Annabel's House of Books

Noli domo egredi, nisi librum habes – Never leave home without a book.

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Buy Books for Syria with Waterstones and Oxfam

There will be book reviews here soon – promise. This week has been insanely busy and it’s my daughter’s birthday and the next issue of Shiny New Books next week – but I am reading, just no time for blogging much. However, today I’m going to plug an extremely worthwhile campaign that I’m sure you’ll all hear a lot more about in coming days.

Waterstones have teamed up with lots of publishers and lovely authors to raise money for Oxfam to support their work in Syria. 100% of the proceeds from sales of all the books on the list will be donated. Find out more about the campaign and the full list of titles available here: Buy Books For Syria.

I was invited to champion a particular book on the list. More on my second another time, but my first choice is:

The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier

lady and the unicorn Not one of Chevalier’s best known books, it was published in 2003 and I read it pre-blog. I really enjoyed it though, because it features the creation of my favourite things in Paris – the wonderful La Dame à la Licorne tapestries at the Musée National du Moyen Âge formerly known as the Musée de Cluny.  The set of tapestries are all housed in one large room, and I could sit there for hours contemplating them.
My best bits of Paris
The six tapestries represent the five senses, plus one last one called À mon seul désir, pictured right. The style is mille-fleurs and they date from the end of the 15th century. They were woven in Flanders and this is where Chevalier’s book is set. Like many of Chevalier’s novels, there is a mixture of art and romance, in this case a forbidden romance between the tapestry-maker and the daughter of the nobleman who commissions them.

Little is truly known of their provenance, so Chevalier is able to weave a great story from the bare threads (!)

If you’d like to support the campaign and buy this book – Click on the picture below which will take you to the edition in this promotion where you can ‘click and collect’ or pop into your local Waterstones.

Worth every penny?

List of the Lost by Morrissey

list of the lostRegular visitors will know that I am willing to try reading anything, and I always try to look for the best in a novel.

I read Morrissey’s ‘Autobiography‘ and reviewed it here, finding some parts, especially the childhood sections a fair read – it soon descended into being bitter and twisted and oh so boring though.

So, I couldn’t resist spending £5.59 on a copy of his novel, out yesterday – my copy arrived this morning, and I have skimmed bits of it at coffee break and lunchtime.

The first sentences reads thus:

Ezra, Nails, Harri, Justy. You’d dig hard and deep to excavate four names quite so unusual. Yet there they were and there they stood, sounding exactly like what they were.

Nothing special, except I already thought I’d rather re-read about another foursome – Jude, Willem, Malcolm and JB!  The fourth sentence continues:

You would be offered a hearty shake of the javelin hand as expressions of possession of command from the four boys, each one fully developed into the blissful torment of their turnabout twentieth year – a pleasantly resolved marital union almost closed off in its camaraderie to the onlookers of the mookish great world.

Seriously, it had lost me already.

*** SPOILERS ***   *** SPOILERS ***  *** SPOILERS ***

Skimming on, the foursome get into an assortment of scrapes including an encounter with hobo who dies, finding a body long-buried in their college grounds. Oo-er! All sounds a bit Secret History suddenly…

Then, on page 99 begins an excruciating sex scene between Ezra and his girlfriend Eliza.  The Times informs me it is 72 lines long!

… Eliza’s breasts barrel-rolled across Ezra’s howling mouth and the pained frenzy of his bulbous salutation extenuating his excitement as it whacked and smacked its way into every muscle of Eliza’s body except for the otherwise central zone. …

Private Eye, you can award him the Bad Sex Award now!


It’s ranty, overblown, very abstract at times, and very annoyingly, the dialogue is in italics.

Mercifully, it is only 118 pages long, but I don’t think I can be bothered to read it in full.  Still for the price of a pint and a half, it has ‘entertained’ me.

* * * * *

Source: Own copy – DNF

List of the Lost by Morrissey – published 24th Sept 2015 by Penguin. Paperback original. 118 pages.

Too much life?

A Little Life by Hanya Yanahigara

YanagiharaThis novel has really divided its readers into camps. Most, but not all, of those reading along with Scott didn’t like it, and neither did James and Teresa. But, on the other side, Simon S, Jackie and Rebecca all loved it.

Where do I stand? Well – I’m a little on the fence. It’s not that I lack the courage of my convictions to come out and say that I loved or hated this book. It’s just that for everything I loved about this book, there was nearly always something that irked me too. Irked rather than hated though, so I guess I’m just inside the fence. In truth I found it unputdownable (for as long as I could hold the book up). Once started I was hooked and there was no way I wouldn’t read it through to the end.

It was very interesting to (actually manage for once) to readalong with a group of others, commenting back on  Scott‘s blog after each section. Part three in particular generated a wonderful discussion based around one bad sentence highlighted initially by Janet.

I’m going to assume you’re slightly familiar with the basics of A Little Life by now and just outline a few of my thoughts (there may be slight spoilers!)

  • For me, 746 pages was about two to three hundred too many. I didn’t need all the repetitive detail, although it does emphasise some of the awfulness of Jude’s life of suffering. I read that she disregarded some of the cuts her editor suggested, which was probably a shame.
  • It will make a marvelous mini-series, should someone like HBO be brave enough to make one. There are real ‘duff-duff’ moments (Eastenders signature style cliff-hangers), which leads me to say that I think it may be the latest ‘Great American Soap Opera’ rather than the latest ‘Great American Novel’.  Soaps aren’t all bad though…
  • The author obviously worked hard to be inclusive in her four male leads – sexuality, ethnicity, economic status etc – at the beginning all are there which makes it interesting but also makes it feel like all boxes have been ticked.
  • I loved the beginning. Meeting the four guys, letting Jude take a back step so that we could get to know Willem, JB and Malcolm. Malcolm remained so undeveloped though that he was ultimately expendable. I wanted more Malcolm. I was very fond of Willem, and found JB interesting rather than likeable – his obsession of only painting his three best friends in his art over the years was a little creepy I thought.
  • I had been determined that Jude’s pain wouldn’t get to me. I’ve recently read James Rhodes’ memoir, Instrumental and thought that a fictional account of child abuse couldn’t get to me having read about a real one and the ongoing effects in his life. Although horrific, it didn’t – however, it was when Jude was let down by someone he’d mistakenly begun to trust in part IV that the floodgates opened, and I wept realising that Yanagihara was never going to let Jude stop being a victim, he’d only get sicker as she put it in an interview for Vulture.

“I wanted A Little Life to do the reverse: to begin healthy (or appear so), and end sick — both the main character, Jude, and the plot itself.”

  • Although Yanagihara has said it’s not impossible that Jude could suffer so much and be so successful at work, it is improbable – but, as Sherlock Holmes says in The Sign of Four: “How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”
  • The book never deviated from telling us about the lives of the four men over its forty years or so. If it didn’t involve one of the quartet, it wasn’t in the novel.
  • There were no cultural touchstones at all – it was timeless. This was one of the novel’s great successes, and also one of its bigger flaws. It meant the author didn’t have to bother with anything that would date it, but also that external events that the guys must surely have come into contact with like HIV, 9/11 and everything relating to politics could be left out. Given how detailed she was about the minutiae of things, I missed a bit of scene-setting in this regard.
  • There were other things I missed. I’d have loved more about the lives of Harold and Andy, the two other men who loved Jude as surrogates, father and big brother respectively. By the time Yanagihara introduces Andy’s surname, it seems too late; the author keeps introducing little snippets of information like this that you would have expected earlier in the text.
  • Malcolm gets the least page-space of the quartet (see above). He’s the straight married one. Conveniently he and Sophie decide not to have children; it’s never mentioned again. There will be no next generation for any of them – a godchild for Jude would have cast a spanner in the works, giving him a cause to live for.
  • Even when Jude does allow himself to be happy, he’s still totally insecure, even in bed next to Willem:

‘All I want,’ he’d said to Jude one night, trying to explain the satisfaction that at that moment was burbling inside him, like water in a bright blue kettle, ‘is work I enjoy, and a place to live, and someone who loves me. See? Simple.’

Jude had laughed, sadly. ‘Willem,’ he said, ‘that’s all I want, too.’

‘But you have that,’ he’d said quietly, and Jude was quiet too.

‘Yes,’ he said, at last. ‘You’re right.’ But he hadn’t sounded convinced. (p521)

  • As a portrait of friendship, and the trials and tribulations of maintaining friendships over the years, this novel did touch me deeply. However, it was also very claustrophobic – it was lot of life crammed, even shoehorned, primarily into Jude’s experience. Even when there was momentary relief from the misery, you knew that something else would be around the corner.
  • I’m so glad the UK cover illustrates the apartment that Willem and Jude rent together in the first part – one of the more positive sections of the book. I would have had to take the d/j off if I had the US cover with its anguished face on the cover.

So, there you have it, a book I enjoyed but didn’t love, a compulsive but flawed read that didn’t quite make the hype worth it.  Will it win the Man Booker? It must be favourite, but I have a feeling this could be Anne Tyler’s year (since Marilynne Robinson was not shortlisted)… Who can tell.

Which camp did you fall into, or did you like me stay nearer the fence with A Little Life?  (7/10)

* * * * *

Source: Own copy.

A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara. Pub Picador 2015. Hardback, 746 pages.

Seven today!


It feels like I’ve been blogging for an awful long time but also, that this year’s blog anniversary has come around very quickly. For Annabel’s House of Books, which started off on Blogspot being called ‘Gaskella‘ on Sept 17th 2008, is seven years old today.

As always, my profound thanks to everyone who has ever stopped by,
whether just passing through or leaving comments.

Reading Routines

Week two of a new academic year and life is yet to settle back into its normal rhythm.

reading in bed

Jessie Willcox Smith ‘The Bed-Time Book’ 1907

With a teenager in the house who likes her lie-ins whenever she gets a chance, the summer holiday has meant more time in bed for me reading every morning too. Luxury! If for any reason I woke up during the night, instead of struggling to get back to sleep, I’d read for a bit until Morpheus beckoned again. At night, I’d go to bed at a reasonable hour and read until I fell asleep.

After one week back at school,  my reading routine is not there yet – I can’t keep awake for long enough to read much at all at bedtime. Mornings are easier thanks to the alarm clock. On a good weekday I can quickly make a cuppa (and feed the cats) and then go back to bed for half an hour before having to get up, but I need to get back to getting that hour of reading before going to sleep.  Fingers crossed that I’ll get back in the groove very soon.

I realise that anyone who doesn’t work term-time only won’t appreciate my woes, but reading is such a great pleasure it’s makes me grumpy when I don’t get enough of it!

It’s your life, Jim, as we know it?

The Autobiography of James T. Kirk edited by David A. Goodman

James T KirkI still have a huge affection for Star Trek in all its incarnations and, as time goes on, although Jean-Luc Picard is the man for me, I prefer the warmer colours, the less sophisticated beeps and the cheesiness of the original series more and more over all the others. Truly ground-breaking, it was developed and aired alongside the early years of the space race.  Kirk’s opening speech, “to boldly go where no man has gone before,” was lifted almost verbatim from a government pamphlet on space  produced after the Sputnik flight in 1957 and when the last episode of Star Trek‘s third season finished filming in January 1969; man had yet to reach the moon.

Star_Trek_Fotonovel_03The appetite for Star Trek related books remains huge. At the height of my addiction in the mid 1990s, I’d collected and read almost all of the available novels, reference manuals, stars’ biographies etc. I must have had over 100 Star Trek Books (and tons of other ‘stuff’). Now, just a couple of books remain – my trusty original series episode guide and my copy of Fotonovel No 3 – The Trouble with Tribbles, which I just couldn’t bear to part with.

It’s been some years since I engaged with Star Trek, other than seeing the brilliant new films and catching the odd episode on TV, but, when offered a copy of this ‘autobiography’ I couldn’t resist.

David A. Goodman is best known as head writer on Family Guy, and has written for The Golden Girls and Futurama, as well as penning a history of the Star Trek Federation. This book is written exactly like a real autobiography, complete with photo section. When the book was launched at the San Diego Comic-Con, William Shatner (whose own autobiography is brilliant reading – see here) was on hand to give an exclusive reading, and you have to approach this book with his voice in your head, complete with its inflections, pauses and jokes…

The majority of what’s in Kirk’s memoir did happen in the original series and films, as detailed by Michael and Denise Okuda, keepers of the Star Trek Chronology! The rebooted Star Trek film franchise has played with the series timeline and details to preserve the spirit of the original while freeing it from the constraints of history and doesn’t really feature here.

Goodman is able to flesh out the bits in between while also referencing many favourite episodes and scenes from the films – so we get the chance to hear more about Kirk’s childhood in Iowa, and on Tarsus IV where he witnessed a massacre of 4000 colonists on the orders of Kodos the Executioner (whom he possibly meets again later in his career – see episode #13 The Conscience of the King).  I couldn’t wait, however, for Kirk to get to Starfleet Academy and to read how he beat the Kobayashi Maru (see movies II & VI). This is a no-win training exercise involving rescuing a starship that has strayed into the neutral zone bordering the Klingon Empire. Rescue the ship and you risk interplanetary war; It is a real test of starfleet officers’ decision making abilities and ‘command character’. You can’t win – unless you’re Jim Kirk of course…

I though the test was bullshit.

I had spent the past four years preparing to find answers to the questions I would face in the Galaxy, and up until this test, every question had an answer. There was always a way to successfully complete your mission. …

I decided that the central problem of Kobayashi Maru was really about figuring out how to beat the test. I took it very personally, felt it was an insult to all the work I’d done. I just couldn’t live with the failure. So, with Ben’s help, I would reprogram the simulation. Thus, the third time I took the test, I rescued the Kobayashi Maru and escaped the Klingons.

It caused quite a stir. […] It looked like I might be expelled. […]

‘You broke the rules,’ [Admiral] Komack said.

‘No, I didn’t, sir,’ I said. ‘I took the test within its own parameters twice. You have those result to judge me on. By letting me take it a third time, you invalidated those parameters. So I used my experience with the test to beat it.’

What a cocksure young man!

James T Kirk photoGraduating from Starfleet Academy, Kirk begins his career on board various vessels, but has enough time to meet the first love of his life, Carol Marcus. A career scientist herself, they have a son David, but Kirk is an absentee father for the most part. Their careers take precedence over their relationship and they part with regret and not a little acrimony on each side. David and Carol will appear again later in Kirk’s life when he re-encounters the tyrant Khan in his quest to steal the Genesis terraforming machine Carol has been developing, (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan).

It is at this fairly early stage in Kirk’s career that he’ll meet Dr McCoy, the third part of the inseparable trio. It is Kirk that will give McCoy his nickname ‘Bones’ after he reattaches Lt Cmr Gary Mitchell’s arm after an incident involving poison dart shooting rodents on the planet Dimorous whilst they serve together aboard the Hotspur. Kirk is yet to be promoted to command the USS Enterprise.

You may remember the time when Kirk and Spock went back through a time portal chasing McCoy who’d accidentally got a dose of a dangerous drug and leapt through the portal while under the influence. The portal took them back to the 1930s, and it was then that Kirk met the other love of his life, Edith Keeler (Joan Collins in – The City on the Edge of Forever – written by Harlan Ellison – possibly the best episode of them all). It is this first meeting that Kirk uses in his memoir’s prologue as a poignant reminder of what’s to come.

Because of her, I would literally save history. And I would also regret it for the rest of my life.

The memoir returns to Edith Keeler at the proper time in his chronology and Kirk recounts their growing relationship and the horror at realising she has to die to prevent history from being changed. The loss of his two main relationships, but Edith’s in particular does seem to harden him a little, fuelling his reputation as a ladies man.

As the memoir ends, Kirk is looking forward to the ceremony for the launching of the new Enterprise (NCC-1701B). In an Afterword, Spock tells us (remaining enigmatic to the end), who Kirk died helping to save the Enterprise B from destruction when the hull was ruptured. This occurred in 2293, and the Nexus was responsible. It is beyond the autobiography, but we now know the Nexus preserves a version of him who is able to help Captain Picard in Star Trek: Generations, but finally dies in his last heroic act.

There is a fantastic quotation by Kirk on the back cover of the book:

“The greatest danger facing us is an irrational fear of the unknown. But there’s no such thing as the unknown – only things temporarily hidden, temporarily not understood.” (2266)

I looked this quote up, and was delighted to find that it heralds from The Corbomite Maneuver (the first episode of the first full series, airing in 1966, thus way before Donald Rumsfeld could possibly adapt it?). However the full quote has an extra word or two and consequently does read a little differently – this made me laugh, and reminded me how memoirs often edit the facts!

“Captain to crew: Those of you who have served for long on this vessel have encountered alien life-forms. You know the greatest danger facing us is… ourselves, and irrational fear of the unknown. There’s no such thing as ‘the unknown,’ only things temporarily hidden, temporarily not understood.” (The Corbomite Maneuver, 1966)

I really enjoyed reading this ‘memoir’, Goodman as Kirk’s editor exhibits a light touch with the source material, and the few Editor’s footnotes add some extra little details that neatly explain occasional digressions from the accepted facts. Just one thing belies the fact that this is a fictional memoir though – there is no index.  But I can let Goodman off that!

Reading this book, I had a smile on my face every time I got a reference – which was a lot of the time – the book is chock full of them. Although surely written primarily to feed fans’ appetites for more from the franchise, this book was entertaining and has appeal beyond the diehard fans – anyone who still has fond memories of the original series can enjoy this ‘memoir’. (8/10)

* * * * *

Source: Publisher – Thank you.
The autobiography of James T. Kirk, edited by David A Goodman (Titan, London, 2015) Hardback, 288 pages.

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