Monday, 1 February 2010

Book worm: January 2010

In 'Book worm', a new monthly series, I will review all the books I have read the previous month, no matter how varied! I am looking forward to discovering what takes my attention in a year.

Dewey, by Vicki Myron with Bret Witter. Published 2008
Testament of Youth, by Vera Brittain. Published 1933


A small fluffy ginger kitten is left to freeze to death in a library drop-box during winter in small-town America. The librarians find it in time, and the kitten begins a new lease of life, as Dewey the library cat.

There is something about animal biographies, especially cats, which makes me so emotional, even at the start. But leaving that aside, I would cautiously say I enjoyed this book, although I did have some misgivings.

The main focus of the book – the kitten that was found and lived in the library – is a very sweet story, but I am not sure it is a ‘novel-sized’ story. It feels like it would work a lot better as a children’s picture book. While I enjoyed reading about Dewey’s antics and growing fame, the story became less about Dewey and more about why the author thinks we should love her special cat. Indeed, the structure of each chapter ends by telling me the exact same thing, and as a reader I don’t need to be told constantly that Dewey is a special cat, I got that from the first chapter. What I wanted was to be shown why is he special.

So, because the story of Dewey himself is quite short, around that is another story, the back-history of the small town, and Iowa itself. This was fantastic. I know little about middle-America and her successes and tragedies, so found this very interesting. Vicki Myron sketches its inhabitants quite clearly and her descriptions of the community are very compelling.

Testament of Youth

This epic book documents the mood of a nation and the build up to the First World War. It takes us through the idealistic young men who thought war was ‘heroism in the aspect’, the earnest stoic young women who nursed the soldiers, the mud and the cold of the French fields, the bittersweet victory, the realisation of the awful cost to both sides, and the pursuit of peace.

The author paints a good picture of what it was like to be a wealthy teenager leading up to war, and especially, to be a female during those turbulent times. There were little opportunities for distraction from the gigantic propaganda war machine and so these young people stirred themselves into a tizzy over dramatic poetry, sweeping music, and entreaties from the King down to school masters that to be a man meant fighting for their country, and if they died then it would be a ‘glorious death’. Older people capitalised and preyed on these emotive teenagers, and by the time these young officers realised that there was no glory in harsh dying then it was all too late.

Vera Brittain is very alive in these pages; she despairs and hopes and dreams throughout this long chapter of her life, and struggles later to find meaning in what she has seen. She laments for a lost generation, those who died and those who lived, and I lament with her from my lofty viewpoint ninety years hence. The latter part of her book concerns itself with peace, and with her determination to be an author. Still so relevant, as human emotions do not change as rapidly as the world in which they live; the voice and advice through the pages gives me comfort for my own modest ambitions.


Fran Hill said...

Loved Testament of Youth. I read it when I was writing my uni dissertation on the poetry of the 1WW. So sad.

wannabe a writer said...

Hi Jayne

What a good idea to review the books you have read throughout the year.

I haven't read Testament of Youth, but your review has inspired me to look it up. Sometimes I get a bit stuck in a rut in the type of books I read so to see this kind of review will hopefully stretch my own reading matter.

Keep it up.


Private said...

If there's a cat in it, I'll read it:)

Katie Anderson said...

I also enjoyed Vera Brittain's 'Testament of Youth'. I originally read it as part of my English Literature A Level, but returned to it some time later.

In fact, it was a really bizarre experience. I read it while driving through France and when we stopped for the night I looked up to realise that we had stopped in the exact same town that Brittain was writing about.

Anyway, I just found your blog and I wanted to say hello!

Katie x

Private said...

Hello again! :) I just thought I'd let you know that I like your blog so much that I've linked to it from my blog. Hope that's okay?

XX Alexandra.

Jayne said...

Hi Fran. That sounds an interesting dissertation. Mine was on the psychology of reading focusing on children’s stories – I remember reading some fascinating books on the subject. Testament of Youth has made me want to read more of that period, although at the moment my reading has plunged me headfirst into the battle of Waterloo!

Jayne said...

Hi Linda. Thank you! Testament of Youth was an eye-opening book for me, ultimately rewarding, even though I found it hard-going at times. The hard-going part was the sometimes excessively flowery language – I do think it would have benefited from a more ruthless edit. But I really do feel for those young souls in the book who were tipped into war so long ago.

And be prepared – my reading choices can be somewhat eclectic, shall we say! :)

Jayne said...

Hello Alexandra, and welcome! Thank you so much for saying you like my blog, and for linking to it – definitely okay! In fact, I will link to yours too. :)

Jayne said...

Hi Katie, and welcome! That must have felt weird, reading the book and then realising you were in one of the areas she had mentioned so many years previously. I do love it when things like that happen though – a strange occasional serendipity! And thank you for finding my blog, and for saying hello - much appreciated!

Ev said...

Jayne - don't waste it, hon - share it - check out tournament - although they are very very strict with you - a bit like your scariest teacher who you loved to bits but were terrified of letting down - share your favourite books with the world basically. Plus nice relaxation from your own work - start saving for flights to Dublin for a September book launch!Actually might be in London over next month to do research so might meet for a coffee - wotcha reckon? You can bring a ginger cat to protect you!

Jayne said...

Hi Ev - thank you so much for pointing me towards Book Drum, anything that could potentially earn some pennies sounds wonderful to me. And oh, to fly anywhere for a book launch - that sounds so lovely and grand. I would like to visit Dublin one day as well... *plans potential book launch tour with glee*

And yes, I'd be up for a coffee - sounds good! Let me know via if or when you have any definite dates in mind. :)