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Old 4th September 2006, 05:09 PM   #31 (permalink)
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Re: Other Recommendations - for the unenlightened

I am not sure how many times I re-read Lillian Beckwith's stories of her life on the Hebrides Island off the coast of Scotland.

Her 'sanenach' views of life on a 'croft' are as hilarious as the gaelic speaking crofters views of her attempts at living in similar fashion to themselve.

'The Hills Is Lonley' was the first volume of this delightful series. Where they put their 'tackety boots' on the 'feets' of the cow, to help get it out of a bog
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Old 12th September 2006, 05:15 AM   #32 (permalink)
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Re: Other Recommendations - for the unenlightened

Shadow Of The Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.

The narrator, Daniel, is the son of a Barcelona bookseller, and the novel opens with a marvelous invention: the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. It is this world that Daniel is initiated into in 1945, when he is just ten years old:
In this place, books no longer remembered by anyone, books that are lost in time, live forever, waiting for the day when they will reach a new reader's hands.
It's a fantastic place, and as Daniel's father explains to his son:
"According to tradition, the first time someone visits this place, he must choose a book, whichever he wants, and adopt it, making sure that it will never disappear, that it will always stay alive."
Daniel makes his choice, a book called The Shadow of the Wind by a Julian Carax. As it turns out, this is a special and extremely rare book. As soon as it becomes known that Daniel has a copy he gets several very generous offers for it -- but he knows his duty to the book. But, as someone has been going around for years collecting and destroying all copies of all of Carax's works, being guardian of the book isn't entirely without danger.

Daniel slowly learns the story of the author, who wrote and published several other works in the 1920s and 30s that were published in Paris and then in Barcelona. He: "lead a ghostly existence between his job as a pianist in a variety club and his disastrous career as a remarkably unsuccessful novelist."

Most traces of his life seem to have disappeared, but over the course of the novel Daniel manages to uncover quite a bit, learning bits and pieces from some of those who knew him. But for decades the shadowy figure calling himself Lain Coubert - a figure in Carax's The Shadow of the Wind
(the devil, in fact) - has been trying to eradicate the remaining traces, and especially the books that were left behind. And Coubert isn't the only sinister figure: there's also - or is it the same person ? - the novel's arch-villain, an opportunistic sadist who by the early 1950s had risen to chief inspector of the Barcelona Crime Squad, Francisco Javier Fumero, who seems unnaturally obsessed by Carax.

Daniel only slowly comes to learn the whole story - and only eventually becomes drawn into it completely. Along the way, among other things, he falls in love with a blind woman, Clara (who had also once been captivated by Carax's writing) and rescues another victim of Fumero's, Fermin Romero de Torres, who comes to work in the family bookshop -- and helps Daniel in his quest.

Daniel does get drawn into the Carax story, which is more mysterious than he could have imagined. The pieces fall into place - childhood friendships and humiliations, disappointed and discouraged love, deepest-rooted and long-lingering hatred and anger -, and conflict and confrontation are unavoidable. Several of the characters are unwilling to leave the past dead and buried, and Daniel finds himself in the middle of it all.

It's a book full of passion and revenge, unrequited love, grave disappointments, and redemption. Daniel isn't particularly heroic, but he's a sympathetic central figure, not too ambitious and very human in his failings. Fermin is a great and resourceful sidekick, and many of the other characters are well-drawn too.

At the end the book is almost an ode to books and the art of reading. And all of us who love books will in some way be able to find ourselves a part of this tale.
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Old 13th September 2006, 06:39 PM   #33 (permalink)
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Re: Other Recommendations - for the unenlightened

Check out Traci Hardings books
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Old 15th September 2006, 10:27 AM   #34 (permalink)
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Re: Other Recommendations - for the unenlightened

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tash
Check out Traci Hardings books

I agree! Very enjoyable, an easy, fun read. Try The Ancient Future first. (and Traci Harding is Australian, HUZZAH!)

As for Shadow of the Wind, it started with great promise and read a lot like an early Umberto Eco novel or something by Arturo Perez-Reverte but the closer it got to the end the more meandering and self-indulgent it got.

It did start off very nostalgic and poetically though. Very rich and pretty to read. Worth a try.
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Old 15th September 2006, 12:16 PM   #35 (permalink)
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Re: Other Recommendations - for the unenlightened

Also I forgot to recommend A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman. It is a fantastic look into all of the amazing powers of each of our five senses, how they have been used throughout history and how they change through your life time. Gives great and vivid examples.
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Old 19th September 2006, 10:30 AM   #36 (permalink)
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Re: Other Recommendations - for the unenlightened

If On A Winter's Night A Traveller by Italo Calvino.

Calvino turns the novel form on its head as he weaves in and out of personas and storylines. Chapter one of the novel starts out speaking directly to the reader, inviting you in:

You are about to begin reading Italo Calvion’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveller. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade. Best to close the door; the TV is always on in the next room. Tell the others right away, “No, I don’t want to watch TV?” Raise your voice—they won’t hear you otherwise—“I’m reading! I don’t want to be disturbed!”

Before you know it, the “you" has transformed into part of the story, by the speaker:

Perhaps you started leafing through the book already in the shop. Or were you unable to, because it was wrapped in its cocoon of cellophane? Now you are on the bus, standing in the crowd, hanging from a strap by your arm, and you begin undoing the package with your free hand, making movements something like a monkey, a monkey who wants to peel a banana and at the same time cling to the bough.

The end of chapter one finds “you”, the reader, about to begin the actual chapter “If on a winter’s night a traveller.” But following that actual chapter, the numbered chapter two returns to the narrator interrupting to speak again to the reader. Or does he? Because here, you realise the narrator is actually referring to himself as the “you”:

You have now read about thirty pages and you’re becoming caught up in the story. At a certain point you remark: This sentence sounds somehow familiar. In fact, this whole passage reads like something I’ve read before.” … Wait a minute! Look at the page number. From page 32 you’ve gone back to page 17! The printer has inadvertently inserted the same pages twice. The mistake occurred as they were binding the volume. It’s the sort of accident that occurs every now and then.

But the rest of the speaker’s book consists entirely of repeats of pages 17 through 32! The narrator must track down an original copy of the novel. However, just when he thinks he’s found it, he reads the first chapter (which you get to read as well) and it turns out to be a completely different story!

Calvino alternates between these narrator segments and the “novel beginnings” until it is clear that the “novel beginnings” are simply fictional interludes—short stories in and of themselves, interrupted always at a climactic moment—between segments of the actual story, which is of the narrator and his quest to find the original volume he began reading.

At the heart of it, this book is an inquisition into the origins of a book, its author and its reader. What makes a good story? Should the author write for his own pleasure or for the pleasure of the readers? Is there such a thing as a stupendous story? If there is one, can it be automatically churned out by a computer by dissecting the anatomy of all stories written so far?

These are the kind of questions that Calvino pursues through this most artistic creation.

And then, perhaps at the heart of this inquisition is the inquiry into personalities of both the reader and the writer. There are primarily two kinds of writers - the productive writer and the tormented writer, who are the opposite of each other in many, if not all, ways. The productive writer cranks out line after line of a growing manuscript that is deemed to be a best-seller. The tormented writer chews his fingernails, scratches his head, crumples up drafts, takes frequent breaks to fix himself a snack, copies an already written page, and ends the day by noting down decisive ideas of where he plans to take the story.

The productive writer never liked the ways of the tormented writer, but can't help feeling admiration for the tormented writer, who seems on the verge of finding that obscure but enlightening idea through his struggles. The tormented writer never liked the productive writer; he considers him no more than a clever craftsman who churns out machine-made novels catering to the taste of the public. Yet, he feels envy for the productive writer, who expresses himself with such methodical self-confidence.

In the end, the productive writer wants to write like a tormented writer, and the latter like the former. How closer to the truth can Calvino be in digging out these feelings from within us; and this comes not in the form of dense philosophy, but as another story with the most light-hearted, comical characters.

And, then, of course, there's the reader, who is the protagonist of the book. But, there are also other readers, who are also part of the story, and there are uneasy romantic relationships between these readers, and even between the writers and the readers. There is the notion of a perfect reader for whom both types of writers now want to cater to. Through these comical episodes, Calvino captures the essence of our being --- our quest to attain what we don't possess.

This is captured most lyrically in a short repartee between the productive writer and one of his visitors. The productive writer says to a visitor:
With my spyglass I can observe a woman who is reading on a terrace in the valley. I wonder if the books she reads are calming or upsetting..
How does the woman seem to you? Calm or upset?, asks the visitor.
Calm..
Then she is reading upsetting books..


This is a story about the creation of a story. It is also a story about the life of the story after it has been created. It is also a story about the readers of the story, about the politicians who may censor a story, about the revolutionaries who fight these politicians, and about the counter-revolutionaries who fight the revolutionaries.

But, it is also a story that contains a string of short (albeit incomplete) stories. Calvino manages to meld these seemingly unrelated ideas, to produce a work of art that is poetic, lyrical, profound and comical all at the same time. And the story does have a perfect ending; perhaps that is the only ending that would do justice to the rest of the book.

I found myself smiling and laughing aloud throughout as Calvino’s prose dives, curls back on itself, turns and soars.
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Old 19th September 2006, 10:38 AM   #37 (permalink)
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Re: Other Recommendations - for the unenlightened

Well, I've ordered this one held at the library (thank goodness for online services!)... Again, an excellent review of what sounds a challenging and well-written work. Thanks for the head's up on these, as they are not necessarily the sort of thing I'd have come across on my own. Keep it up, Nesa; your reviews are always a joy to read!
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Old 19th September 2006, 03:04 PM   #38 (permalink)
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Re: Other Recommendations - for the unenlightened

It seems like a very interesting book, Nesacat! I'll write it down on my to-read-list.
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Old 19th September 2006, 03:20 PM   #39 (permalink)
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Re: Other Recommendations - for the unenlightened

Yeah, melikes the sound of this one.
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Old 21st September 2006, 09:27 AM   #40 (permalink)
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Re: Other Recommendations - for the unenlightened

Reef by Romesh Gunesekera

For me this book brought back a lot of memories. My grandparents came to Malaysia from Sri Lanka fleeing the troubles. They wanted more than anything to be able to go back there. I'd seen the country change and much that my family loved and treasured destroyed.

It was a painful journey when I went there with my parents in 2004. We were there when the tsunami struck the island. We'd gone to Jaffna and a part of me was glad that my grandparents had not lived to see what had happened.

It's a slim volume, less than 200 pages, written with such love and affection that it's almost poetry. It tells the story of a Sri Lankan servant Triton and his employer, Ranjan Salgado, a compassionate man obsessed by the destruction of coral reefs and with Nili, the woman he loves.

Only a youth when he enters Salgado's home, Triton acquires far more than cooking and cleaning skills. Over the course of many years together, Salgado and Triton witness the growing political turmoil and unrest of their island nation, and Triton observes, emulates, and finally parts company with the man who has nurtured his budding intellect and inherent potential.

Absolutely nothing happens in the book. Triton comes to the house and stays there, doing his work until one day they leave for England. Triton's life is simple. There is the house to look after, the cooking to be done and Salgado, an ordinary man, but what poetry there is in this world, this simple home with the shadow of dark times gathering in the lanes just outside and the shadows that each man casts in his soul. There are long passages devoted to cooking. There are haunting references to the impending bloodbath in Sri Lanka.

As Triton gets older and acquires more and more household responsibilities, Gunesekera reveals a character of unwavering conscientiousness whose personal devotion to Salgado, a marine geologist studying off-shore reefs, and admiration for Salgado's intellectual accomplishments are absolute. His pride in Salgado clearly reflects a degree of vicarious participation in Salgado's achievements, though he remains in his "place."

Reef is not just a story, it is a delicate allegory of the small changes which can bring cataclysmic results to a society, just as the coral reef which Salgado studies is "very delicate. It has survived aeons, but even a small change in the immediate environment...could kill it."

When Salgado falls madly in love with Nili and spends more and more time with her, I thought it was a relatively small change. But as he becomes noticeably more self-centered and less altruistic, I wondered whether the "whole thing will go" -whether the structured world as Triton knows it will collapse. In addition to the complications represented by Nili, political movements inspired by other countries rapidly become more aggressive in Sri Lanka, and other "small changes in the immediate environment" begin for Triton.

The prose shimmers with the light of the tropics and the scent of flowers and I was absorbed into the Sri Lankan jungle and sea, watching as the outside world propels along the small changes which may devour everything - the jungle, the sea, and the cultural fabric of which they have all been part for eons.

As I read the book I like Triton and Salgado, yearned for peace and hoped that the changes would not spell disaster. I hoped for the "twilight, when the forces of darkness and the forces of light are evenly matched and in balance and there is nothing to fear. No demons, no troubles, no carrion. An elephant swaying to a music of its own."

In the end, this book is all about the writing.

j.d, kettricken, karsa ... it's one of the most intriguing books. Draws you into this intricate maze and you never want to get out. I hope you like If On A Winter's Night A Traveller ... I must admit it was frustrating at parts but at the same time I really wanted to see where the tale would turn next.
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Old 21st September 2006, 09:39 AM   #41 (permalink)
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Re: Other Recommendations - for the unenlightened

Well, what you'd already said elsewhere got my curiosity up, so I've ordered a copy of this... sounds lovely, and I look forward to reading it. I'll be sure to let you know what I think....
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Old 21st September 2006, 09:50 AM   #42 (permalink)
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Re: Other Recommendations - for the unenlightened

If for nothing else it's got the most intriguing recipes and shows how the smallest things can make the biggest difference and that perhaps all we can do is live the best that we can with the time that we have. ... yes it does sound like Tolkien a little.
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Old 21st September 2006, 10:14 AM   #43 (permalink)
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Re: Other Recommendations - for the unenlightened

You want a job as my PA for doing book reviews Nesa?...
That's a very neat summary of the book and main themes, well done. I think this book is the kind of read that is very easy to loose oneself in, which is paradoxical when one considers a particular premise of this story suggests that reading is never a valid avenue to "escapism" as life's trials are never far away from the door. As usual Calvino's prose is both rich and considered, and makes this work possibly his greatest.

Apparently upon his death in 1985, the Guradian quoted him as "Italy's greatest writer of the 20th Century", and Yes he's liklely one of them as I'm sure now authors of the ilk of Umberto Eco amongst others may have a claim to that particular title.

@JD You mean you've not read Italo Calvino? *Shock shudder*.. Reading Calvino is a worthwhile exercise let me tell you, especially this novel and his Invisible Cities.
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Old 21st September 2006, 10:25 AM   #44 (permalink)
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Re: Other Recommendations - for the unenlightened

Quote:
Originally Posted by GOLLUM
@JD You mean you've not read Italo Calvino? *Shock shudder*.. Reading Calvino is a worthwhile exercise let me tell you, especially this novel and his Invisible Cities.
Not yet... but it's ready for me to pick up at the library, so soon... I hope.
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Old 21st September 2006, 10:36 AM   #45 (permalink)
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Re: Other Recommendations - for the unenlightened

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Not yet... but it's ready for me to pick up at the library, so soon... I hope.
I assume you mean "Traveller". Invisible Cities is a bit of a surrreal trip through a series of imagined cities written in a contemplative narrative provided by Marco Polo at the court of Kubli Khan. Calvino's prose is wonderful here, IMO on a par with M. John Harrison at his best if you've read any of his stuff before. If not try his tour de force Viriconium.

Last edited by GOLLUM; 21st September 2006 at 11:47 AM.
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