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,

the-little-red-chairs-img  

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:

2016-07-28 20.27.09

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.

 

2016-08-06 07.07.14

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.

A Moranifesto for our time?

2016-09-07-14-15-00This was a library loan, which is problematic as I could only borrow it for 3 weeks (and then another 3 weeks, renewed online), when actually it’s the kind of book that lends itself to being picked up from time to time, read for a few pages and then put down again. It does not work as well when you try to read big chunks of it at bedtime. (And it’s a hefty book!)

The book is basically a collection of Caitlin’s columns over the years, gathered together under broad headings. For those of you unfamiliar with her writing, she is a columnist of the light campaigning variety. She is intelligent, warm, laugh-out-loud funny and wears her heart very much on her sleeve. I love the way she shows her vulnerabilities, which, of course, become her strengths, her humanity. I enjoyed her novel How To Build a Girl (which I think is more or less her early life story), I like the TV show she co-writes with her sister, Raised By Wolves (also part-autobiographical) and I enjoy her writing whenever I come across it. I haven’t read How To Be A Woman, which became a bestseller.

I picked this up in the library after reading an extract in The Guardian Weekend but I’m afraid it left me a bit cold. I love Moran’s sense of humour but it’s not as funny after 20 pages. It works best in short bursts. I’m afraid I gave up at page 135.

In parts the book felt dated; some of the columns were published years ago, eg a few TV reviews of the 2012 Olympics. Another, a TV review about David Bowie, seems unfortunate. (I also got really irritated by the typographical errors not picked up in the editing process!)

Funnily enough, whilst writing this review, I have looked at some of the later columns I hadn’t yet got to, one in particular about the extraordinary power, wealth, stature and hedonism of New York City and what it says about the human race was an interesting read as I spent time there this summer on holiday. So, yes, it works in brief reads, but not one for getting lost in.

In need of a post-holiday magic wand?

Most children will now be back at school. And most parents will be breathing a bit of a sigh of relief! Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE having mine off, and enjoy being able to step off the term-time treadmill for a few weeks, but I am always glad to get back to the routine. I have one teenager and two precocious pre-teenagers in my household, and whilst I’m no longer in the zone of clearing up their toys every five minutes or spending all day and every day ‘entertaining’ them as I did when they were little (here’s to you if you still are), a low-level chaos still seems to take over the house when they’re off school. They leave ‘stuff’ everywhere, they change clothes multiple times a day, and once the disorder sets in it is so hard to rein it back.

A few months ago, I bought Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying, in a flurry of enthusiasm; after having some work done in the house and finding so much irrelevant and pointless stuff lying around as I prepared for the builders, I felt a sudden motivation to “sort things out once and for all”. The family cowered and hoped I’d get over it quite quickly. I made a good start, organising both my own wardrobe and persuading my husband to do his as well. This is Marie’s Step 1. Step 2 is Books, so I’m psyching myself up for that one! Here’s my review of the book.

I’d love to know what you think, or if you have the same feeling of needing to reorganise once the Autumn comes around.

the-life-changing-magic-imgI didn’t think that the words “life-changing” and “tidying” could belong in the same sentence in anyone’s world, let alone adding the word “magic” as well! Don’t get me wrong, like many people, I enjoy the buzz I get from a clean tidy space, it’s the cleaning and tidying bit I don’t like. Marie Kondo is a different kind of animal, but she is highly likeable because she doesn’t try to hide it. She confesses that when she was a child she loved tidying both her own and other people’s things, and devoured women’s magazines with all their cleaning and tidying tips.

I felt vaguely uncomfortable at times with this book; I was worried that it was a bit of a throw-back, like I might turn into my mother whilst reading it! However, (isn’t there always one of those?) it IS actually more than that. Decluttering experts, psychologists and television producers all know that a chaotic domestic environment often says as much about our minds as it does about our lifestyles. It can also affect our minds and our lifestyle more than we realise. And that is where Marie Kondo is coming from, in her quirky, charming and guileless way.

Continue reading “In need of a post-holiday magic wand?”

Touring the bookshops in NYC

So, it would appear that I haven’t posted a blog for almost a month. I’m afraid, dear Reader, that my tech skills (or was it my ‘phone?) let me down. I did try and post from my mobile but the app was a bit rubbish and I couldn’t make it work.

So, I’m back from my holidays. I spent some time in Dublin with my in-laws and then went on to New York City. (Lucky me, we have family living in Manhattan.) We had a fab couple of weeks, hanging out, doing NYC-type things.

I was also able to indulge my passion! – one of my favourite things to do when I visit a city is to survey the local bookshops. It helps me to get the measure of a place, even if I don’t speak the language! In New York City there is no shortage of bookstores to sample. What is also refreshing is the number of independents.  

‘Three Lives’ on W10th Street in the heart of Greenwich Village is a lovely little establishment where you feel the passion as soon as you walk through the door. It feels like a place that has its finger on the literary pulse. It’s small but beautiful, calm and the stock has been well-selected.

 

 

 

In contrast, sizewise, is Strand Books, on the corner of Broadway and E12th Street, a real NYC institution. It claims to have 18 miles of books on its five floors. It reminded me very much of Foyles in London. It also has trolleys of secondhand books on the street outside where you can pick up some bargains for a couple of dollars (helpful as the exchange rate was not in my favour!)

2016-08-16-10-55-17-1

Here are my literary holiday souvenirs:2016-09-07-10-20-32

The Treats Truck Baking Book was actually a gift for my daughter, who loves baking. In the Dutch Mountains I bought because the title intrigued me. From the blurb it sounded a bit like an Angela Carter, whom I love. I’m also a lover of all things Dutch. Just Kids I had to buy; I love Patti Smith and have heard her speaking about this book, I think I even read an extract from it when it was first published in 2010. Not sure why I haven’t read it yet, but it seemed fitting to do so now. Hot Milk I actually bought in Dublin at the wonderful Rathgar Bookshop. It’s been long-listed for this year’s Man Booker so I’m looking forward to reading that. The last three? Well, there are stories: in New York one is surrounded by high-achievers and their high-achieving kids, so I got a bit panicked and felt the need to get in on this secret! Unlatched was in the $2 truck – I’m a very gentle Breastfeeding Counsellor and am always perplexed by the passion and ire it evokes in equal measure, so I thought it might give me an insight. Happier At Home was a $1 proof copy. I liked Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project (ever on a quest for self-improvement) and this is the follow-up.

So, I’ll let you know how I get on with these in the coming weeks and months. I’ve got so much in my ‘to read’ pile just now and am really enjoying All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I’ll be back with my latest reviews very soon.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Three-Lives-Co/116725281685722

http://www.strandbooks.com/

HOME