Welcome to the book blog of writer and creative writing tutor, Diane Paul.

Thanks to the publishers and kind PR people who send me books and releases about their clients' books for review. Press releases and review copies of fiction and non-fiction are always welcome. (No sci-fi, fantasy or erotica please.)

Due to the barrage of requests from self-published authors for reviews, I'm unable to deal with them all, although I'm sometimes drawn to non-fiction for the subject matter. And because I love print books, the smell, the touch of the paper and the sight of the words, I don't have an electronic reader or review e-books.

E-mail to: bookblogforbookworms@keywordeditorial.com for the postal address.

My writing website: http://www.keywordeditorial.com/

Monday, 28 May 2012

Man Booker shortlister poses moral dilemma

I'm ashamed to say I don't know the work of author Carol Birch but I think I will be reading the other nine novels she's written after sampling Jamrach's Menagerie. I'm not surprised it was shortlisted for last year's Man Booker Prize, longlisted for the 2011 Orange Prize for Fiction and the London Book Award. I'm just surprised that she didn't romp in first for them all.

It contains an extraordinary premise, based on a true tale that contains a heart-wrenching moral dilemma. Young Jaffy Brown and his shipmates are faced with a life-changing decision when they're shipwrecked on a trip to the Dutch East Indies; it's the sort of decision that most of us would find repugnant. But we can't know how he or any of his companions felt as they were fighting for survival. We would probably all do the same, though I think I would rather die. The argument, though, is what constitutes true friendship in these circumstances and that could be debatable. The characters are three-dimensional and the dynamics fascinating. And I can't reveal more without giving the story away.

Carol Birch gets inside the mind of an 8-year-old boy and follows his progress into adulthood. His first brush with death occurs when he strokes a tiger's nose and ends up in its mouth. The author's research into the 19th century bustle of London, life at sea and the barbaric business of whaling in those days evokes a strong sense of place and time. I wondered for a while why I was reading a seafaring story but a strong plot and heaps of conflict, coupled with the quality of the writing reeled me in and I couldn't put it down until I'd reached the final words.

Jamrach's Menagerie is published by Canongate Books (2011). Join the discussion on Twitter #jamrach
Carol Birch will be appearing at the St John's Theatre and Arts Centre in Listowel, Ireland on 2 June 2012, in conversation with Carlo Gebler.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Is reading good for your health?

Children have been taking the flak for not concentrating on their reading. One in six is said to be struggling to read when they move to secondary schools and one in ten boys has an average reading age of about 7. They're not going to be taught to read there but they are likely to be encouraged to keep up with their reading and to read more critically. If they can't read properly in the first place, there are going to be tough times ahead for them. It's no surprise to me as many of them can't speak properly either. Why would that be I wonder?

Nothing to do with spending hours behind a compu'er screen, texting their mates even when they're in the next room or gluing themselves to the TV set instead of reading a book, I suppose. Judging from some of my piano students, anything involving a bit of hard work is just not cool any more. They're happier having things done for them. Even counting the beat only works if I count while they play.

If you can't read, you aren't going to be able to spell either. Or recognise when you use a swear word. 'Bloody?' wrote one of my creative writing students. 'I didn't think that was a swear word.' Pretty tame by today's standards I'll admit but at what point do you stop? And I do wish newsreaders (of all people) would stop saying, 'he was sat' and 'she was stood'.

It will be interesting to see how the Government's new competition encouraging children to read pans out. The national reading scheme is aimed at 7-12-year-olds and it's based on finding those who read the most books. I'm not too sure how you can prove the veracity of that claim as it might be tempting to get other people to read them for you, while you carry on watching Blue Pe'er. Is that still on? Couldn't they get involved in helping their viewers to read, now that libraries are closing down? And would you want to be tagged as the 7-year-old who had read the most books in England? Erm...