The Mail Order Book Club Sponsored by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Now You Know Where Hollywood Got The Idea!
Now You Know Where Hollywood Got The Idea!

…………………..It’s Basildon in Essex. It’s 1990. I’ve just come back from living in Spain to pick up my teaching career again. Apart from flip flops, shorts and a Sony Walkman, my only other possessions are my books. But they are being shipped back and won’t arrive in Essex for weeks (in actual fact it turned out to be months – I think they were shipped from Tenerife to Essex via the Galapagos Islands or somewhere). And Basildon isn’t a hive of bookshops or literature! There is a library and its a great one – but there’s not the same feel in a borrowed book as in a book you possess and own and put on your shelf! And then salvation arrives in the form of a mail order book club advert in the press – and its sponsored by Gabriel Garcia Marquez of all people!!!

Well actually it wasn’t exactly sponsored by him – but it did give you a choice of 6 free books (imagine, books for nothing!!) and on the page of choices was Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s ‘The General In His Labyrinth’. A free book was one thing – a free Gabriel Garcia Marquez was something else entirely. I signed up.

The General In His LabyrinthWhen my 6 free books arrived I went straight to Marquez and it was fantastic. I loved ‘The General’. If anything I still think ‘The General’ is my favourite book of his and I sometimes wonder if I have that extra fondness for it because I got it (a) for free and (b) at a time when my books were in a ships hold somewhere off the coast of Africa!

So I was really sorry this morning to read that Gabriel Marcia Marquez had died after illness. His books brought me such a lot of enjoyment . His books were also in some ways books I grew up with and in my more fanciful moments I do think his books might have influenced me as I grew up. I read One Hundred Years of Solitude when I was about 15, after it was put into my hand by my English Lit teacher Mrs McFarlane with the words “Read this. You’ll like it”. And I did. I read The General in my late twenties. I read others into my thirties and beyond.

Garcia Marquez 2

Marquez was one of those authors who moved on my taste in books. Through him, and a few others, I got beyond the “plot” and started to focus as I read on the people I was reading about more than I focused on what they did or what happened to them. That’s what I remember most about Marquez books – the people. His books were often magical such as with the world of Macondo in One Hundred Years of Solitude,but the characters were always large and real, full of contradictions, hopes, fears, anger and of course love. I’ve read at least ten of his books and I’ve loved every single one of them. But as I say, perhaps I love the General most of all.

There was of course a small print in that book club offer. You had to buy at least one book a month. Some months had stuff I liked and could happily choose. Other months I just had to grin and bear it. But it was worth it I think, in no small part due to getting my hands on “The General”.

Garcia Marquez 1I’ve loved reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez over the years. His books have made me think, made me feel so many different things, they’ve pushed the cause of social justice, and they’ve always given me the chance to put them down the second I finish them and say out loud one of my favourite words – “TERRIFIC”. So thank you Gabriel Garcia Marquez and may you rest in peace.

Can You Get Too Much Of A Good Thing? – Elbow Live In Liverpool

Bucharest(Why did the Romanian stop reading for night? To give his Bucharest!!! And moving swiftly on from that corniest of book jokes, this is yet another post where I give my book a rest!)

…………..Over the years I’ve been in some pretty odd pubs – the oddness makes them memorable! Usually. However, I remember one pub I visited about 15 years ago near Kings Cross. In my memory it Elbow 2was part kasbah-type “lounge” and part some sort of table-dancing establishment. It was odd – but hey it sold beer and we were desperate! But I don’t remember it for its odd decor or feel – I remember it because me and three friends shared it with only one other group of people – the members of the band Elbow. We’d gone to see them playing at Scala in Kings Cross and they’d obviously gone looking for a pub before they played because I guess back then, when they weren’t known by many people other than their friends and immediate family, they could! My journey with Elbow started then – Scala was hot, sweaty, loud and vibrant – and Elbow were brilliant. I was hooked!

Forward 15 years to last Saturday and I am seeing Elbow for the umpteenth time, at the cavernous, appropriately named “Echo Arena” in Liverpool. Musically they are as wonderful as ever. Beautiful produced waves of sound and atmospherics, especially in the gentler sounds of songs like “Lippy Kids”. And Guy Garvey’s voice is warm and mellow and still sounds as effortless as it did all those years ago. But something’s missing. Like a comfortable old jacket, Elbow still fit, they still feel good to put on but there isn’t quite the same buzz, the same tingle of excitement.

Elbow 1It’s partly the venue. Liverpudlians can sing and they certainly make a noise but somehow it never quite generates the tingle on the back your neck that I’d feel if I watched them at say Scala or Brixton Academy or up at the Junction in Cambridge. Its a vast arena, and as arenas go it certainly outstrips the truly awful O2 arena for atmosphere – but it’s the very opposite of everything Scala is – it’s not sweaty, it’s not dirty, it’s not a bit dog-eared, and it’s not a seething, heaving, entwined mass of bodies all moving together – and somehow I miss all that.

Elbow3But it’s also Elbow themselves. If anything it’s all a bit too clean, a bit too neat. It lacks edge and it lacks personality in some ways. Guy Garvey’s the most wonderful showman, an erudite raconteur in many ways. His ability to engage and hold an audience in the palm of his hand is among the best I’ve ever seen. But tonight he looks and indeed sounds tired – there’s a hint of going through the motions in his interaction with the crowd – somehow I got the feel this wasn’t the spontaneous banter of old but a series of rehearsed routines that Elbow trailed from Glasgow, to London, to Manchester, to Liverpool to wherever! And so much of Elbow’s personality live depends on Guy Garvey – the others dont really step up to the plate in the way they used to either.

I feel shite having written all this. I love Elbow – they are simply my favourite band ever, ever, ever, ever! It feels like a betrayal, like an act of heresy to say anything critical. But while it was really good, it wasn’t great, magnificent, overwhelming. And that’s what I’ve come to expect from Elbow over the last 15 years – so perhaps both them and me were a victim of my own expectations this time around.

But of course like all great love affairs – it isn’t over. Nothing will ever lure me away from the wonderfully crafted lyrics of Garvey and his mates – the songs are genuine stories in my view and absolutely belong here on my book blog! And nothing will ever get in the way of the swell in my heart every time I hear the melody of One Day Like This or the rolling piano intro to Scattered Black and Whites! I hear they are due to play the V Festival this year just along the road from where I live  – I’ll hope to go and look forward to it – though there’s a bit of me that would like to go back full circle and start again in that bizarre little pub in Kings Cross…………….!

Giggling Courtesy of Sue Townsend………………..

………..There are often hilarious bits in books I read which make me laugh out loud. Several authors are great at capturing a mood or a situation and then seeing the humour in it. However the skill of making you laugh and laugh so much that your insides ache is in my reading experience a very rare one. And Sue Townsend managed that with the Adrian Mole diary. I read it many years ago but remember to this day how much I laughed while reading that book.

adrian mole

Even rarer is a line in a book that makes me giggle uncontrollably – I can only think of that happening to me three times while reading – one was in Don Quixote, one was in Winne the Pooh – and the third was in the Secret Diary of Adrian Mole – so Sue Townsend did that to me too! It was at the point where Adrian records a school trip and logs it as a timetabled minute by minute account – after a long build up to getting on the bus he records something like “9:00 am – Boarded School Bus, 9:07am – Ate Packed Lunch”…………….and that was as far as I got. It took me hours to read through that section as every time I went back to it I had a fit of giggling all over again.

It was announced on the news this morning that sadly Sue Townsend has died. So I wanted to say thank you to Sue Townsend for making me laugh and for making me giggle uncontrollably! May she rest in peace.



The Bucharest Files……..3:15 PM Feb 22nd – At Last A Reason To Be Cheerful!

Bucharest(Why did the Romanian stop reading for night? To give his Bucharest!!! And moving swiftly on from that corniest of book jokes, this is yet another post where I give my book a rest!)

…………….Rugby. 6 Nations. Scotland. Success. Not often those phrases go together!!!!!!!

Thus far it’s all been of a damp squib for Scotland in the rugby. Two weeks ago I think we reached our lowest point against ‘the auld enemy’ – in fact had they gone home at the end of that game and we’d kept playing in the empty stadium, I’m still not sure we’d have scored!

However, at last the clouds have lifted just a little and the sun started to peek through the gloom against Italy yesterday. But still it looked like it would all end in disappointment and a narrow defeat.

And then, at 3:15, with less than 60 seconds remaining against Italy yesterday, Duncan Weir’s kick finally put a bloody great smile on our miserable Jock countenances! Now if you’re a fan of the All Blacks, or the Wallabies, or the Springboks, or even Ireland or Wales or France or that other team who are in the 6 nations that I can’t mention without gritting my teeth, a win over Italy might not feel like much to celebrate! But to us, starved this season of not only success but even the tiniest glimpse we might be moving in the right direction, it was manna from heaven!!!!

On the pitch we celebrated like we’d won the World Cup and chez moi, the neighbours got a blast of Caledonian euphoria and chest-beating! It was bloody wonderful!

So Duncan Weir, thank you for helping make my weekend!

Can’t Be Arsed? Two Things You Need To Know About ‘The Orenda’ by Joseph Boyden

Two Things 5…….That You Need To Know About

The Orenda by Joseph Boyden

1. If you had to watch Dr Who from behind the sofa when you were a kid then beware – there is a fair amount of claret in this book – it’s the most magnificent, beautiful, spectacular, yet terrifying, spillage of claret you’ll ever read about but there is a lot of it – so might be worth clearing a space behind the sofa before you start to read it!!!

2. The three main characters Snow Falls, Bird and Crow are so special and so amazing that you could happily go for a beer with the three of them after work on a Friday night – and I mean EVERY Friday night!!!

3. This book is so utterly brilliant and fantastic – you simply can’t limit it to only two things!

Can’t Be Arsed? Two Things You Need To Know About Near To The Wild Heart by Clarice Lispector

two things 3

……That You Need To Know About This Book

1. There isn’t really a plot – in fact there isn’t anything other than 194 pages full of words and phrases that are simply brilliant! (though they don’t actually add up to a story)

2. It will teach you that the sun does not simply rise in the morning and shine down into your room – no, no, no, no, no, the sun “insinuates its way between your sheets“. Now isn’t that a reason to get up and get on with life!

The Thomas’s Crown Affair!……………………………Audiobook Review of Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel

………….As soon as I found out that Hilary Mantel’s sequel to Wolf Hall was due to be published, I couldn’t wait to read it. And that sequel, Bring Up The Bodies, charting the rise, rise, further rise and then a little bit more rise(!), of Thomas Cromwell, in the corridors of power and intrigue around the court of Henry VIII, was as brilliant as I expected it to be. It was as terrific as Wolf Hall and as deserving, in my humble opinion, of the second Booker and all the other plaudits it got. And from there, once I’d decided to have a go at the Audiobook Challenge I couldn’t wait to find out if Bring Up The Bodies is as good on the ears as it was on the eyes!

Bring Up The BodiesAnd it is! The version I listened to was an unabridged version, read by Simon Vance, and lasting just over 14 and a half hours in total. For those of you who don’t know the story, Wolf Hall and then Bring Up The Bodies tells of the rise and fall of Anne Boleyn, engineered, manipulated, schemed and ultimately destroyed by a combination of ambition, greed, the madness of King Henry and the sublime, unique, Machiavellian talents of Thomas Cromwell. Henry might well be in charge of his crown in the most literal sense – but in every other sense it’s Cromwell who’s in charge of “the Crown” and every facet of its workings!

Ben Miles as Thomas in the RSC production of Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies
Ben Miles as Thomas in the RSC production of Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies

The audiobook I listened to was narrated brilliantly by Simon Vance, capturing perfectly every nook and cranny of the human edifice that is Thomas. By turns the mournful widower, the loving father, the cold rival and the utterly, utterly ruthless politician, Simon Vance’s narration gets to the heart of the contradiction that is Thomas. Churchill once described Russia as ‘a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma’. He could have easily described Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell in the same way – except perhaps Thomas is even more of puzzle, much more enigmatic and a damn sight scarier than Russia might be!!! If there was ever a man who fits the phrase ‘a complete bastard!’ then it’s the Cromwell of these pages – there are quite literally no bits of bastard missing!

No more Mr Nice Guy? Oh Ok then, one more nice guy day before I arrange to behead someone!
And could this perhaps be Tommy Lee Jones auditioning for the part of Thomas in the Quentin Tarantino version of Bring Up The Bodies????????

Best of all though is that for all those bits of the character of Cromwell that make you wince, gasp and shudder, even though it sounds almost bizarre to say it, he’s just so damn likeable! In fact, thanks to the portrayal of Cromwell in the audiobook, if anything I came to like him even more than before. In fact I’d go so far as to say that Thomas Cromwell has got to be one of the greatest literary characters of all time! Which considering he’s possibly a bit of sociopath, or possibly a bit of a psychopath or perhaps a bit of both, probably says a little about me, quite a bit about him and a helluva lot about how well Hilary Mantel has brought him to life on the pages of these books and how well Simon Vance breathes life and vitality into him through this narration!

2014-Audio-ChallengeThere are so, so many good bits to this audiobook it’s almost impossible to pick out the strengths – it’s all good! But I particularly liked the way the rough and ready characters of London, like Thurston the cook, come across. I liked the feel of the relationship between Cromwell and his son Gregory and I was continually amazed at the narrator’s ability to use just enough change in inflection, tone and accents to superbly portray an absolute panoply of wonderful characters, male and female, mad and sane (at least relatively sane!). This was the second audiobook I listened to for my Ears Challenge and you can find out more about the audiobook challenge here.

If you haven’t read either Wolf Hall or Bring Up The Bodies, you should. You really, really should. But if you have read them, or if you don’t fancy the read, but have 14 hours to spare having it read to you – I’d thoroughly recommend you do what I did – take the most enormously long and circuitous walks with the dog you can think of and lose yourself in the world of Henry, Anne, and the most likeable vicious bastard you’ll ever hear of – Thomas Cromwell!

Audiobook Info
Audiobook of Hilary Mantel’s ‘Bring Up The Bodies’ was produced by MacMillan Audio and narrated by Simon Vance. I bought it from iTunes.
You can find out more about both the audiobook and the narrator Simon Vance at his website, which is well worth a visit.
Book Rating Out of 10 (You can find my rating scale here)


Books. Poetry. Roy Of The Rovers. Scottish Meat Pies. Lines from Gregory's Girl. All with a splash of Worcester Sauce. I Came. I Saw. I Concurred


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