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I guess it’s hardly surprising, when I barely have time to write anything, that my reading time is very limited right now.

I miss writing and feel the absence of it in the weeks I don’t put pen to paper, and I feel the lack of a good book in much the same way. We all need to be transported sometimes, and that’s exactly what reading does for me.

Hopefully I’ll have a little time over Christmas to read something but in the more-than-likely reality that I don’t I’ve still managed to read a fair number of books through 2016, and that was the purpose of the challenge in the first place.

So onward I go to discover some new writers, and new writing, and new worlds in which I can lose myself – even if at a slightly reduced rate!

Happy reading,
EJ
🙂

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I managed to do some reading this week but as with last week, it was all script…
…Oh no it wasn’t
…Oh yes it was!

Yes, I am preparing for Panto once more. It’s a big time requirement (I am the Principal Boy again) but a lot of fun and I do enjoy the general bonkersness of it all.

Sadly my reading time was sucked into rehearsal time, but never mind – books were there before panto and will be there after!

Happy reading,
EJ
🙂

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This week has been entirely reading free, with the exclusion of a script for my drama group, which isn’t exactly reviewable!

However after last week’s book I am accepting the reality of now… 😉

I do have a story in my sights for next week though, so watch this space!

Happy reading,
EJ
🙂

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First, a little story. This weekend I spent part of my time looking at universities. We have two fairly local to us and I have a close relative who is hoping to start a degree next year, so I offered to take her to them. However, I didn’t want to influence her too much with my opinions so let her do the tours with a friend as I entertained myself.

Well, for me, entertainment was a student bookshop, where they sold the Penguin Little Black Classics – a collection of books that have probably been out of print for a very long time, mostly short and really cheap. In this particular example it was 80p (with a 10% discount on top of that!). To put that in context for overseas readers, last week’s read would cost £8.99 new, so it’s very cheap indeed.

Naturally, I bought a few.  I limited myself to four, which I am extremely proud of, and started reading one straight away.  2 pages in it was saying that at a certain age people shouldn’t go out in public, and I knew I was onto a winner!

Book 41 – A Cup of Sake Beneath the Cherry Trees, by Kenkō; translated by Meredith McKinney. This isn’t a novel, so much as a set of thoughts about the world, so a review in the normal sense doesn’t really work here.

a-cup-of-sake

Kenkō was a Japanese monk who was born in the late 13th century.  His thoughts obviously reflect a different time and place to that in which I live and a lot of what he says is humourous only for being so unbelievable in our day and age – although it’s tinged with the understanding that some people live in environments where his views have traction.

However, for every outmoded concept there is a more timeless idea, a thought that reflects back at me through the centuries.

These thoughts cover how people should perceive life, their approach to the world, thoughts on what holds humanity back: in many respects this is a philosophical book. What makes it stand out to me is the sense that every moment in life is special and that we should stop focussing on having more, but instead focus on each moment.

I thought it would be a good opportunity to share a few quotes with you, which is really the best way to demonstrate some of the thinking…

It is the ephemeral nature of things that makes them wonderful.

 

All things in this phenomenal world are mere illusion.

Does mortality wait on our choosing?  Death comes upon us more swiftly than fire or flood.

… there can be no doubt that it would benefit those below if people in high positions were to cease their luxurious and wasteful ways and instead were kind and tender to the people, and encouraged agriculture.

There are many more examples but these are just a few which grabbed my attention.

Yes, there is a lot in the book that wouldn’t go down very well at an equalities convention!  Nevertheless it reminds me a lot of mindfulness books I have read because of the focus on experiencing the ‘now’, and valuing the world for what it is, not what it could be or has been; not dismissing the imperfect, because it is still of value.

In fact, now I’ve written that I think I understand its attractiveness to me: it is a very early version of a mindfulness text, and I am very glad I invested in it!

Oh and one final thought – sorry the photo is a bit blurry, I think there’s a fingerprint on the camera lens!

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

 

 

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I am only a few pages from the end of this week’s book so I decided to hold off posting until tomorrow…

This one is a bit of an oddity so I didn’t want to wait a whole week to share it!

See you tomorrow and happy reading,
EJ
🙂

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Wow, I’m 3 for 3, and I even took a photo for your delectation!

Book 40 – Lady Oracle, by Margaret Atwood.  Joan Foster is a complicated woman, with a complicated history. After faking her own death she runs away to a small village in Italy to start a new life away from the fear and complexities of her own.  Alone and out of control, she thinks about the stages of her life and the people who have shaped her experiences. From fat child who used her weight as a weapon against her mother to loneliness in London; from a life with a Polish Count to bored housewife; from slush writer to acclaimed novelist, Joan has lost sight of her own identity.

However, she soon realises that running away is not quite as easy as she thought, and she knows someone is coming for her…

This book is actually really hard to explain, and in reading what I have written there I am not sure I have captured the essence of the story.  To me, this book is all about self, as in finding what exactly ‘self’ is to someone who has no clear idea who they are.

Despite her many accomplishments Joan still sees herself as the fat child: bullied and cajoled by others, fighting a battle of wills with her mother, even when her mother has passed away.  Her successful writing career is a secret from her husband because he won’t find her work sufficiently intellectual, and yet when she does finally make a literary impact he doesn’t support her anyway.  She hides her history, creating a new and more satisfying story for herself and in the meantime losing the opportunity to explain why she feels or behaves as she does.

Joan is not herself, and even when reading the book you wonder if her narrative is entirely accurate because there is so much of the world she chooses to hide, or ignore.

lady-oracle

I really enjoy reading Margaret Atwood because her characters drive the stories. There might be nothing in particular happening in a scene but their internal monologue is so convincing that you believe their dramatic explanations of events. They create drama even in the most simple of situations.

In this particular case you feel for Joan too – her lonely childhood punctuated by visits to an aunt who died in her teens, the naive way she accidentally ends up as a mistress, her desperate need to be loved fully and without judgement.  In creating a separate identity for her commercial writing she put part of herself behind a curtain and her husband never pulled it back.

This book was hard for me to put down once I started reading; I found the ending a bit odd but it was in keeping with the out of kilter nature of the story so worked in that context.  The characters were engaging, the story complicated but satisfying, and the style of writing full of depth and quality but fluid and easy to read – I never feel like I’m reading a thesaurus when reading Atwood, despite her clever and rich use of language.

As someone who enjoys this style of writing I would definitely recommend the book; I always enjoy books about the human experience.  This has more to it than just the one theme, but it’s the element which most interests me and therefore the one I absorb!

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

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Wow, I’m 2 for 2 now!

Book 39 – The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. Juliet is a writer looking for a new story and something to inspire her in post-war London. Out of the blue she received a letter from a man named Dawsey Adams, who has come into possession of an old book of hers. He lives on the island of Guernsey which has been occupied during the war and the islanders are only just able to communicate with the outside world after years of isolation.

Juliet is intrigued and thus begins a fascination with the island, the people and their experiences of war, which fundamentally changes her writing, and her life.

The story is told primarily through letters between Juliet, her publisher, and the islanders, with a few others thrown into the mix here and there. Although some people only feature in one or two of the letters the whole creates a full and complex world. The experiences of war are summed up through loss and missed opportunities but also in great strength and humanity.

One of the most touching elements of the book is that one of the key characters is never actually seen, but lives on the page through the comments and reminiscences of others.

I bought this book and lent it to my mum before I read it – who proceeded to read it and then read it again straight away before I got it back, so I was intrigued how I would take to it myself.

I have to say that I found it witty, warm and spirited, with characters who often came alive in a way that would have been difficult with a different style – for example face to face meetings or different narrators.  There were side stories, characters who came and went in just a few words, and a sense of the complexity of life and humanity in the face of evil.

It is a book I have no doubt I will re-read in the future; I liked Juliet and her intelligent, funny and self-depreciating approach to life and the sense of hope for a future after the bleakness of the war. It’s sad that Shaffer only wrote one book because her style and voice are very readable and enjoyable.

It’s one I would recommend.

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

 

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I’ve only gone and read a book!

Book 38 – Chocolat, by Joanne Harris. This book follows Vianne Rocher and Curé Francis Reynaud, as their lives interweave through Lent in a small village in France. Vianne is exotic, mysterious and beguiling and the chocolate shop she sets up soon becomes a beacon for changes in the village.

Reynaud is threatened and angered by her hold over the villagers and the way she has enabled change to develop in the community.

As Vianne’s warmth, openness and bohemian ways change the lives and views of the people around her, Reynaud realises he has to take more direct action to stop her and save the souls of his flock…

I hadn’t planned on reading anything this week but it felt like I was missing something and so I decided to pick up a new novel. I previously read the opening paragraph and put this down again, thinking it was going to be a bit overblown.

Happily I gave it a second shot because I really lost myself in Vianne’s world.

There are lots of interesting characters and some seriously dubious behaviour, but if this whole book had been nothing more than Vianne exploring the world through the judicious application of decorations it still would have been worth reading.

Vianne is one of those characters who infuse a book, where you can see her impact and power even when she’s silent. She makes things happen, she’s wild and magical, she’s as decadent and alluring as her products.

Reynaud’s viewpoint chapters, on the other hand, didn’t do much for me – they moved the story on, gave our heroine a force to fight against, but they weren’t nearly as much fun to read. I suppose if she is chocolate, he is vinegar. The two swapping narrator roles meant there was force and resistance in the narrative but the attraction for me as a reader was Vianne, and it was always a little bit underwhelming when she wasn’t leading the storytelling.

However it also showed that her slightly unreal view of the world was closer to the truth than Reynaud’s tale or his flock’s confessions.

As you can probably tell, it was the character that drew me in, her worldview, experiences and understanding shaping an entirely new set of people from their original material. The storyline as a whole had a lot going for it but it is Vianne who makes it work.

This is worth reading, particularly for ideas about character. Plus, it’s about chocolate and that’s never a bad thing!

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

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I said on Sunday that my reading this week would be textbooks and guides to help me get back on the writing track. It’s a little like studying, only without a set book list…

I am currently reading a book called ‘Plot and Structure‘ by James Scott Bell. I have read it before but as planning is where I need to focus my writing development it seemed a good place to start. I clearly need to take more from it this time!

There is of course no way to review it in the usual sense, and I haven’t finished revisiting it, but so far it seems very practical, which I need.

This type of reading will replace novels for a little while – but I am happy to share my views of the writing guides instead, if you are interested – just let me know in the comments.

Happy reading,
EJ
🙂

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No book week again I’m afraid; at the moment I can do writing or reading, but not both!

I have given up on the one I was trying to read a few weeks ago though, which was The Rock Cried Out, by Ellen Douglas.

It seemed to cover a really interesting set of subjects – relationships between black and white families in Mississippi in the 1960s, racism and the Civil Rights movement. However I couldn’t get past the lead character who just didn’t absorb my attention, plus there were a lot of incidental characters so I couldn’t keep track of who was who. Oh, and the lead character kept talking about his girlfriend’s mons, which was vaguely distasteful for some reason. Probably because it sounds so biological rather than sexual. It threw me out of the narrative every time he mentioned it, whatever the reason!

It’s a shame but if I am not engaging with the story I need to move on.

I am going to find something new, and try to fit a bit more reading into my weeks as work should start to calm down soon.

Let’s hope I can at least reach 45 books this year!

Happy reading,
EJ
🙂

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