Wednesday, December 31, 2008

book review - The Gutenberg Elegies

This is a book that, even with a 2006 edition, has been overtaken by events. When Sven Birkerts sat down to write his original draft the individual could still have a degree of choice towards technology and decide to opt-out of a fair proportion of it.

However, as his 2006 postscript admits, by the time this book had been around for a while that situation had largely changed. The pace of technological development was supported by a hunger among most people to take advantage of the benefits it could offer. So emailing rather than letter writing has become the norm, using the web as a research tool something that students are now expected to do as a matter of course.

But crucially in terms of reading there is still a degree of choice about how far the individual goes. If you strip it back to that question, and Birkerts often makes it a much wider debate which can be unhelpful, then the choice seems to be a straight one between electronic reading and sticking with paper.

Unlike email and social networking the pressure on the individual to move to electronic reading is not as great as in other areas and along with Birkerts there are going to be plenty of people, myself included, that are happy sticking to paper.

But the crux of his argument is slightly deeper and what Birkerts is arguing is that in a society where concentration spans are shortening and more and more information is consumed via a screen the art of “deep reading” is being lost. What he refers to as “deep reading” is the ability of the reader to sit in isolation, distraction free and allow themselves to become absorbed in a book to the extent that their dreams entwine with the author’s and they are lost in the worlds conjured up by the written page and their imagination.

Where Birkerts has a point is in highlighting the dangers, he refers a great deal to the soul, of what happens when this ability is lost. But the problem I have with this point of view is the blanket dislike of technology. In many respects technology has improved the experience for the reader. Finding out about authors and making those stepping stone connections between works is now much easier aided by the web.

There is also a sense of balance that needs to be stressed here that Birkerts is not too good at. For instance if I really enjoyed playing football on a PlayStation does that mean that I would stop having the urge or the ability to go and kick a ball around in the garden? Likewise the chances of paperbacks disappearing soon can be overestimated. Electronic book readers have broken through this year but to the extent that you see them on trains and in the hands of your friends there is still a long way to go.

There are valid points here about the society we live in and the impact that a digital culture could be having on the next generation of readers but in a way what this book shows is that the pace of the debate is moving so quickly it is far too early to make judgements.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

book review - The Fatal Eggs

As might have become clear over the past year Mikhail Bulgakov is one of my favourite authors and this slime volume is a cracker.

It works on many different levels. On one level it is about science fiction with a professor discovering, quite by chance, a ray of life that gives growth and multiples the sizes of cells. But on the other it is a satire on the Soviet system.

The combination of the two produces a chilling end to a story that in the first half has an almost comical feel to it. Having discovered his ray of life the professor is still operating in his own world unaware of a plague that has wiped out the Russian chicken population.

However armed with the knowledge of the professor’s discovery and an ambition to climb up the party apparatus an official gets the backing to commandeer the ray of life and turn it to repopulating the chickens that have been wiped out due to the plague.

At the same time the professor, without the ray of life, has returned to his first love of reptiles and has placed an order for an assortment of eggs including crocodiles, snakes and alligators so he can hatch them and study them at his institute.

Of course it is those eggs that end up in the hands of the keen bureaucrat with terrifying consequences. The moment a 30 foot snake swallows the bureaucrats head any sense of humour disappears and as the country battles to stave off the attack from giant reptiles the professor eventually becomes the focus of the anger of the masses and pays for his discovery with his life.

What you take away from this book that feels in many respects like Heart of a Dog is that science and the state don’t mix too well. Of course that was one of the guiding principles of Stalinism that the state could harness the power of science and use things like the ray of life to overtake enemies and rivals.

But there is also a clear dig at the basic mechanics of the state with the chicken eggs going to the professor and the reptile eggs going to the chicken farm. How could that sort of elementary mistake happen in a perfectly run society? Of course the consequences of the cock-up can be measured in hundreds of deaths and maybe that last thought is the most powerful one.

In a country where people in their hundreds of thousands were sent into the gulag system the idea of pen pushing murderers is neither that far from reality or particularly funny. The fact that Bulgakov is able to attack them and undermine them in such a short number of pages is a testament to his satirical brilliance and his skill as a writer.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Norwegian Wood - post IV

Well at the end the moral seems to be that life is what you make it and amidst the unbearable sadness and death the hero Toru decides to live. He could have chosen differently but in that moment when he is on the beach far away from home it is the sense of enough being enough that drags him back to Tokyo.

This was enjoyable but quite why it stirred all the fuss it did is not something I can picture immediately. Perhaps there was a shock caused by the sexual scenes in the book and the relatively casual attitude that the characters have towards sex. Maybe the theme of suicide was very cutting edge for the time and stirred interest? Not sure about either of those but it does seem dated.

What perhaps makes it more so is the decision to date it in 1968/69. But reading this in 2008 when most of the subjects tackled by this book appear in the weekly run of Eastenders it is no longer that shocking.

What does succeed is the writing around the main character. This is a coming of age book where the main character has to cope with death, isolation, loneliness and the oddities of other people. But it is the lack of a supporting cast that heightens the sense of loneliness. A memorable read for that aspect alone. Where are you he is asked at the end of the book and you had to wonder how that question gets answered.

A review will follow soon…

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Beedle the Bard - post II

I tried but I think you do have to be a fan and there was a feeling for me that this was like one of those jokes that only works well when you were there at the start.

That is not to say it is a waste of time and this collection of tales has a point that is not just about witches and wizards and there are some questions and lessons that younger readers would do well to ponder and learn.

But for me there is too much catching up to do with the Harry Potter series and had I finished them all no doubt I would have been hungrier for any crumbs that came from the table of J.K.R.

A review will follow all the others…

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Saturday's top ten - reading gifts

The top ten this week has a festive feel because it is about the sort of gifts that appeal to readers.

A booklight
Book rest
Penguin mug
Library chair (see one of these for a jaw dropping £1,300 at Liberty)
Book mark
Book token
Books I’ve Read album to fill in
1001 Books to read before you die to inspire and depress
Subscription to a reading magazine – ie. Slightly Foxed
Prod to join the library if they haven’t already.

Friday, December 26, 2008

book review - The Free Fishers

If you had to summarise a John Buchan book you would use a few words including “adventure, pace and drama” and it is no different here.

But for those that loved the 39 Steps there is a slight difference in the amount of time it takes for the story to become clear and the action to get going. This is a slightly more convoluted story and it takes getting past the history of the Free Fishers group and the misunderstanding about a duel before things get going.

When they do get going this is a story about a plot to kill the prime minister and leave the finger of blame pointing at an abused woman who is too weak to fight her own corner.

Instead an odd selection of characters emerge to defend her led by the hero a professor and priest, Anthony Lammas, who manages to surprise even himself as the plot develops and the violence increases. He is supported by some of the Free Fishers as he speeds down to Norfolk to smash a gang run by a maverick nobleman who has turned against Britain.

It takes a long time for the story to emerge after Lammas is initially asked by a friend to step-in and stop his son from letting himself down by chasing after a woman that he has deemed to be unsuitable. That then puts Lammas on the road and caught up in a plot that is quite different from where you initially expect it to be going.

Once it beds down and the focus of the action emerges it does gain the pace you recognize from 39 Steps. As the two groups head towards their date with destiny Lammas is the link between all sides meeting the enemy before the others and then acting as a catalyst for action.

What reminds you strongly of 39 Steps is the way that no one seems to believe Lammas and he is often alone in wild countryside struggling in the darkness both literally and metaphorically to fins the light.

At the conclusion there is a hint, with the growing feelings of love that Lammas has developed for the rescued heroine, that this has been more than just an adventure for the minister but a Damascus type conversion of character.

What keeps you going with this book is the pace, the plot and the sense of surprise that Buchan can conjure up when something happens that you did not expect. For instance Lammas gets captured, something you did not expect, shows bravery that you are not prepared for based on his description at the beginning.

There are some things that don’t quite work with this book, sometimes the language is too dated and the sense of honour something that is very alien in today’s society. But overall this is a great adventure story and although the length gives more opportunity for weakness – the story does take too long to get going – it is well worth reading.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas to you one and all

Hope you have a great day and get some good books from Santa!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Priorities, priorities

Very far behind with posting reviews, finishing books and generally feeling comfortable about things. But Father Christmas is very shortly going to be here and in my position as a parent blogging, reading and enjoying myself will temporarily have to be put on hold.

Normal service will resume when I can find a key to the bedroom and lock myself away…

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Shelves full of seasonal tripe

Looking round the bookshops at this time of year is surprisingly disappointing. Along with the usual 3 for 3 offers, which seem to run the whole year long, there are other seasonal books populating the shelves.

Unlike last year, when you couldn’t move for celebrity biographies this year it seems to be cookery books and hardcover tripe. Cookery books vie for attention with large books that don’t seem to exist any other time of year than this one. Mind you it seems to work. Looking in Waterstone’s with a colleague he picked up a brick about the history of Marvel comics and made a face and noises that reminded me of my six year old.

As my father was always fond of saying “fools and their money….”

Monday, December 22, 2008

Beedle the Bard - post I

The problem with this time of year is that you don’t get those extended times to read so you end up picking at things. It was in that spirit I opened and digested the first couple of stories in Beedle the Bard.

I have read some of the Harry Potter books and enjoyed them but this, although harmless fun, just didn’t work as well. In some respects it falls victim to that old cliché of not only trying too hard but also a book very much for the fans. If you are immersed in the world of Harry Potter then presumably this is a must have.

In much the same way I used to pursue Cure b-sides when I was a younger, and arguably more fashionable, man this has the same feel.

Might change my mind with the second half but not sure…

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Norwegian Wood - post III

A clear choice is emerging for Toru as he hangs out more with the weird but likable Midori and writes once a week to Naoko. But the letters are pining for a love and a relationship that might never happen rather than the fun that is on offer in the present.

Midori lets Toru in on her life as she introduces him to her dying father in hospital and then reaches out for him as she works through her grief. The relationship is not sexual but neither of course is the one with Naoko. In between them is Toru who is seeking happiness and meaning in life and as he sits between the two his options are becoming clearer – the past or the present?

More tomorrow…

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Saturday's top ten - books and locations

These are not necessarily books where the City becomes a character in itself, although that does happen with a few of them, but these books are set in these locations and remind you of those cities.

Dublin – Ulysses, The Dubliners
St Petersburg – Crime& Punishment
Kiev – The White Guard
Stockholm – The Martin Beck Series
New York – Catcher in the Rye
Chicago – The Jungle, Sister Carrie
Paris – The Maigret books
London – Dickens
Brighton – Brighton Rock
Tokyo – Norwegian Wood

Friday, December 19, 2008

Norwegian Wood - post II

At moments this reads like the sort of erotic fiction that populates certain parts of the internet. But there is a method in the madness and the use of sex, however casual, is all part of the jigsaw.

At the heart of the puzzle seems to be the challenge of picking up the pieces after a loved one has committed suicide. In fact you start to suspect this is the big question at the heart of this book about not only why someone dies but what it says about the world.

After he visits Naoko in the sanatorium Toru hears from her how she felt when her boyfriend and his best friend Kizuki died. But she also reveals that her sister had hanged herself and that she had found her body.

The moments they are together are intense and move at a different pace but back in Tokyo Toru has struck up a friendship with an odd girl in his university, Midori. She is completely different from Naoko in that she has a different attitude to death having lost her mother and survived but in some respects is the same struggling to adapt to “normal” life.

There is one moment when Toru is accused of wanting to sound like he is speaking like a character in Catcher in the Rye and there are other similarities with the university setting and the sense of not fitting into the mainstream.

More tomorrow…

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Print is Dead (Books in Our Digital Age) - post I

As you read the introduction you find that you are nodding your head as Gomez points out that the world has fundamentally changed as a result of technology. But he is clear about the boundaries of his study but keeps making reference to the educational and legal issues surrounding e-books and the Google moves to disseminate them.

That has the unfortunate impact of making you wonder if that is not a debate that is an interesting and slightly hotter because of its currency in the current debate about digital literature.

Still back to Print is Dead and the message seems to be that things have changed and there is no stopping them and although the book brigade argue that there is nothing that can top the design and experience they are fighting against an unstoppable tide. He makes none of the judgments that Birkerts makes about whether that is good or bad but comments that it is a fact.

The first chapter establishes the impact of the Mp3 on music and concludes that a similar change is going to happen with books.

“To see where words are headed, simply follow the evolution of music’s various technological leaps from one format to another: wax cylinder, vinyl, eight track, cassette, compact disc, MiniDisc, Mp3. What’s important to note in this sequence is that the last format - Mp3- doesn’t necessarily exist. It’s a file format, a way of digitizing and storing information. It’s not a physical thing that you necessarily hold or trade…the majority of printed material will eventually undergo a similar transformation, ending up as a digital file instead of a physical thing.” Page 16

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The race to the finish

Things start to get a bit tense this time of year as you look at the days left on the calendar and try to work out how many more books you can squeeze in. Once I stop work, on the 19th, the daily commute goes and the chance of getting through any serious reading goes with it.

So for the next two days its a case of cramming as much Murakami as I can and trying to get another couple in before the 31st. I know that reading should be fun but there is always the race - with yourself - to see how many books you can get through in a year and in that race we are now entering the sprint finish and after 11 and a bit months its the exciting part.

Norwegian Wood - post I

This book takes you back to how you felt as a love sick teenager poring over every word in a letter reading a million different meanings into every word and gesture. It also sums up the futility that you often feel when you hit your early twenties and wonder just where everything is going.

Having never read any Murakami before I had mixed feelings about picking up something that has quite a reputation but a few pages in and the style, which is largely conversational, is comfortable and before you know it this slow story has managed to interest you.

The story of young love retold by a much older and regretful narrator who was the male in the relationship is a device that could get tiring. But Murakami gets straight into the story leaving the regrets, triggered by Norwegian Wood being played in an airport, behind to concentrate on telling how they came about.

A trio of friends devastated by the suicide at 17 of one of them are left to pick up the pieces and find love again. A robbed adolescence impacts the narrator as well as the girl and a soulless attitude to sex and friendship doesn’t help fill the gap.

More tomorrow…

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Fire Engine that Dissapeared - post II

After an experience like Lines of fate it is attractive to turn to something that is like a warm bath. For me the thrillers of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo fir that bill.

The fifth book in the ten book series has all of the pluses of the former books with strong characterisation, an intelligent plot and an eye to detail that others might have missed.

But it also has the same frustrating moments when a detective chooses to keep suspicions to themselves or goes back to bed rather than follow-up an idea.

In this story Beck takes rather a back seat as the other officers fight it out between themselves to initially get the case dismissed before they then get on with the task of getting the killers.

Keeps going right until the last page and after a book that took weeks to race through a couple of hundred pages in a day is a complete joy.

A review will come soon…

Monday, December 15, 2008

Lines of Fate - post V

Surfing the web to find the answer to the question: Lines of Fate what on earth does it mean? I stumbled across a review which concludes by saying the book sums up the chaos of the Soviet system. In a sense that it was I am clinging to that on the level of being confusing, ambitious but unclear and a story of how history dogs the modern day then it has worked as a metaphor for the USSR.

However as a reading experience it is difficult, unclear and consitent in its unbreakable nature with page 100, 200 and even 300 going by with it remaining a tough challenge.

Things finally come to an end and you wonder whether the lines of fate refers not just to the sense of lay lines and places having a history that influences the present but also a sense of a connection between people across the past.

Because Anton has kept the quest for the old author he is studying alive the prospect that someone will do the same for him is raised and that is an interesting thought thaty you are left with. It is haunting to think that one day someone could look at these blog posts and start to conjure up my character...

A review will come shortly

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The pressure to make sure every book counts

At this time of year you always end up regretting the fact that the sands of time are running out and the ambitions you had for reading have not been realised.

The phrase too many books too little time is true for those with commitments that keep them away from the written page. But it can also be a source of anxiety with shelves full of books being distant stranger rather than familiar friends.

My ambition for next year is to have the ruthlessness to put a book down that hasn’t worked for me. Lines of Fate has been painful and largely unenjoyable and I wish that I had put it down and rattled off a couple of more enjoyable books in the time I have struggled with it.

I hate the idea of quitting but with so little time it is more a question of wondering if precious time can be spent on the equivalent of a literary cul-de-sac.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Saturday's top ten - ingredients of a good second hand bookshop

Visiting a second hand bookshop is a real pleasure but there are certain ingredients that make it a real success:

Spending money
Friendly staff
Some sort of scheme that makes it easy to find literature
Wide choice
Realistic prices
Hidden gems
The book in the trilogy that you were missing
Regular stock change
Easy parking if driving

Friday, December 12, 2008

Fallen for it again

If you think about this year there have been a couple of moments of pure publishing hype that remind you of the midnight openings of the Harry potter moments.

I have to confess I have fallen for most of them queuing up for the last HP instalment as well as popping out and getting Devil May Care. So it was no surprise to be standing in Borders this lunchtime and asking them to scan and slip a copy of Beedle the Bard into the bag.

Let’s hear it…sucker!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

In tough times who wants to be like Jordan?

Interestingly in the unpicking of the poor figures from HMV the performance of Waterstones came in for some criticism. It seems a bit strange that only a few months ago we were all being told that books were a luxury item that survived any downturn.

The idea was that faced with gloom and doom the average person would want some escapism and one of the cheapest but most sure ways of getting that was through books.

So the figures have undermined that. Mind you according to some reports what has been hit hardest is celebrity biographies. Who wants to read about how rich and famous some people are in the current situation is maybe escaping too far into bitterness.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Lines of Fate - post IV

Reading this book is like being dragged through a hedge backwards with only the occasional landmark helping you work out where you are.

Once Anton becomes ill and is confined to hospital it becomes easier at least to place him and work out where his mind is wandering.

He seems to be trying to understand the deeper questions of what happened to the writer he had dedicated the last few years of his life studying. The power of the hunt for love and stability is something that has also started to consume Anton and is partly an explanation of why he is in hospital.

Final bit hopefully soon. this has bogged me down for weeks...

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

A Dead Man's Memoir (A Theatrical Novel) post III

Despite the madness of the theatre he play goes into rehearsal and the hero of the story gets closer to his moment of glory. But he has to suffer interference and the politics of the theatre.

he ends the novel, which has that unfinished quality about it by saying that it is crucial that those acting on a stage make it so believable that the audience totally believes it.

the fact, like so many others in the Soviet system, that he has seen the falseness behind the facade makes it difficult to believe in what is happening on stage.

A review will follow...

Monday, December 08, 2008

A Dead Man's Memoir (A Theatrical Novel) post II

this is still not easy reading but unlike a Kafka novel, which it does resemble with its oddness, there is humour in here. The laughs come from the extremes of the theatrical crowd with one scene having a group of people al;l resemble their theatre portraits down to the clothes they are wearing.

What it shows is the madness of trying to be creative and write a play in a culture that is not only working to the state censors but also happy to add its own censorial policies.

The result is to confirm the narrators desire to commit suicide as he gets further and further away from the magical experience he had of creating the play in the first place.

Final bit tomorrow...

Sunday, December 07, 2008

What to do with the books?

have you ever faced this dilemma - you love books, buying them and hoarding them but you haven't got the space. The result is that the pleasure you might have derived from th books is reduced.

Sadly that is my situation and I am not sure what to do about it. either give lots of books away, try to sell them or just hide them in an increasingly stuffed attic.

Any advice would be much appreciated

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Saturday's top ten - TV detectives

Having caught a bit of Wallander the other night it set me thinking about some of the other detectives that have successfully made the leap from printed word to the small screen. So in an effort to get something topical in my list this week here are some of the more obvious TV literary detectives.

Sherlock Holmes
Inspector Morse
Miss Marple
Lord Peter Wimsey
Dalziel and Pascoe
Adam Dalgleish

Of course there are others I have missed I’m sure but that was a quick brain dump

Friday, December 05, 2008

book review - The Testament of Gideon Mack

There is not much point trying to put a gloss on things. I simply didn’t click with this book and the longer it went on the payoff became less likely to be rewarding, which is sadly exactly what turned out to be the case.

James Robertson puts a great deal of effort into creating a context for the story of Gideon Mack, with some web sites still going that give the impression that this is a factual story aka Lost. But all he succeeds in doing is by starting off pretending that this book is based on a testament that has been uncovered by a journalist who has in turn sent it to the publisher who is narrating the introduction.

The basic story is that a preacher went missing and after he was found dead one of the final things he had done was complete a history of his life. It is that document that forms the story. The problem, and this is a major one, is that the contents of the testament that are about to follow are shared in this introduction.

Telling the reader that they are about to read the thoughts of a man who said he met the devil and then shocked his congregation by telling them before running off to go and die on a bleak mountain rather gives the story away.

It would be alright if the testament gripped you but a story of a weak man’s life through a dour upbringing in the home of a Scotch minister and then into a relationship he never really wanted is tedious. Then add to that the main story about meeting the devil coming rather too late to revive your interest and all you are waiting for is to see how things end.

Of course you know he dies and so it is left to a postscript with the journalist heading back to the village where it all happened. The conclusion he comes to is that what the minister said happened probably all did, including the devil bit. But by then you are cheering not because the plot has been concluded but the book has finished.

This is a trawl and the central story never really grabbed me. The idea of someone meeting the devil means not a great deal to me. Is it shocking? Not really and in a country that has legends galore it seems odd that this modern attempt to add another literary one falls so short.

Ultimately the testament of Gideon Mack is a story of man who compromised his whole life and starved of love didn’t really know where to find it or how to demand it of others. The result is a fatally flawed character that ironically finds the love he is looking for in the shape of the devil. If you had invested more interest there are probably profound things there that can be unravelled and digested. Unfortunately for me this is as far as the thought process goes.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

book review - Heart of a Dog

The concept of having literary heroes is not something that I have had before but if I had to choose then Mikhail Bulgakov would be mine. He not only managed to keep his integrity when plenty of those around him were losing theirs but kept writing when the pressure of the Stalinist system would have crushed most writers.

Add to that what he wrote and this is someone who deserves to be better read and as a result of these lovely editions from Hesperus might well be. You know that when you open a Bulgakov book you are going to be introduced into a story that will not only be a clear satirical attack on the communist system but will also be a very well crafted story.

Using his knowledge and experience as a medical student this story concentrates on a theme – rejuvenation – and takes it to a science fictionesque extreme. A professor that is managing to cling onto his former luxuries – like having an apartment with a decent set of rooms picks up a dog one night.

The story starts from the dog’s perspective and he reveals how a stray learns to identify certain places like the butchers based not just on small but the colour used in the state design of the shop logos.

That knowledge comes back later to echo but meanwhile there are a series of clients, some influential and able to protect the professor, traipsing through the clinic and having all sorts of implants from other animals to rejuvenate sex drive and performance.

The dog watches all of this with mild interest until the moment he becomes the focus of the operation. A criminal’s mind is put into the dog and the resulting creature, that does start to resemble a man, is to bring in all the brutish ugliness of Moscow into the professor’s protected world.

He drives the medic to distraction and just when you think he will kill him he reverses the operation and frightens the criminals friends of the dog away with their accusations of murder.

There are clear messages here about handing over power and responsibility to criminals that are not only unable to rejuvenate themselves but also fail to have a positive impact on their community.

Although the battles between the dog and the professor are about the right to tenancy writ large this is about ownership of the state and the Tsar has been replaced with the mind of a thug. In some respects the dog is an innocent victim as well because he is no more cut out for life as a human. Once a man he still chases and kills cats and cannot suppress his former self.

This is not just about the power and ambition of science with a Jekyll and Hyde type warning about the costs of pushing the boundaries. But it is also a lesson in political science with those that dabble with ignorance also likely to get burnt as a result.

There is clearly a moral at the end that the natural order will be restored and those that in their naivety thought they could improve on society by letting the communists in can easily switch them back off. Sadly that of course proved to be more of a fiction than Bulgakov would no doubt have liked.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

In praise of Enid Blyton

One of the things you are encouraged to do is read to your children. For years I have struggled and failed. I put the reason down to the disappointment of having an audience that doesn’t listen and regularly walks out of the room or starts making noises while holding Playmobil figures in their hands.

However at last I managed it and with a book coming in a 248 pages, The Mystery of the Notes, it has taken a fair few weeks. But finishing it off felt like a triumph and my eldest loved it.

Oddly enough there was a piece about Enid Blyton in The Times the other week and the point was made that despite how unfashionable she has been and the apparent limitations of her style she does manage to turn so many children onto reading.

I am hoping for the same and am about to start a Secret Seven adventure next. The idea of a mystery, secret agents and friendship really appeals to my children and for that I have to take my hat off to Blyton. Each chapter ends with a cliffhanger and reading it out loud is a joy.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The time of year for lists

I wonder whether or not the lists of books of the year, that crop up in numerous national supplements, ever really have an impact. They certainly don’t on me. The idea that just because an author likes a book somehow you should aspire to share their taste has always bemused me.

In the web 2.0 era these lists of books of the year look like the old fashioned pontificating from high with the selected names from the literati world telling us what we should read. It all seems slightly irrelevant I’m afraid.

Monday, December 01, 2008

The Fire Engine that Dissapeared - post I

When you are feeling rough it is always comfortable to take your temperature and duvet and slip into a thriller. There is a pace that prevents you from falling asleep and even if you feel no better you can't be as bad as some of the characters described on the pages of this book.

As you have come to expect with this husband and wife writing duo the story sits up and grabs you in the first couple of chapters. In this case a man, suspected of being involved with drugs, is blown up while one of Martin Beck's homicide squad watches from over the street.

Of course after the action, with the detective pulling bodies out of the windows, the questions start to be asked. At that point Beck starts to come to the fore but he is tired and run down and there is no spark there yet.