July...
Read - 1 book
Completed -
The Lost and Forgotten Languages of Shanghai by Ruiyan Xu
Currently Reading -
All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
Notes From Walnut Tree Farm by Roger Deakin
The Organic Year by Patricia Gallimore
TBR Pile - currently at 123 books (according to GoodReads) with none added in July.
Challenges - Still managing to stick to #1 of this years personal challenges to not buy any new books, although a visit to Waterstones in Nottingham, with a friend, tested my resolve. It was a struggle, but I stuck to it.
Wishlist Additions -
The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
The World Without Us by Alan Weisman
The Memoirs of a Survivor by Doris Lessing
Harry Hop-Pole by Wispy Gorman
The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson
Wonder by R J Palacio
Once You Break A Knuckle by D W Wilson
The Library Book - Short Stories
Wall Of Days by Alastair Bruce
Discoveries -
The Book Beast at The Daily Beast, a magazine section on books, attractively set out and good articles.
Events -
World Book Night people are looking for nominations for your favourite books that could end up as one of the titles used for the event in 2013. Use the link to nominate your choice.
With all of the rain here in England it hardly feels as if summer is here, and we are already into August. This month will bring its own adventures, but a little sunshine and warmth would be nice.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Brian Tasker

Over the years a number of people, who know of my love for the Haiku Poem, ask where it started. It all began with the man pictured here, Brian Tasker.
About 20 years ago I was in Covent Garden in London, in a street called Neal Street East. There was a quirky shop there, a bit of a warehouse really, and it sold all sorts, and inside to the right was a bookshop that specialised in the arts. I went in many times afterwards, although it is no longer there.
Typically, on that first visit, I ended up in the poetry section and found two strange hand made books almost buried amongst the conventional titles. They were made of parchment, hand made paper, and sewn at the spine with wool and raffia. It was like finding a secret book in a strange bookshop at the beginning of so many stories. They were beautiful, and begging to be opened.
We were in the shop about 40 minutes and the entire time that my family scoured the shelves, I stood in one corner reading these books. They were by Brian Tasker and it was my first encounter with the Haiku.
I didn't get it at first, a deliberately arranged sentence on every page, but they were making me laugh or making me sad and I couldn't stop reading them. They were so simple yet seemed to say so much. I was astounded to find that these little books were for sale, because it felt like I had accidently found someones personal possession, left behind on the shelf. Their titles were Woodsmoke and Notes From A Humdrum - A Year in Haiku, and I have had them ever since.
Brian Tasker is involved with Makeshift Theatre, which has a page about his poetry. I have since come across him in compilations, many of which you can find at the Iron Press, or as editor for other collections. These particular ones were published by the Bare Bones Press, a journal founded by Tasker.
The delight I felt at finding those strange little books all those years ago led to a deep love for the Haiku form and many other collections for my shelves. However those first books by the poet above are my most treasured. Look out for his words on 'Haiku of the Week' on my sidebar, here at The Octogon.

Monday, 16 July 2012

The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad

This book was my lucky dip from last year's Novel Holiday in Dorset. I had heard of the book already having bought it as a present for someone else. This is the 2nd title that is linked to our literary holidays, in accordance to #3 of my own challenges of the year.
The book tells the story of the Khan family, the head of which, Sultan Khan, is the bookseller of the title. The writer was a journalist from Norway who stayed with the family while working in Afghanistan and documented their story as a piece of literature.
The chapters focus on a different family member each time, relaying incidents that happened while she was with them, and the family members thoughts and opinions come from conversations that she had with them, we are told in the foreward.
The chapters cover new marriage proposals, trips to the market or the hammam with the female members, a trip to Pakistan with one of the sons, an attempt to join a night school class by one of the daughters, amongst others. We explore their characters and sense of survival, in a damaged city in a country that has such a violent, shifting history. Tradition holds the family together but suppresses various members in accordance with a hierarchy which is mainly dependent on your sex. Women are are given little opportunity to be independent and yet are criticised for being dependent on the male members, giving them licence to dish out abuse whenever it suits them. The younger male members, subject to the whims of their egotistical elders, take out their frustrations on those below them in the pecking order, so much so that the youngest daughter is kept at home as an unpaid and despised slave for the rest of the family. Sultan is a respected business man and his word is the law. He can treat his family however he likes because society has decreed him all powerful, so selfishness and lack of regard are part of everyday life.
Since this book was published the Khan family have rejected their portrayal, especially Sultan (not his real name). I was confused about the title, because this is more about the bookseller's family than the bookseller himself so I kept wondering when it was getting back to the main protaganist until I realised that it was only marginally about him.
The bulk of this book belongs to the women, wives, daughters, sisters, who also have their hierarchy, the youngest being bottom of the pile entirely. This may be because the writer was allowed to get closer to these members, into their confidence being female, or maybe because their plight interested her more. I couldn't help feeling that some of their opinions about their plight were more the authors than the women themselves though and it was here that I had a problem reading the book.
I really do not like Western writers portraying other cultures as repressive, backward or cruel in an unbalanced or arrogant way. I felt the writing was coming from a viewpoint that was situated on a pedestal looking down. Nearly all of it was negative. There was little said about affection, love, friendship. Do these things not exist in Afghanistan? The whole of this book seemed to be inviting you to sneer and be horrified at how awful Afghani family life is, and God help you if you are a girl. Granted, cruelties exist in all cultures, and need to be spoken of, but Westerners need to be careful not to dwell only on these things. Finding beauty alongside their difficulties, in moments or human relationships allows us to connect to them in some way, otherwise it can seem like a diatribe of derision.
I wonder whether the mistake here is in writing this as a literary work rather than a journalistic piece. I did actually like the chapter in the market describing the difficulties of wearing the Burkhas, or the women washing at the hammam, mainly because the writing became more interesting and descriptive, the women becoming people, interacting with one another. The rest of the book was not this way though. There seemed to be no relief for any of them, no special times, no pride in each other, not even a favourite meal or food spoken of.
The complicated and violent history of the region is dealt with so briefly, mostly in one chapter at the beginning, that I felt I was not given sufficient information to understand their differences. It ended up feeling like a one dimensional story that I didn't fully trust to be authentic to the people that it spoke about.
Discussion Questions about The Bookseller of Kabul can be found by using the link. I think there is plenty to talk about for book groups.
An opinion about the inaccuracies of the book can be read by using the link.
It is worth noting that my opinions about this book were formed during reading it or shortly afterwards. The controversy surrounding the legal cases about the authenticity of the opinions reported came to me later while reading around it for my post, adding further dimension to an already sensitive subject. They did not shape my feelings for the book, my concerns for which I had already voiced to others while reading it.

Monday, 9 July 2012

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson

This book was talked about and recommended during our Jane Austen Novel Holiday in Hampshire 2 years ago. I liked the sound of it so when my mum asked me if I wanted any books for Christmas that year I gave her this title. I read it for #3 of my own challenges to read two titles that came up during our Novel Holidays.
In short compact chapters we hear about 6 year old Sophia and her summer with her grandmother on a small island in the gulf of Finland. As each day is whiled away in the sunshine life becomes microscopic in its detail as well as vast in its imagination. Sophia, under her grandmothers guidance, is finding her individuality. Every day brings an adventure. A storm, a cat, a visit, a boat trip, a game. The house belongs to nature as much as to them, the island is a wilderness to be explored, the summer ticks on and life is changing rapidly for both of them.
The narrator is in the third person but much of it is Sophia's young view of the world. Her wide eyed wonder and cautious sense of adventure is coupled with her grandmothers wisdom and gentle encouragement. There is deep love between them but not without the usual frustrations and tiresomness that comes with living close together. All of this is explored and relayed to us in economical prose conveying the simple truths of the relationship with each other and the island.
Warmth comes not only bounding from the rocks by the shore, but from the tangible heart of this story. It is no surprise that Jansson drew on her own experiences with her grandmother as a child because this feels personal, as if we have been given an intimate glimpse through a keyhole at a private and beautiful time between these two people generations apart.
You can probably tell that I loved it, it was a complete treat to be able to dive into their world in short bursts. It was funny, poignant, moving (but never sentimental) and an adventure for me as a reader. I could feel the heat of the sun, hear the sea lapping the jetty, smell the plants, imagine the course stones and rocks, but this was only part of it. This book is about people and how they get on with each other. The subjects were so simple and yet completely involving and it was one of those books that I was sad to leave behind at the end.
Beautiful, and highly recommended. A rare treasure.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

June Roundup

Lovely gooseberries, the sign of summer. Bought a load of these from our local market last week to make Gooseberry and Elderflower Ice Cream. The luscious green of these fruit, in season for such a short time, seemed a good representation for June.
On to the books...
Read - half a book. It has been a slow month, being away for a week and an otherwise busy month.
Completed - none
Currently Reading -
The Lost and Forgotten Languages of Shanghai by Ruiyan Xu
Notes from Walnut Tree Farm by Roger Deakin
The Organic Year by Patricia Gallimore
TBR Pile - currently at 124 books (according to GoodReads) with just one added...
Eve Green by Susan Fletcher
Challenges -
Still managed to stick to #1 of my challenges to not buy any new books this year. My one addition to the TBR pile was a second hand copy from The Sanctuary Bookshop on Broad Street in Lyme Regis, a great bookshop to get lost in for an hour or so.
Completed #5 of my challenges to compare 3 books to films with The Great Gatsby in my last post.
Wishlist Additions -
Illyrian Spring by Ann Bridge
Tiny Homes Simple Shelter by Lloyd Khan
The Green Self Build Book by Jon Broome
The Art of Mindful Gardening by Ark Redwood
Red Sky At Night by Jane Struthers
Discoveries -
The Old Books Guide and its accompanying website, a very useful resource for Antiquarian and Second Hand Booksellers in the Devon, Cornwall, Somerset and Dorset.
Two great bookshops in Lyme Regis in Dorset...The Sanctuary Bookshop on Broad Street I have already mentioned, and The Bookshop on Marine Parade by The Cobb. Both lovely bookshops and mentioned on the above website for The Old Books Guide.
Beetroot Books website, a site that specializes in books on gardening and cooking.
Events - An amazing and heart wrenching performance by Leanne Best in The Match Box by Frank McGuinness at the Liverpool Playhouse Studio.
Lets hope the rains dry up a little in July because it hasn't stopped for the last few weeks.
I am also loving being on Twitter (@leah_theoctogon) and am rapidly becoming addicted. Great way to share information, on books or just about anything else.

Friday, 22 June 2012

The Great Gatsby: Book to 1974 movie comparison

You may remember my review of The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald last year and so when this 1974 version of the film starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow came on TV late one night I rushed to record it. I had not seen it before and the imagery for this famous adaptation had always convinced me, before reading the book, that the 'Great Gatsby' was a car. Now, of course, I know different, although the car is gorgeous, and very iconic of the age.
My memories of this novel are a colourful montage of images, opulent parties and lavish clothing, houses of the elite during the Jazz Age in America after the First World War. Fitzgerald's lovely descriptions, especially of the exotic party goers, are what stayed with me, as well as the huge set pieces that were begging to be translated into a film.
I was not disappointed. This film pulls out all the stops to accurately reproduce each scene with care and attention to detail. Costumes of the Long Island rich are extravagant and ridiculously impractical, make up and hair flawless. Everything reeks of money.
The casting works brilliantly too. I was aware of Redford as Gatsby already, so his presence may have infiltrated my reading of the book anyway, but Mia Farrow, Bruce Dern and Sam Waterstone are excellent in their roles also.
The narrative slides by, quietly and with sophistication, as does the book. The party scene mid way through is a spectacle in itself with wild Charlston type dancing and millions of extras.
My only criticism was that it was a little long and I was quite tired by the end. I would imagine that for anyone who has not read this brilliant novel it may be a bit of a slog and not fully hold your interest. I don't know. I enjoyed it because I enjoyed the book and this enhanced the former experience by faithfully reproducing the mood, era and images to a screen. There were scenes in this movie, the petrol garage particularly, that were almost exactly as I had imagined them. If I did not have that foundation to build on I might have found it a bit dull and drawn out. I know that it has mixed reviews, but it cannot be criticised for any lack of glamour, or effort, or loyalty. It is pace that lets it down, but it is also this that recreates, in my opinion, the heady mood of the original novel.
In conclusion, this movie may be best watched after experiencing the book, as a faithful revisitation of a hugely loved story, one that many, and not just Americans, have grown up with. I would love to think that it would inspire a non-reader to read the novel, and very possibly it has, but I wonder if for others it may be considered long-winded and they find their attention waning half way through. 
I enjoyed visually revisiting this classic novel that I enjoyed last year, I do love Robert Redford too, and I am very much looking forward to the new version later this year with Leonardo di Caprio, Carey Mulligan and Tobey Maguire.
This post completes #5 of my personal challenges during 2012 to compare 3 books to their movie counterparts, the previous ones being North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell and We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Dubliners by James Joyce

Dubliners was my first James Joyce book and part of the challenge from my work colleague AR, to read at least one of 3 titles chosen for me, by the end of the year.
Joyce wrote this book, his first, in 1914. It is a collection of short stories about various characters in Dublin around the turn of the century. Some of the characters stories overlap but each piece is a stand alone story. Most of the stories are quite short, 10 to 20 pages on average, covering small instances within the lives of a mixed set of people, young, old, men, women, groups or alone, all of them working class in Dublin.
In viewing these snapshots of their lives we are able to glimpse the wider community and interactions. From a young boys reaction to the family priests death in The Sisters, to an alcoholic about to lose his job and spending his last pennies on ale, to go home and take it all out on his children in Counterparts. There is also a group of men talking before a commitee meeting in Ivy Day in the Commitee Room, to a mother standing up for her musician daughter at a local concert in A Mother. None of the characters are well off, and some have varying fortune in their lives, but interaction, of friends and family, good and bad, features prominently in each chapter. The last story, The Dead, is much longer and feels like a short novella. It covers an entire evenings gathering and the subsequent hours afterward, and mentions a few of the characters from previous stories, bringing it all together. I have only picked out some of the tales, there are 15 in all.
The writing is beautiful throughout and each story has the feeling of joining an everyday incident half way through and leaves before it is ended. You sense that a lot has happened before and after the point where you come in, so each one is like a living thing. Some of the stories recount something that happens, others detail the ordinariness of life.
The cover picture of this edition is very evocative of the age in which these stories are set and was something that I found easy to connect with coming from, and growing up in Toxteth in Liverpool. Even during the 1970's there were parts of my childhood neighbourhood that enabled me to understand the setting and people that Joyce depicts here, as well as the history of my city and its own Irish connections and working class streets. The simple but skillful language used makes this book a joy to read. I loved the economy of the events pitched alongside the richness of the words. The subjects that pass through this book are very real and admirable for being written down.
This set of stories are a real treat for literature fans and those who like classic writing of the early 20th century with the late 1800's as an influential backdrop. Poverty and struggle play side by side with humanity and community. Highly recommended, and I know that I will pick this book up in the future and revisit the stories in it, for pure pleasure.
For a Penguin Reading Guide to Dubliners use the link.
For more information about classic Irish writer James Joyce use the link.

Friday, 1 June 2012

May Roundup

Summer is here, warm weather, blue skies (mainly). There is nothing I love more than finding a shady bit of grass, near a tree, and taking a book to read. Indulgent I know, when time is precious, but an essential luxury, however sparsley captured, to those of us who love to read books.
How did we do in May...
Read - 2 and a half books
Completed -
The Summer Book by Tove Jansson
The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad
Currently Reading -
The Lost and Forgotten Languages of Shanghai by Ruiyan Xu
Notes from Walnut Tree Farm by Roger Deakin
The Organic Year by Patricia Gallilmore
TBR Pile - Currently groaning at 123 books (according to GoodReads) with quite a few added this month...
Written Lives by Javier Marias
Bad Dirt by Annie Proulx
The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
The Tortilla Curtain by t. coraghessan boyle
Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel
The Distant Hours by Kate Morton
The Understudy by David Nicholls
Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
Challenges -
Despite the many additions to my TBR pile in May, I have still kept to #1 of my own challenges to not buy any new books this year. Written Lives was a secondhand copy from Oxfam, and the rest were from our Book Swap in work.
Completed #3 of my challenges to read at least 2 titles that came up during our Novel holidays by completing The Summer Book by Tove Jansson (which was brought up as a recommendation by RB on our Jane Austen Holiday in Hampshire) and completing The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad (which was my lucky dip title from CS on our Thomas Hardy Holiday in Dorset). Reviews are on their way here soon.
Wishlist Additions -
Home by Toni Morrison
This Is How: Proven Aid in Overcoming... by Augusten Burroughs
The Perks Of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
The Devil's Beat by Robert Edric
Afterward: A Novel by Rosamund Lupton
The History of the Countryside by Oliver Racknam
Discoveries -
I am now on Twitter, and getting more than a little addicted. Decided to see what it was all about and have discovered a whole new world. I may see you there too...(link is on my sidebar by 'About me')
Events -
Had our BookSwap in work, now an annual event due to its popularity, and a great way to recycle and get people talking about books. I started off with 4 books, but there were 3 more at the end that were going to Oxfam so I adopted those too. See above for the brilliant titles, and I think lots of other people got some good ones too. It was a great success.
The Norman Conquests (a trilogy of plays by Alan Ayckbourn) are on at the Liverpool Playhouse and well worth a watch. I have seen 2 so far (Living Room and Round and Round the Garden). Great plays for the summer, a bit of 70's comic nostalgia, and some Norman mayhem in true Ayckbourn style.
I am off on my annual trip to work on the beautiful farm in Devon for a week...will see you when I get back.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist

I had read a number of blog reviews about this one last year. The white laboratory-like cover coupled with my weakness for a dystopian novel attracted me, and then the premise sealed the deal. I sent for it right away. The time for reading it only came recently.
Set in Sweden in the near future, Dorrit, our main character, tells her story in the first person. We enter her world while she is waiting outside her ramshackle cottage for a large car with blacked-out windows to arrive and take her and her meagre luggage away. She is going to The Unit, an establishment in an unknown part of the country that voluntarily houses women over 50 and men over 60 in constant luxury for the remaining part of their lives. In this society older citizens without children or dependents and without a progressive job, are considered to be a drain on the whole and therefore dispensible, and being unnecessary in this way are largely ostricised and unable to get financial help in any form. The alternative is to opt for The Unit, a huge, enclosed place with theatres, art galleries, sports facilities, cinemas, cafes, therapies, restaurants, dancing, parties, enormous gardens... it goes on, and all without money or financial worries. The catch is that to become necessary to society you have to take part in medical experiments, gentle ones at first to ease you in, then you start donating parts of yourself, to enable the necessary members of society to live. Eventually, on average after 4 years in The Unit, you will make a final donation ending your life. These final donations, such as a heart and lung transplant, will only be considered when all other avenues have been explored, but everyone at The Unit knows that their day will come, voluntarily or not, and this is their contribution to society.
Already this scenario throws a lot of questions into the mix, and then it complicates it further because all of the people in there are artists, writers, sculptors, photographers, from the creative sides of life and therefore have a lot in common. For probably the first time in a long time they have support, from each other, friendship, common-ground, and even love. What if, in an alienating world, the first time that you truly encounter humanity is when your days are numbered? What then?
We explore all of this through Dorrit's eyes. All of her questions about how she ended up in this situation, agonizing over saying goodbye to her life outside, where her mother had encouraged independence, and a terminated pregnancy while a student had jeopardised forming attatchments, so that when this regime, at first loathed as extreme, but gaining favour until finally attaining power, came about, she was on the wrong side of the policies and labelled 'unnecessary'. Now, on the inside, the unthinkable happens. Dorrit finds love and more, but where to go now?
I knew this would be a hard read, dystopian novels usually are, but I did not expect it to be so overwhelmingly sad. The sparse and economical writing makes it even more heartbreaking. I must have been in tears about 5 times during its duration, I had to stop reading it on the bus to and from work. It is unbelievably sad, and unexpectedly so. Futuristic society novels can sometimes have a coldness that enables you to distance yourself a little from them but I found this to be the opposite. I totally identified with Dorrit, I was in her world immediately, and although it is a different kind of world, it was not so far away as you would think. Peoples kindness comes through and far from being clinical, The Unit is a reasonably safe environment, and supposedly voluntary, presenting you with so many grey areas from which to explore your ethical standpoint. Of course it is despicable, but it is dressed up in a way that makes you consider the option with much more to go on, than in say Never Let Me Go by Kasuo Ishiguro, which explores similar but ultimately different themes.
I loved this book, it sucked me in from the first page and made me feel so much. I identified with many of the characters (if it were a true scenario I could very well be headed to The Unit myself in the not too distant future), it gave me so many powerful things to think about, and I found myself considering it when not reading it too. But mostly it was the emotional ride I was not expecting and it is this that gave me such a fruitful read. Any book that makes you think and feel is a winner to me and I certainly enjoyed this one.
It would be a great title for reading groups with so much to debate. A Reading Group Guide can be found for The Unit here.
Ninni Holmqvist is a featured author on GoodReads, use the link to read more.
This book was read for #6 of my personal challenges to read at least one dystopian novel this year.

Friday, 18 May 2012

4th Blogiversary

Yes its true, The Octogon has been here in this spot for 4 years and it has been great fun.
I have made lots of blogging friends, taken part in all sorts of online events, as well as loads of lovely books that have come my way too.
This blog has helped me organise my reading, but has also encouraged my Novel Holidays, BookSwaps and various events and discoveries along the way. In some ways The Octogon has been the sun around which all of these other things have revolved.
At the beginning, in 2008, when I posted for the first time, I really did not know where I was going with this, but it has evolved and taken on a life of its own and I can only hope that I will be here with you for some time to come.
Many thanks to all of you who stop by to read, comment and encourage. As you all know, blogging is a huge community and I am very glad to have my own little space within it.

Monday, 14 May 2012

The Unforgotten Coat by Frank Cottrell Boyce

This book was given to me as a promotional copy during World Book Night 2011 and I have only recently got around to reading it. I have read some short stories and a play script by Frank Cottrell Boyce before so I happy to receive this one.
Written for younger readers we follow the story of Julie, a North Liverpool school girl who becomes friends with two newcomers to her school, Chingis and Nergui, who are from Mongolia and join the class for a while. Julie is fascinated by the new classmates, who talk of wide open plains and training eagles and she wants them to feel welcome. Assigned as their guide in their new school she becomes part of their world for a short time and the three of them become unlikely friends.
The book is set out like a school exercise book complete with discoloured pages and glued in pictures. Told in the first person Julie is likeable and felt instantly familiar. The language helps you identify easily with school life and the mysterious brothers arouse your curiosity with ease. Told with compassion and warmth this story has lessons for all of us. For a childrens story I felt quite emotional by the last few pages.
I finished this book in a day and I enjoyed the characters and also the look of the book. It is about friendship, diversity and being proud of your roots. There were quite a few surprises along the way, plot turns that were unexpected, especially the ending. A valuable book for young teens, but also for us older ones with a need to read quality writing.
It is thanks to The Reader who produced these free copies as part of Our Read 2011 that I ended up with this copy.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Trip to Haworth, Bronte Country

Our trip to Haworth in Yorkshire to visit the home of the Brontes took place over the last weekend in April and we had a great time. We stayed in a B+B in Haworth itself, a quaint little town on the edge of the moors with a steep cobbled High Street made famous in the old Hovis adverts.
Most people visit Haworth because it is the main place that the Bronte family lived after their father was appointed Rector of Haworth church in 1820 with his wife and six children. Sadly he outlived all of them, but his three daughters acheived some of the greatest writing that England has ever known during their short lives.
The town itself is quite small but has a healthy dose of quirky shops, restaurants and decent pubs. There is a lovely second hand bookshop there too. You can be delivered by steam train on the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway (also famous for The Railway Children) at the bottom of the town and climb your way up the main street to the tourist information at the top. The major draw is the Bronte Parsonage, now owned by the Bronte Society and a museum celebrating its famous family. A beautiful house of Yorkshire stone set beside the atmospherically gothic cemetary and small church it does not disappoint. Emily and Charlotte are buried in the church, as are the other members of the family. Anne is buried in Scarborough.
The museum itself is excellent with many original artifacts, clothing, letters, possessions. Not only is it all authentic and informative, but it accurately sets the scene for Bronte fans to get lost in. I was also impressed with the deatails of how the Bronte society secured many of the articles to be brought back and put in their rightful place.
Haworth has quite a history apart from its literary connections, and a walk around the graveyard conveys this with the high mortality rate, especially with children, and even a stone for an executed highwayman. Indeed the graveyard probably contributed to the early deaths of the Bronte sisters because it was condemned as a health risk in the late 19th century due to its severe overcrowding and lack of trees to aid decomposition (the trees were added afterwards). The 'black ooze' the came up in the ground probably contaminated the water supply to the poorer end of town, and possibly the well in the Bronte garden.
Also recommended is the walk across the moors to Top Withens, an abandoned farmhouse that is said to have influenced the setting of Wuthering Heights, more for its bleak position than any exact replication. Nevertheless, it is a lovely walk (about 7 miles full circle) taking in the Bronte waterfalls, the moors (it was suitably windy and rainy when we were there), and also a Quaker buriel ground and other fascinating places with stories behind them. There is a pub on the last part of the walk which was good timing for a pitstop and a pint.
While we were there my friend and I had some discussion comparing Wuthering Heights to Jane Eyre, both of which we made sure we read before going which added to our weekend.
Haworth is an essential destination for Bronte fans but also highly recommended for literary fans generally, as well as anyone who enjoys a good starting point for walks on the Yorkshire moors.

Monday, 30 April 2012

April Roundup

The 23rd April is traditionally thought to be Shakespeare's birthday and the BBC is marking it with quite a few TV programs which I am looking forward to watching. This lovely picture has come from The British Shakespeare Society who have an excellent website if you follow the link.
On with the books for April...
Read - Almost 3 books
Completed -
Dubliners by James Joyce
August: Osage County by Tracy Letts
Currently Reading -
The Summer Book by Tove Jansson
Notes from Walnut Tree Farm by Roger Deakin
The Organic Year by Patricia Gallimore
TBR Pile - currently at 118 (according to GoodReads) with one being read but another added...
Howard's End is on the Landing by Susan Hill
Challenges -
I have kept to #1 of my own challenges to not buy any new books. The new Susan Hill book was second hand.
I have completed the TBR Double Dare hosted by Ready When You Are, C. B. to only read books from your TBR pile from 1st Jan to 1st April.
I have also read Dubliners by James Joyce and August: Osage County by Tracy Letts, both of which were titles I was challenged to read by my colleague AR.
I am currently reading The Summer Book by Tove Jansson as part of #3 of my own challenges to read books that came up in discussion on our literary holidays.
Wishlist Additions -
Lottery by Patricia Wood
Weird Things Customers Say In Bookshops by Jen Campbell
The Testimony by James Smythe
Sacre Bleu by Christopher Moore
Cloudland by Joseph Olshan
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
Discoveries -
Love Your Indie is a website that celebrates independent bookshops and offers not only a comprehensive listing of independent bookshops in the UK but also a rewards card to earn loyalty points at the bookshops listed. Take a look to find out more.
Events -
World Book Night was on the 23rd April and this year was an international event this time with our friends in USA giving books on the same day. I had fun giving away The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and you can read about my day by using the link.
As I mentioned earlier it was Shakespeares birthday on the 23rd as well and there have been some excellent TV programs on the BBC as part of the Shakespeare Unlocked season.
I have just come back from a weekend in Haworth in Yorkshire which is famous for where the Bronte sisters lived and were inspired by the surrounding countryside which features prominently in their novels. Look out for my next post where I will cover our trip in more detail.
The Liverpool Playhouse and The Globe Theatre have co produced an excellent version of Henry V which is currently touring the country. Try and catch it if you can.

April has been a full month, can't wait for May...

Monday, 23 April 2012

World Book Night 2012

It is international World Book Night today and givers have been working hard to pass on the joy of reading.
1 million books have been passed out this year and the title that I chose was The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. You may remember that I reviewed this novel back in 2008 and I thought that it was an unusual and emotional book that was not difficult to read but very absorbing with a good heart. I also wanted to pick a title that would appeal to men and women from its first impressions in order to get people interested enough to take a copy and give it a try.

All of my copies went to people in and around where I work and they were very excited to get into the book. I thought that these copies were very attractive and aroused interest immediately, which helped me find new homes for them.

I loved the reference to Shakespeare's birthday in the back of the copies too and the invitation to track your copy online as it goes from person to person was much better for being at the front of the book.

What I did notice this year, as opposed to last year, was how much quieter the media were on this event. I actually thought there would be more presence because it has now linked the event up with our friends across the Atlantic in the States making it an international event, but no, it has passed by much more quietly. I was looking forward to the bookish programs on TV that I enjoyed last year and the general buzz throughout the day, but other than a few things in Waterstones in Liverpool 1 I felt I was largely on my own today. Last year there seemed to be an advance awareness amongst the public but that seemed to be missing this year which was a shame.

I enjoyed giving out the books though and I know that those who received one were excited. Those who knew each other suggested catching up when they had all read it, which I loved. Talking about books, sharing opinions and ideas is just as important in encouraging reading I think, as well as being loads of fun. I love discussing books in common with friends and colleagues.

This is a worthwhile event, lots of fun for those involved, and I hope that it continues. I only wish that the media had got behind it in the same way as before. It is only once a year and other than Waterstones, where book buyers already go, it slipped quietly by.

If you were involved in WBN this year I hope you enjoyed your day as I did and if any of you got a new book then fantastic and all the more to talk about. There are some brilliant books out there and if WBN encourages more people to read something, talk about it, pass it on to share it, it can only be a good thing.

Monday, 16 April 2012

The TBR Double Dare

The picture to your left has been living on my side bar for the last few months. This challenge was organised by Ready When You Are, C. B. and ran from January 1st to April 1st, and all you had to do was only read books that were on your TBR pile before this time. You could still buy books or add books to the pile, you just couldn't read them during the allotted period.
I joined the TBR Double Dare because I had already set myself the challenge to not buy any new books this year and they both seemed to compliment each other. I can accept books as gifts or buy second hand, but I really need to get my TBR pile under control. On average, being quite a slow reader, I get through about 18 to 20 books a year, and I have 118 books on the TBR pile. That is nearly 6 years worth of books. It is not as if I don't intend reading them either. I will read every one. It is just that there is so much temptation, more and more to read, and I love the choice. I simply need to apply some control, and these challenges help.

It seems I have passed the TBR Double Dare, and I have not bought any new books so far so am doing ok with my own challenge.

I hope it continues, fingers crossed.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

This novel has been a big hole in my reading history, having never read it at school or university, so when the opportunity came up to go to Haworth and have a Bronte's weekend at the end of this month, it was a good excuse to get this one under my belt at last. Plus Jane Eyre by sister Charlotte is one of my favourite books ever.
I had only seen clips of the Laurence Olivier film, and my only other experience was the Kate Bush song. I felt it was a dark and passionate love story, atmospheric and intense. This was all I knew beforehand.
Telling the story of two houses in the remote moorland of Yorkshire and the families that reside in them over two generations. Mostly it is told in retrospect by the previous housekeeper to a new tenant of Wuthering Heights after he arrives, to a frosty welcome, at the main house and meets the master, Heathcliff, and the other degenerate occupants.
The housekeepers story recounts the history of Heathcliff, an urchin brought up as his own by Mr Earnshaw, along with his other two children. His son Hindley hates Heathcliff who is a sullen little boy, but Cathy and him share a special bond from childhood. When the father dies and Hindley inherits the estate he deliberately treats Heathcliff with contempt, reducing him to a servant and humiliating him where possible. Cathy becomes friends with the children of Thrushcross Grange so when Heathcliff runs away and is gone for 3 years, Cathy entertains a flirtation with Edgar Linton and eventually agrees to marry him. Heathcliff returns with one thing on his mind...revenge.
I have to say that my expectations of a passionate love story were quickly dashed. There is a love story, but it is obsessive and melodramatic, and not convincing as anything genuinely based on love. This only forms some of the story though. Revenge is the flavour of this novel, a really base and immoral form of it, that waits its time, calculating major catastrophe on all of those in its vicinity, seeking to destroy even its possessor and reaching those who were not even born when it began.
This is where I had my problem with this novel. Almost everone in it is vile, not just dislikeable but truly vile. We have a collection of sadistic, unfeeling, selfish, game players. Most of the women are spoilt and the men are either manipulative to the extreme or weak, or both. My despair at reading about this horrible lot and their to-ing and fro-ing between the houses over rode any sympathy or feeling I may have had. They all got what they deserved and I wanted to be free of them. The one or two that are not outwardly horrible, like Edgar or even the tenant telling the story, are flat and unmemorable. With the others there was too much gnashing of teeth and debauchery for me.
I did enjoy the setting, the remoteness of the lives in the story (I deliberately picked this edition because of the effect of the cover picture), and the compelling descriptions of the more eccentric characters at Wuthering Heights, like Hareton and Joseph. At times it felt like a 19th century classic novel version of the Addams family and did have some comedy elements. Indeed on talking to others who hold the novel in high esteem these parts were some of their favourites and I did pick up on that. Sadly though I just hated them all and this is what dominated my impressions of the novel.
I am glad that I have read it and I look forward to talking about it in Haworth in a few weeks, and I do appreciate that this was never meant to be a comfy read about nice people living in the countryside, and it is this that emulates it in the affections of so many. Also I didn't want to abandon it at any point and I am sure the images of the residents of Wuthering Heights, sniping and bickering at each other in that sulky, miserable house were etched indelibly on my imagination. I cannot say I wholly liked it though.
An essential but not always enjoyable read that was nothing like Jane Eyre, and I guess therein lies the appeal of the Bronte sisters.
For discussion questions about Wuthering Heights use the link.
To read an interesting Online Guide to Wuthering Heights use the link which includes some of the more obscure questions about Wuthering Heights.
For information about the Brontes at Haworth in England use the link.

Monday, 2 April 2012

March Roundup

The March Hare has a long history in the UK, but no more so than as one of the characters at the Mad Hatter's Tea Party in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, a story that fascinated and delighted me when I was a child. The picture to the left, accompanying this months roundup is from poetreecreations with a poem to go with it if you use the link.
How have the books been going...?
Read - 3 books
Completed -
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
The Unforgotten Coat by Frank Cottrell Boyce
The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist
Currently Reading -
Dubliners by James Joyce
Notes from Walnut Tree Farm by Roger Deakin
The Organic Year by Patricia Gallimore
TBR Pile - currently at 118 (according to GoodReads) with no new ones added in March.
Challenges -
-I have kept to #1 of my personal challenges to not buy any new books, also tying in to the TBR Pile Double Dare (see my sidebar) which is to only read books from your TBR pile
-I have posted another Book/Film comparison about We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver, for #5 of my personal challenges.
-I have completed #2 of my personal challenges, to read Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte which I will be reviewing here soon.
-I have read my dystopia novel, The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist, for #6 of my personal challenges. The review will be coming up on The Octogon soon.
-I am currently reading Dubliners by James Joyce as one of my recommendations for the year from AR.
Wishlist Additions - There are none this month which is just as well, seeing as my TBR Pile is toppling over.
Discoveries - poetreecreations, a poetry website started by poets in the East Midlands with workshops held in Nottingham. The website also explores commonly held traditions in Britain and around the world and their history, especially those that are linked to a particular calendar day or month (such as the March Hare above).
Events - World Book Night is coming soon (April 23rd) and various events are being organised around the country, books are being prepared to be delivered to volunteers who will be giving them away in lots of places on the night. Last years event was very successful and there was a host of book related programs on TV. I am looking forward to the whole event, especially as I gained lots of inspiration last year for new authors and titles.
Spring is well under way, warmer days and outdoor spots to take a book along and read. April is here.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Trick or Treat by Richie Tankersley Cusick

This book was one of the 3 titles that are part of my challenge from BD to read this year. The challenge is to read at least one of the titles but you can read all 3 if you wish. This one, part of the Point Horror series from the 1990's, was one of my friends favourites, and he was a fan of the Point Horror books when he was younger.

Sadly, being older, the whole Point Horror phenomenon passed me by. I hadn't even heard of them (I am about 20 years older than BD). In my day it was Armada Ghost Books and Nancy Drew. So this was my first ever encounter with Point Horror and I can see from the many fans on the net, they have quite a following. Even in work, when BD brought this in for me, there were others of similar age reminiscing about these titles and comparing favourites.

Trick or Treat is about Martha, whose dad has just remarried and she is to move in with her new step mum and brother Conor. The house, in the country near a small town, needs a lot of repair. Her step mum is excited by the challenge but Martha feels uncomfortable and unnerved by it from the start. It is not helped by the old graveyard in the grounds, and Halloween is only days away. At her new school she makes friends easily with Wynn and Blake, who she fancies. It is not long before the history of the house reveals itself. Obsession and murder are in its past. Then Martha and Conors parents have to leave for Hawaii suddenly, and the teenagers are alone in the house. Its mysterious past is replaying with terrifying consequences.

This is a entertaining read (even if some of the plot is implausable - parents leaving children alone in a house they have just moved into), with lots of jumps and starts in a multi-layered plot that is creepy and compelling. I can imagine loving it when I was young but even as an adult it was good fun. It is very straight forward to read and the writing style reminded me of books that I read as a teenager which was pleasantly nostalgic. I enjoyed the cheesy suspense and there were a few creepy moments. I can see why the Point Horror books were favourites of a whole generation of kids.

I read the book in a day, and enjoyed the fun of it and the nostalgia.

I found another Point Horror Fan Blogger and you can reminisce along with her by using the link.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

We Need To Talk About Kevin: Book to Movie Comparison

You may have read my review of the book We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver in my last post. The whole time that I was reading the book I had a strong compulsion to write to Eva, the mother, and narrator of letters to her husband, and tell her how I felt about what she was saying about her son after he had become a killer, hence the letter form of the review. You may know too that the book was made into a successful movie that was released last year.
As part of this years challenges I wanted to compare some books that had been made into movies. I totally loved the book and only read it after seeing the movie last October at the cinema. So I have to thank the film for encouraging me to read the novel at all.
I thought that the casting of Tilda Swinton as Eva was brilliant. An unusual looking lady, gangly, independent and strong, plus more European looking than American, perfect as Eva. I also liked the various incarnations of Kevin, good looking but with a slyness that matched his emotionless exterior. The part that I had a problem with was Franklin played by John C Reilly. It wasn't his performance which suited the all American dad, but his look did not go with the book descriptions of him. I thought (my apologies Mr Reilly) that Franklin was supposed to be extremely attractive, to explain why such a strong willed, unusual woman like Eva married him, and continued to love him while he became unsupportive and alienated from her as he became obsessed with Kevin. I couldn't imagine them having any kind of relationship.
The movie is dictated by Eva's point of view but without the letters. It successfully conveys all of her emotions that are in the book. The sense of unease is communicated by imagery dominated by the colour red. Conjuring disgust excellently in the viewer, this is one of the things that I took away from the film. The use of food in messy, served up in horrible ways, which added to this, as well as building tension throughout. There was a continual build up of nausea while watching.
I found the incidents of Kevins behaviour coupled with Swinton's passive face really had me wound up in a coil throughout. The screen was quite colourful, but the bleakness of the story and her situation clashes wholly with this. The discordance is felt throughout and is what I most enjoyed about the movie. A cleverly used device in this film.
The book has more detail than the film, and I was quite glad about that. It gives you enough so you can imagine the rest. It is easier to take when it is words on a page. The film is largely faithful to the incidents in the novel, including many details I recognised along the way.
This is a disturbing subject for any book or movie to tackle and I enjoyed both. I related to the Eva in the book more, but she is talking to you directly. It is this that I enjoyed more than the film. Tilda Swinton was in my head throughout though.
A brilliant book, and a very good movie adaptation with many strengths, intelligently made, and leaving a tangible impression after it has ended. Both are recommended, but especially the book.
You can read about We Need To Talk About Kevin - the movie, by using the link.
There is a Reading Group Guide to We Need To Talk About Kevin, use the link.
Also, there is an interview in The Guardian with Lionel Shriver about the book and film. Use the link.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

Dear Eva,

my friend lent me your book about 2 years ago and I have to admit I was unwilling to read such a dark story, especially when she herself had given up on it. I did however hang on to it with a view to reading it when I felt ready to, having heard great things about it.

It was the film that gave me the push (covered in the next post), and also a colleague at work reading it. It was finally time. I needn't have worried to be honest. I was sucked in from the start, and your story and your voice did not let me go until the last page.

Don't get me wrong, a lot of it was agony to read, horrific, a 'Thank God it is not me' kind of ride. A lot of your circumstances were not of your own doing. Did your son really turn out that way simply because you were not ready for a child? So many other mothers could say the same thing, but their children did not go on the rampage of murder.

I could feel your guilt, your despair seeping into the pages and through my fingertips. I heard your questions - 'Was it me?', 'Could I have caused this?' and, quite simply 'Why?' At least you tried to make an effort with a son who deliberately and systematically refused to co operate in any form. None at all.

Your husband, my goodness me, now there is a conundrum, chose to turn a blind eye. And what about his rejection, of your feelings, or any kind of understanding. What about his steady disregard, his slow annhilation of you and your personality, his lack of support, his obsession with his son representing the stereotype of American youth. He failed to comprehend who he was, a child who showed signs of cruelty in his rejection of others. I wanted to scream at him.

I did want to scream at you too.

Why did you put up with it all? You must have felt so alone, before and after. Your stoicism, your rigidity, your bloody mindedness, to take it all on yourself. Why stay in that town? You say it was for your son, who made it impossible to love him and then blamed you for not loving him. Your stubbornness let you down, like picking at a wound so it continues to hurt. Not many would have stayed, couldn't have. I know I would not have had the strength like you, blind strength of will and character. Only time will tell if your strength was your weakness.

I admire your honesty in all of this. I wish you well, you deserve some form of a small break, although I don't see one. I see the years of more of the same stretching before you, but not as clearly as you see it yourself. You have come this far which can be seen as a miracle, and you still haven't lost a sense of humour.

I thought this book was hailed because it tackled such a difficult subject, a woman whose son turns into a serial killer. This is only partly right. I am now sure it is hailed equally because it is written so brilliantly. Truly. I found your story moving and mesmerising, and I couldn't put it down.

Stop blaming yourself, the debt is not all yours to pay. I do not hope for your son, but I do hope for you.


Wednesday, 29 February 2012

February Roundup

The book sculpture on the left, and others like it, have been causing a stir in various locations in Edinburgh. I wanted to include a picture so as to illustrate how talented and delightful they are. There is a lovely story to accompany them and for more information see under Discoveries below.

February has been a very productive month as far as the books go...

Read - 2 and a half books

Completed -

We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

Trick or Treat by Richie Tankersley Cusick (Point Horror #6)

Currently Reading -

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Notes From Walnut Tree Farm by Roger Deakin

The Organic Year by Patricia Gillmore

TBR Pile - currently at 121 (according to GoodReads) with 5 added...

Literary Genius: 25 Classic Writers Who Define English and American Literature edited by Joseph Einstein

The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon

This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

Challenges -

As part of #1 of my personal challenges I haven't bought any books. All of the TBR additions above were presents. I have also kept to the TBR Double Dare (see my sidebar) by only reading books from my TBR pile too.

My last post was the first of my book/film comparisons (although it is actually a TV series) on North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell for #5 of my challenges.

I am currently reading Wuthering Heights for #2 of my challenges.

I completed Trick or Treat as one of the 3 titles recommended by BD to read during 2012.

Wishlist Additions -

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt

Girl Reading by Katie Ward

Deep Country: 5 Years in the Welsh Hills by Neil Ansell

Discoveries -

The BookCrossing e-newsletter included a link to an article about some beautiful and mysterious book sculptures in strategical literary venues around Edinburgh. The sculptures are lovely (see picture above) and curiously all linked to author Ian Rankin, but the story that accompanies them is also very touching. Use the link to read it for yourself.

I paid my first visit to the Persephone Bookshop in London and what a lovely place to call into. A tiny shop with a workshop at the back, where every surface is piled high with distictive Persephone titles to buy. If you are near Lamb's Conduit Street in the Bloomsbury District of London it is well worth a visit.

Events -

I have had some excellent theatre visits in February...

Propeller are touring Henry V (and A Winters Tale) by Shakespeare and I saw this brilliant version in The Lowry Theatre in Manchester.

The Liverpool Playhouse has an excellent version of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire on at the moment which I saw last week.

A very good version of Federico Garcia Lorca's The House of Bernarda Alba is on at The Almeida in London.

I have also been accepted again as a World Book Night giver and this year my chosen title is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I am thrilled, it was great fun last year. It is on 23rd April this year and there are some great titles on offer.

It has been a full on month for book events, lets hope it continues on into March.

Hay on Wye

Hay on Wye