The Island of Sheep – John Buchan

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This was a great romp of an adventure story, with a bit of falconry, a trip to Scotland and a remote island thrown in. I loved it but I know that’s mainly because it is a mix of all my favourite things so I’m not recommending you rush out and track this down!

Reading the notes on the author, John Buchan not only wrote the 39 steps but published FIVE books while at university.  This man came from a family that was not at all wealthy, attended grammar school in Glasgow and was awarded scholarships to the University of Glasgow (which is beautiful) and then to Oxford where he couldn’t even afford to dine in college – and yet he ended up Governor-general of Canada. From the way this man describes grand landscapes and being outdoors, I bet that country suited him just fine!

Found: Oxfam bookshop

Read: on the train

Felt: swept up into a good old fashioned adventure story

Would recommend: to people who like a bit of early 1900s escapism

 

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a glimpse of the University of Glasgow 

 

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The Plague – Albert Camus

 

I’ve not even finished the book yet, and I’ve filled multiple pages with incredible, insightful quotes. I’ve found it fascinating to read about an epidemic now that so many people I know work with infectious diseases, although this book is less about a town dealing with an outbreak and much more about humans dealing with each other. Camus examines how people and their relationships respond to pressure, hardship, fear and hope. In places, the book reads almost like a sermon. There is one haunting paragraph that rings so clear and true; the writing is raw and powerful and, even in translation, it still sounds like poetry. This quote:

The evil that is in the world always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence, if they lack understanding. On the whole men are more good than bad; that, however, isn’t the real point. But they are more or less ignorant, and it is this that we call vice or virtue; the most incorrigible vice being that of an ignorance which fancies it knows everything and therefore claims for itself the right to kill. The soul of the murderer is blind; and there can be no true goodness nor true love without the utmost clear-sightedness.

 

Mere Anarchy – Woody Allen

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In all honesty, I don’t know that much about Woody Allen other than some people find him funny. I love a funny book and so picked this up as an antidote to the excellent but sad book I was reading at the time. While I did find this book amusing, in a wry smile kind of way, it was also hard work. Allen’s writing is pretty laboured, full of long convoluted sentences that are very clever but in a ‘look at me I’m writing something wonderfully clever and wildly amusing’ style. I prefer the understated sort of humour that sneaks up on you and makes you laugh out loud.  Thank goodness this is a short story collection because I could only muster the required energy to wade through it in short stints. The stories were interesting, neat little jibes at the weird world we live in – often based on short news clippings. And they were really quite clever, I just wish they didn’t have to make such a laborious display of it.

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A Traveller’s Life – Eric Newby

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I am ridiculously fond of this book. It reads as if a very exciting and slightly eccentric uncle has come to stay and is sat in a battered leather armchair telling tales – each story as unexpected as the last. It is the best kind of travel writing; stuffed full of character, carting you off to places that may not even exist anymore, and never being quite sure what’s around the next bend.

Newby had a fantastic life and treats all of it as an adventure. The domestic details of growing up in London in the early 1900s are spun out with as much energy and colour as his travels abroad. It is nothing short of bizarre to find the man best known for ‘A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush’ spent a good few years of his life working in Ladies’ Fashion, and for John Lewis at that. As my own grandfather worked in a similar role in London in the 50s and 60s, it was rather touching to see this section of his life written with the same humour and energy as the more naturally exhilarating setting of crewing a tall ship across the ocean.

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Bartleby the Scrivener – Herman Melville

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This tale is narrated by a very Dickensian gentleman of Wall Street. He is self important, prejudiced, stuffy and pretentious. His world, where everyone and thing has a proper place and a proper order, is rocked by the quietest of revolutionaries. A recently hired, and presumed respectable,  Bartleby voices the phrase ‘I would prefer not to’. His polite refusal defies more than just a direct instruction but the whole construction of society. This is a display of individualism that the narrator cannot countenance. It reminded me of a child asking ‘Why?’. Rather than listening and engaging with Bartleby the man, our dear spluttering narrator tries to knock sense into him with the rule book, to no avail. Bartleby’s continual refusal to integrate and conform without reason or justification eventually leads him down a grim path. There is a lot that can be read into this, but I like the idea of someone who has stood back from everyone else burrowing through life and realised that there is no ‘must’ yet in applying this indiscriminately he opts out of more than just society but also the essentials of living.

Read: At the tail end of summer in Spoke and Stringer by Bristol’s floating harbour

Felt: it was a little dry in places but I loved the overall idea of the swathes of unease and upset caused by such a simple harmless phrase.

Would recommend: hesitantly, it is an interesting thing to have read but not the most captivating of books. In between fun ones, I’d say.

Revolutionary Road – Richard Yates 

As per usual, I had all sorts of preconcieved ideas about this book that proved to be completely wrong – if only there was a suitable book-related idiom about not judging things on appearances…

Frank and April are a married couple in 1950s America. He was meant to be ‘something’ but now works in a mundane office job he hates. She is beautiful, a trained actress and now playing the suburban wife and mother. No-one is happy. To begin with, I thought this was going to be well written but dry – from the first page I was writing down quotes in my little green book of nicely made phrases but I wasn’t really emotionally involved.

Things like:

The trouble was that from the very beginning they had been afraid they would end by making fools of themselves and they compounded that fear by being afraid to admit it.

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Infinite sky – C.F. Flood

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From: A little Bristol bookshop called Bloom and Curll that ticks all the good independent bookseller boxes – I picked this book up for the cover but was pleased to be told the author is a local!

Read: On a Sunday morning before getting out of bed – as in, I refused to get up until I’d finished it.

Felt: impressed. This had neatly avoided the standard pitfalls that can make young adult fiction hard to get into – kids were credited with enough intelligence and individuality to make them and the plot interesting. The story was told from a young girl’s view point and felt new and interesting. There was no ‘good and bad’ divide – which I really liked. Everyone felt very real.

Would recommend: as a quick read – I probably won’t re-read this book but I would definitely pick up anything else she wrote.