Monday, April 09, 2007

Beasts and Bollocks

So what are you reading this week?

I didn't get a whole lot of reading during the litfest, with so many events to attend and people to talk to. And over the past week I've been a bit of a nibbler, dipping into several different books.

One book I did finish was Uzodinma Iweala's Beasts of no Nation. It was high on my must-read list anyway, especially as it is written by a Nigerian author (albeit one who is also an American author) and Nigeria's a part of the world I know and care about. And then Ms. D declared it her favourite book of last year, and I respect her opinion. And then it won the John Rhys Llewellyn Award.

I can't recommend this little book (142 pages) too highly. It's the story of a child swept up into the chaos of Nigeria's Civil War, abducted by a rag-tag group of rebels and forced to become a child soldier. Agu narrates his own story in broken English: the voice is very well done, capturing the essence of Nigerian pidgin without ever slowing the writing down.

The book addresses a very basic human question - how can an individual be drawn in to committing inhuman acts? Poignant flashbacks of family and school days show us Agu's life before the war. But his descent into hell is rapid and fueled by starvation, drugs and the sure knowledge that if he does not kill, he will himself be killed. Soon he is slaughtering innocent victims along with the rest, and even deriving pleasure from it. Despite the setting , the book could actually have been set anywhere in the world where children are recruited to fight.

I could write a whole lot more about the book but will save that for a review I'm writing for Off The Edge.

I must also add that I love this particular paperback edition from HarperPerennial for its handfeel, cover design, the flexibility of the spine, the weight of the pages, the size of print ... and all the add-ons at the end including an essay by the author talking about how the book came to be written. This is how I would like all paperbacks to be.

I've been dipping into a couple of books that I acquired at the last Big Bookshop warehouse sale, among them Bollocks to Alton Towers is a sort of alternative travel guide to places in UK. Most books of this sort direct you to the famous tourist spots (like the amusement park, Alton Towers, in the title), this quirky little book recommends day trips to all kinds of obscure places which also guarantee a dose of fun. Here's a pub built like a pack of cards in Devon, the David Beckham trail in North London, a village on Salisbury Plain abandoned during the war when the army wanted to test weapons, the Cumberland pencil museum ... and much much more. The pieces by Robin Halstead, Jason Hazely, Alex Morris and Joel Morris are amusing and informative and I'd love to follow up some of these unusual day-trips next time I go back to dear old Blighty. (I'm getting homesick!!)

Actually I've several more books I want to talk about but I'm afraid I'll be sucked into the black hole of this blog for the rest of the morning when my typing fingers are demanded for elsewhere things.

So I kick the ball to you, and promise to post about other reads later.

21 comments:

The Visitor said...

books are becoming like DVDs which have special features, director's commentary, making-of documentary.

bibliobibuli said...

and i must confess i like that!

Heartbreak Kid said...

Yes I agree whole-heartedly with you. It gives a certain extra 'oomph' to the book and the story. :)

rol said...

Frank McCourt's Teacher also have those extras (interviews, recommended films and books, etc.). I especially like anything from the author (production notes, sort of), helps bridge the readers with the person behind the work. Manga artists/writers do this sometimes, telling readers about how they got the ideas, who/what inspired the characters and, occasionally, rants about the editors.

Madcap Machinist said...

'Bollocks To Alton Towers' sounds interesting.

I never made it to Alton Towers despite two trips. Tge first time, we went for an hour in the wrong direction before I realized that my navigator couldn't read a map and afterwards my car's engine blew up spectacularly in the middle of Salford. It was Good Friday '00.

The second time, it was closed.

Been to the pencil museum though!

Last week I finished the Oulipo primer. Very heavy stuff! Found the Matthew's Algorithm technique & combinatory play very interesting. Now going through the Compendium.

bibliobibuli said...

machinist - probably the pencil museum was the bigger thrill

i've never been to alton towers, come to think of it ...

glad you're oulipoing with relish. when you're done with the book we must compare notes ...

so what IS everyone else reading? and machinist - what are you reading for FUN????

bex said...

Okay, I've been reading "Things Fall Apart" which has been, surprisingly a rather easy read for a book that is supposed to be a text for Literature. [Been reading it for fun though] I like the little 'folk tales' in the story.

I must confess that one of my worst habits when it comes to reading includes wikipedia-ing [I don't even think there is such a word] the author and the book while being in the middle of a book and sometimes even reading reviews on Amazon before I'm even halfway through the book! And for some strange reason, I would even read any random information on the author that I can find and somehow, I think it influences my opinion of the book!!

Oh and I just finished "I am Muslim" by Dina Zaman.

Amir said...

I am reading Flaubert's last, uncompleted novel "Bouvard And Pecuchet"

It is not available in Silverfish, Borders & Kino KL. (and therefore not in Malaysia?) I had to buy it in Kino Singapore. A 2003 translation.

It is quite different from his other novels, almost experimental in its stop-start structure. Obviously an inspiration for Calvino's 'If on a winter's night a traveller.'

He is one of my favourite novelists. But as I read him in translation it might be cheating.

Greenbottle said...

i don't read but for fun...i think tonight i'm gonna start the lovable sue townsend's adrian mole series again, this time "adrian mole and the weapon of mass destruction ".

here's the end of adrian mole's letter to tony blair on the first page... it made me chuckle...


PS: I wonder if you would ask your wife, Cherie, if she would agree to be the guest speaker at the Leicestshire and Rutland Creative Writing Group's Literary Dinner on December 23rd this year. Will Self has turned us down - rather curtly in fact.

bibliobibuli said...

bex - i love "things fall apart" - i had to teach it when i was in nigeria so much of it is imprinted on my mind. and it is certainly very readable.

the proverbs in it keep coming back to me my favourite "said the lizard jumping from the the high iroko tree, i must praise myself if no-one else praises me". use that one all the time.

i guess by mid-way through the book you've made up your mind about it, so it isn't cheating to then start comparing notes with other people ...

amir - that's a flaubert i haven't even heard of! if it was an inspiration for calvino's book must be very far ahead of its time ... interesting

greenbottle - that letter is so funny! now i want to read that too

Chet said...

I love the car on the book cover! My dad used to have one like it, and I'm old enough to remember riding in it.

As for what I'm reading, nothing at the moment. I've given up on Memory Keeper's Daughter, and looking at my TBR pile to decide what to read next.

bibliobibuli said...

it's a morris minor, chet. great photo, isn't it!

why did you kick out "the memory keeper's daughter"?

Madcap Machinist said...

but it is fun!

Okay, (are you sure you want to know? ...here we go) I recently finished 'Poetry 180', a collection compiled by Billy Collins and I think this is a must-have for any poetry reader.

Also, a notable read recently over breakfast--it's a thin volume, really--was 'Call of the Dragon', a history of Tioman Island which provided some good background on the maritime history of the region. Great stuff to think about on my next trip there.

While I am neglecting to finish Martin Amis' 'Dead Babies' (great, but exhausting) and Burgess' 'Malayan Trilogy' (it's just bloody thick)

I recently started Jack Kerouac's 'On The Road' (fun!)

DH Lawrence's 'Women in Love' (might dump this, since I'm reading it as a study and not as fun)

and just yesterday, a riveting collection of stories by Alexander Pushkin (as an intro to Russian lit).

On the desk (study): Jared Diamond's 'Rise of the Third Chimpanzee' (Chet Raymo put it this way in 'The Path': "We are not angels burdened with animal bodies; we are animals who aspire to be angelic.")

The bag book: John Ashberry's 'Three Poems' (loving it, I think you will too)

On the potty: Toilet read of the moment (and at the rate I'm going through the 1000+ pages, possibly the next 3 years) is Peter Watson's HUGE tome, 'Ideas: A History of Fire to Freud'. Each chapter is worth some hours of further reading after I get off the potty so this book is taking up a lot of my time these days. One for any respectable library.

Meanwhile, have added several other books to my growing growing TBR pile, from which I can't wait to start Ian Stewart's 'Flatterland', "like 'Flatland' only more so", it says here on the cover--in which case it's setting itself up to be a fine read. Bought some great reference books cheap cheap at a Big Bookshop sale in Singapore recently too: one on Eastern mythology and another is an atlas of historical maps. I wanted to get a book on knots too but was out of cash :-(

Well... you did see how my books are all over the place!

Madcap Machinist said...

edit: Peter Watson's book is actually 'Ideas: A History From Fire To Freud'.

The Visitor said...

funny how books now have someone's wife, husband or children in their titles.

The Memory Keeper's Daughter, The Time Traveller's Wife, etc.

i would love to read The Gay Janitor's Lesbian Wife.

animah said...

I've resumed reading Jonathan something something's (A bit bad with double barrelled names) Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. It's about a boy who's father died in the Twin Towers on 9-11. There are several POV but the strongest is the boy's grandfather who disappeared before the boy's father was born. Last night I was almost in tears over his recount of the Dresden bombing during WW2. As I said in an earlier comment, it's a very refreshing way of telling a story. A compelling read - definitely recommend it to anyone, but conventional readers might not like the book's departure from the traditional form.
In the meantime, I will do a "walkabout" of my house and car to assess whether I am reading more books at one time than Madcap Machinist. Actually MM, I'm quite interest in this algorithm play you are reading.

bibliobibuli said...

wow machinist - actually i'm glad i poked you, that's quite a list

was curious about the "poery 180" and apparently it is 180 poems - one for each day of the american school year. i found all the poems here.
what a treat!

interested that you are finding amis exhausting. i've put "money" on one side yet again, i love it but the dense style means i creep through the pages

i want to read "one the road". a good book to follow it with is toby litt's "beatniks"

"women in love" i loved when i was 17 but haven't gone back to. i prefer "the rainbow"

john ashberry ... okay, noted

don't spend too long reading in the loo 'cos the visitor reckons it gives you piles

visitor - yes i had noticed the somebody's wife or daughter phonomena

i hope YOU write "The Gay Janitor's Lesbian Wife".

animah - safran foer, dear. both books are waiting on my bookshelves.

gRaCe said...

Chet, why give up on Memory Keeper's Daughter? boring, dull?i'm just starting on it..

Chet said...

I lost interest. Not the book's fault.

gRaCe said...

ohh...alright. i'll see if the same happens to me. heheh..;o)

Lotus Reads said...

I have this (Beasts of No Nation) on my shelf (been sitting here for ages). Well, to be fair to me, I did take it down one time and tried to read it, but I couldn't get past the pidgin English...I know, I know, my loss, I'm just going to have to try again. I'm glad you recommend it so highly Sharon, I really am going to have to give it another try.