Kategorie: Book Review (Seite 1 von 3)

James Rhodes: Playlist

“Oh what a huge and interesting looking book”, the book seller at my local book shop said while handing “Playlist” over. And she is right. James Rhodes’ latest book is another journey into the (for many) strange and foreign world that is classical music. A world that is inhabited by heroes like Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Mozart, Rachmaninoff, Ravel and Schubert. Those heroes gave us music that is still listened to after all these centuries – one wonders if today’s pop stars are to be known in a hundred years time.

“They changed history, inspired millions and are still listened to and worshipped all around the world today.”

James Rhodes devoted his life to classical music and tries to lure people – his audience, his followers on social media – into it, tries to get this music  down to earth, back to ordinary people who have no idea what “symphony” or “étude” mean. And who listen to it with the help of a streaming service and their ear buds in comfy clothes while knitting on their sofa or typing this blog. Maybe James Rhodes is successful on his mission because he is not an ordinary pianist (as I wrote a couple of times before) – and because he writes and tweets the same way  he addresses his audiences, telling them more about his favourite composers (and while chatting to people when signing books or CDs). In “Playlist” he offers a list of classical pieces assembled on Spotify and information about them and their composers including their personal life.

“I’m sorry. There are lot of capital letters in that paragraph. It’s just hard not to get overexcited when talking about Schubert.”

Because the book is a big  – the size of an LP actually – picture book with beautiful illustrations (by Martin O’Neill) and enthusiastically written chapters intended to be read while listening to the accompanying piece of music, it is the perfect book sitting on your living room table patiently waiting to be picked up again for a re read or just enjoying its beauty while flipping through it. So, if you are looking for a Christmas gift for a loved one, or for yourself or if you are just interested in James Rhodes and classical music, this is the perfect book to start.

James Rhodes: Playlist – The rebels and revolutionaries of sound, £ 17.

Tom Mole: The Secret Life of Books

As a passionate reader you can’t imagine a world without books or even longer periods without reading a book. Strangely enough I still remember the time when I wasn’t able to read but was fascinated by that black lines and dots in books my brother read – and wondered why none of those lines looked the same. Soon enough those signs became letters and words and I discovered new worlds and stories with every new book (more about this in that  blog entry  – in German).
So “The Secret Life of Books” begged for being bought and taken back home when I stumbled upon it at Waterstones Piccadilly (So much to the “Don’t judge books by their covers” thingy) claiming it to be a “treasure trove for book lovers”.

“Books are part of how we understand ourselves. They shape our identities, even before we can read them.”

Tom Mole explains why books have been with us for centuries, why we collect them (and spend a considerable amount of money on them if we can afford them), why we love them (and read them till they loose shape) and why they vanish while we reading them and  pop up again when we stop reading. Books are treated in different ways, they are flooding shelves, tables, attics or cellars and they are always telling something about their owners – even books which are not there.  Books are bringing people together when a group of readers meet to talk about a book they have read. Books are recommended by friends, papers or blogs (even a tiny little one like this), are lend, bought, sold and given away to make room for new ones. And even with new and different technical possibilities like tablets or e-readers, the printed book we can smell, touch, scribble notes in between lines, will still stay with us for quite a while.

“Books in the shelves are sandbags stacked against the floodwaters of forgetting.”

“The Secret Life of Books” is a thrilling story, brilliantly written and will still be fascinating on a second or third reading.

Tom Mole: The Secret Life of Books, Elliott & Thompson, £14.

Matt Haig: Notes on a nervous planet

People have literally everything at their fingertips: news, music, libraries, the internet, family and friends. But never before in human history are so many people stressed by how fast the world around themselves is spinning, afraid of how they can possibly face this stress. They are not only afraid but suffer from serious illnesses, including depression. Matt Haig knows what he is writing about in his latest book “Notes on a nervous planet”, having been through heavy depression himself.

“We need to build a kind of immune system of the mind.”

Without any self-pity Matt Haig offers his thoughts about the world and  what he finds helpful to stay sane on this nervous planet – what he finds helpful for himself; he is far from forcing his readers to follow his thoughts as gospel. But even if you are not stressed from constantly checking your Twitter or Instagram or scrolling through news, you will find that there is more than a little bit of truth in Matt Haig’s writing.  Unless you are the only person alive that has never enjoyed the sounds of a summer’s evening or watching the rain poring down or just sitting there with your own thoughts – or thinking nothing at all.

“Reading is love in action.”

Those moments are precious because we have to step back from all the fuss around us, we have to remind us that although  it is fascinating and a great achievement that we can chat to friends from all over the world any time, constantly. And even if we are so lucky to have met friends from Twitter in real life, we have to remind us that we don’t have to answer immediately, that it is totally okay to finish the chapter of our book or the whole book before picking up our phone again. But it’s not okay to try to be someone else, the model with that shiny hair, the actor with his huge range of knowledge, that colleague who runs a marathon. It’s totally fine to be ourself: “We are humans. Let’s not be ashamed to look like them.”

What makes Matt Haig’s writing and therefore this book – his books –  such a pleasant read is that it offers such a huge amount of knowledge, glimpses into different spaces, different opinions while being funny and relaxing and an eye opener at the same time. Some might say this isn’t what literature should be. Don’t mind them. Just read.

 

Matt Haig: Notes on a nervous planet, Canongate, round £11/ 12 Euro.

Ian Mc Ewan: The Daydreamer

Frequent visitors of my blog (hello again if you are one) or those you follow me on social media especially on Twitter (hiiii, nice to meet you over here) know that I have a soft spot for the British author Ian McEwan ever since I stumbled upon the film “Atonement” and decided to read the German translation of the book (for those of you moaning: I got my hands on the English one later as well). It not only offered the opportunity to dive into the novel the film is based upon (and of course a certain actor named Benedict Cumberbatch) but also introduced me to an author I’ve never heard of before (to my defence I’m not British, although this isn’t a good excuse given the fact that his works are available in wonderful German translations published by Diogenes.) Being late to the party isn’t that bad in this particular case because I don’t have to wait impatiently for the next book to be published (of course I do) but instead in every book shop I’m happily strolling to the shelves where Ian McEwan’s works are sitting and pick up the one that is lacking on my shelf.

“They thought he was difficult because he was so silent. That seemed to bother people. (…) He liked to be alone and think his own thoughts.”

My latest one therefore is “Daydreamer” which followed me from Waterstones Piccadilly (one of my beloved places in London) and which I finished only recently. Although it is a small one, the book is a collection of short stories that are  connected through the main figure Peter Fortune. The ten year old boy is the daydreamer, a silent boy that prefers to be on his own, reading and imagining the stories in the book. But Peter not only is imagining the stories, he always is part of them and tells them from his point of view. So when he dreams himself in being the  old cat William, he literally becomes the furry animal that has lived with Peter, his sister and his parents ever since William has been a young cat.

“It was the oddest thing, to climb out of your body, just to step out of it and leave it lying on the carpet like a shirt you had just taken off.”

Eventually Peter and William the cat will change bodies again in the end which is a sad one. But the story – and the six others – are so well written and intriguing that you sigh with delight and relief because even if there isn’t a happy end, there is too much joy in reading especially this story and the other. And the only sad thing about Ian McEwan’s short stories is – that they are too short.

Ian McEwan: Daydreamer, Vintage, 7,99 £

James Rhodes: Fire On All Sides

Honest and open. That were one of the first thoughts that came to my mind when I read the beginning of James Rhodes’ new book. Next it was astonishment. The astonishment that “Fire On All Sides” offers a much deeper look inside James’ mind than “Instrumental”, his first book, does. There’s no doubt that “Instrumental” is shockingly open when James, raped for years as a boy, describes how this disgusting and horrible abuse destroys the life of a young, sensible child that only seeks for love and support from his teacher who rewards trust with violence. James has no doubt that he is still alive because music saved him.

“Fire On All Sides” could be the evidence that dreams can indeed become reality. The James of today is a professional concert pianist, travelling various countries, playing concerts. He writes articles for newspapers, gives interviews, hosts radio shows. And yet there are those evil voices trying to convince James that he is not that good, that every single concert will be a disaster and that even an ordinary day offers problems and obstacles that are challenges.

The voice is so loud that I convince myself that I am perpetuating a fraud.”

Of course this is a book about music, about love and hatred and imperfection. But James wouldn’t be the author if he wasn’t to add “including the self-indulgent crap because it’s me and I’m a narcissistic asshole”. Even if we are lucky because we have not to fight depression or anxiety or a horrible illness on a daily basis, we all face the challenge to get up in the morning, go to work, get things done. And no one knows how difficult it is to smile and pretend everything is okay when it is not. Imagine you have voices in your head that are your constant companions that have nothing else to do than convince you, you are not enough. In James’s case: he’s not able to play the piano properly, no one will pop up to his concert venue, and the waiter in the café just round the corner always stares at you because you seem to be some sort of freak.

“Words are dangerous, music is salvation – the one thing I don’t need to be afraid of.”

But then there are these moments when James realises he can handle it. “It” meaning walking on stage after make sure for the hundredth time that every single note is saved in the memory (James always plays the piano on stage without scores), that of course there is indeed an audience that isn’t only excited to see what is waiting for them. They enjoy the evening and they want to get their books or CDs signed. And – surprise –  there is even a “bunch of really lovely German fans” waiting for him at the stage door in Munich’s Gasteig back in the autumn of 2016.

So after having survived a horrible childhood that still haunts him, James has finally reached a stage where he can even convince the evil voices in his head that he lives the life he always wanted, “a life surrounded by, engulfed by, music”. A life that is bearable because he is finally ready to see life as it is: Imperfect. And that there is no need to pretend that life and humans and especially James is perfect and furthermore its “fragility can unite us all in the most comforting way”.

Or as Sherlock would say: “We are all humans after all”.

James Rhodes: “Fire On All Sides: Insanity, insomnia and the incredible inconvenience of life”, Quercus, Ebook from 8,49£/9,49€.
The new album “Fire On All Sides” is available at the usual streaming service.

John Green: Turtles all the way down

Some books leave you in wonder, in despair, in tears or in joy. And some books leave you thinking about the story you just finished. John Greens “Turtles all the way down” is one of those. This is not only because of Aza, a teenage girl who struggles with her anxiety, endless thoughts and life itself because she wants to be a good daughter, a good friend and a good student. She and her best friend Daisy decide to investigate the case of billionaire Russell Picket.

“The world is billion of years old, and life is a product of nucleotide mutation and everything. But the world is also the stories we tell about it.”

Aza’s  story is the story of a teenager trying to understand and getting along with life. And even if we are lucky enough living without any panic attacks or are grown ups with a regular life, “Turtles” touches us because it doesn’t matter if you are a teenager like Aza or a famous actor, author or just an ordinary guy, living a decent but ordinary life. All that matters in the end are values like love and friendships that will stay with us – and authors like John Green telling stories that we will remember for a very long time.

Photo: Petra Breunig

Photo: Petra Breunig

John Green: Turtles all the way down, Penguin, 7£

Charlie Lovett: The Bookman’s Tale

Little is known about William Shakespeare, the playwright some consider the best ever, some think he has never lived.  What if a bookseller found a book that could prove that Shakespeare not only lived but has really written all the plays? But it’s not the famous writer that attracts Peter Byerly’s attention. When opening an 18th century study about Shakespeare forgeries, the bookman is struck by a painting of a woman who looks like his beloved wife Amanda. But why the resemblance? Peter who has lost every will to live after the sudden death of Amanda, finally discovers his passion for books again.

“Peter was in no hurry to open the door. It had been nine months since he had entered a bookshop; another few minutes wouldn’t make a difference.”

“The Bookman’s Tale” is one of those novels that lure the reader inside its story from the very first sentence and is unwilling to let him live his life until the book is finished. Charlie Lovett has mixed a love story of two people from very different backgrounds sharing the love for one another and the passion for books, literature and history. The story is set in London and the Welsh countryside round Hay-on-Wye and is alternating between the present, Peter’s and Amanda’s past and the 16th and 17th century. What could be confusing, keeps the reader hooked and eager to find out how the story and the fate of the characters unfolds. The novel is a lovely read for booklovers who should not be afraid to learn a little bit of William Shakespeare.

 

Photo: Petra Breunig

Charlie Lovett: The Bookman’s Tale – A Novel of Love and Obsession, Alma Books, £ 7.99

David Lagercrantz: Fall of Man in Wilmslow 

It is a novel. A fiction, not a documentary about the life of Alan Turing. This is important because people tend to take every word for granted, weighing it carefully, comparing it to proved facts about the man who helped to break Nazi Germany’s Enigma code.

David Lagercrantz takes those facts and some more (Alan’s homosexuality, his somehow awkward behaviour, his genius) and unfolds his story from the very last day of Alan’s life and the moment his corpse is discovered by a local policeman. This man, Detective Constable Leonard Corell, takes a very special interest in this case that seems to be nothing more than suicide. Step by step he dives deeper into the life and thinking of Alan Turing – a journey which doesn’t leave his own life untouched.

“(I)f indeed anyone was an unbreakable code then it was Alan himself.”

“The Fall of the Man in Wilmslow” is a thrilling story that hooks you from the very first page. If (and this is an if I only can claim for myself) you already know something about Alan Turing’s life and impact. Then you find hints you have read elsewhere, imagine pictures, films or documentaries you have seen or listen to and you will be able to find your pace between fact and fiction this novel is constantly mixing up. If you haven’t stumbled upon Alan Turing at all, you probably will be lost in between the complexity of the story that hops from the past to the present and back again, changes perspectives and comes  up with names and places you might find confusing because you have never heard of them. If you still want to find out more about Alan Turing, start with a biography (or click on the link given below).

FallOfMan

David Lagercrantz: Fall of the Man in Wilmslow. The death and life of Alan Turing. A Novel, MacLehose Press, about 9£.

You find more about Alan Turing here on my blog.

JG Ballard: High-Rise

It took me a while to figure out what other book JG Ballard’s “High-Rise” reminds me of. In my defence I have to write that it has been ages since I’ve read “Lord of the Flies” by  William Golding, another novel about how people react under special circumstances. Whereas Golding sets his figures on an uninhabited island, Ballard unfolds his story in a huge skyscraper, the High-Rise, a building that offers literally everything the inhabitants need from a supermarket and a school to restaurant and swimming-pools. No wonder the flat owners – as the story unfolds – are gradually losing interest in the surrounding world and stick inside the building.

“With its forty floors and thousand apartments, its supermarket and swimming-pools, bank and junior school (…) the high-rise offered more than enough opportunities for violence and confrontation.”

All the way back to the primitive ways of existence

Robert Laing, a doctor and medical school teacher who moved into his flat on the 25th floor after his divorce, soon finds himself too lazy to go to work and spends his nights protecting himself and some neighbours from other inhabitants. Gradually living in an exclusive flat means getting back to the most primitive ways of existence: staying alive, getting something to eat, having a safe place to sleep.

“The building was a monument to good taste.”

The intensity in JG Ballard’s “High-Rise” comes from a language that is almost neutral and a complete contrast to the story itself, that is told like a non-fictional topic with a storyteller who seems only to describe what he sees or what he has been told. That’s why this novel is so brilliant and thrilling at the same time.

 

JG Ballard: High-Rise, Fourth Estate, about 7 £

In the movie adaption of  “High-Rise” Tom Hiddleston takes the role of Robert Laing.

Photo: Petra Breunig

Photo: Petra Breunig

Ian McEwan: The Child in Time

Time. You will need time. Because when you start Ian McEwan’s “The Child in Time” it will hook you from the very beginning and will only release you to your real life after you have read the very last word.  At least that happened to me – and to be honest it always happens when I start a work of Ian McEwan I happily discover book by book both in English and in German (thanks to Diogenes who offers both brilliant translations and wonderful made copies).

In “The Child in Time” Ian McEwan tells the story of Stephen, author of children’s book,  member of a committee dealing with children’s education, happily married to Julie and father of three-year-old Kate. The perfect life is turned upside down when Kate vanishes in a supermarket literally in bright daylight and under the caring eyes of her father. Realising that the worst nightmare of parents has come true, Stephen’s existence is lost somewhere in between memories of his parents and childhood, his every day life duties and the desperate search for his daughter. It is only after a while and the separation from his wife, he learns that he has to struggle with time itself.

“It’s got something to do with time obviously, with seeing something out of time.”

Hopping between different plots and different  flashbacks could be confusing and boring for the reader who could be in danger to lose the plot if the author is unable to control all the lines. But it could be thrilling and exciting when it is done by a brilliant author that is Ian McEwan. He, being an amazing story teller, describes every single detail to create a world that seems both very familiar and very strange as things are unfolding for the thrilled and hooked reader. The only problem is that even brilliant books have an ending.

Photo: Petra Breunig

Photo: Petra Breunig

Ian McEwan: The Child in Time, Vintage Books, £8,99.

You can find my latest blog entry on IanMcEwan here.

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