Tag Archives: books

DON’T Curb Your Enthusiasm

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There are occasions in life when everyone asks themselves “Is it me? Am I abnormal or what?” I have asked myself this question lots of times over the years and have come to the conclusion that I am most definitely NOT “normal” (in the sense of “similar to most people I know”) with regard to…well quite a lot of things actually. I will give you a few simple examples and then explain further.

  1. I like classical literature. I also like detective stories, fantasy and sci-fi, light comedies, young adult fiction, biographies, mysteries, ghost stories, holiday trash and general modern literature. In fact I’ll read the back of a cornflake box given half a chance.
  2. I listen to an eclectic range of music. Nirvana, Ella Fitzgerald, Justin Timberlake, Stravinsky, Wham, Pink Floyd, Bob Marley, Adele and Youssou N’Dour. There is something listed in every single genre on my iPod.
  3. I enjoy world cinema. And big blockbuster events, rom-coms, zom-rom-coms, period dramas, action, sci-fi, small indie films and old black and white weepies.
  4. I like food. Period. There is not a single cuisine that I will not eat with relish. Indian, Chinese, Mexican, English, Spanish, Italian, French, Greek, Middle-Eastern, Japanese, Thai, Turkish etc., etc. Sweet, savoury, sour, salty, bitter. Fishy, meaty, veggie, spicy, crunchy,  smooth and creamy. Love it all. Except beetroot of course. Food of the devil.
  5. I am interested in history. And art. And the history of art. And cosmology, botany, geology, social sciences, dance and drama, astronomy, natural history, psychology, physiology, language, etc., etc. Basically I fascinated by the whole world and all of the wonders of life.

Well,  what am I getting at?  The fact that I am constantly surprised, and often disappointed and a little saddened by other people’s rather limited and restricted interests and enthusiasms. I struggle to understand how some folk can be so narrow in their likes and how wide their dislikes spread.  I get that everyone has personal preferences and tastes and I am not so un-discerning that I don’t have personal favourites, of course I do.  But (cliché alert #1) variety is the spice of life and if you have only a few “likes” then life must be pretty dull and uninspiring.

I have friends, dear, intelligent, thoughtful people, who refuse to read anything written more than 50 years old or to watch black and white films. Others that only read (or watch) non-fiction, or a single genre of fiction/film.  I know fussy, faddy eaters who won’t try anything with a hint of spice or herbs, or sniff at one pot dishes where the ingredients are “mixed up”. Lovely, funny, kind people who disdain ALL sciences. Or arts. My own beloved brother shocked me last week by admitting that he had no interest whatsoever in natural history. I could write a whole separate blog entry about why I think that is weird but getting back to my original point…personally there are not many topics that I am not interested in, not many genres of books I would refuse to read, films I’d refuse to see, music I wouldn’t listen to at least once and few foods I’d refuse to eat. Except beetroot  – it really is deeply unpleasant.

Why am I so enthusiastic for so many different things? Well I have a natural curiosity, a greed for sensory pleasure, and a fear of missing out on anything. I also suspect that there is a deep,  sub-conscious reason…I want to avoid being pigeon-holed or becoming a stereotype. You know the sort of thing I mean; I am a middle-aged, middle class, white woman in suburban Cheshire and therefore I must prefer to read “chick lit” and “aga sagas”, watch rom-com films, listen to Michael Buble, and to drink only white wine and eat grilled chicken with a light salad. Bollocks. It’s not that I don’t like doing those things (I am quite partial to all of them) but I don’t want them to typify me. So, I enjoy  the odd pint of Guinness as well as a glass of sauvignon blanc, I read “A Game of Thrones” as well as Jane Austen, watch “Boardwalk Empire” as well as “The Great British Bake-Off”, and listen to Linkin Park as well as Take That. I am not contrary or rebellious by nature but I hate being pre-judged…

The diversity of my enthusiasms is genuine and I honestly do have way more likes than dislikes in life. Anyone who is a personal friend and linked to me on Facebook will testify that I click “like” an awful lot more than I moan and groan. The odd rant slips in but I like to be a “radiator” not a “drain”.  My favourite people are the ones who are happy and enthusiastic about life – their energy and warmth is contagious. I tend to hide from the energy sapping “I don’t like THIS, THAT is boring and the OTHER is not my cup of tea” brigade. My philosophy in life is that you’re a long time dead and that you should make the most of every opportunity.  There is so much to enjoy and enthuse about so (cliché alert #2) open your mind, broaden your horizons and don’t be dismissive of new experiences … yaddah, yaddah, yaddah. Sorry – I know that you’ve heard it all before but in short,  as my old Dad is fond of saying, “don’t knock it till you’ve tried it”. You never know, you might LIKE it. Unless it’s beetroot – yuk.

Evil foodstuff...

Evil foodstuff…

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The Top 10 Children’s Christmas Books

Just to add my own two-pennorth to this list (which is pretty good). Here are a couple of extras which my son and I enjoyed each Christmas when he was small:

  1. Jesus’ Christmas Party by Nicholas Allen – a lovely, very funny take on the nativity from the point of view of the inn-keeper
  2. Mog’s Christmas by Judith Kerr. All Mog books are lovely and this is no exception.
  3. Jingle Bells by Nick Butterworth. Lovely illustrations and our copy has a real sleigh bell to tinkle on the cover.

Enjoy!

Michael J Holley - Writer

If you have children, or indeed if you have Christmas, then you need to read these books. This Top 10 is not my own, The Huffington Post posted it a year ago, and some of them I haven’t read yet but with Christmas coming up, and children seeming to always be in my house, what a perfect opportunity.

I’m going to start writing some Christmas stories this week for an Anthology that I hope to get out before the big day. These books will get me in the groove. Also, I’ve stated before that one of my favourite books of all time is a Christmas book (A Christmas Carol) and the season of goodwill doesn’t start for me until I’ve read it. Here’s the chart…

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My Personal Booker Awards

This award is passed around from author to author/other bloggers so that they too, can share their top five books. The idea is the old desert island thing; which five books would you take with you (assuming they’re in a water tight box).

Having been set this challenge by my friend, the lovely Mr Mike Holley (check him out http://michaeljholley.com/about/ ) I have been in a terrible quandary all week. Five. I ask you – how on earth do I narrow down my long list of favourites to FIVE? Whatever I leave off will feel like a betrayal. It feels utterly wrong to NOT include something by Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens,  the Brontës, John Irving, Ian Banks, Stuart Maconie, Bill Bryson, Margaret Atwood, Kate Atkinson, Rose Tremain, John Steinbeck, Lynley Dodd or Janet and Allan Ahlberg. Ok so Lynley Dodd and the Ahlbergs may not have written “novels” but they’ve produced some of my all-time favourite books OF ALL TIME. And probably the ones that I’ve read and re-read more than any others. If you have children you will understand. If you don’t, I urge you in all earnestness to read the entire “Hairy McClary from Donaldson’s Dairy” back catalogue and anything, no, make that EVERYTHING by the Ahlbergs.

Anyway, I can only apologise to all of my literary heroes who didn’t make the cut today and will excuse myself by saying that it was too difficult to choose a particular favourite novel from their portfolio of masterpieces. I’m also assuming that I will be given the “Complete Works of William Shakespeare” as a “free pass”. I know they are plays and poems rather than “books” but I would throw my dummy out of the pram and not play at all if I couldn’t  take that. And just like my nominator, if I were to think about this on another day I would almost certainly come up with a different list. But here goes … for the moment at least.

To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee

“How predictable” I hear you yawn. The reason this heads my list and no doubt that of a very large percentage of the reading world is because the characters are beautifully, effortlessly realised and the story told simply and without artifice. Scout’s innocence and naivety perfectly counter the ignorance and prejudice. Poetic, amusing, even scary at times, it is ultimately deeply moving. Atticus Finch is a contender for my favourite ever fictional hero, for his nobility, integrity and strength of character. What a role model. And in my opinion, Gregory Peck was perfectly cast in the marvellous film adaptation. If ever a book deserved the title “classic” this is it. I love it dearly.

The Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger

I was profoundly affected by this book when I first read it at the age of 17. I know it tends to divide people. There are many who dislike it because the main theme is depression and because nothing much happens.  But I am deeply fond of this book because of the emotional punch it packs and the empathy I felt for troubled teenager Holden Caulfield when I was a similar age. He’s fucked up but I understood him and knew that I would be too if I had to go through the same things that he did. I think that Salinger does a brilliant job of getting inside the head of a sad and lonely young man.

The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy

This actual Booker Prize winner is another that leaves me utterly stunned, with the lyrical beauty of the prose and the heartbreaking tragedy of the story. I love the sing-song language and the wonderful evocative descriptions of India in 1969. There are sections that are more like poetry than prose and I want to read them aloud to better appreciate the words. One of those novels that makes you despair of writing even a single sentence as beautiful. Read it and weep.

Skellig – David Almond

I bought this book, without knowing anything about it, from Waterstones, in a temporary promotional section called “Life-changing Books”. I can’t say that it actually did change my life but it definitely stayed with me for a very long time after reading it (and much, much more that the two others I bought at the same time). A more contemporary setting than my other choices but with a brilliant, magical twist. I was riveted and devoured it in a single sitting. I was convinced that it was all going to end in tears and it did – but with less of the sad kind this time. Bloody brilliant.

His Dark Materials Trilogy – Philip Pullman

Ok so I’m cheating a teeny-weeny bit here but you do need to read all three books to appreciate the full splendour of the story.  This was recommended to me by the young daughter of some friends of ours and I will be eternally grateful to her (thanks Ashleigh!). It may be aimed at children / young adults but the subject matter is anything but childish. Thrilling, philosophical, magical and emotionally strong stuff. I cried at numerous points, (have you noticed a pattern here?) even on a second reading a few years later. Whatever you do, do not be tempted by the film version (“The Golden Compass”) of the first book (“Northern Lights”). It looks beautiful but has little of the heart and (ironically given one of the main themes) none of the soul of the book.

So that’s my list, this week at least. In reading back through my choices just now I have spotted another (genuinely unintended) recurring theme. Aside from the fact that every single one made me cry, each describes the world from childhood memories or actual point of view of a young adult or child. Well that’s given me something to ponder…

Apparently I’m now supposed to nominate 5 fellow authors/bloggers but I’m fairly new to this and still making writing friends (!) but these guys might like to be nominated:

Rick Mallery – http://rickmallery.wordpress.com/

Dennis McHale – http://insightsandobservations.wordpress.com/about/

Roger Kirkham – http://rogers-rants.blogspot.co.uk/

Looking forward to your desert island books guys…