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Sunday 28 February 2010

What we talked about....

....when we talked about nothing.

Lobby talk:

“Did you see him?”


“Yer man, whatshisname.”

“Oh, yea, he’s staying here with his wife.”

“Must have arrived last night.”


“He was sitting outside reading that book, you know, the one that won the IMPAC.”

“The horses one?”

“Yea, Out Stealing Horses, I think.”

“Loved it. By Per Petterson, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, think that was it.”

And here’s another one as we enjoyed dinner in a high-class restaurant off the orangery:

“Well, did you?”

“No, I never slept with a policeman.”


“...but I did sleep with a policeman’s wife!”

We all cracked up at that one.

Instant friendship:

“But I can come with you. I speak Spanish, it’s absolutely no trouble at all.”

Ulla could and did and without her our visit to A&E would not have gone so smoothly. She translated, filled in forms, held hands, and guided us through the system with ease. P, having fallen down some marble stairs, emerged after her ordeal looking like Frankenstein’s moll with large black stitches running up her gashed arm. We could not repay Ulla’s kindness but we can pass it on.

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Tuesday 23 February 2010

Holiday bliss

The four of us are sitting at a corner table in Marbella - that of the sea, the shops and the unexpected sunshine - in our hotel bar reading our books: P is deep into The Post Office Girl by Stefan Zweig with a cold cup of coffee in front of her; T is thoroughly enjoying Italian Shoes by Henning Mankell with the remains of a bottle of Coke being cleared away by the bar girl. G, with a very pleasant glass of rosé in hand, is on the second part of The Notebook, The Proof and The Third Lie by Agota Kristof, an intriguing novel that I may have to reread; and I am stuck into another Mankell, The Man from Beijing, that is so enjoyable. For once we aren't yacking away but are absorbed in our other worlds, the amiable chatter of our fellow residents burbling away in the background, the musak a gentle thrum of guitar. Oh but this is bliss!

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Wednesday 17 February 2010

The Lenten Read - It Begins

'Tis the first day of Lent and I'm itching to begin my first forty-page foray. With the proviso that I may change my mind at any time (why yes, I am playing the female card), I have chosen the following books for my Lenten Read:

Click for moreLittle Hands Clapping, Dan Rhodes (Cannongate), 313 pages, 7.82 days

Click for moreThe Sorceress, Michael Scott (Randomhouse), 483 pages, 12.07 days

Click for moreInvisible, Paul Auster (Faber), 308 pages, 7.7 days

Click for moreThe Missing, Tim Gautreaux (Sceptre), 422 pages, 10.55 days

Which all adds up to 38.14 days (N.B. I will always go for the good stopping point over exactly 40 pages). Interspersed with the above will be stories from Simon Van Booy's Love Begins in Winter (it won The Frank O'Connor Short Story Award this year over Wells Tower's Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned which I loved so I have high expectations (Rosita Boland asks about the influence of book awards on reading choices here)).

I've been waiting to read The Sorceress for ages after flying through the first two in the series (the fourth book, The Necromancer, will be out May 25th). I've also been waiting on Invisible, especially after hearing the author on Open Book way back in the summer of 2008, a very interesting individual indeed.

The Missing has been highly recommended and really, what's not to love about a novel set in 1920s Louisiana, "a wild world of jazz, moonshine and lawlessness"? Little Hands Clapping arrived in last week and I was hooked from the first sentence of the synopsis: In a room above a bizarre German museum, and far from the prying eyes of strangers, lives the Old Man.

In content the books are quite a mix, yet all are fiction, all written recently by Western white males. If we are to judge ourselves by what we read, I'm not sure what this says about me other than the abundantly obvious fact that I love a good yarn well told.

Daily updates on progress will be tweeted with possibly a blog post or two thrown in for good measure (if I'm not too busy reading).


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Monday 15 February 2010

A Singular Man

Colin Firth plays a blinder as a gay English Professor in A Single Man. It's a pity though, that it almost always seems to be straight actors who portray homosexuals and lesbians on screen. I would have hoped that in this day and age we could openly accept Hollywood stars who prefer their own gender rather than keeping them shut up in the veritable closet. So, the straights play gays and the gays play straights and no one is any the wiser. One scene has George Falconer sitting on the couch opposite Jim, his partner of sixteen years, as they are both reading completely different kinds of books: George holds After Many a Summer Dies the Swan by Aldous Huxley, Jim is engrossed by Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote. It’s funny to note that before I became involved in the world of books I would hardly have noticed, let alone rushed home to find the Huxley quotation that seemed so apt on screen: "Experience is not what happens to you; it's what you do with what happens to you."

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Friday 12 February 2010

Blooming holidays!

You’ve decided where to go, booked flights, organised hotels, packed and weighed your bags, sent the cat to longsuffering relatives, persuaded the dog to take up residence in a home with bars across the windows, and all you have to do is make sure you have something decent to read. Simple? No, definitely not!

To Pisa, Italy, I brought three books: one was ok, the second was awful, and the third I had read before (a ghastly mistake) so I set off for the largest bookstore in town. The English section comprised two sets of shelving in which Charles Dickens and Dan Brown featured among the usual chick-lit and dross of the lowest order; I chose the former and spent the remainder of my holiday with Hard Times tucked under my oxter (not a bad choice as it turned out. I can now visualise Miss Haversham at the table of her wedding feast and the genial Pip as he grew up with a cast of the strangest characters). Note to self: plan better next time.

Albuquerque, New Mexico, with five books in tow, none of which I could read on the flight as I was seated next to Bill for the long haul with whom I talked non-stop, laughed, watched the same movie, and left in Chicago with a nod of regret. No sooner landed than I headed for Borders that was full of luscious temptation that I didn’t resist; next was Barnes & Noble, another house of sin for the likes of me. More books to read but still I didn’t manage a single page due to (a) the time difference that had me in bed by eight; (b) so many relatives dying to catch up on old times; (c) the view from the back garden of humming birds flitting around the feeding table; (d) the wonderful dry heat that did me a power of good. I eventually managed to get stuck into Henning Mankell who kept me highly entertained with his grumpy detective, Wallander (who could do with a good holiday himself), and a bloody crime to be solved by fair means or foul.

My flight home was just as fortuitous with Harry, another of Chicago’s sons, for company who helped me carry my suitcase, bursting with unread books, to a waiting bus.

Next week I’m off to Marbella with three gals from the book club for seven days of fun, fun and more fun. We’ve agreed to take two books each to share after reading so basically that’s one book a day if all goes according to plan. It should be enough, but then again, what if none of them are any good??? Oh the trials and tribulations of being too far away from my favourite bookshops and that steady supply of literary surprises growing like sturdy trees beside my bed, on the sideboard, near the couch and strewn on the hall table.

Having a good book to read is like a security blanket for bibliophiles without which we’d turn into nasty, spiteful, frustrated bores longing for an English box of Cornflakes off which to read (as if we needed to know) the ingredients, nutritional value (ha!), country of origin, and other useless information. Reading is reading when it boils down to it and going mad in a world without books doesn’t bear thinking about.

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Monday 8 February 2010


Bait by David Albahari

A young man tries to record his mother’s memories before she is lost to him forever. They are both haunted by the collapse of the former Yugoslavia, the devastation that was their home in Serbia before they left for the safety of Calgary, Canada. The narrator of this story listens to his mother’s voice describe a life she has left behind but carries in her heart.

"Some people simplicity calms and others it upsets, in that lies the whole truth. I don’t know whether I can associate that with my mother, but if I compare her with my father, then Father, perhaps like all fathers, becomes hopelessly complicated always at the furthest remove from the best path, while Mother pauses through the labyrinth like a knife through a head of cabbage, without resistance, until it reaches the heart."

This book, though densely written, pours emotions through a sieve of loss, exile, language and love. It is a reflection of a time, a place, and a mother who never stood still, who never gave up, who loved until she took her last breath.