Category Archives: Topics and Themes

Edgelands, by Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts

Edgelands - book coverEdgelands:

is enticingly subtitled: Journeys into England’s True Wilderness and is an exploration of the in-between places on the edge of our towns.

The book is arranged into chapters, each with a punchy one-word title:

Cars, Dens, Containers, Retail, Pallets, Sewage, etc. Continue reading Edgelands, by Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts

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On Walking, by Phil Smith

On Walking, Phil SmithThis is one of those books you either love or hate.

It’s full title, On Walking:…and Stalking Sebald implies you will be following Phil Smith as he follows in the footsteps of the German author, W.G. Sebald, on a walking tour in Suffolk.

But the book is much more than a travelogue of the author’s trip. It incorporates a mix of poetry, philosophy, and reflections on walking. It is an entertaining, frustrating and challenging read. And is illustrated with photographs that both illuminate and mirror the scatological (in the urban-dictionary sense) nature of the writing. Continue reading On Walking, by Phil Smith

Stet, by Diana Athill

Stet, Diana Athill, Diana Athill was an influential editor who worked for several publishing houses in London. This memoir covers the 50 years she spent in the industry.

The book is remarkably interesting for far more than its insights into the world of literary publishing. Diana Athill is honest in her descriptions of her relationships with colleagues, competitors and writers. She also drops tantalising hints about her colourful personal life, the details of which are covered, I assume, in some of her other autobiographical books. Continue reading Stet, by Diana Athill

China since 1949, by Linda Benson

China since 1949, seminar studies in history, by Linda Benson, book review The Chinese regard their country as the centre of the Universe and the only truly civilised place to live.

But to us in the West, China is a strange place. An alien world.

Recently I wrote a novel set in 7th Century China, during the Tang Dynasty. In preparation, I began reading every book I could find in my local library with ‘China’ in the title. Continue reading China since 1949, by Linda Benson

The Orchid Thief, by Susan Orlean

The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession


This book is based, loosely, around the Florida orchid thief, John Laroche. Susan Orlean is a journalist who hears about his story and attempts to discover why he has become so obsessed with these flowers, and one in particular, the Ghost Orchid. Laroche is a fascinating and complex character. Susan Orlean is both attracted and repelled by this man and her description of him is amazing in its detail and ruthless in its honesty. Continue reading The Orchid Thief, by Susan Orlean

Double Indemnity, by James M Cain

Double Indemnity, James M Cain, book review by Ruth LivingstoneDouble Indemnity is a crime-fiction novel and often cited as a classic of the genre. First published in 1936, the book remains very popular. Why?

Written in the first person, this is a crime novel told through the point of view of the murderer. The language is simple and conversational, using the idioms and figures of speech consistent with the narrator’s background, era and nationality – he is a Californian insurance salesman. While I’m sure this was perfectly in keeping with the time, the language seems quaintly old-fashioned in the 21st Century. (I guess this is an important lesson in how quickly our contemporary fiction can become dated.) Continue reading Double Indemnity, by James M Cain

Coming Through Slaughter, by Michael Ondaatje

Coming through Slaughter, book review by Ruth LivingstoneThis is an interesting book, first published in 1976. It has a weird structure and, initially, I was completely bemused by it.

The subject of the story is Buddy Bolden, a black American musician living in New Orleans at the beginning of the twentieth century. Buddy was famous for his cornet playing and for being one of the early pioneers of jazz music. Continue reading Coming Through Slaughter, by Michael Ondaatje