e a m harris

Roaming the byways of literature

Archive for the tag “30 day book challenge”

30 Day Book Challenge – day 5: A non-fiction book I like

13 ways cover artI read a good deal of non-fiction. Currently on the go is 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel by Jane Smiley. It’s subtitled ‘What to read and how to write’ and I’m not sure I like the prescriptiveness of that. However, she has done a lot of reading of important and literary works and compares them in interesting and useful ways. I do like it, but not hugely.

A lot of my non-fiction reading is technical stuff like The Poet’s Manual by Frances Stillman or How to be a Gardener by Alan Titchmarsh. I suppose cookery books would come under this heading. They are among my favourite non-fiction reads, and I quite often browse the recipes even if I have no intention of actually cooking them.

One of my all time favourites is The Holocene: An Environmental History by Neil the holocene coverRoberts. I’ve had it for a while so it must be a bit out of date by now, but I keep it and dip into it occasionally. It covers the recent history of our world from the end of the last ice age to now (or more accurately 1998 when my edition was published).

I love this stuff: evolution, the changes our planet has been through, ancient history, astronomy. I love the oldness and largeness of the scale they deal with and the perspective they put on our short lived and temporary lives.

Covers from Mostly Fiction Book Reviews and Google books.

30 Day Book Challenge – day 4: A book that reminds me of home

Which book I choose here depends partly on what is meant by ‘home’. Does it mean where I live now? Where I am from? Where I was happiest? Where I would like to live?

Those of us lucky enough to have had a safe and loving childhood may speak of ‘home’ meaning the dwelling and place we were brought up. I use the word sometimes in this sense, and then home means my parents house in London. I’ve read scores of books about or set in London and all of them remind me that I started life a Londoner and it is, in a way, always my home.

Sometimes though it means the household I set up when I first left my parental home and started running my own. I think it possible this means more to women than to men. There’s something empowering about being the one who decides where things will be kept, what to eat and when, whether to do the washing up now or later. Do men feel this too?

I’ve never read a book set at this stage of the main character’s life, so I don’t know what kind of reminding power such a story might have.

Most frequently, for me, it means where I live now. And I don’t think I am reminded of it by reading – it’s with me constantly.

Home may be somewhere far away: maybe where you were born or where your parents or grandparents came from. I suspect refugees and their children feel this. I think books written about this experience would speak powerfully to someone who’d been through it. I hope that if they ever get to actually return ‘home’ it is as they want it to be.

Some Christians and others who believe in an afterlife speak of ‘home’ meaning heaven. I love this idea, but as a Buddhist I would never use it myself.

Other people like to dwell on the ideal home – stately or cosy, in a familiar place or somewhere new, isolated or surrounded by supportive neighbours – you name it, someone would love it.

How does ‘home’ feel to a nomad? To a bigamist? To a bird on migration? I don’t know, but I think it would mean something to all of them.

Having thought about being reminded of home I’ve come to the conclusion that many books do this.

There is Heidi by Johanna Spyri, which I revisited recently, reminded me of reading by the fire in winter in may parental home.

There are the Star Trek books I used to read when I got home in the days when I had two jobs and and was out from early morning to late at night – and so pleased to be finally ‘home’ in my own flat.

But the one I think that says ‘home’ more frequently than others is Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas. My parents had a copy (more on that in another post maybe); it reminds me of Wales where I lived for several years; I’ve seen it performed in the theatre (sitting in the dark with some good friends is a very homey experience); and it describes the home lives of the kind of people one meets every day.

Cover art: Amazon,  Abe Books, Amazon

30 Day Book Challenge – day 3: A book that surprised me

There have been a good many books that have surprised me in one way or another. In fact one of the reasons I read is to be surprised.

Surprise endings are in as standard. Surprise settings arise often. I don’t just mean science fiction or fantasy, but also new-to-me information about places and peoples. Surprise snippets leap off the page all the time. Yesterday I was browsing through a book about herbal medicine and came across a description of a herb that the Greeks used to stave off the indigestion they were prone to when eating in front of strangers. I never knew that about the Greeks. They wouldn’t do well in our take-away-eat-in-the-street culture.

The 30 Day Challenge doesn’t specify what kind of surprise nor its quality. Being a positive person I have interpreted it as giving me a nice surprise and also one where the book as a whole surprised.

And so I come to Isvik by Hammond Innes.

I don’t know when Innes started writing, but he seems to have always been hovering in my reading background, taking up considerable shelf space in the library and bookshop.

But I have never read any of his books. I can’t now recall how I developed the idea I wouldn’t like them. I thought them too masculine, his writing style was too simple, there was too much killing and fighting, and the plots were OTT.

But a few months ago I bought Isvik in a charity shop, more or less because I felt I should buy something and it only cost a few pence. Having bought it, I read it. And was very pleasantly surprised.

The central character is a man, but there are several feisty women and they are well drawn. The writing is evocative and clear, and the plot is interesting with many twists and turns.

A scientist on a flight over Antarctica catches a glimpse of a sailing ship trapped in the ice. There is some Isvik cover artdoubt as to whether he really saw something or was deluded, but several people have reasons to want it to be true and to try and locate it. The ‘Isvik’ of the title is the ship that sets off to find whatever the scientist saw.

With a mismatched crew awash with opposing intentions, the journey is made for trouble. And when they reach journey’s end, they find something much worse than they expected.

I was pleased enough to want to read some more Hammond Innes in the future.

30 Day Book Challenge – day 2: What is your least favourite book?

Another more or less unanswerable challenge. There are a several books I’ve not been able to finish for various reasons, and there are several that I’ve read and not liked. So I should have a choice of what to write about. Trouble is that books I don’t like also prove forgettable.

Patrick Gale cover artOf books I’ve read recently, The Whole Day Through by Patrick Gale was one I had to work hard to finish. I didn’t particularly dislike it – just couldn’t see the point of it.

The two main characters attempt to rekindle something they had for each other years ago, but whatever didn’t work the first time round, doesn’t this time either. Unfortunately, I felt that instead of being tragic or even sad, the outcome was ‘so what’.

A book that I didn’t like and didn’t finish was It by Stephen King. I read less than a quarter and gave up – too much Stephen King cover artdodging about in time with too many important characters and none of them particularly empathetic. Plus it was not at all scary. A creature living under a town and attacking the children ought to be terrifying, but this one wasn’t – or not to me anyway. Maybe if I’d stuck with it, I’d have come to appreciate it, but life’s too short to try the almost impossible.

My memory says there are plenty of others I gave up on, but it refuses to produce their titles. Is this a well-trained memory dropping stuff it doesn’t need, or intimations of old age?

Cover art from Goodreads.

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