Saturday, October 28, 2006

Odds and sods & Off-Topics

Thanks, Michael. I'm really getting into the forum book club: where, incidentally, they spend quite a lot of time talking about how good or bad their libraries are. Wigan is middling : I needed to buy Princess of Mars and Ringworld.

Some odds and sods of off topic stuff:

I just got Wigan's copy of "the Silver Spoon" : It looks great, but you didn't say I would need a wheelbarrow to get it home!
I, too, have Madhur's Curry Bible which is a great inspiration when I can be bothered to cook (especially as the daughters won't eat spicy food!)

I have finished and greatly enjoyed "Red Son" & "Shaun" :
delayed by JS&MN and my adventures on the SFX forum : sorry.

How & when can I return them to you?

Congratulations to Blackburn's Graphic Novel group, who are pictured in the Graphic Novel & Manga supplement in the latest bookseller.

Apart from Michael, the Bibliothecary & me, the blog's gone a bit quiet : Is there anybody else still out there?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Black Hole, Son

If we had a ranking system as many forums do (the former A-level Latin student in me always wants to say fora), Swlrir and Michael would be Gold Star posters on this blog! Excellent work as ever: I will try my best to enthuse my colleagues here at Bolton to post more frequently. We've just had a reshuffle here and we've a new (to the post) member of staff tasked with outreach and development and I'm sure Michael can sort her out with an invite to the blog (and a rudimentary introduction to Blogger). (Apologies for volunteering you for extra work, Michael!)

In a seamless segue from stars to black holes, I've just read one of the most impressive graphic novels I've ever come across. In fact Black Hole by Charles Burns is one of the those works that truly deserves the epithet of 'graphic novel'. The story is set in Washington State in the 1970s, where the teenagers of a small town are struck down by a strange sexually transmitted disease, known only as 'The Bug'. No two people are afflicted in the same way, but while the disease doesn't seem to be fatal, its debilitating effects spread like wildfire through the closed high school community.

To give a couple of examples of the various symptoms, one character grows a tiny mouth (complete with teeth and tongue) at the base of his throat, while another's skin sheds after contact with water. Many of the most visibly afflicted run away from home into the back woods of Washington and things start to get gradually worse for them.

Lest I give the impression that this is merely a cautionary tale about promiscuity and STDs, Burns uses 'The Bug' as a jumping off point for a story about love, trust, jealousy and loneliness. As one may imagine the themes of the book, as well as its images and dialogue are particularly adult (and it seems that there was much more drugs and free love in 1970s Washington than there ever was in 1970s Lancashire - all we had were Vesta curries and The Grumbleweeds), but the issues explored are both timeless and timely. Not to mention the exquisitely rendered artwork: the two-page introductory spreads for each chapter could keep an entire university semiotics department busy for months!

It's also genuinely horrific in places: both narratively and graphically. If you're not particularly a fan of graphic novels, you can achieve the same effect as reading Black Hole by sitting alone in a darkened room (preferably in an empty house at night) and listening to East Hastings by the Canadian anarchist musical collective Godspeed You! Black Emperor.

Now that's scary!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Review: A Princess of Mars

A Princess of Mars

The first novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs, of Tarzan fame.

A ripping yarn, a boy’s own adventure, but more…

The author’s intriguing foreword introduces us to our hero, the gentleman soldier John Carter, a brave, honourable and resourceful fighter (and probably the original Captain Jack!).

His character outlined, the strange circumstances of his “death” leave us wanting to know more.

Within a few pages of the curious narrative Carter left behind him, he has discovered a rich gold seam and attempted the single-handed rescue of his friend from “half a hundred red savages” in an episode of furious action that sets the pace for much of the book.

Escaping from pursuing Apaches, Captain Carter hides up in a cave, where a mysterious influence paralyses him. He escapes from his seemingly dead body and, by sheer force of will, is transported to Mars, where his real adventures begin.

We want to know about the landscape, flora and inhabitants of Mars, and the reader soon gets used to the long but beautifully written information dumps, which describe the alien world and it’s peoples.

Captured by Green Martian warriors, magnificent 15 feet tall warlike barbarians, Carter soon impresses them with his marvellous agility, due to the lesser gravity of Mars, and his fighting skills.

The Greens live in a Spartan warrior society in which everything except personal adornments and weapons are held in common. Hatchlings (The Greens, like all Martians, are egg-laying reptiles) are raised in common and there is no concept of family, compassion, or love.

However, they are not alone on Mars, and soon an airborne expedition of the technically advanced and (relatively) peaceful Red Martians is attacked; a battleship and our heroine, the beautiful Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium, are captured.

It is love at first sight for Captain Jack!

There follow furious hand-to-hand combat, hairsbreadth escapes, the saving of Dejah Thoris from a fate worse than death, and a full-scale war, before the princess is reunited with her father.

In an interesting and important interlude, John Carter visits what is possibly the first terraforming (…er, Marsforming?) plant in SF.

By the end, Carter has the love of a beautiful (if oviparous) woman, staunch companions, both Red & Green, and a faithful hound. The stage is set for more adventure…

This is the kind of rollicking action novel which drew many a lad into SF : and as has been noted elsewhere, it lacks the racist and sexual unpleasantness which mar many of it’s imitators.
Great stuff.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Reading "Matilda", Reading "Matilda", We'll go a'Reading "Matilda" to you..."

Reading "Matilda" in Leigh….

We had a grand day for it, in Leigh.

“Read a book in a day” day, Friday 8th September, found Wendy Heaton, Library Operations Manager, Swlrir, , and a slightly Ruffled dragon*, along with Sarah Corree & Anne-Marie Pugh from Leigh Staff & our bouncy volunteer reader, Carole Ogden from the Get Connected project, out in the library square and surrounding areas, reading Roald Dahl's "Matilda" aloud to bemused passers-by and pigeons.

We were joined by Andy Burnham, MP, who read with gusto, posed for several photographs, and took a tour of the Library, Gallery, & Derby Room. This was the day after the Brown/Blair showdown, so he was glad to do something positive, and fun.

The Dragon* was a great hit, and was followed about by small children, some of whose mums and grans joined in and read with us. He wasn’t allowed on the coach taking pop fans to see Robbie Williams in Leeds, though.

Among the passers-by who read for us was Philip Butler, from the History Shop, who kindly did a whole chapter.

In the afternoon, eight members of Leigh’s Bookchat group joined us and we managed to finish our allotted portion in fine style, sitting out in the afternoon sunshine.

Everyone enjoyed the experience, and even people who didn’t want to read listened with pleasure.

We gave out lots of library information and promoted the Wigan Leisure & Culture Trust's upcoming Everything Free Day to many people.

Two days later, the Sunday Telegraph gave away a large “Matilda” poster by Quentin Blake!

*Wigan Libraries' Service Development Manager, Stephen Ruffley

Thursday, October 12, 2006

What's new in women's fiction: a useful source of reviews

You may find this blogstyle site useful : it does exactly what it says on the tin.

Regularly updated, there are 25 plus reviews of new titles with jacket image and full details.

Covers the whole range of popular (as opposed to literary) women's fiction : chicklit, historical romance, family sagas, female crime, and more.

We may not read this stuff ourselves (I know I don't!) but our readers do.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Radio, someone still loves you!

Swlrir's adventures in Radioland : Wednesday 4th October:

Swlrir went with Hazel Wellings & Pam Buxton from Leigh Library Bookchat group to take part in Eamonn O'Neal & Diane Oxberry's Radio Manchester morning show : which has a book club slot between 11-12 every other Wednesday.

He says:

"It was great!

Being a typical soggy Manchester morning we got wet in both directions, but that was the only downer.

We arrived at Oxford Rd about 10.15, and had time for a coffee before we were "on".

The BBC had supplied us with 3 copies of our book "The Island" by Victoria Hislop, (Ian's wife), which was the most popular of Richard and Judy's Summer Reads.
It's the story of three generations of one family from Crete whose members are afflicted by leprosy and spend much of their lives on Spinalonga : the offshore island which was the Cretan Leper Colony until 1957.

It doesn't sound promising, but it was a deep and gripping read that we all enjoyed very much.

Also taking part in the programme was Jonathan Cole from Borders Bookshop who recommended "Wicked" by Gregory Maguire :a book about the life and times of the Wicked Witch of the West from the Wizard of Oz : a strange and powerful adult novel which I am reading now.

We had an interesting discussion about folklore, fairytales, and films.

We were all made very welcome and put at our ease, and given enough time to talk about the books at some length.

Eamonn O'Neal & Diane Oxberry were very nice people, keeping the tone light while asking sensible questions to keep the discussion flowing.

Everyone was pleased with our bit and we have been invited back (on the 13th December).

I have a CD of our section of the show, and we sound better than I thought we would.

I'm looking forward to the next one!"

Friday, October 06, 2006

Batman graphic novels

This month's Graphic novel group meets tomorrow (Saturday October 7th) at Bolton Central Library. It kicks off at 3.30pm, with free tea and biccies and the usual excellent company.

October's discussion topic is Batman. There's a lot to talk about there! There are plenty of Batman books in Bolton's libraries and I'm willing to bet that most of the group will have a couple of their own Bat-books at home. I know I have...

Come to the meeting, leave your views on Bruce Wayne's alter-ego via the Comments below, or do both.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Larry Niven : "Ringworld" review

This is a strange one : I read it first in 1970 and loved it : A whole new, strange, wonderful BIG new world to explore.

Coming back to it now, it's still entertaining in a shallow way : it reads like, and feels like, an episodic TV series with a new peril every episode, or perhaps an RPG : A defined party with racial & other characteristic differences built in (Speaker, my favourite character, could be Worf or Teal'c) have to explore a potentially infinite alien world/artifact, with limited chances of ever surviving or making it back home.

The major theme of breeding for defined characteristics (lucky human, docile kzin) is uncomfortable from 2006, but to be fair, the punchline on Teela's luck only occurs in "Ringworld Engineers" and I will say no more.

The Ringworld itself must stand as one of SF's better attempts at a BDO story: along wirh Rama. From the view of hindsight, the writing, especially the character development, could have been much improved.

Random species (Slavers, Outsiders) exist only to provide technology or creatures or move the plot along. (I know there is more information in the rest of LN's "Tales of known Space")

I enjoyed revisiting the Ringworld, but ended up unsatisfied as the book wasn't as good as I remembered. This could be partly my fault as I have just reluctantly emerged from the end of "Jonathan Strange" : a novel you can live in. I will read "Ringworld Engineers" again. in the hope that that will work better._________________