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

Friday, 30 November 2012

Sonnet XVII - Pablo Neruda

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Sonnet XVII

I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,
or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that never blooms
but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way

than this: where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep. 
Pablo Neruda
* * * * * 
 A Poetry Moment - Table of Contents 
* * * * * 

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Medusa LBC - Empire of the Sun Write Up

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Medusa LBC

Date:  Wednesday 14th of November 2012
Time:  7:30pm
Address: 8-10 Town Street, Horsforth, Leeds 



* * * * * S P O I L E R S * * * * *
* * * * * S P O I L E R S * * * * *
 * * * * * S P O I L E R S * * * * *  

THE BLURB (from Amazon) 

From the master of dystopia, comes his heartrending story of a British boy’s four year ordeal in a Japanese prison camp during the Second World War.
Based on J. G. Ballard’s own childhood, this is the extraordinary account of a boy’s life in Japanese-occupied wartime Shanghai – a mesmerising, hypnotically compelling novel of war, of starvation and survival, of internment camps and death marches. It blends searing honesty with an almost hallucinatory vision of a world thrown utterly out of joint.
Rooted as it is in the author’s own disturbing experience of war in our time, it is one of a handful of novels by which the twentieth century will be not only remembered but judged.

We were a small but chatty group on the final Medusa LBC of the year. Once we had drinks in our hands and dumped ourselves onto the comfy chairs we eagerly began. We had our chatty heads on and covered an awful lot of different issues. Here, I’ll attempt to get down as much as possible, without this becoming a book in its own right!

‘So, the film is terrific…but the book is SO MUCH BETTER’

Naturally, we began with our primary protagonist – Jamie Graham - whom we all loved. At once mature, adventurous and energetic, he is also small, terrified and forced to create a place for himself in a very unfamiliar world. On top of that, Jamie was a truly likeable little chap. The way he saw the world around him was so impressively captured – at once mature – due to his experiences, but also open and adventurous despite his conditions – due to his age. Children are – after all – very resilient. We considered the two great betrayals that he faced – the rejection of the English by the Japanese aggressors and the reality of being (emotionally) abandoned by this parents.   

J.G Ballard crafted this book as a fictional representation of his actual experiences as a young boy in a prisoner of war camp during the Second World War. There are details and notes that it was hard for us to imagine that anyone *not* involved would have thought to include. One of us referred to the book as having a very authentic tone, which greatly added to the overall immersive effect. The characters seemed real and with great depth. It was almost easier to regard them as real people, reflected on a page, than as being creatures from the imagination. One book clubber had nightmares after a particularly emotive scene – this is a book that you start to take personally.

Also the Peter Pan aspect that he seemed to describe - that ‘Death will be the next big adventure’ - struck us as so sad, so poignant, but so true to life. His worries that he wouldn’t recognise his parents should the war ever end were just heartbreaking to us and more than one of us had to take breaks during the book to gather our own emotions up.

It was particularly interesting to read a book that orientated around the perspective of a little boy in Japan-occupied China. All of us had some degree of knowledge about World War Two. Geographically, we Europeans tend to focus on the conflicts that occurred directly on our doorsteps, however, there has been greater emphasis in the last few years on the war in the Pacific (we briefly discussed Band of Brothers and the Pacific here – excellent tv shows both – do watch if you’re interested in learning more about the war; albeit in a fictionalised context) but never from a viewpoint such as this. Jamie is a victim of circumstance, however he himself is never a victim. 

It was remarkable how much more terrifying the events were to us once we reconciled that all of these events were happening to a little boy! One of our clubbers frequently visits Singapore and they found a number of parallels between the experience of that city and Shanghai that convinced them of the accuracy of the depiction of events within the book.

...this is a book that you start to take personally.

Despite the age of the main character being so significant to us as readers, we actually over ever get to view Jamie behaving fully as a child in one short section at the beginning of the novel. In the immediate aftermath of the war, all the Europeans are rounded up and evacuated or imprisoned (Jamie doesn’t find out which happened to his parents until later on). 
Here we see him ride his bike inside the house, eat everything that he can find and generally have a lot of fun before it becomes clear that the grown up’s are not returning. From the moment that Jamie decided to surrender to the Japanese, we begin to see him mature. His logic is entirely understandable – while they may not be the people that he knows; they are adults and he instinctively feels that they will take care of him. Their rejection of him was incredibly harsh. A lesser person would have been crushed, but Jamie continued to find inventive and impressive ways to survive. 

As one, we all admired his tenacity tremendously. Later on in the book, while interred at the Prisoner of War camp; there were still moments where it was clear that he was searching for an adult that would help him take care of himself despite all the evidence that no one had the energy or will to do so.

The death of his one friend – the Japanese soldier was another truly heartbreaking moment for all of us. We found it to be particularly sensitively described and understood exactly how Jamie was feeling at that moment. Of course – a testament to the author’s skill I suspect – we also empathized with the position of the other prisoners of war – who were somewhat less sympathetic to the death of one of their ‘national’ enemies.

Here we wandered off for a moment and reflected on our changing survival skills. How would we cope in that situation? Would we be so resilient? Would our children? We were all aware of the moral and social imperative to take care of each other as a collective to ensure that you retain some sense of self – especially in an interment camp. Nevertheless, when the zombies inevitably start to rise – I think it’s every person for themselves!!

Other relationships that struck us as particularly noteworthy included Jamie’s friendship with Mrs Jenkins. The neighbours that treated him so coldly, yet we all took on board their needs and considerations when Jamie viewed the room from their perspective. Honestly, what an insightful kid – we couldn’t be more impressed with him. 
Throughout the book he acquired or taps into a phenomenal ability to put himself into other characters shoes, giving him empathy if not always total clarity. We also found that we were mentally reminding ourselves to take into account his age. This chapter he is 11 years; in this one he turns 12 years. Aside from being interesting in its own right, it also grounded the plot within set time frames. Though there were few Yippee moments within this book – we couldn’t help whooping with delight when he retained his golf shoes!

Throughout the book, there is a continuing running motif of light breaking through. In a book that is full of harsh realities, the effect caused by this is just magical. This made so much sense in terms of being set in the land of the rising sun, but additionally makes for the characters involved, especially with regards to the end of the war – something that we – the reader – knew was inevitable but which the characters had no guarantees that they would see.

A book that we would whole heartedly recommend to established readers of all sorts of tastes. We loved the writing, the characters and found the way the plot was handled to be uplifting and powerful. An excellent read – do pick it up if you get a chance.

Other books mentioned:
Primo Levi
The boy in the striped pyjamas.

TV mentioned:
Band of Brothers
The Pacific


I know right? Thats the average score. The AVERAGE. 

Trailer to the 1987 film. Also excellent. 

For further details, please email me at leedsbookclub@gmail.com or tweet me @LeedsBookClub!

Contact the bar on @MedusaBar

And feel free to let us know your thoughts using #MedusaLBC!

* * * * * 
2012 - MedusaLBC

14 - Mar - Started Early, Took My Dog - Kate Atkinson
13 - Feb - The Black House - Peter May - Postphoned
12 - Jan - The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald - GUEST

11 - Nov - Empire of the Sun - JG Ballard
10 - Oct - Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell (not *that* one)
09 - Sep - Before I go to sleep - S.J. Watson
08 - Aug - 9 Lives - Clive Rusher
07 - Jul - Sense of an Ending - Julian Barnes
06 - Jun - A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving - GUEST
05 - May - The Life of Pi - Yann Martel
04 - Apr - Diary of a Nobody - George Grossmith 
03 - Mar - We need to talk about Kevin - Lionel Shriver
01 - Jan - Ragnarok - AS Byatt
An exciting new project! - Medusa LeedsBookClub

* * * * *
Book Club - Table of Contents

* * * * *

Monday, 26 November 2012

Christmas Read-a-Long - Week 6

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The Wind in the Willows

BLURB from Amazon
When Kenneth Grahame first entertained his son with letters about a petulant character named Toad, he had no way of knowing that his creation—together with his friends Mole, Rat, and Badger—would delight children for nearly 100 years. 
Here they are once more, pursuing adventure in gypsy caravans, stolen sportscars, and prison, but always returning to their beloved Wildwood. And although Grahame’s characters are unmistakably animals, they remain endearingly human in their eccentricity, folly, and friendship.

FREE eBooks!
Amazon:               THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS
iTunes:               THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS
Project Gutenberg:    THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS

FREE Audiobooks!
LibriVox:             THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS

I'll be sending out regular updates regarding what chapters and when, but for those of you who like to be organised in advance - 

03/12/2012 - Chapter 11 - 'Like summer tempests came his tears'
10/12/2012 - Chapter 12 - The return of Ulysses

Giraffe LBC - Brave New World Write Up - GUEST

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#Giraffe LBC

Date:  Tuesday 20th of November 2012
Time:  6pm - 8pm
Address: 6 Greek Street, Leeds, LS1 5RW
Tel: (0113) 244 1500



* * * * * SPOILERS * * * * *
* * * * * SPOILERS * * * * *
* * * * * SPOILERS * * * * *

Thanks as ever to the wonderful @WoodsieGirl who has provided us with this superbe write up. Visit our Guest Page (linked below) to read more of her reviews

BLURB (Amazon)
"Community, Identity, Stability" is the motto of Aldous Huxley's utopian World State. Here everyone consumes daily grams of soma, to fight depression, babies are born in laboratories, and the most popular form of entertainment is a "Feelie," a movie that stimulates the senses of sight, hearing, and touch. Though there is no violence and everyone is provided for, Bernard Marx feels something is missing and senses his relationship with a young women has the potential to be much more than the confines of their existence allow. Huxley foreshadowed many of the practices and gadgets we take for granted today--let's hope the sterility and absence of individuality he predicted aren't yet to come.

Considered one of the classics of the dystopian genre, Brave New World gave us plenty to discuss! For a lot of the group this was a re-read, so it was interesting to contrast our impressions of it now to our impressions on first reading it. We decided that, compared with the utterly bleak likes of 1984Brave New World probably wasn't a "pure" dystopia - rather, it is a satire of the utopia. This may be a question of perspective: as Margaret Atwood discusses in her excellent collection of essays on sci-fi and dystopias, In Other Worlds, every utopia has a dystopia lurking at its heart, and vice versa. Every dystopia is a utopia for someone (usually those in charge!), so is Brave New World actually a utopia with the dystopian perspective added by John the Savage and others?

As well as being a satire of the utopian novel, this is also a satire of American culture and consumerism, as Huxley saw it at the time. We talked about how prescient a lot of it was: the idea of "ending is better than mending", and of imaginative play being replaced with complex games that require investment in equipment, in particular rang bells for most of us. We also wondered whether we are actually seeing a reaction against that now though, with the resurgence of interest in craft activities, sewing groups, handmade clothes and home-grown food.

Some in the group actually found some aspects of the society appealing - the lack of family obligations was mentioned! On a more serious note, we also liked the society's attitude to death: that it was treated matter-of-factly, and children were socialised to accept it as part of life rather than something upsetting and scary. The science of the book was also really interesting, particularly the idea of sleep-conditioning, as this is something with some basis in fact: for example, playing music to or reading to unborn babies may have a beneficial effect on their cognitive abilities as they get older.

Discussing the characters, we wondered if there might be some confusion over who the protagonist actually was. The general consensus was that Bernard was the protagonist, as he was the instigator of all of the action of the book, but that there may also be an argument for John the Savage being the protagonist. Ultimately, we agreed that although John was the catalyst for much of the action, he was not himself active enough to be considered the protagonist. The second half of the book is largely driven by other characters' reactions to John, rather than his own actions. We noted how the references to him by other characters changed: he starts out being called "John Savage" or even "Mr Savage", but is later just referred to as "the savage", as he loses his appeal.

Although Bernard is the protagonist, and we did have some sympathy for him, none of us really liked him very much! He is not an appealing character: he is disdainful of society to begin with, but all of that disappears once he becomes more popular thanks to his association with John. He seems to forget all of his criticisms of the way society works as soon as he starts benefiting from it! Compared to Helmholtz Watson, the propaganda writer and would-be poet, who was secure in his position in society but still dissatisfied with it, and ultimately ends up exiled for writing a subversive poem about the joys of solitude, Bernard seems very hypocritical. Where Helmholtz understood society but rejected it, and accepted his exile gladly, Bernard only wants to reject society as long as he feels himself unfairly excluded from it.

Most of the group really liked Lenina as a character, and felt she was the most interesting. She was totally a product of this society, was happy in her own way (despite the use of Soma to suppress unwanted emotions!) and understood how the world worked and what her place was in it.

One of the things that struck us about this future society is that despite all the sexual liberation and "free love", in some ways it is still quite conservative. For a society where regular orgies are apparently encouraged, it seemed odd that everyone was exclusively heterosexual: the only mention of homosexuality comes near the start, when discussing the "perversions" that arose in the old days when people were not encouraged to explore their sexuality freely from a young age. This is totally understandable when bearing in mind the time the book was written - homosexuality was still illegal then - but it does read oddly to modern eyes. We wondered if it simply hadn't occurred to Huxley to put anything in about homosexuality, or if he had thought of it but decided that it was a step too far. This book would have been shocking enough at the time it was written, so adding in any gay scenes might have run the risk of distracting from the message of the book, or even preventing it from being published at all.

We loved Huxley's writing style: the book scored very highly across the board on the strength of the writing. One person mentioned the perfection of the books opening line: "A squat grey building of only thirty-four stories" - the "only" in that line is a great introduction to the tone of the book. Structurally, the book is odd - the first six chapters are just exposition, nothing really happens until almost halfway through the book - but we agreed that the structure works for the subject matter. The opening section read almost like seeing the inner workings of the machine, as we learn all about this society and the people in it and how they work, which is actually very effective as the society described does run like a machine. It makes sense that the first chunk of the book is all very technical, with no real human emotion, as that is what the society of Brave New World is like.

The main negative point that a lot of the group picked up on was the ending. We mainly felt that it was too stark: John cannot fit into this new society, so has to take his own life instead. We thought that was too black-and-white, and jarred with the rest of the book somewhat. It was slightly gratifying to see from Huxley's introduction to the book, written some years later, that he also felt this way, saying that if he were to write it again he would have a more optimistic ending.



To fulfill our less intellectual needs, we continued on from #WSwanLBC and discussed the worst soap operas in the world. 


Find fellow members on twitter by searching for #GiraffeLBC.

Follow @GiraffeTweet for details on the deliciousables and their projects nationwide (which this month include an awesome #GiraffesCantDance giveaway!).

Let me know your thoughts by either tweeting me @LeedsBookClub, commenting below or emailing me at leedsbookclub@gmail.com

* * * * * Giraffe LBC * * * * *

10 - FEB - Divergent - Veronica Roth 
09 - JAN - Children of Men - P.D. James GUEST

08 - OCT - High Rise - J.G. Ballard GUEST
07 - JUL - The Miracle Inspector - Helen Smith GUEST 
06 - APR - Logan's Run - Book and Film GUEST
05 - FEB - Watchmen - Comic and Film

04 - NOV - Brave New World - Aldous Huxley - GUEST
03 - OCT - The Iron Heel - Jack London - GUEST
02 - AUG - The Running Man - Stephen King
01 - JUL - Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury GUEST

How I learned to continue worrying and love the dystopian - GUEST

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Arcadia LBC - Hard Times Write Up

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Arcadia LBC

Venue: Arcadia Bar
Date:  Sunday, 18th of November 2012
Time:  5pm - 7pm



* * * * * S P O I L E R S * * * * *
* * * * * S P O I L E R S * * * * *
 * * * * * S P O I L E R S * * * * * 

Due to the length of this novel, it is frequently regarded as the ‘easy’ Dickens option. In our opinion - this is a mistake.
Despite its brevity, we found this to be a dense read, one that took considerably more time than expected and felt even longer as there were few of us that were enthusiastic to complete it!*

It had all started so well though. As a whole, we tended to quite enjoy the opening volley – especially as the educational models were broken down. FACT and FANCY – or practical versus creative – as ideals for child rearing fascinated us and had the book continued in this vein – we might have had a very different conversation about it!

Those familiar with other Dickens stories immediately noticed that this novel contains very few of the recognisable Dickensian motifs. It’s far less gothic in tone – though this is at least in part down to the storyline. Flashes of gothic would indicate creativity, not a feature of the society created here. The action is set in a fictitious northern town – not in London. There is a strong industrial setting, rather than the social focus that we have come to expect. As noted previously, the length of novel is also a break from his norm; considerably shorter than one might expect. Finally, love does not redeem or restore or improve anything throughout this book – a very unusual feature for Dickens.
This might be the angriest book that Dickens ever wrote. It’s a shame that it inspired so little emotion from any of us.

More importantly, we missed passion. We didn’t care about the characters – whose structured, practical and emotionless lives left us cold. We felt pity for Stephen – but more for his ‘lunatic’ wife. Rachel seemed decent enough but her piety turned us off. The use of phonetic dialect was just painful to read throughout – particularly for the character with a speech impediment (and for those who know I hate this writing affection particularly – this was something more than one person raised!! Honest!!). Many of us had copies with blurbs on the back labelling this as an uplifting read – a description that we couldn’t understand at all!!

We also speculated on the state of the authors romantic life at the time as the book is near pathologically anti-wedlock. As is typical of the author, the wealthy are depicted as less moral than their poverty stricken counterparts and have opportunities available denied to others (as demonstrated in Stephen’s inability to divorce, but Louise being able to separate from Josiah).

We discussed whether politics was the most meaningful element of the novel, especially as a commentary of the time. While we acknowledged that we are less well informed of it today; we couldn’t help but think of other Dickens novels that introduced concepts less familiar today that just gripped us. A Christmas carol and A Tale of Two Cities can be read and enjoyed by a wide swathe of society regardless of the century that the readers lives in. Dickens was usually excels at creating that near unobtainable writing goal - timeless fiction – however he missed the mark here for us.**

We chatted for a bit about how this is a moral tale yet how we felt it utterly failed as one. None of the characters end up happy by the end of the book – regardless of their upbringing, philosophical beliefs or the social structures that they were raised in. So, what exactly was the message supposed to be? A life without creativity is one without spark, but even if you have a tiny bit of a spark or a good heart; you’ll still end up miserable? It felt a little bit like the author was furious at the world around him and wrote this as a sulky rant – if you take on board these elements, society is doomed. No one can be redeemed during it. Such pessimism was very off-putting for us.  We pondered on whether he was trying to pull the ultimate reverse psychological argument on an epic scale, however not enough counter to normal viewpoints were included to allow us to think of this as a serious option.

Many of us thought that this might work better in a visual medium and were surprised to realise how few adaptations there are of this book as opposed to of Dickens other works. This appears to sit uneasily with the rest of his tremendous output. We tried to visualise the action as a BBC drama (yes, others do period dramas, however rarely ever so well!), wondering if the details would stick better; the characters appeal more; the ending jar less. If anyone does watch a version – do let us know how you got on with it!

Those of us who have read and enjoyed Dickens previously have been inspired to seek out old favourites or other unread novels to give them a try after reading this book – even though we didn’t wholly enjoy it. So the Dickens appeal lives on!
However, those amongst us who read this as their first Dickens novel felt no great need to ever try one of his books again. Don’t worry – we totally tried to talk them round! There is far too much goodness oozing out of Dahl’s Chickens to not encourage people to try the rest and The Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist and Great Expectations came highly recommended.

And that was that! Our final Arcadia LBC meeting of the year!

* Three of our regulars who LOVED the book were unable to attend the meeting at Arcadia for various reasons. Each has spoken to me briefly about what they loved about the book – from the political intrigue to the philosophical underpinnings, to important social observations to the near dystopian elements especially towards the end of the novel.
We really missed having an enthusiastic defender or two for the book – always leads to a more rounded discussion than when only one opinion holds sway – and wanted to reflect that there were those amongst us who enjoyed this immensely! 

**A member did express the view that in their opinion, Charles Dickens did not seem to have fully grasped the political concepts that he was writing about – especially obvious in this treatment of trade unions as depicted by the entirely vicious and wholly unrealistic Slackbridge. However, as the rest of the group were less interested in the political element, this wasn’t really explored in too much detail.

Other Books Mentioned
North and South – Elizabeth Gaskill
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte 


For further details, please email me at leedsbookclub@gmail.com or tweet me @LeedsBookClub!

Contact the bar on @ArcadiaBar

And feel free to let us know your thoughts using #ArcadiaLBC!

* * * * * 
Arcadia LBC

21 - Nov - Hard Times - Charles Dickens
20 - Oct - The New York Trilogy - Paul Auster GUEST - @CultureLEEDS
19 - Sep - The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins GUEST - @CultureLEEDS
18 - Aug - The Princess Bride - William Goldman
16 - Jun - Cry the Beloved Country - Alan Paton
15 - May - 1984 - George Orwell GUEST - @CultureLEEDS
14 - Apr - BloodChild and Other Stories - Octavia Butler
13 - Mar - The Year of the Hare - Arto Paasilinna
12 - Feb - Heat Wave - Richard Castle
10 - Nov - Flowers for Algernon - Daniel Keyes

* * * * *
Book Club - Table of Contents
* * * * *

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Guest Post - Evan Shelton meets Michael Morpurgo

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LeedsBookClub is delighted to welcome Evan Shelton to our rota of reviewers. 

Evan is 9 years of age and loves reading and other book related things.  

In Evan's first review for us, he talks about meeting Michael Morpurgo - one of his favourite authors. If you would like me to pass on any messages to Evan, please email or tweet me and I shall pass them along!

Thanks very much Evan - we look forward to reading more reviews from you soon and welcome to the team!

A Medal for Leroy and Michael Morpurgo

The book in question
As an avid Michael Morpurgo reader myself, my collection was not complete without this book.

In the Leeds town hall, which is a beautiful building, as remarked by Michael Morpurgo himself, me and my Mum went to see him speak.

He talked about how he could not come up with magical worlds like J.K Rowling but needs fact to an extent to inspire him.

Then he started talking about Walter Tull, the inspiration for the book, who was an orphan, black man and he was a wizard at football. He was so good that Arsenal signed up for him
but the First World War started and he became a soldier and the first black officer in the British army. He also said the book was about secrets.

On to the book, the way he read a Medal for Leroy was amazing as was the book.

Meeting the author!
During the reading he came up to the point where Leroy, Walter Tull’s Grandson, discovered his secret.

In my opinion, A Medal for Leroy is a fantastic book. I was completely engaged in how they had been banished (I’m not telling who). And also how things were covered up disgracefully
with secrets because they had to hide their own identity and race!

By Evan Shelton
Aged 9 years

Enjoying a good read

Other Posts by Evan
Russian Roulette by Anthony Horowitz
Percy Jackson
Interview with Michael Morpurgo

* * * * * Table of Contents - Children's Corner * * * * *

Monday, 19 November 2012

Christmas Read-a-Long - Week 5

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The Wind in the Willows

BLURB from Amazon
When Kenneth Grahame first entertained his son with letters about a petulant character named Toad, he had no way of knowing that his creation—together with his friends Mole, Rat, and Badger—would delight children for nearly 100 years. 
Here they are once more, pursuing adventure in gypsy caravans, stolen sportscars, and prison, but always returning to their beloved Wildwood. And although Grahame’s characters are unmistakably animals, they remain endearingly human in their eccentricity, folly, and friendship.

FREE eBooks!
Amazon:               THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS
iTunes:               THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS
Project Gutenberg:    THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS

FREE Audiobooks!
LibriVox:             THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS

I'll be sending out regular updates regarding what chapters and when, but for those of you who like to be organised in advance - 

19/11/2012 - Chapter 9  - Wayfarers All

Saturday, 17 November 2012

WSwan LBC - American Gods Write Up

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White Swan LBC

Date:  Sunday 8th of July 2012
Time:  6:00pm
Address: Swan Street, Leeds



* * * * * S P O I L E R S * * * * *
* * * * * S P O I L E R S * * * * *
* * * * * S P O I L E R S * * * * * 

THE BLURB (from Amazon)

Shadow is a man with a past. But now he wants nothing more than to live a quiet life with his wife and stay out of trouble. Until he learns that she's been killed in a terrible accident.
Flying home for the funeral, as a violent storm rocks the plane, a strange man in the seat next to him introduces himself. The man calls himself Mr. Wednesday, and he knows more about Shadow than is possible.
He warns Shadow that a far bigger storm is coming. And from that moment on, nothing will ever he the same...

This is a terrifically hard book to summarise – on the page or in a discussion! Even taking away the books mammoth size; we agreed that it is less a story than a mosaic of tales woven into one. 
For most of us, this was an overdue read – one that we had long heard lauded to the skies by friends and online. For others, this was a return to a book first read many moons ago or during the brilliant – albeit short lived – One Book One Twitter read-a-long project. 

We loved the concept of America as the natural home and graveyard for the Gods – a simple premise that allowed for a pseudo-academic discussion on atheism, new lands, evolving belief structures and the like; which was immensely gratifying. 

The gods and their largely impotent lives are also very quickly established within the books – the initial chapters, littered with cameo appearances of day to day encounters that emphasize their integration within ‘our’ society while simultaneously highlighting their ‘other’ status. This otherness is demonstrated by power and a moral basis unlike anything we mere mortals could get away with. The former fertility goddess – who physically absorbed her ‘ worshipers’ during copulation – was a particular high point for many of us; it certainly sent shivers down my spine.
The use of dream sequences, whole pages of italics and the view we get behind the scenes set us in vastly differing landscapes across the book, providing avenue to introduce even more strange and odd magical creatures that couldn't occupy the same world as ours.

Here we sidetracked for a few moment and reflected on the effective way that Gaiman creates a rich and diverse tapestry of characters, without ever coming across as overtly striving for inclusion. He creates a raft of characters, all differing genders, ages, sexual and ethnic origin – and it’s never self consciously PC. Indeed it reads just as though Gaiman is himself surrounded by a rich and diverse tapestry of humanity to work from, not restricting himself to one racial or social identity in his writing.
Thematically, this book doesn’t shy away from difficult and often emotive topics. Rather it utilized the wild and weird sense of possibility to explore themes including race, religion, identity and isolation with a fresh perspective.

Additionally, we found the varying responses of the gods to their – for the most part – dwindling worship and influence to be fascinating. That there are new gods emerging out of new technology and belief systems made perfect sense to us. As a species, humanity has demonstrated time and again a need for an external deity to worship or revere and this generation is no less vigilant. As the form and appearance of acceptable gods have also changed, we had a lovely ten minutes or so speculating on new gods, what they would look like and whether these would prove more enduring than the gods of old. 
Which led to this whole other discussion about the eradication of the gods power base – given that the English language still has names for days of the week, months and so based on these ancient immortals – how dead are they really? And off we went on another tangent based on the potential re-emergence of those deities in the here and now. Seriously good giggles.

Structuring the book as a road trip was very effective, though I think we were all of us interested in Shadow’s prison years at the start of the book as well. The primary storyline was only hinted at during the initial sections of the book, which gave the author – Neil Gaiman – scope to create a detailed world; including characters with fully realised and explored back stories before divulging the ‘meat and spuds’ of the book. By the time the proper storyline kicked in, we were all of us invested and believed in the universe created.

This use of worlds within worlds is a technique that Gaiman has used before in many of his other books. We compared and contrasted Stardust and the town of Wall, a border mark between the ‘real’ world and the magical with his (so very very good, if a touch dated now) television series Neverwhere, where people fade into the shadows of London and find an underground alternative city that compares beautifully with the going behind the curtain of the world featured in this book. And that’s only looking at Gaiman. We dragged in Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series, Cloud Atlas, Gods behaving Badly and Tom Holt’s many works dealing with gods in unexpected places before returning to Gaiman and the closest thing this book has to a brother – Anazazi Boys. Personally, I was very glad that I had read that book first – it’s a gentler introduction to the same world and knowing the personality of a few of the peripheral characters enhanced my reading experience. For those discovering Gaiman for the first time, it was thrilling to know that there was more to read. And we read the special edition one – with the 200 million added in pages!

We also looked at the changing formats used – the discussion moving away slightly from the book for a while and resting on the author. His short stories are perfectly crafted yet utterly different to his full length novels. Here is a man with equal grasp of both mediums. A few of the geekier amongst us were also familiar with his comic book offerings and enjoyed those tremendously too! Across the room, there was a near universal desire to read more of his works with most of us happy to recommend him to certain friends and family in the future…though perhaps one of his shorter works to begin with. This book, though easy to read is huge and that can be off putting for many people. It’s also really weird, though it transpired that most of us saw that as great.

Score -  8/10

During this epic read, we were listening to the following:
Lindi Ortega – Little Red Boots
American Roadtrip – songs like Hotel California and Karma Hotel were mentioned
Paul Simons – Gracelands – particularly good for Shadow’s descriptions

If this book were a cake...
We agreed that whatever else the cake needed to be BIG. We eventually settled on a large layer cake, with each layer totally unique.
Triple chocolate slab.
Then strawberry sponge.
Followed by a layer of cheese cake.
Then something really creamy.
Then a hot fudge Sunday type of thing with nuts and sauces and oh dear gods, I’m starving now.

For further details, please email me at leedsbookclub@gmail.com or tweet me @LeedsBookClub

The Pub can be contacted on @WhiteSwanLeeds
And feel free to let us know your thoughts using #WSwanLBC!

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17 - Jun - The Fire Gospel - Michel Faber
16 - May - The Eyre Affair - Jasper FForde
15 - Apr - The Waterproof Bible - Andrew Kaufman GUEST
14 - Mar - The Book Thief - Marcus Zusak GUEST
13 - Feb - Weight - Jeanette Winterson GUEST
12 - Jan - Revolutionary Road - Richard Yates

11 - Nov - Lighthouse Keeping - Jeanette Winterson
10 - Oct - Winter's Bone Daniel Woodrell
09 - Sep - The Wind Up Bird Chronicles - Haruki Murakami 
08 - Aug - The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ - Philip Pullman
07 - Jul - American Gods - Neil Gaiman
06 - Jun - The Travelling Hornplayer - Barbara Trapido
05 - May - Atomised - Michel Houellebecq - GUEST

I'm just full of good ideas...WSwanLBC  

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Book Club - Table of Contents

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