The Man Who Wouldn’t Sit Down by Jacob M Appel

With a trip to New York imminent, I asked for some suggestions for bIG apple themed reading from the Commuter Bookclub. This was one of the titles that came up.

Winner of the Dundee International Book Award 2012 this is the story of Arnold Brinkmann whose comfortable West Village life as a botanist and Garden Centre owner is forever changed after a trip to a Yankees baseball game.

Arnold has been prevailed upon to take his young nephew to a game.At the end of the match, Arnold refuses to stand to God Bless America routinely played since 9/11. His refusal is picked up on camera and shown on the big screen in the ground, on realising this Arnold, somewhat at a loss, sticks out his tongue.

Arnold’s actions cost him dear. The media take up the story and protesters gather outside his house. His continued refusal to apologise casts him onto the fringes of American society.

A very comic treatment of what is an extremely serious subject, this book had me laughing out loud on the train on occasion.Towards the end the storyline does become a little farcical but there are acute observations on middle class American life and the hypocrisy of tub-thumping politics. Thanks to @OuchLibrarian for the recommendation !

Daniel Schwen

Skyline of NYC from Top of The Rock

 

The Luminaries

Here is my review of the Booker prize winner:-

Finally finished this………what to say ? Well,obviously it’s very long……….and written in the style of a Victorian mystery story. At first it is a little confusing as all the characters are introduced almost at once in a very long opening sequence in which they all recount what they know of the death of one character and the disappearance of another. Gradually the stories interweave and we learn more and more about them, their motivations and their pasts. Much has been made of the structure of the novel which is based on astrology. Can’t really say I understood the point of that……however the effect is that the chapters gradually become shorter and shorter……just as the tension is building. An excellent read!

http://littlebrown.tumblr.com/post/64114331068/author-office-eleanor-catton

Harvest by Jim Crace

 

Harvest Jim Crace

At the time of writing, this is the bookie’s favourite for the Man Booker Prize 2013 by some considerable way.

It is a beautifully written book.Set in an English village during encroachment ,it follows the fortunes of the manor house and villagers seen through the eyes of Walter Thirsk, himself an outsider of sorts.

The arrival of 3 strangers , displaced from elsewhere, follows a mysterious fire at the manor house. The villagers, for their own reasons, are quick to lay the blame at the door of the strangers which sets off a chain of events leading to the eventual destruction of a way of life.

The prose is lyrical and Crace captures the claustophobic and suspicious atmosphere of a community that have never strayed more than a few hundred metres from their cottages.

Encroachment went on in the English country side from the 13th Century right up to the 19th and I found it impossible to place the narrative in any particular period. This however adds to the picture of a timeless way of life suddenly shattered and lost forever.

Personally, I would be surprised if this won the prize….the writing is truly beautiful but ‘ histotical fiction’ has won twice very recently with Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and it’s sequel Bring Up The Bodies and despite it’s beautiful prose Harvest is yet another reworking of British history…………but then, what do I know?

 

Stoner by John Edward Williams

Decided to read this as a result of all the recent hype…….according to Ian McEwan, one of my favourite writers, it is ‘the best book you have never read’.

A campus novel set in the first part of the twentieth century, Stoner begins and ends with the death of the eponymous hero William Stoner. At first an undistinguished student of Agriculture he soon becomes diverted by literature and Letters and ends by becoming a Professor of Literature at the same university.

Stoner is the tale of the ‘little guy’….his heroic struggles are largely with himself. An inability to reach out emotionally to others : his parents, who he loves but largely abandons, his wife with whom he remains locked in a loveless marriage and his colleagues who fail to understand him. His inability to hold on to the opportunity for love that life offers him…his daughter who, like his parents he leaves to her fate or to maintain his relationship with Katherine in the face of society and faculty disapproval.

Written with great delicacy and empathy this truly is a forgotten gem. The influence on McEwan’s On Chesil Beach is clear to see. Stoner is not a naturally appealing character but Williams gives us a window into his soul. We understand him and suffer with him. Williams was clear the Stoner WAS a hero despite his mundane and unfulfilled life.

A joy to read….A classic of American Literature.