Dan Sandman

Archive for February, 2013|Monthly archive page

08: Trumpet by Jackie Kay

In Books, Fiction, Romance on 22/02/2013 at 12:00 pm

This week’s book, book 08, is Trumpet  by Jackie Kay. It’s about Joss Moody, a famous jazz trumpeter, who happens to be a woman living life as a man. It deals with the aftermath of Moody’s death; the reactions of his relatives, the media circus surrounding the gender-reveal, and the attitudes of the doctor and the registrar. The narrative alternates between the first person and the third person, moves skilfully between the past and the present, and uses varying chapter lengths to create a dynamic tempo.

Trumpet by Jackie Kay

Although Trumpet is a fictional love story, according to the author, it was inspired by the real life of jazz band-leader Billy Tipton who’s true story correlates closely to the one depicted. The story allows Jackie Kay to explore the themes of sexual, moral and racial identity within a late 90’s British context. For example, Kay uses one of her characters, the manipulative tabloid ghost writer character Sophie Stone, to question the British tabloid press’ insensitive treatment of sensitive topics. Coleman Moody, Joss Moody’s son, represents the sexual disgust shown towards his father by society. Driven by resentment, instead of defending his deceased father and supporting his bereaved mother, Coleman sells his story to Stone.

Reading the book was an enjoyable experience. It’s a relatively easy book to follow, a good page turner and builds up nicely to a satisfying climax. Its’ characters are well developed and given life through the writer’s semantic choices. For instance, Coleman frequently uses swear words and Stone consistently refers to herself in the third person. The first linguistic choice emphasises Cole’s resentments; the second illustrates Sophie’s mental instability.

I found this new book on the high-street for £7.99. Next week, as part of an interview for a place on a teacher training course, I’ll be asked to blow my own metaphorical brass instrument beginning with T and talk about Trumpet and several other books at Roehampton University. If all goes well, I’ll be training to teach Secondary School English in September.

Wish me luck!

07: I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

In Books, Fiction, Science Fiction on 15/02/2013 at 12:00 pm

It amazes me that science fiction, despite its creative and literary content, is often not taken seriously by newspaper critics and university lecturers. Not only is I Am Legend by Richard Matheson an expertly crafted, thrilling story; it also delves deep into the human psyche and makes the application of the scientific method exciting. Robert Neville, trapped inside his house at night-time by a horde of marauding vampires, is driven to adopting an analytical approach as he tries to figure out why he appears to be the only remaining member of his species. Whilst working on scientific experiments, Neville is haunted by past memories of his departed wife and child. Through the vampire novel’s heroic protagonist, Matheson explores the theme of psychological suffering caused by a lack of human contact.

“Not only is I Am Legend an expertly crafted, thrilling story; it also delves deep into the human psyche and makes the application of the scientific method exciting.”

If you have seen the film of the same name, then you won’t have spoilt the book – they are two different kettles of fish. The book was written in 1954, the film was released in 2007. In the book, Robert Neville is white and lives in post-apocalyptic Los Angeles 1976; in the film, Robert Neville is black and lives in post-apocalyptic New York 2012. There is a different feel to the book because it offers more psychological detail when delving into Neville’s interior world, particularly his alcoholism and flashbacks to the past. In my opinion, books are more capable of bringing their character’s inner thoughts to life than films because books are better suited to interior monologues. In contrast, films usually rely on the quality of the actors to convey the state of mind of the characters.

“I found this plastic covered copy of I Am Legend in an amazing book sale that my local library were having.”

I found this plastic covered copy of I Am Legend in an amazing book sale that my local library were having. The library’s old stock was 50p a book or three books for £1. Now, considering a new book would cost at least £6.99, I thought it well worth taking home six retired library books for £2. Indeed, the sale was a treasure trove for book lovers with something for everyone. I couldn’t believe my luck when I picked up a beautiful hardback edition of Ted Hughes’ Flowers and Insects with carefully drawn colour paintings inside. Later, my mum found a book for my dad about The Titanic which I’ve seen him read since. It’s great that such books are practically being given away but it’s also quite sad: is it symbolic of the decline in physical book sales?

“Nowadays, in the age of the e-book and the easy to digest film version, libraries appear desperate to get rid of their old stock.”

To many people, the word library used to mean ‘place where you can find a book’. Nowadays, in the age of the e-book and the easy to digest film version, libraries appear desperate to get rid of their old stock. Ironically enough, I am Legend sees its central character rooting around an empty library, searching for science books. When Neville needs to connect with human history, he uses the library and not the internet. If the world wide web was destroyed by an advanced computer virus, libraries would once again be filled to the rafters. I bought Flowers and Insects for approximately 33p; I wonder if it will be replaced with a new edition.

06: Ultramarine by Malcolm Lowry

In Adventure, Books, Fiction on 08/02/2013 at 12:00 pm

By my estimation, I pass Primrose Hill Books from four to twelve times a week. Outside, during opening hours, are two tables displaying a revolving selection of second-hand books. Inside, everywhere that one cares to look, are thousands of brand new books. I prefer the second-hand books; to me they are more fun.

"I prefer the second-hand books; to me they are more fun."

“I prefer the second-hand books; to me they are more fun.”

I remember going to visit Primrose Hill Books with my mother when I was a boy. If I recall correctly, there used to be a white staircase that led to an underground basement full to the rafters with pages and pages of used books: once loved stories that had been abandoned by their readers; poems that were looking for a home; sad and lonely pages hoping that one day someone would come on down, past the shiny new books, down the white staircase searching for carefully ordered letters, sentences and words.

Used books are great because their pages cover a spectrum of different yellowy colours from mustard to gold. I love how used books smell of old wool, candy-floss, and strawberry-cream sweets. But most of all, I love well aged books because they have a personal history that usually remains a secret; a mystery to ponder as one guesses where one’s book might have lived and who might have turned these very same pages. The book I found outside Primrose Hill Books, Malcolm Lowry’s Ultramarine, seemed to have all of the above qualities in abundance – I had to have it!

Ultramarine by Malcolm Lowry (side)

Ultramarine is a short novel, divided into six episodes, that vividly depicts a sailor’s life. It was written in 1933, a time when modernist writers were engaging in new and creative ways of writing. Lowry’s highly original writing style is somewhat reminiscent of the kind Joesph Conrad published at the turn of the 20th Century. This is due in part to its seafaring subject matter and in part to its deeply descriptive passages of the surrounding landscapes. Written in his early twenties and partly autobiographical, Lowry’s brilliant début novel is full to the brim with emotional resonance, imaginative ideas and realistic dialogue. For example, Lowry is able to create a lucid sense of conciousness as the novel’s protagonist Dana Hilliot drifts between the conversations of his shipmates, his memories of his lover Janet, and outside influences such as the poetry of John Keats or Confucian philosophy.

“It cost me £3, in 1972 it would have been 35p.”

“It cost me £3, in 1972 it would have been 35p.”

I would recommend Ultramarine to a friend with an interest in exploring original writing written in the stream of conciousness style. Reading Ultramarine transported me into another world, Hilliot’s interior world, a place where we are invited to explore the inner workings of the human condition within a given context: a young man’s travel adventures on the high seas as he struggles to mature into adulthood. It was a short and slightly flawed book; packed full of creativity, insight and realistic characters. It cost me £3, in 1974 it would have been 35p.

05: The Interesting Narative by Olaudah Equiano

In Adventure, Autobiography, Books, Non-Fiction on 01/02/2013 at 12:00 pm

Camden Market has a number of curious second-hand bookshops hidden amongst the throng of tourists, juggling equipment and leather coats. There’s one I know in the market square amongst merchants competing for traveller’s coins; selling bags, food and incense candles. If you should ever pay it a visit, you will no doubt hear Radio 4 and smell old books upon your entrance. It’s a proper, old-fashioned purveyor of books; the sort of place where staff can be over heard complaining, with their eyes inside a good book, about the effects of the weather and the recession upon business. Don’t expect a warm welcome when entering and don’t expect a warm smile upon leaving.

“I was captivated by the beginning of the book where our hero paints a fascinating picture of his native land: a now distant African culture.”

However, places like this know their books, care about their books, and have a unique feel that you won’t find in Waterstone’s or Foyle’s. The truth is places like this are struggling and if we don’t keep going to places like this, they will be closed down. Where else could one discover two copies of The Interesting Narrative, a book first published in 1789, being promoted in the history section: the first copy, priced at £3.95, displayed sitting sideways on top of various books by black authors; the second copy, priced at £4.00, turned front-side out and given a separate stand. I studied the first page to gauge whether I enjoyed the writing style, read the blurb to gather whether the subject matter was of interest to me, and chose the £3.95 version as both books appeared to be identical.

If you would indulge me, I’d like to talk a little about why I choose certain books before going  on to talk about the book itself. I know of some people, those who are not concerned with spoiling the story, who will test a book by reading the last page – I am firmly opposed to this method. With regards to blurb reading, if I am reading fiction, I consistently ignore the blurb until I have finished the book when it will be viewed as a reward for my reading accomplishments. Some books will be recommended or given to me by friends, others I’ll hear about from the papers or the radio, and sometimes I’ll simply comb the shelves of any bookshop that I happen to come across. The Interesting Narrative was chosen through a combination of all of the above.

The narrative is an autobiographical account of a man’s journey across many lands; from being kidnapped in what would now be south eastern Nigeria to becoming a respected member of the anti-slavery movement in London. Olaudah Equiano or Gustavas Vassa (as was his given name) narrates a story that is full of adventures across high seas and shocking tales of brutality towards slaves. It is an attack on the unfair treatment of slave workers and an argument for the author’s Christian beliefs. Alongside the descriptive prose is self-penned poetry, quotes from the bible and a list of subscribers, many of whom would have been influential public figures.

My opinion of the book is that the first two-thirds of the book, leading up to Equiano acquiring his freedom, are more enlightening than the last third which gives attention to his conversion to Methodism. I was captivated by the beginning of the book where our hero paints a fascinating picture of his native land: a now distant African culture. I was moved and impressed by the cruel treatment of innocent Africans depicted in chapter V and the author’s accompanying political arguments. However, I started to loose interest towards the end of the book, when the adventure narrative becomes too focussed on religious rhetoric which may have worked more effectively in a smaller dose. The Interesting Narrative is a well written memoir, an important historic book, and a book that I am glad I stumbled across.