I haven't posted a blog about my major passion, books, for a little while. This doesn't, however, mean that I haven't been reading. What else is there to do during these rainy days? (As information for my non-UK readers, as nature's little joke, right after many parts of this country were declared drought zones, it's been raining here nearly non-stop.)
Since getting my Kindle, I've been reading even more than before, if that's possible. I know there are several opinions on e-books versus 'real' books out there. I too, was very sceptical about not having a book to hold onto after reading it. But, but... having a digital reader is so handy. It's light enough to take onto a bus or the tube. And if you're not in the mood for one title that day, you can easily switch to another without having to carry a number of heavy books everywhere with you. The price is usually a little less than a paper copy too, especially if you want to read a book which has just come out. Plus, you can download a sample of a book completely free. So, I'm sorry, bookshops, but what can a girl with a budget and a huge appetite for books do, but to Kindle?
I've put a little poll next to this post - PLEASE vote! It'll be really interesting to see how many people are using e-readers and how many of you are loyal to the lovely, rustling, musty smelling books. (Ooh, now you made me miss them...)
Since this was going to be a post about recommended reads, I'd better get on. (All of the books below can be bought in paper or digital form.)
Capital by John Lanchester
Capital is set in a tree-lined residential street somewhere in an affluent part of London. It starts with an unknown person taking pictures of people's doors on the street, in the small hours of the morning. Later that same day the pictures with a caption 'We Want What You Have' turn up on the doormats of an affluent banker; an African newly discovered Premier league footballer; a Pakistani family who own the corner shop at the end of the street and an old woman who bought her house when the prices were still affordable. We also follow an asylum seeker from Mozambique, working as a traffic warden on the street, as well as a Polish builder. There is a sense that all these people's lives are about to change, not just because the 'We Want What You Have' campaign seems to turn sinister and the police are alerted. Although I liked the plot of the story as well as many of Lanchester's characters, especially the rich and utterly bored banker, and his equally bored wife, I felt the book didn't quite bring all the stories together and make a relevant point about our society. There were just too many characters, too many points of view, to really love any one of them. All the same, I'd recommend this book, because there are some truly funny, and some very sad, moments which are well told.
You Before Me by Jojo Moyes
I've been a fan of Jojo Moyes ever since I heard her read at Shoreditch House Literary Salon from her book The Last Letter From Your Lover, which went on to win the Romantic Novel of the Year in March 2011. Her latest book, You Before Me, is a somewhat darker tale where a young woman starts caring for a severely handicapped young man. It's a story of struggle for life, and for death, and of love. I won't tell you too much about the plot because I think you need to read this book without any preconceived ideas on what it's about, and just enjoy the story develop. Me Before You is a triumph from this prolific writer and as such was voted the most popular title by Richard and Judy's Book Group this spring. It made me laugh and cry in equal measure.
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
The Paris Wife is a fictionalised story of Hemingway's first years as a struggling writer in Paris in the 1920's, told from the point of view of his first wife, Hadley. As I read the first person narrative I felt frustrated at Hadley's submissiveness to a selfish author and also admired her ability to see and believe in Hemingway's greatness well before anyone else did. I completely believed in MacLain's voice as Hadley, a naive Southern girl suddenly plunged into a life of drunken debauchery. Her writing is precise and beautiful; her background as a poet comes through in her careful choice of words. Her descriptions of Hemingway when Hadley first meets him are particularly ingenious: 'He smiles with everything he's got…', 'I can tell he likes being in his body.' and 'He seemed to do happiness all the way up and through.' A brilliant read that will take you somewhere completely different.
Skios by Michael Frayn
I've read a few of Michael Frayn's books and although they're not my kind of novels, I've enjoyed reading them and even found myself thinking back to the characters long after. This is strange, since I feel the characters are exactly what annoy me in his stories. Take Skios, his latest book. All the main protagonists in this book are far too close to being caricatures for my liking: There's the celebrated scientist Dr Wilfred, who is due to deliver a speech at a high-brow event at something called Fred Toppler Foundation on a remote island in Greece (Skios), and who, although much admired and sought-after, is essentially just a lonely and sad man. The nice-looking, efficient British secretary, Nikki Hook has high career ambitions, but dreams of true love. The happy-go-lucky Oliver Fox, whose arrival on the island of Skios throws everyone's life into chaos, is on the surface the most charming and witty man, but deep inside, just a womaniser and a liar. However, as the story moves on and more and more incredible co-incidences occur, I found myself liking each one of Frayn's characters and worrying for their future. But the farcical plot left wanting. Ridiculing the excessively wealthy, or the so called charitable organisations, or Greek taxi drivers, is fun, but it doesn't tell us anything about the society we live in. Still, I bet anything, one day as I sit on the bus waiting for the traffic lights to turn green, I'll be thinking of Nikki Hook, Oliver Fox and Dr Wilfred.
What books have you read recently?