Tuesday, 26 April 2011

April's reading round-up

I've not reviewed any of my reading this month - and I'm not motivated to write properly considered posts for any of the books. But here's a quick round-up:

8) Round about a Pound a Week - I first added it to my TBR list during Persephone Reading Weekend, then moved it up the list to make sure I've read it before Hay so that I can discuss with the lovely Sally. I'm about 150 pages in, finding the writing a bit dry but the content and argument shocking and provocative. Makes me think of Orwell's Road to Wigan Pier, and also of Polly Toynbee's Hard Work which I read when I first moved to London. 

7) Annabel - I thought this was superb. Again, it wasn't the first Orange longlister to leap out of the list and entice me, but after picking up and putting down a copy on several different bookshop trips (in part captivated by the astounding cover photo and a serendipitous link to something I'd read on Jezebel about androgynous models), I decided to give it a go. The story is of a child born in 1970s Labrador, his childhood and adolescence as a boy and young man (Wayne) living on the edge of the wilderness, and his move to the big city and attempt to live as his true self - both Wayne and Annabel.

This is really a book about human relationships - Treadway and Jacinta (Wayne's parents) have an unusually good relationship that turns over time; Thomasina (Jacinta's friend/neighbour) projects her longing for her dead husband and daughter; Wayne's relationship with Wally - and the awful echo that both of their dreams are damaged/delayed by shards of glass wielded by judgemental bullies. I was struck at the end of the book by the depth of characters and the focus on understanding who, how and why they are as they are - and the range of characterisation which accepts multiple identities and/or ambiguity.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Don't knock the weather; nine-tenths of the people couldn't start a conversation if it didn't change once in a while.

Well, I thought this was a funny quote by Kin Hubbard - and a good start for a weather-related post.

It's been a gorgeous 10 days or so of sun and warmth, the tomato plant on my windowsill is measurably taller each evening and the last few days have been proper summer - I'm wearing my summer dresses and factor 30 sunscreen. Temperature in the high 20s and it is absolutely perfect for weekend breakfast outside, then lying on the grass in the shade of the washing and looking up at a deep blue sky. This is my idea of a perfect August day, and it's only April.

And then to make it even better, driving home this afternoon an amazing thunderstorm broke out. From the clouds on either side and in front of us, shocking blue/white forks flicked down, some really jagged, some almost vertical. They were so brief I barely saw them - the sight and after glow on my eyeballs felt like when you touch a hot pan and your hand jumps away before you've registered the heat. When it finally came, the thunder rolled, growled and banged on. And on. And on. One flash seemed to trigger 4 or 5 seconds of noise, and I could really imagine the air banging back against itself, then chunks of air banging back together, then rearranging themselves and then bigger lumps of air rumbling as they finally settled into place. 

Then the rain arrived, fat warm drops with that pungent smell of dust and hot concrete. Everything is cooling down and clearing up for another day's sunshine tomorrow. What joy it is to live in London this year!

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Facing up to a difficult decision

Have you ever faced a decision that's tough not just because it's complicated, but because all of the options could be great? 

I've got that at the moment at work - and although I know I should be happy to have so many good things available to me, in fact I'm feeling physically sick about having to make a choice. It doesn't help that I'm then also feeling bad about not just being happy. 

I've tried pros and cons, I've had coffee with a trusted friend, I've taken advice, perspective (and a bit of coaching) from my boss and several other senior people I trust. Some people helped me identify more options, some people helped me get clearer about what matters. I was advised to plump for one option (but not tell anyone) and see whether my guts felt it was right or not. I got taught to use BRAINS (benefits, risks, alternatives, instinct, could you do nothing, and then smile about whatever decision you end up taking) to make a decision. 

I'm fairly sure that most of the outcomes will be good. And still I'm sweating it. Have you ever faced this kind of thing? What would you do?

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Ten books on my 'to read' list - which should go first?

A bunch of people have been posting about the Orange longlist - and the amazing CardigangirlVerity has been racing through them and posting a set of reviews that make my eyeballs/brain salivate - or whatever their equivalent is... and obviously I'm impressed/intimidated/inspired by her pace.

I thought I'd sort out ten books I want to read in the next 2-3 months. I've been making a real effort not to buy books until/unless I'm ready to read them - so I can't post a picture of the bookpile yet. But if I'm successful I'll see about something retrospective. 

So here we go:
(1) Round about a Pound a Week, and (2) Few Eggs and  No Oranges - on the list because of some great reviews during the Persephone Reading Weekend. I'd welcome suggestions for a third Persephone to pick up (preferably some fiction)

(3) Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives - because from the reviews I've read so far, this is the Orange that most appeals. Despite this, I have already read Room and Jamrach's Menagerie and enjoyed both - and I've bought Annabel too. I'm holding out for a nicer edition of Baba Segi, so it might be a month or two before I get onto it.

(4) The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet - I bought this to read on holiday in December last year. Somehow I never got round do it. And with it's pale covers I've been nervous about jamming it in the handbag to take to work.

(5) Finkler Question - I always try to leave the Booker winner till last on the short list.

(6) Freedom - because it's there (?)

(7) Chris Mullin's Decline and Fall because I love politics, and I enjoyed a lot of View from the Foothills (some of the tone was a bit annoying, but a lot of the suspicion of/frustration at civil servants rang true, and it's great to see his perspective on things that I remembered and have also read about in the various memoirs from a No.10 perspective)

(8) Some/all of the Little House in the Prairie series - I've been inspired by this review at BookSnob

(9) A Tale of Two Cities - I'm not much of a Dickens fan (love the plots, bored by the writing), but in the last month two different people have (completely unprompted) recommended it soooo enthusiastically I'm going to give him another chance.

(10) Parting Shots - a Christmas book that I've dipped into, and think it's time to put it by the bath or near the toaster. Two places I'm always after something I can read in little-ish chunks...

So - which should I read first?

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Why I love a beautiful book

I love a 'nice' book - by which I'm not talking about a cheerful story, or even anything particularly well-written. I mean the physical characteristics of a book - its size, the design (and materials) of the cover, the paper used for the inner pages. I'll pick up - and often buy - books because they're attractive. And I'll sometimes reject a book, especially if its one I know I want to read/keep, if the cover's nasty or the pages are already puffy and yellowing.
Persephone - a well-branded shade of 'dove-grey',
with gorgeous and carefully chosen endpapers hiding within.

So why does it matter? Am I shallow and superficial, more interested in how well books furnish a room than how well they nourish my mind?

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Ideas May Blossom

The full Hay Festival programme is up and booking opens to everyone early next week - I'm going with the man, but also planning to spend some time with the book group girls and to see the lovely Sally and sprogs. 

I normally try for 3-4 things a day - on my first couple of skim-throughs these caught my eye, though I'll also want to add in a few novelists talking about recent books:

It's going to be great (unless it rains, torrentially, every day). Is anyone else going this year? What are you seeing?

Friday, 1 April 2011

And finally - the 'BBC' meme

The 'BBC Top 100 books' list has reappeared on facebook. I've never done it before - here goes (and I'd welcome suggestions)...

So the official story is that the BBC created a list of the 'top 100' books in the English language and discovered that the average adult had only read 6 books on the list. Turns out there's several problems with this story - what kind of 'top 100' is this so full of recent (and kids) books, it was probably started by the Guardian, some of the books are only in English through translation, and really - only six books? I can believe it's true but don't think reading seven of them makes anyone well-read...

Anyway - for now, here's where I'm up to - 58 read; another eight I'd definitely like to read. 

The rules
- bold for books I've read
- italics for books I plan to read
- underline for books I love
- strike through for books I hate (or will never read)

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman