“Let us read, and let us dance;
these two amusements will never do any harm to the world.”

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Almost Gold-Star Books

I made this: BookElf at 9:37 am 1 comments Links to this post
You know sometimes you start a book and you think, yes, this is it, this is me for the next week happy as larry because I am going to be wrapped in fairy cotton bliss wool niceness that getting really immersed in a fictional world does to you. Then you get about 150 pages in and you start to feel the little elves that live in your hair start to make moany noises. Then after another 20 pages or so you can feel your jumper being dragged down at the hem, pulling on your neck as you realise the inevitable; the book est dull, and you're stuck with it.

It isn't always the books fault. I read The Historian, one of the scariest best written debuts ever, in summer whilst traversing Italian beaches...not a good idea. Hated the book, was bored stupid by it and only re-discovered it over a year later, when I should have read it, in November, next to a blazing gas fire. This is why, like with food and alcohol, readers should listen to their bodies. I was crying out for Erica James and I was stuffing myself with Kostova. This ends up with (for want of a better metaphor) trapped literary wind.

This is why I am not judging two of the books I've read this month yet. Not judging at all. No matter how pointless they seemed, clearly I've not been listening to my body that apparently only wants to read History Fluff (The King's Daughter by Christie Dickason- excellent book, or Needle in the Blood by Sarah Bower that I'm currently on now even though it wasn't even on my to-do pile two days ago, damn you Oxfam, damn you!) and have forced my way through two books that I know full well are very good, but that I just didn't enjoy.

The first was sent to me by the lovely lovely people at Penguin (thank you, please come again), Mr Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt was published this month and read on Radio 4. Looking for someone to rent her box room, Esther is more than a little surprised to find Mr Chartwell knocking at her door. Mr Chartwell is a large black dog.

The premise comes from Winston Churchill's famous analogy to his depression, and Churchill's relationship to the black dog is also explored in the book. Although the idea is an exciting and original one, one that had me looking forward to reading the book from the first I heard of it, the actual execution left a little something to be desired.

The book is fantastical in its portrayal of depression, and whilst the pre-coined metaphor of the black dog is a good and well established one, I did not always follow the high-brow dialogue or thematically driven prose. A very "good" novel, this brought no further understanding about depression, or grief, and left me exacerbated in that Hunt hadn't got it quite right. This novel will win literary praise (in fact has already been nominated for the Guardian's First Book award, previous winners including Zadie Smith's White Teeth and the utterly incredibly Stuart: A Life Backwards by Alexander Masters) because it is well crafted, but wasn't enjoyable to read, didn't lead me waiting impatiently for her next book and had me skimming pages, then forcing myself to re-read them in order to be fair to the highly elaborate, but altogether too intensive and superfluous style of writing. To be honest, this read like an over-long short story and I was bored by the end. To the extent that when trying to fill in my goodreads for the month I genuinely forgot I'd read it, always a bad sign.

The second book was The Girls by Lori Lansens, which I know N has read and enjoyed so it'll be interesting to see what she makes of it. I was given this at a recent Book Swap, and was pushed into reading it with the promise that it was 'better than the cover', which is a little Jodi Picaultesque, not that there's anything wrong with that, but you know what I'm saying.

Rose and Ruby are conjoined twins, craniopagus to be precise. This means they are joined at the head, sharing various blood vessels and what have you meaning a separation is impossible. Writing their life story together, yet apart, Rose on her laptop, Roby on her yellow legal pad, this charts the tale of small town Canada, and the twin's place in it.

Beautifully opened with a description of what how Rose sees her world, this book made me see the world a little differently. My favourite part of the whole book was how Rose described how her and Ruby were joined, take the heel of you palm, rest it against your earlobe and spread your hand fanned around your head, that is where her sister's head is. No one in the world could read that and not try it out, and this led to some odd looks on the bus I'm telling you.

The first few chapters were great, telling the story of the twin's birth, the tornado that swept the town killing their neighbour, and their adopted family of Aunt Lovey and Uncle Stash. The depiction of small town life is excellent, and I would very much like to read Lansens' previous work as she is a very good writer. Sadly, however, the book peters off quickly, pretty much as soon as the other twin Ruby's voice is introduced and although still a heart warming interesting read, did not live up to the promise of the first few chapters. There is an incident relating to Slovakia in the last third of the book that also made my blood boil in its depiction of the old Eastern block's superstitious "backwards" nature, and for that alone the book went down from 4 to 3 stars. Shame, as could have been excellent. Still, recommended, but does not live up to any more than the promise of the front cover.

Happy reading!

Monday, 25 October 2010

Why Libraries in Leeds are so important.

I made this: Unknown at 11:41 pm 0 comments Links to this post
Ahem, as featured on today's Guardian Leeds

"Reading makes immigrants of us all. It takes us away from home, but more important, it finds homes for us everywhere..."
- Jean Rhys

For longer than I can remember, I have loved books. Not necessarily stories, but always books.

I think that my favourites are old, original artwork paperbacks that can be picked up in Leeds Market for mere pennies, but I am not a snob – while I prefer books with covers and pages intact, I'll take whatever is available, old and charismatic; new and crisp; hard backed and noble; or cheap and cheerful paperbacks, slightly grimy or warped from a drowning in the bath, shared via a book meet or charity shop.

Or, I'll take the transient, as in the case of library books. Borrowed books, social books.

Despite the solitary reputation that reading is sometimes allocated, I find that it is an intensely communal activity. Books are best appreciated, I find, when they are shared, not hoarded, discovered as a result of a recommendation, rather than merely picked up by chance.

Book clubs, travelling suitcase libraries, and meet ups to swap books are easily set up in a city like Leeds, but this is not the case everywhere.

At the age of nine, I moved to Zimbabwe with my family, and my whole relationship with books subtly changed. Already an avid reader, up until then, books had always been easily accessible – I had inherited plenty from my mother and aunts, the library back home had a large diverse range, and anything else could be picked up from a shop.

Available but not always affordable

This wasn't necessarily the case in Zimbabwe. Where books were available they were not always affordable – reference and school books in particular.

There was a thriving second hand trade, but no guarantee from week to week that you would find something that gripped you. The local library network became a haven for me, and other addicts … sorry, readers.
It was neutral territory (though it is necessary to note that Zimbabwe was not as divided then as it seems to be now), where readers could come together regardless of disparities of income, ages, genders and ethnic origin. The social aspect of reading came to the fore, while other political considerations receded, albeit temporarily, into the background.

This bond between book lovers extends far further than the local area where the library is located. A group of innovative teachers coordinated with Ranfurly library, in London. This library collects ex-school books from all over the UK to be distributed internationally – for free.

One of the teachers involved told me that she still remembers the thrill of trawling through these, the excitement for her pupils, as she tried to pick the books that would best augment those already available. After all, for her pupils, their only access point to any books at all would come via the school, and libraries. This was by no means unusual, and still seems to be the case in many countries across the world. Indeed, a quick search online finds a number of different groups and charities that provide this very same service around the world.

The Miss Honeys and Mrs Phelps of Matilda (Roald Dahl) do exist and I have been lucky enough to meet them in libraries wherever in the world I've been.

Libraries in the internet age

Libraries provide a wealth of knowledge to people who might not ever be able to access them otherwise. This obvious, and simple premise remains vastly important in the internet age – despite many having the viewpoint that no information is valid, if not presented to us on a shiny screen.

Yet, even in relatively affluent countries, there are still people whom have never acquired fundamental literacy skills. In the three countries I have been fortunate enough to live in – libraries have run literacy schemes, amongst others, to promote life long learning, and assist anyone with the desire to learn more.
Online collections, such as Project Gutenberg, are invaluable, allowing for whole collections of out of copyright books to be made available freely, to anyone with an internet connection.

Leeds libraries: 'an oasis of calm'

At the moment, before the cuts take effect, there are 53 permanent libraries in Leeds.
Many are small, with only basic facilities, others are mobile, consisting of a van, and enthusiastic librarian, while the Central Library – tucked between the Art Gallery and City Hall – is a majestic building and kitted out for a variety of tasks, with DVDs, CDs, technical manuals, educational tomes, outdoors chess (!) and fiction books available.
With bookshops closing down, belts tightening and life becoming ever more stressful, I consider my local libraries provide an oasis of calm, a peaceful environment, an escape as effective as books themselves.
"We read to know we are not alone."
- attrib. CS Lewis

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Libraries Table of Contents
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Thursday, 21 October 2010

Book Club the Ninth

I made this: Unknown at 6:25 pm 0 comments Links to this post
Book Club the Ninth  - AVIDREADER - 19-10-10
Agreed on:The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson (AvidReader)
- Everything you know by Zoe Heller 

A very short book club this time round, as we were all running around like lunatics, and then halfway through were maliciously distracted by a beautifully cooked meal!

BOOKN00B summed up all of our feelings succinctly 
-no point to this book whatsoever
-didn't like the characters, had no interest in the story and is  delighted to have forgotten everything by now
-doesn't know whether to ever try anything by the author again

-pointless, pointless, pointless
-read it, found it to be terribly dull
-the only decent gag in it was stolen from £100 to read the Bible Evelyn Waugh letters

-diabolical tripe, made worse by some semi-passable writing
-horrific characters, horrendous narrator, cartoony plot

We actually disdained to score this book - it left us all so annoyed and frustrated.

A few days later, I texted the ladies my choice for the Christmas period - the just announced Man Booker 2010 winner - The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson
Original LBC

Meeting 08 - A Chat
Meeting 05 - Firman - Sam Savage

Friday, 1 October 2010

Book Club the Eighth

I made this: Unknown at 6:23 pm 0 comments Links to this post
Book Club the Eighth  -BOOKELF -
Agreed on: We by Yevgany Zenyatin was not working and to be discarded
Agreed on: Everything you know by Zoe Heller (BookElf?)

Think this was actually a phone call or non-book club related meeting decision. Anyway, however it came about, we were chatting about We and realised that two of the three of us were really dreading starting or struggling with the book. 
So, we've settled on a Zoe Heller, I think, merely because it lay close to hand. 
Original LBC

Meeting 08 - A Chat
Meeting 05 - Firman - Sam Savage

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