“Wild Mary” by Patrick Marnham

Wild Mary by Patrick Marnham is the biography of Mary Wesley, whose career as an author took off after she’d passed her 70th birthday. In a remarkably productive fourteen years, she published ten novels, most of which focused on the time of her youth during World War 2, often with scandalous, strong willed female heroines, sexual affairs, dysfunctional families and a fight for independence for women, all done with a wicked sense of humour but frank and honest. This authorised biography of Mary, looks back at her life before her fame, and shows how her experiences influenced her work.

I adored Mary Wesley’s books Continue reading

“The Hare With The Amber Eyes” by Edmund De Waal

The Hare With The Amber Eyes by Edmund De Waal is the story of how an inherited collection of netsuke (small ornamental carved pieces traditionally used to attached an object such as a purse to the belt of a kimono) originally came into the ownership of his family, but gradually becomes the history of his family from the last 19th century to date.

I received this as a Christmas present from Continue reading

“Letters To Alice” by Fay Weldon

Date finished: 29th May 2012

I wanted to read another of my Jane Austen inspired books, and decided to try Letters To Alice by Fay Weldon. Her niece Alice, the daughter of her estranged sister, is studying English at University and is struggling to enjoy the assigned Jane Austen works. Fay writes these letters to her, and by explaining the life that Jane would have lived, the role of women in society, the class system of the time and the expectations of females with regards to marriage, she gives her niece, and the reader, another dimension to Austen’s writing and shows how important a view of that period her novels are.

This was a totally absorbing read, and has genuinely given me more food for thought for when I’m re-reading the novels in my challenge, and has made me rethink the books I’ve already read. For anyone who loves Jane Austen’s work, I would recommend this book as a thought provoking work to read alongside them to give an additional insight into their genesis and genius.

“The Opposite of Fate” by Amy Tan

Date finished: 9th June 2012

The Opposite of Fate is a collection of essays and writing from novelist Amy Tan, author of, amongst others, The Joy Luck Club. The pieces vary in length, and cover topics such as growing up as a first generation American to Chinese parents, being required reading in educational institutions and the papers written about her work, moving to New York when her friend was diagnosed with a terminal illness and even a letter of apology for having to decline an invitation to join a panel at a literary event.

I received this as a present and I thought it was a novel, so when I actually looked at the notes on the back and realised it was non-fiction, I was a bit put off. Why would I want to read a memoir of an author I’d never read any of their novels? Actually, it’s turned out to be such a joy to read. I loved the variety of the pieces, from what the biographical remembrances to the reasons why she started to write, to what she loves to read.

My favourite piece of all is entitled Required reading and other dangerous subjects. Since her book The Joy Luck Club has been added to the educational curriculum under the heading of Required Reading or Multicultural Literature, she often encounters students who are/have written essays, papers or their thesis on her and her books. She talks about the variety of inferences and suppositions people have made about her work, and the analysis performed where the writer has found a particular symbolism or association with, for example, the number four. This is something I’ve always struggled with as a reader as opposed to a literary academic. I’ve often heard people talking about themes and symbols within text, which I’ve never noticed. I’m a reader who loves the story and the characters and wants to be entertained, so in depth analysis of books has always eluded me. That might sound odd as a book blogger, but I think all I do is put down my thoughts on a book and what I enjoyed about it (or not) and I don’t think I ever analyse, just commentate. So, it was wonderful to read the writers perspective on reading what other people have thought about her novel, and it made me feel less unworthy as a reader not to have noticed themes and symbols in books before.

In fact, this lack of pretension and her honesty about what and how she has written and lived is one of the joys of reading this book. Throughout the essays, Tan describes coincidences and experiences that she has had which can be interpreted in a variety of ways depending on your views and beliefs, so you might consider some of them being blessed by a higher deity, or for another incident, it could be you believe in ghosts, or you could just be a proponent of coincidence. Never once does Tan make a judgement or a conclusion on who is “right” about what has occurred, she simply explains what has happened and lets the reader make up their own mind about what they believe in themselves. It makes for a very inclusive experience as the reader never feels isolated from the Tan and her beliefs.

Her style of writing is very comfortable to read, and I loved dipping in and out of this book over the last week. I’m also now very much intrigued to read her novels, particularly The Joy Luck Club, and have added them to my wishlist for future consideration. Very enjoyable.

“Running With Scissors” by Augusten Burroughs

Date finished: 12th May 2012

This journey in to my TBR is throwing up some real gems at times, and the latest one was Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs. A memoir of his teenage years, which were unconventional to say the least! When his parents split up, his mother leaves him in the care of her psychiatrist, who eventually becomes his legal guardian, while she moves into an apartment and continues her treatment. The psychiatrist, Dr Finch, and his highly unusual family provide enough fodder for the most bizarre experiences which tells his story with painful honesty but also and humour.

The style of Burroughs writing is very informal and easy to read, and I thought that Running With Scissors read more like a novel than a memoir. You find it hard to believe how young he was going through some of these experiences, and how far removed his life was from what we would think of as a normal childhood, yet he recounts these episodes with candid realism and there is always a darkly comic side to his story. From how he is excused from school, to his first (and graphically told) sexual experiences, to his final realisation of where and what he wants in life, this book endears you to him, and I found it utterly compelling to read, and hard to put down until I’d finished it all.