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

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?...

Hay on Wye

Hay on Wye