Man Booker International

Chinua Achebe has just been awarded the Man Booker International award – hooray! This is only the second year the prize has been awarded and selection criteria include: the author must still be alive; they must be deemed to have made a significant conribution to world literature; and their works must be either written in English or widely available in translation. The last one is technically rather discriminatory, but since nobody can read all the languages in the world it is understandable. 

Anyway I’m glad Achebe was selected. As the article in the Guardian this week says, “by honouring Achebe they have redressed what is seen in Africa – and beyond – as the acute injustice that he has never received the Nobel prize, allegedly because he has spent his life struggling to break the grip of western stereotypes of Africa.” The other author on the list I would have liked to see win was Carlos Fuentes, and he was probably the second choice. I think Achebe was the right choice though.

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Poems of Alice Walker

Some days, second hand book shops are just full of treasures. I discovered Good Night, Willie Lee, I’ll See You in the Morning and was so entranced by Alice Walker’s poems that I read the whole thing through in one sitting. Below are two of my favourites.

 Gift

He said: Here is my soul
I did not want his soul
but I am a Southerner
and very polite.
I took it lightly
as it was offered. But did not
chain it down.
I loved it and tended
it. I would hand it back
as good as new.

 He said: How dare you want
my soul! Give it back!
How greedy you are!
It is a trait
I had not noticed
before!

I said: But your soul
never left you. It was only
a heavy thought from
your childhood
passed to me for safekeeping.

But he never believed me.
Until the end
he called me possesive
and held his soul
so tightly
it shrank
to fit his hand.

Did This Happen to Your Mother?
Did Your Sister Throw Up a Lot?

I love a man who is not worth
my love.
Did this happen to your mother?
Did your grandmother wake up
for no good reason
in the middle of the night?

I thought love could be controlled.
It cannot.
Onl behaviour can be controlled.
By biting your tongue purple
rather than speak.
Mauling your lips.
Obliterating his number
too thoroughly
to be able to phone.

Love has made me sick.

Did your sister throw up a lot?
Did your cousin complain
of a painful knot
in her back?
Did you aunt always
seem to have something else
troubling her mind?

I thought love would adapt itself
to my needs.
But needs grow too fast;
they come up like weeds.
Through cracks in the conversation.
Through silences in the dark.
Through everything you thought was concrete.

Such needful love has to be chopped out
or forced to wilt back,
poisoned by disapproval
from its own soil.

This is bad news, for the conservationist.

My hand shakes before this killing.
My stomach sits jumpy in my chest.My chest is the Grand Canyon
sprawled empty
over the world.

Whoever he is, he is not worth all this.

And I will never
unclench my teeth long enough
to tell him so.

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Recent Reading

It’s been a while since I updated on the books I’ve been reading and there have been a few! Three that count towards the 100 countries and 1 that doesn’t, but which I enjoyed nonetheless. The three that are going on the 100 countries list are:

1 – The Alcehmist, by Paulo Coelho (Brazil)

2 – Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka (Austria)

3 – The Book of Chameleons, by José Eduardo Agualusa (Anglola)

and the one that didn’t was The Secrets of Jin Shei by Alma Alexander.

The Alchemist was actually a sneaky re-read; I first read the book around 6-7 years ago and thought it was vastly overrated although I loved some of the imagery, particularly around the crystal shop. A few years on I’m in a different place in my life and can see why people rave about it. Don’t worry, I’m not about to rave about it, I still think it is overrated but perhaps a little less so than than I previously concluded. If you have never read The Alchemist, it is one to pick up when you need some help making life decisions. It is carefully written to send a message of affirmation to every reader – follow your dreams, no matter how hard it may seem along the way, and you will be happy. It is a heartening read and did make me feel temporarily more positive about life, but it won’t be something I’ll reread for a while.

Metamorphosis; I am ashamed that I have never read this before. I’ve never read any Kafka at all, in fact. Is it strange to say he reminds me of Ibsen? In a thematic way of course, using literature as social criticism, although I’m not quite sure why I would pick Ibsen out from all the authors who do just that. Perhaps it is something like Nora’s psychologial shift in A Doll’s House that contrasts with Gregor’s physical and mental changes in Metamorphosis and the selfishness both encounter from their loved ones as a result of those changes that make me link the two authors. Any rate, in a nutshell, a salesman wakes up one day to find he has morphed into a giant bug. What follows is how he and his family cope with his change (to be honest, I’m not sure I’d react well to my sister if she woke up as a super size cockroach). They don’t cope well. He doesn’t cope well. Far more subtle and thought provoking than The Alchemist but still very readable. 

 The Book of Chameleons recently won the Independent Foreign Fiction prize. Here is what Boyd Tonkin, Literary Editor of the Independent said: “José Eduardo Agualusa’s The Book of Chameleons is a delightful, moving and revealing novel about modern Africa, about memory, grief and the endurance of hope. It is remarkable for its witty originality and profound humanity.

It made me go to sleep. Perhaps I wasn’t in the mood for something like Chameleons, but I found it difficult to motivate myself to pick it up and continue reading once I’d put it down. I don’t even have any enthusiasm for thinking about the book retrospectively, so I’ll finish my musings here.

 Finally, The Secrets of Jin Shei. Wnted to read it for ages, loved it all the way through and felt vastly let down by the end. The whole way through, I felt the author was building up to something big…and I got to a tense point in the text, turned the page, and it ended. How come? Definitely one for BookMooch, but can’t be faulted for gripping escapism.

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On Rearranging My Book Shelves

Every so often I get an irresistible urge to rearrange my book shelves. Yesterday’s urge was born out of the urgent need for exam revision and the strong conviction that productive revision could not possibly occur when my book shelves were so untidy. As ever I approached the task very methodically: first, I surveyed all my books; then made a careful list of how I wanted to rearrange them (continent, country, author, and also by genre/type) ; pulled them all off the shelves and roughy sorted them into piles; then promptly despaired at the sheer volume of books I had managed to displace and wandered off for a biscuit break, leaving my room and my bed buried under piles and piles of books.

Since yesterday, I have managed to rearrange all of four shelves. My cunning plan was to have separate shelves for distinct genres, such as poetry, plays, textbooks, language books and Terry Pratchett (I have many Pratchett books). Then I was going to sort my fiction books into world fiction and English Literature; the world fiction shelves (which have turned out to include non-fiction anyway, would be sorted by continent then country then alphabetically by author’s surname. Unfortunately, due to bookshelf size and relative heights of books, I couldn’t put the continents in the strictly alphabetic order I wished, so ended up with the South American section first (which also comprises Central American countries), then Asia and finally Europe into which all miscellaneous countries have been placed. Somehow India has ended up in Europe instead of Asia, and North America doesn’t feature at all because I classed it as English Literature.  The shelves cannot possibly make any sense to anyone except me, and I suspect after a while I too will have difficulty working out where a certain book should be. I stopped short of actually labelling the shelves however; I felt that might be a little too anal.

Now the urge has gone, I have lost the will to sort out the rest of my books. Most of them are currently piled haphazardly on the shelves, on the floor or on other books. I find the sight of such a mess very irritating but not sufficiently irritating for me to actually do anything about it. I know what is going to happen. Sometime soon, I’ll fall over one of the piles and crease a book cover or something else equally catastrophic will happen to a prized book, and then I’ll curse furiously and frantically try to find them all a place on the shelves where they will be safe. Weeks from now I’ll discover my copy of Hamlet or The Good Earth under my bed where I kicked it by accident and never noticed. If I’m unlucky I’ll spill water or worse over Neruda or Pasternak and destroy an otherwise pristine book…

Maybe I’d better go and replace books on shelves.

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I understand a fury in your words, but not the words

There is always something to delight in during a performance at Shakespeare’s Globe, and the thing I enjoyed most last week was looking at Cassio whenever the opportunity arose (he was really rather attractive). 

Well,  Cassio was almost the thing I enjoyed most. The play was good, but not up to the usual Globe standard.  If you have never been to Shakespeare’s Globe, there is nothing like it for seeing Shakespeare. The Globe was the theatre Shakespeare owned a share in during his lifetime, and it was rebuilt a few years ago a short distance from its original location on the banks of the Thames. As the original Globe would have been built, the new theatre was constructed using only wood and thatch – even the nails used to hold the walls up are wooden! The whole thing is beautiful, and the plays are done with minimal use of props, usually in full Elizabethan costume and since the theatre has no roof, in the open air. There is also a house band, if you will, who wear Elizabethan dress and play Elizabethan tunes on Elizabethan instruments and are generally greatly loved by the audience (they tend to be a bit cheeky).  

But back to Othello; The Observer raved about how Tim McInnerny (Lord Percy from Blackadder) was ‘brilliantly cast’ as Iago, but as far as I could see, there was a lot of shouting and semi-energetic dashing about the stage and no real passion behind his character. Not badly done, but unremarkable. One of the things I love about plays at the Globe is the way the audience is always drawn into the play, whether through sneaky asides from the characters or by having to leap back as someone on stage sloshes wine or blood about freely in the general direction of the standing audience (Titus Andronicus last year was bloody brilliant, emphasis on the bloody). McInnerny had so many opportunities to make more of his role and really make Iago real for the audience, but he failed to do so. Perhaps he thought if he tried to bring humour into the play by involving the audience it would be too reminiscent of Lord Percy, his character in Blackadder – although I think that would have been rather funny myself. Desdemona on the other hand, was excellent – some actors/actresses have the ability to completely become a character and make you feel everything they feel and see their passions, and Desdemona was very adept at doing so. The performance overall wasn’t overtly bad, but it dragged a little at times. My personal feeling is that Othello took far too long over killing Desdemona and lost a lot of dramatic tension as a result.

Some Othello trivia: I learned that the phrase ‘green eyed monster’ has been around for longer than I gave it credit for (never having given it much consideration before now); Othello is ironically warned by Iago to “beware my Lord, of jealousy; it is the green eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.”

 Here is a link to the Globe’s Othello page. The photos at the top of the page are 1) Iago and Desdemona, 2) Cassio and Bianca and 3) Othello about to kill Desdemona.

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Blogroll Game

Hats off to Dewey for creating the blogroll game – details here, in case you haven’t already heard about it. Basically, if you want to find some great blogs for new reading but don’t know where to start, have a look at Dewey’s blogrolls for inspiration. There are prizes up for grabs for the most enthusiastic participants, but most importantly it is an excellent way to find new blogging friends (and put off doing other things that need doing but are less appealing than this!).

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Back Next Week

I’m always away recently – but this time I have an excellent excuse. I’m going to London for my annual Shakespeare’s Globe fix. This year, I’m seeing Othello. Can’t wait! See you all next week, enjoy the weekend!

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