Archive for Big Readers A place for discussing books and all things bookish.

       Big Readers Forum Index -> What are you reading?

What are you reading in 2017?

As the title says.

I started my present book a couple of days ago but since I haven't written about it earlier, I will put it here.  It is Mame by Patrick Dennis, a memoir (I think).  Patrick goes to live with his Auntie Mame when he is 10, folllowing the death of his father, whom he doesn't seem to mourn much.  Mame is an eccentric stylish woman who has had little to do with children, but doesn't seem one to shirk responsibilities, and they take to each other lovingly.  I am more than half-way through and Patrick has just got himself engaged to someone unsuitable (her parents seem money and business-obsessed and Mame is subtly trying to break the engagement.  I presume she will prevail.  

I read this first as a child, perhaps 11 or 12, and remember it fondly.  I wasn't so sure when I started this that I would like it so much now - some of it feels dated, and some of Mame's "upbringing" of a child don't fit my rather conventional ideas, perhaps.  Certainly having Patrick in a room with a sunbed doesn't fit with health messages today, and sending him to a school where the "lessons" are taken by teachers in the nude with pupils also in the nude reeks of uncertain morals.  But it has got more entertaining as Patrick grows up and some of their antics, especially when Mame can't avoid getting on a horse and shows off her "horsemanship" by hanging on for dear life (she is stuck, it turns out later) much to the chagrin of her "friend" and rival.

The episode where they get the better of the next school's governors and head is also amusing, if exaggerated from the truth.  Patrick, it seems to me, is embellishing events from his past with some abandon, I think.  Or perhaps it's not a memoir at all.  But he uses his own name and calls Mame his aunt.

This was made into a movie years ago starring Lucille Ball (is she still alive?).

MAME started life as a book 'Auntie Mame'  then a stage play starring Beatrice Lillie, then a Broadway musical by Jerry Herman starring Angela Lansbury, in London starring Ginger Rogers (which I saw at Drury Lane Theatre) then the film with Lucille Ball.  There may have been other versions I've forgotten....

My Mame was just called that, though I do see the original was called Auntie Mame.  I do wonder if it was the sequel that I read, since I seem to have vague memories of him being taken around Europe.

I am now attempting to read Justine, the first of the Alexandria Quartet.  I am not sure I have the staying power to manage the whole lot of them.  I remember Evie loving the whole thing, but after just a few pages I am finding the style needing a bit more concentration than I am able to give a book.  One thing that I did notice was a paragraph saying, "'There are only three things to be done with a woman' said Clea once. 'You can love her, suffer for her, or turn her into literature.'"  I found this interesting not just for its sentiment, but because it is just a few days since I read that quote, and I don't know now where I read it.  Not in anything about this book, I think.  

He does seem to be quite philosophical in his approach.

I've given up on Justine - I found it required more concentration than I have.  But now I have started Jodi Picoult's House Rules, which is about 500 pages long, but easier reading, if not easier subject matter.

It concerns a boy with Asperger's Syndrome who make life very difficult for those around him and is eventually (I read from the back cover) accused of murder; I think the book centres on whether he is guilty or not.  It is the first Picoult I have read and the one that takes my fancy most.  

She does write about law and medical matters in all her books, or more accurately medical problems and their legal ramifications.

Some of the Americanisms annoy me - why do Americans talk of Mom when the rest of the world (well the English-speaking world) call her Mum, and why do they talk of 'math' rather than'maths'.  It irritates me though I can cope with American spellings, and generally have a fiarly tolerant attitude to grammar irregularities.  But somehow I have to mentally correct these (to me) mis-sounds.  Sorry to sound so petty.
Joe McWilliams

Don't be too hard on us Americans for our 'Moms' and 'math', Caro. We can't help ourselves. To me, the difference between 'Mom' and Mum' is not even worth mentioning. But like you, I often have trouble with Americanisms or Britishisms in writing when they seem out of place.
There's an example in the Robert Wilson crime story I'm reading right now. The fellow's in Madrid, investigating the disappearance of his daughter and speaking (in Spanish, ostensibly, but of course conveyed to the reader in English) to local people, who sound like bloody Londoners.
I can't help thinking there must be better way to carry this sort of thing off, but I don't know that I could do it.
Joe McWilliams

All this silence irritates me. That could be a symptom of addiction - I'm not sure.

Meanwhile, the reading continues, interrupted by the odd depressing documentary on Netflix. The current project is The Secret History by Donna Tartt. This is her first novel, set in lovely rural Vermont at a small but expensive college, where a group of classics scholars get themselves into a heap of trouble. It builds slowly and believably and has now exploded into something, sad to say, less believable.
A bonus is learning many Greek terms, which however I will not retain beyond the weekend.

I'll start making some noise in a few days, but at the moment I'm approaching the end of one large book and just past the halfway point of a very large one.

I am alternating House Rules with a lighter book: Pastoral by Nevil Shute.  I have read this at irregular times through the years and remember it as the first book I read as a teenager that had a hint of sex in it.  I haven't got to that part yet, so don't remember if he touched her breasts or it was more than that, or less, but I remember quite well the thought that I had never read this sort of thing before.  

It is enjoyable, though I am not very au fait with war planes etc.  I do read light books on the subject - like Margaret Mayhew's The Crew, or a non-fiction account of Malta.

I am still reading House Rules too, though I don't seem to have much time for it.  Bit hard-going, perhaps.

I am getting on well with House Rules - it is extremely readable, if very long (over 500 pages).  It is told from various points of view, Jacob, the boy with Asperger's; his mother, Emma; his lawyer, Oliver; policeman Rich; brother Theo.  This allows the author to keep her chapters short, which means I can read a couple at least at a time.  

There are at least ten examples interspersed in the narrative featuring what I assume are true crimes of varying levels of gruesomeness.  I am not quite sure what the point of these are, maybe just to show the mindset of the murderer, or maybe to raise expectations of the reader, though we already know what happened to the victim here.  Even if it turns out Jacob is the murderer (which I doubt) he is also a victim, of his disability (a term he rejects, as I do, even though in the next census I will need to tick that) and the way he is treated in jail, as is the mother who has to juggle his needs (which are many, in the forms of food, medication, lack of stimuli, taking everything literally, the need to cater for his impulses and his need for things to be exactly the same (always expecting to watch CSI at 4.30pm, having a colour-coordinated wardrobe, having different coloured food for different days of the week, Yellow Mondays, White Tuesdays (I may have the colours wrong), and Theo, whose needs are always secondary to his brother's.  I may have lost control of that long sentence.

I am liking it a lot.  And enjoying how Picoult must have had to learn a lot of forensic stuff to be able to portray Jacob's overwhelming interest in and knowledge of the subject.
Joe McWilliams

Thanks for that, Caro. Picoult is so popular (my impression from best-seller lists, library traffic and such) that I have developed a suspicion she must be trashy, which of course is unfair. I'm pleased to find out she passes the Caro test.

You won't guess what I'm reading, so I'll tell you: The Conductor, by Sarah Quigley. So far, so good.
I ask myself: Would I care at all about these people and the details of their daily lives were one of them not named Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad not lurking in the wings? Possibly not. But they are, so I do.
Joe McWilliams

Reading Pavel & I by Dan Vyleta. Set in post-war Berlin and populated by unlikeable characters, degraded by their circumstances. We seem to be moving through the squalor to some sort of redemption - the love of a broken man for a spoiled woman with a heart of gold.
I'm making it sound terribly cliché, which it probably doesn't deserve.

I was interested in your comments about The Conductor, Joe.  I hadn't noticed irritating repetitions, and I usually do.  I think the book just had my favourite style of character - outsiders making the best of a bad situation.  And I didn't know much about the siege of Leningrad beforehand, and like books set in war, but not focusing on battles.

I have got close to finishing Pastoral by Nevil Shute.  I thought I would whizz through it, but I seem to read it mainly in bed at night and its chapters are quite long, so I don't necessarily get through one.  And I didn't really need to take a rest from House Rules.

Pastoral is set in wartime (as many of Shute's books are) and there are descriptions of raids over Germany but generally in detail only when something goes wrong with the crew of R for Robert.  Mostly its focus is the love story between the pilot Peter Marshall, and the WAAF officer Gervase Robertson.  There are certain old-fashioned elements to this: he uses surnames for the man and first names for the woman, so he is always Marshall and she is generally Gervase.  (An unusual but attractive name.)  But modern crime novels tend to do the same: a male detective is called by his surname, though it is often one that could be a Christian name, while a woman detective or character is called by her first name.

And he talks of the women characters as 'girls' which wouldn't be approved of nowadays, though I still love the term 'girl' and want to use it for people up to and even beyond the age of 50.  I want to use it for my carers, as 'carers' seems a very formal word, and 'woman' seems formal too.  (Even 'man' seems a bit formal - I understand why so many young people prefer 'guys' for both sexes and my husband was probably 40 before I thought of him as a man.)

At any rate I am enjoying my Nevil Shute (I always do and should read more of him - I own quite a lot of his books) though I don't seem to have got to the sexy bit yet, unless when they talk about him wanting to do "rude" things with her, that is what I was remembering, but I don't think so.
Joe McWilliams

Caro - no reason we'd notice the same things. I'm particularly sensitive to certain words, and 'increasingly' is a recent addition to that list. I think it's because of its overuse and misuse in news reporting. TV news people love to lay it on thick. Things are not just happening, they are 'increasingly' happening. No evidence is ever offered. Consequently I have hardened my heart against it, and have started noticing it in novels where once I wouldn't have.
And it just isn't necessary. It is enough, surely, to say someone is 'becoming exhausted,' without the qualification.

There's an ugly trend in speech that inevitably leaks into writing to over-qualify, or 'super'-qualify. Oddly enough, this goes in tandem with another annoying trend, which is the apparent fear of being definite; hence the gross overuse of the terms 'like' and 'sort of'.

I could go on, but I am not fond of overstatement in others so I should practice it myself.

By the way, I have started reading 'The Old Ways' by Robert Macfarlane, of Cambridge, U.K. I think I am going to enjoy it very much.

You'd better, I know his mother-in-law.
Joe McWilliams

Aha! I score a hit on the first try. Well, Chib, pass on my regards to the lady in question. Her son-in-law is a man after my own heart, with the important distinction of having a wife (evidently) who tolerates his absences. Well, that and writing talent.

I have started The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and so far so good.  Although it may have more 'adventure' in it that I am comfortable with.  

I wrote a bit here about a non-fiction book but decided to put that on the non-fiction thread.
Joe McWilliams

Robert Macfarlane's The Old Ways, although strictly non-fiction, has echoes of something I encountered in Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, the notion of connections between old pathways in this world and a set in a parallel, Magic England. Macfarlane doesn't go nearly that far, but he does attempt, here and there, to impute some sort of otherworldliness that can be glimpsed obliquely via the experiencing of tramping the 'Old Ways'. At least he certainly attempts to convey the notion there's a lot more there than what meets the eye or particularly what might be imagined from the seat of a car.

However, his attempts to make metaphysical poetry out of his experience don't work very well for me, as much as I appreciate what he does. I have a hard time believing he apprehends the world as he walks in quite those terms. Otherwise, I'm bloody impressed and wish I could do what he does.
Joe McWilliams

Patrick Leigh Fermor. Oh my goodness is there anyone in the world as good at telling a travel story as him? I doubt it. It makes me so happy. However, I mustn't gush. Or is it too late?

This is 'The Broken Road,' the third of his Hook of Holland to Constantinople stories, published posthumously. I never expected it to show up. How happy I am that it did.

It is too late, Joe.  However enough other people have gushed over Patrick Leigh Fermor to make him feel like a gap in my reading that should be remedied.  I don't know if they stock him in our library.  I should seek him out.  Or look for him in second-hand bookshops.

I see my library has A time for Life in both large print and on the normal shelves.  But none of the others.  I presume that is the first one in this series.  Must book it.
Joe McWilliams

A Time of Gifts is the first book of his tramping trilogy, Caro. I don't believe I can recommend it highly enough, with the caution that he frequently wanders off, metaphorically, into contemplations on history, art, religion and what have you, leaving the reader (this one) impatient for him to return to his journey. There is less of that in The Broken Road, perhaps because he never properly finished it.

Ramblings off topic won't bother me, Joe.  As you know from reading my thoughts on The French Lieutenant's Woman that is a feature I enjoy in books  (as long as they don't go too long).  The main thing I enjoyed about Anna Karenina was the farming bits and the dog bits with Levin in them.

I am still reading Huckleberry Finn slowly, interspersing it with Treasures, a collection of short stories by Irish writer Maeve Binchy.  They are light reading, warm-hearted, not always with happy endings, but with over 40 of them and many with a Christmas theme, so after a while they feel a bit samey.  I need to read just a few at a time.

Huckleberry Finn is a bit 'adventurey' for my taste and I am not sure how my book club will find it; I was talking yesterday to someone who had finished it and she was a bit ambivalent.  She did say Tom Sawyer joins the advewnture, so I might enjoy it more then.  She was reminding me of how young Huck must have been when he was narrating this, or at least when it was happening, so I should be taking that into account.  It has a long introduction (over 40 pages) which I decided to read at the end, but it might help me understand the subtleties of it.

HUCKLEBERRY FINN has been called 'the great American novel'...

I've heard it called that, Mike.  I will suspend judgement till I've finished it and might just have to accept other people's judgement on that.

My last post on this disappeared into the ether when I pressed the wrong button. I will be more careful now.

I am off for a few days on Wednesday, and am taking it with me as well as PGWodehouse's short story compilation centred on Xmas - I have just read the first two and the first one is about Jeeves and Wooster, but the second one isn't.  It's rather reminiscent of the Maeve Binchy one I am also reading.  Both are collections of ss, and both are based around Xmas mostly.  Not the same style, of course, but both light and happy in tone.

I am also taking Huck Finn of course, and then a non-fiction one by Tessa Duder, a NZ author,mostly known for her children's books, especially the Alex trilogy about a young girl in a swimming rivalry with another girl and set in the 1950s.  This one, In Search of Elisa Marchetti, takes her to Italy to try and trace her great grandmother  - her search doesn't go very well, apparently, but the blurb says "a more powerful story takes shape: a story of deception and disappointment.  NZ in the 1870s was not the land of opportunity promoted so effusively in Italy and Elisa Marchetti's dream became a bitter and lonely reality".  That's probably more than I wanted to know.

After a short break, I'm now onto Book (or Part) Two of Don Quioxte. Still enjoying it immensely.
Joe McWilliams

Started and abandoned 'The German Girl,' by Armando Correa, as somehow lacking whatever it is that keeps me reading a book.
At hand was The Brothers Karamazov, by F. Dostoyevsky. I think it will keep me busy for some time, not being the kind of story one can't wait to get back to. I note it's translated by a princess - something you don't run into every day.
The tone is quite unlike Crime and Punishment, which I remember being fevered and often confusing. This is quite staid by comparison.

I'm afraid I am really struggling with "My Brilliant Friend" by Elena Ferrante.  It is such a disappointment as the book got rave reviews, including one from Nick Clegg's wife Miriam.  We are reading it for our book group and it certainly fits the brief of our group's European theme this year as it is by an Italian author and is a slice of Neapolitan life.  I studied Italian as part of my History degree and at one stage read quite a lot of Italian literature so I was really keen to read this.

The book starts with the disappearance of the narrator's friend whom she has known since childhood.  We are then taken back to how they met and their schooldays together.  I am now 12 per cent through on my Kindle read and I keep finding household chores that I have to do rather than read any more of this book (which is very unlike me usually, I can assure you).

My problems with the book are; all the children mentioned in the book seem to be part of large extended families and I find it difficult remembering who is related to who.  Also, the storyline of the children's activities seems bitty and not very interesting.  I find it difficult to care about any of the characters. The language is plodding; it reads like a bad translation.

Has anyone else read it?  I do hope someone has and will tell me that I am almost at the point when it becomes exciting.  Otherwise I can only see a long tedious plod in front of me.

There is an article in today's "Daily Telegraph" about the stage adaptation of "My Brilliant Friend" at The Rose Theatre, Kingston-upon-Thames.  All four novels in the series have been turned into a two-part production.
The article states: "The Ferrante novels tend to split people into two camps; either you don't get what all the fuss is about and stop half-way through the first instalment ,or you love them with an all-consuming, protective, fire-breathing passion."

I'm afraid I am in the former camp.
Joe McWilliams

I started reading the third of Robert Wilson's crime thrillers in his latest series about missing persons investigator Charles Boxer, called 'Stealing People.' Kids are being kidnapped in London. Other people are disappearing, and Boxer and those closest to him appear to be right in the middle of it.

Meanwhile.... there I was this morning in the clinic (you may call it 'surgery') waiting to see my doctor. I knew I was in for at least a half-hour wait, and I came prepared to read anything, being one of the last people in the world without a mobile phone to fiddle with. What do you know, this clinic is short of magazines, but has a selection of novels. It took me a while to get to one, thanks to a remarkably chatty casual acquaintance in the next chair, who felt the need to tell me every last detail about his three trips to Australia and New Zealand (Did you know koala bears can survive on blue gum trees?)

Well, I shouldn't make fun of somebody who is willing to chat in a waiting room, but after a few minutes of it I could feel the will to live slowly being sucked out of me. Just in time he was called in to see his (and my) GP, leaving me with an unwanted view of butt crack as he waddled off, and a clear path to the stack of books. I settled on 'Sully' the story of the US Air pilot who landed his plane in the Hudson River in New York City a few years ago. Impression after 30-or-so pages: Sully is a nice guy, but not very interesting.

Sully's story was made into a film just last year, Joe. It is just called "Sully" (though I had to look that up, feeling it was called something different).  People were amazed that I had never heard of the story of his bringing the plane down in the Hudson River, but I hadn't.

Meanwhile, I am reading The Good Doctor, an autobiography by Lance O'Sullivan, a NZ Maori doctor practicing in the deprived far north, who was named NZer of the Year a couple of years ago, and who has dedicated his life to the mainly Maori population up there, often providing free services and other help.  I have only got to his troubled youth, being the product of a Maori alcoholic father and a young mother, who found the strength to bring up four children on her own before state help for such parents (the DPB - Domestic Purposes Benefit).  He was not brought up to know much of his Maori whakapapa (literally genealogy but encompassing a lot more than that) and suffered from the woes of his mixed blood, feeling neither wholly Maori nor wholly Pakeha.  He was saved by a Maori secondary boarding school and his European grandparents, very accepting of their mother and her growing family, and his background.  And later he found his father's family, and understood his Maori background too.

The style is very easy to read - I think it is aimed at troubled youth like him, as inspiration for what can be achieved by people like him.  It is our bookclub book.

I enjoyed your comments about your acquaintance in the waiting room, Caro.  I'm pleased you still have a sense of humour.
Joe McWilliams

Your Maori doctor story sounds interesting, Caro. A less Maori-sounding name than Lance O'Sullivan is hard to imagine, but he certainly sounds like the real deal.
Everything I have ever heard about the difficulties faced by indigenous New Zealanders has a familiar ring to it. Although the cultures are different and we are half a world away from each other, the challenges here are the same. Just this morning I was talking to somebody organizing a Cree language immersion course for teachers. Efforts to revive and reinforce the aboriginal cultures are growing, but sometimes I wonder if it's futile. Worthwhile, certainly, but a steep uphill battle.

I am reading (and have very nearly finished) The Stove and the Stage, set on the West Coast of New Zealand in the gold-rush days of the 1860s.  The narrator is Danny Mulligan, an Irishman newly arrived in NZ, and not a gold-miner, but an entertainer, juggler, magician, and comedian.  He tells a good yarn and I have raced through it.  He links up with various people, most notably Edith Cowles who is a good cook in the hotel he is staying at, but he shifts on only to find she has followed him.  They set up business in a new hotel in the new town of Reefton (still there, though many of the goldrush towns were temporary) which is swept away in a horrendous flood.  

Danny has a secret from Britain, which I presume we will learn the details of soon.  

The main problem I have with the book is that it is self-published, and the editing leaves something to be desired.  In the same paragraph "too" is spelt as "too" and "two", and the use of the comma is random.  (Though I haven't noticed anything wrong with his apostrophes.)  It is not a quirk of the character who is quite literate, though he does put the language into the accents of the people he is writing about.  These are just authorial mistakes which have not been picked up by amateur proof-readers.  

But otherwise it is a very entertaining and new story.

Yesterday I started (and am getting through quickly) Cotillion, a regency romance by Georgette Heyer.  I have read it many times really, but not very recently, so although I remember the two main characters well and their story, the others I only recall as I come to them.  It is a delightful story, and GH writes well, if with a very light touch.  Kitty's guardian, an old man with gout, has made an outrageous will, which demands that to get his fortune, she has to marry one of his great-nephews.  These include an intellectually challenged Earl and a righteous though good-looking vicar who turn up at his house as demanded.  Jack, the one he wants for Kitty and who she fancies, doesn't, though he has every intention of doing so in his own time.  Another nephew is on military dity in France or somewhere but the old man doesn't approve of him anyway.  And then there's Freddy, not an intellectual, but courteous, rich, generous, well dressed and very au fait with the aristocracy and its way of life, who meets Kitty as she is running away.  She persuades him to enter a sham engagement and take her to London, where his parents live.  

When I first read this as a teenager, I wonder which man she would end up with - Jack or her French cousin who turns up later and is charming.  I don't know why - it is quite late in the book when he arrives and it is quite obvious by then that it is Freddy she is going to fall in love with.  

I am thoroughly enjoying this again.  I used to belong to a Heyer group and would read one of her books monthly, but since it broke up, I have put them mostly on the backburner.
Joe McWilliams

Somehow or other I ended up reading a potboiler about a bachelor party gone terribly wrong, teenaged Russian sex slaves, trust betrayed, relationships wrecked, jobs lost, blackmail attempted and several other unsavoury things. It is not making me happy, but on the other hand, I want to find out what happens in the end.
It is called 'The Guest Room,' by Chris Bohjalian.

I hope to have something better in my next report. Perhaps I'll retreat to the 19th century. Some uplifting stuff there, I've been told.

Or maybe not, Joe.

I read a couple of Chris Bohjalian books a few years ago and quite enjoyed them.  They seemed to combine a domestic medical situation with the legal implications (a bit like Jodi Picoult) and I quite enjoyed them and wondered why he wasn't more well-known (as she is).  

I am reading now About Schmidt by Louis Begler.  Some of you probably know it, either in book form or as a movie.  It is about an older man (though only 60, which seems quite young to me, now 67, though I haven't got my head round that, thinking of myself usually as 65) whose wife has recently died and is unhappy with his daughter's choice of fiance, a man who worked till recently with Schmidt till he (Schmidt) was made redundant.

I gather from the blurb that Schmidt is a self-deluded man with old-fashioned ideas, but so far I find my sympathies with him.  Perhaps that is because it is seen through his eyes, and I always have difficulties not sympathizing with the narrators.  But his daughter seems to be cutting him out of her life totally and not very sensitively.

What I find interesting and slightly distasteful (no doubt a reflection on me rather than the book) is the rather graphic descriptions of bodily functions - for instance the bedroom where his daughter and her fiance live together in Schmidt's home, is described.  The toothbrushes - pink and blue - bring on the following paragraph:  "Conjugal hygiene!  No doubt one sat straining on the crapper while the other performed advanced oral ablutions.  Back in the bedroom, he stripped the blankets and threw them on the floor.  There they were, the weekend stains - like a kid's wet dreams in camp."

And talking of older women, "It seemed to Schmidt that loss of the ability to attract was an affliction as generalized among his female coevals as thinness of hair, the sclera and teeth turned yellow, sour breath, flaccidity or gigantism of breasts, midriffs gone soft and distended by wind, brown splotches and deltas of minute angry veins around the knee and on the calf, disastrous, swollen toes verging on deformity displayed in sandals or throbbing in the prison of black pumps."

It's great writing but not enjoyable reading.

It reminds me a bit of The Remains of the Day one of my favourite books.

Hello All

I have returned from honeymoon - which was fantastic! Perhaps not as much reading as I had anticipated but I have made ok progress into Paul Auster's new (huge) novel 4,3,2,1. I'll withhold my thoughts until I finish I think as they may change.

I want to see a stage performance of Auster's City of Glass a couple of months ago in Manchester - in which the author was in attendance. He did a brief talk and reading from 4,3,2,1 which was interesting. The play itself was visually spectacular (extremely hi-tech whereby the set was changed in an instant by way of back projection) but it was not without its issues. I think this particular short story is not really conducive to the stage treatment and it showed a little in places. Still, glad I went and I think it moves to London in the near future.

Joe - did you continue with Brothers Karamazov? (Apologies if I have missed a subsequent post). I read it a number of years ago and certain sections have stayed with me.


Joe McWilliams

What the Hec? Honeymoon? Congratulations, Hector.

Oh yes, I finished the Brothers K some time ago. My comments are somewhere on this board, although they might not be worth the effort of searching for them. Just yesterday, incidentally, I was searching the bookshelves for something to read and I came across what appeared to be a sequel, entitled The Brothers Karamazov. 2. The intimidatingly small print put me off it though.

Caro, About Schmidt. Loved the movie. Don't think I'll seek out the book.

I didn't notice this post earlier and would have missed it altogether if I wasn't looking for somewhere to put my latest post.  Don't think I will put it here after all.  

Congratulations, Hector.  Where did you go for your honeymoon?  you have probably told us before but I don't remember.  Good that you didn't get as much reading done as you expected!  Though Malcolm took a photo of me on our honeymoon (we had 6 weeks in Britain and on a Eurorail trip round Western Europe) reading in our overnight train, with the caption 'Carolyn in usual pose'.

I have started a NZ novel which was a contender for fiction of the year in this year's Ockham Book awards. Billy Bird by Emma Neale.  It was recommended to me, but so far I am struggling to 'get into it'.  Billy, after a family tragedy, apparently turns himself into a bird and it is the family's attempts to cope with this that the book is about.  As yet, I have just got to the part where Billy has just begun squawking like a bird after reading only about birds and learning about them in detail.  (He was just 6 when the accident happened, but already a fairly competent reader.)

And I am getting through my book on WWI postcards from NZ soldiers.  It is a skimmable book, but has some very interesting bits, like an accident at a Devon rail station where NZ soldiers mistakenly got off when another express train was coming and ten of them were killed.  Bere Ferres was the name of the station.  I feel I had read that before, but hadn't remembered it.
Joe McWilliams

Caro I just read the Wiki article on the Bere Ferrers rail disaster. How sad for those young chaps and their families. They thought they should get out the same side they got on or some such thing and the timing was very bad.
It reminded me of something I once did in Agra, India, getting out onto the open track on the wrong side of the train. Obviously I got away with it.
Joe McWilliams

I'm reading Mark Twain's Life on the Mississippi, the most difficult river in the world to type, and I suppose I should say something about it.
His purpose seems to be to evoke the heyday of the steamboat era and as such he is a much more serious version of himself than I grew to love in the just-completed 'A Tramp Abroad.' Twain was thoroughly untrustworthy in that account of European travel, and very funny. Here he tries hard to refrain from exaggeration and the story, while interesting enough for the history that's in it, is not nearly as much fun to read.
Twain's career as a riverboat pilot ended early, in 1861 when the Civil War broke out. It suspended business on the river, but railways killed it. He went west, became a journalist and wrote about a celebrated jumping frog and the rest is history. Years later he returned to the Mississippi and in the book I'm reading is now travelling down it on one of the rare boats still doing that in the early 1880s, noting the differences.
Joe McWilliams

I've started 'Case Histories' by Kate Atkinson, a writer about whom I know nothing, apart from a certain positive vibe I picked up on this forum. So if it sucks, somebody here is to blame!

It's growing on me. For a while I thought I'd stumbled into a Maeve Binchy story by mistake; then - bam! - something awful happened. So she got my attention. After three such short and apparently unconnected stories - each of which seemed to be trying to lull the reader to sleep by its sheer ordinariness - I decided I'd been wrong in my initial impression this was a novel and was rather a book of short stories. It made sense, being called 'Case Histories.' But no, now comes a private investigator named Brodie. A plot appears to be developing. I have high hopes of the narrator taking a break and giving us some actual dialogue, sooner or later.

One of the people you can blame is me, Joe.  I love Kate Atkinson, and her Jackson Brodie character.  But anything written by her is well worth the effort, most especially to my mind Behind the Scenes at the Museum.  

It's interesting that you mention Maeve Binchy; for all that she is thought of as a warm but bland Irish writer, she is the only person I can think of who has written a non-crime book with an unexpected death.  Just while kids are playing in her book, one of them falls off a bridge and is killed.  There is no warning, no suggestion that this is the last time they will play together, nothing. It just happens, the way it would in real life.

I have started a book called Gutenberg's Apprentice by Alix Christie.  I don't remember reading anything about either the book or the author, but its historical aspects intrigued me.  Haven't got very far with it, and it dwells rather more than I need on the physical side of printing, the machines, the smells, and the work, but I am finding it interesting.  Gutenberg's appretice is Peter Schoeffer, brought back to the German dying city of Mainz from Paris where he was working and enjoying life as a scribe.  His father is a merchant in Mainz and wants him there to take advantage of the new invention.  

I have just read a short chapter set in 1485 (most of is set in 1450 or thereabouts) where he is bemoaning how the printing press has devalued all that was sacred about the scribe's and monk's work.  "The world is flooded now with crude words crudely wrought, an overwhelming glut of pages pouring from the scores of presses springing up like mushrooms after rain.  Churning out their wmut and prophecy, the rantings of the anarchists and antichrists - the scholars of the classics are in uproar at how printing has defiled the book."
I am not sure why he has put this near the start of the book at Page 51, but he spends most of the rest of the book, as far as I can see, in the mid 1400s.

We'll see how it goes.
Joe McWilliams

'A world full of crude words, crudely wrought.' - That sounds like something I might have said about the current situation.

I'm back to reading John Gunther's 'Inside Europe,' a tour through the political leadership of each country in the late 1930s, on the brink of the cataclysm. Given what came next (it was published in the lull between the German and Russian partition of Poland and the next phase of the war, which the author did not anticipate), it is probably irrelevant and long out of print. But I like it very much.

On the way from the library is Paul Theroux's Sir Vidia's Shadow, a book about V.S. Naipaul. Perhaps I should do Naipaul the courtesy of reading one or two of his books before reading what somebody else has to say about him. But Theroux has me in his spell. I want more of him, after just completing Ghost Train to the Eastern Star.

I am about 40 per cent of the way through "Dombey and Son."  When I read a Classics Illustrated version of the story as a schoolgirl, I found Paul Dombey weedy and irritating but now I find the relationship between Paul and his sister, Florence, touching and his death moving.

Over the years I've known quite a few families with a child who had a terminal illness (I was governor of a special needs school for a while) so I'd like to think I have more compassion and empathy now.

The received wisdom is that Dickens was mawkish and sentimental about children, especially child deaths,  because infant mortality was so high then.  But I wonder are things now really so different?  Surely the death of a child is something that most people find moving, especially if they are parents themselves?

There have been recently some high profile cases of children with terminal illnesses in the news and some of the press coverage has been just as sentimental as anything I've read in Dickens.

When I started The Old Curiosity Shop, Sandra, the intro by GK Chesterton was rather scathing about Paul Dombey's death scene, but he said it wasn't Little Nell's death that was so sentimental but her life.  I agree that the deaths of children nowadays is equally sentimentalised, less so perhaps by the press writers as the commenters under the story.  

I was away for a week and took quite a few books with me, including TOCS which didn't even get opened!  I didn't finish any so can't add them to the July Jests thread.  I probably would have finished (for the second time) 44 Scotland Street, but my husband who finished one of the later Botswana ones with Mme Ramotswe, hadn't taken any other book and pinched that one off me.  I was reading at the same time Gutenberg's Apprentice but it is quite slow-going and also too heavy to hold in bed.  I started one by Millicent Baxter, a memoir.  She was part of two very notable families in NZ.  Her grandmother was the first woman in the British Empire to get an honours degree and her father was a founder of Canterbury University College.  

She married Archie Baxter, a conscientious objector in the first world war, who was taken against his will to the battlefield and subjected to Field Punishment No 1, more or less hours of crucifixion in the hot sun.  She sought him out after reading a letter to the editor of his about his treatment (how did it get through the censor?) and they married and had a very happy marriage.  They were the parents of one of NZ's most famous poets, James Keir Baxter, who founded a commune for strays and became a strong spiritual man, I think a Roman Catholic.  His poetry would be easily found on the internet if anyone wants to seek it out.
Joe McWilliams

Caro, I looked up and read a bit about Mr. Baxter junior, thank you very much. A spiritual man who drank too much and died young. That sounds awfully familiar.

Looking back through this thread I see I mentioned V.S. Naipaul. I don't believe I've ever met anybody who has read a book by this winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, not to mention every other award under the English sun. Then again, I have never asked. What an awful person he was (based on Sir Vidia's Shadow). Awful, but fascinating and capable of brilliant writing.

Hello, Joe.  I've read "A Bend In The River" by V.S. Naipaul.  I seem to remember discussing it on the board with Himadri.  It was recommended in one of the Sunday papers as a holiday read and I said it wasn't my idea of a beach read.

Himadri always speaks highly of that book, though admits Naipaul is a miserable old git (takes one to know one, I say affectionately). I'll try to read it one day.

       Big Readers Forum Index -> What are you reading?
Page 1 of 1
Create your own free forum | Buy a domain to use with your forum