Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Books from different cultures - and mine

I’ve been getting to grips with our new digital recorder – and the OM is happily sitting in front of it now watching some wartime stuff from the channel Yesterday – the channel that features Catherine Cookson and Antiques Roadshow, as well as wartime memories. Not that I’m knocking Catherine Cookson – I’m sure she gets more from Public Lending Right than I do. Isn’t she one of the top earners from PLR? Which is due to be paid into my account any day now, I believe.

It’s irritating to note that Tainted Tree has disappeared from Woking Library. Particularly irritating because it was borrowed quite a lot. Over the Christmas period, it was constantly on loan – and then it just disappeared.

I’ve had a quiet couple of weeks, and caught up with my reading -which has taken me to Jewish, Scottish and Chinese cultures - and English too, in the case of the book circle read – Diary of a Nobody - George and Weedon Grossmith. I don’t normally read ‘pretend diaries’ but Diary of a Nobody is a gently satirical book. It’s easy to read and moves speedily through a year or so in the life of Mr & Mrs Pooter and their ‘smart-alec’ son, Lupin. Also included are Mr P’s friends – Cummings and Gowing. The author, it seems, likes little word games and so does his hero, who frequently employs them in order to make a joke, and repeats the jokes if no-one laughs.

Nevertheless, there must be something about Mr P; it seems there is a regular open house, his friends visit frequently and are usually made welcome; games are played and alcohol consumed.

Mr P may be a bit of a bore and rather earnest, but he is respected by his boss who recognises his worth. And for all that the author makes fun of his lower middle class status, he allows him to succeed in the end.

In Mr P's obsession with small domestic irritations, I could almost see him as an earlier version of Ed Reardon, except of course that Mr R (from Radio 4) is not at all Mr Nice Guy - which is why we all love him so much. He was ranting this week about dustbins and about telephones where you press numerous buttons to get through to a human being. I so identified.

The other book I’ve just finished is The Finkler Question. I understand Howard Jacobson’s mother thought the book was too Jewish to succeed. Although, in spite of that, it was this year’s Mann Booker winner, I am inclined to agree with Mrs Jacobson, and can’t help wondering why non-Jewish people would want to read it.

Although there is a fairly thin plot, the novel is more a lengthy discussion than a novel. As such, it throws up interesting ideas: what is a Jew - who are the people who would apply that description to themselves, and how do they differ from each other. It’s a question Jews have asked themselves from time immemorial.

It starts off with one being amused at the characters. The main character – Julian Treslove - is obsessed with Jewishness. He wants to be a Jew; he wants a woman who is Jewish, but he is actually a Gentile. Although he describes himself this way, he seems more like the archetypal Jew as portrayed by Woody Allen – full of angst. The only thing is, he’s very good looking, unlike Woody, although I couldn’t picture him as such. I did laugh out loud a few times at the beginning. But for me the book darkened, when it starts to talk of the anti-Semitism cropping up all over the UK. It reminded me of when I read The Exodus and the tales of the various people who came together in Israel in the post-Holocaust days, and how each of them had fled from some terrible experience in one or other part of Europe. I asked then the question, ‘Why?’ and Finkler brought about the same reaction in me.

If this blog is, for today, turning into the ‘Front Row’ (see Radio 4) of blogging, it’s because apart from reading, I’ve been listening to such interesting things on the radio recently. The sun hasn’t fallen from the sky, a wonderful memoir, prompted me to return to that slot every morning, without fail, to listen to the tale of a Scottish girl, removed from her loving but dysfunctional parents, together with her sister, to a strict children’s home. One person recognises her musical talent and changes her life. I thought it was so good, I bought it for my daughter in law’s birthday, along with The Help, which I’m reading myself for the next book circle meeting.

Then straight on to The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother also in the morning on Radio 4. Absolutely fascinating memoir of a mother, who, in my opinion, didn’t know when to stop organising her two daughters. There have been mixed opinions about this. Some people have said that it’s better to have a mother who imposes some discipline than a laissez faire approach to child rearing, where children do exactly as they want. Agreed. A middle of the road approach is probably right, I think. But this was not a middle of the road approach at all. Here was a mother who did not think her children could be trusted with the smallest detail of their lives – or that’s how it seemed to me, listening to the, no doubt, edited episodes. From the vantage point of being a grandmother I would say that you have to learn to let go, from nursery school onwards.

I’m also listening to The Far Pavilions (fiction, set in India) at 10.45 on Radio 4. Good thing there’s such good radio on at the moment, because February has been rather grey and wet, with only occasional sunny days. Nice to know, though that someone contacted the Goldenford headquarters and asked for a copy of Tainted Tree, and wanted to know about all my publications. I have a fan! That’s cheering. And we have crocuses in the gardening, which is also welcome. But a local body wants to change our local woodland to heath. What’s wrong with woodland. I like it. The locals are up in arms and lots of meetings are taking place.