Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Scottish Summer Reading Challenge

There's a new tab on my blog - hurray! - for the Scottish Summer Reading Challenge. The page says it all, but it's essentially a few months of reading books by Scottish writers. There are some great authors running around in this country, and they probably don't get quite the recognition and the love that they deserve, and so the Scottish Summer Reading Challenge was born!

I'm really excited about this challenge and, Scottish reader and writer that I am, even I have some catching up to do! I have Alasdair Gray's Lanark to read, I haven't read any James Kelman, and I really need to get to grips with some Christopher Brookmyre. That's my plan of action, so I'll be going to the Tam O Shanter option of 7+ books (so called because it's the longest!).

Gallus, brilliant, magic. Cannae wait!

Monday, January 30, 2012

For Review: The Call ~ Yannick Murphy

Sometimes a person will tell you the vague idea of a book and it either a) sounds so ridiculous that you can't believe it's even a story, or b) sounds a bit bizarre, but intriguing, and you hope that it'll be good so that it doesn't ruin expectations. The Call was b), and The Call was good.

There is a vet who lives in the middle of nowhere in a small town. He's a large animal doctor, and he lives in a pretty house with his wife, three kids, their two dogs, and a rabbit that wears nappies (or diapers, if that's your persuasion). So far, so kitsch. But his son is shot into a coma in a hunting accident, and the vet's life is on standby while he obsesses over who did it, and while he tries to figure out if the spaceship knows anything. Yes, the spaceship, and the spaceman inside it.

The book follows a What I Did:/What Happened After: script-like format that at first glance I worried would be quite stilted, but it actually read pretty quickly. David's telling of the story in this way gets rid of extra fluff, all those extra words that add word count but don't really do anything. What people do and say is there, and immediate, which probably accounts for reading the book so fast. As a person who loves adverbs and adjectives so much, I can honestly say that I really enjoyed this almost no nonsense approach.

Still, in all that direct access to David's thoughts, there are some beautiful examples of family relationships. Murphy makes each of his three children so real, each with their own little personality. And David's relationship with his wife is just so normal - good days, bad days, arguments, sex. The scenes at home with David and the family were perfectly real little slices of family life. It's so nice to read a book about families with all their imperfections, and to smile fondly because you recognise that that's what your family life is like, and that's how it should be like. All of this, and some descriptions of New England that make me really want to go.

I've never read anything by Murphy before (in fact, I'd never heard of her until Harper Perennial offered the book) but the lady has such a keen sense of the details in the way humans work and communicate that I'd be silly not to look into reading more.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

For Review: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall ~ Anne Bronte

Well, that was one talented family. Emily and Charlotte were read around ten years ago for the first time, and this was my first instance of Anne. Where does she fit? Chances are, I enjoyed her the best.

The mysterious Helen Graham shows up at Wildfell Hall with her young son Arthur. Assumed a widow, the quiet lady is victim to a lot of slander from the village gossips. Why is such a beautiful young lady spending so much time alone in a huge house? And why does Mr Lawrence keep visiting her? But there's Gilbert Markham too, bless him, who falls in love with Helen but she insists and insists that he can't have her. Why not? Because she's got a husband who is an absolute...(trying really hard not to swear here, fill in the blank yourself).

The first part is told by Markham, the second is a series of diary entries written by Helen describing her past, and her horrible present. The story here is of a horrible marriage, and of even more horrible people. Anne Bronte really knows how to paint her characters - there's enough dark and enough light in everyone to allow the reader to make their own judgements and to invest their emotions where they see fit. But it wasn't an easy ride - as the characters revealed more about themselves, the more I changed my opinion. I suppose that's how real relationships work, and Anne did it so well that I was left quite crazy with the various betrayals going on. It's quite nasty for a writer to play with a reader's expectations and emotions so much, but she is so brilliant in doing it, and so cleverly too. The exception would be in Annabella.

Don't even get me started on Annabella. Never, ever have I wanted to slap a fictional character so hard in my life. Such a horrible, slimy, malicious little bitch I have never met. And thank God. Urgh. I couldn't handle such a prissy little bitch. I hate women that know that they're beautiful, and they know that because they're beautiful they can get away with anything. No way would I let that slapper in my house. Argh. Yes, this rant was necessary. Because I was so invested in Helen, despite her rather closed-mindness to anything that wasn't very pious, that I felt for her so deeply in all that she went through. Cheating is a horrible crime, and you'd better believe that they did it way back when. But the point here is that Anne Bronte has such an excellent command of her characters and what they say and do, and she knows fine well what kind of reaction that will produce. Never underestimate a woman who can get so close to the nitty gritty of human relationships.

I'm no feminist (let's not get into that nonsense here) but I do think that every woman ever should read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall - take a look at the various female characters; which would you rather be? If you're a hetero male, it's a good indication into what kind of woman you should be after. Equally, if you're a gay man, there's some decisions to make into who is the better man. Basically, if you are of any sex and any sexuality, this book has a lot to suggest on how to behave as a human being if you ever want to have any kind of decent friendships or relationships in your life.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Wow, Burns, Yer An Auld Yin Now

And other lovely Scottish poetry posters here. The Scottish Poetry Library has one of the most beautiful websites. It's a bit guid.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Re: Submission (or, The Disappointments of Rejection)

When I was twelve, I knew that one day I would write a novel (as it turned out, I finished writing my 'first novel' when I was fifteen), and that I would send it to a Publisher. The Publisher would love it, they'd have to have it printed because the world couldn't continue without such a fascinating read. People who loved reading books would love it, people who hated reading book would love it. I'd be given a huge advance because it was just so great, and then I'd tour the world and spread the love of reading and writing. I'd be a star.

That didn't happen, in case you were wondering. You'd know about me if it did. You'd know about me, and I wouldn't have to suffer some pretty boring rejection emails.

This story isn't about rejection. Any writer that isn't prepared to take rejection on the chin and ignore it probably isn't really a writer. They had 'a book in them' perhaps, but it takes a certain mindset to really be a writer and that includes accepting defeat. Stoic at heart, I'm all for that what-doesn't-kill-you philosophy. However, unlike all my other negative experiences in life, I've been able to learn and to grow and understand.

But not with the rejection emails I've had. They're pretty awful. I know that a million and one people submit their unsolicited manuscripts to publishers every day, but receiving a bunch of blanket nothings is pretty disheartening. Some publishers have sent nicely wordly emails that amounted to saying: We Can't Be Bothered. Okay, so that's fine. Others send out their rejections that start with We're Sorry To Say/We're Afraid That/Unfortunately. Cushioning is all well and good, but they're not actually delivering any sort of blow. I'm just being told 'no' and I'm not given any reason. Or, as in the case of one publisher, I'm directed towards a rejection website page. It's a kind of You've Not Been Chosen and This Is Why. But the list is huge. I might have been refused because I'm not marketable, or I might have been refused because I'm just absolutely shite. Excuse my English, but I'd far rather it was the former. I'd rather be told 'Hey, You Can Write, But No One Will Want To Read This.' Instead, I'm left to choose a reason or two from a long list myself.

This isn't useful.

The rejection process has been incredibly boring. There's only a tiny bit of excitement in seeing that Re: Submission email in my inbox: I use Gmail, so I can see the starting line of the email before I even click it. I'm a set of disappointment kind of person, so the refusal emails are just underwhelming. I wanted to have angry emails telling me that my novel is ridiculous, or why the hell would anyone bother, or to be told to stick to my day job. I wanted my rejections to be colourful and fill me with agony and a determination to show the publishing world who's boss. Instead, I'm met with an oh-well deflation, like a balloon bursting, only the balloon was wrinkled and tiny to begin with.

Person Interested in My So-Called Writing Career: 'Oh, did you hear back from Such and Such Publishing?'
Me: 'Yeah, I did. Just a rejection.'
'Aww. How come?'
'I don't know. It was just a no.'

Monday, January 09, 2012

The Joy of Books!

Start of the new year, and we all need to dust the cobwebs from our book shelves, rearrange things. Or maybe, just maybe, your books will rearrange themselves...

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Reading Outside the Box (or Book)

Happy New Year! Did I say that yet? I think I might have done.  

And we're onto a new year of questions on the literary blog hop. The question this weekend:

Do you like to supplement your reading with outside sources, like Sparknotes, academic articles, or other bloggers' reviews? Why or why not?
Nah. I don't think so. At least, I can't think of any examples of going out reading bits and pieces deliberately. Not that it'll never happen, but it just hasn't. Unless quickly Googling 'facts' in fiction to see if they're actually true or not counts.

Usually, my reading just works the other way around. I might be reading something about Schopenhauer, and an author might be mentioned. Or I'll be reading an interview with an author and think, 'Actually, I like that person; maybe I'll like their writing.' Etc, etc, etc. That's how my reading wish list grows - it's all suggestions mentioned or picked up from other places. But I wouldn't necessarily call that secondary reading.

Or maybe I do. I've been assuming that this question is about specifics, but maybe it doesn't have to be. I do pick up literary theory books - ie, how publishing worked in the Victorian times, how philosophy can inspire fiction and vice versa.

Okay, so that was an awkward answer. I think that's because I'm not sure. 'Secondary' reading doesn't happen deliberately and consciously or entirely academically. If I chase up books with other books, it's just because of extra curiosity.

So the answer is sometimes.

But eww, not Sparknotes.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

For Review: A Visit from the Goon Squad ~ Jennifer Egan

A Visit from the Goon Squad was last year's Pulitzer prize winner. Somehow, I didn't know this when I picked it up to read it; it was only when I was several chapters in that I realised my copy said this on the front. But, at that early stage of the novel, I was already satisfied that this book had won - well-deserved, I think.

The story follows several characters, and each character's chaper is written in a different point ove view - first person, third, through the eyes of uncle or a child, or even told by a series of powerpoint slides. It's not an easy gig to pull off, but Egan manages it so carefully that it's never jarring. What Egan does, though is make every chapter unique and distinct: it works because each voice is firmly individual.

And yet, it's definitely always the same novel and not only because of the reoccurring characters. There's a poignant intelligence to Goon Squad, and a way of seeing people and the world that is both fascinating and fascinated. The best writers conjure up images and sensations in a way that should be impossible to articulate - but Egan does it, and she does it well.

In one chapter, a man down on his luck meets with his mega-successful childhood friend. 

'I came for this reason: I want to know what happened between A and B.'
Bennie seemed to be waiting for more.
'A is when we were both in the band, chasing the same girl. B is now.'
'I've busted my balls,' Bennie said. 'That's what happened.'
'Ditto.' (106-107)
Goon Squad is all As and Bs, but offers only glimpses at the getting there. My own life six years ago is hugely different to my life now. What happens are choices, and every choice has a consequence, and this novel explores where this can go. But from bad circumstances better choices can be made and there's a redemptive quality to the lives of these characters that is warmly affirming.

A Visit from the Goon Squad was a valuable and thoroughly enjoyable read: deliciously real, and tantilisingly human.

This was read as Scottish Book Talk's book of the month - here's hoping that my reading year is as fruitful as this!

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Off The Shelf 2012 Challenge

The bookshelves in my living room a bit of a vocal focal point. People like to see what's there, what I've read etc etc. After several glasses of wine (happy new year, by the way), discussion turned to books - because seemingly some people need to be a bit tipsy before they're vaguely interested. Anyway, I was asked about some of the books on the shelves and had to say that I hadn't read them yet. Yes, they're there, but I haven't quite got round to them: aka, the TBR.

Bookish Ardour is hosting a challenge to read books from that to-be-read list, and I'm definitely taking part! I've opted for the Making a Dint level, which is to read 30 books. I'm not going to set out a definitive list here, but they will definitely be plucked from that To Be Read list on this here blog.

How necessary! How exciting! I love the start of a new year.