Thursday, 30 April 2009

Still reading the boring book

I still can't remember what it's called, which isn't a good sign, but I have persevered and it's getting a bit more interesting. Still not thrilling though. A lonely girl has just been dumped for mysterious reasons by the love of her life ...

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

More photography books

My first choice was a little book of the photographs of Julia Margaret Cameron. A Victorian, she was amongst the leading exponents of photography as art, specialising in atmospheric portraits and dramatic scenes with her models dressed as biblical or literary characters. (It helped that she moved in artistic and literary circles). Her niece, also Julia, was the mother of Virginia Woolf, and there is a very beautiful photograph of her. You really can see her fine and lovely features (surprisingly, because often women described as great beauties of the day would not meet our expectations today). Speaking of modern standards, we would consider each and every one of the models photographed to be having a very bad hair day. No hair straighteners of Frizz-Ease for them! Yes, it's a shallow observation, but mine own ...

The next book was The Commissar Vanishes by David King. This was an eye-opening work about the revision of history under Stalin, specifically by altering photographs to exclude the one who had gone out of favour. King illustrates this dramatically by comparing the original photographs with the altered ones (sometimes they went through several incarnations). It is shocking to look at the people shown and to realise that at least 90% of them did not die a natural death. The photographs were altered by air brushing or cropping (as a scrapbooker I flinched at the evil use cropping was being put to here). Even more horribly, private citizens and schoolchildren were expected to carry out their own revision of books in their possession, blanking out the faces of the out of favour. These pages look particulary creepy and upsetting with just the face gone. Despite the horror of the situation, in some cases the altering of the photographs was carried out in rather an amateur manner and the author points this up with some humorous titles which serve to puncture the pomposity of Stalin and his minions. A very interesting read.

Day 201; Book 199

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Boring book

The one I'm reading is so boring I can't remember the title or the author. I did buy it for only £1 in Asda, so maybe that should have been a clue (on the other hand some of my best books have been bargain books). I may just abandon it or I may try to persist in the hope that it gets better. It's not a bad book, just uninspiring. *sighs*

Monday, 27 April 2009

Mrs Ames by E F Benson

This was published in 1912, so a good decade before the Lucia books. Lucia fans will still enjoy this, but it has a much more serious undertone. There is still the manipulation of others for social dominance but there are more important matters at stake here, so the book cannot be so light-hearted. In Lucia the problems are usually all of the participants' own making so we can enjoy their Machiavellian manoeuvrings for their own sake.

I also read The Only Problem by Muriel Spark. I couldn't decide if this was meant to be funny or not. (I didn't find it so). The characters were all tedious and self-obsessed. It ends in tragedy but you don't care.

What a relief to read Cranford (by Mrs Gaskell) again. The characters are drawn warmly and wittily, times past are poignantly evoked - and there is a happy ending! I've never seen the TV series and I'm planning to keep avoiding it, as they may have altered things and I wouldn't like that (plus I have my own ideas about how the characters should look).

Day 199; book 197

Friday, 24 April 2009

Paying Guests by E F Benson

This is very much in the style of Benson's Lucia books and was equally funny. The editor writes in the introduction of Benson's "biting satire", but I would have to say I don't really agree with that interpretation of his work. It implies that Benson has no sympathy with his creations, yet he does. Part of the enjoyment is in recognising the faults of characters, yet coming to sympathise with at least some of them. We end up hoping they will get out of the scrapes for which they have only themselves to blame. There's more of these, so back to the shelves for me.

Day 196 ; Book 194

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Calum Colvin exhibition in St Andrews

It's at the Gateway. Here are the details.

Life After God by Douglas Coupland

Douglas Coupland is a Canadian artist and post-modernist writer. I've written "post-modernist" there because that's how he is described, but I have to confess that it is one of these slippery terms I have never managed to grasp. It also tends to put me off, but I was given Coupland's Life After God and I have to say I did enjoy reading it. It is written as a collection of short stories which seem biographical but are not (although who can tell how much of the author is in there?) He raises many difficult points about life, and its meaning or lack of meaning. He made several points I felt were true (and which I had never seen expressed before). One is about how you can never experience anything as intensely as you did when you were younger. Another is about his liking for rain and how he feels safe in it (I like rain too). There was also a scary passage where he is lost in the desert at night - and hears footsteps behind him. I must try to read his book Generation X.

Day 196; Book 193

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Small but perfectly formed

I read Muriel Spark's children's book The Very Fine Clock. This is a very sweet little book with detailed illustrations which I think imaginative little children would love. Not very much happens at all, yet Spark creates a whole world occupied by Ticky the clock and his owner the professor.

Then I read the script of The Royal Hunt of the Sun by Peter Shaffer. This is an earlier work by the author of Equus. Here is a review of a recent revival, directed by Trevor Nunn. The plot concerns Pizarro's conquest of the Inca empire, and it raises many questions about colonialism, religion, life and death ... all the important themes! I preferred Equus though which was more about the individual.

Day 195; Book 192

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

In which I get down with the kids

Last night I read a book for teenagers, Knocked out by My Nunga-Nungas by Louise Rennison. I'm pretty sure I would have found this hilarious when I was at school and in fact it did give me a few laughs. It was funny though, because I kept sympathising with her supposedly-awful parents and thinking they weren't that bad! I did relate to the way she spoke, inserting French and German words where possible into ordinary conversation (at school we would always ask what other people had to "manger"). Thirteen-year-old girls would probably love this; parents can be reassured that it was actually quite moral.

Day 194; Book 190

Monday, 20 April 2009

The Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson

This was an excellent book which I didn't want to put down until I had finished. I can't tell you too much about it, because Mr F is in the middle of reading it just now. One of the good points, though, which won't give too much away, is that it's set on the east coast of Scotland with many references to places I know. The ambivalence is reminiscent of The Turn of the Screw, although it is not as accomplished. Should you read it? Yes.

I also read another Falco mystery, Ode to a Banker, in which Falco's extended family continues to cause him problems at the same time as he has to solve a murder set in a scriptorium. Of course I got distracted thinking about how they would shelve the scrolls in a library - pigeonholes apparently. But you would either to have to have a pigeonhole for each scroll (uneconomical) or you would need several scrolls in each pigeonhole (messy). Thank goodness for books and shelves! Perhaps that will look as odd to e-book readers in the future.

Day 193; Book 189

Friday, 17 April 2009

The Sacred Art of Stealing by Christopher Brookmyre

Brookmyre worked his magic again when I read on to the second part of this novel. There was a hilariously filthy scene in a museum and the various strands were woven together in a most satisfactory manner. I would say that Mr F was right again but I don't want to encourage him.

I've read a lot of books but there seems to be no end to the classics which have escaped me up until now. One of these was 1066 and All That by W C Sellar and R J Yeatman. This is a humorous take on British history as it is taught and (mis)remembered. If you like schoolboy errors you will love this, although the joke is rather thin for a whole book, even a short one. As it was written in 1930, the authors can refer to Britain as "top nation" (which of course it still is). One of the best jokes is about Richard the Lionheart, who "whenever he returned to England ... always set out again immediately for the Mediterranean, and was therefore known as Richard Gare de Lyon".

Day 190; Book 187

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Half-way through another Christopher Brookmyre ...

and I don't really like it! There have been some funny bits, but not as many as I have greedily come to expect. Maybe it will pick up in the second half though (which I will be reading tonight as it looks like my DVD still hasn't arrived, grrr).

*note to self: think of something interesting to write in blog tomorrow* *blushes*

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

One Virgin Too Many by Lindsey Davis

I finished this one last night, and I thought it was one of the best Falco novels. Mr F wants me to read another Christopher Brookmyre next, so I could give that a go if my DVD hasn't come yet! Surely it will ...

Day 188; Book 185

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Year of Reading Dangerously Passes the 6-month Mark

And I have to admit I am flagging!

I've got a new Marcus Didius Falco on the go though, and I really like this one. Lindsey Davis never seems to run out of ideas for her Roman detective series. Each one has a really different angle. I'll enter the title details of this one when I've finished it.

I may have to resort to shorter books for a while now. I'm at the half-way point on my marathon and I need cheering crowds and virtual drinks of water to be thrust at me. Phew!

Oh, and I ordered a dvd which hopefully will come today. It's the Inbetweeners, a group of foul-mouthed and filthy-minded teenagers which has had me in fits of laughter. Can I finish my book and watch an entire sitcom series? Probably not!

Monday, 13 April 2009

In other news: I weeded the garden ...

and it looks really good! (Or at least half of it does. The other half was scarily weedy and I went back indoors).

When not weeding, I was reading ...

First I read Anne Perry's Christmas Secret. Yes, I know it was actually Easter but I liked the look of this one in the library. It was pretty good - a Victorian mystery, set at Christmas. There's 13 of these in the series, so I must remember them and read them in the appropriate season. They are quite short, only about 160 pages.

Next up was Miss Read's Village Affairs. This is part of the long-running series which began with Village School. They are gentle tales of a teacher's life in a country primary school. The earlier ones are the best, I think, because they are set in the 1950s (or thereabouts) and written at about that time too). In the later ones modern life is intruding too much. They are amusing too, with Miss Read's battles with the fearsome Mrs Pringle the caretaker.

Schools of the type which would have horrified Miss Read are featured in Sugar Rush, which is about a teenager's rites of passage in contemporary Brighton. Apparently this is a book for teenagers but it is really well written and funny too. These teenagers are terrifying, but our heroine learns a lot about herself and her family.

Finally I read a little book of three short stories by Agatha Christie. This author can sometimes seem very dated (see Why Didn't they Ask Evans?) but this collection was surprisingly modern, with some good twists.

Day 186; Book 184

Friday, 10 April 2009

Equus by Peter Shaffer

I read the script for this play last night. I had a vague idea what it was about but deliberately didn't read any more about it so I came to it fresh. It was a very powerful piece of work which I would like to see performed, but even as a written piece it was shocking. It appears dated at times (I wonder if they update the references for performances?) and some of the revelations were too-clearly signalled. However, it had a fascinating conclusion both to the mystery involved and to the play itself. It raises huge issues about normality and spirituality. I see there is a film of the play although this is not without its detractors. Here is a link to the Broadway version of the play (with Daniel Radcliffe).

Day 183; Book 180

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Trinny and Susannah

I discovered What Not to Wear 2 and What you Wear can Change Your Life on my bookshelves so decided to read them again. It's been a while since we've seen poshos Trinny and Susannah on TV manipulating people's unwilling body parts and bossing them into more flattering outfits. Their points all make sense though such as not wearing something baggy if you are rather tubby: you will look even bigger, as if you were actually the size of the tent you were wearing. Wear something fitted instead (although not sausage-skin tight). I enjoyed these so I must look for What Not to Wear 1. No doubt it is out of print but you can still find these on Amazon on Abe Books.

Day 182; Book 179

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Oranges are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

I read this the other night and can highly recommend it. It's funny and touching and really gives the flavour of the heroine's upbringing in a strictly religious and evangelical home. Some people have read it as being about her rebellion against this strict religion, but really it is about her rebellion against one aspect of it, and then her cruel eviction from everything she had held dear. I took against the author herself in her introduction though when she praised her own work so highly...

Day 181; Book 177

Monday, 6 April 2009

The Miracle at Speedy Motors by Alexander McCall Smith

I started another Christopher Brookmyre but wasn't really getting into it and then I came across this one in the bookshop. I think it's the latest of the No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series; I hadn't read it before anyway. Right from the first page I was back in McCall Smith's charming Botswana. This series is on TV at the moment but I haven't wanted to watch in case it doesn't live up to the books (also, Mr F watches Lost at the same time). The humour is gentle, the writing is perceptive and the whole thing reveals what must be the author's essential humanity. The books have been criticised for not mentioning the AIDS crisis, but they do mention it in a subtle way. Anyway, why should a whole country be defined by a terrible illness rather than by these inspiring characters? It's not as though tragedy of other kinds is never experienced (even by the heroine, Mma Ramotswe).

As a complete contrast, I started reading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson. I've made hardly any progress as so far I've absolutely hated it! Withnail and I does the whole drug scene so much better - with humour. Perhaps if I read on I'll get into this book, however. It deserves credit for the title alone.

Day 179; Book 176

Friday, 3 April 2009

One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night by Christopher Brookmyre

I loved this too! Just as I was moaning that I didn't like this one as much as the last, suddenly everything changed and I was on the edge of my seat. Funnily enough in this one it was the exciting action that grabbed me, so these books are not just for blokes. Brookmyre's use of language is amazing. I laughed and laughed at the expression "bevommed" for a person someone else had been sick all over (a hilarious situation itself - at least for the reader). There are many Scottish cultural references - but also one I can't believe I missed, to South Park (thanks Mr F for pointing it out).

Mr F has lots more of these books but this time I am going to pace myself and look for something else to read in the meantime.

Day 176; Book 175

Thursday, 2 April 2009

New Brookmyre in Progress

It's One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night, and so far I like it but not as much as A Big Boy Did it and Ran Away (but then I liked that so much it would be difficult for this one to match up to it).

I love these titles though!

I thought there was a bit too much thriller-type action in the last one, but funnily enough this one has just livened up with the arrival of a gunman. The hero reacts really well to this, but I think I would probably just be standing there waiting to be shot, thinking it couldn't possibly be really happening ...

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Mr F was right ...

Christopher Brookmyre is a wonderful author! His work has been referred to as "tartan noir" but it has a healthy dose of humour too. I finished "A Big Boy Did it and Ran Away" last night (500 pages, so it took me 2 evenings). Fortunately Mr F has a nearly-complete collection of this author's books, so I can start on my next one straight away.

How to describe this author? Well, he's funny, both in his throwaway lines and in the situations he sets up. He can write dialect: compare the cringe-making efforts of Sir Walter Scott to Brookmyre's fabulous, witty use of Scots, particularly Glaswegian. His characters are original, although obviously based on reality (see his teachers or his first-year students) but they also develop throughout the book. Scottish readers will smile with recognition at the speech but also at the locations (surely he makes the first-ever literary reference to the Whirlies roundabout in East Kilbride). This book was also an exciting thriller, but it was the other qualities that appealed to me most (not being a bloke).

Read this book! Particularly if you are Scottish, male and young (-ish).

Day 174; Book 174