Monday, 5 January 2015

Paper Towns by John Green / Where I Was From by Joan Didion / Walking Home by Clare Balding

Paper Towns by John Green
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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I felt ominously lurgified recently so chose the YA novel Paper Towns as the easiest read of the selection on our Kindle. Set in Orlando, Florida, the novel tells of a group of High School students during the few weeks prior to their graduation. One girl, Margo, mysteriously disappears leaving her besotted childhood friend Q going to ever more bizarre lengths to find her.

The main strength of Paper Towns is in its depiction of the relationship between Q and his two best friends Ben and Radar. I thought this trio were very realistic and fun to read about. Their dialogue actually got me laughing out loud several times. By contrast, the female characters seemed more stereotypical and the continual emphasis on their appearances was irritating. All the students are also remarkably affluent - $100s of dollars are spent without any of them appearing to have jobs! I did like the descriptions of the 'paper towns' that were planned but never came into existence. There are a lot of these houseless plots in Spain so reading about the American version was topical for me.

Paper Towns is an ok light read but I found it difficult to buy into the main premise that Q would go to so much trouble for a girl who has basically ignored him for the best part of a decade. We are told he idolises her but, for me, his potentially jeopardising a college future that is fantastically important to him purely for the sake of a one-night madcap adventure was stretching credibility too far. I also missed out on much of the poetical theorising having not read the Whitman poem that was analysed. I've not read any of his poems and am starting to think I must get a collection to browse through - he is namedropped so often in American literature! Anyway, having got through the whole novel in an afternoon, the writing is indeed easy on the brain and there are some great humorous moments that took my mind off feeling poorly. Love the beer sword! However, the time-sensitive ending is too contrived - perhaps written with one eye on a film script - and I didn't like the last scene at all.

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Books by John Green / Young adult / Books from America


Where I Was From by Joan Didion
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Dave chose Where I Was From for our Kindle so I didn't read any blurb prior starting the book. I was vaguely expecting an autobiography of a journalist's youth and certainly not the wide ranging evaluation of California that Joan Didion has so eloquently penned.

There are elements of her own family history mixed in with every Californian family's history, whether 'original' or recent settlers. We also learn in detail about the political life of the state and I was amazed to realise how much of the economy is, or at least was, based on Government money and Defence contract production lines. There are definite echoes of the collapse of the old British mill towns in the current Californian situation. I have only travelled through this part of the world once - by Amtrak from Los Angeles to Santa Clara to San Francisco, a fortnight in all with a few days in each city - but found Didion's book fascinating even though many of the places are unfamiliar to me. I love the way she has melded her storylines to make every word feel personal.

This is very much a book of her struggling to identify and come to terms with her roots and their contradictions. I suspect most of us have a mental image of our home that isn't necessarily truthful about what is really there. Didion has made a brave stand to speak of both the good and the bad of her home state.

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Books by Joan Didion / Reportage / Books from America


Walking Home: My Family and Other Rambles by Clare Balding
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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I enjoyed the Audible version of Clare Balding's My Animals and Other Family back in the summer and so have been looking forward to downloading her newest book, Walking Home. I got this one on audio as well. Balding reads her own words and is a very professional narrator.

This memoir is based around Ramblings, the Radio 4 series that Balding has presented for many series. I don't think I've ever actually heard an episode. I go through stages of being a Radio 4 listener and my most recent phase must have been over a decade ago. However, I got the gist pretty quickly - Balding goes on walks all around the UK and chats with Interesting People. I particularly enjoyed hearing her talk about her experiences making the programme and the places she has walked. Perhaps someone should have had a quiet word about attempting mimicry and accents though - most really didn't work for me. I listened to practically every word through headphones whilst walking around Mojacar in Spain - there's some fab walks here, Clare! - so I felt particularly inspired. Not having a convenient notepad and pen was an error though. I can now only remember the names of St Oswald's Way in Northumberland and the Wayfarers Walk near her family home as ones we really must do too! Maybe there is an index in the printed book edition?

Balding's attempts to get her family to do various sections of the Wayfarer's are humorous to listen to and I recognised several situations in which Dave and I have also found ourselves - what do you mean it's flooded? How flooded?!

Balding does also ramble in the other meaning of frequently going off topic and I did find this irritating at times. Her other subjects, including a long section on the London Olympics, are probably interesting in their own right, but when I was being inspired by walking tales, the sudden veers away were distracting.

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Books by Clare Balding / Biography / Books from England

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