Monday, 31 January 2011

World Book Night Challenge 8/25

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold - John le Carre

This is one from the list that I had been looking forward to reading. Thrillers and spies are not usually my subject matter of choice but since reading Operation Mincemeat by Ben Macintyre last year the whole concept of espionage has been intriguing me. The Cold War setting was also an added bonus.

I don't think that I've read any le Carre (sorry I really can't work out how to get the accents) before, although Mr Bookworm and I did watch the Alec Guinness version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy a couple of years ago.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, the twists and turns kept me hooked from page one and I while I hoped that Leamas was a 'good' guy (and lets face it in the world of spies that is very much a relative term!) I was never 100% sure.

I found this is a perfectly formed novel, it had good pace and story and the wasn't so convoluted or full of so many characters that I got muddled reading it.

I was 13 when the Berlin Wall fell and while I realise that the Cold War was pretty 'cold' in my life time I found it easy to imagine the world created in the novel.
There is one problem with the book - I've discovered that there is a sort of prequel and also as Smiley is a peripheral character in this one I now want to read more about him. I might also have to bump Agent ZigZag towards the top of the challenge pile.

My to be read pile just grew again!

Saturday, 29 January 2011


I've been quite open and honest about my enthusiasm for the whole eReader phenomenon and the experience of reading on either an iPhone or a dedicated device.

However the BeBook and the iPhone haven't been without their problems. To upload books to the BeBook you have to plug everything together in a very specific order otherwise Adobe doesn't recognise it and several times it appears that books have downloaded correctly but simply won't open. The screen is also a little small and unresponsive when you try to change the orientation.

On my iPhone I have three different programmes for reading eBooks - Stanza, Kindle and iBooks. All are great in their way but the problem here is the small size of the device, the screen is so small and I read so fast that I am constantly turning the page. This, and holding such a small object was actually starting to cause me some pain in my wrists.

So last week, when tired after a hectic work schedule and lots of events, I succumbed and treated myself to a Kindle. I got the Wifi and 3g compatible model and already, less than a week into owning it, I love it more than the other 2 devices.

It is light, easy to use, I can create book shelves easily and downloading reasonably priced books from Amazon is so easy I am going to have to be very restrained so as not to build up a huge credit card bill.

It isn't perfect - Kindles are not compatible with the library eBook catalogue, and Amazon have no plans at all to make this happen. Also although it advertises web browsing this is clumsy and clunky when compared to a iPhone say.

However the eInk technology has improved a huge amount since we got the BeBook, the page turns are smooth and flicker free, images are much clearer and better still there are so many options for type style, font, line spacing and orientation.

I'm sure the love will wear off soon, but right now with another holiday planned and a limited luggage allowance I can't wait to fill it with books I've been meaning to read.
People keep asking me why I went for this and not an iPad and the simple answer is cost, if someone gave me an iPad I'd be really happy but they are still so expensive I wouldn't feel comfortable travelling with one for fear I'd damage it. Also it is still quite large whereas my Kindle, even in a case, is about the size of a normal paperback.

As for the BeBook I think my sister and Mr Bookworm are fighting over that and I know who my money's on!

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

World Book Night Challenge 7/25

The World's Wife - Carol Ann Duffy

I approached this second poetry volume on the list with not quite as much trepidation as the first and I'm not sure if this paid off or if more of the poems appealed to me.

I'd not read any Duffy before this and apart from being aware that she is the current poet laureate I knew nothing about her works at all. Like I said a few posts ago I really do tend to avoid poetry.

I liked about half of the poems in this collection. I think it is that the subject matter was so much clearer. They are all poems either about or supposedly by the 'wives' of famous male historical characters. There is a lot of humour in many of the poems and I defy anyone not to snigger at Mrs Darwin's very short poem.

Since reading the book I have read a little more about Duffy and I think that I might even try a few more of her poems. These poems at least seem to have a very strong feminist ideal coming through and I liked both enjoying the poems and seeing the meaning behind them.

So there we are - World Book Night has made me read books I really would normally have avoided like the plague and enjoy them.

Who knows maybe this year I *will* like Doctor Who!

Saturday, 22 January 2011

World Book Night Challenge 6/25

Toast - Nigel Slater

Thanks to the adaptation of this book being shown on UK television over the Christmas period there was a huge waiting list on this book at the library so I decided to read the Kindle version of this, making it one of the first contemporary books I've read solely on my iPhone.

I'd read this book before, shortly after it first came out and I remembered it being an enjoyable read but nothing really stuck in my mind apart from that.

Re-reading was a pleasure, Slater is quite a brave celebrity in many way as he holds nothing back in this book - even if it doesn't paint him in a very favourable or savoury light.

The book is split in to many short chapters most taking food stuffs from the 1960s and 1970s for chapter headers and this format really seemed to work when reading on a mobile device and also had me craving delights such as arctic roll, walnut whips and angel delight. So much for the diet in 2011!

This was a pleasant diversion, it isn't going to be a book for everyone. I was never a teenage boy so I don't know how accurate bits of the memoir are but it is going to be too 'dirty' for some and Slater's treatment of his step-mother are callous to say the least.
I enjoyed the book partly because I am nosy and like autobiographies and partly because I like a lot of Nigel Slater's recipes, however without it being on the World Book Night list I probably wouldn't have reread it.

The one thing I did get from the re-read is that reading whole books on my phone is possible, that it wasn't awkward and that it didn't give me a headache. The one downside was how much quicker it drained the battery!

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

A Monster

Another confession here. This was a book of which I barely even knew the plot before I started it. Oh and I only thought I should read it because I am going to see it at the theatre. All I knew was that Frankenstein wasn't the monster...

Even once I'd got a copy of this, and had it recommended it to me by several people I avoided reading it. All part of my mental block about classic novels - I'm always convinced that they will be too hard for me.

I am glad that I listened to friends and read the book, I found it so hard to put down once I'd started and swallowed it up in a weekend, and I've made Mr Bookworm read it!

However my main thought after reading it was that although human Frankenstein is the monster in this tale. I found nothing in his character to like (something of a theme to my reading so far this year!) and all of my sympathy went to the monster and Victor's family, Victor himself deserved a far worse outcome than he got.

I'm not going to look out for any film versions of this but I am very intrigued about the stage production - is the play going to be changed so much that I find myself in sympathy with Victor despite my feelings after reading the original? I guess I'll just have to be patient but I am so pleased that I read the book and broke my duck on classic novels.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

World Book Night Challenge 5/25

New Selected Poems 1966-1987 - Seamus Heaney

This is one of the books I was dreading reading for the challenge. I never read poetry through choice and I think that I can count the number of poems I like on my fingers. It is a running joke in the family that the BBC radio programme Poetry Please is known as Poetry No Thanks!

I can't say that I liked many of the poems, and there were dozens that I really didn't understand - I am sure that there was a meaning in there somewhere but it eluded me. However the two of three that I like made reading the book worthwhile, and I now don't dread the other poetry book on the list half as much.

Another book that I'm pleased I read but it didn't convert me to liking poetry and I won't be searching out more works by Heaney. I might however be a little slower in switching the radio off though.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

World Book Night challenge 4/25

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie - Muriel Spark

It has been a week since I finished reading this and I am still not sure what I thought of it. I suppose that as I am still thinking about it then there was something special about it but I really can’t put my finger on exactly what it is.

Once more I found this a book where I didn’t care for any of the characters and a book where very little happens. A group of school children are influenced by their teacher, form a clique, become precocious and ultimately grow up. One of them betrays their mentor.

This simultaneously sums up the book entirely and gives nothing at all away. Like I said an odd book.

I quite liked the writing style, the plot flicks back and forth in time in a way that is easy to read but makes you concentrate hard on the book at the same time.

I also liked the Homeric way that every time a character is mentioned the same description is attached to them, for me this created a lovely rhythm to the reading.

So like the morals of the characters I remain ambiguous about this book. I’m glad I read it but I won’t be seeking out more by this author, nor rushing to watch the film adaptation.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

World Book Night challenge 3/25

Stuart a life backwards - Alexander Masters

This is a book that I've been aware of for a very long time, but probably would never have read had it not appeared on the World Book Night list. I always seemed so close to being one of the 'misery memoir' books that I'd have avoided it on principle.

It just goes to show that you really shouldn't hold these preconceived ideas for this book is another that blew me away. It is not an easy read, and the things it contains are so far from my own life that I found it hard to believe that it really did happen only 60 miles from where I live and only a decade ago.

I am finding nearly as impossible to recount this book as Masters found it to write at first. To compress the book into a review does it no justice, there is so much happening that I'd end up rewriting it.
All I can say is that you have to read it. You won't find it easy, comforting or really even enjoyable but all the same you have to read it.

The style works perfectly and as this is a story of friendship as well as a biography it is only right that you find a lot of Alexander in the book too. This adds to the story, it never detracts from it and the book never becomes about Alexander it is always Stuart's story, a feat which makes Masters, in my eyes, a very talented writer.

This possibly wasn't the best choice of book to read over Christmas, but I don't for an instant regret reading it. I can understand if it is 'too much' for many people, but I urge you to give it a try - reading out of your comfort zone is good for you, and this book deserves to find an extra 48000 readers in 2011.

There is a BBC adaptation if you prefer, it sticks closely to the book and is just as hard hitting. For once I am just as pleased I watched it as I am that I read the book.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Being Sidetracked

My self set challenge to read all of the 25 books chosen for World Book Night before March 5th is going well, and even if the books aren't the best I've read I'm mostly enjoying them so far.

However there is a problem. Because a lot of these authors are new to me I'm finding that I want to read more by these authors. I know that I read fast but the rate by to be read pile is growing is terrifying even by my standards!

Then there are the books I hear about on other blogs, my library reservations and the proofs I'm receiving. I'm not sure if I need more hours in the day or more days in the week!

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

World Book Night challenge 2/25

One Day - David Nicholls

A lot of people I know are either reading this, or have just finished it and that did influence my choice to read it next as they all seemed so positive about it. I've also been wanting to read it since hearing snippets on book at bedtime a few months ago.

I loved the idea, two people finally get together on their graduation night at uni, realise that their lives are about to diverge and so keep in touch rather than swearing to be together for all eternity at that point. As a reader we get to eavesdrop on their lives on the same date as their graduation every year for the next 20 or so years.

Being so episodic works well in many ways as it is fast paced and the plot never has time to drag but for me it felt like I couldn't get to know the characters at all. I found that I liked neither of the main characters nor any of the supporting cast, and the ending struck me as pretty predictable and obviously the only way that the book could end.

I think that I might have read this book at the wrong time. With hindsight it is obviously a holiday read, a piece of chick lit for both sexes, but as I had had so many personal recommendations and as it has won so many rave reviews I think I was expecting something more.

It has won all manner of accolades and will make a great World Book Night read as it is a book that should appeal to men and women, it just didn't quite do it for me - perhaps I am too hard hearted and don't have any romance in my soul at all...

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Belated Books of the Year

I am a couple of days late posting this because I wanted to finish the books that I was reading just in case they became contenders for that coveted place of top book of the year.
They didn't - they were good and I will probably write about them later but they weren't BotY (for me).

I read 194 full length books in 2010, I obviously found the mojo that vanished in 2009! A lot of these books took me out of my comfort zone, particularly when I was reading for the Writer's Centre Norwich Summer Reads and for Banned Books week.

I read less books written for children and teenager last year than I have for years and I really enjoyed the recommendations from friends. I do still miss having to be right up there with my knowledge of what is new in the children's book world but the selfish pleasure of being able to read (or not read) exactly what I like is wonderful.

I am setting myself 2 challenges for 2011. To complete my World Book Night project (I've now read 3 1/2 of the 25 books - thoughts to follow) and also to read one classic novel at least a month. By 'classic novel' I mean things like Austen and Dickens etc., works from pre-1900. I've read shamefully few of these and mean to rectify this before the year is out. As I have read so few suggestions are gratefully received - all I ask is that they were originally aimed at adults, my knowledge of the children's classics is pretty good!

Right on to my books of 2010...

My top adult fiction book was easily The Help by Katherine Stockett:

There were a few other close contenders but this one really did blow me away and although it was at one point reviewed everywhere I found it to be excellent and not over-hyped at all.
The whole time I was reading this book I was mentally pinching myself to remind me that the book was set in the 1960s not the 1860s, it is powerful, scary and a great testament to how single actions can change views.

My top children's / teen book was Matched by Ally Condie

I blogged about it briefly here but in all honesty no other teen book has blown me away as much this year. There has been plenty of good stuff out there but I found this truly innovative and gripping. For once I am hoping there will be a sequel rather than lamenting that it is another series.

Non Fiction choice has to be Storyteller: the biography of Roald Dahl.

Again this is a book I blogged about earlier and even though I have read some tremendous history books and biographies in 2010 none of them come close to the quality of this one. I've recommended it to so many people it is untrue (and most of them have agreed that it is good, if a little daunting in size) it is one that I can see myself returning to and I really must buy myself a copy soon as the library waiting list is still huge!

Let's hope that 2011 is another stellar year for books - and please do always feel free to recommend books to me, I really will try most things once.

Happy New Year!