Wednesday, June 29, 2011

For Review: The Five People You Meet In Heaven ~ Mitch Albom

I've heard it often said that those who are close to death claim that their dead loved ones have come to visit them. It is a sign that they're closely departed. Mitch Albom's uncle claimed this himself shortly before he died, and so The Five People You Meet in Heaven was inspired.

Eddie dies at eighty two years old trying to save a small child on a fair ride. Once he gets to Heaven, he meets five people who changed his life, and those whose lives he changed. Some are close loved ones, and others are people he doesn't recognise: because the actions we make in our lives, no matter how big or small, will always make some difference. I'm not one for fate or destiny, and quite the consequentialist, so The Five People You Meet in Heaven was quite a profound read.

Regardless of your religion, or indeed lack of, Albom has written a book that speaks volumes for any human being that has ever had any experience of living. It's subtle, and so beautiful in the simplest of ways. Do read it. Though I don't recommend reading it on public transport - I had difficulty stifling my tears on the train to Glasgow.

Monday, June 27, 2011

For Review: The English German Girl ~ Jake Wallis Simons

You know that way when a new book comes out and everyone loves it and says such good things that you have to go out and read it for yourself?

You know that way that at first it's new and fresh and ooh present tense?

You know that way that the characters grow stale really quickly and all the dialogue is really boring?

You know that way a book becomes too sentimental, and you know from the first page exactly how the story's going to go?

You know that way when you get to the end and you think, 'Oh. Is that it?'

Yeah... All of the above.

Buy Tickets for... Adding aka The Ed Book Fest Olympics

09.25 Early for a Sunday morning, I know. But given how my ticket buying progress has been going for the past hour, I think that was a good idea. Due to being cripplingly poor, I have been good and narrowed tickets down to just five events this year. Phew! Currently, the spinning wheel of adding is sending me into some kind of hypnotic trance.

09.30 Lots of tweets of anger towards the Ed Book Fest website. Some are pretty mean. Duh, the site is going to crash. It's only the internet. I'm not angry in the slightest. It'll be really disappointing if I miss out, but people should remember that there will be hundreds of folks trying to access the same site at exactly the same time, and performing exactly the same function. Just have your breakfast while you wait.

09.35 Really hungry now, and in desperate need of tea and chocolate. My flat contains none of the following: milk, bread, chocolate.

09.45 Mmm...Unbound is nice and ticket free.

10.00 Apparently, everyone looks minging in the newsagents' at 10am on a Sunday. Thank goodness! Milk, rolls, and Maltesers purchased successfully. Now onto the tickets.

10.30 Been waiting two hours now for tickets to add. This is starting to get boring...

11.30 Really, this is just stupid now. Tickets have been 'adding' for three hours now. Decided to scrap it and start all over again. T in the Park wasn't as bad as this.

11.55 I leave for work in about an hour's time. If I go to work having booked nothing, I will be a very, very upset little chicken. Less disappointment, more tickets, please! I'm unemployed, and I've saved so hard for this.

12.37 Four hours and nothing. I'm really sad now.

12.54 Time to get ready for work... This just isn't good.

00.20 After a very long nine and a half shift... I come home to find that Alasdair Gray's Fleck is sold out. Well duh. That's why I got up at 8am. Sigh. Edinburgh Book Festival - I'm not angry, I'm just very disappointed. Still, checkout cleared for other things! Here, Here, Here We Booking Go!~

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Teaser Tuesday What Is On a Thursday: 23 June

'Silently he sits, his fists resting on the edge of his desk, his polished buttons glinting like berries. He is feeling his age tonight, one month from today he will be fifty-nine, just a hair's breadth away from sixty. He seizes a pen and begins to tap it on a sheaf of paper nervously, end of end, end to end, end to end, leaving barely perceptible indentations, end to end, end to end, end to end... The clocks strikes the hour, the chimes syncopating with the taps of the pen on paper, end chime to end chime to end chime to end chime to end. Still the policeman sits.'

The English German Girl - Jake Wallis Simons [51]

Present tense - aww yeaahh!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

For Review: There Is No Year ~ Blake Butler

Don't ask me what this one's about, because there's nothing really to summarise. There's a father, a mother, a son, a house, a girl, a box. And then some more boxes. Blake Butler's There Is No Year says more in its presentation than it does with its text.

The book itself is absolutely stunning. It is, really, a work of art. The paper is gorgeously textured and various in shades between white and black. Occasionally, the reader is treated to an obscure photograph or image. This is the kind of thing that really turns me. I'm a bibliophile, and I love the format of a book itself - There Is No Year really takes advantage of that. There's no turning this one into an ebook unless someone really wants to rip the charm away for the fun of it. Oh wait, that's what ereaders do anyway.

There Is No Year
is obviously not for everyone. It's not fiction in the way that some people want it - there's no traditional sense of storytelling and character development. Butler's about the style and the typography; text and presention. Like I said, this kind of thing really gets me going - seeing how a writer can play around with words; what they mean, how they sound, and how they look. Some of the pages are incredibly exciting and I always have a little squeal of delight in seeing the word 'bloodred' printed in red ink, etc. Ooh! I love it!

But sometimes? Sometimes I wonder. There were sections that I questioned. Experimenting is fun, of course, but only if it really does something. Butler plays around with the designs and layout of the page, but at points it just wasn't necessary. Had he handed those pages in to one of my creative writing workshop's, I'd certainly be taking a coloured pen to them and asking, Why? There Is No Year is excrutiatingly self-conscious, but at times it just reads as pretentsion, or a bit on the narcisstic side at least. 

So if a bit of text play gets you excited, then There Is No Year will certainly get your juices flowing. Otherwise? It's just not for you. If you want something that isn't surreal, that isn't nonsequitur, that isn't extremely metaphorical, that isn't prose-poetry, then don't go there. I did it for the thrill.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

For Review: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius ~ Dave Eggers

Non-fiction memoirish autobiography takenfromlife reconstructedpast; books like these fascinate me. It's true fact, more than just based on a true story, but it's far from stale reiteration. Dave Eggers has written, really, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Boastful? Maybe, but it damn well is.

For a book to have such title, naturally it has some expectations to live up to. I hadn't even got round to the prose itself and I was quite breathtaken. Coming across Rules and Suggestions for Enjoyment of this Book amused and fascinated me no end. It's honest, and open, and there's something delicious about a book that is conscious of itself and what it is doing, and trying to achieve.

There's something in the California water, or maybe it's the sunshine, that seems to have an amazing effect on writers. Adam Gnade's experience of California, and Bret Easton Ellis', and Dave Eggers - all these guys have something to say, have realised something, have been drawn by the American dream of California. Following the death of both his parents, Eggers moves from Chicago to California with his sister and his seven year old brother. Therein is the basis for Eggers' early twenties. I may only be twenty-three, but already it's easy to recognise how the last few years have changed and shaped me as a person. And, only too sadly, I could already recognise the futility of much of his hopes and dreams.

What really moved me was Eggers' young determination - that he'd take over the world and influence people, make others see the world as he does, and do something to radically change that. Isn't that what most people want? Isn't that what most people in their early twenties want? Certainly, I empathised with so much of what Eggers aimed for. But it's not possible. The reality is that, despite how badly Eggers wanted to change the world, despite living by principles and ideas, the world always rears its ugly head. Perhaps it is my age and a stark similarity that I recognised between his young ambitions and my own, but AHWOSG is a book that I am more than pleased to have read.

But it's not doom and gloom. It's just real, and we all know how much I appreciate honesty in prose. AHWOSG is non-fiction in the truest sense, as daft as that might sound. It's life-affirming, upsetting, clever and hilarious. It's just...genius. Maybe that's how Eggers came to name his book; it really does what it says on the tin, as it were.

Autobiographical stuff isn't usually the kind of thing I go for - why should I care less about someone else's life? How is it going to be anymore exciting or strange than my own? But whether AHWOSG was fiction or non-fiction or just a bunch of words, it is so delightfully put together. Another favourite of mine is to see a book that is not only conscious of itself in terms of content, but in presentation. From the off, Eggers offers his story in a variety of ways - reconstructed conversations that clearly were not exactly those that took place, pages reading like scripts or interviews, lists and bare dialogue. I love it. That, and I'm a fan of first person present tense. So many people hate it, but I think it's brilliant, and Eggers really cracks it.

Utterly inspired, and wow, I wish I could write like that.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Be Right Back

Ssh. It's quiet here.

I'm busy, battering my 'manuscript' into some kind of lovely readable shape.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Happy Thomas Hardy Day!~

If Tommy Hardy hadn't been born on this day 171 years ago, there is no doubt that my life would be very different. The things I know about the world would be very different. So thanks for that, Tommy.

Pessimism is, in brief, playing the sure game. You cannot lose at it; you may gain. It is the only view of life in which you can never be disappointed.

For Review: Tiny Deaths ~ Robert Shearman

Pretty much turned on just by the title and the cover. Not judging the book from its cover, but it's a pretty exciting place to start!

Tiny Deaths is a book of some of the most fascinating and bizarre short stories I have ever read. I'm a reasonably open minded person when it comes to short stories, experimentation, playing with genres. For this, the reader really has to be. Tiny Deaths explores themes and assumptions and concerns about death - from Hitler's pet dog, to bleeding televisions. The characters are, all the same, very human. Their alternative understandings of life and death might differ, but they love and they fear and they hope; each is complete with the mixed up bag of emotions that come with life, death, and life after death.

Shearman's writing capabilites are incredible. In each short story, the reader is sucked straight into the world by the first sentence. Really, he's that good. There are some beautiful and very poignant points, but it's because Shearman makes them so realistic and understandable. I almost cried a few times, but there was nothing sentimental about it, and I think that's what makes it really clever. It's just life. It's just death. And it's absolutely fascinating. Shearman offers a range of opportunities and scenarios that I'm pretty sure my brain has never even imagined before. But his writing is so honest and so brilliant that the absurdity of the stories is just fantastic, rather than silly. Absurd really in the truest sense.

Damn, it's just good and so fun. What a mind the man has! So if you're up for a 'gravity-defying spectacle', then Tiny Deaths is the book for you. If it's too much for your personal tastes, you can always just pick and choose a little story at a time. At least read one.

(In other news, every time I think of the title Tiny Deaths, I get the Stupid Deaths song from Horrible Histories stuck in my head. Hope next time it's not yooou!)