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136. 2014 In (Book) Review…

136. 2014 In (Book) Review…

Blimey, writing a book takes time. Who knew?

It is the first week of March, 2015, and only now am I getting around to analysing the stats of my 2014 in books, with most of my spare time nowadays being dedicated to writing my tales of travel and trouble. (Copies of the book will be available for sale shortly, in case anyone is interested!)

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My final tally for 2014?

229 books bought, 143 read:

a net annual LG (or Literature Gap, a measurement I have just invented), of 86.

As far as this book blog went, it had a fairly impressive 6,800 views, (impressive given that, with all my travels and sports writing, this has essentially been downgraded from a weekly blog to a monthly one…at best…), and featured 358 photos. Apparently, I also usually post on a Monday.

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My most viewed blog was what i was reading in October… 2013!! I like to think it was the insightful reviews of David Foster Wallace and Italo Calvino that brought you there, but knowing the internet, it was probably the photo of Hitler-cat.

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Still, it made me happy that my third most popular release this year was my centennial effort, my interview with the wonderful Nick Hornby.

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The blog had viewers from 111 different countries! I’m not even sure i can name that many countries! The USA took top spot, then then the UK and Portugal, which makes sense given my travels, living locations, and friendships.

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My new year’s blogging resolutions include: to add to my Top 10 blogs, for both authors and books…10 is a ridiculously small number anyway!

This being my third year of blogging, I could go back to my reviews of 2012 and 2013 and calculate some averages: I buy an average of 235 books each year, and manage to read almost 160 of them. And before you ask, no, I you can’t have my life: I’m using it.

Keep dropping by for monthly updates as I make my way further into the world of the writer, and feel free to subscribe to make sure you never miss one of these irregular posts again!

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Posted by on March 5, 2015 in BOOKS

 

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103. ‘Freedom,’ Jonathan Franzen…

103. ‘Freedom,’ Jonathan Franzen…
Freedom,’ Jonathan Franzen
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I had read Jonathan Franzen‘s earlier GAN (Great American Novel™), ‘The Corrections‘, and loved its random, depressing, realistic characters and varied storylines immensely. I had no idea if the much-awaited ‘Freedom‘ would live up to its popular predecessor: luckily for me, it did, whilst displaying the same acute insight into character and relationships.
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Whereas ‘The Corrections‘ had seemed to me to be more family based, ‘Freedom‘ instead is about the strains of relationships outside of the immediate family sphere, be it romantic or best friend-based. Its content and tone reminded me of Nick Hornby’s excellent ‘Juliet: Naked,’ but whereas the latter deals mainly with the relationship between music and fandom, the weightier ‘Freedom‘ builds around a base of relationships and takes in everything from music to politics to the environment to alcoholism to a million other things.
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(Incidentally, this was the third time in about a week last year that I had read about cats in North America being responsible for the death of billions of cats every year, once from a news report and the other from a fascinating book on humans’ relationships with animals, soon to be reviewed, called ‘Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Kill‘).
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2013 was the year that mass birdicide was brought to my attention...

2013 was the year that mass birdicide was brought to my attention…

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There’s an awful lot going on, but yet again Franzen‘s prose is so masterful that you don’t feel overburdened by the plot twists and shifts of viewpoints, much in the same way a masterful movie director makes a three hour film fly by.
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Here are some of my favourite quotes, to give you an idea of the kind of thing you’re in for if you decide to give the book a try:
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“…the Honorable Joyce Emerson, known for her advocacy of open space, poor children and the Arts. Paradise for Joyce is an open space where poor children can go and do Arts at state expense…”
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“The first minute of the workday reminds you of all of the other minutes that a day consists of, and it’s never a good thing to think of minutes as individuals…”
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“America, for Einar, was the land of unSwedish freedom, the place of wide-open spaces where a son could still imagine he was special. But nothing disturbs the feeling of specialness like the presence of other human beings feeling identically special…”
“Right, that’s the advantage of growing up in Minnesota. Everywhere you go now, the weather will be nicer…”

 

Minnesota! (Photo used under Creative Commons license from Wikipedia)

Minnesota!
(Photo used under Creative Commons license from Wikipedia)

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“Tall, ponytailed, absurdly young, pushing a stroller past stripped cars and broken beer bottles and barfed-upon old snow, she might have been carrying all the hours of her day in the string bags that hung from her stroller…”
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“She was a grave and silent little person with the disconcerting habit of holding your gaze unblinkingly, as if you had nothing in common…”

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“I’m defending your son,” she said, “Who, in case you haven’t noticed, is not one of the brainless flipflop wearers…”
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And as if that wasn’t enough anti-flipfloppery, we have this a few chapters later:
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“‘What don’t you like about them [young people]?” he said.
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‘Oh, well, where to being?” Patty said. “How about the flipflop thing? I have some issues with their flipflops. It’s like the world is their bedroom…”.
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Photo used under Creative Commons from                 The Consumerist.

Photo used under Creative Commons from The Consumerist.

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Possibly the best description ever of why relationships often drag on too long:
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“…a flutter in his stomach warned him to slow down and be sure he really wanted her back. Warned him not to mistake the pain of losing her for an active desire to have her…”
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To finish, I give you a quote which summarises the 600-page novel in a single sentence:
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“Patty had almost gone with Richard, and out of the gratifying fact that she hadn’t – that she’d succumbed to Walter’s love instead – had grown their entire life together, their marriage and their house and their kids…”
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And all the problems that entails? That’s ‘Freedom‘…
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Posted by on February 9, 2014 in BOOKS

 

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100. An Interview With Nick Hornby…

100. An Interview With Nick Hornby…

What better way to mark my centennial blog than with an email interview I carried out with one of my all-time favourite authorsNick Hornby. For the questions I collaborated with a friend who writes for an anglocentric magazine in Buenos Aires, Ultrabrit, and the interview was arranged at the recent launch of Nick’s latest book, ‘Things I’ve Been Reading’, blogged about a few weeks ago.

Here are the results…(and a track from Nick‘s project with Ben Folds to keep you musical company whilst you read!)

1- If you could live one week in any of the universes you created in url

your books, coexist with the characters and hang out with them,

which one would you choose and why?

Well, I’m not sure any of them live in such a great universe, and in any case, all my characters tend to live in a world similar to the one I already inhabit. So maybe I would choose ‘Fever Pitch‘, simply because that world has gone completely now. I’d like to go back and watch another game at Highbury, the old stadium of Arsenal. .

2- Regarding the collaboration CD you released with Ben Folds, would

you consider writing more lyrics? How was the songwriting experience?

Yes, of course – it was a terrific experience, and Ben’s a wonderful songwriter. Coming into work, logging on, and picking up an mp3, a finished song that Ben had produced overnight, was about as much fun as you can have as a writer. I want to collaborate with as many talented people as possible while I have the chance – musicians, actors, directors, artists, whatever. I spend a lot of time on my own at a desk, and any chance I get to do something different I’ll take. I learned a lot, with Ben – mostly, that music is the most important part of a song.

3- You are always passionate in encouraging people to read, whatever

they enjoy and however they can. You are also equally clearly a

bibliophile who loves the thrill of browsing for books. As someone who

has written e-reader specific pieces, where do you stand on the books

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Books vs E-Books: is there a debate?
Photo used under Creative Commons license from here.

vs e-books debate?

Is there a debate? What’s it about? For me, it’s all the same, and writing is writing, in every medium. I was resistant to e-readers for a long time and on balance I’d rather read a book. But I’d also rather pack a very slim device into my carry-on bag, rather than a great big bulky hardback. The interesting thing about e-books is that they can be any length you want. We are beginning to realise that the ‘natural’ length of a book, somewhere between one hundred and fifty and nine hundred pages, isn’t natural at all, but a by-product of the technology. And now new technology means that books can be a million words long, or five thousand words long. .

4- George Orwell wrote a famous essay entitled ‘Books vs Cigarettes‘:

if you were to write one entitled ‘Books vs Albums,’ and had to come

down in favour of one or the other, which would it be and why?

I don’t think I do have to come down in favour of one or the other, so I won’t. But I will say this: our relationship with a piece of music is ongoing. Our relationship with a book is usually over once we’ve read it. So even though I love both equally, I can contemplate losing my books, if I have to, but not my music.

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Books vs Music

5- Arsenal win the Champions League or Nick Hornby wins the Nobel Prize

for Literature: choose one.

Oh, ask me something difficult! I have no ambition to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, and I won’t. .

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6- You were a high school English teacher: what advice would you give

to English teachers today to get students to read and enjoy more?

As the father of boys who are reluctant readers, I think I’d tell teachers not to worry about it. Literacy is important, and all the studies show that a child’s ability and desire to read for pleasure is an important indicator of future mental health and prosperity. But don’t be prescriptive. Let them find pleasure anywhere – in comics, in the sports pages of newspapers, in Harry Potter, in Dickens, whatever. .

Photo by amrufm, via Flickr Creative Commons

Photo by amrufm, via Flickr Creative Commons

7- Your father was a Sir: would you enjoy the title? What are your views

on monarchy?

Being a knight, a ‘Sir,’ isn’t that much to do with the Queen, even though she hands out the honour – it’s recognition for excellence in a particular field. So the former Manchester United player Bobby Charlton is a ‘Sir,’ and Michael Caine, and so on. It always feels to me as though they’re telling you your career is over, so I’d feel a bit uncomfortable, I think. .

8- Your books have incredible cross-over appeal for cinema audiences.

Are you as big a movie fan as you are a literature and music fan? Do

you enjoy watching your books turning into films?

About-a-Boy-2002-movie-posterYes, I watch a lot of movies, although it’s much, much harder to find good movies than it is An_Education_posterto find good music or good books. It costs nothing to write a book, and with all the new technology it costs very little to produce an album. But it still costs millions and millions of dollars to make a film, so there has to be some guarantee of revenue before anyone will invest that sort of money. You need franchise movies, big stars, and the biggest audiences are young audiences, (although increasingly film companies are finding out that old people will spend money too.) Movies like An Education, which I thought became a fantastic film, are so hard to make that it takes years and years, and the effort nearly kills you! No big stars, no obvious audience. But I have enjoyed all the films that have been made from my books. I tend not to have a lot to do with them, but I’m happy they exist, and I’ve made good friends through them. I also enjoy adapting. ‘An Education’ was an adaptation, and last year I adapted Cheryl Strayed‘s ‘Wild’. And my script of Colm Toibin‘s ‘Brooklyn’ will go into production in a few weeks.

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9 – You are a driving force behind the Hoxton Street Monster Supplies

shop: how hands on are you with the after-school writing programme, and

how are the students’ writing skills?

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I don’t do any tuition at the moment. My job is to keep the Ministry Of Stories running, and that takes up a lot of time. Last year I was involved with a wonderful album, SHARE MORE AIR – the kids wrote the words, musicians like Emily Barker and Matthew and the Atlas wrote and recorded the music. I’m so proud of it. If I can keep things like that happening, I’m happy.

To play us out, here is my favourite clip from the movie adaptation of one of my favourite novels, High Fidelity, which also happens to be one of my favourite movies, and features one of my favourite bands.

Enjoy!

 
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Posted by on January 21, 2014 in BOOKS

 

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