Tuesday, 30 November 2010

My resolve is weakening...

Ok, last month I said that I would only join in in three challenges at a time but then I saw the Caribbean Writers Challenge here and my resolution went out of the window.
I read several Caribbean books last year and loved them, so this is a chance to discover some new authors. And, making myself feel better, in my 11 in 11 challenge there is a Carribean section so I would be reading books from these islands a day - this challenge is simply broadening my reading habits.
The Goal: To read either 1 Caribbean book a month (totaling 12) or 1 Caribbean novel every other month (totaling 6) between January 1, 2011 and December 31, 2011. There is a mix of novels and fiction as well as collections of short stories and poetry so if you are not particularly enthused about any of these I would suggest the 6 books, that way you can read all the novels.

The Books:
January: The Duppy – Anthony C. Winkler (Novel) READ
February: The Journey to Le Repentir – Mark McWatt (Collection of poems that follow a story)
March: The Dragon Can’t Dance – Earl Lovelace (Novel)
April: Tiepolo’s Hound – Derek Walcott (Poems)
May: A Morning at the Office – Edgar Mittelholzer (Novel)
June: Limestone: An Epic Poem of Barbados – Anthony Kellman (Series of poems)
July: He Drown She in the Sea – Shani Mootoo (Novel)
August: The Mimic Men – V.S.Naipaul (Poetry)
September: Tide Running – Oonya Kempadoo (Novel)
October: The Polished Hoe – Austin Clarke (Novel)
November: Suspended Sentences – Mark McWatt (Short stories that make up a novel, this is up for debate)
December: Still choosing but open to suggestions! (Will be poetry of some kind)

I'm only signing up to read 6 at the moment, one because I'm trying not to buy many books so this will rely on whats available in the library or how cheap I can get them on amazon.
The Challenge has changed slightly and we can now read any Carribean lit that we are interested in, I will be using the above list as a guide but also relying on what I have to hand or available in the public library.

Madame Bovary

I woke us this morning to a world covered in gorgeous white snow, and being a teacher and living in a country where snow causes massive panic as it happens rarely we were given the day off, and as it's snowed all day we also get tomorrow off :) I finished Madame Bovary and went to see Harry Potter, now just waiting for my legs and butt to thaw out after a 2 mile walk home from town.

Madame Bovary is a reread, something I do rarely, as I'm reading it as part of a book group that may or may not meet Thursday, weather permitting. I read this many years ago, I think way back when I was in university and had little memory of it so it was like reading a new book.
For those of you who haven't read it Madame Bovary is Emma, a young, fairly poor but beautiful girl who jumps at the chance to marry an older, unattractive doctor. Whilst he adores her as a possession, she merely puts up with him for the position he offers her in society. Over the course of the book she falls in 'love' with a series of men. These men vary in social position, from a prince regent, to a trainee lawyer to a rich local man. The men form for her an obsession, a way to escape from the monotony of every day life and the desire to feel wanted. Just as she is a possession for her husband, these men are a possession for her, something to cling to, look forward to and satisfy a small part of an unsatifying life.
Alongside her various relationships she also accumulates vast debts through her desire to have the latest clothes, objects and furniture, like the men she thinks these goods will make her happy.
Emma is a character that you are meant to dislike, we watch her downfall, gradually watching her sink further and further into her own problems, the main attraction is just how and if she can get herself from her self made problems. I'm not sure if we are meant to feel sympathy for her or her husband, I found them both shallow and dislikeable.
I'm sure the book will spark many discussion points

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Three Reviews

I have a new laptop and internet connection! Yay! I can now keep up with blogging, bloggers and all the other stuff that we rely on on the web.
Now a quick confession - I won't be able to finish the November Novella challenge on time, I have a couple more books to read, but won't have time to finish them this week as I have a bookgroup read that I have to finish as its the first book we're reading in a new group. However I hope to be finished the novellas by next week.

Now, I've finished three books in the last week so I'm going to do a quick round up of all three here then I'll be up-to-date with my blogging.

The Return of the Water Spirit by Pepetela

This teeny book (100 pages) from the African Writers series is rich in political, social and spiritual comment.Carmina and Jaoa live a spiritless life, shunned by his parents for their lack of religion she strives for power and money in the world of politics and trading. While he stays home playing Civilization on his computer. Around them the world is falling down, buildings collapse one-by-one, despite housing so many people the buildings drift to the ground, the people in them unharmed. A local girl, living close to a lagoon which has formed in the area, hears a deep music which gains in happiness and momentum as more buildings fall.
A good little read, although the symbols and infered meaning are very obvious and not skillfully placed.

A Man Without a Country - Kurt Vonnegut
For the 11 in 11 challenge over at library thing one of my sections to select books from is about reading more of authors that you have enjoyed previously and need to rediscover. I saw this memoir in the library and grabbed it as my first read from this section, I will probably read another Vonnegut fiction in the next year, but it was good to read something from the author.
Written in 2004 Vonnegut gives us his views on the world around him in a series of short commentaries. He writes about eveything from the First and Second World Wars to modern technology to George W Bush. He mangagrs to make many good, serious points whilst still keeping a light and readable tone.
My favourite part was when he explained why life should be enjoyed by 'farting about', taking long trips to buy a single envelope and then a single stamp for the pleasure of the trip and the conversations around you.

The Death and Life of Charlie St Cloud
Inspired by Vivienne's post I grabbed this from the library, and then wallowed in it all of last Sunday, when I curled up with it and a blanket.
Charlie at 15 caused the death of his brother Sam, in his final moments he promised his brother that he wouldn't leave him and never has. Meeting every evening, the pair play catch and live in the moment before their lives were taken away.
Everything changes when one day the beautiful Tess arrives in the graveyard and Charlie has to decide between living in the past or moving on.
Yes, it's corny. Yes, you've read books like it before. And, yes you can guess the ending just from what I've written above. But it's like a blanket, something to snuggle up with on a lazy, grey Sunday afternoon.
This also counts as an 11 in 11 challenge book as one of my categories is reads inspied by others.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

A post of possibilities

Having had a rather bad reading week I was wondering what to post this week. Yesterday I finished Hannah Tinti's The Good Thief, which was full of potential but never grabbed me in the slightest and forced myself to read The Castle of Otranto -afterall it is just 115 pages long (and a book I said I'd read for the November Novella Challenge) - I struggled through the stupidly long (3 pages) paragraphs and chance happenings in despair. Thankfully this morning things are looking up: I started and feasted on the first 100 pages of The Life and Death of Charlie St. Cloud and I saw all the new challenges posted over at A Novel Challenge.
Now my rule for next year was no more than three challenges at a time, and many of these look so tempting! I have already signed up for The Dysopian Challenge, and the 11 in 11 challenge over on Librarything, so I'm going to pick one and just keep a note here of all the ones which seem appealing and which I could manage within my tbr stacks. This way I have a place to refer back to when I've ticked a challenge off the list.

Challenges I'm interested in:
Quirky Brown Reading Challenge
South Asian Author Challenge
Victorian Challenge
YA Historical Fiction
Read a Myth
Nordic Challenge
Person of Colour Reading Challenge
Eastern European Reading ChallengeShared/Suggested/Read-a-long reads (I may participate or just use these as potential finds):
The 2011 Wolves Reading Event Who are reading from this schedule:
January (EL Fay): The Bread Givers, by Anzia Yezierska
February (Emily): Our Horses in Egypt by Rosalind Belben
March (Richard): Conversation in the Cathedral, by Mario Vargas Llosa
April (Sarah): The Dodecahedron, or Frames for a Frame, by Paul Glennon
May (Frances): What Ever Happened to Modernism?, by Gabriel Josipovici
June (Claire): The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Díaz
July (EL Fay): Snow, by Orhan Pamuk
August (Frances): The End of the Story, by Lydia Davis
September (Richard): The Memoirs of Hadrian, by Marguerite Yourcenar
October (Sarah): House of Leaves, by Mark Danielewski
November (Emily): The Planetarium, by Nathalie Sarraute
December (Claire): Buying a Fishing Rod for my Grandfather, by Xingjian Gao

A year of Feminist Classics Reading Project who will be reading:
January: A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollestonecraft - Amy
February: The Subjection of Women by John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor Mill - Ana
March: A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen - Emily
April: Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman - Iris
May: A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf - Ana
June: The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan OR The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer – Amy
July: The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir - Iris
August: The Women’s Room by Marilyn French - Emily
September: The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf - Amy
October: Ain’t I a Woman? by bell hooks - Iris
November: Gender Trouble by Judith Butler - Ana
December: Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde - Emily

The Challenge I'm starting the year with:
Back to the classics, I choose this one because as soon as I saw that you had to read one book for each of the following:
A Banned Book
A Book with a Wartime Setting (can be any war)
A Pulitzer Prize (Fiction) Winner or Runner Up: a list can be found here
A Children's/Young Adult Classic
19th Century Classic
20th Century Classic
A Book you think should be considered a 21st Century Classic
Re-Read a book from your High School/College Classes

My mind raced to think of the books I have on the tbr pile that could be used to complete this challenge.

I'm sure that these lists will grow and grow as they usually do in the lead up to the end of the year. I like the idea of joining in with one of the lower levels of participation 3-4 books and having a themed month of reading but also being able to weed those books out of the bookstacks that wouldn't have got a look in otherwise.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Revolutionary Road - Richard Yates

I had see and quite enjoyed this movie a couple of years ago so when I was offered the book I thought ‘why not’. For those who haven’t seen the film he story is set in 1950s Connecticut amongst the new pastel box houses and pastel box cars. Frank and April Wheeler, the ideal American family on the surface live, look down on this cereal box style society. Beneath their idealism lies deceit, past regrets, emotional imbalance, unfaithfulness, hate, hurt and love.
Sounds like a fairly typical read but Yates style struck me almost like that of a voice over on a nature show. There was a stylised distance so that you felt like you watching this couple from both afar and at an intimate level.
Neither character is appealing, in fact every character –even the kids – are unappealing, annoying and stereotypes. He spends too long focused on how others see him, trying to appear laidback and like he’s just passing time till something better comes along. She, an emotional childish wreck, taken to telling her husband that she hates him, blames everything on her childhood. I’m looking forward to reading more of Yates.
Have any of you read his works? Do you like reading novels of films you have seen?

Novella Challenge Reads

I managed to tick off three of my novella reads last week, here are all three reviews in one post to save numeous posts.

The Epic of Gilgamesh (Penguin Epics)
The third millennium BC story was found carved into stone and is believed to be one of the oldest surviving epic poems.
Written in prose style it tells the story of Gilgamesh a man born so strong his town sought out a companion for him to equal him in strength. When Uruk is discovered the battle against the threats to the town, including a mighty dragon, are undertaken.
At Uruk’s death Gilgamesh becomes afraid of death and goes in search of everlasting life. His journey into death is beautifully told employing the repetition of the ballad form. A good way to spend an hour’s reading time.

The Last Will and Testament if Senhor da Silva Araujo – Germano Almeida
Last year I was trying to focus on reading my way around the world (I didn’t get far) and went in search of a book from Cape Verde as I wanted to read about parts of Africa I knew little of. This was the only novel that I could find that had been translated into English.
Araujo leaves behind a 384 page will which reveals that he isn’t the quiet retiring man that everyone thought he was. With an illegitimate child, numerous love affairs and his transgression from poverty to wealth his life is gradually revealed. This was an interesting way to tell the story of a man’s life. You get his accounts, left only to be read once he is dead, and the accounts of those that experienced these events with him – remembering the story from a completely different perspective.

Do you have any recommendations for the smaller or less translated African states?

We Always Lived at the Castle
This read was inspired by Chris' post here, and I loved this book just as I've enjoyed many of the books he's reviewed.
Merricat and Constance are the gossip of the village after their parents and young brother are poisoned at home with arsenic in the sugar. Costance, in charge of the cooking was tried and aquited for murder. Since they returned to their old house they have been shunned, gossiped about and watched by those who used to look up to this wealthy family.
The tale is mainly based in the castle and shows the sisters loving relationship, the tasks they do to keep the home and Merricat's the younger sisters adventures. Life changes when Cousin Charles, a man with ulterior motives, comes to stay. He plays nice to Constance but picks out the rebellious younger sister.
It soon becomes clear who the murderer was and that Charles stay at the house is not welcome.
I really enjoyed this book and will certainly be looking out for my own copy and more of Shirley Jackson's work. A big recommendation for anyone completing the novella challenge

Sunday, 14 November 2010

2666 - Roberto Bolano

Roberto Bolano died before the publication of this book, his last wish was that this book waaas published as 5 separate books, hopefully providing money for his children - his publishers decided that it was best to publis this all as one volume.
I'm going to talk about each section separately as in some cases their is little link between the sections.
The Part About the Critics
Four critics from different parts of Europe separately stumble upon the work of a little known author Archimaboldi, three of them work to translate his works into thier own language , and set out writing about his works. Their attention moves this little known author into a recongnisable laterary name.
This section is about their relationship with each other (three men and one woman = an inevitable literary love triangle); their search for the author who seems invisible and their interest in the painter Elliot Johns who chopped off his own hand in the name of art.
The short sections (2/3 of a page) give us glimpses of events over the years culminating in a trip to Chile on a tip off that the author is there.

The Part about Amalfitano
This teeny section is only 60 pages in length and focuses on the life of the Latin American professor that the four critics o0f the earlier section met on their trip to Chile.
His life is shown to us through snapshot moments, interspersed with accounts of letters from his wife that she sent to him after she left (she fell in love with a poet she'd never met and went in search of him). We also have Amilfatino's explaanation of why he has a work of geometry hanging from his washing line.
These sections, especially thouse accounting his wife's travels and explorations are longer but start to feature some of the magic realism Latin American fiction is famous for.

The Part about Fate
Oscar Fate is a New York reporter having aa bad week, first his mother dies then he is sent to interview a boxer-turned writer-turned preacher. Then off to Mexica to report on a boxing match which ends up with him mixed up in the Mexican underworld. This section features the daughter of the professor from the previous section. The focus has moved from literature to philosophy and now to crime.

The Part about the Crimes.
A huge section focused on a police investigation (lack of investigation) into the numerous murders and serial killing of women in a town in Mexico.
A large number of female killings are dealt with - after about the 50th grisly and graphic descriptions I ended up skipping these. The rest of the section is focused on some of the police, criminals, and a psychic lady who believes she can see the murders.
This section was far too long and tedious. Thankfully the next section saved the book.

The Part about Archimbaldi
This section starts with a young boy desparate to live at the bottom of the sea and follows him through his many jobs, life in the army, his love for a mad girl abd finally his transformation into Benno von Archibaldi - the author searched for in the first section. We learn why he is an enigma.

As a whole I enjoyed this book although this fourth section really let it down. Each section had some link to a previous section, but like other books like this I really wanted to go back and discover the rest of the srtory of some of the characters - a mamouth feast.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Buenas Noches, Buenos Aires - Gilbert ADAIR

This is my first read for the Novella Challenge, and was a nice break from reading the monsterous 2666.
With a pink flower, and pair of succulent lips on the front cover I certainly ended up with a story I wasn't expecting (I brought this for about 20p when Borders shut down - probably never reading the synopsis).
Gideon moves from Britain to France seeking a place to be free and find himself. An awkward soul , his homosexuality is hard to accept and experiment with. He begins work in a language school where he gets to know lots of gay men and is introduced into the gay community, but his desires seem only that until the Aids epedemic breaks out.
This novella would have been great for the GLBT challenge. Gideon's feelings, reactions and desires spill out of the page in this memoir style novel, leaving the reader unsure how to take his final claim. Certainly not a book for everyone, but a brave book to have written.