Sunday, June 17, 2007

Books wot I read

Claire often pushes books my way and on the whole I tend to trust her judgement, apart from when she tries to push huge Robert Fisk tomes my way. Sometimes she pushes so many my way I have to tell her to “STOP!” But these are the trials of having a librarian as a friend.

A few weeks ago I wandered into Breakfast Club and lurched about looking for a spoon (you’d be surprised how difficult that can be) and tried to make a cup of tea and found Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes pushed my way. I’m not my best in the morning so I was a bit grumpy about having a book with a white mouse on the cover next to my breakfast, but the general opinion of the Breakfast Club was that it was very good, so I shoved it into my bag with the rest of my breakfast, grabbed my tea and staggered up the stairs and deposited it on my desk before going to get on with my job. Later that same day I collapsed onto my sofa and pulled out the book. When I heard my electricity metre click onto heures creuse I knew it was time to go to bed but I couldn’t put the book down. Just one more journal entry, I thought.

You see the book is about Charlie Gordon. He is a thirty something retardate (as the book calls him) who has been selected to take part in a new experiment. So far the experiment has only been tried on animals and Algernon is their star patient. By the time I went to bed Charlie had already been operated on, could finally beat Algernon at the ‘amazed’ test and was achieving levels of intelligence that you and I can only dream of.

I was two thirds of the way through the book when I read the journal entries that made me gasp and swallow back tears. I was on the metro at the time.

Claire later told me that the book was recommended to her by someone who said it changed them; I can see why. At first you read the book and like the other characters you laugh at Charlie’s misspellings and his way of viewing the world. As he changes you begin to question your view of the world just as Charlie does.

I won’t tell you more, just read it, if you haven’t already. The book has been kicking around since 1966 and even today it has resonance.

The next book I’ve read recently is ‘How to be Good’ by Nick Hornby. I wasn’t expecting to get through much of it, but I had forgotten that my fellow colleagues were all pukers so they needed to sit at the front of the bus and the law says that responsible adults have to sit by the emergency exits, so there I sat. I looked across and told my fellow travellers that I was going to read. They pointed out to me that we were stopping for lunch soon, so I flicked through my Private Eye first and after lunch got started on the book and was only distracted by their gasps of how gorgeous the scenery outside the window was.

How to be Good starts off as a laugh a minute ride, seriously I was laughing out loud, even though it starts off with Katie (the narrator) telling her husband that she wants out of their marriage. About halfway through it stopped being funny. Hornby’s books are anything but easy really, when I think back to the other ones I’ve read: attempted suicide, bullying, relationship breakdowns, being a sad bastard, it’s just this one seemed harder and bleaker. And then again maybe it was the subject matter, the utter breakdown of a marriage, being together but hating each other. Being so miserable, but not knowing what else to do. If anything this book is so excruciatingly accurate that it ends up being painful to read. I’d recommend it, but only if you are in a stable, happy relationship!

This post was inspired by this. He he.

12 comments:

Sam said...

I loved Flowers for Algernon. It was my sisters favorite book in the whole world when she was a kid - she read it in high school and then insisted that EVERYONE around her read it, lol.
My brother's favorite book was 'The Trail of Tears', and he too made it into a crusade to get everyone to read it.
I wish they'd fall in love with one of my books, lol.

Minx said...

I am shocked and horrified, Verilion, that you, as a common blogger, had the audacity to review a book!
(other readers please see Debi Alper's post to see what I mean. V knows!)

Read the Nick Hornby and have already started scouting for Algernon. Thanks for these.
Referring again to Debi's post - I wonder what other authors think about this. Do you take notice of common bloggers reviewing books or do you go straight to those highly paid, talk through their asses kind of reviewers. Or do you possibly have an opinion of your own?

Verilion said...

Hi Sam, gosh favourite book in the whole world! Flowers for Algernon seems to draw strong reactions. I'll see if Claire has 'The Trail of Tears', I studied it when I was in Secondary.
And Minx he he. Indeed I am a common blogger, but I am a very avid reader who is occasionally a bit short of time. If someone I respect recommends something to me, it's worth ten Gruniad book reviews. I want someone who has read a book cover to cover, not skimmed for quotable quotes; we were all taught to do that for 'A' level English lit (they still teach that don't they?)
Actually David is a fantastic contemporary stereotype isn't he? Wishy-washy liberal lefty angry man, fearlessly striving to be as politically correct as possible while actually being staidly conservative. He must have been based on all those book reviewers.

apprentice said...

I'll look out for the first it sounds good, but not sure I want to read about marital angst, although he does that sort of stuff well.

I read reviews, but more often than not I'm influenced by what I browse in the store.

kyklops said...

I'm a life-long SF fan, so I read Algernon years (er, decades!) ago. The only Hornby I've read was High Fidelity, which I thought was both funny and interesting (better than the movie!). Sounds like he's gotten sour on love...

kimy said...

yikes my list of 'must reads' continues to grow. 'flowers' what a flash from the past - loved it when I read it (several decades ago I might say.) they made a movie of the book (also decades ago) entitled 'charley' that I haven't seen in a long, long but remember crying my eyes out (which I always find incredibly therapeutic). always enjoy hornby and thanks for the heads up on this title! just discovered your blog (through the usual route) since you are a wanderer in paris, I must add it on my blogroll as a site to nibble on - seeing that paris and wandering are two of my favorite things!

Verilion said...

I used to do a lot of browsing too Apprentice, but honestly Claire is pretty good at giving me books so I can never quite get through the pile she's given me.
And Kyklops. I reviewed High Fidelity last summer. I felt that it was suitably different to have its own merits. It was more a kind of homage to Hornby than direct adaptation (also I really John Cusack in that film). I don't know if Hornby has gone sour on love, other people have found it equally funny, maybe it was just a little close to the bone for me.

jason evans said...

We read Flowers for Algernon in high school. Yes, I remember it being a tear-jerker.

Great story.

Verilion said...

Hi Kimy, you must have slipped in when I was doing a spot of work! There are some beautiful pics on your site and I will drop by again too. I saw that Flowers for Algernon had been made into a film when I was browsing, I may try and find the film one day.
And hello Jason, a tear-jerker it was. And it seems from my North American Colleagues that it was indeed a high-school read. I wonder if we on this side of the Atlantic have such fond memories of The First World War Poets and Of Mice and Men (I loved them both, which is why I mention them.)

kimy said...

thanks for checking out the mouse and enjoying the pictures! and the jog down memory lane I just realized I did read flowers for algernon because it was REQUIRED reading - had that fact blocked because I enjoyed it so!! eek

Canterbury Soul said...

flowers for algernon is sitting on my shelf after spending some great reading times on it. will revisit it definitely.

Verilion said...

Gosh! Was I the only one who hadn't read it then?

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