Author Archives: BookerTalk
Are you a lover of the sun-drenched lounger or do you prefer a chilled-out garden swing?
Do you hanker for a window seat or would you sooner have a fireside armchair?
Maybe your idea of reading heaven lies between the bed sheets?
Hilary Mantel speaks for many readers who count down the minutes until we can climb into bed and pick up the latest book on our bedside table.
My day is not complete unless I can end it with time to indulge in my favourite pastime. Reading in bed is a way to escape the real world, a chance to separate from the humdrum routines of life.
If I had a particularly rubbish day at work, this became the time I could push it aside; delighting in the knowledge there was absolutely nothing else I had to except snuggle down and read.
Age makes no difference it seems when it comes to listing bed as a favourite place to read.
In the summer of 2019, the National Literacy Trust in the UK asked children for their favourite spots to read. Beds came top of the list. Other top contenders included sofas, libraries, buses, trains and planes.
A few (imaginative? foolhardy?) children said their favourite reading escape took place on a trampoline. I’ll take their word for that; I know if I gave it a go it would turn out a disaster.
Readers are a resourceful bunch of people. Railway stations; parks; cafes; dental surgeries. We’ve mastered the art of reading anywhere and everywhere. No matter where we are, you can be sure we’ll have found a corner where we can open a book and zone out from what’s around us.
But given the choice, there are some reading spaces we prefer above all others. They’re our go to spots. The places that are ‘special’. And they’re different for each of us.
Garden Reading Paradise
Hilary Mantel clearly enjoys reading in bed but her favourite place to read is at home in Devon with the sound of the sea in the background.
My home isn’t close enough to the sea to hear the waves but I do cherish the summer when I get to spend reading in the garden.
My background soundtrack comes from the birds that use our pond as their personal bathing pool. They gather in a line on top of the fence waiting for the signal that the coast is clear. Then the entire gang swoop down into the pond for a good splash until the next signal that it’s time to return to the fence. It’s quite a pantomime performance.
We’ve just completed an entire garden make-over, including replacing the pond (it was leaking) so I hope these visitors will appreciate the new premium bathing facilities. Until the summer returns however the garden reading space is out of bounds.
Reading Plus View= Bliss
Holidays and reading go hand in hand for me. But you won’t find me book in hand on a sun lounger on a beach. I’m more likely to be sat on a bench in a park or in the garden of the hotel or rental apartment.
There’s something ultra special about looking up from a book to view an ancient monument or the cupolas of a mediaeval town. I’m equally happy casting my eye over lavender coloured louvre shutters or terracotta tiles.
Of all the many places I’ve travelled, here are three that have a special place in my affection. I’d love to return one day.
Ok so I didn’t have a book with me when this photo was taken but I was engaged in literary endeavours; revising for a university module on the nineteenth century novel. The view over the bay towards Cap Ferrat made the revision bearable.
Definitely the strangest place I’ve ever stayed: a room fashioned from a cave in South Africa. If you don’t believe me, here’s the bedroom which came complete with large spider on the ceiling directly above the bed.
From the little terrace there was an uninterrupted view across the wilderness towards Namibia. Empty except for a few scorpions, ostriches, antelopes, zebras and leopards.
Amid the carefully arranged rocks and foliage of Miyazu Gardens on the edge of the town of Nelson in New Zealand, I found the most perfect reading haven. It’s a small space but the designers created a maze of little paths taking me over bridges, through pergolas to this wonderful reflecting pool. A few hours in the shade here was bliss.
Where Is YOUR Favourite Reading Space?
I’ve told you about the places I love to read. Now it’s your turn.
Do you, like Mantel, look forward to bedtime so you can read? Where do you normally do your reading? And where is your favourite reading space of all time?
What connects a true story about women’s sex lives in the 21st century with a novel about friendship in Japan?
No that’s not a trick question.
It’s my feeble attempt to signal the latest episode of Six Degrees of Separation, a sort of literary version of a word association game.
This month we begin with Three Women by Lisa Taddeo, a book which has made it to the top of the New York Times best seller list. I’ve not read it or in fact even heard about it but apparently its an in-depth look at the sex drive of American women.
Women and sex. An easy choice for book number one in my chain.
In Women In Love , D H Lawrence focused on the loves and lives of two women: Gudrun Brangwen (a painter) and her schoolteacher sister Ursula.
Its high sexual content and the intensity of the relationship between these women and their lovers caused controversy when the book came out in 1920. One critic described it as “dirt in heaps—festering, putrid heaps which smell to high Heaven.”
Lawrence is one of those authors who has been in and out of favour. At the time of his death in 1930 he was viewed as a man who had wasted his talents on producing pornography. But he had huge fans in E M Forster and F R Leavis. It was heir view of Lawrence as a great imaginative talent that prevailed so much that in the 60s and 70s Lawrence was a stalwart of university reading lists.
But now? You barely hear his name and I doubt he’s required reading for any literature students.
The fickle world of literary criticism might have put paid to D H Lawrence but it was the making of Kate Chopin.
Her novella The Awakening was reviled when it was published in 1899 – “essentially vulgar” was one contemporary’s description. But the growth of modern feminist literary criticism since the 1960s brought a re-evaluation of Chopin’s work. The Awakening is now considered a landmark in feminist literature for its portrayal of a woman whose emotional and sexual awakening led her to walk out on her husband and children.
The protagonist of All Passion Spent, the book I’ve just finished reading, didn’t walk out on her husband but his death was the catalyst for her decision to forge a new path in life.
At 88 years old Lady Slane’s children think they know what’s best for her and how she should live out the rest of her life. But this is one woman who’s done suppressing her own desires while being the dutiful wife of a great man. Now its time for her to strike out on her own, finding new friendships and re-discovering one from her past. .
Lady S put me in mind of the widow in Elizabeth Taylor’s wonderful novel Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont.
Mrs P is not as wealthy but she shares a similar distaste for spending her twilight years in her daughter’s home. The Claremont Hotel introduces her to a mixed bag of similarly displaced guests who have developed their own strategies for dealing with the loneliness of old age and its financial challenges.
Talking of hotels brings me to A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles which focuses on Count Alexander Rostov, a charming aristocrat who falls foul of the new Communist ruling party. They sentence him to imprisonment in a tiny attic room in Moscow’s swanky Hotel Metropol.
Not an easy feat to fashion an engaging tale from a character whose is limited to the walls of the hotel. But Towles gets around the problem by having the world come to the Count. The result is a novel rich in atmosphere and human drama that celebrates dignity, loyalty and friendship.
Friendship is central to the plot of my final book in this month’s chain: Goodbye Tsugumi by Banana Yoshimoto. The setting is not as grand as the Hotel Metropole however because it takes place in a small seaside inn in Japan. Two girls who were once close friends reunite at the inn for one last summer before the place is closed. Like most of the Japanese novels I’ve read this was beautifully atmospheric.
And there I think it’s time to bring this chain to an end. We’ve travelled from America to England, from Russia to Japan. Touched on sex, old age, feminism and friendship. Where would your six degree of separation take you? Play along by visiting the host Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best)
The Flying Man by Roopa Farooki
Roopa Farooki’s fifth novel The Flying Man is a strange one. It’s a brave author who attempts to win sympathy for a protagonist who is anything but likeable. It’s a gamble that didn’t quite pay off.
The eponymous flying man – so called because of his habit of flitting from one country to another – is Maqil Karamis, charlatan and fraudster extraordinaire. He keeps one step ahead of detection by adopting new identities and moving his base of operation. One time political activist, playwright and journalist, he morphs into a gambler, businessman, fraudster and thief.
Despite the light-hearted tone of Farooki’s narrative, Maqil isn’t the kind of rogue for whom you can have even a sneaking admiration because, with each new assumed identity, he leaves behind a trail of abandoned wives and children.
This is a man who seems perpetually in flight.
In his youth he flees from what he views as the stultifying conventionality of his family home in Pakistan, preferring the freedom of life as a student in New York. He arrives with three identities: Maqil to his family; Sonny to his mother and Sunny to his father.
But “let loose in the Land of the Free … ” he quickly assumes a fourth more enigmatic identity as MSK, “the campus international man of mystery.” Even this isn’t enough for him and he tries on more ‘costumes’ before deciding he quite likes being Mike Cram “an anonymous man who could be from anywhere.”
Over the course of the book he turns up as Mehmet Khan, Miguel Caram and Mikhail Lee in Paris, Cairo, London and Hong Kong. Along the way he collects three wives, though doesn’t bother with the niceties of divorce. When he’s had enough of the relationship, or the effects of his conniving, fraudulent activities threaten to catch up with him, he just disappears.
Rogue or cad?
The Flying Man verges on being a fun adventure novel but the humour never overcame my general feeling of unease about the sordid way in which Maqil treats his family.
Though he tries to court our sympathy with the occasional moment of self candour, his ‘mea culpa’ isn’t convincing. For this is a man who has made such a success of being a fraud, it’s hard to believe anything he says. I was more in sympathy with his second wife Samira and the twins he abandons, than with this chameleon. He wasn’t a loveable rogue, more of a cad who shies from anything that involves commitment or responsibility.
Maybe I would have been more empathetic if I’d understood more clearly why Maqil had this compulsion to be constantly on the move. But we seldom got deep enough into his personality to discover his motivation beyond a sense that he hates to be bored. Is that enough to make him a believable character? Not in my book. I wanted a fully rounded character but what I got was a shadowy figure that flitted from page to page.
This experience hasn’t put me off reading Roopa Farooki, I just have to find the right book.
The Flying Man: Fast Facts
Roopa Farooki was born in Lahore, Pakistan, but moved with her family to London when she was seven months old. She worked in advertising before she turned to writing fiction full-time.
Her first novel Bitter Sweets was published in the UK in 2007 and shortlisted for the Orange Award for New Writers that year.
The Flying Man, published in January 2012 , was longlisted for the Orange Prize in 2012.
Reading Horizons: September 2019
What I’m reading now
I’ve just started a book that was an international best seller in 2018. I’m honestly not sure I want to read this but it was loaned by a friend so I feel obliged to at least give it a try. Whether I finish it remains to be seen.
The subject matter alone makes The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris, a challenging book. It’s described as the ‘true’ story of how a Slovakian Jew fell in love with a girl he was tattooing at the concentration camp. But I’ve also seen articles challenging the accuracy and authenticity of the ‘facts’ presented in the book. And that’s making me feel particularly uncomfortable.
What I just finished reading
Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance was on my #15booksofsummer reading list but I ran out of time. It was going to go back into the bookcase but so many other bloggers commented that it was a wonderful novel, that I changed my mind.
I’m really glad I did because this turned out to be exactly the kind of novel I love. It’s a long book – more than 600 pages – but it’s so well written that it just zips along.
A Fine Balance follows four strangers whose lives intersect at a time of political turmoil in India. The government’s declaration of a State of Internal Emergency sparks a wave of arbitrary violence and brutal repression. This is a story of the hopes and dreams of three men and one woman and how they discover friendship in adversity.
What I’ll read next
Now this is never an easy question because I’m such a ditherer.. Right now I have a hankering for a classic so could go for one of the books from my classics club list . When I was having a root around the bookcase a couple of nights ago I came across Vita Sackville-West’s All Passion Spent which was published in 1932.
I’ve seen this described as her best and most popular novel, “irreverently funny and surprisingly moving”. All Passion Spent is the story of an 88 year old, newly widowed woman who refuses to let her children dictate how she spends the rest of her life. I’ve dipped into the book and liked what I found on the first few pages.
It could be interesting to follow this up with something by her friend and lover Virginia Woolf. A re-read of To The Lighthouse is long overdue but I also have The Voyage Out which I’ve never read.
Or I could go down the path of gardens given Sackville-West’s status as a garden designer par excellence. Maybe Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth von Arnim would be a fitting companion read.
Invariably I don’t make the decision until right at the moment when I’m ready to start reading something new.
Those are my plans – what’s on your reading horizon for the next few weeks?
This post is for WWW Wednesday hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words.