Tag Archives: books

Inspired by …

Last year I happened upon a small book sitting on the shelves of my local bookstore whose cover drew3619573 me in (yes, yes I know you aren’t suppose to ‘judge a book by its cover’ but hands up if actually don’t pick up books because you like their covers – anyone? anyone?) Flipping to the back cover to read the blurb I was sucked in even more and I duly headed to the checkout with book in hand. The book is The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway and it was the image painted by the first sentence of the blurb that convinced me to spend my pennies. The sentence is this:

In a city ravage by war, a defiant young musician decides to play his cello at the site of a mortar attack for twenty-two days, in memory of his fallen friends and neighbors.

What an image. What a story. I don’t recall at what point, before or after I started reading the book, that I learnt that this scene (and the catalyst for the novel) was inspired by the real musician Vedran Smailovic. Smailovic became renowned for playing his cello in ruined buildings during the siege of Sarajevo – many times playing Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor. Never heard the adagio? Go look it up – it is a hauntingly beautiful piece. Smailovic’s actions have inspired many artistic tributes including; a piece entitled The Cellist of Sarajevo composed by David Wilde and recorded by Yo Yo Ma, Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24 by Savage and a folk song by John McCutcheon called In the Streets of Sarajevo. As far as I can gather all of these endeavors have been embraced by Smailovic himself.

Clearly, it was also an act/image that affected Galloway sufficiently to become the hinge of his book in which he considers a fictionalised version of the siege of Sarajevo which took place from 5 April 1992 to 29 February 1996 during the Bosnian War. Indeed, Galloway talks here about how it was a photograph of Smailovic printed by the New York Times that sat with him for a decade until after the 9/11 attacks that gave him an avenue into writing about what war does to people who are ‘not in the business of war’. In addition to the unnamed ‘cellist’, the novel looks at the siege through three fictional characters. It is not a sensationalist book, indeed it is surprisingly ‘internal’. It is also not dialogue heavy and although there are moments of violent action much of the book focuses on the thoughts of his three main characters. I don’t typically read books about war – indeed if a book is too ‘military-y’ I will stay clear of it – but I loved this book. I could ‘see’ this book playing out as a piece of theatre in my head as I read it (what a way to start a play … a solitary cellist playing the adagio surrounded by ruined buildings … my spine tingles just imagining it).

After finishing the book I started poking around the internet to learn more about Galloway and to discover if he has published other novels but what I found surprised me. It is very well documented, in many forums, that Smailovic despises Galloway and hates the success this book has brought the author. Huh. Why? A quote from a 2008 Times article in which Smailovic explains: “It was like the explosion of an atomic bomb, emotions of anger and pain. How is this possible? They steal my name and identity. Nobody can take the rights to that from me. It’s quite clear that it is me in the book.” Apparently Galloway contact the Times in response and he is quoted as saying: “I’m not sure entirely about in what way he feels that what I’ve done with his identity is different from the other works of art which have been inspired by him. I don’t use his name, I call my character the Cellist and he’s really only a character in the first five pages. It’s not really about him, it’s about the other characters and their reactions to what he does. … The problem is that Mr Smailovic took a cello on to a street in a war and that’s an extremely public act.”

I’m not intending this post to be a full (or accurate) account of the people’s feelings involved in this specific case – if you are interested a quick google search offers up lots of details – but it got me thinking, more that I ever have before, about if and/or what we owe real people for the inspiration they give us for creative/fictional writing. I’m sure there have been many people before me that have thought long and hard about this and as I go further into my writing career I’ll have to learn about the legalities but this is the first time I’ve sat down and thought about this. I could anticipate that if I used a copyrighted piece of art that there is a very clear path for financial compensation. But what if I’m inspired by a famous photograph that is in the public domain? Or a news article such as the story which hit today about the American dentist who killed a much-loved lion in Zimbabwe? What if I change the occupation of the American and tell the story from the point-of-view of a local child who never interacts with the hunter? Would I owe ‘something’ to the parties that originally inspired me?

What about family members? Obviously any writer’s life inspires what they write about and one day, when I am a good enough writer to be able to do them justice, I want to write about my Aunt and Uncle who both died a couple of years ago. If I were lucky enough to secure a publishing deal for a novel with characters that are inspired by them would I owe financial compensation to their estate – namely my cousins? It is a little daunting to consider these things – not just from a financial aspect but from a ‘pissing people off’ aspect. I suspect there are a lot of stories that writers don’t tell until their real life inspirations are long dead just for this very reason. I guess at the moment I have the ‘luxury’ of this being an academic thought exercise since I am a long way from making any sort of money from my writing but it is one I will carry closer to me having read about the contention surrounding Galloway’s novel.

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Exploring my bookshelves

This morning I read a fun little exercise from a newly discovered blog Addlepates and Book Nerds  via another excellent blog The Novel Orange and I thought why not join in! As explained by Maggie at ‘the novel orange’ the premise is straight forward …

Exploring My Bookshelves is a relatively new bookish meme hosted by Victoria at Addlepates and Book Nerds.  Every week Victoria will post a new prompt, each regarding something different about your personal library.  The idea is to post a picture related to the prompt for the week. Victoria also brilliantly came up with the idea of bloggers posting photos of their personal bookshelves for the world to see!

IMG_3515I may not take part every week but as I dug around my bookshelves this morning out of curiosity to learn what is the longest novel on them (this weeks prompt is ‘book with the most pages’) I was tickled to see it is a Barnes & Noble Classics Edition of The Arabian Nights – clocking in at 680 pages of the tiniest of text. Those of you who know me will not be shocked to learn that this book (plus many, many others on my shelves) has not been read yet. As I’ve touch on before I’m a book gatherer rather than an avid reader – though I am actively trying to make steps towards reading more of the books I have stockpiled! However, what tickles me about Arabian Nights being the winner is that it was another version of the book that started my love for Folio books. I talked about Folio books and my (minor?) obsession withDSC_0251 them in the post “Accumulator of books” so I won’t talk of it further other than to say one day I hope to have bookshelves full of Folio books! 

Although this edition doesn’t hold the ‘magic’ of a Folio book, I really love the cover – it reminds me of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain and the wonderful December day a decade ago that my sister and I spent pottering around the castle and grounds. The second part of the exercise from ‘Addlepates and Book Nerds’ is to post a photograph of your bookshelves … and I certainly don’t need to be asked twice to show off my shelves! I love my shelves almost, but not quite, as much as I love the books they house. When the hubby and I left the Southwest and moved to Ohio we bought our first ever home (neither of had been house owners before – thanks to being perpetually moving academics!) and to celebrate we each got to treat ourselves to something in the house. My choice, of course, was custom made bookshelves. And so we had a local carpenter make solid maple shelves that fit perfectly onto two walls of our living room. But I’m a smart cookie. I had him make them completely freestanding and screwed together (rather than nailed) so if we ever move I can totally break them down and take them with me! Whoop!DSC_0397

When the book spoils the movie.

Warning: if you intend to read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn or indeed watch the movie adaptation then back away from this blog post now – do not pass Go, do not collect $200 – cause there are gonna be spoilers ahead!

When you are the owner of a toddler getting out to the cinema to watch a movie is a rare thing. In fact I have not crossed the threshold of a movie theatre since my daughter was born two years ago! Partly the reason it is so hard for us is that we live 700 miles from our nearest family members and MV5BMTk0MDQ3MzAzOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzU1NzE3MjE@._V1_SX640_SY720_so to arrange an adult-only night out really is a special occasion – more special than most movies. And, partly I’ve been so shattered over the last two years that staying awake for two-plus-hours in a dark, cosy cinema was just not a realistic expectation! However, late last year I saw the trailer for Gone Girl and for the first time in a long while I wanted to go to the cinema. The trailer promised a bunch of goodies that made me intrigued: good actors (Ben Affleck, yum!), mystery, director I like, cool looking cinematography, dark story line. And so we made a plan to go catch the movie not long after it was released – we even got as far as setting a date and drafting in a friend to baby sit. But it fell through at the last gasp.

But I consoled myself with the idea that I could now read the book before I saw the movie – something I think about doing a lot but rarely achieve. I had been wary about reading the book due to its overwhelming popularity but I got a deal on the Kindle edition and went for it. I finished reading it last month and was loathed to give it even a one-star review on Goodreads! It was a terrible, terrible book. I am baffled by its popularity. I liked the premise (wife disappears in suspicious circumstances and her husband is left to prove his innocence but surprise, it’s all a big scam by the wife to get revenge on her cheating husband) and I’m ok with the seriously unlikable characters (I mean, seriously unlikeable characters – wifey is a crazy with a capital C and hubby is just kinda pathetic) but I’m not ok with the shockingly bad writing. I plodded though the first half of the book muttering under my breath about the clunky first person narrative and the over-used gimmick of alternating chapters from his & her’s perspective. And then I hit half way and the big reveal happened – dum dum dum – she ain’t dead and she is a horrible person who has completely lied to the reader through a fabricated diary about the behaviour of her beloved.

But from there the book got more and more annoying. Honestly, I think if this story were in the hands of a better author it would have been great. Some aspects of what she weaved into the story were great (the I’m-pretending-I-love-you-but-I’m-really-just-framing-you treasure hunt, for example). The lengths which the wife went to orchestrate her return to her husband but still be ‘loved’ by the populace was scary but her believing that her husband honestly wanted her back rather than him just trying to prove his innocence did not ring true for me. It could be that I’m missing some nuances though – perhaps Flynn wanted to paint the husband as being utterly addicted to his psychopathic wife and his wife knew this even when it wasn’t clear to the reader. And this rational would actually help me buy the ending. But the writing was so poor … yada, yada, you get my gist!

After finishing the book I was disinclined to watch the movie which annoyed me cause, well hello, did I mention Ben Affleck! But both the hubby and I needed a break from our daily sludge this weekend so we snuggled up in bed on Saturday night and rented it on our laptop. My honest opinion of the movie? Man, I wish I hadn’t read the book first!! It had all the elements that I would have enjoyed in a thriller if only I didn’t know everything single thing that was going to transpire before it did – it really kills the mystery! The whole movie just felt pedestrian as it slugged its way through the story. Rosamund Pike was excellent as the craaazzy wife and Ben (yes, as in Affleck) was reasonable although his version of the husband felt too ordinary of a man to want to stay married to a psychopath. The supporting roles were all really good except, in my humble opinion, Neil Patrick Harris who played the lamb-to-the-slaughter old friend of the wife. To me this character read so much more creepy and weird on the page than Harris played him and although the character is fundamental in the story he didn’t get enough screen time for me to care about him. My hubby hadn’t read the book before seeing the movie and it was cool to see his reactions to all the twists and turns but it just rubbed it in how much the film watching experience was spoiled by reading the book – grrrrr.

So, what is my take away? I guess three things: only read a book before seeing the movie if it isn’t a thriller that relies on surprise twists; or only read the book first if you know it is going to be a phenomenal book and you aren’t that fussed about seeing the movie; and listen to your gut that says for, whatever reason, don’t read a book – it’s going to suck no matter how popular it appears to be!

Accumulator of books.

My first love.

I aspire to being a book collector. I’m sure my husband would claim that I am already a book collector given the rate at which new books appear on our living room shelves, but it is far too grand a title for me. I’m more an accumulator of books. I have a condition, an addiction even. I have a need to own books. To me a house is not a home unless it has multiple bookshelves stacked high with books. I find any and all excuses to buy new books; I need them for class, it’s for my daughter, it was buy 3 for the price of 2, it wasn’t my fault. I smuggle books in to the house and stack them on the shelves before my husband gets home so they look like they’ve been there all along.

Simply put I have a problem but it is isn’t one I intend to find help for anytime soon. I suspect my magpie-like tendencies started as a young child. My parents home was always full of books, all sorts of books from cheap paper-back copies of every Agatha Christie ever written to beautiful hardbound editions of classics from the Folio Society that sat on the very top bookshelf to keep them out of reach of sticky fingers. My parents started buying and collecting books by the Folio Society in the 70s and have done so at scattered intervals ever since. My sister and I soon got folded into the ritual of getting one book each from the Folio Society as a Christmas present and we loved it. The books are works of art with original illustrations and love poured into every aspect of design from the covers to the fonts to the slipcases. For those of you who have yet to discover the joy of the Folio Society it is a small English publishing house that started in the late 1940s to produce “editions of the world’s great literature, in a format worthy of the contents, at a price within the reach of everyman” (- Charles Ede, founder of the Society). It is run as a club and as a member you commit to buying four, or more, volumes a year and so it is an investment. Unfortunately, at this current point in my life, it isn’t an investment we can justify. But, to my giddy excitement, not long after moving to Toledo and on our first trip to explore the nearby Ann Arbor I discovered a gem of a secondhand bookstore that always has a stack of beautifully nurtured Folio Society books. And so, as a treat whenever I am able, I get to sift through the stack and pick one to bring home with me.

But why blog about this now? Well there is a two-fold reason. Firstly, this is my version of standing up and saying “Hello, I’m Morag and I’m a book-oholic” and secondly, the intent behind this site and blog is to motivate me to write and to send writing out for consideration. And it is working! At the very last gasp I decided to submit a condensed version of an article I wrote on the history of the Folio Society to the Mill, the literary magazine of the University of Toledo. I haven’t heard yet if it was accepted, and I’ve just realized that in my rush to submit it before the deadline I forgot to format it correctly and so it will likely be rejected. But it almost doesn’t matter if it is published or not. By setting up this site I pushed writing to the front of my mind again and I found the time around my daughters crazy (non)sleep schedule to pull something together for submission. Now I just have to do that again, and again.