Can I recommend …

CoverI’ve just found a new way to add to the ever-increasing list of book titles that I have great difficulty getting around to reading but have kept on my ‘For Later’ shelf in BiblioCommons. The cliché ‘better late than never’ springs to mind.

My shelf currently stands at a very respectable 17 (I’m sure there are people out there in ‘Library land’ openly gobsmacked at this paltry total BUT I have just had a cull. I was completely ruthless and it took only 2 minutes to cut it back from 27 to 17.

Oh the internal debating and agonising I didn’t put myself through! Most of these tomes have been on my ‘For Later’ shelf for an eternity and have either been recommended to me via colleagues and customers or I have read a favourable review in a magazine or newspaper and placed it onto the shelf before I forget the title.  Then I forget to look at the shelf and pick my next read from it – well nobody’s perfect!

Now I have another method by which I can add to this list – on the front page of the Christchurch City Libraries website right at the bottom of the page is a link called Books. This takes you to New in Books, Staff Picks, On Order and then Recent Comments.

ExampleRecent Comments deals with any comments or reviews of books from newspapers, library borrowers and library staff.  In a steady flow, these brief comments automatically move from one book to the next book that has been recently reviewed. Clicking on the cover will bring up a synopsis of the story line, publisher details followed by the heading OPINION where all the reviews appear.

Sometimes a certain sentence within a review personally resonates and is all that is needed to push you from apathy to action. Before you realise it, you’ve clicked on the book cover and are placing a hold OR adding to your ‘For Later’ Shelf.  If inclined you can even give the book a star rating.

Anyone out there enjoying the freedom of reviewing the books they read or feeling that they would like to give it a whirl?

Bleaker than bleak

For some reason, it took me ages to read Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. I’ve been told it’s been very popular in book groups and it’s been shortlisted for a few literary prizes. It was one long read, but not because it was boring or dreary, far from it, I had settled into a reading malaise and just didn’t read very much.

Cover of Burial rites

This is Hannah Kent’s first novel and it is based on fact. Burial Rites tells the story of Agnes Magnusdottir, the last person to be put to death in Iceland, in 1829.

A servant with a past as bleak as an Icelandic winter, Agnes is found guilty for her part in the murder of two men, one of whom was her employer and in the book, her lover as well.

The author has used a great deal of factual information and certainly done her homework to make details as accurate as possible, but also filled in the emotional details and made a sympathetic case for Agnes’ innocence with fictional aspects. Agnes is regarded still today in Iceland as an evil woman of almost witch-like proportions.

I loved the book, it was very evocative of the landscape, time period and people, and Agnes became very real to me, a woman whose circumstances overwhelmed her control over her own life and future. Knowing it was based on a person who existed and met such a tragic end, made it all the more riveting.

Since becoming obsessed with Vikings through the television series, and Danish crime dramas such as The Killing, The Bridge and Borgen, anything set up there in the cold Northern climes piques my interest. The intense, dark and never ending winters, the hard lives and meagre existences hold a great deal of fascination.

I look forward to Kent’s next book.

Honey, Hives and Hierarchy

I don’t believe I have ever read a fantasy book before, science fiction sure, but not fantasy.  After a long reading hiatus, I was perusing a list of books nominated for various recent awards to kick-start me into reading again.

Cover of The BeesI must confess it was the cover of The Bees by Laline Paull that hooked me in – embossed and golden. Only when I started reading did I notice ‘fantasy’ on the spine. I always think about witches, dragons and ‘far away lands’ when I think fantasy, so a book about a plucky and rather magical bee and the hive she lives in didn’t fit the narrow idea I had of the genre.

The book is a debut novel for Laline Paull, a playwright and screenwriter, and was shortlisted for the 2015 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, with judges calling it “an Animal Farm for the 21st century”.

We meet Flora 717 at her birth, fighting her way out of her hive cell.  She is of the worker class, destined to clean and tidy after others for her short life. But this wee worker is different. She speaks, unlike others of her class, and she has an intelligence that soon sees her crossing antennae with those in the hive of higher classes. As the seasons progress, changes in the hive bring on new challenges to both Flora and the hive.

As Flora’s tongue unrolled toward the head of nectar, tiny particles of orange pollen tingled against her fur. The taste of the nectar was so bright and the energy release so sudden that she almost fell off the flower head.

I didn’t think I’d find myself rooting for a humble bee, but I was willing her on to achieve, find joy, survive the horrors of wasp attack, disease and resentment from those who believed she was getting above her station.

Well written, tense in places and tender in others, it’s a great read. I recommend you add it to your list. Oh and it gave my husband and me an excuse to have silly pun duels. “Honey, I’m hiving trouble bee-lieving you.” “I shall wax lyrical.”

 

Terrified by Tirimisu?

cover of The Can't Cook BookWhat started as a bit of a joke, has ended in a cooking revolution in my home this last week or two. I saw a cookbook in our New Titles a while back, immediately thought of my husband, and put it on hold.

The Can’t Cook Book : 100+ Recipes for the Absolutely Terrified  by Jessica Seinfeld, has a funky cover, quirky title and seemed just the thing for a man who tells me he hates to cook. I took it home as a bit of a nudge and a chuckle, but we then started looking through it and we are both hooked.

We’ve made chilli, a few pasta dishes, cookies and wonderful nutty bananas grilled in the oven with a little honey and the darkest brown sugar. I made a lovely one-pan brown rice ensemble that was divine and we find ourselves dipping into the book for inspiration just about every night.

It has a great section of helpful colour photographs to show you how to do the most basic things, such as chop an onion or squeeze a lemon if that’s the skill level you find yourself at and each recipe is headlined with a DON”T PANIC sentence that tells you the trickiest part of the recipe and gives you positive affirmations to help you along the way. And in this online age, there are also links to online video tutorials.

As one of the ‘absolutely terrified’, my husband is really enjoying the ease of use of the book and the fact that everything he’s cooked has turned out great! As a cook whose lived through decades of cooking for family and friends, I’m enjoying the simplicity of the recipes too.

The only down side would be the American measurements and some ingredients, but very few can’t be sourced here, with most recipes made with things you’d find at home already and there is always the internet.

So if you or someone you know is frightened by figs, scared of spaghetti or even made a little nervous by nuts, get this gem out and enjoy your time in the kitchen.

I Plan to Grow Old Disgracefully

There’s a poem called Warning by Jenny Joseph that starts:

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.

There’s a weird  joy in getting to an age when you realise that you can pretty much do what you like and I was overjoyed to recently find a book that should be every woman’s fashion bible as they age.

Being on the ‘fine wine’ side of 50, I am never quite sure about my ‘style’. Should I just do what I want, wear what I want, or be sensible and fade in to the beige background the way youth focused society seems to want me to? I know I’m certainly not waiting until my dotage to wear purple.

Advanced Style by Ari Seth Cohen, is a celebration of confidence, style, glamour and fashion amongst a wonderful group of kick arse New York women aged over 60.

It is filled with wonderful glossy photographs of gorgeous, outrageous, fabulous fashionistas who are living life to the full. Sure they must have squillions in the bank and the way they look is their life, but hey, why not. There are also a few men in the book who also have their own style, sometimes they seem to be just trying to keep up with their partner.

Cohen was inspired by his own grandmother’s style. There are wonderful stories about these women, their lives, their inspirations and why they love to push the boundaries.

I identify with their obvious, ‘why wear one string of pearls when you can wear ten?’ ethos and their sense of colour and fabrics is stunning. Some of the pieces they wear are indeed art works. Accessories  are definitely their best friends and they just ooze confidence and a strong sense of self.

What are your thoughts on aging and fashion?  Do you think we should fade into oblivion, or do we stand proud, and raise a fashionable middle finger to convention?

All the classics without the effort

Working in a library, there are at least two absolutes:

  • There are hundreds of thousands of books I could read
  • I am never going to read them all

With this in mind, I have found the solution. Never again will I have to worry and fret about all those classic titles that cause me shame to admit I have never read. With my new tool, I can sound as if I know the plot to the biggies and nod sagely when people discuss the nuances of character development in The Clan of the Cave Bear or the sense of place in Death in Venice.cover of 90 Classic Books for People in a Hurry

My great weapon for feeling superior? 90 Classic Books for People in a Hurry by Henrik Lange

This slim but filling book lets you read the classics, from The Bible to To Kill a Mockingbird, through to Lord of the Flies and Catch 22, by simply reading a single page with three cartoon squares.

It sums up the tale, the characters, the subtle plot lines, the good, the bad and the ugly and you can almost head to your book club, safe in the knowledge you can bluff your way through.

Spoiler Alert: Once you read it, if you have a good memory, which thankfully I don’t, you may not be able to actually read the book in the future, because you now know how it ends.

It is written with wit and strips away of of the pretentiousness that can accompany the reading of classics.

One of my favorites was the summing up of The Lord of the Flies

So bad boy Jack sets the entire island on fire which gets a navy ship to come to the rescue. The officer says he would have expected better of British boys

So, dip in and enjoy a classic, you could read a dozen while eating your lunch.

The Stuff of Life

Books as a single entity are all very well, but I’ve been thinking lately about the individual words that make up the things I read.

cover of Outer Dark

Cormac McCarthy will do that to you. Pick up any of his books, from The Road, the 2007 Pulitzer Prize winner,  to No Country For Old Men, Suttree, and the two that are coming out as movies this year, The Counsellor and Child of God and there is a wealth of wondrous words throughout.

Then the sun buckled and dark fell like a shout – Outer Dark

I’m currently reading Outer Dark, written in 1968. It is set in the last part of the 19th century, as near as I can tell, and this bleak, gut wrenching book is filled with wonderful words that fit this period and I found myself writing some unknown words on my bookmark to check later in the dictionary. He is known for making up words and I love this about him, he feels unfettered by just the English language, despite having a rich love of it.

…the house was grown with a rich velour of moss and lichen and brooded in a palpable miasma of rot. – Outer Dark

It had me thinking about how each word crafted into a piece of writing adds to the whole, some you don’t notice, but some leave you amazed or confused or thoroughly impressed. Does Mr McCarthy for example, go hunting dictionaries for words that are obscure to colour this prose, or is he just incredibly well read? His turn of phrase and the pictures he conjures in my mind are just beautiful sometimes, well, often. I often hear myself saying words like ‘cool’, or ‘awesome’ out loud to myself as I read, obviously I don’t share his breadth and depth of language.

By day the banished sun circles the earth like a grieving mother with a lamp – The Road

So I’ve compiled a little list of some of the discovered words from Outer Dark:

  • moiled – whirled or churned ceaselessly; twist; eddy.
  • penduluming: what a pendulum can be caught doing when it feels inclined to.
  • palmoutward- not a new word, he must have decided to run the two words together, just because he could.
  • malediction – the utterance of a curse.
  • recrements – refuse separated from anything; dross.
  • consubstantial -of one and the same substance, essence, or nature.
  • moonwraught – another lovely combo-word.
  • revenant – a person who returns as a spirit after death; ghost.

My two favourite words at present would have to plinth and moist, just for the way they sound when you say them.

McCarthy is rarely interviewed, avoids book tours or signings, and said about this:

I don’t think it’s good for your head, you spend a lot of time thinking about how to write a book, you probably shouldn’t be talking about it. You probably should be doing it.

Do you have favourite words, or authors whose use of language you find inspiring?

Prequel, Sequel, Hopes Dashed

So much anticipation, so much excitement. You’ve read a new book and loved it, and then you discover  there’s a sequel or even a prequel or five other books in the series, and you almost salivate over the keyboard as you search the catalogue and place your hold. You receive the long awaited email or letter telling you the wondrous tome is waiting on the holds shelf at your favourite library. You take it home, you crack open the spine and start reading, but a few pages or even one or two chapters in and your heart is broken, it’s just not that good, in fact it may even stink.Cover of Shift

This kind of literary trauma has just happened to me. I had read Wool by Hugh Howey, I even blogged about it. I loved the concept of a community living in a silo underground, the characters and the suspense and slow revealing of the deceptions and lies behind it. But so much was not revealed about how the silos came to be, and when I learned of a prequel, I got a tad excited. But alas Shift was not what I’d hoped. So about 50 pages in, I decided life was too short, I cared not for the characters populating this book, it was wordy and boggy and I decided to perform the ultimate betrayal…I Googled a synopsis and found out the basic reasons behind the silos and deposited the book into the returns slot.

So I gave up, I wimped out, maybe it was the coward’s way out. Should I have stuck with it, read all 569 pages?

The latest and final instalment, Dust is due out in October, but sadly it will not be waiting for me on a holds shelf.

How do you decide when enough is enough? Do you always read to the end once you’ve committed to a book, or do you, like me, give it a certain amount of time then say ‘Hasta La Vista Baby’ and move on?

Are there series, prequels or sequels you have been disappointed by?

Every day a new life

Cover of Every DayWe all have a strong belief  that every day we live begins pretty much the same as the last one. Well, at least you will be yourself, in your own body, in your own bed, with your own family.

How would it feel if you woke everyday in a new body, in someone else’s with its own dramas, limitations and routines? Meet ‘A’. In David Levithan‘s book Every Day, ‘A’ has woken up on each day of his 17-something years in someone else’s body. ‘A’ can be male, female, transgendered, White, Hispanic, Asian or any other ethnicity and from any type of family. The only constant is that ‘A’ always inhabits a body of someone the same age for 24 hours.

Not all of these lives he lives each day is a happy one; he can go from a loving family unit to waking up in a slum as an addict or fighting a body’s strong desire to kill itself.

Along the way ‘A’ has developed some survival tactics and rules to live by. These have been serving him well until he meets Rhiannon, when he inhabits her boyfriend’s body for a day. Being with her has a profound impact on ‘A’. He sets about finding her and building a relationship with her each day when he wakes up as another new person, often several hours’ travel away. Can he find a way to be with her forever and how can she form a relationship with him when he changes his outside shell every day?

I found this intriguing premise fascinating to watch unfold as A’s life unravels when love comes calling. As a Young Adult novel, it’s a great study in the sense of self, of the way people are judged by how they look, and of the power of friendship and a good heart. As an adult, I loved the complexity of the character and the way the teenage experience was captured in all its variations.

Levithan has also written a book, Six Earlier Days, that gives an insight to the days ‘A’ has spent before the story above unfolded.

Every day was definitely a “lingerer” – the type of book that stays with you, as Knit1purl1 describes in her post Books that need space – and I will definitely search out David Levithan’s other works, such as Will Grayson, Will Grayson and Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. His book The Lover’s Dictionary was also a delight.

A Brain of a different hue

Search catalogue for The Rosie ProjectMy last blog lamented a book drought…it has ended with a small joy of a book. In The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, we meet Don Tillman. a geneticist living in Melbourne. Don tells us of his life, which is navigated using very strict, logical rules and boundaries which are obvious to all around him and the gentle reader, but strangely not by Don himself, as classic Autistic traits.

Schedules and routine make up his life, but he increasingly becomes aware that he should have a life partner, to enable him to fit in. He devises a 16 page questionnaire that he plans to use to narrow down his search and to enable him to find the perfect match.

Of course, as with life itself and all good romances, his course will not run smooth, and perhaps he will find his match where he least expects to.

Full of quirkiness and gentle humour, I found I really warmed to Don, and was hoping he’d find someone who ‘got him’ as he was, without him having to compromise too much of what made him interesting.

At a speed dating event, Don tries to apply his criteria to the women he meets:

Rather than ask about IQ, I decided to make an estimate based on Olivia’s responses to questions about historical impact of variations of susceptebility to syphilis across South American populations. We had a fascinating conversation, and I felt that the topic might even allow me to slip in the sexually transmitted diseases question.

I often sense the square pegs in our community feel pressured to fit in, when their unique take on life and their way of view of the world adds to society as a whole and to the lives of those around them.Search catalogue for The Curious incident

If you are a fan of The Big Bang Theory, as I am, you’ll see a little of Sheldon in Don. It seems I’ve come across a few autistic spectrum heroes in my reading and viewing lately. The Bridge, a Scandinavian television crime drama, has a wonderful female lead, Saga Noren, whose detective brilliance is not bound by emotion or ties to others.

Of course there is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon. A wonderful murder mystery, narrated by Christopher Boone who has Aspergers.

The Rosie Project was a fun read, it had a light touch, driven by a search for love and acceptance and with an ending that made me go awww.

Have you read great books or watched movies about people who think outside the square, or refuse to fit the dreaded square hole? Do share!