Dan Sandman

Archive for April, 2013|Monthly archive page

17: Betrayal by Harold Pinter

In Books, Fiction, Plays on 26/04/2013 at 12:00 pm

Reading plays can be a great way to activate one’s imagination. Play-script books give readers a direct connection with the dialogue and stage directions. Libraries often have a very good selection of play-scripts filed under literature or drama.

Betrayal is a naturalistic play based upon real events in Harold Pinter’s life. It is about a love affair and the story is told in reverse chronological order. As is common in Pinter’s dramatic works; the play use uses pauses and questions to create tension and conflict between the characters. It’s a good play – as an introduction, it’s worth finding the 1983 film version starring Jeremy Irons.

The book version is small, compact and requires no additional persons or equipment. Reading it will concentrate one’s imagination, focus one on the power of words, and enhance one’s appreciation of drama. The book version is static, it waits to be given life through interpretation.

Betrayal by Harold Pinter

I have spent most of my life living above my local library with my loving and supportive parents. Primrose Hill Community Library, with its well organised and well loved rooms, shelves, books and staff, is a good library. It is funded by a charity and run by volunteers. It was previously run by Camden Council until it fell victim, like many good things, to austerity measures.

Someone should write a play about my local library’s story. It would include a local celebrated author, a leading political figures, and a broadcaster. Perhaps the broadcaster – who would have interviewed leading political figures – might have had a play written about them by a celebrated author. All three would be caught up in a campaign to save a local library.

If I don’t do it, someone else will.


16: Peaches for Monsieur Le Curé by Joanne Harris

In Adventure, Books, Fiction on 19/04/2013 at 12:00 pm

As physical book sales fall, UK publishers Penguin, Harper Collins and Black Swan (part of the Random House Group) have been teaming up with national supermarket Sainsbury’s to encourage Britain’s shoppers to spend more money on books. With a focus on cheap prices, the Sainsbury’s Book Club offers a range of popular titles available in-store and on-line. Each book is labelled using orange stickers and the publisher’s original price is often halved. For example, I picked up Peaches for Monsieur Le Curé by Joanne Harris for £3.99; a book valued, according to its back cover, at £7.99 or CAN $17.95.

Before I entered the shop, I had consciously made the decision to buy whatever the number one best-seller happened to be. My reasoning: I wanted to do something that I’d never done before; I wanted to buy something purely because everyone else says it’s good. I wanted to ask the question, why do some books become best-sellers and some books fail to achieve the popularity they deserve?

Peaches for Monsieur Le Curé by Joanne Harris

“First of all, you can judge a book by its cover.”

First of all, you can judge a book by its cover. The cover of a book signals, to the casual book reader, information designed to entice said reader away from thoughts of food shopping; distracting members of the general public; and the sound of the self-service checkout machines talking too loudly: –


A best-selling book is guaranteed to have a superlative quote. For example, ‘THRILLER OF THE YEAR’ OBSERVER (as in the case of Waterstone’s current number one best-seller Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn) or ‘Typically mouthwatering’ Daily Mail (as in the case of Peaches for Monsieur Le Curé). It may, certainly, contain a reference to previous works – especially if they have been turned into Johnny Depp starring films – such as Bestselling author of Chocolat. And yes, the  artwork should be attractive and suggestive of what’s inside. So, if a book is a thriller, one might see something dark and striking; if the book’s title is Peaches for Monsieur Le Curé, one might see a picture of some peaches. All of these are well proven and effective sales devices.

But a good quote, a beautiful cover and an orange sticker aren’t quite enough. Best-selling books need to be easy to read and, to encourage quick page turning, best-sellers are often printed using a larger font. It helps best-selling books if they have a specific genre attached or if they have an accompanying t.v programme currently running. The writing itself should be clear, straightforwardly structured, and written in a definitive style. Best-sellers shouldn’t be too serious and should offer the reader some escapism; they give us a break from reality, not a mirror upon which to see the flawed beauty of society.

I’m glad that, through chance, I discovered the wonderfully colourful world of Peaches for Monsieur Le Curé. I was pleased with the book and it brought many smiles into my week. This was a great chance to transport myself into another world full of intrigue and cliffhangers. I warmed to the characters, in particular, I enjoyed seeing the optimistic Vianne Rocher working to help the pessimistic Father Reynaud. I found myself falling for the vividly sensual, idealistically interpreted, depiction of French village life. A world where Britain’s casual book readers can escape into the troubles of fictional characters.

A good read.

15: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

In Adventure, Books, Fiction on 12/04/2013 at 12:00 pm

Penguin Modern Classics were introduced by British publisher Penguin in 1961. At the time, the idea to give ‘classic’ status to contemporary books was unconventional. Up to that point, Penguin had only applied the term to established books such as Pride and Prejudice or Gulliver’s Travels. Early Penguin Modern Classics included The Great Gatsby by F. Schott Fitzgerald and Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka: clearly they were on to something good.

Written in 1958, Things Fall Apart is set in pre-colonial Nigeria in the 1890s. Its author, Chinua Achebe is widely credited as the founder of modern African literature. Sadly, Achebe died last month (March the 21st 2013) at the age of 82. Nelson Mandela once said that Achebe was “[The writer] in whose company the prison walls fell down”. This high praise from Mandela, should make Achebe’s books essential reading; especially if you have an interest in African history. In my opinion, Things Fall Apart is one the best books I have read this year.

Although, at £8.99, Penguin Modern Classics are priced highly, in my opinion they are worth the extra cash. The cover designs are appropriate, the paper is of high quality, and the books have excellent introductions. My brother said that he likes his Kindle because he can easily carry it in his coat pocket; at about the size of a sandwich, paperbacks are also great for travelling with. High quality paperback books are slim, lightweight, and even smell nice if you flick the pages towards your nose.

I guess it won’t be too long before Amazon release a digital smell e-book. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy putting new paper-made books on my shelves, admiring their sides and thinking about all of the printed words inside. Perhaps, when I’m older, printed books will have become an archaic and quaintly outdated art-form. Maybe handwriting will have been replaced by font choice. It is possible, if things carry on hurtling towards digitisation, that bookshops will not exist. I bought this book from my local bookshop Primrose Hill Books whilst it was snowing in April. As is the custom in my country, I talked about the weather with a friendly and knowledgeable staff member. I said that I couldn’t remember it ever snowing in April before. She replied that she has photographic evidence from three years ago to the contrary.

The things you learn from people.
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

14: The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

In Books, Fiction, Plays on 05/04/2013 at 12:00 pm
The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

“Over the years, I have enjoyed many Wordsworth Classics; high quality books with succinct introductions at affordable prices.”

Over the years, I have enjoyed many Wordsworth Classics; high quality books with succinct introductions at affordable prices. I found this Shakespeare Series edition whilst book-foraging in Camden Town near to where I live. It was a Bank Holiday Monday and most shops were closed. There were two bookshops open: the esoteric second-hand bookshop by the touristy lock; and the lovably quirky Book Warehouse on the high-street where I found my Shakespeare.

I like the punk rock fan who works at The Book Warehouse. He wears cool cult jumpers such as one with a quote from the film Ghostbusters. I used to work for the – now UK defunct – global corporation Borders who had all sorts of rules to do with efficiency and CCTV spying. I’d have preferred to do the punk rocker’s job; he gets to play his own music whilst stock adjusting and being relaxed with customers – cool. I tell you this because, strangely enough, there was a young man before me in the queue who wanted a copy of Hamlet but couldn’t see it on the shelf. To my delight, the aforementioned contented bookseller – without hesitation – double checked the shelf, adventured up some stairs, found the appropriate cardboard box, returned down the stairs, and gave the customer his Hamlet. It was the last copy.

I’m glad that Shakespeare’s plays are still popular today. In my country, the UK, children are practically forced, by enthusiastic English teachers, to enjoy Shakespeare. The bard is taught as the epitome of playwriting; an essential Elizabethan / Jacobean social and cultural focal point; an inspiration for all following dramatic and poetic works. Fortunately, for the millions of readers who like English as a subject, it turns out that good old ‘Will Shakes’ is worth the hype. It turns out that pretty much everything he wrote turned to gold.

Talking of gold, The Merchant of Venice is a comedy themed around money with a dark, arguably anti-Semitic undercurrent. All the usual ingredients, from elaborate courtship rituals to men dressed as woman, are there for a Shakespearian comedy. However, much of the supposed humour revolves around the Jewish money lender Shylock. As payment for a debt owed, Shylock attempts to use an old Venetian law to butcher the Christian merchant Antonio. Shylock demands his ‘pound of flesh’, refuses to take money offered as repayment, and has often been portrayed in productions as a vengeful villain. It is no coincidence that in Germany, between 1934 and 1939, the play was staged thirty times.

However, as always with Shakespeare, there is much scope for interpretation. As the plot unravels, it is possible to see Shylock as an ostracised member of Venetian society and a frustrated teacher; dismissed by The Duke of Venice – who has been duped by a masquerade – and ignored by those he seeks to teach. In my opinion, the play is much the better for its ability to spark debate.

Worth a read.