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

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Booker Challenge 2011

I made this: Unknown at 12:24 pm 0 comments Links to this post
Our little book club was set up with a few core aims and goals in mind - cake and books (naturally) were probably the primary focus, along with the chance to chatter with fellow book lovers about a book we had all read (rather than our more usual very diverse cross section discussions), but included somewhere near the top of this virtual list was the desire to seek out and read 'better' books (though to be honest, we were all a little vague as to what exactly constituted a 'better' book).

During the year that we've been reading and blogging, there have been a few outstanding books that captured the imagination, made us think about the world with a new perspective, and were beautifully written - such as The Book Thief (Marcus Zusak) and The White Tiger (Aravind Adiga) - inspiring passionate debate and conversation. My new working definition of a 'better' book.

The White Tiger was also a Man Booker Prize Winner, which got me to thinking (a dangerous pasttime, I know) about setting myself a little challenge.
While accepting that there are many great books that never make in onto award lists for a variety of reasons, I happen to have read three Booker winners recently (and a nominee - just in case I decided to expand my focus at a later date) and have been very impressed by the diversity and quality of the works. I'm sure that not every book will be a 'better' one, but I hope that quite a few will surprise me!
So I've decided to try and read the lot over the next few years, aiming for at least one book a month.

Fancy doing the same? Then just tweet me(@LeedsBookClub), drop me an email (LeedsBookClub@gmail.com) or leave a comment at the end of the blog. I don't mind whether we read the same book at the same time (mostly as due to finances, I hope to work through what I have or can borrow from the library or a mate), I more fancy having some company on the way, some one to poke and prod me when I'm feeling lazy.

There are 45 books on the Man Booker list in total, with two years producing joint winners, and as I am not planning on re-reading the books I've just finished, that's 42 books to get through! I'm going to try to read every one, including 9 books that I have already read, as that was quite a while ago.


2008 Aravind Adiga - The White Tiger - June 2010

2009 Hilary Mantel - Wolf Hall - December 2010

2010 Howard Jacobson - The Finkler Question - November 2010


1969 P. H. Newby - Something to Answer For

1970 Bernice Rubens - The Elected Member

1970 J. G. Farrell - Troubles

1971 V. S. Naipaul - In a Free State

1972 John Berger - G.

1973 J. G. Farrell - The Siege of Krishnapur

1974 Nadine Gordimer - The Conservationist

         Stanley Middleton - Holiday

1975 Ruth Prawer Jhabvala - Heat and Dust

1976 David Storey - Saville

1977 Paul Scott - Staying On

1978 Iris Murdoch - The Sea, the Sea

1979 Penelope Fitzgerald - Offshore

1980 William Golding - Rites of Passage

1981 Salman Rushdie - Midnight's Children

1982 Thomas Keneally - Schindler's Ark

1983 J. M. Coetzee - Life & Times of Michael K

1984 Anita Brookner - Hotel du Lac

1985 Keri Hulme - The Bone People

1986 Kingsley Amis - The Old Devils

1987 Penelope Lively - Moon Tiger

1988 Peter Carey - Oscar and Lucinda

1989 Kazuo Ishiguro - The Remains of the Day

1990 A. S. Byatt - Possession: A Romance

1991 Ben Okri - The Famished Road

1992 Michael Ondaatje - The English Patient

        Barry Unsworth - Sacred Hunger

1993 Roddy Doyle - Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha

1994 James Kelman - How Late It Was, How Late

1995 Pat Barker - The Ghost Road

1996 Graham Swift - Last Orders

1997 Arundhati Roy - The God of Small Things

1998 Ian McEwan - Amsterdam

1999 J. M. Coetzee - Disgrace

2000 Margaret Atwood - The Blind Assassin

2001 Peter Carey - True History of the Kelly Gang

2002 Yann Martel - Life of Pi

2003 DBC Pierre - Vernon God Little

2004 Alan Hollinghurst - The Line of Beauty

2005 John Banville - The Sea

2006 Kiran Desai - The Inheritance of Loss

2007 Anne Enright - The Gathering

2008 Aravind Adiga - The White Tiger

2009 Hilary Mantel - Wolf Hall

2010 Howard Jacobson - The Finkler Question

Lost in a good book

I made this: Unknown at 10:49 am 1 comments Links to this post
Somewhere along the line, I've confused myself hopelessly over the book club dates, meetings, choices...all of it, basically.

So, I'm going to have a bit of a tinker with the reference section, and try to sort out the entries etc.

If, for some inexplicable reason, anyone DESPERATELY needs to know the rating system, drop me a tweet, or an email (LeedsBookClub@gmail.com), and I'll send you the info.

While I'm at it, I might as well have a look at some of those slightly not working parts of the blog too, huh? You're a slave driver!

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Warning: contains gush *

I made this: BookElf at 7:39 pm 0 comments Links to this post
This year is either hence to be know the Year of the Swedish Detective or the Year of Discovering Books. Like 'A Thousand Acres' by Jane Smiley, which I loved, I have read soooo many books this year that otherwise would have passed me by had it not been for a)relentless buying of them in charity shops And The Like and b)the Travelling Suitcase Library book swaps, which have become integral to my reading lists.

The Far Pavilions, of which I shall now be spewing praise upon, came from the former road. I was in Poverty Aid and had £2 so decided to treat myself. The book was approx two inches thick, had a picture of a naked man on the cover, and cost 50 p. Bonus.

I didn't read the book for about six months; like many 'readers' I have to work, eat, wash etc so cannot devote my days entirely to my favorite pastime and therefore result in piles upon piles of to-be-reads. And I get donated approx thirty books a month to the TSL, which it would be wrong to thrust upon my public unsavored, so you see where the dilemma lies in the reading of/reducing the pile.

I then started the book. It was brilliant, but very very very heavy. There are 950 pages and the copy is older than me. So it became a 'bed-time read', relegated to the status of a hardback or book I'm too embarrassed to take on the train to work (porn). Then I went and bought Heartstone (ohmygosh N hurry up and READ THE BOOK so I can rant about how VERY VERY GOOD IT IS) and THEN I read a whole load of books that I just couldn't put down so it was a while before I came back to the book. Then I realised what a fatal mistake I had in relegating it thus, cut it down the middle (strike me down all you want, I've repaired it now) and read it properly.

This book is Epic. Starting (and that's the only word you can really use!) with the Indian Mutiny of 1857 (I think, one of the only things this book falls down on is not providing much in the way of dates. Or maps. Which is annoying), the story is Ashton Pelham Martyn's, who is born in India to British parents, who both die when he is young. Left to the care of his maid Sita, he he brought up a Hindu after she decides it is too risky for the boy to be an Angrezi at a time of such hostility towards them. Sita and Ashok, as is becomes known, live for a time in the mountainous state of Gulkote, where Ashok finds work in the palace of the young Yuveraj (crown prince, I think) Lalji. Lalji is a spoilt bad tempered brat whose life is in constant danger due to the jealousy of his step mother and her children, and Ashok and Sita are forced to flee one night when he uncovers a plot to kill the young prince, leaving behind his only really friend, the young princess Juli.

And that all happens in the first 200 pages.

More like four books in one, the scope of this novel, considering it is only the life of one man and one country (apart from a little bit when Ash returns to Blighty upon finding out his true identity) is just huge. We see peasants and princes, Calvary and seamen, sahibs and sultans, the back streets of Kabul, the horror of the suttee, elephants, tiger hunts, the beginnings of Polo, friendship, religion, love, loyalty, patriotism, what it means to be "from" a place, or not from it as the case may be, passion, war, death, birth, betrayal, and above everything else, adventure and a quest for the self.

I had to come up for air, during parts of this book, and was very very rude to an old friend I had not seen for a long time on a train because I was in the middle of the most exciting bit. Sorry, Daisy.

This is my only criticism; the most exciting, dramatic and well written (apart from the first 100 pages) is in the middle of the book. But that is only because I like romance stories that involve a bit of history and am not massively into battles and such. For Sharpe fans, or possibly Master and Commander/Flash addicts, the last section would be your favorite. That is how good this book is. Like the scene in Black Books where the couple come into the shop and look for a book for their holidays and Bernard sells them both the same one under the line "She's a temp, she can't get a boyfriend, oh my God. And She's got 24 hours to stop nuclear war with China", this book ticks all the boxes. Read it. It will take you forever, but is so worth it! Cannot believe it has escaped my notice before now. Thank you Poverty Aid.

Happy Reading!
BookElf xxx

ps try as I might I cannot get a picture of *my* front cover, with the naked man on it. This leads me to believe it is very rare. Slightly regretting cutting it in half now. Oh well.

* not the gush, that would be gross.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

I made this: BookElf at 7:12 pm 0 comments Links to this post

‘The Help’ by Kathryn Stockett has been looking at me in my work library for the past six months, from when we bought it as part of the Richard and Jody summer book club selection. The cover of two women in maid uniforms and a baby, plus the gurning reviews front and back, plus the massive amount of coverage online about this book put me off, along with the massive pile of to-be-reads but the other day I ‘accidentally’ sped-read the end of ‘Bog Child’ (wonderful YA book set in the North of Ireland border during the troubles in 1981 that will def be lending N (N’s mum might want to acquire a copy for her own) once her pile goes down a bit) on my lunch hour and had nothing to read on the way home. I tried to take out Neil Gaimon’s latest that won the Carnegie Gold this year.

Inexplicably, though, ‘The Help’ ended up in my handbag, and I’m very glad it did. This is the story of racial prejudice, privilege and poverty in the Deep South, Jackson, Mississippi, in the early 60s. Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks aside, this is still a time where the head of the Women’s League campaigns for black maids, working way below minimum wage, raising white babies for ungrateful mistresses, to be forced to use separate toilets to their employers, to prevent them spreading their ‘germs’. This book made me so angry, mostly because people like this still exist. I have met ignorant, scared women living in the deepest darkest folds of Yorkshire (cos there really ain’t no racism quite like North Yorkshire racism) who regard anyone who isn’t as white as a threat.

The three main characters, whose voices guide us through most of the story, are as sassy and brilliant a group of women as you would hope to meet. Our heroine, Aibleen is the gentlest, most intelligent women, raising her seventeenth white child, the daughter of the despicable Miss Leefolt, childhood friend of Skeeter, who has just returned from college surprised to find her maid and best friend Constantine has been inexplicably sacked. Determined to find out what has happened to her, Skeeter strikes up a friendship with Aibleen. As her understanding of the way black women are treated by their mistresses grows, Skeeter steals the idea of Aibleen’s deceased son and begins to write a book about the conditions for black people working for whites in Jackson at the time. The atmosphere of racial tensions happening in 1961 is sure to make the book a sensation, and both Skeeter and Aibleen, together with the amazingly bold and brilliant Minny, must keep their friendship, and the book, secret at all costs.

My favourite character has to be Skeeter; though she begins her quest to tell the maid’s stories for her own self interests, in order to get a job as a writer and leave her over-bearing mother, she gradually realises her privilege and learns from this. At the beginning of the book she is a mouse, who cannot stand up to either her parents or her best friend, the town snob and society girl Hilly (possibly one of the most evil and compelling villains I’ve ever read. Whoever gets that part in the film adaptation-and they’re fools if they don’t adapt this book- is onto a winner as she would be a joy to play). Over the course of 450 pages that simply flew by we see her transform into a free-thinking radical, who grows her hair and shortens her hem and stands up not just for her rights, but those of other peoples. Loved her.

The book really is one of the best debuts I’ve read, not because of its literary merit, but because of its accessibility and the writer’s obvious passion for the subject. Not knowing anyone from Jackson, Mississippi, and being shamefully ignorant of the times there I cannot comment on the book’s accuracy or use of dialect. Like ‘Welcome to the World Baby Girl’ by Fannie Flagg, whose last book was written in the Deep South, parts of this book I felt uncomfortable with, as a white woman I understand my massive privilege and have no idea if the portrayal of the racism and ignorance in this book is even half as horrendous as it was, and still is, for black women. However, I would recommend this book without question, especially to readers who maybe wouldn’t be turned on by a more “literary” novel, but like a good yarn and want something to curl up with this winter.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Wolf Hall - finally finished

I made this: Unknown at 2:38 pm 0 comments Links to this post
As regular readers to the blog will know, I've been alternatively loving and loathing Hilary Mantel's epic tome 'Wolf Hall' for the last fortnight...and the rest.

Well, I've finished it.

What an all consuming story - covering one of the most fascinating periods of history. When I wasn't hurling the book away from me in disgust (no, BookElf, I never actually physically threw your book!), I was gripped down to the tips of my toes.

The characters, settings and events were depicted with a near frightening eye for detail, and I absolutely loved, in particular, Mary Boylen - whom the author managed to bring to life, making her far more than the anaemic depictions that have become fashionable recently. Of all the women described, I found her to be the most contemporary, and her flirtation and ambition (or lack thereof) could translate perfectly to today.

As is not always the case with historical novels, the balance between the 'famous' people and those lesser known secondary characters is practically perfect here. Naturally, we see Anne, and the Queen, and the King up close and personal, but the action is driven by lesser men. The manipulators and instigators here are the key players - those whose names are known to history, but whose deeds are somewhat more murky. This change of focus brings additional layers to an already complex book.

The pacing was also a thing that inspired fear and wonder, with so many people and events happening side by side, though the book is told in a very linear format. Cromwell is, as it were, 'our man', and the tale is told through his eyes, with very few deviations. Even when he learns something from another character, it is almost always revealed to us in the format of a conversation.

Also hugely enjoyable were the slight nods to the reading audience. Though Jane Seymore is barely mentioned and features only briefly, her mere presence instantly highlights to the expectant reader that almost all of these important people will end up dead by the end of that decade, however beloved of King Henry they might once have been. The realisation of which tickled my morbid sense of humour in a gross and thoroughly thrilling way.

With regards to the story, to the subject matter, I can have no complaints - intrigue, nobility, underhand dealings, and an on going feud with 'those' Europeans - who could want for more? However, in the structure and writing, I was somewhat less satisfied.
I'm not going to repeat my earlier criticisms about the lack of clarity, occasional need to create unique identifiers, and an unashamed over-reliance on pronouns - without any appropriate context to ground them; though I believe that these remain relevant throughout the book. Now that I've finished, I think that using pronouns as the near sole descriptor for Cromwell was indeed a form of literary affectation, which in my case did not work and took considerably from my enjoyment of the book.

The greatest success of this book is that I want to read more, I will definitely be working my way through the sequel, desperate for more from these characters. Where the writing flowed for me, it carried me away, and I will look out for the author in future.

However, as I said before, I would be very slow to recommend this to friends who did not have an avid interest in the time period, or in literature that is determined to be considered literary. While this is a lean book with regards to an avoidance of flowery descriptors, despite its size; it does suffer from the same self importance Cromwell was so often accused, most particularly where the persistence of an affectation is allowed over the substance of the book - surely a move unworthy of an author of this calibre.

So, I guess I'm suggesting that you give it a go, but feel free to throw in the towel if you find the present historic style of writing to be grating, or you can't figure out who is who, and treat yourselves to the Shardlake series instead. It's a totally different kettle of fish, but for me, fair more pleasant fishing grounds.

Man Booker

Book 3 - Wolf Hall - Hilary Mantel - 2009 - Part 1

Book Rating: 6/10 (Would've been higher if based on story alone)

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