Monthly Archives: April 2013

On Giving for World Book Night 2013

On my way home from work yesterday, I did my bit as a volunteer for World Book Night and gave away all but one copy of my chosen book Why Be Happy When You Coud Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson. I didn’t have much of a plan and because of that I’ll admit I was nervously excited about how people would react to me offering them a book. I was keen to give the books away in Leith as I had picked my books up from the library there and wanted to talk to people in my (relatively) new barrio.

View down Leith Walk

View down Leith Walk

At least the rain had gone off but the wind was blowing at some speed and I wasn’t holding up much hope that people would want to stop and chat to me. I was approaching strangers on their way home from work which some might say is mad but it proved to be very interesting! I was gearing myself up so much that I actually pounced before I even reached Leith Walk. I saw a man with a bright pink scarf walking past Gayfield Square and thought I’d chat to him. He was a bit suspicious at first but once I explained what I was doing he was happy to chat and walked off with a big smile and, importantly, a copy of Why Be Happy When You Coud Be Normal? which he tapped me on the shoulder with saying, ‘D’ye know what? I’ll read it.’ I took this to be a good omen and it certainly put a smile on my face.

Next, I brought out what I thought was the key move in my plan – to chat to people at bus stops and hopefully hand out some books. The first bus stop went very successfully and I handed out books to a range of ages, both male and female. I was a bit worried that men would turn up their noses at a book by a female author so I was keen to chat to them too, although I will say, gents, that 4 out of the 6 knockbacks I got for receiving free books were from you. I also got told ‘but Champions league’s on the telly tonight’ as if a free book would somehow mean he couldn’t watch the match. That particular gent said he didn’t read much and although I explained that was kind of the point of WBN and a reason that I would love to give him a book, he still turned me down… So onto the next! The problem with bus stops is buses – you know when you stand there for ages and a bus never turns up? Well I seemed to have the opposite effect and made buses magically appear. I lost an 8-person full bus stop to one bus which I was rather sad about. I also started chatting to a few commuters only to be told, ‘Oh! Sorry – that’s my bus. Byeeee!’

View of The Shore

View of The Shore

I walked over 3 and half miles in total, all the way down the Walk, round past Commercial Quay and along The Shore, covering a fair bit of Leith, and I’m pretty pleased that I only have one book left. It was lovely to see happy faces with their new books, finding their seats on the bus and leafing through the pages of a book they have just received, completely out of the blue. Some were a bit baffled as they had never heard of World Book Night before so I am pleased to have been the one to introduce them to this wonderful project. I think maybe next year I’ll have more of a plan on where to hand the books out and to whom as mine was a bit random this year to say the least. I am very glad I took part – hopefully rather than scaring people on the streets of Leith, I will have actually inspired them to read, or even to read something that they wouldn’t normally pick up off the shelf. An exhilarating experience!


Find out more on what World Book Night is all about over on their website.

Have any of you been giving away books for World Book Night? What kind of reactions did you get?



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Book Review: Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh

vile bodies

Vile Bodies was the second read for my month of reading books by Evelyn Waugh and again it was an absoute hoot. I know I have mentioned this several times but it was the film by Stephen Fry that made me want to read the books (and others by Waugh). Vile Bodies was originally named Bright Young Things but that phrase became much too passé and so it was renamed, although this was used by Fry in his film adaptation. It is slightly catchier after all:


“Ooooh what’s that shiny thing, it’s hurting my eyes.”
“Sorry, that’d be me, I’m a bright young thing. Avert your eyes lest they be burned from their sockets.”

Set in the 1920s, the book follows the progress of young novelist Adam Fenwick-Symes who has the bad luck of having the manuscript of his first novel confiscated by customs on his return to Britain from France. With this disappears any hope of an advance for writing the book without which he will not be able to marry his sweetheart, Nancy Blount, as she simply could not marry a man who is poor. What follows is a series of parties and events – Adam is on the fringes of a group of young people trying to find their place in a post-Great War world, a group named by the papers as ‘Bright Young Things’. They live in a whirlwind of parties, sashaying to and fro following whatever took their fancy and not taking much heed at all of what was going on around them.

Just like in Scoop, journalists are never far from the action. It shows the beginning of the tabloids, snapping pictures at parties and writing gossip articles. There are a few very funny scenes in which Adam is writing a gossip artice and making up celebrities and inventing fashions and watching as the world talks about them as if they were real. Adam does tire of the parties, as does Nina who describes them as ‘a bore’, listing all of the various events:

“…Masked parties, Savage parties, Victorian parties, Greek parties, Wild West parties…parties in flats and studios and houses and ships and hotels and night clubs, in windmills and swimming-baths,…all that succession and repetition of massed humanity…Those vile bodies…”

I loved the character of Agatha Runcible as she really does sum up what the Bright Young Things were all about, and she definitely gets some of the best scenes in the book. She is always at the centre of the fun and her speech reflects her different view of the world – when she is stripped at customs it is “too shaming”, drinks are “better-making” and she merrily goes along with everything in the pursuit of fun. There is a vulnerable side to her, dealt with rather comically, that reveals how much Waugh is ridiculing the way of life of some young people at this time. Even when spending some time in hospital, Agatha is surrounded by friends from her ‘set’ who laugh, listen to music and drink cocktails with the nurses. She sums up the experience of living in the public eye:

“D’you know, all that time I was dotty I had the most awful dreams. I thought we were all driving round and round in a motor race and none of us could stop, and there was an enormous audience composed entirely of gossip writers and gate-crashers and Archie Schwert and people like that, all shouting to us at once to go faster, and car after car kept crashing until I was left all alone driving and driving – and then I used to crash and wake up.”

The relationship between Adam and Nina is touching – and they clearly do care for each other quite a bit despite the game they try to play of pretending otherwise when their financial situation isn’t working out. There are many telephone conversations written down between them and I wonder if this is some commentary by Waugh on documenting something that would have otherwise been lost. Nina and Adam are so very modern and although they do send the occasional letter and telegram, they communicate mostly by telephone.

The narrative is peppered with comical dialogue, ridiculous names, farcical misunderstandings and misadventures. Everything is so over-the-top and melodramatic, and the dialogue in this book is what really stood out for me. There are moments which make it stand out from me – I loved the description of how ‘The topic of the Younger Generation spread through the company like a yawn’ – how it is something involuntary and that they feel compelled to discuss it, although much like the young ones themselves, there is an apathy about everything that they don’t have the energy to overcome.

The film poster for Bright Young Things

The film poster for Bright Young Things

Finally, a note on reading this after having watched the film Bright Young Things as usually I read the book beforehand. This was a strange experience as the film was very true to the book, dialogue and all so I felt like I knew exactly what was happening and already had a clear vision of the characters in my head. That said, I really did enjoy reading the book and the extra detail it provided – I think the book and film are quite complementary!

Have you read Vile Bodies, or even watched the film Bright Young Things? How would you compare them?

Heavenali has also written a review of Vile Bodies this month which you can read here.


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World Book Night 2013: April 23rd


It’s World Book Night tonight so I’ve written a little post on being a giver for the website of publisher Canongate Books, where I am lucky enough to work. I’ll be giving away the wonderful memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson, an author who I greatly admire and one who has had an incredibly interesting life. I’m feeling nervously excited about being a giver, and my plan at the moment is to hand copies of my book out to people on the streets of Leith as that’s where I picked up my books. I’m hoping that this weather continues into the evening – rain showers have been making me nervous that I’ll be trying to hand out soggy books later on! Fingers crossed, and I’ll let you all know how it goes.

The lovely editions of Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? for World Book Night 2013

The lovely editions of Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? for World Book Night 2013

I think the project is such a wonderful idea, a way of encouraging those who don’t read regularly to read something different and hopefully inspire them to discover different books. I love the special World Book Night editions that have been created as not only do they include the book in full, but also excerpts from other books by the writer, a poem on the back inside cover, and an excerpt from a book recommendation from the author themselves.

Jeanette Winterson’s choice is May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes. It’s on the shortlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction this year and is a book I would love to read – duly added to my Wish List!

If you want to find out more, you can read my blog post here.


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Evelyn Waugh Month: A Handful of Dust

a handful of dust

I have been a little slow on my reading this month – I can’t believe it’s almost May already! I’ll finish off Vile Bodies today ( I would have finished it last night if I hadn’t left it in my desk at work!) and post my review this evening. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to the next book I’ll be reading by Evelyn Waugh, A Handful of Dust:

“After seven years of marriage the beautiful Lady Brenda Last is bored with life at Hetton Abbey, the Gothic mansion that is the pride and joy of her husband, Tony. She drifts into an affair with the shallow socialite John Beaver and forsakes Tony for the Belgravia set. Brilliantly combining tragedy, comedy and savage irony, A Handful of Dust captures the irresponsible mood of the ‘crazy and sterile generation’ between the wars. The breakdown of the Last marriage, is a painful, comic re-working of Waugh’s own divorce and a symbol of the disintegration of society.”

I think this sounds just wonderful and highlights what I’m really enjoying about reading lots of Waugh books together – they all complement each other so well and although the stories are different of course, there are common themes running throughout. Really looking forward to starting this one – tonight if I’m lucky!

Read more about what I’m reading for Evelyn Waugh Month.

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Wish Lists and Prize Lists

I have a few books to add on to my wish list – all inspired by reviews on other book blogs and prize lists that seem to be coming in abundance this month.

The first on my list is Traveller of the Century by Andrés Neuman which I first read about on Winstonsdad’s blog. It is on the shortlist for the International Foreign Fiction Prize (IFFP) and I think it sounds like a wonderful – and weighty – read. I’m a stickler for Spanish and Latin American fiction as I love the culture although this novel does span several different countries. The blurb on the back of the US edition:

Traveller of the Century

Searching for an inn, the enigmatic traveler Hans stops in a small city on the border between Saxony and Prussia. The next morning, Hans meets an old organ-grinder in the market square and immediately finds himself enmeshed in an intense debate—on identity and what it is that defines us—from which he cannot break free.
Indefinitely stuck in Wandernburg until his debate with the organ-grinder is concluded, he begins to meet the various characters who populate the town, including a young freethinker named Sophie. Though she is engaged to be married, Sophie and Hans begin a relationship that defies contemporary mores about female sexuality and what can and cannot be said about it.

Read the review on Winstonsdad’s blog here.

And see what else is on the shortlist over on the Booktrust’s website.

This also leads onto another author involved in this year’s IFFP, as one of the judges. Elif Şafak is of Turkish descent and I am quite intrigued by her novel Honour. I actually read a review of this a month or so ago on JoV’s Book Pyramid and had mentally added it to my list then. I haven’t read any Turkish fiction and I would like to do so – I have visited the country several times and love learning about the language and culture of other countries – which is why foreign fiction is always so interesting to me. Turkey is the market focus country for this year’s London Book Fair (happening this week) so I expect there will be lots of people talking about Turkish fiction this year. There is also an interesting article in The Telegraph today which discusses Turkey, literature and censorship which you can read here.

This book is also on the longlist for this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction – the shortlist is announced this afternoon so I will be looking out for that!

The blurb:


My mother died twice…. And so begins the story of Esma a young Kurdish woman in London trying to come to terms with the terrible murder her brother has committed. Esma tells the story of her family stretching back three generations; back to her grandmother and the births of her mother and Aunt in a village on the edge of the Euphrates. Named Pembe and Jamila, meaning Pink and Beautiful rather than the names their mother wanted to call them, Destiny and Enough, the twin girls have very different futures ahead of them all of which will end in tragedy on a street in East London in 1978.

Read the review of Honour on JoV’s Book Pyramid blog here.

I also was intrigued by Savidge Reads’ review of The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan which you can read here. She is a Scottish writer and one whose name I have seen popping up more and more. In fact, she was named just yesterday as one of Granta’s 20 brightest young writers. The full list is here – it will be interesting to see how this affects the writers’ careers and to watch out for them in the future. The blurb from Fagan’s The Panopticon:

The Panopticon

Fifteen-year old Anais Hendricks is smart, funny and fierce, but she is also a child who has been let down, or worse, by just about every adult she has ever met. Sitting in the back of a police car, she finds herself headed for the Panopticon, a home for chronic young offenders where the social workers are as suspicious as its residents. But Anais can’t remember the events that have led her there, or why she has blood on her school uniform…

These all sound like great reads – I’ll be adding them to my Wish List today!


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Book Review: Scoop by Evelyn Waugh

ScoopAs you may have noticed by now, I am having a little bit of a month focused on one writer: Evelyn Waugh. Scoop was the first on my list and one that I found to be very funny. It is full of wit and is a comedy of errors to lose yourself in.

The novel begins with a visit by author John Courtenay Boot to lady of high society, Julia Stitch, whom he asks to convince newspaper mogul Lord Copper (of the newspaper The Beast) to hire him as a foreign correspondent in the fictional African country of Ishmaelia. The press have caught wind of a story there and of an imminent civil war – John Boot isn’t so much interested in that as running away from a woman who has become over-desirous of his attention. After a few errors and misunderstandings, the foreign editor of The Beast hires a Mr William Boot as their foreign correspondent, wines him and dines him and introduces him to the world of journalism and sends him off to Africa with a ridiculously large pile of luggage. What follows is a rather comical account of Boot getting caught up in the hunt for a story.

The main things that I enjoyed about Scoop were its wit and satire of the press. I was laughing out loud at this book as some of it is rather farcical but somehow you could quite believe that these things could have happened. William Boot is an unsuspecting journalist and falls into it – he lives a sheltered life with his family in the country and really doesn’t often venture very far. He is learning the ropes as he goes along and it is through his eyes that the reader gets to gaze in wonder at the ridiculousness of the press in their search for a scoop. He teams up with another correspondent out there who tries to show him the ropes:

‘Corker looked at him sadly. ‘You know, you’ve got a lot to learn about journalism. Look at it this way. News is what a chap who doesn’t care much about anything wants to read. And it’s only news until he’s read it. After that it’s dead. We’re paid to supply news. If someone else has sent a story before us, our story isn’t news.’

While all of these foreign correspondents are chasing a story, the people of Ishmaelia are benefiting from the revenue that this sudden influx of men living on expenses brings – hotels are doing the best business they’ve ever done and office workers are taking time off their jobs to be runners for the journalists, charging them extortionate fees of course. And the politicians are having a rare time playing the journalists off one another and sending them on wild goose chases which make for some hilarious scenes!

The bits featuring the foreign editor Mr Salter and his boss Lord Copper were very funny, as they constantly misunderstand each other, accidentally on Lord Cropper’s side and willfully on Mr Salter’s. I love this little anecdote which really sums up their relationship:

‘Mr Salter’s side of the conversation was limited to expressions of assent. When Lord Copper was right he said, ‘Definitely, Lord Cropper’; when he was wrong, ‘Up to a point.’
‘Let me see, what’s the name of the place I mean? Capital of Japan? Yokohama, isn’t it?’
‘Up to a point, Lord Copper.’
‘And Hong Kong belongs to us, doesn’t it?’
‘Definitely, Lord Copper.’

I think I might borrow ‘Up to a point’ for future use!

The press aren’t averse to making up stories, or adding a little ‘colour’ as they describe it. There is even an incident where a member of the press describes a Russian spy arriving by train to the capital of Ishmaelia. It turns out the man is actually a ticket collector and not Russian at all – however, instead of retracting this story, the journalists let the public continue to believe so as not to shake their belief in the press. It makes me very wary of believing anything I read in the papers as you just never know!

One downside for me was that there are some parts of the dialogue and even the narrative that can be a little racist in their word choice and comments that grated on me a little but I had to remind myself of the time this was written, back in 1939. Aside from that I really enjoyed this book and I’m looking forward to reading more!

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Evelyn Waugh Month: Vile Bodies

Next up in my month of reading lots and lots of books by Evelyn Waugh (ahem, one so far…), the next book I’m reading will be Vile Bodies. The blurb on the back reads:

vile bodies

‘In the years following the First World War a new generation emerges, wistful and vulnerable beneath the glitter. The Bright Young Things of ‘twenties Mayfair, with their paradoxical mix of innocence and sophistication, exercise their inventive minds and vile bodies in every kind of capricious escapade. In a quest for treasure, a favourite party occupation, a vivid assortment of characters hunt fast and furiously for ever greater sensations and the fulfilment of unconscious desires.’

It sounds like a lot of fun! I was inspired to read this book after watching Stephen Fry’s rather wonderful film Bright Young Things on which it is based. Hoping to watch the film again after reading Vile Bodies.

Also coming up this week is my review of Scoop, the first of my reads for Evelyn Waugh Month.


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