Pies and Prejudice – Stuart Maconie

maconie_piesI found Pies and Prejudice – In Search of the North by Stuart Maconie in the newly extended English language section of one of the lokal bookshops (Norli på Nordre, om noen av mine norske lesere lurer). To my surprise, and glee, they now have a proper section for non-fiction, covering two whole book cases. I celebrated by buying this book, and I am very glad I did. The Times – according to the blurb on the cover – called Maconie “The new Bill Bryson” in their review, and I think they might be on to something.

Maconie writes well, seems to know what he is talking about, and most importantly, conveys a genuine affection for his subject, even the not so pretty bits. And he shows the right sort of attitude.

From [the Henry More Centre], you can stroll through a Perspex walkway to Leeds City Art Gallery, haunt of the teenage Alan Bennett and home to the finest collection of twentieth-century British art outside London. Their online literature encourages visitors to ‘read… mingle… chat… laugh’. Personally, I’d have put ‘look at some pictures’ in there as well but I understand that museums are now so terrified of being thought elitist, so desperate to be ‘inclusive’, that they have to avoid the unspeakable truth, namely that modern art isn’t for everyone. Neither is John Coltrane or Bartók or the ghost stories of Robert Aickman or peaty Laphroaig whisky or English mustard. That’s why they are special and fabulous. Let’s not patronise the public by wet-nursing them like this.
(p. 210)

Maconie has written anothe book called Cider with Roadies. I’ll be reading it.

Round-up

Woooooody’s round-up. Eh, no, sorry, wrong movie.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Ok, so I’ve only read half. That half was really rather good, but I find myself unwilling to keep reading because I’ve got an uneasy sense of impending disaster. I might have to do something I would never normally do and find someone who’s finished it and make them tell me what happens. Then I might just finish. We’ll se.

The Other Hand by Chris Cleave
On the back this books gives a very sketchy idea of what it’s about and it asks you, when you’ve read it and want to recommend it to others, not to tell them much beyond “read this”, which makes sense, since part of the charm of this book is how the story unfolds. I say “charm”, because the book is charming. It is also very life-affirming. However, it is not for the faint-hearted. It deals with refugees and their stories, and the stories are never nice. They all start, as the narrator says, with the phrase “The men came and they…” and there is never a happy ending.  We only get one complete story, but the others are hanging about in the reader’s consciousness and are even more awful for being incomplete. Read it, though.

coupland

Generation A by Douglas Coupland
Served mostly to remind me of why I find it hard to like most new novels. It’s because they aren’t as good as this. This is what a novel should be like.

india

India by Torbjørn Færøvik
Excellent. Part travelogue, part condensed history of India. Note to self: Read more of Færøvik’s books.

Non-fiction

Twenty Chickens for a Saddle – Robyn Scott
Since I finished Beadle the Bard during the flight to Oslo for a course and I hadn’t brought another book (I wasn’t expecting any reading time, actually), I swooped down on the non-fiction shelves at Tanum at OSL, and managed to pick this up and pay for it and still run to catch an earlier flight that my colleague had just realised we were in time for. (Yay for run-on sentences!) I don’t normally pay much attention to the blurbs on the cover of books, but in this case they had me even before I’d read the book’s title. The top of the cover reads: “A wonderful memoir of an exotic childhood. – Alexander McCall Smith”. Sold! And he’s right, too. Robyn Scott grew up in Botswana with an, uhm, excentric collection of relatives and the book is full of wonderful detail and hilarious anecdotes, as well as some more serious topics, amongst them perfectly heartbreaking illumination of the emergence of HIV/AIDS in Botswana. One for your mnt tbr, dear reader.

Martha Jane & Me: A girlhood in Wales – Mavis Nicholson
I’ve never seen Mavis Nicholson on tv, as far as I know, and certainly had no idea who she was when I picked up this book second-hand on one of our pilgrimages to Britain. But then, this book does not really demand any prior knowledge of the writer, and though if you were a fan you’d find it an interesting read, I found it interesting enough in its own right. I’m not really a great one for biographies and memoirs as such, I’m not all that interested in how a great man or woman became great. What I am interested in is stories. That they happen to be non-fiction is fine with me, were they all fiction that would be fine, too.

Den lille stygge sjokoladeboka – Simen Sætre

Jeg var litt tvilende til om jeg turte lese denne boka, faktisk. Ignorance is bliss og så videre. Vel, det viste seg at den forsåvidt ikke inneholdt så mye nytt. Jeg følte faktisk at de negative sidene ved sjokoladeproduksjon kunne vært utdypet og illustrert enda bedre. Flere sitater og historier fra kakaoplantasjearbeiderne – både de som er de facto slaver og de som har valgt jobben “frivillig”. Fokus på sukkerproduksjon og all utbyttingen og utnyttingen som foregår der kunne kanskje også vært nevnt – det meste av sjokolade som selges i Norge inneholder tross alt en ganske stor andel sukker.

Allikevel, har du ikke lest side opp og side ned om slavearbeid og grunnene til at du bør handle Fair Trade om du kan bør du nok lese denne boka. Har du allerede lest side opp og side ned kan du godt lese boka allikevel, for den er såpass kort at det ikke er allverdens investering av tid, og noe nytt lærer du nok (det gjorde jeg, tross alt). Og den var vel med på å dytte meg over i et standpunkt jeg allikevel var i ferd med å ta, at sjokoladeinnkjøpene heretter bør være Fair Trade i enda større grad de også (kaffe, sukker, ris og bananer er nesten utelukkende det allerede, og vi jobber med andre produkter). Men jeg kommer nok til å kjøpe Freia melkesjokolade også i fremtiden, bare kanskje ikke så ofte. Problemet er nemlig at der Fair Trade kaffen, for eksempel, smaker like bra eller bedre enn alternativene er det ingen annen sjokolade som smaker som Freia melkesjokolade og dermed er det lite poeng i å proppe i seg lassevis med Fair Trade sjokolade i et forsøk på å tilfredstille behovet når det melder seg.

Hvis noen har funnet Fair Trade melkesjokolade som faktisk smaker godt tar jeg gjerne mot tips (når det gjelder mørk sjokolade er vi nemlig også nesten utelukkende på Fair Trade, men jeg sliter med melkesjokoladen).

April, May and much of June

I swear I meant to write proper posts on some of these. However:

Police at the Funeral – Margery Allingham
Showed up in my mailbox as a sort of birthday present – bookcrossing style. A quirky and charming read and definitely an author to look out for later. I still haven’t quite decided who next to “inflict” this on, I think it takes a certain kind of reader… Hm.

Portnoy’s Complaint – Philip Roth
A little dreary, but good in its way – I think its supposed to be a little dreary, to be honest. Recognisable and not so recognisable themes of guilt and shame, religion and upbringing.

The Chronicles of Prydain – Lloyd Alexander
A reread occasioned by finding the first three books in Norwegian second-hand by chance.

Sputnik Sweetheart – Haruki Murakami
Also a bookcrossing copy, my suspicions that I’d like Murakami in novel-form was confirmed. A perfectly beautiful – though quite sinister – book, and very hard to put down once you’ve started.

Under the Duvet, Angels and The Other Side of the Story – Marian Keyes 
A three for one sale on Marian Keyes paperbacks, and these are the ones I came away with. Under the Duvet was entertaining, but possibly a little too light-hearted for my taste (even the pieces dealing with serious issues such as alchoholism somehow felt light-hearted, something Rachel’s Holiday – the novel dealing with the same issue – doesn’t). I realised, shortly after having started it, that I’ve read Angels before. Nevermind, I didn’t remember how it would all end and it was worth a reread (even if I still don’t really like the ending. Bah). The Other Side of the Story was, uhm, not quite up to Keys’ usual standard, I don’t think. I think partly it was the narrative form I didn’t like, it was slightly too disjointed to suit the overall style of the novel (or me, possibly).

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox – Maggie O’Farrell
Received from Tonbel, who grabbed the chance to get rid of some books while I was there. Most of them ended up bookcrossed, but this one she suggested I read, and I’m glad she did. The main problem with this book was that it was at least 400 pages too short. I wanted to know more, much more, and it left me (internally, I was on the bus) shouting “But what happened next?” Not that the story is unfinished as such, just that the characters were compelling enough to make me want to read more. I think I will have to put the books O’Farrell mentions as helpful when researching on my tbr list.

I’ve probably forgotten something here, oh well.

Since the middle of February

The Tale of Desperaux – Di Collofello
Very sweet. Not exceptionally good, though, and with an underlying sort of morality which bothered me. Since I rather like rats I objected to the description of them being so nasty to look at and touch (especially in comparison with mice, which are, apparently, not nasty at all), but I can understand how it might be necessary for the story. However, I can’t quite excuse the idea that a rat is a rat and can never change his nature, it smacks – to me – a little of the I’m-trying-to-be-politically-correct-but-I’m-a-racist-really premise that all, say, negroes are lazy, but it’s in their nature and they can’t really help it. Balderdash.

Small Wars Permitting – Christina Lamb
Very interesting, highly readable. My father just finished this when I was trying to get through Sorting Out Billy (see below) and there was no competition, really, I jumped at the chance to read something else. Lamb manages to be both informative, profound and thought-provoking and at the same time laugh-out-loud funny in places. The book contains both newly written context material and quite a few of Lambs articles from various papers and both are equally readable and absorbing. Highly recommended.

Then, a bit of a Durrell reread going on – in between all the other stuff – if I find the time and energy I might write a more detailed post on Durrell, but for now, here’s a list:
The Bafut Beagles – Gerald Durrell
Fillets of Plaice – Gerald Durrell
The Stationary Ark – Gerald Durrell
A Zoo in my Luggage – Gerald Durrell
Catch me a Colobus – Gerald Durrell
The Dunken Forest – Gerald Durrell
Himself and Other Animals – David Hughes (biography)

Sorting Out Billy – Jo Brand
I read only the first half, or thereabouts and then gave it up in disgust. Abysmally bad, actually.

The Book of Lost Things – John Connolly
Entertaining, slightly scary in parts. Well worth the time.

Anybody Out There? – Marian Keyes
Excellent. I was a little worried, not being a great fan of spiritualism and trying to speak to the dead, however, Keyes managed the issue beautifully, I think, and I didn’t cringe even once.

Slam – Nick Hornby
Hornby’s first “young adult” novel, which probably should be compulsory reading for most British teenagers as a sort of literary contraception. Not Hornby’s best book – by far – from an adult point of view, but then that’s hardly the right point of view for judging it.

American Gods – Neil Gaiman
Superb.

A Ramble Round the Globe – Thomas Dewar
Disappointingly unoccupied with whisky or with advertising, the two main reasons I am interested in Tommy Dewar, but a rather interesting read nonetheless.

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid – Bill Bryson
Just what you’d expect from Bill Bryson: Very good.

At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig: Travels Through Paraguay – John Gimlette

At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig: Travels Through Paraguay was an interesting read, in that it seems to deal pretty thoroughly with the recent history of Paraguay, a country I knew next to nothing about prior to reading this book. I am somewhat puzzled as to the title, as I never caught the reference, but it’s catchy – if not snappy – and so I suppose that’s reason enough to use it. This is not a travel book in the normal sense. True, John Gimlette travels around Paraguay, but nine tenths of the book is history of some sort. Not a bad thing, necessarily, but not quite what I expected. Still, an interesting read.

Going Solo

I ended up rereading Going Solo because I had found it in a box (along with Waltzing through Flaws) and had given it to the husband with a “here you go, you need to read this” and he’d brought it to Vienna and was reading something else when I needed something to read and had put my own book (which I still haven’t finished) in the wrong bag. Uhm. Nice sentence, that.

Anyway. I’ve read Boy once, and as far as I can remember I found that pretty tedious. Going Solo, however, is charming and, amongst other things, leaves you wondering how on earth Hitler managed to get beaten by the allies, though I suppose someone in charge must have learned from their mistakes at some point after Dahl was invalided home. Or perhaps the allies were just more stubborn and won on the basis of sheer luck, which seems to be mainly what kept Dahl alive.

Diplomatic Baggage: The Adventures of a Trailing Spouse

Diplomatic Baggage: The Adventures of a Trailing Spouse by Brigid Keenan was an impulse buy at a newsagent in town, and a pretty lucky one in one respect – Keenan’s husband “AW” gets posted to The Gambia in the late eighties, and since it’s hardly the country that pops up in books most often, it was a bit like an unexpected meeting with an old acquaintance*. The family arrives in the country just about a year after we left it, and the girls go to the same school my brother and I attended. That section alone made the book worth the price for me, but also the rest of the book is interesting and at times laugh-out-loud-funny, and Keenan manages to mix humour and seriousness in a way that makes the pages fly past.

————
* For those not in the know, my familiy spent a year in The Gambia in 1986/87.

Lost for Words – John Humphrys

There seems to be a bit of a red thread going on here, what with all these language-related books, and you might suspect I have been influenced by working at the department of language and communication studies. Which I have, I’m sure. You can’t just blame my employer, though, as we got John Humphrys’ Lost for Words: The Mangling and Manipulating of the English Language in a three for two sale (or something) while on our honeymoon this summer, and I hadn’t started the job then. You might blame my employer for the fact that I’ve just read the book, though, I suppose.

Anyway, Humphrys’ book is basically a collection of examples, or at least that’s what it feels like, with a little discussion around each one and with some conclusions drawn from the evidence. It’s hard to disagree with the conclusions. It’s also hard not to laugh at times, especially when Humphrys reminds me of why I had to quit reading feminist literary theory. It’s because feminists manage to write this sort of thing in good faith and expect us to take them seriously:

Is E= mc2 a sexed equation? Perhaps it is. Let us make the hypotheses that it is insofar as it priveleges the speed of light over other speeds that are vitally necessary to us. What seems to us the possibly sexed nature of the equation is not directly its uses by nuclear weapons, rather it is having priveleged what goes fastest.

(Luce Irigaray, apparently.*)

I can understand that women feel uncomfortable being termed a “chairman” or a “fireman” or any of the other “male” words that have been and are still current in our language(s). I just think that sometimes, perhaps, the so-called feminists go over the top a bit. And that quote is a keeper**, and even if Humphrys’ book did nothing else, providing me with that would still be worth the time and money.

But it does do more. It’s funny, frequently lol funny, and it’s intelligent. In short, it’s a good read.

A thought: I wonder if I ever split infinitives? Let me know if you spot any, will you?

—————-
* Actually, one thing this book is missing – which is a major drawback – is proper references.

**The more I read it, the more the mind boggles. Especially at these “other speeds that are vitally necessary to us”.