We owe it to each other to tell stories - Neil Gaiman

Friday, 5 September 2014

Whilst I wasn't reading

For the longest time I have been struggling to get back to being the prolific reader that I was before I moved to Cape Town. Whilst I have been reading, I have not read as fast or as much as I wanted to be reading. It was rather distressing which slowed down my reading even more.

I still am not where I would like to be with regards to my reading speed, nor have I met the challenges that I have set out for myself, but I decided that to stress about that would simply delay the reading process even further which would start an even more vicious cycle. I decided to stop reading for two weeks. I decided to starve myself of the pleasure of reading so that I could really get sucked in when I did start reading again. So far it has proven effective, and I have decided to tell you about what it was that I was doing whilst I wasn't reading.

Since I was battling to get lost in a story in my head through reading, I decided I would become involved in a story by watching them. There are so many phenomenal series available at the moment. Some of them newish, some of them, finished up either this or last year.

Breaking Bad.

The Americans.

House of Cards.

These are the stories I got lost in.

I watched the American version of House of Cards - Kevin Spacey was phenomenally despicable. I am looking forward to seeing the British version to compare, as the British are just so much more acerbic than the Americans are. It is also quite exciting that House of Cards is based on Michael Dobbs' novel of the same name.

The Americans got me thinking about Russia and Russian Literature, the reference to Anna Karenina and The French Lieutenant's Woman did not escape my notice. The Americans got me wanting to read the Russian Classics. It made me want to read about the Cold War and find out why Russia was seemingly on the wrong side of the war. Interestingly enough, there are also bookish ties to this show - An Ordinary Spy by Joe Weisberg.

Breaking Bad made me think of Voldemort, looking at Walter White and seeing how he turned from good, innocuous Walter White to full on Heisenberg - poisoning children and taking names. We understand through this 5 series journey why it is that Walter White turned bad, but do we actually truly know why Tom Riddle became Voldemort? I am due for a reread of Harry Potter, so perhaps I shall find that we already know, but I think it is splendid when a series makes you think of books.

This is what I was doing when I was not reading, I was getting lost in other story worlds, yet always thinking of books!

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Patrick Ness calls writing for children a ‘cry in the wilderness’

Patrick Ness called writing for children 'a cry in the wilderness' as he delivered the inaugural Siobhan Dowd Trust Memorial Lecture at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on Saturday 16th August.

The A Monster Calls author addressed the subject of 'Why Write for Children' in his speech and explored the idea that each book is a 'swift pure cry' as Siobhan Dowd put it. A cry that says 'This is the world I recognise, do you recognise it too?'. He continued to talk about the reasons he writes and put it down to empathy and love. He looked back at a time in his life when he wished he'd felt less alone, including being a gay teenager.

Ness criticised the media for portraying teens in a bad light, and the debate about whether books can be too dark for teens. Instead, he believed books should show teenagers the whole world out there and be an 'exploration of ideas'.

He attributed Siobhan's writing as being 'smart, clear-eyed, unsentimental; tough but full of truth. Just plain damn good'. Did she write it for "some worthy and progressive reason?", Ness discussed. "We can never know for sure of course, but I am going to say the answer is now, for the simple reason that it's a good story to read."

Ness reasoned that to be a good writer you have to be an artist and "trust yourself that you're responding to a story for a reason. And if you follow that story the best you can, it's going to contain everything you believe. And kids might read it, because it's a story."

Patrick Ness is linked to Siobhan Dowd after completing the novel A Monster Calls (Walker Books) following the death of Siobhan who had written the outline for it. Dowd wrote several novels for children, including The London Eye Mystery, A Swift Pure Cry and Bog Child (DavidFickling Books). The Siobhan Dowd Trust was started by the late teen author just before she died from breast cancer. Since then it has funded a huge variety of projects from starting libraries in schools in deprived areas to supplying books to counselling charities to most recently funding  75 schools to visit the first YA literature conference in the UK.

More information on the trust can be found here.

P.S. Patrick Ness is an American-born British author, journalist and lecturer who lives in London and holds dual citizenship. He is best known for his books for young adults, including the Chaos Walking trilogy and A Monster Calls (set to be an international movie in 2016, starring Liam Neeson and Sigourney Weaver). Ness won the annual Carnegie Medal both in 2011 and 2012. He is one of seven writers to win two medals consecutively.

The Chaos Walking Trilogy books have been re-issued, with a new short story in each book.

Knife of Never Letting Go

The Ask and the Answer

Monsters of Men

Siobhan Dowd was a writer and before that spent the majority of her career working for PEN. Her work involved investigating human rights for writers in Indonesia and Guatemala. In the UK her work included taking authors to socially deprived areas, prisons, and other community projects. Siobhan also worked as Deputy Commissioner for Children's Rights in Oxfordshire. working with local government to ensure that statutory services affecting children's lives conform to UN protocols.

The London Eye Mystery

Bog Child

A Swift Pure Cry

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Frog Music - Emma Donoghue

Title: Frog Music

Author: Emma Donoghue

Publisher: Picador

Pages: 403

Source: Received from Pan Macmillan South Africa

The Synopsis

Summer of 1876: San Francisco is in the fierce grip of a record-breaking heat wave and a smallpox epidemic. Through the window of a railroad saloon, a young woman named Jenny Bonnet is shot dead. 

The survivor, her friend Blanche Beunon, is a French burlesque dancer. Over the next three days, she will risk everything to bring Jenny's murderer to justice - if he does not track her down first. The story Blanche struggles to piece together is one of free-love bohemians, desperate paupers, and arrogant millionaires, of jealous men, icy women, and damaged children. It's the secret life of Jenny herself, a notorious character who breaks the law every morning by getting dressed: a charmer as slippery as the frogs she hunts. 

In thrilling, cinematic style, FROG MUSIC digs up a long-forgotten, never-solved crime. Full of songs that migrated across the world, Emma Donoghue's lyrical tale of love and bloodshed among lowlifes captures the pulse of a boomtown like no otherGOODREADS

The Review

For a long time, I have been mulling over Frog Music.  I want to be truthful in my critique of this book which managed to leave me feeling the same way I did after reading Wuthering Heights.

If you do not recall my reaction to Wuthering Heights, that is fine, you can go to my review or you can get the gist of it below.

This has been a difficult book for me to dissect. Whilst I am rather fond of stories about real people, the people in Frog Music got no love from me. Much like with Wuthering Heights, I felt compelled to see the entire course of events; but I found the characters rather despicable. The story left me feeling rather bereft, and abused.

I will admit, I found Jenny and Blanche to be interesting - almost Oliver Twist-like characters who appear to be plagued by tragedy. Jenny intrigued me the most - she certainly appeared to have been a feminist ahead of her time. She was actually the one that I most enjoyed, it is just a pity that she remained an enigma throughout the story.

Frog Music is set in an interesting, yet grotesque period of time. The opportunities of a new world are made ugly by the repugnant reality of the exploitative nature of man as well as the great fear we all have of the other. This is not only echoed in the story of San Francisco, but also in the fleeting relationship between Jenny Bonnet and her new found French friends - Blanche, Arthur and Ernest.

Of all the characters in Frog Music, I found Arthur and Ernest to be the most vile. Their shameless exploitation of Blanche to support their lavish lifestyles - which sadly is something that we are seeing more and more of in the 21st century. The more things change, the more they stay the same, but I digress.

Since Frog Music is based on actual events, my disliking the story cannot be attributed to the author. Frog Music is not a likeable story - it is a slice of history, a slice of life without a sugar coating. It is like Angela's Ashes - an ugly reality. My critique is thus not so much of the story, as of the nature of the people - which is to say that it is a critique of the nature of man - Emma Donoghue has done a fantastic job of describing it so perfectly.

One thing that vexed me throughout my reading of Frog Music was the lack of footnotes. Whilst I appreciate the way that French words and phrases were sprinkled throughout Frog Music, I hated that I had to page to the back of the book and look for the meaning amongst a host of other French terms defined. It detracted from the reading experience for me. I feel it would have been so much better had footnotes been used.

What I most enjoyed about Frog Music, was figuring out how the title of this book ties in with the story. It is actually quite clever, but I shan't tell you here, in case you are like me and enjoy solving things like that. I thought it was savvy of Donoghue to switch between past and present, giving you two glimpses which makes the reader all the more curious about the mystery at hand. I also enjoyed, the forgotten art of story telling in songs - something that is now mostly relegated to nursery rhymes - in a way that somehow captures something that we have largely lost.

Frog Music is not a book for the fainthearted, nor for sensitive readers, as it can at times be rather graphic and savage. For other perspectives on Frog Music, please see this review from the New Yorker or this one from the Washington Post.

Monday, 1 September 2014

The thoughts of a 'recovering' compulsive book buyer

It has been 101 days since I purchased my last book.

101 days!

101 days?

101 days.

That is more than 3 months. It is closer to 4 months. I have gone almost 4 months without ordering or buying any books.

A few months ago, I would have found that appalling. As I write this today, I consider it progress.

You see, before this, I was a compulsive book buyer. As the name of my blog suggests - I am a Bibliophile. In 2013 alone, I purchased well over 100 books. At this moment in time, I own more than 600 books. A few months ago, I found that to be quite an achievement. I still consider it to be quite an achievement, but I now wonder whether it isn't slightly insane. An insane achievement, but an achievement none the less.

Cicero said that 'A Room Without Books is like a Body Without a Soul' - if that is the case then my house is full of soul. There are books in all the bedrooms, the lounge, the passage, the dining room, the study, the kitchen...

The books have taken over. Fiction. Non-Fiction. YA. Classics. Children's Books. Books about Books. Cook books. They are all there. There are duplicates and sometimes triplicates - because I just had to have the book in its new cover.

In the 101 days since I purchased my last book I have had an epiphany of sorts. The rate at which I have been acquiring books vs the rate at which I have been reading them is not in-sync. If I continue at this rate, I will leave more than 2000 books unread by the time that I die. I also came to realise that about 25% of the books that I own are books that I am not actually interested in - so they will just sit there - unread and unloved forever.

What of the books that I own that I have already read, you wonder? Well those books, who have already received my attention will either remain under my curatorship, or if I did not absolutely love them, or do not see myself rereading them at any stage in the future, well I am willing to part ways with them.

Does this mean that I have changed as a reader or even a bibliophile? Perhaps. Then, perhaps it is part of a reader's evolution to become more selective about which books take up the limited amount of reading time you have whilst alive?

I still love books, I still love to read. I am still a purist - preferring physical books to digital ones. After I cull part of my collection, I shall still have very many books. It just takes a bit more to get me excited and 'trigger happy' about buying a new book that excites me.

After all, I have enough books to keep me busy for the next 5 years at the very least.