Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Déjà Dead - Kathy Reichs

At the moment I seem to be somewhat of a dreamer when it comes to reading.  I spend a lot of time thinking about books or series of books that I would like to read, and often browse them in my local library.  But actually reading the books is still difficult as ever.  When juggling various tasks all day even making time to read in bed has been going out the window.  So it's nice to know that sometimes I do manage to read the books I hunt down.

Déjà Dead is the first book in Kathy Reichs' series about Dr Temperence Brennan, an anthropologist specialising in bones.  This may sound familiar to you for the same reason I was aware of the series, in that they are the books upon which the TV series Bones is based.  I say 'based' in a very loose sense though.  The books are based in Montreal, a city that has fascinated me for quite some time and adds a different cultural element for an ignorant Brit.  Dr Brennan works with the regional law enforcement and helps to identify remains of dead bodies from their bones.  When subsequent major cases seem a bit similar Tempe tries to get a bit more involved with the different aspects of solving a crime, with escalating consequences.

Clearly reading a crime book wasn't a huge departure for me, but reading 'modern' crime was a little different.  The story is set in the 90s and so seems a lot more relevant than those from 50 or 100 years before that.  In some ways it does show its age.  Data is moved around on CD-ROMs and there is a very cute explanation of how Tempe is able to write a message on her computer and send it to her daughter's.  Still, it was recent enough to give the same realism factor that you get from watching crime TV shows.  Which helped with the scary factor.  That and I've never been good at dealing with stalker plotlines.  This also contributed to me not being able to read before bed.  I did try it at one point and hardly slept all night.

I think my reading experience suffered from me having watched so many episodes of Bones.  I kept making comparisons.  It's kind of difficult to treat them separately in your head, even when after just a few pages you're aware of how many differences there are.  It's a shame as, reflecting on what I read, I think I actually prefer the characters and the setup in this book to what I've watched.  The strengths and weaknesses of those involved were interesting to discover, as were the interpersonal relations.  I just wish I'd started with a blank canvas.  Or at least could have done a find-and-replace on Tempe's name.

Setting out to read this book I wasn't necessarily planning to read more of the series.  It was just one of those things I thought I should have read.  But it seems to have got me enough to want to read a little more.  That's not saying I'll keep reading til I run out though.  And whether my nerves will hold out through another of these books is a different matter entirely.  For now I will just continue to do what I have been doing, chipping through my to-read list at an annoyingly slow rate.  Hopefully one day I might manage to make that list shorter rather than longer...

Thursday, 1 May 2014

The Color Purple - Alice Walker

You know those books that are sat on your bookshelf because you feel you should read them?  Maybe they even include books that you tried to read some time ago but gave up on.  I have plenty of books like that.  Books that friends read at school, books that seem to appear as 'must reads' and so on.  And, very occasionally, I do actually read them.

The Color Purple first appeared on my radar in GCSE English lessons, with a few of my classmates selecting it for their wider reading coursework.  All I really remember of their discussions was the assurance that the first page was the worst.  Not that it really meant a great deal at the time.  When I started trying to read it a few years back I was glad of that comment, but even still I did not manage to persevere for long.  This year, however, it appeared on the World Book Day Writes of Passage list and I had one of those 'now or never' moments that made me determined.

The book is set in the American South between the wars and tells the story of a girl (later woman) named Celie.  Her story is told in letter form, as diary extracts that she writes to God.  This instantly brings a personal connection and is a very powerful way to approach some of the topics covered.  But it also brings the reason that I initially struggled reading.  The letters are written as Celie would write them and so contain a lot of dialect and also the phrases of someone who is simply not used to writing.  Once you get used to the style it's fine, but you do need to give it some time (preferably when you're not completely exhausted if possible).

So that first page that was so controversial in my English class?  It describes the first time that she is raped.  Other occurences cover the emotional impact, arguably making the descriptions fair worse, but the first is certainly as graphic as it gets.  The theme of abuse in relationships is widely explored in its different forms.  It's easy to see why it fell into the World Book Day's category of 'books that will make you cry'.  Other themes are covered as well, notably racism - particularly in its more 'casual' forms.  Sexuality also makes an appearance (definitely not the first book I've read this year with lesbian references). In fact, if I tried to list all the social, emotional and moral topics that feature I would struggle to finish this post today.

It's somewhat of an unusual read for me in that it doesn't have an obvious genre.  It's not fantasy, crime, or any of my typical choices.  It's 'just' a book.  But some books are well regarded for a reason.  Give this one a go, and stick with it if you struggle to get into the writing syle.  It might make you cry, but it might just also give you hope.