Mariam is tarred from birth as a ‘harami’, an illegitimate daughter of a rich, weak man. She lives a life of pain and loss, in which she grows to believe that no-one cares for her, except the mother whose love she couldn’t properly comprehend as a child. Yet Mariam will live forever in Laila’s heart “where she shines with the bursting radiance of a thousands suns”. So goes the poignant, lyrical story of Khaled Hosseini’s second novel, and what an engrossing, and ultimately uplifting, tale it is.
From Poetry Please this week comes an absolute must-listen – Johnny Cash reading ‘The Cremation of Sam McGee’, by Robert Service.
Thanks to Billy Bragg’s first foray into non-fiction, ‘Roots Radicals and Rockers’, markontour is currently listening to Lonnie Donegan. Although I’m sceptical that ‘Rock Island Line’ would induce the same excitement in twenty-first century kids as it seemingly did in 1957, as Bragg turns out to be as eloquent in prose as he is in lyrical verse, I am nevertheless both highly entertained from taking the book’s journey and prepared to believe that skiffle did indeed change the musical world.
It is the reader, I suspect, and not the author that determines what is the subject of Peter Mathieson’s captivating thirty-year old book, The Snow Leopard. It is variously a travelogue (on which the author accompanies a famed naturalist to study the Nepalese wild blue sheep), a tale of spiritual search (for Mathieson lost his wife to cancer shortly before setting off), or an exploration of the natural beauty of a last wildnerness. For markontour, it was all about the majesty of mountains and a certain kind of welcome solitude.
How do you write a 500 word review of a tome that surveys the entire history of the human race? It maybe holiday-induced laziness, but distracted by the early morning activity of fish plopping up for air, noisy geese swooping down to trim the grass in a farmers field, and a showy kingfisher wooshing past looking for breakfast, I have concluded that this is a task beyond markontour’s capabilities. Thus follows 16 interesting facts in chronological order, which I learned from Yuval Noah Harari’s highly thought provoking book, ‘Sapiens’.
When I say that swimming in the river, a talk about tree climbing, and dancing with mine and Ms markontour’s parents were the among the highlights of this year’s Port Eliot Festival, don’t think it wasn’t a vintage year for this little, eclectic Cornish festival. Almost everything we saw hit the spot. But for this big-city-hopper, you can’t beat combining great music with the lovely British outdoors, especially if your nearest and (wonderfully eccentric) dearest are in tow.
There are three good reasons to visit Cromford in Derbyshire. First, Richard Arkwright’s cotton mills on the edge of the hamlet were the birthplace of the factory system. Second, the nearby John Smedley shop, itself a survivor from the late eighteenth century, sells the finest woollen and cotton pullovers in the world. Third, the Scarthin bookshop boasts a cafe hidden behind a revolving bookshelf. Finally, my old history professor has edited a cracking volume of essays about Cromford’s role in the Industrial Revolution.
Put your finger up to the night sky and there are 15,000 galaxies under your fingernail. Earth may be an extraordinary and unique combination of the universal elements found across all those galaxies, & it contains enough variety in nature to astound & intrigue the average human mind for a lifetime. But 15,000 galaxies under one fingernail? You can’t help but want to explore it. That’s why we need sci-fi & Alastair Reynolds is the best living purveyor of it.
Being a creature of habit, every year on our summer holiday I read a biography of a favourite band. It tends to drive my partner mad, because serial playing of their entire back catalogue accompanies the historical investigation. This year, I’m pleased to say, conflict was avoided, because while The Stone Roses: War and Peace was an engrossing read, the band only knocked out two albums, the first of which was of such sublime, epoch-defining quality that it is what the ‘Repeat All’ button was invented for.
A festival that I come home from feeling stimulated but relaxed. We were first attracted by the Caught By The River stage, and that is still the main draw, but there is also a cracking roster of book talks, great poets and comedians, the best festival food you are ever going to eat, beautiful grounds to enjoy, the Idler Academy for some casual education, and a bracing swim in the estuary to set yourself up for the day.