Friday, October 27, 2006

Trowel and Error

By Alan Titchmarsh

For my dad...

I remember long summer evening with relatives, sitting round, sipping ice tea, telling stories of childhood -- of adventures with cousins, of dinners at each others houses, of getting a switch with a willow branch, of 'the log picture,' of an innocence that is hard to find these days. Of my own childhood, I almost remember riding bikes until dusk with my brother and playing in the mud. Or was it catching snails?

A few years ago I happened across Alan Titchmarsh's 'memoirs.' Known to me from BBC America and my dad's love of the brass band, and gardens, featured on 'Ground Force,' I was oddly drawn to this story of a gardener. Titchmarsh presents a wry series of vignettes -- of innocence, first loves, and hard work; but most of all following your dreams and passions even if they seem to lead you unlikely places.

Having left school at 15, Titchmarsh shares how staying true to him passions, gardening and writing, over the past half century have lead him on an extraordinary journey including working at Kew, meeting Julia Roberts, surprising Nelson Mandela, being knighted, and writing romantic fiction. Dubbed 'the second sexiest man on television' (behind George Clooney), it is hard not to see why. His warm humor and unassuming nature create a wonderfully nostalgic look at life, at a time when it is rare to see children playing outside unsupervised or after dark.

If you remember days of climbing trees and skinned knees, I highly recommend this heart-warming reflection on good fortune and the importance of following your dreams. It will leave you with a chuckle and smile. (And his command of the English language is amazing -- keep that dictionary handy!)

Next Up:
Jon McGregor's If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Big Over Easy

by Jasper Fforde

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall...
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall...

Who would have guessed it was murder?

I've never been a fan of crime novels. But, I couldn't resist this peculiar offering from Jasper Fforde -- a contemporary crime novel chocked full of murder, infidelity, and industrial espionage centered on an egg with podiatry troubles.

In this latest series, we are introduced to DI Jack Spratt and his partner Mary Mary of the Nursery Crimes Division (NCD) at the Reading Police Department. (Ironically, the concept of the NCD was developed long before the adventures of Thursday Next were even a glimmer on the international best sellers list.) Still smarting from the acquittal of the Three Pigs for the murder of Mr. Wolff, Jack and Mary must solve the case before the almost certain disbanding of the NCD. Although slow to start, this quirky blend of modern day England inhabited by the nursery/fairytale characters of our youth comes into its own 150 pages from the end. As I raced towards the finish, I felt like I was in the midst of the TV series 'Dragnet' complete with theme tune and wrap up. Good fun!

Fforde's writing is not for the faint of heart. Often peppered with puns, my favorite of which was 'Winsum & Loosum Pharmaceuticals,' and phonetic spellings, there are enough mental gymnastics to keep even the most well read wondering how far the English language stretches. At the end of the day, I loved it although I wouldn't recommend reading at bedtime.

I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Fforde at the International Book Festival. A brilliant author, although slightly eccentric, he treated us to a reading from his latest publication 'The Fourth Bear' before explaining his goal for the NCD -- an exploration of our collective, childhood memory. What a noble objective!

Even if you don't remember all your nursery rhymes or fairytale plots, Wikipedia will sort you out. I highly recommend 'The Big Over Easy' for your consideration.

Next up:
Alan Titchmarsh’s Trowel and Error
Jon McGregor’s If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Words, glorious words!

Welcome friends old and new!

As a break from what has become one of the more challenging endeavors of my life, the writing of a PhD is biomedical sciences, I have made the executive decision to re-enter the world of stimulating human conversation while increasing my appreciation for adjectives. There will be no more journal articles stacked a mile high around my bed anxiously waiting to be skimmed! They have been banished to the dustbin, or more realistically, my office. Only novels abound! Stories of adventure, mystery, and, most importantly escapism, have replaced the intricate details of biochemistry and medical policy.

Here's the deal: I plan to complete one novel a month for the next year. Those of you who know me well are aware of the challenge this poses a slow reader who tends to fall asleep on the couch promptly after dinner. Never the less, it is a noble goal and will be achieved. The collection of stories you'll find will be quite eclectic and open to suggestion. All I ask is if you have a comment on a book, post it; the ensuing dialogue will be stimulating. If you have a suggestion on something you think I'd like, post it too! I might just pick it up, if I haven't read it already.

And so we're off. The first book under consideration is: "The Big Over Easy" by Jasper Fforde...