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Willoyd's Reading Log 2012

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An Honourable Man by Gillian Slovo ****

My first book by Gillian Slovo, and one I undertook because of booking a place in her session at the Ilkley Literature Festival.

 

It was a booking that I am glad I made, as I thoroughly enjoyed this novel set in the 1880s and based on the last days of General Gordon at Khartoum: John Clarke signs up to go on the relief expedition, led by General Wolseley, as a civilian medic. His thread, where he takes part in the Camel Corps trek across the eastern Sahara in its efforts to relieve Khartoum in time, in intertwined with two others - that of Gordon himself and his boy-batman Will, waiting for the Mahdi invasion, and of Mary Clarke, left at home, sliding into laudanum addiction. This gives Slovo the opportunity to see the world of this time through three separate eyes, in a variety of situations. They intertwine so effectively, that on occasions I struggled at the start of a new passage to work out exactly whom Slovo was writing about, there is so much incommon between the three subjects.

 

Slovo said in her session at the Festival that she took up literary fiction after a string of successful crime novels, because she wanted to explore her characters more, and i would have to agree that these are the main strengths of her book, with all the main protagonists well developed (less so the minor characters). Settings don't quite work so well - just a bit too vague and a wee bit flat, and with the story of Gordon well-known, it certainly comes over more as a character study than most conventional novels.

 

Having said that, it was a good, page-turning read, with a satisfyingly meaty plot and set of characters, if slightly let down by a weak ending (aside from General Gordon!).

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Book acquisitions this month

I haven't put up a reading log this month, so a summary of (most of the!) books acquired in the past few weeks, mostof them in connection with the local literature festival. Seem to be buying mostly non-fiction at present - it always amazes me how little non-fiction features on book forums.

 

Ice Road - Gillian Slovo

Leningrad - Anna Reid

The Romans Who Shaped Britain - David Stuttard and Sam Moorhead

Bird Sense - Tim Birkland

The Pinecone - Jenny Uglow

Downstream - Tom Fort

Snails, Eggs and Samphire - Derek Cooper *

Edinburgh - Michael Fry *

The Prisoner of Heaven - Carlos Luis Zafon **

Tudors - Peter Ackroyd **

The King's Mistress - Claudia Gold **

The Criminal Conversation of Mrs Norton - Diane Atkinson **

My Family and Other Animals - Clare Balding ***

 

* charity shop, ** through The Book People, *** Kindle

Edited by willoyd

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Book acquisitions this month

I haven't put up a reading log this month, so a summary of (most of the!) books acquired in the past few weeks, mostof them in connection with the local literature festival, using birthday book tokens (it's good having one in the middle of the festival!) Seem to be buying mostly non-fiction at present - it always amazes me how little non-fiction features on book forums.

 

Leningrad - Anna Reid

 

 

This looks like a fantastic book, I look forward to seeing what you think of it. You are right about how little non-ficiton seems to feature on books forums. Before I joined up here I read non-fiction almost exclusively and although that has changed I estimate that 30% of my reading is still non-fiction.

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Agreed, non-fiction doesn't seem to get the same kind of attention fiction does. Perhaps because the most likely to chat online are a younger crowd, hence it feels a little too much like schoolwork? Pardon the rather sweeping generalization here, but I'm just putting out ideas, though I have seen a number of people say just that about themselves online. Maybe they don't realize that non-fiction doesn't have to read like a textbook? :readingtwo:

 

Then again, I've also met folks who refuse to read fiction as it's "all trash" they say. :o I've heard this kind of book snobbery from all levels of the age spectrum. I actually find it far more annoying than those that shy away from non-fiction, as I've also noticed a disturbing trend that such people are generally the most close-minded and judgemental of others.

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This looks like a fantastic book, I look forward to seeing what you think of it.

I'll try and read it fairly soon then!

 

Before I joined up here I read non-fiction almost exclusively and although that has changed I estimate that 30% of my reading is still non-fiction.

Yes, I reckon I read about the same - although it tends to come in phases.

 

Perhaps because the most likely to chat online are a younger crowd, hence it feels a little too much like schoolwork? Pardon the rather sweeping generalization here, but I'm just putting out ideas, though I have seen a number of people say just that about themselves online. Maybe they don't realize that non-fiction doesn't have to read like a textbook?

Maybe, although I'm in my mid-50s! Not sure about younger crowd, but the majority of posters here appear to be female, and there is a well documented difference in male/female reading, with men reading mostly non-fiction and women being more focused on fiction. Obviously generalised (after all, I'm male and the majority of my reading is fiction), but it might go part of the way to explain the gap between the two genres.

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At the recent (very large) book fair I attended, I got my head out of the books long enough to make some observations about the people in attendance. The number of women definitely outnumbered the men, and there were more women looking in the fiction sections (particularly contemporary fiction - some men could be found in the classic lit section). There are always more men in the sci-fi/fantasy section and in the academic (non-fiction) sections.

 

I would venture an opinion that maybe people who can be found on 'general' book forums are more likely to want to discuss fiction. Maybe a larger number of non-fiction readers can be found on forums or sites related to their area of interest (e.g. cars, war, history). And because there are so many non-fiction topics that one can read about, maybe people don't discuss them as much here because they know/think that fewer people will be likely to be interested in the same subject.

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I want to read My Animals and Other Family* by Clare Balding, so looking forward to your review

 

(*not My Family and Other Animals - I think someone else has already taken that title ;))

Edited by chesilbeach

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I love reading non-fiction - particularly history stuff, and I'm a female in my 20s! Fiction is dominating for me at the moment, but that is mainly because of a couple of challenges I'm doing, and because I'm inheriting a lot of my Mum's books, and she is an exclusively fiction reader.

 

Also v interested in review of Leningrad!

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I want to read My Animals and Other Family* by Clare Balding, so looking forward to your review

(*not My Family and Other Animals - I think someone else has already taken that title ;))

Also v interested in review of Leningrad!

 

Oh gosh. The pressure!! :smile: I'll move both of them up the list, but first of all, I really must read that other title (My Family and Other Animals), as I promised to read it alongside one of my children at school who is tackling this, and whilst really enjoying it, is finding it quite challenging (she's 10). I won't be going at her pace though.

Edited by willoyd

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Hmm, interesting thought about male versus female reading. Then again, men are notoriously known for not reading instructions or asking for directions... :giggle2: My husband calls it exploring, not getting lost!

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I would venture an opinion that maybe people who can be found on 'general' book forums are more likely to want to discuss fiction. Maybe a larger number of non-fiction readers can be found on forums or sites related to their area of interest (e.g. cars, war, history). And because there are so many non-fiction topics that one can read about, maybe people don't discuss them as much here because they know/think that fewer people will be likely to be interested in the same subject.

Fair points, all. I'm not sure which came first, that more people wanted to discuss fiction, or that because the forums discuss mainly fiction, then it attracts others of a similar preference. I do agree, though, the diversity of non-fiction is such that the number of those who want to discuss any one type will be that much smaller. Having said that, I would have thought some would have been sufficiently popular: travel for instance, or biography (but, there again, there is biography and biography!), or perhaps history or popular science. Perhaps not.

 

There again, fiction is pretty wide ranging, and there are some genres I don't touch with a barge pole (sadly, one of them, horror, is my new book group's choice for the first meeting I'm getting to - I'm finding it a desperate struggle, and I really can't see me finishing it in time, if at all). Equally, some I love (nineteenth century classics anyone?) are equally untouchable by others.

 

Maybe, though, it might be down to the possibility that (in very broad brush general terms), more women enjoy discussing the books they read than men, and with women generally more orientated towards fiction, that's why it features more on websites (don't see much science fiction discussed, for instance). Equally, those book groups I'm familiar with tend to be predominantly women.

 

Just a thought (or two!)

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I've recently joined a new book group, so I suppose that will direct some of my reading, but it's only one book a month, which is doable I think! (Unfortunately, the first book, is a singularly unappealing James Herbert - not exactly my scene, to put it mildly :( ).

I didn't want to hijack Gabbie's thread so I thought I'd post in here! How do your Book Club go about choosing books? Do you have a list in advance or do you take it in turns to suggest titles? :)

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I didn't want to hijack Gabbie's thread so I thought I'd post in here! How do your Book Club go about choosing books? Do you have a list in advance or do you take it in turns to suggest titles? :)

You're welcome to (post in here)! I've literally only just joined - my first meeting will be at the beginning of November, but I understand that they have each selected a book, so the list is set up until April next year. I've been asked to suggest May's book, and I presume at some stage we'll each put forward another book, and it'll then go the rounds again.

Edited by willoyd

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That's how my Mum's book group do it. We take it in turns, but the next book isn't revealed until we've discussed the current one. We had our group last night where we discussed the book we'd just read, then the person who will host next told us what she'd chosen. I hope you get some more satisfactory books in future. :)

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I hope you get some more satisfactory books in future. :)

I think I will: later books look much more interesting (for me at least). The next three months read:

December - The Help

January - David Copperfield

February - Yellow Birds

 

2 of which look really worthwhile reading, whilst the middle one will make a good reread. Good mix too.

Edited by willoyd

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I loved The Help. :)

 

To my shame, the only Dickens I've read is A Christmas Carol (which is an annual read) - I intend to remedy that when I've got rid of some of my tree books. I haven't heard of the third title - I will go and Google it.

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I loved The Help. :)

 

To my shame, the only Dickens I've read is A Christmas Carol (which is an annual read) - I intend to remedy that when I've got rid of some of my tree books. I haven't heard of the third title - I will go and Google it.

I've read a fair bit, and he has grown on me as I've got older, although I loved Pickwick Papers as a teenager when I read it for school. For me, and for many I think, Bleak House is his best, but others are almost as good. Having said that, I tried David Copperfield some years ago, couldn't really get to grips with it and failed to finish it, but I suspect my tastes have changed since then, so rereading it will be interesting - I'm certainly looking forward to it. Yellow Bird is a new book out, centred on the Iraq war. Not my usual cup of tea, but again one I'm looking forward to trying.

Edited by willoyd

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My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell ***(*)

One of those books I'm really surprised not to have read when younger. I really only read it now because one of my children at school has started it, and wanted to know what I thought of it (I told her I'm not telling her until she's finished it and told me what she thinks!).

 

So, what do I think? It's basically a memoir of the time that Durrell's family spent in Corfu when he was a child, told from his point of view. He was already by this stage a passionate natural historian, indeed an avid collector of animals, and the book centres around the effect his passion had on his family as seen through a child's eyes. The family itself is fascinating, including, of course, Lawrence Durrell, and if the book is to be believed, wonderfully eccentric. I don't often find books funny, but I certainly laughed out loud on a number of occasions at some of the brilliant set pieces, when Durrell's pets cause havoc.

 

My enjoyment was, however, somewhat affected by Durrell's effusive prose. Why bother with a single noun or single adjective, when three or four can be used? It was fine for a while, but after a bit, his descriptions really began to grate, and I really had to restrain grabbing a pen and scoring lines through lines of flowery description, including reams of similes. It was notable that when he got to any action, the writing became so much more streamlined and effective, whilst not losing a pixel of the images being created. And I loved the characters he created, in particular, the portrayal of his older brother Lawrence, not least because having struggled and failed with the overblown pomposity of his Alexandria Quartet, it was a comfort to know that it wasn't just me: that's exactly how he comes over in brother Gerald's book!

 

Having just had a birthday, I had fun yesterday visiting our local bookshop, and spending some of the book tokens that (fortunately) family often resort to when buying presents for me:

 

Titian: His Life - Sheila Hale (monumental, but really looking forward to it, as off to Venice in a few weeks time).

Names for the Sea: Strangers in Iceland - Sarah Moss

 

more non-fiction!!

Edited by willoyd

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Hi Willoyd, Belated Birthday Wishes :sign0072:

 

I haven't read any Durrell but vaguely remember seeing a tv series in my dim & distant youth.By the way we were in Ilkley at the tail end of the literature festival so didn't get to see any of it but i did have a browse in the Grove bookstore & saw the display of the visiting authors. I'm hoping to be more organised next year & take the children to see some of the childrens events.

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Hi Willoyd, Belated Birthday Wishes :sign0072:

Thank you! (it was a good one this year, not least because we had a great day at the festival!)

 

By the way we were in Ilkley at the tail end of the literature festival so didn't get to see any of it but i did have a browse in the Grove bookstore & saw the display of the visiting authors. I'm hoping to be more organised next year & take the children to see some of the childrens events.

The children's festival, like the adult side of things, gets better every year, and this year seemed to make a huge leap forward. I do a fair bit of my shopping in The Grove - it may not be large, but they always seem too have something I want to read/buy. In fact, I think some of these independents are better off for being smaller - some of the larger Waterstones etc are just overwhelming, and whilst fine for covering a specific area, aren't so good for general browsing.

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Ash by James Herbert (*)

This is very different to my usual reading, and both an author and genre that I have not been in a rush to explore. But, this is the title chosen for my book group this month, so, given that there's a first time for everything......

 

Well, there's certainly a first, but there's also a last. It's hard to know quite where to start, but if I actually gave zero stars, this would earn them. It was awful, so awful that I struggled to read a quarter of the way, and then mentally threw it in the bin (being a Kindle file, it's not physically what I did!). The horror wasn't a problem, at least in the part of the book that I read, as there was hardly any. The real horror story was the writing.

 

First of all, the plot is hopelessly, I mean hopelessly, cliched. There are mysterious, horrific, goings-on in this remote Scottish castle, a 'retreat' for the highly wealthy run by a mysteriously sinister group of highly influential and wealthy individuals, calling themselves The Inner Court (for goodness' sake!). It's so remote that nobody local knows about it (really?!). They call in the Psychic Research Institute, whose top operative is mentally damaged by previous paranormal encounters, but the head of the institute (who just happens to be an ex-lover of both the investigator and the man who calls them in) can't think of anybody better to run the investigation. He (David Ash) heads off up to Scotland, meeting up on the plane flight (private jet courtesy of the Inner Court) with the retreat's head psychologist, who just happens to be this ravishing beauty (raven-haired - so we are told several times) who he realises (in a psychic insight into his predestiny) he's going to be involved with in some way. She, however, has had a lesbian entanglement with the head nurse (I kid you not). And, of course, the castle is so remote, and the organisation is so secretive, that when we get there, there is no way of getting any form of communication out. As if this isn't enough, let's chuck in an assassin whose backstory fills us in on what really happened in the Georgi Markov, David Kelly and Jeremy Thorpe-Norman Scott affairs (Lord Lucan and Diana Spencer also feature at various stages). Spooky, scary, exciting? No, not really, just very tired (or do I mean tiring, as in yawn inducing?).

 

Then there is the writing. First of all, Herbert obviously loves adjectives, preferably not just one at a time. No noun is complete, it seems, without one or more attached, even if we haven't got a broad enough vocabulary to stretch to that many different ones. A quick search on the Kindle showed me that if I'd read the whole book, I'd have been told 9-10 times that Ash is a cynic. If in doubt though, let's whack a colour on the front.

 

This manifested itself most irritatingly when we got to developing our characters. Let's not give them time to develop: as soon as they are introduced, Herbert describes each one in minute detail, not forgetting the colour of their eyes (I know pretty much the lot, including the stewardess on the private jet), or their hair. And, again, to make sure we remember we are rarely told just the once. Oh no, that might be too much like treating our readers as reasonably intelligent adults. Even here we can't avoid the cliches: smiles are always melancholy, weary, or, even better, don't quite reach the eyes (which, of course, we have had described in some detail). We also get reams on the clothes which, I suppose, is meant to show me something about the character (except, of course, when it's a uniform, but let's still describe in some detail). I don't think we quite get to the colour of their underpants, but I'm not sure, as after a while I did skim over these paragraphs.

 

I could go on: the unnecessary information (the forced dialogue where we were told the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist jumps immediately to mind, or that it's Sao Paulo not Rio de Janeiro that is the largest city in Brazil are two that jump to mind), or the inaccuracies (wildcats in Ayrshire? Extinct since the early 19th century actually). Whatever. It all adds up to a complete shambles of a book topped off with (having turned to the back pages to see if there's anything worthwhile to read for), quite the most ludicrous ending I can recall encountering. Truly, truly dreadful.

Edited by willoyd

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Sounds hilarious :giggle2: It's years since i read any James Herbert, after reading your review i don't think i'll be picking up any of his books anytime soon. I wonder what the rest of your book group will think of it & if they all liked it will you go back ? :D

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Sounds hilarious :giggle2: It's years since i read any James Herbert, after reading your review i don't think i'll be picking up any of his books anytime soon. I wonder what the rest of your book group will think of it & if they all liked it will you go back ? :D

Yes, it was (hilarious, I mean!). For me, it was soooo bad it was very funny.

 

From some of the emails knocking around, there are certainly one or two who are enjoying it. As to going back - it would be a very boring world if we all thought the same, and the whole point behind a book group is to discuss/debate - the quality of that will be a bigger factor for me. If it was all looking the same, I'd be worried, but the list of books over the next few months looks really varied. I'm really looking forward to it. After all, it does me good to read the odd book that I dislike, and climb outside the box I usually read in - makes the rest more enjoyable if nothing else, but also helps me refine my perception of what makes a good book. Have to say though, that this is a strong candidate for the worst book I've ever read.

Edited by willoyd

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