Because We’re Worth It!

Some time ago, at the beginning of the year, I started this blog. Now, that could have been months ago. Or at least that is how it feels. The glitter of Christmas and New Year was packed back up the loft with the Christmas tree, a new term started, and with it the regular to-ing and fro-ing. In and amongst this the general ebulliance of my project seemed to die down.

The year has gathered pace in a whirl and a spin and I wonder how many New Year’s resolutions have evaporated? I have never really been into resolutions, mainly because there hasn’t been anything I’ve cared enough about to change. I don’t want to lose weight, I don’t smoke, I should exercise more but just looking at a Gym makes me break into a cold sweat, and I don’t think finding a forum where I can demonstrate my lack of rhythm, spatial awareness and fitness all at the same time would do much for my self-esteem.

I am, however, a nail biter. For years this has been resolution #1.  It feels festive to have a resolution and this fail-safe, as in I always fail so it is a safe bet I will attempt the same thing the following year…at least for the first four days of January, trips off the tongue. Why doesn’t it work? Because it doesn’t bother me enough.  I have made the occasional foray into stick on french manicure-style nails for special occasions, and I do quite like the overall effect…but not enough to grow my own. I don’t like having hands that look like amuse-gueules platters for rats but conquering this habit isn’t going to enrich my life. Instead, I have accepted that my hands are better suited to a gardener – one that digs with their bare hands – and that my determination is better directed to something that will make me feel good about myself on the inside.

I am now a firm believer that this is what resolutions should be for. They shouldn’t be about highlighting weaknesses and undermining your sense of self; they should be about bringing something positive and beneficial with the possibility of personal discovery. It gives us the chance to be introspective. It gives us the chance to see what we are lacking and what we can do about it, taking stock of what we may not have liked in the previous year and to make ourselves the promise that this year will be different. We make so many promises to others, we deserve to make at least one promise to ourselves.

New Year does seem like the right time for renewal. It gives us the chance of hope and rebirth long before Spring comes along. I don’t know what it is, New Year just seems to have a magical zing. It was this that spurred me on to start this blog and rekindle an old passion. So here I am one month in. I am still reading but the going is slow. If anything this challenge will teach me how to make the most of my available time. I have already learned that I dither and dawdle and that perhaps I don’t enjoy anything quite so much as I enjoy day-dreaming. I will be doing my utmost to get my mission back on track, though. I feel I owe it to myself to not give up on this challenge. I can swing it round with a few skinny reads: a good plan considering the Stieg Larsson Trilogy I ordered has arrived and not one of them is less than 500 pages. But I can’t wait. This year I will embrace my resolution whole-heartedly because I deserve it. And another thing is for sure: if i’m reading well, my nails don’t stand a chance.

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Filed under February 2012

The Shadow of the Wind

One down, fifty-one to go! It was a strange week, though, and I  never seemed to find long stretches of time to sit and read. Each day I slid further away from my daily and weekly target. Although my aim wasn’t to read a book a week I wanted to stay as close to this give or take a day or two to avoid going completely awry. You see, I can be honest with myself; I know exactly what I am like. I just didn’t think my forward planning would justify itself in the first week. But the book was never far away. It tempted me like an open box of chocolates and whenever I passed I would treat myself to stealing a few more pages. Often I just dipped my fingertips into the crumbs, but on Monday morning I gorged my way through the final one hundred pages. I was in my element.

When I chose The Shadow of the Wind to start my challenge, I didn’t realise how appropriate it would be as at its base it is a book about a book. It tells the story of Daniel, a young boy who lives alone with his father who owns a bookshop. Daniel is ten years old when his father takes him to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. He must promise not to tell anyone about this place and as his father explains ‘the first time someone visits this place, he must choose a book, whichever he wants, and adopt it, making sure that it will never disappear, that it will always stay alive. It’s a very important promise. For life.’ Daniel is drawn to The Shadow of the Wind by Julián Carax, and his commitment to this promise sees him refuse the offer of a large sum of money to part with it, and later risks his own life to protect it. As he grows up people become aware that he has this rare and sought after book and there are rumours of a man who has been buying any copies he can track down with the sole intention of burning them. Late one night Daniel looks out of his window and notices a dark figure, smoking a cigarette, watching him from below. The boy recognises it as a scene from the book and although he knows the man could have been anyone, he knows that in Carax’s book he is the devil.

From here the book is fast paced: full of detail and description with a plot that never stagnates. I have read other reviews that criticised this book for the greatest of creative writing sins… too much telling and not enough showing. But this is after all a story about a story, and getting to the heart of the mystery surrounding the author the reader encounters several minor characters who each tell their own version of events: what they know about Julián Carax and what they know about what happened to him. So sometimes they are used as a platform for getting out the large amount of detail our author wants the reader to know. But to me it was barely noticeable and when I did notice, I didn’t care. I just wanted my next fix.

The plot is constantly unravelling and those last one hundred pages charged by in a stampede of twists with all of the characters and their motives previously set up, being knocked down one by one. With some books the endings will never be good enough. But this one was perfect. The whole story was the literary equivalent of an M.C. Escher drawing. The people and the plot went round and around, the story folded into itself and back out again. So many elements and characters were at work. Just as an ending arrived, there was another beyond it, and then another. It catered for the sparse, the abstract and the complete. Everything resolved.

Although occasionally the prose wobbled and I wondered if something had been lost in translation The Shadow of the Wind is filled with some beautiful descriptive writing which I probably didn’t appreciate as much as I should as I just wantedto know what would happen next.

There is so much going on in this novel. There are heroes and villains, and flawed characters that rise to their own challenges. It has the sensitivity of a historical romance and the adrenaline rush of a thriller. I loved every page of it and regret that I let it stifle for so long on my bookshelf; I am sure it won’t be long before I’m urging anyone who’ll listen to read it.

If you’ve read this, what do you think?

Here’s my own little rating out of five

Easy to get into 5/5

Likeable/ well-developed characters 4/5

Plot 5/5

Addiction factor 5/5

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Filed under January 2012

To Be Read Pile Challenge

If it isn’t too late to take part, this is what I pledge to read…

 

That Summer Affair – Sarah Challis

A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess

Animal Farm – George Orwell

Lourdes – Emile Zola

Suite Française – Irène Némirovsky

The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafón

On the Road – Jack Kerouac

Out of Africa – Karen Blixen

Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons

Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen

39 Steps – John Buchan

To the Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf

 

Alternatives…

Down and Out in Paris and London – George Orwell

The Heart of the Matter – Graham Greene

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My Bookshelf

I have a weakness for bookshops and the smell of fresh pages which has usually kept me in a good supply of books: perhaps too good a supply. Over the years I’ve accumulated a stack of books that (probably through laziness and a generous gift of a box of modern classics) I haven’t had the time to read. If I get a new book it is usually read first and in my spare-time thirsty life (yes, I’m a parent) the others stay shelved.

So with my aim of reading fifty-two books in 2012 I am sure I can manage to work my way through a lot of these among some new discoveries. Some, I have to say, have lost their appeal although I know that when I bought them something in the blurb and a page read at random must have sparked an interest. I share with you my list. If you want to recommend or rule-out one of them, or leave another suggestion, please do.

That Summer Affair – Sarah Challis

A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess

Animal Farm – George Orwell

Lourdes – Emile Zola

The Complete Short Novels – D H Lawrence

Suite Française – Irène Némirovsky

The Diary of a Nobody – George and Weedon Grossmith

The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafón

On the Road – Jack Kerouac

Fever Pitch – Nick Hornby

Three Men in a Boat – Jerome K. Jerome

Sophie’s World – Jostein Gaarder

Down and Out in Paris and London – George Orwell

Cider With Rosie –  Laurie Lee

Lucky Jim – Kingsley Amis

The Heart of the Matter – Graham Greene

Out of Africa – Karen Blixen

A Passage to India – E.M. Forster

Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons

Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen

A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens

39 Steps – John Buchan

To the Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf

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Fifty-Two Books in a Year

Well, yesterday my challenge began. I have a hefty stock of unread books so I decided to start with The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. I remember buying it from the university book shop nearly eight years ago. I have read the first few pages at least twice but for some reason didn’t get any further. This doesn’t put me off. In fact I often do this. I read the first few chapters of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin at least three times before I really got into it and it stayed a favourite for a long time.

As far as things go I didn’t really get off to best start. I managed to snatch a dozen pages or so through the afternoon which I thought would be a bonus, but I overestimated how many pages I would read before I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer: I got to page forty. It was enough, though, to give me strange dreams of  shadowy cobbled streets and when I got up in the night to feed my baby I began thinking again about the book. Who is the man in the street, smoking a cigarette and staring up at Daniel? I am hooked.

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Filed under January 2012