Thursday, October 23, 2008

Tom's Midnight Garden

I'm not sure how one can read a book by mistake but that's what I have just done. I was contemplating the next book to read when my eyes alighted on this thinnish volume and I though that I'd manage to finish it before I leave for New Zealand. As I started it I had an uneasy feeling that it wasn't quite what I expected and it seemd to be a children's book. No indication anywhere that it was so I persisted. Then I decided that as I'd got so far I might as well find out the ending. I imagine that it's an enjoyable enough book if you were a pre-teenager in the 1950s. Or someone old enough to read children's books again! In a funny sort of way I enjoyed it. More importantly, though, I liked the concepts of time and space explored in the story and the potential for other planes of being. I think I would have enjoyed this as a child.

Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce is regarded as a modern (children's) classic. I'm certainly not qualified to comment but I'm not sure that it ranks with Black Beauty or Peter Pan.

But I've decided that I shall re-read Peter Pan.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Cold Comfort Farm

When I started to read Cold Comfort Farm I didn't know what to expect even though I'd read CJ's posting on A Book Every Six Days which, by the way, I would suggest that you read before you venture further with this paragraph. It was that posting that made me take the book off my shelf and read it. Anyway whatever it was I might have expected I certainly would never have expected what I found.

It is supposed to be a comedy. It didn't amuse me. It seemed to me to be a parody. But of what or whom I had no idea and it made me wish that I had a better knowledge of English literature. I came across a paragraph which started "Dawn crept over the Downs like a sinister white animal, followed by the snarling cries of a wind eating its way between the black boughs of the thorns." I have never liked Thomas Hardy and it was at that moment that I thought perhaps I had discovered at least one of those whom Stella Gibbons was mocking.

I was fascinated by the ludicrousness of the whole book: its plot, its setting, its characters, its language and its prose. I couldn't see why I should continue reading it and yet I couldn't put it down. Surely there must be a twist in the tale's tail. But no. Instead we end up with the ending of a romantic novella.

W are told that "The action of the story takes place in the near future." As it was written in 1930 and 1946 is in the story's past it is difficult to even approximate a time. However as air taxis are a commonplace it is nearer our time. But as mail appears to be delivered the next day it is presumably set some time ago! Ah. 'Tis full of puzzlement. And sukebind.

There was a son [a Sussex man] who was easy on the eye but slow on the uptake. [A current Sussex saying is 'Strong in the arm but thick in t' head']

'Who's "she"? The cat's mother?' [A saying of Mum's from my youth. Had she read Cold Comfort Farm I wonder.]

Nature is all very well in her place but must not be allowed to make things untidy. [A quote for Helen and CJ in particular.]

..a philosophic treatise.....not to explain the Universe but to reconcile man to its inexplicability. [That's one for me - I never did have an enquiring mind.]

She liked Victorian novels. They were the only kind of novel you could read while you were eating an apple.

I think we ought to dine out... to celebrate the inauguration of my career as a parasite.
And one must not forget the parrot. You did read CJ's posting, didn't you?

Yes. I enjoyed this book. But I'm still not really sure why.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Remains of the Day

Last week just as I was starting this book CJ posted on Ishiguro's book Never Let Me Go . I wondered whether I would have more to say than CJ. Well I'm a bit at a loss for words on this one. Did I enjoy it? Not really. Did it have a satisfactory ending? Not really. Did I learn something from it? Not really. Did I understand what Ishiguro was attempting to achieve? Not really. In fact it was a bit of a not really book altogether.

I started off enjoying the story, briefly, because I thought I had an idea where it was going. Wrong. The narrator of the story has striven (at the time of the narration) to be called a 'great' butler and is a self-satisfied, emotionless and, I thought, very unfeeling, uncaring and unpleasant person. I was sure, however, that Ishiguro did not intend him to be. Or did he? Now I'm not really sure.

One of the things about posting views on a book is that it does make one think back to what one has read. I'm sure that Ishiguro was trying to get far more issues across to his readers than I have managed to assimilate. But as I review the pages I fail to see those issues. The last pages talk of the evening being the best part of the working day (actually and metaphorically) hence making the best of the remains of the day. But if that is the message then........

I would add that the narration prose is wonderfully evocative of how one might expect a butler in a great house to communicate in the earlier and middle part of the twentieth century. How does anyone who has not lived through that era - in fact was not born in this Country - do that? But then the last four words of the book contain a split infinitive! Oh dear.

Would I rush to read another of his books (which I have on the shelf)? Not really.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Does God Believe in Athiests?

No, I haven't read this book. Life's too short to drink bad wine and too short to read books which are a turn-off from the cover blurb never mind the first page. Mainly because, despite the title, the book is really a quite academic treatise in part (the part that traces the development of atheistic and agnostic thinking from the 'Golden Age' of Greek philosophy to the present day with Kant, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Camus and Sartre thrown in for good measure) and the rest which is, as the existence of God cannot be proven, an exposition of faith.

I thought that the title, however, was brilliant and worth a mention for itself alone.

It did make me wonder whether in an analogy with the question as to whether a falling tree makes a sound in a forest where there is no one to hear it, if God does exist and doesn't believe in athiests do they exist?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Blogging About Books

It had never really occurred to me to blog about books until I realised that I really enjoyed CJ's and Helen and Ian's Blogs. It's fascinating to know what other people are reading and what they find enjoyable or otherwise. It also gives one ideas for prioritising ones own reading.

From the blogger's perspective it is a memory jogger, a diary of books read and something to be re-visited.

I wish that I had kept up the index book I started when I was about 18 of the books that I had read. It was not a diary as such only a simple a list. How fascinating it would be, for example to know what I thought when I read War and Peace (twice, two separate translations! I think I favoured the Penguin Classics translated by Rosemary Edmunds, the Heron Books one, I seem to recall anglicised the names which felt inappropriate), Crime and Punishment (did I really understand it then, would I now?), London Bridge is Falling Down by David Lodge (read in 1971 it is the only book against which I placed a quote: 'Literature is mostly about having sex, and not much about having children. Life is the other way round.'), the whole Strangers and Brothers series by C P Snow (which I have re-read twice since), lots of Somerset Maugham (I devoured his books avidly but cannot remember a single emotion that they elicited from me), every C S Forester book published (a story teller par excellence) and so many more.

In fact when I see how many Russian novels alone I have read and forgotten about it makes me appreciate just how many books proper readers must get through. Then there are the books about which neither the author, the title nor the subject bring back any recollections whatsoever: Myself a Mandarin by Austin Coates or The Twelfth Mile by E G Perrault to name but two.

Ah yes, what if?

"What if? Big Lou's answer came quickly: One did not engage in such idle speculation in Arbroath. 'No point thinking about that,' she said 'It didn't happen'." The World According to Bertie.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Agatha Raisin And The Quiche Of Death

In May CJ stayed with me and read some of the books on my shelves. One of these was Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death by M C Beaton. Naturally he wrote a blog entry on A Book Every Six Days. I couldn't remember what he had written (although I knew that he had enjoyed it) and had deliberately not re-visited the entry until I had read the book myself. Which I have done over the last few days.

This is the first of a series of Agatha Raisin murder mysteries. Agatha sells up her public relations firm and takes early retirement to a quiet village in the Cotswolds. She is the antithesis of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple. Booklist described her as 'A refreshing, sensible, wonderfully eccentric, thoroughly likeable heroine'. Which book, I wondered, had they been reading. Doubtless we will come to love her as we love Miss Marple but to describe her as any of those things is, in my view, palpably incorrect. She doesn't even have the virtue of being eccentric. She's friendless, boorish, rude, selfish and rather pathetic figure of an anti-heroine. Or was I reading a different book?

That may sound as though I didn't enjoy the character or the book. In fact I enjoyed both. And I will read another one. That will be the test for me. Will the next book continue to provide interest or will the novelty wear off very quickly?

Not for the first time , Agatha wondered about British Rail's use of the word 'terminate'. One just expected the train to blow apart. Why not just sat 'stops here'?

'If you want to make your mark on the village, Mrs Raisin, you could try becoming popular.' Agatha looked at him in amazement. Fame, money and power were surely the only things needed to make one's mark on the world. 'It comes slowly,' he said 'All you have to do is start to like people. If they like you back, that is a bonus.'

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The World According To Bertie

For comfort food I turn to spaghetti bolognese, for comfort reading I turn to Alexander McCall Smith. As I started on the book I wrote those opening words in my blog posting and saved them for when the book was finished. A few days later the following paragraph written by Helen appeared in Helen and Ian's Book Blog : "People widely accept the concept of 'comfort food'. I wonder if anyone else has special books to which they turn and reread for comfort or inspiration?" Well I don't return to McCall Smith's books to re-read them (not yet anyway) and they don't inspire me But they are the spag bol of reading for me. They are undemanding, entertaining and, above all, comfortable. And for anyone with a knowledge and love of Edinburgh (as I do) the 44 Scotland Street and The Sunday Philosophy Club series are just that little bit more special.

Having said that there is something about The World According to Bertie (the fourth in the 44 Scotland Steet series) which seems to me to be rather self-indulgent on the Author's part. McCall Smith is an exceptional man - that cannot be denied. He was, amongst other things, Professor of Medical Law at the University of Edinburgh and served on national and international bioethics bodies until he gave it up in 1999 to concentrate on writing fiction after the global recognition of The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series. However in this book his desire to show off his exceptional knowledge occasionally grates and appears to have been done for no other reason than to show that he has that knowledge.

That won't stop me reading the next one and the one after that. I love spag bol too much.

People who do that [decide that Edinburgh is too small for them and move to London] often then discover that London is too big for them, much to the amusement of those who stayed behind in Edinburgh in the belief that it was just the right size for them.

Money, education - these give you freedom, but they can take you away from your roots, your place.

We are here [in life] and by and large we seem to have a need to continue. In that case, the real question to be addressed is: how are we going to make the experience of being here as fulfilling, as good as possible?

...the English are half mad when they think nobody's looking.

Unhappiness in childhood was worse than the unhappiness one encountered in later life; it was so complete, so seemingly without end.

What if? Big Lou's answer came quickly: One did not engage in such idle speculation in Arbroath. 'No point thinking about that,' she said 'It didn't happen'.

...for most of us nothing very much happens; that is our life.

But was it better, he wondered, to be trapped [in a marriage] with a Porsche or not trapped without a Porsche?

Do you remember his book-distressing service for the nouveau riche? [CJ that would be a really good idea for you.]