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

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...?

Hay on Wye

Hay on Wye