Monthly Archives: January 2013

Give the gift of (literary) adventure

National Book TokensStuck for present ideas? Give a book! Or failing that (maybe even better depending how well you know your recipient’s literary tastes) give a book token!

 

It was my birthday on Monday and when I got home last night there was a card from my aunt waiting on the doormat. Inside was an amazing idea – a National Book Token. This is a prepaid voucher like any other giftcard but with one major difference – these tokens can be used in almost any book retailer. So instead of having to confine myself to Waterstone’s expensive shelves or WHSmith’s with its distracting stationery offers I can go anywhere.

When I get money or vouchers I like to spread it as far as possible and get the maximum number of items for my dollar so this is perfect. I can go to Skoob or other secondhand bookshops where you can pick up three or four books for the price of one in a Waterstones.

A brief search on the website revealed 118 stockists near me (OK I live in London so the figure might be slightly lower elsewhere) so I’m probably going to go on an adventure and find somewhere new to take my tokens which makes it even more exciting – I can’t wait to spend it! In this day and age with major chain retailers going out of business every other day, the small, independent retailers need all the help they can get and this is a perfect way to convince people to search them out and give them a helping hand.

So if you’re stuck for a gift idea this year and you don’t know what book would be most appreciated (or want something lighter to post), give a National Book Token. It’s like giving a mini adventure.

PS. Thanks Gill 😉

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97. Love in the Time of Cholera

Love in the Time of CholeraWow. Where to start?

This is a really hard book to review because the thing is, I hated the main character. I didn’t hate the book, just Florentino Ariza. There were times when I had to physically close the book and look away to overcome my annoyance with him and I certainly can’t see him as the champion of true love which is how he sees himself. If he’d been pursuing me he wouldn’t have got very far I can tell you that for nothing!

The story itself was written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and was originally published in 1985 (in Spanish with the English translation arriving 3 years later) and tells an epic story of the love between Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza which spans more than 50 years.

To begin with we are introduced to Dr Juvenal Urbino (Fermina Daza’s husband) as he attends the scene of his friend’s death. I liked Dr Urbino, he seemed like a nice old man if a little eccentric but he was certainly a character I felt I would enjoy reading. Alas it was not to be as Dr Urbino dies an improbable death within the first chapter and Florentino Ariza makes his appearance. Florentino arrives at the funeral for Dr Urbino in order to declare his undying love for the Widow Urbino which he has nurtured over the 51 years, 9 months and 4 days since she rejected him.

Now I can appreciate that it must have been hard loving her from a distance for all these years and I understand that now her husband is out of the picture, Florentino wants to make her move but at the funeral?? Fermina Daza is understandably upset and unmoved and the seed of my dislike for Florentino is born.

We then go back in time to discover the story of their love and the seed of my dislike began to grow. Florentino is ridiculously romantic – he sees Fermina Daza by chance one day and falls in love with her immediately so begins to pursue her. Well, he says pursue, I say stalk but this is the 21st century, perhaps standards have changed.

I don’t want to give any plot threads away but as you already know, all does not go well for Florentino as his true love marries another man. He goes on to have a great number of exploits with other women some of which are seriously questionable from a legal standpoint and he falls in love at the drop of a hat all of which make me dislike him more.

Fermina Daza on the other hand has a rather boring life but is still a more enjoyable read than Florentino’s side of things.

The morals of this book are severely distorted. Issues such as rape, paedophilia and prostitution are mentioned without so much as the batting of an eyelid and I find it incredibly difficult to see the ‘love’ in these scenarios. Florentino writes lengthy essays on love and considers himself to be a desperately romantic man but I find him to be a deeply unattractive personality and were I to receive one of his epic letters I’m afraid I’d be strongly inclined to burn it. Sadly if I were to do so he’d probably interpret the smoke as a sign of my love. Did I mention he’s somewhat deluded?

Despite my dislike of Florentino and my doubts about Marquez’s idea of love I did enjoy the book although I’m not quite sure why. The chronology is a little confusing as it jumps around as though Marquez gets sidetracked by an extra bit of characterisation he just has to add in whether it makes sense or not and I was frequently confused about where, when and who was featuring at any given time.

Having said that I quite liked the anecdotal nature of the prose, it was almost as if the story was being told to me by an actual person rather than a planned out and edited book which made it more personable. There were moments that made me smile and the chance meetings between Fermina and Florentino during the years of her marriage were believably awkward.

So it’s a book you need to concentrate on and perhaps if I were more of a romantic I’d be able to see beauty in Florentino’s passion but I’m afraid that I just wanted him to move on and get over it. I spent the whole time I was reading this book hoping Fermina Daza would stick to her original resolve and not give in to Florentino’s persistence but whether she does or not you will have to read it yourself to find out.

Oddly enough, not a whole lot of this features....

Oddly enough, not a whole lot of this features.

Happy Birthday London Underground!

Today marks 150 years since the first train sallied forth on the then Metropolitan Railway between Paddington and Farringdon (a stretch which is now part of the Hammersmith & City line). To celebrate that happy event, Google have created a special Doodle:

Fantastic use of the tube map, one of my favourite things about London.

Fantastic use of the tube map, one of my favourite things about London.

And TimeOut London have composed a list of their 30 favourite things about the tube which you can see here.

And so I thought I’d share 10 of my top reasons for loving the tube.

  1. The convenience. There’s a station five minutes from my house and it’s on the treasured Northern line which almost never breaks down, kept running through the interminable strikes of 2011 and serves almost the entirety of central London. Who could ask for better?!

    The wonderful Northern line

    The wonderful Northern line

  2. The people. Be they staff, commuters or tourists there’s always someone who can put a smile on your face. Ranging from the red-faced driver who after repeated requests for the “man with the bike” to get off the train had to admit that ‘he’ was in fact a she; to the platform announcer whose speech I can repeat word for word (including his wonderful pronunciation of the word ‘depart’); to the two boys whose ghetto speech was such that I honestly had no idea what they were saying; I’ve encountered a number of hilarious individuals in my travels and I love them all.
  3. The sleeping people. Definitely their own category, there’s nothing funnier than watching someone desperately try not to nod off on their way home. Unless it’s seeing them wake up at Morden and curse the lack of northbound trains (although that’s been me on more than one occasion)!

    Three sleeping people. A particularly amusing trip home!

    Three sleeping people. A particularly amusing trip home!

  4. The friendliness. The tube is known for its lack of human contact, there’s an unwritten rule which bans eye contact and all forms of interaction between passengers but it’s not always so. in the case of delays or if someone needs help tube passengers seem more friendly and willing to help than those on other methods of transportation. I had a lovely chat with someone who noticed I was upset one night not long after I moved here and I’ve witnessed countless other examples of people waking up other passengers, helping those a little bit worse for wear and generally just showing a bit of humanity. Not to mention the good-natured moaning that starts up when there’s any sign of a delay.

    A work of art like no other.

    A work of art like no other.

  5. The map. I love that map with its multicoloured lines snaking across the page in a pattern so familiar to Londoners and so confusing to outsiders. It’s like we have our own secret code. Which leads nicely on to:
  6. The insider knowledge. I love that every morning and evening I stand in the exact spot on the platform where I know the doors will stop and that I sit in the same seat for every trip. I also love seeing other people milling about in confusion and finding themselves stuck between two crowds with no chance of getting through the door on the next train. I can be ever so smug.

    Picture copyright: Peter Stubbs

    Picture copyright: Peter Stubbs

  7. The funny signs. Whether the work of ‘artists’, underground staff or just an accident, they can all brighten up the day.

    Sadly it's a bit blurred but the yellow poster says 'A little patience won't kill you' but the poster is upside down suggesting soemone was being ironically impatient.

    Sadly it’s a bit blurred but the yellow poster says ‘A little patience won’t kill you’ but the poster is upside down suggesting someone was being ironically impatient.

  8. The differences. Each of the lines has its own feel (if you don’t believe me try riding the beautiful new Victoria line service and then getting on an old, rattling District line train) and many of the stations have little quirks like the Sherlock Holmes motif at Baker Street or the ancient poster at South Wimbledon. It’s little things like that which make a journey interesting.
  9. The guilt-free reading. This is the most important of all, spending close to two hours a day underground gives me a perfect excuse to read. I can’t do work because there’s no internet (the slow WiFi provided at stations doesn’t count since by the time you’re logged on the train is moving again and you’ve lost signal), I can’t get in touch with other people because there’s no mobile signal so what else is there to do?! Which brings us to:
  10. This blog! if it wasn’t for all the time I spend on the tube I would have nothing to write about so hurray for the underground!!

Jack London – White Fang and Call of the Wild

The Call of the Wild and White Fang

The Call of the Wild and White Fang

My first review of 2013 is a double-whammy: two books by American author Jack London which make a perfect pair and can only be reviewed together.

White Fang and The Call of the Wild are two books which tell very similar stories but in opposite directions. Both books are set during the Klondike Gold Rush of the late 19th century and were inspired by London’s own experiences as a gold-prospector.

The Call of the Wild was first published in 1903 and is the tale of Buck, a dog who lives a very comfortable life at his home in California until he is stolen and sold into servitude by a desperate gardener. From the ‘sun-kissed Santa Clara Valley’, Buck is sent north to Canada to be a sledge-dog in the Yukon. From now on, Buck must learn to fight for survival as he passes through the hands of multiple masters, some good, some not so good. Buck is a fast learner and by embracing his inner wolf soon finds himself top dog and a prized possession. But there is something else that Buck finds in the frozen wastelands, something in the forest calling to him and which he finds it increasingly hard to resist…

White Fang (1905) tells the story of an animal of the same name born in the far north-west of Canada, an animal that is half-dog, half-wolf and who lives a hard life in which survival is only for those who fight longest and hardest. Moulded into a killer by a succession of hard and even cruel masters, White Fang is a match for no other animal in terms of ferocity and fighting skill. But is there a part of him that remains susceptible to the kinder side of human nature?

Both these books tell stories that centre on man’s domestication of the wolf but in very different ways. In The Call of the Wild, a faithful human companion reverts to a wilder state as he learns to fight for his life whereas in White Fang, a wolf is brought in from the wild and learns to rely on and even to love his human master.

Despite being very similar stories, one is much harsher than the other. Although it may have something to do with the scary looking cover, I found White Fang to be a much more violent and a colder book than TCotW and it took me longer to warm to the story and to care for the main character. Nevertheless by the end of the book, I was firmly behind White Fang, just as much as I had supported Buck from page 1.

Both tales are equally as compelling and give an excellent insight into life during the Gold Rush which is a time I know very little about. However both stories are incredibly violent and not for the faint-hearted animal lover, both dogs are forced to fight numerous times and the fights are described in detail so if you don’t like a bit of blood and guts these are not the books for you!

I’d definitely recommend that you read both books, the reversal of the story is an excellent technique to embroider the imagery of the individual tales.

Here’s to 2013

2012

Wow, 2012 really was a year to beat wasn’t it? It was a great time to be in London and I took full advantage of all the various happenings and besides all that found time to start this blog.

2013 is set to be a busy one not least because I am due to finish my PhD at the end of the year so I’m likely to take a break from serious reading in order to look at some sciencey type stuff (it has to be done now and again).

But I’m not going to let anything get in the way of The List and Christmas furnished me well with a stocking packed with the following titles to help me in my quest:

39. Dune, Frank Herbert

44. The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas

95. Katherine, Anya Seton

97. Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Not to mention plenty of other, non-List reading to keep me going. So, here’s to 2013!

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