Saturday, 10 January 2009

Sunday Salon: A Break

The Sunday

Don't worry, the break refers to my pile of work due in next week. On Thursday it was landed upon us trainees we were having mock interviews on Monday. A list of potential questions were emailed to us to prepare answers for. Thursday was a very busy day at work and Friday is...well....Friday so I only sat down to look at them properly yesterday. I've Googled Freedom of Information and Data Protection Acts and I feel my brain slowing oozing out my head.

So, onto the books!

The first fail of 2009: Twilight by Stephanie Meyers.

I know I am not the target audience for this book. In fact, I don't like to admit how many difference in age there is between me and the target audience. The style of writing reminds me very much of Point Horrors which I enjoyed reading ages 10-14. Trouble is, I'm not that age anymore. The drama of high school is something I find so amusing. It's bad enough without having vegetarian vampires floating around the corridors. And people have to remember: you can make it out alive.

4) The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenerger

My book group has been pushed back to this Thursday so I don't have many comments to blog from that. I may wait to see what others thought before I blog. But, for record keeping purposes, I will still add it to my books read this week. A future attraction, coming soon.

5) The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and other short stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald (in progress)

I remember reading The Great Gatsby when I was a teenager and not being very impressed. But then again, who is impressed when they're a teenager? The point of referring to this work is that it may have influenced my reading of this short story.

So far I have only read The Curious Case of Benjamin Button in this collection. It was a strange little tale with more than a hint of satire. The story is that Benjamin is born an old man. Literally an old man. As he ages chronologically, his body and mind regress. At the age of 18 he looks 50 and is run out of town for trying to register for university. The story does speak of expectations (Benjamin's father insists his son should dye his hair to look younger) and clearly delivers the message of the importance of physical appearance. Which ties in with part of the ideology of the 1920s.

It's an interesting tale and the writing style feels very too the point. This contrasted with my previous read, The Time Traveler's Wife which reveals in the beauty of the written language. The imagery at the end of the story does add a tint of sadness but creates a wonderful picture in the reader's mind. I won't spoil the ending but I highly doubt anyone who reads the story will be surprised by the ending.

Twilight and the shock of going back to work after the festive period has taken up more time than I would like this week. I am aiming to get more reading done next week so fingers crossed that happens.

This morning I did pick up Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. It looks a worthy tome and I'm hoping it provides a building block to meatier reads such as Les Miserables and War and Peace. So far I'm on page 10 and have been slightly shocked with the scattered racist terms such as "darkie". Though the same thing happened when I read Uncle Tom's Cabin so I shouldn't be too surprised.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Sunday Salon: We're going to party like it's 2009....oh

The Sunday

Isn't insomnia both a blessing and a curse? The curse is that I have been walking around like a zombie for most of today. The blessing is that I managed to keep one of my new year resolutions which is to update the Sunday Salon as much as a can. So far, in 2009 I have read two books. However, they are a slight cheat because both were started in 2008. Last week in fact. So let's see if I can make sense of notes I scribbled down at 5am this morning.

1) Tis by Frank McCourt

As I mentioned a few posts ago, I read Angela's Ashes when I was ill with a heavy cold a few weeks ago. This lead me to re-read Tis which follows Frank as he travels to America and tries to pursue his dreams of becoming a teacher, despite his own lack of education. In some ways I feel this book embodies part of the American Dream. Frank comes to America, works where he can and attends college at nights and at the weekends so he can become a teacher. Immigrant makes good. As he admits in some pages, he views his Protestant wife from New England as a ticket into this world of good teeth, hot water and education.

McCourt is very self-aware about almost everything: his bad teeth, Irish accent, bad eyes and guilt over things he has no control over. He makes so many attempts to get away from being Irish but this is like Gordon Brown trying to get away from being Scottish. It's impossible. He seems unsure of himself and his ability to teach. At one stage it appears he has gained enough confidence to be a teacher, confident in his abilities. Then his students discover his own lack of a high school education and this facade crumbles down. Instead of demonstrating to the kids how much education matters, he falters.

I have got Teacher Man, McCourt's book about his teaching experiences, lying around somewhere in the Mountain Range. His teaching stories are hilarious, if a tad repetitive but perhaps this is what he's trying to achieve, and do show that, regardless of the social status of the catchment area, you are always going to get kids who hate reading Shakespeare.

2) Beyond the Narrow Gate by Leslie Change

Again, this is a bit of a cheat because I started this book in 2008 and only finished it this morning. And it is another cheat because I have written about it on this blog. But let's see if the 4am thoughts bring anything new to this book.

Chang is conducting a mircostudy into the lives of four Chinese women who emigrated to America in the 1950s. The connection between these four women is that they all attended a high school in Taiwan. Other relationships become clear such as some individuals who sit uncomfortable between East and West. Chang cites a term attached to this generation of Chinese immigrants - the bamboo generation. They appear strong and supple but are hollow inside. This is certainly true of these four women. None of them seem content inside. Chang's mother, one of the four women, rarely seems satisfied and is always pushing herself to perform better at work. And frequently puts her work before her family. Leslie herself refuses to learn any form of the Chinese language. In the final chapter she admits she can never order her favourite meals in a Chinese restaurant because her parents have always done so for her.

All in all, not a bad read but it did take me a while to get into it. Sometimes I'd want to put the book down after four pages but I pushed with it. This morning I was surprised when I hit the last page in what seemed like no time at all.

And what's next? Well, my book group is discussing one of my favourite books of all time The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenerger. At 5.30am I had finished Beyond the Narrow Gate and had started on The Time Traveler's Wife. Now I'm at least a good quarter of the way through the book.

Other books on my bedside table include:
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and other stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Twilight by Stephanie Meyer

So, here's to a good year of reading. My goals (reading wise) this year include:
*Keeping a list of books I've read
*Try to read more books than I did in 2008 (aprox. number read last year is around 60)
*Write my thoughts in my paper journal or, at the very least, make notes

These goals might be added to as time goes on!

American Man with an Opinion

I always seem to attract people who like to talk. Maybe I have one of those faces. Once I spent three hours chatting with an Israeli tourist in a Pret A Manger in Glasgow about, well, nothing in particular.

On Friday I was meeting a friend at the bus station. It being the first 'business as normal day' post-New Year the place was mobbed and full of people either returning to Glasgow after the festive period or getting the hell out of this crazy city. I managed to find an empty bench and a few seconds later an elderly gent sat next to me. Elderly, I'd say he was in his early sixties. We got chit chatting and he asked me what I was doing at the bus station. I explained I was waiting for a friend and we were going to the cinema to see The Reader. For those that don't know, part of the plot is concerned with war crimes in World War II.

The gent nodded and said "You know, people talk about war crimes as if they never happen anymore. But what is going on in Gaza at the me that's a war crime. And on both sides may I add. Hamas ain't innocent but the Israelis are just as bad."

War crimes are the de jour phrase at the moment. This morning I read in the paper that a Rwandian singer called Simon Bikindi was sentenced to 15 years in prison for using his music to incite violence during that fateful time in 1994. Not a politician, not a member of the military. A mere singer. Could the actions of Robert Mugabe be classed as war crimes? He seems locked in conflict with his own people, officials from neighbour states, the United Nations and just about anyone else who disagrees with the suffering and pain he is inflicting on his country.

I am not even going to pretend I know enough about the Middle East situation to comment. All I shall say is that it is ordinary people that are getting hurt, being killed. And surely that makes it a war crime and, if it doesn't sound too pompous, a crime against humanity.