Compare and Contrast

Although it is many, many years since I last sat an English Lit exam, the instruction to ‘compare and contrast’ can take me right back there. Knowing plenty about one of the pieces but not enough about the other! Trying to make what I did know, fit some kind of structure. Hoping that it wouldn’t be too obvious that most of the quotations came from the favoured text.

The phrase came to me quite involuntarily this week when reading two very different books in tandem – Stoner by John Williams (a work of fiction) and Where Memories Go by Sally Magnusson, (part memoir, part research and reporting into the effects of dementia on memory.)

Two very different reads set in highly dissimilar contexts and yet the overriding feeling that remains is of having walked the road step by step with the author. William Stoner is a university professor in the 1930s-50s in Tennessee, initially amazed to find himself an academic when he had expected to return to his father’s small farm to continue to scratch a living. His life is in many ways low key and uneventful; he is probably forgotten very quickly once he hangs up his gown. And yet his acceptance of a life full of disappointment and sadness is quietly inspiring and laudable.

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Quality time

This year, and from now on, instead of moaning about being too busy, I am resolved to use my time more wisely and for better quality outcomes.  For example, I am no longer wearing anything that I don’t like or doesn’t do me any favours – and I don’t care if I have spent good money on an item or if the result is that I am left with very few sartorial options – I am more interested in dressing quickly and not dithering in front of the mirror debating with myself what to wear, trying on and taking off the many impulse buys current residing in my wardrobe.  Likewise, I am not wasting time reading anything unedifying, or poorly written.  With all those wonderful books out there?  It would be madness.

It was reading and revelling in And the Mountains Echoed, Khaled Hosseini’s latest book, which prompted this latest lifestyle decision.  I had refrained from buying it, and particularly from downloading it on to my Kindle, in the hope and belief that someone (with a big hint from me) would present me with the book for Christmas.  My daughter – and the book – did not disappoint.  I have spent a typically reclusive festive season delighting in the quality of his story-telling.

In contrast, I picked up while shopping in a certain supermarket, Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld.  It’s not a bad story.  Two sisters with certain psychic powers, one who is open about the fact, and the other who denies it – but it fails to charm, inspire or engage.

The challenge is to determine just what is the difference in the way these two writers put words on paper.  Does Hosseini write a basic story and then work on improving his use of language and enriching the quality of his exposition?  Or does his mind work such that he produces quality straight off? Sittenfeld can construct a decent story.  So can Mirren Jones. But can either of us create a literary experience I wonder?

We’re currently trying to complete the basic storyline of Never Do Harm.  And then the task will be to transform it into an experience.  That will be a true quality outcome.

Words, glorious words!

At a practice meeting recently, I asked fellow primary care team members to sum up their reactions in one word or phrase to our Practice Safety Questionnaire results. As is often the case, their responses took seconds but spoke volumes –

  • reassured
  • not surprised
  • I’m glad we all think the same. 

I was later reminded of the power of a few well-chosen words when reading and laughing at a scene in Karen Campbell’s novel ‘And This is Where I Am’.

and this is where I am

When Somalian refugee Abdi asks a local Glasgow worthy how business is going, the aforementioned ‘Jimmy’ replies ‘Fair tae pish’!

And closer to home, when a friend enquired by text ‘and how are you?’ I found myself searching for that colourful phrase from my Dundonian grandmother’s rich fund of local dialect: glessy-ersed.

One of the discoveries Mirren and Jones made when collaborating on their first novel Eight of Cups was that Mirren enjoyed writing dialogue, while Jones was drawn more to descriptive prose.

So here’s one for Jones, from Mirren’s current bedtime reading – Your Blue Eyed Boy by Helen Dunmore.

The front door looks as if it’s been shut for ever. The windows peer, reflecting the dark sky, giving nothing out of what happens inside.  A wave of senseless panic makes me fumble the car keys as I fit them into the lock. I won’t look back.

your blue eyed boy

See Mirren’s review on Goodreads for more detail.