Saturday, February 20, 2016

february 2016 books

More book stuff:
The Old Ways (Robert Macfarlane): I’m a great fan of Macfarlane (I’ve previously read and greatly enjoyed two of his other books: ‘Mountains of the Mind’ and ‘The Wild Places’). He’s an extremely gifted, intelligent writer who has a captivating, almost poetic, writing style. Essentially, this is a book about what it is to follow a path (on land or at sea). John Banville reckons that ‘Macfarlane reminds us of what it is to be civilised’ and I certainly wouldn’t argue with that. This paragraph, from near the end of the book, gives a “feel”: ‘As I walk, scenes open up in my memory from the paths I have followed, coming fast and clear as lantern slides: the green phosphorescent wake of Jubilee as she trundles north to Sula Sgeir, the white paths of the English chalk country, Manus’s three-stoned cairn-tracks overflown by gannets, the mirror-line of the Broomway. Bodily recollections surface: the rasp of limestone in Palestine, the slim iron needles of the Spanish pine woods, the sandstone dust of the Black Mountains, so soft underfoot. The remembered senses of spaces small and wide: the beehive shieling set in the open moor of Lewis, the cool interior of the qasr near Ramallah, the dark glassy water under a stone arch on the Shiants. And so many people, so many path-followers’. I absolutely LOVED this very special book.
Why I Wake Early (Mary Oliver): I love Oliver’s poetry. She has a natural gift for conveying the wonder of the ordinary (even if perhaps, for me, this book lays a little too much emphasis on the creatures she encounters on her morning walks!). The book’s title is particularly apt for me (early morning creature that I am!) and I can imagine her taking her unhurried, daily morning walks amongst the local pinewoods, ponds and hills. I love the fact that she sees (and celebrates) things that most people might never notice. Looking, seeing, reflecting, celebrating the simple things in life. Another beautiful book.
A Heart So White (Javier Marias): This is our Book Group’s latest book. The original’s written in Spanish and, I must admit, I struggled with the rather stilted style of the translation at first. The book has a somewhat unnerving, haunting quality as it chronicles the unremitting power of the past. There are clearly family secrets, and Juan begins to ponder what he doesn't really want to know. Juan’s job means he has to shuttle between the UN in New York and the Hague for six to eight weeks at a time, while his wife remains behind in Madrid to establish their home together. In Juan's absence she develops a close relationship with her father-in-law, a charismatic art dealer named Ranz who, though in his seventies, has not lost the charm that enabled him to marry three times despite the fact that his first wife died mysteriously and the second committed suicide upon returning from their honeymoon (and he ended up marrying his second wife’s sister!). Juan is dogged by feelings of unease and suspicion. It's a novel about the nature of relationships, truth, deception and much more. Juan's slow narrative style, and his thought process, slowly creep under the one's skin. Beautifully written and cleverly conceived. I’m looking forward to hearing what our other book group members make of it!
Epitaph To ‘Nickle Eck’ (Eric Yates): Coming from Birmingham myself, the sub-title to this book (“Childhood Mischief in Wartime Birmingham”) rather appealed. It tells various tales of two brothers (Eric and John) during WW2 and, on the face of it, might have been quite interesting. Unfortunately, I rather think the author (he worked for Bass Charrington for 20 years – ironically, my brother also worked for them in the early 1970s - and was also a one-time presenter for BBC Radio Birmingham and ‘into’ amateur dramatics) saw himself as God’s gift to story-telling. Sadly, he isn’t. Eric Yates’ wife put the book together after his death and, although he was clearly a ‘character’, I found her descriptions of his talents just a little over-the-top (“About The Author”). Here’s just one example: “he and his wife performed in Salcombe, where he is celebrated in the South Hams for his performance in the famous music hall sketch ‘Dinner for One’” (really?). The book is mildly amusing, but hardly the “treasure trove of Second World War stories” that the cover claims! Sorry!
Night Cycles (Beth Morey): This book is a collection of raw poetry centred on a theme of spiritual death and resurrection (drawn from Morey’s own experience of that desert place Saint John of the Cross called “the dark night of the soul). This all sounds pretty bleak – and, certainly, some of it is – but I actually found her words encouraging and hopeful. She writes with a simple directness and with the ability to articulate emotions and feelings. I’ll certainly be dipping into these poems on a regular basis.

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