Bookendsworld literature

Bookends #10 Oct 2018

October already? What an odd Autumn this is turning out to be.  Thursday afternoon I was able to sit in the garden soaking up the sun (yes it was that warm). Today I’ve been sitting wrapped in a thick sweater and waiting for the heating to kick in.

This week I bring you an article about the elements of a good story, a blog post about the importance of context in our reading and a book written by a woman who for eight years was hardly out of the media spotlight.

Book: Becoming  by Michelle Obama

Becoming michelle obamaI rarely read autobiographies. Those by ‘celebrities’ are instant turn offs (they’re usually rushed out on the back of some recent success in a TV series or film and have little content of substance). I’d rather go for a memoir or an autobiography by someone who isn’t well known except outside their immediate circle of expertise and experience but who has an interesting story to tell.

Michelle Obama is of course extremely well known in the sense that for the eight years she was America’s First Lady she was hardly out of the public eye. I’ve always wondered how someone with her level of intelligence coped with the accepted wisdom that First Ladies are not meant to have opinions of their own. How does it feel to have every aspect of your appearance scrutinised and dissected?

Her forthcoming memoir Becoming will I hope answer some of those questions.

According to the blurb, Becoming is “a work of deep reflection and mesmerising storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her-from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it-in her own words and on her own terms. Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations – and whose story inspires us to do the same.”

The book is due out in the UK in November.

Blog Post: Frame of reference for reading

Simon at Stuck In A Book wrote recently about the experience of reading a particular book is affected by lack of knowledge about the ‘rules’ for certain genres or of the historical and social context. His example relates to his own experience of reading a novel which uses magical realism and is set during the civil war in Mozambique.

This post chimed with my experience of reading some of the books I selected for my World of Literature project. I struggled for example with The Tree of Life by Maryse Conde because I knew little about the history of Guadeloupe. The same thing happened with The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (I gave up on that one because it was too confusing).  I know I could get info easily enough from the Internet but I don’t like interrupting the experience of reading the book.

How does everyone else deal with this situation? Do you just plough on and hope things fall into place? Or do you press pause, do some background reading and then come back to the novel?

Here is Simon’s post 

Article: What makes a good story – 

Talking of ‘rules’ apparently Anton Chekhov had some clear views about the elements that needed to be in place for the story to work effectively.

  1. Absence of lengthy verbiage of a political-social-economic nature
  2. Total objectivity
  3. Truthful descriptions of persons and objects
  4. Extreme brevity
  5. Audacity and originality: flee the stereotype
  6. Compassion

I’m with him wholeheartedly on the first rule – I really don’t want to feel I am being given a lecture if I am reading fiction. Originality? Yes but not if this is just for the sake of being original and where the author is having more fun than the reader ( as in Will Self and his unpunctuated paragraphs).

But I’m not on board with his direction of extreme brevity.  What about ideas that start off as a kernel but by allowing them space to blossom they end up with even deeper meaning? I don’t see a virtue in an author thinking how quickly they can get the scene or the episode wrapped up.

Here’s the article. See what you think….

And so that’s a wrap for this episode of Bookends. Have you found anything new exciting and to read this week that might entice me?


What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

14 thoughts on “Bookends #10 Oct 2018

  • I’ve discovered that if I want to read fiction set in a place that I don’t know much about, then it’s a good idea for me to first read a memoir that is set in that place. Straight historical texts often don’t sit in my brain for very long, but reading about somebody’s life in a place tends to be pretty memorable. Then the fiction work has context.

    • That’s a very organised approach. Not sure I am that dedicated….

  • Judy Krueger

    When I read fiction about a place or time I am not familiar with, I do a bit of research before I begin and I do use maps while reading. Works for me.

  • I personally encountered the issue Simon wrote about when I read books with a lot of history involved. For example, when I read “War and Peace” I felt the need to do research about the Napoleonic wars, as I felt very confused about what was happening and I could not follow the storyline in a proper manner.
    Regarding Obama’s book – I’m also really interested in reading it! 🙂

    • i had a similar problem with war and peace, plus also found it so hard to keep track of who was who in that cast of thousands

  • I’d be interested in Obama’s book but probably won’t end up reading it.

    I’m interested in Simon’s comments – I haven’t clicked through to the post – am drowning in things to do. However, I think I usually just plough on BUT I do think that when we assess something we read (or see or here) we need to start with the context/form/genre and if we don’t know the conventions we should, to be fair, make that clear. If it’s more situations you’re talking about – ie like not knowing a region or a history – I will sometimes check it out but usually after I’ve read the book. I’m not one who feels I need to know the facts when I’m reading fiction because they’re not what I’m looking for.

    • On the point about situations, I will usually just read on even if I don’t know the region or the history. But sometimes I think the book will make more sense if I had a bit more context so I will do a very basic internet search. For example, I’ve just been reading a book set against a background of the Peninsular war. I just wanted to check who was fighting whom since that wasn’t clear – took me about 10 mins which was enough.

  • Michelle Obama’s book sounds interesting. I think she is such a wonderful woman. I miss them .


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