I need a man!

Truly, I do! I would like any many who has read David Szalay’s All That Man Is to give me their perspective on this book. It has been shortlisted for this year’s Man Booker Prize and I am working my way through that shortlist at the moment. This was my second read, and whilst I found it reasonably engaging, I also found myself saying at the end “And….?”

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It is a book of nine parts and focuses on nine men, each at a different stage in life. In that sense, it is a book of nine stories. Each is set in a different part of Europe and each character is away from home, although ‘home’ is a fluid concept in the novel. It is a very international, very European, book.

As the reader progresses through the novel, the characters become older. So, we start with 17-year-old Simon in Part One, inter-railing with a school friend, and end with 73-year-old Tony in Part Nine. In between, there is young Frenchman Bernard, leading an aimless life, not sure what to do with his future, who takes a holiday in Cyprus; Hungarian security guard Balazs, who finds himself in London minding a young woman with whom he is in love, and who is being pimped as a high-end prostitute by her boyfriend; self-obsessed German linguist academic Karel, driving to Krakow with his Polish girlfriend, who tells him en route that she is pregnant; then we start on middle-age with Danish newspaper editor Kristian, bored by middle-class family life, but smug with the trappings of his career success; James a London-based property agent, looking to invest in apartments in ski resorts in Switzerland, preoccupied by how to make  more money; Murray, 52-year-old Scotsman, living in Croatia, conned out of what little he has by his own foolish ego; Aleksandr, suicidal Russian billionaire on the ropes, down to his last few hundred million after losing a court case against a rival; and finally, Tony, 73 year-old former diplomat, alone in his house in Italy in the winter. He has been ill and then has a car accident and is facing into old age with all its travails.

Continue reading “I need a man!”

A book about caring, love and self-love; abandonment and family chains

hot-milk-imgThis was the first book on my ‘read the Man Booker shortlist challenge’, which I set myself a couple of weeks ago. I really enjoyed it, but it’s a book that I will probably have to mull over in my mind for a while before I can really pin down what it’s all about, because it is operating on so many levels. I think that makes it the mark of a very fine piece of literature and the writing is sublime.

So, a plot summary: Sofia is in her mid-twenties, half-Greek, half-English. She is an anthropologist, but abandoned her PhD, primarily to care for her mother, Rose, and now works in a coffee shop. Rose is a hypochondriac; she no longer walks and claims not to have feeling in her feet. Her doctors have been unable to identify the cause of her illness, though she is on a cocktail of drugs to manage her symptoms. As a last resort, Rose has remortgaged her home in a last ditch attempt to find a diagnosis, by checking herself into an unconventional clinic in Almeria, southern Spain, under the care of the charismatic Dr Gomez.

Continue reading “A book about caring, love and self-love; abandonment and family chains”

Love reading but can’t find the time?

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(This post will take you about 90 seconds to read.)

As a book blogger I make it my business to read, but I know how hard it can be to squeeze it into your busy week. When my kids were little it would take me weeks to get through a book. I’d read in bed, but then fall asleep after a few pages, losing  my place and forgetting what had happened earlier in the chapter. Those days do pass, of course, but it’s very easy to get out of the reading habit.

When I publish a book review on this blog, I try to indicate how it is best enjoyed; so for example a book with lots of short chapters often lends itself to reading in 10 minute slots, whereas a vast meandering epic is maybe best left for your holiday.

If you love reading, but find it hard to squeeze it in, here are a few ideas to up your reading quota:

  • Never be without a book – I always have something to read in the car or in my handbag, for when I find myself with a bit of spare time, having arrived somewhere earlier than expected, waiting for an appointment, etc.
  • Get an e-reader – I don’t have one myself (though I blogged here about whether to get one a couple weeks ago). Often smaller and lighter than a book to slip into your bag.
  • Read about books – having been involved with books or reading all my life, I was frustrated when I felt disconnected from what was happening in the literary world. I found it satisfying to read book reviews in the weekend papers or, indeed, on book  blogs…just like this one! I would tear pages out of magazines or the papers because they were easier to carry around.
  • Think outside your reading box – when we say we love reading most people are thinking about novels. These are usually long. Have you thought about short stories? Or poetry?
  • Go to bed earlier – watching the news is quite depressing now the Paralympics are over, and is not great for settling the mind, so listen to the news on the radio instead whilst doing something else, and go to bed with your book. You may well have a more restful sleep too.
  • Think about where and when you read – are there reading-time opportunities you are missing? While the kids are at their swimming/dance/karate lessons? During your lunch-break? Waiting for a bus?
  • Have a family reading time – most of us have family meal time or telly time, so why not reading time? Imagine the calm – the whole family sitting down to read for 15 mins! It’s widely known that modelling desirable behaviours to your kids increases the likelihood they’ll do the same so make sure they see you reading.
  • MAKE TIME FOR YOU – reading has positive mental health benefits. It can help to relieve stress and improve your mind. If it’s something you love, commit a small amount of time each day/week for YOU.

 

I’d love to hear your thoughts – how do you squeeze reading into your schedule?

How big is your ‘To Read’ pile?

Almost every book lover I know is haunted by their ‘To Read’ pile. I have several piles all over the house (‘fessing up below). To make it look less bad. And I still buy more (I live near an Oxfam bookshop for goodness’ sake!). And I don’t read them in order, so I have unread books that have been in my possession for years! Fortunately, my husband suffers from the same affliction otherwise it could be very problematic.

It’s very frustrating then to take books on holiday and bring them back unread. I blogged last week about the two I managed to read on my hols, and this week I’m reviewing one of the ones that has taken me a bit longer, Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, a fantastic book.

Anyone else read it?

This book came up for me on one of those ‘Amazon recommends’ emails. I don’t usually click through, preferring to plough my own furrow, but, confession, I liked the cover and for a moment I got the title confused with the new Michael Fassbender film that is coming out soon, The Light Between Oceans, so my attention was piqued. It just goes to show what is important in attracting potential readers!

all-the-light-we-cannot-see-imgMost of the novel is set during the Second World War. There are two main characters: Marie-Laure Le Blanc is a young French girl, fifteen when the war ends, who is blind and lives with her father, in Paris. Her father is a security guard at the Museum of Natural History with a talent for locks. He adores his daughter and makes intricate models of their neighbourhood to help her find her way around the streets. He also conceals small gifts in the tiny buildings and Marie-Laure has to solve complex mechanical puzzles to find them. When war comes they seek refuge in St Malo with Marie-Laure’s eccentric great-uncle, Etienne, who has severe agoraphobia and has not left his house for decades. They escape Paris just before the occupation and Marie-Laure’s father is charged with concealing a precious stone, one of the treasures of the museum, in order that it does not fall into the hands of the Nazis.

Werner Pfennig is a German boy, a little older than Marie-Laure, who lives with his younger sister, Jutta, in an orphanage near Essen. Continue reading “How big is your ‘To Read’ pile?”

Fancy curling up with a quintessentially Irish novel this Autumn?

You do? Fantastic! I recently read Edna O’Brien’s Little Red Chairs and Lisa McInerney’s The Glorious Heresies. Pure coincidence that I read them consecutively, but it makes for an interesting compare and contrast exercise. They are two very different books and I enjoyed one more than the other. The one common theme they have is that the Church does not come out well!

So, read on if you’d like to find out more, and let me know what you thought if you’ve read either or both of them,

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I always like to be positive; as someone who is in the process of writing a book, I am acutely aware of what a phenomenal achievement it is! And Edna O’Brien is a writer of great stature and critical acclaim – she published her first novel in 1960, aged 30, and is still writing at the age 85. She is not just one of Ireland’s greats, but is an artist who has won international praise. Unfortunately, however, this book did not really work for me.

What I liked about this book: it started well and I was expecting it to be a book about the clash between a traditional Irish community, left behind by the Europeanisation of other more urban parts of the country, and the shift to a more cosmopolitan culture. There is also the contrast between the tired and outdated attitudes of the Church and the more exotic spirituality of Dr Vladimir. Continue reading “Fancy curling up with a quintessentially Irish novel this Autumn?”

Should I ask Santa for an e-reader?

I blogged here at the beginning of August about my planned holiday reading:

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Turns out I was a bit ambitious – of the four weighty tomes (1.25kg) I squeezed into my suitcase, I managed to read just two. I started well, reading The Little Red Chairs in just 4 days, but once I got to NYC it all fell apart. There was just too much to be done (coffee and cocktails mostly!) to worry about reading! So, the Doerr and the Syal came back unread and a little squished. (I’ll be posting my thoughts about the two I did complete next week.)

kindle-381242_1280So, my question is, should I have got an e-reader? With Christmas approaching (I’m sorry to remind you but we are entering retail’s ‘Golden Quarter’), it is possible I could ask Santa to bring me one. My practical self notes that the entry-level Kindle weighs just 160 grams and would fit into my handbag. Also, Kindle versions of e-books on Amazon seem to be much cheaper.

However, I’m very attached to paper – the smell, the feel, whatever it is – and I do love the colour and design of book covers. I love having bulging bookshelves. I love the turn of the page, and I love seeing what other people are reading and assume others are equally interested in what I’m reading when I’m out and about. And another device……?

So, I’m looking for advice from any e-reader owners out there on whether it’s worth the investment. Also, Kindle seems to have cornered the market – are the other brands just as good and can you download from Amazon onto e-readers other than Kindles? And are the features of the more expensive models worth it?

Answers on a postcard, please…!

Films of books – which is better?

September is the new ‘New Year’ for many people, particularly those of us with school-age children’. Everything feels fresh and filled with optimism for me and the Autumn colours provide stunning landscapes. The air seems fresher and the sun a little brighter. Tomorrow (Thursday) marks the start of the Autumn equinox in the northern hemisphere. (Did you catch the amazing Harvest Moon last Friday? Here are some images.)

It’s also a great time of the year for the Arts – here in the north-west we have the Manchester Literature Festival  from 7-23 October; I always try and squeeze a couple of events in and many are free. The theatres all launch their new seasons – really looking forward to seeing Maxine Peake in A Streetcar Named Desire at the Royal Exchange – and there are always lots of new movie releases, in time for the Oscars in February.

I’m not a big movie watcher (most of my cinema trips are with the children), but I noticed at this year’s Oscars there were a number of big winners that were based on books. So, I set about to watch some of these, read the books on which they were based and compare. I watched/read:

  • Room by Emma Donoghue
  • The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff, and
  • The Revenant by Michael Punke

There was also Carol, based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith of course; I watched the film (which did not live up to the hype for me) but have not read the book.

Here are the results, with my scores out of 5 for each:

Room img Book 5/5

Film 5/5

Absolutely loved both of these. I believe the author wrote the screenplay and so the film follows the book very closely. Briefly, it’s about a young woman, Joy, who is kidnapped, raped and imprisoned by her captor for 9 years. She bears his child and the two are kept in an outhouse. When her son Jack is 5, Joy decides to try and escape. The film tells the story beautifully, but it does not portray the child’s perspective as brilliantly as Donoghue does in the book, his unconventional naming of things and his inability to conceive of a world outside their Room. Both are fantastic, however, and I recommend them highly.

 

The Danish Girl imgBook 3/5

Film 4/5

The Danish Girl tells the story of Lili Elbe, an early pioneer of gender reassignment surgery in the 1930s. Lili was born as Einar Wegener, a Danish artist and marries Gerda, an American. It is based loosely on facts but much of the detail is fiction. The book, for me, was less about Lili and more about the relationship with Gerda, and, indeed, the effect on her of her husband’s journey to becoming a woman. Much of the detail, for example Gerda’s back-story, is omitted from the film, and in many ways this made it a little more successful for me as it had a tighter focus. It also has a different ending, which I think works better.

 

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Book 5/5

Film 4/5

This probably would not have been on my ‘must-read’ list had I not set myself this task…which just goes to show it’s good to go out of your reading comfort-zone! Absolutely gripping book, a real adventure story, whilst also superbly-written. The Revenant is based loosely on the true story of Hugh Glass, an American pioneer in the 1820s, who is savaged by a bear and abandoned by his gang of fur-hunters who believe he will die. He is left briefly in the care of two members of the gang (whose instructions are to bury him once he is dead), but they leave him whilst he is still alive, taking his rifle and knife. Miraculously, Glass does not die after they have gone and he sets out on a quest to track down the others and enact his revenge. There are some narrative changes in the film, which I found a little clumsy, but were necessary, I think, for the different medium. Leonardo DiCaprio is brilliant and it’s a real action-adventure movie, though I spent some of it with my eyes closed – a bit on the gory side for me at times!

My overall conclusion from this exercise is not that books are better, but that they tended to have more nuance and more depth, even if that was sometimes less well-executed, as in the case of The Danish Girl. I should add that in each case, I read the book first, which may have influenced my opinion.

If you have read or watched any of these, I’d love to hear your views. If you’d like to learn a bit more about these books, you can read my full-length reviews here.