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Book reviews

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So many ways to begin by Jon McGregor

I had never heard of the writer when I picked this up from the second hand bookshelf at a local community centre. I read it cover to cover in a matter of days. Which is curious. Because in some ways it’s simply a tale of a boy growing up to be a man, marrying and getting old and in the meantime finding his parentage is not as he thought. Told in a simple, everyday way. No great shakes there. And yet…there’s something much more going on. Each chapter is titled as an object from the things we perhaps keep, or leave behind e.g. “Handwritten list of household items, c.1947’ and ‘Doorkey on a knotted loop of string; Wedding certificate, October 1968’. The things that trigger memories. That tell of a life. This is literary Tai Chi – seemingly slow and delicate, yet carrying a deep, unseen, profoundly moving power. And in it’s way quite beautiful.

I gave my copy to a friend, and bought a second copy for my wife. I felt like writing an on-line review. But I didn’t know what to say, apart from the fact it has a curious way of bouncing around inside my head. I had a look at earlier on-line comments. And read a reviewer saying; ‘It’s odd, it has a funny way of bouncing around your head.’ No point repeating, I thought and logged off. The title has informed quite a few of my coaching conversations. Is something an end, or a beginning? For surely an ending inevitably draws a beginning into life? So which one are we noticing, paying attention to, perhaps mourning/anticipating? There are stacks of warm reviews from all the big papers and magazines all over […]

By |March 15th, 2013|Book reviews|Comments Off on So many ways to begin by Jon McGregor

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

Why on earth did it take me so long to read this? I picked up a lesser-known work of his, Sweet Thursday, a year or so ago from my favourite bookshop; the local charity shop. And thought it was wonderful. Simple, honest, insightful, intelligent, caring and humane writing. This one physically comes in much, much bigger. I took a deep breath, opened it and dived in. And goodness. It was a delight every night to open the pages and fall into another world. Evocative of California in the early 20th century, in that turning time from pioneer country to consumer-driven world power. All the big meaty themes of life are here, with characters doing what it takes to make a living from the soil, from the army, from shops, from inheritances, and given what seems to be for Steinbeck a rather familiar relationship with whorehouses, from lying on their back.

For me he seems to move things along wonderfully as a story-teller, and through his characters drops into insights of the human condition with as much power as Shakespeare – our greatness and our futility, our quirkiness and our wisdom. Take this, as a character describes his old horse: “Do you know I paid two dollars for him thirty-three years ago? Everything was wrong with him, hoofs like flapjacks. He’s hammer headed and sway backed. He has a pinched chest and a big behind. He has an iron mouth and still fights the crupper. With a saddle it feels like you are riding a sled over a gravel pit. He can’t trot and stumbles over his feet when he walks. <and on and on it goes> I have never in thirty-three years found one good thing […]

By |March 15th, 2013|Book reviews|Comments Off on East of Eden by John Steinbeck