Tag: Books

I always complain that I don’t read books often enough. This is proof.

Time Traveler's Wife

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Excellent. A simple enough story, about a husband who randomly time travels and his wife, which takes you through their relationship and various events in their life and not once stoops to patronise or indulge itself. Once you get used to the format — every chapter starts with the date and age in which the two main characters appear — the story flows well and is suprisingly gripping and moving.

I’m pretty sure this was a recommendation, and it was only after I was halfway through it that I realised that it was, deservedly, on bestseller lists. At times the book leaps along, dragging you through time and dumping you slap bang in the middle of a situation, and other times it takes a soft approach and almost moves you to tears.

In turn I’ll recommend this, hugely original and well written, book. If you want something a little different for taking on your holidays, something that remains easy to read yet FEELS a lot smarter than it looks (if that makes any sense) then get yourself a copy.

Tales of Endurance

Tales of Endurance by Fergus Fleming

To call this book a history of exploration may seem at once both overly optimistic and slightly redundant. It is by no means a complete account of the expeditions it covers, nor is it a history per se, focussing more on the will, desire, and often the tyranny and arrogance of the early explorers. Men who forged their way across uncharted seas, walked across vast continents, and suffered at the hands of nature at every turn. Glorifying these early-day explorers is easy and thankfully something that Fergus Fleming steers clear of, preferring to give an accurate portrayal of their character no matter how loathsome.

For their in lies the fascination, what drives these men?

Each explorer is given a chapter, roughly laid out in chronological order, which takes us from Marco Polo’s wanderings in the Mongol Empire to the conquering of Everest, a journey of some 500 hundred years. Some names leap off the page – Polo, Columbus, Magellan, Barents, Bering, Cook, Livingstone, Scott, Amundsen and Shackleton – and some stories are familiar to many but amongst the familiar lies the true story. Death, squalor, cannibalism, murder, all feature and the fact that these stories are based on the journals of the survivors of these expeditions just makes them all the more gruesome.

What this book does cover, and cover well, is the spirit of exploration that each and every man felt. It neatly charts the fall and rise of empires and the aspirations that each had for ‘owning’ as much of the world as possible, and it covers (somewhat trivially in some cases) the impact and influence of the natives.

In scale and expectation it’s a grand book and, whilst there are certainly omissions, it covers each journey with enough detail and verve to be engrossing. It would be easy to dwell on hyperbole – almost every act in this book is truly heroic, even if the underlying reason for some of the situations is truly idiotic (one of the climbers tackling Everest would ‘forget’ to take his ropes with him) – but thankfully this book resists becoming a glorious recounting of wonderous tales.

As we jet across the globe at hundreds of miles and hour, zoom from city to city in hours, it’s easy to forget that most of the modern world was discovered before the invention of the engine. Whilst you probably wouldn’t invite many of the men featured in this book to dinner, you have to marvel at their achievements.

The Book Title Meme

Don’t let the title put you off, this is no ordinary meme. Firstly, and for a change, I know who started it, but most of all this meme requires a fair amount of pondering and no small amount of writing – after all, you’ll be trying to match up to a published author! Enough of my waffle then – there are six parts to this meme, instructions included for clarity.

1. The Dying of Delight
“Briefly describe an aspect of your life for which ‘The Dying Of Delight’ would be an apt title.”

The state of delightedness, of enchantment, is hard to attain. So hard that many people stop trying and let themselves be grind down by the machinations of life. They’re too busy, too important, too stressed, too hurried to let delight creep into their lives. Take a look around you, everywhere you look you’ll see it, the mirroring of lost souls reflected softly and completely in the ripples of a puddle, a leaf cartwheeling and spinning along the pavement.

I refuse this state. Not constantly, nor with any great zeal or vigour but steadily and continually. My delight will not be left to dribble away, to become so muted as to be ignored regardless of the events of my life. I refuse.

For without delight what have we? Darkness descending, and everything you care for pushed away, held away at arms length and beyond. I refuse.

My delight may fade, sputter and spin in the wind but I will not let it be extinguished. Life without delight is surely too terrible and morose to contemplate, and leads down a path I’ve trodden before. Once more I refuse.

OK, that wasn’t in keeping with the spirit of things but it’s what came out…

2. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
“Pick another book whose title has some resonance in your life, and write a little about it.”

The book deals, in a roundabout way, with seeing things from a different point of view and I guess it’s something I’ve always thought I did quite well. I occasionally put it down to the fact that I’m a Libra, but as I don’t really believe in that kind of nonsense I guess I should really try and pin it down with something a little more concrete (a large piece of masonry perhaps?).

I can remember, whilst still at school, hearing about someone’s older sister who had become a diplomat. I can remember looking the word up, and the definition of diplomatic stuck in my head. I can remember thinking “I could do that”, and for a long time time I believed I could.

Fast forward twenty years and I know now – ain’t hindsight wonderful – that I’m not as diplomatic as I thought, and that whilst I can usually see both sides of each story and usually find it easy to empathise with the other person, I’m frequently becoming more and more intolerant and rigid in my views. Liberals are too liberal, conservatives too conservative, and nowhere can I find a middle ground that suits me.

For a while I lost my ability to see things from a different point of view and, if I’m honest, it was hugely liberating and scared me shitless. From being a considerate and thoughtful human being I suddenly became a single-minded, blinkered shadow of myself. I didn’t like it one bit.

These days I treasure my ability to view things from a different angle, to see the other side, and ultimately to understand that other people have to do things the way they do them, even if I don’t understand the reason why.

3. What Women Want Men to Know
“Write one more short personal piece – one which matches the book title chosen (in part 2) by the person who tagged you.”

The glib answer would be something witty and comic, a good old fashioned sexist comment like “they want you to know what they WANT without them knowing themselves” or something simpler like “they want you to know that if you leave the toilet seat up one more time they’ll place your knackers under it and slam it shut”…

The real answer is harder to find because I’m not entirely sure I know any of the answers. I’m still learning you see, and maybe that’s the best way. Rather than presume what I THINK women want men to know, by which I mean what Louise wants me to know, it’s better to work from the assumption that you need to listen, learn and constantly re-evaluate everything you think you knew.

That sounds very tiring but trust me, when it’s with someone you love that’s half the fun! (the other half I can’t mention on here… my Mum reads this you know..)

4. The Dying of Delight
“Take your favourite little-known book and plug it to your readers. Authors need incomes, and word of mouth is one of the best ways to sell books.”

Is this cheating? Possibly, but it’s the best “little-known” book I’ve read in a long long time, so why the hell not. Here’s what I had to say about it. Now visit www.TheDyingOfDelight.co.uk and see if you’d like a copy for yourself.

5. Sit back and marvel at the magnificence of this meme.
It was brought to you by an out-of-breath author, reduced (on account of her publisher* having expired) to trundling copies of her book across the internet on a rusty old trolley with one wheel missing, sweating and shouting “Buy me book, Gov?” Now visit www.TheDyingOfDelight.co.uk and see if you’d like a copy for yourself.

6 .Tag five people with this meme
Whether the people I’m tagging have the time, or inclination, will be seen but I’ve chosen carefully.

First up, that book reader extraordinaire, Karen. Then, in no particular order (and without introduction as it’s late and I’m knackered) Clair, Daisy, Lyle and, to try and tempt him back into blogland, Mr. Hg.

Books

I’m an avid reader of Ian Rankin’s Rebus books but, for some reason, I missed the publication of his latest paperback Fleshmarket Close. So, last week, after a quick check on the interweb I spotted it on Amazon with £3 off. Excellent. Ordered.

It arrived at work today. All good so far.

However, based on the book that arrived, I’d like to suggest to Amazon that they include the dimensions of the book somewhere on the page. Why? Well, let’s delve into the mind of an over-organised, slightly obsessive, bookworm.

You know I mean me, right? OK.

I have my copies of every previous Rebus paperback arranged in order on a shelf in the living room. They are all the same A format paperback size (178mm by 111mm if you really want to know), have the same styling and are all neatly numbered on the back. They look neat and tidy sitting directly underneath a shelf that has quite a few Iain Banks novels, all with the same styled black and white covers (i.e. not his Sci-Fi stuff). Neat and tidy.

So imagine my disgust when, upon opening that clever Amazon packaging, I find a book that is a completely different size to, and has a completely different cover design from, all the other Rebus books I own. My disgust was so palpable that I vented forth with a few choice expletives causing some enquiring glances from my work colleagues, glances which turned rather more quizzical when I explained the orderly way I keep my bookshelves. Never before have I arched so many eyebrows, I think they always suspected I was a bit odd but here, finally, was clarification.

Of course all I need to do is return the abomination of a book to Amazon and order the correctly sized one, once I figure out which one that is of course. Off to the Amazon UK website I went.

I’m going to pause at this juncture as I realise my actions may seem somewhat odd as it’s only the cover of a book, by which it shouldn’t be judged after all, but if you really think that you are missing the point and should stop reading this instant. Honestly, this is about to get a lot worse and it will only leave you more befuddled than before.

OK, from here onwards I’m only talking to my fellow bookworms who understand that there is more to collecting books than reading them. Ohh sure, we all pretend that it’s only the content we enjoy but let’s be honest, you don’t have The Da Vinci Code on your bookshelf in the living room any more, oh no, it’s been relegated upstairs and replaced by Don Quixote, hasn’t it.

Hmmm I feel I may have just exposed the shallowness that pervades my book organising habits. I DO enjoy reading for reading’s sake. I am not a book snob. I did enjoy The Da Vinci Code. But yes, I do keep all my “better” novels downstairs, and all the Dan Brown, James Patterson and Stephen King upstairs.

Anyway, back to the matter in hand.

After spending countless minutes of my life, minutes lost forever never to be returned, I discovered that all the covers of Mr. Rankin’s books have been, to use the vernacular, “updated”. I’m unclear as to whether this is to keep things inline with his website or to tie-in with the TV versions of the stories, but the fact remains that the books now look different. Ohh sure, I can get a copy of Fleshmarket Close without Ken Stott’s mug on the front, but even then they’ve used a different font to display the author’s name on the spine, not to mention the book number now hidden three quarters of the way down the back page.

Fourteen books have passed, the design has not been tampered with, why now? In a pique of incredulousness I ventured out into slushy, snowbound Glasgow, trudged to Waterstones and then onto Borders only to have my suspicions confirmed at both locations.

The old book design is dead.

Like a parrot.

My shelf is ruined.

Willpower-less

Popped into Waterstones at lunchtime in the vague hope of finding a decent book about Microsoft Word (2003). Nothing on the shelves worth bothering with so I left.

Somehow, when I arrived back at work, I was carrying a bag containing 3 recently purchased books. Such is the power of the ubiquitous 3 for 2 offer.

There’s a thought, are there ANY bookstores that don’t have sales on?

Anyway, I can now add the following to my “to be read” stack:

Suggestions on which to read first are welcomed.

Charlie Connelly

I hear mention that Mr. Connelly has mentioned my site in his randomly regular email newsletter thingy doo-dah.

If you’ve arrived here from that email, then clicking this link here will take you to my review of his book.

Ohh and feel free to have a poke about the rest of the site, plenty of waffling nonsense to keep you occupied for.. ohh.. minutes.

Attention All Shipping

Attention All Shipping by Charlie Connelly

Received as a birthday present last year this was an ideal “train” book as it’s automatically broken into chunks for, as it says on the front cover, this book is “a journey round the shipping forecast”. It also holds a tiny bit of extra importance for me as the journey in question starts and ends on my birthday! (I’m certain my Dad knew that when he bought the book.. right Dad??)

Before I continue, I’ll ask you to stop reading and name as many areas in the shipping forecast as you can. Malin, Dogger, Fastnet, Trafalgar…. um …. Irish Sea?… erm… harder than it sounds, isn’t it. Well it was for me having never actually (knowingly) heard the shipping forecast itself. I did know of it mind you, although I’m not sure how. Osmosis is a wonderful thing. It was with this slightly befuddled, and somewhat sketchy, knowledge that I started reading.

The opening chapter of the book outlines a little of the history of the forecast, and the place it holds in the hearts of those who grew up with its weird and wonderful language. Of course the forecast is crucial for many but for us landlubbers.. well it’s all a bit odd, isn’t it, I mean what does “south-westerly veering north five or six, decreasing four” actually mean? Well, having read the book, I COULD tell you but that’d spoil all the fun.

The format of the book is fairly straightforward and has the author, Charlie Connelly, endeavouring to travel to each zone of the forecast within one calendar year. He takes us with him on a Bryson-esque look at the people and cultures that lie within the various shipping zones. From Spain to Iceland, from uninhabited rocks to inhabited metal turrets in the sea, he reveals the large variety of life held within the forecast area as he flits his away around it armed with little else than a dogged determination and the canny knack of always arriving at the airport several hours before his flight. Ohhh, he also travels on boats, which is just as well as it would have been a bit of a cheat, given the title of the book, to do it all by air.

Connelly comes across a likeable sole soul with a nice turn of phrase, he peppers the pages with an excellent mix of history, anthropology, and snippets of wonderfully quirky information; with historical names that include Chatsworth Musters and Sir Cloudesley Shovell he has plenty of “quirk” from which to choose. In fact, whilst we are on the topic of history, I’d like to apologise to the people of Barra for the way Lieutenant-Colonel John Gordon (for I presume he is related) manhandled them out of their homes. Appalling behaviour. I do hope his actions don’t preclude me from ever visiting Barra, although I’m pretty sure he is related on the ‘other’ side of the family, and distantly at that (hopefully my surname will throw them off the scent).

Attention All Shipping was a wonderful book to dip into, never failing to offer the reader something to ponder, and written in a welcoming, homely, style. Any man who can use the phrase “royster-doystering”, not once but twice, in a book surely deserves a glance, if not a thorough reading. He even manages to impart a lot of wisdom without ever patronising or boring, quite a talent indeed.

Comparisons with Bill Bryson are obvious – this is a travel journal, and Connelly has a similar gentle wit and easy way with words – so I’ll avoid them. Suffice to say that this is a well written, informative book that managed to illicit several chuckles from me (which in turn brought a few inquisitive looks from my fellow commuters).

Attention All Shipping, heartily recommended if you are looking for a change of pace, a change of scenery and change from a tenner.

The Dying of Delight

Where to begin? I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, but any book that is described as “a spirited portrait of lives gone astray” is off to a pretty good start. The book tells the story of Silver and Edna, two women whose stories intertwine in many ways. It’s slightly odd in parts, exciting, funny and above all very well written.

Now I’ll admit that it took me a couple of chapters to get into, and now and again I’d lose the thread and have to re-read but those are minor annoyances. The first thing that caught my attention was the chapter numbers. 1, 17, 26, 2, 3, 18, 27, 4… and so on. Yet despite this odd numbering scheme the books flows well, the overlapping chapters merge and you barely notice the leap from one thread to the next. This is, in no small part, thanks to the wonderfully written main characters who slowly reveal themselves throughout the book. For me this was the strongest part of the book, and with each passing scenario I found myself mentally re-addressing the persona of each character.

The story itself is centred mainly around Silver, a young woman who gives up her day job and pretty much everything else to become an artist like her ever-so slightly insane mother (who features in the book despite being dead after jumping off the roof of the local British Legion hall). It also features a lot of drug taking and no small amount of social commentary, sex, and that’s all before you get to the darker parts of the book.

It’s kind of hard to describe the book as it’s not an out-and-out thriller nor is it purely a character study. It’s not wholly about death, or drugs, or love, or any other emotion, and it’s not set in a huge world with grand themes. What that does mean is that you get a very good picture of the life these people lead, the world they inhabit (and how limited it is for them) and it seems almost biographical at times (autobiographical maybe?).

I thoroughly enjoyed this, right up to the last few page-turning moments, and I whole heartedly recommend this to anyone who just loves reading.

I’d also point out that the author herself kindly signed my copy, and I’m sure she’d be delighted to do the same for you. Thanks Clare, great book!

Voices in my head

How wrong Emily Dickinson was! Hope is not “the thing with feathers.” The thing with feathers has turned out to be my nephew. I must take him to a specialist in Zurich.

From Woody Allen, The Complete Prose

And so I sat there, chuckling to myself whilst my fellow commuters stared obstinately out of the train window. At least I hoped that’s what they were doing given that my involuntary giggles were at times quite loud and mostly sudden.

Now I’d warrant that you, dear reader, have heard Mr. Allen speak. You’ve heard the tones and inflections he imparts on his words, the stresses and strains he places on the punctuation, and the stuttering pause ridden asides that you realise are faked as soon as he starts to eloquently pontificate on whatever it is that currently irks – and here I’m thinking specifically of the Marshal McLuhan scene in Annie Hall, you know the one, where he breaks away from the cinema queue to berate the amateur film critic and people like him.

Must watch that movie again, it’s wonderful and probably has had more impact on modern cinema than a lot of people realise. I’m not a die-hard Woody Allen fan, he has produced a few duds in his time, and these days he is in severe danger of becoming a parody of himself, which in turn is probably a sign of his success and fame (and notoriety?).

I digress.

As mike noted a few weeks back, the written word can take on a whole new realm if you are aware of how the author uses phrasing and rhythm. The word patterns and movement that are created when speaking aloud offer a much deeper understanding of the words as they leap off the page and through your eardrums.

The spoken word goes back a long way, yes even before blogs or *gasp* the internet was invented (honestly, there was a time when there weren’t even computers, how did we manage?!), and it’s little wonder that it still carries the most impact. However I wonder if, given the rise in “personal publishing” in the past few years, there isn’t a requirement for a separate set of Writing Style Guidelines aimed solely at personal writing, where the writer is free to punctuate in a way that enforces the pauses and inflections they naturally use?

And no, I’m not talking about any free-form punctuation nonsense, but surely within the strict rules of grammar to which we all *coughs* adhere there is a little wiggle room for some artistic expression?

Or am I… you know… talking rubbish again?

Onto deeper matters then, why doesn’t Woody (Allen to his friends) have a blog? The one thing that hits me whilst reading his Complete Prose is how suited it would be to a blog format. Most of the pieces are short and punchy, and only really suit a compiled print publication. Ohhh sure he could write for a magazine, granted the bulk of the pieces in the book featured in New Yorker, but admit it, you’d LOVE a Woody Allen blog. Admittedly the fact rumour that he doesn’t own a compuer and still uses the manual typewriter on which he wrote his first screenplay might put the kibosh on that idea.

Mind you, thinking about it, a Woody Allen podcast would be much better.

Slow Motion

Slow Motion: A Memoir by Dani Shapiro

I bought this book in the local charity shop, solely based on a few paragraphs and a stylish cover (not the one that Amazon have), I’ve been reading it on the way home from work on the train, and have to admit I’m surprised to have quite liked this.

The story of a young lady who has a life she doesn’t recognise, pretending to be an actress whilst having an affair with a married filthy rich lawyer in the boom times of the 80s, and how a car crash provides the literal, and metaphorical framing for her life.

It’s heartfelt and honest and whilst not many people will be able to relate to the circumstances, most will be able to empathise with the “not sure how my life got here” feelings and confusion that Dani has. It’s the story of a rebellious teenager who suddenly realises she is a young woman.

Not for everyone but certainly not particularly deep – at one point in the book some of Dani’s earliest writing for college is described as “skimming over the depths” – but it’s well written enough to keep you turning the pages.