BBC Big Read #183 – the power of one – Bryce Courtney

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Publication Date: February 21st 1989

Publisher: Heinemann (Australia) Random House (USA)

Disposition

American Girl:

I have been really excited to start this book ever since we picked it up at our favorite used bookstore.  I have never heard of it before, but I liked the cover (not that you should judge a book by it’s cover), and the quote from the New York Times on the front sucked me right in. 

“The Power of One has everything: suspense, the exotic, violence, mysticism, psychology and magic; schoolboy adventures, drama.”

After reading a string of unusual books I was really ready for a good story. I want to be entertained, and this book seems to have all the potential to get me hooked.

Brit Boy:

I am a little bit more reticent about this book, I am not as taken with the cover as you American Girl and it sounds a bit too much like a self-help / spiritual book which isn’t really my thing. However I have been wrong in the past about our list, with books being a lot better (and worse) than I was expecting. Let the journey into South Africa commence…

Editorial

Luckily, I was able to get into this book within the first few pages.  It is a very easy read and I never struggled with the dialect or in understanding what was going on.  This book takes place in 1939, while Hitler is in rule and apartheid is just beginning in South Africa. It is told from a young boy’s (Peekay’s) perspective.  Due to all of this, I always had a feeling of impending doom while reading the novel.  Surely nothing good would happen to this boy during this tumultuous time??  I quickly realized though, that it was not that type of book.  If you want to hear about the horrors of Hitler and apartheid, this is not your book.  Instead, this is a book of resilience, a book of hope, a book of the “power of one”.

I too found myself instantly sucked into this epic story, I think maybe a bit more than the previous owner of the book ‘Tara Scully’, obviously a book used for college or high school she only managed to annotate the first 4 pages before giving up. The book was a very easy read and although it took me a while to read from beginning to end I never felt it was an effort to pick up and be instantly drawn back into the story. I also felt that this was going down a path whereby bad things would happen to our likable antagonist, however even though it wasn’t plain sailing the unerring level of positivity oozed out of the pages. This was a very spiritual book which I actually connected with and rather than being tedious or unduly quirky it was a very very good read.

For me I enjoyed the historical exposure to apartheid, even if it was only a backdrop to the novel.  Brit Boy seems to know a lot more about apartheid, and I don’t know if this is a difference in U.S. vs U.K. history class, or if I just missed it in my classes…  Regardless, the older I get, the larger thirst I have for knowledge.  I don’t want to be naïve with what is going on and with what has happened in our world, so I love the further exposure to these issues that seemed to have somehow missed my education. I would be interested in reading more books centered around this topic in the future.

Originally part of the British Empire and now part of the commonwealth South Africa has always been a part of the world I was aware of. Especially growing up in the 80’s, the plight of Nelson Mandela languishing in prison and his subsequent release was always well publicized on UK TV. The backdrop of apartheid always being heavily reported at the same time. His plight was also captured in several pop songs of my childhood. The two which instantly spring to mind are ‘Mandela Day’ by Simple Minds

and ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ by The Special AKA.

Anyway, back to The Power of One… The book encompasses the vast majority of Peekay’s life over many decades.  As such it is broken into three distinct “books”.  While I enjoyed each “book” it always took me a little while to get back into it when the story would shift to the next “book”.  One intrinsic quality that was sewn through the entire story is Peekay’s ability to not only survive but also to positively impact the lives of all those around him.  Even though the book is fiction it is hard not to be inspired by Peekay.

Peekay is very definitely an inspiration and I did warm to the character instantly, I loved the way that he positively touched everyone he met, and despite the trials and tribulations which affected his life his upbeat attitude and good nature shone through. This book did feel autobiographical in nature and it was so well written I had to stop myself from looking him up several times on the web. The characterization was brilliant and I cared about what happened to all the characters whether good or bad.

“I had come to identify with my camouflage to the point where the masquerade had become more important than the truth.  While this posturing was so finely tuned it was no longer deliberate, it had nevertheless been born out of a compulsion to hide.  As a small child I had discovered that only two places are available to those who wish to remain concealed. The choices are to be a nonentity or an exception.  You either disappear into a plebian background or move forward to where most others fear to follow.”

I will admit the book wasn’t a true page-turner for me.  A large portion of the book was focused on boxing, which is a foreign concept to me.  While I have a greater respect for boxers after reading this book I still could’ve used with a little less of it throughout the story.  I didn’t realize until well into the story that boxing would play such an integral part of the plot.  (Ironically, Mohammed Ali died while I was in the middle of reading this book so from that point on I thought of Mr. Ali whenever I ready about Peekay and his boxing adventures.)

Now this is where we differ….. I loved the boxing aspect of the book, the fights had enough description for you to feel part of the action but not enough to be too long or monotonous. The book was a true page turner for me but I just didn’t find enough time to do this book justice. I was always ready to keep reading whenever a picked it up, time just wasn’t on my side.

I would strongly recommend this book, one of the best on the list so far, and will likely read it again at some point in the future. This definitely is deserving of a place on our list maybe higher than its number suggests. I just hope that Tara Scully stuck with it until the end as she will have definitely missed out if she didn’t. Next stop a real British classic……

Overall, I thought this was worth the read.  I don’t think it will stick with me forever but mainly because I never identified fully with any of the characters.  However, we could all learn something from Peekay and his outlook on life.  That piece did resonate with me.  For this, and the historical undertone of the story, I definitely think this deserves a spot on this list.

“The power of one is above all things the power to believe in yourself, often well beyond any latent ability you may have previously demonstrated.”

Its worth noting that this was made into a movie in 1992 starring Morgan Freeman as Geel Piet, maybe this is worth viewing for our other Blog, American Girl?

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BBC Big Read #184 – Silas Marner – George Eliot

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Publication Date: 1861

Publisher: William Blackwood and Sons

Disposition

American Girl:

This is yet another book on the list which I have never heard of.  This is a smaller read; my copy weighs in at only around 180 pages.  The description on the back of the book is only a few small sentences so it does not give much to go on.  However, it seems very similar to “Heidi”, which I surprisingly enjoyed, so I am looking forward to this quick read.  After the treachery of “American Psycho” a lighthearted book is probably just what I need!

Brit Boy:

I have heard of the book, and I think I saw a kids tv series when I was growing up which was a dramatization of this novel. Funnily enough it was called ‘Silas’, I wonder whether our good old friend youtube has anything which I can share with American Girl.

Wow, that brings back memories… Again its imported TV (like Heidi) which was dubbed into English, I spent many a Saturday morning watching this.

Editorial

I think this was a great little novel!  I was never on the edge of my seat by any means, but there was enough happening to keep me interested throughout.  The author doesn’t bore you with an abundance of detail, but still manages to paint a good picture of the characters involved and the overall setting.  The reader never knows exactly where this story is based, yet I feel it could have almost been any small town/village, in any country, which made it very relatable.

I totally agree, I did really enjoy this novel but for some reason it took me a loooong time to read it, I was never particularly bored or unmotivated it just never thoroughly gripped me. The characterization was great and it was lovely to have another novel set in rural England. I’m not sure whether that is something American Girl relishes anymore being stuck with me 24/7 but at least the wording was straightforward this time 🙂

The entire novel is centered on our title character, Silas Marner, and while short it still seems to encompass the better part of Marner’s life, spanning about 35 years.  Eliot is very concise at providing a picture of who Silas Marner is, and what his motivations are.  More times than not he seems to become the victim to his surroundings, and subsequently becomes quite a miserable man.  However, through it all Marner must maintain hope because when an opportunity for happiness presents itself, he accepts it with open arms (literally). 

The gold had asked that he should sit weaving longer and longer, deafened and blinded more and more to all things except the monotony of his loom and the repetition of his web; but Eppie called him away from his weaving, and made him think all its pauses a holiday, reawakening his senses with her fresh lift, even to the old winter-flies that came crawling forth in the early spring sunshine, and warming him into joy because SHE had joy.”

Silas Marner who was nothing to do with my youthful remembering might I add, was a very likable character even though as American Girl stated above he did fall victim to his surroundings. He is the type of character whom life just seems to either take advantage of, or deal a particularly bad hand at times.

I must admit that when I was about halfway through the book, I had a short period of annoyance.  I felt the story line was constantly jumping, and new characters were continuously being introduced.  It is difficult to keep it all straight when so many characters are thrown at you in just a short book, especially when read over multiple sittings.  However, everything seemed to just suddenly tick right into place.  It made me realize how well thought out the story was.  At the moment the pieces all fit together I was completely engaged in the story and plowed through the last bit.  Eliot really does have a gift for storytelling.

American Girl, with hindsight maybe I just hit the roadblocks which you have mentioned at the wrong time and rather than pushing on as you managed to do, I put the book down a little too frequently. Nevertheless I do look back on this book with fondness and I may be tempted to pick it up once again with a new found vigor, although given my tardiness for the blog of late I may be in my dotage by then. 🙂

I really did enjoy this story.  It conveys a timeless message of hope and love.  It was refreshing to read a book of such simplicity, and while there were trials and tribulations throughout, there was always a sense that good would prevail.  In fact the simple quote which is scrolled across the cover of my copy (and what initially drew me in to this story), sums up the novel beautifully.  No matter how miserable you are, it is never impossible for life to turn in your favor….

Kindness fell on him as sunshine falls on the wretched.”

I definitely think this book deserves a spot on the list, I would happily recommend this book to anyone seeking a little bright spot in their lives.  It serves as a very good reminder that wrongs can be put right, and to never give up.

I totally agree. It’s interesting to note that George Eliot was the male pen name for Mary Anne Evans,  she chose to do this so that her works would be taken seriously, as women authors of the time were known for their light-hearted romances and not serious works of fiction.

 

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BBC Big Read #185 – American Psycho – Bret Easton Ellis

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Publication Date: 1991

Publisher: Vintage Books

ISBN: 978-0-679-73577-9

Disposition

American Girl:

I do not have many feelings for or against this next selection on our list.  I have heard of the movie starring Christian Bale, and I think I saw it but have little recollection of the movie (if any).  Regardless, I use to be a fan of true crime novels in my younger years, and after the chore of Trainspotting I am looking forward to a completely different style of novel.

Brit Boy:

Once again our list throws us a curve ball (like my American quote??), and we have a totally different genre and type of literature from our list. I have heard about the film and how it is fairly graphic in its portrayal of the actual crimes, but beyond that I don’t know anything else. You’re more knowledgeable than I on this one American Girl as I didn’t even know Christian Bale was the lead.

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Editorial

Let me just start by saying that I consider it to be a huge accomplishment that I actually finished this novel. Many times I set it down convinced I would not pick it up again. The only thing that pushed me through to the end was the fact that Brit Boy had finished it and I wanted to be able to have a complete discussion with him on the novel (and ending), which would have otherwise been impossible.

I’m really glad that I provided the impetus for you to finish this American Girl, it would have been such a shame if you’d fallen at the final hurdle. However you have given me the final push on some of our subsequent books so its only fair that I helped you, its very definitely a massive bonus of us embarking on this journey together. I have to admit though, there were times when I struggled to read on, especially early in the book. It was very difficult to get passed the interminable catalogue of product placement which filled many of the pages. I really don’t think it added to the book, until I figured out that we were party to the rambling thoughts of our psychotic main character Patrick Bateman, with everyone and everything being analyzed.

This book has so many different facets to it, none of which I enjoyed.  First, there are the parts that attempt to depict the typical “yuppie” lifestyle of the 90’s.  Which includes a constant barrage of brand names, restaurant reviews, and mediocre conversation between young men constantly discussing their superiority to women and their peers.   Next, is the complete and total psychosis of our lead, Patrick Bateman, in which he brutally and descriptively murders, mutilates, and tortures women showing no sense of humanity.  Finally, scattered amongst this mess are random and complete album reviews, which I still do not understand had anything to do with the book at all.

I’d forgotten about the album reviews….. it was completely random and I guess its not until you look back on the book do you realise how out of place they are in the book as a whole. In fact they generally came after something particularly nasty or dark. Maybe it was to lighten up the novel…? I’m not so sure.

This book is regularly described as a satire, but I failed to find any humor in it. I feel this book is completely derogatory towards women in the worse ways possible. Even in the parts where Bateman is not murdering the women in his life, he is constantly referring to them as “hardbodies”, and is a constant philanderer. I guess the book did its part in the sense that it will stick with me. I will forever have terrible images in my head of the brutal torture of women being nailed to a floor, raped, dissected, all while still alive (and honestly, these are the LESS gruesome parts of some of the murders depicted in this story, other things I will not even bare to repeat).

You’re right American Girl there was absolutely no satire in this book, no rye smiles crossed my face, no slight chuckles, I was aghast in places, horrified and sickened in others. Satire suggests some form of entertainment, and this certainly wasn’t.

This book has drawn a lot of controversy, being banned in many countries, or at the least only sold to adults over the age of 18. A notorious serial rapist from Canada “Paul Bernardo”; called this book his “bible” (Wikipedia). Throughout the story Brit Boy and I had regular conversations with each other regarding how crazy Bret Easton Ellis must be in order to “make up” the horrendous attacks that are portrayed in this novel.

I wasn’t aware that this was held in high esteem by real-life psychopaths, it makes you wonder whether in this case the book should have continued to be banned. I’m not sure what it has to offer as a piece of literature, as its not entertaining, and not even really that thought provoking. The attacks are sick, mindless and horrific and as stated above can’t have been created by someone with “normal”  thought processes, Bret Easton Ellis cannot be completely stable him self.

Honestly, I would not recommend this book to anyone.  It is horrible.  The ending was horrible.  It is completely violent and degrading towards women.  The only thing that was slightly interesting about this book was that it did create a “time capsule” for what life would have been like for the rich in the late 1980’s (barring the constant killing).  I will probably have nightmares around this book for years to come.  I do not think this book deserves a spot on the list. The book could have accomplished all it was meant to without the complete brutality.  Nothing was held sacred in this book, children were murdered, animals murdered, women murdered.  Women were raped, tortured, and cannibalized.  There is enough murder of this degree in the world that it doesn’t need to be made up as well.  Writing about a real life serial killer would have been sufficient.  I do not think making a mockery of killing women should ever be considered a “satire”.

I agree this book doesn’t deserve a place on the list, and I can only think it mads its way on here because of its notoriety. This isn’t a book I will read again, and I certainly didn’t gain any pleasure from reading it. That being said I am glad I persevered till the end and it does give me another view on the diversity of “literature” (a term I use in the loosest sense of the word for this book). I would also not recommend this book to anyone and I am also wondering whether it actually deserves a place on our bookshelf, I certainly do not what any of the kids picking it up. This was very much a case of one book down on the list, I do hope that the next one has something to offer…. this list is never dull!!

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BBC Big Read #186 – The Diary of a Nobody – George and Weedon Grossmith

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Publication Date: 1892

Publisher: J. W. Arrowsmith Ltd,  London

Disposition

American Girl:

This book is completely new to me.  I have never heard of it or the author.  Brit Boy and I both have different versions of this book (found at our favorite used book store), and I must say neither looks inviting!  The back cover states this title created a “cultural icon” and “English archetype”, yet when I asked Brit Boy about it he’d never heard of it either (which doesn’t really give me much faith in the book since as I am sure you have guessed, Brit Boy is from Britain).  Regardless, at least it is a short book, my copy weighing in at only 143 pages (including a glossary and illustrations!), so it should be a fast read.

Brit Boy:

Well first let me say that just because I’m from the UK it doesn’t mean I know everything (well most things… teehee), and no I didn’t live next door to the Queen or know that person you met on holiday in 1994…. Ok seriously, this is a book which I have not heard of at all but the main character’s name did sound familiar, however I could be convincing myself that I know more than memories allow. I agree that the diary format and the short number of pages does feel like a quick read, we’ll have to wait and see.

Editorial

This book is a very simple journal written by “Charles Pooter”.  The only facet of this book that intrigued me, was that it seemed to be the real life ramblings of an Englishman. I always just assumed it was the author’s actual journal, however, it just occurs to me now that it is all Fiction because “George Grossmith” is clearly not the same person as “Charles Pooter”!  You would think if it were Fiction, it could have at least been interesting…

Well American Girl this is where I do disagree with you, I did find it interesting in a quaint English way. Ok so there weren’t any murders, affairs or street brawls but I do see now why it is considered an English classic as it does a brilliant job of capturing the middle-class characteristics of the time. In Charles Pooter reminds me of the character Victor Meldrew from the UK Sit-com “One Foot in The Grave”. Maybe he has influenced a lot more fictional characters than I had realized. I’ve added one of the funniest moments (in my opinion in a British Sitcom for your perusal).

To me Mr. Pooter seemed a clumsy, ignorant, whiner.  He never stood up for his son or family, he was constantly critiquing every person he encountered in his life, complaining all along the way… If this created an “archetype” for Britain I am forever grateful Brit Boy didn’t follow suit, because otherwise we may not be married right now.  Perhaps I am being too harsh on the story, maybe since this followed “Trainspotting” (another book with a large amount of ramblings), I just was not in the mood.  It took me about ten sittings to finish this book, because each time I went to read it, I could feel my eyes roll up into my head seeking sleep as an escape.

How harsh!!! You really didn’t like this book did you, it wasn’t as bad as you are suggesting, although I must admit that it did take me much longer to finish this book than you. I do struggle to understand why it took me so long, I found it interesting in points but I guess with it being diary format I found it too easy to dip in and out of, as all of the chapters were independent of each other (being a diary). This was originally serialized in “Punch Magazine” which was an incredibly influential satirical magazine of the time. Maybe this serialization was why I only read a few chapters a week in small sittings. It may also be why you found it tedious when you tried to finish it all in one go.

In the beginning I found a few instances to be humorous, but as the journal dragged on I just wanted it all to stop.  I didn’t care about all of Pooter’s complaints and peculiarities, or dinner parties, or how the color was washed out of his handkerchiefs, or even the entire section devoted to “Spiritual Séances’”.  It also drove me crazy that the beginning of each “journal entry” included a sentence that summarized everything I was about to read!  (After looking at Brit Boy’s copy of the book, I notice his version does not do this.  Maybe that will have made it a more enjoyable read for him.) I can honestly say, that if I had just read these few “spoilers” I would have gathered all there was to gather from this book.  The rest was just gibberish.

You’re right there was not much in each chapter beyond the synopsis at the front, however I’m glad that I took the time to struggle through, as there were a few gems, all be it not a bulging treasure chest, but enough to make it a worthwhile read.

Anyway, in short I do not feel that this book deserves a spot on the list.  How Charles Pooter created a “cultural icon” baffles me.  There was nothing original about him.  This is the first book on the list that I feel completely wasted my time.  I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.  I am eagerly awaiting the next read on our list with “American Psycho”, and it was probably the only thing pushing me to finish “The Diary of a Nobody”.  I am ready to finally dive back into an actual story, hopefully with a beginning, middle, and an end. A climax somewhere in there would be great too, but lately that seems to be asking a lot.

So I must disagree again, I do think this deserves a spot on the list, but only because of its historical significance and the origins in Punch Magazine. It captures a time and world which is totally alien to us now, which I think this lead to your disconnect with the characters and story. Also if we look at some of the books which we have reviewed so far, it certainly is more deserving than “Flowers in the Attic” or “Goosebumps”. This continues to be an interesting project as we just don’t know what to expect, and our surprise with each book is both positive and negative, long may it continue.

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BBC Big Read #187 – Trainspotting – Irvine Walsh

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Publication Date: 1993

Publisher: Secker and Warburg

ISBN: 0-7493-9606-7

Disposition

American Girl:

I saw the movie ages ago and I remember nothing about it, except the horrible toilet scene (if you have watched the movie I am sure you know just what I am talking about).  However, I didn’t even realize it was based on a book until I saw this list.  Initially I had no preconceived notions about this book except for the fact it’s based on the lives of a group of drug addicts.  However, I thumbed through a few of the pages and saw that it is written almost entirely in a Scottish accent!  350 pages of a drug addicted Scottish accent…. This could be interesting…

Brit Boy:

I too saw the film when it first came out, whilst at University in Liverpool, one of the big attractions for me was because of the director Danny Boyle. A couple of years earlier he had released a tremendous film called Shallow Grave, (I do hope that made it onto our IMDB Top 250 list). Anyway I digress, the film itself I remember very little about and ended up being a disappointment when compared to its superior predecessor, I too only remember the infamous toilet scene and a disturbing pub scene involving the very unlikeable Begbie. However I pick this book up with a new energy and 18 years of additional life experience, lets see where it takes me……

Editorial

I am not joking when I say that reading this book is like learning a foreign language by immersion. Half way down on the first page I ran into this paragraph:

“Ah wanted the radge tae jist fuck off ootay my visage, tae go oan his ain, n jist leave us wi Jean-Claude. Oan the other hand, ah’d be gitting sick tae before long, and it that cunt went n scored, he’d haud oot oan us. They call um Sick Boy, no because he’s eywis sick wi junk withdrawal, but because he’s one sick cunt.”

Luckily, I found a glossary at the back of the book and look up about 10 words, only two of which that were actually included. I quickly realize I will never understand this book in entirety and become content when I am actually able to make out every third or fourth word, piecing together the gaps intuitively. This will be an interesting review because I am certain I have missed a lot of the subtleties of the story.

That is certainly a very interesting point American Girl, having an experience of the Scottish accent I found myself reading the book in one of two very different ways. The first I can only be described as complete translation, I have some European language experience but I am by no means fluent, however this book gave me the closest experience I have ever had to being fluent in another language. I found myself reading the text and immediately translating it into English which was most disturbing for me as I didn’t know my brain could work like that. The second, I found myself reading the text in a Scottish accent, with some hidden Scot narrating the story like a book on tape also some what perturbing.

I didn’t read this book in one or even two sittings it was more sporadic than that and I found that the heavy dialect soaked text meant that it always took me two or three pages to get back into the swing of things.

An interesting facet of this book is that each chapter could be a standalone short story; in fact many of these “chapters” have appeared singularly in a variety of publications. While a lot of the characters are consistent in the book, the chapters did not necessarily string together cohesively. With each chapter I would start off reading with no idea what was happening, but somehow by the end of the chapter I seemed to understand. Some were funny, some were sad, some were very disturbing and made me want to quit reading the book entirely.

The chapter format of the book certainly helped my haphazard reading of it, and I must say kept my attention more than I expected, because each chapter lived or died on its own merits. This meant that a particularly boring or disturbing chapter was quickly followed by something with a comical tinge. I did however struggle with the epic “Game of Thrones” like cast, maybe I just failed to link the same characters together as they all were referred to by three or four different names, but it was difficult to keep track and translate at the same time.

One thing I struggled with recurrently throughout this book was trying to understand if it was pro or anti drug use. After completing the book all I can say is it is neither. It is merely a story (well many stories) of experiences either doing drugs or being around those who are doing drugs. Having never done Heroin myself (with no desire to), I often found myself wondering how so many people would throw their lives away for this substance. Eighty-nine pages into the story, “Rents”, one of the main recurring characters describes what it is like to use “smack”.

“It kinday makes things seem mair real tae us. Life’s boring and futile. We start oaf wi high hopes, then we bottle it. We realise that we’re aw gunnae die, withoot really findin oot the big answers. We develop aw they long-winded ideas which jist interpret the reality ay oor lives in different weys, withoot really extending oor body ay worthwhile knowledge, about the big things, the real things. Basically, we live a short, disappointing life, and then we die. We fill up oor lives wi shite, things like careers and relationships tae delude oorsels that it isnae aw totally pointless. Smack’s an honest drug, because it strips away these delusions. Wi smack, whin ye feel good, ye feel immortal. Whin ye feel bad, it intensifies the shite that’s already there. It’s the only really honest drug. It doesnae alter yir consciousness. It just gies ye a hit and a sense ay well-being. Eftir that, ye see the misery ay the world as it is, and ye cannae anaesthethise yirself against it.”

After reading this, it kinda suddenly made more sense to me. I just had that “a-ha” moment. An escape from the futility of life, the mundane of the 9-5…. We all look for that on occasion whether with a glass of wine, vacation, etc…. If you could have a complete release from it all, it would be tempting. Granted it also made me VERY thankful I never touched the stuff, even during my more rebellious years. Because once you have that escape, it would be very hard to face the reality and harshness that life entails.

One thing that this book does touch on regularly is trying to get clean. A lot of the getting clean process seems to be around the first decision of trying to become clean. In one chapter Rents discusses his inner turmoil with deciding to become clean and the pressures of society.

“Suppose that ah ken aw the pros and cons, know that ah’m gaunnae huv a short life, am ay sound mind etcetera, etcetera, but still want to use smack? They won’t let ye dae it. They won’t let ye dae it, because it’s seen as a sign ay thir ain failure. The fact that ye jist simply choose tae reject whit they huv tae offer. Choose us. Choose life. Choose mortgage payments; choose washing machines; choose cars; choose sitting oan a couch watching mind-numbing and spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fuckin junk food intae yir mooth. Choose rotting away, pishing and shiteing yersel in a home, a total fuckin embarrassment tae the selfish fucked-up brats ye’ve produced. Choose life.”

I totally agree I think this book is very definitely a warts and all view of drug use in the early nineties, I don’t think it glamorized or vilified drug use, it just narrated. The quote you’ve used above also stuck out to me but more because of its use in the soundtrack, it was used in a great track by PF Project which featured Ewan McGregor:

This book gave me a different perspective on life that I have never had before. While I still do not agree with drug use, I can almost understand how it can take over a life. I cannot say I enjoyed this book, but after having finished it I know with certainty it will stick with me. I have already pondered this story more than any of the other books on the list to this point. It will be an interesting perspective to watch the movie for our IMDB movie list in the future.

I also have many of the chapters themes and incidents heavily imprinted on my mind and I think it definitely serves as a thought-provoker, not necessarily because we will find ourselves in the same situations as Rents and his associates but more as “Thank God” our life will never be as bad as theirs despite the lows we feel we find ourselves in. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and although I probably won’t pick this up for some time it certainly deserves a place on our list. Thank you BBC Big Read public for continuing to stretch and educate me with every book, on to the next one.

I definitely think this book deserves a spot on the list. It is completely unusual and I know that I will never read anything like it again. Irvine Welsh is also a linguistic genius. Figuring out how to spell an accent is amazing, and I feel like I could speak “Scottish” after reading this story!

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BBC Big Read #188 – Welcome To Dead House – R.L. Stine

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Publication Date: 1992

Publisher: Scholastic

ISBN: 0-590-45365-3

Disposition

American Girl:

My kids love the Goosebumps show, and I have seen this series floating around their classrooms and book order catalogs for years.  Occasionally when they have been watching the TV show I would get sucked into the quick “ghost story” episodes.  All of that being said, I have never been interested in reading the series myself, and probably wouldn’t have without the impetus of our blog.  When I first brought this book home, the next day I couldn’t find it on my counter where I had left it.  I later found it in my seven year old son’s room with a bookmark at the halfway point.  Apparently he saw it on the counter, assumed it was for him, and snuck off to his beanbag chair to read it.  Even though I may not have been initially interested in reading this title, I am looking forward to an easy read, and quick “check” on our list.

Brit Boy:

I whole-heartedly agree American Girl, I’ve flicked through this already and it doesn’t seem too taxing and will hopefully result in 2 books blogged in 2 weeks which I don’t think has happened since the Hungry Caterpillar all those years ago.

Editorial:

This book was a very easy read, and definitely geared for the 8-10 year old age set.  While I was never on the edge of my seat with suspense, I did find myself entertained.  Due to time constraints with my schedule I was unable to read it in one sitting, and I actually found myself looking forward to picking it up the next day.  Granted, I am not sure if that is because I was thoroughly vested in the story, or merely because I was excited to get it done so that I could move onto a more challenging novel on our list.

I managed to read this in one sitting on a flight to Portland, it is absolutely a kids book aimed specifically at kids. I did enjoy reading this but I didn’t feel that I got anything out of it. I’ve read quite a few kids books as an adult, including the excellent Roald Dahl and C.S Lewis to list but two. In these cases I was absorbed and thoroughly sucked into the story and liked the characters, with this it wasn’t the case.

The characters were simple and very to the point.  I did find it refreshing that the protagonist was a female.  So many books with a female protagonist are clearly written for “girls” with their girly story lines, and glittery covers.  However, this book could definitely be enjoyed by both boys and girls, kudos to R.L. Stine for not falling into gender stereotypes.

That’s an excellent point, do you think R.L Stine is female? I had assumed it was a man but I’m going to have to find out now, maybe we have just fallen for gender stereotyping ourselves…. Ok without much digging I found out R.L.Stine is male and happens to be 71 years old, something I definitely wasn’t expecting.

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Ironically of all of the characters in the story I most related to the dog Petey (not really sure what that says about me).  The parents seemed disinterested, and being 36 I found it difficult to relate to the 12 year old Amanda and her brother Josh.  Petey seemed to be the only character that really seemed to have any clue about what was actually going on.

I was drawn to the Dog also, maybe it was the way it was written, or also lack of empathy on my part.

In all it was a decent book.  I think it was worth the read even if only to know what sorts of things my kids are reading.  At least it will be something else to talk to my son about instead of just MineCraft.  I don’t really understand why this title is on the BBC Big Read list, perhaps Brit Boy will have more insight. 

I agree American Girl it was an overall decent read, I won’t be re-reading it soon but don’t feel I wasted my time in doing so. My feeling is that it made the list because of its place in the kids genre, and the popularity of the author. Stine has sold more than 400 million copies as of 2008 and has been referred to as the Stephen King of children literature. I think he really opened the door to the horror genre for kids, something which you wouldn’t instantly think would work. In this case I feel it does, Stine using the right level of tension and frights for the audience. Well next on the list is Trainspotting, quite a switch but one of the reasons I absolutely love this list.

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BBC Big Read #189 – Heidi – Johanna Spyri

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Publication Date: 1880

Disposition

Brit Boy:

I am really looking forward to reading this book after the hard slog which was Sons and Lovers. Although I haven’t read this book before I remember parts of the story fondly from a tv adaption of the book which played at weekends whilst I was growing up. I still to this day remember the theme tune. I wonder whether I can find a clip on YouTube… It’s amazing the nostalgia that can be created reading the books on this list, I am so thankful we started this American Girl, with every book, whether I’ve read it before or not giving me a fresh perspective.

American Girl:

I have never read Heidi before, and whenever I think of Heidi all I picture is a Swiss girl in the mountains with pigtail braids surrounded by sheep.  I literally don’t know anything about Heidi beyond this simple image.  The story must be famous however if this image has managed to survive through the generations.  I am excited to read Heidi especially after the lengthy Sons and Lovers.  A simple children’s story is just what I need to start making some headway on this reading journey which I have embarked upon with Brit Boy.

Editorial

Well I’ve just finished reading this on the plane to Portland, in total it probably took me three sittings and was a thoroughly enjoyable read. Although thought of as a children’s book I have to disagree, in my mind this is one of the first true classics I have read off the list. It shamelessly doesn’t purport to be anything other than a delightfully easy and enjoyable read. This brings me back to my initial point was this a book written for children or an effortlessly easy read which was chosen as a children’s classic? Maybe a bit of research is needed, back soon….

Ok I’m back after a little digging on Wikipedia it turns out the Heidi was indeed written as a book for ‘children and those who love children’ which was in fact a subtitle of the original story (something which didn’t make it onto my translated Puffin Classic version).

This story definitely caught me by surprise!  While I was not dreading reading Heidi by any means, I had low expectations, I really didn’t think it would be my cup of tea (like the British pun there Brit Boy?).  It was such a simple and easy read with a great message throughout.  I am already recommending this book to friends, and I am going to try and encourage all of our daughters to read it as well.  My used copy of this title only added to the delight of the story as well.  It includes full color illustrations, and I often found myself lost in the pictures.  On the inside cover is a simple inscription “To Jessica from Dad. 7/20/82”, with an address label bearing a Shakopeee, Minnesota address. Even though I do wonder why “Jessica” would sell a book from her Dad to a used book store, I do love that our used books have a story of their own. For instance, this book started off in Minnesota, at some point it ended up in Oregon where I purchased it, and then I have since moved it to Michigan.  It would be interesting to know everywhere this book has been over the last 30+ years.  Anyway, I am diverting, back to Heidi….

Heidi is the story of a young Swiss girl growing up in the Alps with her grandfather, in similar fashion to our previous book Sons and Lovers, in many stretches of the book nothing much happens during our story, however everything is so beautifully written that you get effortlessly wafted along from chapter to chapter finding out more and more about this wonderfully engaging little girl. I never once found this book a chore and whereby it certainly couldn’t be classed as a gripping page turner it was definitely a thoroughly enjoyable jaunt through the Swiss Alps.

I fell in love with Heidi, and her amazing spirit.  Parts were laugh out loud funny, as Heidi continually found herself causing mischief in much the same way Pippi Longstocking would.  She was so loved by all the characters in the story and impacted every person around her, yet her character never came across as trite or conceited.  I loved her character so much that about half way through I was already telling Brit Boy that if we ever have another little girl that I think we should name her “Adelheid”.  

With this being translated from the original German it has got me thinking how much was lost in translation or ‘modified’ to fit in with English language storytelling. My thoughts are not a lot because it does feel true to the original prose. I guess I will never truly know having only a smattering of German linguistic knowledge, I could never read the original. Although since it is a children’s book maybe I should give it a go….. Maybe one for the bucket list American Girl 🙂

The German version of Heidi you can read on your own Brit Boy, while you may only know a “smattering” of German, I know none.  (Unless you are planning to add German lessons to the bucket list for us as well.)

Several times I did feel sorry for Heidi as she did seem to get the rough end of the stick, but I think that’s what makes this book so engaging, you have a little girl who reacts positively to life regardless of what is thrown her way. She is someone who embraces life with a smile, and open heart and to quote Mary Poppins ‘a cheery disposition’.

I completely agree Brit Boy.  We haven’t really discussed much about it in this post, but this book definitely has some religious undertones.  It wasn’t too “in your face” but there was an element of “God” entangled throughout the story.  For me it did honestly add something to the story, I am not a strong woman of faith, but I found it very refreshing as Heidi developed her faith throughout the story.  Even if you are not religious, I felt the “lessons” could apply to anyone’s life when faced with adversity.  

I really did feel like I was experiencing the idyllic Alps while reading this but I am not sure how much of this was heavily influenced by the 1978 tv series.

Well Brit Boy, I never saw the tv series and I felt the same way.  By the end of the book I was desperate to be on that mountain with Heidi, surrounded by bleating goats, sleeping on a bed of hay, looking out a window onto a star filled sky, while the fir trees hummed me to sleep. 

I would certainly recommend this book and certainly is well deserving of a place on our list, the question moreover for me is, should it not be a lot higher up? The easy reading continues next with RL Stein’s first Goosebumps book, something I definitely know was aimed at a children’s market.

I would definitely recommend this book as well.  It is by far my favorite book of those that we have read on this list to this point.  It is a short and simple read, but I guarantee that the story will stick with you.  Once again I am thankful for our blog, because this is yet another book I never would have read if it were not on our list.

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