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Friday, 24 October 2014

#BookADayUK; A Reader Event For October. Day 24

Today, following the daily threads proposed by the Books Are My promotion of
independent bookshops, we are urged to consider, 'A hidden gem'.

Now, what is hidden for some may well be openly on show for others. So, this, like so many of the others in this series, has to be a personal perception. I've decided to go with a book written by a friend, a work I think deserves a wider readership than it has so far achieved. Many books today fail to reach the readership they deserve simply because there are so many books published. This book, the second in a series, is a real gem. So, I nominate Linda Acaster's The Bull at the Gate. You can read my review of it here on the blog by clicking on this link.

The Narrative Poems, by William Shakespeare, Reviewed.

I always feel nervous commenting on the works of the Bard. After all, as England’s foremost dramatist, he has one hell of a reputation. Part of my anxiety stems from simple ignorance: a lack of knowledge of the times in which he wrote, and large holes in my understanding of the vocabulary he used. It is easy to misunderstand or misinterpret his work.

All the same, as a modern reader of a classic work, I have a voice and an opinion. I hope readers of my reviews understand that they are personal and only as informed as those of most readers who also write.

So, to The Narrative Poems: this volume contains, Venus and Adonis, The Rape of Lucrece, and The Phoenix and Turtle. I read the Penguin Shakespeare edition, so there are some notes, an introduction and an epilogue to guide readers.

There is no doubt that Shakespeare was a superb poet. But these are works very much of their time, in spite of their reputation as classics. Classics, because they use language in an evocative and engaging way. Of their time, because they are rather more wordy than a modern reader would generally prefer. Although it takes the author several verses to say what modern writers would say in one, the manner of the exposition is so brilliant that wordiness is more easily forgiven. That said, there were short passages I skipped because they seemed superfluous.

Pierre-Paul Prud'hon's Venus and Adonis, Walla...
Pierre-Paul Prud'hon's Venus and Adonis, Wallace Collection, London (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Venus and Adonis retells an ancient myth in the typical style of the poet and does so very well, of course. The Rape of Lucrece again tackles an old story, but what is most noticeable about this one is its extremely moral stance. At the time of the Bard, women were routinely ‘owned’ and abused, yet the language of this work expresses such disgust over the actions of the rapist, Tarquin, and such empathy with the victim, Lucrece, that it might have been written by a modern man. The Phoenix and Turtle, however, is all but incomprehensible without a translation or some reference to the original work from which it is undoubtedly derived.

Did I enjoy the read? Yes. Was some of it hard work? Yes. Did it put me off reading more of Shakespeare? No. Scholars and those acquainted with his works, will need no input from me. Those less familiar with the work of the Bard should find this slim volume worth their time. I suggest you have a read.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

#BookADayUK; A Reader Event For October. Day 23

The theme for today is 'Best book on diversity'. I confess to being a little puzzled by this particular label. Diversity is a term that can be applied in many different ways. So, I looked it up on Goodreads and discovered that, in this context, it's a label indicating that a major character is of a non-Caucasian origin.

I suppose I could have been silly, and nominated something like Lord of the Rings, with it's hobbits and other mythical creatures. But that hardly seems in the spirit of the thing. When I considered, I realised I'd read a fair number of books featuring non-Caucasian heroes, heroines and others. Salman Rushdie's Oeuvre is generally centred on races other than the Caucasian, and I've enjoyed a few of his works.

And, of course, I could have nominated the recent anthology of Epitaphs to which I contributed as one of seventy-two poets, many of whom were Indian, but that's not really what this is about either.

In line with what I've tried to do here in most cases, I decided to select the book most recently read that falls under this label. So, it looks as though it's going to be the Life of Pi, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

#BookADayUK; A Reader Event For October. Day 22

Okay, so what happened to day 21? Well, the truth is that I was rather otherwise occupied. A neighbour, who was kind and influential during my teenage years, died last week and I attended her funeral, some distance away, yesterday.

But you managed the 'Word tips' post! Yes, that was scheduled, you see?

Anyway, today's theme is 'Makes me want to travel'. Once again, I am persuaded to delve into the past. There is no doubt that reading The Kon-Tiki expedition as a young man fired up my desire to travel. That I was hampered by my first wife, who would neither fly nor travel by sea, somewhat restricted me to this island home. However, my lovely second wife, with whom I've shared 26 years of happiness, is a traveller and treated me to my first trip overseas on my 40th birthday. A fortnight in Rhodes was a real eye-opener and we've visited many more of the Greek islands subsequently.

But it was undoubtedly Thor Heyerdahl's account of his adventures on the oceans that inspired me to travel. It's decades since I read his first book, and I've read most of his others since. Great stuff. If you haven't sampled this author, I suggest you do. You'll learn a little history and geography along the way.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Ruled by Intellect or Emotion? Tips on Word Choice #7

English: The words "Motivation and Emotio...
English: The words "Motivation and Emotion" are spelt out in scrabble letters on a scrabble board. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Certain words/phrases can induce fairly specific responses in readers. As writers, we all know this, but do we use the power of emotion in our work?

For the next few weeks, I’ll be looking at something subjective: how to choose between emotional and intellectual words for effect.

In this series I’m looking at the difference between words that seem intellectual as opposed to those that invoke a more emotional response. How you use them is obviously up to you. The point is that the alternatives have the same, or very similar, meanings, but their effect upon the reader can be markedly different. I’ve made some suggestions here, but I’m sure you can think of others.

Intellectual: Astute
Emotional: Smart

The leader of the opposition made the astute point that the party in power was run by fraudsters, millionaires, tax-dodgers and fools.

Georgina was not only beautiful, generous and smart as a whip, she was also green. 

Intellectual: Desire
Emotional: Hope

Members of the Tory party desire that all employees be made to labour for inadequate wages so that they can continue to call them lazy and undeserving.’

Let’s all hope the majority of the electorate will wake up to the reality of the right wing, in spite of the evidence that the contrary is usually the case.

Intellectual: Obstinate
Emotional: Stubborn

The obstinate belief amongst the bulk of voters that politicians actually care about them is difficult to comprehend.

My grandfather was a stubborn man who would argue that black was white if that was what he chose to believe, regardless of fact.

Monday, 20 October 2014

#BookADayUK; A Reader Event For October. Day 20

Reader of novels
The Reader of Novels by Antoine Wiertz. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Today's theme is: 'Favourite bookworm in literature'. As with so many of these ideas, I find myself spoilt for choice.

I was initially tempted to choose Alan Bennett's The Uncommon Reader, which gives a delightful picture of our own Queen as a reader. But it's a while since I read that one.

So, for this theme, I'll again select the most recent example I can recall. In this case I'll go for the eponymous The Reader in The Reader of Acheron, by Walter Rhein. This character is a mystery figure loathed by those in authority and more or less worshipped by others. The Reader lives in a world where books are banned and reading is a crime punishable by death.

So far our own culture has largely avoided such excess. But there are various sects in existence that would evoke such a rule if they had the power. The recently evolved Islamic State is such a threat - the only reading allowed by these extremists is the Qur'an, and, one suspects, a modified and censored version at that. As those of us who've witnessed and learned from history know, such censorship never results in lasting authoritarianism, since human beings are thirsty for knowledge by nature. The imposition of such restrictions is generally guided by a combination of fear and ignorance coupled with a desire to reduce the intellectual standards of everyone to the lowest possible in order to impose control. The leaders of such cultures invariably fall foul of their natural greed and hunger for power and fall as a result. Unfortunately many ordinary people suffer horribly along the way. Such is the nature of politics and the cult of leadership, however.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Writing and Running for ME/CFS #4

English: Me Running
English: Man running (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A slight interruption to the programme today. I should have had a 20 minute brisk walk followed by 3 lots of running for 2 minutes and walking for 1. Tuesday was a 30 minute easy walk, which is never a problem, as my wife and I do this most days. On Friday, I did my first run for 10 minutes and covered a little over a mile. However, on Friday night, my daughter rang to say she'd cut herself on some broken glass at work (she works as a waitress in an Italian Restaurant at present) and was on her way to the A & E department with her boss. As is so often the case in NHS Accident and Emergency departments, the place was understaffed and quite crowded (Friday nights are notoriously busy with drunks and other assorted party-goers). We couldn't go to collect her (the hospital is 25 miles away and we'd both been drinking wine). So her boss took her back to the town she works in and she drove home with 5 stitches in the wound to her thigh, having been assured by the doctor she was safe to do so. But all this meant that we didn't get to bed until 04:30. (our daughter is fine, by the way and went off to work as usual this morning) My built-in alarm woke me well before 09:00, so I was rather tired during Saturday. Come this morning, I was feeling a little less than fit, so, having learned to listen to my body during the 10 years of ME/CFS, I decided to forgo the run for today.
However, Valerie and I have had a lengthy walk: 3.2 miles in 57 minutes, so I feel I've done pretty well. If I feel okay in the morning, I'll do my run then.
That's the running training.
The book?
Well, I've collected more information, read a couple of other books (they're both reviewed here if you look below this post), and started a rough plan of the book as I see it. So, progress on that front.

#BookADayUK; A Reader Event For October. Day 19

For today, in the Books Are My promotion of independent bookshops, our idea is, 'Made me cry in public'. I've read hundreds of books that have brought me to tears: I don't mind admitting that I am moved by the written word, when it is well presented and reveals a depth of humanity that illustrates emotion rather than sentiment.

It's difficult to choose just one book to represent the experience of crying whilst reading in public, so I'll go for the most recent I can recall. Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things was full of joy, humour, different cultural references, and, of course, sorrow. It made me cry. So, there you have it.

As writers of fiction, we all hope to expose our readers to the full spectrum of emotion. I've been told by readers that my own work does that. It's always good to know when you've succeeded in your endeavours. So, if you do read, please spend a few moments to review the book afterwards. You'll help the author, by adding to the reviews held, and you'll help fellow readers to make a selection from the many thousands of books published each year.

Falling Through the World, by Rachel Clarke, Reviewed.

I read this novel as part of the research I’m undertaking before writing an account of my own experience of ME/CFS. The book is written from the point of view of a teenage girl brought down by this dreadful condition. It’s an honest, funny, moving and, at times, harrowing account of the life of a sufferer.

The reader is exposed to the prejudices of the ignorant, the helpless ignorance of the general medical profession, the casual cruelty that can come from friends and relatives, and the total lack of understanding that so frequently accompanies this much-misjudged condition.

Although this is a novel, it’s also a work that encapsulates the reality of ME/CFS. At the same time, it captures the fears, hopes, dreams and sorrows of a teenage girl and, to some extent, those of her family and friends.

A well-written story, full of hope, questioning, self-doubt, frustration and ambition, it carries the reader on waves of emotional ups and downs as the narrator describes what’s happening to her. Not a long novel, it nevertheless manages to incorporate most of what it’s like to live with ME/CFS, and provides readers with useful clues as to how sufferers, their families, and their medical helpers can best be approached.

There is the strong possibility that all readers will have some contact with either a sufferer or a member of the family of a victim. Because of this, I recommend the book to all. It’s punchy, accessible and short enough for all to read. Please do that, and educate yourself about this condition that attacks and ruins the lives of so many people of all ages.