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Friday 28 August 2009

The Twisted Lines of God

All I want to do is look at, write on, and talk about my new wood burning stove which is a delight to the eye, deliciously warm for the chilly body and the new centre piece in my kitchen. I could spend hours gazing at it, a pert new kettle warming up nicely on top, dreaming of cosy evenings by the fire. I know it’s August but then it’s August in Ireland i.e. chilly, damp and overcast. So, that leaves a book blog to be done. Mmmm…

I have the most delightful Spanish student staying with me (she can’t believe the cold and she loves my new wood burning stove as much as I do) so with the promise of something sweet after dinner, I have persuaded her to write the blog. Well, someone’s gotta do it!

Los Renglones Torcidos De Dios
by Torcuato Luca De Tena

I like this book because it is really interesting and I couldn’t stop of read when I started. In the story you can’t know if the most important person of the book, Alice, is really crazy or she says the truth and she is a detective. She is absolutely intelligent, so the doctors ,who are trying to help her , can’t know if she really crazy. Alice think that she is in the asylum (manicomio) because she has to investige a crime, but when she discovered who was the criminal and she wanted to come back home, nobody believed her and she thought that somebody, maybe her husband, wants to leave her in the asylum (manicomio) to stole her all her money.

Maria Luisa Murube Fernandez – Cotta

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Wednesday 26 August 2009

Waiting and reading, reading and waiting…

We’re both waiting: me for him and him for his results. I’m sitting on a comfortable armchair in the relative’s room, he’s sitting on a hard upright in a nearby corridor. I have my laptop and a book to read, he can’t concentrate so he studies the cracks in the lino. My stomach is slightly full after a hearty breakfast; his rumbles with the emptiness of not knowing. The time ticks by.

He’s back. No news though. Someone got the time wrong. "Come back later, 3.30 this afternoon. She’ll see you then." That didn’t go down too well. We’d come early, missed the morning rush, got here in plenty of time – or so we thought. "They’ll have to see me now cause I’m not coming back. Be here around ten, that’s what I was told."

Rules are rules but when he said, "Stuff that, I’m not hanging around till then" they found someone, someone who’d see him sooner, see him this morning, at eleven to be precise.

We went for coffee. Sat in the brightly lit cafeteria where chairs screeched and a queue snaked around the out-patients with doctors, nurses, visitors, all supping and chatting in a cheery atmosphere that belied the reason we were all there: cancer, in all its nasty forms.

Outside we walked among the daffodils and the smokers, the hopeful and the damned; yellow flowers billowing in the breeze, yellow stained lungs wheezing breathlessly.

Back inside, we wait for news that may change everything. My pc’s running out of battery while he sits reading the cracks like tea leaves at the bottom of a cup. I take out my book and start reading again.

I finished that book, eventually. It was one that needed total concentration and for someone who reads four or five books at a time I quickly realised that it needed my full attention. I’d always wanted to read Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn; he was one of those authors on the list of ‘must reads’ and quite by chance I’d chosen to start with Cancer Ward. No, I didn’t let him see the title as we sat in that waiting room and he didn’t ask.

I got totally confused with names starting off with Pavel, who was occasionally called Pasenka, or even Pasik. Anyway, Pavel Nikoloyevich Rusavov and his wife Kapitolina or even Kapa were joined by daughters, Aviethe and Maike and son, Yuri in this classic novel which everyone who complains about our health system should read. Mary Harney probably has a copy in her bedside locker. I couldn’t put it better than the blurb on the back: "One of the great allegorical masterieces of world literature..is both a deeply compassionate study of people facing terminal illness and a brilliant dissection of the ‘cancerous’ Soviet police state."


Results eventually came back and my friend is on the mend. He hasn’t spoken to me since that day and I often wonder if it’s because I saw him at his lowest point when he was most vunerable. I wish him well.

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Sunday 23 August 2009

Chasing The Light

It rains a lot here in the Emerald Isle: not every day and not all the time but let's just say I never leave the house without an umbrella. Having said that, I spent twenty minutes sheltering under a large hedge yesterday as I walked home from work because I did forget one! The sun, when it shines, comes in through my kitchen window, lighting up the room from early morning until the afternoon. Then it moves around the house and peeps through to the dining room and upstairs on the landing. I have strategically placed house plants in those windows, soaking up the afternoon rays, leaning out towards the brightness.

Last evening, as I popped into my North facing study, I noticed for the first time, a circle of brightness, honey red evening sunshine, gleaming on a shelf of books belonging to my son who, when he comes home from the States, enjoys seeing his collection from when he was so high all there, present and correct, rows and rows of them. Harry Harrison’s The Stainless Steel Rat sat in that glowing circle surrounded by Philip K. Dick, Isaac Asimov, Brian Aldiss, Arthur C. Clarke, Kurt Vonnegut and Iain M. Banks. As I write, the clouds have turned grey and rain threatens but the light still shines through showing leaves of every shade of green in the gardens all around. It rains a lot here in the Emerald Isle but then where would we be without it?

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Tuesday 18 August 2009

The Book or the Movie?

One of my favourite books of all time is A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. In 1998, with the odd title of Simon Birch, this excellent novel was turned into the worst movie disaster I have ever seen. The word corny was invented to describe what went on in this screen adaptation. I rolled my eyes and stuck it out only because I was with a good friend who seemed to be enjoying herself; mind you, she hadn’t read the book. What got me thinking on this subject was the film The Time Traveller's Wife that I saw last Sunday afternoon. I was more than curious to see how the director, Robert Schwentke, would handle the difficult task of time travel, asexual nudity, an older man being friendly with a pre-pubescent girl, along with the older/younger make-up problems and the usual squidging together of a book that would take you three or four days to read into 110 minutes screen time. Verdict? Well, I think Schwentke did a good job! I was ready to cringe, had my credibility monitor all set and ready to go but I just sat back and enjoyed the story unfold. I was entertained, and that, after all, is why we go to the movies on Sunday afternoons.

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim introduced me to the delights of the Italian countryside. Four lively women, who had not previously been acquainted, joined forces and holidayed there in 1922, staying in a small country manse with the wisteria in full bloom encircling the entrance. This was the advertisement that started their adventure: "To Those who Appreciate Wistaria and Sunshine. Small Mediaeval Italian Castle on the shores of the Mediterranean to be Let Furnished for the Month of April. Necessary Servants remain. Z, Box 1000, The Times." After reading this humorous tale I found myself in Italy for the first time, in April 2004, where the wisteria was indeed in bloom. I loved everything and wanted to stay forever. On my return home, a friend lent me the movie, and once again, I was transported back to a place that had captured my heart. What did I prefer: the book or the movie? The book, always the book, but I did enjoy the movie.

I was wowed by the green dress and the music in the film adaptation of Ian McEwan’s novel Atonement; and Girl With A Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier brought the Dutch artist Vermeer, wonderfully to life. I could go on, but I’m more of a bookworm than a movie buff so a bit of input from you would be good here: the book or the movie?

PS - I’ve just remembered one where I thought the book was good but the film was absolutely fabulous: The Reader by Bernhard Schlink. Even thinking about it now makes me shiver. Directed by Stephen Daldry, it starred Kate Winslet who gave the performance of her life. Ten out of ten!

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Saturday 15 August 2009

A Very Private Book Club

I wish I’d gone and it’s too late now.

Where were you supposed to go, Alice?

The book club, with Mary and the gang. I’ve even read the book.

Which book?

"The Believers", you know the Zoë Heller one you started but didn’t finish.

Well, why don’t we sit down and discuss it between ourselves? We’ll have a cup of tea, and a cigarette, have our own mini book club without leaving home.

Alice and Frank settled down in their comfy sitting room, sat facing each other in their favourite armchairs, fire on, feet up, and began to discuss the book at length. They took turns expressing their opinions, listening to each other, trying ideas out for size, wondering who the characters reminded them of. Finally, they wrapped it up, satisfied they had left no literary stone unturned in their quest for a deeper understanding of Zoë Heller’s third novel.

Afterwards, Frank decided he’d pick it up again and finish it this time. And Alice? Well, she no longer regretted staying at home.

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Wednesday 12 August 2009

Tempus Fugit

How many times have I heard someone say, Oh, I haven’t got the time to read! What’s implied is that those who do read have less important, less stressful lives so of course they have time to read. But we’ve all been allocated the standard twenty-four hour day, seven day week, complete with all the attendant trials and tribulations that life can throw at you. I don’t get any more time than anyone else; I just choose to spend some of that time with my head stuck in a book.

I get up early and read in bed with tea and toast before anyone else even thinks about rising. I take time out after a meal, let the digestive system work away, while I manage another chapter or even two. There’s always a book in my bag for when I’m stuck in a queue at the bank or the post office. I’ve even been known to whip out my latest read as I wait to pay for the groceries, all irritations swept away while I take myself into a world where sulky bar codes, loose change in bottomless purses and complaining voices vanish into background noise. Next? Next please??

And as my neighbours switch on their television for the evening soap opera, the familiar music piercing through our thin separating wall, I take up my book, once again, for an absorbing half hour.

As a result, my blood pressure is normal, I don’t suffer from stress, I travel the world without leaving home and I meet a multitude of different characters who entertain, inform and amuse me daily.

For something completely different, try reading The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. It’s about Henry for whom time has no relevance as he switches back and forth through the ages catching up with Claire, the love of his life, who processes time same as the rest of us ordinary mortals. It’s a love story about coping with the vagaries of time travel while the characters learn to enjoy life, with all its attendant surprises, to the full.

Why not try and make time for yourself to discover the immense pleasures of reading. It may even save your life.

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Saturday 8 August 2009

The Power of Reading

The room would be full of patients waiting for their Methadone, sitting there, bored silly, wasting whole afternoons, nothing to do but wait. One of the doctors decided to create a sort of library; the others in the clinic agreed to bring in books, leave them in the waiting room, see if anyone showed an interest. Patients could read while they sat, borrow, or keep - whatever they fancied.

It worked a treat: now, everyone sits and reads: true crime and crime fiction always popular but modern fiction, non-fiction, the classics, all sorts, all appreciated. Some leave with a book tucked under their arm, a sight for sore eyes, says the doctor.

Last week, I watched a programme about recovering addicts in Ireland: brave people who went under the camera, exposing their weaknesses, summoning up such willpower to overcome their particular deadly temptation. One handsome young man sat reading Shantaram in the garden, a book I recognised, full of wild and dangerous exploits. It made me smile as he read tales of another country brought alive in Roberts semi-autobiographical prose.

We read for all kinds of reasons, we read for pleasure, we identify with human experience, we read to escape into another world. For some that is the world of Sense and Sensibility or The Diary of an Edwardian Lady; for others it is wild drug taking, heroin addiction, jail breaks and splashes of madness in India.

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Wednesday 5 August 2009

Buy me!

You’ve written the book, found a publisher, paid for the launch - you never knew so much wine could be consumed, at your expense! - and now you want to sell, sell, sell. You sneak into bookshops (hoping you won’t be recognised) look around for your baby only to find it’s hidden on a table, covered from view by a completely different book sitting jauntily on top; or you’ll discover a single copy jammed on the shelf, out of alphabetical order, in amongst the hoi polloi where not even Hercule Poirot could unearth it. How can you make sure your book will be sitting proud in the window display? How do you earmark the best spot on the display table? How do you get it from goods-in to point-of-sale and out the door?

* Stand out from the crowd: attend your book launch wearing your birthday suit; they’ll drink more wine (to get over the shock) and buy more books. On the way to the launch, rescue a small child in some dramatic way while not putting your own life in actual danger but looking as if you were.

* Get on a popular radio show, give a great interview and the listeners will rush down to their local bookstores to get a copy.

* Give reading copies to the people who will actually be selling your book: the person behind the till is generally the one asked for a recommendation.

* Get it into a book club where it will be read, discussed and then passed on.

* Oh, and be nice to the people who will ultimately sell your book. Authors who forget their manners while book signing with their first Montblanc do so at their peril!

Preparation, though, is everything. Who are you writing this book for? Have you got readers in mind? Are you writing for a particular age group and do you know what interests them? Working in a bookshop is one excellent away of doing your research but if you can’t do that then visit bookshops regularly, check out what’s selling, keep an eye on the books being displayed, find out what books are being talked about.

One author, who did his research thoroughly was the British humorist, writer and satirist, Alan Coren. He was scathing about authors who whine about publishers not promoting their books when they themselves have made no effort whatsoever to make their work saleable. After elementary research he learned that the best-selling books were about cats, golf, and Hitler. Armed with this vital information he wrote Golfing for Cats, a series of comic essays. His pieces included a send-up of 1984 that revealed the fundamental fallacy in Orwell's vision of the future that assumes the Big Brother State functions with perfect efficiency.

Coren wrote nearly twenty books, most with equally humorous titles including his most successful work, The Collected Bulletins of Idi Amin. He also wrote The Dog It Was That Died, Rhinestone as Big as the Ritz, All Except the Bastard, and Tissues for Men.

On the other hand, according to Horace Bent of The Bookseller magazine, Katie Price aka Jordan (who??) with her latest novel, Sapphire, sold more copies in a week than the entire Booker Prize longlist - by five copies to one! That’s celebrity, manufactured beauty and glitter doing all the publicity for you. Being rich and famous and well connected is often all you need to write a "bestseller".

Oh, and last but not least: whoever said that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover was quite right. But that doesn’t stop every last one of us looking at a book cover and deciding, on that alone, whether or not we would be interested. Put a girlie cover on and no self-respecting male will venture one page in. Slap a dash of pink across the front and boys will shy away. A bare body draped in loose clothing can irritate women, while boring, bland covers with out-dated graphics will turn everyone off.

There’s a lot more to consider when you thought that having written the book you could now sit back and relax. Well, you can if your name is Thomas Pynchon (known for his avoidance of personal publicity, we don’t even know what he looks like) or Sebastian Faulks or J.K. Rowling. Everyone else has to get out there, show your face, sign every copy possible, and talk yourself up!

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Saturday 1 August 2009

And the winner is…

The longlist of the Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2009 has just been published so it’s time to get down to some serious reading. There are thirteen titles on this list but by the 8th September that will be whittled down to about six. Then, on the 6th October, one lucky writer will have his/her name added to the select list of forty-two authors, all former Booker winners going back to when it started in 1968.

Which authors are considered?

The author must be a citizen of the Commonwealth of Nations, Ireland or Zimbabwe and the book must be an original full-length novel written in the English language.

How are novels included on the initial list of about 130 books?

* Each publisher’s imprint may submit two titles
* Previous winners are automatically included
* Also shortlisted authors from the last ten years
* Publishers can make written submissions for further entries

What is the prize?

* A cash prize of £50,000
* Having Booker Prize Winner printed across the cover of every future book
* A huge increase of sales and a place in literary history

The longlist for 2009 includes two former Booker Prize Winners, four former shortlisted authors, one ghost written autobiography of a Hollywood chimpanzee, three Irish writers, two first time novelists, and two novels that haven’t been even been published yet. Odds of 3/1 have been given to the novel that is really a thinly disguised autobiography of JM Coetzee but my favourite is The Glass Room by Simon Mawer. Who will win? I have absolutely no idea!

The Longlist:

* The Children's Book by AS Byatt
* Summertime by JM Coetze
* The Quickening Maze by Adam Foulds
* How to paint a dead man by Sarah Hall
* The Wilderness by Samantha Harvey
* Me Cheeta by James Lever
* Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
* The Glass Room by Simon Mawer
* Not Untrue & Not Unkind by Ed O'Loughlin
* Heliopolis James by Scudamore
* Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
* Love and Summer by William Trevor
* The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

Former winners:

2008 Aravind Adiga, The White Tiger India
2007 Anne Enright, The Gathering Ireland
2006 Kiran Desai, The Inheritance of Loss India
2005 John Banville, The Sea Ireland
2004 Alan Hollinghurst, The Line of Beauty United Kingdom
2003 DBC Pierre, Vernon God Little Australia/Mexico
2002 Yann Martel, Life of Pi Canada
2001 Peter Carey, True History of the Kelly Gang Australia
2000 Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin Canada
1999 J. M. Coetzee, Disgrace South Africa
1998 Ian McEwan , Amsterdam United Kingdom
1997 Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things India
1996 Graham Swift, Last Orders United Kingdom
1995 Pat Barker, The Ghost Road United Kingdom
1994 James Kelman, How Late It Was, How Late United Kingdom
1993 Roddy Doyle, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha Ireland
1992 Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient Sri Lanka/Canada
1992 Barry Unsworth, Sacred Hunger United Kingdom
1991 Ben Okri , The Famished Road Nigeria
1990 A. S. Byatt, Possession: A Romance United Kingdom
1989 Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day United Kingdom/Japan
1988 Peter Carey, Oscar and Lucinda Australia
1987 Penelope Lively, Moon Tiger United Kingdom
1986 Kingsley Amis, The Old Devils United Kingdom
1985 Keri Hulme, The Bone People New Zealand
1984 Anita Brookner, Hotel du Lac United Kingdom
1983 J. M. Coetzee, Life & Times of Michael K South Africa
1982 Thomas Keneally, Schindler's Ark Australia
1981 Salman Rushdie, Midnight's Children India/United Kingdom
1980 William Golding, Rites of Passage United Kingdom
1979 Penelope Fitzgerald, Offshore United Kingdom
1978 Iris Murdoch, The Sea, the Sea Ireland/United Kingdom
1977 Paul Scott, Staying On United Kingdom
1976 David Storey, Saville United Kingdom
1975 Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Heat and Dust United Kingdom/Germany
1974 Stanley Middleton, Holiday United Kingdom
1974 Nadine Gordimer, The Conservationist South Africa
1973 J. G. Farrell, The Siege of Krishnapur United Kingdom
1972 John Berger, G. United Kingdom
1971 V. S. Naipaul, In a Free State Trinidad & Tobago/UK
1970 Bernice Rubens, The Elected Member United Kingdom
1969 P. H. Newby, Something to Answer For United Kingdom

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