Many Ways With Words…

This week the Man Booker Prize shortlist for 2012 was announced, the winner to be announced on October 16th.

Of the six authors, I have heard of only one, Hilary Mantel, having read Wolf Hall last year (see #31 in 2011 in The Book Nook).

This also means I have actually read a Man Booker Prize Winner (Wolf Hall won in 2009) although now I look back through the Man Booker archive, I have also read other winners like Yann Martel’s Life of Pi (2002), Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient (1992) and have the 1982 winner Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally ready to go on Audrey.

But what does it really all mean? How can a small and select group of people decide what story shall be the best that 2012 has to offer?

I’ve read 42 this year and Robert Harris’ Fatherland (#17) and Gregory David Roberts’ Shantaram (#1) stand tall in Gidday’s list of cracking reads so far. Neither of these are recent books (Fatherland was written 20 years ago, Shantaram in 2003) nor do they appear anywhere in the Man Booker archives.

Sir Peter Stothard, the chairman of this year’s panel of Man Booker Prize judges, contributed a thought-provoking piece in yesterday’s The Times which made me stop and think about our relationship with literature.

This year, the judging panel will have read 145 works of fiction (some 2-3 times) in the months leading up to October 16th when the winner is announced. That’s 102 more than I have read so far this year.

(Where does one find time for this I wonder? Does judging become a full-time job that you wrap around another lesser for a time full time job?)

Stothard claims that this year’s shortlist showcases some of our greatest prose-writers. He also says that he’s learnt to speak up for literary criticism, an act in itself which requires work and technique and an ability to argue critically the merits – or otherwise – of a particular book. Which, he says, is not the same as reading for leisure.

He has also embraced ‘Kindle love’ whilst still advocating both printed books and the opportunities that bookshops and catalogues provide to explore material outside the domain of the publishing houses. He implores novellists to write novels first as opposed to writing novels for big screen adaption. And with his literary journalist hat on, admits a guilty preference for writing, from time to time, about subjects and themes rather than about a book itself.

Great writing liberates us all, he says. Expect to be resisted and keep an open mind.

But consider that it’s not a fomulaic argument he poses.

Perhaps great writing is a meeting of story and subtext – the author’s story and your own subtext – and the magic that occurs when new worlds are opened up and the story shapes us, even ever so slightly, though its tone and texture and sense of possibility. I felt the rhythmic intensity of Roberts’ Indian slums, the calculated humanity in Harris’ post war world and the cycle of hope and despair in the tiny boat tossing on the sea in Martel’s Life of Pi.

Their story and my subtext: could that be the literary equivalent of a match made in Heaven?

In any case, his article has prompted me to check out the Shortlist for myself – here they are in case you’ve been inspired too:

Narcoplis by Jeet Thayli
Bringing Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng
The Lighthouse by Alison Moore
Swimming Home by Deborah Levy
Umbrella by Will Self

I figure if over 700 books (across five judges) have been read this year to give me this shortlist, the least I can do is give them a whirl!

This post is also part of Post of the Month Club – September 2012

The Good Book…

Lately, the e-book has come in for a bit of schtick.

At the end of February, Stylist columnist Lucy Mangan said said ‘E-readers are representative of our mindless embrace of all that purports to be ‘progress”. Then a month later fellow blogger Russell Ward described the Kindle as ‘cold and calculating in its determination to deliver the electronic word seamlessly to you’.

Ouch!

Admittedly I was a slow convert, clinging on to both the physical and the ritual around my serious book habit. And I still love a good book shop browse. In fact last week I had an hour to kill before meeting A-used-to-be-down-the-hill and I spent it wandering through Foyles at St Pancras Station, perusing the latest dust jackets, dipping into travel guides (I’m off to Rome for a little city break soon) and flicking through the pages of Titanic-themed tomes in the special event section. Lovely stuff.

But the thought of finding more space in my already full bookshelf, packed with old theatre programs, illustrated coffee table books – for which I have no coffee table – and those volumes dubbed with ‘re-read me status’ or acquired in youthful nostalgia (my hard back Jane Austen set and the 7-book Chronicles of Narnia being a couple of these) before my Kindle conversion, holds little allure.

On the other hand my Kindle – christened Audrey for her stylish simplicity – goes everywhere with me. There is nothing cool or calculating about immersing myself in a few quick chapters while on the bus, waiting for a friend, in the boarding lounge and even before lights out at night. Audrey is always at the ready and the Kindle shop only a few clicks away. Apart from my favourites, both old and new, I’ve discovered authors I would never have come across and been able to support the burgeoning efforts of a couple of budding writers in my blogging circle – just check out 2011’s Book Nook numbers 51, 55a and 57.

Granted a Kindle is not the be all and end all. After all, there is nothing like a travel book for sitting on the plane, standing on a street corner in a new city or sipping espresso in a funky cafe, marking the places to be seen with folded corners and scribbled annotations and plotting my next adventure(s).

And I haven’t quite managed the conversion of my magazine or Saturday Times newspaper habit yet but let’s face it, the only way to conquer the Samurai Sudoku or the cryptic version of the Jumbo Crossword is curled up on my couch, pen in hand, steaming coffee at my elbow.

But villifying the Kindle and all its counterparts seems a little extreme. Like laptops, smartphones and iPods, the e-reader is just another symbol of our increasingly mobile lives and to my mind, something that encourages the consumption of the written word in every place or space. And that can only be a good thing.

Books still have their place in my life. But for me the power lies in the storytelling.

And I get to take that everywhere.

Done and Dusted…Commuting Gems

This week, about 10 weeks ahead of schedule, I smashed the 50 Book Challenge.

That’s right peeps – I’ve read 50 books this year.

(Actually this morning it stands at 51 but who am I to quibble over such a detail?)

Along the way, I unearthed some real Commuting Gems, writers that will continue to feed my long and literary journey to and from work every day. Douglas Kennedy made the grade early – I have read three of his books this year – closely followed by slightly off-centre crime fiction from Chris Brookmyre (I’ve read two of his). More recently, I discovered the joys of Jonathan Frantzen, Jo Nesbo and Scott Mariani and have already started my next Ben Hope Adventure (Mariani’s protagonist).

I have also travelled far and wide from the comfort of my reading spot(s) – through the post ‘et tu Brutus?’ period of the Roman Empire (Colleen McCullough) and in a black cab across America with the incomparable everyman himself, Stephen Fry. I have immersed myself in the cultural melting pot of a Russian community in China with Kate Furnivall and stood in awe of the great and mighty Vesuvius with Robert Harris.

Let’s not forget the little bit of star-spotting l managed either. I rubbed literary shoulders with Sir Elton, Alistair Campbell, Billy Connelly, Jane Austen and young Queen Victoria!

The stalwarts of my literary days gone by were there too – Lionel Shriver, Michael Connelly and Dick Francis (although after three of the latter, I might say nay – neigh, geddit? – to a Francis horse-racing extravaganza for a while).

I’ve also dropped in on old favourites like Heathcliff & Cathy and Meg, Jo, Beth & Amy. I read about risk and danger, and about a girl who played with fire and then made things worse by kicking the hornet’s nest. 

I’ve even managed both a trip back to old Melbourne town (courtesy of Christos Tsiolkas) and a joyful celebration with fellow expat Bill Bryson, of the fabulous place I now call home.

Who knew that commuting four hours each day could bring such joy!

Not all was smooth sailing (or commuting if you prefer). Three made my ‘Disappointing’ List – number 6 from Margot Berwin, number 15 from David Gibbins and 39 from Dawn French. Not so marvellous. But 3 out of 50 (that’s just 6% says she, whipping out her trusty calculator to double check her mental maths) ain’t bad. And look at all of the things I have experienced and discovered.

So if you’ve been inspired at all by my bookish banging on, or are looking for some great reads to add to your own (e)bookshelf, you can see them all – along with what I thought of them – at The Book Nook which, in the spirit of encouraging readership and literacy, I will continue to update.

Happy reading peeps!

Staycation…The First Day

Today is the first ‘real’ day of my little stay-at-home holiday (yesterday was a Bank Holiday here in the UK so everyone else had a day off too – which makes it feel a little less like it’s my holiday.)  I had not specifically planned to post about it but I’ve had such a brilliant afternoon, I just had to brag about it share it with you all.

It started with a routine dentist appointment. I got the usual tut-tutting around my general lack of flossing, a bit of a clean and polish and that was it for another year.  I grant you, nothing really exciting to report.  But wait, it gets better.

Next it was a visit to the Oxfam bookshop, one of my favourite things to do.  I cannot believe that I lived here for over 6 years and only discovered this little gem about 6 months ago. I have not bought a new book since and my new-found attachment to this trove of glorious treasures has merely fuelled the little voice in my head that suggests that I would never get the same unabashed joy from a KindleToday the cunning plan was to drop off a bag of books that I’d read (I am a big fan of recycling the literary love) and have just a quick fossick before grabbing a spot of lunch and seeing a movie. 

Well, it was a longer fossick than anticipated and I came out with another half a dozen to add to my bookshelf.  But the best bit was a couple that have been on my ‘list to read’ for quite a while. First there’s Leaving the World by Douglas Kennedy – I loved my first read of his, The Big Picture, so much so that I resolved to read more of his stuff (see Book 5. in my 50 Book Challenge). And there was also Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantell, highly recommended by several literary-ily addicted friends and a Man Booker Prize Winner. I left Oxfam feeling like I had discovered the Universe (or at least a small planet).

The rest of my afternoon was spent with teenage babe-in-the-woods, Hanna.  I cannot remember the last time I went to the movies on my own (probably over six years ago which was the last time I was single) but it’s such a joyfully selfish and indulgent thing to do.  I loved the movie and the girl who plays the lead is just brilliant/stunning. 

I emerged from the darkened cinema to a day turned all bright and sunshine-y so I polished off a fab afternoon with a spot of reading at home in the sunshine.

So that was my perfect, perfect Day 1 and I can’t wait to see what Day 2 will bring!

The Deer Stalker…

I just finished reading a great book about human paranoia, Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear.  Things like this really make me think about what glorious yet strange creatures we human beings are – not in a ‘gospel truth’ kind of way but more like an Alice in Wonderland perspective on the things that happen every day that go almost unnoticed.

In reading the last chapter on the train today, I was struck by a rather pithy statement, the kind you find on high school exam papers followed by the word Discuss:

We listen to iPods, read the newspaper, watch television, work on computers, and fly around the world using brains beautifully adapted to picking berries and stalking antelope.

It struck me as a great way to sum up life…let me explain:

There are times for gathering berries, lots of berries.  Sometimes it’s the same berry.  Other times, lots of different berries are the order of the day, and it’s important to skip promiscuously between, around and/or over said berries depending on mood, time of day/ month, sobriety and youthful sense of abandonment (the latter not being restricted to the young alone).

Then there is stalking.  You know, when one’s head and heart are filled with dreams of the perfect partner/ house/ children/ job/ car/ holiday/ clothes/ hair/ position in life and this is faithfully pursued with diligence and relentless discipline, silently (or not) and purposefully…

But I have to say that I think there are some wires crossed…I seem to spend my time stalking lots of berries and picking indiscriminately through the antelope!
It explains so much…

My Very First….Guest Post!

For the last two and and half years here at Gidday from the UK HQ, I have constrained my ramblings and wittering-on to the pages of my own blog.  But today we celebrate another Gidday First – my very First Guest Post!

Inspired by my 50 Book Challenge, I submitted my Gift of Fiction idea on Seeded Buzz and well, one thing led to another until, thanks to Gidday-from-the-UK-er, Spriteyone, and the good folk over at Aurelia

TAH DAAAAAAAH!!

I was published!

And you can just click here to bask vicariously in my success/narcissism/nostalgic meandering through the books of my childhood…

…or for a more ‘now’ helicopter view, check out the latest 50 Book Challenge update here

Published! Can you believe it?

The Pareto Principle…Ahead Of The Curve

Somewhere back there in distant sands of time, when being an economist of any note meant people named things after you, there was an Italian gent called Vilfredo Pareto who decided that there was something called the 80:20 rule (also called The Pareto Principle which sounds a bit like a Jason Bourne novel) meaning that 20% of a population controlled 80% of that population’s wealth.

It would appear that this rule can be applied to all sorts of things – grains of sand, hard disk drive errors, human settlement and areas burnt in forest fires, even Project Management where apparently doing 20% of the work will produce 80% of the project benefit – and I am wondering whether this can be applied to my 50 Book Challenge.  

I am 20% of the way through (having finished book 10 this morning, Stieg Larsson‘s The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest) and have to confess a rather high hit rate in the enjoyment stakes at this early stage (90%). 

Does this mean I am ahead of the curve – with 20% of the reading generating 90% cracking reads?