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I haven’t yet finished the book I talked about last week, in fact I am not very far into it considering I’ve had a week already!

What I can say so far is I found the first couple of pages painful to read but since them, it’s been much more enjoyable.  And so far it seems that the quote last week was not reflective of the book as a whole!

I will aim to finish by next Tuesday but that’s all I can share about it today. Let’s see where the rest of the story goes!

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

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As I haven’t started another book since I gave up on the last one, it’s probably time to start another!

As my random selection proved a good indicator last time I am trying it again, with a book I borrowed from my mum about 4 years ago, called The Sucker’s Kiss, by Alan Parker.  So here goes:

After one particularly libidinous night with a girl called Romola in a whorehouse in Jefferson, Missouri, Soapy had an epiphany.  By chance – and don’t ask me how he found out – he discovered that Marmello could also improve your sex drive if you rubbed it on your private parts.

Ok.

Maybe that’s not a reflective selection.  I will be checking why it was recommended though 🙂

In all seriousness, I think this sounds like something I could read – but for something talking about sex with prostitutes and sex aids, it seems quite coy (‘private parts’, for example).  I will start, and hope it’s one I can see through to the end!

I will let you know…

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

 

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Book two of my not really holiday reading was Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood.  I first read this about eight years ago (and when I realised that I was a bit shocked!) but it’s one of a series so I got all three to read back to back.

The story is about a man called Jimmy, or Snowman, and is set in a future where science has overwhelmed nature: people, plants and animals are genetically modified.  Society is split into people in the Compounds – the areas of Corporations managing the scientific activities for profit – and the pleeblands, where everyone else lives.

When a global pandemic wipes out virtually all humanity, Jimmy has to save not only himself but the Crakers, a group of bioengineered humanoids created by Jimmy’s best friend, and find a way to survive the new world, with its newly released science experiment animals.

I won’t say more than that because I will be giving away too much of the story!

I chose this book because I enjoy reading Atwood’s work, because I knew I wanted to revisit the book, and because I love a dystopian future.  I didn’t read it for writing purposes.

Having said that, it’s always interesting to read Atwood – the concepts in this book are intriguing and disturbing, and I found myself wondering at what point I would think genetic manipulation had gone too far.  At what point do we as a society move from horrified to accepting?

There is also moral consideration about the behaviour of both Jimmy and Crake in relation to each other, to Oryx who is loved by both men, and to humanity as a whole.

It’s a hard future and much like other dystopian novel, there are elements already creeping into reality which make it particularly unnerving in places.

Reading it on a sun lounger wasn’t really the right environment… Still, I found it moving, thought-provoking and engrossing. It stood up well on second reading, although the gap may have helped 🙂

I have read the next book in the trilogy and am onto the third, so more on the future of humanity will follow!

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

 

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I said yesterday that I had three books to discuss, but over the course of today I decided to split them into different posts.  That way, each one gets a bit more space to be discussed!

So the first book to talk about is The Tiger’s Wife, by Téa Obreht.  I am going to be totally honest and say I was first drawn to it by the name, and once I saw the cover I was hooked.

This book is a mixture of fact, fantasy, and folktale; from a writing point of view I was interested in how the elements were fused.  This book had a richness to it, a sense of the world being deeper and wider than imagined.   I particularly liked the ‘Deathless Man’ stories, which were like something from Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

The downside of richness is that you can have too much of something.  By the end of the book I did feel that there were so many stories, so many characters, so many details that I didn’t hold on to them all.  That isn’t always a negative but in this case, it’s difficult to write about the content of the book because I can’t remember it all.

So I will focus on the key elements that remain with me.  Firstly, the names of places are made up, but there is a clear sense that the tales take place in the former Yugoslavia – not only because of Obreht’s personal history, but because of the nature of the conflicts within the story.

Secondly, the tale of the Tiger’s Wife herself is of a woman finding freedom and finding her own path, and that being destroyed by people who are scared of the power that gives her.  In effect, it is the personalisation of the story of war.

Thirdly, this is the story of tragedy.  It feels as though whatever happens, violence recurs. It is not a book that leaves you feeling uplifted but it does make you think about how terrible things can happen, and the ramifications of them.

It wasn’t really holiday reading, and it was a bit too heavy going for a sun lounger, but it was an interesting book.

GoingTigers Wife back to the writing perspective, I have to be honest and say that the fusion of different folk tales didn’t always work form me, but I loved the Deathless Man idea, and how it twined in and out of reality.  I often lost track of where I was in time – Obreht did shift forward and backward in time on a number of occasions and it wasn’t alway immediately clear.  As someone who has used the time shift tool themselves I think it’s better to signpost the shift but it’s a narrative choice to make it blurry.

Overall this book was unusual, and poignant, and focussed on loss in a way I hadn’t anticipated.  It was not what I expected to be reading.  As a writer, I think that’s a brave strategy but as a reader I wasn’t prepared for the content!

I am not sure I will re-read this book but I am not willing to pass it on yet either – mind you, that might just be because I love the cover drawing…

This is one I just can’t quite make up my mind about.  Which I see as a writing positive, because at least I am thinking about it!

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

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I am still working my way through Americanah, but my brain is on a go slow and I am taking my sweet time over it!

So far I am enjoying the read, and am picking up on the subtle and not so subtle impact of difference within the story – views on class, finances, background, outlook, expectations, colour, nationality are all inbuilt, but I don’t feel hit over the head by any of them due to the way they are covered.

It’s a long book (477 pages) so I hope I feel the same by the end.  Watch this space!

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

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This week I went for a different style of book…

Stone Mattress

Book 9 – Stone Mattress, by Margaret Atwood. This is a book of nine short stories; some are related and some are not, but the unifying theme, for me, is personal history.

Much of the book revolves around aging, and what shaped individuals in their youth compared to how they live as they head into old age. From ‘Alphinland‘ and the widow hearing her late husband’s voice even as she reminisces about her first lover, to ‘Stone Mattress‘ and the rape victim whose whole life was twisted as a result of the crime committed against her – and the way she was punished for that crime.

All the Atwood books I have read have a commonality of exploring how far people will go in certain circumstances, and these stories follow that theme. For example, in ‘The Freeze Dried Groom‘ someone chooses to sleep with a woman who probably murdered her husband to be, just for the thrill – he spends his life imagining how he will be found dead one day, and it’s almost wish fulfilment. Then we have the young people in ‘Torching the Dusties‘ who take their anger at intergenerational inequality out on care home residents by setting fire to the home. Alongside that, we have the character who escapes but knowingly lets his friends and fellow residents burn.

This is not what you would call a cheery read, although there is a macabre humour within it, but it was entertaining.

It was refreshing to explore the world through the eyes of a different generation, which happened in most of the stories – we tend to see the elderly in literature as staid and boring but these characters were definitely not that. They reflected on the changes to their looks, their bodies, their sex drives, even the way they literally see the world. Plus, of course, some of them were quite murderous!

I am a fan of Atwood’s work, and I always find more in it the more times I read it, so I am sure I will re-read these stories. For now I would say it wasn’t quite what I expected. However, it was a book I kept picking up when I should have been doing something else, which has to be in its favour!  I  did get engaged with the characters from the connected stories particularly, and would happily read more about them.

I enjoyed these stories, and the book showed me that writers can succeed in multiple genres if they are willing to try them out – we do not have to be tied to one for our entire writing lives. That, for me as a writer, was a positive lesson.

Happy reading,
EJ
🙂

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Welcome to Challenge Tuesday!

This is the development of my 2014 (a book a week) reading challenge; Thursday posts were too long with this section added so I decided to have a dedicated challenge post instead. As luck would have it, January 1st was a Wednesday so ending each week on a Tuesday works nicely 🙂

Today’s post finds us at the end of week 10.

I’ve finished 3 books since last time I updated you, all of which refer to US slavery to some extent and were written in the 19th Century. I read unabridged versions – and that means constant, repeated use of a word that I never use and which is incredibly offensive now.  It is important to see how language changes over time – both in usage and meaning. However, I can well imagine that some people would be deeply unhappy seeing the word in print.

Book 13 – The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain – This felt like a children’s book, which I wanted, and to some extent I got the sense of justice missing from The Great Gatsby.  However, Tom’s annoying little brother persona was a bit off-putting. My favourite section was when he and Becky were trapped as Huck stalked the ‘baddies’; the two characters showed their qualities here. It was a shame they reverted to type after that! This book wasn’t really my cup of tea and I wonder if that’s partly because the behaviour of the key characters was so ‘boyish’, but I did like the fact that most loose ends were tied up – such as Tom’s courtroom confession and Injun Joe’s fate.

Book 14 – The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain – This was more grown up, until the end: bringing Tom back into Huck’s life changed the tone entirely. The main part of the story was about doing what is right – so Huck protected a runaway slave who was his friend rather than follow the law and send him back to captivity. Equally, he reclaimed the swindled gold, and did what he could to right the wrongs he had done. He regressed once he was back with Tom, from a thoughtful, self-guided person to a disciple of Tom’s. Jim suffered the most for that and perhaps that was the moral of the story: what we do impacts on others.

Book 15 – Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe – I read that this book was pivotal in sewing the seeds of the civil war in the US.  I also understand that there are long-running debates about it.  I have nothing to add to those debates and read the book as I would any other – from the first word to the last!

The book opened as the situation for key characters was suddenly disintegrating, and you knew straight away that Christianity would have a big bearing on the storyline.  Tom seemed overly accepting of his fate, but I guess this made him a less threatening hero to the audience of the time.  The religiosity throughout was explicit: the depiction of Eva as some sort of guardian angel was a little too extreme for me.  Tom’s journey beyond St Clare’s death was another example of how actions or inactions harm others, as in Huck’s tale: you have to be angry that he was put in that position by people he had trusted.  The neat ending for George and Eliza and their families (plus their fortuitous meeting at the Quaker settlement) didn’t work in the context of the book; it seemed detached from the reality of pain, loss and humiliation that marked so much of the earlier book. Again, I assume that the more positive ending was important to the reception of the book.

These three identified something I hadn’t appreciated before: I have a preference for British ‘classics’, probably because I had more exposure to this style of writing in my youth.  I don’t notice this as much in modern writing so I’ll be interested to see if there’s a period of time in writing when the different styles converge!

Happy writing and reading,

EJ

🙂

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