Tag Archive: literature


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?

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.

I found this book in at airport Exclusive Books – my favourite place to buy books. I bought it because I liked the idea of reading some African chick-lit. I am not a fan of chick-lit but was interested to see how traditional African chick-lit might differ from Western chick-lit.

The starting point of the story was pretty uniquely African – it is the story of the four wives of a Zimbabwean man, Jonasi, told by each of the women. I know Africans are not the only polygamist people, but I’m mostly sure it is the only place where it is legal.

Set in Zimbabwe this is a story of wealth and indulgence I would not have associated with that country. And that in itself made it interesting. We have all forgotten that Zimbabwe was once a rich, flourishing country. By the end of the story both Zimbabwe and Jonasi have become destroyed by bad decisions, over indulgence and HIV.

I am not sure if this book really is just a silly bit of chick-lit or if a parallel could be drawn between the life of Jonasi and that of Zimbabwe itself. The uncertainty is largely because the book is not very well written. It is very chatty in style and that works for the surface story, but it does mean that if there is any deeper stuff going on, it is hard to see.

The book was also an opportunity to look at the viability of this kind of sexually open relationship in a time of HIV and Aids, but does not manage to engage in any serious comment, again because of the poor writing.

Nyathi has some terrible writing tics which should have been edited out. No one wants to read a paragraph with ‘literally’ or ‘I tell you’ three or four times. It is lazy writing and lazy editing. The same sense of chatting to your friends over a coffee could have been achieved using better writing.

I have seen reviews in which Nyathi’s writing style has been described as sassy and sexy. I must disagree. Sexy and sassy do not mean badly constructed and repetitive. The book is also unnecessarily, and sometimes erroneously, wordy. This is true of many new African writers I have found and I do understand why it happens, but editors should be pruning things a little. The editor of this book did Nyathi a disservice.

That being said it is still very readable and not particularly challenging, an easy dip into the lives of these five people that is immediately forgettable.

I will read another Zimbabwean book because I don’t think it fair that this book be a whole country’s contribution to this collection.

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.

book from India – 258

Haunting Bombay by Shilpa Agarwal

I was somewhat disappointed by this book and by the fact that it is my book for India.

There are so many wonderful books from India and Indian authors but this is not one of them, in my opinion.

It did win the 2003 First Words Literary Prize for South Asian Writers which made me hopeful that I had found another gem. I found the book to be painfully drawn out and I lost interest just over half way through. The end tried to make the whole book seem awfully exciting but it was too little much too late.

Haunting Bombay is a ghost story set in Bombay (funny that) with everything revolving around one family and their neighbour. It is also, I guess, about love and freedom and how people are treated by others, especially the less powerful like staff, women and those who are not quite physically perfect. Pinky is the main character except when she is possessed. Her grandmother is her benevolent rescuer from a useless father and greedy paternal grandmother when her mother dies. Pinky lives with her grandmother and uncle and his family and is never part of the family really. Which is one story I think could have been very interesting just on its own.

But Pinky then releases the ghost of her baby cousin and so starts a whole muddle of magic, religion, superstition and fear. This then becomes the story.

Her male cousin is in love with the neighbour. She behaves rather oddly and her end is never explained. Story 3.

There is sexual abuse, alcoholism, a hooker, transsexuals and crazy ayahs (nannies) all crowding into the pages, demanding attention. Rather than a symphony it turned into a cacophony.

The lushness and cloying moisture of Bombay during the monsoons was well portrayed; I thought Agarwal managed to convey that very well. What started out as verdant, succulent and lush soon became scary, sinister and unpleasantly soaked.

This book is, to my mind, very obviously a first novel. It could have been well-edited to 70% of its length without losing anything. There are too many sub-plots, none of which are gripping enough to stand alone, too many pointless details which were not part of painting the picture but seem like verbosity. I got to the point of actually not caring about the characters at all but just wanting them to go away.

I would like to read another offering by Agarwal as I am sure she will have grown into an author I relate better too.

But Haunting Bombay did win that prize, so maybe I am the problem reader rather than it being the problem read.

trans-sister radio

Interesting book this one.

It’s the classic ‘girl meets boy, girl and boy fall in love, boy has sex-change throwing everyone’s idea of sexuality, gender and sexual orientation into a blender’ love story really.

Allison, ex-wife to Will, teacher in a small town, and mother to Carly meets Dana. University professional and all round really nice guy. Things are wonderful until Dana explains his hairlessness and occasional erectile dysfunction – female hormones will do that.

The story is told from the point of view of the four main characters and I found each of them completely believable. With a first name like Chris, I was unsure of the sex of the author – and the fact that all four characters were believable made working it out impossible. I even considered whether the author were a transsexual at one stage.

At times perhaps naïve I still found the story engaging and I came away having learnt two lessons

What they are does not matter but a book that can send the reader off with a different way of viewing the world, is, in my estimation, worth reading

Love and sex are complicated and I do wonder whether the lofty idea that we fall in love with a soul somewhat simplistic. Sex matters – and sex with a person with the genitalia and practices that belong to the group you are sexually attracted to, really matters.

When Dana emerges from surgery physiologically a woman but still emotionally and intellectually the man Allison fell in love with, they both have a struggle on their hands. I was dragged right into that struggle – and empathised with both women.

A very interesting book indeed – it will make you question your own ideas about sex, love and tolerance.

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