December 2006
...click on the book images to look at the book...


Thank you for your patience. Coming up to Xmas we all need some ideas for our stockings. I have chosen four of my favourites from the past months of touring, which is when I read the most. Two English and two American authors - a bit different this time I think.

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SIMON RECOMMENDS:
"The Monk"
by Matthew Lewis

A truly notorious piece of writing, this book is widely acknowledged as the first English gothic horror novel - The Monk was first published in 1796. Incredibly, Lewis completed it when he was just 19 years old. Although quite naive in some respects, this is a thoroughly enjoyable read. Stacked with stomach churning episodes of graphic violence and horror; decomposing bodies, ghosts, evil hypocrisy, sexual obsession, rape, witchcraft, devilry and some jolly decent chaps with proper moral standards. What makes this book endure into the 21st C. is the slightly perverse sense of humour which runs all the way through. This incidentally caused quite some outrage at the time, particularly among the afficionados of the German gothic horror style. The action takes place predominantly in the grounds and crypts of the (handily adjoined) convent and monastery, in what is, I suppose, medieval Madrid; this sort of thing never could have happened in England - it's the latins y'know. The romp continues through Europe in a quite unrestrained and unexpected manner.

Not predictable and very satisfying; a cult classic.

SIMON RECOMMENDS:
"The Damned Utd"
by David Peace

This is an extra-ordinary piece of writing, takes the form of a monologue, a story told by the late Brian Clough; you hear his voice; you feel his pain, his joy, his elation, his mistrust. You go through his sleepless nights in lonely hotel rooms which stink of stale cigarettes and taste of sour brandy. Cloughie paints the picture of the footballing world of the 70s when the team would meet up in a pub before the match to smoke fags and sink pints. It's dirty Northern towns with stray dogs and brutish men who like to kick other men on a Saturday afternoon.

You wouldn't call this a sexy novel, just plain brilliant when ultimately you become aware of the genius that Brian Clough was.






 




 

SIMON RECOMMENDS:
"Wicked"
by Gregory Maguire

Yeah I know it's not new, that there's a lot been said about this already, even, that it's been turned into a stage musical, etc...

So what - it's new to me and I loved it. The alternative view of OZ as a people under the oppression of a corrupt and callous leader who seized power illegally seems particularly relevant today. Strong themes of intolerance and racism run through this and obviously skin colour is a constant pervading issue. The book begins with an image we are all familiar with, but from there the story splits from TWOO and develops in us a completely new point of view - that of Elphaba. This continues until we return much later, to see familiar action portrayed in the movie but with a different Wicked Witch of the West, one who despite herself, we have grown to love. There are some stunning moments in this book; I don't want to give away the story or the surprise, but halfway through there is an episode of such emotional release and joy, that even the most cynical and hardened reader is sure to feel that bitter-sweet mixture of joy and sadness which we crave.

Yes it's about how we perceive good & evil, about bigotry, it's about wholeness too; but most of all I think it's about love and compassion, and about dignity.

I love the humanity of this book.

SIMON RECOMMENDS:
"The Devil In The White City"
by Erik Larson

This has won prizes.

It's about the 1893 World Fair in Chicago, and America's first known serial killer who operated there. Larson gives us the facts, doesn't over dramatise them - believe me he doesn't need to. What I also like is that I'm not constantly having to refer to footnotes or a Sources section at the back of the book; he writes the stuff, and I believe him; nice and simple, modern really. The story of the fair and its main man - Daniel H. Burnham - is just as compelling as is the story of the blue eyed monster Dr Howard H. Holmes. Fascinating and lurid. As you can probably tell, I haven't reached the climax, let alone the ending yet - how exciting!

Merry Cherry to all.
whoooshmas




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