Tag Archives: John Williams

My Favourite Books of 2016

16 Jan

Year 2016 wasn’t a particularly good one when it comes to discovering good books, compared to the previous years. It seems that every new year of my life is nothing but a paler, duller and sadder version of the previous year. Still, there were eleven books that I thought were really good and that I highly recommend everyone to read. I hope I’ll read some really fantastic books in 2017! And I hope you will too!

1908-woman-reading-by-candlelight-peter-ilsted-danishWoman Reading by Candlelight, Peter Ilsted, 1908

1. My Life by Marc Chagall: only a painter could write such an autobiography. It’s almost psychedelic, full of beauty, dreams, love and hardships of the painter’s life. And so full of hope at the same time.

2. The Return of Philip Latinowicz by Miroslav Krleza is a novel about an artist who returns to his homeland Croatia after 23 years, set in the late 1920s/early 1930s, and it explores just about every topic there is; meaning of existence, art, childhood, sexuality, provincial claustrophobia, relationship with his mother and the puzzling question – the identity of his father. After years spent living in the decaying Western European society, Philip hoped to find inspiration by revisiting his cultural roots, but he was instead welcomed by the Panonian mud; intellectual and imaginative poverty of small-town decadence, intrigues and hypocrisies, and the petty-bourgeois mindsets of the people who live there. Here’s a quote that I utterly agree with: ‘I believe in the purity of artistic intuition as the only purity which has remained in this animal world around us!

3. A Thing of Beauty by A.J.Cronin is such a beautiful book, tells the story of a struggling painter Stefan who goes from a proper middle-class student obliging his dominant priest father, to diving fully into the bohemian and artistic life in 1910s Paris. It’s a sad, gentle book, you can empathise with the character and feel his struggles, pains and the beauty of his paintings. I wrote a long long review here.

4. Lust for Life by Irving Stone is a romanticised biography of Vincent van Gogh, beautifully written, easy to read, with a good amount of his personal life and his art because both is equally important. I liked that the chapters were divided by the places he lived in, and that the author managed to convey the personalities of van Gogh and his painter-friends so well. It was only after reading this that I understood what a desire Vincent had to help people, such as the workers in coal mines. Even now, he’s helping the humanity with the beauty of his paintings.

5. Dark Stuff by Nick Kent: This is a collection of essays about rock musicians originally written from 1972 to 1993 which explore the self-destruction and creativity of rock world. I adore the simple and honest way he writes, without patronising, but with utter love for music, and I think it’s so cool that he led that rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle himself. I want to be Nick Kent and Tony Wilson of the art world!

6. Just Kids by Patti Smith is a beautiful account of her years with Robert Mapplethorpe, Chelsea Hotel, discovering art and music, and a tender love story as well. It showed me Patti in a completely new light, maybe she looks like a boy but she has a loving and forgiving heart and is a true woman.

7. Lord of the Flies by William Golding: This books wasn’t that interesting to read, but the deeper message it carries is worth it. There’s references to it everywhere, and I just had to read it.

8. The Pillowbook by Sei Shonagon is beautiful, lyrical, gentle and witty portrayal of court life, customs and nature in Edo period written by a woman who is often called the ‘first blogger’! Shonagon won me over with her descriptions of cherry blossoms, plum trees, snow, moonshine, clothes, gossips and chatter on court. Anyone who loves nature, poetry or Eastern culture should definitely read it! Here’s a quote: ‘In Spring it is the dawn that is most beautiful. As the light creeps over the hills, their outlines are dyed a faint red and wisps of purplish cloud trail over them.’ I wrote a longer review here.

9. Return to Cardiff by John Williams: What I love about this book is that it’s a product of our day and age. I am always bitching about how boring and uncreative the 21st century world is, so I was very delighted to read something as moving and amusing. It’s a story of memories and changes for Cardiff as well as the characters. I wrote a longer review here.

10. The Key by Junichiro Tanizaki: is a novel written in a diary-form about the loss of communication between a middle-aged couple. Wife and husband are reading each other’s diaries to find out their true fantasies and desires. It’s only erotic at first reading, but its main subject – loss of communication or alienation is something that pervades our modern world. I’m realising more and more how difficult it is really to make a deep, sincere connection with another human being, and this novel really chimed with me.  I like Tanizaki’s style and I really want to read ‘Naomi’ next – it’s suppose to be the Japanese version of Nabokov’s Lolita.

11. A Taste of Honey by Shelagh Delaney is kitchen-sink drama which I read because I knew Morrissey loved it and it was inspirational for his lyrics. And I loved it too! Set in the grim and industrial landscape of Manchester, it tells the story of a pregnant schoolgirl with a black-sailor boyfriend, careless mother and a gay friend. Delaney writes about everyday struggles and social issues with such delicacy I think. It inspired Morrissey to write his song This Night Has Opened My Eyes, do you need another reason to read it?

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Have you read any of these books?

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Book Review: Cardiff Dead by John Williams

9 Aug

As you may have seen in my post My Inspiration for July, John Williams is an author I discovered in July. Being very enthusiastic about his book Cardiff Dead, I decided to read his book Five Pubs, Two Bars and a Night Club, and since I really loved his style in general, I decided he needs a shout out. Also, Williams is an editor and a contributor of a collection of short stories Wales, Half Welsh which I’m currently reading and enjoying it, at least stories he wrote.

Cardiff city centre at night, photo by Maciej Dakowicz

Cardiff city centre at night, photo by Maciej Dakowicz

John Williams (b. 1961) is a Cardiff based writer, and therefore some of his books and stories are set in Cardiff and often feature the same characters, so we could say that he really created a whole new world and aesthetic. I was blown away by his style of writing. I’m not going to lie, he is not the new Jack Kerouac, but is his prose modern, funny, honest, fast paced – yes it is. He’s not really poetic and descriptive, but somehow I instantly get the picture, so whatever he’s doing, it’s working, because his characters and their lives bring you back to 1990s Cardiff, Butetown specifically, and I kind of liked being in that little world for a while. His characters are rock and ska musicians, or ex-rock musicians, prostitutes, thieves, gangsters, ex-revolutionaries, drug dealers – people from the edge of society. Williams doesn’t portray them as malicious and dangerous, but rather as likeable people who are willing to put their past behind and start fresh.

Novel Cardiff Dead takes its title from these lyrics:

I’m Cardiff born and Cardiff bread

And when I dies I’ll be Cardiff dead.‘ (Frank Hennessy)

I was drawn to this novel from the first page. The introduction is nostalgic and strangely poetic. It’s 1999, and the main character, thirty-nine year old Mazz is returning to Cardiff after eighteen years. Williams slowly reveals Mazz’s past, his character and details of his life, at the same time introducing other characters such as Tyra, Charlie, Bobby, Kenny Ibadulla etc. Some chapters are set in 1981 which gives us a view of Mazz’s life when it was all at the beginning. He’s from the Valleys, and moved to Cardiff in summer of 1979 with a bag of clothes and his Fender guitar, and soon formed a ska bend called The Wurriyas. These chapters are very interesting to me because some political events such as Hunger strikes and IRA, miners crisis and death of Bob Marley form the background of their lives.

Thematically, this book is very layered. It deals with Mazz’s return and everything that goes on in Cardiff at the moment such as the building of the Millennium Stadium, but it also deals with many other things – Mazz reflects on the life he lead, search for the missing bend member Emyr (which strangely reminds me of the disappearance of Richey Edwards, and being a rock fan Williams is no doubt aware of that), Mazz and Tyra’s love story, as well as the sad disappearance of old Cardiff and its transformation upon entering the new millennium.

All in all, I truly enjoyed reading this book; it was intriguing, passionate, dynamic, warm and full of hope. I randomly picked it up at the library because I liked the title and I thought I’d enjoy reading a Welsh author and a book set in urban Wales because I love Manic Street Preachers after all.