Sunday, 28 December 2008

Last Post of 2008

The Sunday

I hope you all had a good Christmas/winter festival/Cuthbert day this week. Failing that, I hope you had a good week. Alas, I had to work on Christmas Eve which was a weird occurrence. My previous jobs have been connected to retail so Christmas Eve has usually been busyish. In the end we did end up getting away 90 minutes early so all was not lost. Oh and we had cakes at the morning tea break which lasted for an hour. Huzzah!

Due to being ill last week I was rather behind in Christmas preparations so this week was rather quiet on the book reading front. I did continue with Hogfather but it doesn't seem to be doing it for me. Many of my friends adore Terry Prachett but his writing seems to leave me a little cold. I do marvel at the amount of books he can churn out (in my copy of Hogfather his biblography covers two pages - and is presented in small print) but Discworld does not do it for me. However 2008 was the year of tackling books I had previously abandoned so perhaps 2009 will continue in the same vein.

The Boyfriend bought me three books for Christmas this year:
La's Orchestra Saves the World by Alexander McCall Smith
Watchmen by Alan Moore (influenced by Justanothersheeldz)
Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling

which I have managed to keep my mucky paws off this week. The Mothership got me a grammar book to help with my Latin which was muchly appreciated.

Since Christmas Day I have existed in a waste-of-space continum and have alternated reading books on the comfy sofa, reading books in the bath and in my bed. Notice a pattern developing here? I picked up a bookring that has been kicking me for the past few weeks (i.e. get a bloody move on!) called Beyond the Narrow Gate by Leslie Chang. Leslie's parents are Chinese but emigrated to America in the 1950s. Leslie appears to have a distant relationship with her mother and explores this relationship by examining the lives of three of her mother's schoolfriends. All four women went to a school in Taiwan after fleeing from Chairman Mao in various capacities. Leslie's mother, who Anglicised her name to Mary, fled because her father was part of the Old Regime's army. I am enjoying this book but it does repeat itself an awful lot. For the third time I am told Mary did not excel at school or that one of her schoolmates was the daughter of a government official. Perhaps this serves to reinforce the links these women have but the repetition is getting on my bloody nerves. It's still a good read though and provides an insight into the Chinese immigrant population in America post-1950s.

My, now rather soggy, bath book is The Sisterhood by Emily Barr. I love Emily Barr for writing such dark chick lit. Her characters always seem to err on the unhinged and rarely are any of them likeable. The Sisterhood follows three women: Liz, Mary and Helen. Liz is a women in her late thirties who discovers her partner of ten years is having an affair. One night stand later Liz is pregnant and facing bringing up a baby on her own. This raises some confusing emotions because Liz was abandoned by her mother as a baby. Helen is a girl in her late teens who lives in France. Snooping through her mother's things one day she discovers her mother, Mary, had been married before. And had a baby called Elizabeth. It wouldn't be dramatic if Helen decided to track Liz down in an attempt to turn her family into a perfect one. You just know this book isn't going to end well. I picked it up a few days ago and have been racing through it. A very good holiday read and with a decent plot that keeps you gripped. Despite the (intentionally) weak and unlikebale characters, I still want to keep reading, find out more and the resulting conclusion when Helen's motives become clear to Liz. If you like your chick lit with a bit of bite then Emily Barr is yer woman. I thoroughly reccomend Baggage and Atlantic Shift as well.

Before I sign off, I must say I've really enjoyed sitting down the past couple of Sundays with a cup of coffee and hammered out my thoughts on books. So part of my New Year's Resolutions is to try and keep this blog more up to date. The Boyfriend's mother gave me some lovely paper notebooks for Christmas and I am determined to record my thoughts about books in a more coherant manner. Better than "This book wuz guid. Read it." Every year I try to keep a list of books I've read but usually I fail. Plus I don't start my new course until September (and possibly have a spell of unemployment between finishing work and starting the course) so that should leave more time for reading. And all other manner of self improvement.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Sunday Salon: The Winter Lurgy Edition

The Sunday

This week was meant to be a time to get geared up for Christmas by reading themed books and watching classic Christmas movies. Alas, the winter lurgy got me on Tuesday and I spent most of the week sleeping and staring at the walls of my bedroom. I did re-read Angela's Ashes on the basis it was familiar and a not very taxing read when ill. However a poor Limerick Christmas wasn't something I was expecting to involve in my Xmas reading plans.

So, instead of updating my thoughts on Hogfather by Terry Prachett (which I bought on Monday and has been taunting me from the top of Mount TBR for the past week) and Christmas Books by Charles Dickens this week, I'm afraid I have nowt to offer. Except I hope people have escaped the winter lurgy :)

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Sunday Salon

The Sunday

This week has been rather interesting, as far as reading goes. Earlier this year I joined the Glasgow Women's Library book group which only has one rule - any books read must be written by a woman. Pah! I thought at first. Is this not reverse sexism? Until I realised how little of the books I read were written by women. I don't know how much Marion Keynes counts, my literary equivalent of eating a large box of chocolates in one go.

Anyhoo, the book up for discussion this month was Wise Children by Angela Carter. The basic blurb is that it follows the Chance sisters who are part of a major British theatre family institution. The narrator is Dora, one half of the sisters who are both in their seventies and the story is interworked with current events in their lives and their background. I read it, thought it was an interesting read (you can't imagine a seventy year old woman cackling about blow jobs - can you?) but thought it was all a bit weird.

Until I went to the sodding book group. It turns out this is a set text for most university English/feminist courses and I had missed a lot of symbolism. Of course, how could I forget that? Turns out Ms Carter was dying when she wrote this novel (even my local library cover didn't have that) and this is regarded as her final act. There were a lot of references to Shakespeare that went completely over my head. And, of course, someone who had studied the book was there and was barking on about the symbolism of a burnt swan and twins. Lovely. The redeeming factor of the meeting was the mulled wine and various baked goodies on offer.

Next month's book is The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenberger and one of my top ten books of all time (which is a bloody difficult list to make, may I add). I was acting as cheerleader for this book so I'll need to get my arse in gear. February's book is The Mandarians by Simone de Beaviour and looks a meaty read indeed. I have resisted the temptation to start reading it now, purely because I will have forgotten all about it by the time February rolls around.

Another recent hit for me was Pattern Recognition by William Gibson. I originally bought a copy of this book many years ago but just couldn't get into it. So it was bookcrossed and I didn't give much thought. Then I was browsing the library at lunchtime and saw another copy winking at me. So I decided to give it another go. If I can conquer The Crow Road then I can conquer this.

The plot: Cayce Pollard is a freelance coolhunter based in New York. She has flown to London to give her opinion to Blue Ant, an extremely large and powerful advertising company. One thing about Cayce: she has a strong allergic reaction to brands which she keeps as secret as possible. Another thing to remember, Cayce is obsessed with the footage. For months, pieces of footage have been appearing on the internet with no explanation as to where they came from. Finally, Cayce's father disappeared on 11th September 2001 and was last seen in the vicinity of the Twin Towers.

A lot to take in? Indeedy do. The plot thickens as Cayce is approached to track down where the footage is coming from. And so the mirror world (i.e. the physical world) and the 'real' world become intertwined. I think studying Sociology made me more accepting of this book the second time round. My interest in the media has been built up since I first attempted this novel and has made me more receptive to it. The allergy to advertising seems firmly tongue in cheek to me. How can someone living in a society such as ours (the information age if you don't mind) cope with such a condition? The plot spins into a film noir style as Cayce attempts to locate the footage. And I thoroughly enjoyed the ride. Excellent bus book and it made me want to miss my stop and just sit there reading all day.

The latest book to pack a punch was The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell. Another library lunchtime pick up. Some colleagues had been discussing this book during a teabreak, an occupational hazard when you work in a library. The story interested me. Esme Lennox was shunted off to an aslyum in her teens by her achingly middle class Edinburgh parents and remained there till she was in her seventies. This might be a work of fiction but undoubtedly has its roots in fact. In my line of work we've had to break the news to individuals that the relative they thought had died when they were young was actually locked up in an aslyum for a number of decades. Not years. Decades.

The novel flicks between Esme's childhood in colonial India, her estranged sister's (Kitty) senile dementia induced thoughts and Iris, Kitty's grand daughter and who becomes responsible for Esme. The aslyum she has called home for most of her life is being closed down and she needs booted out. Iris's step brother, Alex, was an interesting character. His automatic response when Iris has taken Esme home is one of horror and ignorance. "She's a nutter! She wasn't locked up for most of her life for nothing!" Alas young man, many individuals were. I have seen records of woman who would be diagnosed with post natal depression today, being locked up for most of their life. The brilliant twist at the end of this story is being horrifying and tears at your heart strings. I could not put this book down. End of.