Friday, 28 August 2009

This looks good ...

... Fame: from the Bronze Age to Britney by Tom Payne.

There's a review here and another one here.

Have you ever lamented the modern tendency to worship celebrities and indeed to make celebrities out of people with no discernible talent? Well apparently we've been doing it since the dawn of civilization, and it doesn't reflect too well on us. Tom Payne teaches classics and he knows his stuff, and cleverly shows the connections between the past and the present, even comparing the deaths of rock stars to human sacrifice.

As an avid reader of Heat myself, I must get this book.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

The Senator's Wife by Sue Miller

Well, I didn't expect THAT ending. I liked this book, and thought it was interesting the way your sympathy for the characters changed. Lots of people didn't like it though - see their views here.

The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories by Tim Burton was as bizarre as you might expect from the director of films like Beetlejuice. It was strangely touching in some places and truly horrid in others - and funny at the same time. A tiny, tiny read, ideal for my purposes at this stage in the Book-a-Day.

Day 319; Book 309

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

The Prophet by Khalil Gibran

Thank goodness this was so short. It's not meaningful, just overworked mysticism. One of the favoured formats seems to be the posing of apparent contradictions - but if you look more deeply into it, they really are just contradictions. I am sure this is the sort of book people would dip into at random to find the answer to a problem - but really if you had already prepared yourself to find an answer, you could do that with a phone book. It's written in the style of the King James Bible, which just adds to the effect of the pretentious faux-mysticism.

Some people actually like this stuff - read their misguided comments here.

Day 317; Book 307

Monday, 24 August 2009

My Family and Other Animals

I'd never read this so thanks to Philippa for filling in this gap in my reading. I loved this, mainly for the author's description of his family, rather than the wildlife, although I did love reading about young Gerry's pets who were all proper little characters. Those were the days when you could go out and dig up wild flowers or remove young birds from nests without thinking anything of it. Of course it was a much freer existence altogether. Gerry and his family certainly didn't worry about stranger danger. Of course if wasn't all idyllic because the family leave Corfu in 1939, just before the start of the War.

I also read a Dr Seuss which Jo thoughtfully lent me on the grounds I could read it really quickly - an excellent thought at this stage in my book-a-day year! The Rock Chick first learned to read with a Dr Seuss book, The Cat in the Hat. ETA no it wasn't! I've just looked this up and it's a different book ... in the Rock Chick's one somebody tries on lots of different hats. Wonder what it was?

Finally I read The Body Artist by Dom DeLillo. This is a very clever book but if that's your overall impression of a book I think there's something wrong. It didn't exactly employ the stream of consciousness technique, but it might as well have (grrr). Plus you are not exactly going to warm to a main character who is a conceptual artist of the sort whose audience walk out when they can't stand the tedium of her performance. I didn't walk out - I stayed to the end of the book but I won't be reading any more by this author.

Day 316; Book 306

Friday, 21 August 2009

Elizabeth's cunning plan

She thinks I should read the Beatrix Potter books to get me to the end of my book-a-day year without too much effort! I may stop off at the children's library on the way home ... although I won't read anything too whimsical. I don't like whimsical, which is why I could never make any progress with Winnie the Pooh.

The Hills is Lonely by Lillian Beckwith

Lillian Beckwith based her light, humorous books on her stay in the Hebrides during and just after the war. Read more about them here. I thought I'd read this but it must have been another one in the series, so it was fun to read the very first one. A nice gentle read (which nevertheless doesn't shy away from life in the raw). I wouldn't have been too pleased by my portrayal if I had been one of the locals, but then the author does poke fun at herself as well.

I think my mum would like to read these again too, especially as I've just read that Lillian Beckwith lived at Breakish on Skye during the War (so did Mum! I wonder if they ever met?)

Day 313; book 303

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Cockburn's A-Z of After-Dinner Entertainment

£2 from an antique shop in Dunkeld! And Mr F paid!

This was an amusing book about after-dinner speaking, written by Giles Brandreth. It starts with some tips for the would-be speechmaker (practise a lot, be prepared for things going wrong and keep it short!) Then there's examples of jokes. Unfortunately as the book was sponsored by Cockburn's Port, there are a lot of references to it which make Mr Brandreth look rather sycophantic.

Day 311; Book 302

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Scandal Takes a Holiday by Lindsey Davis

I'm nearly at the end of the Marcus Didius Falco mysteries! Thanks to Anna for keeping me supplied with these. As usual with Falco you get a mystery plus more developments in his extended and often annoying family.

Then I read the short novel Special Delivery by Iselin C. Hermann. It's in the form of letters, not usually my favourite style, but the author manages to transcend the form to give a clear picture of Delphine and her life. I wasn't expecting the ending ...

Day 310; Book 301

Monday, 17 August 2009

Test your navigation skills

This week's New Scientist has a feature by Chris Berdik called Lost: "Birds, rats and hamsters are able to find their way around with consumate ease. So how come we can't navigate our way out of a paper bag?"

This is a very interesting article, especially if you've ever struggled to find your car in a car park. It features a report on "developmental topographical disorientation" as identified by Giuseppe Iaria of the University of Calgary and Jason Barton at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

You can test your own skills in association with their study here.

Richard Bach

I read three Richard Bach books over the weekend. Thanks to David for lending me these and other short books as I try to reach my target (less than 2 months to go!)

I didn't take to Mr Bach's works though, in fact I thought it was a lot of hippy nonsense. I would say it was well-meaning hippy nonsense, but in The Reluctant Messiah particularly there is a lot about how you only allow things to happen that you want to happen. This seems to be blaming people for their own misfortunes (which may be true some of the time but certainly isn't all of the time). It makes Mr Bach seem rather smug and uncaring, which is not how he planned to come across I'm sure. The Reluctant Messiah is also full of "meaningful" quotes which invariably made me think of that 60s/70s saying:

"Don't walk behind me; I may not lead.
Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow.
Just walk beside me, and be my friend". *


Here's an antidote from Mr F:

"Don't walk behind me; I may not lead.
Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow.
Don't walk beside me either; in fact, just b*gger off and leave me alone".

Ah, that feels better.

*I looked at quote sites and they variously attribute this to Albert Camus and to Tennyson ...
which is amusingly unlikely.
Day 309; Book 299

Friday, 14 August 2009

The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan

Small but perfectly dark in tone, The Cement Garden is a bit of a guilty pleasure. Not because it's not beautifully written, but because you will find yourself laughing out loud at some outrageous situations, and then looking around shiftily: "Did I really laugh at that?" It's a tragedy too, and a lesson in how keeping yourself to yourself can be a Very Bad Thing.

Day 306; book 296

Thursday, 13 August 2009

The Passion by Jeanette Winterson

This is skillfully and poetically written, but then I'm not actually looking for poetry when I read prose. Not too much plot either. I really like more to HAPPEN when I'm reading a book*.

I also re-read The Virgin and the Gypsy by D H Lawrence. There's the usual Lawrentian guff about feelings (for feelings, read sex). There's a Freudian candlestick. There's also an hilariously-agonising description of the tedium of a never-ending evening en famille at the rectory. The book is worth reading for that alone (I don't usually associate Lawrence with hilarity).

Just edited to add: to be fair, the Napoleonic Wars happen, and we march on Moscow ... perhaps I should have said I prefer a book where the plot is more complex.

Day 305; book 295

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

New blog on my reading list

Scroll down on the left to find the hilarious Craftastrophe where people make things and you really wish they hadn't.

Wandering: Notes and Sketches by Hermann Hesse

Kind of slow and kind of boring, but also pleasantly soporific. However, don't rush out to buy it.

Day 303; Book 293

Monday, 10 August 2009

American Noir

Over the weekend I read 3 short books from 1930s America. They certainly were dark, but the authors managed to make you sympathise with the criminal main characters. The prose was very readable and modern, especially compared with a 1940s noir novel which I started but didn't make any progress with. It was just too self-consciously clever but these 3 I recommend:

The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M Cain
They Shoot Horses, Don't They? by Horace McCoy
Thieves Like Us by Edward Anderson

The last is the most political but is also an absorbing modern tragedy. They Shoot Horses is set in one of those Depression-era marathon dances.

I finished up by reading a science-fiction novel* (I know, I practically read it by accident). The original concept was very reminiscent of the start of the tv programme Lost, although this book predates by series by 30+ years. It really grabbed you at the start but then fizzled out a bit ...

*forgot to say that it was Seahorse in the Sky by Edmund Cooper
Day 302; Book 292

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Furniture: Twentieth Century Design by Penny Sparke

This was a concise history of modern furniture design (although it only went up to 1986). Some snippets:

Teak furniture was very popular in the 1950s, apparently because the war in Indo-China meant that huges swathes of forest were cut down for military access. Who knew?

The Scandinavians have always had a socialist angle to their furniture production, designing it to fit in small flats and so that good design was available to all. The Italians, not so much.

Political control of furniture can only work up to a certain extent. After austerity furniture was abandoned in Britain after the war, so was the style. People chose exactly what they wanted to spend their money on and it wasn't the official style. Nanny states today, please note.

Day 298; Book 288

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

The Last G.I. Bride Wore Tartan by Fred Urquhart

Well, this is educational. I'm afraid I had never heard of Fred Urquhart and yet he was a prolific and well-received author in his day. Here's a link which includes his biographical details. This is a book of short stories which are at one time very definitely written just after the war, yet also surprisingly modern. Perhaps it is just that we are used to seeing this era depicted in films of the time, which of course were much more subject to censorship.

Urquhart knew the painters Robert Colquhoun and Robert MacBryde. See how educational a book-a-day can be? I hadn't even realised they were real characters when I was reading the John Byrne play *blushes*

Day 297; book 287

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

In other news ...

I made grilled peaches last night. Yum and thrice yum. Halve the peaches and take out the stones. Dip the cut sides in icing sugar. Grill cut-sides up under a low heat (you can turn it up once the peaches are nicely warmed). Take out when the sugar has gone brown and crispy.

How strange ...

I added a post yesterday about the books I read at the weekend, and now it's disappeared. I can see the books on my list so I'm not imagining it ... Just a quick summary then of the vanished books: This Book Will Change Your Life by A M Homes (dark, funny, ultimately hopeful); The Accusers by Lindsey Davis (Roman legal goings-on); The Lovers by John Connolly (dark, dark, maybe ultimately hopeful).

Day 296; Book 286