I love holding a book, feeling the texture of the cover and the paper, the stiffness of the spine; I like curling into a chair and turning pages. Even as a child, reading a book was my greatest pleasure. I learned to read early and my mum let me use one of her library tickets to take a book out of the library. It was there I was introduced to Enid Blyton, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. When I was seven, I got my own library tickets and discovered Arthur C Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, John Carre, Raymond Chandler, John Steinbeck, Ian Fleming and so many more. I note now that they are all male writers and that might be a subject for another blog. I remember such titles as Catch 22, The Bell Jar, Dune, The Wide Sargasso Sea. The names and titles and plots and characters spin in my head like whirling dervishes.They made me what I am today as much as my own experiences.
My maternal grandmother, Gran Mayo (photograph on the right) was a great reader too and she had a book easel (made by her son in red and green) that sat on her table with a book open to read at breakfast, breaks, lunch, dinner, supper, anytime she had a spare minute. She was born in 1894, so her collection included what are now considered classics and it was there I read Dickens, Trollope and Her Benny by Silas Hocking. The latter was about a Liverpool waif. It is classed as a Victorian ‘improving fiction’ novel primarily with religious overtones but heavily dosed with social and political awareness. This book had a profound impact on me and even today it pulls hard on my heartstrings. My anger over injustice of any sort stems from this book.
That book now also reminds me of Gran Mayo, who has been dead nearly fifty years. I remember the evenings when we played her musical instruments; the jaws harp, the banjo, the mandolin, the accordian, the violin and the mouth organ. She danced too and wrote scripts for the Concert Party she founded with her then husband. We shopped at the Co-op where she let me recite her ‘divvy’ number and no, I don’t remember it; she took me on her evening ‘constitutionals’ to the cemetery dashing in front of a tram across the slippery tracks to the gate; I clambered over ‘bombies’ covered with grass and strewn with mimosa while she ordered fish and chips from a Chinese chippy opposite. The Chinese man there was always friendly but embarrassed to see her since she’d corrected his mispronunciation of Mikado. I have since discovered that the last tram in Liverpool was the 16th September 1957 when I was seven years and four months old. The preciseness was always important then.
But back to reading and to books. I’m older now and wear spectacles but even with them the text is usually too small to make reading comfortable for me, so I use a Kindle. I am a member of a book club that meets at the library on the last Tuesday of the month, and they order the books which we take on loan for the month. If I can’t download a book to my e-reader for free then I attempt to read a page a day of the hard copy. I have yet to finish any novel because they have not engaged me sufficiently to overcome the strain of reading. Interesting isn’t it?
I enjoy discussing books because I am intrigued by what others think. Will it clash with my view? Is there another angle to it that I didn’t see? Which characters are favoured and which aren’t? Who identified with which character and why? Did other characters come across as familiar? Was it believable? Was it enjoyable?
This month the choice was Kate McCabe’s ‘The Book Club’. She is a popular Irish author and has written several other books which I haven’t read.
I like to identify with a character. That’s what intensifies the story. But I couldn’t really identify with anyone in this story. While the writing style in the book is easy and flowing, I didn’t like its structure. A lot of time is spent introducing the individual characters and expounding their backstories but I found it tedious. Life experiences make us who we are and it is necessary to allow the reader insight into how the characters are formed but I think it could have been done in another way. The book improves when the characters attend the first meeting of the book club.
Although it is set in modern day Ireland the novel had an old-fashioned quality to it.
Marian, who had been betrayed, was lonely and decided to set up the book club. Although she has a modern apartment, greatly admired by her new admirer, with contemporary decoration and furnishings, I somehow imagined antimacassars over the back of the furniture and an aspidistra tucked in the corner of the room. Maybe it was the issues raised or maybe it was the loneliness of the character or maybe because I’d been writing about the past but the Beatles song ‘Eleanor Rigby’ played in my head and I imagined that she was one of ‘all the lonely people’.
I like happy endings even if they are predictable. I can bear with that. I also like loose ends tied up but not necessarily in a pretty bow that makes them seem a little implausible. There were good twists and turns which elevated the content and the characters were of mixed gender and a wide age range that provided more substance to the content. It was a decent holiday read if you like that sort of thing.
So I’ll say, ‘Farewell, my lovelies’ (with apologies to Raymond Chandler).