Book, cake and me

Saturday, 9 April 2011

This book right... it is about a spy and he is cold so he wants to come in...

The Spy who Came in from the Cold by John le Carre was the book I gave away free for World Book Night.  I actually chose Northern Lights by Philip Pullman as my first title but they had given all of those out to givers so I got my second choice.  What a good choice anyway!  I gave this book to punters in my local on the Friday and Saturday and it was so easy.  I just promised them a great read and said it was a free book.  Quite a few men, in particular, had already read it and agreed that it was a fine spy novel and took a copy to read again and I am hoping that readers new to the book do read it and enjoy reading  it as much as I have.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is not a typical spy story, there are few gadgets and being a spy is presented as a bleak, isolating and cold job. ‘The Cold’, can mean so many things – The Cold War, the cold of post war Europe and the cold of human kind after such brutality.  However, the cold is something  even deeper, it is something that chills the bones of Leamas and it kills him.  It would appear, that the cold is indeed the secret service but more specifically Control, who is detached, unemotional, professional and who is the secret service elite.  They use Leamas for their own means and the Cold War is fought with a philosophy of ‘the end justifying the means.’  I read the novel suspecting that Alec does know what is happening underneath the bluff and double bluff and is aware of his ‘end’.  I think what motivates Alec is the opportunity to take the Mundt down until he realises that Mundt has used him to take Fielder down  and ‘kill the Jew’.  Alec tries to treat Liz kindly throughout and believes they will her let her go in the end and he is prepared to die to ensure she does.  The end is brutal and proves the coldness of the world of espionage, it is not a British coldness or even a German coldness, it is the coldness of the Circus.   In saving Liz and sacrificing himself Leamas proves himself to be warm and human.

The character of Leamas is fascinating to the reader we admire him and his intelligence although the rest of world does not appear to do so.    He was active in the war and had seen the liberation of the concentration camps and been in Berlin in the 50s.  The man Leamas, was not cut out for a normal desk job and in his time in the grey and bleak post war London out of the service in the cold, he moves like a shadow amongst the ordinary citizens with Liz Gold appearing to be the only one who shows him any warmth during this period. 
Liz Gold is naive, but intelligent although she allows herself to be drawn in to East Germany and the plot without realising the immense danger she is in.  Liz is in danger for so many reasons; she knows too much even if she doesn’t realise how much she knows, she is Jewish, making her a target for Mundt regardless and she is warm and human. 

And indeed the Service is an omnipresent all seeing organisation that as Carre describes makes the reader wonder if the British Service (his) is even colder than their enemies,

 ‘They would expect him to be afraid; for his Service pursued traitors as the eye of God followed Cain across the desert.’ 

Carre’s writing is so well crafted and loaded with meaning the book has exceptional pace no word is wasted.     

Did you get a book given to you on World Book Night?  Have you had a book passed on to you that was originally a World Book Night title?  I hope that the books given have been read and will passed on to share great stories, poetry and writers.  Check out their site at

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Gig Review - UNKLE 1ST April at Brixton Academy

When Unkle invited us warmly into ‘a world of pure imagination’ with the help of Gene Wilder, I was in there along with the rest of the crowd.  We were taken visually into the galaxies and stars of the universe and the sound of Unkle’s diverse and eclectic mix of styles and collaborations that always work.  The crowd enjoyed Ian Brown’s laconic vocals on Be There, along with Josh Homme on Restless a thumping psychedelic  soul tune.

The music moved from intuitive ‘reaching for the lazers’ dance, back down into the beautiful murky, gothic, grimy and stellar tunes that followed.  The crunchy guitar rock sounds and bass travelled along the floor and resonated within the sonically swelled chests of the Brixton crowd.  The visuals again, inviting the mind into a sort of moving liquid Warshak test. 

The Duke Spirit supported, and rocked the crowd with two guitars, a bass and drummer that did get wicked (sorry), and Leila Moss’ vocals are deep and perfect for the sound of this cracking rock band that paved the way for Unkle’s performance.  Leila also sang on stage with Unkle later  – her voice difficult to define somewhere between rock angel and Scandinavian saga.  

Unkle pick up threads from so many areas of music and still maintain an Unkle persona, they collaborate with artists like Nick Cave and give the audience something so clear and generous in spirit that we appreciate the blending and disregard for boundaries.  I was especially appreciative at the end of the set for a trip back into Psyence Fiction and Lonely Souls was well received by a crowd where many were clearly as fond of Unkle now as they ever were.   


I wrote this review trying to get some free gig tickets on the Brixton Academy Facebook page and misread 300 as being 300 words, but actually it was 300 characters!  So I have cut my entry on their page to a mere 300 characters and thought I shouldn't just leave the rest of my words hanging, so here they are as a full gig review.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Why I Love Libraries

The library is an exhilarating place! 

Really it is.  The library is full of risk takers.  You take more risks in a library in your book choices because they are free to loan and you can pick up a few titles and not worry about the expense.  I wouldn’t take the same type of risk in a bookshop.  When I spend money on a book I agonise over my choice, whereas in a library I will read a new author more readily just because it looks intriguing. 
I discovered many great books in the library, and it is a pleasing thought that other people have picked up the book before and after me.  Children benefit from libraries enormously and my heart warms when I see they still shelve the Asterix books I loved as a child.   It took a long time to build up the Asterix collection I still proudly own; it required a lot of pocket money.  I am actually still missing ‘Asterix and the Great Divide’ and ‘Asterix and Son’, but at least I have read them both in the library.   Just look at how many children’s books are written as a series – Harry Potter, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Diary of a Wimpy Kid all very good but expensive when you add it up; in the library they are free.
There are so many other authors and topics I have taken the risk with in the library (ooh er);   Buddhism, new recipes, knitting patterns (fail – I lost count of my stitches)...  I love the library – it is a place of daring. 

The library is good for your health!

This is mainly because nothing bad can happen to you in a library.  I have thought of three possible scenarios where someone could get injured:

1.  A book is hurled by an angry, frustrated reader because the plot is so maddening.  The thrown book may well hit someone on the head causing, in the very least, distress. 

2.  In a rush to get home and read your borrowed books you crash into the barrier before the lock has been released and do some damage to yourself, especially men.

3.  You crick your back in reaching down to get a book on a lower or even higher shelf.

A library is also good for the health of the community. It is a safe haven for children who just want peace and quiet and do want to get on with some work.  If you live in a home that is madcap and noisy then a library is a great bolt hole for anyone.  Adults can also find sanctuary in a quiet library even just to read the newspaper.

It is egalitarian.  

You don’t need to go to Eton or Oxbridge to access learning in a library.  Anyone can use their local library.
I was always told by my mum that ‘if you can read you can teach yourself anything.’ That is something I now hold true.  Many times I have gone into a library just wanting to find out more about a subject for my own interest or research.  A library gives children independence and access to world beyond.  My father’s working class roots did not exclude books; they were always borrowed from the library and provided adventures that inspired a lad from Liverpool to end up in the same places his heroes had gone and learn the languages of the communities he found himself in.  The library was just the beginning of his travels.

Libraries love you!

You are not alone.  Libraries provide resources beyond the purely practical, it sends the message that the state cares about your mind and the quality of your life, your intellectual pursuits and your enjoyment in reading books.
I do believe that there are some things that we need to share and that just because something does not make money does not mean it is not valuable.  Libraries should be invested in and people should be encouraged to use them so we can share knowledge and stories and news.  We can and do all this virtually; this is a blog after all, but no one is editing me. Books that make it to print are edited and have to provide accurate, sourced information if they are non-fiction.  We still and will always need some things to be tangible and libraries and books are. 

Friday, 14 January 2011

The Vampire Lestat - Paris to Havana ...

Occasionally you may be lucky enough to read novels in the places where they are set.  The Vampire Lestat is set for a large part of the story in Paris which is where I happened to be when reading it.
On reading The Vampire Lestat, my thoughts settle in my mind like the thick snowflakes falling in front of the Notre Dame, and they settle on the idea of an exquisite, noble eighteenth century Frenchman and a fatally seductive vampire.  In Anne Rice’s novel, Lestat walks through the dark streets of Paris like a tortured angel, once a mortal but now thirsty for mortal blood.  Anne Rice recreates Paris on the tipping point of revolution exceptionally well.  As a Frenchman born into a world that whispered, shouted and then executed revolutionary ideas, Lestat is a rebel mortal and in turn becomes a rebel vampire.  He shuns the devil and wants to be good, but his idea of good is in accomplishment rather than in deed.  He says himself that he wants to be good at being a vampire.  The gloriously dark scene where Lestat takes two victims, a mother and child in the dark recesses of the gothic Notre Dame cathedral, shows how this vampire is free from the superstitions of the old world.  Lestat, like the new ideas rising in France and Europe, believes in a secular society and is in what can only be described as despair when Christianity as he experiences it, provides no comfort.  Lestat’s questions begin as a mortal and are only increased as an immortal vampire.  He searches for the truth about his vampire kin and travels to Egypt and eventually New Orleans in the New World. 
     Anne Rice does not simply present vampires to shock and horrify us, but presents the vampire aesthetic which is beautiful, rich and sensuous alongside chilling deaths drained of blood and the idea of the Savage Garden, indiscriminate and cruel yet at the same time gloriously beautiful.  Lestat does discover other vampires in the underworld of Paris and Les Innocents and he is disgusted by their primitive and superstitious ways ruled over by the Vampire Armand, not searching for answers or experiencing life’s beauties and riches.  The Vampire Armand nearly destroyed by a revolt of his coven, is forced to change and use Lestat’s aesthetic to create the Theatre of the Vampires, where art and vampires conceal each other.   Lestat loves the mortal fragility of his friend Nicki, Nicki accepts the mortal world and accepts death as part of life much more easily than Lestat who seeks something greater than life with the promise of death.  The vampire Nicki is destroyed by his own abhorrence at what he has become and the moral implications of what he must do to survive.  Lestat, by contrast, embraces his vampire world because it is so enchanting and bestows upon him an experience of life that is beyond the constraints of the human world.  It also feeds his ego and makes him super human and beyond the mundane.
      Lestat’s journey moves on to find the vampire Marius who, it could be said, is his vampire grandfather.   Marius’ story takes the vampire legend back into Europe’s history, into the times of the Celts and the rule of the Romans and another world forced to change.  The Celtic tribe feed the vampire as a ritual for the Gods and weave the vampire into their own spiritual ideas.   Again the vampire uses ritual and spectacle, aesthetic, to survive and the twin ideas of good and evil in the mortal world.    Marius is guardian to two ancient Egyptian vampires again at once horrifying and beautiful and with the story of Osiris Lestat discovers Gods and vampire legend interwoven and related in some mysterious way.  Lestat finds out more about his vampire heritage, but seeks more answers.  He wants to know whether an understanding of what created the vampire can be of value to the mortal world.  Lestat understands that the ultimate questions about existence and God and the nature of good and evil are not his vampire questions, but his mortal questions.  It is what he felt when he fought the wolves as a young man in rural France, a sense of closeness to the divine.  The Savage Garden is not just where the vampire exists, but where humans exist too; Eden after the fall.  The mortal world holds all that is evil and good, ugly and beautiful, but essentially it is wild and untamed because man sins and I suppose Anne Rice being a Christian would say because man turns away from God.  I do not read The Vampire Lestat as a Christian but as a Humanist, so find Lestat’s search for answers intriguing, but without Christian meaning for me personally.  I find the search is part of the answer, ongoing and never fully realised, and that Lestat’s existential journey is something that is easy to identify with.
      It is fitting that Rice takes Lestat to what was considered a new world (er, there were people living there already), a secular, egalitarian and importantly modern world.  Lestat is modern in eighteenth century France and modern in twentieth century America.  He craves new ideas, sensations and experiences as much as he craves mortal blood.  It is also fitting that Lestat becomes a rock star in twentieth century America, this again is the aesthetic and works well, except I do find it a little clumsy at the end, maybe it is too much of a cliché; vampire and rock and roll.    I understand it is a novel about vampires which established many contemporary ideas about vampires in their more twenty first century manifestations, so it is only a cliché to me out of context.
     All in all I did enjoy The Vampire Lestat and especially where Rice has set the story in Paris; the seduction of eighteenth century France is difficult to resist despite its horrors and I see Lestat as a tragically beautiful, romantic Byronesque character searching for the meaning of his existence and in turn human existence.  I think reading the novel in a snowy Paris in the St Germain area may have helped, so with that in mind I am looking for sponsors so that I can read ‘Our Man in Havana’ by Graham Greene to gain the full reading experience.   Anyone?