What I read in December

Well, this may be a first but I don’t think I finished a book in December! Work, a cold and cough I refuse to call flu but that’s going on and on, Christmas-cum-surprise-40th-birthday-party-for-hubby preparations and a little knitting definitely got in the way of enjoying books. Oh and joining Facebook too…
I did read Coroner’s Pidgin by Margery Allingham in November, which I didn’t mention in the November post and I’m finishing Tiger in the Smoke by the same author. Of course, there are five days left in December so I may well yet finish a book this month after all…
I don’t know why I don’t love Margery Allingham as much as I should, given her Queen of Crime status, and the fact that she is mentioned alongside Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, and the other greats of the golden period of crime writing by British female authors. I tried her books several years ago, looking forward to acquiring another favourite crime author, but was disappointed. When a friend lent me another two Campion books recently, I though I’d give her another try. I did race through Coroner’s Pidgin, the silly aristocratic lady being quite well done, and something about the prevailing atmosphere in war period described pretty well. But I am ploughing through Tiger in the Smoke, with its long “cour des miracles” bit. Even the good Uncle Avril and  the beautiful and  virtuous Meg don’t arouse my interest much. 
Something about Allingham’s writing style feels  a little dry to my mind and Albert Campion does not do it for me. Too understated and quiet, probably.

On joining Facebook

I’ve finally done it. I’ve joined Facebook, after saying for years that I was too old for it and didn’t have the time. One week after joining, I haven’t really changed my mind .. OK, so there are very different age groups on there, but I think that the communication style is essentially one that belongs to young people. The immediacy, the baring of all, the virtual posse, hood, clique, whatever that becomes so important it IS the posse, hood or clique, they really all seem to fit  people with a teenager mindset (bearing in mind that the number of years you actually clock does not necessarily match the “expected” or “usual” behaviour for that number).
It seems to me that Facebook is constituted of trivia for 95%. Certainly, that is my experience so far, but the remaining 5% is an exception so important that it justifies my having joined Facebook  (I learned bad news from a friend I am in regular contact with, but hadn’t been in touch with for a while).
I do see the point of sharing news and photos quickly, but it’s not that obvious to make these relevant, entertaining or interesting to all your friends. For my part, I prefer taking my time to either write a completely tailored message to a particular person or to try and compose a more measured piece for the internet community at large in this blog (I know, I know, two people read it, but I mean the discerning internauts at large…) Also, being a rather cautious person, “Do I need to be careful what I share with work colleagues?” “Will I offend so and so” “Does that comment make me sound a busybody or terminally middle aged?” goes through my head.

Care, one of the charities I support, was one of the organisations whose page I  added to my profile or wall or whatever (not familiar with all the terminology yet). I commented on the fact that I didn’t want to vote for the story I most wanted to read about, which is what they are doing in the run up to 2011.  Someone from Care helpfully commented back that it wasn’t about voting for the “best” story. I understand, but still don’t like the “vote” idea synonymous with mindless TV programmes. I’ll find a person to have an off-Facebook email exchange about this, but will keep Care on my Facebook. On the other hand, I’ve “unliked” Nina Hagen’s page. She made great music but is as offensive and ranting as ever. 70s punk is dead Nina, and I don’t think you’re making a lot of sense now.

Finally, some people clearly have a talent for short, pithy and humorous posts and I really enjoy those. But I’m definitely a more wordy person! So I’ll give it till the end of 2010 to see whether I stick around and contribute or just sit there as a Facebook non-participating squatter.

As to Twitter, shouldn’t it just become a new emergency service?

What I read in November 2010

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This was the latest book read and discussed by our book club. It was unanimously appreciated. For my part, I loved finding out more about one war I knew nothing about, not even its occurrence. I do remember the terrible pictures of children in Biafra dying of famine as one of the few momentous events which filtered down to my consciousness as a child (others were two men shaking hands with a third man grinning between them  and that being a big deal – Begin and Sadat, in case you were trying to work it out –  and a bit later, asking my parents what difference it would make if Monsieur Mitterrand rather than Monsieur Giscard d’Estaing were elected President). However, I discovered to my shame that I had no idea that the Nigerian-Biafran war preceded/caused the famine.

I thought that the novelisation of that war-torn period worked extremely well, with a wide range of different actors of the war (willing or otherwise) convincingly depicted. The twin sisters are obviously strong characters, in keeping with their book heroine status, as well as their respective menfolk, although “strong” is perhaps not the mot juste to describe idealistic Richard, with his tendency to impotency except in infidelity, and his inability to write the book he initially set out to write. Village people are very present too, both those who live with educated and/or rich townies, mostly as servants, and those who are still in their village and in abject, rather than relative, poverty.

The story runs through the tragedy of war and does it with enough gruesome detail to satisfy the urge for anger at the horror and the folly (that severed head being carried in a basket by the mother who can’t stop looking at her daughter’s beautiful braids..)  but also with beautiful storytelling around the lives and loves of the protagonists, which stops the book being just a documentary with a little human interest. 

What I loved most of all was the depiction of middle-class Nigerians with Western-style education, trying to build something new and fairer in the postcolonial period of the 60s. I appreciated the description of the wigs of the fashionable Nigerian woman  of the time. I wanted to know more about the palm wine carrying ceremony, in fact I wanted to be invited to one. I felt bizarrely grateful, somehow, that in the midst of war, a mother still worried about her child catching lice. And the book did leave me wondering whether an Oxbridge education wasn’t another insult to add to the long list of evils perpetrated by the colonial powers in the “Scramble for Africa” (which I haven’t read, but don’t think I have the stomach for, having scanned a few paragraphs).

Here is Adichie’s TED talk:

Hors de moi de Didier van Cauwelaert que j’ai acheté en même temps que d’autres livres de cet auteur, ayant déjà lu L’éducation d’une fée et Rencontres sous X, que j’avais appréciés tous deux. J’ai lu ce livre très vite, avec plaisir. Cette histoire d’identité usurpée n’est peut-être pas follement originale, ni même analysée en grand détail, mais le récit est enlevé et pas idiot.

Ce blog cause surtout de livres, en français parfois.