Archive of March 2010

Sat 27 Mar

Books I am Reading and the blog

Well - for once a post which is not directly a book review as such.  I'm a little miffed because my sidebar choice to say what I am reading at the moment has suddenly decided to throw strange MySQL database errors when I try to update it,... so although it is correct that I am currently reading Proust (and only the first volume at that, goodness knows when if ever this will be completed, a few years at least!) similarly the diaries of a justified sinner is somehow languishing on my E-reader mid-read.  In fact my "active" current reading is "Mother's Milk" by Edward St Aubyn - more of which in the next post I make after next months reading group at the library.

Which brings me to the another sticky subject I am grappling with, that of accessibility and my blog.  Chyrp RC2 has been released as a proper Version 2 since I first set up this blog, and with it comes another "add in module" called Readernaut which (hopefully) will work and allow me to reinstate the current reading feature in my sidebar.  Also since the inception of the blog I have met and fallen in love with a wonderful partially sighted woman.  So it would please me to make the blog work better as a fully accessible site, which I realise is far from the case.  And to complicate matters the geeky friend who hosts my blog has moved servers.  All of which is a roundabout way of saying that I am planning a revamp of the site design and so forth, hopefully transferring all of the content in tact also.  This was a traumatic vent involving almost a week downtime and some shakiness last time.  Hopefully it will go more smoothly this time.  Memo to self - remember to implement the "readmore" link feature and ensure it is accessible with blog redesign.

One of my big hopes is that with the redesign here might be more comments. I know from my own blog reading that a blog does not really "come alive" without comments. Whilst I am aware the traffic is very low I also know I have made posting a comment as easy as I possibly can so I cannot help being a bit miffed at the lack of them. Ok end of pity party. One thing I really know is that bleating on about wanting comments seriously does not invite or encourage them!

Anyway, before that I am moving house and the desk on which the computer will sit to do this wondrous work is yet to be made even - plus I am slated to redesign the website for my local quaker meeting... so I reckon I'll be lucky to achieve these changes this year however much I am itching to get ahead with them and indulge in a little geekout fest all of mine own.  Second memo to self - must prune my blogroll and check it references current sites and ones I can cope with keeping up on too!  OOOooh did I mention in my blog that Dovergrey Reader got a mention on "Front Row" on BBC Radio Four?  Well I have now... and apparently she is very widely read and respected by publishers, no less!  I felt a strange mix of respect, envy, and rubbing shoulders with celebrity to hear this.  More power to her blog I say!

And to conclude on a more literary note, last night I heard that Mark Haddon has apparently written a play on the subject of bipolar disorder which I may well be interested to see.  I shall actually be somewhat prejudiced when I do though, for two or three reasons.  The main one is that I loathed his follow up to "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time" and despite trawling through my blog archive (embarrassing days when it was full of drivel with no focus on literature!) I cannot find reference to it.  I know we did it for the library reading group and I vaguely remember reasons I disliked the book, which I would warn the squeamish to steer well clear of because there is a gratuitously grating description of someone piercing themselves for reasons that escape me.  Anyway life's too short to review it now and I am losing the point(s).  The second is that although I liked his most successful work I am not at all sure it was especially accurate in offering any insight into Aspergers (although it may have had some points I think it did not get across how Aspergers has such a very broad spectrum at all and made it seem more disabling than it truly is).  Which brings me to my greatest misgiving, which is that I myself live with "bipolar light" as Stephen Fry describes it.  So if I reckon he did a poor job of portraying Aspergers I'll be the most critical person and arguably qualified to judge how he manages as a playwright.  Who knows, we may yet have another post here under the "drama" category!

Thu 11 Mar

Home, Mudbound,and Scottsboro Boys

Three books in one bog entry... for me there is one common theme to them too, which is race and the way it is approached in literature.  I should almost like to include Coetze's "Friday" here, but I think that work deserves consideration alone and in any case four would be, I think, a book too far!

"Home" is a sequel or follow up to "Gilead" which was highly successful for Marilyn Robinson and the January choice of my reading group.  Although I did not make it to the reading group in February it did get to feature on their new blog and I have made a comment there, one which I expect will stand alone since this book group are definitely a fan of the printed page a proper meeting.  There are plenty of other online reading communities and active blogs out there, some in the blogroll to the right.  But back to "Home" and as you will have seen if you clicked through to my comment there is one thing I was left puzzled by, which likely would not have happened to me had I started reading the works with the highly acclaimed "Gilead".  I had formed the impression the family at the centre of the narrative were black, African Americans to be exact.  It is largely this which gives the common thread to this post so perhaps I stretched the connection.

Gilead is the name of the small, rural Idaho town where the Broughton family home is.  They are a large family and the narrative is told by the youngest daughter who returns home to care for the ageing patriarch of the family.  There is a touching portrayal of the return of one of her brothers, perhaps the black sheep of the family.  What I liked best was the exploration of things they shared despite being obviously quite different siblings with different life paths.  The simple fact they had shared the same family allowed them to make connections they would never have managed as people who were not related.  This was actually the only hopeful part in a rather bleak novel, but only bleak in a realistic sense.  There was plenty touching and encouraging and very beautifully portrayed within that.

Ms Robinson has left herself plenty of scope for another sequel exploring how life goes on for Rosalind, the youngest in my opinion.  Everything we learn about Jack is presented obliquely and in a shady manner which is a cunning way to paint him since this is the sort of character he is.  A drifter and destined to leave the novel as he arrives, from the street with not a penny to his name and a drink problem that haunts him along with a past relationship.  It was this relationship that finally meant i Had to accept this family is white and not black, because Della is the daughter of another minister and definitely coloured.  I did get a little tired of the way Jack's father tended to dominate the novel, but perhaps that was a reflection of Jack's life too in that he always felt he had not done enough and was destined not to make his father proud of him.  One could make an interesting criticism of the novel exploring the question of predestination.

You could not say the same of " Mudbound" the first novel by Hillary Jordan which is very directly concerned with the question of race in the American past, but also has a strong element of family drama and patriarchy.  This time the patriarchy is rather less benevolent, although the elder son of the family whom our "heroine" narrator marries does present a more positive image, perhaps.

Set between the wars in the deep South of America this has many historical scenes directly concerning race - I should love to know if the auther of black and if not I am impressed by her research an ability to portray things convincingly from the point of view of Ronson and his family.  She did seem to me to have a very convincing way of speaking from a male viewpoint and understanding his friendship with the younger brother.  I commonly admire it when a male author can convincingly write from a female viewpoint, so here is a counterpoint for a woman author.

Last but not least Scottsboro by Ellen Feldman is a ficitional work of a very real historical event.  The reading group by large had not heard of the event personally I was also surprised that it has faded from modern consciousness.  So as a work that reminds one of the historical sweep of the case and the historical background perhaps this book has some merit.  But as a work novel in it's own right I found it extremely lacklustre, the characters felt very thin, almost to the extent of being cardboard cut-outs.  We are only really presented with two protagonists, both female.  Everyone else is a walk on character and it seemed to me there were few and far between strong male roles here, which somehow seemed a lack when the tragedy of Scottsboro is the prejudice and bigotry leading to the wrongful arrest of nine black men whose lives were effectively ended thereafter.  I found myself far more interested in how events may have affected those men and frustrated by the way the novel would not go there.

If you are interested in the journalistic process and dilemmas it throws up then perhaps this book my hold more for you, since the leading lady is presented almost solely in the light of what was no doubt quite a pioneering career for a woman in those times as she works for a left wing journal covering events.  The role of the communist party is mildly interesting too and no doubt informed somewhat by the figure of Ruby Bates who seems really rather a stereotype of underclass suffering and makes me feel the book is almost parodying the liberal feelings of our protagonist.

All in all I did not really enjoy it, although the story if made somewhat compelling.  Others might get more form it though and no doubt it suffered coming after other books all of which had involved race to some degree....

I think I have also learned not to break off a posting in the midst of writing it (these last four paragraphs were written some days after the main substance).  I shall try to avoid doing that in future and hope this posting has not suffered as a result.