Sunday, 30 October 2011

Our necessities never equal our wants

said Benjamin Franklin, apparently. It speaks to me at the moment, as does Oscar Romero's admonition to us to "aspire not to have more, but to be more".

I think lots of people might argue this is a feature of modern, capitalist, aspirational society and part of how we got our economy into such a state. I don't necessarily disagree - and I don't want to lose the moral challenge to an assumption that consuming more will make me/things 'better'. I used to have the postcard above on my bedroom door as a teenager, it's now framed and shortly to go on the wall of my grown-up house.

But I do also think that wanting more than we have (and more than we think we can get) has been a powerful force for change, and often for making things better, easier, fairer.

I read constantly...

"... in cars, walking the dog, lying in bed with my legs resting up against the wall, yoga-style. At any given time, I am in the middle of several books at once, my place marked by whatever scrap of paper happens to be close by, whether it's my latest credit card bill or one of my daughter's crayon drawings. My bookshelves are three books deep, and piles of books spread and teeter on every open surface of my home. If reading has always been a journey of imagination, a means of escape, it has also been, perhaps at least as importantly, a way of absorbing the intricate complexities of life and experience."

Now, minus the dog, yoga and daughter, this speaks deeply to me. I find it hard to face cleaning my teeth without something to read as I do it. I'm only about 40 pages into Reading Women by Stephanie Staal, but so far I'm really enjoying getting to know the author. Thanks to Litlove for putting me onto it...

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Commuters ahoy!

When did you last miss your stop because of reading, and what was the book? It is years since I've missed a stop, but this morning I did that terrible thing of realising we'd arrived, leaping from my seat, stumbling through everyone else to arrive at the doors just as they closed. No chance of pretending anything other than the truth, and I'd lost my rare-as-something-very-rare seat! Had to smile, chuckle, do body language to symbolise 'what a fool I am' and then poke my nose back into the kindle which was the root cause of it all. Gah. 

And the book? I'm reading the Crimson Petal and the White, was expecting a bit of light historical fiction, and in fact its the most porn-esque book I think I've ever read but with a blindingly brilliant narrative voice. I just love the way the narrator addresses the reader directly, switches to narrate a character's thoughts, surmises what the reader should be thinking and then switches back to ticking us off, telling us to pay attention, telling us it's about to get good...

Other reads over the weekend - Chris Mullin 'A very British coup' had me chortling at the descriptions of how the civil service works (especially Private Offices, Permanent Secretaries and No.10) but the plot seemed thin and dated, compared to Yes Minister and/or Thick of It. And I whipped my way through Love Virtually by Daniel Glattauer, an epistolary novel via email, which really made the most of the anonymity of email, and the way that we construct personalities from the tone and language of the emails we receive from people...

Friday, 21 October 2011

Always remember you're unique - just like everyone else

There's nothing like commuting by tube to help you get through books at a bit of pace. Even when it's crammed, a shortish person can always find space to open a paperback and make yourself enough mental space to escape from the madness.
I've whipped my way through The Wisdom of Crowds (a slightly dated book about how and when markets work, and how market-type approaches could be applied to other decisions) and Them (Jon Ronson doing his Louis-Theroux-esque thing with a range of extremists - and bringing out their common fight against a 'New World Order'). 

Good, interesting, easy reads - engaged my brain a bit and gave me a few anecdotes to tell at work, but they aren't keepers. I picked them out of someone else's 'for the charity shop' pile - and they aren't long for my shelves.

Them: Adventures with Extremists by Jon…        The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are…

And I've just made a start on Chris Mullin's A Very British Coup - more anon.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

A bit of a dud

I finished A dud avocado today. 
The Dud Avocado.indd

It's really not great - there's not much of a plot, the lead character (Sally Jay Gorce) is pretty sketchy, and (a few images aside) the writing didn't stand out to me. The book's introduction suggests that Sally Jay's attitude to adult/Parisian life can be compared to Holden Caulfield's distrust of everything phoney - but for me the comparison doesn't stand up given the wasteland of difference in quality. 

A physically attractive book - but I wish I'd saved my dosh on this one... am I missing something?

Saturday, 15 October 2011

The Tortoise and the Hare

The Tortoise and the Hare by Elizabeth…

I posted back in July about this year's set of gorgeous Virago Modern Classics - lovely hardbacks, bound in lovely printed fabrics. I read Molly Keane's 'Good Behaviour' during September, and have just finished Elizabeth Jenkins' 'The Tortoise and the Hare'.

The Tortoise and the Hare is a brilliant book. It's sharp and incisive about relationships and about the different expectations that men and women have of themselves and each other. And its full of plot, details, character, time and location - I'm sure it's a book I'll come back to again soon. 

The various characters each illustrate different approaches to their relationships - Imogen is a wealthy, attractive but aging woman who has based her confidence, pride and self-image on being attractive to men, her husband Evelyn is a successful and attractive barrister, older than his wife and with a complex set of expectations about her role. Blanche is the neighbour whose developing relationship with Evelyn disturbs and destroys the marriage - although to be fair, I find myself wondering about how good a partnership it could ever have been given Evelyn's patronising, disrespectful and often distant behaviour which limited Imogen's scope to think and act in her own right.

The book's architecture creates echos - Gavin (son of Imogen and Evelyn) follows his father's lead as the next generation treat some women with disdain while forming strong bonds with their peers; Imogen's relationship with a doctor friend (Paul Nugent) is based on their natural sympathies and excludes Paul's wife, paralleling the impact of Blanche's friendship with Evelyn; Zenobia is an extreme example of a beautiful and self-centred woman who expects to be adored for her looks.

Hilary Mantel's introduction explains her appreciation of the "close attention to the negotiations between men and women, and women and women" and recognises that although our way of life has changed enormously since the 1950s, many women will see aspects of themselves in both Blanche and Imogen. Carmen Callil's postscript argues the case for seeing Imogen as the tortoise - who will end up happy. For me, on my first reading, I saw Blanche as the tortoise with her slow but inevitably growing influence and relationship with Evelyn - but I'm hopeful that future readings might let me feel more optimistic for Imogen's future life.

I'd heartily recommend it as a good read.