Sunday, July 31, 2011

july books

My latest books:
A Life Like Other People’s (Alan Bennett): Somewhat pathetically, when I first picked this up, I hadn’t realised that the book was taken from Bennett’s “Untold Stories” – which we already had on our shelves (and unread by me)! It’s about his parents’ marriage and the rest of his family – focusing on his mother’s depression and her relationship with her two, rather more dominant, sisters. It’s everything you’d expect from Bennett: honest, beautifully-observed, touching, occasionally waspish and frequently very funny.
A Time of Gifts (Patrick Leigh Fermor): This is our latest Book Group book. I’d never read any of Fermor’s books before this one and was intrigued by the prospect, after having read a couple of his obituaries (he died last month, aged 96, “a man of action and an intellectual” and once described by the BBC as a “cross between James Bond, Indiana Jones and Graham Greene”!). The book is regarded by many as being his finest and “nothing short of a masterpiece” by fellow travel writer/intellect Jan Morris. It recounts the first part of his European trek - with an allowance of no more than a £1 a day - to Constantinople in 1933/4, aged 18 (this book covers his journey as far as Hungary). He undertook the adventure with a book in mind – but, strangely, didn’t publish this first volume until 1977 (I now understand that there are THREE volumes, but that the third has yet to be published)! Although he kept detailed diaries at the time, the work is clearly one of “mature recollection” and crammed full with amazing historical, artistic, musical insights – as well as sights, conversations and drinking experiences. Rather like Jan Morris, the descriptions of his journey are fascinating but, for me, his experiences with the people he met on his trek proved to be the most enjoyable aspect of the book. The language is often very flowery (and somewhat pompous and showy) and, initially for me, rather off-putting. However, I found his style almost quaint by the time I’d finished the book. I’ll definitely read the second volume…. in due course!
WH Auden (poems selected by John Fuller): I read this short book because I’m woefully unversed(!) in “poetic stuff” and feel the need to educate myself in such things. These poems were from 1927-1973 – almost reflecting the Patrick Fermor dates above (pure coincidence)! Although I enjoyed many of Auden’s poems, I really wanted some brief words of explanation to help put them in context. I DID however enjoy his use of language and found it helped to read many of the pieces out loud.
Remind Me Who I Am, Again (Linda Grant): This is Grant’s brave account of her mother’s dementia. It’s a frank, painful (but often very funny) story of the family’s struggles with both the illness and the various health/social services authorities – along with another powerful story of her Jewish ancestry and how information withheld for decades suddenly began to emerge as her mother's condition short-circuited the barriers she had kept up all her life. Moira+I experienced a little of what the Grant family went through with Moira’s father, who had vascular dementia for the last five years of his life. This isn’t the sort of book I would normally pick up but, with my own poor memory, I felt I ought to read it! Actually, I found it absolutely fascinating.
Sahara (Michael Palin): I want to be Michael Palin when I grow up…. Yes, I know this is essentially a coffee table book to accompany the TV series (I bought a hardback copy for £2!), but he does write very well (and amusingly, of course)! One day I’d like to experience a little bit of desert(!) and this book has certainly kept the flame alive, albeit with some reservations (relating to diet, the “runs” and being constantly surrounded by people trying to sell you things!).
PS: I’m now about to embark on one of my “summer projects”: reading the mammoth “Team of Rivals” (Doris Kearns Goodwin)…. it could take a LONG, long, long time!

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