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I read this week’s book for reading group. Our description: weird…

Book 16 – Life of Pi, by Yann Martel. This book follows the experiences of Piscine Molitor Patel – Pi – firstly as a child in India, and then as a shipwrecked castaway.

I agree with the reading group assessment. This book starts as the exploration of a life in India, a child living on a zoo, who loves science and love. A child who cannot decide to be Hindu, or Muslim, or Christian so follows each religion devoutly and honestly; it seems to be the story of a child finding his place in the world.

It then turns into the story of the boy, shipwrecked and alone on the Pacific except for the company of a Bengal tiger. There is a lot of description of weather, of death, of the consumption of one creature by another (particularly horribly, unnecessarily so in some circumstances) and of survival against all the odds.

Finally, it turns into another story altogether which I won’t spoil for those who haven’t read or seen the book.

I really don’t entirely know what I’ve read. It’s such a strange book that its success is unexplainable in normal terms – I can’t even say whether I enjoyed it myself.

I don’t think I’d re-read it, but it took me only a few hours and I wanted to keep on until I finished it. I found the main character to have a stilted and affected way of talking which was a little off-putting, but his thoughts were interesting and drew me in.

I feel as though there must be something more under the surface of this book that I didn’t pull out which would explain its success and attraction more effectively, but I don’t know what, at least not right now.

Perhaps it is just the sheer unexpectedness of the tale, the unique viewpoints and the wildly imaginative circumstances but I’m glad I read it and I think I’ll be pondering it for a few days yet!

Happy reading,

EJ

ūüôā

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This week I concentrated on the book for reading group. ¬†I’m not sure who chose this one but it was a change of style:

Book 32 – War Horse, by Michael Morpurgo. ¬†I probably knew this was told from the point of view of the horse, but I didn’t remember when I started reading and it was a bit of a shock. ¬†It is a children’s book, but as complex a story as any young adult novel, and certainly isn’t talking down to children; however writing from an animal’s POV inevitably means it feels unsophisticated.

I don’t think I really got beyond the strangeness of that – when I was wondering how a horse was multi-lingual I knew it was affecting my perception! – but despite that I thought the story had many powerful scenes and concepts running throughout.

There were a few specific elements that I appreciated. ¬†Firstly, that despite it being a story of war, there was no sense that one side was ‘goodies’ and one was ‘baddies’; rather, there was a focus on personalities and how life experiences and the everyday grind of life can impact on how people respond to circumstances. ¬†Secondly, I think that the horrors of war were sensitively¬†balanced for the intended audience – there are deaths and injuries, and there are descriptions of shelling and gunfights, but they are not gratuitous and they are not sensational. ¬†Thirdly, despite knowing that the story for this horse is very unlikely, it is written in such a way that, theoretically, it may have been possible. ¬†Keeping it just on the right side of possibility¬†– whist showing the outcomes for most of the horses were far less happy – meant that the book felt very grounded.

I was really pleased that it doesn’t patronise its audience; any book written for school-age children has to tread a fine line and I really think it was successful here. ¬†It was emotionally affecting and very engaging.

This is a story I probably would read again if I was looking for something quick to devour¬†one evening; as I am not the intended audience I haven’t really read or discussed Morpurgo’s work before (only his writing room!) but based on this one, I may well seek him out again.

I’ve now read two books based during the war this year, for reading group; it does force me to read things I’d ignore otherwise and even when they’re not aimed at us, there’s often something of interest in them. ¬†It’s been good for making me expand my reading horizons!

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I have decided to leave Gulliver’s Travels for now; I may finish it but I’m reading it in between other things as it was slowing me down so much. Normally I don’t need more than a week to a book as I’m eager to read, but with GT I’m not that bothered. To me there’s a lesson in that; reading shouldn’t feel like a chore and if it does it’s the wrong book!

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This week I finished two rather different books…

Book 17 – King Solomon’s Mines, by H Rider Haggard.¬† I’ve had this book on my shelf for years but am 99% sure I never read it; I have read She¬†two or three times instead! ¬†This book is full of adventure, riches, violence, and is a¬†‘rollicking good yarn’ or some such!

It follows the trek of a group of men into an unexplored area of Africa in search of a missing man Рand fabled diamond mines.  Along the way there is elephant hunting, freezing mountains, near-starvation, death, revolution and entombment. There are also some funny moments and some odd notions!

As a product of its time it is far from PC; however there are heroes in the story who are black, white, male and female, which was a more modern approach than I’d expected from a writer of that era. ¬†There are some very pertinent comments on the actions of humans along the way, with no race, or gender, being seen as wholly good or bad: there is a balance that must have reflected Haggard’s own perceptions following his¬†experiences in Africa.

I enjoyed this, for what it is: a Victorian era book, when hunting elephants was a career choice and there was much of the world that was unseen and unknown.  Africa is portrayed as an exotic realm, full of danger, mystery and lost history Рand you can see why it would have seemed so to the audience of the time.

Although there were flashes of religion in the characters there was more discussion of¬†their arsenals than their God, and after Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Little Women I appreciated that :-). ¬†It’s a book I could easily read again, because it is in effect a Victorian Indiana Jones affair – completely escapist. ¬†Plus it did have that sense that the good triumphed over evil, even though the cost was vast.

Book 18 – The Husband’s Secret, by Liane Moriarty¬† This was a set book for reading group and¬†is not my usual style; I will try not to use spoilers because this book is still in the paperback chart in the UK!

The book is contemporary, and is about how life can change when a secret is revealed.  Actually, more than one husband has a secret and for each one revealed, another one bursts into life.

It was hard to keep track of some of the characters’ relationships at the start but as the¬†story unfolded¬†it all became¬†clearer. ¬†I enjoyed the unreliability of some viewpoint characters – this trait meant we grew to appreciate some secondary characters as the story progressed. ¬†One family in particular, once we saw their reality, seemed very sympathetic to me.

The big reveal was signposted from early on РI was hoping it was a twist Р and the subsequent event related to it was also signposted before it happened.  The interesting thing both times was the reactions of the different people involved, especially with the second related event.

There are some flashbacks which I personally don’t think added anything to the story, and an epilogue which did clarify one point¬†but again didn’t really add anything to the story itself in my opinion. ¬†However they did show another way that secrets – known and unknown – can impact on the way people’s lives unfold.

Overall it was easy to read and quite engaging but I wish there had been a little more mystery surrounding the secret itself.

Until next time, happy reading!

EJ

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This week has involved books, poetry, illness, writing rooms and weddings, and it’s been an exhausting mix!

I started the week with book club – we discussed ‘The Book Thief’ and it was a very successful, even though we didn’t get through everything I planned. Sometimes the questions I dredge up on particular books make very little sense in the context of the discussion, and you just have to bin them!

The next thing was a plan for a new ‘set list’ of performance poetry. I haven’t been to an open mike since before Christmas, and I’ve asked my writing group to comment on the ‘Cicero’ poem I wrote last year, so I’m hoping that doing some readings and developing that poem will push me in the right direction.

Then there was illness. ¬†That’s all I’ll say about that, except I am strongly tempted to write health-related poetry.

And on to writing rooms!  A friend is building a room and I went out to see the setting for it. It was utterly perfect Рthe changing seasons, the weather, the wildlife will all inspire; the quiet and peace will allow him to still his mind and write from the heart.

Finally, I rounded the week off attending a wedding fair. I’ve never been to one before, and it was huge – after three hours I literally lost my voice from talking so much! Marriage is about two people wanting to spend their lives together; weddings are about a whole lot more, and going along made me eager to work on an idea I had for celebration poetry. ¬†It was an environment ripe for writing: the excitement, the people, the shiny jewels and crystals – the chocolate fountain… I can imagine all sorts of stories focussing on a day like that.

But that’s my constant and extremely frustrating problem right now – I have all these ideas, and they keep deflecting me from my work. ¬†I feel I am failing as a writer because I can’t keep focussed on one idea. ¬†My mind flits around all over the place and I pick up ideas that light my mind like fireflies – and then they go out, and I start again.

So it’s target setting time for me once more. ¬†By next Sunday I will¬†finish the¬†reading on paranormal writing and I’ll have revisited the guide to plotting I read last year. ¬†Then I can set a new timetable, and you can all give me a metaphorical prod when I go off on tangents.

You are my writing conscience…!

In other news – It’s book 20 of the best novels this week – Little Women. ¬†I can’t remember reading it, but I watched it – I remember a girl with a peg on her nose! ¬†Maybe I’ll read it in the future but my track record with the list is a bit ropey, so please let me know if it’s worth a read.

Also – on the subject of lists, I found this one about the worst couples in literature. ¬†I’m going to compile a few of my own because some of these are relatively inoffensive to me…

And finally – I read this article about¬†Sappo’s poetry with great excitement – as I’ve said before, the discovery of what is thought lost really inspires and delights me. ¬†Writers are part of a tradition that goes back through time to the first fireside storytellers: we are tied to them. ¬†Articles like this really make that connection sing.

And on that note, I’ll leave you to your own writing connections. ¬†Until next time,

Happy writing,

EJ

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I went to brunch (sounds much posher than a late breakfast, doesn’t it?!) with my lovely cousin and her gorgeous son this week.

As is so often the case when I’m with people, sooner or later books come up in conversation. It got me thinking about how sociable books actually are.

My mum taught me to read before I went to school, so from a very early age books were a shared activity. Fast forward to English Literature classes, where we discussed the text in detail, through to university where we would share textbooks, or where I took books into my temping jobs and people would ask about them.

Now, I have a writing group, and a reading group, both of which are, fundamentally, book-based social events. We see films of books, either with friends, or family; sometimes as a date.  We watch them on screen and on stage, we hear them on our ipods.  We have special ones for certain times of the year, or for important events. And we pass them on, sharing books we have loved with our children, our nieces or nephews. They in turn will do the same.

I love escaping to the privacy and quiet of a book, and I love the peace I get sitting comfortably, with a book in my hands. But I love the discussion too – and the joy of books is that you can have both. ¬†When reading is part of your job, you’re a very lucky person. __________________________________________________________________________________________ The reading challenge continued this week with just one completed book:

Book 6 – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll. ¬†This is another story I half-know, from films. ¬†It’s utterly bonkers, really; there are some wonderful details and plenty of ideas that I can imagine I’d have loved as a child. ¬†The Queen of Hearts is both frightening and ludicrous, as is her husband; the White Rabbit is officious and the Mad Hatter is not as mad as you might think! ¬†The downsides are that Alice herself is fairly frustrating, and that the end just sort of… happens. ¬†I wanted more, and it almost felt as though I’d turned over too many pages and missed a bit. ¬†Overall, I can see why this has an enduring popularity, and I can imagine the delight a child would take in some of the ideas, but I wish the last chapter was different!

Moby Dick has gone from my reading challenge life.  I read a line that made me question why on earth I was persevering, and I stopped.  Other American classics will take its place though!

Until next time,

Happy reading!

EJ

ūüôā

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Now I’ve finished the first draft of the woods novel (still celebrating!), it’s time to get back on board with the family tree novel.

The purpose is to fill in gaps, but I’ve noticed that at least part of this has to be filled by a person not directly involved. Oddly, this means I am using her inaction to highlight the action taking place ‘off-screen’, so to speak.

I’m sure we’ve all tried writing with strange permutations but I for one have never tried this: an unreliable person reporting on what they are not party to hearing…

Will it work? Only time – and writing it – will tell, but I think it’s the only way to make the action centre stage and yet not fill in the details of it too fully. The event is necessary, but knowing the content is not, and would undermine the story, I think.

It’ll be like one of those summits where nothing is actually decided…!

My second bit of inaction was the start of book club for 2013. ¬†We’re now meeting every month but only doing six books – each is allotted two sessions for discussion (read one gossipy meal then one gossipy meal with books on the table). ¬†I think we agreed that we’re all reading/about to read/have read the book in question, and established it has been made into a film which isn’t exactly like the book but does have a curly-haired actor in it… ¬†So not a lot, but it was really great to meet up!

One thing I did do was to share the poem from Saturday though. ¬†One person said it gave her goosebumps so that’s a pretty cool reaction!

And finally for today – to counteract my inaction I am at last starting to visit some of the lovely bloggers who have come and said hi over the last few months. ¬†I know it’s horribly delayed – as is the daisy award I have yet to deliver – but one of my resolutions for this year is to spend¬†a little more time reading – books, papers, blogs; whatever takes my fancy and spurs my imagination. ¬†I am sure I’ve missed lots of interesting and exciting posts so will make an effort to read as many as possible (even if I don’t always comment).

Happy writing

EJ

ūüôā

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