This was my selection for a recent trip I took. I tend to pack more books than clothes, because God forbid one gets stuck waiting for their plane without something to read! (and don’t judge me on the Mills & Boon, one needs variation in their selection).
If you love books (which I’m going to assume most of you do), then the one thing you must add to your bucket list is a trip to Argentina and Uruguay. Not the most obvious of choices, I know, but trust me when I tell you that you will not regret it. Here’s why.
Last month I spent 10 beautiful days in Buenos Aires and Montevideo generally feeling very good about myself. The reason being that almost every single street corner housed a bookshop and I felt very literary and intelligent while I browsed through their offerings. From run down, second-hand fares to slick branded chains and cozy independents, there are bookshops for everyone in these two cities. Here I will tell you about my top 3.
We stumbled across Libros del Pasaje on a sunny Monday afternoon in Palermo Soho (the bohemian neighbourhood in Buenos Aires) whilst trying to find somewhere to eat – a task that was developing into quite the adventure.
As soon as I entered I had one of those ‘WOW, this-is-where-I-belong’ moments.
If you’re not a hardcore books person, then I’ll give you room to cringe, but the rest of you know what I’m talking about – the floor to ceiling shelves, the rolling ladders, the cozy chairs, the creaking stairs, the coffee shop nestled in a corner…. It was just perfect.
Though it was my last day in Buenos Aires, I couldn’t resist spending a couple of hours in the sunny conservatory eating my cake and reading my book. A rare moment of serenity in the bustle of Buenos Aires. This place is a real treat.
It’s strange because I don’t know the name of the bookshop, but the cafe upstairs is called PV Restaurant & Lounge. I had some beautiful scones there, washed down with this uh-mazing hot chocolate (it was surprisingly windy and freezing in Montevideo). I swear it had massive chunks of real chocolate just melting all over the place.
The beautiful stained glass windows, the grand staircase leading you up to the first floor (or, alternatively, there’s an ornate, old-school elevator that can crank you up); it’s all so elegant yet so cozy and welcoming.
Now for the final bookshop (which is back in Buenos Aires), set in an old theatre and is just simply so breathtaking in its grandeur.
El Ateneo Grand Splendid is just so very cool, with the box seats set up as private reading nooks and the main stage having been converted into a cafe. What’s not to love?
What made me sad about all this is that we don’t have anything even remotely like this in London. Amazon has taken over the publishing world and all the independents have closed their doors, leaving us with the likes of Waterstones and WH Smiths. Life is unfair. Make up for that by taking a trip to South America.
So it turns out that I have a book blog and I haven’t posted anything on it in about six months. Yup. I think I passed the embarrassed stage about three months ago, now I just look at this blog fondly as a thing of the past. Get all nostalgic and sh*t about that time when I used to post more than once a week; it’s great. ANYHOW.
I recently (two months ago) went to a David Sedaris event. I wasn’t really sure what to expect as it was a ticketed event in a concert hall (wasn’t cheap) and it was titled ‘An Evening with David Sedaris’. Was he going to do some stand-up, read from his new book, mingle with his fans in a room of swirling cognacs? Turns out that is exactly what the evening was (minus the cognac).
I don’t remember the last time I had such a good time. So much so that I stopped feeling resentful about the money I had spent to go and see him. I laughed so hard throughout the evening, listening to David (we’re totally on first name terms now) recounting stories and reading diary entries in his surprisingly high pitched voice. I, honestly, fell in love with the man.
The evening was coming to a close and David said he’d be outside signing books for a short while. Which reminded him of a time when a young guy came to one of his events and said his mum was a huge fan of David’s and would he mind writing something outrageous in her copy of one of his books. Naturally, David wrote ‘Your son left teeth marks on my dick’. HAHAHA. The boy was horrified.
My friend (whom I had very kindly introduced to the world of Sedaris) and I decided to get our books signed. The queue wasn’t moving particularly fast as some fans had his entire backlist with them that they wanted specially signed. Double sigh. So our moment finally came and my friend was nervous, which then made me nervous, which normally results in me talking too fast and laughing too hard at people’s jokes. And overcompensating for my quiet friend.
I asked David to write something outrageous in mine, and as I’m black, I wanted him to write something that was inappropriate and racist. He started telling me a story about a dog shelter run by some elderly people. Long story short, there was an important dinner being held and the words ‘black bitch’ were unknowingly thrown around in reference to a dog they wanted to move out of the shelter. This got us to the following inscription in my book:
I have to say, it was funny how, in a matter of minutes, he picked up on the dynamics of the relationship between me and my friend.
We talked to him some more and then made our exit. I was really impressed with how he took the time to speak to each person in that very long line, not the usual “Thanks for coming” type sh*t, but genuine conversation. If ever you get a chance to go to one of his readings, I highly recommend you do.
Believe it or not, there are some books out there that were made into pretty damned good movies. It happens. Admittedly not very often, but it does. My top four best screen adaptations are as follows (in no particular order):
We Need to Talk About Kevin – Lionel Shriver
I was not thrilled with the casting of Tilda Swinton as Eva Khatchadourian or John C. Reilly as Franklin. Quite possibly the most unlikely pairing I’ve ever witnessed on screen. Despite this, it was acted out brilliantly, was true to the book, and I don’t think it’s possible to have come across a more chillingly convincing Kevin.
Fight Club – Chuck Palahnuik
There’s a reason why this film has cult status. Dare I say it was a smidgen better than the book? It was visually quite amazing although reading/studying the book in university after I had watched the film, gave me a deeper appreciation of what Palahnuik was trying to do/say about masculinity and consumer culture.
American Psycho – Brett Easton Ellis
In my opinion, one of the best books ever written. And although nothing can quite capture the alluring monotony of the book, I think Christian Bale did a pretty damned good job in Patrick Bateman’s shoes. He was both horrifying and funny, a difficult combination to execute well.
The Slap – Christos Tsiolkas
This was very well done – very gritty, very real. Whoever’s idea it was to turn it into a mini series with each episode dedicated to a single character, was brilliant. With movies made from books, you’re usually always disappointed with casting and how it’s never quite how you visualised it. Not the case here – it was better! The script/actors really bought the moral complexity of the whole ‘slap’ situation to life.
And the ones that failed to live up to their books….
The Help – Kathryn Stockett
Very few people will agree with me on this. It’s not that the film was bad, but it was all so bright coloured and light hearted, doing very little to remind me that I actually cried when reading the book. Seriously, the film was like a comedy.
Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason – Helen Fielding
I genuinely do love to watch the Bridget Jones series whenever I need something mindless to do. The first Bridget Jones movie is great, but the second one? They successfully managed to turn Bridget into a bumbling fool slash moron. Hopping around like an idiotic penguin, there’s no way I would be seen out with her let alone anyone resembling Mark Darcy. It’s almost as though because she’s ‘fat’, she has to be an idiot, the butt of every joke. The Bridget Jones in the book is not an idiot.
One Day – David Nicholls
The failure of this film still hurts me, and I know I’m not alone here. To say I was disappointed with this movie would be an understatement. I absolutely fell in love with the book then spent the hour and 47 minutes of the film wondering why on earth they chose Ann Hathaway to play someone supposedly from Yorkshire and why the chemistry between the two main characters was lukewarm at best. And don’t get me started on that whole thing about Dexter’s letter that was never delivered being omitted from the movie. The whole thing was just infuriating.
My Sister’s Keeper – Jodi Picoult
This has got to be the all time biggest book to movie FAIL. How you can just go and change the ending of a novel so that the meaning of the entire story is completely different to how the author intended, I don’t know. I have never been so infuriated by the ending of a movie as I was with this. By simply ignoring the author’s twist it’s just another story about dealing with cancer.
And just to finish off; Films that you probably didn’t know (but don’t care) were books first:
- Charlie St. Cloud (Book called The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud by Ben Sherwood) – YAWN. Even Zack Efron’s face couldn’t save this disaster.
- Love and Other Drugs (Book called Hard Sell by Jamie Reidy) – Half way through watching this film with my sisters, we paused, looked at one another and realised that we simply did not give a damn what happened to either Anne Hathaway or Jake Gylennhall. Filled with gratuitous nudity that was more embarrassing than titillating, this was an hour (that’s as far we could handle it) of my life I will never get back.
- The Silver Linings Playbook (Book has the same name, written by Matthew Quick) – The most overrated film of 2012. Fact.
- Riding In Cars With Boys (Book called Riding In Cars With Boys: Confessions of a Bad Girl Who Makes Good by Beverly Donofrio) – Completely unmemorable.
There are a lot of strange people in this world. Some of them make into bookshops and ask silly questions. Here are a selection of the most ‘omg-are-you-serious?’ questions and comments.
CUSTOMER: Did they make a film edition of the Bible when The Passion of the Christ came out? You know, the text of the Bible, but with Mel Gibson on the front cover?
CUSTOMER: Do you have an LGBT fiction section?
BOOKSELLER: We don’t have a specific section, but we do have LGBT literature – Sarah Waters, Jeanette Winterson etc Which author were you looking for?
CUSTOMER: Don’t worry, I’ll have a look through the fiction section – thanks for your help.
OTHER CUSTOMER: Sorry, did I hear you right? Did you just say that all the homosexual books are in with the normal fiction?
BOOKSELLER: All our fiction is one section.
(Other Customer looks suspiciously at the book she’s holding and slides it back on the shelf)
CUSTOMER (pondering): How much would a signed copy of the Bible be worth?
BOOKSELLER: Signed by whom?
CUSTOMER: Well…I don’t know. Not God, obviously. (Nervous laugh.) That would be silly…wouldn’t it?
CUSTOMER: Pride and Prejudice was published a long time ago, right?
CUSTOMER: I thought so. Colin Firth’s looking really good for his age, then.
WOMAN (holding a copy of a Weight Watchers book in one hand, and The Hunger Games in the other): Which of these diet books would you recommend most?
CUSTOMER (to her friend): What about this book? (holds up a copy of The Hobbit).
CUSTOMER: No. I don’t want to read that. It’ll spoil the film.
CUSTOMER: Do you have audiobooks on sign language?
CUSTOMER: I’d like to buy a book for my wife.
BOOKSELLER: Sure, what sort of book?
CUSTOMER: I don’t know. Something…pink? Women like pink stuff, right?
CUSTOMER: Urgh. Shakespeare. He’s everywhere, isn’t he? You can’t escape him. I wish he’d do us all a favour and just die already.
CUSTOMER: I’m looking for the fourth Fifty Shades of Grey book.
BOOKSELLER: There are only three in the series.
CUSTOMER: No, there are four. I saw it in another shop yesterday. It’s really big. It’s called Fifty Shades Trilogy.
BOOKSELLER: …That’s the box set.
CUSTOMER: Do you have a copy of Atonement? But not the film cover, please. Keira Knightley’s neck makes me want to punch things.
It starts with a simple phone call – Ian and his wife, Em, are invited to come up to the country to spend a long weekend with Ollie (Ian’s best friend from university) and his wife, Daisy. What do you need to know about these two couples? Well, according to Ian:
‘The various ways in which we’re not like Ollie and Daisy is a conversation we often have. Indeed, we’ve spent far more time talking about them than in their presence. The essential contrasts, all to our disadvantage, go: large Georgian house in west London vs small modern semi in Ilkestone; Range Rover and BMW vs Ford Fiesta; Mauritius (Florence, Antigua etc.) vs Lanzarote (if we’re lucky); The Ivy vs Pizza Express; […] golden couple vs pair of ugly toads. I exaggerate but not much.’
Meet Ian, the narrator of this quietly chilling novel who wants to tell you what happened over the course of this long bank holiday weekend up at Badingley (the farm house).
‘As to the events of August, I don’t suppose I’ll ever get over them. I’m the kind of guy who feels guilty even when he’s innocent – expects to be stopped going through customs even when he has nothing to declare. But what happened that weekend would surely have happened anyway. It’s not like I’m a rapist or a murderer. Even if I were, I would be honest with you. I’m trying to tell the story, that’s all – not to unburden myself or extenuate some offence but to set things straight.’
And so we begin to hear what transpired over the last weekend of August. Sandwiched between tales of Ollie, Ian and Daisy’s time together at university (Ollie ‘stole’ Daisy from Ian), we are offered glimpses into the mechanics of friendship and rivalry, love and lust, money and class. A weekend meant to be fun and relaxing, is fused with a palpable tension when old rivalries resurface and pulse along to build up to a startling conclusion.
What needs to be made clear is that this is very much Ian’s version of events and as he’s so very honest about wanting to be honest and perhaps not remembering certain things as they happened, he very skilfully lures the reader over to his side.
‘My memory’s pretty good on the whole…And yet Badingley, which ought to be etched on my soul, slips away at times – or refuses to come into focus, like something wrapped in tissue and shut away in a drawer. Did Ollie really say this or Daisy that? I remember a mass of things but nothing distinctly.’
What works in Ian’s favour is that through his recounting of the events that shaped his and Ollie’s friendship back in university, the reader finds it very easy to dislike Ollie. But as the narrative progresses, we slowly begin to realise that things aren’t quite what they seem. Ian slowly emerges into your classic unreliable narrator, leaving the reader constantly weary and on edge. There is a chilling sense of foreboding throughout the novel, and it’s ultimately the desire to know what exactly it is that happened over this specific weekend that keeps you going. This is a highly atmospheric and compelling novel that deserves to be read in all its uncomfortable glory. And watch the miniseries if you can (featured on ITV last year, starring Rupert Penry-Jones) – although good, it’s not as subtle as the book.
I bet you’re wondering who made the cut? Maybe you’re not; maybe you actually have a life or something. I was, personally, quite excited because David Szalay (a very unassuming young man that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting) made it. Aside from him and a few others (Zadie Smith – AGAIN! – maybe it’s about time I dusted off one of her books and actually read them instead of assuming I’ll hate them), my reaction to this list was ‘eh?’ I, genuinely, have no idea who some of these people are, and I have only read books by three writers on this list (Szalay, Benjamin Markovits and Xiaolu Guo). Here’s the list in all its glory….your thoughts??
Most of the commentary since the announcement earlier this evening has been on how diverse the list is, and that, I think is great. To define Britishness is so very difficult these days so I think this list reflects that. Here is an interesting article written by a member of the judging panel, explaining their year-long selection process. Maybe it’s not so bad that I don’t know the majority of the featured novelists, maybe that’s the whole point. When the next list comes out in 2023, I’ll have discovered these writers and they may have earned a space or two on my overcrowded bookshelf.