Reading

Making Three Days Count: Don’t Be A Politician

It’s November 1st, and until very recently much of Britain believed it would be waking up to a new dawn, a new and scary dawn perhaps, but one which saw us on the other side of this whole Brexit mess. Boris Johnson had declared, after all, that he would rather be “dead in a ditch” than extend our departure beyond Halloween so it was absolutely, definitely, positively happening…until it wasn’t. Ding, ding. And there goes the bell after yet another pointless round.

If We’re Not Arguing About Brexit…

But, before we could even get up to put the kettle on, the great British public found it had ringside seats yet again. This time it was for the less than thrilling and equally deadlocked brawl over the date for a general election. Boris wanted the 12th of December. The Lib Dems and SNP favoured the 9th and nobody was exactly sure what Labour wanted.

Three days. My God, these people will argue over anything! Given that it has so far taken us three years to not leave Europe, I was really struggling to see what difference those three days could actually make to anything or anyone in real terms. But argue and bluster they did.

Rhubarb, Rhubarb…as my Right Honourable Donkey Friend said…

A Long Weekend

Which got me thinking…just what could you achieve in three days? It’s a long weekend. 72 hours. That’s about as long as it takes a steak to pass through your body from mouth to…well you know. 72 hours is also the maximum time it will take to get your ESTA application through for a visit to the US under their new ‘visa waiver programme’ (that is assuming you hail from a non-bearded, non-thobe wearing country which is not on Donald Trump’s hit list). Talking of travel, you can also cover the 240,000 miles to the Moon in about three days if the mood takes you, and just so long as you also have the appropriate liquid hydrogen propelled vehicle to make that a real possibility.

Too far? Well, you could walk from London to Liverpool in about three days and still have a couple of hours in hand for loo breaks and tea breaks. Better yet, you could take the train up there and have time to actually enjoy the city once you arrive: visit the Beatles museum at the Royal Albert Dock perhaps, catch a band at the Cavern Club or take a ferry across the Mersey and pretend to be Gerry and The Pacemakers. Or with three days to play with you could head in the opposite direction and find yourself in the mystical town of Glastonbury. I’ve been researching this spiritual hideaway for a writing project just recently and this is definitely on my to-do-soon list. You can climb the tor, the tiered, conical hill which looks dreamily out over the Somerset Levels, whispering of the legend of King Arthur. Or, while you’re in the town you could get your recently deceased pet ethically stuffed or buy a cauldron at one of their wonderfully bonkers magical stores. And if you happen to be there on the 16th of this month, then you can even watch their spectacular illuminated carnival as a bonus.

Bring Back the Magic.

Prefer staying in to going out? Three days is not enough to watch the entire boxset of Friends (with 236 episodes in total) but you could certainly do the whole of Game of Thrones. You might struggle to finish War and Peace (ten days is apparently the average length it takes to finish that tome) but you could definitely devour Lord of the Rings as well as The Hobbit and still  have time to tweet about it as you did so.

A Short Book

In fact, you only need about 45 hours to read the complete works of Jane Austen so you could also have a look at the Sparknotes while you’re at it to see if there are any salient points you might have missed. Interestingly (or not), I bought myself the complete novels of Jane Austen back in 2007 at Singapore Airport (because obviously there is nothing better to buy at an airport, right???) and when I opened the book in 2019 to research this piece, I found my bookmark wedged a mere 79 pages into Sense and Sensibility…the first novel to be collected. Ah, well, obviously having the time is one thing; doing something with that time is another thing altogether.

Is time running out?

So, Until the 12th of Never…

Time is precious. We have to make it count. I suspect debating a withdrawal agreement bill for an extra three days will not count in the end and ultimately nothing is going to change after the general election. Sure, it would be nice to believe that on December 13th the country will wake up to the new dawn we were supposed to get today but I have a strong suspicion that you will open your eyes as the bell rings yet again for another pointless round in the political ring.

Pride and Prejudice anyone?

Posted by TA Blezard in Books, Goals, Opinion, 0 comments

Your August-Themed Reading List!

It’s a Word-Nerd Kind of Summer

Back in February I wrote my Ode to February…a bleak month in many senses coming as it does in the middle of winter–a month which needs as many odes as it can get to cheer itself up as it shrugs off the financial drains of Christmas along with the regrets of January’s broken resolutions. Poor February, sluggishly crawling along in its winter coat, never quite believing that there will ever be another spring. But that was six months ago. Spring arrived just as it always does. And now we come to August, an altogether different affair as for years this month has signalled the complete freedom of our summer holidays. An entire month not nibbled away at either end by homework and assignments. Yay! No more school. No more college. Its days are long and sunshine-filled. It is robust and healthy and needs no odes to feel good about itself.

The Word-Nerd’s Perfect August Accompaniment!

So how do you fill these long sunny days without the structure of school or college? Well, if you’re a word nerd like me, you take the time to do projects and read books, of course! Oh happy days, August, thank you! But what to read, I hear you cry. Well, how about these five offerings, brought to you (in no particular order) courtesy of the month itself, for they all have August-named characters waiting to entertain you.

Travels with my Aunt by Graham Greene

(1969)

 This hilarious novel charts the travels of Henry Pulling, a retired bank manager who up until now has lived a suffocatingly safe life, and his elderly but eccentric Aunt Augusta whose life, in direct contrast, has been wildly adventurous. Henry’s safe cocoon is blown wide open when he reconnects with this woman, the catastrophic chaos starting when the urn containing his mother’s ashes is used as a dope container for Aunt Augusta’s lodger and lover. Well, the book was written in the late sixties after all.

Augusta persuades Henry to leave behind his dahlias and the rest of his safe suburban world in order to accompany her on her adventures, giving the pair of them a chance to reconnect after fifty years apart. Travelling to Paris and Istanbul and South America, Henry learns about this free-spirited relation of his. Augusta is the original wild-child, having affairs and children out of wedlock, mixing with hippies and war criminals, showing a complete disregard for authority and laws and many of the social norms of the time. Given that she is in her 70s, she’s not exactly your typical elderly aunt from the 1960s. In fact, as Henry is about to find out, she’s not really an aunt at all…

But don’t take this amoral auntie too seriously. The book is great fun and a good summer read!

Wonder by R J Palacio

(2012)

In this children’s novel you will meet August “Auggie” Pullman, a young  boy with severe facial differences which have been bad enough up until now to keep him out of mainstream school.

Wanting him to experience as normal a life as possible (hard when you have had 27 operations on your face to date), his parents have now enrolled their son in Beecher Middle school at the start of the new academic year. All Auggie wants from this is to be treated like everyone else, but that might be a tall order for a ten-year-old kid who looks nothing like his classmates. And as you would expect, the children react in different ways to the boy with the facial deformity. While he makes some good friends, most closely with Jack and Summer, another boy, Julian (who the headmaster has assigned to help Auggie fit in) sets about bullying him.

What is most wonderful about this book is its complexity. It is not just a question of Jack and Summer = good and Julian = bad. We all have times when we act less than heroically, when we side with the wrong people through our own desperate need to fit in. And so do these characters: Jack allows himself to join in with the bullying at one point and Auggie’s older sister, Olivia, also struggles at times to be her own person whilst also being the sister of the boy with the facial disfigurement. Then Julian’s friends unexpectedly come to the rescue one night in the woods when Auggie is being beaten up by older boys. There is good and bad in everyone, clearly.

This novel is heartfelt and thought provoking and will most certainly make you cry. But that’s all right. It’s just the mark of a really excellent book!

The Fault in our Stars by John Green

(2012)

 Now, talking of crying…what better subject to shed tears over than kids with cancer? But what a book! This young adult novel is a love story between sixteen-year-old Hazel Grace Lancaster and seventeen-year-old Augstus ‘Gus’ Waters who meet at a cancer-support meeting that Hazel’s parents have forced her to attend.

After a rocky introduction, the two hit it off and agree to lend each other a copy of their favourite books. Hazel gives Gus a book called “An Imperial Affliction” by her favourite author, the reclusive Peter Van Houten. “An Imperial Affliction” is a book about a girl called Anna who is also afflicted by cancer and whose life appears to parallel Hazel’s own. Gus is intrigued by the novel and its frustrating lack of conclusion, but more intrigued by Hazel for whom the book is so important, and with whom he is clearly falling in love. And what better way to show your love for someone than to use your dying wish for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Amsterdam to track down the author himself?

You may have seen the film, but I urge you to read the novel. It is wonderful and heart-wrenching and contains one of my all-time favourite lines:

“I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly then all at once.”

An absolute must-read for this month!

The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow

(1953)

If you liked Huckleberry Finn, or you love the characters of Dickens, then you will surely be drawn to Saul Bellow’s Augie March. Opening in Chicago during the Depression, we meet the March family: Augie and his older brother Simon and their other brother George, who we would describe today as having “learning difficulties” (not a phrase you’ll find in this book). They live in a household with their down-trodden mother and overbearing grandmother, Grandma Lausch, originally from Russia and described as being “as wrinkled as an old paper bag”.

Through Augie’s eyes, the novel describes his scrapes, trials and tribulations as he grows from boy to man, delightfully detailing a series of odd jobs and the host of colourful characters who populate his life. Revel in this very different world…at a time when Sundays saw “balloon pedlars” on the street and one of Augie’s jobs was to go with Mr Einhorn senior to the beach for his daily swim and feed him lighted cigarettes while he floated near the pier in his stripy swimming costume!

I reckon the book is worth reading for that image alone.

And finally, for a bit of light relief, return to one of your childhood favourites with:

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

(1964)

 Again you may have seen the film–either with Gene Wilder (1971) or Johnny Depp (2005) as the great Willy Wonka, owner of the Chocolate factory–but as with so many great films, first there was the book!

You know the story: eleven-year-old Charlie Bucket lives a poverty-stricken life with his parents and grandparents but is a jolly nice kid who happens to have the kind of good luck that falls upon such jolly nice kids. In his case luck means finding a ten-shilling note in the snow, which he uses to buy a Wonka Bar, and which then just so happens to have the fifth and final golden ticket inside the wrapper inviting its recipient onto a tour of Willy Wonka’s famous factory. As you already know, the first four tickets have gone to less jolly nice kids, namely the TV obsessed Mike Teavee, gum-chewing Violet Beauregarde, spoiled and abrasive Verucca Salt and gluttonous Augustus Gloop (whom we have to thank for getting this book, however tenuously, included on our August-themed reading list).

In the way of such books from this era, you just know nothing good can come to someone like Augustus Gloop and sure enough, greed leads him to fall into the Chocolate River after which he gets eliminated from the tour by being sucked up into a pipe which squeezes him thin before spitting him out again. Similar nasty ends then befall all our similarly nasty children leaving Charlie and his grandfather to finish the tour safely and learn of the true reason for Willy Wonka’s competition: that he was looking for a successor for his chocolate empire. Charlie and his family now get to live with him in the factory (every kid’s dream, right?) and Charlie goes on to have more adventures in glass elevators.

Perfect!

So that’s August all sewn up for you. What more could you want? Happy reading!

Posted by TA Blezard in Adult Literary Fiction, Books, Literature, Opinion, Reviews, YA, 0 comments