April Summary and Plans for May

Book of the Month

Mountain People

Books Reviewed in April

The Mountain People – Colin Turnbull 

The Nobodies Album – Carolyn Parkhurst 

The Story of Forgetting – Stefan Merrill Block 

How I Became A Famous Novelist – Steve Hely 

Serious Men – Manu Joseph 

Mr Chartwell – Rebecca Hunt 

The Final Testament of the Holy Bible – James Frey 

Lyrics Alley by Leila Aboulela

Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch

The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer DNF

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell DNF

The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna DNF

The Child Garden by Geoff Ryman DNF

The Diary of a Nobody by George Grossmith DNF

Salvage by Robert Edric DNF

Plans for May

The World According To Garp (Black Swan)

For the first time I have been persuaded to finish a book featured in one of my Read or Reject posts. I will be finishing The World According to Garp, if only so I can spot the way it has influenced other modern fiction. I’ve got my fingers crossed that it will at least have a few more great scenes.

I also plan to read some of these books:

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

The Collaborator by Mirza Waheed

Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman.

Piercing by Ryu Murakami

Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck

Empire Of The Sun by JG Ballard

The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld

The Illumination by Kevin Brockmeier

2010 2011 Books in Translation Non Fiction

Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother – Xinran

  Translated from Chinese by Nicky Harman

A million female foetuses are aborted and tens of thousands of baby girls are abandoned every year in China. The desire for a male heir has clashed with the Chinese one-child policy to form a society where the birth of a girl is seen as a disappointment. This book gives the painful story of the mothers who abandoned or murdered their babies.

The book consists of ten short stories, each explaining the circumstances of a different mother. I found the introduction detailing the statistics and background of the Chinese traditions very interesting, but the short stories were a disappointment. The writing contained some scenes that should have been very distressing, but the emotional connection wasn’t there and each story was too short for me to fully understand the implications of keeping the baby girl.

‘What? Isn’t that killing her?’
‘Well, I can’t help it if you must use city folk’s language so, yes, that’s what it was.’
‘And what kinds of methods did you use?’
‘Oh, all sorts! Twisting the umbilical cord round the neck, then as soon as the head came out you could strangle it. If it came out head upwards, you could make it choke on the amniotic fluid, and then the baby couldn’t even take one breath. Or you could put the baby in a basin, hold wet “horse-dung” paper over its face and in a few seconds its legs would stop kicking. And for women who’d never had a baby boy, just girl after girl after girl until the family were fed up with it, it was simple enough to chuck it in the slops pail…

It seemed as though the book was packed with one abandonment/murder after another and the repetitiveness reduced the impact of the message.

It is clearly a difficult and emotive subject, but I think this BBC news report does a better job of getting the seriousness of the situation across. Perhaps my problems with short stories are the main cause of my disappointment with this book? I would have preferred it to focus on one story and to have seen the problems faced by a family that decided to keep their a girl.


This is the first book by Xinran that I’ve read. Do you think I’d enjoy any of her earlier books?


Autism Awareness Month

April is autism awareness month and so I thought I’d take this opportunity to highlight the condition.

You probably know someone with undiagnosed autism.

It is estimated that one in every hundred people have autism, but a diagnosis is often only obtained for those at the more severe end of the spectrum.  

Does this sound like someone you know?

  • Rigidly follows rules
  •  Talks endlessly about a single subject
  • Unable to understand facial expressions
  • Incapable of lying
  • Has inflexible routines
  • Thinks literally
  • Has difficulty understanding sarcasm

My eldest son has Asperger’s syndrome – a type of high-functioning autism. He is a wonderful little boy and he leads a very happy life at home. The problems occur when he has to go outside and meet other people. He gets upset when people lie, cheat, and tell him confusing, scary stories. He doesn’t understand our complex interactions and gets frustrated when plans change. 

People with autism don’t understand why others behave in such a strange way and feel like aliens on their own planet. They can’t cope with the number of unwritten social rules that we live with and often become isolated and depressed.

Autism is a spectrum condition, meaning that it affects people to varying degrees. When you say autism most people think of the film Rainman, but the character played by Dustin Hoffman was an autistic savant – a condition which is very rare. To see what life is like for someone with a more common form of autism I highly recommend the film Adam.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time did a lot to bring the condition to the attention of the world, but I also recommend Born on a Blue Day and Marcelo in the Real World to anyone interested in finding out more.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-timeAdam [DVD]Born on a Blue DayMarcelo in the Real World

Which books/films do you recommend?


The Story of Forgetting – Stefan Merrill Block

The Story of Forgetting

Five words from the blurb: Alzheimer’s, truth, forgetting, family, history

The Story of Forgetting is a novel about a rare form of Alzheimer’s that affects sufferers at a devastatingly young age. Seth is just fifteen-years-old when his mother is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. He realises that he knows very little about her past and so decides to investigate, discovering some surprising secrets about her childhood.

An intertwining narrative describes the life of twins, one of whom has the condition and one who doesn’t. The use of twins to show the decline in ability was extremely effective and led to some of the most touching scenes in the novel.

The book was inspired by real events in the author’s family history and combines detailed scientific information on the condition with a gripping narrative. The book shows the difficulties faced by the families of those affected, explains the history of the disease, and goes some way towards explaining how the brain is affected. This means that it is more than just a story and could also be used as a piece of reference material for those interested in learning about early-onset Alzheimer’s.

The human mind knows itself the least. The human mind may be able to trace the origin of life through billions of years to hydrothermal vents in the ocean’s floor, it may be able to comprehend and replicate the means by which the sun produces energy, it may even be able to describe events that took place at the beginning of the universe, 13.7 billion years ago, but when it comes to exactly how we have made these discoveries, exactly how our thoughts are thought, we know a minuscule amount. And much of what little we do know we’ve learned indirectly and for the saddest reasons, by the ways the mind malfunctions.

The large amount of science meant that it didn’t have the emotional impact of other books on the subject, but I think this could be seen as a good thing. There were some sad scenes, but overall I found this book to be more informative than emotional. Some people will probably find the science too detailed, but I appreciated the way in which the studies weren’t dumbed down for a mainstream audience.

The plot was clever and although I found much of it predicable there were still a few surprises sprinkled through the text.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in Alzheimer’s and the quality of the writing means that I am keen to try Stefan Merrill Block’s new novel, The Storm at the Door, when it is released later this year.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

This novel touched my heart with its sensitive portrayal of the human suffering associated with Alzheimer’s Disease.  Caribousmom

….some of the passages about the origin of life and memory and human evolution were just gorgeous.  Fyrefly’s Book Blog

……it’s a book to read slowly, and savor. Boston Bibliophile

2011 Recommended books

How I Became A Famous Novelist – Steve Hely

Five words from the blurb: write, bestseller, succeeds, fame, gleeful

How I Became A Famous Novelist is a satire of the publishing industry. The central character, Pete Tarslaw, decides to become an author in order to impress his ex-girlfriend. He doesn’t have any idea what to write about and so researches the bestseller lists with the aim of creating a book that will appeal to as many people as possible. He comes up with a series of rules for his book and shapes the plot around them – leading to a novel that contains a ridiculous number of themes and plot threads.

Rule 4: Must include a murder
Sixty percent of that week’s bestselling novels involved killings. Glancing around the bookstore, I estimated that fifty thousand fictional characters are murdered each year. Not including a murder in your book is like insisting on playing tennis with a wooden racket. Noble perhaps in some stubborn way, but why handicap yourself?

I normally struggle with satirical novels, but this book had me laughing out loud on several occasions. It is an insightful parody of the current publishing industry and no-one is safe from mockery – I particularly enjoyed reading the sections about bloggers.

The only downside to this book is that everything he writes is true – the title could easily be changed to How to Become a Famous Novelist, and the text taken literally by an aspiring author to create a publishable book.

I flew through this entertaining story, finding several sections so amusing that I made my friends and family read them too.

Writing a novel – actually picking the words and filling in paragraphs – is a tremendous pain in the ass. Now that TV’s so good and the Internet is an endless forest of distraction, it’s damn near impossible. That should be taken into account when ranking the all-time greats. Somebody like Charles Dickens, for example, who had nothing better to do except eat mutton and attend public hangings, should get very little credit.

I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the publishing industry.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

I can’t see why anyone who likes to read wouldn’t want to check out this hilariously funny, spot-on satire of popular fiction. Life With Books

However, it can feel a bit light and fluffy due to its readability and how neatly everything is squared away at the end. The Literary Omnivore

Part of the fun in reading this story is seeing if you can guess who the real life models might be for those authors that he critiques. At Home With Books


Read or Reject #4

My New Year’s Resolution is to give up on books that aren’t outstanding. I don’t want to miss out on a gem that happens to have a poor beginning, so I hope that you can help me sort the wheat from the chaff.

Should I continue reading any of these books?

The World According to Garp by John Irving

This is a modern day classic and so I had high hopes for it. I loved the first few chapters describing Garp’s birth and childhood, but as he aged his life became less interesting. I didn’t enjoy the stories-within-the-story and the plot began to drag. I gave up after 245 pages (out of 570) but keep wondering if something exciting happens in the final section. Do you think it is worth persevering with this book? Does it return to the greatness of the opening chapters?


The Child Garden by Geoff Ryman

This book won the Arthur C Clarke Award in 1990. It is set in London in the near future and has a fascinating beginning. I loved the inventive predictions for the future, especially the way in which people are educated and controlled via viruses. Unfortunately the plot quickly became too complicated for me and I had no idea what was happening. The central character performs an opera based on Dante’s Divine Comedy, but I’m afraid the symbolism was lost on me. After reading 50 pages in a row in which I understood hardly anything I gave up. I’m passing this one on to my husband and hope he might be able to explain it to me. Does this book suddenly make sense after a certain number of pages?

The Diary of a Nobody by George Grossmith

I hadn’t heard heard of this book before watching Faulks on Fiction, but it was mentioned several times during the series and so I was intrigued enough to give it a try. Unfortunately I found it a tedious read. He lives a very dull life and I didn’t see the funny side of reading the diary of someone who does nothing noteworthy. I gave up after 70 pages. I assume that the rest of the book continues in the same vein?

Salvage by Robert Edric

I normally love predictions of what life will be like in the future, but although Salvage had a promising opening I quickly realised that this book provides a vision of what government bureaucracy might be like in 50 years time. Bureaucracy annoys me at the best of times and so it isn’t something I enjoy reading about. Does this book move away from the red tape?

Was I wrong to give up on any of these books?

Is there magic lurking in the final pages?