Tuesday 25 June 2013

A book is a gift you can open again and again – Garrison Keillor

Things are not as they should be just now. My head is all over the place. Too much work. Too much stress and anxiety. Too much to do, too little time.

The result? I have four books on the go. Yes, FOUR. Now that can’t be right, can it? I've never done this. I don’t know where I’m at. My concentration is shorter than short. My decision-making is non existent.

And so I have four books on the go. My endeavour to read Kundera’s essays continues. It’s a tad hard work. But not altogether unpleasant. Therefore, I persist.

In the meantime, I need to read for pleasure and so started Eugene Onegin.  Pushkin. A novel in verse.  A strange experience.  But enjoyable all the same.  Which is more than a little surprising, I don't mind telling you.  I’m not a big poetry fan.  Much to my chagrin.  I would like to be.  But I'm just not. So this was to be a challenge. That it's enjoyable is a great bonus. And so I persist.

Then after my bout of extravagance on eBay, a book arrived that I couldn’t wait to delve into. Literally, couldn’t wait. I unwrapped it and began to read. The Note Books of a Woman Alone. A strangely intriguing title. And you know my penchant for intriguing book titles.
The foreword in itself was stunning. The reasons behind the collection and publication of these notes books. The reasons having motivated an acquaintance of the woman alone in question. The rest are the starkly honest thoughts and mental meanderings of this woman alone. Along with snippets from authors, newspapers, novels, poems. Quotes and passages obviously close to her heart. Making a somewhat melancholy read. But so touching. I haven't finished it yet. But will. And so I persist here too.

And finally the fourth book: Where the Sidewalk Ends, by Shel Silverstein. During the Armchair BEA, a fellow book blogger recommended it to me. With gushing enthusiasm. Supported by comments from other book bloggers. I’d never even heard of it. So into my Amazon basket it went. And somehow it slipped into my post box. And onto my knee. And I started reading that yesterday...
Short poems. Yes, more poetry! Mainly for children, methinks. But delightfully written. Moral counsel. Cautionary tales. Childlike musings. A truly wonderful work.
Hug o' war. It's dark in here. Early bird. Rain. One inch tall. Sick. The crocodile's toothache. Lester. No difference. It reminds me somewhat of Hilaire Belloc.  Compulsive reading. Sweet. Instructive. Funny. And so I persist.

But this cannot continue. I’m divided. Pulled four ways. And that is never a happy situation. But I have train journeys ahead. So I hope to get everything back under control. Shortly. Soon. I hope.

Thursday 13 June 2013

I cannot remember the books I've read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Today is a bad day for me. A painful anniversary. One that has marred many aspects of life in recent years. And which keeps coming back. Year in, year out.

Sometimes the only thing to do when life is getting you down is to take refuge in books. To read. To learn. To force the brain cells to contemplate something else, often something worse than you’re going through. If only to get perspective.

And so came John Hersey’s Hiroshima. And believe me, mentally walking through the aftermath of an atomic bomb is a surprisingly effective perspective maker.

Written one year after the bomb was dropped, Hersey follows the experiences of six survivors.  And then returns to them all 40 years later.  To see if they’re still surviving.

This is not just a fascinating account of one of history’s world-changing events. But it’s compelling reading. Devastating, frightening, shocking. On so many levels. There’s nothing sordid or invasive here. And it’s certainly not sentimental.
These are real people, real lives. Each tale adds to the next. Indeed, the humanity in such inhumanity makes the whole real. Makes the statistics real. Make the suffering and the death tolls mean something. They bring the atrocities of dropping an atomic bomb to life.  And serve as a testimony to the resilience of human beings.

I came across this book through a course in speed reading. Would you believe. A course which I didn’t enjoy, I hasten to add. All the more so because the flash of text from this book made me want to read more. And slowly. Which of course was not the point.

To me, it's the kind of book that could be used really effectively to teach people about Hiroshima and its aftermath. To really help young and old capture the horror of the final days of the war. To move teenagers to understand why we seemingly incessantly point back to these world wars as so significant and shocking.

My anniversary is indeed painful. But very personal to me and my family. The anniversary of Hiroshima (and Nagasaki) should be painful to us all.

Sunday 9 June 2013

When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes - Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus

I've spent the last three or four days buying new books. Well, old books actually.  Very old books. Mainly first editions. But not very expensive ones. Just first editions of old books I like.

I say three or four days because I was buying on eBay. So the time frame was dictated to me. What fun, though! Finding the right book. Putting it in the basket. Waiting for the time left to tick by.  Bidding.  And winning.  Or not.  Sooo therapeutic. And then getting some seriously nice feedback. Into the bargain. (I'm a model eBayer, apparently!).

I think this should be standard for all human interactions: find the right person to talk to, approach, engage. And get feedback. Wouldn't life be more fun? And more civil?

Anyway, my spare cash is now spent and I must abandon eBay for a while once again. But awaiting receipt of the spoils is good too. And I now have so much more reading material to catch up on. Again.

While I continue with Kundera's essays, I have in the meantime finished The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. In English, I hasten to add.

I was always going to be inclined to like it as it's a tale told through letters. One of my favourite writing styles. And it was an easy read. Despite being Goethe. A big name with an equally big and intimidating reputation.

It was charming. Endearing. Drawing you in by its expressiveness, its emotion. All so admirable. At least at first.

The story of a man deeply attracted to a woman. Beside himself with love and desire. Honourable at first. But which takes possession of him. And never lets go.

He is ready to do anything to be with her.  Except step away when she is no longer available. When the admiration sours somewhat. He becomes a tad obsessive. And then very much so. Leading to his downfall. A long, drawn out affair. Coldly, indulgently dragged out for maximum effect. By him. On her. Sure indeed to stay with her - and her husband - forever. Sitting between them always.

The whole leaves you with a sour taste. As if you've just partaken of something unpleasant. Unwillingly. As though thrust upon you while trapped and unable to move away.

Such is the skill of the author. Arousing sympathy, empathy for the main protagonist. Convincing you all is well. Convincing you he is a winner. Kind of. Eventually. Maybe. And then no. 

Still, the warning hints abound: "Human kind is merely human, and that jot of rational sense that a man may possess is of little or no avail once passion is raging and the bounds of human nature are merely hemming him in."

Goethe certainly champions emotions and our expressing them: "The only thing that makes Man’s life on earth essential and necessary is love", but warns "The source of man’s contentment becomes the source of his misery".

And so Young Werther was not the book to cheer me up. Although I didn't dislike it. Quite the contrary. But you understand my need for some eBay retail therapy? The worst is that I thought YW was on my Classics Club challenge list. It was but now isn't. Still, it would seem I don't have many cheery books on the list. Hiroshima is next. I sense more eBaying in the very near future. Let's hope my funds will hold out...  

Monday 3 June 2013

Be awesome! Be a book nut! - Dr Seuss

The Armchair BEA topic for today: WRAP UP

So my first Armchair BEA has ended. But it’s not over. The effects and experiences will stay with me for a good while. And I hope the contacts made will grow and develop.

It has been an intense few days. I’ve learned such a lot. Mainly through the experiences of others. And I don’t think I’ve ever read so many posts. Thanks to everyone for sharing so freely! What a lovely community of bloggers!

Now an apology: I don’t think I was a very good Cheerleader. Didn’t get round every one of the posts assigned to me every day as requested. And planned. My excuse being that reading posts and making worthwhile responses takes time. And I’m very slow. Sorry if I failed to cheer you on. Here's a general "Yey" for one and all. To make up for any failings...

Now I need to digest everything that I’ve learned, all the advice I’ve received and the ideas that have come to me. Then see what I can do about it. Watch this space!
Thanks to the organisers for such a great event. And so that's all folks! Till next time...

Saturday 1 June 2013

There are many little ways to enlarge your child's world. Love of books is the best of all - Jacqueline Kennedy

The Armchair BEA topic for today: CHILDREN'S LITERATURE

I wrote about my favourite childhood books fairly early on in my blogging life. It seemed natural to explain my obsession with books. Only I can’t really explain it. My parents weren’t readers. Not then. Mum came to books later. Dad still resists. Nevertheless both my sister and I love books. And so now does my nephew.

I can remember buying my first Mr Men book (by Roger Hargreaves). It wasn’t my first book by any stretch of the imagination. But I think it must be one of the first that I had a hand in buying. That I was allowed to choose. And that feeling of satisfaction and pride stayed with me. Mr Small. Loved it. Went back for more. All of them, in fact. Indeed, became a tad obsessed with the Mr Men. But that’s another story.

The Mr Men however brought me my first audio recording. A single (record, 45 rpm) of Mr Happy and Mr Jelly. Read by Arthur Lowe. How amazing is that?! I still have it. Don’t have a record player any more though...

I can’t write about children’s books with mentioning Enid Blyton. Brer Rabbit. The Naughtiest Girl. The Famous Five. The Secret Seven. Today I still have The Enchanted Wood, The Folk of the Faraway Tree and The Magic Faraway Tree. Stunning tales. They transported me to another world. I wanted to be in that tree. To climb on the visiting cloud to see which land was there today. To meet Moon-Face, Silky, Saucepan. To make toffee and eat pop biscuits. To experience the slippery slip, Dame Washalot.

Those tales influenced our play, our dreams. Our sleep. They have stayed with me. I can still feel the excitement of reading them. Talking about them with my best friend. The hope that such wonderful worlds might exist. The desire to create them for ourselves.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis: I remember walking through the wardrobe with Lucy. Feeling past the musty coats till the crunch beneath our feet turned to snow. Crying so hard when Aslan died that I couldn’t articulate and mum thought something awful had happened to her daughter.

Swallows and Amazons, Arthur Ransome: sitting for hours in the abandoned boat in my best friend’s garden. Planning sailing trips. Fending off pirates. Trying to whistle and coo like owls (and btw never succeeding).  Making a survival kit. Just in case.

I could go on. Books have shaped me since I could read. Stimulated my imagination. Stirred desires and hopes and dreams. And continue to do so. I can only be grateful to all the authors then and now busily working to the benefit of us all.