Notes by Nectar

Your destiny lies in your own hands

Dubai 2013: Week 22

I had another busy week, but thankfully it was nowhere near as busy as the week before or the week before that!

My Sunday was relaxing. After my session with Randy I decided to do some work and then went to the pool with my book in the afternoon.

Monday was a busy day. I had my Arabic class at lunchtime. We learned:

  • How to ask what the date is – and how to respond
  • How to ask how many/how much – and how to respond
  • Two new letters
  • Random vocabulary – appointment, colleague, manager, husband, friend, teacher, lesson

I feel like I’m learning a lot but my writing is no better than a 3-year-old’s!

That afternoon I went to see a friend who had a baby recently. I hadn’t seen her since our lunch at Okku in March and it was nice to see her kids and catch up.

I left her place and went to a concert at The Fridge in Al Serkal Avenue – piano (Viktoriya Zaharieva) and violin (Nadine Artuhanava). These two women were young – and they were amazing. Not all the pieces they played were duets – sometimes it was just piano or just violin. They played the following:

  • Bach – Adagio and Fugue from Sonata in G minor (first two movements)
  • Chopin – Ballade no. 1 in G minor, op. 23 (I absolutely love Chopin)
  • Grieg – Sonata no. 3 in C minor, op. 45
  • Sarasate – Andalusian Romance for violin and piano, op. 22/1
  • Stoyan Stoyanov – Scherzo – picture (this composer currently lives in Dubai and was in the audience)
  • Bartok – Romanian Folk Dances

Whoever complains about there being no culture in Dubai clearly isn’t looking very hard.

My Tuesday was quiet. I didn’t have a piano lesson so I was home working most of the day.

I had another session with Randy on Wednesday followed by an Arabic class. We covered:

  • Some verbs – I am, you are, and so on
  • Four new letters
  • Random vocabulary – big, small, middle, chair (kursi), welcome (i.e. make yourself at home), thirsty

It doesn’t sound like much, but we’ve started putting sentences together: After Arabic class I have a meeting, or I’ve been in Dubai for 1.5 years and I’m happy, or I want tea with milk and sugar. As our teacher would say, ‘Shway shway‘ (slowly).

I started a creative writing course on Wednesday evening. I’d heard about it through Time Out a few weeks before and emailed the lady who runs the course. It was just 4 weeks in June – on Wednesday evenings – at The Pavilion Downtown. There were about seven or eight of us – we went round the table and introduced ourselves.

The first writing exercise we did was to write something (anything) for 30 seconds, just to get us warmed up. The next exercise we did was taking the letters of our name and then revealing something about ourselves beginning with that letter. For example, with ‘E’ I wrote ‘Ex-Londoner now living in Dubai’. It was harder than it sounds!

We talked about creativity and generating ideas. We each had to write three random words on three little pieces of paper (I wrote ‘desk’, ‘mobile’, ‘cigarettes’), fold them up and put them in the middle. We then had to pick three of these pieces of paper and write something which included all three words. The three words I ended up with were: tea, community, cigarettes. I wrote about someone who’s caught smoking by a senior member of her community while she’d popped out of the office for a cup of tea.

We got some useful tips: always use a clear and readable font, break up long paragraphs with dialogue, avoid using too many adjectives, avoid abbreviations and txt spk! We also got a list of writing prompts which might come in handy if I ever decide to write something and don’t know where to start – an example is: ‘He turned the key in the lock and opened the door. To his horror, he saw…’

It was an interesting evening – and it gave me a few things to think about.

I was home most of Thursday – either working or at the pool. I met a friend for dinner at Loca. We had been there in September and I loved the barbecued lamb wrap they did. I also had some Entertainer vouchers so we only paid for one of our two main courses. Halfway through dinner I started feeling a bit sick and I felt a headache coming on. When my friend suggested we go somewhere else I told her I had to go home – it was only 10pm. Normally I would have loved to go out (as you have probably figured out by now) but that night I just couldn’t do it.

I was home all of Friday, catching up on work – and I still wasn’t feeling 100%. I was home most of Saturday too. It was a quiet weekend.

I love my life.

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20 books in 2013

For the last 2 years I’ve aimed to read 20 books a year. I almost made it in 2011 (I got to 19). I thought that once I moved to Dubai I’d have more time to read but in 2012 I read only 11.5 books (that’s not even one a month – pathetic).

This year, however, I’m pleased to say I’m well ahead of target – I’ve finished 13 books this year, six of those in June!

Fall Giants

I started Fall of Giants by Ken Follett late last year and finished it in January. I’ve been recommending it to anyone who wants book recommendations (along with Pillars of the Earth and its sequel World Without End). This summer I’m going to read Winter of the World (once I finish my current book).

Brande

I then read Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer. I read this many years ago, but thought it was time to re-read it. I’ve decided this will be the first book I read every year (so from now on I don’t think I’ll include it in my ’20 books a year’ goal).

Tan Twan Eng

I wanted to read The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng before going to the Emirates Literature Festival. He has become one of my favourite writers and I’m waiting for his next book! It was fantastic to meet him and I got him to sign my copy of the book along with The Gift of Rain.

Understudy

My cousin in London lent me her copy of The Understudy by David Nicholls while I was there earlier this year. I laughed out loud a lot – and a good laugh was just what I needed at that time.

Circus

In March/April, I read The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I enjoyed reading it at the time but when I look back at it a couple of months later, I don’t really remember much about it. Yes, the circus comes to town, it pops out of nowhere, people never age, there’s a weird challenge between magicians…

Monk

The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by Robin Sharma was next. I’d heard about this book over the last few years and finally decided to read it. Honestly, I was a bit disappointed. I thought the message Sharma was trying to convey was great, but I felt it could have been presented in a different manner. As a writer (almost) I struggle with dialogue. The thought of writing an entire book based on a conversation between two people over one night would fill me with dread. I’m glad I read it, but it was a little disappointing.

Wonderland

I got several books for my birthday. One of them was Haruki Murakami’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. I started reading it, thinking it was set in the 2000s (if not later) and was surprised to find that it was originally published in 1985. The ideas in this man’s head astonish me. It’s a sci-fi mystery – with two stories being told at the same time in alternating chapters: a data processor recruited by a mad scientist who lives in a cave. The scientist and his granddaughter ask the man to help them avoid the end of the world. The other story is about a man arriving in a quiet village surrounded entirely by walls and fields where unicorns graze. This man is forced to leave his shadow outside the village walls where it will surely die on its own. Bizarre stuff but I loved reading it. I’m still not sure I get how the two stories are linked but I keep thinking about it.

And then came June. I’ve read a lot this month, partly because I’ve spent most of my weekends (and some weekdays!) by the pool with a book.

Gatsby

I was in two minds about seeing The Great Gatsby and knew I’d want to read it before I saw it. Can you imagine I’d never read it? After reading it I decided that I wouldn’t see the movie – some people have raved about it, some have said it has absolutely nothing to do with the book. Maybe I’ll watch it one day. ‘Gatsby’ fever has even hit my piano teacher – I’m learning ‘Young and Beautiful’ by Lana del Rey in my piano lessons!

Monkey Business

Another book I got for my birthday was Monkey Business by John Rolfe and Peter Troob. It’s not something I would have chosen to read but I think this friend wanted to introduce me to the world of finance (and then borrow the book!). I gave it a shot and was pleasantly surprised. I read the book in 5 days – I didn’t want to put it down. It did make me wonder why anyone would want to work in banking. I laughed out loud in parts. My favourite paragraph was this:

As the crowd continued to pour a river of liquor down its collective throat, the dance floor began to fill up. The spectacle that ensued was solid evidence that if there’s one thing that money can’t buy, it’s rhythm. When it comes to pure foolishness, a room full of drunk investment bankers prancing around a dance floor pushes the limits of the imagination. To this day I pray that it’s a sign the civilized world will never be forced to witness.

Hilarious!

Gone Girl

I did a short creative writing course in June, and in the first session the woman conducting the course said she had finished reading Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and couldn’t put it down. I’d bought it when I was in London in February and started reading it that weekend. She was right – it was a gripping story. Basically, a man’s wife goes missing on their 5th anniversary, there are signs of a struggle at their home, all the evidence points to him, but is he really a killer? I won’t ruin it for readers who haven’t read it, but I thought the end was a little disappointing but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

I read the next two books in the space of 3 days.

Headhunters

Headhunters by Jo Nesbo was an easy read. It’s about a man who’s Norway’s most successful headhunter but also an accomplished art thief. He’s introduced to a potential client who claims to own one of the most sought-after paintings in modern art history and he plans to steal it. I couldn’t put this down – I read it in 2 days. It’s very different from the Harry Hole series (The Snowman, The Leopard) but just as thrilling.

Dinner

I read The Dinner by Herman Koch in one afternoon by the pool. Two couples meet for dinner at a trendy Amsterdam restaurant to talk about their children. Each couple has a 15-year-old son – the two boys are united by a horrific act which was captured on camera, posted on YouTube, and has launched a police investigation. What starts out as a civilised evening soon disintegrates as each couple shows how far they’re willing to go to protect their children.

Hosseini

Two nights ago I finished reading And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini. I bought it in Kinokuniya a few weeks ago (with two other books – I really should not be allowed in there!). It begins in a small village in Afghanistan in the early 1950s. Abdullah and his sister Pari are children from their father’s first marriage and they have a very close bond. One day their father takes them to Kabul – they have no idea that their lives will be torn apart, never to be the same. The novel takes the readers through generations and continents – Kabul, Paris, San Francisco, the Greek island of Tinos – up to the present day. Family bonds, sacrifices, choices – it’s all here. It’s a great read, but I didn’t think it was as good as A Thousand Splendid Suns.

So, that’s where I am! I’ve just started reading Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. I’m slowly working my way through my unread books…

I’m sure the website goodreads.com isn’t new to most of you – I’ve been using it for a few years. I recently downloaded their Android app though – and it’s fantastic. It has a barcode scanner so you can just scan the barcode of the book you’re reading (or want to read) and it brings up the details of the book. No more searching for authors/titles/editions!

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Review: The Other Hand

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I’d never heard of this book or its author, Chris Cleave. I was in the bookshop at Dubai Airport in April, waiting for my mum and grandmother to come out of Customs, and I saw this. I read the blurb on the back. It told me nothing

We don’t want to tell you what happens in this book. It is a truly special story and we don’t want to spoil it. Nevertheless, you need to know enough to buy it so we will just say this: This is the story of two women. Their lives collide one fateful day, and one of them has to make a terrible choice. Two years later, they meet again – the story starts there… 

Intriguing. 

I don’t think knowing a little about what the book was about would have ruined it for me. It wouldn’t have stopped me from buying it. Anyway, it’s about two women: one is a Nigerian refugee in the UK, the other is an editor for a popular magazine. It’s about the day they met, and how their meeting changed their lives. 

I was hooked from the beginning. I started reading it by the pool and before I knew it, I’d read one-third of it. I read the whole book in four sittings. I didn’t want to put it down because I had no idea what was going to happen next. It has so far been the best book I’ve read in 2012 and it will haunt me for some time to come.

And that’s seven of 20 books I intend to read in 2012. And because I bought it this year it doesn’t count towards my Mount TBR Reading Challenge.

 

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Review: The Marriage Plot

Cover_-_eugenides

I bought this book in late 2011 (so it counts towards my Mount TBR Reading Challenge!) and had been looking forward to reading it as I loved Middlesex when I read it in 2005. It was so… different.

I found The Marriage Plot to be a disappointing ‘modern romance’. Madeleine, a student at Brown University in the early 1980s, is writing her thesis on the way marriage plots are used in Victorian literature. She has two men in love with her. This love triangle continues after graduation – she ends up living with one while the other goes travelling around the world. The way I’ve described it sounds dull. Actually, it was dull. I felt nothing while I read it. It was like kissing my gay best friend.

There are some passages of beautiful writing, but it reminded me of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom – smug, dysfunctional, flawed characters. I know flawed characters make interesting reading, but this was not interesting. 

It took me ages to finish the book – partly because I just didn’t want to continue reading it, and partly because I travelled for a while and didn’t read it for a month. I didn’t even consider taking it on holiday with me because I knew I wouldn’t want to read it.

Read no further if you’re planning on reading the book!

In a nutshell:

From the books you read for your thesis, and for your article – the Austen and the James and everything – was there any novel where the heroine gets married to the wrong guy and then realizes it, and then the other suitor shows up, some guy who’s always been in love with her, and then they get together, but finally the second suitor realizes that the last thing the woman needs is to get married again, that she’s got more important things to do with her life? And so finally the guy doesn’t propose at all, even though he still loves her? Is there any book that ends like that?

That’s the story. In one paragraph. On the last page of the book. I could have saved myself a lot of time. 

I’m lagging this year – I’ve only read six of the 20 books I plan to read in 2012 and according to Goodreads, I’m three books behind schedule. I thought that when I moved to Dubai I’d have more time to read, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. I have some catching up to do!

 

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Review: The Sandglass

Cover_-_sandglass

I’d mentioned in an earlier post that I went to a session at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature and Romesh Gunesekera was on the panel of writers. I’d read Monkfish Moon back in 2004 and had thoroughly enjoyed it. The Sandglass sat on my bookshelf for 7 years, and seeing Gunesekera at the festival reminded me that I needed to read it. And it would count towards the 12 books in my Mount TBR Reading Challenge.

I have to say I was disappointed with the book. It tells the tale of two feuding (but yet intertwined) families in Sri Lanka from the 1930s to the 1950s, through the eyes of Chip, the narrator, when he visits Sri Lanka in the late 1990s. He reminisces about the year before, when he discussed past events with Prins, who had arrived in London for his mother’s funeral. Their conversations take place over 1 day.

The story moves between contemporary London and Sri Lanka of the past, reminding me of The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos, where Cesar Castillo spends his last hours thinking about his life. 

Even though I found the constant jumping between periods of time confusing, the author uses words beautifully:

Outside, the silence of freshly fallen snow pressed against the window panes; there was no traffic to be heard on the roads. This was silence like the dream of heaven. I began to realise how wrong all those composers were who heaped scales upon scales in their vain attempts to capture the grandeur of heaven: what they really needed to do was to stop. To hold their breath and try to imagine a stilled heart and the peace that can only come from the absence of conflict, of abrasion, of friction, of sound itself. No wonder we never hear the angels on our shoulders: they do not speak. They melt at the prospect of sound, perhaps even prayer. Heaven is not music: heaven, if anything, must be silence. The stillness of the centre, the eye of a storm whirling across the universe. An unveiling mind.  

I could hear the author’s voice in my head when I read that paragraph.

Was I expecting too much from the book? Have my reading tastes changed over the last 7 years? I don’t know, but I’m thinking of re-reading Monkfish Moon and trying to figure it out.

And that’s number five in my 20 books in 2012 challenge!

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Writing and book group

On Saturday morning one of the women I’d met at the British expat drinks in January texted me to say she was going to a new writing and book group that afternoon and asked if I wanted to join her. I had planned to spend the afternoon at the pool, but I had also planned to do more writing when I moved to Dubai and that hadn’t happened yet. Perhaps this was what I needed. So I accepted her offer and she said she’d pick me up at 2pm. I had plenty of time so I spent the morning at the pool instead.

At 2pm we headed to Al Wasl – the writing/book group took place at an osteopathy centre. In fact, it turned out to be the same one I went to with my dad in January. You know, the one with the good-looking physiotherapist. One of the women in the group works in the same place so we used her office as our meeting place. It was the first time the writing part of the session was happening so I hadn’t missed anything. We began by introducing ourselves – apart from me and my Scottish friend, there were two other Indian women – a psychologist (whose office it was) and a copywriter, one French woman (a university lecturer) and an English woman (I think she was English). And then we began. The group was very much led by the psychologist.

We began with a short meditation and three warm-up exercises. Our first subject was ‘the smell of ripe bananas’. We had 3 minutes to write whatever came to mind about ripe bananas and we would read aloud what we had written (if we wanted to). I wrote this:

Each time I walk into the kitchen I can smell them, taunting me. ‘Why buy us if you’re not going to eat us?’ I will, I will, I tell myself. I just don’t fancy one so early in the morning. ‘But your trainer said…’ I know what he said, I tell no one in particular. They empty kitchen judges me as I reach for the crunchy peanut butter instead. This is OK too. A teaspoon of peanut butter or a banana, he said.

It’s not great, but what do you expect from just 3 minutes?

The next two subjects were ‘my father’ and ‘taste’ (I wrote about the truffle fried rice at Okku). 

After that, we did a longer piece of writing – we had to spend 15 minutes writing about an hour (or particular time) in our day. My days are pretty much the same and no reader would find them particularly exciting so I decided to write about my weekly visit to Lulu.

After we’d each read our writing to the others, it was almost 4pm and we took a short break. 

We started the book group after that. The English woman left, and another Indian woman (an English teacher) arrived. The book group is different compared to other book groups. With most book groups you all read the same book and discuss it for a couple of hours. In this one, we bring the books we’ve read in the last month and the books we’re currently reading with us and talk about them to the rest of the group. I took The Sandglass by Romesh Gunesekera as I’d finished it a couple of weeks ago. It’s actually a very good idea and I’m hoping I’ll find some new authors to read. My reading list is getting longer and longer!

It had been a long time since I’d used the creative part of my brain and by the time I got home I felt exhausted. I’m looking forward to the next meeting. They’re an interesting group of women and I think I could learn a lot from them. 

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Review: The Hunger Games

Cover_-_hunger_games

I downloaded this to my Kindle late last year (so it counts towards the Mount TBR Reading Challenge). I met someone at a wedding in December and we started talking about books – she said she couldn’t put this one down. I was in the middle of a couple of other books, and it took me about two months to get through the first book in the Game of Thrones series, so I didn’t pick this up until mid-March.

I started it on a Friday and finished it on Saturday. I couldn’t put it down. I took it down to the pool on the Saturday and read in peace. I came back upstairs, got into bed (at 5pm) and continued reading until I’d finished it. 

The book is set in a future where the United States no longer exists. Instead it is the nation of Panem, consisting of 12 districts, all governed by the Capitol (somewhere in the Rockies). Each year, one boy and one girl are chosen from each district and taken to the Capitol, where they have to participate in the Hunger Games. The Hunger Games is a live TV show where the contestants fight to the death. There can only be one winner. 

The story is told from the perspective of the main character, Katniss Everdeen, who is from poverty-stricken District 12. She volunteers for the Hunger Games when her 12-year-old sister’s name is called out during the Reaping (the process of selecting the boy and girl). She and Peeta (the male contestant from District 12) are taken to the Capitol and given make-overs and advice on how to survive this game (‘Don’t get killed’). And then they’re let loose in the arena. Carnage ensues, and it is a little predictable, but it’s a gripping, easy read. 

I usually never watch a movie if I’ve read the book. Film adaptations never live up to the book and I end up disappointed and irritated. But I had a feeling this would be a fantastic movie so I went to see it. Did it live up to the hype? And was it as good as the book? Well, the simple answers are ‘No’ and ‘No’. While the book is fast-paced, I thought the movie dragged in places. So much of the history and detail in the book is lost when transferred to film. I came out of that movie 2.5 hours later wishing I hadn’t bothered to see it.

 

So do yourself a favour: read the book, don’t see the movie!

 

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Dubai: Week 6

Not a terribly exciting week: mostly work, some play… 

I had my Sunday morning session with Rama and that afternoon I was invited to tea at Fauchon by someone I know from London who has lived in Dubai for the last few years. She told me there would be 10-12 people there, but in fact there were probably 20 girls there. Most of them were ex-Londoners who now live in Dubai – it was almost like being in St John’s Wood High Street. 

I observed the following:

  • Even though the tea officially started at 4.30pm feel free to show up as late as you like
  • Get your hair done
  • Wear make-up (lots of it)
  • Don’t wear jeans
  • Pass the dishes around but don’t put any food on your plate
  • If you do put food on your plate, don’t eat it
  • Sympathise when people tell you how tired they are because they missed their afternoon nap

It was nice to be invited, being new in town and all, but I couldn’t see myself doing this every couple of weeks. 

Monday and Tuesday were spent at home working and going to the gym. After my Wednesday session with Rama, I went to More Cafe at MoE for coffee with some friends. It was nice to catch up in a smaller, less formal group. (That’s where I saw ‘toasted bums‘ on the menu, in case you were wondering.)

On Wednesday night, my parents took me to Ravi Restaurant. They had been raving about this place since I arrived – so we went for dinner. We couldn’t book – we just had to go and wait for a table and luckily we got one in 5 minutes. The restaurant looks like a canteen – the menus are stuck to the tables but protected by transparent plastic table cloths – and I didn’t want to imagine what the kitchen looked like. Mum said that perhaps we should have brought Joy with us – she’d have enjoyed it? I stared at her incredulously. ‘Are you kidding? First of all, she wouldn’t be able to stand the smell of the place. And second, she’d have gone home to get her cleaning equipment and started sanitising everything here!’ But when the food came, it was really good. We had kebabs, butter chicken, lamb chops. My parents’ rotis looked like naans and they looked delicious but I didn’t have any… 

On Thursday it was Mum’s birthday. She wanted to go to Bella Donna at Mercato Mall for lunch. It was a mall I hadn’t been to – but it is so much nicer than the other malls I’d been to. It didn’t have the same designer stores as the others, but it was less claustrophic and less crowded. I felt like I was in a piazza in Italy. And of course I loved the book theme they had going on…

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I thought the food at Bella Donna was good – it was a shame we had to sit indoors as they have a nice outdoor terrace, but it was just too windy/dusty that day. By the time we started lunch it was almost 2.30pm so we were the only people in the restaurant. I could see myself spending more time at this mall than the others though – it’s a nice place to have a coffee in the afternoon or just relax. And it’s close – I can see it from my bedroom window.

I had my last photography class at DUCTAC on Friday and met up with a friend for coffee afterwards. She moved here about seven years ago and we last met in London about three years ago. It was good to see her after such a long time! We would have met for a real drink but Friday was a ‘dry night’ – they weren’t serving alcohol anywhere. Something I’ll have to get used to, I thought.

That night, my parents, cousin and I went to see ‘One for the Money’ at Dubai Mall. Compared to London, I think movie tickets here are quite cheap (AED35 = just over £6). I’d read One for the Money years ago, while on holiday in Spain. It was laugh-out-loud funny. The movie? Not so much. There were a couple of laughs, but not enough to make me want to see the next in the series (if it ever gets made into a movie).

I spent all of Saturday organising my bookshelves. While unpacking I realised that I have so many books I haven’t read yet! Since then I’ve joined the Mount TBR Reading Challenge – I’m aiming to read at least 12 books in 2012 that I already own but haven’t read yet.

And that was week 6!

See more Dubai updates here.

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Mount TBR Reading Challenge

When I saw the email in my inbox with the subject ‘invitation to join Mount TBR Reading Challenge’ I thought it might be spam. I decided to open it anyway – the words ‘reading challenge’ got to me – and I’m glad I did! I use the Goodreads website often and somehow got invited to this challenge through Bev of My Reader’s Block.

It took me a few minutes to figure out what Mount TBR referred to – at first I thought it was a place. And then it clicked. ‘TBR’ means ‘to be read’. ‘Mount TBR’ refers to the existing books on your shelves, floors, side tables, desks (and any other surface) that remain unread. This challenge is perfect for me. You’ve seen my bookshelves – believe it or not, there are a few (OK, several) books there I haven’t read (poor Shantaram has been sitting there since 2005).

There are several different levels – once you commit yourself to a level, you’re locked in for that number of books. You can go up a level, but you can’t go down. And books (and e-books) must have been bought before 2012 to be included. I decided I’d start small – I’m aiming for Pike’s Peak by reading 12 books from my TBR pile. The next level is Mt Vancouver for 25 books and considering my aim for the whole of 2012 is 20 books, I thought I’d play it safe and see how I go. And I’m afraid of heights.

If you want to join the challenge as well, click on the link below and sign up!

 

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Review: Starter for Ten

Cover_-_starter_for_10

I read One Day by David Nicholls in the first half of 2011 and thoroughly enjoyed it (apart from the end). Before I left for Dubai a friend told me she was reading Starter for Ten by the same author and that it was hilarious. I’d already started reading Game of Thrones but needed to swap it for something light and easy so I could hit my 20 books in 2011 (which I missed by one book). I didn’t know it was published in 2003 and I didn’t know it was already a movie.

I was laughing from the very beginning of the book. It’s 1985 and Brian is a working-class Essex boy who starts his first term at university. He’s obsessed with Kate Bush, a student called Alice, and getting on University Challenge (which is where the title of the novel comes from). Brian is such a nerd and so socially awkward that he finds himself in the most ridiculous situations, saying the most cringe-worthy things. For example:

“‘Well…’ says Alice ‘…we had some friends round, like we always do on Boxing Day, and we were playing charades, and it was my turn, and I was trying to do ‘Last Year At Marienbad’ for Mummy, and she was getting so frantic and over-excited, and shouting so hard, that her cap popped out and landed right in our next-door neighbour’s glass of wine!’ 
And everyone’s laughing, even Mr Harbinson, and the atmosphere is so funny and adult and amusing and irreverent that I say, ‘You mean you weren’t wearing any underwear?!?’ 
Everyone is silent. 
‘I’m sorry?’ asks Rose. 
‘Your cap. When it popped out. How did it get past your… underpants?’ 
Mr Harbinson puts down his knife and fork, swallows his mouthful, turns to me and says, very slowly, ‘Actually, Brian, I think Alice was referring to her mother’s dental cap.'”

Mortifying, isn’t it? It’s one situation after the other and I laughed all the way through. Yes, Brian is annoying at times – but nobody’s perfect. Are they? 

I thought One Day was better written, more refined, but this was much funnier. The Understudy is definitely going to be on my list for 2012. And… I’ve just bought a ticket to see David Nicholls at the Emirates Festival of Literature in March, here in Dubai!

Anyway, that’s the first of my 20 books in 2012! I think my next review might be a few weeks away. I need to start reading more! At this rate I won’t even get to 10 books in 2012. I’ve gone back to reading Game of Thrones which is taking me forever (but then I do only read one chapter each night).  

 

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