Friday, 19 February 2010

One Day - David Nicholls

I had such good intentions, I really did. ‘One day,’ I said to myself, ‘one day I’m going to actually post on that book blog that I set up months ago. One day I’m going to continue what I started so energetically. One day...’ I guess I was looking for a sign.

So when Hodder Books tweeted that One Day was number 1 in the best-sellers’ list, and then instructed me to go to my bookshelves, grab my copy and read it forthwith, what could I do but comply? (And I must admit that I thought ‘ah ha, here’s a hook to get me back into blogging’.)

So pleased I did. One Day is a fantastic book, brilliantly executed with a lightness of touch that’s really appealing. In a sense it’s very high-concept - the book spans twenty years but the action takes place on just one day a year, 15 July - but the concept never gets in the way of the story or the writing, which is really simple and elegant - the sort of simplicity and elegance I’m sure takes a whole lot of effort to achieve.

What the concept does is to allow its characters to change subtly (OK, sometimes not-so subtly) over time. And One Day is all about Dex and Em, Em and Dex. Whether you like the book or not rests on whether you like these characters. I’d say it’s very difficult not to - they’re complicated, sometimes infuriating, but intelligent and on the whole good-hearted - and they have the sort of fast, sharp, witty conversation that you’d normally see on shows like Buffy or The West Wing. Dexter and Emma’s lives play out against the backdrop of nineties and noughties’ London, with its obsession with youth, television (or ‘the media’, as Dexter would probably say) and celebrity.

If I had to niggle, it would be to say that I thought the first part of Emma’s story was a little cliched, a little bit edging towards the experience a character in a chick-lit novel might have - ending up single after being in a drab relationship with a failed comedian (though ironically Ian himself is a fantastic comic creation) - but on consideration I think that this was very clever of Nicholls. While it’s been a long time since I was single, unmarried women are constantly scrutinised and commented upon in a way I don’t think that unmarried men are; they’re either perceived as living a frivolous life, all champagne cocktails and Jimmy Choo’s, or in their pyjamas, stuffing their faces with chocolate and crying into their warm chardonnay. I think Nicholls deliberately gave Emma this experience, showing the reader that there’s complexity and depth behind the Sex and the City/Bridget Jones stereotypes.

Did I mention how funny it is? One Day is very, very funny, almost relentlessly so. But it’s not just a funny book - there are many uncomfortable scenes, many times when Dex and Em’s relationship feels as if it’s in jeopardy, and if you can make it to the end of the book without crying, then you’re a stronger man than I am, Gunga Din.

If I was back down in London, I’m sure that this is one of those books that I’d see read on the tube and on buses, much in the same way as I saw Birdsong (atrocious) or Time Traveler’s Wife (great). I suspect it will be enjoyed by men and women equally. I hope it continues to be as successful as it was last week. I love it when a book this good gets popular.

Monday, 28 December 2009

Her Fearful Symmetry - Audrey Niffenegger

I loved The Time Traveler’s Wife, absolutely adored it. I was emotionally engaged with the novel, had been, from page 10. Henry has just met Clare for (for him) the first time.

‘As I stand in the elevator, dazed, I realise that a massive winning lottery ticket chunk of my future has somehow found me here in the present, and I start to laugh. I cross the lobby, and as I run down the stairs to the street I see Clare running across Washington Square, jumping and whooping and I am near tears and I don’t know why.’

This, for me, sums up The Time Traveler’s Wife perfectly - it’s so vital, full of energy and emotion and so vivid. Henry and Clare are attractive characters, flawed characters, likeable characters (in fact, I might have a little crush on Henry). It’s a book to snuggle down with and savour. It’s an unashamedly romantic book, and beautifully written. It does have its flaws, but you’re so quickly drawn in to the story that you either don’t notice them or are prepared to forgive its minor faults.

Unfortunately, despite really wanting to like Her Fearful Symmetry, I just didn’t. Perhaps the problem is to do with its set-up - with a ghost as a main character and a cemetery at its heart, you’d expect a modern-day fairy tale, but what you get is a sort of Hampstead novel, which gives Her Fearful Symmetry a rather old-fashioned feel, despite the mobile phones, LOLs and the clunkily cliched teenage speak of the twins. Everyone just seems to waft around, ghostlike, through the novel; there’s no real sense of impetus or direction, for a long time it’s a set of observances about London, Highgate Cemetery and people. The book is almost three-quarters of the way through before one character makes a decision that impels the book forwards - and once that decision is made it’s pretty clear how it’s going to end up. For me, because the characters weren’t that likeable or engaging and there wasn’t much of a story to hold my attention, the things about the writing that irritated me - italics to show what a character really meant to say; the constant pointing out differences between UK and US language (which usually I find interesting but were too much of a theme here); places where the research done is just too obvious - were highlighted. If the novel had more of a dreamlike feel, if one storyline and set of characters were removed, if the book was condensed and streamlined then perhaps the novel would have worked better.

I guess I’m disappointed because I loved The Time Traveler’s Wife so much and expected so much from Niffenegger’s second novel. And it’s not to say that Niffenegger isn’t a great writer, nor that I won’t be queuing up to buy her next book - perhaps if I had expected less I would have liked it more.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

100 books in 2010 challenge

I'm very excited to enter this challenge - 100 books in a year! - let's see how I go. J. Kaye from J. Kaye's book blog is hosting. Here are the rules:

1. The goal is to read 100 or more books. Anyone can join. You don't need a blog to participate.

2. Audio, Re-reads, eBooks, YA, Manga, Graphic Novels, Library books, Novellas, Young Reader, Nonfiction –
as long as the book has an ISBN or equivalent or can be purchased as such, the book counts.

What doesn't count: Individual short stories or individual books in the Bible.

3. No need to list your books in advance. You may select books as you go. Even if you list them now, you can change the list if needed.

4. Crossovers from other reading challenges count.

5. Challenge begins January 1st thru December, 2010. Books started before the 1st do not count.

Read the book, see the movie challenge

I love books, I love movies, and I like getting grumpy when movies don't measure up to the book. I don't agree that a movie has to slavishly follow the plot of a book but it does have to retain its spirit, as well as being a work of art in its own right. Fight Club is a good example of this, the movie is different from the book in many ways, but it remains faithful to Chuck Paluhniuk's central idea.

So I'm very much looking forward to CB James' Read the Book, See the Movie challenge, and I'm going to go in at the Film Festival level - that's comparing eight books with eight movies. Should be interesting - I've already got the first one lined up.

Here's the dets:

The Read the Book, See the Movie Challenge is based on a simple idea--read a book, see a movie based on the book, include both in your review. Whether yours is a book blog or a movie blog, this could be a way to add some spice to your posts, expand your outlook, have some fun. Mostly, have some fun.

You don't have to write full reviews both the movie and the book. You can write a review of one then add a brief paragraph or just a sentence or two about the other at the end.

Here's how to join:

1. Select a challenge level:
  • Matinee: one book/movie
  • Double Feature: two books/movies
  • Saturday Movie Marathon: four books/movies
  • Film Festival: eight books/movies
  • Festival Jury Member: ten books/movies

2. Copy and paste the Read the Book, See the Movie Challenge button to your blog. (Optional. If you don't have a blog, you can still sign-up and play along. You can post reviews here.)

3. Sign up using Mr. Linky below. Please list your challenge level in a comment.

4. Get together a list of books/movies that you plan on reviewing. (Optional. You can just see what comes along during the year if you'd rather.)

I'll post monthly link lists so you can post links to your reviews here and I'll try to feature a few reviews each month.

The challenge will begin on New Year's Day 2010 and will last all year. There will be prizes. I don't know what the prizes will be yet, but expect several. I'm a big fan of giveaways. S

You can double count this challenge with any other challenges you're doing in 2010.

Art history challenge

The Art History Reading Challenge, hosted by Nomad Reader, is another challenge I'm really looking forward to - art history, and artists' lives, have always held a bit of a fascination for me, and The Glass Room, by Simon Mawer, has been on my bookshelf ever since it was shortlisted for the 2009 Booker prize. So I'm going to go for the Fascinated category, which means I need to read six art-history related books in 2010.

Here's the details:

Do you love art? Do you love reading about art? Join The Art History Reading Challenge and challenge yourself to read at least 3 books about art in 2010. These books can be either fiction or nonfiction, and they can span every genre from historical fiction to graphic novel. Young adult and children's books count too. The challenge will last from January 1, 2010 to December 31, 2010.

How much art needs to be in a book to qualify? Use your best judgment! I've read books I thought would be about art, and they weren't. I've read books I had no idea were about art, but they were. Relax, have fun and enjoy reading!

You can make your list in advance if you'd like, or you can read according to your whims. You may overlap your selections with those for other challenges.

This year there will be four levels of participation:
  • Curious - Read at least 3 books about art, either fiction or non-fiction.
  • Fascinated - Read at least 6 books about art, either fiction or non-fiction.
  • Enamored- Read at least 9 books about art, either fiction or non-fiction.
  • Utterly enchanted - Read at least 12 books about art, either fiction or non-fiction.
There will also be at least four extra credit assignments throughout the year to challenge you to take your curiosity, fascination, adoration and enchantment even higher. These will be completely optional, and you don't have to be signed up for the challenge itself to complete them. Either way, subscribe to this blog so you won't miss out!

Bibliographic books challenge

For a reader, reading about reading is a great pleasure. There's something about reading about the act of reading - or the act of writing - that's hugely enjoyable, and that's why I'm looking forward to the bibliographic books challenge, hosted by Lesley. Check it out here.

Here are the details:

The challenge will be to read a set number of books that focus on books or reading. These can be fictional works, such as The Eyre Affair or The Shadow of the Wind; or non-fiction works such as 84, Charing Cross Road or The Polysyllabic Spree. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of books out there that would fit this challenge.

The challenge begins on January 1, 2010 and ends on December 31, 2010. You must sign up for the challenge by January 31st, 2010.

Only books read during the challenge will count. You may reread books as well as cross-reference books with other challenges.

You do not need to make out a list when you sign up and you can change your mind on particular book selections throughout the challenge. I like to have flexibility for my reading whims!

There are three levels for you to choose from:

  • Bookworm: Read three books
  • Litlover: Read six books
  • Bibliomaniac: Read twelve books

  • Beginning in January, I will have separate posts here for you to link to your reviews for the challenge and I will also host periodic prize drawings for bookish items.

    I'm going to go for the Litlover level.

    Our Mutual Read - Victorian challenge

    I imagine that this challenge - Our Mutual Read, hosted by Amanda, check out the blog for details of how to sign up - will cross over with the Chunky Books Challenge - the Victorians were nothing if not verbose! In the spirit of challenging myself, I'm going to go with Level 3 - 6 books written in the Victorian era, 6 books that are Neo-Victorian or are non-fiction.

    Here are the details:

    First off, some details: This challenge will run from January 1st, 2010 to December 31st 2010. And it is completely okay to double-dip, what you read/watch here can count on other challenges!

    How to participate: email me or leave a comment to this post and I'll add you to the blog so you can publish your reviews/updates on Our Mutual Read. Also, I'll add your blog to our participant list.

    Next, decide on what level you'd like to participate:
    ~ Level 1: 4 books, at least 2 written during 1837 - 1901. The other books may be Neo-Victorian or non-fiction.
    ~ Level 2: 8 books, at least 4 written during 1837 - 1901. The other books may be Neo-Victorian or non-fiction.
    ~ Level 3: 12 books, at least 6 written during 1837 - 1901. The other books may be Neo-Victorian or non-fiction.

    Then, determine if you are up to a mini-challenge:
    Period Film Mini-Challenge -- watch at least 6 films that take place between 1837 - 1901 (they don't necessarily have to be based on a book) and post a review.

    Short Story Mini-Challenge -- read 12 short stories written or taking place between 1837 - 1901 and post a review.

    As I said, I'm going for the Level-3 challenge, but I'm also going to be up for a Period Film Mini-Challenge. I love the Victorian era, so I'm sure that this isn't going to be a hardship - or perhaps it will? Perhaps my first read should be Hard Times...