Just Kids by Patti Smith

Just Kids by Patti Smith

just-kids-patti-smith-book

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In 1967, when she was nineteen, Patti got pregnant. She left college and quit her factory job and after giving birth gave the baby up for adoption. When she came home, she decided to move to New York to start a new life. She wanted to be a painter and poet and though she had no job she knew a few friends who were students in Brooklyn. She ended up sleeping on their floors or some times rough on the streets. Then, running away from a date, she met Robert Mapplethorpe. The book is their story. How they became lovers, then friends and then muses to each other.

I loved this book so much. The writing is beautiful and poetic and somehow craft-like, sewing in little motifs that Patti and Robert talk about. The sequences of Patti and Roberts meeting is romantic and the ending so deeply touching that it made me very tearful! Throughout the book they both have a single-minded commitment to their art and support each other in their artistic endeavours. They ended up living in the Chelsea Hotel and meeting a lot of the famous people of the era. The friends, lovers, mentors and hero’s Patti discusses are all remembered with warm open-hearted kindness so that it never feels like she is name dropping for the sake of it. And her love, and romantic, maybe somewhat rose-tinted view, of the down and out New York of the sixties and seventies – the garrets, the alternative bars the dirty lofts and the flea-bag motels – comes through on every page. There is a definite and interesting overlap with ‘City Boy’ which takes place in New York of the same period, but Edmund White moved in very different circles, his book featured more literary types and also the Stonewall riots and the gay liberation movement. Where as Patti and Robert – whose work is so confrontational in its sexuality, seem outside of this. Patti’s world revolved more around the beats, Warhol factory outsiders and rock and rollers, but most of all it is about her enduring friendship with Robert and how it shaped her life.

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Twenty One Stories by Graham Greene

Twenty One Stories by Graham Greene

GrahamGreene

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It takes me such a long time to read books of short stories I can never quite get into them because they are always like little fragments. Some of these ones I really loved – The Destructors, I spy, The Basement Room, When Greek meets Greek are all five-star stories. Lots of the others are very good too – I liked Brother and The Blue Room. The only stories I thought failed were the few where he tried to do something a bit gothic and a couple of others that seemed very dated. But I like Greene’s writing, he’s a master of free indirect style and descriptive phrases. I want to reread more of his novels – a few of which I read as a teenager.

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I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore

I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore

i-am-number-four-image

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

John Smith is a teenage boy in high school and also an alien. He is Number 4, a Loric from the planet Lorien, whose people are eco warriors (like the Lorien elves in LOTR). His planet was attacked by the evil Mogadorians from Mogadon (like the clinical drug and heavy sedative?!) and he and eight other children, along with their guardians, were forced to come to earth and go on the run disguised as humans. While they wait for puberty to kick in and their magic powers to develop they are being systematical hunted and killed in numerical order by the Mogadorians.

This is a young adult science-fiction fantasy set in and around a high school – with all the clichés that entails. Its hero is an alien boy in that fairytale sense where, like in Star Wars or Smallville, he is in every way a human teenager, but with magic powers. This is important because there is the whole high school story line to negotiate, where he makes friends with the geek-outsider, beats the jock-bully and gets the pretty-girlfriend ( whose one character trait is that she builds a cat sanctuary!). I couldn’t help but feel if the alien-boy had a tiny bit more cultural and physical difficulty fitting in, rather than just the usual teenage issues and the matter-of-fact magic, it would have made him a more interesting character.

The book is well plotted and mixes between the alien and the high school story lines with some skill, but parts of the story and dialogue are very clichéd. The way characters react to the fact that their friend is an alien with magic powers and a load of other aliens have just rocked up to try and kill him is also highly unbelievable. There is some terrible writing and copy editing in parts of the action, which means I sometimes got a little confused. Also, the rules for the magic are a tad nonsensical and towards the end the author even seemed to add in a few new rules just when he needed them. Or, just as bad, he will spend ages clunkingly setting up a magical skill or twist just to use it in one sequence. But if those kind of things don’t annoy you too much and you can suspend your disbelief then its a fun trashy-read with lots of exciting action sequences. I think teenagers would love it.

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Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Treasure Island Illustrations by Mervyn Peake
Treasure Island Illustrations by Mervyn Peake

by Robert Louis Stevenson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is such a good children’s book. The pirate characters are just brilliantly drawn, and their dialogue is just great – over the top and salted with pirate slang. Even the hero Jack Hawkins is interesting for a Victorian child protagonist and he gets a lot of physical action and adventure – which in reality would be way beyond his age and ability – this must be the prototype for all children’s adventure books that followed. Not only is the characterisation great but it is also brilliantly plotted and I am sure if you put it against the Hero’s Journey model it would hit all the beats.
I think, from memory of the movie versions (I recently saw treasure planet the animated version,) the plotting in the book seems more sophisticated, which is surprising too. It seems like they also stole whole chunks of its plot and characterisation for the original Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Altogether the archetype of children’s and YA adventure and I think it would stand up well to any modern competitors.

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Interview With the Vampire by Anne Rice

Interview With the Vampire by Anne Rice

Interview_with_the_vampire

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have the audible audiobook version as it took me many years to get round to finally ‘reading’ this book, but I loved it. I think it has so many great characters and ideas and the prose is so atmospheric and alive, helped here by a good reading by Simon Vance.

The characters are paradoxically human in their dilemmas and concerns with death, immortality, morality, and the truth of life. I loved the way Louis describes things, especially his many description of heightened emotional or altered states. The details of his becoming a vampire, drinking blood, pushing himself to starvation, the grief of losing his friends, lovers and a child are all so vivid and full of blazing detail. In some passages it felt like it was grasping to describe the kind of awareness you would only get in a clear enlightened state, a pure moment of awareness of life – and this is maybe part the metaphor of the vampirism – the feeling of life vs the idea of it propagated by religion or humanity.

All of these scenarios and themes are woven into an exciting and engaging story. The closeness to the characters’ texture and emotions is so strong you really do feel as if you know them, and yet they are larger than life, these are bigger versions of human situations and relationships, reflected through this prism of vampires. Sometimes things do become a little soapy or baroque but on the whole the characters are so engaging and involving that you almost believe they could exist. That’s the end of my review and it came out a lot more gushing than I intended, but I really did love the book!

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How Fiction Works by James Wood

How Fiction Works by James Wood

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although ostensibly about reading, I think this is a brilliant book for writers. It looks at novelistic techniques and breaks them down using examples from 19th century classics and modern realist fiction. It has a particular interesting section on building characters with some great examples from literature. It also has a detailed explanation of free indirect style – with lots of good examples of writing that makes it work ( and a couple where it doesn’t.) The ending talks about how these once radical realist techniques have now too sometimes turned into shorthand conventions and how it important to study the fiction of life or something? I didn’t quite get all of this bit, but altogether a very useful book. It’s also written in a straightforward way in short sections, so it’s very easy to read too.

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