Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Books: September Fifty Two in Fifty Two

Here begins a monthly roundup of how I'm getting on with my 52 books in 52 weeks challenge...

"So many books, so little time" 
Frank Zappa

1. M. C. Beaton, Death of a Travelling Man. 3/5.
Some folk relax with a trashy romance, others prefer a Young Adult novel. I choose cheesy murder mysteries. The Hamish Macbeth series is reminiscent of Midsomer Murders - his home village of Lochdubh undoubtedly has the highest per capita murder rate in the UK, and would probably rank in the world top ten - but the familiar characters, romantic landscape and affable hero make for a rather pleasant and inoffensive escape from the real world. Death of a Travelling man is no. 9 in the series (yes, I'm reading them in order), and finally we see some romance for our lead character. The murder is more of a vessel to update us on the lives of the locals, most of whom have a motive, the writing isn't fantastic and the "whodunnit" solicited an eye roll, but it was comfortable and cosy, just right for an easy bedtime read.
2. Philippe Claudel (trans. Euan Cameron), Monsieur Lihn and his Child. 5/5.
Rarely does a book make me cry - even more rarely do I find myself haunted by a book for days, as the plot fragments slowly fall into place. When he steps off the boat clutching his baby granddaughter, a refugee in a foreign land, Monsieur Linh is in mourning. The story of his life and the reality of war is beautifully interwoven with the story of a friend he makes despite their lack of shared language. As a classic novella consisting of few characters strongly explored, I should have been expecting a twist - after all, the blurb on the back did warn me, but I certainly wasn't ready for it. I was too absorbed in the beautiful writing which completely described the feeling of grief - as well as the slow dawning of hope. Wonderful.

3. Charles Elton, Mr Toppit. 2/5.
It's an odd one, this. I listened to it as an unabridged audiobook which probably didn't help, but I found it dragged. If it had been a paperback I would have whizzed through, skim reading, purely to get it finished. The premise is interesting - an unsuccessful children's author dies in a traffic accident, with an American tourist as a witness. The lives of the American and the family become increasingly intertwined and the author's work becomes hugely famous, with catastrophic effects on his family. However, what could be a sharp and funny tale is poorly structured - we know half of the ending at the beginning - and the characterisation is surprisingly two dimensional. The American is overweight and unhappy, the teenage daughter is neurotic, the mother is an alcoholic... Considering the author was the literary agent for AA Milne, whose son Christopher Robin hated the stories which made him famous, I found this book surprisingly dull.

4. Catherine Czerkawska, The Physic Garden. 4/5.
I stumbled across The Physic Garden by accident - it came up as a "one you might enjoy" suggestion while I was getting the hang of my local library's e-book service. Whoever wrote that algorithm was spot on. I enjoyed it. Set in 18th century Glasgow, it is essentially a romance - the tale of a friendship between the University gardener, and a young lecturer, that goes tragically wrong. We know that it doesn't end well from the start, I began to suspect how quite early on too, but that wasn't detrimental. The incredible historical detail (medicine, the dawn of industrialisation, the role of women) was well written without being thrown in for good measure, and the characters were particularly believable. Easy reading, enjoyable, and an impressive first novel.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Somerset: The Start of Autumn

I'm pretty lucky in that I have family dotted around some of the most beautiful parts of the UK. My brother chose Bath for University, and never left. Every time I visit, it strikes me how similar it is to Edinburgh, while being so different at the same time. The views are grander, the crescents are on a larger scale and the houses are the colour of pale honey rather than grey - but it still has that wonderful sense of history and the buzz of excited visitors.

A couple of years ago, he moved to a village on the outskirts, having lived in the midst of the hubbub for a long time. It is completely the best of both worlds. Beautiful city – beautiful Somerset countryside.

I went down to visit for my niece’s first birthday. It was the first weekend of September, one of those transitional weekends where you can see the season changing while you watch. We spent a couple of hours walking along country lanes, catching up and swapping stories, before heading to a pub for a roast dinner. Such a lovely way of spending the last Sunday of summer.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Books: Fifty Two in Fifty Two.

I've been debating having a crack at the fifty two in fifty two project for a while. Fifty two books in fifty two weeks... Crikey.

I heard about it a while ago - at the start of summer - and thought that it'd be a good thing to do as a New Year's resolution. I love reading. I love books. The covers and the fonts and the blurb on the back. Picking them, discussing them, that feeling of sadness (or relief) when you've finished a really good one. I love it all. I also love uniformity and starting things at the right time, and therefore kept reminding myself to start it in January. A logical place to start. Book one, week one.

But recently, I've not been doing very well at the actual reading thing. I just seem to be buying them, and never quite get round to dipping in.

I think some of it stems from my inability to relax. It's something quite a few people have commented on. I can't just sit and watch telly,  I have to be crocheting, editing photos or writing the week's menu plan. I like to spend my Sundays doing something, otherwise the overwhelming panic that I have wasted my down time overtakes. Not so much down time after all, it seems.

The only time I just sit and do nothing - well, not quite nothing - is on holiday. Maybe it's the warmth, or the lack of phone reception, or the acceptability of lying around drinking beers... I can switch off enough to just snooze, relax and read. But the one week in Greece each year isn't enough to keep my mind sane. 
So that brings me back to the fifty two in fifty two challenge. After a couple of crap weeks, where I have done a lot of nothing, not in a good way, I think it's time to direct that into something productive. I want to teach myself that it is ok to just sit in my pyjamas and read. Or go out for lunch by myself and read. Just, y'know, read. Reading is relaxing. 

And so: the project begins.