Gosh!

No, not the title of the latest book I'm reading, just an exclamation at how long it is since I updated this page. I have to confess that it's less to do with my lack of reading, and more to do with a web glitch that I couldn't be bothered to sort out (don't ask me how but I somehow managed to misplace the page). It's amazing what a bit of spare time and singularity of purpose can achive though - so here we are back again.

I'm desperately trying to remember what I've read in the last 7 months. There's a lot of unfinished business on my bedside table. I seem to have picked up a few books which didn't quite hit the spot and so were quickly discarded.

One that I know I did read and thoroughly enjoyed was The Kite Runner. I won't offer much of a synopsis as I know it's a popular book and has since been made into a film, so most people who would want to will surely have either seen it or read it by now. It isan interesting insight into a young boy brought up against the background of huge political unrest in Afghanistan. Exploring themes of frienship, betrayal and redemption it's a story and a half and highly recommended if you haven't already made the effort.

I'm currently working my way through a series of books by Janet Evanovich. They all feature Stephanie Plumb, a thirty year old divorcee with more sass than is good for her, living in New Jersey. Finding herself between jobs, Stephanie decides to help make ends meet by becoming a Bounty Hunter for her cousin Vinnie. She frequently bites off more than she can chew when trying to apprehend bail dodgers, and despite many sinister scenerios Evanovich manages to squeeze in the bizarre and the hilarious which had me frequently laughing out loud. I believe there are 15 books in the series, and so far I have read 'One for the Money' and 'Two for the Dough'. I can tell you're getting the picture of the book titles already so I won't elaborate further. Good for a laugh.

Recent Reads - Sept/Oct 08

Duma Keys - Stephen King

I read this about 3 weeks ago, in a single weekend.Yes, it was that hard to put it down.

Edgard Freemantle is a wealthy contractor who suffers brain injury after an accident.  He also loses his right arm.  Depression and rage follow, as does the breakdown of his marriage.  He moves out to Duma Key in Florida to find a new course for his life and experiences phantom limb sensation.  He becomes compelled to draw and paint and produces stunning pieces of art that impress local art dealers.   But, you know, this is Stephen King, so there's always more to it than just that, and the pictures become powerful in a way that Ed never imagined, reaching out and affecting his friends and family.

Highly recommended.

Blind Faith - Ben Elton

That's the last time I post on Facebook and I'm giving up the internet forthwith.

Well, not really, but Elton does have an interesting take on the future of society and the role that social networking plays. In a world where privacy is outlawed, where every activity is filmed and broadcast to your neighbours, where sex is paramount and the swapping of partners is positively encouraged, where 'God' is central to everything, vengeful when things go wrong and kind when things go right, but above all responsible for everything that happens ... he paints  a picture of a scary, scary world. Whilst forever there are people of reason around, his tale will be far fetched, but you can kinda see that we could just be a hop, skip and a jump away from some of it happening.

I didn't draw me in quite as much as some of his earlier books have. Maybe it got a little too close to the bone  given my past 'church' experiences. But more likely because the humour didn't come across as well as say Stark or Inconceivable. He usually manages to sweeten the bitter pill of his subject with a fair coating of humour. I guess if it was made into a film then they could go to town on some of the ridiculous characters and the humour would be more apparent.

Thanks for the Memories - Cecilia Ahern

Picked this one up as something to read in Cafe Nero  during an afternoon of shopping  by myself last week.

Overall it's a fairly light read although it starts with the loss of a baby and the breakdown of a marriage. As much as it deals with this difficult subject matter the course of the book travels away from the darkness into lighter territory, and three quarters of the way through had me laughing out loud at the father one of the main characters.

After the miscarriage of her baby, Joyce remembers things she shouldn't, and discovers she can speak Latin and Italian. She experiences memories that shes never had before, about things she hasn't experienced. The plot is completely translucent, so you know where it's gonna wind up but it's still a delightful story and a little thought provoking.

Chick Lit!

More Shorts

On a recent trip to Leeds I found the latest Joanne Harris book in Borders. Being a huge fan of hers, of course I bought it. "Jigs and Reels" is her first collection of short stories - so it looks like I'm continuing with that style at the moment.

I'm a bit disappointed. I suppose the nature of a collection of short stories is that the subject matter can vary widely - sometimes this works and sometimes this doesn't. Maybe it's not so much the variation as the content, I dunno, but most of these tales don't really do anything for me. Very disappointing. I prefer her novels where characters are allowed to develop and atmospheres conjoured up over a longer period of time. Free to a good home - email me.

Shorts!

I've just finished two books of short stories. The first was 'Speaking With the Angel' - various writers edited by Nick Hornby.

It's a collection of 12 stories with contributions from writers including Helen Fielding, Roddy Doyle, Irvine Welsh, actor Colin Firth and Nick Hornby himself. It was put together to raise awareness and funds for Treehouse, an organisation which offers a pioneering approach to the education of children with autism.

The subject matter of the stories is as diverse as the writers are themselves. 'The Department of Nothing' by Colin Firth is about how imagination can span both childhood and old age and the order of importance assigned to people and things by young minds.

Which is a nice gentle way to unwind from the frantic desires and fumblings of their first time, with the Buzzcock's 'Love You More' on repeat in the background, in the aptly titled 'Peter Shelley' by Patrick Marber.

The diversity is what makes the collection so good. If you buy it new you will be contributing £1 towards the work of Treehouse. If you get it second hand like I did then you have the option to use the donation form in the back of the book.

Roddy Doyle turns up again, this time with a collection of his own stories 'The Deportees'. Metro Eirann is a newspaper for the rising immigrant community in Ireland and the stories of The Deportees first found their voice there.

All of the stories are written either through the eyes of immigrants in Ireland or from an Irish perspective trying to make sense of the growing variation of nationalities in their neighbourhood.

Favourite stories are 'Black Hoodie' which shows Doyle's inventiveness to the full when a classroom project about prejudice lands the narrator in a spot of bother with the Garda.

'Home to Harlem' follows Declan, a Black Irish student (but is he 'black' or is he 'Irish'?) as he searches for a sense of identity whilst trying to prove that Yeats and Joyce were heavily influenced by the Harlem Rennaisance writers.

But top spot has to go to the story of the title story 'The Deportees' itself. The very welcome follow up to The Commitments where Jimmy Rabbitte is now 36 years old, father of three with another one on the way, and still full of musical passion. It has you laughing, crying and routing for Jimmy as he has a final attempt at making his dream come true.

When I finished the book, part of me felt 'how can he speak on behalf of the immigrants like that, don't they object to an Irishman writing stories about how he thinks they feel?' but he does such a great job of getting into the skins of newcomers to his country that you wonder if he isn't part Black/Polish/Pakistani himself.

Pengiun Great Ideas Series

I've just come across this series of "life-changing books" and at £4.99 a book they're nice and affordable. The first one I bought is below but I'll be dipping into the catalogue to buy a few more in the coming months.

Marcus Aurelious - Meditations.

I found this little gem in the Colisseum bookshop. It's a little book of wisdom to dip into now and then. Marcus Aurelious Anoninus was born to an upper- class Roman family in 121 and he was a philosopher from an early age. This was written when he was older and was never meant for publication. Apparently it was one of the books that Bill Clinton turned to for some wisdom during Monicagate!!


"Your mind will be like its habitual thoughts; for the soul becomes dyed with the colour of its thoughts. Soak it then in such trains of thought as, for example:" Where life is possible at all, a right life is possible"


Holiday Reading!

The Reluctant Fundamentalist - Mohsin Hamid

Brilliant book. The Pakistani protagonist wins a scholarship to Princeton University and fully embraces western ways. A visit back to his folks in Pakistan brings with it the realisation that he is losing touch with both his heritage and his values. Very easy to read but thought provoking at the same time. Set around 9/11 - despite being accepted by his American workmates, he finds they become increasingly suspicious of him as he tries to reconnect with his past. Although a short book there is so much in here and it touches on how a relationship can have a profound affect on a person leading to instability. Our narrator and the girl he loves both have to find themselves but where he lost himself materially her identity is tied up in a previous impossible relationship but the only way for her to be happy is to lose herself to it completely. Very sad, but excellent read.


The Island - Victoria Hislop

A novel which spans 4 generations beginning in Crete. Another one of those tales where a modern day character has to delve back into the family history in order to make sense of the present. However, anyone with half a brain would be able to tell our modern day character how to proceed with her life, and I thought having to link the present with the past in the way it was done, was the weakest part of the book and the story wouldn't have suffered any if it had been missed out. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the book and would recommend it, it is a bit of a well trodden path only deviating by the subject matter of a leper colony which was fascinating and pretty much saved the book for me. All round it's probably worth the ride.

On The Edge - Richard Hammond

A great book for any Top Gear/Hamster fans. Whilst covering his early life and career it's mostly about the crash and aftermath. Very, very moving and honest account by both him and his wife Mindy - it is a bit gushy in parts, but I think given what they have been through they're allowed to be. Best read of the holiday. If you only read one book this summer, make it this one.


Update!

I've just about finished the Barbara Kingsolver book. I'm pleased that I stuck to my challenge to read no more than a chapter a day. I haven't managed to pick it up every day, but it's been a good exercise and I've gotten so much more out of the book than I would have.

I picked up The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama at the airport and started reading it on holiday. I like him. I like his ideas. I hope America is ready to embrace the thought of an African American President. I think he could be a force for change. If American changes, there will be a spin off on the rest of the world too and that can only be a good thing.

Catherine Ryan Hyde

It was only while I was compiling a list of my favourite films that I remembered about Catherine Ryan Hyde.

I thought I had first happened upon her through the film Pay It Forward. Although it bummed at the box office it's an immensley moving story about a boy whose school project is a philosophy about 'paying it forward' as opposed to 'paying it back'. Kind of good turns in advance. It's a great concept and the story is about both reconiciliation and estrangement and has the most unexpected ending ever.

Love in the Present Tense is another of her novels which examines love ... the pathos kind, between a man and a young boy whom he is forced to adopt.

CRH has a way of examining the deeper themes of life, in a kind of upside down sort of way. She doesn't go for the easy endings either. Electric God is a riches to rags story about loss, both material and relational and the first of her books I read, although it's only today that I realised who wrote it.

Like with Barbara Kingsolver there's still alot of her writing for me to discover, which feels like I have a lot of treats ahead of me.