Book Review – The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon

How I came to buy this book

JoannaCannonReadingI bought The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon at a book reading event that was held at my local Waterstones. Joanna was interviewed by Tom Bromley who Teaches a Faber Academy course that Joanna attended.

The event was a great opportunity to hear about how Joanna had progressed through the publishing process and what inspired her to write her first book. Events of this kind are immensely interesting to me as a reader and a writer. I also found the event interesting as it was the first time I have met other book bloggers. So, Hi to Shaz and Jackie Law at NeverImitate. I’m on a slightly different quest to them and am obviously not as experienced in the ways of book blogging at the new book end of the market! (See my book list for details…)

Anyway, I came away from the evening having had a great time and with a signed copy of the book in my hand. I had not read any reviews and barely knew the synopsis. Everything I knew about the book I had gleaned from the hour or so of the reading event. I tend to prefer things like this as I can make my own mind up without other people’s opinion getting in the way. Without further ado, here is some of my thoughts and opinions on The Trouble with Goats and Sheep!

The book and Me

thetroublewithgoatsandsheepbookcoverThe book starts on 21st June 1976, which happens to be only a few weeks after my birthday. I know everyone says that the summer of 1976 was hot, but it was great to read something set in THAT summer. Chapters in the book are dated, and this triggered thoughts of my Mum and Dad doing what you do with a baby. There are so many events that occur concurrently across the world and you only ever see the ones that directly affect you. As I was having my nappy changed, events similar to those in the book were happening in another place under the same baking sun.

I will also mention here that I really liked the blue of the cover. It fits the book perfectly and because it’s a hardback, you see an edge of colour in your peripheral vision as you start and end each page. It feels like the colour of the summer of 1976…

Tense and Person Prose…

First off in the prose section I would like to mention tense and person! I really liked the way that Joanna has written events in the present of the book in past tense, third person. Memory chapters are written in present tense first person. This works really really well because memories are always internal and subjective, and you remember what you experienced (first person present tense.) It is such a powerful tool that I am amazed I have not seen it in any other book, at least I don’t remember reading it… This tense and person change also provided a very obvious but non intrusive way to stay in touch with what part of the story you were reading 1967 or 1976.

Efficient Prose

During the reading event, Joanna talked a little about “tight” prose. I also had a short conversation about it with her as she was signing my book. I used to wish that I could write a book with an absolute minimum number of words, to evoke a reader’s own imagination and to intrude on that as minimally as possible to direct the story. This is of course a fool’s errand. To take so much away from a story misses the beauty of the prose that keeps you reading and keeps invoking similes in your memory.

Joanna has succeeded in her aim, and I found the writing to be relaxed, effortless and still succinct. At the same time it was also very evocative. There were however times when I think the prose was almost too full or too efficient. I didn’t always get time to savour the depth of what was being painted for me.

This tightness of prose also led to some interesting descriptive passages. Some brilliantly realised:

On Libraries “It smelled of unturned pages and unseen adventures, and on every shelf were people I had yet to meet, and places I had yet to visit.”

And in some cases, slightly odd:

“…the thread of the carpet, worn down by heavy conversation.”

How does conversation ware down a carpet??

Anyway, the odd oddity aside, Joanna’s writing style was brilliant and beautiful. The whole book is told in a way that allows the reader to pour their own experiences into it. A lot of references don’t need to be interpreted, but depth is provided if you take your time. It’s like when “Ron swears” in Harry Potter. My son at 8 had a completely different lexicon for this and a different expectation of hour Ron would use his.

Conclusion

I had some trouble sticking with this book at times, and it took me a while to realise why. This is a brilliant book but it is not an easy book to read. I have already said that the writing is very good, and the general themes are all well realised and well paced, so what is my problem? The book is written around people and relationships and how they react to various problems for example; marriage issues, heat, the miss-understanding of children and people who can not accept differences in race and personality. This means that there is a lot of unspoken suspicion and social menace throughout the book. The reality of people I suppose! I found this tension quite hard to read for any length of time, even though I was enjoying the main thrust of the story.

Then, from nowhere Jesus arrives (He moves in mysterious ways!) and it was lovely to read this section because everyone pulled together. Well, almost everyone. I’m not going to go into the religious aspect of the book too much. It’s there, it’s a device and a good one at that. All to soon Jesus has gone and the tension returns.

Anyway, suffice to say that it was the tension that I was not comfortable with. It was definitely a tension that needed to be there for the story, and as I said, it was a story worth reading.

 

Rating: 8/10

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Draft Book Review – Consider Phlebas by Iain. M. Banks

ConsideringPhlebas_CoverI have been having a bit of a tidy up and managed to find a couple of partly finished book reviews from Summer last year (2015.) I’m not sure how I managed to miss them, but as I have other things to do I thought it would be fun to whack them out as they are, basically just a bunch of notes that give you an idea what I thought of the books. There is this one and Eden by Tim Smit.

—- Imagine its the 19th July 2015 —-

Quite a bit about religion and god. Communism and the way the Culture sees life.

The pace is very good. It’s a long book, but when the build up comes for the final events they build slowly and you have read enough of the story to fully appreciate the effort and gravity (accuse the pun) of the crescendo.

Another example of spectacular writing that transcends the book itself and the genre. When Iain talks about self and evolution and comparison of humans to the minds of AI it is separate yet completely integrated with the rest of the book.

——–

That’s it! I loved this book and have other Iain.M.Banks in my book list, so everything is good with the world 🙂

Rating: 8/10

Book Review – Minority Report by Philip. K. Dick

Hello WordPress, how the devil are you? I know, I know, it has been over a month since my last post! I have some catching up to do! I also don’t have a picture for you with this book. The downside of e-books. They usually don’t have good front covers and I can’t easily take photos of them. Soz. Anyway, on with the review.

After finishing Foundation and Empire, I dove straight back into sci-fi with Minority Report. It was very interesting to see the differences in style between the two books. Both Isaac Asimov and Philip K. Dick produce slick, readable texts. Both also competently create future worlds which are still believable many decades after they were written. The difference is maybe one of how grounded each view of the future is. As I mentioned when I reviewed Foundation and Empire, a tale set in the far far future is not going to be at much risk of dated ideas until we manage to jump in space ships and whiz off to the twirly ends of the galaxy. In Philip’s Minority Report the future was definitely closer. I got an interesting mixture of future and the ‘70s from the story, but somehow that worked extremely well. The machines that the pre-cogs were attached to saved information to tapes, the reports were delivered on cards. It was all quite colloquial. In my mind this should have spoilt the book. I should have read about cards and tapes and got upset that the future is not going to be like that, we are already past bits of card to report onto. BUT, Philip K. Dick created realism in his future worlds. They feel different, and they are futuristic and they work wonderfully well. We already know that the future is going to be much more real and, well, down to earth than sci-fi tells us. The reality of it will warp and change as the order of different breakthroughs change the way that we work ever closer to that comfy seat on the spaceship to Mars. An example to illustrate my point; you know when R2D2 projects Princess Leyla onto the table in Starwars? Well, once we eventually invent holographic video and updated Dusty Bins to project them, they will definitely be very hi resolution, not the grainy broken effort that we saw and accepted as cool and futuristic in the film.

I’m not going to go into the details of the Minority Report story as I try not to include spoilers, but there is a great synergy in the basis of the story and the book itself, so if you don’t want to know a bit of the plot, skip the rest of this paragraph. Under usual circumstances 3 reports are created by the future gazing pre-cogs. The minority report is the weakest of the 3, the one that does not fully agree. In this story the minority report is very significant; it was different because its prediction was based on the events created because a character reads the main report and the third report is the altered future state. This is an ingenious plot device that Philip masterfully plays out in the story. I realised that the whole story is in its self a Minority Report. It is a short story, therefore minor in stature compared to a full book. More significantly, the story builds on realisation after realisation of how events have occurred and the impact of the present on the future. The story gets to an point where the remainder of the book is obvious. There is no option, the outcome is inevitable and is a function of the events that led up to it. A sublime reflection of the process that the story describes.

I did only get the Philip K. Dick Kindle book to read Minority Report, so that is the only story I read. I can thoroughly recommend it (and I expect the other stories in the book are great too…)

Rating:8/10

Book Review – The Natural Navigator by Tristan Gooley

TheNaturalNavigatorI was given The Natural Navigator a year ago for my birthday and although it always looked like a good book, I had not opened it even once. That is my confession and the reason I am here writing my brainwaves down here!

I have a couple of other books that I would file in the same category as The Natural Navigator:- Never Eat Shredded Wheat by Christopher Somerville (Number 139) and The Cloudspotter’s Guide by Gavin Pretor-Pinney (Number 174) to name the two that come to mind. Incidentally, The Natural Navigator mentions Gavin’s Cloudspotter’s Guide so it will be fun to read that when the time comes. As I think more, I have also read Longitude by David Sobel which again is mentioned in TNN, and I have 1421 by Gavin Menzies (Number 57) which is not mentioned but is sort of related(ish); I have actually read over half of 1421, but as I didn’t finish, it is still on my list! I guess that’s 4 books which come to mind, but hey, who’s counting? Except of course me who introduced the counting thing to start with… [rolls eyes, awkward silence]

Of the (maybe) 4 books I own that talk about natural navigation in some way or other, The Natural Navigator is the one that I saw in a book shop around the time of my friend’s birthday after embarking on this blog. I had started to do a bit of list creation and noticed my copy hanging around; an idea struck me. I bought the book for my friend and gave it to him with a caveat. The gift came with a task; read the book, then do a practical! I have a set of books that are on a separate list called “read then do.” My commitment to books of this kind is captured in Rule Number 9. The Natural Navigator is one of these books that has snuck onto my main reading list. “What’s the Task?” I hear you ask. Well, my friend and I need to get lost, then navigation our way out of trouble. I will write a follow up post when we get the event planned, but to be honest if there is anything that is going to let me down it is my shockingly poor memory and it’s lacklustre ability to retain all of the cool stuff that Tristan Gooley’s book has given me.

The book itself is a wonderful way to gain a deeper understanding of the natural world. In the deep and varied way that Tristan introduces the concepts involved in natural navigation it is obvious that a very strong atunement with nature and it’s cycles is a core principal of the book. This fundamental appreciation of nature struck a chord with me. The need to have a holistic awareness of everything that can be used including not just the local nature, but the planet, the solar system and the rest of the visible galaxy was wonderful. With all that at our disposal you really do wonder why we bothered with anything more?

Tristan’s enthusiasm to find direction and location using the more obvious signs and confirm it via the use of the less obvious, more arcane knowledge is what brings the book to life and what will ultimately keep the skill of natural navigation alive. It also happens to be a very important lesson. Tristan states repeatedly that the navigator who complacently relies on one or two observations risks failure. But there is always more depth and more understanding to gain. Tristan shows that with so many double checks in place you can actually start to deduce new measures. At the end of the book, such is Tristan’s confidence of orientation that he adds a bird-poo compass to his arsenal. N.B. the bird-poo compass does not need to be carried in a pocket and to be honest, that is at least part of the point.

To further elaborate on the Raison d’être of the book, I loved the differentiation made between finding your way and knowing your way. A depth of understanding and a commitment to build the understanding of nature into your every day processes to such an extend that you know where you are and where you’re going at all times. The techniques described in the book will allow you to orientate yourself and find your way from natural cues, but, Tristan is so obviously trying to educating us in so much more. I know that I will forget a lot of what I have learnt, but I will retain enough and I have enough of a care for nature and how it works to re-visit this book in the future, if for no other reason than I am going to try to use it’s teachings in the mini-adventure I mentioned above.

The book is written in a nice succinct prose with enough descriptive content to make it enjoyable to read and there is a healthy undertone of comedic content. The clarity is almost a requirement as some of the concepts are quite hard to comprehend. When you have to take so many factors into consideration it can play havoc with those little grey cells. I continually imagined the navigators of history using these natural techniques, relying upon them when the users didn’t understand the solar system as we now do! I kept thinking of someone stood on the deck of a ship a long time ago trying to divine the correct course, and by some magic of logic and perseverance, succeeding!

It is scary to think that some fundamentals of our existence are no longer understood. We see so far because we are stood on the shoulders of giants… If we were to step (as we now do) off the giants shoulder onto higher ground and the giant walks off, then what? The Natural Navigator is a book that can act as the ladder in my simile, reconnecting us with the not just the ground, but with the natural navigation that is wondrously built into our planet and it’s surroundings.

Rating 8/10