Saturday, 31 March 2012

A ramble about books

Normally my bookish blog postings occur on my book blog. There’s an element of logic in that. But occasionally I feel like confusing everyone so today here’s a ramble about books.

Have you ever read a book that scared you? I’ve read two, both when I was about fourteen. One was a school text – William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. An ‘adventure tale’ about a group of British schoolboys marooned on a tropical island. It is horrible. It repugnantly exposes the duality of human nature itself - the dark, eternal divide between order and chaos, intellect and instinct, structure and savagery. The unkindness of man (or boy) to man is shown in all its abomination. I didn’t only dislike the book but it scared me because I realised children could act like that.

The other one was The Island of Doctor Moreau by H G Wells. Written in 1896, it was an instant sensation. It was meant as a commentary on Darwin's theory of evolution, which H. G. Wells stoutly believed. The story centres on the depraved Dr. Moreau, who conducts unspeakable animal experiments on a remote tropical island, with hideous, humanlike results. Edward Prendick, an Englishman whose misfortunes bring him to the island, is witness to the Beast Folk's strange civilization and their eventual terrifying regression. While gene-splicing and bio-engineering are common practices today you have to remember Wells's haunting vision and the ethical questions he raised were over a hundred years ago. Because I was inspired by the idea of Well’s being so ahead of his time (as was Jules Verne) I started the book again when I was in my thirties or forties and this time I didn’t even finish it – it was so revolting.

The film of the book - 1932's Island of Lost Souls, starred Charles Laughton and Bela Lugosi. Originally rejected and unclassified by the British Board of Film Censors in 1933 - and again in 1957 - the film was eventually classified with an X certificate with cuts in 1958. In 1996 these cuts were restored and the film gained a 12 certificate. In 2011, it was resubmitted for a new DVD/Blu-ray release and was passed as a PG - making it viewable by children, though it carries the warning: "Contains mild violence and scary scenes". "When we had to classify it again last year, we went for PG on the basis of the comparison with the Doctor Whos and the Harry Potters," explained BBFC director David Cooke. Obviously folk are not scared as easily nowadays as in my youth!

Changing the specific topic but keeping with books - Booking Through Thursday is a weekly meme and a different question is posted every week.

This week there were two questions - Are there any fictional characters whom you have emulated (or tried to)? Who and why? And, secondly, what literary character do you feel is most like you personality-wise (explain)?

As a youngster I always tried to emulate the latest hero I was reading about and it didn't matter if they were elf, dragon rider or human. Nowadays I am satisfied being me but once I'm back in a book there's usually someone I'm identifying with.

I can't say I've ever felt there was someone I was really like. Pity - there are plenty I wish I was like! Perhaps the nearest is Professor John Keating in "Dead Poet's Society" by Nancy Kleinbaum (1989) - as played by Robin Williams in the film. I was unconventional; I tried very hard to inspire those I worked with; sometimes succeeded and equally frequently fell foul of bureaucracy.  But none of my staff ever shot themselves!.

I don’t read many book review blogs on a regular basis but I sometimes wander around a number of them and take a quick peek. This week I came across Edwards Granddaughter who reviewed Absolutely Organize Your Family by Debbie Lillard. It sounds interesting and I liked this summary of Lillard’s philosophy –
“In all areas we should:
           Only keep what you use
           Subtract before you add
           Finish one project before you start another one
           Daily routines are a must

Oh how I need to remember those four rules! It would make me so much more organised.  I console myself by thinking it may make me rather boring….  That's my excuse.

And now I’m off back to my book – I’m currently reading ‘The Somnambulist’ by Essie Fox published last year. When seventeen-year old Phoebe Turner visits Wilton's Music Hall to watch her Aunt Cissy performing on stage, she risks the wrath of her mother Maud who marches with the Hallelujah Army, campaigning for theatres to close. While there, Phoebe is drawn to a stranger, the enigmatic Nathaniel Samuels who heralds dramatic changes in the lives of all three women. But some secrets are better left buried….  It's a rattling good yarn, as they say.


  1. Scary books? Hmmm well I think there are books that left me angry and sad, but not scared. For instance, before I had read "A Thousand Splendid Suns" and "The Kite Runner" by Khaled Hosseini, I had of course known as much as anyone else about the terrible things going on in Afghanistan; not just the atrocities commited by the Taliban, but the everyday stuff happening to (mainly) women and girls there, fully accepted as being the normal way of life there. But reading those books made me want revenge - and have the same things done to those men they had inflicted on others.

    The two questions are interesting; like you (and probably most younger readers), I was almost all the time emulating the latest hero of my current book, but not so anymore.

    So far, I have not encountered a literary "Me"; I think I'll have to write that character myself :-)

  2. Here is the book that scared me, The Other by Thomas Tryon. I read it when I was 14 so perhaps that had something to do with it. To have remembered it after all these years must tell you something.
    You have so much in this post, I will have to think on the rest of it and get back to you!

  3. One of the book characters I most loved when I was a teenager was Archie Goodwin, the first person narrator of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe mysteries. Archie was good looking, nattily dressed, cool, cosmopolitan, with a wicked (if slightly sarcastic) sense of humor. If he'd been a real person I'd probably have fallen in love with him.

    The person whom I'd most like to emulate would probably be Gladys Taber -- clear-eyed, intelligent, well-read, and always compassionate. A noble ideal to which I could aspire, though I'm sure I frequently fall short.

  4. I had written a reply and when sending it my internet connection broke down ... So many interesting points in this post. I don't think I read Lord of the Flies until I was 20 and it was on my reading list in English literature at the University though. So we discussed it pretty thoroughly. I agree it's scary because it's too plausible.

    Can't recall one particular book that scared me but while I used to read a lot of crime fiction I find myself much more sensitive to that kind of stuff nowadays, I'm not sure how much is due to change in literary style vs changes in myself. I still like a good mystery but without too much violence.

  5. I don't recall a book scaring me, but it may be more about my choice of books. I will abandon a book (or movie) I don't like, or worse yet scares or offends me. I hate movies and books about social injustice, since they are maddening and I have insufficient power to change things. I avoided watching Psycho at a teen party years ago. And because I watched Easy Rider... I bypasses Mississippi and Alabama on a road trip... since I had long hair. Only one character comes to mind (after some reflection) Jonah is a character in a book called The Goal. The book is part of a series that introduces a problem solving methodology called Systems of Contraints. Eliyahu Goldratt, the author, invents a character who helps solve other people's problems usually by asking very pertinent questions. Some years after reading the book, I was able to enroll in a Theory of Constraints for Educators class called "The Jonah Class." Some have said the books are well written, but then, the author was writing in his second language, and he was aiming to reach a larger audience with his ideas, not to create the next critically acclaimed novel. (His books became a cult novel in the business world for a while.) -- Well, if you're here... I got my 4 of 5 minutes back from your April 1st blog. ;-)


Hello - thanks for dropping by to leave a comment. Your comments are much appreciated even if I don't always reply. They will appear as soon as they have been moderated.

Blog Archive