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

Sunday, 21 July 2013

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

This was a book that I acquired in a book swap on the first literary holiday that I organised in Hampshire. The person who donated it recommended it but since then another friend has spoken about it often enough to bump it to the top of my TBR pile.
It fleshes out the story of Dinah, mentioned almost as a plot driver in the Old Testament, as the daughter of Jacob and Leah, who was raped, an event that triggered revenge and slaughter from her family. Taking this as a base to work with Diamant allows Dinah a voice in this first person narrative, to tell not just her own story, but those of her mothers, because Dinah had four.
We are taken into the ancient world of nomadic farmers in the Middle East, but unusually we focus on the life that revolves around the Red Tent, where the women live, cook, sing, menstruate and give birth. This tent is off limits to their male counterparts, who never enter, and the women are allowed to be themselves, talk, laugh, sometimes compete, but always to support each other and offer experience and wisdom.
Dinah's mother is Leah, Jacob's first wife, but she absorbs the stories and experience of all four of his wives, and celebrates each of them with affection. This forms the first half of the novel, the rhythms of existence as Dinah grows from a girl into a young woman in the family camp, eventually assisting Rachel, Jacob's second wife, as midwife to the women in the area. It is when Rachel and Dinah are summoned to the palace in Shechem to help with a birth that the story changes pace and Dinah's life course changes forever. The last part of this story takes place in Egypt and a is a wholly different chapter of her life as she matures and reaches the later stages of life, but with no less emphasis on her experience as a woman so long ago.
This book felt epic, not only because it covers Dina's life so completely, with all of its episodes from Israel to Egypt and back again, but atmospherically it plays out like a Charlton Heston movie. Whenever I pictured the book in my mind it came with all of the colours of that part of the world, reds, golds and desert colours, so that I could feel the sun on my skin, the dust on my feet. I loved being admitted to the Red Tent, hearing their stories. Dinah's affection for her mothers transferred easily to me. When the novel took a right angle turn half way through I mourned the loss of that nomadic world, even though the plot still carried me away in a different direction with little time to look back. When we finally arrived in Egypt, with so many tragedies behind us already, I was so completely attached to Dinah and the people around her that tears were inevitable, and I cried buckets.
I found this to be a beautiful and involving novel, sufficiently re-creating a mythological world from a distant past to a tangible one of my imagination that was difficult to leave behind at the end. The shift of dynamic in the middle is a little sudden and requires a resetting of interest in the reader, but Diamant is following the transcript laid down in the original texts. The story does collect itself again still linking back to the first part while following another path entirely.
While being vaguely familiar with the original story of Jacob, Rachel and Leah from Sunday Schools past, I was curious to see how much of it was in the Bible and re-read the passages in Genesis. I was very surprised how closely they ran parallel to each other, and how frank the ancient text is about women, and their monthly cycles. The story about the stolen idols and Rebecca's reason for keeping them I believed to be an embellishment, surely that is not in the Holy Book, but it is all there.
My friend who had read it spoke with a little envy about the feeling of kinship between the women, especially during menstruation or giving birth, and the enveloping protection of the Red Tent itself. The feminine intimacy of these scenes may put some people off, especially men, while others who prefer a fast paced, plot-driven story may find the earlier parts of the book too slow. However if you like observational story telling based around intricate relationships, heavily weighted towards the feminist aspects of ancient history, this lovely, warm and involving book is for you. I would also highly recommend it for your book group, with lots to talk about, especially if you can get your male members to read it.
A Reading Group Guide for The Red Tent can be found by using the link.
An interesting article about The Red Tent and its success in MS Magazine, including an interview with the author also makes a useful read.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

May and June Roundups

I have been in Italy for over a month and I had planned on posting on my tablet from there but it wouldn't let me post pictures, so instead of the 'sporadic posts' that I mentioned I have been missing unintentionally, but not permanently. Now I am back and service will resume as normal.
While I was away too, just after my arrival, it was The Octogon's 5th Birthday on the 18th May, so I was pretty disappointed not to be able to put something on here. Five years... wow!
I was living in Florence while I did a language course to learn Italian, it was the best fun and a delight to have the excuse to pretend that I lived in my favourite city. Part of me has stayed there, I felt so at home, and hope to go back as soon as I can.
In the meantime, did I do much reading...?
Read - one book. Yes, only one!
Completed -
The Gathering by Anne Enright
Currently Reading -
The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
Literary Genius edited by Joseph Epstein
Adventures of a Waterboy by Mike Scott
The Natural Navigator by Tristan Gooley
The Last Elf by Silvana De Mari
TBR Pile - currently at 127 (according to GoodReads) with 2 added...
If This Is A Man / The Truce by Primo Levi
The Drowned and The Saved by Primo Levi
Challenges -
Read The Gathering by Anne Enright, winner of the 2007 Man Booker Prize, which fits with #8 of my challenges to read a prizewinner.
Reading The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks to fit in with #6 of my own challenges, to read at least one title acquired in a book swap at work. It also seemed a fitting tribute to the author who died earlier this year too.
Wishlist Additions
The Twelve by Justin Cronin
Discoveries -
The fantastic bookshop Paperback Exchange in Florence, Italy. Selling books in English it is an excellent place to spend time, with a good assortment of titles and translations, new and second-hand, in a couple of rooms with seats to encourage browsing. The staff are very friendly, and they run a loyalty scheme and will also buy back your unwanted books for credit in the shop. I indulged in more than a few visits. It was here also that I bought the Primo Levi titles mentioned above. I have always wanted to read more after being amazed by Moments of Reprieve years ago. When I came across more in this bookshop, it seemed apt and special to buy them while in Italy.
Events -
Apart from feeling like I was in an E M Forster novel while walking around Florence, and seeing where the Rossetti's lived and where George Eliot and Henry James stayed while visiting the city, Florence is an incredibly artistic and literary place to be, inspiring, beautiful, historic, but also very current. I miss it terribly, but I know I will be back soon.

Monday, 6 May 2013

April Roundup

As this year speeds ahead, so does the literary world, especially here where the Liverpool Literary Festival is in full swing. It has been a great month for books generally.

Here is my personal account of what went on in April...

Read - 2 books
Completed -
Eve Green by Susan Fletcher
First and Only by Peter Flannery
Currently Reading -
The Gathering by Anne Enright
Literary Genius edited by Joseph Epstein
Adventures of a Waterboy by Mike Scott
The Natural Navigator by Tristan Gooley
The Last Elf by Silvana De Mari
TBR Pile - currently at 126 (according to goodreads) with one book added this month courtesy of World Book Night - Damage by Josephine Hart.
Challenges -
Read First and Only by Peter Flannery, a mystery about a serial killer with a twist for #4 of my challenges, to read a detective mystery, although it doesn't quite fit this because there is detection but not a detective per se.
Reading The Gathering by Anne Enright, winner of the 2007 Man Booker Prize, which fits with #8 of my challenges to read a prizewinner (Eve Green already fits this challenge so I have ended up reading 2 for this category, but no worries)
Wishlist Additions -
100 Must Read American Novels by Nick Rennison and Ed Wood
Palisades Park by Alan Brennert
A Nearly Perfect Copy by Allison Amend
Amity and Sorrow by Peggy Riley
Plainsong by Kent Haruf
Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops by Jen Campbell
Discoveries -
Lots going on online...
Independent Booksellers fight back against Amazon with a petition to No10, supported by Stephen Fry, Margaret Hodge and Charlie Higson, to pay their taxes, in The Guardian.

Some literary award announcements with...
- The Women's Prize for Fiction longlist
- International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award shortlist

The new list of Granta's Best of the Young British Novelists is announced, and The Guardian looks back at the first Granta list from 1993, which included Will Self, Jeanette Winterson, Ben Okri, Iain Banks, Louis de Bernieres, Kazuo Ishiguro, Esther Freud and Alan Hollinghurst amongst others, to see how things have changed and become more complicated for our new generation of writers.

There is a celebration of the work of novelist Iain Banks following the sad announcement that he has been diagnosed with gall bladder cancer.

The Book Doctor at The Guardian asked Do classic childrens books give us too rosy a view of childhood? which I am sure will prompt some strong views and good debate.

On a lighter note...
-Reading Nooks inspires us on fascinating places that people make space to read.
-Are cats the top dogs in literature? You decide.
-For Penguin Books enthusiasts, you can now buy Penguin Library Wallpaper from the Literary Gift Company, to furnish your reading nook.

Events -
Like I said it has been literary central up here in Liverpool, with the Literary Festival kicking off on World Book Night at St Georges Hall, where I met the lovely Simon from Savidge Reads, book giveaways all over the city, a City Wide Read of The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini in anticipation of the stage adaptation coming to the Liverpool Playhouse, and a variety of talks and events all over the city.
Simon has been involved with a lot of sessions for the festival, and was hosting a talk that I went to yesterday at the Bluecoat Chambers, called Celebrating The Bookshop, with Jessica Fox who left a career with NASA to open a bookshop in Wigtown in Scotland, Sarah Henshaw who runs a bookshop on a barge, and Mandy Vere from our own radical bookshop News From Nowhere in Liverpool. Jen Campbell, the author of Weird Things Customers Say In Bookshops, was meant to be there but was unable to make it. It was a good talk, with about 45 people attending, encompassing the passion of booksellers, the decline in independent bookstores, the monopoly of Amazon and it's effects, how booksellers and libraries fit together, and strange and curious tales from the shop floor. It was a very enjoyable and worthwhile talk.

My posts will be a little more sporadic during May and June bacause I am away, but I will still be here, with a host of things to talk about on my return I am sure.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

This one, you may remember, was one of the titles I was challenged to read last year by my work colleague BD, after he had enjoyed it. I have only just got around to reading it earlier this year after finding this copy with a very attractive cover picture. I knew of the story but had never read the book, Wilde's only novel, and was keen to do so.
Set during the Fin de Siecle high society in London, the artist, Basil Hallward has been painting the young Dorian Gray's portrait, a young and very beautiful youth circulating the aristocratic scene. Basil has become quite obsessed by Dorian because of his looks, and also his innocence and naivete. On the last sitting for the painting Lord Henry Wotton arrives at the house, an enticing socialite who thrives on excessive experience and aestheticism, being rich and therefore able to do so. His life of indulgence has bred a cynical and manipulative man and on meeting the fresh faced Dorian, he entertains himself by determining to introduce him to a more hedonistic lifestyle and viewpoint, a thrilling prospect for the young man, and against every beseechment from Basil to leave him uncorrupted. They talk about beauty and youthfulness, and in a moment of overwhelming madness after seeing his perfection in Basil's painting, Dorian wishes that the painting would take on the ageing and ravishments of life so that he can keep his youth.
"How sad it is! I shall grow old, and horrible, and dreadful. But this picture will remain always young. It will never be older than this particular day of June... If it were only the other way! If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old! For that - for that - I would give everything! Yes, there is nothing in this whole world I would not give! I would give my soul for that!" (Ch2 p29)
Lord Henry's influence shapes the young Dorian's life from then on, and each selfish act is recorded in the painting. Dorian first notices a sneer at the corner of the mouth after he has cruelly let down a young woman and realises that the request has been granted, the picture will record his life while his looks will remain untarnished. This knowledge, a form of redemption against anything he may wish for, alongside Lord Henry's encouragement to experience every pleasure regardless of consequence, leads Dorian on a very dark and shady path, ending in a life of depravity and selfish disregard. The painting, now hidden in a locked room, grows hideous and deformed, while Dorian remains unaged and beautiful. The consequences are far reaching, on those around him, but also his own torments as he swivels out of control altogether.
There are many lessons in this novel, warnings of excess, the preoccupation of image, although Wilde denied any didacticism. Being a supporter of the Aesthetic movement, he believed that art was useless and should only be admired for it's own sake. There is a lot to support this movement in the novel (and indeed in his other works) because it deals with the importance of beauty, and certainly it is Dorian's looks that allow a certain amount of acceptance despite the rumours that surround him. It is only those who are immediately affected by his behaviour who shun him, but no one actively calls him to count amongst the fashionable and the rich. Wealth and good looks seem to provide him with an exemplary pass.
Cleverly, and enticingly, we never find out about some of the acts that have led various former friends (and their sisters's) to avoid him, never speak of him, and in some cases bow out of their mutual circles in a form of escape. This is most profound in the contents of a piece of paper passed to a former close friend in order to blackmail him into providing a gross and terrible service to get Dorian out of a messy situation. We never find out what is written, and it is all the more powerful in it's absence. What on earth had occured between them? It is never spoken of, but you know it will have been indecent, amoral, and probably illegal, with the other man possibly not knowing what he had got himself into before it was too late.
I also loved the details that betray Wilde's own attitudes. Basil's fawning over Dorian's perfect beauty reaches levels of eroticim and idolatory that are way beyond any formal friendship. It is obvious that Basil has been lying awake fantacising about the young man. Then there is the interesting portrayal of women. There are virtually no realistic women characters in it. The young actress, Sybil Vane, is given the most floor time, but comes over as a caracature out of a cheap romantic melodrama, all swoons and grand gestures. Other women are portrayed as pretty furniture, slightly batty and unaware of the goings-on that surround them, only serving to plump up the personalities of the men in their life (probably quite truthful for the times). Lord Henry's observation of the female sex sets the scene.
"My dear boy, no woman is a genius. Women are a decorative sex. They never have anything to say, but they say it charmingly. Women represent the triumph of matter over mind, just as men represent the triumph of mind over morals." (Ch 4, p 53)
Wilde's deliberate portrayals of the female characters serves to question whether he wanted to bring attention to their disregard in society at the time, or did he find them as tedious as his male characters seem to?
The first few chapters are very wordy, endless conversations between the three men, but it was after this that the plot drove it forward, becoming morally lower and lower than ever imagined, with quite a few nasty twists along the way. There is one particularly unforgettable scene that remains vividly seated in my imagination for its downright ickyness. As I say, a lot of it is left to the reader to imagine, and therefore is a lot worse than any book that provides the details.
Likewise the morality of the book goes in circles. There is no question as to Dorian's actions being bad, but what drives it is less clear, and the depths that he reaches, providing internal misery and torment in equal measure with indifference and disregard. I never knew at any time why Dorian grew into such a dislikeable monster, but I did enjoy reading about him.
A brilliant classic, with an endlessly questionable narrative, full of nuance and polarity, providing eons of discussion afterwards.
LitLovers provide a Dorian Gray reading guide with discussion questions for reading groups.
If you are ever in Paris, I recommend a visit to Pere Lachaise cemetary, where Oscar Wilde's lipstick kissed tomb is amongst many other amazing monuments to the famous and artistic personalities interred there.
Finally, on being asked about any autobiographical conotations in his novel, Wilde had noted in a letter,
"Basil Hallwood is what I think I am: Lord Henry what the world thinks me: Dorian what I would like to be - in other ages, perhaps."

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

World Book Night 2013

It was a great day in Liverpool for World Book Night and I got to do some booky things myself.
I gave out my books, The Reader by Bernhard Schlink this year. I chose it because I felt it was an important book to read, historically and socially, as well as a touching human story. It gives you a lot to think about and I hope those who got a copy get something out of it.
After work I headed off to St Georges Hall which had a marketplace with various stalls, cafe and book swaps, and there were talks and discussions too. We couldn't get tickets for the popular speakers, the advance bookings went quickly for Jeanette Winterson and Frank Cottrell Boyce, but there were some drop in sessions and we listened to a talk about the history of the Central Library, which is due to reopen next  month, and also political literature in Liverpool from Steve Binns MBE.
I also got to meet Simon from Savidge Reads which was lovely. My first encounter with a fellow book blogger. Simon has an excellent and very popular blog and has recently moved to the area. He writes for various publications and is actively involved with the literary scene in Liverpool now, indeed he has been working on some of the sessions for the Liverpool Literary Festival In Other Words which is now underway. Among other things we were chatting about The Kite Runner which is getting its European stage debut in this summer, coming to the Liverpool Playhouse from the 13th June. Both of us are fans of the novel. We also both chose The Reader as our giveaway this year.
I came away with a WBN book too... Damage by Josephine Hart. I was trying to be so good.
I hope your WBN was good fun, I would love to hear how yours went.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

World Book Night and the Liverpool Literary Festival 2013

 There are two very exciting events coming up for us bookish types, one specifically in Liverpool and the other around the UK and also in the US too. Both kick off on Shakespeares birthday, the 23rd April.

World Book Night has lots of events planned with many many books being given away to encourage the delights of reading. This year I have copies of The Reader by Bernard Schlinck to hand out, a book I am excited to be introducing to people who get a copy.
There are flagship events in London and Liverpool and many other local events around the country. To view an interactive map that lists World Book Night Events 2013 near you use the link.

I know that Waterstones in Liverpool One has book giveaways planned. I am hoping to get along to St Georges Hall during the daytime where there will be a marketplace with stalls, competitions, bookswapping and a literary themed cafe. There are talks and debates in the evening, some are drop in, some are ticketed, which also mark the start of the Liverpool Literary Festival In Other Words where there will be events around the city until the 19th May, including the grand reopening of the newly refurbished historic Liverpool Central Library. For the full list of Events for In Other Words Festival 2013 in Liverpool use the link.

Maybe I will see you at one of these gatherings in my home town, and I will certainly be reporting back here to tell you how it goes. Here's hoping that WBN goes down well for everyone who is getting involved, and I know a fair few of you who are, book bloggers and others too.

Friday, 5 April 2013

March Roundup

We have already left last month behind by quite a few days, although the weather here in the UK does not show any signs of warming up yet. The bitter cold has meant staying by the fire still, sometimes with a good book. Here is how my reading life took shape during the month of March...

Read - one and a half books
Completed - The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
Currently Reading -
Eve Green by Susan Fletcher
Literary Genius edited by Joseph Epstein
Adventures of a Waterboy by Mike Scott
The Natural Navigator by Tristan Gooley
The Last Elf by Silvana De Mari
TBR Pile - no novels added so it is currently at 127 (according to goodreads), but I did get a copy of The Kitchen Diaries II by Nigel Slater, a lovely book that can be used for inspiration in your own kitchen or as a bedside book to dip into.
Challenges - I finished The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, which was part of #5 of my challenges to myself this year, to read 1 or 2 titles that came from our literary holidays. This one was my lucky dip prize from our Jane Austen holiday in Hampshire (2010) and a recommendation from that trip.
Also I am reading Eve Green by Susan Fletcher which won the 2004 Whitbread Novel of the year, to comply with #8 of my own challenges to read a prizewinner.
Wishlist Additions -
Pure by Andrew Miller
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
Harvest by Jim Crace
The Stranger Child by Alan Hollinghurst
The Oopsatoreum by Shaun Tan
Ahabs Wife or The Star Gazer by Sena Jeter Naslund
Discoveries -
Some excellent articles on the net this month...
The death of writer Chinua Achebe prompted a lot of tributes, including
- Chinua Achebe, Nigerian novelist and poet in pictures
- Chinua Achebe 'a mind able to penetrate the mystery of being human'.
Then to tie in with St Patricks day there was Books of the Irish
A discussion about What is World Book Day?
Some positive news for the future of our bookstores, at least in the US, with A Novel Trend: Independent Bookstores on the Rise
A lovely article in The Guardian about Virago publishing - Has Virago changed the publishing world's attitudes towards women? and A New Study About Which Authors Have Ignored Women The Most.
I love a good list so the Lonely Planets Worlds Greatest Bookshops caught my eye.
Also Folio Society named as sponsor of fiction prize to rival Booker
About book blog reviews in Beyond Good and Awful: Literary Value in The Age of the Amazon Review in Time Entertainment.
An article in The Nation Irritable Reachings: On John Keats on his life and poetry.
A website that collects together many different articles, including literay and bookish subjects at The Electric Typewriter
And finally, the curious and the bizarre...
- Edible Book Cakes in pictures
- Bed Bugs found in Kzoo Library Books
Events -
The Liverpool Literary Festival is gathering speed, due to start on 23rd April in various venues in the city, celebrating the Written Word. To see the Writing On The Wall Literary Festival 2013 program use the link.

Lets hope it starts to warm up a little soon, I need to get out in the garden...

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

I was one of the few book bloggers who hadn't read this book, but I loved the film and cried my eyes out at multiple viewings of this very moving story. So when I heard that the stage version was making it's European debut in Nottingham and Liverpool this year I was very excited and proud, and decided it was time to get hold of a copy. It came to me in a lovely second hand bookshop in Nottingham called Bookwise.
The story is narrated by Amir, now an adult in America, recounting his 1970's childhood in Afghanistan with his father, a wealthy businessman and his only living parent, and also his childhood friend Hassan, the son of the longserving and loyal household servant Ali and a Hazara, one of the lowlier tribes living in Afghanistan. Not only are Amir and Hassan playmates, getting up to mischief, inventing games and re-enacting their favourite Westerns from the cinema, but they fly kites together in competitions, with Amir as the flyer and Hassan as his skilled kite runner who collects the fallen kites as trophies. Hassan is unfailingly loyal to Amir, but because of his lowly status, is a target for a local bully and his gang. When they finally get Hassan alone in a back street in Kabul, what happens there will change both of their lives forever...

"I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975. I remember the precise moment, crouching behind a crumbling mud wall, peeking into the alley near the frozen creek. That was a long time ago, but it’s wrong what they say about the past, I’ve learned, about how you can bury it. Because the past claws its way out. Looking back now, I realize I have been peeking into that deserted alley for the last twenty-six years."

Afghanistan is changing and very soon, under the Taliban, Kite Flying will be made illegal, and their unforgiving policies will wreak havoc on this once cultural, sophisticated and historic country. Amir and his father escape to America, but the boys lives were torn apart long before the Taliban ever came along.
When a family friend, many years later, calls Amir back to the country of his birth, with an invitation, an opportunity, to make things right, he reluctantly goes back, and into a situation that brings sorrow, realisation, anguish, but also release for his twelve year old self and the weight he has carried all these years. 
I already knew the story from the film, so the plot held no surprises for me, but even so, this book was an emotional ride as all the best loved books are. At turns warm and affectionately familiar as it relives young boys playing together, and then heartbreakingly tragic with tangible pain of deep seated guilt and remorse, this book wrings your emotions dry ready to fill you up again for more.
The story can be split into 3 parts, Amir and Hassan as childhood friends, the escape to America and growing up, and then the dangerous return to a changed country that has been ripped apart in unimaginable ways, but where Amir will find the truths of his past and a way to move forward.
The writing is beautiful, conveying all that Amir feels so that you feel it too, his relationship with his father, his wife, his childhood friend and also with the country of his birth. Amir's actions are not always easily comprehendible, yet Hosseini gives us enough to make us want to yell at him as well as feel sympathy and some understanding for his motives, ensuring that when he does return to Afghanistan we are still rooting for him, knowing how much he needs to turn things for the better. It is a painful journey, for him and for us too, but one that is worth investing your time in, because this is a wonderful book.
Throughout my time reading it I could not help comparing it to another book I read about Afghanistan not long ago, The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad. I did not trust the blinkered account of a country that many Europeans do not understand, simply because many of us have only heard of the atrocities, a war torn, bleak place of untold oppression, especially towards women. This is the image repeatedly available in the media, but Afghanistan has had a colourful history before the Russians and then the Taliban brought their miseries. A country of liberality, culture and learning, populated by intelligent, affectionate, hospitable people. Everything that I had a problem with in Seierstad's book was counteracted here as Hosseini displays loving relationships between families, men and women. A patriarchal society like many others, but human and teaming with life, warmth and human interaction, the poetry and rhythm of every day life, making its demise even more tragic. Seierstad wrote an account where none of this was present or even evident in its past, offering little in human qualities as if the Afghani's lack of humanity had brought about their situation, a view that I was deeply suspicious about. Hosseini tells us of a different and much more believable place.
This is a truly lovely book dealing with many difficult subjects and so many layers that it does feel epic. The plot turns about so many times and moves from the relatively leisurely beginning to an action packed pelter of a pace in the third part. It is clear why this book has been held so high in many readers regard and has provided much for book groups to chew on. Highly recommended. 
Khaled Hosseini's website can be found by using the link, where you can find discussion questions on The Kite Runner and information about his other work.
I am very intrigued and excited to see this story on the stage. It is on at theNottingham Playhouse 26th April to 18th May and then the Liverpool Playhouse 13th June to 6th July.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

The Organic Year: A Guide to Organic Living by Patricia Gallimore

Forming part of a display next to the shelves, I picked this book up second hand in Oxfam in 2010. Set out in months, each chapter is dedicated to a British organisation that believes in and follows organic practice. At the end of each monthly chapter there is a practical guide for growing and also seasonal buying and availability, together with recipes. I read this in real time for each corresponding month, throughout last year.
We are introduced to some colourful and determined individuals who have converted or started their business with organics at its heart, for ethical and health reasons, most of them many years ago when Organics was seen as new age, or even crank. Times have changed thankfully, and Organic practice has become more mainstream and more widely understood.
There is everything here, farms, garden centres, breweries and wine specialists, food shops, turkey breeders, bakeries, herbalists, baby food production, dairies, Green and Black's Chocolate, and even the Prince of Wales's own farm and estate.
Explaining their reasons for choosing this way of life, their beginnings, business decisions, trials and successes, with lots of colourful pictures throughout, this is an attractive book ideal for anyone interested in this subject. It is also good as an introduction for those who are curious about the Organic way and why it is important.
The author, played Pat Lewis in The Archers on BBC Radio since 1974. Her character married Tony Archer and the producers decided that they would convert their farm to Organic in 1984. Advised by the Soil Association for the show, Patricia Gallimore became fascinated by the practice of Organic living and greatly admired those she met during the research, and from attending agricultural shows, fairs, festivals and debates. Many of these contacts have been revisited in this book, as well as some new ones.
For anyone with an interest in finding out about the Organic way of life, interested in getting started or looking for inspiration, this book is ideal. Easy to read with practical growing and shopping guides, in an attractive format, this colourful book covers a variety of subjects with Organic life at its heart.
For the Top 10 Reasons to Support Organic in the 21st Century use the link to this organic website.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Opening Lines from your Favourite Books

There is a lot online about Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice at the moment with 2013 being it's 200th anniversary. The first line from this book,
 “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
must be one of the most well known and quoted beginnings to any book. Consequently an article I found in the Telegraph, called 30 great opening lines in literature, including this and many other great classics caught my eye. It is great fun to read with many great book openers, from F Scott Fitzgerald to Franz Kafka included.
Anyway it got me thinking about my own favourites and I began a frenzy of ripping books off my shelves and taking a look, this blog post in mind. There were many smiles and reminiscences along the way, and a heap of rejections from books I love dearly, like American Pastoral by Philip Roth - 'The Swede.' That was it. From a writer who is famous for sentences that go on for days. Then there was East of Eden by John Steinback - 'The Salinas Valley is in Northern California.' Ok. Don't let these lines put you off however, these are great books and in context these first lines are crucial, but there were others more fascinating as an introduction that I wanted to share. Their front covers are pictured above.

So here are 10 opening lines from my favourite reads...

Precious Bane by Mary Webb
"It was at a love-spinning that I saw Kester first"

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
"There was no possibility of taking a walk that day."

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Bradley
"Even in high summer, Tintagel was a haunted place; Igraine, Lady of Duke Gorlois, looked out over the sea from the head-land."

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
"I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice - not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother's death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany."

The Passion by Jeanette Winterson
"It was Napoleon who had such a passion for chicken that he kept his chefs working around the clock."

The Ballad of the Sad Cafe by Carson McCullers
"The town itself is dreary; not much is there except the cotton-mill, the two-room houses where the workers live, a few peach trees, a church with two coloured windows, and a miserable main street only a hundred yards long."

Germinal by Emile Zola
"Crossing the open plain, wading through the thick, dark ink of a starless night, a solitary figure followed the highway from Marchiennes to Montsou, which cut its paved pathway straight through ten kilometres of beet fields."

Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
"When Farmer Oak smiled, the corners of his mouth spread till they were within an unimportant distance of his ears, his eyes were reduced to chinks, and diverging wrinkles appeared round them, extending upon his countenance like the rays in a rudimentary sketch of the rising sun."

The Shipping News by Annie Proulx
"Here is an account of a few years in the life of Quoyle, born in Brooklyn and raised in a shuffle of dreary upstate towns."  

The Blue Fox by Sjon
"Blue Foxes are so curiously like stones that it is a matter for wonder."  

Which ones would you choose?
I really enjoyed finding these and there were so many that I may do a sequal in a few months. It was refreshing to concentrate on the one sentence, some long forgotten, or even paid little attention to in the wake of the rest of the book. Some surprised me, others were like a microscopic insight on what is to come. Many made me smile. Retrospect enabled me to appreciate them in a particular way. Would any that are unfamiliar inspire you to look out for the book?

Its been ages since I have taken part in a good meme, so if this has inspired you to look out your own first-liners consider yourself memed, and let me know so I can share yours.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

February Roundup

There is a suggestion of spring in the air, bulbs waking up, birdsong, brighter days, and an interminable need to get outside.

The end of the winter is in sight. What books have seen you through the dark days? Here is my reading life through February...

Read - One and a half books
Completed - The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Currently Reading -
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
Literary Genius edited by Joseph Epstein
Adventures of a Waterboy by Mike Scott
The Natural Navigator by Tristan Gooley
The Last Elf by Silvana De Mari
TBR Pile - 128 according to GoodReads with 4 added this month...
Whiteout by Ken Follett
Miss Peregrines Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson
Challenges - The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, which I am currently reading and enjoying, is part of #5 of my challenges to myself this year, to read 1 or 2 titles that came from our literary holidays. This one was my lucky dip prize from our Jane Austen holiday in Hampshire (2010) and a recommendation from that trip.
Wishlist Additions -
Sombrero Fallout by Richard Brautigan
Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner
Woods etc by Alice Oswald
Strands: A Year of Discoveries on the Beach by Jean Sprackland
Through the Woods: The English Woodland - April to April by H E Bates
Wild Hares and Hummingbirds: The Natural History of an English Village by Stephen Moss
Ethel and Ernest by Raymond Briggs
The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
Discoveries -
Two interesting blogs have come my way...
  • Me And My Big Mouth for book reviews and more
  • On Friday where two writers take up the challenge to come up with a new short piece of writing every friday.
There have also been some really interesting articles about this February...
Events -
World Book Night is happening on the 23rd April (see the link on my sidebar) and I have been chosen as a giver again. This year I will be giving away copies of The Reader by Bernhard Schlink, an important novel that I enjoyed in 2009. Use the link to read my review.
The British Library in London is currently exhibiting Murder in the Library: An A-Z of Crime Fiction. It is in the Folio Society Gallery from 18th Jan to 12th May 2013 and free to attend, celebrating crime fiction from 'its origins in the early 19th century through to contemporary Nordic Noir, taking in the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, the first appearance of Miss Marple and the fiendish plots of Dr Fu Manchu along the way.' Sounds thrilling, as well as good fun.

February was quite a full month, what is in store for March?...

Thursday, 21 February 2013

I Was A Rat! by Philip Pullman

This story is doing a tour of England this year in the form of a theatre adaptation and one of my favourite theatre companies, Teatro Kismet from Bari in Italy, is heavily involved as co producers with Teresa Ludovico having adapted and directed this new play. Of course I am looking forward to seeing it next month in my home town at the Liverpool Playhouse, but I wanted to read the original book first, and a work colleague had a copy to lend me.
A young boy in a footmans outfit knocks on the door of an elderly couple, Bob and Joan, who have no children of their own. They welcome him out of the cold and feed him but he behaves strangely, chewing furniture and clothing, cheerfully stating 'I was a rat!'. The couple agree to look after him, calling him Roger, and take him to the doctor and to school, both ventures proving unsuccessful due to lack of understanding in others. Meanwhile the Prince has announced his engagement to Princess Aurelia, who Roger claims to know.
Roger's strange behaviour soon attracts the attention of various uncaring people who steal him away for profit. He becomes a circus freak show act, and then is kidnapped by a gang of theives, all of whom treat him cruelly. Bob and Joan try to search for him, knowing that his differences and trusting nature make him vulnerable, but only find him when he is portrayed in the newspapers as a monster to be destroyed. They enlist the help of the Princess, who does remember him, linking to another well known story (you will have to read it to find out which one).
A lot of this story is told through newspaper reports and illustrates the way something can quickly become distorted into gossip and hysteria as well as the triviality that surrounds celebrity. There are many useful themes in this book for children such as displacement, alienation, the cruelty of others, children in an adult world and a refusal to see the truth. The setting is a traditional fairy story town, with cobblers and palaces, but has very modern messages within it. There are illustrations and funny newspaper clippings to help the plot along with its many twists and turns, making this a very satisfying read. Every childrens tale needs a good villain and Mr and Mrs Tapscrew are a sinister pair from the circus (think Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) helping to give the story its dark side. There are a few other villains along the way too.

This is not Pullman's most famous book, but it has a loyal fan base nevertheless, and deservedly so.
I am really looking forward to seeing the stage adaptation when it comes to the Liverpool Playhouse in March.
Philip Pullman's website has a page on this book.
To read more about the I Was A Rat! theatre adaptation and tour use the link.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Notes from Walnut Tree Farm by Roger Deakin

I had not really heard of Roger Deakin, the writer and radio broadcaster, until I saw his other book, Wildwood, on the shelves at Waterstones. Having recently enjoyed other Rural Living books like The Magic Apple Tree by Susan Hill I was keen to read some more and Roger Deakin's books stood out. He was clearly much loved and admired by many. I ended up buying this one instead, being taken by the format of notes sorted into months with the intention of reading it in real time throughout 2012. Mostly I managed it, reading each month as it was happening and appreciating the year along with him.
The notes range from quite short observations, or thoughts of a few sentences to the occasional longer account over a page or so of some peculiar adventure or happening. All of the notes are taken from exercise books that Deakin kept during his last 6 years, being put together for this book posthumously. Deakin died in 2006 and most of the notes are about his home of 30 years in Suffolk, living, working on and exploring the land and countryside of his farm.
From describing the Hornets coming in through the study window, to how his cats smile, to jaunts to local forests, sometimes camping, to see how the trees are doing and which flowers are out, to meanderings on where to sleep that night (one of the various bedrooms, the shepherds hut or the tent). His disgruntlement and out and out anger at the wanton destruction of green land is also vented between the pages, ancient woodlands thoughtlessly and cruelly wasted in the name of progress by another corporate landowner.
One of the main things that came across to me was his sense of freedom. There seems to be little to bind and shackle him. If he wants a dip in the moat he does so, meet a friend and go camping, spend an evening watching the local wildlife, or even writing in his study. He is not even tied to one bedroom, his obligations are only to his own work on the farm.
This freedom lends an atmosphere of ease to the book, it is a gentle, undulating read, with beauty on every page. Deakin has a pleasant voice, infused with a wisdom that comes from experience, of living close to nature and its rythmic life. He talks about the plants and trees as if they are his friends, and I believe they were. Constant friends. There is humour and sadness, sometimes loneliness accounted here too.
I loved this book, it was an ideal bedside companion because of the calm that came from the pages. Deakin's sense of wonder and reflection helps you to see the world differently. A wonderful read and highly recommended.
To read more about Roger Deakin, his life and work, try the link.
To see pictures of Walnut Tree Farm there is an article by the Caught by the River team (you may remember my review of the Caught by the River book from 2011). It is called The House that Roger Built.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

January Roundup

Blustery, snowy days heading in to the warmth with a good book. It has been quite an interesting month on the book front...

Read - 1 and a half books
Completed - The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Currently Reading -
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Literary Genius edited by Joseph Epstein
Adventures of a Waterboy by Mike Scott
The Natural Navigator by Tristan Gooley
TBR Pile - currently at 126 (acoording to GoodReads) with no new books added during January.
Challenges - I was looking into #8 of my challenges of reading a prizewinner, either Man Booker Prize or Orange prize for Literature, or similar, and it seems that I already had 5 titles that would fit the bill on my TBR pile, unawares...
Man Booker Prizewinners
The Gathering by Anne Enright (2007 winner)
White Tiger by Aravind Adiga (2008 winner)
Orange Prizewinners for Literature
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (2002 winner)
Half Of A Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2007 winner)
Whitbread Book of the Year winner
Eve Green by Susan Fletcher (2004 winner)
I found this pretty exciting, and having the choice already on my bookshelves was enticing to say the least. I haven't decided which one that I will read yet for this challenge but there are some excellent titles there that all interest me in one way or another. Watch this space.
Wishlist Additions -
The Lifeboat by Charlotte Regan
The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier
Finding Camlawn by Sean Pidgeon
Discoveries -
I went to see Life of Pi at the cinema, in 3D. I am one of the few book bloggers that has not read the book so actually knew nothing of the story. I found it visually amazing, dazzling in fact, and the best 3D film that I have seen to date. I also found the story very moving to a devastating degree in parts, and spent most of the movie distraught behind my 3D glasses. So much so I could not really speak about it immediately afterwards. A truly beautiful and original film that showcases cinema at its greatest visual powers but also with a highly memorable story that will honestly stay with me forever. Will I read the book now? Maybe, some time, when I have got over the movie!
Events -
Liverpool is hosting a 3 week literary festival from 23 April until 19 May, incorporating the official opening of the newly refurbished Central Library on William Brown Street. Events timetable is still to be announced but there will be things happening in St Georges Hall, St John's Gardens , Central Library and other venues in the city.
February is already under way, what delights will it hold...?

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

The Arrival by Shaun Tan

My friend, who is training to be a primary school teacher, and has a special interest in graphic novels, said to me last year 'Have you read this book? You have to read it.' I took a look at some of the illustrations online, and the authors website, and she was right... I had to read it.
Told entirely in beautiful illustrations, this book tells the story of a husband and father having to leave his homeland to find work somewhere else, where the language and everything is totally different. Not only is he missing his family, but he is struggling to fathom this baffling new world, even to find or understand the basics to survive.
It is not only the lovely pictures that make this book attractive, but the whole feel of the book, hardback, but looking worn like an old book.
The story is moving and educational, and is certainly not just a book for children. Any age can get a lot from this book. I was particularly impressed by the way it conveys the confusion of displacement. Using fantasy to not only explain how the main character feels, but also making you feel lost so that you can appreciate how difficult it must be negotiating new places, customs and social systems.
The illustrations are pencil drawings in various shades of sepia, and many of the people or scenes are old fashioned. Our main protagonist (as seen on the cover above) looks like someone from the 1940's with Trilby and overcoat. A respectable family man in a guise that we all relate to.There is also a mechanical or industrial flavour to many of the scenes, and a highly original imaginative style throughout. There are large pictures taking up a whole page, and small pictures making up a montage of images that compliment the larger scenes and propelling the story forwards.
This is an ideal book to buy as a present. It looks beautiful and makes quite a talking point. It also carries important messages about belonging, and also about helping others who are struggling and establishing community. This is something that the author has first hand experience of, being half Chinese living in Australia, witnessing some prejudice to himself and his father, and also seeing the difficulties that the Aborigines have been subjected to over time.
I have not read many graphic novels. You may remember my review of The Invention Of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, another beautiful book, but I am fast becoming a fan, of their universal accessibility, and for their sheer beauty. The Arrival is a gorgeous book and comes highly recommended.
The Arrival has its own website, just use the link.
To see more of the illustrations and read the authors inspiration behind the book, use the link for Shaun Tan's website.
You can read others reviews about The Arrival on GoodReads, where the book repeatedly receives 4 or 5 star ratings.
Thank you to my friend for an excellent and memorable recommendation.

Monday, 21 January 2013

The Comfort of Strangers by Ian McEwan

I  have had a mixed relationship with Ian McEwan's novels. There are those that I loved (Atonement, Enduring Love), those I quite liked (On Chesil Beach) and those I didn't like much at all (Saturday and Amsterdam). It was the size of this one that first caught my attention, and that brought me to read it now. A nicely sized 100 pages. There was also the alluring cover, causing me to buy it in Oxfam some time ago. I wanted something quick to read and this was perfect.
Colin and Mary are on holiday in Venice. They are not married but have been partners for several years and their relationship has become antagonistic. Disagreeing has become a habit and they no longer compliment each others mood. They misread each other frequently and become easily offended for the slightest reason. They had hoped that the holiday would bring them closer, but they are following the same patterns, and it is their stubborn antagonism that gets them lost one night, in the many confusing alleyways of Venice. They are rescued by Robert, an enigmatic Italian businessman, who takes them to his bar and tells them stories of his life. They do not realise that their lives will never be the same, as they are unwillingly sucked into his disturbing world, and it makes them re-examine their relationship with each other.
The tension builds from the start, as they snipe at each other on the deserted back streets away from the crowds. You long for them to find where they are, yet even when they are in the middle of St Mark's Square there is no relief from the feeling that something is wrong.
I have always found McEwan's descriptions of couple psychology fascinating and he does not disappoint here. Part of the tension is their own with each other, which then manifests into an external situation, forcing them to examine where they are and reunite. It is the minutiae of their relationship that pushes this story forward with quite a pace.
I was quite shocked as the true intentions of their hosts are made apparent, and the last part provides exciting reading. Worrying, creepy, with a heap of questions on each page, this is a full on thriller and leaves you with a tangible feeling of alienation which lasted after the last sentence was done.
I really enjoyed this book. It made me realise I don't read enough thrillers, and a lot of it is still vivid in my mind. A shifty, nasty little story, excellently atmospheric, with loads of writing technique and the mechanics of relationships to talk about, as well as what drives some peoples behaviour, making this a good one for your reading group.
You can check out this book on Ian McEwan's website.
There is an essay examining the use of Metaphor in The Comfort of Strangers if you wish to expand your opinions of the book.
There is also a film of this book with Rupert Everett, Christopher Walken and Natasha Richardson. I realised about half way through reading the book that I had seen it a long time ago and remember little about it. I will look out for it for comparison.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Harry Hop-Pole by Wispy Gorman

In July last year I spotted this book in Waterstones in Nottingham. The picture on the front reminded me of the Cerne Abbas giant in Dorset, but it has nothing to do with that at all. After flicking through it looked like a strange but original story about a pole vaulter so I added it to my wishlist on the July 2012 Roundup. A few days later the publisher, acorn book company, got in touch and asked if I wanted a complimentary copy to review. They kindly sent me this book and Chef of Distinction by the same author. With my gap in reading last year it took me a little while to get around to it but I did so eventually last October.
The book is a comedy story, following Harry, the pole vaulting genius and his friends (with their own vested interests in his ability) as they set about the task of getting Harry into the Olympics. Their adventures of securing the right pole, avoiding scams and sabotage, and eventually the Games themselves, are depicted and we are taken along every eccentric turn in the story with his pals.
Written with a whimsical humour that is warm and gentle, this is a likeable and clever book with a very English flavour. It is refreshing to read comedy without lewdness or swearing and still be funny by simply describing the colourful and strange characters that we pretty well all meet every day. The details are where the intelligence of the wit lies, making these bizarre people recognisable. I particularly liked the Announcer in the top box with a view at the games, with his 'fat packet of sandwiches... a thermos flask of lukewarm milky tea, and in his jacket pocket - a treat for later, a round, and slightly sickly chocolate biscuit, wrapped in red tin foil... This, then, was his domain.'
It was excellent timing to release such a book in 2011, the run up to London 2012, when all eyes were on the real games and its drama's. Harry Hop-Pole's games are also pretty exciting, forming most of the latter part of the book, and tapping into the comararderie that is instilled between spectators watching one of their own do well.
The style of the book reminded me a little of Terry Pratchett in a more gentle setting, and visually seemed to have much in common with the BBCs The Vicar of Dibley, English village life with a cheeky humour relying on misfit characters. The occasional illustrations also added to the feel of the book.
A pleasant and often funny read forming the first episode in The Wispy Gorman Stories, and his debut novel. Recommended for those who do not like brash comedy, but a more observational humour relevant to these modern times. It is also a short read and a good one for book groups.
To read about the other Wispy Gorman Stories from the publisher use the link.
The book has also made it onto GoodReads and you can read this review amongst others by using the link.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

The Octogon Challenge 2013 - Updates

I am using this post to keep track of my progress through my challenges for 2013. These tasks are not set in stone, but used to help organise and guide my reading throughout the year. Completed challenges are marked in red.
1. Read another classic American novel

2. Find second hand copies of
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
Under The Greenwood Tree and/or The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy
Persuasion by Jane Austen

3. Read another novel by George Eliot

4. Read a detective mystery
Completed First And Only by Peter Flannery in April 2013

5. Read one or two titles that came from our literary holidays
Completed The Red Tent by Anita Diamant in March 2013 which was my lucky dip prize from our 2010 Jane Austen holiday in Hampshire. It was also recommended by those on the holiday too.
6. Read at least one title acquired in a Book Swap at work
Currently reading The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks, acquired in the 2012 bookswap.

7. Read a book associated with a previous World Book Night event.

8. Read a prizewinner, either Man Booker Prize or Orange prize for literature, or similar.
Completed Eve Green by Susan Fletcher, winner of the 2004 Whitbread Book of the Year (First Novel Award) in April 2013.
Also completed The Gathering by Ann Enright, winner of the 2007 Man Booker Prize, July 2013 .

Previous book reviews at The Octogon - 2011

This map represents all of the countries that I read about during 2011. I call them my literary visits because I went to them in my head while reading the various books during that year. Not as colourful as previous years I have to say, but there were some good books in 2011.
Previous book reviews at The Octogon during 2011 were...
One Day by David Nicholls
Our Sweet Little Time: a year in haiku by Hamish Ironside
Ox-Tales: Water by various authors
Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
The Distance Between Us by Maggie O'Farrell
The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy
Through the Garden Gate by Susan Hill
Through the Kitchen Window by Susan Hill
Tinkers by Paul Harding
Whit by Iain Banks

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Looking back and looking forward...

It has been quite a year, ups and downs with a whole 2 months not reading at all, but some great books along the way. I did beat my total books read from last year nevertheless, with 18 books completed in 2012. One of those was a graphic novel and 2 were non-fiction books which is 3 down on last year. The ratio of male and female authors was exactly equal with 9 each, so many more female writers than last year. This is always coincidental however and the sex of the author does not drive what I read. There was one set of short stories all by the same author (Dubliners by James Joyce).

The Nationalities of authors was as follows...
English - 7
USA - 5
Swedish - 2
Irish - 1
Norwegian - 1
Chinese/American - 1
Australian - 1
The genres of the books read during 2012 were as follows...
Modern Fiction - 2
Natural World (non-fiction)- 2
Childrens - 2
Horror/Ghost Story - 1
English Victorian Drama - 1
Dystopian - 1
Semi-autobiographical - 1
Family Biography - 1
Family Drama - 1
Humourous Fiction - 1
Graphic Novel - 1
Thriller - 1
Play/Drama - 1
American History/Wild West - 1
- 2 titles were prizewinners
- 2 titles were known classics
- 4 of the titles were first works by new authors
Favourite Reads during 2012 were...
We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist
The Summer Book by Tove Jansson
All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
Notes From Walnut Tree Farm by Roger Deakin
Oldest and Newest...
Oldest - Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, 1847
Newest - Harry Hop-Pole by Wispy Gorman, Nov 2011
Favourite Cover Design...
I would say the Oxford World Classics edition of Wuthering Heights depicted the mood of the book just right for me. The picture of the desolate moors provided the perfect atmospheric cover.
Unexpected disappointment...
The Lost And Forgotten Languages Of Shanghai by Ruiyan Xu
Favourite Character...
John Grady Cole from All The Pretty Horses. An old fashioned style hero with timeless qualities but still very human.

Challenges for 2012...
My 8 resolutions (and their results in red) were:-

1. To not buy any new books, only acquiring them as gifts, borrowing, or second hand if I have to. This is to get my TBR pile under control and tied in with The TBR Double Dare run by Ready When You Are, C.B.
TBR Double Dare was completed and passed as was the rest of this challenge for the year.
2. To read Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte Completed March 2012

3. To read 1 or 2 titles that came up during our lit hol discussions
Completed The Summer Book by Tove Jansson in April, which came up in our Jane Austen holiday in Hampshire in 2010.
Completed The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad in July, which was my lucky dip title from CS on our Thomas Hardy holiday in Dorset in 2011.

4. To read 3 literary articles and blog about them (Uncompleted)

5. To compare 3 book to film stories
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell (Feb post)
We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver (March post)

The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald (June post)

6. To read at least one dystopia novel
Completed The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist in March 2012

7.To read the Zola I have wanted to read since 2009 (this is the 3rd year it has made it on this list and still uncompleted - sigh)

8.To read another George Eliot if possible (Uncompleted but being transferred to next year)

About the same as last year. As I say, these are guidelines for the year and not set in stone.

There are also the books recommended by my work colleagues which I have marked in red if completed. We only have to read at least one of the 3.
AR - The Dubliners by James Joyce, Seize the Day by Saul Bellow and August: Osage County by Tracy Letts
BD - The Portrait of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, Trick or Treat by Richie Tankersley Cusick and Kane and Abel by Jeffrey Archer

So how about 2013...
1. Read another classic American novel
2. Find second hand copies of
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
Under The Greenwood Tree and/or The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy
3. Read another novel by George Eliot
4. Read a detective mystery
5. Read one or two titles that came from our literary holidays
6. Read at least one title acquired in a Book Swap at work
7. Read a book associated with a previous World Book Night event.
8. Read a prizewinner, either Man Booker Prize or Orange prize for literature, or similar.

I would also like to continue not buying any new books and try to beat this years total books read. I will let you know how I get on. There may be the possibility of another literary weekend later in the year but I will need to see how the year pans out.

Wishing you All The Best for 2013 with lots of reading time with some fantastic books.

Hay on Wye

Hay on Wye