More book stuff:The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared (Jonas Jonasson): This is a truly bizarre, funny book… and I loved it! It’s about the unlikely adventures of a man who avoids attending his own 100th birthday party by climbing out of the window of his room in an old people’s home. In its early stages, it felt as if the writer was asking readers to suggest their own ludicrous, additional storyline at the start of each chapter - something along the lines of the TV programme “Whose Line is it Anyway?” perhaps, with an emphasis on improvisation… but it proved to be much cleverer than that. An endearing, optimistic book - and a complete change from the rather dark recent novels that have emerged from Scandinavia!
The Bees (Carol Ann Duffy): Even though I’m keen to change matters, I generally struggle with coming to terms with poetry (invariably, I feel I need a few notes giving me some background for specific poems!). But I DID love this short collection of poems (her first as Poet Laureate). I was particularly drawn to those relating to her dying mother, to war/dying soldiers and to some of her more political writings… but, frankly, there are an awful lot of highlights!
Star Pilgrim (Simon Small): This is something of a mystical sci-fi novel. By the time I’d finished it (and I read it pretty quickly), I felt a little like the way I did after the first time saw the film “2001: Space Odyssey” - trying to understand/come to terms with its concluding stages. However, there was (at least) ONE significant difference and that was that I’d be blown away by the majestic nature of the film, whereas much of the book simply irritated me! That’s perhaps a little unfair. There is much to commend Small’s book: it’s very readable; he’s a good story-teller (although I’m not a great fan of his writing style); it’s thought-provoking and insightful. Fundamentally, I fear, my views are rather coloured by the fact that I’m not a great lover of Christian fiction!
Full Circle (Michael Palin): I’ve had this book for a couple of years and had largely read it in its entirety, but only through “dipping into it” in a rather haphazard way. So I’ve just read it through “properly”. The Full Circle of the book’s title refers to his route tracking along the edges/rim of the Pacific Ocean. The book was published in 1997 and it was interesting to note how much has changed in some of the countries (eg. China) since that time. Michael Palin’s a bit of a hero of mine and I’ve loved his various TV journeys (and books) – although I do think the formula has started to wear a little thin of late (I started watching his recent “Brazil” series, but failed to get beyond the first programme. His books are excellent in their own right – he writes extremely well (both funny and bizarrely informative) – and this was no exception.
Leaving Alexandria (Richard Holloway): This is a wonderful, brave and frank autobiography. I really didn’t know very much about Richard Holloway before listening to him talk at the “Festival of Ideas” in Bristol in May 2010. I subsequently read (and very much enjoyed) his “Looking in the Distance”. This book tells of his journey between faith and doubt. He resigned as Bishop of Edinburgh in 2000. I have to say that – with him having aired his personal religious doubts and, to some extent, his critical attitudes towards the “absolute confidence” of church authorities – I was surprised that he accepted the post in the first place; he admits that vanity and ambition probably had something to do with it! As a character, I think he has always been a “bit of a performer” and so, at times, I felt that he was enjoying the drama of what he was writing about (and, to be fair, he acknowledges that he’s probably been unwise in publishing some of his early books). I felt a particular empathy with his comments regarding the Conservative Evangelicals within the Anglican Church (and their attitudes towards gays and to women priests - women bishops were yet to enter the debate!). Holloway says he doesn’t “any longer believe in religion”… but he “wants it around: weakened, bruised and bemused, less sure of itself and purged of everything except the miracle of pity”. A beautiful, eloquent, profound and powerful book.