The Shepherd’s Life – James Rebanks

 

This book has a bit of everything for everyone. As well as conjuring up the traditions  of generations against a backdrop of the beautiful Lake District, there is a strong human element, unexpected happenings and the perfect balance of detail and technical talk to keep both those with prior knowledge and those without a clue hooked throughout. It should be read by farmers, walkers, lovers of the British countryside and ancient traditions, anyone who has ever knitted or eaten lamb or even refused to eat lamb. Basically everyone, get you this book. There is also an illustrated version jam-packed with photographs that looks stunning or you can check out his instagram account full of sheepish goings on.

Continue reading “The Shepherd’s Life – James Rebanks”

Tender is the night – F. Scott Fitzgerald 

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There is no doubt that Fitzgerald has a wonderful way of laying words on the page. The first few pages of this book are sheer eloquence. This excerpt perfectly captures that delightful happy wriggle of getting into cool water on a hot day:

Rosemary laid her face on the water and swam a choppy little four-beat crawl out to the raft. The water reached up for her, pulled her down tenderly out of the heat, seeped in her hair and ran into the corners of her body. She turned round and round in it, embracing it, wallowing in it.

It’s not that the rest of the book is any less eloquent, only that I find the poetic
summations a bit wearisome after a while. It takes me longer to work out what is actually going on and feels a bit like wading through mud and poking around with a big stick, trying to find the point. I, shockingly, felt the same about ‘The Great Gatsby’. Continue reading “Tender is the night – F. Scott Fitzgerald “

The new sorrows of young W. – Ulrich Plenzdorf

IMG_3427 The sulky, sarky and irreverent Edgar narrates from beyond the grave as his father investigates his death. Edgar holds that common youthful belief that he knows better than anyone else and feels noone understands him or his potential while never seeming to really understand others himself. Knowing nothing about its context or the GDR in the 1970s, I read this as an amusing, confusing ‘trials and tribulations of an aspiring artist’ that was quite stark and just a bit odd. It felt as if the book was probably being very clever in a way I couldn’t quite understand. And it was. It turns out that the tale was a remodelling of Goethe’s ‘The Sorrows of Young Werther’, written a century before, and the original is repeatedly referred to and even plays a starring role as a nameless High German book that Edgar finds and keeps quoting from. Overall, it seems a quirky quick read that made me go find out a bit more about East Germany.

This quote is not typical of the slang heavy style but I loved the sentiment.

All the books suddenly looked like they were constantly being read by someone. You suddenly wanted to go and plop yourself down somewhere and read them all one after the other.

From: the local library

Read: February 2016

Felt: a general wry sense of amusement but slightly unsure of what exactly was going on. I think it could make quite a good play with a really bare set and a lot of ‘pretend this box is a boat’ involved.

Liked: Edgar’s grudging admiration of Zaremba – probably the most real and likable of all the characters.

Would recommend: if you happen across it. Don’t rush out to find it but if you stumble across it and you’ve a long train journey ahead then go for it. Or if you have any interest  or understanding of Germany in the 1970s.

The Real Neat Blog Award 

A huge thank you to Brontë’s page turners for finding this blog interesting enough to nominate among so many great book blogs. Your blog is so beautifully written and the series of reviews for International Women’s Day was inspiring and left my TBR list bulging.

I love that these nominations allow us to let other bloggers know how enjoyable their posts are – there is something so exciting about stumbling across someone reading a book I adored or have only just put down – and the questions allow us to find out a little more about the person behind the screen; reading around, there have been some interesting questions and hilarious responses!

Book blogs seem to form the best bookclub in the world; one where you get to choose the books, read them at your own pace and discuss them with people whose opinions often resonate, reflect your own or encourage you to rethink – without the struggle of finding a mutually available Thursday or having to reread Middlemarch when you’d really rather not. The whole process of reading is much more enjoyable when it doesn’t end when the book is finished – so here’s cheers to everyone who has read and indulged me in my musings and to everyone who shares their love of books and their thoughts on them online.

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The reluctant fundamentalist – Mohsin Hamid

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This is an extremely well written book on a difficult topic. Challenging the stereotyping and scaremongering that always surface around cultural or religious rifts, Hamid manages to keep the story engaging and even pleasant to read. The unusual conversational styling is well constructed and avoids being clunky or distracting. The language was beautiful and pitched just right to create the warm tone of an educated man, from a land with a proud tradition of poetry and storytelling, recollecting a series of events ranging from perplexing to incomprehensible. The narrator was not lovable or good but very human and understandable, a real and relatable person refusing to be wholly defined by their labels or circumstances. A brilliantly observant book that can be read and read into as much as you wish. If only it were less, rather than far more, poignant today than when it was written.

For a more detailed plot review head to the wonderfully written post by Miss quickly at the blue bore which inspired me to dig these thoughts out the archive.

It is not always possible to restore one’s boundaries after they have been blurred and made permeable by a relationship: try as we might, we cannot reconstitute ourselves as the autonomous beings we previously imagined ourselves to be. Something of us is now outside, and something of the outside is now within us.

From: the depths of the TBR shelf, origin unknown.

Read: April 2015 as my ‘it’s ok, I’m early’ backup book. I have never been so punctual as the week I was reading this!

Felt: like I was sat with them in the cafe, and ashamed of how familiar and common all those acts of prejudice were.

Liked: the clever construct and seamless switching between the past and present.

Would recommend: to everyone. Would read again someday.

 

Strong Opinions – Vladamir Nabokov

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Picked up on a whim, this turned out to be an unexpectedly fun read from the author of Lolita. A collection of interviews and articles, Nabokov comes across as someone who does indeed have ‘strong opinions’ and is a powerfully intelligent and uncompromising character who does not yeald to public demand or scrutiny. Yet his insistance on scripting all interviews, feeling his spontaneous English inadequate for expressing himself,  is the act of a man who cares what the world thinks of him. His mastery of the written word is never in question and the book brims with fantastic quotes from the very first sentence:

‘I think like a genius, I write like a distinguished author and I speak like a child’.

Covering a wide range of personal and global topics, including his beloved butterflies, this was a good book to dip in and out of. I didn’t make it through all the articles but enjoyed the interviews and have picked out a few great lines.

On Russia

I will never go back, for the simple reason that all the Russia I need is always with me: literature, language and my own Russian childhood.

On his travelling and where he feels is home.

The writer’s art is his real passport

On an artist’s motivation

I don’t think an artist should bother about his audience.

In short, it was the bizarre mix of self deprecation and arrogance in the very first line that led me to read all that followed in the voice of an eccentric genius and become very fond of the man and his peculiar ways. Nabokov feels very much a person belonging to a different culture and time and it makes for a fascinating read, in small doses before bedtime.

From: the library

Read: before bed – and not all the way through (shock horror!)

Felt: pleasantly diverted and in the presence of mad genius

Liked: the frank, grumpy honesty presented in flowery elegance

Would recommend: to fans of Russian writing and the literary set

* the postcard/bookmark is my favourite painting by Finnish artist Askeli Gallen-Kallela of lake Keitele, hanging in the National Gallery.

The second life of Sally Mottram – David Nobbs


In short, this felt a bit like a Miss Marple but without the murder mystery. A modern day  St Mary Mead with a bit more backbone. Lovely read that was funny without trying too hard or taking itself too seriously. Great to see a book mention suicidal thoughts and attempts without being morose and showing that deciding to live is not a ‘failed attempt’ but a positive and powerfully good decision (however tough). Not up there with ‘Obstacles to young love’ but still good.

From: the library

Read: Feb 2016 instead of a long list of chores

Felt: Mildly charmed and amused. Slightly peeved with the ending.

Would recommend: for a gentle lighthearted distraction