Category Archives: LBC Book Reviews
Recently, I went away for a weeks holiday. For the first time in years, I didn’t bring anything to read with me.
I’ve been in the midst of a reading funk for such a long time now, I’m starting to disbelieve that I ever read for pleasure! In the last few months, I’ve seen it as a victory if I manage to complete my book club choices (there are been some really gripping ones recently, which has made it much easier!) in time for the discussion. The thought of pulling out one of my vast collection of as yet un-read novels has made me feel vaguely anxious – a far cry from a few years ago when choosing the next read produced a sweet thrill of delight with equivalent side effects of a large lump of chocolate.
So going away without bringing a book was probably for the best, at least that was my reasoning. I’d be under no pressure, if I didn’t have one on me. (The counter side was that I also felt faintly like I was giving up; losing a hobby…nay a trait that I really liked about myself. Yes, my brain is enjoying the gymnastics currently.)
Thankfully, my mother keeps a varied and busy book shelf and within half an hour of arriving, I found – to my immense relief – that the siren song of the printed word still enticed me!!Before long, I had selected a slim (not intimidating) book by Jennifer Johnston – an Irish author I have long been aware of but never read.
She is noted for writing with a particular awareness of the Church of Ireland community within modern day Ireland (her own faith) – a perspective that isn’t often found in contemporary Irish fiction. Also, she’s been nominated for (and won loads) tons of literary prizes, so I was curious to see how I’d get on.
The Invisible Worm (BLURB from Amazon)
It starts with a funeral. The great and the good have assembled: the President has sent a representative, and dignitaries are there in force. And Laura remembers those two terrible events. But was the tragedy out at sea an accident? Was the experience in the summerhouse cause rather than effect?
With wonderful delicacy and economy, Jennifer Johnston has stripped bare the lives of a family overwhelmed by more than one of the deadly sins. The Invisible Worm contains greater power and passion than most novels three times its length.
The way the Ms Johnston writes is as once minimalist yet descriptive. There isn’t a single wasted word or redundant sentence throughout the book. With a deft hand, she can at once be whimsical and funny, while tackling some very dark themes.
This book focused on a very small group of characters and only one is ever explored in a detailed way; yet all felt fully rounded and realistic. I loved Laura. I’d never act the way that she did, but I felt like I understood her and respected her. There is a beautifully non-judgemental tone to this book that allowed me to relax into it and accept the characters and plot without getting wound up or ‘having opinions’. Reading this was really rather a soothing experience.
I so enjoyed it that I committed that irritating cardinal sin; where I started reading – context free – random lines and passages to my mum (patience of a saint, that one!). It’s an incredibly easy read – not only because it’s a snapshot of an individual and pretty short, but mostly because the language used, the words, the landscape drawn are at once so familiar and yet so foreign that you can’t help but feel connected.
And it’s the first book I’ve read for pure pleasure in fricking ages! So much so, I’ve even blogged about it and it’s been ever longer for that!!!!
Go! Read! Then let me know so that we can just praise it over and over 🙂
One by one the boys begin to fall…
In 1914 a room full of German schoolboys, fresh-faced and idealistic, are goaded by their schoolmaster to troop off to the ‘glorious war’. With the fire and patriotism of youth they sign up. What follows is the moving story of a young ‘unknown soldier’ experiencing the horror and disillusionment of life in the trenches.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR (AMAZON)
Erich Maria Remarque was a German author and veteran of the First World War. He was born 1898 in Osnabrück, Germany. At the age of 18 he was conscripted into the German army. During his service he was wounded by shrapnel in the left leg, right arm and neck. Following the war he worked as a primary school teacher, and later as a librarian, a journalist and a technical writer.
Among Remarque’s published novels were All Quiet on the Western Front, The Road Back, Three Comrades and Arch of Triumph. His works were publicly burned by the Nazi German government, and in 1947 he and his first wife became naturalised citizens of the United States. Four years earlier, his sister had been executed at the behest of Hitler’s ‘People’s Court’.
Remarque adapted the book Ten Days to Die, about Hitler’s final days, as a screenplay, and he also wrote for the stage. His last novel was The Night in Lisbon, published in 1962. During his lifetime Remarque married twice and had love affairs with the actresses Hedy Lamarr, Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo.
Thanks very much to the wonderful Karoline for hosting and writing up this book club – find her here @KarolineAKemp!
It was good to welcome two new faces to our discussion, Jane and Katy who also come to White Swan.
We had a discussion about the translation, some of the group had a more recent translation from the mid 1990’s and it was generally felt to be much more accessible than the earlier one. We also discussed the translation of the title, the note on the new translation states that a direct translation from the German is ‘Nothing New on the Western Front’
The book was fairly easy to read in the modern translation and it was noted that that the tense changed from the singular to the plural during the scenes at the front. It was noted that nowadays we expect to have strong characterisation and narrative drive from contemporary fiction but that there is no narrative drive in War. As the book went on it became more and more detached as Paul became more detached from his own life.
AQOTWF is written from the point of view of a German private Paul. It was felt that the language used was chosen to emphasise the commonality and gruelling of experience of trench warfare regardless of side. Emphasised particularly in the scene in the shell hole with the solider that he killed. It is also something that has been brought out recently by historians of the First World War (see the History Hit podcast with @gerarmyresearch).
It was felt that the language used effectively conveyed vivid imagery of the experiences of being in the front line as well as the banality of being behind the lines when comic interludes such as Kat getting the food were used to good effect. The emphasis on the food (or lack) of it conveyed its importance to the troops, most effectively that when they suddenly get good food they realise that it means they are heading to the front line.
We felt that the characterisation was kept deliberately vague, the concentration was on passages dealing with Paul’s interior life such as when he was on leave and felt totally alienated from his previous life, We felt that Paul represented the everyman, he grew but never lost his humanity.
We felt that the strong bond between the school friends was shown well. We all felt the horror of the scenes with the rats and felt that the scenes in the mists where very lyrical which intensified the horror.
The book also pointed out how much harder it was going to be for the younger men who had become soldiers straight from school to readjust and/or keep going as they didn’t have families/jobs to go back to. It was also very scathing about the generation who were too old to fight themselves but where very vocal at making the younger generations go.
We decided that we would have preferred the end to have been left more open than it was and felt that it packed a lot into quite a slim book.
Trailer for the 1979 film[youtube https://youtu.be/DX1PW2n8POg]
LBC White Swan
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Charlie is a freshman. And while he’s not the biggest geek in the school, he is by no means popular. Shy, introspective, intelligent beyond his years yet socially awkward, he is a wallflower, caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it. Charlie is attempting to navigate his way through uncharted territory: the world of first dates and mixed tapes, family dramas and new friends; the world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite. But Charlie can’t stay on the sideline forever. Standing on the fringes of life offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor.
“We accept the love we think we deserve.”
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a deeply affecting coming-of-age story that will spirit you back to those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up. -Goodreads
About the Author
He is the recipient of the Abraham Polonsky Screenwriting Award for his screenplay Everything Divided as well as a participant in the Sundance Institute’s filmmakers’ lab for his current project, Fingernails and Smooth Skin. Chbosky lives in New York. -Goodreads
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In this case it is Charlie, who tells his story through a series of letters to a stranger. We learn all about his family and his school years. The book is a one person narrative and we never hear from any other characters point of view, just Charlie’s.
The book however does go into some interesting areas and looks at teenage relationships, drugs, sexuality, sexual abuse and mental health. The book did get banned in America in some schools due to the subjects it covered.
The gay prejudices portrayed in the book were really well done and use of characters, creating trigger points into the story, leading to revelations such as Patrick and his relationship with Brad, and then onto Charlie and his relationship with his Aunt Helen. The group felt that Charlie and his constant crying was a bit irritating yet Patrick and his troubles, was very well depicted and Sam, the lead female seemed to be a ‘pretty’ character who showed up when needed.
Going back to the story, throughout the book its all about how Charlie sees the world, and how it lead to him discovering or rediscovering that he was abused by his Aunt Helen when he was much younger like she was by a family friend and how this leads him to be found in a catatonic state and taken to a mental hospital.
The book touches on the subject of repressed memories and feelings and trigger points, on family members and secrets, on how we want to be perceived in the world and how we treat each other. Some of the group felt the book was actually read as a mental illness and if you re-read it you could see the cracks appearing throughout the story.
“Even if we don’t have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there”
Overall the group agreed teenagers are exhausting, complicated and lack emotion and although the book appeared not to be well written, it did have a lot of purpose in its story, the way it was laid out in letter form, represented human thought, and lead onto an interesting way to introduce the subjects it covered, saying that a few believed if the had read it as a teenager they may have got into it more.
Thank you for reading.
*Tangents: Big debate on drugs and drug use Music: Niamh made Fleetwood Mac get together. Don’t argue with Niamh. Niamh is Irish, had a fight and lost a tooth???. Niamh can quote Shakespeare.
For further details, please email me at email@example.com or tweet me @LeedsBookClub!
The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge
The leaves were cold and slightly clammy. There was no mistaking them. She had seen their likeness painstakingly sketched in her father’s journal. This was his greatest secret, his treasure and his undoing. The Tree of Lies. Now it was hers, and the journey he had never finished stretched out before her.When Faith’s father is found dead under mysterious circumstances, she is determined to untangle the truth from the lies. Searching through his belongings for clues she discovers a strange tree. A tree that feeds off whispered lies and bears fruit that reveals hidden secrets. The bigger the lie, the more people who believe it, the bigger the truth that is uncovered.The girl realizes that she is good at lying and that the tree might hold the key to her father’s murder, so she begins to spread untruths far and wide across her small island community. But as her tales spiral out of control, she discovers that where lies seduce, truths shatter. . . .A beguiling tale of mystery and intrigue.
Frances Hardinge spent her childhood in a huge, isolated old house in a small, strange village, and the two things inspired her to write strange, magical stories from an early age. She studied English at Oxford University and now lives in Oxford, England.
This latest addition to Puffins was recommended by one of the groups friend. Now, for me as soon as I saw the costa sticker, I wasn’t holding out much hope. Then life got in the way and I found myself sat in the pub on the day of the meeting finishing it off and I loved it. For some of the group the book was a slow burner. It appeared to be building up the story, not something I personally was expecting. However the book was highly rated. Although for one it didn’t seem to give as much enjoyment, struggling with the Victorian ideals, and the how late in the story the murder finally taking place and another found the ending rushed. As for the rest of the group had points but still loved it overall.
We begin the story with Faith and her family including her Mother’s brother Miles. heading to a new home, the fictional Island of Vane off the English coast. Her father, an eminent scientist, is to join an archaeological dig there, but the turn of events will come as a shock to them all. Faith who ‘Usually she managed to fade into the background, since nobody had the attention to spare for a fourteen year old girl, with wooden features and a mud-brown plait’ is the hero of this story. Having lost many siblings mostly boys from a young age, some not lasting long after birth and only Howard to be the longest-serving so far, Faith finds herself looking after him and herself most of the time, we find a strong young girl who has probably lived through events she perhaps should not have seen. The story in a sense is about Faith herself, we follow her growing up, learning about her family, the secrets kept, the secrets coming out. Faith discovers after helping her father to hide a plant in a cave that, he had been hiding several secrets. This then leads onto the death of her father and how Faith comes to discover the truth. Her Father is dead and everyone is lead to believe he has committed suicide. Faith, not believing this goes in search of the truth, and with help from the ‘lie tree’ she discovers that little lies changes the course of people’s thinking. This leads to ideas being put in people’s heads and the truth being unveiled that her father had a hidden past she may not of wanted to know.
This book is a complex and rich story, another one where the adults appear to be useless and it is left to the child to outwit/accomplish things, discovering the issues about truth and lies, values – especially Victorian ones – Sundays being days of rest and breaking convention by having a funeral on that day (also I think shopping should be banned but that’s just me, I love my Sunday’s off, gives me a chance to rest. Status being of high importance, where new things were frowned upon or things such as people being left-handed or women/females being unwed and seen out with boys/men. This book also touched on, power of convention and assumptions, revenge, reputation and family values, how we treated the dead, the use of photography and creating lies which brings us to perception and what we want to believe.
As for the characters in the book, we once again find ourselves with a strong girl character leading the way, the female characters we found were working within the restrictions and struggles of the Victorian lifestyle. The adults in the book of course are typical for the young reader, where a few seemed to be weak aka Miles and his sister myrtle who wanted everything and to carry on her status.
Oh, and the snake int the background,one of the side characters, the snake shedding its skin seems to be a symbolic sign with in the story, we always like the side characters.
One question I will leave you with. Do you read the blurb on the back of the book before reading it? A few of us read the blurb and one didn’t and thoroughly enjoyed the book, what if we didn’t read about the murder would that have brought more enjoyment to the book?
So, to read the blurb or not to read the blurb, please let us know what you think.
(with 1 spinal tap moment)
Thank you for reading
LBC White Swan
Venue: White Swan Leeds
Discussing: Storm Front (The Dresden Files) – Book 1
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THE BLURB (from Amazon)
Meet Harry Dresden, Chicago’s first (and only) Wizard P.I. Turns out the ‘everyday’ world is full of strange and magical things – and most of them don’t play well with humans. That’s where Harry comes in.
Harry is the best at what he does – and not just because he’s the only one who does it. So when the Chicago P.D. has a case that transcends mortal capabilities, they look to him for answers. There’s just one problem. Business, to put it mildly, stinks.
So when the police bring him in to consult on a grisly double murder committed with black magic, Harry’s seeing dollar signs. But where there’s black magic, there’s a black mage behind it. And now that mage knows Harry’s name. And that’s when things start to get . . . interesting.
Magic – it can get a guy killed.
About the Author
Jim Butcher is the author of the Dresden Files, the Codex Alera, and a new steampunk series, the Cinder Spires. His resume includes a laundry list of skills which were useful a couple of centuries ago, and he plays guitar quite badly. An avid gamer, he plays tabletop games in varying systems, a variety of video games on PC and console, and LARPs whenever he can make time for it. Jim currently resides mostly inside his own head, but his head can generally be found in his home town of Independence, Missouri.
Jim goes by the moniker Longshot in a number of online locales. He came by this name in the early 1990′s when he decided he would become a published author. Usually only 3 in 1000 who make such an attempt actually manage to become published; of those, only 1 in 10 make enough money to call it a living. The sale of a second series was the breakthrough that let him beat the long odds against attaining a career as a novelist.
Before the discussion officially started; a big debate erupted about Star Wars and spoilers; and how people spoil things in the simplest ways by being so excited that they need to spill the beans on some unsuspecting soul and have a long awaited film or book ruined before they got to see/read it*, and then we began.
I think the group was split on who was new to the series/book and who had re-read it before leaping on the fact that the main character was very annoying, egotistical, weird and his chauvinism was very off putting. Then it led onto the other characters. How the women were all depicted as socially ideal and like most of them didn’t have much depth to the character, and were therefore poorly served by the author. Whereas the supernatural folk on the other hand, were given more preferential treatment, including the lovely Faerie Toots who devoured pizza.
However the blending of the real world and the alternative gave it the grounding it needed. The story was told in the first person narrative, appearing to keep everyone at a distance, which was possibly a reason why people didn’t warm to Harry. Regarding how it appeared that everyone was kept at a distance – perhaps it was just because of how technology went weird around him; he just thought it safer. On a personal note – I highly recommend him earthing himself – doormats work wonders when technology is involved!
As mentioned, the book is the first in a series. A few thought that the author packed a lot into the book. However, the fact that he did not give much away about the backstory of the wizard – how he got his powers and why Morgan hates him – made (it seem) everyone want to carry on and read the rest of the series (16 books so far) .
Back to characters, and we must mention Bob, ‘Bob and Yorak, I knew them so well!‘ Sorry, had to add that. Bob was ‘An intelligent air spirit who resides inside a skull in Dresden’s sub-basement laboratory’. Or as mentioned… ‘today’s version of the internet’ This book was written over 16 years ago and sometimes we forget what wasn’t around way back when (sorry a few decades ago, how times have changed ). How Harry perhaps couldn’t work all his magic without a little help from Bob. Sometimes the sub-characters are the best, yes that goes for you Toots – you pizza eating faerie!!
Carrying on from how things are changed, one person brought up the soul gazing part of the book and felt slightly uncomfortable with it, how it broke the natural flow of things. But as mentioned we must remember the time it was written, and what was going on. Society has changed a lot since then. Saying that the overall feel of the book was that it was a very light and quick read, not brilliant writing (it is a first book remember and it does get better), the whole idea of Harry being a wizard and the build up of his character as a wizard and not using must magic until the end making most of us start to cheer for him, as he shows that reading the instructions makes you a better wizard, a lesson to be learned by everyone there.
Thank you for reading
Next book 8th May- The Bees by
*Tangents: Liam catching spiders and killing them via the toilet-don’t go there!. underage-Were-swans??. Buffy is 19 years old. Starwars- spoilers, lead characters etc. Man with post-it notes. Terry Pratchett Books. Zombie dinosaurs. Names and identities of people, associate names with people and forget their real name. Harry Potter and prisoner of Azkaban best in series. Monogram towels.
Click below to hear us discuss the challenge and why we’re participating; our book choices; our continuing and lasting love of libraries; random thoughts on such vital issues as stickers on books and lots of other literary-related chatter!
Modern Mrs Darcy 2016 Reading Challenge
- a book published this year
- a book you can finish in a day
- a book you’ve been meaning to read
- a book recommended by a local librarian or bookseller
- a book you should have read in school
- a book chosen by your spouse/partner/sibling/child or BFF
- a book published before you were born
- a book that was banned at some point
- a book that was previously abandoned
- a book you own but have never read
- a book that intimidates you
- a book you’ve already read at least once
I’ll be creating a little challenge page for us to update as the year progresses!
If you’d like to join us with this – or any other reading challenges, please drop me an email, leave a comment or tweet one of us!
THE 5th WAVE
THE 1st WAVE
Took out half a million people.
THE 2nd WAVE
Put that number to shame.
THE 3rd WAVE
Lasted a little longer. Twelve weeks . . . Four billion dead.
IN THE 4th WAVE,
You can’t trust that people are still people.
AND THE 5th WAVE?
No one knows.
But it’s coming.
On a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs.
Runs from the beings that only look human, who have scattered Earth’s last survivors.
To stay alone is to stay alive, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan may be her only hope.
Now Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.
We liked the idea.
And we really *wanted* to enjoy it.
Once again, it was so lovely to gather together and have a natter about our recent reads. As is usual for our optimistic band of readers, we had approached this book with an open mind. We’ve read quite a bit of YA fiction previously and have found it to be a mixed bag – particularly in the saturated dystopia/SFF genera. Unfortunately, for the vast majority of us, before we ever started the book, we encountered those oft terrifying words ‘the first in an exciting new trilogy…‘ and our collective hearts sank.
So we indulged in a little whinge about how fiction isn’t designed to just ‘tell’ a story any more. It’s all about creating a world and re-visiting it over and over again. Which is fine, as long as it’s a world populated by interesting characters who fall into crazy exciting circumstances that sustain interest. Too often however, we’ve found that the sequels have more to do with successful branding than a need to flesh out more aspect of the plot.
So, before the vast majority of us even started the book, we were weary. And apprehensive. And there was a 50:50 chance that this book would prove to be better than we could ever have expected. As it happens, the coin landed on the other side.
In the main, we found the plot to be very predictable. As each character arrived, we guessed with near unerring accuracy what was going to happen to them. Again and again and again. One of us joked that they were starting to feel quite psychic. Oh how we laughed (actually, we did have a proper guffaw when they killed Kenny. *snigger*).
We did enjoy the Ben Parrish story line throughout the book. He felt like quite a flesh out character – albeit one in a slightly daft situation. We were torn between bemoaning the army as the fifth wave but secretly enjoying it and tearing our hair out that Ben seemed to be so incapable of recognising what was happening around him. Sure, it was a very stressful environment but we never felt like all the misery and horribleness and awfullishiousness was actually grounded in anything that we could honestly relate to.
Ben was positively a genius in comparison to Cassie though. She started off as this cool, confident kickass survivor that promptly turned into an idiot and a girrrl (not like a person girl, like a tv cardboard cut out of an actual character girl) the second a bloke appeared. I mean, it was so OBVIOUS – all of us who read it were stunned by how predictable the whole plot turned out to be but in this case, we were staring at the page blankly at her blind stupidity.
As for Evan – I am not sure that it’s fair to really describe him as a character. Some of his storyline were actually really interesting but the hammered in love story just ruined it. Ugh, creepy and bland but smells like chocolate? Where have I read something like that before? We did console ourselves that the hunter did in fact serve a useless narrative purpose as Cassie could not have saved her brother without him. But the honey-crumpet angle just over powered everything else. In fact, some of us ended up rooting for the five year old to become pyschotic – just to break from the norm.
We decided not to go into the secondary characters in too much detail as they were clearly only included for fleshing out in later books (which we are unlikely to be reading) and weren’t given a chance to do anything but page fill in this.
We were disappointed however in the whole alien/host aspect. One person noted that it felt like a really obvious way of getting around the War of the Worlds virus trope which lead to such a nice little nerdy chat for a moment that I now declare that person the Winner of book club. Sadly I didn’t write down who actually said it.
We also noted that the more we learned about the aliens, the less scary they became – particularly now that there are ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’ battling to lead the cause. We also toyed with speculating as the aliens intentions; why they picked earth; why ships and so on but just didn’t have the interest of inclination to actually read the sequels and see whether we were right…so that petered right out.
We all agreed that this was a book structured and designed to appeal to the silver screen; hoping to occupy the same territory as The Hunger Games and Divergent. Having said that, goodly chunks are explained via internal dialogue which could be trickier to film.
So not a great read, but a very enjoyable meet up and chat!
Find fellow members on twitter by searching for #LBCDystopia
NEVER LET ME GO
As children, Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy were students at Hailsham, an exclusive boarding school secluded in the English countryside. It was a place of mercurial cliques and mysterious rules where teachers were constantly reminding their charges of how special they were.
Now, years later, Kathy is a young woman. Ruth and Tommy have reentered her life, and for the first time she is beginning to look back at their shared past and understand just what it is that makes them special–and how that gift will shape the rest of their time together.
For the vast majority of us, this was a re-visit to the world of Never Let Me Go. Some had worried that the book – which we nearly all of us had enjoyed – might not stand up to a second reading. Others were curious to see if the film had influenced their opinion of the book – though we did agreed that – as not everyone had seen the moooovie – we would restrict our discussion to the book.
This turned out to be a surprisingly controversial book choice for us. There is a curiously dreamlike aspect due to the incredibly sparse world building and precision of language that lead some to question whether this should even qualify as a dystopia. Certainly, it doesn’t fit many of the classic tropes of dystopic writing. However, the vast majority of us agreed that any society – no matter how much it appeared to resemble/differ from our own – that was prepared to harvest people, rendering them redundant, was one that qualified as appropriate reading for us!
Another aspect that dominated much of the discussion was about what the metaphor of the story was. Though quite a few of us weren’t convinced that the book needed to be viewed that way – in fact some of us felt that it wasn’t really applicable at all – a great deal of time was spent pondering whether the point of the story was to attack racism or the class system, despite neither topic ever really being raised within the book. This lead one or two of us to speculate that perhaps the book affected us all on quite a personal level, which resulted in us looking for external aspects to discuss.
We found it difficult to assess the social, political or cultural context of the world that this story is set in as we are provided with very little information about ANYTHING to do with the students and the ‘service’ that they provide; and if you think that that stopped us, you’ve not been paying attention. Indeed, our only real clue is that the whole situation is regarded by everyone – including the subjects – as perfectly normal. The real question for the wider world appears to be closer to a factory versus free range issue.
We almost universally lauded the writing. Despite the minimalism in terms of world building; we all felt that everything felt incredibly real. The characters were interesting to us because as much as we can, we know them – particularly our primary three – but they are all limited by design. I argued that Ruth would have made a more compelling protagonist. Though not necessarily someone that you’d want to spend tons of time with; she makes things happen far more than the more passive Kathy. Though we did find it notable that in the end, Ruth has made more peace with her place in the world than Kathy appears to. We had a brief foray into the ‘is she bland or merely implacable’ but honestly, I think that we had a soft spot for her by the end of our chat. The characters are left with neither family nor regional influence. They are wholly absent and isolated from the rest of the world. As a result, we spend very little time any where else. As readers, we were also limited by our narrator. We can only know what Kathy knows. And she is restricted in so many ways. Her acceptance of that was deeply frustrating for many of us.
Structurally, we enjoyed that at first glance, this appears to follow in the tradition of classic British boarding school books; though this is no children’s tale. Well…maybe the Addams family… Halsham turns out to deviate hugely from Hogwarts/Malory Towers and their ilk. For one thing, it doesn’t appear to be much of a school at all. For another, it certainly isn’t assisting its young people to an exciting or fulfilling future (or is it – ohh how we speculated). But the final nail in the coffin must be that IT TURNS OUT THAT IT’S A BLOODY EXPERIMENT IN TREATING WALKING BODY PARTS AS PEOPLE. Just so WRONG. (I liked school, what can I say?). And it fails no less. How awful. What a bleak end.
We couldn’t help but speculate for a time on those aspects NOT really included in the text. Why didn’t they run? Could the instinct for survival really be so easily muted? Or it is a case that unlike most people; they are aware of their primary function and that they will fulfill it; leaving them with nothing more to aspire towards? Was there an underground train that saved the victims of a Death Row nation?
However, we ran out of time without the chance to unpack half of the topics we would have liked. The mark of a good book I think you’ll agree!
Find fellow members on twitter by searching for #LBCDystopia
A classic coming-of-age story
In this, the celebrated, bestselling first volume of her autobiography, Maya Angelou beautifully evokes her childhood with her grandmother in the American South of the 1930s.
She learns the power of the white folks at the other end of town and suffers the terrible trauma of rape by her mother’s lover. As a black woman, Maya Angelou has known discrimination and extreme poverty, but also hope and joy, celebration and achievement; loving the world, she also knows its cruelty.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR (AMAZON)
Dr Maya Angelou was one of the world’s most important writers and activists. Born 4 April 1928, she lived and chronicled an extraordinary life: rising from poverty, violence and racism, she became a renowned author, poet, playwright, civil rights’ activist – working with Malcolm X and Martin Luther King – and memoirist. She wrote and performed a poem, ‘On the Pulse of Morning’, for President Clinton on his inauguration; she was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama and was honoured by more than seventy universities throughout the world.
She first thrilled the world with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969). This was followed by six volumes of autobiography, the seventh and final volume, Mom & Me & Mom, published in 2013. She wrote three collections of essays; many volumes of poetry, including His Day is Done, a tribute to Nelson Mandela; and two cookbooks. She had a lifetime appointment as Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University of North Carolina. Dr Angelou died on 28 May 2014.
We decided to read this in honour of Maya Angelou’s life, after she passed away. Despite being a relatively short book; we found quite a few different aspects to discuss, far too many to include here – I’ll try to make sure that I get the highlights here!
For many of us, this was a re-read. We agreed that this is a book best discovered during your adolescence. While it remains a tremendously crafted book; it didn’t quite have the same impact on us as adults. This is one of those rare works which allows articulation of some of the really negative aspects of growing up.
We all felt that it was powerfully written, even as some of us found certain topics and chapters deeply upsetting. The matter of My’s rape for example was repeatedly referred too; obviously because it had such a profound impact on the characters within the story. The responses to it read so realistically – it provoked an equally powerful response.
We found My to be a fascinating character. She is passionate, determined, focused and angry. She notes herself that her anger was seen as disproportionate by others within her community but she used it effectively to motivate herself despite adversity.
In the main we agreed that this was not a challenging read, language wise. Only one of us found it tough to get through; though they suspected that they are just not natural biography readers. For a few minutes we chatted about other authors such as Enid Blyton; Carolyn Keene and L.J. Smith.
We found it interesting that this is a fictionalised history, even more so as a few of us had read or were reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn for another book club. That book is structurally very similar to this one. Both are coming of age stories, both demonstrate the effects of poverty, deprivation, sexism and racism. Both protagonists are let down by their fathers and come from families with determined women. Both find solace and hope through education and literature.
However, they cover different time frames and cultures. Perhaps the most important similarity is that both read as though they could be ‘true’; that these are real histories recorded by Betty Smith and Maya Angelou and attributed to one character rather than many.
The central themes of identity and racism seemed to hold particular relevance to the current conversations that are taking place across the globe and especially in the US. Naturally we had to chat about current affairs for a little while.
We discussed Mary and the taking away of her name as a method of dehumanising people. The relationship throughout this are well drawn, though we were particularly taken with that of the siblings. Their reactions to one another, their bond and their grief to being abandoned by both parents felt very realistic. Painfully so actually. I felt that there was an absence of female friendship, though others either didn’t agree or hadn’t noticed it. We did agree that this is a family story; which is probably why the emphasis is on family members rather than friendships.
This was also a notable book club because it marks the first LBC 3 Reads where we DIDN’T mention Benedict Cumberbatch; seemingly swapping our allegiance to Tom Hiddleston. I imagine the former will be gutted and that latter delighted to know it.
Oh and by pure coincidence, Cafe 164 had on a spotify playlist on that provided the perfect soundtrack to our conversation; coffee and cake. Lauryn Hill, Aaliyah, Nina Simone and Dusty Springfield (I think!).
Trailer for the 1979 film, co-written by Maya Angelou