Bookish and Not so Bookish Thoughts

 

As I’m still getting back into the swing of things after Reading Ireland Month, I thought I would ease myself in with a Bookish and Not So Bookish Thoughts post which is hosted by Christine at Bookishly Boisterous

  • Anyone who has read my blog for long enough will know I’m a bit of an 80s baby, so imagine my delight when I got to meet JOHN CUSACK last week. Yep, you read it right. Me. And Mr John Cusack! John came to the Belfast Film Festival for a special ‘In Conversation’ event was as intelligent, funny and witty as you would expect. After the event, he was signing copies of his book Things That Can and Cannot Be Said, written with Arundhati Roy. My friend bought me a copy so I wouldn’t miss out on the opportunity to speak to my favourite leading man, although when it came my turn to get my book signed, I found myself completely unable to speak at all. I was so totally star struck that when he asked me if I spelled my name with a ‘K’, I said ‘Sure!’
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I know you can’t see much under that baseball cap, but I SWEAR that’s John Cusack….

 

Now, if I could just meet Kevin Bacon, I could die a happy woman…

  • Can we just for a minute talk about Big Little Lies and how bloody AMAZING it was? I hadn’t read the book, but I inhaled the TV show which was smart, thrilling and completely refreshing. The finale was one of the best hours of television I’ve ever seen. I got into a lengthy discussion with friends on Facebook about how this show would have got so much more attention if it had featured the same story but with four male protagonists, played by Oscar nominated/ winning actors. I saw Big Little Lies being disparaged and called trashy in a way it simply wouldn’t have if it had been about the messy lives of four men. I, for one, would love more television like this – I’ve never seen domestic violence depicted with such intelligence, insight and sensitivity. Brilliant, brilliant television.

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  • I’ve booked the family summer holiday to the West of Ireland again and, of course, that gets me thinking about the 20 Books of Summer Challenge! I wasn’t sure if I would do it again, but I think I will. I need to shave off some of the TBR and it is always a great incentive to read, read read! Anyone else planning on joining in?

 

  • Last night I went to see the Lyric Theatre Belfast’s fantastic production of John Logan’s Red, which is based on the artistic life of Mark Rothko. It was a really wonderful, passionate and often thrilling show which made this hardened Rothko detractor think again about his work. I reviewed the show for No More Workshorse and you can read my review here

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  •  And finally this week, it was Mr 746’s birthday so there was cake, chocolate, cake and more cake. And some wine. Of course!

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What has been the highlight of your week? Do share!

The Bloggers We Read

I was recently interviewed by the lovely Bree at The Things We Read for her new feature – The Bloggers We Read – where she asks questions to get to know the person behind some of her favourite blogs! Here are my answers, please do check out Bree’s blog, which covers books and so much more.

Bloggers

Introducing….Cathy @ 746 Books

Today I welcome Cathy to the interview hotseat. She is relatively new to the blogging community having only been blogging a year but you would never know it based on her fan base and popularity already. I “met” Cathy during March Madness last year when we both topped our reading goals. She writes in-depth reviews on the books she is reading from her bookshelves. Stop by her blog to check out her book quest.

Why did you start blogging?
I had started a blog a few times before but never found the impetus to keep going. The blogs were vaguely about books, but didn’t feel focused enough to be effective. In an attempt to curb some spending I thought I would try not to buy anymore books until I’d read what I had, then I thought I would count what I had and when it came to 746, I realised I needed more drastic action and 746 Books was born! I hoped that the blog would keep me focused on my goal of reading more without buying more and I’m happy to say that it has!

Do people in your personal life know about your blog or is it your private spot?
A bit of both really. I have kept my blog quite quiet, although my family and a few friends know about it. I don’t think I’m confident enough yet with my writing to come out of my blogging closet and reveal that I don’t look a thing like Lauren Bacall! I have been posting more personal things lately though and I may well continue to do so this year, but I like having a separate FB page and Twitter profile so then I can concentrate solely on books! (Bree: I’m the same way. I like the separate life, like a secret identity. lol)

Definitely NOT Lauren Bacall!

Definitely NOT Lauren Bacall!

Do you have other blogs? If so, what are they?
746 Books keeps me busy enough as it is, so I just have the one. I do own a book that I inherited from my grandmother called ‘301 Things A Bright Girl Can Do’ and I would love to create a blog where I talk about doing each one of those things! Maybe if I get through the 746 quicker than anticipated I’ll start on that project! (Bree: Oh yes, please do. That idea sounds intriguing.)

What are some blogs (bookish or not) people should check out that you enjoy?
One of my favourite blogs is the fantastic Flavorwire which covers all things cultural. I’m also a regular reader of Go Fug Yourself and Tom and Lorenzo although these three sites are now so popular the term ‘blog’ doesn’t quite suffice. Other favourites include The Fluff is Raging, my co-host for Read Ireland Month and No More Workhorse, which focuses on arts and culture news from Dublin.

What do you do for a living? Anything book related that the rest of us can be jealous about?
My job is not directly book related but I run an Arts Centre in Northern Ireland where I organise a programme of theatre, music, visual arts and yes, the odd literary reading! I am very lucky in that I love my job and get to be surrounded by all things cultural all day!

Anything you would like to share about yourself, family, etc?
I have four year old twins called Harrison and Stella and we have a slightly unconventional set up as my husband stays at home to look after the kids. You would be surprised at how often, even nowadays, that this raises eyebrows, but we always knew we wanted one parent to be at home for them and this works for us. My husband is such a fantastic Dad, I am very blessed. (Bree: Yay for stay-at-home dads! There aren’t enough of them.)

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What are your childhood reading memories?
My main memory is that there was a lot of it! I was an only child until I was 13 so I spent a lot of time reading. My father was a great reader and I owe my love of books to him. He had a built in wardrobe in his study that he had converted into a little mini library with bookshelves on three sides and as a child I would bring cushions, my favourite toys and my own book and go in, close the door, turn on the light and sit and read. It was my favourite spot in the whole house and I still remember the smell and feel of that little space.(Bree: sounds amazing)

What do you think of forcing students to read certain books especially the classics? Yes or No? Harmful or helpful to their reading life?
I don’t think forcing anyone to read anything is helpful, although I do think the classics should be taught. Classics are classics for a reason and can be misunderstood. Students wouldn’t just learn about modern art, or only recent advances in science, so I think literature should be viewed the same way.

What suggestions or advice do you have for new book bloggers?
I’m not sure I should be giving advice as I have only been blogging for a year but the one thing I would advise is to connect with other bloggers. Read blogs, comment on them and engage with other people. It is the most rewarding part of blogging and the surest way to grow your own audience.

What is your guilty secret pleasure?
Books wise, I don’t have any. I’ll read anything and everything. In fact, I rarely feel guilty, or keep a secret about anything I like, but I do blush a bit when I say I was a MASSIVE fan of the TV show Rock of Love with Brett Michaels. Trashy does not even begin to cover what this show was ☺ (Bree: everyone has something. lol)


Favorites Section:

Author: One? You want me to pick one?? Joyce Carol Oates. Or maybe Don DeLillo.
All time best book: One? You want me to pick one?? For purely sentimental reasons I choose Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Ask me again tomorrow and I will have changed my mind! (Bree: too funny!)
Blogging event/challenge: I’m gearing up to host Read Ireland Month in March this year, but my favourite challenge from last year was Cedar Station’s March Madness which made me read more that I thought was possible in one month! (me too! 🙂 )
Food: Medium rare steak, which is unusual given I was a vegetarian for 25 years.
Drink: Milk. When I was pregnant with the twins I had such a craving that I drank 4 litres a day.
Tea or Coffee Drinker: Coffee. Strong, black, no sugar. At regular intervals.
Dream vacation spot: The south coast of Crete. It is my favourite place in the world. Failing that? It’s hard to beat Donegal.
TV show: For drama? The Sopranos. For comedy? Party Down
Brad Pitt or Channing Tatum: Neither I’m afraid. I’m not a fan of a pretty boy (and I’m old enough to remember Pitt when he was just a pretty boy) (Bree: me too). I do have a soft spot for John Cusack though….
Summer or Winter: Winter, without a doubt. I am a pale Irish girl. Tights are my friend.

Photograph: Karen Robinson

Many thanks to Bree for asking me to participate in her great new feature! Please do check out her blog.

No 706 Black Water Rising by Attica Locke

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In the 1985 classic John Cusack movie ‘The Sure Thing’ (humour me here) there is a great line when serious, straight-laced Alison comments on her scantily-dressed bikini-clad nemesis, ‘She has beautiful skin. And so much of it’.

This line kept springing to mind while I was reading Black Water Rising (I did say humour me….). It has such great plot. And so much of it. Reading this debut thriller from Attica Locke was like wading through the black water of the title, plot line upon plot line vying for attention, the action as murky as the Bayou of the bravura opening chapter.

It has to be said though, that the opening chapter is outstanding. It is 1981, Houston. As a treat for his pregnant wife’s birthday, black lawyer Jay Porter charters an evening boat trip which ends in drama when gunshots and a white woman in the water put Jay in a situation he’d rather not be in. It is the wrong place, wrong time yet again for Jay, who was a veteran of the Black Power Movement and narrowly escaped a jail sentence on a government frame-up while a student. Not keen to be involved in any one else’s problems, let alone a white woman’s, he drives the silent victim to a police station and leaves it at that. Only it doesn’t leave him and he finds himself caught up in a conspiracy that goes far beyond the events of that night.

The brilliance of the opening chapter sets a tempo and pace that isn’t maintained in the rest of the book. While skilfully constructed and sometimes thrilling, the tangents of the plot never come together as a cohesive whole. There is a dock workers union strike – a sub-plot that is given a lot of time for little return; there are corrupt politicians; the involvement of Big Oil; an ex-girlfriend of Jay’s who is now Mayor and may or may not be trustworthy and a prostitute trying to cash in on a politician’s indiscretions. Pile on to this the narrative back story of Jay’s student days in the Black Power movement; his past relationship with Cynthia, the mayor; the racially motivated death of his father and his continued paranoia over race relations and you have a lot of information to process.

 

For me this meant that the core of the thriller got a little lost in the murkiness. The Black Water Rising of the title is, of course, oil and the corrupt practices of the large petroleum companies, but even this conspiracy theory, when it is finally brought to light, is a little tame. What Locke does do well though is in her depiction of race relations in Houston in the 1980’s, that sense that while oil is flowing again and money is there for the taking, there is still a lack of trust and a divide between the haves and the have nots. Paranoia over race has replaced the cold war paranoia and there is a crisis of identity for everyone, both black and white, rich and poor. Money is now the dividing line and Jay Porter, as a black lawyer is well placed to see both sides. Jay is a strong and compelling character, torn by his moral obligations in the present and the political obligations of his past.

They were fools back then, Jay thinks. Young and naive to believe they could raise voices and guns against a superpower and get away with it. Weren’t they always meant to pay…someday, some way? Hasn’t he, deep down, been waiting for this very moment? The day when they would come for him again?

The exploration of how Jay’s small, cumulative decisions become large, threatening mistakes, as much because of outside forces and because of his own prejudices and fears, is skilfully handled . His paranoia, his attempts to make good on his life and his mistrust of authority make for a fascinating central focal point, so it’s just a shame that all the other characters in the book are stock and sketchily drawn.

Attica Locke, photographed by Mel Melcon for the Los Angeles Times

Attica Locke, photographer by Mel Melcon for Los Angeles Times

 

This mix of social commentary and crime action has been done better by George Pelecanos and Denis Lehane but Locke does use her milieu to elevate thriller conventions like the car chase, the ransacked apartment and the conflicted but honest journalist which might otherwise have come across as clichéd.
It’s telling that Attica Locke has worked as a screenwriter, as there were times when Black Water Rising was reminiscent of a good season of The Wire. The ending certainly seems to be a set up for ‘season 2’ of Black Water Rising, but as a standalone book, the abrupt and open ended final chapters are less cliff-hanger more let down.

I feel like I’m being quite harsh on Black Water Rising. The skill, plotting and tension of the opening chapters suggests to me that a little less back story and some more even pacing would have ratcheted up the tension and made for a more gripping read.

However, if you are going to take one thing away from this review, it’s that I can always be counted on to shoehorn in a reference to an 80’s teen movie when it’s called for.

Or even when it’s not…..

Next up in the 16 sorry 20 Books of Summer Challenge? An Evening of Long Goodbyes by Skippy Dies author Paul Murray.

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Read On: iBooks

Number Read: 41

Number Remaining: 705