Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Memetime I - Books

Having been tagged with this one aeons ago by the delightful Reluctant Blogger I thought it was high time I caught up with my memes!

Books I Have Always Meant To Read

1. Down and Out In Paris and London by George Orwell - It sits patiently in my bookcase but I have never got past the first couple of chapters as I find it too harrowing.
2. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck - I hardly got through the stage play as again, it was just too harrowing and I'm too wimpy. I still remember being reduced to tears by the closing chapters of his classic The Grapes of Wrath following the malnourished cavalcade of poor white families making their way across America in beat-up old vehicles hoping for a new life of plenty in California following the Great Depression, with the daughter of the principal family eventually reduced to breastfeeding a starving man with the milk meant for her stillborn infant. I understand most people go through a John Steinbeck phase in their early 20s!
3. Rather shamefacedly my friend Helen Rappaport's novel 'Dark Hearts of Chicago' (co-written with William Horwood), which I have now possessed for over a year and not finished yet! It follows the hair-raising adventures of an early female reporter dispatched by her New York editor (one suspects to get rid of her since she has foisted herself upon his employ in the days when this wasn't done!) to the 1893 World Fair in Chicago to investigate the fate of a missing woman, also from New York. It has won rave reviews and I know it will be brilliant, with an authenticity found in few other novels (Helen is also a well-known historian), but between being a dead slow and easily-distracted reader and the fact that my copy is a large first edition hardback which is hard to cart around and heavy to take to bed - ok, then there's the squeamish scenes in the 19thC Chicago meat processing plants - well I just haven't finished it - sshhhh - don't tell her!

Two Books Which Changed My Life

1.Cancer as a Turning Point by Lawrence Le Shan - the best book I know to help anyone get through cancer. Sensible, supportive, comforting and inspiring to help the cancer sufferer unlock all sorts of inner creativity, strengths and managing mechanisms they may not realise they had in order to turn their remaining time (however short or long) around to achieve the best possible outcome that they can, whether that be a successful return to health, or a minimal-regret, minimal-pain, peaceful farewell without unfinished business. What I really like about it is that it's not about positivity-at-all-costs, religion or advocating a particular form of alternative or conventional medicine, but rather helps cancer sufferers to ask themselves what they might be learning from the cancer experience, however difficult, as a key to re-thinking their previous assumptions, attitudes and feelings about their lives, with their families encouraged to play an active role in aiding their emotional and physical healing and supporting any changes they may wish to instigate as a result.
Perhaps my friend would have survived in any case, but I like to think this book helped! A great 'Emergency, Break Glass!' book, though it is not always easy to get a copy of, surprisingly, despite many reprints.
2.Mr God, This Is Anna - by Fynn. A lanky young sailor in 1930's East End London comes across a hungry four year old waif whilst sitting in a doorway having a smoke. They strike up a conversation and he ends up buying some sausages which he shares with her before taking her home to his mother, who promptly dunks her in a tin bath for a good scrub. So begins his extraordinary relationship with the young Anna, who decides to move in with them full-time (despite vain attempts to find her parents), and although scarcely able to read and write, the little girl turns out to have an extraordinary and voracious appetite for knowledge, testing Fynn to the limit on maths, astrology, nature and 'Mr God' in particular, so that after her untimely death at the age of eight, he feels obliged to record their many magical conversations together discussing the world and its workings, and all that he himself learned from them.
Child Protection would never approve of the fact that she often climbs uninvited into his bed for a cuddle and tells him she loves him, but their unlikely bond is the whole charm of the book. You will feel touched by angels by the end. Happily it just about escapes a descent into schmaltz.

Recommend a Book I've Been Talking About Since The Day I Read It

'I Didn't Get Where I Am Today' by David Nobbs - the hilarious autobiography of one of Britain's foremost comedy writers, responsible for 'The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin' among many other television and novelistic successes over the years. This man is a genius for observing life's absurdities, seemingly inspired by being subjected to a few himself, and from the moment he is single-handedly mistaken for an entire battalion while doing his young mans' stint in National Service, shipped over to Denmark with an entire deck to himself and then served over 300 dinners by a very surprised-looking Danish Chef, you will find it as impossible as I did to put it down. I also loved his behind-the-scenes experiences of getting television both accepted and made - not without its own many absurdities and outrageous contradictions. A great book for a television nut like me! Or just anyone who loves comedy or writing really.

Who better to pass this particular meme baton onto than new Lit Chick on the block - LucyFishWife of: Life Happens Between Books


lucyfishwife said...

Blimey a good question! Await my post in ooh half an hour or so. Now I actually have to wake up..

Mrs. G. said...

I am a big fan of David Nobbs. You have great book taste.

Reluctant Blogger said...

There is a strange grey box across the "2 books that have changed my life" section and it covers what you have written. I will come back tomorrow and see if it is gone. Any idea what it might be? I've had no problems with any other sites I've visited.

But thanks for doing this - I will write a proper comment when I can read what you have written!!

Steve said...

Good choices, Laura... I've added a few to my own book list. I think you should definitely read the book by your friend as a priority... especially if she reads your blog!

Reluctant Blogger said...

Well, Steve can clearly read it - so it must be my computer. I will have a look later on the other computer. Maybe it will look different if I use Explorer. What a nuisance.

Reluctant Blogger said...

At last! I was advised to reinstall Firefox and that seems to have de-grey boxed your post for me.

I think I will try the Anna book. I often used to dream of being adopted by someone else as a child - it was one of my favourite daydreams. The 1930s is also one of my favourite periods (not that I remember it!) but it sort of seems in the past without being unrecognisable. And people wore hats which is good.

Thanks for doing the meme.

Oh and Steve is right about your friend's book. I have two books by friends that I have as yet failed to finish - both proved very heavy going. Fortunately neither friend has asked me about them!

Rol said...

Of Mice & Men isn't quite as harrowing as The Grapes Of Wrath... particularly when you know what's coming. That said, Steinbeck is a powerfully emotional writer, so I can understand your wimping out.

moi said...

I'm still in a Steinbeck phase. He's a sublime writer. I heartily recommend East of Eden as well.

The Sagittarian said...

I'm still in a John Steinbeck phase too...am re-reading Cannery Row (my all time fave)...mind you, I have a few books on the go and the moment!

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Lucy - you did yourself proud with your meme turnaround!

Mrs G - So glad to know that Mr Nobbs' reputation precedes him to your side of the Atlantic! I had the good fortune to meet him at Oxford Literary Festival last year - and he was every bit as funny in real life!

RB - I didn't find this problem myself, but then I was away from computer for most of yesterday. Glad the Firefox reinstallation worked - yes I've often hunted high and low for an adoption certificate when I go home to visit my parents! You won't regret reading Anna, though you will find that secondhand bookshops always classify her under 'religion' for some reason!

Rol - Steinbeck certainly knew how to wring every ounce of emotion out of his readers, true!

Moi - I have read most of Steinbeck's novels, but I'll test myself as to whether I recall East of Eden next time I'm in a bookstore.

Sagittarian, Although hard to read, I think The Grapes of Wrath was the most impactful to me as it involved so many people caught up in a real-life hardship - even though Of Mice and Men was the most unbearable one - possibly owing to the innate helplessness of one of the characters. Can't bear sad animal stories for the same reason!

Thanks Steve - yes Helen sometimes reads my blog, so I'd better get cracking finishing her novel!