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Posts Tagged ‘memoir’

You can relax, it’s not a Robert Jordan 🙂

Book 44 – The World According to Bob, by James Bowen. This is a memoir, of sorts, about Bowen and his cat Bob. It’s the second book about them but I haven’t read the first.

James is an ex-drug addict, who lived on the streets for many years. Bob was a stray who took up shelter in the block of flats James was living in at the time. He was injured and didn’t seem to be trying to get home to anyone, so James took him in and looked after him. That began a great friendship, and allowed James to explore a different side of himself.  Ultimately, it gave him the emotional strength to move off methadone, off subutex, and to finally be clean.

The book includes a number of reflections on particular situations. Some are quite unnerving and some are ‘non-stories’, just little chats almost, introducing the reader to some of Bob’s foibles.

The book is no-nonsense; there’s no floweriness, no long sections of complex prose. It really does feel like someone sitting down and chatting about something that happened to them once.

It’s described as a feel-good book, and in some ways it is, but in other ways it’s a reminder that life can be pretty rough, and some people don’t survive that. Sometimes people need another person (or in this case, cat) to give them a focus and purpose.

I liked that, although I didn’t alway agree with the actions or responses described; it takes a lot of determination to write about yourself in a less than flattering light but it also gives the reader something more concrete to understand. For example, I now know more about the risks of being homeless, and about the long term physical impact of prolonged injection of drugs. These are things I wouldn’t have understood if the book was focussed only on the ‘feel-good factor’.

What you do come away with is the sense that James is a strong character, and Bob has made an enormous positive contribution to his life. Oh, and that Bob is a very clever cat!

As a writer, Bowen has obviously caught the right attention with these stories – there’s a film being produced right now. I am not sure whether I will watch it, but if I do, I want to read the first book beforehand, because I am sure the gritty realities will be lost.

Happy reading,
EJ
🙂

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I managed to finish one last book this year, and it’s a bit different from my normal choices.

Book 55 – Call The Midwife, by Jennifer Worth. This is a memoir, a collection of various stories from Worth’s life as a midwife in London’s East End, in the 1950’s. The stories told are sometimes funny, sometime sad, occasionally horrifying – this book doesn’t depict a cosy, rosy past.  There is a section about prostitution which I noticed in the Goodreads comments had caused people to stop reading the book.

It shows women trapped by circumstances and abuse; women loved and adored; women who gave up their whole lives to the service of God and others.

I found this an intriguing book. Obviously you can feel and hear Worth’s own experiences and emotions within the book but the writing has an almost detached feeling, as though she is reflecting the cool professional approach required of her. The descriptions of even the most horrifying situations are matter-of-fact, not dramatic. There were a couple of notable exceptions but this was the general style of the book.

That’s not to say it was heartless, or unfeeling. Rather, there was a sense that every woman she met was entitled to respect, understanding and appropriate care, regardless of how they presented. Whenever Worth veered off this path she quickly showed that it was a mistake on her part to do so; that she hadn’t been fair to judge the women so harshly.

I don’t often veer into non-fiction but when I do I like to read stories of the ‘normal’ person – how life was lived by every(wo)man not just the rich and powerful. This book provided many examples of real people – in all their messy, selfish, loving, pungent, generous glory.

I would recommend it with a note of caution regarding some of the abuse depicted, and the descriptions of prostitution.

As an aside, I know this book has been turned into a TV series, which I haven’t watched. However it is a dramatic read and I imagine it would make dramatic viewing.

Happy reading and a happy new year to you all!

EJ

🙂

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I nearly missed this post as I was choosing wedding flowers – the book this week is one that reminds you to seize the day and that seems a good message for me now…

This week I picked another book I bought for a charity fundraiser – The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly, by Jean Dominique Bauby.  I had heard of this book before, but never intended to read it, and then it was there in front of me and the moment seemed right.

The book is a memoir of sorts, covering the thoughts and experiences of Bauby as he comes to terms with his life following a stroke. The stroke left him with Locked-in Syndrome, so he could only communicate through the use of one eye.

I spent the first part of the book wondering how such a detailed story was told when his ability to communicate was so impaired, and I was impressed by the ingenuity and tenacity required by Bauby and his support team when the conditions unfolded.

The most powerful elements of the book were those when Bauby explored his feelings about his situation, and how it came to pass: the reflections on his previous life served as a comparison but did not make me feel I knew him at all.  In some respects they were too far removed from my own normality, and in some respects I was only interested in his new phase of life, because I wanted to understand how he came to perceive the world.  How many other people in the same situation will ever get a book published as a result?  I wanted as much detail as possible, to understand the condition as much as possible.

The book made me consider how much of life we take for granted, and how we assume we will all carry on eating, drinking, talking and watching tv when we really have no idea how our life will pan out.  It made me philosophical.

I don’t really know whether to recommend the book, or if I’ll read it again – it is short, due I suspect to the painfully slow method of dictating it, but it stretches out even after I’ve closed the cover.  If it stays too long I might wish I hadn’t read it, but if it doesn’t stay with me, I will have lost something important.

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

 

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