In Cold Blood

14 02 2008

I have just finished my first book of the year which is pretty shocking but I will blame my lack of reading on: no train commute, work, university study (such as it is) and Disney. The book I have just read, however, is Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. I had previously only read Breakfast at Tiffany’s and to be honest, I wasn’t sure what all the Capote fuss was about. But now I am a believer! The book is essentially a piece of non-fiction, telling the true story of a family murdered in Kansas in the 1950s. It has an extensive background on the murderers, the victims and the small town where it all went down. The trial was a foregone conclusion (the murderers had confessed although there was some discrepancy about who of the two ‘friends’ actually did the deeds) yet it was interesting to have an insight into the process and also to see what abusive of the system took place.

What made me love the book, despite the rather bleak and gruesome subject matter, was Capote’s use of figurative language which described things in such a precise way. His writing style in general made for a fluid and gripping read. I think I might have to revisit BAT to see if I missed something.

Next book on the go: Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (required reading for my OU course but so far, I am enjoying it).

Reading round-up

6 01 2008

I have just re-done my reading list page for the new year (books read last year are still listed) and I noticed a couple of books on which I didn’t comment so I thought I would put that right.

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. I must admit now that I am a bit of a Bryson fan. I was really keen to read this book because I hate not knowing things and there is a hell of a lot about the world that I don’t know. Bryson was able to break down complex theories in a way that made me want to read on and on. He told the stories behind the men of science that made the all-important discoveries. In short, I loved it. I just wish I could remember all the very interesting facts that he shared. I suppose I need to read it again for it all to sink in. My poor little mind cannot cope with such big ideas as ‘what is an atom made of’.

Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild. In my quest to read all the great children’s literature I missed (as well as revisiting the stuff I did read and love), I read this much-loved book. Initially, I felt it was a tiny bit of a let-down (probably am now going to hell for suggesting this), especially after my enjoyment of Anne of Green Gables. I did enjoy it though and I could imagine falling in love with these characters if I were 20 years younger. The BBC adaptation shown on Boxing Day, though, made me appreciate the book even more and after a rather luke-warm initial impression, I was pretty put out by the poetic license exercised by the screenwriters of the BBC. A manufactured romance in the form of a widowed Mr Simpson and some important speeches being given to the wrong characters meant that I felt quite protective towards Streatfeild’s book. Such a shame because the casting of the three girls and Sylvia was pretty spot on.

A different kind of music

13 11 2007

So the Stereophonics were ace, as was to be expected.  We didn’t wait right to the end (being Monday night and all) but we did see all the best tunes so I am happy.

Music seems to be a very big part of my life right now.  I have always loved music but I definitely go through stages of listening to more stuff, more of the time.  This year, I have seen a lot of live music.  And I have just finished reading a book about music.  Well, a book about love, life and music.  Vikram Seth’s An Equal Music is moving, rich with lovely language and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. 

The novel follows a violinist, Michael, who ran away from the love of his life only to regret it ever since.  A chance sighting brings him to her and their love and passion comes alive again.  I don’t want to say too much because if you haven’t read it, I would urge you to do so.  I will say, though, that as a hopeless romantic, I surprised myself that the story that moved my most and that gave me most sadness and joy, was Michael’s relationship with his Tononi, a very old and valuable violin that has been loaned to him indefinitely (which is completely the right word since he has no idea when he might have to return it; there is nothing definite about it). already pointed me in the direction of the CD which accompanies the book and I can’t wait to get my hands on it and I will read the book again once I have listened to the music about which Seth writes as I felt a little lost without it.  Another reason I already want to re-read it is because it took me so long to read it and it was in so many short bursts that I don’t think I did the narrative flow any favours.

Wishing I was more like Anne

3 11 2007

I just finished reading Anne of Green Gables and it was just charming.  Anne is a really loveable character.   I had forgotten just how much she used her imagination.  It really made me feel a bit old and jaded but also made me want to enjoy the simple things around me that delight her so much.  I think I must be feeling particularly broody as I am now reading another childhood classic that I have never read – Ballet Shoes.  Sometimes I want a little girl to read to so badly.

Feeling good

8 10 2007

Sorry about going awol… had the sniffles and then lost my mojo. But I am BACK! I spent a productive weekend watching the rugby (woo! England!!), socialising, drinking, eating and sewing. It was just about perfect (except for the pounding head Sunday morning due to item three on the list above). I have *almost* finished the mini-quilt for Emily – just a couple of finishing touches (now that I realise I have enough time!) and then I really must tackle the debacle of my patchwork cushion covers that I completely bodged up a few weeks ago (they have been crammed in my fabric box for weeks because I cannot face working out how to fix it).

I got my first essay back from my new Open University course – Introduction to Humanities – and I did well which was pleasing given the short time I spent on it (I know, shock horror, right?!). It has inspired me to catch up on my reading for the course so I can try for once to stay on top of it. Now I have so much spare time, this shouldn’t be too hard. If only I wasn’t a telly addict – I would get so much more done.

And whilst I am on reading, I haven’t mentioned what I am reading lately. Since I stopped my commute, I have not read nearly so often which makes me a little sad so I am going to start trying to get to bed a bit earlier since that is my favourite place to read anyway. I am currently reading three books – I can’t seem to settle on any one at the moment: Tolkein’s The Two Towers, An Equal Music by Vikram Seth which makes me want to listen to classical music and know more about it and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon which I know will be superb once I manage to get going with it. All in all, it is quite a lot to be getting on with. In the pipeline, I have Austen’s Love and Friendship and Sophie’s Choice by William Styron.

Finally, I have signed up for this year’s NaBloPoMo. Anyone else doing it? More on this nearer to November. Right, off now to read October’s Real Simple magazine with a cup of tea.

Reading Corner

26 07 2007

I have finished a few books lately and I wanted to share some of my thoughts about them. I am not very good at in depth analysis (unlike the brilliant Litlove) so I will keep this fairly brief:

The Outsider by Albert Camus

I read the translated version (the book is actually called L’Etranger) because I tried the French version several times and found it was beyond me (although I may give it another go now I know the gist of the story). The Outsider is a fable-like story about a young man called Meursault who feels no great grief when he loses his mother. He commits a murder in a crime that is completely devoid of passion, cold-blooded murder in the truist sense but he not just judged for this act, he is judged for his lack of grief. His lawyer tries to prompt him to use his loss as mitigating circumstances which he refuses to do and as such, his honesty is his downfall. The protagonist is a difficult character for the reader to relate. His calm demeanour and his cool collection seem cold and heartless in the light of his actions. And yet since the story is told from his point of view, we can see that there is not real hatred or malice. His actions seems to be down to a detached state that he has put himself into. It is left to reader to decide whether we should pity him or revile him; whether he lacks a soul or just is suffering some deeper loss that he has not yet acknowledged.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

Every now and then, you read a book that lingers. It dances around your mind for days, weeks, years even.  It makes you think hard.  It makes you feel hard.  One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was such a book for me.

Within the cold, sterile walls of the psychiatric ward, one of the patients, Chief Bromde, narrates from his own skewed perspective the story of what happened when Irish, loud, gambling fun-lover McMurphy crashed into ward life to change everyone’s lives forever.  There to avoid the workhouse but decidedly sane, McMurphy instantly starts to push the boundaries and the rules that have been imposed by Big Nurse, both terryfying and terrified in equal measure.  Sadistic and cruel, she also is desperate to maintain the hold over the patients lives, to be needed and in charge.  Chief is believed by the rest of the ward to be deaf and dumb but only because he was ignored for so long that he simply stopped talking.  But he hears all – more than he should since the staff think he is deaf – and eventually is encouraged to speak again by McMurphy.

Even thinking about the denouement of the novel makes my eyes prick.  Despite the hope and positivity that is brought into the patients live, there is still sadness.  I am, however, so happy to have finally read this book which I have been meaning to read for so long.  I have avoided seeing the Jack Nicholson film for the simple reason that I wanted to read the book for myself first and create my own pictures to go with Kesey’s words.  Of course, just knowing the Jack Nicholson plays McMurphy influenced how I thought about that character although I do think the casting was spot on for this character.  I definitely want to check out the film now.

Bareback by Kit Whitfield

In a world where werewolves – or lycos as they are called in this debut novel – are the norm and barebacks or ‘nons’ (in other words people that do not turn at the full moon) are considered disabled or crippled, born with a birth defect that means they come out headfirst and different, Lola May is a social outcast.  As a non, she is forced to work  as a dog-catcher for DORLA, the organisation responsible for policing the activity of lunes (lycos during full moon) for the two days of the month that they become wild animals who will attack and kill anything.  For the rest of the month, she is a lawyer dealing with, for the most part, tramps and homeless people who have not managed to get themselves locked away in time before changing.

This all sounds very sci-fi, very Buffy the Vampire Slayer but this book is so much more than that.  By turning the werewolf tale on its head, we are put into the shoes of the persecuted, the outcasts – a place where I, as a white, middle-class girl, am not usually placed.  It is well written, exciting, interesting, thrilling and you really care what happens.  It is intriguing and I would highly recommend it.

Forty – Love

28 06 2007

I just finished reading Lionel Shriver’s Double Fault last night.  Since Wimbledon has just started, it seemed perfect timing to read a tennis-related story about relationships and competition on and off the court.  I loved it!  The book follows a tennis-playing couple from their first meeting into marriage.  We see what success and failure does to a relationship; and the damage that competition can do.

I really do like Shriver’s style – well written narrative and great characters that have complexity nd are, frankly, interesting to read about, which is pretty key but unfortunately not always a given in novels.  If you haven’t read her first novel, We Need To Talk About Kevin, I urge you to do so.  It is not always comfortable reading but she has a way of getting to the heart of the most important issues and then doesn’t pussy foot around.  She gets stuck in.  I will be looking forward to reading whatever she writes next…