Reader's Reads #10: Chris Hallam

Of late I have become an obsessive listener to Desert Island Discs on BBC Radio 4. Clever, famous (not necessarily the same thing) and interesting people are interviewed and asked to choose eight records they would like to have with them on a desert island. I wanted to get to know some of my readers a little better, so thought it would be fun to feature readers and their favourite reads. This spawned the rather natty, although probably not originally named "Reader's Reads".

If you would like to be featured, please contact me via the email button (bottom left of the main page) and I'll email out the bits and pieces to you. 

Each reader has a comfy seat, anywhere in the world, real or imaginary, a beverage and snack of their choice and a bookcase which will only hold eight books. 

Today's reader is the lovely Chris Hallam, engineer and all round good egg. Chris has a really lovely selection of books to share with us. 

I have carefully thought of where I read and I cannot pin it down to a comfy chair!  Mostly I read in bed but I do read quite a lot when travelling principally on the tube/train in and around London.  Indeed I missed my stop at Vauxhall recently as I was so into David Mitchell’s Bone Clocks!  So I think that the photo of the tube seat is most appropriate.

- The one which kickstarted your reading habit

A book that kick started my reading habit?  This was difficult and took me back to my childhood.  Having been born into a working class family in the fifties, a class which I still fervently belong to, I like John Prescott’s definition of himself; working class but with middle class aspirations, books were not as common in they are now.  However I was surrounded by things to read; mainly comics, Victor and Wizard were my staples and Eagle if I had the money.  The DC comic books, Superman etc., also played a prominent role but I remember using a public library in Toton quite a lot.  It was only a small library but the librarian didn’t seem to mind a scruffy little herb like me using it.  I don’t quite remember my age but I’d put in in the 12-14 range, and I must have convinced her that I would return the books as I read an awful lot of sci-fi from there.  I also spent many a happy afternoon in there just browsing the shelves, which was in between setting the local fields on fire and making other general mayhem with my mates…

- The one which changed your view of the world

Ian Serraillier’s Silver Sword changed my view on the world.  We read it at school and again I can’t quite remember the age but I am sure I was still at junior school.  The war was still fresh in many people’s memory then and this book opened my eyes to a wider world and the horrors that it held.  I still give it to children in the family.  I don’t think any of them have read it but you never know.

- The one you go back to again and again

It’s a children’s book Over Sea Under Stone by Susan Cooper which is a book I have re-read the most.  I have read the whole Dark is Rising series 3 may be 4 times but the first book I have seem to like the most possibly due to its naivety.

- The one you comfort read

My comfort read is a genre rather than a book.  I worked in the south of France for 3 years in the early 90’s and to help improve my French the librarian at the works library suggested that I start on BD’s, Bande Dessinée, other words a graphic novel in French.  I started with Asterix and Tin Tin; Asterix is easier to read than Tin Tin and far funnier.  I started reading Largo Winch series which first came out in 1990 and I have purchased every issue since then.  They usually come out around the end of November and I read it in the run up to Christmas, a perfect start to the holiday!

- The one which you had an unexpected response to

The one that I had an unexpected response to was the Bone Clocks by David Mitchell.  This is the only book of his that I have managed to finish.  I was very moved by the ending possibly because as the road ahead is shorter than the one in behind you begin to analyse what you have achieved and is it a legacy that you would want?  An easy book to read and highly recommended.

- The one you wish you had time to read

A book I wish I had time to read?  There isn't one really.  There are lots of books I have started and not finished but that's because they didn't catch my imagination not because I thought I didn't have the time to finish them.

- The one with sentimental value

Sentimental value? Again difficult and again back to my childhood; Rupert the Bear!  My father used to read the Daily Express when I was a boy and in those days the Express was a broadsheet.  Rupert was one of the cartoons but it was the annual that took my eye because of the colour.  When I see a Rupert book these days it takes me back…

- The last one you read

The last book I read was the Bone Clocks, the one I’m reading at the moment is the third of the Game of Thrones series.  I love the TV programmes but they deviate from the books and you do get more detail which fills in the gaps which the series doesn’t.  Mind you at 1500 pages I do wonder whether I will ever get to the end!

My beverage of choice is: Drink?  Water or maybe a bottle of Peroni!

My snack of choice is: Snack would be something salty or maybe chocolate!

Thanks Chris! It totally agree with you on the Silver Sword, and everyone knows how much I love Oversea Undertone!

#100daysofwellbeing: Days 71 - 77

Day 77

Day 77

Well, here we are again, the time is flying by and I am nearly at the end of my 100 days. This week has been incredibly hot, which my MS has been grumbling about. I did still manage to get out and about in the woods, where I saw the cows that live there paddling in a stream. I couldn't get close enough to take a photo though, they were rather protective of their cool patch!

Our green roof has started to flower (Day 75), which is always nice to see. The lavender an honeysuckle are out in full force in the area, and when I am out walking, the scents are beautiful. 

Today is a reading day. Extra points for anyone who can name the book I am reading on Day 77. 

Day 71 - Canal

Day 71 - Canal

Day 72 - Lavender

Day 72 - Lavender

Day 73 - Woods in scorchingly hot weather

Day 73 - Woods in scorchingly hot weather

Day 74 - Stormy Weather

Day 74 - Stormy Weather

Day 75 - Green Roof

Day 75 - Green Roof

Day 76 - Flowering Heather

Day 76 - Flowering Heather

Things Fall Apart by China Achebe

Set in a fictional African village in the 1890s tells the story of the clash of two cultures, that of the indigenous population and the colonial Christian missionaries. 

The plot centres around Okonkwo, a community leader and former wrestling champion. He has several wives and multiple children and prides himself on being able to support them all. 

The first part of the book sets the scene. We come to understand the characters and the traditions of the clan of which they are a part.  

The second and third parts of the book focus on how the arrival of the Christian missionaries impacts Okonkwo's life, especially in light of his hear of appearing weak or lazy.  

This is considered one of the best African novels written in English and is widely studied. It is the first in a series of three books. As I got to know Okonkwo and his tribe I found the brutality and harshness of life in this region hard to bare. My comfortable 21st Century existence is a very long way from Africa in 1890. However, the wonder of this book is the neutral way in which Achebe presents both the African and Christian ways of life. There is no judgement here, just facts, beautifully plotted and beautifully written. 

The Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

I think I am going to struggle to review this, and the easier thing to do might be to say “read it – it is great”.  I would be short-changing you though , my lovely readers, and I can’t do that. Instead, I will do my best to explain this, but I think it will come down to, “if you read it, you will see what I mean”.

There are few characters in the book, and none of them are named. The narrator is a woman, a wife and mother and it is her thoughts that we see on the page. These thoughts are disparate and random, just as real thoughts are. Slowly they are woven into a story about new motherhood and a marriage in crisis.

Now, I will be honest, domestic drama isn’t normally my thing. I tend to find it, if I may quote the Nac Mac Feegle, a little too “waily, waily, waily”. This was different. The author really makes the reader work, to understand how these seeming standalone thoughts are coming together. There are some wonderful lines, you know those kind of thoughts, the ones which make you smile, but you can’t possibly say out loud. These moments are needed to offset the sadness as the marriage crumbles.

It’s a short but powerful read. Has anyone else read it?

BBC Radio 2 500 Word Story Winners

I love this competition. It never fails to amaze me.  BBC Radio 2 ask young people up to the age of 13 to write a 500 word short story. 

The winners for 2015 have been announced, and once again there are some absolutely stunning tales. 

The overall winners for each age group were Amabel Smith with It's A Wide World and Sofia Zambuto with Fight For LIfe.  A Wide World is a very clever title and a clever peice of writing. I was desperate to know more about that world, and the two characters she had created. Fight For Life is also clever, I defy you to realise what is happening until it is spelled out to you at the end. 

You can download all the stories and they would make wonderful listening on the morning commute. 

I hope these children carry on writing and get published in years to come. I think there could be some exciting novels within each of them. 

#100daysofwellbeing: Days 64 - 70

Day 70 - Fresh Jostaberry compote, berries from the garden

Day 70 - Fresh Jostaberry compote, berries from the garden

It was a bit of a shock to be back at work after our lovely holiday. We did our best to cling onto that holiday feeling though. A heatwave is forecast next week in the UK. Typically when we say heatwave here, we mean it is warm enough that we can go without knitwear, but this time, it is a proper, full on, possibly getting to 90F heatwave. Britain will stall as we can't cope with any sort of extreme weather. We are very middle of the road here.  I am not sure whether I will get out to walk at all. Heat is really bad for MS, it makes everything temporarily worse, so depending on how hot it is I may plump for indoor photos next week. 

Anyway, here are this week's shots. 

They Shoot Horses, Don't They? by Horace McCoy

They Shoot Horses, Don't They? by Horace McCoy

They Shoot Horses, Don't They? by Horace McCoy

Robert and Gloria want a career in Hollywood. It is the time of The Great Depression and little work is available. Their paths cross outside of the Paramount Studios in LA and they agree to take part in a dance marathon together.

The dance marathon organiser provide food and lodging for as long as a couple can stay in the competition. Staying in means moving together for 1 hour and 50 minutes out of every 2 hours when a break for sleep, food or the loo is allowed.  The dances go on for 24 hours a day for weeks on end, with the promotors trying all sorts of shenanigans to get the viewing public to come and watch and perhaps sponsor their favourite couple.

I have been saying this a lot recently, but this is a marvellous book, I really am having a good reading streak at the moment.

The book opens with a Robert on trial for Gloria’s murder, and so there is no mystery here other than why he would kill her. The story is told through flashbacks where we learn of Gloria’s desperate ambition to be a Hollywood star, and her rather more morbid wish to be dead.

The dance marathon itself reminds me horribly of the media circus which surrounds reality shows, there is fixing of who gets eliminated and some outrageous attempts at manufacturing publicity.  It all felt very current.

The writing is concise, but powerful and the sense of hopelessness and dreams never to be fulfilled is threaded through the plot from beginning to end. Ah yes, the ending. I didn’t see it coming, and found it incredibly moving and shocking at the same time.

I actually finished reading this a couple of months ago, but it still very fresh in my mind. I can see why it is considered an American classic and mentioned in the same breath as Steinbeck. 

After Dark by Haruki Murakami

Murakami - After Dark.jpg

I seem to be a long way behind everyone else when it comes to reading Murakami. There isn't any reason for this other than I just haven't really got around to it. I picked up After Dark at my last reading spa at Mr B's.

The book is set in Tokyo, at midnight. We meet Mari, a student sat in an all night cafe reading a book and drinking coffee. Her sister is at home, asleep, as she has been for several months. She doesn't appear to be ill, just asleep. 

As the story progresses through the night Mari meets a trombonist who is rehearsing with his band in a cold damp cellar close by. He later sends the manager of a local love hotel to find Mari to help interpret for a Chinese prostitute who has been beaten up by a strange man. 

Meanwhile, something very odd is happening to Mari's sister. The television in her room is unplugged, but it is showing a picture. The picture is of a room, empty apart from  bed.

Having done my fair share of nightshifts early in my career, I know how odd time becomes, especially around two or three in the morning. This book plays with time, and on occasions light seems to slow as reflections are left in mirrors even after the person has left. The narrative is also written in the first person plural, and so "we" observe what is going on. It all adds up to be a distinctly unsettling read, compounded by much which is mundane. 

Independent Booksellers Week 2015

28th June - 5th July is Independent Booksellers Week.  Now, if that isn't an excuse to get to your local bookshop and spend all your money on books, I don't know what is.

Indie bookshops are so important for all sorts of reasons. They provide a wonderful source of literary knowledge which can open up all sorts of reading avenues you would never otherwise know of. The joy of finding a like-minded literary soul and sharing book recommendations can't be beaten. 

If you don't know where your nearest Indie is, then you can find out here. I would then urge you to hot foot it down there and buy as many books as you can physically carry*. 


*Ask the bookseller to help if you can't carry all your purchases at once. I'm sure they will oblige.