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Cornered by Charles Bukowski

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I’m 42 pages in to the Bukowski poetry collection: You get so alone at times that it just makes sense, when my eyes fell upon this beautiful poem on mortality.

Often with Bukowski, it’s a case of trawling through hundreds of his poems – the  unforgettable and the forgettable –  until you find the ones that you will probably return to for the rest of your life.

 

Cornered did that for me, so I thought I’d share it with you…

 

well, they said it would come to
this: old. talent gone. fumbling for
the word

hearing the dark
footsteps, I turn
look behind me…

not yet, old dog…
soon enough

now
they sit talking about
me: “yes, it’s happened, he’s
finished… it’s
sad…”

“he never had a great deal, did
he?”

“well, no, but now…”

now
they are celebrating my demise
in taverns I no longer
frequent.

now
I drink alone
at this malfunctioning
machine

as the shadows assume
shapes
I fight the slow
retreat

now
my once-promise
dwindling
dwindling

now
lighting more cigarettes
pouring new
drinks

it has been a beautiful
fight

still
is

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Reading and Re-reading Stephen King in 2016

maxresdefaultIf you’re regular visitor to this blog then you’ll know how much I like Stephen King as a writer. I think he is a master storyteller who’s work will still be messing with the minds of readers way into the future. Recently, after an evening reading and watching interviews with King,  I came to realise that there are so many novel and short stories I’ve yet to read.

I’m ashamed to say that there are the ones like:  Firestarter, Christine and The Eyes of the Dragon that I’ve never heard of.

Not to mention the Dark Tower series.

I just never got around to reading it, not with the plethora of other Literature in the ethos. I think I missed these titles because King has been, and still is a prolific writer; with books splattering the high street before I was born and then consistently since (now I’m 32 by the way)

This idea prompted me to think about the more ‘well know titles.’ You know,  the ones that scared the hell out of you as a child (well, I was a child) like: Pet Sematary, The Shining, Carrie and Cujo.

Or the ones with the unforgettable characters: Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile and Stand by Me.

As I was thinking this over, it dawned on me that it was the films that I remembered from my childhood and not the King novels. I mean, I read some of them but the novel slash film blurs into one (FYI, it was called Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption and Stand by Me was adapted from a short story called: The Body.)

To add insult to injury I read an interview where King said that out of all his novels, Liseys Story was the one he enjoyed most.

Well, this one must’ve slipped my radar too.

Right. This is no good I thought to myself; I’m going to read, or re-read a selection of King novels, as I don’t really know him as a writer. The film adaptations are the ones etched into my memory. Many of which according to King completely ignore the message of his novels.

Being born in 1982, means that I was -6 when Carrie was published. This was the novella that granted King the freedom to write full time. He certainly did that alright:  releasing 54 novels to date, hundreds of short stories and two books on the craft of writing.

So, I’ve been to the second hand bookshops.  I came back with: The Stand, Misery, Liseys Story and IT. 

That’s the story; for the first half of 2016, I’m going to get Kingafied.

 

If you have any suggestions or discussion points then get in touch, I’d love to hear from you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Magic Twenty Five

The last review on Sharp Objects was the 25th book I’ve read this year, rrreeeeeeyyyyy!

That was my main reading goal for this year as I knew I’d be busy with work, don’t listen to audiobooks and wanted to take part in NaNoWriMo (which I won by the way)

Looking forward to 2016,  I’d be happy if I read or exceeded the ‘magic 25’ but really want to focus on getting a review for every book I read on this blog; this year I’ve been a bit rubbish om that front.

I’m going to read focus on Stephen King novels I’ve yet to read in the first half of 2016; especially the ones I only know through film; which can be quite lengthy at the best of times.

Other than that, I’m going to focus on promoting LiteratureFiend  and building a presence on BookTube.

So, I hope you enjoyed reading the reviews and look forward your comments and suggestions in the New Year.

 

Here is a list of books read in 2015 (READ, not listened to!)

  1. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
  2. The Red Pony by John Steinbeck
  3. The Girl who Played with Fire by Steig Larsson
  4. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
  5. Nine Stories by J.D Salinger
  6. Mr Mercedes by Stephen King
  7. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
  8. The Copywriters Handbook by Robert W Bly
  9. The Impact Code by Nigel Risner
  10. The Martian by Andy Weir
  11. The Pleasures of the Damned by Charles Bukowski
  12. Finders Keepers by Stephen King
  13. Ask the Dust by John Fante
  14. Wait Until Spring Bandini by John Fante
  15. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
  16. Revival by Stephen King
  17. Mud, Sweat and Tears by Bear Grylls
  18. Willing Slaves: How the Overwork Culture is Ruling Our Lives by Madeleine Bunting
  19. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  20. The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King.
  21. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
  22. Hot Water Music by Charles Bukowski
  23. The Grown Up by Gillian Flynn
  24. Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
  25. Hawaii 501: Life as a darts pro by Wayne Mardle

 

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

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Reading The Grown Up made me realise that I still hadn’t got around to reading Sharp Objects; so after caving into the “If you liked this…” section on the Kindle, I downloaded it.

This book was Flynn’s debut novel but she was relatively unknown before the Gone Girl saga.  It follows Camille Preaker, a journalist who reluctantly goes back to her hometown to investigate two missing girls.  She has spent years self harming after the death of her sister which is just part of an unhappy childhood.

But back home she must go, if she wants her name to be associated with career changing ‘breaking headline.’ As is now expected from a Gillian Flynn novel, the young journalist begins to unravel a web of murder that is much closer to home than she could wish.

I must come clean and state that what I thought was the twist, wasn’t in fact the twist. I didn’t pick the novel up for a whole day thinking: How obvious was that, I saw it coming a mile off.

The smugness was soon sucked from within, as I realised I was wrong.

I really have to give Flynn credit, as she really catches you with the unexpected. Especially when all of her audience are anticipating a nice twist.

I can’t wait to see how she’ll catch us out post-Gone Girl.

Section that stayed

“I am a cutter, you see. Also a snipper, a slicer, a carver, a jabber. I am a very special case. I have a purpose. My skin, you see, screams. It’s covered with words – cook, cupcake, kitty, curls – as if a knife-wielding first-grader learned to write on my flesh.”

The Grown Up by Gillian Flynn

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This is the first book I’ve downloaded on my new Kindle – my old one broke about 2 years ago – as I like flitting between print and digital.

It us about 40 pages long, this thriller has a couple of really great twists and kept me hooked throughout. The narrator who is a con artist gets drawn into a twisted revenge plot; but who is telling the truth, well, that’s for the reader to decide.

This got an award for best short story 2015, but I do wonder if it was based on the author’s credentials rather than the story.

I mean everyone is going mad for Gillian Flynn at the moment!

Overall, a really good way to spend an hour-or-so.

Hot Water Music by Charles Bukowski

imgresThis collection of 37 short stories mainly focus on:  Booze. Sex. Horse Racing. And those of you who’ve read Bukowski before won’t be surprised.

Bukowski writes about ‘the low life’ with absolute perfection. The subject matter and simple style may seem easy to replicate, but no one pulls it off quite like ‘The Buk!”

Like any collection of a writer’s work; you’ll love some and loath others. I didn’t loath any in this collection, but some passed through me with a certain ambivalence.

The thing with Bukowski is that he talks honestly about everyday situations. If a story begins with a man walking into a bar; the ending will usually be him exiting the bar.

It’s that simple. The End.  

I imagine that at times the abruptness of the ending may frustrate the reader, but I kinda like it. For example the story, A Favor for Don ends:

“I put the phone back in its cradle and closed my eyes. It was only 10:45 a.m. and I always slept until noon. Life’s as kind as you let it be. (p. 193) 

Likewise, Its a Dirty World finishes with the narrator saying:

“Then they stood and sat and sat and stood waiting for Gloria to get back with the cold beer.” (p. 55)

Simple and ordinary.  The excellent thing about most of the stories is that they are usually no more than 5 pages. The best way to digest them, is by spreading them out, rather than binge reading the collection. Why? Many are based around a simular subject which can get rather tedious – even for a hardcore Bukowski lover.

In opposition to the ordinary endings, there are some captivating openings. In the story, Not Quite Bernadette the narrator opens with:

“I wrapped the towel around my cock and phoned the Doctor’s office” (p.87)

Like the above there are many moments that will  made you  laugh and some that will shock you to your very core.

The protagonist in  The Hangover, awakes to a phone call from his friend about what happened at the previous nights party. He can’t remember what happened at the party and shocked he hangs up the phone and tells his wife:

“Bonnie claims I took JeanJean and Cathy in the closet and took their panties and sniffed their peepees” (P.94)

When you consider that Bonnie is a friend and JeanJean and Cathy are her young daughters, then it’s pretty shocking.  Bonnie decides not to involve the police and it ends with her saying:

“Why do you drink so much?”, The protagonist replies:  “Hell, I don’t know. I guess, mostly, I just get bored.” (p. 97)

The unlikely ending shows the reader that it is just a story, albeit a pretty sick one.

Section that stayed

“Kevin sat down to crap. Crapping seemed so safe, so warm… Kevin finished, wiped, flushed, washed his hands like a civilized man and walked into the kitchen.” (Not Quite Bernadette, p.94)

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

imgresThis novel came to me through the lack of World Literature in translation.

After taking inspiration from the blog, ayearofreadingtheworld.com and my personal link to Lithuania (my wife is from Lithuania) I attempted to find a few titles I’d been recommended. However, I couldn’t find any full works so settled upon this novel.

Much of the history of the Baltic States (especially the war years) isn’t widely known, especially the dreadful treatment by the Soviets in the Second World War. This novel, however, isn’t a work in translation; Sepetys was born in Detroit and continues to live in America.

The story is set in set in 1941 and the majority of the characters are fictionalised but the happenings are based on first-hand accounts and memories from survivors.

“They took me in my nightgown” (p. 3)

It follows Lina and her family as they are forced from their home in Kaunas by the NKVD (Soviet Secret Police) herded like animals onto cattle carriages – marked ‘Thieves and Prostitutes’ to hide what was going on – and forced on a journey that ends in the harsh climate of Siberia. Their only crime is to be considered anti-Soviet by Stalin, in the sense that they were: Doctors, Lawyers, Teachers, musicians and posed a threat to his end goal.

As Lina, a gifted artist, documents the dehumanisation and death of the Prisoners she meets; many of whom will survive and many will perish on her journey. For Lina, the separation from her father is the driving force behind her drawings, hoping that he’ll receive them – wherever he has been taken.

“I saw spruce and pine trees interspersed with farmlands. I looked around, memorizing the landscape to draw it for Papa.” (p.113)

Lina is sentenced to 25 years hard labor. By the time the war ended and the Lithuanian’s returned home (many had been in hard labor for 10-15 years), their houses were occupied by Soviets and consequently the horrific experiences swept under the carpet. Lina’s memories are dug up in 1995 by some construction workers, this shows the fear of those returning from the camps.

“The writings and drawings you hold in your hands were buried in the year 1954….Though we were committed no offense, we are viewed as criminals. Even now speaking of the we have experienced would result in our death” (Epilogue, p. 337)

The lack of material in translation from the Baltic states angered me, as I think the experiences – like the ones documented in this novel – are important. This is a captivating story of love. Love between different families and strangers who are forced together in horrendous circumstances.

I’ve read that this novel is aimed at a YA audience, but I never have and never will categorise novels in this way; I mean, a story is a story right?

Sepetys delivers excellent characters and a captivating narrative; the only gripe I had with the novel is that in one of Lina’s memories, her brother Jonas and his father go to a soccer match together. Having spent a lot of time in Lithuania I’m all too aware of how unpopular Soccer is; it is all about the basketball.

A very unimportant point but I had to mention it.

That said, the novel is very well researched and one that I couldn’t put down for the two days it took me to read the 344 pages.

Section that Stayed

Lina asks: “Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother’s was worth a pocket watch.

 

If anyone has read any Baltic novels in translation, then please get in touch; I’d love to read and review them. 

Books Read In 2015 So Far!

I began this blog late in the year, so here is a list of the books I’ve read so far (that I can remember, that is.)

 

  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
  • The Red Pony by John Steinbeck
  • The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
  • Mr Mercedes by Stephen King
  • East of Eden by John Steinbeck
  • The Copywriters Handbook by Robert W Bly
  • The Impact Code by Nigel Risner
  • The Martian by Andy Weir
  • The Pleasures of the Damned by Charles Bukowski
  • Finders Keepers by Stephen King
  • Ask the Dust by John Fante
  • Wait Until Spring Bandini by John Fante
  • The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
  • Revival by Stephen King
  • Mud, Sweat and Tears by Bear Grylls

 

As you can see I’m up to 15 and today is the 28th October 2015, so I’m really up against it. The only thing going for me is that I have between 5-7 books either half finished or nearly finished – that’s right I’m a real sucker for buying books instantly if I read or listen to a review or in fact just walk into a book store – so if I concentrate my efforts on finishing these I think I could easily make the 20-25 mark.

I’m also going to review some of the above that I haven’t already so watch this space.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

imgresI’ve been thinking about what to write since I finished Tartt’s masterpiece a few weeks ago. An epic work which weighs in at 864 pages, which I really loved reading.

The length of The Goldfinch may put some people off; but the investment is well worth the effort.

Throughout the novel the themes of loss and friendship are dealt with on so many different levels; too many to mention in this short review.

It follows Theo Decker from childhood to adulthood, after the loss of arguably the most important figure in his life – his mother. Theo sort of imprints the memory of his mother onto a painting he steals after a terrorist attack on the Metropolitan Museum of Art, his mother’s favorite painting, I might add. Worried about what the authorities will say (as Theo ponders coming clean) the painting sparks an obsession, and not just for the protagonist.

It is important to point out that the painting of The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius, is a truly remarkable piece of art asimgres you can see from the image on the right. It is said to be one of a dozen surviving works by the Dutch Artist; many of which were lost when his studio was destroyed by the explosion of the Delft gunpowder magazine on October 12, 1654. Fabrititus – a pupil of Rembrandt – died in this explosion aged 32.

Tartt’s novel is full of memorable characters, apart from Theo. For me, I really enjoyed the lifelong friendship with Boris – a Ukrainian with so much depth to his personality – and was really touched by their relationship, not to mention their crazy adventures.

In this section of the novel Boris talks to Theo about girls:

“Here is my experience. Stay away from the ones you love too much. Those are the ones who will kill you. What you want to be happy in the world is a woman who has her own life and lets you have yours.” (p. 667)

And who can forget Hobbie, the furniture restorer who I imagined for some reason to be a blood relative of the BFG; but more than that,  he is a simple character, more than content spending his days in his workshop restoring furniture – I really admired this about him.

The writing style is typically beautiful. However, there is a section in the last third of the book when Theo is contemplating his own mortality and whether he should continue to live. The descriptive quality and somber subject matter is well captured. I mean throughout this section the “Black Mood” was transferred from the page and really affected me to the extent that I had to put the book down on a regular basis; it seemed to suffocate me.

Depression is a theme that is re-visited throughout the novel. In this passage Theo describes the difficulty of living a normal life after tragedy:

“…and though the darkness sometimes lifted just enough so I could construe my surroundings, familiar shapes solidifying like bedroom furniture at dawn, my relief was never more than temporary because somehow the full morning never came, things always went black before I could orient myself and there I was again with ink poured in my eyes, guttering around in the dark” (p. 573)

I’m not surprised that The Goldfinch won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2014 and unlike other reviews I’ve read I don’t care it was a decade in the making. Tartt openly admits that she’s a slow writer, but the descriptive detail and depth of research really does help to  pack a punch.

And you know what? I’m happy to wait another ten years if I get to read something as well crafted as The Goldfinch again.

See you in 2024 Tartt. It’s a date!

To Build a Fire by Jack London

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For my next read, I’ve been working my way through The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. So far, I’m about half way through; so to bridge the gap I thought I’d start reading online short stories at work (yes, while I’m getting paid for it – great huh!)

So I entered “online short stories” into Google and To build a fire by Jack London was one of the first. I must confess that I’ve never read any London, but this had me hooked right from the beginning.

It’s about a man walking through the icy Yukon trail with his dog; the dog is immediately aware of the danger of traipsing through the wilderness in this climate:

“The dog did not know anything about temperatures. Possibly in its brain there was no understanding of a condition of very cold, such as was in the man’s brain. But the animal sensed the danger.”

I really liked the way London makes you identify with the dog, as if it should be he who was the master over the man. This can be seen in the way the man is first described:

“The trouble with him was that he was not able to imagine. He was quick and ready in the things of life, but only in the things, and not in their meanings. Fifty degrees below zero meant 80 degrees of frost.”

The man who, as a newcomer in this part of the world ignores the advice of the locals; that any hike in the icy weather should be done as a pair. It isn’t long before the man, who is making good ground (and getting a little cocky) accidentally submerges his foot in the freezing water.

Due to the temperature, the man needs to light a fire to thaw his body before continuing on his journey. But alas, his hands are frozen. The rest of the story focusses on the mans fight between life and death.

Does he make it? Read it here, It’s a very well written, quick read!!

Best part

I really like the advice given at the beginning by an old man well versed in the climate of that region. The advice is re-visited throughout the story:

“He remembered the advice of the old man on Sulphur Creek, and smiled. The man had been very serious when he said that no man should travel alone in that country after 50 below zero.”

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