Book reviews – Learner English and The Horologicon

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November 2014 books to readAfter last time’s totally disconnected books, today I have two that are all about words and language. Hooray! One’s an e-book and one’s a paper book, and I have no record at all about when I bought either of them, although I’m pretty sure that both date back to 2013 [update: I went on to Amazon to check the date of publication and discovered that Amazon has recorded when I bought it – hooray again!]. I work with words all day and I love thinking about and reading about them, too, so this has been a lovely bit of reading for me.

Michael Swan & Bernard Smith (eds.) – “Learner English”

(Bought 2013)

This is a reference book all about how people’s first language affects their production of English – spoken and written. It takes a language or group of languages (so, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Scandinavian languages, West African languages) and goes through the ways in which the structure, grammar, pronunciation, gender division etc. in that language affects the speaker’s learning of English. Some languages are similar to ours, some seem to be similar but aren’t, and some are extremely dissimilar – if you want to understand what this book is about, you just have to think about how we native English speakers can grasp a lot of French because the structures and vocabulary are quite similar, but struggle to remember which gender particular words are supposed to have (because we don’t gender our nouns and French does), or with pronouncing the French ‘r’ sound (because we don’t have that sound in our language) or with the different endings to verbs (because we don’t tend to change verbs by speaker so much), or have trouble with Russian and Greek because we have to master new alphabets as well as words, or Arabic, because it has a different alphabet that reads right to left.

The book is pretty comprehensive – it doesn’t cover all languages, unfortunately missing out Icelandic (which is a Scandinavian language but isn’t mentioned in that section) and Finnish (however, most Finns I have met speak and write almost perfect English, and this is primarily a book designed to help English language teachers to deal with the common problems experienced by language learners). Although each chapter is written by a different set of experts, the structure and the areas dealt with remain broadly the same, all covering the same areas of grammar, for example, and most containing lists of those fascinating and annoying things, ‘false friends’ (where a word that sounds the same in two languages means something different in each, for example ‘actuel’ and variants meaning ‘at that time’ rather than ‘actual’ in the “Actually, I’m going to the cinema, not the theatre” kind of sense).

I got an awful lot out of this book, although I appreciate it wouldn’t be everyone’s fun-filled bedtime reading. I specialise in working with non-native speakers, so read a lot of texts created or translated by people whose English isn’t their first language, and I have long noticed the similarities between the English produced by my sets of Arabic, French, Chinese etc., speaking clients: now I can see exactly why they write in the way that they do, and how the structures of their languages affect the way in which they produce English. Fascinating stuff!

This completes the 1987 entry for my Century of Reading!

Mark Forsyth – “The Horologicon”

(E-book, bought 5 Jan 2013)

This book is based on an interesting concept: it looks at lost and interesting words in the English language, taking as its structural basis the hours of the day and night, so words about having trouble getting up in the morning, staying in bed, being warm under your duvet and getting dressed are grouped together into a narrative, while there’s a later section on lunch, office lunches, etc. and one on love lives in the evening section. This makes the material even more lively and interesting than it already is, and is an effective way to navigate the book, too. It’s written in a lively, amusing and accessible style with a great deal of dry wit and very funny asides. I’d read these words in a list, but the structure and themes serve to enhance rather than confine the writer’s style and subject.

I have to admit to knowing some of the words in this book already, but then I would suspect that most people reading it would find the little thrill of “Oh, I knew that, ” which is engendered when you come across one that you recognise. A good read and I would actually go back and look up the word for this and that, as the author suggests (he warns against reading it cover to cover, but I found that fine – however, I’m the kind of person who reads the book reviewed above from cover to cover, too, so it might be more of a dipping-in book for other people.

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No acquisitions recently, as it’s present-buying season – unless you count a copy of a book I can’t mention because it’s on the wishlist of one of my Secret Santa giftees which arrived damaged in the post (yes, the vendor refunded me immediately, but sending a hardback book out in a thin plastic envelope doesn’t seem the best idea in the world – it arrived with a puncture through the wrapping and through the SPINE of the poor book, and I can’t give it as a gift now!). I’m currently reading “Underground to Everywhere, which is a lovely history of the London Underground within its context of London, and pondering what paperback to start next.

What are you reading? Do you like reading books to do with your job, or would you rather leave that at the end of the day?

Book reviews – Sartre and Cotillion

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November 2014 books to readOK, confession time. These books have SO LITTLE in common that nothing can make this post come out right. Except maybe it represents the wide range of my reading tastes? I even thought, “Oho, that’s OK, they’re both on my Century of Reading List. But that turns out to be a different Georgette Heyer novel. So all I can do is apologise to the one or two readers who have made it this far. Spoiler alert: I may have enjoyed one of these books more than the other.

OK. Here goes …

Iris Murdoch – “Sartre: Romantic Rationalist”

(Bought 20 August 2013, Oxford)

Yes, I bought this well over a year ago, during a lovely trip to Oxford. All of the other books I bought then are long read and shelved or passed along. And I did start this one at the “right” time, as in I picked it off the shelf as it came to the top and started to read it.

What I can say is that I read all the words. I read Iris Murdoch’s novels a lot, and I love and understand them. But a philosopher I am not, and Murdoch with her philosopher hat on, writing about another novelist-philosopher, was always going to be a challenge. I think it was an online friend called Bill who mentioned casually that it was a work of literary criticism, really, and that helped to spur me on. But I have to admit to reading it rather mechanically, wishing that she’d put in some more commas to help the sense along, and feeling a bit lost.

There was a chapter about the way language describes the world which talked about the post-structuralists (or maybe it was the structuralists) a bit, and I did understand that better at the time. Oh, where is the Liz who read the “History of Western Philosophy” and understood it all (at the time)? She was 17 and fresh-minded, I fear.

Anyway, it was short, it’s been read, I’m keeping it in case I need to refer to it. I’m sorry, but it’s not left me with a burning desire to read Sartre’s novels which, frankly, sound rather terrifying. It does make me want to go back and check I still understand Iris Murdoch’s novelistic writing!

Georgette Heyer – “Cotillion”

(Bought 16 April 2014, The Works, Kendal)

Back from out of my depth and very much able to touch the bottom with my toe – but I wouldn’t call this shallow, as there’s a range of characters and motivations, sparkling wit, HUGE amounts of research worn lightly, and all the pleasures you’d expect from a vintage Heyer. It’s also one of the first books I wrote my married name in, as I bought it on our honeymoon in the Lake District (we had an exciting train journey from Windermere to Kendal, home of the mint cake and a shopping outlet mall).

This one has one of the jolly and resourceful heroines Heyer does so well, throwing herself on the mercy of her cousin as she tries to escape the miserly ways of her guardian. There’s a batch of amusingly different cousins who all have to end up vying for her hand (one of them is pretty mentally challenged, but as he does prevail in the end, it’s not a cruel portrayal, but an affectionate one – I did worry at the beginning). High-society London is all it promises to be and more, but Kitty keeps her head, and control of her purse-strings. But will she realise that the cousin she first loved is perhaps not the best match for her? And can her fiance persuade himself that there is more to his moral fibre and courage than meets the eye?

A lovely read, a good antidote to the rigours of philosophy!

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Leonard Woolf the Wise Virgins PersephoneOnly one acquisition to report – after all, it is coming up to Christmas (including three Secret Santas) and birthday season, and I don’t want to accidentally undermine someone’s kind purchase by snapping up stuff myself! We were at our friend Bridget’s house at the weekend – unfortunately she’s developed an eye condition (she blogs about visual impairment over at A New Look Through Old Eyes) and isn’t able to read her cherished Persephones any more (she does do well with audio books and the text expansion capabilities of the iPad), and she kindly offered me one to add to my collection. As we had a large overlap, I was thrilled to find Leonard Woolf’s “The Wise Virgins” and bring it home with me – thank you again, Bridget! This is also handy in being published in 1914, just in case I find my current Reading a Century book for that year a bit much.

Have you stepped out of your comfort zone or your depth in your reading recently? Was it a good or alarming experience? Is it a good idea to shake things up with a bit of a challenge now and then? Does that in fact make returning to the familiar that bit better …?

 

Book reviews – The Heavenly Twins and Ten Pound Pom

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Oct 2014 TBRTwo e-books today – but that’s all they’ve got in common. After my slightly panicky post about getting stuck, I have been making the effort to finish books I’m half-way through before starting more, and things certainly have freed up a bit now I’ve got “The Heavenly Twins” finished. Having said that, it was a jolly good read and I’m very glad that my friend recommended and lent it to me! I’d been half-reading “Ten Pound Pom” for a while, too, so was glad to get that one done and dusted, and the Kindle TBR has gone down as a result, too!

Sarah Grand – “The Heavenly Twins”

(paper copy lent to me by my friend Laura; e-book downloaded from manybooks.net for convenience)

One of the first of the ‘New Woman’ novels of the 1890s (in fact, according to the introduction in my paper copy, Sarah Grand coined the phrase!), this is a hefty but rewarding tome which explores love, marriage, education, gender relations, moral equality, heredity, sexually transmitted diseases, friendship, goodness and decency, all in the one volume (originally published as a triple-decker, although I’m not sure that would have helped much!). This can make it feel a little ‘baggy’. Added to that, the structure is unconventional, darting between the protagonists, leaving the twins of the title alone for much of the narrative, which centres on them and two young women entering the marriage market and encountering very different forms of bad marriages, with the entire final section narrated by one of the previously somewhat minor male characters. But then, the people and situations that it portrays, from syphilitic babies through abandoned mistresses and cross-dressing heiresses to made wives – are somewhat unconventional for the time, too.

Having made it seem like a worthy tome covering the Issues Of The Day, I will now say that it’s also very readable!  It tells a good set of stories with engaging characters (particularly Angelica and Diavolo, the twins of the title), who are not just ciphers imbued with random characteristics and perspectives for dry pedagogical purposes, but are in the main rounded and interesting in their own rights in addition to being representative of various human states and fates. We’re forever darting below the surface of major and minor characters to examine their backgrounds, attitudes, motives and feelings, which makes for an entertaining and thought-provoking read.

It’s not as simple as woman good / men bad, and shows the nascent movement towards women’s education and growth, particularly personified in the character of Evadne, self-educated to a degree and capable of thinking for herself but battered by the limitations of the patriarchal society in which she finds herself and without quite the resources to protect herself. There’s a good introduction which, like the paper edition itself (reproduced smudgily from the original printers’ plates and annotated charmingly with student notes by my friend), is a work of classic 1990s reclamation of women’s narrative works, quoting Showalter here and other feminist writers there – a bit of a trip down memory lane for me in that sense.

Read this if: you like reclaimed women’s writing; you are interested in gender relations and social history; you have read other ‘New Woman’ writers like George Gissing; you like a good story and don’t mind a few lessons and morals planted along the way.

Niall Griffiths – “Ten Pound Pom”

(e-book bought on special offer)

I do tend to download bargain of the day Kindle books, and this was presumably one of those.

A dual narrative of the author’s pre-adolescent trip to, stay in and journey through Australia with his family in the late 1970s alongside his Noughties return to the country with his brother and various companions from their Australian days to retrace their steps and see if anything has been left that they recognise. Interesting contrasts are thrown up and there is much musing on the connection between his childhood and current selves, especially when confronted with buildings, monuments, signs and views which have remained there, unchanged, in the interim between his visits.

The language is informal and I got a little annoyed with the use of “tho” for “though”; there were also a few slightly traumatic scenes from his childhood memories involving animals (nothing unbearable, though) (tho). It was competently done and interesting to a point, but it ultimately left me a bit cold, perhaps because of the masculine drinking culture and preoccupations, perhaps because I read it in bits and pieces.

Read this if: you like travel books, dual-time narratives, books by men.

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A quick note for completeness’ sake that I read Tucker Max’s “The Bookstrapper’s Guide to Book Marketing” in pdf format, which was sent to me by the author after I saw an offer in a podcast transcription. I enjoyed this book and found some good tips in it, however there were some issues with links and it’s actually been (temporarily) taken down from bookselling sites, so I’m not going to recommend it right now in case you can’t go off and find a copy for yourself.

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I’m currently reading Iris Murdoch’s book on Sartre (yes, I am reading it, finally!) and That Is It for the moment, so then I’ll have a clean slate again.

What are you reading? Have you read the Sarah Grand or any other ‘New Woman’ novels? Do you like my new “Read this if” feature or do the reviews tell you that anyway?

Book reviews – “Period Piece” and “Moranthology” plus a shiny new book

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Oct 2014 TBRSee what I did there, in the post title? If not, zip down to below the reviews and you’ll see exciting news …

I seem luckily to have wriggled free of my feeling of being “stuck” (and thank you to everyone who commented on that last post or on Twitter or Facebook) as in the last day I’ve managed to finish two books (one of which I’d forgotten to list on that post, as it was a PDF downloaded and read on the Kindle app on my tablet, which obviously felt one or two steps too far removed from being an actual book to be mentioned) so the number of concurrent reads is now down to one proper one, one large hardback I’ve only dipped into, and that Sartre book that I am going to finish by the time I see a Murdochian friend next week …

Both of these books are written by women who use memoir as a means for telling a larger story. They’re two very different women, but there’s enough to tie these two reads together, I feel …

Gwen Raverat – “Period Piece”

(Bought 25 January 2014, Stratford-upon-Avon charity shop)

An absolutely charming book of reminiscences about her childhood and young womanhood in Cambridge, full of loving and affectionate portraits of family and friends, including a long section on her beloved uncles and aunts. It’s really evocative and charming without being twee or sentimental, clear-headed about people’s faults and foibles but celebrating their differences.

Wonderful descriptions of people, houses, gardens and the countryside are accompanied by adorable illustrations with amusing captions. She is, of course, known for her art and especially illustrations, and it’s lovely to see them here, alongside her own writing. I must have read this before (although if I did, it was before online blog records began, maybe even before the paper journals began) and it is certainly a book – as a classic of childhood memoir – that I will return to again and again over the years.

This has handily also filled in 1952 on my Reading a Century project!

Caitlin Moran – “Moranthology”

(8 March 2014, charity shop)

A collection of Moran’s newspaper columns which was clearly put out to build on the success of her “How to be a Woman” but was to me actually a more enjoyable and engaging read. When I reviewed the earlier book back in 2011, I wasn’t sure what I thought of it, and I’m left with a memory of lots of rude bits (or reclaiming of woman’s right to talk about whatever she wants to talk about) and a bit of missing  out on the idea that other people of the same age could have similar ideas. This one is more inclusive, more conspiratorial, even, and more enjoyable for that.

There’s a good mix of the silly (and very funny), the (very) serious (and on occasion tear-inducing), the very perceptive but not nasty (for example on the Royal Wedding and the tweets around it) and, probably her best pieces, those that draw on her childhood experiences of poverty and draw parallels with events, policies and perceptions that are happening right now. Those are the most powerful pieces in the book, and really have something important to say.

With additional framing comments which fill in the context and in particular delightfully describe her early attempts at journalism, all is well-written and highly competent, with probably just the appropriate amount of the read-out-loud hilarious.

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James Evans - Merchant Adventures reviewing for Shiny New BooksJust in – I was asked by the lovely folk at Shiny New Books (which is an excellent new books e-magazine, packed full of recommendations and reviews by readers just like you and me, with high production values and so much care lavished over contents and appearance) to review James Evans’ “Merchant Adventures”, out in paperback in November. I’m VERY picky about review copies, knowing only to ask for one or two if I’m sent a catalogue, taking on the rare random offer, reviewing books by writers I know are good or suspect I will like, and only requesting LibraryThing Early Reviewers books that I know I’m really interested in – all this not because I’m snooty or arrogant but because I’ve seen too many friends and bloggers drowning in a sea of review copies. However, Simon at SNB knows me well, and when they were offered this book about Arctic exploration in the Tudor Age, he suggested it to me and I gladly offered. I’ll flag up when my review is out in the January issue; in the meantime, do go and explore the current issue. There are Christmas lists to put together, aren’t there.

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Talking of Christmas lists, I have moved my Wish List from Amazon onto these pages. I do try not  to buy from Amazon these days (although I do sell my books on there; I have statements about that on my book website), so it felt weird to keep my Wish List on there. So I laboriously copied it and rearranged it, took some things off it, and here it is! It’s coming up to Secret Santa season, so I’ve updated all of my TBR and the books reviewed here into my LibraryThing library (however, I do have about 150 books to mark as “read but not owned” and deaccession, as I’ve decided I’m not going to re-read them – but these do not affect the Secret Santas too much, as they will just shift categories in the collection). What are you reading at the moment? One at a time, or all together?

Current reading: As of this morning, I’ve finished “The Heavenly Twins” – I did SO much better once I’d found it on manybooks.net (a great resource for free, out-of-copyright books which you can download in a variety of formats) and got it on my Kindle rather than lugging the huge paperback around (however, I’m going to have to remember to go back to that for the introduction). Have you got stuck in a big book or otherwise into a reading rut recently? How did you climb out of it? I’m certainly considering picking off a few smaller ones once I’ve read that Introduction!

 

Book reviews – “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Book Runner” and “Just a Little Run Around the World”

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Oct 2014 TBRAfter the last post’s unconnected books, here are two with loads of connections (I know it doesn’t really matter, but I like to have a little theme going). Not only are they books about a book runner and an actual runner, but they’re also both non-fiction and both created out of diaries or blogs. However, one was a richly rewarding and enjoyable read, while the other was frustrating and not so enjoyable. Which was which? Read on to find out …

Bill Rees – “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Book Runner”

(ebook on Kindle)

I don’t know when I got this one (IS there a way to tell?) but I can imagine that it was either free or 99p, and for that I am glad. Sorry! The book covers a long period of time in the life and career of this chap, who has various bookshops in the UK and France and also buys and sells books on the fly. This should make it very interesting, and indeed it would be interesting, were it not for the terribly annoying structure of the book.

The author has unfortunately seen fit – and on purpose, as he carefully explains in a section appearing late in the book which might have done better near the beginning (I wonder how many people actually make it to the end!) – shuffles everything around into disconnected chunks, yes, with the date at the top, which saves it from being utterly and completely confusing, but still very annoyingly. It’s not like one of those time-shift novels in which everything eventually makes sense: you get something from the UK in the 80s, then you’re in France in the 90s, then a year or two earlier, then off somewhere and some time else. It then becomes a series of disjointed vignettes, which are well-written and interesting in their own right, but it’s like reading random entries in a blog (maybe that’s how it was created) and you end up reading something mentioning an episode which doesn’t itself appear until several tens of percentage points further on in the book (remembering that I’m reading it in Kindle form). It’s a real shame, as it would have been a good book if it was shaped into a coherent narrative, but I lost most of the enjoyment through the skipping around.

Hilariously, many of the reviews on Amazon are simply complaining that it’s not “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner”. The clue IS in the title …

Rosie Swale Pope – “Just a Little Run Around the World”

(25 January 2014 – Stratford charity shop)

I’d heard about this woman’s epic and practically unsupported run around the world (she was sponsored by Runner’s World magazine and provided with kit by various companies, but ran alone for most of the journey) and was pleased to happen across her book on our charity shop ramble in Stratford at the beginning of the year.

When Rosie’s husband dies of cancer, she resolves to run around the world – as you do – to honour his memory and raise awareness of cancer; she also ends up raising awareness of and money for various charities along the way. Because this journey eventually takes five years, the book presents an outline of her journey and a series of vignettes (happily in order, or occasionally in well-signposted flashback) of her life on the road, concentrating mainly on the lovely people and animals (there is no sad animal stuff apart from a few partings) she meets along the way.

The frightening experiences are far rarer than the heart-warming ones, and her calm efficiency and resourcefulness – as well as an ingrained and passionate respect for ordinary people and careful intention not to allow herself to be frightened, but always think the best of people – get her through various scrapes and danger. She is humble, grateful for help when she has to ask for it, and very, very resilient (OK, extremely hard!), breaking several ribs along the way and not letting that stop her (she even runs through a set of dental treatment at one point!).

She wasn’t a newbie at adventure, having completed the Marathon de Sables and a single-handed Atlantic sail, so she has already tested herself and knows she can do it, but she’s not a machine, and it’s a heartfelt, moving book, respectful and celebratory of people, animals and nature. It made me well up a good few times.

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I’ve just finished the lovely Gwen Raverat book I mentioned in my last post, and I’m contemplating whether to go Kindle or paper for my next read … Have any of my readers read either of these books (or run around the world?). What do you think of books constructed from diaries or blog posts – do they always work? And, of course, what are you reading as the nights draw in?

Book reviews – Almost English and Becoming Iris Murdoch

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Sept TBRTwo books that I can’t really link this time – it does happen. They didn’t even come off the same part of the shelf – the Mendelson was in the normal run of the TBR, and the Iris Murdoch book was acquired at the IM Conference, but I couldn’t resist dipping in to it. I’ve just realised that I’ll have to photograph and post my TBR tomorrow – it’s not quite the sleek, svelte thing from this month’s picture, but I’ve got some cracking books to read, so who cares!

Charlotte Mendelson – “Almost English”

(25 Jan 2014 – a Stratford charity shop)

I seem to have read all of Mendelson’s novels so far (this search gives you the post about buying this one, too) and she specialises in quirky family situations, carefully observed and full of humour and pathos. This one was, happily, no exception.

It’s the story of 16 year old Marina, who has a set of embarrassing elderly Hungarian relations and has tried to escape by choosing (instantly regretting doing so) to attend a boarding school for her A-levels. The other main character is her oh-so-English mother, also living in the stifling family flat, having mislaid her husband, and trying to cope with her in-laws while sleeping on the sofa and keeping her clothes in a sideboard. Events are set in motion when the past comes back to haunt the family in particular ways, but it’s also strongly character-driven, and a good, rich read because of these two aspects.

It manages to be fresh, funny and affecting, with shades of Jane Gardam’s “Bilgewater” and Anita Brookner’s flat-dwelling European families in the school and home scenes respectively. The two protagonists are beautifully and sympathetically displayed, yet with an insight into their flaws and the ways in which they manage to make things worse for themselves. The descriptions of the elderly Hungarian ladies’ home life and forays into English society are both hilarious and poignant. First ‘love’ and yearnings for adulthood, and the agonies of both teenagerhood and worries in later life are convincing – a very good read.

Frances White – “Becoming Iris Murdoch”

(12 September 2014 – bought at the Iris Murdoch Conference)

A short biography in the Kingston University Press Short Biography series which covers Iris Murdoch’s life between 1945 and 1956, when her character  and life were being shaped in terms of their emotional, spiritual and intellectual aspects, as she moved between Europe, Cambridge and Oxford, a succession of relationships and losses, and the first publications of her literary and philosophical careers.

The introduction places the work in the context of the author’s own life, interests, attitudes and theoretical leanings, as well as those of Iris Murdoch, and this personal aspect and voice continue throughout the text, making it appealing and approachable while retaining the necessary intellectual content and rigorous scholarship. I should mention here that I was absolutely bowled over to read mention of my own (unpublished) research into IM and the ‘Common Reader’ (I did check with Frances, and this was a reference to my work!) and I was moved by the book in general, as it takes a generous, clear-sighted and human approach, different in tone, content and concentration from all of the other biographies, and just as valid, of course. Her mention of her only meeting with Iris Murdoch was a lovely treat (even to someone who vigorously champions “reception theory” and is supposed to dismiss the author as almost unimportant in the reader’s encounter with the novels).

In the book, we follow Iris Murdoch from a mass of doubts and uncertainties, poised at the very start of a long and distinguished career, dealing with a chaotic personal life, to the relative calm and stable waters of her late 30s, ready to get on with writing her body of amazing and much-loved work – it proves very worthwhile to look at this period almost in isolation as a forerunner to the much-discussed later life, and it also serves to reclaim Iris Murdoch as a scholar, writer, intellectual and PERSON, rather than the poster-child for Alzheimer’s she has had a tendency to become.

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Katharine D'Souza Park Life Deeds not Words

Katharine D’Souza with “Park Life” and “Deeds not Words”

I went to an excellent spoken word event at Brewsmiths Cafe in Birmingham last night to celebrate the Birmingham Reader’s Map, an initiative set up by Pigeon Park Press to record the stories, poems and plays being produced about Birmingham and the Black Country. Author Katharine D’Souza was there with her excellent novels, “Park Life” and “Deeds not Words”, both of which I’ve read and reviewed here, as well as several other writers. We had readings from several books and a poem, Birmingham did its usual thing of showing me that everyone I know knows everyone I know, and I caught up with friends from locally, book groups and BookCrossing.

Ryan Davis "27"

Ryan Davis “27”

Of course, there was a tempting table of books, but I only came away with one, “27” by Ryan Davis. It’s a thriller set in Birmingham’s music scene (the title refers to the age at which many rock and pop musicians have died) and looks fun (but hopefully not too gory – I might have to get someone to pre-read it for me). Do have a look at the Reader’s Map, and regular readers, do let me know if you fancy reading about some of these local authors and I’ll see if I can set up some interviews or features …

Book reviews – Welcome to Biscuit Land and Are We Nearly There Yet? plus four acquisitions

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Sept TBRWell, my TBR is not really looking like this any more, as I seem to have been all about acquiring books in September. More on that later: first I have reviews of two memoirs, both interesting and affecting in their different ways. I read both of these on my Kindle, as I decided to take it on my recent trip to Kingston and London, to escape having to carry too many books around (I solved this issue by almost immediately buying five books. Oh well). I had a couple of train journeys and some nights alone in my hotel, so got through quite a lot, and I’ve decided to share the index to my Kindle on my TBR posts in future, as it’s so easy to click-click-click then forget you have them!

Jessica Thom – “Welcome to Biscuit Land”

(Kindle e-book, no idea when I acquired it)

Jessica is the young woman with the neurological syndrome, Tourette’s, who people may recall meeting on Stephen Fry’s TV series about language and words. She blogs at Tourettes Hero, and this book shares a year in her life, I imagine drawn from earlier blog posts. As with the “Moonlight Blogger” book, the format does make it a little bit disjointed, with episodes from daily life interspersed with more general explanations, but it’s still very well worth reading.

Brave, honest, unflinching in her descriptions of how people behave towards her – good and bad – and of necessity using some swearing, etc. (not to say that Tourette’s is all about swearing, because it’s so much more, and less, than that, but there are swear words in there, so watch out if you’re easily offended), it’s a moving and anger-inducing yet also very funny book. You do get something of a feel for what it’s like to be Jess in her daily life (the “something” is not from a lack of good writing or explanation, but because it’s truly impossible to imagine what it could be like to get trapped in the world of tics but also draw immense joy in life and creativity from them) and she very usefully guides the reader through how she would like to be treated and things to look out for when interacting with someone with Tourette’s.

Although it is funny and life-affirming, it is also moving, and as Jess’ condition changes and deteriorates, it’s a testament to her hugely supportive friends and family and the NHS and those workplaces and officials that are understanding and caring.

Ben Hatch – “Are We Nearly There Yet?”

(Kindle e-book, no idea when I acquired it)

Hatch takes his family on a madcap, months-long driving tour of the UK, testing family-friendly hotels and attractions and trying to keep his young kids happy and his marriage together while compiling the guidebook they’ve been commissioned to write. But he has some health worries of his own, and then his dad receives a devastating diagnosis, and both sets of episodes, plus several involving their children are told in excruciating, harrowing detail.

While much of the travel stuff is amusing, especially when they visit Birmingham and stay in the Rotunda, the family stuff is so raw, like a cathartic therapeutic writing experience more than a professional narrative with the necessary amount of detachment. Don’t get me wrong – I feel for the author in his struggles with his identity within his family and facing up to an exceptionally difficult situation, but the harrowing medical details sit a bit uncomfortably with the warts-and-all but generally jolly travelling sections.

I did read on, and I felt guilty when skipping the more detailed medical bits as well as guilty for reading these details of someone’s life – I really would recommend you not read this book if you’ve lost a family member recently or indeed have elderly parents, as it might be a bit close to home. It’s not a bad book as such, but it was too uncomfortable for me.

———-

Sept 2014 11I’ve had a bit of a book-buying splurge, as I was in the local charity shops with some LibraryThing friends at the weekend, where I found a Maeve Binchy I’ve not read or got (how so?) and a Noel Streatfeild autobiography I didn’t know about at all, so that’s exciting. I saw a book that I wanted to buy a friend for their birthday, so I popped back to one shop today and found that book had been sold (of course it had) but there were some more lovelies, including this interesting Virago crime novel by “Amanda Cross” (pseudonym for Carolyn Heilbrun, apparently), which is way down a series but not a series I’ve ever seen before. I also, while calling M to check whether my big “Forsyte Saga” omnibus included books 1-3 or 1-6 (it was the latter, so I put down the copy of 3-6 I’d grabbed), remembered to check the state of my “I have 2/3 of each of the trilogies” Robertson Davies issue and picked up “The Salterton Trilogy”, of which I only had one volume already. I haven’t read any Davies for years, although I did read most of him in a big chunk back in the 90s, so this is a nice addition to the shelves. And I have been doing a lot of weeding lately (including finally getting rid of some an ex-friend gave me which I won’t read again and don’t need for sentimental reasons any more) so there will be space on the shelves for these, honest!

Have you read any of these? What about the ones I’ve reviewed? What are you reading at the moment? Are you as behind with your reviewing as I am?

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