Tag Archive: books


The birthday lunch
by Joan Clark

birthday-lunch

I liked this book.

It is, on the surface, quite gentle. But beneath the surface, the slow-paced life of a small village, the shock sleepwalking of bereaved family members, beneath all of that lies family history, betrayal, sadness, a sense of failures and being deserted, a swirling pool of mixed and misunderstood emotions – all the things every family holds within the emotional walls of relationships.

The book charts the detailed life and activities of a family after the unexpected death of a member. In a really still way this book will take you along the path of grief with the mourners. It is funny at times, and really quite sad too. It captures perfectly that period between death and burial when life carries on, but also is so markedly different it doesn’t fit any more.

The characters are all people we know, people we are related to, us. The relationships are familiar, and not always in a good way.

Misunderstanding, long held grudges, mistakes and anger are all there to be seen, and how they separate and join people is so human it made my heart ache.

And the end surprised me a little, in a variety of ways.

This is a lovely book which is absorbing and emotional.

Advertisements

by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

What an amazing collection of stories from a truly incredible author. Adichie shows the reader, through these 12 stories, so many of the stories of Nigeria and Nigerians. From women living in America, separate from their Big Man husbands to students hiding in empty shop front to escape from a riot these stories tell a multitude of vibrant, real and often heart-breaking realties.

Africa is so present in all the stories, possibly especially those of Africans in America. Adichie tells it as it is, no sugar-coating or misty-eyed out of focus view. She addresses the fear and loneliness of immigrants as well as the pride and strength they have. She looks at the connections between loved ones and those lost, and makes the protagonist, and therefore also the reader, examine preconceptions and opinions.

These stories will grab you and suck you in; make you want to know more and wish that each were part of a full novel about the characters. Each story is complete, but they did leave me yearning to know more of the people. I wanted their past and future – I wanted to demand to know more, dammit!

Adichie is all she is cracked up to be – I feel so lucky to be an aware, developing feminist reader at the time she is producing.

A note: when I first started reading this book I didn’t realise it was a series of stories. So I read the first few stories as though they were chapters in a book, storylines that would join up eventually. As soon as I did work out that this was not the case it was worth going back and rereading the first few stories as complete pieces. And I realised how differently short stories require the reader read.

1 million stars out of 10

The Dot Spot

The Dot Spot by Dorothy Black

dot spot

This book is bylined as ‘Adventures in love and sex’ and while it is that, it is so much more. It really is adventures in you; adventures and voyages.

Ms Black is a sex columnist who finally, thank everything you believe in, decided to write a book.
“A sex columnist?” I hear you say, shocked and slightly titillated (if you were honest).
“We don’t really need another book about all that!”

Oh yes we do. And this is the book we need. This is the book every single woman needs, and probably quite a few men too. It’s the big sister we never had, even if we had a big sister. It’s the friend we can trust who knows more than we do but never makes us feel stupid. It’s the slightly crazy aunt we adore because she makes it okay to say stuff and ask questions, and she tells us the truth.

Because this book is not just about sex and what to do, how to do it and where to find people to do it with. It’s about finding out who you are, what you really truly want and need, and then being empowered enough to go ask for it.

It is chocful of information and opinion as well as experience. Ms Black is not some expert tut tutting at you for not knowing stuff, but rather your mate sitting around a dinner table admitting what she didn’t know and telling you how she gained the knowledge. She shows you the way, she doesn’t drag you down the path.

One of the many things I took from this book is the idea that we should stop speaking of our sex lives as though they are separate from our actual lives. As Ms Black says, it’s your life and how you choose to express yourself sexually. They are not separate things, one of which is active at a time. If one aspect of our lives is not healthy, you can be sure all aspects will be affected.

Ms Black takes women’s sexuality out of the basement cupboard of shame and has created a space where women, and men, can learn, grow and develop as rounded, satisfied sexual being. She simply and succinctly reminds us that we are going to be sexual creatures, and be sexually active – we may as well do it the right way for each of us. It’s too fundamental an aspect of life to screw up really.

The line ‘We do the best we can with what we have’ is used in this book more than once. There is no judgement is what anyone chooses to do, but what Ms Black is doing here is making sure that we all have more, know more, believe more, so that we can better make decisions about what we do.

And that has to be a good thing for the whole world.

The only problem I have with this book is that I didn’t have it as a 20 year old when I set off into the sexual wonderland. I made so many crappy decisions and did so many stupid things because I just didn’t know. Every single responsible loving mother who can admit their daughter will be a sexual being one day should get this book for her. In fact, every woman should read this book and then pass it on to the men they love, be they brothers, lovers, or friends.

Life changing, liberating and empowering – a wonderful book.

Why do we keep books?

I used to have thousands of books on bookshelves which dominated my house. Wall to wall, floor to ceiling, the evidence of how well read I really was, was there for all to see. And be impressed by. Cos let’s be honest, part of why we hoard books, books we will never read again, is so that others will see what very clever well-read people we are. Or that’s what I think anyway.

One sunny day, watching dust motes in the sunlight after my maid had dusted my bookshelves I suddenly realised that the evidence of my smartness/well readness/interestingness as a human being/ability to make up words lay not in the pages and pages lining my walls, but in my interaction with humans.
Also, I mused, all of these books are being kept here so I can be seen as one who reads rather than being sent out into the world so that others too can enjoy them.

And suddenly not only did I not need the literary wall paper, but suddenly I had a desire to free myself of their weight and what had been for me, pretension. What I did not expect was the great joy I had when sorting through them and distribution them to other readers. I loved giving some of my most enjoyed books to others knowing that the wonderful experience of that book was in their future. I felt jealous of people about to experience my beloved stories. But also so glad for them and for the book, for its freedom to be out of my living room and back in the wild, back being read and loved rather than observed and ignored.

I set my books free, all 1 500 of them, and suddenly my house and world was open for new things. And not a single person suddenly thought I was a dullard because my walls were covered in art and other decorations.

I still have some books, of course I do. I have a waiting-to-be read pile that is as large as many people’s entire book collection, I have books I loved that I am waiting for my nephews to get old enough to hand on, and I have some beautiful non-fiction books I keep because they are works of art all on their own. And of course I have a slew of cookery books.

But I no longer keep books simply to keep them. I have no need to look like a book shop – the book shop is in my head.

This is not one of my around the world reads – but just a book I read

Guernsey

I really liked this book. It was such an easy read but didn’t turn my brain into marshmallow, the ways book usually described thus do.
I found it on the bedside table on a weekend away and pretty much read it in two sittings.

I liked the style of the book – it consists of a series of letters between Juliet and various other people. Through the conversations she has in the mails with the various other characters, so the story is revealed. This method makes all of the characters real, individual and essential parts of the story.

This book takes you right into the homes and lives and loses of the people of Guernsey during and immediately after the war. Children sent to live far from their parents to increase their chances of survival, German soldiers far from home, hating the war as much as the next person, strong survivors who just get on with it – this book is populated by a slew of people you’d actually want to meet in real life.

Although Juliet is the writer or receiver of all the letters in the book, she manages to share the lime light with all of the other characters. By their very nature, letters tell as much, if not more, of the writer than the receiver. I cared a little about most of the characters in the book, and certainly had an emotion of some sorts towards all of them.

It is gentle and magnificent and a real gem

I’d be surprised if it is never made into a gentle English movie with an outstanding cast

and how can you not want to read a book with the title like this?

Nothing to envy: Real lives in North Korea

Nothing to envy

This book is a bit of a cheat but it is as close to a North Korean book as I am likely to find. It is written by an American, but one who interviewed and then told the stories of people born in North Korean who managed to escape to South Korean.

The readers are told the lives of the characters, interwoven with the politics of the country. As such the book is in part an example of amazing journalism, and in part a very readable story.  That North Korean exists at all in this day and age is amazing. Stuck in a pre-technology time where it is illegal for private citizens to own a car, where radios and tvs are stuck on the government issue station only, where hand holding is considered sexually inappropriate in public, North Koreans, just kilometres from Seoul, have no idea that the world out there is different from what they are experiencing.

The lives of the people in the book sound like those of pre-Industrial Revolution Westerners – and it is all happening right now.

A wonderful book that had me relating facts to friends and googling for additional information.

Well worth reading

 

And for interest, check out this 2009 satellite photo of North Korea

North Korea

Good Night, Mr Tom

Good Night, Mr Tom

Michelle Magorian

I read this book because one of my best ever friends told me it was her fav book of all time. she may have been exaggerating as anyone who reads as much as she does is unlikely to have an absolute best book. It would be like having a favourite child – easy when you have one, not so easy when you have hundreds.

And I have to thank her – cos I probably would never have found this book on my own.

This book I would put alongside The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas – don’t let the ease of reading or gentle story-telling technique lure you into believing it is a simple, gentle story.

Good Night, Mr Tom is, I think, a very sad story even though it has a happy ending, all things considered. It may be fiction but it is probably the almost true story of many of the children evacuated from London to the country during WWII.

The characters are pretty thin really, but it doesn’t matter. because they do not need to be deep and rounded to tell the story. The story is not about them but about emotions and love and hope. and sadness – lots of sadness all over the place.

Abused little Willie arrives in the countryside in winter with canvas plimsols, a thin jersey and sewn into his underwear – if that does not get you wanting to wrap your arms around the mite then you are not really human. Grumpy Mr Tom gets him dropped at his front door and so begins a beautiful love story which rescues both of these souls from a really crap future. But of course nothing is as simple as it could be and twists and turns do flesh the story out somewhat.

I did like this little book – and Zach haunts me a little.

Note: I forgot that i had read a Nigerian book – twit i am

so now i have read two

It took me a while to find my next round-the-world book. I started two other books and 150 pages in decided that it was just a waste of more time to finish them.
And then I found this book

 

Uwem Akpan is a Nigerian Jesuit priest, and an author shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African writing, and longlisted for The Guardian First Book Award. And this book was a New York Times bestseller.
Not a combination that happens often I wouldn’t think.

This book is actually a series of five stories, unrelated except for their theme: Children of Africa. The title comes from some advice a father gives his daughter in Rwanda. If anyone comes, say you are one of them. when the daughter asks who, the father says anyone. Merge, blend, do and say what is required to stay alive. Not the advice one expects a child to have to get really.

Of the five, I found four to be incredible stories. One I didn’t much like but maybe because I don’t know the context well enough.

In the other four, quite simple tales are told of children living in the harsh reality of Kenya, Benin, Ethiopia, and Rwanda. Simple but harrowing and distressing and saddening. These children are facing things adults should never face and the images of the little bodies running and begging and weeping will stay with me for ages. From the uncle trying to sell his nice and nephew into slavery, to the Rwandan girl seeing the horror of the genocide up close, each story tells of an experience much too common in Africa.

Other comments written about this book that I have read talk about how uplifting it is, about how it shows the resilience of children. I didn’t see that really. I felt so sad that we as a continent and we as a species create situations in which children are sold as slaves, watch their parents murder and be murdered, and face persecution for things they had no say in whatsoever.

What Akpan does amazingly well, especially for a man who, I assume as a Catholic priest, has no children, is capture the voice of each of the children in his stories. Children do have a non-melodramatic way of talking about the most horrendous things, and when used as a story-telling technique, this works to keep the stories from being mawkish.

He also uses lots of local dialect and speech patterns. I have read other reviewers talking about how this detracts as it makes it hard to understand every word.
I think this is the point. You do not need to understand every single part of the whole to know what it all means, be the whole a sentence or the lives of these children. Don’t read the stories thinking you will come out with a complete picture of anything. What each story is, is a snippet from the lives of millions and millions of children of Africa.
If you want to know more, go and find out.

Very glad to have read this – and although it counts as my Nigerian book, it really is an everywhere-in-Africa book. I think all Africans should read it. And all people not African too. The essence of the stories is certainly not restricted to Africa.

Things fall apart

Chinua Achebe

I am amazed that I have not read this book before actually
how did I get through high school in Africa without having been told to read it, or stumbling upon it?

of course I have known of this book since forever, but only now have I read it too
it is one of those books that has been reviewed and commented on by far greater minds, readers and reviewers than I – so I shall simply say that I really enjoyed it and would like to know what sense it makes to non-Africans. How differently do they who have never lived here read and understand this book I wonder.

It really is the story of one man, one clan, one country, one continent. It is our story, all of us. And sadly it continues to be the story of humankind. Everyone thinks their way is best and that others would benefit if they just listened to our way of doing things. We never learn to just live and let live, do we?

Glad I made this my book from Nigeria; Achebe will go on my list of authors to be read again.

If you haven’t read it – do so. It’s not a taxing read (it reads almost like a folktale) but it is profound.

Watch them die

Watch them Die

Kevin O’Brien

 

Oohh I did like this murder mystery. Nothing quite like a clever serial killer to have me up all hours reading when i should be sleeping. And this really is a rather clever serial killer story.

The serial killer shares with Hannah, a video store worker, snippets from old movies which show murder scenes which he then copies when killing someone she knows. So poor Hannah is warned of the crime before it happens in a most freakish way – she knows someone will be killed and how, but she does not know where, when or why. and what’s worse, because of her own personal history, she is unable to go to the cops. The fact that the videos containing the murder previews appear in her bag, in her shopping trolley, at her front door in a secure complex and other places not easily accessible adds the threat that the killer is actually stalking Hannah too – and getting very close to her without her even realising it.

 

Add to the mix a bunch of men circling Hannah, none of whom she can trust because one may be the killer, her son, and an abusive ex-husband and there are enough elements to keep the story cracking along, albeit from various directions.

I had an inkling of who the killer may be and I was sort of right but even thinking i knew did not make the rest of the book any less of a ride.

This wasn’t a challenging read and i read the book in three sittings, but it was gripping. It would make a kick-ass movie too.

Serial killer books pose their own challenge to authors – there must be a theme which somehow links the murder victims, and there must be some similarities in the actual murders too. Without those two elements, the reader has no chance of working out who the murderer is (which we all try to do to show ourselves how smart we are), and the murders will appear to be just a random collection of violent acts rather than the methodical process of victim collection. Finding unique but believable ways to make these links is one of the tricks to writing a believable murder. O’Brien does this marvelously in this book. I am surprised no real serial killer has ever done this. If i were planning on becoming a serial killer, I may have adopted this idea. As a wannabe murder mystery writer I am bummed O’Brien had this idea, and executed it so well, before I did.

Very clever, easy to read but totally gripping – this tale and author are going on my favourite list