Tag Archives: John Steinbeck

Recent Reads and Library Loot

Books borrowed from my local library this week

Books borrowed from my local library this week

You may have noticed that I have dropped off the face of my blog of late. My last review was back at the end of May… What can I say except that life has been getting in the way. I have recently changed jobs (still within the same company) but with handover prep and learning my new role it has all been rather busy!

I have still been reading other blogs but not as much as I would like to. I’ve found that my brain is simply not able to cope with writing and upkeeping the blog with all of these other things going on. I have been reading lots though, and lots of wonderful books. Disappearing into a story has just been the perfect tonic for my overloaded mind. I will try and get back on track again, even if it is just small updates when I can. I can’t promise any full reviews yet as I have another week of work then a trip away for my brother’s wedding but here are a quick few thoughts on what I’ve been reading recently!

A few of the books I've whiled away the hours with recently...and my favourite reading spot.

A few of the books I’ve whiled away the hours with recently…and my favourite readin spot.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Yes, I succumbed to Gatsby fever and thought it was high time for a re-read of this American classic. I read it first when I was about 16 and I don’t think I really ‘got’ it then. I read this again on a sunny early summer evening in one sitting and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I also went to see the film which I absolutely loved!

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
This was a book club choice…the book club seems to be a little defunct now although we do all still chat about books. I loved The Book Thief, the characters, the sights and sounds and smells all felt very real. The narrator too – Death! Ingenious. And knowing what will happen in the end does not ruin it at all – it’s set during the Second World War so you know there will be trouble…

Laidlaw by William McIlvanney
Laidlaw is the first in a crime trilogy by McIlvanney, the man who invented the ‘tartan noir’ genre now so familiar to readers of Ian Rankin, Val McDermid and Christopher Brookmyre. It feels so familiar and yet it was written back in the ’70s and this book is cited by many crime writers as their inspiration. I have been lucky enough to meet McIlvanney and hear him speak and I really loved this book, which sucks you into the underworld of Glasgow in the 1970s. The other two in the series are out too so will be looking to read them soon too!

In Praise of Messy Lives by Katie Roiphe
A collection of essays, this book is not something I’d usually read as I tend to stick to fiction. That said, I enjoyed reading something different and some of her arguments are persuasive, if at times somewhat controversial. I like to think outside the box and I hate the idea of conforming to society’s mores for propriety’s sake so some of Roiphe’s arguments were intriguing. For a flavour of the contents, Katie Rophe recently wrote a much-commented-on article in The Guardian. Yes, she can be very controversial and may not be everyone’s cup of tea but I like to stretch my mind every once in a while and challenge it with different ideas and just stop and think about things I wouldn’t usually. Either way, this book was a nice change and I’ll definitely be reading more non-fiction in future.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
I was eager to read this (and had been planning to do so) ever since I read The Cone-Gatherers back in October last year. This was another book which I devoured pretty much in one sitting. I can see why The Cone-Gatherers reminded me of this book but they are so completely different in atmosphere and setting. I was reminded of how powerful a book this is, so moving and sad, I am always amazed by how much can be conveyed in so few pages.

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
My uncle lent this book to me way back last year and I have only just gotten around to it. I loved the setting of it and the story of the brothers as they head to California on a quest to track down a man for their boss, the Commodore. It perhaps wasn’t the best thing to be reading whilst suffering from the pain of a wisdom tooth coming in as it is a bit gory but I enjoyed it all the same. I was slightly disappointed by the ending but I don’t want to give too much away…

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
This is the first audiobook I have read/listened to for quite some time. But more on that in my next post…

The beautiful book sculpture donated to Leith Library (Photographed by Literary Paparazzi)

The beautiful book sculpture donated to Leith Library
(Photographed by Literary Paparazzi)

I also stopped off at my local library in Leith on Friday. They have been gifted with another one of the mysterious and beautiful book sculptures that I wrote about in my post during Book Week Scotland last year. I got to have a look at it up close and it really is amazing. Really intricate and detailed and it must have taken so much time and care and attention – and to think that there is a woman somewhere making these just to show support for reading and libraries is wonderful. You can read a full post on their suprise gift over on Leith Library’s blog.

Before gazing at the sculpture, I browsed their shelves and picked up Ancient Light by John Banville, Books Burn Badly by Manuel Rivas, and The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones which I am about a third of the way through and will be getting stuck into again later on this evening.

I have also managed to procure a Nook Simple Touch but will admit I’m a bit unsure of what to do with it! There are a couple of books on it already (one of which is Rona Jaffe’s The Best of Everything which I am very excited to read!). Edinburgh libraries have an elending platform so I will be browsing that in due course… Now, I feel I have rambled quite enough for one evening! I’m off to do a bit of reading. 🙂

What have you been reading recently? And what have you got coming soon on your reading list?

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March Reading Round-Up & April Preview

March Books

March wasn’t a particularly busy reading month but I did read some really good books and ones that were quite different from each other too. I think my favourite book this month has been The Search by Geoff Dyer as I got really drawn into it.

Books from March are:
The Sea Road by Margaret Elphinstone
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
The Search by Geoff Dyer
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

I also published a review of The Cone-Gatherers by Robin Jenkins which I read back in November last year.

I’m really happy with my blogging this month as I feel like I am finally getting the hang of it and being a little more consistent in putting up reviews soon after I’ve read a book. It’s taken me a while to get to this stage and I find that I am enjoying it more and more. I started a new Wish List page where I aim to put links to reviews that have inspired me to read something that I hadn’t heard of or just hadn’t fancied before. So far I have Life After Life by Kate Atkinson on there which I will hopefully get my hands on soon!

April Books

I’m really looking forward to what’s in store in April as I have embarked upon something a little different by reading several books by Evelyn Waugh all in one month. I started reading Scoop yesterday which I’m already finding very funny, and after that I’ll be reading Vile Bodies and A Handful of Dust. Another of Waugh’s books, The Loved One was recommended to me by Fleur Fisher of the Fleur Fisher in her world books blog – I don’t have a copy but I’m planning to borrow one from my local library and add it to my list. If I have time, I may even re-read Brideshead Revisited! I might try and catch up on a few Waugh films too – I’ve seen the 2008 film version of Brideshead Revisited but didn’t rate it highly and I’ve heard the TV series with Jeremy Irons from the ’80s is far superior so I’ll see if I can find that. The film version of A Handful of Dust has also been recommended to me so I’ll try and track that down, as well as watching Bright Young Things after I have read Vile Bodies (the book on which the film was based).

Finally, I have also looked out Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck to re-read as I was reminded of it so much when reading The Cone-Gatherers and fancied reading it again. So I have a busy month ahead of me and potentially 6 books to get through – looking forward to it!

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Book Review: The Cone-Gatherers by Robin Jenkins

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The Cone-Gatherers by Robin Jenkins is a book that definitely takes its reader by surprise. I didn’t know much about it I’ll admit, other than mention of it years ago in English classes in school. I can see why this would work excellently as a literature class text – so much so that I almost think the best way to discuss this book is thematically; innocence, humanity, good and evil. Whichever way you talk about it there is much to discuss.

The story of The Cone-Gatherers begins as two brothers are working on Lady Runcie’s estate during the Second World War, collecting cones to counteract seed shortages arising from the War. Calum and Neil feel unwelcome on the estate, watched over by the groundskeeper, Duror, who seems to develop an unhealthy obsession with them, seeing Calum as some malignant presence due to his disability.

The War is always lingering in the background of everyone’s thoughts – Neil feeling guilty that he is not fighting; Lady Runcie’s brother away fighting in the War; Duror resenting that he was turned down for service; and the conscientious objectors working in the town who are shunned by the locals.

I loved Roderick, the little boy on the estate. He is so innocent and often contradicts his mother when he senses that she is being unjust or inconsistent. His mother describes him as ‘too quixotic for words’ when he suggests that the Calum and Neil are more important than dogs and should be allowed to ride back to the estate in the family car. Lady Runcie Campbell has been taught throughout her life to maintain ‘the correct degree of condescension’ and I think this is why she finds Roderick’s sense of justice so unsettling as it is improper to feel pity for people that she considers to be of a lower social status than she.

Roderick also understands that Duror is unfairly prejudiced against the cone gatherers and remarks upon it but Duror belittles the child’s perceptiveness and ‘smiled at the rawness of the boy who still saw evil as dwelling only in certain men and women, and not as a presence like air, infecting everyone’. The notion of good and evil is present throughout the novel and I feel like my review of the book just can’t do all of the themes justice. The ending of the book is like a blow to the chest, the action rising into a crescendo that leaves you certain that things could never end well and leaves you wondering what this means for humanity.

I found it to be reminiscent of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, a comparison which a google search reveals as unsurprisingly frequent. The themes of innocence and how the innocent are often made to pay for the mistakes and ignorance of others run through both, and I would claim that one novel is just as powerful as the other. A nice pair of books to read together, I think!

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