Thursday, 24 February 2011

A sunny day at last

At last a sunny day. We visited my sister-in-law in Shoreham today and were grateful not to have to drive through rain, mist, drizzle or fog, which is what we've had as weather for most of the last week. And we had a beautiful sunset on the drive back home.

Preceding this visit, I've finished a few books, such as Susan Hill's Howards End is on the Landing, which I found more a collection of essays on reading and its importance than a totally coherent book, but interesting. Susan Hill starts from the premise of not buying any new books for a year, as when searching for a particular title, she finds several books she had not read, or wished to re-read but had forgotten about. This leads to a meditation on books and reading which for anyone with any interest in the literary is fascinating and enlightening. Her list of 40 titles she would read over and over again is not exactly my choice, although several of the same titles would be on my list.
Another recent read was Ordinary Thunderstorms by William Boyd. A thriller in that a murder takes place, but as we learn quite early on who actually committed the deed, the plot is more of a why dunnit than a who dunnit, and the why leads the reader through some quite strange places, meeting some very odd people. The main character, Adam Kindred comes out of an interview for an academic post in London after spending time researching thunderstorms in the US, and falls into conversation with another man , a Doctor Wang, in a cafe. This simple event has the most awful of consequences for Adam, as he decides to return a file belomging to Dr Wang in person. On reaching the Doctor's flat, he finds him stabbed and dying, and thus starts a new life as a homeless down-and-out. There is a host of interesting characters whom he meets along the way, such as Mhouse, a prostitute and her young son Ly-on, the leader and congregation of The Church of John Christ and eventually Rita, a policewoman who lives on a boat with her disabled father. Although some of the characters verge on the picaresque, the plot is fairly easy to follow, as Adam eventually finds out why Doctor Wang's death occured and who was partly resposible. The theme of identity runs throughout the novel, as Adam changes his front respected academic to down-and-out and again to lowly hospital porter which again slides into undercover researcher into the failure of a drugs trial. A thrilling and engrossing read.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

The Lacuna

I absolurly adored Barbara Kingsolver's The Lacuna. The story of Harrison Shepherd, a writer told from his own point of view as well as a one or two others, this is an absorbing story, taking in much of early twentieth century history, with that of the Aztecs and the Russian Revolution as sideshows. There are aspects of American history that I knew nothing about, such as the treatment of veterans of the First World War, and some aspects of Mexican history of which I was only just aware, such as the life of Trotsky with Diego Rivera and Frida Khalo after his flight from Stalin. With its major themes of identity, memory, loss, and how individuals both form historical events and are part of history. A rich and rewarding read, with amazing details, research, stories and colour. The writing at times has an almost filmic quality, such are the qualities of description, and the characters are living, breathing people It certainly deserved the win of the Orange prize for fiction last year.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Save our libraries day

As a retired librarian, and I retired when my job description was going to change into something that no longer required the skills of a qualified librarian, I feel immense depression at the level of cuts proposed by many library authorities. Even my local authority is proposing two cuts of smaller part-time branches, replacing them with a mobile srvice. The particular branch libraries were built on large council estates during the early 1960's and were originally designed to offer a service to children, opening in the afternoons around school closing times. Over time, some had their opening hours extended so that they could offer a bit more, such as story times for pre-school children and some adult services, later computers for public use were included. The people using those branches will be denied easy access to books, free public computers and so on and the children on the estates will have one less place to go to find help with homework and leisure reading. Libraries are rarely the most expensive part of local government, but because they are a service and can't generate income, are an easy target for cuts, despite the requirement under law that the service provided should be comprehensive and efficient..
I've made my comment on the voices for the library site a while ago and also took part in the campaign to save a local branch library a few years ago, when its closure and sell-off was proposed - it is still open and well used.

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