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Simon’s Reader: October, 2015, “May We Be Forgiven”

October 24th, 2015

Sitting here on the plane to Milano; tears in my eyes. I just finished listening to the audio book “May We Be Forgiven” a prize winning novel by American author A M Homes; narration by Nathan Osgood. Tears in my eyes; because sometimes when I finish a story, I mourn its loss; because of the sheer humanity, the sheer compassion of it all. I am taken by the ordinaryness of the plot line and the by characters. The story takes place during the course of a single year. It is told by College Professor, lecturer in modern history, Harry Silver. His specific area of expertise is the life, the presidency and era of Mr Richard Milhouse Nixon.

The story opens at a family Thanksgiving celebration, and is determined by a series of appalling and shocking events, which occur in rapid succession shortly after. The rest of the book charts the resonating effects on those involved with , as they try to find reason and purpose in their lives. The reading is wonderful. Nathan Osgood gives extraordinary life to the characters in the novel. His tone is perfect; sympathetic to the themes which Homes raises. And she doesn’t shy away from some pretty profound important themes. Themes like family, love, fear, life and death, ego, sex , dementia and aging, selfishness and altruism to name just some. And through it all glitters a dark seam of humour. This is modern life told with a twist. I already have another one Homes’s novels, “The End Of Alice”, lined up and ready to start.

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Simon’s Reader: September, 2015: “Prayers for the Stolen″

September 18th, 2015

A Quick One –

Prayers For The Stolen by Jennifer Clement

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I have a hole in me now I’ve finished Prayers For The Stolen. Not the kind of hole that was dug in the Guerrero, Mexico jungle. They dig those holes so that the teenage girls can hide with the spiders and scorpions when the ‘narcos’ come in their Escalades. The drug-lords, or their henchmen, come to kidnap the girls; they steal them away for sex, for slavery, for a lifetime of terror.

This book really is a quick one, this shocking novel, which is the monologue of Ladydi Gatcia Martinez, but Ladydi will do – yeh, just like the one who wanted to be our Queen of Hearts until she died so violently.

It’s fast and very violent; casually, tragically violent. But somehow, the voice of love and hope speaks louder than everything else.

WHOOOSH
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Simon’s Reader: January 2015, “The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack : Burton and Swinburne, Book 1”

January 16th, 2015

Simon discusses the audio book for Mark Hodder’s “The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack : Burton and Swinburne, Book 1” narrated by Gerard Doyle.

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Simon’s Reader: May 2014, “A Delicate Truth”

May 29th, 2014

A Delicate Truth, John LeCarre

A week or two ago I finished John LeCarre’s “A Delicate Truth.” LeCarre is always very current in his writing, and sets his books in the present day focusing on issues that matter now. He typically writes about the military and politics. For those who don’t know, LeCarre is a great British writer who wrote “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” back in the 1950s. He has been writing for over five decades, and is one of the greatest, and most prolific, English writers.

I liked the political intrigue of this book, and how it highlighted the incompetence of the private security industry. We have all bought in to this great security mystique since 9/11. Think about how private security affects your life, what we’ve gotten used to, and the kind of people (for the most part) in the private security industry, who need a uniform or a gun to feel better about themselves. It seems to attract a certain kind of person as well, a person who wears a uniform so they can have authority to tell people what to do. Anybody who wants to contribute to the security of the world would be thinking about how to stop these security breaches from happening in the first place rather than scaring people in to thinking they need them to be safe.

“Delicate Truth” is funny, sad, frightening and ultimately, very good.


Simon’s Reader: The Goldfinch

January 29th, 2014

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The Goldfinch is a new novel by Donna Tartt, her first since The Little Friend published in 2002, and only the third since her debut novel, The Secret History in 1992. It has had the literary world in quite a spin since the announcement of its impending release last year; one has seen the phrases – “long awaited” and “eagerly anticipated” – frequently and unashamedly – in recent months with reference to DT’s latest work. And I must say, that in this case, it is a book that has been well worth the waiting. Expect The Goldfinch to win literary prizes over the course of 2014 because it really is a magnificent achievement; of a scope and depth to which we are rarely exposed in 21st century contemporary fiction.

Like her two previous novels, this one opens with a bombshell. A bombshell indeed, which is so profoundly unsettling, it immediately puts you down into the confusing and tragic world of protagonist Theo Decker at the age of twelve years old. And from there we go into the life which is shaped and informed by this event.

One of the main reading pleasures is that the book is so fresh and unpredictable; I am very unwilling to spoil the reading experience of The Goldfinch with any kind of intimation of the plot. Don’t, what ever you do, read any sleeve notes.

Of course the Donna Tartt attractions which we’ve come to know and admire are on display: The razor sharp plain English that cuts; the hope and love; the driving morality; the wry dark humour – the darkness at the heart of things. The beauty – the intimacy – the secrets.

Comparisons with the double Ds, that is Great Expectations by Dickens and Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment are apt. But I shall leave it there. In a few months I would welcome the chance to carry the discussion further on the subject of this novel.

Read well & feed your imagination.

SLB, 2014.01.29, London


Simon’s Reader, New Year edition

December 31st, 2012

Sci-fi for the New Year (Part 1)

Peter F Hamilton: The Void Trilogy (audiobooks), comprising: book 1. The Dreaming Void, read by Toby Longworth; book 2. The Temporal Void, read by John Lee; The Evolutionary Void, read by John Lee.

I first got listening to audiobooks while being driven on long monotonous journeys some time ago. I found that taking in the spoken word was much easier than reading the written word, especially when going on old pot-holed roads. Subsequently, I discovered that I was able to listen while performing domestic chores. Something which makes simple but tedious operations such as packing and unpacking while on tour a much more attractive prospect.

Of course there are disadvantages to audiobooks, of which two major ones spring to mind. Firstly, the distraction factor, which includes the fall-asleep factor (not always a negative, which I shall address later). But yes, very rarely do I find myself concentrating 100% on the reading. And yes, it’s very easy to, for example, end up concentrating with one’s tongue, a little too long and hard upon that tricky, tiny little, nugget of bacon wedged up between incisor, canine and gum. Until with the happy sense of freedom and relief it works loose to be either spat or swallowed, so to speak. And then the realisation… that an unknown amount of narration has passed you by, and you’ve no idea how the story has developed, and more significantly, how far you have to rewind… that is – if you can be bothered to do so.

The second disadvantage factor which strikes me, is the issue of the narrator. The success of an audiobook relies very much on how you, the listener, are able to relate to the voice, intonation and style of the reader. And it doesn’t always work; certainly for me it doesn’t… always… work.

Now, I’ve read quite a lot of Peter F. Hamilton’s work before. I’ve read and enjoyed “Greg Mandel Trilogy”
Mindstar Rising (1993),
A Quantum Murder (1994),
The Nano Flower (1995).

And I tried really hard to get into The Reality Dysfunction (1996), from the very highly renowned “Night’s Dawn Trilogy” but it wasn’t my cup of tea.

However, Pandora’s Star and Judas Unchained, the two books which make up “The Commonwealth Saga,” completely captivates me. I seriously could not put the story down. When he gets it right, PFH’s mix of politics, characters, pace and imaginative thinking, is an absolute winner.

As soon as I discovered that “The Void Trilogy” was a continuation of, and set in the same universe as “The Commonwealth Saga,” I thought I’d give it a go… on audioboook!

Wow, this trilogy is a serious heavyweight, tipping the scales at over 60hrs long combined. That’s a significant investment of one’s life.

First volume – The Dreaming Void, read by Toby Longworth, pretty bloody good actually, considering that it’s 23hrs 52min long. The galaxy has, at its centre, another universe which seems to have different laws of physics, and possibly a flawed utopian human society, which the galaxy outside, i.e. “The Commonwealth.” OK, it is quite complicated, and I’m not going to try to tell you the story. But it’s good, and has great characters, in fact some of my favourites from the previous “Commonwealth” are still alive… albeit, a thousand or so years later (let’s not get into that now). But it works, and by the way, is really well narrated.

Book two, The Temporal Void; immediate problem – they’ve changed narrator… what? I think. They’ve CHANGED the NARRATOR??? And it doesn’t matter if John Lee is a good reader; he may even be better. But it doesn’t matter because all of those voices, those characterizations those idiosyncrasies which took time to get used to, but finally I started liking… they have all gone.

It’s a big blow.

And I don’t think I really got over it. But after spending 23hrs, 52min, no, after investing that time, I want to know what happens next, and I have to go on and finish the 60+ hrs that is the whole trilogy. Really, it was mistake. I should have trusted my instinct, my gut rejection of the new reader. All the colour had gone out of it for me. The voices just weren’t as good, not as much fun, really!

I should’ve put it down and started something new. But I didn’t, I went on and listened, all the way to the end of book two.

And after book two, guess what?

Book three, The Temporal Void.

By this point I had virtually forgotten what the trilogy was about – actually, it’s about immortality, becoming “post physical” or going individually, and as a species into a higher plane of existence, that is evolving. But really, by that point, the thing which seemed to matter the most was… just to finish the bally thing and be done with it. And that’s where the complication of the fall-asleep-factor comes in. When you don’t really care about the voices, and you’ve forgotten what it’s all supposed to be about, suddenly, you discover that what you have in your hands is a very effective sleep aid.

whooosh
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Simon’s Not So Much of A Reader

June 4th, 2012

I tell you what the problem with SR is at the moment. It’s that I’m not reading so much. On the recently completed South American leg, I’ve really been getting stuck into my iPad.

I have great internet radio apps, including Reciva Radio & TuneIn Radio, which allows one to actually record radio shows; this is fantastic when you’re on tour. For example, I listened to the entire five part, radio play adaptation of Robert Harris’s Fatherland – a very strong production written by John Dryden; starring one of my favourites – Anton Lesser as Xavier March, Eleanor Bron, and the late Stratford Johns.

But what has really got me hooked is decent internet TV.

Firstly, the BBC iPlayer (of course, I have to use a UK virtual proxy network) for dramas, documentaries etc. The BBC’s content really sets it apart from its competitors.

And, the big one: AMC’s genius Breaking Bad. I have watched series (I’m English; I cannot, under any circumstance, bring myself to use terminologically incorrect word “season”, which means Spring, Summer, Winter, Autumn, even to add salt and/or pepper, but never in a million years will it mean to me, a group of TV shows)… I have watched series 1,2,3 and I’m halfway through series 4. Wow, it has blown my bloody doors off.

The up shot of all this is that now I almost feel that, given a decent pair of rubber gloves & a gas mask, I could manufacture crystal meth in the kitchen.

The down side is that I’ve only read one book in the last three months.

However, there is a silver lining to my cloud. Because the book in question happens to be China Mieville’s existential murder mystery namely, The City and The City.

whooosh
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Simon’s Reader, February 2012: “Just Kids”

February 20th, 2012

Patti Smith : Just Kids

It has been said that it is always a mistake to meet one’s heroes. In Patti Smith’s “Just Kids,” I’ve done exactly that. But believe me when I say to you, that in this case, it is no mistake. The focus of the story is on Patti Smith’s life with artist and pioneer photographer, Robert Mapplethorpe, between the years 1969 and 1975 when, for the most part, they lived together in Brooklyn and New York City. All with the bare minimum of photographs to keep the images of Patti and Robert in mind; to remind you that it all really happened.

I do admit, I have a problem with autobiographical works in general. The faintest whiff of self-aggrandisement or hubris, and that’s it… I’m off, thank you very much. That is what put me off books like Aleistair Crowley’s trumpeting “Autohagiography”, and Gregory David Roberts’s excruciating “Shantaram.”

But Just Kids is so different. There is a real humility in this story which comes across in the absolute honest simplicity of the narrative. Really, this is the ‘plain English style’ at its most effective, its most emotionally impacting. But “Just Kids” is also poetry, that is, totally un-selfconcious poetry. Poetry, not in fancy language or ideals or concepts, but in the bricks and stone of the city; poetry in the depth of her love and compassion for Robert “his green eyes, his dark locks… his voice above the gulls, the childish laughter, and the roar of waves. …the boy who loved…” He is of course, from the first page to the last, a beautiful, doomed tragic hero.

It is just honest. At times, it can seem mundane, and you love it all the more for it – living on the street around Union Square; whitewashing the “agressively seedy” first apartment in Williamsburg, “the oven crammed with discarded syringes”; sitting in the lobby of the Chelsea Hotel – but this is the lyric of two lives. This is the stuff which condenses into poetry inside your head as you read, the same way that water vapour condenses into wingtip vortices when airliners move through the heavy air.

But of course, these are really momentous events in momentous times. The New York of Max’s Kansas City, of CBGBs. The New York of Rock & Roll legends such as Janis Joplin, Andy Warhol’s Velvet Underground, Jimi Hendrix & Allen Ginsburg, to name but a few who appear in the pages.

Towards the end, I began to see glimpses of the Patti Smith who is more familiar to me when, for example, she says “I flung my jacket over my shoulder, Frank Sinatra style. I was full of references. He was full of light and shadow.” This, on the photo shoot with Mapplethorpe which would deliver an enduring punk icon to the world, i.e. the cover of the album “Horses”. And this: “but the images of racing Cockettes and Wild Boys would soon be transmuted into the vision of a boy in a hallway, drinking a glass of tea.”

Please, do read “Just Kids”; I finished the book four days ago and now, as it resonates within me, I’m beginning to realise how truly beautiful is the gift that Patti Smith has given to us all.

SLB, February the 20th 2012. London

“Just Kids” on Amazon.com