The other day, trawling the internet, looking for inspiration for an article, I happened to come across a post on the importance of re-dating your spouse. According to Lisa-Jo Baker, author of 'Surprised by Motherhood' which will be released April 2014, the reasoning behind her idea is because 'between the dishes and the piles of unfolded laundry stacked across the bed and the kids who come in demanding attention, cookies, help with their homework there’s no room for conversation'. Sounds familiar? Well, it did to me and in a spur-of-the-moment enthusiasm, I decided that Mr. Fabulous and I were going on a date!
The stars must have been aligned and the heaven doors wide open to receive my shouts of where oh where could I go on a date that did not involve eating or drinking. This drama queen is on a diet (again) and rule number one is to stick to it because if I don't (yet again), the slump in my self esteem will make sure that the only date that will be happening is with my nutritionist crying my eyes out. But as I said, this date was destined to happen because Mrs C. called up with two tickets to spare to the Cavalia Show. It was official: Mr. Fabulous and I were definitely going on this date.
Euphoria over, sobriety settled in. So, what was this 'date' supposed to be like and how was it different to Mr. Fabulous and I nipping down together to the local store for some bread and milk? Back to the articles on the internet. Here was what I gathered: I had to dress up for this date (dress and heels preferable), wash my hair and apply make-up. In a nutshell, I had to put in the effort to re-create that 'first date' scenario of long ago. I had to forget being 'mother' and 'wife' and concentrate on being 'femme fatale' for the night. It also meant Mr. Fabulous's son was getting a pizza delivery so this mum could smell of roses and not the usual chicken nuggets.
FINALLY, after a resounding cry of 'I HAVE NOTHING TO WEAR' aimed at self in the mirror, with note to same self to schedule an emergency shopping spree with the girls, I settled, in typical me fashion, on the first outfit I'd initially planned to wear anyway. And off we went to what would prove a breathtaking memorable performance.
And was the date a success? Suffice to say that good girls never kiss and tell, or do they? ;)
So, I stayed up late last night happily listing all the books that I wanted to read before attending the Emirates Festival of Literature in March. My plan: read the books, finish the books, get books signed, if possible, by their authors at the festival. An easy, straight-forward quite boring plan really.
The Emirates Festival of Literature has many sponsors. One of which is WHSmith where one can purchase the tickets (I got mine online) and where supposedly one would assume the books authored by the festival's speakers would be housed. Well, think again!
In all fairness I did find two of the 15 books on my list and those were written in English. Bar one, the rest of my list consisted of Arabic titles and this is where it all went pear shape. The bookseller could not in any shape or form check if the Arabic titles on my list were anywhere in the store or even on the system because not one member of staff knew how to read Arabic. When I offered to check their system for them, I was refused on the grounds that it is not company policy to allow customers to access the store's computer. When I asked whether anyone in all the shop floors or in management elsewhere read Arabic, the response was a complete blank stare.
Me: 'So, what do you do if someone comes in and asks for an Arabic title?"
Staff: shoulder shrug and polite smile.
Me: 'So there are no Arabic speaking employees?'
Staff: 'No ma'am sorry. I don't know Araaabic'.
Me: 'Umm, how do I find my books then?'
Staff: All the Arabic books are over there
Me turns around to where I see three bookcases of Arabic titles stacked top to bottom. Will need at least two hours to go through them one by one. I am looking for 13 books. Exasperated I give it one last shot: 'Is there any way someone can help?'
The Blank Stare makes an appearance.
And so the scenario repeats itself at Virgin Megastore and Magrudy's where in the case of the latter the staff were perplexed at the sight of a list in the first place. They were able to find one more title for me (the last remaining English title on the list) and nothing on the Arabic front. Again, the staff spoke no Arabic.
Looking back at the time when Mr. Fabulous suggested moving to Abu Dhabi, one of the positives I wrote down on my list was the fact that I would finally be able to get my hands on Arab author's books without the hassle of having to order them from the Middle East and wait for them to arrive in the United Kingdom. No postage, no postman! Now quite obviously No Chance!
It also makes me think that no wonder authors are excited to be chosen for the IPAF, a truly golden ticket. Why? Because one: they get to be translated into English which automatically leads to number two: the fact that they will be read by the public. Can it be that only a handful of people read any book written in Arabic and so booksellers are not concerned about catering to a few, such as myself, who might on the odd chance seek to read an Arabic title? Perhaps only the author's editor, spouse, and best friend read an Arab author's work and they probably get it free anyway.
Frankly, I don't know how anyone is meant to find an Arabic title among a sea of Arabic books with no help from bookshop staff. No matter how much of an avid reader one is, I doubt one has the time to go over every single title in the store to find what he/she seeks. Is it now madness to assume that in a store that sells Arabic titles in an Arab country one might expect to find at least one member of staff who knows Arabic? How difficult can that be? Judging by my experience today: a mammoth ask!
I refuse to believe that I am the only one who finds this odd or unreasonable grounds for a moan. And yet I am nowhere closer to allocating those titles by authors I am dying to read. I need an end to my quest and I need it soon. All suggestions welcome!
Landed in London for the next two weeks and my long anticipated visit has coincided with glorious weather. And if there's one thing that should be on everybody's bucket list, it's to experience London on a sunny day. It's also Mother's Day here, Spring, and the hour is brought forward and everyone is happy!
Well, not everyone apparently. Reading yesterday's papers (another of my London joys) I became enlightened to the fact that there's been a ban on books for prisoners. On the face of it all, I am consumed with rage. It is a wrong and senseless decision and yet I did deliberate with my devilish self which I don't do when it comes to the subject matter of reading. So, Chris Grayling you are good, very good!
Me: It's mad! Totally and utterly a rubbish decision. We've sunk to a new low.
The Devil In Me (TDIM): um, does make sense though, all those people in prison aren't there on holiday. They are bad people who've done bad things and are being punished for it. Privileges are kept from children for far less misdemeanours.
Me: But reading is not a privilege, it is a basic human right. From the first hour we teach our children to talk and walk, and once they've mastered that what do we do? we tell them to sit down and shut up. If they don't read, how else will they keep busy?
TDIM: You've strayed (again!). We're talking about prisoners here, not children!
Me: Actually, it's very relevant. We've told prisoners to shut up, behave and get on with the rehabilitation program. There are a lot of hours in between all of that which reading could fill; An undertaking proven to support prison rehabilitation programs, teaching things like empathy, compassion, redemption.
TDIM: Oh redemption. Hold on! 'Shawshank Redemption' that's the film Grayling was watching the night before he came up with his new law. Soon, he'll be banning spoons. Just you wait. Jokes aside, though, what could possibly be the harm of a book ban on prisoners? Most have the reading ability of 11-year-olds anyway. I don't think they'll particularly miss them.
Me: Exactly my point. Prisoners have a lot of time on their hands with nowhere to go. Wouldn't that be the best time to skill them in the art of reading? It doesn't have to be some literary masterpiece but many a life has been 'saved' by a book. Reading widens the horizons, presents options, and enlightens the mind. We are better people when we read. Also, this book ban is an opportunity missed for Grayling.
TDIM: How So?
Me: Why, some prisoners might consider having a book shoved into their hands and then being forced to actually read it a form of torture. So it's a win-win situation; he lifts the ban and does the complete opposite by assigning a reading list obligatory for each prisoner to complete before they are to be released back into society.
TDIM: Regardless your views on Grayling, he is quite clever and one step ahead of the entire prison system. He has foreseen a problem and nipped it in the bud. Chris Grayling is one step ahead of everybody.
Me: How so?
TDIM: Well, didn't someone once say 'Reading set me free'? - not really material you want prisoners getting their hands on. Funny ideas and all that.
Me: Oh, so we're doing quotes now? Here's one then: 'You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them'.
I caught a glimpse of the sun as it set in the horizon, right before it sank into the sea behind Dubai's skyscrapers, as I drove my car back home to Abu Dhabi on the final day of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature. My second day at the festival was over and I was feeling slightly downcast that it had all come and gone so quickly and in an hour's time real life would have to be resumed from where I had exited it two days ago. I couldn't believe I had attended nearly 20 sessions, listened to over 30 speakers and bought a total of 10 books. I was exhausted, I was hungry (missed most meals), I was cranky (stayed up late the night before engrossed in one of my new books), I could feel the throbbing of an oncoming headache (too much caffeine) and my feet hurt from tottering on high heels all day. And yet, I have rarely felt better. Thank you @EmiratesLitFest!
The day had kicked off with a session entitled 'R&J: The Power of the Book Group'. Judging by the massive queue waiting at the doors there was no mystery or confusion as to who R&J might be. Two letters of the alphabet combined in one sentence with the words 'book' and 'group' can only ever mean one thing: the golden couple of British television and the two people behind one of the most powerful and influential Book Clubs in the world, Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan must be in the house.
For those who don't know who they are, understandable if you haven't lived in the UK, they were the first couple to host an American-style daytime morning chat show,'This Morning', broadcast on British television from 1988 until 2001 and subsequently moved on to present a daily chat show, 'Richard & Judy', from 2001 until 2009. They still carry on with the Richard and Judy Book Club, online, in association with booksellers WHSmith (click on HERE).
According to Richard, the secret to their success is down to 'the fact that they were a genuine couple who were married, had their ups and downs, had had previous marriages and came with loads of baggage etc, all of which endeared them to the public that could relate to them and connect with them. A public that could spot the sincerity of the relationship that the couple shared both on screen and off'.
That aside, their impact on the book and publishing industry has been phenomenal. Who could have predicted that a 12-minute slot in a morning program, presented once a week would be so influential on an industry that is one of the hardest to crack? The couple were unaware of the impact they were causing when recommending a read on national TV until, according to Richard, one publishing house called them to request that they give them ample warning before reviewing their titles. The reason? the book Richard and Judy had discussed the morning before had completely flown off the shelves by the next leaving none in print. To this day, every 1 in 4 books sold in the UK is dependant on the approval of this enigmatic duo.
Richard and Judy have been responsible for the fortunes of many authors. Simon Kernick and Rachel Hore, who shared the panel with the couple in Saturday's session, are two such cases. Although at the time their books were reviewed by R&J, they were already established authors with not too shabby sale margins. However, the sales figures of their books ('Relentless' in the case of Simon Kernick and 'A Place of Secrets' in Rachel's case) skyrocketed beyond their wildest dreams right after the couple had chosen to talk about their book on their morning show. Rachel's book that followed after such success, went in straight into the Sunday Times bestseller list and she has never looked back since. Not only that, but Richard and Judy have managed to resurrect writing careers (simply ask author Jojo Moyes), cementing their status as Gods of the book industry.
Only two years ago, in a giant leap of faith, they joined the ranks of authors by releasing their own debut novels. Judy Finnigan's novel, 'Eloise' was the fastest selling hardback cover in 2012 and Richard Madeley's book 'One Day I'll Find You' was the fastest selling in 2013! They both share the opinion that the success of their books was first and foremost due to the public who have grown to love them and support them in their ventures and that their Book Club readings came a close second. It taught them to recognise style, pace and rhythm and to recognise what did and didn't work. It ultimately allowed them to develop an insight into the types of books that they would, one day, enjoy writing themselves. Although, Richard did candidly confess, that it was almost because of the bookclub that he almost didn't write his novel fearing that if the novel 'bombed' it would somehow jeopardise the credibility of the Richard and Judy brand.
And what ingredients make for a good book? Well, the panel unanimously agreed that it was definitely readability and a captivating start; although Rachel Hore did go on to explain that her genre of writing required an essentially more detailed description of mood and setting to allow the reader to properly visualise the scene the novel was being set in. But she was also aware that novels these days were required to be quicker paced in response to the demands of a readership that expected to 'get stuck in and cracking' from page one.
Of course there were many other sessions to visit during the course of the day that I am dying to tell you about. I even managed a chat with Saudi author Abdo Khal about his book 'Throwing Sparks' which is a real cracker. However, for the purpose of keeping posts short, sweet and less boring (I do want you to come back you know) I will stop and sign off with a list of the books that were chosen by the panel when asked by a member of the audience what they would take to read whilst stranded on a desert island.
Simon Kernick: Lord of the Rings by Tolkien
Rachel Hore: David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
Judy Finnigan: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Richard Madeley: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
I made it through my first day at The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature and what a day it was. Simply put, it was a roller coaster of emotions ranging from the exhilarating to the tiring to the emotional. The energy of the festival is quite extraordinary in itself not only for the unbelievable talent on display with speakers, writers and literary professionals pouring their hearts out, sharing their experiences; genuinely happy, slightly humbled, to be a part of this magnificent literary gathering but also for the palpable energy of the army of organisers and volunteers who were professional, helpful and very very nice.
On a personal level I could not have chosen a more poignant time to attend this festival that runs under the common theme of Metamorphosis. Whoever decided that this was going to be the case deserves a medal for that is exactly what attending this festival, in particular, forces one to do. There is no way but to be affected after listening to the likes of John McCarthy, author of 'You Can't Hide the Sun', talk about compassion, understanding the other, and forgiveness; this from a man who was robbed of five years of his life, held hostage in Beirut, not knowing whether he will be killed or spared. As the likes of Raja Shehadeh, a soft-spoken Palestinian and author of several books, struggling on a daily basis with the indignities of daily life that is forced upon him and his countrymen under Israeli occupation. These two men prove that anger need not only 'metamorphose' to bitterness but that it can be channelled to serve a higher purpose, a greater cause that better serves and builds a resilient, brave and ultimately more humanised existence.
And then there was girl-next-door author Jojo Moyes, best known for her tear-jerker of a book 'Me before You', with her vibrant animated talk about making it back from the brink and sharing the news that only a few hours ago she'd received confirmation that her latest book 'One Plus One' had hit #1 on the Sunday Times bestseller list. She openly discussed how as a writer although you are changing and adapting whether to publisher's demands or needs of the market one has to remain faithful to one's 'true voice', to put onto paper the story 'that is there in the forefront of your mind for no other will work'. Change is inevitable for a writer because audiences change too and she was honest in her account about the miserable days of pre-fame when she struggled to make it into the literary world, succeeding for a while only to be knocked down and then shooting to fame thanks to the Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan's book club. She did offer up a plethora of anecdotes that kept us well entertained and a confession thrown in for good measure about 'missing journalism so much for the first 18 months' that she 'needed counselling'.
Speaking of Judy Finnigan, let me tell you that sitting in on her session 'From Sofa to Author' was my favourite of the day. There is a certain vulnerability to Judy and yet I have always felt that there is a fierceness of character and more strength and determination than she lets on. It was lovely to see her on the podium, briefly emerging from husband Richard's shadow, who was still present in the audience though, and listen to her talk about her novel 'Eloise' that, according to her, was inspired after the death of her very dear friend, Karen Keiting. There was not a dry eye in the house and not a soul unchanged by Judy's narration of the experience that will cement the memory of her friend in the minds of all. Writing the novel was her way to prove 'that good things can come out of the most tragic of events'. But after the tears came laughter as she regaled us with stories about her children who she said jokingly 'never leave do they?' and how becoming a grandmother has brought out the 'tribal' in her. Oh, ever the bookclub enthusiast, she did slip in a recommendation to read Joseph O'Connor's book 'Star of the Sea'. Judy is currently working on a new thriller that takes place on St. George's Island about a woman who loses her son in a sailing accident.
I did sit in on Arabic sessions as well. My favourite was Mohammed Acchaari, winner of the 2011 International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF), for his novel 'The Arch and the Butterfly'. This fantastic, mild-mannered Moroccan author has a lot to say but unfortunately had little time to say it in being part of a panel of three in a one-hour session moderated by IPAF trustee Professor Yasir Suleiman. His views on the current state of Arabic literature are poignant; In my opinion he is a modernist and a reformer and I look forward to more chances where he is a speaker. Present on the panel with him was author Abdo Khal, winner of the 2010 IPAF for his highly controversial novel 'Throwing Sparks' which is now published in English. The panel was also shared with the 2012 IPAF winner, Saud Sanoussi, author of 'Bamboo Shoots' which has yet to be published in English.
So many more sessions to write about, but for fear of making this post too long, I will mention them in brief here and return to commenting on them in posts along the week. Author Alia Mamdouh's session entitled 'A Life in Writing', moderated by Professor Ibrahim Suleiman stood out for me and is one I will definitely return to next week. Charismatic 'Ibrahim Nasrallah', author of 'Time of White Horses', John Boyne, author who wrote 'The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas' discussed his new novel 'Stay Where You Are and then Leave' aimed at young readers shared a lot of insightful details into the life of authors and their struggle to come up with ideas for their books. A Charlie Chaplin die-hard fan, he was highly entertaining to listen to and he offered up some great advice for the young audience attending the session.
So, that's it for the first day folks, tomorrow there is more.
Once upon a time before children I worked in the publishing industry in a land far away from where this blog was conceived. I had been good at my job enjoying it tremendously. In the midst of it all, love came a knocking and I unhesitatingly followed to where my better half said 'Let's go'. A few countries down the line, one child, still very much in love, I felt I was ready for a new challenge. Blogs were all the rage back then and naturally that's where I headed. Before 'BookFabulous' I had written an anonymous blog that has seen its humble share of success (interviewed by the BBC) and looking back now I do believe that had circumstances been different the blog would have flourished (but hey I would say that wouldn't I?). However, the love of my life cried "Let's Move!" yet again and the blog met with its early end at odds with my husband's blossoming media career.
So, we moved. But I had been bitten by the 'blogging bug' and was hooked. I craved it, pined for it and desperately wanted to get back to it. However, this time round I had no intention of 'tying myself down' to a place or time. I wanted a blog I could carry with me like a favourite teddy wherever I went and have it be relevant and unconstricted. Since I was a child I have been a voracious reader. I had read 'War and Peace' by the time I was 9 and 'Anna Karenina' and 'Brothers Karamazov' by the age of 12. Books have always been a big part of my upbringing with a father who devoured books as if his life depended on them and his published pieces are a reminder of how much he valued 'his little hobby' as he would call it. My maternal grandfather, once a headmaster of a school, was rarely seen outside his study and the family's library is awash with his writings. And so without further ado, BookFabulous just had to be born.
The aim of 'BookFabulous' is to share my thoughts on books (and more) and to bring to light the reads that I have on my radar. The ultimate wish is to interact with like-minded readers that share my passion (maybe slight obsession) with all things books. If I had to coin what I do, I'd opt for 'professional reader', a term I unabashedly 'borrow' from NetGalley. This blog, along with Twitter, has provided me with a platform from which I have met and continue to meet the most amazing people from all over the world; Creative individuals who enjoy their craft and who make the world a better place for it. This blog has taught me that creativity transcends borders and is accessible to anyone, anywhere.
And my gut feeling was right: 'BookFabulous' had to be a versatile blog open to change because guess what? yup! the love of my life has blown the whistle signalling it's time to move again thanks to his now SKY- rocketing media career. So, 'BookFabulous' will divide its writing time between London and Abu Dhabi. The move -which I am very excited about- will take place in August.
The Middle East is undergoing various political changes that is having an impact on every aspect of people's lives particularly that of culture. The region is a hotpot for new and established writers that are producing relevant avant-garde work that I can't wait to tap into and ultimately document on this blog. As far as challenges go, I couldn't have asked for a bigger one.
Last night was Book Club night. Our club's first since the new year started and there was a real buzz as we set out choosing what we'd be reading for the coming eight weeks.
Reader, I want to pause here and take a moment to address the sceptics who sniff and snort at the mention of book clubs, who wrinkle their nose in disgust looking down at such gatherings as a sorry excuse for women to drink on a school night or engage in idle gossip. Yes, there is drinking involved with alcohol being only one of the beverages on the table and yes there is food (cheese, crackers, crisps and hummus if you really want details) and a big yes to absolutely heaps, loads, tons of speech going on with gossip at the botton of the night's agenda (apologies for dispelling any illusions on that front!) but there is also much more to a book club than meets the eye.
To a great extent, I believe that reading is one of the few activities one can fully enjoy in one's own company. However, there is an intimacy to be had with reading to our children, sharing passages with partners, or reading out literary works to small groups or even larger audiences. The act of collectively sharing the same experience creates an atmosphere that is ripe for conflict and that may not always be a bad thing. All groups are made up of individuals with inherently different traits and with personal experiences that have had an impact on the ideas and beliefs they live by. Discussion groups - book clubs - present a platform to test out those beliefs, ideas, theories, (whether old or recently acquired) and to learn a few things about oneself along the way.
So without further ado, here are my own 5 reasons why I think it's a good idea to join a book club:
1. A chance to meet new people: We are all creatures of habit and would rather socialize in settings that are familiar to us and preferably with people we already know. Stepping out of your comfort zone has its own buzz and gives you the opportunity to meet people that wouldn't normally be a part of your social scene. Still feeling intimidated? here's something to think about: the fact you've chosen to join a book club already gives you something in common with everyone there.
2. A chance to read books you wouldn't pick yourself: This has to be my favourite reason for joining a book club. I do get stuck in a rut sometimes choosing titles that often get bracketed in the same genre. So it is great when a book choice comes up that I wouldn't have chosen myself and an even bigger bonus when I find that I've actually enjoyed it.
3. A chance to discuss, discuss, discuss: Sometimes as soon as you've finished reading a book all you want is to find someone who has also read it so you can discuss a point, or two or ten with them pertaining to a certain character or event in the book. Was it the butler? Was the book about religion or did it carry a subliminal message? Was that scene really what I think it was and is it just me who hated the protagonist? Sharing these questions and listening to the answers from different members of the club who each have their own personal experiences that they rely on to judge the events of a book can be very refreshing and a window into how other people live and think.
4. A chance to improve your communication skills: If you are the type of person who dreads speaking up during boardroom meetings or presentations, then joining a book club could be just the thing to consider. We are usually more vocal when we talk about things we love and enjoy. Everything in life is about practice and book clubs provide a great platform for just that. You already know you're in the club because you enjoy books so you are more likely to engage in activities at the club - such as voicing your opinion to the group about a certain character or what you believe Jane really should have done to make it all OK in the end - that are bound to have a mirror effect on your working life in terms of finding the confidence to speak up loud and clear. Book clubs are also great platforms to observe how other people put their points across by observing the techniques they adopt and body language they exhibit to make them appear more confident and relaxed.
5. A chance to have fun: It's not all about the book in a book club (gasp!) as there is always room for idle chit-chat before or after book discussions. Members of a book club who meet regularly soon develop friendships that translate outside into the real world. Relax, have fun and enjoy the experience. Besides, if you haven't managed to finished the book in time for the meeting (gasp) you can always google the ending (double gasp!!).
I came upon a very lovely quote the other day by J.M Barrie, best known as the creator of Peter Pan, about memories: “God has given us our memories that we might have roses in December”. I (maybe too hurriedly) thought this a most appropriate occasion to drop what I was doing to reflect on my stock of memories so far. Kind of like an inventory sort of thing. Some might say I was procrastinating, I merely reply: researching!
Now I am not usually in the habit of dwelling on the past; first due to lack of time in general and secondly and probably more importantly is that it feels too early for me to be ‘picking my roses in December’, convinced in the belief that I am at an age where if I dwell now, there is a fear that this means the creation of new memories is at a standstill which will mean a short supply of roses later on.
Anyhoo, for now, taking advantage of my dwelling on past mood, I embark on a trip through memory lane. I smile at some, and cringe at most and then all of a sudden I am panicking, sweating and maybe even hyperventilating. Why? Because fishing through the memories of my last ten years, all I seem to be coming up with is diapers, vomit, school bake sales, kids’ birthday parties, sleepless nights, smelly underwear and more school bake sales. Not one single cringe-worthy dancing-on-tables incident. Hell, not one cringe-worthy-dancing-episode full stop! and certainly not enough outings on the town with my friends. By far not enough material for my rose picking in December when it’s time scenario. What to do, what to do?
I quickly scan next week’s calendar and find my weekend already hijacked by two of JJ’s (my 10-year old) best mates to celebrate their turning a decade old. Big deal moving into two digits, so there goes any plan for the weekend or any chance of not going. Besides both friends live just across the road and coming up with an excuse as to why you can’t cross your threshold to meet up with them does become harder when they can see right through into your living room.
Back to the calendar and it seems that Friday is the best night to go out because a) it’s not a school night and b) it’s not a school night. If you’re wondering why that is important then it’s because I have the type of child who will not go to bed until I am back. Anyway, a couple of phone calls and Google searches means that two friends, my sister (who is in town for a few days) and I are set for dinner at Joe Allen’s after which we are to head to ‘Matilda:the Musical’ in the West End. The musical has had brilliant reviews with whispers of standing ovations every single show and that Friday happened to be just a few days after Roald Dahl Day. Being the everything-books addict that I am, how could I let such an opportunity pass? So all in all the night could not have been better sorted!
As I sit and write this, Friday has come and gone now but it is one for the books. First let me say that ‘Matilda’ was absolutely brilliant and a definite must-see (seriously book now!), the food we had divine (never ever have I had a better risotto) and the company was just as it should be: warm, intelligent, funny and vibrant. However, by the time the play was over and we’d gone through a few tipples, it was past midnight and my body was screaming to go home. Offering up my sister’s early flight the next day as an excuse (I was driving her to the airport) I scurried back home, and was soon tucked into bed happier than a pea in its pod. Sadly, there are no cringe-worthy moments to report.
So here’s the thing: Sure my memories of the past ten years are not as colourful as they were when I was, ahem, slightly younger, but colours come in different shades, some bright others less so but, no less beautiful. Spending time with family and friends, doing the things you enjoy, are fodder for memories to bloom and grow (sounds like a song I heard somewhere). I learn that essentially it does (and probably rightly ought to) become more about the quality of the time spent going out rather than the quantity. I also tell myself that although I may be growing up it certainly doesn’t mean that I am growing old. Rest assured I certainly haven’t parked those dancing shoes just yet, but they might not be going out so frequently is all. And in the end, it was one heck of a marvellous night.
I first read 'The Great Gatsby' by F. Scott Fitzgerald over a gazillion years ago. I did love it. How could I not? Jay Gatsby was young, rich, powerful and mysterious. Girls adored him, men feared and envied him and his parties were the subject of dreams. At the tender age of 16, Fictional Gatsby was the prince I wished for my inner princess.
Forward a few light years into the future and here I was again this weekend wiping away the cobwebs, fluffing out the pages of this most memorable and loved book of my teens. Settling down into the sofa I began to read the first page. If I am to be honest with myself it all felt different right from the start. Had I even picked up the right book? I remembered this as a romance novel, was my memory failing? The initial disturbance over, I sailed through the pages but the nagging feeling would not go away. It dawned on me later what it was that was irking me; Dammit I thought, I had succumbed to age. My trusted old friend was confirming I had grown up! How? I could now see beyond the love story.
I have always been an advocate of revisiting old books and feel in a sense the experience is like meeting up with old friends. You will try to visit ones you've missed and will avoid those you never particularly liked. Old friends ground you, they remind you where you started and how far you've traveled. Personally, it is a relief, even a good thing, to know that old friends carry pieces of me with them. Floating memories of a self that I will never re-live again but will be immortal in those who have known me.
Back to The Great Gatsby, I realized the story was as beautiful as I remembered, the characters fascinating, and the writing sublime but the person holding the book was the tangent that had changed. I was no longer 16 no matter how young I tell myself I feel inside, and whether I like it or not, time works its magic on the best of us. Youth is a melodramatic magical wondrous state that is sadly only appreciated by those who have lost it and yet for those few hours visiting with my 'Gatsby', with Daisy, Tom and Nick I smiled fondly remembering a younger version of myself who had wept at how romantic Gatsby was and burned with fury at how self-righteous and boring Nick was. All that while being frowned upon by the new 'me' who could see through the shallowness, the superficial beauty, the social malaise and the sinister ugliness that seemed to pervade the entire novel. This is a story that to my eyes now is more about shattered dreams, perseverance, honesty, decency, and eventually the meaning of true friendship. The romance was gone!
Thankfully a few things remain unchanged and that is the lyrical beauty of the words that make up this novel. The first and last paragraphs still hold a firm power over my heart and one could do worse with one's time than simply to re-live them for a few hours on a quiet Sunday afternoon.
The Great Gatsby starring Leonardo diCaprio, Tobey Maguire & Carey Mulligan is out this Christmas. See trailer HERE.