29 October 2011

Meme meme meme....

I have to admit that ordinarily I'm not a huge fan of memes. (Don't kill me but..) I often glaze over other bloggers weekly memes as I find them a bit predictable once you've seen them a few times over and they don't make for hugely exciting reading.

HOWEVER, the one meme I have enjoyed and have participated in once before is Simon's surprising simple and highly effective (and useful for someone with a head full of rubbish, such as myself) stock checking book list.... 

So......anti-meme as I am..here we go...

1) The book I'm currently reading

The blurb for this book didn't initially draw me in and that, coupled with the fact that it won the Orange Prize and I'm often reluctant to jump on bandwagons right away, means that I've come to this a bit later than everyone else. However, after hearing Téa Obreht do a reading of this lovely book on the Guardian Books Podcast I had to give it a go. Not disappointed yet! 

2) The last book I finished

Picked this up after meeting Carol Birch at the Bookmarked Literary Salon in Manchester earlier this month. This wouldn't ordinarily be something I'd buy (completely sympathise with the whole issue with books set on boats that Simon and Polly have both expressed!) but I'm really glad I did and was completely routing for Carol to win the Booker. (Bugger!) Although sections could have done with a jolt, this ultimately very harrowing story will stay with me for a good while yet. Review to come soon.

3) The next book I want to read

Now, this is the reason why this meme is so effective! I've just realised how 'popular' my current reading habits are! I will endeavour to dig out a classic/something foreign and/or obscure very soon!  That said, I'm sure you can all forgive me for this....the 'must read' of the year surely?

4.) The last book I bought

Love her. 'Nuff said. :-)

5) The last book I was given

Everyone understandably chickened out on my birthday this year, unable to think of books I haven't acquired already and very kindly got me book vouchers instead. As a result, I think the last book I was given was probably Garcia Marquez's Collected Stories (the most recent edition - not the one above) that my parents very kindly gave me when they found a copy in a charity bookshop. I love Gabriel Garcia Marquez, particularly when I can read him in manageable bite-sized nuggets.

On an entirely different note, I'm already growing tired of the format/colours of this blog and am considering a bit more of a 'professional' look. If any of you seasoned bloggers out there have some ideas/advice I am all ears!

28 October 2011

Boho Literary Pub Crawl

Oh no...apologies, it was the Boho Literary Pub Walk that myself and the bf booked ourselves onto with much enthusiasm after perusing the delights to be had at the Manchester Literary Festival this year, and didn't my beloved Northern city put on a good show.

Although we only managed to haul ourselves to the event that focused on bookish stories centered around the watering holes of our fair city (most notably paying a visit to the Peveril of the Peak, one of my favourite places for a pint) it seems that everyone has thoroughly enjoyed their slice of the festival.

John; our enigmatic guide to Manchester's literary underbelly was extraordinary and a relative goldmine of information. We were both completely stupefied by the fact after interesting fact that he managed to cram into the two hour walk around the city center; god only knows how one man manages to remember it all! Our tour taught us several things; firstly and most importantly, it doesn't matter how long you live somewhere, you still don't know it like you think you know it. Moreover, however much of a downer you manage to create around a place where you've spent so much time, struggling sometimes to see out of the little box of drudgery on the way to the office each day, your home has so much more to offer than you realised.

It seems that Manchester was once the hub of everything; political, cultural, you name it. And I am proud to call myself a Mancunian (even more so nowadays) .Thankyou very much John (and, of course, the benevolent spirits of Elizabeth Gaskell and Anthony Burgess) you have opened our eyes...

(P.S - big shout out for Bookmarked at Waterstones Deansgate on the 7th November - Ben Aaronovitch, Paul Magrs, Simon and Adam, I can't WAIT !!!)

22 October 2011

The Wind-up Bird Chronicle

Over a month has passed by since I finished Murakami's The Wind up Bird Chronicle. So very many weeks that I was quite interested as to how effectively I could compile my thoughts on this book...whether it would be any easier to write a review with a bit more reflection and distance between us...

After reading Kafka on the Shore earlier this year I felt I had thrust open doors to entire new solar systems of thought and fiction -  Murakami's totally bizarre, ambiguous and sometimes very sinister worlds completely enthralled and surprised me; how I had not discovered him before now? I understand that his storytelling might not be everyone's cup of tea; some people like their reading to be less confusing and to have more of a clear plotline and, well, point. My second experience of this legendary author, although not pulling me in quite as much as Kafka, certainly did not disappoint.

Toru Okada is your typical Japanese unemployed 'everyman' (this is always a good starting point for me, I appreciate good books with amazingly ordinary characters at the center of them; take Diary of a Nobody for example) married to Kumiko, a woman who works in a high-pressure job for a publishing house. They have a cat called Noboru Wataya (a recurring name you have to keep an eye out for in Murakami novels) named after Kumiko's sinister and powerful brother. This beloved family pet has completely disappeared, leaving Toru's wife in distress and forming a frame for the story that follows; the mysterious disappearance of Kumiko herself and the strange set of circumstances that follow.

This is a characteristically quirky book; detached, philosophical, vivid and thought-provoking. Toru Okada is numb in his loss; the bizarre (journeys through the wall of a dried-up well - much like Alice down the rabbit hole) are treated normally and the mundane (eating pasta) take on a whole new lease of life with the ever-pervading sense of tension and, at times, dread, as the 'Wind-up' bird disappears from his garden and he is bombarded by phone calls and visits from a cast of eccentric characters. What happens to Toru exactly I couldn't really say, partially because I would hate to spoil it for anyone and also because, well, I don't really know! I love Murakami's oblique view of the world and I can't wait to read his new offering this year, but I am certain that there are whole chunks of meaning in his novels that I am only just grasping the cusp of, with much of it completely passing me by. Hopefully I will get a bit brighter with old age and this will improve but in the meantime his books and the characters within them are absolutely haunting and I thrust his work on anyone unlucky enough to peruse my bookshelf.

Although I'm up for reading a few spooky novels this autumn/winter (Rebecca being my starting point) I think I might lean towards a bit of a Japanese theme this year and next. The country and culture completely fascinates me and a good friend has just settled down over there so, you never know, perhaps an exciting journey could be on the cards over the next couple of years. Better start doing some research..

And...upon reflection, especially with such a mind-bending piece of writing, yes, I think the break between reading and review-writing did us both some good! Perhaps this is something to reflect on for future posts..what do you think?

14 October 2011

City of Djinns

Now, before I start to rattle on about the second read of my summer holiday, let me take the opportunity to congratulate Simon and Adam on the third most enjoyable installment of the Bookmarked Literary Salon at Waterstones in Manchester; this time with my most favourite theme of historical fiction at its centre. Carol Birch (whose Booker Prize short-listed Jamrach's Menagerie I'm reading at the mo) and Jane Harris (author of Gillespie and I, which also sounds fab)  were both so charming and it was really interesting to listen to what inspires them and how they organise themselves into writing a novel. Thanks guys! I wait in anticipation for the next one in November!

So, before we went to Delhi, one of my colleagues at work insisted that I pick up City of Djinns by William Dalrymple (I can never spell his name!) and I wasn't disappointed.

I don't read enough outside my comfort zone and travel fiction isn't really something I'm well versed in. The wonderful thing is that this personal account of Dalrymple's years spent with his Scottish wife living in the Indian capital reads just like a novel; only with a few facts thrown in on the side. During the first couple of days we spent abroad I wasn't blown away by the book and I felt quite indifferent to the frequent historical digressions, however once we settled in and began to understand the place a little more I thought his depiction of the country and its people was absolutely brilliant. The personal perspective brings a depth of understanding that you simply don't get from ordinary travel fiction and I appreciated the 'India through foreign eyes' perspective. The characters are hilarious and very true to Indian form and the bf, much to his dismay, had to endure night after night of Lucy's 'did you know..' Indian fact of the day...

So, good stuff over all and my parents have discovered an absolute gem of a charity shop outside Derby where I picked up a copy of In Xanadu, where Dalrymple follows Marco Polo's travels from Jerusalem all the way into the historical city of Xanadu in China. What a find!

Finally, and most importantly, I need some advice from all you bookworms out there - I have £40 worth of book tokens that I received for my birthday last week. What do you think is the best way to spend them? And where should I shop?!! Upon reflection there aren't too many independent bookstores in Manchester...**sigh** if only.....

9 October 2011

A Fine Balance

One of the most important things I have learnt from putting pen to paper and reflecting on what I read is how completely skewed first impressions can be.  I did think twice about putting A Fine Balance in my rucksack to take away with me because even opening this book up is a prospect that, until a few weeks ago, had made me quite anxious indeed. Densely-packed text covers all 624 pages of this epic novel that deals with some pretty harsh and harrowing subjects.......but was this a slog to read in the end?            
Not  one  bit.

 Despite having been thoroughly occupied with Discovering Daphne du Maurier these past few days, this deeply moving portrait of four people struggling to survive in the Indian mega-city Mumbai is something that has haunted me for days....

Dina Dilal is a headstrong individual with a fierce desperation to maintain her independence; an incredible goal in a world of crippling poverty and political turmoil, particularly for a woman. Having found a modest flat of her very own away from the prying eyes of her controlling brother and his wife, Dina sets out to employ two experienced tailors (Ishvar and Omprakesh) to take on the work doled out by a large export company in the city and rents out her only bedroom to the student son of a school friend.

The way in which Rohinton Mistry effortlessly interweaves the stories of four characters with completely different experiences of the same country is really very admirable. Through a masterful series of chapters that leap in time and space we follow Ishvar and Omprakesh's journey, and that of their family, from the small village of the chamaar caste of 'untouchables' they belong to to the bright lights and brand new lives working as tailors in the city. Great joy and great tragedy lies in store for these two men and we follow them closely every step of the way. Student Maneck, on the other hand, comes from a very different part of the world; growing up in a quiet hill station in his parent's grocery shop and finding himself understandably shell-shocked by the city.

The vivid images in this novel were of course made all the more so by being in situ at the time of reading and I find myself wondering what I would have imagined in my minds eye had we not witnessed the terrible poverty and overwhelming chaos with our own eyes. I am also rather ashamed that I understood so little about India's turbulent history before going there and this brilliant story merely served to hammer this home, exploring the religious conflicts surrounding partition-era India and the surgical removal (quite literally at times!) of citizens' basic human rights during Indira Gandhi's 'Emergency' of the 1970s.

This is a heartwarming and enlightening tale that deals with some uncomfortable and distressing subjects in a very appropriate and entirely natural way. The serious tragedy we might see that is a simple reality for many people in India is brutally and honestly approached without eclipsing the bond these wonderful characters develop and the positive periods spent with one another. Rohinton Mistry is an accomplished writer and this beautiful novel is well on its way to being a modern classic; had its 600 pages fit into my satchel without becoming horrendously squashed and dog-eared it would have been perfect.  A Fine Balance, you might say... 9/10

1 October 2011

Discovering Daphne

After having almost a month off the radar I have come back to England with a fair few goals with regards to the blog and reading; the first being an aim for quality rather than quantity. As I'm sure many out of you out there can sympathise, it is incredibly difficult to set aside quality time for indulging in writing and reading whilst trying to hold down a full-time job and, from reading other blogs, I realise that I'm not the only one who puts herself under unduly large pressure to update my website every five minutes with something earth shatteringly  well-written.

Well, the pressure is off. I have loved having two or three weeks of pure indulgence book-wise and I am determined for it to continue, it's important to have down time after all! I hope I can, as a result, develop Literary Relish into a more considered and therefore hopefully far more interesting forum for discussing literature and indeed all manner of fabulous and fascinating things that life as to offer.

Anyway, enough rambling, what I was going to say is that I have a few books in the pipeline that I'm desperate to get into, however, I may have to make one small addition to the pile this October:

Savidge Reads and Novel Insights will be hosting their annual Daphne du Maurier-fest and, although I can't join in the fabulous read-along (although if you have the time do check it out!) I am definitely going to be remedying the embarrassing fact that I have never read Rebecca. (I know, I know.) I also have The Doll sitting on my bookshelf tantilising me to turn the pages...so...onwards and upwards!