From Hook to Book

Archive for the tag “Books”

Shattered Anzacs and Broken Promises

Mid-way through the year, I realise my pledge to read 52 books in this Year of Reading may have been a bit of an over-estimation on my part. Hey, I know what went wrong, I should have aimed for shorter books. All the ones I’m reading are hundreds of pages long. So from now on, I’m going to leave off the number of books I’m up to and just enjoy the reading.

I’m back into reading the era I’m about to write again for my new historical novel, set during and post WW1. I’m not usually one for war movies or books depicting the grit and gore of battles. My passion lies in the personal, emotional and psychological journeys of my characters, living through those times, but for me to understand how they think, feel and react I must read the books. Some are harsh; so is war. The more I read, the more I cannot believe that WW1 is not a key focus in our education system. Before I began researching four years ago, you could have grown crops of wheat to feed whole suburbs in the gaps in my knowledge. I still have so much to learn, as evidenced in my research trip, but I’m engrossed and passionate about the people and the time enough to set and write another historical saga in the same era as my previous novel. Plus I really need to write and learn more in order to understand what went on and what it was for.

Shattered Anzacs living with the scars of war by Marina Larsson

Historian and author Marina Larsson explores the impact of war disability on the lives of soldiers and those of their families upon their return from WW1. Larsson comprehensively details the effects and attitudes of society, the government, and real families utilising interviews with the offspring of returned soldiers of WW1. Larsson’s text is accessible and highly readable, despite the incredible breadth of her research. The text explores the effects of having a soldier living in the household with an ongoing disability, often a “nervy” and “changed” man. It further addresses the  financial and physical effects and impact on disabled WW1 returned soldiers’ employment prospects.  I highly recommend this excellent resource for anyone writing on the experience and legacy of war.

University of New South Wales Press, Sydney 2009

ISBN: 9781921410550

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

The strength of Birdsong is Faulk’s authentic battle scene descriptions and their shocking psychological effects on the men fighting. He takes you into the trenches and onto the battlefield. And he doesn’t let you escape a single moment of the unrelenting battle morning where tens of thousands went over top to be mown down, caught on the wire or tripped up in the bodies of their mates.  Events in the past are described in captivating detail – as if it’s happening now. The character progression of the main character, Stephen Wraysford, an initially selfish young man who seduces his host’s wife and whom appears to care about nothing and no one, is riveting. Alternating viewpoints enable a steady progression in Wraysford’s mental deterioration and those of his men.

I enjoyed “most” of Birdsong. Except for the modern day viewpoint of Wraysford’s grand-daughter, which to me added nothing to the story. The character Elizabeth discovers/reveals nothing that couldn’t have been shown in “real” story time. The writing in this section also dragged the reader out of the atmosphere of the story and read as pure telling. The book does tend to “tell” a lot but the power of the battlefields prose kept me turning the page. It is a searingly authentic look at what our male ancestors went through and why these men were never the same.

Random House

Epub ISBN: 9781407052564 (Vintage 1994)


A bookshop worth travelling for – the iconic Shakespeare and Company!

Stepping into one of the most iconic bookshops in the world is an almost holy moment, whether you’re religious or not. And a visit to Shakespeare and Company was one of my “must-dos” during my research trip to Paris.

Shakespeare and Company bookshop has existed in Paris in two forms; the first was opened by Sylvia Beach in 1919 and frequented by such masters as Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Joyce and Ezra Pound. The shop closed in 1941 during the German Occupation after Beach refused to sell a book to a German Officer. He threatened to return and remove every book, but hours later, thanks to Sylvia’s friends, she had emptied the shop of every book, painted over the front, and closed the doors permanently. The second store came into existence after Beach’s death in 1964 when George Whitman renamed his “Le Mistral” bookshop, on rue de la Bûcherie, in her honour.

Whitman’s Shakespeare and Company, situated on the left bank opposite Notre Dame, also became an iconic cultural institution as bookstore, lending library and home to writers and poets, both published and not. Today, Shakespeare and Company is run by Sylvia Beach Whitman, George Whitman’s daughter, who maintains his creed allowing writers to live-in, read and write,  in exchange for a couple of hours help a day in the shop. (George died only recently in December 2011 aged 98.)

Books of every genre and description cram the floor-to-ceiling shelves and cluttered corners. Stacks of books line the staircase leading upstairs to the reading room and lending library – available to the public to read – including thousands of hardback biographies and histories.

Time poor, I didn’t get to attend a weekly reading or any of the frequent workshops or writers’ meetings. It was enough to climb the narrow stairs to the tiny room available free to writing/reading groups and imagine myself with hours to spend sitting reading and absorbing the spirit of the great writers who’ve also visited such as Anais Nin and Henry Miller. I could so imagine curling up, notebook and pen in hand, writing in this space. Sigh!

The shop sells mainly literary and contemporary fiction, both new and used books, and offers an incredible selection of mostly English print books. (Though they do sell some Russian, Spanish, German and Italian.) I picked up several, restricted sadly by the weight limit of an internal flight, including George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London and Fitch’s Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation (A History of Literary Paris in the Twenties and Thirties – both which I can’t wait to read. Especially since I plan to set a small part of my WIP in this era and these settings. Both books promise  birds’ eye views to put me in the mood and mindset of the day. Books like these are gifts to writers who can revisit the place but not capture the minutiae of  moments so long past.

Another small book I bought and love is The War Poets, an anthology of poems from both World War One and Two featuring works by Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen and W.B. Yeats. (Pitkin Publishing 2009) Already I’m a fan of Sassoon, particularly the sincerity in the images conjured in his Died of Wounds and the reality of the last line. I hope you’ll love it too.

Died of Wounds

His wet white face and miserable eyes
Brought nurses to him more than groans and sighs:
But hoarse and low and rapid rose and fell
His troubled voice: he did the business well.

The ward grew dark; but he was still complaining
And calling out for ‘Dickie’. ‘Curse the Wood!
It’s time to go. O Christ, and what’s the good?
‘We’ll never take it, and it’s always raining.’

I wondered where he’d been; then heard him shout,
‘They snipe like hell! O Dickie, don’t go out’ …
I fell asleep … Next morning he was dead;
And some Slight Wound lay smiling on the bed.

Siegfried Sassoon

In these days of too many independent bookshops closing, it was a joy to visit this thriving icon. We have no such delight located near to where I live, but if you have one of those rare gems in your neighbourhood that you can recommend, I’m prepared to travel. Just leave a few details or why you love your local bookshop in the comments. 

Newsflash: If you’re into writing novellas, Shakespeare and Company run The Paris Literary Prize an international novella competition, open to unpublished writers and offering a substantial €10,000 prize.

Some books do, Some books don’t

And when they don’t do it for you, do you keep reading? I do. But… Life is short. Too short to persist sometimes. Back into the year and the weeks are zinging past. I’m already beginning to panic over my challenge to read a book a week. I can see these mini review blogs will become more sporadic and more often lists, but for now, I’ll keep commenting on the books I am reading. The last one though saw me page skimming by the last quarter – and only in fairness to the challenge did I keep reading at all. Not sure I’m going to persist with books that “don’t” do it for me in future. So many books, so little time.

Week 3 Book 3

Once again this January, I participated in Month of Poetry hosted by the wonderful poet and organiser Kathryn Apel. In lazy holiday mode, I wasn’t sure I could live up to the promise of the Post a Day poets, so I registered for the Occasional Poetry pages. I thought for awhile that I fell a bit short in not writing a poem a day, but I was really pleased to finish the month with seventeen completed poems. Of course, they all need much refining, but I think a couple of them show actual promise.

Some days the words and ideas just flowed, others I needed a little prompting. Plus I wanted to get stuck into some poetry basics. So I read and worked through some of the exercises in Creating Poetry by Ron Pretty. I recommend this book for all beginner poets to learn forms, sound patterning, imagery and metaphor in poetry, and to tackle some inspiring exercises that act as great, creative launch pads. The book is totally accessible and highly readable, and inspired a couple of my favourite poems from the Month of Poetry.

Creating Poetry by Ron Pretty (Revised Edition) Five Islands Press (1987) 2001

Week 4 Book 4

Bestseller A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle was first published in 1989 and is the non-fiction account of the twelve months from when British expat Mayle and his wife moved into their impulse, holiday purchase to one year and many gastronomic delights later. Mayle details the four seasons, the antics and exhorts of their new neighbours, crossing the cultural divide, some humorous uninvited visitors, along with descriptions of the etiquette and elongation of French tradesman renovating their house. The detailed description that won me in the early pages, where I vicariously enjoyed the laid back lifestyle of French provincial life, tended to wear on me and turn repetitive by mid to late in the book. I know it was non-fiction, not fiction with a rising tension, but after charting a few unhurried months, I’m afraid each began to bleed into the next. Towards the end I found myself skimming pages.

I doubt the Provence of the late 80s, when Mayle first settled there, and the Provence of today are much similar, but I still hope to find some of those homey French cafes in small villages and some of the delightful French characters that pepper his book when I drop by. A tad elongated a read for me but it should grab those wishing to visit or relocate to Provence.

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle Penguin Books 1980 ISBN 9780141037257

Bookaholics Both

An exciting week. My travelling daughter has returned, proudly boasting her suitcase was well under the limit. I’m not surprised, considering her bedroom carpet has slowly disappeared in the months of her absence as a steady stream of packages, parcels, post packs and boxes arrived home ahead of her full of books. Until… I had to plead, no more. Our house cannot house any more books. Unless…

She said it first, that dreaded word – Cull.

Followed by grimaces and groans from us both. But it had to be done. And my Sal has grown harsh in her absence. She wouldn’t let her mother peruse the piles she set aside for the op shop. “For your own good,” she admonished.

Yes, I know she’s right. She’s much better at the culling business than I. Then again, she buys more books than me. When she sorts her discards, I gather the little orphans to me and can never help adopting some. In short time, her piles dwindle and my bookcase creaks and cringes housing its newest residents.

This time, weak with the joy of her return, I accepted her decree. Kindly, she set aside a select few she knew I’d appreciate and want, but the rest went into bags without a second look, but several disconcerted walk pasts by me.

But no. They’re gone. And I’ve been brave.

My turn next. As soon as uni ends, I have to sort. My bookcase is now into double stacking and I know it’s time for me to send some less loved out into the world for others to enjoy. Does it make me a bad mother that it’s nearly as hard for me to let go of books, as waving off my tenacious travelling offspring? (Just kidding really. So thrilled to have my gorgeous chick returned to the nest. Until the next time that is.)

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