Archive for the 'Books' Category

Project: Big Read – update

So a little while ago I embarked upon a project to read all of Britain’s best-loved books. I started out having read 78 out of 200 hundred books. I’m now happy to report that I’ve reached 88 out of 200. The ten I’ve knocked off of the list are the eight books pictured above, Lady Chatterly’s Lover, and Winnie the Pooh.

Unfortunately I still haven’t gotten through Moby Dick, despite my intention to start with it. In point of fact I did start with it, I started it and I soon lost the will to continue. On occasion, between other books, I’ve gritted my teeth and ploughed another few pages on, but in general it sits like a guilt-inducing, useless lump of woodpulp on my bedside table.

Of the books that I have read most have been enjoyable. My least favourite was Lorna Doone, it was a pointless and predictable melodrama. I enjoyed The Day of the Jackal, although I had seen the movie and knew what to expect, the book kept me on tenterhooks throughout as the Jackal’s plot unfolded methodically and almost without challenge until the final moments. Others of the books I had read were spoiled my the fact I had seen the movie. In the case of Atonement because it had nothing to offer me in terms of story surprises I was left to rely upon the writing style and characterization – which I felt were lacking. For Emma, I had seen the movie Clueless, so I already knew the plot. Jane Austen’s writing style is good and engaging, but not my cup of tea. Also the heroine irritates me immensely – which was slightly distracting.

Next up: another crack at Moby Dick, and when that fails maybe Captain Corelli’s Mandolin will be next.

A bit of nostalgia

I was in the Hursley Clubhouse this morning, waiting for Dan to get changed after badminton, and I was reading one of the papers they have laying around. I happened upon the printed version of this article about Enid Blyton.

The lady has recently been voted Britain’s best-loved author. On the one hand I can understand it, as a child I really loved to read the Five Find-Outers books and the ___ of Adventure series. On the other hand it’s strange that Britain’s best-loved writer overall is a children’s writer, and that so many children’ writers are on the list. Does that mean that a lot of people stop reading so much recreationally after childhood, or just that people only remember liking and enjoying books unconditionally in their youth?

Had I read the article a few years ago I would have been perfectly willing to embrace the fact that Enid Blyton is our best-loved author, and I would have glossed over the article’s comments about ‘hollow’, ‘repetitive’ and ‘two-dimensional’ writing. After all J.K Rowling’s quality of writing is far from awesome.

I would have also ignored the comments about how sexist and racist the books are – mainly because I wasn’t aware of it at the time. A lot of the female characters were a bit rubbish, but I didn’t care because (tomboyishly) I was too busy identifying with the male characters who climbed trees or built dens and had pocket knives. The racism I was unaware of for an entirely different reason – that reason was that in the books I had had been heavily abridged/altered to remove any overtly racist content. I only realised this when I found an older copy of one of the books and read it to discover a huge amount of differences.

Looking back now I can see a lot of things about her books which are objectionable, so much so that I can understand why my primary school banned them. (Though I can’t forgive them for restricting me to their own library of books strictly for 7-10 year olds at an age when I was starting to read my parent’s books). At the time I thought it was silly to ban the books, because all I saw that was a problem was that they were old-fashioned in their values. And at 10 I was smart enough to know that the year was 1993 not 1933, so I never took these books as an indication of reality.

Bad-writing and negative stereotyping aside I still have fond memories of reading Enid Blyton. However reading the article now I was quite surprised to see that Enid Blyton in the top spot, beating other children’s writers like Roald Dahl and C. S Lewis. Why? For a very personal reason that I now, as a 25 year old, still read Roald Dahl and C.S. Lewis, and have even made an effort to collect books of theirs that I never owned (or gave to my younger sister). These books I can read again and again. But I’ve never had any desire to buy or reread any Enid Blyton novels – even now as I’m enjoying the happy memories of hours spent reading them.

So I guess Enid Blyton was my best-loved children’s author when I was a child, but now she’s not even on the list. On the other hand – Roald Dahl who was number two in the same survey – is a writer I could read over and over no matter how old I get, something about his books makes a lasting impression. So now I’m off to go read ‘The Witches’.

Fairies, fiends and flatulence in Tunbridge Wells

Last week I was whiling away my time on the internet and took 5 minutes to enter a competition for two tickets to go see Eoin Colfer, author of the Artemis Fowl books, doing his show: ‘Fairies, Fiends and Flatulence’.

To my surprise and contrary to my usual luck I won the tickets. This was awesome and went some way to making my day – for five brief minutes. Then I began to feel immensely guilty for winning tickets to something that was primarily aimed at children, in my mind I was depriving some hardworking mum from taking her angelic offspring to see their favourite author. Really I am quite rubbish – I worry about the weirdest things.

Last Saturday Dan and I went down to Tunbridge Wells Assembly Halls to see Mr. Colfer doing his thing – which was not at all what I had expected. I honestly didn’t know what I had expected. Authors don’t tend to have ‘shows’. And the title ‘Fairies, Fiends and Flatulence’ made me suspect that it was going to be quite kiddy. However no faireis, fiends or flatulence were delivered. Instead it was something like a standup comedy show followed by a book signing (which I didn’t stick around for).
It was hilarious, I was laughing so hard it hurt at some points. As opposed to being kiddy it was perfectly pitched at a level that appealed to almost all ages, though sometimes I worried that some of the jokes went over the youngest audience members’ heads (the youngest lot looked about 8 yrs old – but I’m rubbish at estimating these things).

Eoin Colfer delivered a colourful verbal picture of his family, occasionally dropping in references to how characters in Artemis Fowl were based on this brother or that brother as the only links to the books. There were definitely some tales where I felt he should be appending a “don’t try this at home” disclaimer, these were the same tales which left me thanking my lucky stars that I don’t have brothers.

The guy’s a born storyteller, in prose and in person. Though I did spot a few steals/references from Eddie Izzard in the delivery, this did nothing to distract me from pure enjoyment of the show, which closed with a reading from the new Artemis Fowl novel. A book I shall have to mooch or buy in the very near future.

Books: Just Like Tomorrow

Today I was reading my feeds and came across an article in the Guardian about Faiza Guene.
I read and enjoyed her first novel, Just Like Tomorrow (or Kiffe Kiffe Demain in the original French) and was happy to hear that she’s written another: Dreams from the Endz. It’s already on my BookMooch wishlist.

Just Like Tomorrow is set in a neighbourhood only really known of outside of France for the riots in 2005. But because of how matter of fact and upbeat the narrator is about the failings in the school system and the employment system, all of the problems that may have been factors in those riots seem diluted and everyday.
I suppose that’s the point. This is everyday life for everyone in the novel. Things are what they are: same s*** different day.

As well as an upbeat book Just Like Tomorrow is a very humorous book, full of quirky descriptions of characters and generally quite clever with words. A lot of this came from the youthful style and slang terms, though occasionally the slang in the English version jarred with me a little. This made me wonder how much was lost in translation, whether the French read with verlan (or backslang) in it was a more fitting/nuanced/friction-filled.

Reading a novel that’s been translated from another language is always interesting for me, I always wonder if I’m missing something. Effectively it’s not the same book – having been filtered through another consciousness. I was quite happy to see that the same woman has translated Dreams from the Endz and Just Like Tomorrow. I like the idea of there being a continuity. Though one of my favourite authors, Haruki Murikami, has two translators – and I’ve never overly noticed the difference between the two. So perhaps I’m assigning too much importance to it.


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