Thoughts at the half way point of Stories and Prose Poems

If there is a theme this month, and I guess I’ve just decided there is, then it’s Russia. So in the spirit of that the next book along comes from one of the modern greats Alexander Solzhenitsyn. One of the good things about short story collections is it provides a chance to get a wide flavor of a writers work.

This is no exception so far kicking off with two stories that were both in their time stand alone novellas.

Matryona’s House sums up everything you think of with Russian literature. It is set in a remote village with the main characters living in a broken down house that you can picture so clearly.

But the village is full of the bitchy, selfish and lazy people that populate any society and the story of a widow working so hard for others and begrudged her own good fortune when it comes is one that could be replicated in almost any rural society. What makes it uniquely Russian is the existence of party figures looking for stolen peat and the collectivization that benefits the system but never the individual.

For the Good of the Cause is a great story that rips open the corruption at the heart of Soviet politics. The children in a technical college have given their own time and energy to help build a new building so they can start lessons in a fresh and well sized college. But they have their building taken away initially to a research project but in the end to a corrupt businessman looking for a new place for his works. The inability to use common sense stretches right up to the top with everyone too scared to question a decision that clearly is unfair.

Those that do question it, the teachers and the children, are given a lesson they will never forget in having to come to terms with unfairness, corruption and a political system that is a million miles away from understanding and rewarding its citizens.

Great stuff and there’s more to come…


Another happy time spent in the children’s section

If there is one thing I enjoy as much as buying books for myself it is buying books for my children. A trip to a bookshop now includes a lengthy spell in the children’s section and I’m discovering a wide range of books along with them.

The way a great deal of books for boys seem to be pitched is in a series. So there is Beast Quest, which now runs into 40 plus books, and other delights such as Dinosaur Cove. I guess it was ever thus, thinking of Enid Blyton, but these days the covers are colourful and the experience of buying books is much more fun than it was when I was a kid.

It’s great to see the next generation grabbed by reading and so happy to spend time in a bookshop.

Thoughts at the half way point of 2017

this is one of those great books where underneath on one level there is a fairly straight story going on with some miners trying to make their fortune from illegally taking gem deposits but added to that there is some mystical elements.

The story is haunted by tales of the mistress of the mountain who can enchant those digging for gems, the rock hounds, and that idea of Russia existing in both the past and the present and in this world and a parallel one all at the same time.

There is also a love story developing between the main character Krylov and a woman he meets and gives a nickname to but as the country starts to move closer to the anniversary of the revolution the past catches up with the future and the ghosts reach out to change the lives of the living.

A review will follow on completion…

Reading plans

Having gone through the highlights of the year ahead provided by The Guardian and The Telegraph it looks like I might be spending my limited books budget in the following ways in the first few months of this year:

Pulse by Julian Barnes

The Pale King by David Foster Wallace

The Book of books by Melvyn Bragg

The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress by Beryl Bainbridge

Also planning to get some non-fiction as well.

book review: Box of Delights by John Masefield

Christmas time is the perfect moment to choose a story to read that is dripping with yuletide references and a classic battle of good versus evil.

Kay Harker is coming home from school for Christmas and bumps into a punch and judy man and a couple of curates on the train and his adventure begins. The old punch and judy man, Cole Hawkins, asks him to do him a favour telling an old woman in the village that the wolves are running and from that moment on the young Kay is drawn into the protection and magic of the box of delights.

Kay is up against Abner Brown and his gang that are based in an old missionary college and choose to dress as clergymen when not running around the countryside as wolves or flying through the air in quiet mysterious airplane cars.

The Box of Delights contains a way into the past and can help the owner go small or fly through the air, both options Kay uses widely as he discovers the plot of Abner Brown and his gang. Brown wants the box for its magic and having kidnapped Hawkins then starts to work back through everyone the old man might have met taking them captive in the cells in the cellar of the old missionary college hoping they will tell him the location of the box.

He never chooses to scrobble Kay because the boy’s former governess is Brown’s mistress and she informs Abner that the boy was stupid and couldn’t possibly have been trusted with such an important object.

Through a series of magic moments in the present, with mice, fairies and rats all emerging from the hidden places, to adventures in the past Kay is brought to a climatic fight with Brown.

Reunited with Hawkins the magic of the box helps them escape but it is plain and simple greed and double crossing that see off Abner.

Despite snow and the capture of the clergy the box comes to the rescue and the Christmas Eve service, the 1000th at Tatchester Cathedral, is saved.

The story is a wonderful Christmas read and the BBC made it into a drama back in 1984 that is still enchanting despite the dated look of the special effects. One thing sticks in my mind, which is why even when he makes his friends small and they meet fairies etc, why do they never talk about it afterwards? Was it all a dream? Perhaps.

The month in review – December

Reading at Christmas time is always a struggle. Firstly, I take annual leave so there is not the chance to read on a commute and secondly the children are around making calm reading very difficult.

The aim this December was a fairly simple one, to keep the momentum of previous months going, but nonetheless it proved to be a challenge as days went by without more than a couple of pages being turned. In the end it worked out well but the lesson for next year is to read quick and to read early.

books read in December:

The Interrogative Mood A Novel? by Padgett Powell
The Dead Beat by Cody James
The Small Hand by Susan Hill
Rumpole at Christmas by John Mortimer
The Passport by Herta Muller
The Box of Delights by John Masefield

Happy New Year

Hope 2011 brings you all a good year with plenty of reading. may your reading challenges be successful, your tbr piles ploughed through with ease and your purchases wise ones!

Books read 2010

Well chuffed with the books that have been read this year. Will provide some more in-depth thoughts about them in a couple of days but here is the list of all those consumed this year. A great year’s reading.

1. The Dream Life of Sukhanov by Olga Grushin
2. The Book of Fame by Lloyd Jones
3. All Quiet on the Orient Express by Magnus Mills
4. The Story of Lucy Gault by William Trevor
5. Nobody Move by Denis Johnson
6. White Ravens by Owen Sheers
7. Rushing to Paradise by JG Ballard
8. Pierre et Jean by Guy de Maupassant
9. The Story of Mr Sommer by Patrick Suskind

10. A Dreambook for Our Time by Tadeusz Konwicki
11. The Man Who Knew Everything by Tom Stacey
12. The Locked Room by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo
13. The Belly of the Atlantic by Fatou Diome
14. The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris
15. Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder
16. The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

17. Bel Ami Guy du Maupassant
18. All the Conspirators by Christopher Isherwood
19. The Professor + The Housekeeper by Yoko Ogawa
20. The Summer Book by Tove Jansson
21. Cop Killer by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo
22. Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith
23. Solar by Ian McEwan

24. A Month in the Country by J.L Carr
25. The Various Haunts of Men by Susan Hill
26. How I Came to Know Fish by Ota Pavel
27. Old Masters by Thomas Bernhard
28. Tofu Landing by Evan Maloney
29. The White Castle by Orhan Panuk
30. Untimely Death by Cyril Hare
31. Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley

32. Young Hitler by Claus Hant
33. Natasha by David Bezmozgis
34. The Elephant by Slawomir Mrozek
35. The Carpenter’s Pencil by Manuel Rivas
36. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell
37. The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa
38. The Cuckoo Boy by Grant Gillespie
39. They Came Like Swallows by William Maxwell

40. Life of Pi by Yann Martel
41. Repeat it Today With Tears by Anne Peile
42. Sabra Zoo by Mischa Hiller
43. All My Friends are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman
44. Amulet by Roberto Bolano
45. Black Water Rising by Attica Locke
46. Stones in a Landslide by Maria Barbal
47. A Preparation for Death by Greg Baxter

48. Beside the Sea by Veronique Olmi
49. The Last Will & Testament of Senhor Da Silva Araujo by Germano Almeida
50. Tintin and the Secret of Literature by Tom McCarthy
51. Who is Mr Satoshi? by Jonathan Lee
52. The Opposite of Falling by Jennie Rooney
53. Light Boxes by Shane Jones
54. The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter

55. Prater Violet by Christopher Isherwood
56. Sarajevo Marlboro by Miljenko Jergovic
57. The Luneburg Variation by Paolo Maurensig
58. Wessex Tales by Thomas Hardy
59. The Legend of Elizabeth Siddal by Jan Marsh
60. The Wine-Dark Sea by Leonardo Sciascia
61. The Courilof Affair by Irene Nemirovsky

62. From a View to a Death by Anthony Powell
63. Kings of the Water by Mark Behr
64. The Castle of Otranto by Horage Walpole
65. Silence of the Grave by Arnaldur Indridason
66. Vivian and I by Colin Bacon
67. First Love, Last Rites by Ian McEwan
68. C by Tom McCarthy

69. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
70. The Land of Green Plums by Herta Muller
71. The Canal by Lee Rourke
72. The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson
73. Leaf Storm by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
74. The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
75. Maigret and the millionaires by Georges Simenon

76. My Friend Maigret by Georges Simenon
77. They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Horace McCoy
78. Men in Space by Tom McCarthy
79. The Ministry of Fear by Graham Greene
80. Who Killed Palomino Molero? by Mario Vargas Llosa
81. Circus Bulgaria by Deyan Enev
82. Coming Up for Air by George Orwell

83. The Interrogative Mood A Novel? by Padgett Powell
84. The Dead Beat by Cody James
85. The Small Hand by Susan Hill
86. Rumpole at Christmas by John Mortimer
87. The Passport by Herta Muller
88. The Box of Delights by John Masefield

Thinking of doing a refresh for 2011

Last year I looked at the blog and changed the look and to a limited extent the content and thoughts are now turning to doing something smiliar.

The look is perhaps a little bit dull and the commitment to try and update every day has just not been sustainable this year and so going forward I will be being more realistic about the volume of posts.

What is important are the reviews and so more effort will be put into those. There are still so many that are not yet done from this year and to speed up the process I will be putting together some concise reviews in the next few days to clear the backlog.

Thanks as ever for reading and if you have any suggestions please don’t hesitate to make them.