Ah, summer. It doesn’t feel like summer in Scotland these days, but according to the calendar, it is indeed summer. The program for the Edinburgh Book Festival has come out, so that means most of my summer will be dedicated to reading in preparation for it, with a few others thrown in for good measure.
- Villa America by Liza Klaussman. It’s Klaussman, so I’m going to read it anyways, but she’s also coming to Edinburgh! I’ve been waiting to read this for a while, and for once it is available in the UK before it comes out in North America.
- In The Unlikely Event by Judy Blume. Enough said. And she’s not coming to Edinburgh.
- Bradstreet Gate by Robin Kirman. It’s described as a campus murder for fans of Tartt, Eugenides and Wolitzer. Yes please!
- The Way Things Were by Aatish Taseer. He’s coming to EdBookFest and I’m interested. Besides, he learned Sanskrit to write this book and I love me some Sanskrit.
- The Mark and the Void by Paul Murray. Loved Skippy Dies and he’ll be at EdBookFest.
- Man on Fire by Stephen Kelman. Will be appearing at EdBookFest with Paul Murray. And I will likely read Pigeon English as well because it’s already on my desk.
- The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra by Vaseem Khan. Big buzz in India and I’m so glad it’s also being published in the UK.
- The Incarnations by Susan Barker. She’ll be at EdBookFest and I think this book is going to be BIG.
- The Ecliptic by Benjamin Wood. I saw him at EdBookFest when he was promoting his last novel, The Bellweather Revivals. Loved him, loved the book and he’ll be back in Edinburgh this summer.
- This is my wild card. Let’s keep it a mystery for now.
I saw Naomi Wood at the Edinburgh Book Festival on Saturday, so i’m writing this quite a few days after the fact. She was on a panel with David Park (The Poets’ Wives) talking about biographical fiction. Both have recently written novels with predominant literary figures at the heart of them. For the most part I will be sticking to Woods comments, as I have not read David Park’s book. Continue reading
A couple of UK book bloggers, who I am getting to know better, have recently started an on-line magazine about books. It’s called Shiny New Books and it is pretty cool. They cover fiction, non-fiction, reprints and a whole slew of other stuff. And they have been nice enough to accept a piece by me about the Edinburgh Book Festival.
I know you want to read it, so without further ado, What To See at the Edinburgh Book Festival.
Kamila Shamsie is one of my favorite South Asian writers and she’s going to be at the Edinburgh Book Festival this year, so I dove at the chance to review A God in Every Stone, her latest book. It is a sprawling story that spans Turkey, World War One, and colonial Peshawar. It is a hugely ambitious novel, but it just might be a little too big. Continue reading
You know you are a dedicated book nerd when your favorite day of the year is the day the program for your local book festival is announced. Lucky for me, I live in Edinburgh and the Edinburgh Book Festival is truly top notch.
The main reason I read The Friday Gospels was because author Jenn Ashworth was speaking with Peggy Riley at the Edinburgh Book Festival. Aside from that, I had never heard of Ashworth, though this is her third book. It seems that her talent has not really crossed the ocean over to North America. Her books maybe a struggle to find over there, but if The Friday Gospels is anything to judge by, it is worth the effort of seeking her books out.
I really liked The Friday Gospels. It contains a number of elements that I covet in a good novel: family tensions and crises, odd characters, and struggles with faith and identity. The story takes place over the course of a single day in which Gary, the adored son, is to return from his Mormon mission in Utah. Each chapter is told from the perspective of a different of the family – Jeannie the youngest child who idolizes Gary, Julian the oldest son who has turned his back on Mormonism, Pauline the proud mother, Martin the indifferent dad who is looking to leave the family, and Gary who views himself as a failure. Perhaps the most astounding thing about Ashworth’s writing is how each character has a truly distinctive voice, character and point of view.
The novel was a fast read. It seems that each character has a crisis of some sort that comes to a head as they are waiting for Gary to arrive. I do not want to give too much away, but as as you read further more of each characters’ struggle is revealed and it makes the book hard to put down.
Ashworth, who is startlingly young, was raised a Mormon in England. Although she is no longer a member of the faith, her experiences and exposure to the intricacies of Mormonism certainly inform The Friday Gospels. During her talk at the Edinburgh Book Festival she spoke of the differences between Mormons in America and Britain. The characters she portrays in her novel reflect some of these differences. Mormons in Britain are much more concerned with conformity because the community is so small. The influence of community has a greater bearing on your family life.
Who would like this book? One of the reasons I was attracted to The Friday Gospels is because I enjoy novels that deal with struggles of faith and religion. In particular, I liked the insight it gave into Mormonism outside of the United States. In North America I think we have a fairly rigid view of Mormons. We see them either as a polygamous cult as portrayed salaciously in the media or as the conservatively dressed proselytizers who come knocking on our doors. This mold is also broken by Elders, another Mormon focused novel that i recently reviewed.
Welcome to a humorous and not entirely accurate take on my life: The Hive by Gill Hornby. This novel is about moms on the school yard, moms picking up and dropping off their kids and moms being, at times, rather nasty to one another. It has made me look at my life in an entirely different way. It has also highlighted the differences between the Canadian school culture, from which I came, and the British school system that I am now fully inhabiting.
The Hive is a subtly brilliant novel. Hornby finds drama in the seemingly banal happenings around a school. At the core of her story are four women at varying degrees of popularity on the school yard. Heather is striving, constantly striving to get in with the cool kids, er moms, especially Bea, the Queen Bee. Rachel has found herself suddenly dropped from the cool moms. Georgie is there to provide a dose of reality and Bubba is the new mom on the block.
Each chapter is framed over the course of a school day – from drop off to pick up and the story is set over the period of a school year. When I saw Hornby at the Edinburgh Book Fest she commented that the school year makes for a perfect three part drama. In autumn term everything is fresh and new. The parents and students are glad of another year beginning. The middle term is when all the disasters happen: kids come home with nits and lice, the roof starts to leak and bullying rears its ugly head. With the spring term comes a bit of redemption. As one of the characters reflects, “This was her favorite term: white ankle socks, gingham frocks, grass, rounders … She took a deep breath of gleeful anticipation. Ah. She just couldn’t wait.”
Who would like this book? Given the title of the novel and all the bee imagery, it is no surprise that Hornby was significantly influenced by Rosalind Wiseman‘s book about teenage cliques, Queen Bees and Wannabes and her follow up study Queen Bee Moms and King Pin Dads. Tina Fey was similarly inspired when she wrote the screenplay for Mean Girls. I would also pair it up with Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple (my review). Both offer humorous, though rather different, takes on school societies. In either case, I would say that if you are a parent with school age children and you are constantly doing that school run, then this book is for you. If that does not sound like the story of your life, then you are still probably familiar with the horror of cliques, and this book will surely make you laugh about them.