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July 2019 Reading Round Up

This summer is getting away from me… The rain was too much, the heat has been on occasion too much which is saying something – it went down to 27 degrees celsius here one evening and felt very cool. I’ve not been reading as much as I ‘should’ because of various marketing areas needing to be covered but those are paying off, and there were family events aplenty; I’m looking forward to more time later this month. The one thing I have done a lot of in the context of this blog is watching films. I’ve watched more already in July than the entirety of the first half of the year, it is objectively ‘easier’ to watch films than read books. (I highly recommend the new Aladdin.)

The Books
Non-Fiction

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Michelle Obama: Becoming – The former First Lady looks back on her life, from birth to the White House, discussing her time in general as well as her career in light of social issues. Not perfect but pretty good.

Fiction

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Ali McNamara: Secrets And Seashells At Rainbow Bay – A woman is approached by a person looking for the next person in line to inherit a castle; he’s finally found her, a single mother whose luck has flown. This starts off very well and the basic idea is solid but it starts to get a bit silly as it continues.

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Louisa May Alcott: Good Wives – Continuing the story, Meg gets married and life changes for everyone as Amy goes away and Jo seeks a career in writing. Very good, most especially in context.

My favourite was the Alcott for all reasons – the way it mirrored her life and the teachings she included it due to the way she seems to have felt judged is highly interesting to read. I’ve a few posts in planning to write about this book further to the review posted last month. The research so far has been fascinating and I look forward to continuing it.

Quotation Report

I’m going to leave this as is. From Good Wives:

Gentlemen, which means boys, be courteous to the old maids, no matter how poor and plain and prim, for the only chivalry worth having is that which is readiest to pay deference to the old, protect the feeble, and serve womankind regardless of rank, age, or color.

This month I want to finish a couple of books I’ve had languishing not on my to-be-read exactly but my… non-dusty stack? I’ve been reading a few pages every few days. And I want to get back to the classics phase I started. I’ve also got a review copy ahead that I’m really looking forward to, the sequel to the reprinted in early May of The House Of Hardie.

Forget the books this time around – how has the weather been treating you?

 
Thoughts On Leaving Reviews Until Later And The Results Of Your Chosen Time Slot

A photograph of an open notepad with a big question mark drawn on it and a pen lying on top

When I originally wrote about (not) leaving reviews until later, I was roughly two and a half years into blogging. That was a long enough time to have collected some experience of the process, but I knew I had a lot left to learn.

I now find that the concept and resulting act of writing a review immediately after finishing the book is not always the best choice. (Or writing as immediately as possible – you can’t always time your reading of the last pages to match a following time slot in which to write.) If a book is simple or just straightforward, and doesn’t require too much thought, an immediate review can work, but most often I have to let ideas I want to include percolate for a while; I also sometimes need time to think back on what I’ve read to work out what I want to say or what I can say – some books’ themes are not immediately apparent.

Yet I still subscribe to the idea of writing as soon as possible in terms of getting things done. I’ve been using it consistently for a while now; done is better than perfect. It really is – you can have the best ideas in the world but if they’re only in your head and not on the page, their worth isn’t tangible. Done rather than perfect can result in the feeling that you’ve not done your best, and that’s frustrating, but better to have something rather than nothing. Certainly there’s a correlation between the numbers of notes made on a book and the time it takes to finish the review unless those notes are structured as a plan already.

Allowing thoughts to percolate works best if note-taking happens concurrent to the reading. I realised this recently; if not taken at the time of creation, as much as you might remember what the note was, you lose the context surrounding it. This context might not be important; when it is, it’s generally vital. I don’t mean references or anything like that, I mean the sort of context that involves where you were when you had the thought, what your exact feelings were – the specifics behind the note that transcend the text you were taking notes on. For example if I copy out a passage from a book with the comment ‘this shows what the weather was like’, when I come back to the note later I’ll miss my own added subtext that would have otherwise brought clarity. The comment with the subtext included might be ‘this shows what the weather was like, specifically I’m looking at the first sentence which links to…’

It’s a certain sort of thoroughness.

Something I find endlessly fascinating the thought that if you written the piece – review in my case, sometimes another type of post, but rarely – at a slightly different time, you might or probably would have written it differently. I feel this most when I’m happy with the finished piece, when I’ve been surprised by the routes my thoughts took during writing flurries, which can happen regardless of whether I was following a plan – that all makes sense. What might you have written if you’d started an hour prior to the one you did? What might you have focused on then? What might you have lost or gained in pausing as you did to get a coffee? I find I tend to feel that I wouldn’t have done so well but there’s always that thought – if I’m happy with what I did write, how much happier might have I been if I’d written it earlier or later?

(When I went back to my older post after writing this, I realise these thoughts have been with me for a very long time. It’s a shame that, except for fiction, we’ll never be able to really look into it. There’s a reason Sliding Doors is so well known.)

What is your process like in this regard, no matter what you write (or compose or paint, and so on)?

 
First Half Of 2019 Film Round Up

Looking at my list over the weekend, knowing I hadn’t watched many films but not thinking it was as ‘bad’ as it turned out to be – I last watched a new film in April – I already expect to do better in the latter six months this year. I’ll be wanting to up my numbers and I’m always aware of the short shelf life of films on subscription services.

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Beauty And The Beast (USA/UK, 2017) – I’d been ready to find this not as good as hoped, having read a few negative reviews, but I have to disagree with them. It is a great pity that so much of this film is CGI – Dan Stephens in a mask would have been better however outdated it may have looked – but the script and the acting is a lot of fun. I was hoping for a copy of the much-loved library but the use of a library in a historic house wasn’t bad.

The Black Knight (USA, 2001) – The reality of this film wasn’t at all what I’d expected, a seeming vehicle for the actor, a slapstick comedy rather than something more thought-out. I didn’t hate it, but I won’t be watching it again.

Charade (USA, 1963) – Really good film with constant red herrings and changes of perception. But perhaps the best part is that it’s in the public domain and there are some wonderful high-quality versions about. I put Grant and Hepburn into Google, hoping this wasn’t the only film they made together; unfortunately it is.

The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society (UK/France, 2018) – A very good adaptation of the book which gets around the ‘problem’ of story being epistolary with aplomb.

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Jumanji (USA, 1995) – I’d seen parts of this film before and enjoyed it. It is still good fun in adulthood.

La La Land (USA, 2016) – This was strictly okay; I liked the music but I’m glad I didn’t make a trip to the cinema for it.

The Lego Movie 2 (USA, 2019) – Absolutely awesome. This Song’s Gonna Get Stuck Inside Your Head did get stuck in my head and I didn’t mind a bit.

What films have you seen recently?

 
June 2019 Reading Round Up

The past month has been pretty topsy-turvy. Whilst I still read a fair amount it was with the use of the lots-of-books-at-once method; I’ve two books not quite finished, and I read half of another that, in a rare show of defiance for my usual sunk cost reading fallacy I decided not to complete. At the tail end of last week, summer finally begun in Britain after weeks of rain, which led to some evenings outside. I have also given time to the Womens’ World Cup, switching reading for knitting as I cheer on England (next match is against the USA, tomorrow evening).

All books are works of fiction.

The Books

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Birgit Vanderbeke: You Would Have Missed Me – A young girl moves from East to West Germany with her parents, who look forward to the luxury to come whilst neglecting their child; she struggles to work out her life. A difficult but very good read.

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Louisa May Alcott: Little Women – Four girls learn to live with their mother in relative poverty following their father’s losses in investments and his leaving to serve in the American Civil War. Very good, but sugary sweet at times; the morality is strong, suited to the era and target audience.

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Nicola Cornick: The Woman In The Lake – A Lady is given a gown that, when asked, her maid does not destroy, instead hiding it away; centuries later a girl on a school trip takes a gown from a room (that suddenly looks nothing like the one she’d been viewing), and for the next several years finds the thrill from stealing things too attractive to ignore, and the gown a scary reminder of a strange time few know about. Pretty good, but not quite as good as Cornick’s previous two books.

It has been a month for literary satisfaction. Apart from the three above which were all enjoyable (the Vanderbeke wins) I’ve about 150 pages left of Michelle Obama’s Becoming and am a good way through Little Women part two, which I’ll be referring to as Good Wives and reviewing separately. (This two book set up seems to be the standard in the UK and is how I’ve always seen the series; it also means it’s easier to review as I’ve found part two very different and, for all the domesticity, the – spoilers until the end of this sentence – seeming kow-towing to anger-prone husbands, and Amy’s future that I know is coming up soon, it’s been enjoyable.) I’ve realised how silly it was to define it as something that should be read at Christmas – it certainly suits, but with the narrative taking place over a whole year it’s not really all that festive.

I’m going into July with a plan to continue reading as I have been; I’ve a couple of obligations but mostly it’ll be whimsical.

How is your summer (or winter) going? Are you watching the World Cup? And is it worth reading all 4 (3) books of Alcott’s series?

 
The Launch Of The Death Of Baseball

A photograph of Orlando Ortega-Medina sat in front of book shelves, listening to a question being asked

A few weeks ago I received a lovely hand-written invitation to an event I couldn’t miss…

Last night, Orlando Ortega-Medina’s The Death Of Baseball launched at Waterstones Kensington, a brilliant turnout of people on the basement level, canapés and wine on offer, seats surrounded by the well-known black shelves. Train strikes meant that I unfortunately had to leave early, so this post isn’t a full reflection but should give you a good idea of the book following on from my review last month. (Needless to say, I still recommend it.)

The book, a psychological thriller which opens on 5th August 1962 and continues through the 1970s, is about two young men. One, Japanese American Clyde, was born on the August date – the day Marilyn Monroe died – and as he grows up he comes to believe he is Monroe reincarnated. The other man, Syrian American Raphael, struggles with kleptomania and the affects of being told he is a special person within his Jewish faith.

Helen Lederer, interviewing, introduced Orlando; the actress (who herself became an author) met him a few years ago and they share some background – both are parents of immigrants. The star of the evening was wearing particularly appropriate attire – his shirt sported prints of Marilyn Monroe alongside other actresses.

The book begins with a first-person note to the reader in Monroe’s voice. Orlando started it that way to give the reader the belief that there might be something in his premise of reincarnation. The follow-on from the prologue, the textual transition to his character Clyde, was a part of this. (The author later said that the book cover depicts Clyde – with its rendering of Monroe, this is a fascinating idea.)

Of the idea in general, and in the context of the abuse Clyde suffers from his father, the author spoke of Clyde protecting himself by protecting Marilyn Monroe inside him. Clyde is Japanese because Orlando thought that would look interesting, a Japanese Marilyn walking down the street. In order for Clyde to embrace his identity as Monroe, he feels he must dress as her. (In the book, Clyde thinks of transitioning but it’s in the context of becoming Marilyn rather than becoming a woman.) Clyde thinks he’s Monroe because the evidence is there – the author noted Clyde’s father talking about spirits inside of his son and Clyde’s believing the idea but not what kind of spirit his father believed it was. Helen asked about why the child abuse; Orlando cited his normal upbringing, that he’s interested in bad behaviour because of the difference.

Book cover of The Death of Baseball

In the case of Raphael, he thrives in his religion. Orlando cited him as his favourite character. The kleptomania is not his fault, he said, it’s a psychological condition for which he needs help and support. The familial support is something he doesn’t receive; his mother doesn’t understand him and thinks he can change, easily.

Of the sexuality of both characters, the author noted wanting to make it just another part of them. The relationships/sort-of relationships in the book deal a lot with unrequited love, but Orlando, whilst having a firm opinion himself, leaves the last situation of love in the book to the reader.

The author wanted to explore how people find their identity, having felt himself a foreigner at home having been born in the USA whilst his parents had immigrated there from elsewhere. He’d wanted to explore identity in his previous book, Jerusalem Ablaze, but the opportunity had not arisen.

Orlando’s writing method gels with what you might expect upon reading the book – he writes automatically, writing down whatever flows, and goes where the inspiration takes him. Of the reading experience of the book, Helen summed it up: ‘you do have to concentrate but it’s not difficult to concentrate’.

This reader can only agree.

My thanks to the author for inviting me. The Death Of Baseball published today.

 

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