Monthly Archives: August 2014

The magic of being read to #reading

If asked to describe my relationship with other half I wouldn’t say we’re overly bothered by your stereotypical notion of romance. We don’t celebrate anniversaries, Valentine’s Day passes us by and our first New Year’s Eve together we were tucked up in bed by 10pm and have yet to spend another together.  But as they say it’s the little things that make the difference and let you know someone loves you.  When I get in from my cycling commute, if he’s home, there is a glass of juice on the table for me and a bath run.  We give ourselves enough time in the morning to have cuddles before going to work and recently we’ve turned off the TV and started taking the time to read to each other.

We first started reading to each other by pure chance.  We were away at his father’s for the weekend and he hadn’t brought a book, I was just starting a new one, or an old one depending on how you look at it, The 39 Steps.  I asked jokingly, “do you want me to read aloud to you so you can join in too”, he said yes, and there started one of our loveliest activities we do together.  We’ve both agreed to take turns, the reader gets to choose the book and it must be one they’ve read before and want to share with the other.  He’s currently reading The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth to me and my next book will be Wuthering Heights.

There are many things I have grown to love about our new pastime.  Anyone who has read previous posts by me will know that I’m quite passionate about what a book can say about the person who loves and cherishes it.  Reading our favourite books to each other is about sharing a part of ourselves.  It’s also about being vulnerable, he could hate the book I read, I could be bored senseless by his choices but you take the risk because your desire that they too love that book is greater than the fear of rejection.   Having the choice of book taken out of my hands is opening my eyes to new books.  I would never have chosen to read The Day of the Jackal, the chapters are long, the book incredibly descriptive and detailed and between you and me I wasn’t sure at first if it was fact or fiction (don’t tell the other half).  And yet, being able to sit back and just listen something changes, the chapters are all too often over too quickly, I’m eager for the story to develop and disappointed when I realise conflicting work schedules mean we won’t get any reading time at the weekend.  Another joy for me but I think annoyance for my other half is that I can ask the questions in my head out loud to someone.  I’ve realised I’m terrible at this, trying to second guess the story, piece parts together and pre-empt the surprises and twists in the plot. 

There are some down sides to being read to.  You move forward at the pace of the reader, if they’re tired and don’t feel like reading then it’s another night without your fix.  It’s incredibly soothing which means if we’re in bed I’m going to be fast asleep before he’s finished the first sentence – oh how he loves recapping for me!  Voices, accents, characters to do or not to do?  We agreed not to do voices, a comedy French accent is probably not best placed when reading about an assassination plot.  I think it would probably end up a bit too much like ‘Allo ’Allo! Maybe we’ll save the characterisation for future years when we’re reading to our children.

As I’ve been writing this I’ve been trying to think what is the essence of being read to, what is it that makes it so special?  As children we’re read to because we can’t grasp all the words and the process helps stimulate our developing senses and builds our listening and memory skills.  We progress to reading with someone developing our language and literacy skills, learning new things together, bonding over an adventure.  In school we continue to develop our knowledge of words and comprehension of their meanings and spellings through reading aloud in class.  And then for no reason we stop it being a shared experience and begin to read alone.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying every book you read should be read aloud either by yourself or someone reading it to you.  For starters it would make commuting more hellish than it already is and probably one of two librarians wouldn’t be too happy with me.  But, I do think if you want to bring a new dimension to your reading experience, if you want to share something special with someone then think about reading together and don’t just wait till you have children do it now and you’ll realise what I have…

Being read to or reading to someone is an amazing experience because that’s how stories are meant to be told.  How did stories start, with story tellers, it was an oral tradition.  People sat around listening to a tale unravel. The magic of not knowing what is to come.  Experiencing someone else’s tone, inclination, timing can completely change a story.  My other half isn’t just reading me his favourite book, he’s reading me his favourite book how he sees it.  It is his tale to share by the fire.

In writing this piece I came across an article in The New Yorker by John Colapinto which echoes my point above.  Although Colapinto focuses on professional audiobooks I think the sentiment translates to home reading.

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#BrokenMonsters #BookReview

Wow! Where do I start?

Chillingly poetic the power of dreams come to life in Beukes latest novel.  Today has been grey wet and windy with the occasional ray of sunshine making its way through the clouds.  And boy, I could not have picked a better forecast to read Broken Monsters, started and finished in one sitting this story is compelling.

A serial killer like no other is loose in Detroit.  Detective Versado has a whole world of problems with her teenage daughter but must give her attention to the killer who wants to be seen.

One of my favourite things about Beukes previous book The Shining Girls was the complexity of the time line and how cleverly the story linked up.  In this novel the landscape is simpler but I found the story to be far darker.  Clayton Broom is not a man you would want to meet, his manner, appearance and intenseness oozes from the book.  Beukes has brought this character to life so much so that I found it uncomfortable to read at times.  I didn’t want to be in his basement with him as he constructed his art, my skinned crawled at the thought of being in his presence.

Nothing makes darkness seem as heavy as a light to hold as contrast and Versado’s teenage daughter Layla and her best friend Cas bring that to the story.  With their own issues and brooding teenage pangs their innocence and passion reminds you there are crusaders in the world, determined to make things right, even in the wrong way.  Is the determination to set things right, to the way he believes they should be a driving force for Broom as well? 

Broken Monsters is a like nothing I’ve read before, tense, compelling and hypnotic, just don’t let it put you off dreaming.

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#book review #TheSpringofKasperMeier

I received Ben Fergusson’s debut novel through the post in April, whilst I was excited to try a new author it has taken me till July to give it the much deserved attention.
A cycling commuter I struggle to fit books in my ruck sack along with a change of clothes, lunch etc. and so do most of my reading on my kindle.  A direct impact of this is that Fergusson’s book has spent the last couple of months being moved from coffee table to kitchen counter to bathroom dresser, always picked up with the intention of reading it I somehow never got there.  I’m not a particular fan of WWII books, fact or fiction and I think sub-consciously the idea of reading a book set in post war Berlin just didn’t appeal to me. 
A few weeks ago I had an entire day to myself and with a summer storm going on outside I decided the best thing to do was to curl up with a good book.  With time to give I turned to The Spring of Kasper Meier and I am so glad I did. Within a couple of chapters I realised this book is about more than post war Berlin, it is about secrets, histories, relationships and mystery.
Kasper Meier is a black market trader who likes to keep himself to himself.  Eva Hirsch is a young woman who needs his help.  Someone is killing soldiers and Meier and Hirsch’s lives are about to take a dangerous path together.
One of my favourite parts of the book is the role of ghosts, I don’t mean haunting ghouls but glimpses of people and the past.  For his own happiness Kasper tries to remain in the presence presenting a gruff front to those he meets, but his time alone is haunted by his life and happiness before the War.  As he finds himself more embroiled in Eva’s situation ghosts of a different kind enter his life in the form of the Beckmann twins, ever present a movement felt but not always seen.  And without giving too much away you can’t talk about the shadows of people hanging over Kasper and Eva without considering Frau Beckmann.  A controlling influential presence on the trade scene of Berlin, can one woman, rarely met,  really bring such danger and fear.  
Meier’s life is unravelled through a series of memories, meetings with people he knew pre-War and conversations his father has with people.  A slow and compelling story forms itself and the the way people from his past and present are so delicately woven together is a credit to Fergusson.
The Kasper of 1945 we first meet is not likable, grumpy and sullen he has become a man who is about what you can get for him and what you can do for him and the trade cost rather than friendships and relationships.  But in the delicate weaving of his memories, through the few reminiscent conversations he has with people, we see a younger happier Kasper.  A young man whose life was filled with friends and laughter. And through the introduction of Eva to his life we see an opportunity for a brighter future, if the past doesn’t get in the way.  It is in Kasper we see the biggest scar and impact of the war on the residents of Berlin.  In realising that as I read I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Kasper and all others like him loss adrift in a city trying to find itself.
The Spring of Kasper Meier is beautifully written with a depth given to each character we encounter from the old woman off to the zoo to trade to the Russian solider counting down the days till leave and he can return to his wife and children.  If I had to make one criticism of the book it is that I saw a major plot twist coming and had worked out a key part of the mystery, whether we are meant to have done this or should have been surprised who is to know but knowing it didn’t take anything away from this great book.

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