Sunday, 30 November 2014

In short, a great read but we want more Mr Smith! 

Title: Man's World

Author: Rupert Smith

Tags: #gayliterature #theimitationgame #queerfiction

Discovered: Strand Book store, NYC

Where read: (In part) Black Seed Bagel, NYC   

Why read now?:  The Imitation Game on film has shed light on this period in gay history. A Man's World turns the brightness up some more. 

The Word's Shortlist view:

"....and that's why this diary will remain hidden inside the lining of my suitcase along with the copies of Health and Strength and Man's World.."

Man's World tells two parallel stories, a queer timeline if you like between the 1950's and the present day in which the lives of the two leads, Robert and Michael, couldn't be further apart. 

Robert lives the kind of lifestyle that, on the surface at least, prioritises a diet of gym, drugs and clubs. Sex is straight-forward and available but relationships are half formed and transient. On the other hand Michael's life on National Service at an RAF base on the 1950's is closeted, secretive and risky.

Life for Michael and friends after the War was inconceivably tough but is brought to vivid life with real dignity by Smith (reminiscent of the similar parallel lines in The Pride by Alexi Kaye Campbell). For me the story should have explored this aspect far more rather than drawing parallels with today. The shift between the two generations is just two vast to convey in a relatively short novel. 

This book is not exactly full of likeable characters but the chapters concerning Michael and Mervyn in the 50s and 60s are the most succesful. There are times when you'll want to skip over the minutiae of Robert's destructive relationship with Stuart however, stick with it because, as a device, this works well to heighten the tension between the two strands. When lives overlap, you can make your own judgement.

In short, a great read but we want more Mr Smith!!

Twitter: @wordsshortlist
Instagram: your_next_read

Monday, 17 November 2014

The experience of this book is like a one on one audience with the storyteller  

Title: The Moth: 50 Extraordinary True Stories

Author: Introduced by Neil Gaiman

Tags: #moth #storytelling #reallife

Discovered: The Book House, High Street, Thame

Where read: (In part) Ace Hotel, NYC  

Why read now?:  Moth events are gaining momentum across the globe. Find out why these open mike nights for story tellers are so dam good!

The Word's Shortlist view:

"In 1975, I was twenty-eight years old, and I weighed in at 120 pounds. I found myself on a bus, chained to a West Indian brother, headed upstate to prison"

This collection of 50 true stories is a an edit of some of the best real life stories told at Moth events in the US. These 'open mike' nights for storytellers have become increasingly popular for their opportunity for people to tell tales from their own lives to an audience of active listeners.

The Moth phenomena is named after moths that were drawn to gas lamps on verandas across America in a pre digital age when family and friends gathered to recount tales. Like moths to a new flame these events are now taking place in the UK.

In the book, the stories are sorted by theme (Carpe Diem, Coming Home, In the Trenches etc) which belies the truth that these are all completely unique tales told directly from the heart.

Quite literally these tales are some of the most truthful and intimate I have ever read. The experience of the book is like a one on one audience with the story teller, full of pathos and passion. 

Everyone will respond differently to these stories. The fact that the most poignant for me were 'LOL' by Adam Gopnik, 'A Kind of Wisdom' by Ellie Lee and 'Discussing Family Trees in School Can be Dangerous' by Paul Nurse are by the by. 

You'll find your own favourites. Just read :)

Find out more about the Moth movement here:

Twitter: @wordsshortlist
Instagram: your_next_read

Sunday, 9 November 2014

"manuscripts don't burn" (рукописи не горят) 

Title: The Master and Margarita (Alma Classics)

Author: Mikhail Bulgakov

Tags: #russia #censorship #devil

Discovered: Thame Library, Oxfordshire

Where read: (In part) Heathrow Terminal 2  

Why read now?:  A great introduction to satirical (and at times crazy) Russian literature

The Word's Shortlist view:

"Really, I would pawn my soul to the devil to find out whether he is alive or dead."

A poet, a talking black cat, Pontius Pilate, a fanged hitman and Satan himself all feature in this complex and symbol laden tale written by Mikhail Bulgakov between 1928 and 1940. The book became a cult classic in the 70s following its publication some years after Bulgakov's own death. 

Bulgakov is hailed as one of the greatest Russian writers of the 20th Century but first time readers of Russian literature, like me, will find this difficult to follow and at times impenetrable.  Translated writing often feels like trying to break a code but this, with its heavy use of allegory and metaphor, is especially challenging.

On the other hand, once you begin to accept the style of the book you're rewarded with the key to an 'other world' in which good and evil, past and present, blur into a cultural soup. 

The novel follows two strands, the first in 1930s Moscow with the arrival of a mysterious magician who proceeds to send the upper echelons of academia spiralling into chaos, and the second in the Jerusalem of Pontius Pilate. In the first book the Master is the protagonist and in the second we follow his Mistress Margarita more closely. For me the 1930s sections are stronger than the lengthy passages in the Holy Land. Likewise, the Margarita sections are the more memorable once she takes flight following Satan's Ball, surely one of the most enigmatic and inexplicable sequences in any book. 

This is not an easy book to read and certainly one that will challenge your perseverance in places. Like many 'cult classics' the myth that surrounds the work is probably more significant than the book itself, checkout the Bulgakov House in Moscow which has become a Mecca to fiction fans, satanists and street artists. The novel has been suggested as an influence from the Rolling Stones to Star Trek and was recently cited by Daniel Radcliffe as his favourite book of all time!

Memorable, peerless and a bit zany. Read if you're up for a challenge.

See a clip from a Russian film adaptation here:

Read 'Books that made a difference to Daniel Radcliffe' here

Twitter: @wordsshortlist
Instagram: your_next_read

Friday, 7 November 2014

The November shortlist....

Man's World - Rupert Smith

The Master and Margarita - Mickhail Bulgakov

The Moth: 50 Extraordinary True Stories - Introduced by Neil Gaiman


Twitter: @wordsshortlist
Instagram: your_next_read