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

Friday, 29 November 2013

Table of Contents - The WoodsieGirl Shelf

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The Woodsie Girl Shelf

You've probably noticed the wonderful reviews (and recent Man Booker Shortlist Challenge) cropping up by the fabulous WoodsieGirl (Laura) - book clubber, cake baker and Very Awesome Person. 

We've decided that it's only fair that we give her a little space...in the hopes of conning more stuff out of her! Ha ha, I'm only kidding of course. 
Honestly.

Being suspicious makes your heart smaller. 

Here you'll find all our WG reviews, poetry picks, playlists (as soon as I ask her)and more!

About our contributor (doesn't that look official!)
Laura, aka Woodsiegirl, learned to read almost before she could walk and has never quite recovered from the realisation that the real world isn't like the stories. She tweets occasionally as @woodsiegirl, and blogs about books and life (in that order)here.
Reviews
Mental Health Reading Challenge - The Psychopath Test
Giraffe LBC - 04 - Brave New World - Aldous Huxley

Poetry Picks
In Mouldy Land - Terry Jones


Shortlist 06 - The Luminaries - Eleanor Catton
Shortlist 05 - The Lowland - Jhumpa Lahiri
Shortlist 04 - We need new names - NoViolet Bulawayo
Shortlist 03 - A Tale for the Time Being - Ruth Ozeki
Shortlist 02 - Harvest - Jim Crace
Shortlist 01 - The Testament of Mary - Colm Toibin


Shortlist 06 - Umbrella - Will Self
Shortlist 05 - Bring up the Bodies - Hilary Mantel
Shortlist 04 - The Lighthouse - Alison Moore
Shortlist 03 - Swimming Home - Deborah Levy
Shortlist 02 - Narcopolis - Jeet Thayil
Shortlist 01 - The Garden of Evening Mists - Tan Twan Eng

Contact Details
Say hello on Twitter - @WoodsieGirl
Visit her blog - WoodsieGirl - HERE
Visit her other blog - WoodsieGirl Writes - HERE

Recipes
Sweet Tooth

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Guest Stars - Table of Contents
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Full - Table of Contents
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Thursday, 28 November 2013

Giraffe LBC - High Rise - Write Up

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Giraffe LBC


Date:  Tuesday October 2013
Time:  6pm - 8pm
Address: 6 Greek Street, Leeds, LS1 5RW
Tel: (0113) 244 1500


HIGH RISE

J.G. BALLARD

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

BLURB
Within the concealing walls of an elegant forty-storey tower block, the affluent tenants are hell-bent on an orgy of destruction. Cocktail parties degenerate into marauding attacks on ‘enemy’ floors and the once-luxurious amenities become an arena for riots and technological mayhem.
In this visionary tale of urban disillusionment from the renowned author of Crash and Cocaine Nights, society slips into a violent reverse as the isolated inhabitants of the high-rise, driven by primal urges, recreate a dystopian world ruled by the laws of the jungle.
Huge thanks to the wonderful @AlisonNeale for providing this write up and co-ordinating the Dystopian book club!




Possibly the oddest opening line I’ve ever read and the book only gets weirder. We agreed at the start, however, that this book is not intended to be realistic – although those of us living in blocks of flats could see flashes of realism in the situation – and is instead an allegory and an amplification of the actions of humanity in times of crisis.


High-Rise interestingly reveals that even among people of one class or social stratum, divisions and shifts of allegiance into tribes will take place. There’s always someone to look down on or blame. Politically, this is perhaps a particularly good time to be reading such a book.

The story switches between representatives of the tribes, allowing the reader alone to realise the depth of paranoia among the inhabitants of the high-rise. Alongside the author, residents are shown to be orchestrating and furthering the ‘experiment’, videoing events and manipulating those around them. We found it hard to understand why they wished to exacerbate the situation and at the same time keep it a secret from the outside world. As society breaks down, the adults become primeval cave(wo)men – a behaviour that in the character of Laing, for example, leads to uncomfortable extremes.

So, what did we think of it?

This is the first dystopian novel we have read set in such insular circumstances. In fact, the setting of London is completely irrelevant: the story could be anywhere, and almost at any time. However, it took us longer to read than expected, given that it’s a short book. We found it interesting, but unpleasant; however, we were nearly all ‘gripped’ and eager to reach the end. Said ending was somewhat unexpected, although its lack of a proper conclusion was not unliked by most.

We noted the book’s detached feel: there is no moralising, no judgement – simply documentary narration. On the heels of the recent announcement of a film version, we felt that the last lines of the story seemed particularly cinematic.

At the same time, however, we were uncomfortable with the extremely male perspective: rape was a simple shorthand for the breakdown in society and some of the attitudes to an extent reflect the time in which the book was written. Abusive behaviour also applied to the treatment of animals – again a rather uncomfortable read – but oddly, in this case the author gave more detail and expressed far more sympathy than for the humans.

The scores probably accurately reflect our feelings: it was a worthy novel, well written, and while in no way was it a pleasure to read, we were glad we had.

Score:


6/10


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

Giraffe LBC - Watchmen

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#Giraffe LBC


Date:  Tuesday 5th of February 2013
Time:  6pm - 8pm
Address: 6 Greek Street, Leeds, LS1 5RW
Tel: (0113) 244 1500


WATCHMEN

ALAN MOORE
DAVE GIBBONS (ARTIST)
JOHN HIGGINS (COLOURIST)

* * * * * SPOILERS * * * * *
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BLURB
“Stood in firelight, sweltering. Bloodstain on chest like map of violent new continent. Felt cleansed. Felt dark planet turn under my feet and knew what cats know that makes them scream like babies in night.

Looked at sky through smoke heavy with human fat and God was not there. The cold, suffocating dark goes on forever and we are alone. Live our lives, lacking anything better to do. Devise reason later. Born from oblivion; bear children, hell-bound as ourselves, go into oblivion. There is nothing else.

Existence is random. Has no pattern save what we imagine after staring at it for too long. No meaning save what we choose to impose. This rudderless world is not shaped by vague metaphysical forces. It is not God who kills the children. Not fate that butchers them or destiny that feeds them to the dogs. It’s us. Only us. Streets stank of fire. The void breathed hard on my heart, turning its illusions to ice, shattering them. Was reborn then, free to scrawl own design on this morally blank world.

Was Rorschach.


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

Monday, 11 November 2013

Man Booker Shortlist - Book 05 - The Lowland - Jhumpa Lahiri

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WoodsieGirl's 
Man Booker
Challenge

Our good friend WoodsieGirl has read all the books on the shortlist for the Man Booker Prize for the last few years. This is not because she is an avid reader, with varied interests and is constantly on the lookout for new great fiction. She does this purely to mock my inability to organize my book list. Honestly. It's evil. 

Anyhoo, once again, she has kindly written up reviews of each book for us.  

THE LOWLAND
JHUMPA LAHIRI


THE BLURB (Amazon)
From Subhash’s earliest memories, at every point, his brother was there. In the suburban streets of Calcutta where they wandered before dusk and in the hyacinth-strewn ponds where they played for hours on end, Udayan was always in his older brother’s sight.
So close in age, they were inseparable in childhood and yet, as the years pass – as U.S tanks roll into Vietnam and riots sweep across India – their brotherly bond can do nothing to forestall the tragedy that will upend their lives. Udayan – charismatic and impulsive – finds himself drawn to the Naxalite movement, a rebellion waged to eradicate inequity and poverty. He will give everything, risk all, for what he believes, and in doing so will transform the futures of those dearest to him: his newly married, pregnant wife, his brother and their parents. For all of them, the repercussions of his actions will reverberate across continents and seep through the generations that follow.
Epic in its canvas and intimate in its portrayal of lives undone and forged anew, The Lowland is a deeply felt novel of family ties that entangle and fray in ways unforeseen and unrevealed, of ties that ineluctably define who we are. With all the hallmarks of Jhumpa Lahiri’s achingly poignant, exquisitely empathetic story-telling, this is her most devastating work of fiction to date.
THE REVIEW
The Lowland is Indian-American author Jhumpa Lahiri's second novel and fourth book (the other two were collections of short stories - one of which, The Interpreter of Maladies, I read a year or so ago and can highly recommend). It spans more than 50 years in the life of several generations of a family. I apologise in advance for spoilers in this review - I'm not sure I could do an accurate review of this book while keeping it spoiler-free!

The book opens in Calcutta in the 1950s, and we are introduced to two young brothers: Subhash, the older and more cautious of the two, and Udayan, his impulsive but beloved younger brother. As they grow older, both become involved in the radical communist movement (following the Naxalite uprising which, I must admit, I'd never heard of previously - this book really underlined how ignorant I am of Indian history). While Udayan gets drawn deeper into the movement, Subhash, disturbed by the violence he perceives within the movement, decides instead to leave for America, to study for a PhD. He does not return to Calcutta until several years later, when Udayan has been executed by the police, leaving behind his new wife Gauri, a brilliant student of philosophy, who is in the early stages of pregnancy.

Wanting to protect Gauri and Udayan's unborn child, Subhash marries Gauri and takes her back to Rhode Island with him. Together they keep up the pretence that the child, Bela, is Subhash's daughter, telling no one in America (including Bela) about Udayan. The book then follows the course of the family's life in America: the disintegration of Subhash and Gauri's loveless marriage; Bela's somewhat neglected childhood, with her two academically-brilliant but frequently absent parents; and Gauri's inability to be a mother to her daughter, culminating in her running away to Southern California to take a university lecturing post, abandoning her family, when 12-year-old Bela is on a visit to Calcutta with Subhash. The final part of the book charts Subhash and Bela's lives following this abandonment: Subhash attempting to comfort the daughter he adores, while still concealing from her that he is not her biological father; and Bela's rootless, nomadic adult life spent in communes and working on farms.

It's a little difficult to know where to start in reviewing this book. It's so vast and all-encompassing, but at the same time very intimate. I was reminded while reading of the phrase "the personal is political" - this is very much true of The Lowland. Lahiri manages simultaneously to evoke the political upheaval of post-independence India, the Indian immigrant experience of America, and the lives of feminist intellectuals in the 1970s to present; alongside an intimate portrayal of family lives, mother-daughter relationships, and the grief of Udayan's sudden death that ripples throughout the entire book. The plot is not complex exactly, but is certainly multi-layered. Lahiri frequently switches viewpoints, to give us everyone's side of the story. The brief synopsis I've given above is really only the bare bones of the plot - there are many other diversions and digressions which add to the whole picture. I was particularly moved by the passages concerning Subhash and Udayan's mother, who never recovered from her son's violent death. We see her visiting the very spot where he was murdered, every day for decades - only stopping when her infirmity and dementia prevent her from leaving the house.

Character-wise, some are better drawn than others. I never felt like I really got to know Bela: although we are given glimpses of her adult life, as a child we don't really see much of what she is thinking and experiencing, only seeing her through the eyes of her parents. I thought this made it difficult to sympathise with her as a character - although this could be because most other characters were so vividly drawn by comparison. 

Gauri was one of the most interesting characters for me. She's not a sympathetic character - it's hard to like someone who abandons their child - but then it made me think that we probably judge women more harshly for this than we judge men who do the same thing. I did sympathise with her in a lot of ways: she's an academically brilliant woman born into a time and place where that is not an easy thing to be, and unprepared for the social expectations put on her. It's not until quite late on in the book that we find out more about the days leading up to Udayan's death, and what precisely his (and her) involvement in the Communist movement was. When it comes, it's muted but quietly shocking: we see that Gauri has lived with a secret every bit as crushing as Subhash's concealment of Bela's true paternity has been. When Gauri abandons her family, she completely disappears from the text until very close to the end, when we get a few chapters outlining what has happened to her since and her feelings of guilt and shame at abandoning her daughter. I did think it was appropriate that she doesn't get a neat, happy reunion scene with Bela: what actually occurs is tough to read, but feels more realistic.

In case it's not clear, I loved this book. Lahiri's writing is beautiful and confident, and the story she tells is astonishing in its scope. I think this is a very strong contender for the Booker, and it's probably my favourite from the shortlist so far.

The @WoodsieGirl Challenge 2013

Shortlist 06 - The Luminaries - Eleanor Catton
Shortlist 05 - The Lowland - Jhumpa Lahiri
Shortlist 04 - We need new names - NoViolet Bulawayo
Shortlist 03 - A Tale for the Time Being - Ruth Ozeki
Shortlist 02 - Harvest - Jim Crace
Shortlist 01 - The Testament of Mary - Colm Toibin


The @WoodsieGirl Challenge 2012

Shortlist 06 - Umbrella - Will Self
Shortlist 05 - Bring up the Bodies - Hilary Mantel
Shortlist 04 - The Lighthouse - Alison Moore
Shortlist 03 - Swimming Home - Deborah Levy
Shortlist 02 - Narcopolis - Jeet Thayil
Shortlist 01 - The Garden of Evening Mists - Tan Twan Eng

Visit her blog HERE
Visit her other blog HERE

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Guest Stars - Table of Contents
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Full - Table of Contents
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