Posts Tagged 'books'

Happy 100th Birthday, Roald Dahl! 

 

I grew up in a house with no books. There were, of-course, a very small selection of baby books in our room, and the obligatory Dictionary, French Dictionary, and Medical Dictionary in the living room drawer, never opened. Aside from that; nothing. My parents, although possessing many wonderful qualities, are not academic. They read the redtops, if anything; never pushed me to do homework, and were only ever concerned when I was in trouble for not handing it in. 

It is remarkable then that I started school being able to read, and read well. This was thanks to one shining light in the darkness; Roald Dahl, and one stark exception to our bookless house. Each night, my mother would read to get me to sleep; a few chapters from three battered old books; The BFG, The Witches, and Matilda. I think the copies had come from a mixture of an older cousin, and those shelves in library doorways, selling dog-eared books for 50p.

It didn’t take long for me to reach that moment. I can’t remember precisely how old I was, or even when it happened, but I know distinctly that there was one night, when I’d started reading Matilda back to my Mother, instead of her reading it to me, that I realised. I realised it all. I had, without knowing, been learning the very important fact that you can be different to the people in your house, and it doesn’t make you bad, or wrong, just different. If your parents read The Sun, you don’t have to. If your parents think that books are irrelevant, and lofty, you can still love them fiercely (the parents, and the books).  

That was the moment when I understood. I am not alone. There are hundreds of shelves, in hundreds of buildings, with millions of words on pages, written by people who know how I feel, and what I think, because they thought the same thing. They may have thought it two hundred years ago, but they thought it. And I knew I would never be alone again. As soon as I could read, I belonged to a rich and limitless world full of people, and places, and thoughts. I belonged to them, and they belonged to me.
There are children who have never discovered Matilda, who believe that because they are different to their parents and siblings, and because they want to read The Famous Five in a corner with a lamp, instead of watching quiz shows with their family, it makes them stupid, odd, and abnormal. I wish I could tell those children how special they are. I wish I could shine the light for them. 
Shining that light is precisely what Roald Dahl does. Like the BFG’s long golden trumpet, blowing dreams through children’s bedroom windows, Roald Dahl, with his words, and characters, and help from Quentin Blake, reaches through the darkness of children’s lives, and shows them that they are normal, and crucial, and noble. He makes children see the nobility in their everyday actions.

What makes Dahl remarkable, for me, is that he did it all without really intending to. Roald Dahl was not a saint-like messiah, setting out on a selfless mission to do honourable deeds, and save children from awful lives. He was a battered old RAF pilot, who nearly died when his fighter jet crashed in the desert, who spent his childhood away from his family, being beaten and caned at boarding school, and lived his adult life as a spy, passing messages in the Second World War directly between presidents and prime ministers. He was an unsuccessful writer, writing books for adults without much notice, and the odd screenplay here and there, and then suddenly, out of nowhere, managed to bring extraordinary magic into children’s lives, and arguably changed the world, and the way we think.

Who else was brave enough to tell children that their parents and teachers might actually be catastrophically wrong, and even unintelligent? Who else told children that the monsters and dangerous things they’ve been warned about for their entire young lives might actually live in their own home, or school, in the next bedroom, or classroom, or down the street? And he gives children the bravery to fight them. For so many children, myself included, Dahl’s words give them the strength to fight back; to stand up. He lifts their chin up.

Owing solely and unequivocally to Roald Dahl, our bookless house is now full of books. Downstairs is filled with crammed bookshelves, and in my own tiny bedroom, the walls are covered in shelves, filled to drooping, and the room is filled with bookcases, and piles of books on the dressing table, chair, and floor; piled just high enough on every surface that they won’t fall over. All of them are mine. My parents still read the redtops. I can pay no greater respect or thanks to Roald Dahl than that. 

Learn Your Parents’ Music

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I grew up with a Mum that taught me about David Bowie, and Marc Bolan, and a Dad that played The Smiths in the shower as loud as the stereo would go. I spent a large portion of my childhood being physically forced to transcribe James lyrics so he could learn them for the Karaoke. There was never any question in our house about what real music was. 

I did buy the Number 1 single every week, and knew the lyrics to Take That, and The Spice Girls, because I had to fit in at school, but I always knew, at the back of my mind, that that wasn’t the real music.  The real music was what my parents played at full volume when they were getting ready to go out.  The smell of hairspray, and perfume; the twist of lipstick, and the creak of leather jackets, will always be married to The Style Council, always The Style Council, and Rod Stewart.

My parents didn’t forbid me anything musically, but neither did they need to tell me that modern music was trash, because they demonstrated by example. For my sixteenth birthday, I was given a Motown compilation, not because I needed educating, but because I needed more.

 The same applied to comedy.  I was recently discussing comedy with some work colleagues between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two, who sited ‘old comedy’ as The Fresh Prince of Bell Air.  When I mentioned Blackadder, Steptoe, Fools and Horses, The Young Ones, Pete and Dud, Rising Damp, I was met with a room full of blank faces.  Similarly, when I returned from Glastonbury in the Summer, full of excitement that I had just seen The Rolling Stones, I was greeted by a room that was silent for half a beat, and the dissection of Miley Cyrus and Rhianna singles then resumed.

These blank faces of the young people, particularly the teenagers, lead me to wonder what their parents are teaching them.  I wonder, when I see one of these “Directioners”, or “Beliebers”; a new generation of technologically fuelled obsessives, why their parents aren’t teaching them that there is more to life than One Direction.  Why is no-one in their life teaching them what real music is?  Because it sure as hell isn’t Justin Bieber.

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Mania has always existed, from The Beatles to The Rolling Stones, right through to Take That.  Teenage girls have always been frighteningly obsessed by popstars.  For my Mum, before she fell irrevocably in love with Marc Bolan, it was The Bay City Rollers.  She sewed tartan into her jeans, and slashed her lip with a razor so she’d have a scar like Les McKeown.  Unfortunately, because she made the cut in the mirror, it ended up on the wrong side of her face.  However, whereas Beatlemania was on a certain level; girls screaming at airports and concerts, and then going home for their tea, happy and safe, the recent documentary about Directioners proved that this new generation of fans have taken things to a whole new level.  Aided by the internet, teenage fanatics can now devote their whole day, every day, to their chosen subject, and the hours spent online are proving extremely unhealthy.  The level of obsessiveness has already reached life-threatening depths.

Taste is very personal, and the kind of music, books, and comedy a person likes is what defines them, and what kind of person they choose to be.  These things are part of our identity, and how we signify to the world that were are angry, happy, goth, metalhead, pill-popping clubber, classically refined, jiver, swinger, crier, harmer, mod, rocker, romantic, new-wave, dubstep, rapper.  What we listen to is who we are, and there are no two people the same.  However, nowadays, that idea is already almost extinct.  The idea that no two people are the same is being rapidly extinguished by a generation of people who wear the same, listen to the same, watch the same, say the same, think the same, do the same.  Everything they do is the same, and the pictures they post of it on Instagram are the same.  What makes it dangerous is that they have no comprehension that there is an alternative.  For these young people, there is nothing else.

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Whilst recently browsing Twitter, I saw the hashtag #10songsthatmakeyoucry.  Bored, I clicked on the hashtag, hopefully expecting perhaps REM, The Smiths, Radiohead, Elvis Costello, Johnny Cash, Jeff Buckley, Jonie Mitchell, maybe Adele.  After scrolling for a good ten minutes, I didn’t see a single song listed that wasn’t by One Direction, Rhiana, Beyonce, or Justin Bieber.  No exceptions.  That was it.  There were no other artists listed, just hundreds and hundreds of people listing the same handful of songs by those four artists, perhaps with a Lady Gaga thrown in.  Where is the autonomous thought?  Where is individuality? 

I’m from a generation which, like those before us, take immense pride in the individuality of our musical taste.  When I was eighteen, at sixth form college, when questioned on your taste in music, what you listened to absolutely had to be completely different from anybody else in the group.  If you mentioned an artist or song that was mentioned by somebody else, instead of solidarity, you’d be labelled generic, and mainstream.  Your musical taste had to be eclectic, individual, authentic.  You had to actually like music for specific reasons, not just because everybody else did.  What has happened to that world?  From what I’ve seen, it’s slipping away.

If I have children, I won’t forbid them any music, but I’ll make sure I educate them well enough that they can choose intelligently, and find music that brings them to life.  Music should make you feel  so many things, and I want my children to have the power to choose from anywhere in history, rather than the top 10.

I want to grab these teenagers by the shoulders, each and every one of them, and scream into their faces that Lady Gaga is not the most inspirational artist ever to have lived, and play them some David Bowie, or T-Rex.  I want them to lose their breath as Nina Simone ends Feeling Good.  I want their throat to catch, as Bowie’s does, I want them to feel their heart quicken as Marc Bolan takes a sharp intake of breath, and they hear his words; ‘Take me.’  I want them to know what’s out there.  There is so much out there.  I want them to hear Bowie cry ‘Oh no, Love, you’re not alone’ in Rock and Roll Suicide, and feel a far greater solidarity than the one they get from having the Twitter Username ‘1DirectionFan32545223’.

Please, know that there is so much out there.  Your life can be enriched.  You can be so moved by people who play instruments, write their heart and blood into the words, and sing their entire soul out into the microphone.  Listen to somebody singing their own words, and you won’t even call Justin Bieber music. 

Listen to Alex Turner, if you want to be modern.  Music sung and performed by the people that wrote and lived it is completely different to the plastic, mas-produced, computer-produced pulp and trash that floods the world as music nowadays.  Listen to Mick Jagger.  Listen to Bob Dylan.  For God’s sake, listen to David Bowie.

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Books Worth Staying Up and Being Poor For

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Lots of books are good, but there are those few books that keep us awake at night because they’re too good to put down, or compel us to spend that last £5.00, perhaps even forsake lunch in favour of buying that special find.

There are some books that have had me reading through the night, when I can see sunlight slowly brightening through the curtains, and hear birds getting louder, and I know that my alarm will be going off in two hours to get up for work, but I just can’t stop reading.  The tiredness becomes something at the back of mind, something irrelevant, and I’m spurred on by some magic literary adrenaline.  Equally, I have given up lunch hours in search of a particular book, and ended up starving hungry for the whole afternoon, or left myself without money because I couldn’t not buy that book I’ve searched for.  Nowadays we can order books online and have them through the letterbox the following morning, any book ever written, but I still go in search of that old-fashioned thrill of searching the spines of Waterstones, or better yet, a small, independent bookshop.  This thrill is even greater.

These particular books aren’t just good, well-written and interesting.  They have to have something exciting and enthralling about them.

We read books for different reasons.  We might read a crime novel for the rush of working out whodunit, and the intrigue and mysterious plot, or we may read a romance to swoon at Darcy or Heathcliff.  Sometimes we read books because the characters wrap us up in their life, or because the twists of the story keep our breath short and avid.  I usually read books for the language.  I’m attracted to novels written by poets, because one often comes across a sentence that you have to stop and re-read, and let yourself be filled with a glow because the sentence is so beautiful.  I think the corny expression is; ‘takes your breath away’.  I love books that make me laugh, and have exciting twists, but I love books that make me smile just by how beautiful the sentences are.

And so, for any one of these reasons, sometimes a book goes beyond being just good.  A good book can keep me glued to a chair all Sunday afternoon, totally wrapped up, or make me oblivious to the people getting on and off the bus, but sometimes a very special book will make it impossible to sleep.

These are the few that have kept me awake most recently.

The Help, Kathryn Stockett.

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This book combins all of the reasons I’ve already talked about.  The characters, the plot, the language, the whole novel just made me happy to be reading it, and I didn’t want to put it down.  I looked forward all day to getting home and picking it up.  It’s a novel with so much warmth, and vibrancy, and jumps between every emotion possible.

Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte.

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What can I say?  I’ve read this book so many times, but I never tire of being swept up in the wildness and romance of it, being totally enraptured by the desperation and bleakness, and the LOVE! ( I felt I should type that in capitals).  Oh, the love.

Comfort and Joy, India Knight.

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This book, although categorised at chick-lit, is so much more.  I don’t usually read chick-lit, apart from Bridget Jones, but I was immediately wrapped up in this novel.  It takes you away from your ordinary life and suspends you somewhere warm, and enveloping, and comforting (hence the title).  The characters, the exciting plot, the humour, it’s just so endearing and welcoming.  I forgot what was going on in my own life and stayed in a safe, colourful pocket somewhere.  It has a good story, makes you laugh, and is full of colour.  This book made me very content, and kept me up until it was light out.

Death Comes to Pemberley, PD James.

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As an ardent Darcyist, I was totally carried away with this book, which is essentially very well-written fan-fic.  It’s a sequel to Pride and Prejudice, and if you didn’t know better, you would think Jane Austen had written it.  PD James is remarkable, especially when one reads her long list of accolades and awards, and has been able to write a true sequel, as though it were actually created by the author herself.  It quenches that thirst for all readers of Darcy and Elizabeth who wanted more than just the one novel, a century after the original, and wanted the story to carry on after the author had died.  How often does that happen?  And aside from all of that, it’s an exciting murder mystery, with a great whodunit plot.

It started when I stayed up through the night to read the Harry Potter books when I was a teenager (and twenty-something), and I will always love that feeling of being part of something communal and important.


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Sylvia Plath said; "Let me live, love and say it well in good sentences". My aim in life is to find things and people to love, so that I can write about them. Putting words together is the only thing I can see myself doing. This blog is an outlet, and I hope you enjoy reading it. Please feel free to comment on posts, or contact me by the special e-mail I've set up (vikki.littlemore@live.co.uk) with your thoughts.


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The New Remorse, Oscar Wilde.

The sin was mine; I did not understand.
So now is music prisoned in her cave,
Save where some ebbing desultory wave
Frets with its restless whirls this meagre strand.
And in the withered hollow of this land
Hath Summer dug herself so deep a grave,
That hardly can the leaden willow crave
One silver blossom from keen Winter's hand.

But who is this who cometh by the shore?
(Nay, love, look up and wonder!) Who is this
Who cometh in dyed garments from the South?
It is thy new-found Lord, and he shall kiss
The yet unravished roses of thy mouth,
And I shall weep and worship, as before.

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Music I Love (In no particular order, except that The Smiths are first)

The Smiths,
The Libertines,
The Courteeners,
Nina Simone,
Oasis,
Pete Doherty,
Gossip,
The Kills,
Amy Winehouse,
Arctic Monkeys,
Rod Stewart,
The Doors,
The Rolling Stones,
Etta James,
Babyshambles,
T. Rex,
The Jam,
Morrissey,
Guillemots,
The Kinks,
Jack White,
The Deadweather,
David Bowie,
The Winchesters,
The Cure,
Kaiser Chiefs,
The Kooks,
The Twang,
Kings Of Leon,
Pulp,
Blur,
The Housemartins,
The Ramones,
James,
Robots in Disguise,
The Klaxons,
Kate Nash,
The Raconteurs,
Regina Spektor,
Aretha Franklin,
Stereophonics,
The Contours,
Dirty Pretty Things,
The White Stripes,
New York Dolls,
Yeah Yeah Yeahs,
The Clash,
Style Council,
Velvet Underground,
The Horrors,
The Cribs,
Reverend and The Makers,
The Subways,
The Wombats,
Foals,
Elle S'appelle,
The Troggs,
The Beatles,
Echo and the Bunnymen,
Florence and the Machine.

Olive Cotton, Tea Cup Ballet, 1935

Olive Cotton, Tea Cup Ballet, 1935

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Will it ever be alright for Blighty to have a Queen Camilla?

One less tree from our window each day


Vikki's bookshelf: read

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
1984
Twilight
Of Mice and Men
Pride and Prejudice
The Hobbit
The Da Vinci Code
Lolita
Tipping the Velvet
Wuthering Heights
The Picture of Dorian Grey and Other Works by Oscar Wilde
Bridget Jones's Diary and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason
Irish Peacock & Scarlet Marquess: The Real Trial of Oscar Wilde
The Peculiar Memories of Thomas Penman
Moab Is My Washpot
The Bell Jar
The Other Boleyn Girl
On the Road
Brideshead Revisited
Revolutionary Road



Vikki Littlemore's favorite books »

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