Songs Inspired By Books

I wonder, thought I, how many songs have been written that have been inspired by books. Wow! How naive could one person be? Clearly, the answer is very. In no particular order, here are a few of a very large group.

Mrs Hemingway by Mary Chapin Carpenter [about Hadley Hemingway, wife of Ernest]

All She Wants To Do Is Dance by Don Henley [inspired by The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925) and The Ugly American by Eugene Burdick and William Lederer (1958)]

Phantom of the Opera by Iron Maiden [Gaston Leroux’s classic undergoes a dramatically different interpretation to that of Andrew Lloyd Webber. It runs over seven minutes but it’s worth the listen]

Disposable Teens by Marilyn Manson [alleged to be partly inspired by 1984 by George Orwell]

Fire on the Mountain by Rob Thomas [inspired by Dave Eggers’ What is the what]

Howl by Florence + The Machine [inspired, according to Florence by Gothic werewolf fiction]

Lily of the Valley by Queen [The song is believed to be about the 1835 novel Lily of the Valley by Honoré de Balzac]

Man of Constant Sorrow by The Soggy Bottom Boys [The song relates to The Odyssey: the line, “I am a man of constant sorrow. I’ve seen trouble all my days” refers to Odysseus and all the troubles he had on his journey home]

Shakespeare’s Sister by The Smiths [This song is named after a chapter in Virginia Woolf’s 1929 feminism essay, A Room of One’s Own]

Tea in the Sahara by The Police [This song is named after a chapter in the book The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles]

These select few are a small taste of what is available. The Shortlist have also collated a selection of songs ranging from Bowie to Manic Street Preachers to Elton John to Nirvana.

Not forgetting the kids…


Can Young People Write Memoir?

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

Leslie Jamison offers up her usual incisive brilliance in a NY Times book review discussion titled “Should There Be a Minimum Age for Writing a Memoir?” Here’s a bit, followed by the link:

I probably shouldn’t venture any further into my defense of young memoir before acknowledging that I’m a young writer who has written about my life. I’ve got skin in the game. And my skin flinches, in particular, at the second part of Yardley’s argument: the notion that even those who have had experiences worth narrating will be “too young to know what to make of them,” which feels like a willfully reductive evasion of a more complicated truth.

I do see where the critique comes from. In its sophisticated form, it’s a call for drafting and revision, for the ways we can productively re-examine our own stories and dig underneath our familiar narratives of self to find…

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[Review] The Children Act written by Ian McEwan

ian mcewan

Title: The Children Act
Author: Ian McEwan
Publisher: Doubleday – Nan. A. Talese
Date of Publication: 9 September 2014
Number of Pages: 240

Rating: 5 stars

Disclaimer: Copy provided free by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Summary: Fiona Maye is a High Court judge in London presiding over cases in family court. She is fiercely intelligent, well respected, and deeply immersed in the nuances of her particular field of law. Often the outcome of a case seems simple from the outside, the course of action to ensure a child’s welfare obvious. But the law requires more rigor than mere pragmatism, and Fiona is expert in considering the sensitivities of culture and religion when handing down her verdicts.

But Fiona’s professional success belies domestic strife. Her husband, Jack, asks her to consider an open marriage and, after an argument, moves out of their house. His departure leaves her adrift, wondering whether it was not love she had lost so much as a modern form of respectability; whether it was not contempt and ostracism she really fears. She decides to throw herself into her work, especially a complex case involving a seventeen-year-old boy whose parents will not permit a lifesaving blood transfusion because it conflicts with their beliefs as Jehovah’s Witnesses. But Jack doesn’t leave her thoughts, and the pressure to resolve the case—as well as her crumbling marriage—tests Fiona in ways that will keep readers thoroughly enthralled until the last stunning page. [Goodreads]

Review: Sometimes you discover a book that makes you wish you hadn’t been quite so liberal in awarding 5 stars to others. This is one such occasion.

The Children Act is intriguing. Fiona’s husband admits to a making preludes towards an affair,  after which, she reflects on the product of her life through the cases she has presided over as judge. The interlinking familial overtones are impressive and the level of sophistication necessary to achieve a genuine voice is one all writers should consider. McEwan knows where he wants the story to go and he knows what he wants the readers to engage and emote with. There is something painfully familiar about Fiona and her desire for children even though job opportunity, age and so many other external factors drag the chance further and further out of reach until they are left as a biological figment.

In my last review, I made the observation that the the story was not strongly character driven, though many readers felt differently. The Children Act is a powerful counterpoint to We Are Not Ourselves.

Where We Are Not Ourselves moved quickly from location to location, The Children Act has a “locked room” murder mystery feel. The action is centered on four primary locations and each location feels familiar and is readily imagined because of our own familiarity with the settings.

The familiarity heightens the tension of certain segments and at these moments it is almost possible to feel the strain, the tension, the confusion, seeping off the page. The emotions that Fiona experiences are shared by the reader. This is powerful. This is writing that doesn’t happen all the time. In fact, looking back at the books I’ve read so far this year, my only comparable reaction to the prose is Sarah Perry’s After Me Comes the Flood. McEwan is a force and his style had me obsessed to the last page.

Some may find the style dry and underwhelming but this is to make a circumstantial reading of the content. There is so much to praise in this book that I could write much more, however, it would spoil the joy of discovery for those who haven’t finished reading. I want to also make brief mention of the subtlety of the cover. The simplicity and elegance of the cover is a beautiful reflection of one section of the book. I will leave you to make the discovery for yourself.

This is my first Ian McEwan novel and I doubt it will be my last.

[Review] We Are Not Ourselves written by Matthew Thomas

not ourselves

Title: We Are Not Ourselves
Author: Matthew Thomas
Publisher: HarperCollins UK, HarperPress/4th Estate/The Friday Project
Date of Publication: 28 August 2014
Number of Pages: 620

Rating: 2 stars DNF at 24%

Disclaimer: Copy provided free by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Summary: Raised in the 1940s in the mostly Irish neighbourhood of Jackson Heights, Queens, by an alcoholic mother and a union-wage father, Eileen yearns for more from an early age. Driven by this longing, she places her stock and love in a handsome young scientist and with him begins a family. Once her childhood neighbourhood begins to slip below her standards, she pushes against her husband’s reluctance to find a home elsewhere. When it becomes clear that his reticence is part of a deeper, more incomprehensible psychological shift, the bricks of the life she thought she was building begin to crumble, and she and her son are left to grapple with a husband and a father who is, beyond their control, fading away. [Goodreads]

Review: Opening preface – a boy murders a frog and his father walks off leaving him alone for hours(?).

Eileen gets out of dancing class early to watch her father hold court at his favourite watering hole. Queue long sections on alcohol and drunkenness and admissions to AA that raise little emotion. It’s like watching through the window.

Eileen goes to nursing school. Surprising because she is an incredibly unsympathetic character with stunted emotions and seemingly little sympathy.

Eileen meets Ed.

Eileen courts Ed.

Ed is good at tennis and is smart and doesn’t really talk about himself in any great detail. Ed, like Eileen, is one dimensional.

Eileen marries Ed and becomes disenchanted with her lot.

The prose is third person and non-descript. There is no glamour to the stylistic elements. No witty turn of phrase that makes you think wow. There was one cluster of words that sat nicely outside the rest of the sentence but they can’t have been overly remarkable as I don’t remember them. A lot of words and concepts and opportunities for plot development have been crammed into this 13% but Thomas seems disinclined to have his readers know his characters. Plus, my kindle says 14 plus hours to finish so this will be a massive slog to finish as at the moment I’m not really caring for the characters. Great Gatsby this wants to be but a Great Gatsby it is not.

It is disheartening to grab 30 minutes to read only to gain 3%.  By 16% there has been a birth, a couple of deaths, some new furniture and some pathetically boring sex scenes that could have been cut out – these scenes are as erotic as watching paint dry. Actually, that’s a pretty good summation of the book so far. Other reviewers are saying “stick with it” the pace is a deceit that will make sense at the end and I really hope it does but at the same time, I’m not sure I want to devote the time to it. Some reviewers are calling this a “character driven” novel but really, for this to be character driven, there would have to be strong, well formed, well written characters and sadly, there isn’t anything like that in this book.

In all honesty, I am grateful for the spoilers that other reviewers have included because it means I know what happens in the end and it means I don’t need to read for another 12 hours to find the answer. At 24% I have had to admit defeat because I just cannot see a way to continue. I don’t think I would read more work by Thomas.

Find me in the library

Since I was small, my life has been all about the books, the library, the reading. So consumed was I by reading, now, too many years later to say, I can pinpoint the moment I started failing maths. So consumed am I by reading, those who know me will verify, the first thing I do when moving to a new place, is look at where the libraries are and then join one within a week of arriving. Even on holidays, I go to libraries. The picture to the left, in my sidebar, was taken in 2010 at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. My flat mate will verify my addiction to books. I frequently say “I’m just going to take these back and not get anything else” only to arrive home with the same number as I have just returned. I need help but really, I don’t. In a world that worries about what everyone is addicted to, this is the least of the problem.

For the last four and a half years, I have had the great fortune of working in Senate House, home to the University of London and their amazing humanities library. Shamefully, I haven’t spent as much time in the stacks as I should have, nor in their comfortable reading rooms but it is a privilege to have access.


Senate House, University of London – Image Mine

Whatever happens in this world, I hope I can always find peace, seclusion and safety within the walls of a library. These places are special & should be preserved for all to enjoy. Those who seek to destroy these palaces of knowledge know the power contained within the walls and are cowards who fear that learning will show them for what they are. Ignorant. Today, let us be thankful for the libraries we have access to.