Sunday, 23 November 2014

Theatre 2014: Review Thirty-Nine

Lord of the Flies (ballet), Theatre Royal, Norwich. November 2014.

We'd not been back from our holidays a week before I was off to the theatre again and after enjoying Swan Lake so much last year I leapt at the chance to see another Matthew Bourne ballet.

Here's a shocking confession for a bookworm to make - I've never read the Golding novel Lord of the Flies. I know the basic plot premise but none of the details.  I considered reading it while we were away and then decided that I wouldn't - I'd watch the ballet first and see if I could follow the story.

The answer is a resounding yes - from the very first movement on the stage to the last I understood and followed the storyline throughout, and just like Swan Lake I found it incredibly moving and powerful and at times incredibly tense and scary.

This wasn't traditional ballet but it was all about the choreography and movement and this time the cast was all male. Interestingly not all of the cast were professionals either. Back in April a call went out for people interested in the project to come to a taster session and since then local boys and young men have been trained to such a standard that I could see no way of telling them apart from the fixed touring cast.

I was transfixed throughout the whole performance and like so many theatrical experiences this year if it was possible I'd go and see it again like a shot - there is so much happening on the stage all of the time that I don't think it would be like seeing the same thing twice... I am going to read the novel now and see how they compare.

The new season has just been announced at the theatre and I already have tickets for Bourne's Edward Scissorhands but I am also contemplating some of the more traditional ballets and giving opera another go.  Good productions are dangerous as they just make you want to see more and more!

Monday, 17 November 2014

Reading Week

Holiday Reading.

Mr Norfolkbookworm and I have just spent a week in the Canary Islands as we set ourselves up for winter by absorbing some more vitamin D, typically of course this year autumn has been splendid and the weather only really broke here just as we went but still a week away was wonderful.

This week also coincided with uni reading week but I'm not actually sure that this meant spend a week reading fiction but as I am up-to-date on the course work I wasn't too worried I'd fall behind.

Instead I spent 7 glorious days reading whatever I fancied and as the weather was good I got through an obscene amount of books - 14 and 2 halves (one I gave up on and one I've still to finish).

In no particular order and with just a few comments rather than reviews the books read were:

The Promised Land - Erich Maria Remarque 
Most famous for his anti WW1 novel All Quiet on the Western Front this is a fascinating book about emigres to America during WW2 and follows one man as he settles into life in New York. This is the first time the book has been translated into English and was unfinished when he died - this gives the book an abrupt ending but it was very good.

The Possibilities - Kaui Hart Hemmings 
From the author who wrote the book and Oscar winning film The Descendents. This was a slight tale of a woman coming to terms with the death of her son and the realisation that she didn't actually know him very well. It was all set in a ski resort and I think that I got more out of this book from having visited Mammoth in California than I would have done without knowing the type of town the book was set in. A slight read that passed the time but that will fade quickly from my memory.

Burial Rites - Hannah Kent 
From the blurb on the back of this book I really thought it wasn't for me but it just goes to show you shouldn't judge a book by a cover.  Set in Iceland in the 1800s a convicted murderess is sent to live with a family while she awaits execution and slowly the tale unfolds.  This isn't a crime story per se but is utterly compelling and an intelligent page turner which I really recommend.

Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn 
This has been a huge hit in book and film form and was again not a book I expected to like as thrillers aren't usually my thing but again I was pleased to be wrong. You can't like any of the characters in this book but it is an amazing piece of story telling. Not saying anymore for fear of spoiling it for others yet to discover it.

A Song for Issy Bradley - Carys Bray 
This was a recommendation from two places and I am very pleased that I bumped it up my to-be-read pile. It is a story of a family coming to terms with the loss of a child but the added dimension of the family's Mormon faith.  This isn't a complex story but it is very moving and I found my sympathy changing with each chapter I read. I've read a few books with Mormon protagonists but they were all very negative portrayals - this is far more subtle.

Love Charm of Bombs - Lara Feigel 
This is a non-fiction book that tells the story of WW2 through the eyes of some of the leading writers at the time such as Graham Greene and Rose Macaulay.  I liked the idea of telling the story of the war through writers but thought the conceit was stretched a little with the comparison to the First World War poets.  An interesting read but not a stand out.

Crooked Heart - Lissa Evans

This was an odd duck of a book as it reminded me of a lot of other books but still remained unique.  A precocious boy is living with his guardian at the start of the WW2 but this life comes to an end after her death.  He is then evacuated to St Albans where he is taken in by a lady who sees him as a way to make money.  With his brains and her gumption the two soon get into all sorts of shady business - complicated by her borderline criminal son.  The book was a quick, easy read but slight and never really rose above either a young adult novel or a Mills and Boon.  I liked it but wanted just a little bit more.
A Place Called Winter - Patrick Gale
This ended up being another book with a war setting - WW1 this time - and one of my favourite reads of the holiday.  A family man is forced to leave Edwardian England to avoid a scandal and instead make a new life for himself creating a farm in the wilds of Canada.  This is another book I don't want to say too much about as it unfolds beautifully, for me it was very much like a grown up Little House on the Prairie and as that is one of my favourite series of books for children I loved the entire thing and got fully swept up in the story and characters. This was a book that really came to life before my eyes.

Belzhar - Meg Wollitzer 
Last year I read and loved The Interestings by this author and so looked forward to this a lot and while it was still good I didn't realise that it was a young adult novel and thus found it to be less nuanced and in depth than I was hoping.  After a breakdown Jam has been sent to a boarding school for emotionally fragile teenagers and on arrival finds she has been selected for a special English class with only a handful of other teenagers.  This class only studies one book all semester and the only homework is to keep a journal.  The story does contain several twists and one in particular really surprised me, this is good quality young adult literature but the ending keeps it firmly in that bracket and it isn't elevated any higher.  I'll keep looking for books by Wollitzer but I think she is a better adult writer.

Mac and Me - Esther Freud 
Another WW1 novel here and this time set in a place I know very well - Southwold in Suffolk.  The descriptions of the town and surrounding areas were great but that is about all that I can recommend about the book as it had so many historical inaccuracies I spent most of the time I was reading it growling and looking things up on Wikipedia to find the truth.

Let's Get Lost - Adi Alsaid
This was a sweet teen novel that I enjoyed a lot, a girl on a road trip to Alaska to see the Northern Lights meets lots of new people on the way and changes the course of their lives. It sounds trite and terrible but was in fact very clever and a thoroughly enjoyable read.

The Lives of Stella Bains - Anita Shreve
Another WW1 set book and again one with a plot I don't want to talk about as the discovery is part of the tale.  It is a slight book but mostly believable if a little too reliant on happy coincidences.  A good holiday read but not much more, I still think her best book is The Pilot's Wife.

A tale for the time being - Ruth Oyezeki 
Rebecca has been encouraging me to read this book for a while now and I am glad that I saved it until I had time to concentrate on it as it changes from being a straightforward (almost) time-slip story to a book full of complicated ideas about faith, philosophy and quantum physics.  Utterly brilliant and I can't wait to read more by Oyezeki - a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Europe in the looking glass - Robert Byron

This book was recommended at the Heffer's Classics Day at the start of November and I am glad I sought it out.  It is a mixture of a Patrick Leigh Fermor travel novel and Jerome K Jerome and is full of wonderful lines and descriptions as well as some cringe-worthy moments of pure 1920s snobbery and entitlement. Great fun but a little exasperating until they reach Greece when it comes to life.

The books I didn't finish:

The Rosie Effect - Graham Simison
Earlier in the year I read and loved The Rosie Project and I was looking forward to the sequel, although I wasn't 100% convinced the book needed one.  I should have stuck with my gut instinct as the comedy of the first book became, for me, unbearable farce and so far fetched and uncomfortable that I had to stop reading and I don't think I'll ever go back to it.

Travels with Epicurus - Daniel Klein
This is a book I am reading slowly as it is full of big ideas. Klein is exploring the ideas of Epicurus and other pphilosophers while living on Hydra - the place where people seem to live the longest and happiest lives.  It mixes big ideas and details about the Greek way of life seamlessly and is giving me a new reading list as long as my arm!

Phew - that was a lot of books in a short space of time and now it is back to the Shakespeare and lit crit books for a while!

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Entering the Classical World

Heffers Classics Forum, Cambridge. November 2014.

This is the third Classics Forum that we have been to. I blogged about the first back in 2012 but missed mentioning last year's for some reason.

This one was possibly the best yet, between 10am and 6pm we heard presentations from 12 great speakers talking about all manner of things connected to the classical world - from atheism to how to manage a slave and all points in between.

Each speaker had 20 minutes to talk about their ideas or new books and I can say with all honesty that there wasn't a bad speaker or dull topic all day.  In addition to this there was also a 'balloon debate' during which 5 speakers championed a literary work from the classical world and we as the audience had to decide which ones we'd throw from the balloon in order to save the best. This year we saved Cicero but I'm not entirely sure if that was because we thought losing him would be the worst thing going or if his supporter was just so nice and funny that we saved his hero as favour to him.  Great fun!

I've come away with a reading list as long as my arm but as Mr Shakespeare used so many influences from the classical world in his work I feel that the day really helped round out my studies.

Here's hoping that next year's festival doesn't clash with an astronaut visit...

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Pontefract - we have a problem

Fred Haise (Space Lectures), Pontefract. October 2014.

Thanks to the world of Twitter letting me know about Space Lectures we are recently back from our third jaunt cross-country to Pontefract to meet another legend.

This time we were meeting Fred Haise who I think is probably the unluckiest man in the Apollo astronaut corps.  Haise should have been the 6th man to set foot on the moon but instead was on the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission.  Having escaped the threat of measles which saw his crew mate Mattingley bumped from the mission all looked to be going well.

Except after launch an engine behaved oddly and shut down (just in the nick of time as it nearly came off which would have caused many more - fatal - problems). After spending some time orbiting earth while the ground crew assessed the impact of the engine loss Apollo 13 was good to go to the moon.  Then 200 000 miles away from the earth, when the oxygen/hydrogen tanks were stirred there was an explosion which ultimately ended the mission to the moon and turned Apollo 13 into the tense tale of three men who had to hope nothing else went wrong so they could get home safely, and the ultimate irony - to do this they had to fly right around the moon!

Obviously as Fred Haise was talking to us this was a success but his bad luck didn't end there. After being the back up commander for Apollo 16 he was then due to command Apollo 19 - a mission that was scrapped due to funding cuts.

Fighting back from a serious plane crash (resulting in burns to 65% of his body) Haise returned to flight status and flew space shuttle Enterprise on 5 test flights in the earth's atmosphere but left the astronaut corps before the shuttle programme finally got to orbit.

Haise covered all of this in his talk and though out was, like the other astronauts we've seen in Pontefract, humble, amusing and very quick to praise the other 400 000 people involved in the Mercury/Gemini/Apollo missions who we rarely hear about.

I'm afraid that I just spend these talks star struck and don't remember huge details of them but there are fuller accounts on Collect Space and I have no doubt that blogger Space Kate will have a post up soon - she was name checked in the lecture by Haise as his first career choice was as a journalist and Kate was taking copious notes during the talk.

This time - for the first time - we also went to the dinner on Friday night and while Fred Haise only spoke for a few moments at this there was much more time to get an autograph and share a few words with him than the popular lectures allow.  Being outbid on two auction items and not winning either raffle were slight downers!

The two things I really will take away from this weekend:

  1. Fred Haise holding a door in the hotel open for me (okay I had my hands full but I felt I should be laying down my coat for him to walk on a la Sir Walter Raleigh rather than him holding a door for me)
  2. Fred Haise's look of total emotion as the lecture theatre of c.450 people gave him a standing ovation at the end of the event.
Oh and the blog title?  The school where the events are held had several tech failures during the talk, not least Fred Haise's headset microphone failing necessitating one of the Space Lecture's organisers having to remove it.  This was connected to Fred Haise's belt and it did look very funny from the audience, caused Haise to smile hugely and also for hecklers to call out that Haise needed to check it was only the microphone removed and not a wallet. I guess you had to be there....

We'll be heading back to Pontefract in April 2015 when the guest will be the first woman to pilot, and then to command, the space shuttle Cmdr Eileen Collins.  This news really made my inner feminist very happy :)

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Bookaday October

The #bookaday challenge continues in to October, with Books Are My Bag taking the reins. This is a campaign about using bookshops so that they don't all vanish and while may independents do take part in the campaign it is all embracing and about books!

1st: Book to curl up in front of a fire with?
What ever I am currently reading as long as the weather is appropriate!

2nd: Happy birthday Snoopy - your favourite fictional dog?
Although I've not re-read the books for a while I remember being most taken with Garth Nix's Disreputable Dog.

3rd: A book I love from one of the Cheltenham Festival 2014 guests?
Soooo many good authors here that it is hard to pick - I think I am overdue a re-read of Alone on a Wide Wide Sea by Michael Morpurgo

4th: One with a beautiful spine
Not just the spine but the whole package of The Invention of Hugo Cabret  was beautiful.

5th: Favourite reference to cinema/film in a book.
Again thanks to the depiction of early cinema I think Hugo Cabret wins though today as well!

6th: First book bought in a bookshop?
Not quite a bookshop but I remember saving my pocket money for the books advertised in the book club leaflet from school and the first one I paid for myself was either Earthstar Magic, Windsong Summer or Little House on the Prairie.

7th: Last book bought in a bookshop?
The script of My Night With Reg after seeing the play.

8th: Best bookshop find?
This has to be the secondhand copy of a rare Chalet School book that I found for very little money.

9th: Favourite book about a bookshop?
84 Charing Cross Road without a doubt.

10th: One with an orange cover?
The only one I can think of is Joshua Files:The Invisible City by M G Harris - this came in a bright orange plastic sleeve!

11th: Bought at a BAMB party?
This was The President's Hat by Antoine Laurain at the Jarrold's party in 2013.

12th: Favourite Bookseller recommendation?
So many after working in the book world for 16 years - most recently it was Mr Penumbra's Twenty-four Hour Bookstore.

13th: Nostalgic reads! Changed meaning when I re-read it later in life.
I re-read all of the time but the most obvious book with different meaning has to be a children's classic. As a child I loved Black Beauty as a simple horse book during the pony book phase, but later on saw all the messages about animal cruelty, and social injustice to some extent, that Sewell was writing about. Interestingly Little Women is one book that I read very differently from a friend - I see it as a positive book but she sees it very negatively.

14th: I adore the title of this novel.
A book title is important and I really dislike ones that make you think it is a completely different style of books. As serious books go then I love The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society but for a less serious one that makes me smile it has to be the puntastic Tequila Mockingbird.

15th: Best home in literature
I like my home a lot but I think that any fictional house that features a library swings it for me, talk of an open fire where I can curl up with a book makes it a winner.

16th: Most memorable adventure/journey in literature
The part of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe where they are walking in the snow towards the beavers' house and meet Father Christmas.

17th: The nearest book to you right now
The Complete Works of Shakespeare. Sounds pretentious but I'm typing this as a break from studying!

18th: Made me laugh in public
Not sure I've laughed out loud a lot while reading in public but certainly snorted and grinned on a train reading Stephen Fry's autobiography More Fool Me recently.

19th: Made me cry in public
H is For Hawk  and The Love Song of Queenie Hennessey both made me cry on a train in the past few months,

20th: Favourite bookworm in literature
The eponymous Matilda or Jo March from Little Women

21st: One where I fell in love with the narrator
Not sure I do this a lot but I often become so immersed in a book that I think I am part of it and struggle to return to the real world or to let go of the book at the end.

22nd: Makes me want to travel
Most books not set in Norfolk that I read! Some even make me want to time-travel too.

23rd: Best book on diversity
Malorie Blackman's Boys Don't Cry challenged so many commonly held prejudices and is fantastic.

24th: A hidden gem
The novels by R C Sherriff. He's well known for the play Journey's End and due the topic of this will be in the news a lot but I suggest looking for the Persephone reprints of his novels.

25th: Most memorable food/drink moment in literature
Could have chosen any of the picnic scenes from Enid Blyton, the midnight feasts from numerous school stories or the meals at Hogwarts but for me it is the Turkish Delight scene in  The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I spent years as a child both wanting to cultivate a taste for the stuff and being worried I'd turn into Edmund if I did!

26th: Best book on time travel
Another hard one and so I pick two books The Time Traveller's Wife and Charlotte Sometimes they couldn't be more different but I re-read them both!
27th: Favourite epigraph
I don't have a good memory for these but after looking it up on line the quote used by Harper Lee in To Kill a Mockingbird appeals greatly "Lawyers, I suppose, were children once" originally from Charles Lamb.

28th: Has the best advice
Any book that leaves you with the message that who ever you are is fine and that you should only change because you want to and not because anyone tells you to do so.

29th:  Most memorable fashion moment
I'm not into clothes or fashion but the scene in Harry Potter where Ron is in out of date formal robes always makes me feel very sorry for him.

30th: Favourite experimental book
I was most taken with Marguerite Duras' nouvelle vague book L'Amant (The Lover) when we read it at A Level, I think it was the first non straightforward narrative I'd read.

31st: Spookiest read.

I don't like scary books but Philippa Gregory's The Little House is I think the closest thing to horror I've read, but Nevil Shute's On the Beach is the most frightening book ever.