Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Links for the next meeting - The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason

A five star review from Amazon -

"Highly imaginative, obsessive and truly magical novel by Daniel Mason. A combination of fiction, fantasy and travelogue, an ambitious but intriguing piece of work by Mason.
The plot seems to be travel fantasy - Edgar Drake, a piano tuner with perfection in Erards, travels in to darkest jungles of Burma and 1886 to help the Surgeon-Major Anthony Carroll. A sea voyage and boat journey in to the remotest possible place one would imagine to repair and tune a piano - a special piano, a peacemaker."

"This book has a lot going for it. The plotline is intriguing - an expert piano tuner, an authority on Erards, goes to darkest Burma to tune the piano of the eccentric but hugely effective Surgeon Major Carroll. The writer knows a lot about different aspects of his subject - sea travel in the late 19th. century, the topics which interest Carroll, Burmese history, the British presence in Burma, pianos and how to tune them .... all of that seems fine. It's fairly well written and moves forward in a competent way. But I seldom was really interested. Why? I think this is a book which works too hard. There is just too much validating detail, the stuff you need to make an exotic book like this come to life. It is too consciously written and it loses the naturalness and simplicity of a well-told tale. Once the tuner, Drake, got to Carroll's base I quite liked it, and I read the second half quickly, drawn on by the story, but I was never fully convinced and I did not find it compelling."

Monday, 22 October 2012

Links for the next meeting - The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

The book has some questions for book groups at the end to guide discussion, but there are three quick links...

This is an interview with the author

And some three star reviews from Amazon, (which I thought gave some of the more balanced views on the book).

and surprise surprise, the film version is currently in production ...

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Links for the next meeting - Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Wikipedia gives the plot, and the background to the story

Spark Notes gives some context and explanations

Spark Notes also has some suggested questions, including:

"What role does social class play in Great Expectations? What lessons does Pip learn from his experience as a wealthy gentleman? How is the theme of social class central to the novel?"

A five star review on Amazon:

"This is my favourite Dickens novel. I would not dispute that several others are its equal but they do not pull at my heartstrings in quite the same way.I doubt seeing them knocked about on TV would have annoyed me quite so much."

& a one star review

"Does it make me a philistine that I thought this book was simply awful? I suspect not. This book is spectacularly dull; it's inane, directionless, confused, dreary, circumlocutory and self-indulgent. "

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Links for the next meeting - To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

There is so much information about To Kill a Mockingbird, with a plethora of on-line notes about hypocracy, symbolism, contrasting characters and "foil pairs"  (and the meaning of their names) - even the Symbolism of the Tree and Boo as Christ (Yahoo voices):
- the use of language ,
-growing up,
-conditioning/conforming to be accepted/becoming independent,/who belongs where
-fear and courage  etc.
-hypocracy (Is Dolphus Raymond a hypocrite?- he protects his children by sending them North)
:it has been really difficult to find a few to the point articles that really does justice to the complexity, delicacy and power of the book. Set in time in 1935  but published in 1960 , it was published when the Civil Rights movement was gaining momentum (Rosa Parks was 1955) and Kennedy's Presidential Commission into the Status of Women was 1961.  It is described as a Bildungsroman (growing up) and Southern Gothic in that it incorporates the grotesque, describes derelict settings and sinister events in order to explore social events and uses suspense (eg Jem and Scout being followed by Bob Ewell at the end) - so Harper Lee is using a traditional format (the book was originally submitted as short stories to the publisher).

The moral growth of children in To Kill a Mockingbird

Themes, motifs and symbolsthe book begins with the ending 

Symbols and symbolism - flowers /Tim Johnson

Background to 'jim crow' laws - circumstances in which the book was set

Calpurnia's double life

Stereotypes, assumption of guilt prior to trial

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Links for the next meeting - A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

Robin writes:

You could pick any major newspaper/blog/podcast and find a kind interview/review - e.g.

This is a heavy-going but exhaustive interview by Heidi Julavits: (worth reading if you enjoyed the book!).

The author also happens to be tweeting a new story this week, 120 characters at a time (more info. on this in Wired - Most critics seem to be sceptical about this, which is striking because most were very positive about Goon Squad.

Also, as a refresher, here's a list of the main characters in each chapter:

1 – Sasha & Alex
2 – Bennie & Sasha
3 – Alice, Bennie, Scotty, Lou, Jocelyn, Rhea
4 – Lou, Rolph, Charlene, Mindy
5 – Lou, Bennie, Jocelyn, Rhea, Alice
6 – Scotty & Bennie
7 – Stephanie & Bennie, Jules, La Doll, Bosco
8 – Dolly, Lulu, Kitty
9 – Jules & Kitty
10 – Drew, Bix, Sasha, Lizzie, Rob
11 – Sasha & Ted
12 – Alison, Sasha, Drew, Lincoln
13 – Bennie & Alex, Scotty

Monday, 23 April 2012

Links for the next meeting - The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson

A quick video to get you started! The Wellcome Collection always has some interesting stuff...

...and he talks again...!

UCLA’s epidemiology department’s book review and John Snow site links

An interesting article about the more recent 2010 outbreak in Haiti, with a picture of the sort
of thing that I would be looking for at work! A sample requesting, or suspect for Vibrio cholerae
undergoes an enrichment stage before being plated onto selective agar with all the right ingredients that Cholera bacteria like! The result is the growth of these yellow colonies. You don’t really want to grow them!!

OK, perhaps a bit technical – Quorum Sensing is the name given when bacteria live together in a film and have to communicate with each other – basic survival. This is done through chemical sensing of the environment, and most weirdly, sensing the group’s needs. It has been revolutionary in helping to understand why infections persist within the body when antibiotics should have worked, and has been crucial, as with cholera, in understanding how bacteria know when to resume the next stage of their life cycle:

There’s any amount of book reviews on the internet, and even the Wikipedia page is worth a brief glance (though it wasn’t me what said that, honest guv!!) I’ll try and get hold of a diagram to show how the bacteria have such a devastating effect on the human body (always cheerful!), but in the meantime, happy reading!

Monday, 26 March 2012

Links for the next meeting - When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman

Sarah Winman talks to Richard & Judy

A random bookshop owner (employee?) interviews Sarah Winman

And a podcast (courtesy of Robin), which talks about the book from the point of view of the publishers -- a rare insight

See you on Wednesday!

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Links for the next meeting - The Hare With The Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal

Official site, including netsuke gallery, and reading guide

Black Book Swap - Saturday 3rd March

This upcoming event might be interesting:

"The first ever Black Book Swap event will take place on Saturday 3 March. There will be books to swap, authors to meet: Alex Wheatle; Chibundu Onuzo; Colin Grant; Sonja Lewis & Bim Adewunmi, and also the chance to meet other book lovers and dedicated readers. It’s free! We’re so excited! We can’t wait! Put this date in your diary now. (Saturday 3 March 2012, 1pm - 5.00pm Cottons Caribbean Restaurant, 70 Exmouth Market, London EC1R 4QP)

Bring a book to swap: whether you loved it and want others to know that joy; or hated it but cannot bring yourself to bin it, bring it along and swap it. You are bound to find an exciting read to replace it. Come along and join in even if you don’t have a book to swap. Any leftover books will be donated to charity.

Black Book Swap is free but as places are limited, so best to reserve a place, email: blackbookswap[at]"

Site with more info here

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Links for the next meeting - A Gothic Triple Bill

Here are some links for the next meeting, our Gothic treble of The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, and a short story collection.

General themes - You can look at The Gothic using some of Freud's thoughts on 'Das Unheimliche', or 'The Uncanny' - that funny creeping feeling you get when that small part of you is screaming that something just isn't right, and WHY do they always insist on investigating strange noises in haunted houses dressed only in a dressing gown, and by candle-light...???!!!

Freud’s 1919 essay on Das Unheimliche is rather long, but some of the elements of ‘The Uncanny’ are very relevant to what we recognise as ‘The Gothic’ - and you'll see many of these themes occuring in our texts for this thursday. Freud listed 8 characteristics – 8 causes of fear used in literature:
Inanimate objects mistaken for animate – eg dolls, waxworks, severed limbs...
Animate objects behaving as if inanimate or mechanical eg trances, fits, epilepsy etc
Being blinded
The double – twins, doppelgangers
Coincidences or repetitions
Being buried alive
An all-controlling evil genius
Confusions between reality and imagination – waking dreams etc
(Taken from The New Uncanny, (2008). Ed Sarah Eyre and Ra Page)

Joanne Harris in the Telegraph on Edgar Allan Poe

10 alternative book covers

Produced to promote a new competition, these covers are excellent. I particularly like this one for A Tale of Two Cities.

Full details of the competition are here. The closing date is 19th April