Dan Sandman

Archive for March, 2013|Monthly archive page

13: The Lighthouse by Alison Moore

In Adventure, Books, Fiction on 29/03/2013 at 12:00 pm

My local bookshop, Primrose Hill books, has a sign in the window (see below). As bookshops are being put under pressure from Amazon, they are finding creative ways to engage readers within their local communities. One such way is to encourage authors to give talks and to sell signed copies of their books. I went along to such a talk and enjoyed listening to Alison Moore reading from her début novel.

Primrose Hill Books (sign)

“As bookshops are being put under pressure from Amazon, they are finding creative ways to engage readers within their local communities.”

In the gaps between reading several chapters, Moore revealed how the book was inspired by a walking holiday she had made with her husband. She was good humoured, pleasant to listen to and came across as a very warm person. We were tolled that the initial idea had come from an image she had in her head of a smashed glass bottle. Later, I spoke to her as she signed my book. I mentioned that I could hear the Raymond Carver influence. She signed it “To Daniel, Lovely To Meet You!”, although we hadn’t properly met.

The Lighthouse by Alison Moore (inside)

“I mentioned that I could hear the Raymond Carver influence. She signed it “To Daniel, Lovely To Meet You!”, although we hadn’t properly met.”

The tone of The Lighthouse is somewhat melancholic. Characters interior thoughts are drawn towards regret and sorrow; haunting memories intertwine with the present moment. Enhanced by the concisely written prose, a tension is created that draws in the reader. Unanswered questions and symbolic meanings leave cryptic clues; what is not said is as important as what is said: the implicit versus the explicit. And so, the relevance of smells or the symbolism of moths comes to the foreground like lines within a poem.

The Lighthouse by Alison Moore (front)

“Imagine it, one day your going about personally assisting, the next day your getting a call from a Turkish publisher saying they’d love to translate your novel.”

Apparently, according to Alison Moore, there are blueprint plans to transform the book into a film. The success story of The Lighthouse should act as an inspiration to all aspiring writers hoping to get published. Moore was working as a PA before the book was taken up by the small publishing firm SALT. Neither herself nor the publisher had foreseen the Man Booker Prize 2012 nomination. Imagine it, one day your going about personally assisting, the next day your getting a call from a Turkish publisher saying they’d love to translate your novel.

A dream come true.

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12: The Making of Contemporary Africa by Bill Freund

In Books, History, Non-Fiction on 22/03/2013 at 12:00 pm

I’d be the first to admit that history is not my strong point. In the past, much to my discredit, I’ve always explored the version of history portrayed by literature and music. Usually, if I want a perspective on African history, then read I’ll read Heart of Darkness or listen to Lady Smith Black Mambazo. And in all fairness, this somewhat lackadaisical approach to historical reading has served me reasonably well in informal discussions. However, it is only recently that I have begun to discover the delight of reading proper – fully annotated, extensively researched, highly informed – history books.

The Making of Contemporary Africa by Bill Freund (front)

“I was moved by seeing pictures of Nelson Mandela waving to gathered crowds.”

The genesis of my interest in South African history goes back to 1994 when, even as a child, I was moved by seeing pictures of Nelson Mandela waving to gathered crowds. Later, I would go on to travel to South Africa, be creatively inspired by the wonderful people who I would meet along the way, and experience the most awe inspiring beautiful landscapes and vistas. I would learn that not only is it an awesome place, in the true sense of the word, but also a place with a troubled and fascinating history. During my time there, I would hear many viewpoints and learn from exploring a fantastic selection of museums. Following my experience, I came home hungry for more knowledge that could help me to come to terms with the complex and globally sprawling ideas that have forged contemporary Africa.

This week’s book, The Making of Contemporary Africa, is another step towards my attempt to grasp a small piece of Africa’s history. It’s a story that spans the entire globe, encompasses the greater part of contemporary history, and attempts to shed light on some of the continent’s most important events, developments and personalities. From a predominantly economic perspective, Bill Freund presents a convincing argument that is both enlightening and entertaining. I enjoyed, in particular, Freund’s succinct ability to present historical evidence in a way that does not hold back the articulate prose. The expressive language is well crafted, relevant and does not take away from the writer’s essential points.

The Making of Contemporary Africa by Bill Freund (side)

“History books aren’t usually my thing, but I’m glad I took a trip to my local library’s history section.”

Recently, I have discovered that history books are serious books; but, this doesn’t mean that they can’t be enjoyed. To draw an analogy, serious books are like serious music: the deeper you read / listen to the words / sounds; the deeper your understanding and the deeper your reading / listening pleasure. History books aren’t usually my thing, but I’m glad I took a trip to my local library’s history section. The Making of Contemporary Africa was a good read which presented a thorough overview of the development of African society since 1800.

Highly recommended.

11: How To Be Good by Nick Hornby

In Books, Comedy, Fiction on 15/03/2013 at 12:00 pm

I usually like Nick Hornby’s books because they tend to be funny. This book made me laugh but I found it hard to get into in any meaningful way. The plot, based around a husband’s sudden spiritual conversion, is like an unwisely converted and overly extended episode of The Simpsons – not great. Furthermore, the narrator (doctor, mother and wife Katie) constantly uses brackets for no particular reason (for example, to divulge an extra, humorously intended, nugget of information) – irritating.

How To Be Good by Nick Hornby (front)

Hornby fans will enjoy Katie’s humorous use of lists, her references to pop culture, and her uncanny ability to give other characters nicknames. However, unlike High Fidelity or About A Boy (which I love): How To Be Good has not dated well. Written at the turn of the century, a time before i-pads and e-books, the parable feels very ‘early noughties’. As if to further prove the point, to my nostalgic pleasure, the Sega Dreamcast is referred to. And, just as computer games consoles go defunct: occasionally, a book can become less relevant within the space of twelve years. I wonder why the book received rave reviews upon its release; it certainly hasn’t been made into a movie – if that’s anything to go by.

How To Be Good by Nick Hornby (side)

But I’m glad I found this American edition of the book. Of particular interest were its hyperbolic review quotes and its bright yellow cover. On the book’s side is plastered The New York Times Bestseller written in white text surrounded by a red egg. If one were to judge this book by its cover quotes, one might come to the conclusion that its a guaranteed hit. In my opinion, it’s an okay book: it’s not a great book.

10: Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama

In Autobiography, Books, Non-Fiction on 08/03/2013 at 12:00 pm

It was another book I found at my local library’s book sale; part of their three books for £1 deal. By inspecting the book’s spine, I was surprised to discover that the previous owner had stopped at around page 100 of the 442 paged autobiography. I therefore considered it my mission to take this perfectly good, new book – cast aside by its’ owner – and finish it.

Dreams From My Father (side)

“By inspecting the book’s spine, I was surprised to discover that the previous owner had stopped at around page 100”

Dreams From My Father was first published in 1995 and later updated in 2004: the edition that I read from was not published in Great Britain until 2007. It is interesting to think how quickly Barack Obama’s rise to worldwide fame has been. According to the book’s introduction, Obama spent one year writing the book following his successful election “as the first black president of the Harvard Law Review, a legal periodical largely unknown outside the profession.” 14 years later, he would be the first black President of the United States.

The book is an excellent example of a well crafted memoir. It is carefully written throughout, neatly structured and perfectly balanced; reading  Obama’s remarkable prose style is both a pleasure and an inspiration. For example, he uses language to skilfully drift from the personal and anecdotal to the political and sociological. There is an openness to the writing, a readiness to introduce the reader to different characters, and a philosophically moral tone to the odyssey. Throughout, the story shifts smoothly between the author’s inner struggle with his father’s image, his conversations with friends and family, and his essays discussing broader topics such as church politics in Chicago or colonial history in Kenya.

Dreams From My Father (front)

“The book is an excellent example of a well crafted memoir.”

I admired the engaging prose and was pleased to discover that the 44th President can write very well. The book lived up to my expectations as a literary work and at times displayed a warm sense of humour. This is because essentially it’s a very human book about things that matter: things like family, friendship and identity. It was worth reading eighteen years ago and is worth reading now. By my calculations, Obama must have been about 47 when he first became president; maybe, if I start my memoirs now, I’ll be Prime Minister by 2031.

09: Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre

In Books, Comedy, Fiction on 01/03/2013 at 12:00 pm

What you need to know about this book is that, once you find the protagonist’s voice, the story rushes along at a good pace. You’ll like it if you like J.D Salinger’s The Catcher In The Rye or any irreverent, dark, American humour. It’s funny like South Park is funny and as cynical  as any stand-up comic worth his or her salt. It is a deeply critical, farcical representation of modern American society.

Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre (front)

“Personally, I think it’s exciting that young people today will be reading contemporary, exciting texts involving murder, hypocrisy and obesity.”

Controversially enough, Britain’s English teachers can choose Vernon God Little as an A Level option.  I’m sure there’ll be complaints from conservative parents, who would prefer a good Charles Dickens classic or the delicacy of a Jane Austen romance. Personally, I think it’s exciting that young people today will be reading contemporary, exciting texts involving murder, hypocrisy and obesity. After all, this is exactly what one should find scattered across the pages of one’s Daily Telegraph on an average morning.

Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre (side)

I picked it up new from Primrose Hill Books; it was £7.99 and worth every penny. The way I look at the price of books is like this: given the choice, would I rather have two pints down the pub or own a book that could change how I think and feel; improve my chances of getting work as an English teacher; and inspire me to write? Yes, you can keep your two expensive pints behind the bar of the Camden Head, I’m at home and I’m enjoying a good book.