Monthly Archives: July 2013

Are you a #booksnob ?

I was recently asked this, and whilst my instinct was to say no, because let’s face it very few people actually want to admit to being any kind of a snob, I felt that I couldn’t be sure.

There are certain books that I just don’t understand and if someone is going to spend hours reading it baffles me as to why they would choose them. For example Sapphire, Crystal, He’s The One, The Comeback Girl, Angel Uncovered all books by Katie Price aka Jordan, why would you choose to read those when there are so many other choices. But wait, have I read any of these books, nope, do I have any idea whether she can actually write, nope, do I care, nope, do I judge people who read them yes. And my reason for judging? I have taken my media impression of Katie Price, I have recalled interviews I’ve seen her give and I have decided that there is no way she could be a good author. There is no reason to this, there is no science, I have done no research.

Instead, I have over my thirty odd years on this planet created a profile that in my opinion a good author should fit. They should have great attention to detail, be an observer, an avid reader, have a vivid imagination, be well educated, well spoken, witty, sarcastic, an orator. But even as I write that list I’m thinking, wait a minute I have shelves full of books at home and I’ve no idea whether the majority of those authors meet my “good author criteria”. If I didn’t know who Katie Price was and I picked up The Comeback Girl in a bookshop would I find myself enthralled? There is no way to find out the answer to that but it does make me think that maybe I need to open my mind a little more when it comes to judging authors.

But am I a book snob?

The above has shown me to be an author snob, not even considering a book because of who wrote it. But do I also avoid certain books because of the publicity around them? Honestly? Yes. I loath Richard and Judy’s book club and wouldn’t read any book, whilst it is on their hit list. That’s not to say I woulnd’t read the book at all, I’ve read many books they’ve reviewed some before they’ve found it such as The Age of Miracles which I read last year and I believe is on their Summer 2013 reading list, and others years later when I’ve come across them at the back of the shelf or in a discount pile still bearing the sticker of recommendation. I struggle to find the words to explain what it is I have against Richard and Judy, like my fear of cats it is something irrational that I just feel in the depth of my stomach.

Quite possibly it is similar to my judging of authors, sub-consciously I’ve also got an idea of what or who a book reviewer should be and the irritating ex This Morning husband and wife duo just don’t cut the mustard with me. I’d rather trust some random blogger or tweeter, someone who stumbled across the book and loved it rather than a TV presenter who is given the book by a researcher who was sent the book by a publisher and who I’m not entirely convinced has even read the book.

But does that make me a book snob, I often read the books eventually so it’s nothing against the book. I don’t actually believe just because R&J have recommended the book that it must be rubbish I just don’t want to read it when they’re telling everyone to. It’s the antithesis of “Keeping up with the Jones” I’m happy to be behind the times, to be the outcast unable to chat with the cool kids because I don’t know what they’re talking about.

So what does make a book snob?

Well the shelves of my home are certainly not full of books by literary award winners. I probably can’t name that many Nobel Prize in literature winners, or the Man Booker International Prize and I definitely can’t name any Neustadt International Prize for Literature winners. The shelves in my home are filled with books that have touched me, that have whisked me away to a different world, that have made me laugh, smile, weep, cry out in shock and on more than one ocassion insist that the person sat next to me read an excert because it is just that good. Wendy Holden sits next to Maya Angelou, JR Ward next to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, I believe John le Carre, Scarlett Thomas, Gordon Dahlquist and Stephen Chbosky have formed a little reading club and have dinner together when I’m not around! Ok, maybe not but you get my point hopefully.

Bleak House made my life drab and miserable, the woman in white is still roaming the streets because I never finished reading it, I’m prejudice against Jane Austen, I’ve never read Chaucer, Martin Amis, Stella Gibbons. I’ve tried more times than I care to remember to read Robinson Cruso, Catch-22, Finnegans Wake, and many other books consider a “must have read” for anyone wishing to call themselves a reader.

On the flip side All My Friends Are SuperHeroes by Andrew Kaufman changed my outlook on life. Freya North helped me grow from a girl to a woman. George Mann brought steampunk to life, without me having to dress up and go to conventions and Rachel Hore paints beautiful stories that make me want to explore my family’s history. They may not survive the test of time, they may never be on a GCSE, A-Level or degree reading list but they make people happy. They make people want to read.

Am I a book snob?

You know what, I think I’ll leave that for others to worry about. But if I have to be labelled I think I’ll go for book eclectic.

If you are worried that you’re a book snob, check out @MattHaig1 blog 30 things to tell a book snob it should help you find the right path

http://www.booktrust.org.uk/writing/online-writer-in-residence/blog/558/

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Book or film? #wordsvrspictures

With the now not so recent release of The Great Gatsby and a new Hunger Games looming in the wings my mind has turned recently to the age old quandary book or film?
 
For some people this is a clear cut decision – a love for moving images, the creation of a world you couldn’t begin to picture and a soundtrack to give you goose bumps is without a doubt the greatest way to portray a story.  For others, a film is cheating, someone else shouldn’t create the world for you, use your imagination, stretch the boundaries of your mind, let the rise and fall of the language of the author take you along.  For me, it’s not that simple.
 
What I will say is where possible I prefer to have read the book first.  I was nearly moved to tears when Peter Jackson brought a world that had existed in my mind to life in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, it was just how I had imagined it and whilst the makers of the Harry Potter films had JK Rowling to consult with Jackson couldn’t just check with J.R.R. Tolkien that his casting of Frodo or the depiction of the Ents was correct.  So how did Jackson get it so right for so many people, the answer, the book gave him everything he needed.  Tolkien’s descriptive skills laid it bear for all to imagine and for Jackson and his team to create. 
 
Sadly not all transfers from page to screen go quite as well.  Often changes are made to the story, for what purpose who knows? On many occasions the depth and length of the book is just too much to be address in a film.  Relationships aren’t given the time to plant roots and grow and all to often the director realises they’re only 3/4 of the way through the story with 15 mins of footage left if the film is to come in under 3hrs!  It just doesn’t work when everything is wrapped up in a fast action montage.
So how do we get around this?
 
The success of 24, the Sopranoes, Game of Thrones, The Wire and other serialised drama is proving to be the best format to do justice to great stories.  The popularity of these shows demonstrates that we do still have attention spans longer than 1 minute.  That we don’t need to have fast moving, high intensity scenes and ear popping soundtracks for us to stick with something.  We are capable of connecting with a character over a series of episodes, joining their journey over weeks, cancelling all other plans on Monday nights because to miss an episode is to miss catching up with close friends.  Of course, for those of us who struggle to wait 7 days there are always box sets, Netflix and bank holiday weekends to immerse ourselves in hour after hour episode after episode. 
 
All of that said, I still think there is a certain magic to curling up with a book, the feel, the smell, the turning of pages all of it is an experience that should be passed down through families and along through friendships.  I don’t know who said it but I think this quote is fantastic,
 
“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counsellors and the most patient of teachers.”
 
No one is ever going to say that of a film or TV series! 

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South of the River #bookreview

South of the River by Blake Morrison
On the back my sneak preview to the adventure went as follows:
“It opens on the ‘new dawn’ of Labour’s election victory in 1997, and ends five years later. But this is not so much ‘state of the nation’ as state of our souls, marriages, families, hopes and careers – a sharp and sexy portrait of a dysfunctional group of characters, all different yet connected.
There’s Nat, failed dramatist and reluctant lecturer, falling for a younger woman; Anthea, an eco-friendly lost soul obsessed with foxes; Libby, hardworking mother and advertising executive; Harry, Nat’s friend and ex-pupil, a journalist on a local paper, with a guilty secret of his own; and Jack, Nat’s unexpectedly poignant uncle, who lives for fox-hunting.Intimate and disconcerting, compelling and comic, an anatomy of the way things are, South of the River is the big British novel for our times – and a tour de force.”

I was attracted to the book by it’s title. I’ve lived south of the river for nearly 7 years and have spent the majority of that time working in the areas referenced in the book, Deptford, Peckham etc.  As an aside, I’m a little taken with literary London, I like that feeling of conspiracy when you know the streets the author refers to, or even better the pubs, shops, cafes, restaurants.  It’s like you know a little more about the character by not having to imagine what their backdrop is having experienced it yourself.  However, I feel Morrison has cheated me with the title of this book, the characters don’t have any deep rooted attachment to the area.  The stories are not anchored to the geography, in fact this book could have been set anywhere, and I don’t just mean anywhere in London I literally mean anywhere.  For example, the description of the Pepys estate, where Errol goes missing, fails to encapsulate the deprived, dark, forgotten place the estate was in the post Tory government era.  If I didn’t know better I would say Morrison has never even visited the estate, describing instead what he thinks a poor estate is like.

Having been disappointed with the lack of geography as a key element to the book, I looked with hope to the characters.  Could the dysfunctional group of characters become part of my world and me theirs.  Would I find myself unable to put the book down, a nervous twitch developing as I become frustrated at having to leave the pages and their stories.  A desperate need to know what happens next in their crazy worlds.  In short no.

I feel describing the characters as compelling is laughable, they are about as two dimensional as you can get.  Morrison tries to draw us in with strange uncomfortable phrasing and descriptions.  A chapter where Anthea gets her period is started with a clear aim to make us think Nat has hurt her, with a reference to washing blood away.  It just doesn’t work.  I’m not intrigued by this, I’m not anxious that supposedly loveable useless Nat might have committed murder.  I’m just uncomfortable, I could feel myself screwing up my face as I read each line thinking “really, really, what is this meant to achieve?”

The development of the character Anthea is bizarre to say the least.  A shock departure from her relationship with Nat understandable, a move to Seattle, you’re losing me.  A couple of chapters in Israel and I’m questioning whether I’ve somehow picked up a different book.  It felt almost like Morrison didn’t know what to do with her.  He needed her for the breakdown of Nat and Libby’s marriage, he needed her to be a helpless soul that could give Nat meaning, but then he like us knew that it would never be a lasting relationship.  Anthea could not be the one to live out her days with Nat so how do we move forward? The choice of international aid work may well have been chosen with the use of a magic eight ball or an idea casting with other lost writers.  It just didn’t work.

Libby. So much more could have been made of the successful mother and company director.  The anger and disappointment in Nat and his actions could have been far more passionate.  Instead we have a rather wet unconvincing character.  I don’t believe the woman who immediately feels guilty for calling out her husband’s friend for hiding his affair would be a force to be reckoned with in the board room.  I don’t believe we see any sexy attractive qualities to her so the relationship with the younger seducer Damien feels empty.  If you don’t believe in the qualities of the character you can’t believe in the journey the book takes them on.  Rather than driving forward her business in the fall out from her marriage I expected her to stay at home, drink gin and bake.  The portrayal of her lacked a certain meatiness and va va voom.  Morrison had sketched out the lady he wanted her to be but then failed to fill in the flesh and blood with anything sustainable or believable.

Jack. I sort of understand why his character is included.  A post Tory new Labour world book needs the headstrong business was great under Thatcher character.  However, other than occasional coffee morning chat and some half hearted questions of why people voted and supported Blair and Labour South of the River never actually gets into the political arena of the UK in the Labour years.  As a result, Jack’s character becomes not needed.  If anyone reading this review did enjoy the book they’ll probably be the first to say something about the running theme of foxes and the importance of a fox hunter to balance Anthea “the fox” but again it was something I didn’t feel ever took real substance.  You could take away the fox element and nothing much would be lost from the book, other than a loose reason to have the character Jack.

Harry.  The side kick.  The lost man.  The child still looking for validation in his adult life.  Still looking for someone to say he did the right thing in not being an active father for the first 18 years of Stephen’s life.  Looking for someone to guide his career.  Harry’s character is all too familiar in books with such a clear alpha male, in this case Nat.  However, again Morrison gets it wrong.  I’m not sure if we’re meant to pity Harry, are we meant to cheer for him taking his corner and willing him to solve the big mystery, to right his own demons in the process.  I just found him whiney and irritating, I wouldn’t go as far as to say he is unlikable, despite a certain pathetic nature he’s one of the more compelling characters.  I would say that a lot of that is to do with his chapters covering the development of the missing child plot, maybe Morrison should have left the ‘new dawn’ of Labour idea and just written a good old fashion “who dunnit” complete with court case and divulging lawyers.

I may be completely wrong when I say I felt that I was meant to see Nat Raven as the alpha male.  The mysterious troubled artist.  The misunderstood genius, a philosopher of our time.  I say I was meant to see him like that, but I didn’t.  Again like the other characters there is something missing in the characterisation, in the development of his personality that misses the mark.  There is no justification for Libby’s allowance of his way of life, no journey to the relationship between him and Anthea.  A breakdown that is started and over in the blink of an eye and a relationship with Claire so dull that even Morrison can’t be bother to write about it jumping through time to a settled, sorted father to be Nat.

As the book went on I found myself less and less interested in the characters.  All of their endings seemed to teeter out as if Morrison himself became bored of them.  If I’m honest I almost expected the final line to be the age old school child’s ending of “and then they all woke up and realised it was just a dream!”

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