Thursday, 28 July 2016

World Traveller

I've chickened out of a little holiday to Madrid this year because it was too expensive and I was secretly scared of being alone. I traveled on my gap year on my own and somehow I've lost my nerve again. I cannot think of a more appropriate post for me then; I will travel the world with my reading. These are books about cities that really transported me into them and made me want to visit.

Girl with a Pearl Earring
I never knew that I wanted to visit Delft until I read this book. I could not have been more sucked into the writing of this book, full of colours and silence. The story is full of descriptions of the market and the houses, canals and paintings as the heroine makes her way through the big bad world. There is another book that I read at manuscript stage: Eye of the Beholder by Laura Snyder. This is also centered around Delft and the Art of Seeing. It's on my destination list in a big way.

Shadow of the Wind
A little magical realism to spice up the list, Shadow of the Wind takes you to Spain. The real Barcelona is magical enough if you ask me, but this book puts a touch of devilish dust onto it. There is a thrill when ever you recognise a reference to Las Ramblas or the route that a character takes around the park. It's a brilliant book, but its setting in Barcelona is what really drew me to it (as I was living there at the time).

With a book this big, how can it not evoke the place. This, and Behind The Beautiful Forevers by Kathrine Boo, focus largely on the slums or prisons of Bombay and therefore do not immediately draw the reader into wanting to go there. However, descriptions of industry, community and FOOD are clear lures to bring you closer to the city. More than anything there is this tourist taboo, basically if you're going to India, LIVE there. Get stuck in. Terrifying, full of crime and grime, but somehow the most intriguing country. Furthermore, Karl Pilkington, the most miserable man in the world, when asked which country he liked the most, said India. If that's not an endorsement I don't know what is.
You can read my review of Shantaram here. And Behind The Beautiful Forevers here.

... of course. It has to be on the list, but it is by no means my favourite. I have never read it through in its entirety, but if it wasn't on here, I'd be told off. The idea was to be able to rebuild Dublin if it were to be wiped off the map. The book itself is not readable, but it does capture Dublin; in the most meticulous and frankly tedious way. The fun thing is James Joyce wrote the majority (all of?) the book while in Paris and had to send a friend to find out if the wall at the end of such and such a street would be climb-able and what its exact measurements were. #Unfriend.

Halide's Gift
I read this a long long time ago but was immediately drawn in to the world of Halide's konak and the story of her childhood and growing up into an influential figure in Istanbul. It's mainly based in Old Istanbul, but a glimpse of the feel of a rapidly expanding city is already coming through. Its brilliant company if you've got time to wander around the streets and hills of the city. It's also interesting to read about the city from a woman's perspective at the time, and having that juxtaposed against the female movers and shakers today.

Death in Venice
I studied this bad boy at University and my fabulously groundbreaking teacher had us create a google map of all of the places that the character Gustav von Aschenbach mentions or goes to. What a brilliant way to immerse the class into the sense of place that the book creates. HOWEVER, much of the book is centred around the festering and stinking city in stagnant water and a similarly failing love. It's not much of an incentive to visit, but what a book to put you right in the middle of all that water. I still want to visit, perhaps find a sickly and pale boy in a sailor suit of my very own. 

What's your favourite book about/set in a city?

**** UPDATE****
After I wrote this post I went home from work and was feeling sad, and down, and like my life was not the full rainbow that it is. I've booked my flights to Madrid. Any books about Madrid you can suggest other than the Lonely Planet?

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Reading the Classics

Many people find 'classic' books difficult to follow, hard to read and an all around waste of time. Last year I tried to alternate a classic with a new book/more modern read and that seemed to work fairly well, but both helped and hindered my relationship with those dusty tomes.

The only problem with this was choosing the classic. There are plenty of new books all the time that catch my eye to read, but the classics will all ways be there. What I mean is, there's a reason I haven't read them yet, the story hasn't attracted me before.

Choosing the classic then largely depended on what was available on the cheap. Either borrowed from my parent's libraries or as cut price Kindle Classics. Does this mean that those books would be the ones I REALLY wanted to read? No. When time for a classic came around I would huff and puff around the options and choose one at random. Then painfully slog through the text that I wouldn't like even in a more modern writing style.

There is a certain amount of dedication that I have to give to classics. Our lazy minds are not used to the work out that a good classic gives you. But once I'm settled in I find it easier. Still the focus is something I struggle to give on my commute, which a modern book is better able to tell the story, but without the linguistic and detailed gilding.

I love so many of the classics I do read. But I didn't like forcing myself to read them and then grabbing any old book. My advice would be to look a little deeper into the book and consider which of the classics would appeal as a reader. Everyone has different tastes in reading, If I was around when some of the classics came out, I'm sure I would wrinkle my nose at some of them and not bother. Now with hindsight, these books have withstood the test of time, but should I still read them just because they're old?

Classics are great, but don't put yourself out to read them, if you won't like it anyway. Treat classics like every other book. Read the reviews and choose carefully, and pay the extra to get the one you want.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

June Reviews

I think it's really clear that I went on holiday, up to three books in a month again! I was so pleased to really put my nose in a book.

The Old Man And The Sea
Earnest Hemingway
Charles Scribner's Sons 1952

The first in my 'short reads' series. In an effort to get my numbers up before New Years I am desperately seeking books like this that I can read in an afternoon. As it happens I read this on the plane to my holiday in Istanbul with my family. I loved this simple book, it threw me directly into the world of fish and salt and weather.
I was very impressed with the writing, from what I know of Hemingway as a man, I wasn't sure I would be attracted to his writing, but it was beautiful and really drew me in. There was an emotional connection right away, to the fish, to the old man, to the young man, to the village, to the sea itself. you can probably tell I loved this book.
I would highly recommend it to anyone. And I cannot wait for my next Hemingway.

Alice Munro
Profile Books 17/10/2013 paperback
Internship Haul

This slip of a book has been on my shelf for ages, I thought I'd take it from my internship as a good little gift to slip into people's presents. In the end I had to read it for my self. I was absorbed, but I didn't rate it much as a short story. There seemed to be something missing, and on finishing the book I didn't feel satisfied.
The story is homely. It follows a sister who elopes with an older man and the sister who comes to visit once it's all over. I found it terribly sad. Everything about it was sad, the people, the town, their lives just filled me with sadness. Maybe that was the point.
I've not read anything else by Munro, but I think that I would enjoy her writing if it was given more space to breath. This story was so short and I needed more time to fall in love.

The Signature of All Things
Liz Gilbert
Bloomsbury 1/10/13 paperback
Internship Haul

I grabbed this book for my Mum for Christmas and it is just the sort of thing she would like. It also had the added attraction of being based around Plants in a big way, which my Mum is kind of into. When I picked it up after she had finished it I had high hopes. I was definitely interested, I thought it a brilliant story, I was enthralled with the details, and I kept turning the pages. BUT I think a book like this, that takes on a number of issues and is spread over a life time is in danger of the Don Quixote effect: And Then, And Then, And Then.
I kept waiting for things to happen and they did but I was swiftly whisked onto the next and maybe there was too much going on to really get engrossed.
This was my first Gilbert book and Eat, Pray. Love is definitely on the list, in hopes that I will enjoy it more.
Not the one for me, but I think plenty of people will enjoy it. Too long and too bulky with story for me.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Mary Ann Shaffer
Bloomsbury 10/5/2009 Hardback
Mummy's Library

I've just remembered a word I haven't used since university: Epistolary. a collection of letters that makes up the whole structure of the story. The way this book unfolds is the best version I've seen in this style. Between various characters the story unfolds about Elisabeth and her daughter.
It follows the occupation of Guernsey by the Germans during the second world war. It certainly spiked my interest.
The voices of each character was very clear, although heavily helped by the titles of each letter so you know who is talking, it does take away some of the writing skill in my opinion.
Overall, the story through this book was brilliant and it was an odd thing to pick up that I would definitely recommend and even read again!