Book Review of Richard Holloway's Waiting For The Last Bus
Waiting for the Last Bus is a wonderful book. It is insightful, intelligent, humble and thoughtful. It is also quite difficult.
With searing honesty, Richard Holloway grapples with his religious beliefs and doubts. He considers what it means to have lived a good life and how people manage their worries of the afterlife. He explores the big questions and faces his own uncertainties. The necessity we often feel to view things in binary terms, and the limitations of doing so, is a theme he frequently returns to in the text.
Using anecdotes and beautiful examples, drawn from fiction and philosophy, Holloway gets to the very crux of what it means to be alive. Of course we can't know for sure about the opposite, which Holloway acknowledges, but he explains how dominant death is in his thoughts and contemplates the afterlife. Holloway even talks about those who believe they have come back from the brink of death, doing so in a thoughtful and sympathetic manner. Holloway looks at those of us who are focused on living a good life and those of us who are more concerned with heading to the afterlife, exploring the part religion plays in that.
This is a text to return to. Within Waiting For The Last Bus is sound advice, though never dogmatically presented, on how to handle large life problems and how to keep perspective. Rather than telling the reader they should respond to situations, with certain patterns of behaviour or actions, Holloway reveals how people's lives will be either enhanced or diminished according to how they think about issues and situations they are in. He makes interesting observations about the past, present and future. We can't change the past, but we can change the future. The absolute necessity of being able to forgive is a key theme to which he frequently returns to in his writing.
In attempting to review Holloway's book it is easy to fall into the trap of presenting his text as a self help manual. That's not what it is at all but it is a book that is full of wisdom. I guess if I was trying to give it a genre I'd call it a philosophical tract, but one full of humility, warmth and understanding. It sets the big questions in everyday frameworks we can understand and relate to, but it never reduces the significance of that which it explores. Everyone will remember something different in Holloway's writing and take their own meaning from it,
Book Discussion Questions on Richard Holloway's Waiting For The Last Bus
"Most of us were brought up to believe we made ourselves and constructed our own destiny." This is the opening of a chapter where Holloway goes on to explore whether we do in fact have free choice. Discuss your views of free choice, referring to chapter three as you share your ideas.
Holloway quotes Derek Walcott more than once in this book. What do you think Walcott's line '... give back your heart to itself' means?
Holloway quotes Hamlet's soliloquy when Hamlet contemplates murdering his stepfather Claudius, but chooses not to kill him while he is praying. He claims this is "hire and salary, not revenge ..." Do you think taking revenge is ever helpful? Have you ever had revenge taken on you? Do you have any revenge stories to share?
Holloway says "Grief is shattering, but it can be survived if we let oursevles experience it. It has to be done, not bypassed, muffled or diverted." Discuss grief.
In Waiting For The Last Bus, Holloway shares anecdotes of people having planned their own funerals. One person he knew went as far as recording themselves singing the pieces they wanted played. What music would you have played at your own funeral? Discuss what you think makes a good funeral?
"Our tragedy is that though we do not know what we are doing when we act, our actions are irreversible.." Discuss this Richard Holloway quotation. Is there any point having regrets in life? What can we do to reduce the sorrow or regrets we do have?
Book Discussion on Waiting For The Last Bus (If you haven't read the book!)
Holloway frequently uses the bible as a prompt from which it is possible to discuss philosphical ideas. Where do you get most of your inspiration for 'deep and meaningful' conversation from?
With or without having read the book, how do you interpret the metaphor Waiting for the Last Bus?
What would you consider to have been a good life?
Death is the one certainty in life. Does thinking about that make you want to change anything in your own life? Will you implement the changes?
Holloway thinks that the ability to forgive prevents individuals being stuck in a lifetime of regret and resentment. How easy do you find it to forgive people?
Holloway draws a lot on Larkin's poetry. Do you have a favourite poet that you read in order to help you understand life?
Holloway talks of someone ringing him to check a fact for his obituary. What would you like people to say about you in your obituary?
What is the purpose of a funeral? Discuss.
Holloway has spent much of his life struggling with his faith, lack thereof and what it means to be a believer. Discuss your own religious views with one another? Which religion holds most appeal for you and why?
Personal Response to Waiting For The Last Bus
It is necessary to concentrate to read this book. It isn't something to escape into, it needs thinking about. Its relevance and importance are such that I want all my friends, foes, and anyone in between to read it. If you're recently lost someone then it is perhaps particularly poignant to read, but it is as much about life as it is about death.
Based on a series of radio interviews it is possible to pick up and read any chapter. It isn't essential to read it in a linear fashion from beginning to end, but there is something powerful to think about on each and every page. I don't think I'm being dramatic to say that my own future may be just a little bit changed from having read it.
Book Review on Dawn French's Because of You
Dawn French describes her book, Because of You as a love letter to her daughter, step-daughter and mother. She claims that the book dared her to write it.
In Because of You, Hope gives birth to a still born baby and goes on to steal the child of another woman, Anna, who had given birth the same hospital that night. Hope raises the child Minnie as her own. When Minnie becomes pregnant at 17 it is discovered that she has a hereditary heart defect, inherited from her biological father, Julius. Hope tells her Minnnie the truth of her birth, before handing herself in to the police. It is then that events speed on to a dramatic conclusion.
The story, Because of You is split into short, sharp insightful chapters, where the reader either sees the events specifically from the character's own viewpoint, or from the stance of the narrator, talking about the character. In this respect, Julius comes off worst. The chapters sign post clearly who and what aspect of the story is about to be explored. The story is written in a no-nonsense concise manner and includes social and political commentary throughout.
The emotions explored in Because of You are vast and intense. The events invite the reader to be drawn in and not only understand the story, but feel what the characters are feeling. This is quite a feat when the reader's are asked to frequently shift who their sympathy and empathy is aimed at. Because of You feels like it ought not to be a book but to be rushed, but the reality is it is a book that is almost impossible not to race through. I think this is maybe because Dawn French uses dialogue quite extensively as a writing device. Usually linear-ish, though not always, the chapters lead purposefully toward the dramatic conclusion of the story. I didn't see the ending coming, but I feel I probably should have!
The two couples the story is about are the real parents of Minnie, (who they named Florence) couldn't be more different. Julius, is a first rate egotistical idiot politician; his wife, Anna is grieving and bereft, for almost the whole story and hates her husband. As she comes to terms with how much Julius disgusts her, the reader see her grow in strength.
Hope became pregnant to quiet Isaac, a student from Liberia. Hope has escaped her own fairly dysfunctional background in Bristol and loves her indpendent life, where she is a cleaner in a London hospital. Hope becomes involved with quiet Isaac. A somewhat allusive, figure, he is warm, kind and gentle, but returns to Liberia being unalbe to actively participate day to day in the deception of the abduction he was part of.. Hope devotes her life, soul and everything she has and is in raising Minnie.
Family is obviously the key theme explored in the story, but class, wealth, politics, honesty, duplicity, morality are all simmering at or just below the surface. For a text that is easy and quick to read and absorb, it is hugely powerful. Dawn French is able to show the complexity of any given topic. She is, I think, challenging all of us when we oversimplify and put things inot straightforward 'right and wrong' boxes.
Dawn French's Because of You was longlisted for the 2021 Womens' Prize for Fiction. I was thrilled for her. As a celebrity author she has more than earned her Sergeant stripes.
Book Discussion Questions on Dawn French's Because of You
Book Club on Dawn French's Because of You (If you haven't read the book!)
Personal Response to Dawn French's Because of You
I thought this was a really enjoyable read. It got me back into reading after too long a gap, where I hadn't been able to concentrate. Friends have already used it as a bookclub text and loved it. There is a lot to discuss and each topic is evenly drawn and explored. The part I found most powerful was the letter Minnie wrote to her mother, where she says "I'm not from them, I'm from you." It broke my heart just a little bit!
Dawn French is a particularly skilled letter writer. I'd like to ask her if letter writing features regularly in her real life, but I guess the opportunity to do so isn't likely to arise!
Book Review of Dolly Alderton's Ghosts
Dolly Alderton's Ghosts follows the thirty second year of its main character Nina and explores the relationships that she has with her friends, parents and boyfriend Max. As such it is ambitious in scope and presents a realistic portrayal of significant points in life. From exploring issues of having children, to managing careers, to coping with middle age and caring for elderly parents there is something that most readers can relate to.
Presented as a first person narrative the style is straightforward and the text could almost be a 'real life' diary. As such, it reminded me of a slightly more serious Bridget Jones type narrative, Striving for and attaining good mental health is a theme that is never far from the surface and we watch Nina navigate the disappointments and upsets of life as she ultimately strives to achieve an equilibrium and sense of peace.
Nina presents as a likeable, but flawed woman finding her way in a modern world. Young readers would probably laugh at my minimal understanding of 'Ghosting' before reading the book but Nina experiences it first hand and copes well. Alderton explores and examines online dating and its pros and cons with aplomb. For a mature reader like myself this is eye-opening.
Dolly Alderton's Ghosts presentation of dementia and Nina's growing awareness of the loss of her father (as she had known him) as being the true tragedy in her life is moving to read. It is the struggle that Nina's Mum has in managing the loss of her husband to dementia that was the most powerful aspect of the book for me.
Dolly Alderton's Ghosts is a book that different generations of the same family could enjoy and come together to chat over. As a writer I imagine Alderton growing in sophistication and going from strength to strength.
Book Discussion Questions on Dolly Alderton's Ghosts
Lola is something of an expert in judging online dating profiles and the etiquette of online dating. To what extent did you agree with Lola's observations?
Which of Nina's friends did you have the most respect for and why? Which of Nina's friends did you have the least respect for and why?
Nina's mum changes her name to Mandy at a time that her husband is struggling to maintain a grasp of his own reality. How much sympathy do you have for Mandy? To what extent do you think she is a good wife and/or mother?
Explore Nina's relationship with Angelo. Particularly in the early days of their relationship who was at fault and why?
Max and Jethro both ultimately let down Nina and Lola. Discuss the extent to which they should be blamed for their actions?
Who is the most naive character in the book and why?
How effective is Dolly Alderton's portrayal of dementia in the novel?
Nina initally loves her flat with its artex ceilings and general need for decoration. Discuss how satisfied you think Nina is with her life?
Nina retains a very close relationship with her ex Joe and even acts as an usher at his wedding to Lucy. Did you find the portrayal of their friendship realistic? Why or why not?
Who is your favourite character in Dolly Alderton's Ghosts and why?
If Ghosts was being made into a film who would you cast as the main characters?
Ghosts is a very contemporary book and includes many references to current day use of technology and explores contemporary views regarding feminism, parenthood, mental health etc. Do you think Ghosts will stand the test of time? Why or why not?
Book Club Questions on Dolly Alderton's Ghosts (If you haven't read the book!)
What is your experience of online dating? Discuss whether you think it is an effective style of dating.
In Ghosts Nina has a prickly relationship with her mother and for much of the text seems to have little sympathy for her. Discuss mother/daughter relationships and what can cause friction in them.
In Ghosts Nina's father has dementia and as his cognitive abilities decline increasingly wants the comfort of his deceased mother. Share any personal experiences that you have of managing dementia.
In Ghosts Nina is twice 'ghosted' by Max. If a lover 'ghosted' you do you think you would be prepared to reignite the relationship and try again.
Nina copes with rejection in Ghosts by sleeping with a neighbour. What is your view of getting over one relationship by embarking on another?
As a genre Ghosts is very much an example of 'realism'. What type of fiction do you most enjoy and why?
Dolly Alderton is an author who has a previous career as journalist, podcaster and influencer. Do you judge novels written by 'celebrities' in a different way to those written by established authors?
Personal Response to Dolly Alderton's Ghosts
It took me a while to get into Dolly Alderton's Ghosts as the characters felt too young for me to be really interested in what happened to them. Of course, the only person that reflects on and reflects on badly is myself. A good book can be compelling to read and invite empathy and interest regardless of whether those featuring in it are relatable to the reader. Once I overcame my own prejudices I found Dolly Alderton's Ghosts well worth reading. It was a page-turner and provided plenty of food for thought for all age groups. I do think though it would particularly appeal to twenty and thirty-something readers.
Book Review of Phillip Schofield's Life's What you Make It
Phillip Schofield's Life's What You Make It has been widely advertised and promoted and I've no doubt it will feature in many household's Christmas stockings. As a presenter, of UK TV shows such as Good Morning Britain and The Cube, Schofield is a household name who people are understandably interested in. In Life's What You Make It Schofield discusses how he needed great PR to manage his coming out as gay, so presumably writing the autobiography shortly after this revelation is one cog in the PR wheel, By and large, coming out as gay has not prevented Schofield from maintaining his status as 'national treasure'. Publishing the book has been, I think, a successful strategy to enhance this. I was happy to invest my twenty pounds to buy a signed copy and it went to the top of my reading list.
The autobiography Life's What You Make It takes us from Phillip Schofield's childhood in Cornwall, through to his short lived emmigration to New Zealand before his return to London highlighting the different steps of his career sucess. Schofield claims that writing the book was his lockdown project. I think it is probably is the case that he did write it himself and it seems reasonably honest. As is so often the case in celebrity autobiographies though it doesn't really kiss and tell all or kiss and tell at all. Readers wanting to know the real story behind quarrels with colleagues will be left none the wiser. It seems he is eager to not make waves and even suggests that he has made peace with Piers Morgan. Overall, the pages turn easily enough and it is a moderately interesting read.
Throughout Life's What You Make It it is possible to see the affection Schofield has for his parents, his children and wife. It is clear to see how coming out as gay has caused him immense anguish because of his desire to avoid hurting others. It is the humility that surrounds this part of the autobiography, that for me, makes the book credible and worth reading. As for the rest, In truth, I did find some of the book a bit bland. It gave the basics of Phillip's life, but wasn't overly riveting to read or know about. Schofield even comments in the text how he was often described as 'beige', thoug it would seem that he is, in fact, something of a party animal and a boozer!
The final section of Life's What You Make It where Schofield describes the torment he felt as he undergoes the self-realization that he is gay and the impact that this will have on his family was very well written. It felt honest, it felt real and it felt emotional. Anyone struggling with how to handle any kind of emotional unveiling will inevitably feel empathy and compassion as they read the final chapters of the book. In this respect, but probably only in this respect it had a similar impact to Alan Davies Just Ignore Him, but of the two books. Just Ignore Him is far more powerful.
Book Discussion Questions on Phillip Schofield's Life's What You Make It
Do you think Schofield's success was the result of luck or hard work? How do you think he would answer that question?
If your family decided to emigrate when you were 19 years old would you go with them?
What was your motivation for reading Life's What You Make It? Did it live up to expectations?
Did you enjoy Life's What You Make It? Why or why not? What was your favourite part?
Do you think the book adequately addresses the issue of Schofield's 'coming out'?
Do you think Life's What You Make is an honest book? Discuss.
Having read Life's What You Make It did Scholfield present differently to what you expected?
Did anything you read in Live's What You Make It really surprise you?
Do you think Life's What You Make It is a good title for the book? Why or why not?
Is Live's What You Make It a good example of a celebrity autobigraphy? Why or why not?
Book Club Questions on Phillip Schofield's Life's What You Make It (if you haven't read the book!)
Schofield's childhood growing up by the sea sounds quite idyllic. What is your idea of an idyllic childhood?
There are numerous photographs in Life's What You Make It. Does a picture speak a thousand words?
Are you a fan of celebrity autobiographies? Why or why not?
Schofield saved his father's live by giving him CPR. Do you have any stories of having done heroic things that you would like to share with the group?
Schofield was originally encouraged to dye his har brown because grey hair wasn't seen as an acceptable colour for a young TV presenter to have. Discuss. your views on men colouring their hair.
Schofield describes how he presented Good Morning Britain with Holly Willoughby whilst still drunk. Do you approve of this? Discuss your thoughts on what is and isn't professiona in the work place.
Schofield's mother completed a wing-walk o a plane in her eighties? What is the most adventurous thing you've done or would like to do?
Personal Response to Phillip Schofield's Life's What You Make It
As I started writing this review of Life's What You Make It I questioned my motivation for reading the book in the first place. I am sceptical about the quality of celebrity autobiographies which, all too often, seem to be a a self-love fest presented alongside a long list of 'dropped names'. Many celeb autobiographies are, in truth, quite boring. I questioned whether and why I was interested in learning about the nature of how Phillip Schofield presented his coming out as gay. It seemed a bit weird to be remotely interested as I really don't give too hoots what his sexual preferences are. Does the fact that I was interested simply mean that I have far too much time on my hands and need to find something more fulfilling to do than learning about celebrities personal lives? Perhaps is the probably answer! Having said that I guess the reason for writing an autobiography is to 'share all' and as I am contributing to Schofield's book sales revenue it perhaps legitimizes my nosiness.
Book Review of Salley Vickers' Grandmothers
Salley Vickers' Grandmothers is an unusual and much needed book in that it focuses on the lives, loves and losses and hopes of three older women. They are either grandmothers, or in the case of Minna, a surrogate grandmother, It is through the relationship that the women have with their grandchildren that their inner thoughts, aspirations and ultimately moral values are demonstrated. In Grandmothers, Sally Vickers shows that the Grandmothers are valued far more by those in their grandchildren's generation than they are by those in their children's generation.
The main character in Sally Vickers' Grandmothers' is Nan who has a secret life as an award winning poet. We see her preparing her grandson as she prepares for death. It is around her that the book is structured. Of the other women Minna is shy and bookish and takes comfort in her friendship with a neighbour's child. Blanche, is seemingly suave, sophisticated, wealthy and content but is in fact lonely and saddened about her estranged relationship with her son and daughter-in-law. At different points these characters' lives interweave. Friendships are formed and the reader is encouraged to reflect on relationships, ageing, the future generation and the quintessential brevity of life.
I've recently read Ruth Jones' Us Three which also explores the friendships of women in their middle age. It is a genre that I enjoy.
Book Discussion Questions on Salley Vickers' Grandmothers
Bookclub Questions on Salley Vickers' Grandmothers (if you haven't read the book!)
Personal Response to Salley Vickers' Grandmothers
I enjoyed reading Salley Vickers' Grandmothers and thought that aspects of it were brilliant. It was a quick and easy page-turner which belies the depth of philosophical contemplation that underpins the social and personal commentary in it. Having said that if I'm honest, I did find the execution of the story-telling just occasionally a little heavy handed. There was a sense that the author simply needed to tell us something about the character rather than reveal it in order to keep the story moving forward. There is perhaps an argument that each of the grandmothers' in Salley Vickers' Grandmothers deserve their own novel and shouldn't have to share one. I'm about to watch thevideo clip and try and get some top tips from Salley Vickers about writing poetry.