Saturday, 28 December 2013

Sunday, 22 December 2013

last minute crimbo book ideas

If you're stuck for ideas for a present to give your book-loving friend/relative, hopefully this list will give you some inspiration. 
crimbo, xmas, book list, literature, review, gift ideas, Christmas, presents, photography, stack, pile of books, book covers, photography, Book&aCuppa, Book and a cuppa, bookandacuppa

Scarlett Thomas' The End of Mr Y and Donna Tartt's The Secret History are perfect presents for university students. The End of the Mr Y, is a thrilling adventure that includes a cursed book, time travel and literary theory. The Secret History is a great one for classicists, eccentric misfits at prestigious New English collage engage in a Bacchus frenzy. The Secret History is one of my all time favourite books, the charismatic students, intelligence and arch wit of this novel make a lasting impression.
Scarlett Thomas, The End of Mr Y (ISBN: 9781847670700)
If the intended recipient has an interest in queer literature, Giovanni's room by James Baldwin is a good place to start. Passionate and beautifully written the novel focuses on the relationship between an American man living in Paris and an Italian barman. For a list other recommended LGBT novels see here.

James Baldwin, Giovanni's Room (ISBN:780552990363)
For those with an interest in travel or for those who are about to embark on a gap year I would recommend the following: Marching Powder by Rusty young, a cautionary tale of a young man  who is caught trying to smuggle cocaine out of Boliva and is sent to the infamous San Pedro prison. Pedro Juan Cutierrez's Dirty Havana Trilogy can be found in youth hostels the world over, a condemnatory expose of poverty, vice and tourism in Cuba. Shantaram recalls the epic adventurers (though it is debatable how much is true) of the author's, time in India during the early 80's. From escaped convict, to slum doctor, to Bollywood actor to Mujahedeen fighter, Gregory David Robert's story certainty isn't dull.

Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram (ISBN: 9780349117546)

Next on my list of suggestions are two book by two very different Japanese authors, Haruki Murakami and Koushun Takami. Norwegian Wood is one of the more accessible Murakami novels, as it is less surreal compared to his other fiction. It is a simple and beautiful story of first love, mental illness and Beatles music. Takami's Battle Royal is the original Hunger Games, a class of schoolchildren are forced to fight each other on a remote Island.
Haruki Murkami, Norwegian Wood (ISBN: 9780099528982)

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danilewski has a cult following and is very difficult to summarise, I've never read anything like it. It is a twisting, experimental labyrinth of a book. Fantastic for students that have had to sit through lectures on 'the uncanny' or fans of post-modernism. House of Leaves starts with a simple narrative about a house that is bigger on the inside than the outside, but turns complex, bewildering and frightening. There are lots of different editions of this book, but  I recommend buying the full colour.

Mark Z. Danieleski, House of Leaves  (ISBN: 9780375703768) 

Mark Z. Danieleski, House of Leaves  (ISBN: 9780375703768) 

Mark Z. Danieleski, House of Leaves  (ISBN: 9780375703768) 

Hopefully this has given you some ideas, only 3 more days to go!  If you are in need of more inspiration, check out this list of novels to give a fan of war books or gift ideas for a feminist, Potterhead or writer. Or if you've got a book in mind, check my review tag, to see what I thought

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Irvine Welsh- Skagboys

I've a big Irvine Welsh fan and Skagboys has been on my reading agenda since it came out last year. Skagboys is the prequel to the phenomenally successful and critically acclaimed Trainspotting.

A word of warning- Skagboys includes graphic depictions of drug taking and substance abuse. There are adult themes throughout, including violence, rape, molestation and death. It is not a book for people who are squeamish or easily triggered.
just like to point out, the white power is flour, and the tablets are either vitamins or prescriptions meds. 
The Plot: Charting the turbulent lives of four Scottish lads in the 1980's, from youthful optimism and potential to a downwards spiral of  fractured relationships, petty crime, violence and addiction, Skagboys revels in both the hedonism and deprivation in Thatcher's Britain.

I've read a few of Irvine Welsh's novels and in my opinion Skagboys comes closest to equalling the brilliance of Trainspotting. The novel is energetic and raw, the speed of the narrative is fast-paced and restless, which perfectly mirrors the impulsive and reckless behaviour of the protagonists. Towards the end of the novels the tone becomes more introspective and considered, as Renton reflects on his addiction.

Irvine Welsh is very clever in the way he doesn't glorify substance abuse or offer simplified explanations or solutions for addiction.  Skagboys manages to be politicised (Welsh is clearly no fan of Thatcher) without being sanctimonious.

SkagBoys is written in phonetic Scots, which may take some getting used to. Personally, I think it is effective and an integral part of the novels authenticity. There a section that comes quite late in the book where Renton discusses why he is writing his rehab diary in phonetic Scots, although I think Irvine Welsh is being tongue-in-cheek, I think he does raise valid point about dialect representation in literature.

For a novel that deals with such a grim subject, there is also a lot of warmth and humour. Although the friendship between Renton, Sick Boy and Spud is toxic as they act as enablers for each others drug use, they also have camaraderie and in-jokes. I'm sure people who were young in the 80's will relate to the riffs on music, clubbing and making cassette mix-tapes. Even the names of the characters, 'Second Prize', 'Spud', are of the era, most of my parent's school friends seems to have incomprehensible nicknames.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

fear rises up ma spine like mercury touched by heat up a thermometer

skagboys, Irvine Welsh, book cover, heroin, drugs, literature, Renton, Spud, Sick boy, published 2013, literature, modern, Scottish

"Fear rises up ma spine like mercury touched by heat up a thermometer. Then it's gone. Ah smile at Jonny. Just as the thought forms: is that aw tae it? ah get a sudden rush and a glow, then ma insides, body and brain, are like a fruit pastille, melting in a huge mooth. Suddenly everything that was burning in ma heid, every fear and doubt, just dissolves, ah can just feel them receding intae the distance...."
- Irvine Welsh, Skagboys 

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Baklava with pistachio nuts and rose water syrup

Baklava, home made, baking, Nigella Lawson, recipe, pastry, Christmas, potluck, middle-eastern, Turkish, sweet, Israel, syrup, pistachio, walnut, cashew, delicious, sticky, authentic

I'm going to a Christmas potluck party at the weekend, the theme is 'the true meaning of Christmas' so dishes are supposed to be middle-eastern in flavour. So, with this in mind, I decided to have a test-run of making Baklava. I loosely followed this recipe.

Baklava, home made, baking, Nigella Lawson, recipe, pastry, Christmas, potluck, middle-eastern, Turkish, sweet, Israel, syrup, pistachio, walnut, cashew, delicious, sticky, authentic, filo pastry

I did have to make some alterations to the recipe, partly out of necessity (I didn't have enough pistachio nuts, so had to substitute with  some walnuts and cashews) and also because quantity of sugar and butter seemed way to high. So when I had to brush butter on each sheet of filo pastry, I did so at stingily as possible.

I think I'm going to reduce the sugar content in the syrup even further (I halved it) as even though Baklava is supposed to be sweet, it's still to much. I've eaten the tiniest little diamond, and the resulting sugar high has me ready to crawl up walls and bounce of ceilings.  

Also, if you're thinking of attempting this recipe, salted and roasted pistachio nuts work fine. I was slightly worried as the recipe calls for plain pistachios but I couldn't find any. This did mean I had to spend about half an hour shelling a bag of nuts, but I didn't in front of the tv so it wasn't any kind of hardship. I would say if you are using salted and roasted pistachios it is probably a good idea to make up the rest of the weight with another type of nut so the salt isn't overwhelming.

Baklava, home made, baking, Nigella Lawson, recipe, pastry, Christmas, potluck, middle-eastern, Turkish, sweet, Israel, syrup, pistachio, walnut, cashew, delicious, sticky, authentic

Wednesday, 4 December 2013


"An echo, while implying an enormity of a space, at the same time also defines it, limits it, and even temporarily inhabits it. When a pebble falls down a well, it is gratifying to hear the eventual plunk. If, however, the pebble only slips into darkness and vanishes without a sound, the effect is disquieting."   
- Mark Z. Danielewski, House of Leaves 

F. poems

Love At First Sight
Natasha, I love you
despite knowing love is more
than seeing you

(Untitled Fragment)

The angles of your wrists
preserve a certain mystery,
unknown by any lips
or written down in history.

To measure their degree
would solve the oldest question -
providence and alchemy
answered in your gestures.

But god and gold will never rival
the way your fingers curl.
They hold my breath's arrival
like a rare and undiscovered pearl.

House of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewski 

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Alex Haley, Roots

It took me over a month to read Roots, and consequently I have a rather mixed view about the book. It has some of the most evocative descriptions I have ever read concerning the slave trade and the middle passage, but also some incredibly dull parts about cockerel fighting that I had to skip over.  
Roots, book cover, photograph, Alex Haley, Pulitzer Prize, review, paperback, book&acuppa, Book and a cuppa, bookandacuppa, black and white, slavery, genealogy
The Plot:  Alex Haley traces seven generations of his family history, from the capture and enslavement of his ancestor Kunta Kinte in 1767, through to the difficult lives of Kinte's descendants and their eventual emancipation. Roots took 10 years to research and won a special Pulitzer Prize in 1977.

 The book is not without controversy, Alex Haley was accused of plagiarism, genealogists have disputed Haley's research and critiques have challenged the authenticity of Roots. (if you want to read more about the controversy see here) 

Roots, book cover, spine, new edition, published, Alex Haley, genealogy, slavery, middle passage, review

Disputes aside, the story of Kunta Kinte is an incredibly powerful narrative. He remains dignified and defiant throughout even the most difficult circumstances. The chapters concerning Kunta Kinte's childhood and upbringing are a pleasure to read, the inhabitants of Jufureh and village life are credibly retold. Kunta Kinte's fortitude is clearly a testimony to his upbringing.

Kunte Kinta's transportation to America makes for harrowing reading. I learnt about the slave trade in school, but history textbook don't manage to covey the horror as effectively as Roots. Alex Haley manages to invoke the sights, smells and sounds of the journey. Although I can never truly imagine the cruelty and abuse of the middle passageway, Haley's descriptions go a long way in exposing the inhumanity of the traders.

Though Roots is understandably a grim novel, there are plenty of moments of humour and tenderness. The interaction between family members and the sense of community between slaves is lovely and heart-warming. Like any family, there are some eccentrics in Kunta Kinte's descendants. Chicken George is roguish and bombastic, though I do think there are way to many stories about him training cockerels and attending bird fights.  

Monday, 2 December 2013

Literary Clothing

I've previously mentioned in other gift guides places to buy literature related clothing, and I've just found another one to add to the list:- The Affair. This company takes a more abstract approach rather than bog-standard book covers printed on t-shirts.

t-shirt, literature, literary clothing, UK, buy, online, England, design, Animal Farm, Book, gift, Present, George Orwell,
George Orwell, Animal Farm

The t-shirts retail for £29.90, which is quite responsible considering that they only produced in small runs. Also at the moment they're doing a really good deal of 3 mystery t-shirts for £44.8

If these aren't your style, but you still fancy some novel clobber, have a browse on these sites:-
  • TruffleShuffle: for Roald Dahl, Wizard of Oz and Harry Potter t-shirts and hoodies
  • Out of Print Clothing: literature related apparel, bags and accessories- I can't decide if my favourite is the 1984 t-shirt, or the Great Gatsby jumper. If you want to buy Out of Print Clothing in the UK have a look on amazon
  • The Literary Gift Company: so many great titles to choose from, including children and adults books
  • Litograph: These are really clever, the entire book it printed on the t-shirt with an illustration. For example Bullfinch's mythology is illustrated with a picture of Medusa. 
  • Skreened: 'I party with Jay Gatsby' is my favourite t-shirt slogan, they also have Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mocking Bird and The Perks of Being a Wallflower items.
  • Red Molotov. This Atticus Finch one is my favourite.
  • Rupert and Buckley. This t-shirts include funny literary puns, 'Annoy me and you'll get the Bronte of my sisters', 'I'm no plain Jane I'm Austentatious!