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Ordinary people, memoirs, books

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Rambling Report 18 Sep 2019 13:17

and differences of opinion.

Bit of a broad topic, but have you noticed how a book that has great reviews nearly always provokes the exact opposite opinion from reviewers? ( a 'marmite' book I suppose).

Are there books that have been lauded that you have found unreadable/boring?

Do you find books where nothing much happens, but it is well written and interestingly 'domestic', ie written about ordinary people who like most of our ancestors did not do anything notable, just lived their lives the best they could.

I ask because I have just read "Rory and Ita", a memoir written ( 2003) or rather edited by Roddy Doyle, largely using his parents own words. I enjoyed it for the affection that comes through it, and the view of Irish life at the time, but I note online reviews were mixed and many people found it lacking in 'oomph', nothing much happens except the things that happen in all families.

Do things have to happen in stories for you to enjoy them? :-)

edited to put the right number of 'o's in Oomph!


Dermot Report 18 Sep 2019 14:32

'A Wistful Eye - The Tragedy of a Titanic Shipwright'.

It is 1910 and 56 year old William Henry Kelly, a caulker at Harland & Wolff’s Belfast shipyard, is engaged in building the Titanic, when Belle, his wife of 30 years, is brutally murdered.

This unique account, based on the true story of the author’s great-grandfather, views the construction and sinking of the White Star Line’s iconic but doomed liner, and other momentous events of the era, from the perspective of a Titanic shipwright. 

This is a moving human story of an ordinary but intelligent man’s battle with social injustice and with his own demons.

*D J Kelly (the Author) is my cousin. Published in 2012 by


Rambling Report 18 Sep 2019 14:34

Sounds very interesting Dermot :-)


SuffolkVera Report 18 Sep 2019 15:08

I agree with Rose, Dermot. It sounds interesting.

For me, a book doesn’t have to have much happening in it provided it is well written or, at least, written in a way that “chimes” with me. The author needs to conjure up the atmosphere of the era he/she is writing about. I’ve read one or two books around the years of WW2 where you have almost been able to feel what it was like coming home from work through the blackout to see what mum had rustled up for your tea from wartime rations.

The book I have never been able to get through though I have tried countless times is Lorna Doone. I am particularly keen to read it as R D Blackmore is very distantly related to my family and some of the characters in the book are based on members of my family, only distantly though, no-one really close. Every time I start the book I feel determined to finish it but then give up about a third of the way through.


Rambling Report 18 Sep 2019 15:45

Vera I did try and read 'Lorna Doone' years ago but couldn't get on with it, the same with 'Wuthering Heights' and 'The French Lieutenant's Woman', though I did have to finish that one.

I have a book that my mother used to read to me when I was little, a Victorian novel along the lines of 'Oliver' but it's virtually unreadable except for a very descriptive chapter on young Patrick selling water cress to survive and sleeping on sacks in the corner of his grandmother's hovel. That part would make a great film setting.


AnninGlos Report 18 Sep 2019 16:07

I have never been able to read Captain Correlis Mandolin it does nothing for me and I give up. Way back there were one or two in the GR Book Club that were what I call 'worthy' books but they made such an impact I can't remember what they were. I have not read Lorna Doone either, or Wuthering Heights. sometimes the books that are known classics to me are staid and boring. But each to his/her own and I feel the right to read what I enjoy not what is good for me. (bit like eating really). As well I can be put off by the sheer size of a book, not necessarily length but weight.


Rambling Report 18 Sep 2019 16:17

Ann I wasn't that keen on 'Captain Corelli's Mandolin' either, and while I appreciated the pile of books that were passed on to me recently, all by the same author , I couldn't get on with the writing style at all, so they will go to the charity shop. :-)

I find that I don't have the concentration for 'deep' books these days lol, nor the strength in my hand to hold a heavy book.


SheilaWestWilts Report 18 Sep 2019 16:46

I thought it was 'me' - hated 'Captain Corelli's Mandolin' and only read about a 1/4 of it, put me off trying anything else by the author. I like many of the 'classic' authors but couldn't get on with Walter Scott.

I read fiction and non-fiction, although not mad on autobiographies unless it's someone who's had an interesting life (e.g. David Attenborough). Historical biographies can be good, again depends on the subject matter and how the story is told.

Any book has to engage you, I think, and I particularly like those which conjure well a sense of the place and time.


SuffolkVera Report 18 Sep 2019 17:07

I seem to be the exception here as I loved Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, though I’ve never been tempted to read anything else by the same author. It would be a boring world if we all thought alike.


Rambling Report 18 Sep 2019 17:24

It certainly would Vera :-) especially when it comes to books!

Sheila, I do like a good autobiography. I used to like Gerald Durrell's books, and most recently read Brian Blessed, mainly about his animals ( see a theme there lol). The language is a bit ripe in parts if you're not expecting it, but he is passionate about animals and that they are treated well, so loses his temper with people who mistreat them and says so in no uncertain terms.


maggiewinchester Report 18 Sep 2019 20:17

I too liked Captain Corelli's Mandolin.
However, I can't stand Jane Austin - though I love Mrs Gaskell's books.
I tried reading 'The Hobbit' - didn't get very far - but enjoyed reading the 'Gormenghast' Trilogy by Mervyn Peake!
Oh - and I loved the Tom Sharpe books :-D, apparently did my children, at quite an early age, despite my hiding them.... :-(


Dermot Report 18 Sep 2019 20:44

My all-time reading material was & still is 'The Story of Civilisation' by Will Durant.

A birthday present in 1970 of thirty-two volumes of well researched quality history which is a joy to read & re-read.


SuffolkVera Report 18 Sep 2019 21:36

I love Jane Austen (though I'm not so keen on some of the TV and film adaptations) and I quite enjoy Mrs Gaskell. Years ago a friend gave me The Hobbit saying that she couldn't get into it at all. I loved it so much I went straight out and bought The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I have read it several times now and find something new in it each time. We also have some other Tolkien books, including the Silmarillion which I find a bit hard going but OH really enjoys. I couldn't get on with Gormenghast at all and gave up part way through the first book. OH did read it all but wasn't very enthusiastic.

That was some birthday present Dermot - 32 volumes! Many years ago OH asked me what I wanted for my birthday and I said Pepys Diary. I was thinking of the abridged version in a couple of paperbacks but he bought me the full works in hardback. I can't remember off the top of my head but I think there are something like 14 books. I dread to think what it cost him at a time when we weren't all that well off.


Allan Report 18 Sep 2019 22:15

I enjoyed The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, so much so that they were the bedtime reading material for my then young son me reading to him)

I also enjoy anything by Sir Terry Pratchett. I found that his different Universe is totally believable.

I was given a first print of Sir Winston Churchill's 'Second World War', all six volumes of it, and never read past the first three books, totally boring and self-centred.


JoyLouise Report 19 Sep 2019 00:20

I tend to vary my reading.

Three books about war that have been well-lauded but I can't get away with are: 'Memoirs of a Foxhunting Man' (Sassoon) - tried it twice and it was no better the second time around; 'Ghost Road' ? I think it was (Pat Barker) and 'Birdsong' (Faulks - not sure of spelling). I have read better books about war than those three so I guess it's the style of writing that puts me off.

I like Philippa Gregory's historical novels and spill-the-beans books such as Kitty Kelley's 'Nancy Reagan'.

I enjoyed the whimsical San Francisco-based stories by Armistead Maupin (made me visit the place) as much as I enjoy dark thrillers and mysteries.

I liked 'Scoop' by Waugh and have always enjoyed Thomas Keneally writings.

I like Hardy's classics and the Bronte's books.

However, John Steinbeck is probably my favourite author and my favourite book from him is 'Cannery Row' (again, made me visit the place). Steinbeck's descriptions of people and places and his insight and regard for the common man and his struggles and triumphs always make for an interesting read.


Tawny Report 19 Sep 2019 09:42

I can’t get on with George Eliot’s books I find her books hard to get into. I do however enjoy books like Wild Swans by Jung Chang which is biographical and autobiographical as it starts with her grandmothers life during the time of the foot binding and goes through her own life and the rise of Mao Tse Tung.


RolloTheRed Report 19 Sep 2019 11:19

Since my mid teens I have always had Doris Lessing's "Martha Quest" series on my bookshelf along with "On Cats" of course. The series sits beside Alan Paton's "Cry the Beloved Country".

Martha Quest, A Proper Marriage, Children of Violence, A Ripple from the Storm, Landlocked, and The Four-Gated City


Rambling Report 19 Sep 2019 11:36

Thanks for replies :-)

Of the books mentioned I haven't read them all, but LOTR has to be my favourite, ever lol. I read it probably every year, there is much more to it than elves and wizards ;-)

I do find ( maybe an age thing?!) that of the fiction books I read I do prefer those which have a happy ending :-)


RolloTheRed Report 19 Sep 2019 12:16

J R R Tolkien was always emphatic that LOTR should not be read as an allegory despite it being published a few years after the end of the second world war with the cold war a hard new fact of life. He is mostly ignored of course. One of the things I love about LOTR is that like an old friend you can always pick up with it even after a long time away.

I doubt that the present interest in Beowulf. his adversary Grendel and all things Saxon and Viking would be so great without LOTR. Edith Pretty was a friend of JRRT and he took a keen interest in the excavations at Sutton Hoo.

Jackson's brilliant movies were vastly entertaining but never got to grips with the question "why?". The BBC had a similar failure with "Gormenghast" a few years ago though I enjoyed the short series.

In the end I guess the pen is mightier than the camera.


Dermot Report 19 Sep 2019 12:54

Just a PS on my earlier posting:-

An elderly aunt borrowed one of the volumes in c.1980. Unfortunately, she left it behind on a London Underground train.

In 1991, I was browsing through a charity shop in Exeter - lo & behold, I spotted the missing item on a shelf, all on its own.

Believe it or believe it not - but I'm glad to say I still have the complete set.

A happy ending! :-D