Sunday Salon – On Being Read To

70757~Cafe-Mocha-PostersIt might surprise you to hear this, but I was a very late reader.  I must have been seven, rising eight, before I started to read independently.  This puzzled my teachers, because it was clear that I had a certain modicum of intelligence and they couldn’t for the life of them see why it was that I was having so much difficulty.  All was made clear one Parents Evening, when my mother, asked if she knew of any reason why I might be so reluctant to read on my own, said that she couldn’t possibly imagine what the problem was especially as  I loved books and we both got great pleasure from the long sessions we had every night when she read to me before bedtime.  Crafty little beggar, wasn’t I?  I wasn’t going to show that I could read for myself if that meant losing out on those times when I got my mother’s undivided attention every evening.  Looking back, I think those teachers probably underestimated just how intelligent I was.  But, my mother took their words to heart and decided that both she and I would have to fore-go those cosy reading aloud hours and somehow I’ve never really rediscovered just what a joy it can be to have someone read to you, even though as a teacher I recognized its importance and read to my pupils every day of my working career.

And then something happened that changed all that in a single stroke.  Swine Flu arrived.

No, you didn’t mis-read that.  Swine Flu arrived.  We have had a very serious outbreak here in the West Midlands and one friend of mine was struck down so badly that she was hallucinating for twenty-four hours and in bed for five days.  Well, you can imagine the panic here, can’t you?

“What,” said The Bears, “are we going to do with you if you are in bed for five days and not feeling well enough to read?  You will be unlivable with!”  (Nice to think they’re so concerned!)

“Well,” I said, “there are always the Lord of the Rings CDs.” (We have the BBC Radio dramatization.) “You could play me those.”

“Pffhhhh!” said The Bears.  “They only last thirteen hours, no use at all.  Now, if we were to buy a copy of the Harry Potter CDs with that nice man Stephen Fry reading them, then that would keep you busy for at least five days.”

You may feel you sense a certain amount of self-interest entering into the conversation at this point.  How well you know these Bears!  But, I could see their point.  If I do go down with something that keeps me at home for any length of time, I will, once I’m slightly on the mend, go stir crazy without something relatively undemanding to keep me occupied.  And as, if you browse round the net, you can actually pick up copies of the Harry Potter recordings for much less than they were originally being offered for, I took their advice.

Well, you know what the next part of the story is, don’t you?  Certain Bears decided that it would be a shame to have to wait until I was ill to hear these wonderful readings.  After all, I might never get the wretched flu and then they would be sitting there still in their wrappings and no one (for no ‘one’ read no ‘Bear”) would ever get the benefit of our having bought them.  Currently we are in the middle of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, loving every minute of it and I have rediscovered the joy of having someone else read to me.  Audio books are never going to replace ‘the real thing’ in my reading life, but as an occasional substitute at the end of a long day, or when my eyes are tired from other reading, they are definitely the way to go.

However, two things bothers me. The first is how difficult it is to find audio books that are not abridgements of the original.  If I’m going to hear a book read then I want to hear the whole thing as the author wrote it, not a hacked about version that someone else thought was an adequate representation.  Finding recordings like this is proving very difficult and any recommendations that other Salonista have would be gratefully received.  I’m not looking for downloads, but actual CDs that I can listen to from my Hi-Fi system.

The second issue is to do with the readers.  Fry is brilliant.  Whoever chose him to do the Potter readings was inspired.  But, this isn’t always the case.  Apparently, Fry himself has become addicted to this form of story-telling and I caught him on the radio the other day making this very point.  He happened to mention that he’d come across some very good complete recordings of Dickens with an American actor reading who he thought was superb but what he didn’t say was who that actor was.  I would love some unabridged versions of Dickens.  Imagine long cosy winter evenings in front of the fire with someone reading Our Mutual Friend or Little Dorrit to you.  Bliss!  So, I wondered if any of the American Salonista had any idea who this actor might be.  If I can track some of these down then I might even be generous and buy a couple for The Bears for Christmas, just in case they go down with Swine Flu and need something to keep them amused, you understand.

P.S. The Bears are building their own ‘About’ page.  I apologise in advance for any offense given.

Published in: on August 9, 2009 at 9:46 am  Comments (27)  

Sunday Salon – The Alternative Booker.

70757~Cafe-Mocha-Posters If you’ve seen my post from earlier in the week, then you will know that for once I’m actually not up in arms about the choices made for the Booker long-list this year.  Three of the four books that I felt very strongly ought to be there if we were going to talk about the best books of the year have made it and while I’m disappointed about the fourth, I can see why it might have raised problems with some readers.  However, I did notice that one of the UK papers had started a list for books that readers felt ought to have been there but which hadn’t made it and that set me wondering what fellow Salonists would have liked to have seen included.  If there is one sure way of making that TBR pile even bigger than it already is then it has to be by asking for recommendations from the most erudite bunch of readers going.

So, roughly the same rules as the Booker:

any full length novel written by a citizen of the Commonwealth, the Republic of Ireland or Zimbabwe;

no translations

no self published books

the books have to be published between 1 October 2008 and 30 September 2009.

Just one suggestion each, please and if there is enough interest then next week I’ll put the list together and share it around the Salon.  I’ll start the ball rolling with my missing favourite

Anne Michaels’ The Winter Vault.

DSCF0058 If you read yesterday’s post then it might relieve you to know that this morning the sun is shining and it looks as though I can leave my Blackwell’s umbrella at home when I go out for a walk.  For this relief, much thanks.  Twice in the past few days I’ve come in and had to change every stitch of clothing I had on.  No, I agree, not a pretty thought.  On Wednesday I even had to cancel an outing.  I wasn’t flooded because I live at the top of a hill, but all the land round me was and the only way to go visiting was to swim.  It reminded me of Penelope Lively’s book for children, Voyage of the QV66, which supposes a flood of biblical proportions in which all human life has been destroyed and only the QV66’s motley crew of animals is left to rediscover the wonders of the arts, science and technology – the wonders and also the temptations.  I don’t know if it’s still in print, but if you can get hold of a copy I heartily recommend it, whatever your age.  It has some very salutary points to make about the way in which we use those creations, inventions and discoveries that should make life better for all of us.  It’s also very funny and when you’ve had the sort of weather we’ve had for the past few weeks anything that can give you a laugh has to be seen as a good thing.

Published in: on August 2, 2009 at 9:10 am  Comments (4)  

Sunday Salon

70757~Cafe-Mocha-PostersI was reading a piece by Salley Vickers yesterday about certain people’s reservations when it came to novels written by poets.  Vickers’ wonders why this should be, given that [t]wo of our greatest poets, Thomas Hardy and D H Lawrence, were also fine novelists.
Well, I have to be honest and say that as far as I’m concerned Vickers couldn’t have chosen worse examples to make her point.  I do like Lawrence’s poetry, although I’m no lover of his novels, but I was once heard to remark to my Literature tutor that while Hardy might have been only a second rate novelist he was definitely a third rate poet, and I’ve never been persuaded to change my opinion on either count.
However, I do share Vickers’ wonderment at such a general condemnation.  I can think of several poets whose novels I read with a great deal of pleasure.  I’ve written a number of times about Sophie Hannah’s excellent prose works, both in her thriller mode and as a short story writer, and she is a very fine poet. Then what about May Sarton, Maya Angelou, Ted Hughes (if you haven’t read his prose for children such as The Iron Man and How the Whale Became you have missed a real treat)?  For the most part, these are writers who really know how to weigh the importance of each word.  There is nothing superfluous in their writing.  And, most important of all for me, the music is right.  The ‘sound’ in my ear is as good as the story in my mind.
Perhaps my favourite poet turned writer, however is Anne Michaels, whose novel Fugitive Pieces is one of the most sensitive books I’ve ever read. I have waited for years for her to write a second novel and now her new book, The Winter Vault, has turned up on my library pile. The weather forecast for the next few days is appalling, rain, wind and general misery, awful if you happen to be going away on holiday but perfect for settling down with a book that will almost certainly need time and loving concentration.  This is a real treat in store.
What do other readers think about Vickers’ basic question?  Do you agree with her or with her unnamed sceptic?  And do you have favourite writers who work in both modes?  I’d be interested to know.

Published in: on July 26, 2009 at 8:18 am  Comments (10)  

Sunday Salon

70757~Cafe-Mocha-PostersAt last I’ve had to admit defeat and take the step of moving my blog from its previous format over to wordpress.  Every time I managed to get it working under the newest set of protocols the powers that be changed the goalposts yet again and since the latest upheaval I simply can’t get it to publish at all.  So, henceforth Table Talk will be found at .  Unfortunately, there isn’t a facility that allows me to move my archive over.  If I ever have a spare year or two I might do it by hand, but don’t hold your breath – these days a spare minute or two would be nice.

Where the weekend’s reading is concerned I’ve had one of those disappointments that come when, having really enjoyed a book by a ‘new’ writer, you pick up another only to find that it doesn’t live up to your expectations.  Like so many readers I really enjoyed Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind.  There’s something fascinating to an avid book person like me about a novel that deals with books themselves.  So, I’ve been waiting for The Angel’s Game to turn up on my library ticket ever since it was published earlier this year and rushed home with it on Friday contemplating a weekend curled up with several pots of tea lost in the world of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books.  But, it was not to be.  About a third of the way through I suddenly realised that I couldn’t care less about the main character or the world that he inhabited.  It’s very rare that I actually put a book down and decide I have better things to do with my reading time, but this was one of those occasions.  Has anyone else read this book?  And if so, what did you think?  Is this just me, or is it a common reaction?

I’m consoling myself with the new Reginald Hill Dalziel and Pascoe novel, Midnight Fugue, which definitely is coming up to expectations.  Thank goodness, two misfires in a single weekend would be more that I could bear.

Published in: on July 19, 2009 at 4:58 pm  Comments (18)