The Arsonist by Sue Miller

A funny thing happened on the way to the iPad.

I had downloaded Sue Rimingtons “Close Call” from my local library.  It had been sitting there for a couple of days and I was looking forward to it.  So I tapped the icon to open it and had a moment of confusion.  Something was wrong.  I closed the book then re-opened it with the same result.  The header said I was to read the book of my choice but the content was different.  And so it was page after page.  Somehow the wrong book had downloaded with the right header.  See what I mean.

sue miller - the arsonist

It was out of library hours so I couldn’t do anything about the mistake so I started to read this unsolicited book and got a pleasant surprise.  The Arsonist by Sue Miller turned out to be a well told and interesting story.

There is a well blended mixture of aid workers in Africa, life in a small country American community, retirement, Alzheimer’s, an arsonist at work, producing a small town newspaper, the divisions which occur in a town over local issues, and of course, a love story to tie all threads together.

I found it quite seamless as it moved from setting to setting with different combinations of characters.  There was never any confusion as to the people being written about and that to me is one of the most important skills that an author can have.  To use as few words as possible when introducing a character but words so well chosen that you immediately have a mental image of the person

In one of the threads the character who is showing signs of Alzheimer’s Disease is very believable, gradually showing more signs of the progression of the illness.  The author mentions Philip Larkins’ poem “The Old Fools”.  I found it interesting how she just casually wove the name into the story.  I wonder if it was her way of saying, Hey Reader, it’s time you learnt a bit more about this subject.  It wasn’t until I had finished the book that  I decided to check this out .found a whole Bibliography of Alzheimer’s in Poetry.

Larkin begins …..

What do they think has happened, the old fools,
To make them like this? Do they somehow suppose
It's more grown-up when your mouth hangs open and drools,
And you keep on pissing yourself, and can't remember
Who called this morning? Or that, if they only chose,
They could alter things back to when they danced all night,
Or went to their wedding, or sloped arms some September?
Or do they fancy there's really been no change,
And they've always behaved as if they were crippled or tight,
Or sat through days of thin continuous dreaming
Watching the light move? If they don't (and they can't), it's strange;
			Why aren't they screaming?

Some writers think that Larkin is showing compassion.  I fail to see it.  I find him incredibly cruel.  When our children are growing we take great pride in every little step that takes them closer to adulthood.  We are patient with them (well most of the time) and respect the fact that they are going through a learning experience.. And  I hope most of us show respect and compassion to those who are going through what might be thought of as a rather disorganized reverse procedure,  where both mind and body  start losing the physical and mental skills learned so long ago.

I say Well Done, Sue Miller.  I haven’t read  any of your books before but I would definitely like to read more.  Meanwhile the Library is still trying to work out what happened to my book of choice.

A lazy Sunday in Winter

Somehow I was in the mood for being a bit lazy today.  The winter is gradually getting colder but I am warm and snug.  The low sun streaming in the windows has been  alternating with bursts of noisy rain..

After a few chores by lunchtime I was ready to finish reading Maggie O’Farrell;s Instructions for a Heatwave.  How inappropriate has it been reading about London in the midst the 1976 drought, the parched and cracked lawns,  the effect it had on people, particularly Irish born Gretta  Riordan, her three adult children and their worry about the  husband and father who inexplicably has gone missing.

It’s an interesting story about the irritations between various family members,  their problems and misunderstandings.  There is a build up of tensions as various snippets of the family’s background and secrets come to light to help solve the mystery.. As in most novels to my mind there is a slight exaggeration or dramatization of the characters compared to what I would expect in real life but it is a very believable story.  I enjoyed it more than the only other Farrell novel that I have read, The Hand that First Held Mine.

Then by chance this afternoon I watched the 1966 movie of Ray Bradbury’s novel Fahrenheit 451, a clunky old movie which I found quite riveting.  I had read this book early in its life and had seen the movie before.  I was very much a Ray Bradbury fan, seeing how ordinary people would cope with a strangely changing society.  But after so long just the overall impression remained,  not much in the way of detail.

It was quite distressing seeing all those familiar books being burnt, cover after cover in the flames, always enough time to appreciate the book which was being burnt. It can happen.  It has happened.  And the censorship of books is a small example of the  book burning. mentality.  I am old enough to have read Lady Chatterley’s Lover from a copy sold from under the counter by an obliging bookseller.  And it is quite embarrassing to look at the list of books which used to be banned in Australia, a list full of well known and respected authors.

But attitudes change.  Mainly it is the political influence which moulds  the censorship ideas. These days printed books on pornography, suicide and  anything which encourages terrorism comes under close scrutiny in Australia.  Less easy to police though is the internet.

As reading is always associated with coffee for me, today’s coffee came from a newly acquired Nespresso machine.  It makes a beautiful coffee but my main complaint is with the bully boys who control the sale of the coffee capsules to make my coffee.  To shop online I am quite happy to supply my name and address and credit card details but this firm is unbelievable, the amount of information they extracted from me before they would send me a single capsule.  What control.. What manipulation.   What the heck does it matter where I had bought the machine .  What if it had been a present and I didn’tknow its source, would they have refused to send me coffee capsules ?  I’m surprised they didn’t ask my bra size and shoe size !

Instructions for a Heatwave

The Humble Handkerchief

There are the big things in life which give you much pleasure and then there are the little things.  The morning shower, having nice clean clothes to get dressed in and a drawer containing a pile of freshly  pressed handkerchiefs. Spots, striped, plain, check or floral, which will I have today ? And unless its a morning where great haste is needed it will be one that tones with the clothes I am wearing.

Pressed HankiesOr are you one of these people who use those slimy little squares of disintegrating paper which I find so repulsive.  People look so attractive clutching their bundle of slime, trying to find a dry corner to use. . A quick look around, There’s nowhere I can get rid of it.  Shove it back in the pocket.  What happens  when you toss it in the washing machine without remembering to  to check the pockets.  A basketful of snowflaked clothes.

But tell me, don’t celebrities ever have a problem with a nose ?  There they go, sashaying down the red carpet,  held together with double-sided tape and a swathe or two of fabric, and absolutely  nowhere to hide a hanky or a tissue and not a handbag in sight   What do they do.  I couldn’t imagine leaving the house without a drip catcher or two about my body.  Tucked in the top of a stocking ?:  In my knickers ?  Oh what a terrible thought. So where has Miranda Kerr stashed her hanky, her tissue, her boogie rag, her snot catcher.  How I do envy her – I mean with her dry nose and  being able to leave the house without a hanky, nothing else.

miranda-kerr-makes-sexy-entrance-with-plunging-neckline-at-vanity-fair-oscars-party-2014-01Meanwhile, pegged on the clothesline, small collections of dainty pieces of lawn (a fine all-cotton fabric) are  santizing in the sunshine while I sit in my favourite spot on the deck.

Bench on back deck

Oh where, or where

Has my hanky hidden

Oh where, oh where can it be,

It is oh so soft

Ready  for my bidding

Oh where oh where can it be.

 

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Leunig on the Literature of You and Me

The Literature of You and Me by Michael Leunig from his Michael Leunig Appreciation Page

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Michael-Leunig-Appreciation-Page/175074566012104

leunigI  will now look at my shopping lists with fresh eyes.  How lucky we are to be able to communicate with others via the written word and even to communicate with ourselves in the same way.

You find the most important writings in the most unusual places.So thank you Michael Leunig.

Get Well Message for an Old Friend

 TentCaravan  With Lyn and Peter on a ride

Des. Peter, Lyn

In caravan

Once upon a time there were two young couples who among other things used to go camping together.Now time has passed and one of the older ladies wanted to write to one of the older men to send him a few visual memories, to wish him well with his visit to hospital and hopefully put a smile on his face.  This is what she wrote.

Dear Friend,

! was sorry to hear that you are having a spell in hospital and hope that you make rapid progress and get home soon.

I was wondering if you remember anything about Set Theory, in particular the Intersection of Sets.

A ∩ B = ( x :  x Є A  ʌ  x Є B )

So if we say that

A represents the list of possible ailments for a man, and

B represents the list of possible ailments for a woman

Then

1.  I am quite happy to empathize with you if your present trouble lies in the Intersection Set Aas it  would be quite possible for me to have the same  problem as you

2.  I reserve the right to smirk whenever your ailment is such that A ∩ B = ф , i.e. your ailment doesn’t fall in the intersection set and there is no way in the world that I could possibly get that problem.

3. But I give you permission to smirk, gloat, snigger, grin, jeer, leer  and generally poke fun at my distress in the nicest possible way if any ailment that I should suffer from  also doesn’t lie in the intersection set and that there is no way that you could acquire that problem.

So….. whether your ailments lie in A ∩ B  or if A ∩ B = ф

                         GET WELL SOON.

 

The Rights of the Reader

For those of you who don’t read The Matilda Project , a fascinating stroll through the bookshops of London, today she included Daniel Pennac’s “Rights of the Reader” which are –

1. The right not to read

2. The right to skip pages

3. The right not to finish a book

4. The right to re-read

5. The right to read whatever you want

6. The right to ‘Bovarysme’ (the error of identifying too much with the book)

7. The right to read wherever you want

8. The right to dip in and out

9. The right to read out loud

10. The right to silence!

That makes me feel so good.  My reading is MY reading and doesn’t have to be approved by anyone else.

There was another piece of advice on reading which I heard a few years ago.  It had to do with how far you should perservere with a book before discarding it. The rule was to take your age in years away from 100.  This gives you  the number of pages you need to read before deciding this book is not for you. So the older you get the less time you have to waste on uninteresting books while when younger it encourages you to continue reading in the hope of broadening your reading experiences.

I’m not going to have that trouble with the book that I’m reading at the moment, Normally our library lets us have books for four weeks but with new books the time is restricted to two weeks. So I only have two weeks to read the 700 pages of 1914, The Year the World Ended, by Paul Ham. There is no way I will finish it in time but it is very interesting reading, going back many  years to talk about the many threads which led to this war.

1914 paul ham

The Blackwater Lightship by Colm Toibin

Blackwater

I was listening to a respected program on the radio and one of the women was praising the work of Colm Toibin and looking forward to reading his latest work, The Testament of Mary.  The subject matter of this book didn’t appeal to me so I looked for one of his earlier books and found The Blackwater Lightship, published in 1999.

It tells a story of three generations of women in a fractured family in Ireland who have had little contact with one another in recent years but are brought together by the  life-threatening illness of a grandson-son-brother.

It was easy to read  and to watch the interactions of the three women and later their defences against both friends of the family and the town gossips, but as the book moved on there was a detailed description of the evolvement of a homosexual affair and lengthy descriptions of the effect of AIDS on the body.

Authors are told to write about things that they know.  I have no objection to being introduced to a wide range of topics belonging to many different eras.  Usually the  new information is in small doses and merely contributes to the story line without dominating it as in this book.  Was I reading a book about the relations between women in a family or a book about AIDS ? As a woman I think I would have found it more interesting if the patient at the heart of the story were  a young person suffering from the side effects of chemotherapy in a last ditch effort to control breast cancer or ovarian cancer or any of the other cancers that strike young women. But that would have to be written by a different author.

Looking back now at the selfishness shown by the three women and the grudges they held , even though on the surface it seemed as they would be able to co-exist in the future at a certain level, I didn’t find any deep resolution of their problems, which is possibly how it would happen in real life.

The author writes in an interesting and flowing style so if you are interested in the subject matter of his stories no doubt  you will enjoy his books.

The Man Booker Advertising Agency

Why do we read.  Sometimes we’re looking for facts.  Sometimes it’s for the sheer beauty of the writing that sends shivers up our spines and stops us in our tracks, unable to continue as we have to stop and savour the moment.  Sometimes it’s the story that’s being told, moving along at a good pace.  Or it might be that the book is providing us with food for thought, that it relates to our own life and experiences.

One reason we do not read is to get utterly and thoroughly bored. And that is what has just happened to me with  Hilary Mantel’s Bring up the Bodies . I struggled  to get half way through it.  At least that is further than I got with Wolf Hall.  So I’ve thrown it out I hope it gets ripped and smashed and torn and ground and re-cycled into something useful. What a waste of time and paper.

There will be a lot of people who disagree with me, but there are also many who agree..  Except  for a few exceptions I cannot stand the books that are chosen as the winner of the Man Booker Prize

If I had read the Background page of the Man Booker web site  I would have found among its aims that ‘The real success will be a significant increase in the sales of the winning book‘ .  An emphasis on getting money for the author.  That is quite shameful and has nothing to do with good literature. Look Ladies and Gentlemen, we have given this book a prize.  Go forth and spend your hard earned dosh on this book

Another of the original aims of the prize was to ‘ increase the reading of quality fiction and to attract the intelligent audience…’  That is so patronizing.  You want to what ???  Increase my reading of quality  fiction? Quite frankly I don’t think you actually know what quality fiction is.  With each new edition of a dictionary new words are included, words that have entered the vocabulary and are in common usage,  Surely the same thing applies to good literature.  People read,  People talk. People recommend books to one another.  This is where good  literature is decided.  Listen to what they’re saying in  the libraries, in the book clubs.

When I decided  that I couldn’t stand another minute of  Bring up the Bodies I felt humiliated.  I felt small. I felt useless because I am bored and don’t have enough intelligence to appreciate this wonderful, wonderful book.  She does write a very pretty sentence, with everything in its right place,.  Then another pretty sentence.Then another pretty sentence, and so on and so on.  But the content is so bland and so uninteresting.   Perhaps she should read some Julian Barnes or Ian McEwan or David Mitchell and take some lessons. Yes, I know, I couldn’t do what she does.  But I am a reader,  not a writer.

Who chooses  the wnner ? The judges include critics, authors and academics but sometimes include poets,  politicians, journalists, broadcasters and actors. And then the web page goes on

This ‘common man’ approach to the selection of  Man Booker juries is , I believe, one of the key reasons why ‘the intelligent general audience’ trusts the prize..”

I would like to think that every member of those common man professions would take objection to being classified in such a manner. As for me, never again will I allow myself to be manipulated by this advertising scheme masquerading as the Man Booker Prize.

I shall now wait for the world to fall down around my ears for being such a heretic.

See for yourself       http://www.themanbookerprize.com/background

Julian Barnes (and Van Loon)

Levels of Life by Julian Barnes

My father owned a book called Van Loon’s Lives originally published in 1942 and it was one of my early reading experiences.  In  it the author invites pairs of famous people for dinner.  It didn’t matter if the guests lived in different centuries, this was a beautiful fantasy where a conversation could be constructed between very different people. Think of Sir Thomas More with Erasmus, Beethoven with Napoleon,  Mozart with Hans Andersen , Plato and Confucius, Chopin with Emily Dickinson.  I don’t know how the book would fare these days but for me it was a wonderful potted introduction to famous people in history. It’s back on my reading list after all these years.

I was reading a 1954 reprint of the book.   The endpapers show the supposed setting for the dinners.

Van loons lives

It was brought back to my mind when I started reading Julian Barnes’ “Levels of Life”.  As he started telling me about the early experiments with ballooning I found myself thinking I like this bloke.  I’d like to be at a dinner party where he is a guest. And hence Van Loon’s Lives !

I picked this book to read as I had so enjoyed his “Sense of an Ending”.  I get such a feeling of calm from his writings.

Levels of Life

But it’s an unusual book. Of just 118 pages I could call it a pot-pourri.  It starts off with stories of the early experiments with ballooning, the early adventurers escaping from the pull of the earth and an 1858 attempt at aerial photography.  We also learn a lot about the actress Sarah Bernhardt which you possibly hadn’t heard before, and then it moves on to his grief at the death of his beloved wife, Pat Kavanagh. For someone who normally lives a very private life, he is very revealing about his loss and its effect on his life.

At one stage his attitude to Death is “ It’s just the Universe doing its stuff.”  I like that.  It stacks up well against the usual condolences which are proffered. .  The Universe doing its stuff.  When we disintegrate do we break down into atoms or something smaller like an electron or a proton ?  I can visualize all my little bits and pieces floating around the Universe and hopefully one day in the distant future one of them will be re-cycled and become a part of a brilliant scientist or artist, writer or singer, pianist or doctor, someone who contributes strongly to their community.  Note that I didn’t include a Member of Parliament!

He appears to have no dependants, no going out each day to a regular job- is he alone too much with his grief ?  Would he have coped differently with  a fixed income and three children at school  That word LOVE needs a lot of consideration.  I felt there was so much dependency there,  Where is the borderline between Love and Dependency ?

Make sure you know the dictionary definition of uxurious before you start the book – excessively fond of your wife. .  He has a thing about people who don’t use the same meaning as he does, but then again he was a lexicographer for a while.

The copy of the book which I have read was published by Jonathan Cape.  I found it strange that it didn’t contain a list of the author’s previous publications.  When I enjoy a book one of the first things I do is go to the front of the book to find out what else he/she has published.

Since finishing the book a week or so ago I am still picking it up and opening it at random to read a paragraph or too.  I need to re-read the whole book. In the meantime, look what I found in Van Loon’s Lives – a lovely old bookmark.   British Commonwealth Day began in 1958, replacing Empire Day.

Commonwealth Day Bookmark

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

What an enjoyable book. So funny with an endearing  lead character , a brilliant adult who happens to have Asperger’s Syndrome.  His life is lived to a strict regime – lists for this and lists for that. As well he has little understanding of the conventions which enable society to function relatively smoothly `

Most of what I have heard about Aspergers and Autism has been  in connection with children.  So it was interesting  to read how a mature man might  cope with his life and his quest for a mate, a companion, a wife.

We are all different and some of us deviate from the median more than others. Most of us live behind a façade, a façade following man-made rules for civilized living, a façade which conceals a multitude of varations.

I picked up this book just at the right time, flat with a winter bug and needing cheering up.  It was easy to read and was soon finished. But a couple of days later I started to feel uneasy.  I know Don was only a fictional character but what right have I to laugh at his misfortunes.    Don is aware of many of his shortcomings and aware that people laugh at him.  Why should I add to his misery ?

Dear Don.  I think I could be your friend.  I could quite easily live with your Standardised Meal System and would happily go to a Ball with you in your Top Hat and Tails !

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