Sunday, October 19, 2014

october 2014 books

more book stuff:
Cain (José  Saramago): As you might know, Portuguese Saramago was the recipient of the 1998 Nobel Prize in Literature (he died in 2010). He was an atheist and this short novel is told through the eyes of Cain as he “witnesses” various Old Testament passages from the Bible (from Adam+Eve, to killing his brother Abel, to Sodom and Gomorrah, to Mount Sinai, and eventually ending up on the Ark with Noah) that add to his increasing loathing of God - Cain even intervenes when Abraham is about to sacrifice Isaac. It’s thought-provoking, provocative, often witty… and challenging.
Elgar: The Erotic Variations and Delius: A Moment with Venus (Ken Russell): I bought this book on a whim at the £3 Bookshop. I enjoy biographies and knew very little about the lives of these two composers so, despite the title (and Russell’s film reputation as a director who seeks to titillate at every opportunity!), I gave it go. I should have known better. He’s made something like 15 biographical films on composers and is convinced that most of his chosen composers have a dual personality (of course he does!). In fact, the flysheet of this book reveals another two Ken Russell novels in a similar/identical vein: “Beethoven: Confidential  and Brahms: Gets Laid”!! The two novels (ie. Elgar+Delius) read rather like Russell screenplays (or what I imagine them to be like) and, frankly, I found them tedious and somewhat irritating.
The White Tiger (Aravind Adiga): This novel, which won the 2008 Man Booker Prize, is our book group’s latest book. It’s set in India and tells the story of Balram Halwai – the uneducated son of a rickshaw-puller, but also a servant, a liar and a philosopher (among other things). The book’s title is the name Balram gives himself, as a budding entrepreneur (“the rarest of animals – the creature that comes along only once in a generation”). It’s a depressing, savage (and yet also funny and strangely noble) story about globilisation, politics, corruption, freedom, immorality… and about the poor and underprivileged who cannot even meet their bare minimums… and about wealthy businessmen, politicians and others who shamelessly exploit them. It’s an angry book which points to all that is going on in a country that has become one of the world’s fastest-growing economies and bluntly asks “how can it be like this?”. I thought it was an exceptional, powerful book.
Deep River (Shusaku Endo): After various references to the Ganges in “The White Tiger” (see above), it seemed somewhat weird that my next book should also feature the sacred river – it’s funny how these coincidences KEEP happening! This novel traces the story of four Japanese tourists on a tour to India; they each to go there for different purposes and with different expectations, but each of them, in a way, finds their own spiritual discovery on the banks of the Ganges River. I suppose it’s a book about the “meaning of life” - although it certainly doesn’t attempt to give answers. It’s a wonderful, challenging book which touches on Buddhism, Christianity/Catholicism, reincarnation, faith and faithlessness – certainly more food for thought on my own rather haphazard spiritual journey.
A Life of Privilege, Mostly: A Memoir (Gardner Botsford): Another book from the £3 bookshop. I’m always attracted by biographies and, although I’d never heard of Gardner Botsford (1917-2004), I was suitably intrigued by the title of the book and the brief details outlined on its flysheet. Botsford was the editor of The New Yorker magazine for nearly 40 years and the book, published in 2003, tells of Botsford’s early life of privilege in the Depression years of the 1930s (his family of five had five live-in servants plus four other staff, a whole host of cars and enjoyed separate summer and winter residencies… as you do!); his WW2 experiences (part of the D-Day landings, fought in the Battle of the Bulge, was wounded and decorated); and his fascinating career with The New Yorker. Beautifully written and observed and a mixture of tense conflict and humour.

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