AlisonY: 2020 More Random Rambling Part 2

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AlisonY: 2020 More Random Rambling Part 2

Muokkaaja: heinäkuu 2, 2020, 6:05pm

And onwards to the second half of this funny Corona year....

Muokkaaja: joulukuu 30, 2020, 12:15pm

2020 Reading Track

1. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout - read (3.5 stars)
2. Amsterdam by Ian McEwan - read (3 stars)
3. Perfume by Patrick Suskind - read (3 stars)
4. The Edwardians by Vita Sackville-West - read (3.5 stars)
5. Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo - read (4.5 stars)
6. Judas by Amos Oz - read (4.5 stars)

7. The Memory Illusion: Remembering, Forgetting, And The Science of False Memory by Dr. Julia Shaw - read (2 stars)
8. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd - read (3.5 stars)
9. Blindness by Jose Saramago - read (4.5 stars)
10. Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy - read (3 stars)
11. The Snow Geese by William Fiennes - read (4 stars)
12. The Good Soldier by Ford Maddox Ford - read (4 stars)

13. One Day: The Extraordinary Story of an Ordinary 24 Hours in America by Gene Weingarten - read (4 stars)

14. Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann - read (4 stars)
15. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons - read (4 stars)
16. Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc - read (5 stars)
17. Trugs, Dibbers, Trowels and Twine by Isobel Carson - read (3 stars)

18. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy - read (3.5 stars)
19. Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body's Most Underrated Organ by Guilia Enders - read (3.5 stars)

20. My Struggle: The End by Karl Ove Knausgaard - read (4.5 stars)
21. The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry: How to Stay Emotionally Healthy and Spiritually Alive in the Chaos of the Modern World by John Mark Comer - read (4 stars)
22. The Dutch House by Ann Pratchett - read (3.5 stars)

23. Live a Little by Howard Jacobson - read (3 stars)
24. Eventide by Kent Haruf - read (4.5 stars)
25. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen - read (3 stars)

26. The Mandibles: A Family 2029-2047 by Lionel Shriver - read (3 stars)
27. Bowie's Books - The Hundred Literary Heroes Who Changed His Life by John O'Connell - read (4.5 stars)
28. They Were Sisters by Dorothy Whipple - read (3.5 stars)

29. Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World - And Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling - read (4 stars)
30. The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea by Yukio Mishima - read (4 stars)
31. Black and British by David Olusoga - read (4 stars)

32. The Bird Artist by Howard Norman - read (4.5 stars)
33. The Russian Affair: The True Story of the Couple Who Uncovered the Greatest Sporting Scandal by David Walsh - read (3.5 stars)
34. The End of the Affair by Graham Greene - read (4 stars)
35. Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky - read (4 stars)

36. The Book of Ebenezer Le Page by G. B. Edwards - read (5 stars)
37. Desperate Characters by Paula Fox - read (3.5 stars)
38. A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler - read (4 stars)

39. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison - read (3 stars)
40. The Pearl Fishers by Robin Jenkins - read (3 stars)
41. Thief Prisoner Solder Priest by Paul Cowley - read (4 stars)
42. Bad Dirt by Annie Proulx - read (4.5 stars)
43. Mountains of the Mind by Robert Macfarlane - read (4 stars)

Fiction titles to date: 30
Non-fiction titles to date: 13

Muokkaaja: heinäkuu 2, 2020, 6:49pm

Still reading A Supposedly Funny Thing I'll Never Do Again in between novels. I think I'll pick up Eventide by Kent Haruf next.

heinäkuu 3, 2020, 3:03am

That is one I want to read too (Eventide). Looking forward to following along on your new thread!

heinäkuu 3, 2020, 10:58am

I love your topper, Alison.

From your last thread, I loved your comments on The Dutch House; I would have liked to see the sister narrate. The brother didn't work so well for me. But I did love the house. :)

I'm going to look for the film adaptation of Normal People; I loved the novel.

heinäkuu 4, 2020, 5:25pm

>5 BLBera: The Normal People adaptation was actually a series shown on BBC Three in the UK. Fabulous - the casting was perfect.

On The Dutch House, yes I somehow couldn't connect through the narration the way I'd hoped. It seemed so within reach, but just didn't totally connect for me. Perhaps you're right - it could have been the brother being the narrator that didn't quite gel.

heinäkuu 5, 2020, 6:07am

>1 AlisonY: oh yes, I have 1 friend who does this Alison, and she has no idea how many books I have now...

heinäkuu 6, 2020, 7:36am

>7 Caroline_McElwee: Sadly, some people just don't get it, Caroline, do they?!

heinäkuu 6, 2020, 8:58am

>7 Caroline_McElwee: Oh, no! At most, I get an occasional, "Have you read all these books?" but more often it's just a tactful silence. The people I know I'll want to spend time with are the ones who wander over to the shelves to see what's there.

heinäkuu 6, 2020, 5:44pm

24. Eventide by Kent Haruf

Oh why did I wait so long to follow up with the sequel to Plainsong. I just love Kent Haruf's writing; it's a big squidgy bear hug between the pages. His characters are full of such warmth and heart I couldn't care less what direction the book goes in - I just want to keep on reading and reading.

Life's always a little hard going in Haruf's novels, but he's a glass half-full kind of guy so his writing is full of compassion rather than depression. If you're feeling a bit out of sorts, reading his work is the equivalent of someone singing Soft Kitty and feeding you chicken noodle soup. This isn't earth-shattering literature, and it might be a bit too wholesome for some tastes, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

4.5 stars - a great prescription against Trump-esque moral vacuousness if ever you need a pick-me-up.

heinäkuu 6, 2020, 6:52pm

>10 AlisonY: OK, you have just about convinced me to give Haruf a try sometime.

heinäkuu 6, 2020, 7:11pm

>11 lisapeet: Oh do. Just don't start with Our Souls at Night - it's not as good.

heinäkuu 8, 2020, 8:54pm

heinäkuu 9, 2020, 1:52pm

>13 VivienneR: Really? See, that's what makes us such an interesting group - our tastes are all so varied. I didn't enjoy it nearly as much as the Plainsong trilogy (well, 2 books in, anyway).

heinäkuu 9, 2020, 2:27pm

I liked Out Souls at Night, but that’s all I’ve read by Haruf (well, listened to). One day, Plainsong.

Muokkaaja: heinäkuu 10, 2020, 1:22pm

>14 AlisonY: I liked both books. And the movie of Our Souls in the Night, Redford and Fonda. I need to get back to the rest of his books, I came to him late.

heinäkuu 11, 2020, 4:51am

>16 Caroline_McElwee: I've seen the movie on Netflix a few times, Caroline - I must watch it one of these days. I suspect it will be way too slow for my husband (not nearly enough explosions or car chases!), so I'll save it for some time I'm by myself.

heinäkuu 11, 2020, 6:29am

> oh yes, very slow Alison ha.

heinäkuu 16, 2020, 3:40am

>16 Caroline_McElwee:, >17 AlisonY: Thanks for the recommendation of the film, which I didn't know about (I liked the book a lot when I read it earlier this year). I watched it last night. I was really tired and fed up (because I was tired), and, crucially, I was on my own (not my husband's kind of thing either, Alison), and it was just what I needed, soothing and slow. It spells things out a bit more than the book does, but it's still gentle and understated. And Fonda and Redford are both very good.

heinäkuu 18, 2020, 1:24am

>10 AlisonY: okay, you definitely convinced me. I must read this, I only wonder if I should reread Plainsong, as I remember nothing about it?

heinäkuu 18, 2020, 3:56pm

>20 Simone2: I couldn't remember anything about it either, Barbara, but I don't think it mattered - I quickly got the gist.

heinäkuu 20, 2020, 3:57am

I'm a little MIA from LT at the moment. As the weather in NI is generally pretty poor for most of the year, we're making the most of summer (although July hasn't been great weather-wise, but it's picked up these last few days). We're doing some major projects in the garden which are consuming a lot of my spare time, and I'm trying to keep the kids somehow entertained when I'm not at work given that so many of our usual summer activities remain closed due to COVID.

When I'm finally sitting down in the evenings I can't settle myself to concentrating on a book just now, so my husband and I are watching old episodes of The Office (US) which I've never seen before (I know - it's only been out 15 years or something). I never thought I'd say this, but I think it's MUCH better than the original UK one.

Hope you're all keeping well. I'm lurking on most threads but not commenting much as work is busy and my casual time on the laptop has gone way down.

heinäkuu 20, 2020, 4:08pm

>22 AlisonY: The US The Office is better than the UK one? I loved the UK Office and didn’t bother to see the US one as well but now you’re making me curious. Take care in these weird times!

heinäkuu 21, 2020, 8:23am

>23 Simone2: I'm sure there are many die-hards who would disagree with me, but the US office ran for a lot longer (120 episodes I think) vs 12 for the UK Office, so there's more time for character and relationship development. Ricky Gervais was superb as David Brent, but there was nothing likeable about that character and he was immensely toe-curling so I think it would have been hard to stomach a long series of him, whereas Steve Carell's equivalent is an immature idiot but his heart's in the right place.

It's worth giving the US one a few episodes if you ever try it. We're on season 3 now and totally hooked!

heinäkuu 21, 2020, 10:22am

>24 AlisonY: The thing that the UK Office did better than the American version is that it was willing to let uncomfortable moments sit there, rather than playing them for laughs.

heinäkuu 21, 2020, 1:10pm

>25 RidgewayGirl: Yes it did. They feel like two quite different programmes in many respects, and perhaps they should almost be considered as completely independent shows as I don't think they had the same aim in the end. The UK Office felt much more like a mockumentary too, whereas in the US version they only give that a nod every so often.

heinäkuu 28, 2020, 6:17pm

25. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

I normally love a good classic, but I must admit I positively laboured over this slim novel. In fact, it's taken me weeks to get through it.

For a while I was convinced "It's not you, Jane, it's me." I admit my attention has been elsewhere, between busyness at work, an ambitious new project in the garden, some mini projects indoors plus a newfound addiction to late night TV, and I surmised I just wasn't in the mood for a whimsical period romance story. BUT, having eventually finished it, I have to say "Sorry, Jane - it is you."

It was OK, but if you park for a moment that this was written by one of the literature greats and consider it objectively, it is entirely tedious in many places (especially the first half), with vacuous characters and nothing of any great importance or excitement by way of plot.

I don't think this cheap Everyman edition helped. It was one of those classic publications that's printed in tiny, dense font, and it made my head ache just looking at it.

I'm sure plenty of people will disagree with me as I know this is a much loved book for many, but it just didn't do it for me. In the words of Austen herself in Northanger Abbey, "The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." Nonetheless, I'm prepared to stand by the courage of my convictions.

3 stars - mildly amusing, but not one of my favourite classics. I think I ultimately prefer the angst and tragedy of Hardy's type of novels to Austen's trauma over the wrong type of muslin or questionable fortune of a potential suitor.

heinäkuu 28, 2020, 7:01pm

>27 AlisonY: "The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid."
Oooh, reader shaming! Not cool.

heinäkuu 29, 2020, 1:53am

>27 AlisonY: >28 lisapeet:
It’s not reader shaming — almost the opposite, certainly a lot more complicated than that! Catherine has been apologising for herself to the superb Henry as a mere novel-reader (“...they are not clever enough for you—gentlemen read better books”), and this is Henry, slightly patronisingly reassuring her that it’s OK to enjoy novels. But of course Austen then goes on to show Catherine that enjoying novels comes with the danger of starting to see life through what she reads in books, and that way lies social embarrassment, if not worse. Rather in the spirit of the quote at the top of Alison’s previous thread!

But Northanger Abbey is a book you have to be in the right mood for, it’s so self-reflexive and tied up in knots and Catherine is so very naive and gushing and the Tilneys so very smooth...

heinäkuu 29, 2020, 3:25am

>29 thorold: I deliberately took the quote out if context for a bit of fun, but still this wasn't my favourite Austen.

Henry was a queer fish character who seemed to constantly have fun at Catherine's expense, and then he only warms to her because he realises she's a bit partial towards him! I know Austen questions herself in the narrative on this turn of events, and probably intended some shock value over Catherine's gushing excitement and his somewhat cooler and indifferent approach to their relationship, but for me he just seemed condescending as a character and chief love interest.

And as for Catherine..... naive is kind and rather too complimentary for my liking! Dumb and gullible would probably be closer to the mark. At least Isabella had some spunk about her. Catherine was just a wet fish rule follower.

It was fun enough (eventually), and I agree I don't think I was in the right reading mood for it, but still - I doubt this one would ever become a favourite.

heinäkuu 29, 2020, 8:23am

>27 AlisonY: I'm with you Alison, though it is years since I read it. The only one I've still not managed to finish is Mansfield Park. Maybe I should watch a dramatisation to see if that gets me over the bump. I love the others though.

heinäkuu 29, 2020, 8:33am

Ah, I love all of Austen's novels, but grudgingly admit there is room for differences of opinion. ;-)

Northanger Abbey is Austen's most light-hearted and juvenile novel. I love it for that reason, especially set up in contrast to her other work. It has many tongue-in-cheek moments and I love the naivety of Catherine - Austen's flightiest heroine.

>31 Caroline_McElwee: Mansfield Park was always my least favorite Austen novel until I read it two different ways - first in an annotated edition that opened my eyes to some of the political undercurrents present (Napoleonic Wars and slavery in the Indies) and then listening to an audiobook. I have found the Austen's books work amazingly well on audio, a format I often dislike. I can just hear her reading through her works out loud to her family.

heinäkuu 29, 2020, 2:25pm

>32 japaul22: Thanks for the tip Jennifer. I used to listen to some audio books, but I got out of the habit. I'm picky with voices. Never thought of an annotated Austen.

heinäkuu 29, 2020, 2:59pm

>32 japaul22: I must admit I've never really given audio books a go. I'm finding current circumstances generally distracting for reading.

heinäkuu 29, 2020, 4:04pm

>34 AlisonY: Generally audiobooks don't work well for me - I'm too used to tuning out "noise" and find myself thinking of other things while I'm supposed to be listening. I'm not sure if Austen worked so well for me as audiobooks because of the nature of the book or just because I know them so well.

Either way, I'm not doing any audiobooks right now because I'm not really commuting to work very often and when I do occasionally have to go in, there's no traffic so it's a short drive. One very small perk of all this . . .

Muokkaaja: elokuu 12, 2020, 5:29pm

26. The Mandibles: A Family 2029-2047 by Lionel Shriver

The Mandibles chronicles the life of the extended Mandible family during and after the worst economic crisis the US has ever seen. With the dollar worthless, the middle classes are worst hit as overnight many white collar workers lose their jobs and the worth of their investments. First world staples such as water, heat and food quickly become luxuries, and the extended Mandible family find themselves thrown together in a bid for survival.

I enjoy Lionel Shriver's novels as she's never scared of a contentious plot line, but her writing can be very uneven. This novel's only a few years old, yet it reads like a first novel in many ways. She spends the first 100 pages setting the scene of the economic problems in a way that feels very much tell rather than show, with dialogue that feels forced as she uses unnatural conversations between characters to over-explain the setting of the book. It particularly irked me that she kept throwing in clunky references to the technology of the future in a way that felt very amateurville (I'm walking down the street, so I'd better unfold my brand new xyz device in my pocket whilst simultaneously thinking about the demise of the old fashioned smart phone).

That being said, the middle section of the book flowed much better once she'd got all her scene-setting of the future and economic explanations out of the way. Given our current COVID-19 situation, what was scariest of all about this novel was that it no longer feels like dystopian nonsense that could never happen. Empty shelves in the shops? Panic buying? Tick - already done that. Mass unemployment - will we be ticking that box sometime in the very near future? Economic wipeout - how are so many countries going to pay back the billions that have been borrowed to tackle Coronavirus? How financially secure are we really - is it possible to lose everything you've worked for if the economy doesn't recover quickly?

It's all quite a sobering thought, although Shriver includes plenty of comedic streaks to somehow still keep things light(ish).

3 stars - an interesting read, but falls very much short of her best writing.

elokuu 15, 2020, 12:56am

That is disappointing. I admire Schriver because she always touches upon so many subjects and each book is completely different but I think I’ll skip this one.

elokuu 15, 2020, 10:41am

I had been wondering about The Mandibles, Alison. I think I'll pass on it for now. Your description of the beginning makes me think it's one I might start and not finish.

elokuu 15, 2020, 2:13pm

>37 Simone2:, >38 BLBera: It was good enough, but it definitely wasn't my favourite Shriver to date. I was terribly conscious of the writing style, which is never a good thing.

Muokkaaja: elokuu 17, 2020, 6:22pm

27. Bowie's Books: The Hundred Literary Heroes Who Changed His Life by John O'Connell

Before I even get into my musing about this book, I have a few points relating to the front cover I need to get off my chest:

1. I absolutely love this cover. My lovely pal bought me this recently for my birthday, and I can't stop looking at it. This picture doesn't do it justice - it's such lovely quality, with the photo of Bowie indented and a really nice silver font. I'm still looking at it as I'm writing this. Which brings me on to point 2....

2. Now it's not shown on the version in this photo, but why, oh why, did Bloomsbury decide that a book on Bowie and his books (which surely sells itself to its target audience) needed a quote from Caitlin Moran of all people smack in the top centre of the cover? No. Just no. What credibility does Moran possibly add to a book on Bowie? Just because she worked on a music magazine as a teenager for 5 minutes does not make her an authority figure on a book relating to Bowie. Ever. I know she's a clever writer, but she still manages to come across as a smart-arse precocious child despite being a woman in her 40s, so the haloed ground of Bowie is OFF LIMITS. I'm therefore going to squint from now on and pretend it's actually Iggy Pop that's quoted instead.

3. With regards to the title, is it correct grammar to say 'The Hundred Literary Heroes....'? Shouldn't it be 'A Hundred...' or 'One Hundred....' or 'The One Hundred..'? 'The Hundred' is jarring with me every time I read it. Perhaps I'm wrong - can someone please clarify?

Now, onto the book. As the introduction informs us, as part of the V & A Museum's David Bowie Is exhibition they collated this list of the 100 hundred books Bowie continued to be the most important or influential in his life. A huge reader throughout his life, these weren't necessarily his most favourite books, which in a way makes the list all the more interesting and insightful about how he viewed himself, or wanted to be seen.

John O'Connell spends 2 or 3 pages on each book, giving a bit of background on what the book's about and theorising on what may have made the book important to Bowie. Much of it is no doubt fabricated on well-researched guesswork, but nonetheless - it's fascinating stuff, and for a Bowie fan and book lover it works incredibly well.

For one, it gives some really interesting insights into influences at the different stages of his career, a huge and varied spectrum ranging from beatnik subculture to modern art to dystopia to Little Richard. Whether you like Bowie's music or not (and if you don't, we need a whole other discussion on that sometime, as I think Bowie has at least one song for everyone), he was nothing short of a musical and theatrical genius, a chameleon who reinvented himself and musical genres time and time again. That reinvention was not down to lucky happenstance, but rather was the creative output of a man who gave serious intellectual consideration to books, music, history and spirituality, drawing hugely on these vastly varied influences for everything from his lyrics to his image to the theatrical spectacle of his performances.

All that aside, even if you aren't a Bowie fan (again, we need to talk), as book addicts we all love a good book list, and this one is excellent. I expected a snapshot from the 1,001 list of books, but whilst it's peppered with a number of classics there were so many titles and authors that are completely new to me. Many have gone onto my already heaving wish list, but even those belonging to genres I'm not especially into were fascinating to read about, not just in the context of Bowie's interest in them but also because many of them were completely off-the-wall. Each book reviewed ends with a suggested Bowie song to listen to while reading the book (I'm never going to do that, but it's a cute idea), and a 'if you like this, try....' additional book recommendation. I spent nearly as much time on Amazon reviewing the books mentioned as I did reading the book.

4.5 stars - Bowie and a book on books? If Carlsberg did books...

(Good choice, Mrs. H.)

elokuu 17, 2020, 7:45pm

I have seen the list of Bowie's 100 best books. Would it be giving the game away to list them?

elokuu 18, 2020, 3:11am

Oh not at all. I'll paste a link rather than typing them all (I've a feeling I might have pasted this on a previous thread a year or two back anyway):

elokuu 18, 2020, 5:46am

elokuu 18, 2020, 7:20am

>43 baswood: Very interesting choice! I'd be very hard pushed to choose just one.

Muokkaaja: elokuu 18, 2020, 7:27am

>40 AlisonY: Chuckled about your notes on the cover... no, Caitlin Moran is not really the blurber we need (if we need one at all, I agree). I too shall imagine it as Iggy.

I do have this in the pile, and did read the first few entries, but was a bit disappointed that they weren't DBS thoughts on the books, so set it aside knowing once I'd digested that, I would return to it and enjoy it. Like you, there were some new to me titles on the list, and many I'd heard of but not yet read.

I was lucky to see the art that Bowie owned, that was auctioned after his death, wonderful to see the breadth of his interests and collecting. I think about half the collection was auctioned and I raised £33m. I bought the small catalogue which I love. I hope one day they will publish a book about the rest of the collection the family kept.

I saw him only once live, as The Thin White Duke. I've never seen anyone hold an audience in his hands the way he did. What a diamond in the sky.

elokuu 18, 2020, 2:40pm

>45 Caroline_McElwee: Caroline I know what you mean - I think O'Connell made many tenuous links between the books and why they may have influenced Bowie, but still I found it very interesting. I took those assumptions with a pinch of salt, but there were still plenty of interesting titbits of information from his research which I enjoyed.

I would have loved to have seen that art collection - as you say, what the family have kept would be even more interesting.

I saw him live once too, but very sadly it wasn't a good concert. It was in 1995 (the Outside tour) when he was in the middle of his worst output of music, and he refused to sing any of his old tracks. It was therefore a couple of hours of the worst music he'd done, with none of the theatre he was renowned for in previous shows. His own quote when interviewed at the start of the tour says it all:

"How do you commit commercial suicide? Well, you do this: play songs from an album that hasn't been released yet, and complement it with obscure songs from the past that you've never done on stage."

I've never been so bitterly disappointed (but I forgive him - true love lasts a lifetime). Sounds like you had much better luck.

elokuu 18, 2020, 3:38pm

Sorry you had such a dud experience Alison, how disappointing. Glad he's forgiven though. I remember touts offering us £200 for each of our tickets, which in the 80s was a lot of dosh, but we weren't having any of it.

I'd say it was probably the best concert I saw, followed by ELO and their amazing spaceship.

I rarely go to large scale events as I can't do the crowds.

elokuu 18, 2020, 10:38pm

Hmmm, I hadn't been thinking I'd be into the Bowie book book, but maybe I should take a look. I will definitely imagine Iggy in Caitlin Moran's place... in fact, I think I might just substitute him any time she comes up. I think his photo would look very good on the cover of How to Build a Girl.

Lifelong Bowie fan here too. I only saw him once, on the Serious Moonlight tour—at Madison Square Garden, floor seats but way way back. Still, it was a thrill. But dang Caroline, I'm jealous you saw ELO. I have very few live show regrets, but not ever catching them is a big one.

elokuu 19, 2020, 5:35am

>48 lisapeet: Wembley Arena was seated as well. I struggle with that at a concert - I find it hard to get into the vibe if I'm not on my feet and close to the action.

elokuu 25, 2020, 12:30am

Wow! Books AND music! I should drop by your thread more often.

>43 baswood: Great choice. I don't know what mine would be so I'll go along with yours.

>40 AlisonY: Excellent review. On the wishlist it goes.

elokuu 25, 2020, 7:28am

>43 baswood: That's a cool choice (and a fun slideshow someone put together). I'm not sure which Bowie song I'd pick as "mine," but the morning alarm on my phone for a long time has been "Golden Years"—that bass intro is a good way to wake up (if there's any good way to wake up), and if anyone's going to tell me to come get up my baby, it's David Bowie. Plus I do believe I'm looking my own golden years smack in the face at this point. *sigh*

elokuu 25, 2020, 9:01am

>51 lisapeet: Golden Years is definitely up there as one of my top faves. Certainly not the worst way to wake up in the morning.

>50 VivienneR: I thought it was really interesting, Vivienne. If you accept he's no doubt made many tenuous link and just go with enjoying the titbits of research he has to impart it's great.

elokuu 28, 2020, 9:46am

I don't have much to add to the Bowie discussion; I think I would rather have his comments, though, so I have to think about this one.

elokuu 29, 2020, 11:34am

>51 lisapeet: My kids liked this song when it was on the radio, but they always said, "Come, cut up the baby.", and made sawing motions, even the baby. It was so funny, and they didn't mean it in a grisly fashion, it was sung like an anthem.

elokuu 30, 2020, 12:24pm

>53 BLBera: Although the author gives opinions on why Bowie might have been interested in picking particular books, if you take that bit with a pinch of salt there is much Bowie trivia to take away, and I really enjoyed the reviews of the books.

>54 sallypursell: You know that's all I'm going to hear when I listen to that now, lol!

elokuu 30, 2020, 6:08pm

28. They Were Sisters by Dorothy Whipple

As you would expect from a Dorothy Whipple book, They Were Sisters is a novel all about emotion and complex relationships.

When their mother dies suddenly, Lucy has the role of mothering her siblings thrust upon her, a role which is little appreciated by her sisters despite her best efforts to nurture and protect. Most of the novel takes place some years later, when the three sisters are all married and as siblings they're very much out of step with each other. Lucy is childless and contentedly married to a man we perceive to be much older than her, but she retains her nurturing ways, trying to help her sisters and their children as their lives veer off the rails. Her sister Charlotte, the most timid of the three, has married a raucous drinker who is a tyrant in the home, gas-lighting the nervous Charlotte at every opportunity and ignoring two of his three children whilst bestowing all his energies and interest on his oldest daughter. Meanwhile Vera, a head-turning beauty, has married a wealthy man she's completely disinterested in, and has no compunction about running around with other men in front of him whilst taking little to do with her own two daughters.

Dorothy Whipple has a warmth and gentleness to her writing, and is very much character-driven. The writing of this book was interrupted by the outbreak and distractions of war, and although it sold very well (so much so that it was made into a film in 1945 starring James Mason) Whipple was self-critical of the end product.

They Were Sisters wasn't as page-turning as Someone at a Distance, but Whipple writes about both strong and flawed women characters with an early feminist lens.

3.5 stars - enjoyable, but not one that will stick in my mind for too long.

Muokkaaja: elokuu 30, 2020, 6:22pm

>56 AlisonY: I have a couple of Persephone editions of Whipple novels on the shelf, it's about time I read one. I certainly have The Priory Alison, is that one you have read?

elokuu 30, 2020, 6:23pm

>57 Caroline_McElwee: Hi Caroline, no - I read Someone at a Distance which I really enjoyed (another Persephone). The Priory seems to lauded as one of her best novels, so is probably as good a place to start as any. Will look forward to hearing what it's like when you get to it.

Muokkaaja: syyskuu 16, 2020, 11:03am

29. Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World--and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling

Han Gosling - medical doctor, Professor of International Health and all round superhero - died in 2017, and boy do I wish he was still around in these COVID times.

If you've never heard of him before, Rosling was a Swede who started life as a medical doctor, working in many different countries across the world before his experience led him into the world of research. There, he made a name for himself as a renowned public educator, advising WHO and UNICEF. He also co-founded Médecins Sans Frontières in Sweden, spoke at numerous international conferences and become a bit of a TED Talks legend. This career journey led him on a path to becoming a champion about people properly understanding the true facts of global issues, as in his experience no matter how senior or educated the individual, there was a common thread of not working to the right set of facts, or at least interpreting the facts correctly. He co-founded Gapminder with his son and daughter-in-law, which is focused on the elimination of ignorance in the world around issues such as global poverty, climate change and education.

Gosling was diagnosed with incurable pancreatic cancer just as he was starting to write this book with Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund, so it's truly a swansong of the most important things he'd learnt about misconceptions and ignorance on world issues. Written in a very accessible format (i.e. you don't need to be a maths geek to appreciate it), Rosling shows us how our assumptions and interpretations of information are often wrong, and at the end of every chapter gives life tips on how to interpret facts going forward so that we get the full picture. And it's fascinating stuff. Rosling refers to himself as a possibilist rather than an optimist, and in this book works to demonstrate how much the world has progressed and is actually improving in most areas, despite the doom and gloom outlook that's presented to us in the press. Across 10 chapters he explains 10 different issues that cause us to go with the wrong takeaways from information, such as our urgency instinct and destiny instinct, and explains how world poverty (or wealth) should not be viewed from the perspective of developed world / undeveloped world - or 'them' and 'us' - but rather as 4 different levels of income.

Where Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund come in is that they have made a name for themselves creating a different way of visually presenting this type of data, and the book is packed full of their interesting graphics which really do help the data stick in your head than the usual line graphs or bar charts.

Spookily, Hans Rosling states towards the end of the book that he believes there are 5 main issues of concern still in the world, and #1 on his list was the risk of a global pandemic, because we've been there before and it was highly likely. Given Rosling's understanding of the media needing to make their living from reporting depressing rather than optimistic news, I wish he was still around to give us the true facts on COVID-19, as we're all aware of how much inconsistency there is in the data being reported.

4 stars - a superbly interesting and thought-provoking read that will stick with me.

syyskuu 4, 2020, 3:57pm

>59 AlisonY: You hit me with a book bullet there Alison.

syyskuu 4, 2020, 4:46pm

>60 Caroline_McElwee: It's a great book, Caroline. Much to take away from it.

syyskuu 6, 2020, 8:03am

30. The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea by Yukio Mishima

This author and novella came to my via the Bowie 100 Books List and was a definite hit for me.

A young Japanese boy is confused when his widowed mother takes up with a sailor on a couple of days leave in port, but enchanted with boats and the sea this confusion turns to wonderment and idealisation by the time the man returns to sea. When the sailor returns to the boy's mother after six months away at sea, circumstances change and he quickly falls from the pedestal the boy had precariously placed him on. With this fall from grace comes terrible consequences as the boy summons the savage group of boys he is part of for retribution.

As with many Japanese novels, there is a wonderful sense of dark foreboding and yet space and spareness in Mishima's writing. Time feels slowed down and the atmosphere is electric, with what is unsaid feeling almost more compelling than what is said, and the extremes of nature - especially the oppressive heat of the summer section - adding to the intoxicating atmosphere.

I would have loved for this short novella to have taken us a little further into the story, yet also respect the point at which Mishima leaves the tale with the reader.

Recommended if you enjoy Japanese literature, but warning - it contains vivid description of animal cruelty in one part, so this Lord of the Flies flavour of story may not be for everyone.

4 stars - a wonderfully dark and evocative tale

syyskuu 15, 2020, 10:00pm

>59 AlisonY:
That looks like just my thing! Thanks for the recommendation

syyskuu 17, 2020, 2:19pm

>63 Nickelini: It felt like an appropriate time to be reading it in the midst of this pandemic.

syyskuu 17, 2020, 10:39pm

>59 AlisonY: I'm drawn to this too, Alison.

syyskuu 18, 2020, 11:04am

>65 sallypursell: Hope you enjoy it when you get to it, Sally. Very thought-provoking.

Muokkaaja: syyskuu 27, 2020, 4:42am

31. Black and British: A Forgotten History by David Olusoga

It's taken me a while to get through this book, partly because it's fairly chunky, partly because it's dense with facts and information about a difficult subject and 50 pages a day tended to be my absolute max before I felt mentally exhausted, and partly because it gave me so much to think about, and at times I made slow progress as I meandered off into thought mulling over what I'd just read.

Olusoga has written such an extremely thorough history of black people and Britain that if I hadn't been so mentally worn out by the end I'd have started right away at the beginning again to try and soak up more facts that I didn't retain first time around (to be fair, I have continued to dip in and out of it since finishing it). There is so much to cover and Olusoga does it methodically, taking us from the development of Britain's triangular trade route with Africa and America (which traded gold, ivory and slaves), to the sugar industry that fuelled the use of slaves in the West Indies, and Britain's eventual u-turn and abolition of slavery and efforts to combat it. This, of course, is anything but a simple history, and muddying the waters of the British moral efforts to eradicate slavery in the 1800s was the huge elephant in the room of its ongoing reliance on slave-produced cotton from America for it's burgeoning textile industry, and the growing discomfort in some areas of white society with the increase in numbers of black people within the population.

Beyond Britain's industrial age, Olusoga examines the role and treatment of black people both during and after WWI and WWII, but gives a light touch to the race riots of the 1950s and 1980s and modern day race relations.

Given how utterly horrendous much of Britain's black history at the hands of white men has been, it is to Olusoga's credit that he is mostly very objective and even-handed in the analysis of his research. Having read this book I feel strongly that this is a part of history which white adults and children in Britain need to be better educated on, as without understanding the appalling historical experiences of black people in Britain (and beyond) it's impossible to properly contextualise many of today's modern racial issues. I'm shocked that I studied history up to A Level yet had never been taught most of what is in this book.

If I had to critique it, my one disappointment is that Olusoga galloped in a few pages from post-war Britain to the present day. Having informed the reader so effectively on the history of the previous centuries, this felt like a hugely missed opportunity to better understand modern-day racism. In his short section on the 1981 Brixton riots, for example, he mentions the rising tensions in the black community over police discrimination associated with the new stop and search law, but ignores the issue of the rise in violent inner city crime in south London that precipitated this. As this issue of police racial discrimination is still a super hot topic given recent events in the States, it would have been great to have Olusoga's analysis on this. Was this another example of racism that the perception across many parts of Britain was that these early 80s London crimes were carried out by black gangs? Do the facts support or refute that?

All in all a dense but superbly written history of black British history. 150 pages less would have made this a less arduous read, but there is so much ground to cover it would probably be difficult to shorten it without missing out key information. I would love for Olusoga to write a follow up that goes into much more detail on the period from 1950 to present day.

If anyone is interested in this topic but can't quite face 500-odd pages of small print, Olusoga has a shortened version of the key facts coming out in October in the UK in a book called Black and British: A Short Essential History.

4 stars - A hugely important book. Recommended.

syyskuu 24, 2020, 4:03pm

>67 AlisonY: Oh dear, just what I don’t need, another 500-page must-read... but it sounds from what you say as though it really is. On the list it goes. Thanks!

syyskuu 24, 2020, 4:50pm

>68 thorold: Sorry about that! It's dense but the chapters are well thought out, with separate eras or sub-topics in each.

syyskuu 25, 2020, 5:20pm

>67 AlisonY: I have this, and two others of His books near the top of the pile Alison.

syyskuu 26, 2020, 8:01am

>70 Caroline_McElwee: Look forward to reading your reviews on those, Caroline.

syyskuu 26, 2020, 3:48pm

Black and British sounds great, Alison.

syyskuu 28, 2020, 1:28pm

>72 BLBera: It's dense and very detailed, but well written.

lokakuu 4, 2020, 10:24am

32. The Bird Artist by Howard Norman

Set amidst the backdrop of Newfoundland in the early twentieth century, The Bird Artist is an interesting read full of writing contradictions which probably shouldn't work yet somehow do. The writing is spare yet the atmosphere of the small coastal town's natural environment is an enveloping combination of the wilds of the natural coastal environment and the suffocating smallness of the local community. Pace of life on the island is slow and the writing reflects this, despite the reader finding out in the first paragraph that the protagonist has murdered the lighthouse keeper. It's an interesting juxtaposition; the gravity of the felony versus the unhurried first person narration through a protagonist who seems quietly honest and uncomplicated and at odds with the crime he admits to the reader he has committed.

For some the pace of this book may challenge their attention, but I really enjoyed it. The characters were really well developed - flawed and complex yet at the same time wholly simple and honest in what they're expecting from life. Norman created an an especially wonderful feisty female character who lives by her own rules and morals, to hang with the opinions of the gossiping villagers. A young Helena Bonham Carter would have played a wonderful Margaret if ever they'd made a film of this novel.

Another hit from my personal selections out of Bowie's 100 list. I'll look out for more from this author.

4.5 stars - a great read if you enjoy slow, spare writing with brooding atmosphere.

lokakuu 4, 2020, 2:14pm

>74 AlisonY: I’ve had that book for probably a dozen years but haven’t read it—your description of it, including the pacing, sounds right up my alley, though, so bumpity bump bump up the pile it goes.

lokakuu 4, 2020, 8:09pm

>74 AlisonY: I loved this book too Alison, though some years since I read it.

lokakuu 5, 2020, 7:39am

>75 lisapeet: I really enjoyed it, Lisa. Right up my alley.

>76 Caroline_McElwee: Have you read anything else by Howard Norman, Caroline?

Muokkaaja: lokakuu 5, 2020, 8:22am

>77 AlisonY: I read The Museum Guard which I also liked Alison.


lokakuu 5, 2020, 8:17am

>78 Caroline_McElwee: Did you put the wrong title there, Caroline?

I forgot to note that this is also one of my favourite covers in quite a while. Just gorgeous.

lokakuu 5, 2020, 8:22am

>79 AlisonY: ha, I did, and liked it more not less, scrambled brain today. Just added his most recent novel The Ghost Clause.

lokakuu 5, 2020, 9:06am

>80 Caroline_McElwee: I'm like that every day! Good to know - I'm going to add some more of his titles to my wish list.

lokakuu 7, 2020, 1:30pm

Catching up. Interesting that your pursuing some of the Bowie list. I don’t know anything about The Bird Artist outside your review, but it sounds like it might have been a nice follow up to the Mishima. And B&B sounds important.

Muokkaaja: lokakuu 7, 2020, 2:25pm

>82 dchaikin: Thanks Dan. Yes, there was a nice noir feel to The Bird Artist that indeed was a good follow up to the Mishima. I don't love all the genres on the Bowie list, but I've definitely taken a few BBs from it. Black and British was on the list too - I'm not deliberately reading consecutively off his list, but a few titles really jumped out at me. Black and British has been on my wish list for a while, and reading about it on his list pushed it up the queue.

lokakuu 7, 2020, 5:34pm

That’s cool. I didn’t realize Black and British was on the list. You have a reading faithful muse. 🙂

lokakuu 14, 2020, 1:15am

>74 AlisonY: Nice review, Alison. I've added Howard Norman's trilogy to my watchlist.

lokakuu 14, 2020, 12:34pm

>85 VivienneR: Will be seeking out his other work as well, Vivienne.

Muokkaaja: marraskuu 15, 2020, 11:43am

33. The Russian Affair: The True Story of the Couple Who Uncovered the Greatest Sporting Scandal by David Walsh

A 2020 release, this is the last of my birthday books from the summer.

David Walsh is chief sportswriter with The Sunday Times, best known for his previous work on Lance Armstrong. In this latest book, he writes about the young Russian anti-doping official Vitaly Stepanov who tirelessly over many years fed information to WADA on Russian doping despite being married to top 800m runner Yuliya Rusanova who was herself doping. In fact, not only was he married to her, he was also feeding WADA regular information about her specific doping regime.

This is an utterly sad story on a number of levels. First and foremost, the extent of Russian doping across all sports has been utterly horrendous. No doubt many athletes like Rusanova would have preferred to run clean, but when running clean meant not making the cut as all your peers are doping it was (is?) a stark choice between your morals and your sporting career. Walsh uncovers the sordid depths of Russian doping, from the tier system of pharma support and "handling" of dirty samples depending on how promising an athlete was, to the Russian anti-doping agency being complicit in the whole sordid business.

Stepanov is a fairly minor player at the Russian anti-doping agency, but he takes his role seriously and believes vehemently that doping should not be allowed in Russian sport. The second aspect which makes this book such a sorry tale is that despite him feeding WADA (the World Anti-Doping Agency) information for many years, they were so tied up in their own international policies that nothing was done. It was only when Rusanova and Stepanov joined forces in their fight against doping and agreed to whistle-blow through a German TV documentary with secret recordings that the world sat up and took notice.

Any action movie worth its salt has a romantic thread weaved through it, and in The Russian Affair at its core is the strangely cold and seemingly mismatched marriage of Rusanova and Stepanov. Rusanova plays the villain of the stunning ice queen with a Russian business-like approach to her relationship with the dull, sober, serious, idealistic Stepanov.

It's an interesting book, which in retrospect makes me sad when I think of all the amazing Russian performances I've watched in the Olympics which now seem an utter sham. At times Walsh drags the story out a bit, but mostly it was pretty page-turning.

Bizarrely, in his epilogue Walsh focuses on the immediate response of Russia to the Stepanovs' whistle-blowing and their new life in the US, more or less missing the huge domino effect that their actions had on Russian sport. There is no mention of the 2015 indefinite ban for Russia from world athletics, nor the ban for Russia from all major world sporting events given in 2019, which seems like the obvious conclusion for the book.

He also publishes in an appendix a number of the emails Vitaly Stepanov sent to WADA over the years, which perhaps unveil another potential motive for his quest that's not touched on in the book. He (Stepanov) certainly didn't seem to be behind the door in asking for employment help outside of Russia from WADA - was a supported ticket to a better life in the US a potential driver behind his quest? I'm probably being harsh as he and his wife have ultimately been left with a lifetime of looking over their shoulders, but I do wonder how impartial Walsh has been in this book, given that in the introduction he tells us how he wrote the book with the Stepanovs' support as a way for both parties to make money.

3.5 stars - an interesting insight into Mother Russia and its priorities.

Muokkaaja: lokakuu 22, 2020, 9:59pm

Great review of Black and British, Alison! I had planned to read it this summer, but I won't get to it until sometime next year. Afua Hirsch's book Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging may provide some discussion of the current day status of Blacks in the UK, but I haven't gotten to it yet.

lokakuu 23, 2020, 7:07am

>88 kidzdoc: Thanks Darryl. I'll keep an eye out for that one.

Muokkaaja: lokakuu 24, 2020, 12:24pm

34. The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

The End of the Affair, whilst a short read, is a thick soup of a novel, intense with passionate love, simmering jealousy and religious fervour. Set in war-torn London towards the end of WWII, a chance encounter with the husband of his ex-lover two years after the end of their affair reignites the narrator's brooding over his loss, and as his jealousy grows so too does his need to inflict pain as a means of healing his own wounds.

There's a melancholy intensity to this book that reminded me in some ways of Anita Brookner's style of writing, which is rarely joyful yet somehow sucks you willingly into its vortex of despair.

In real life Graham Greene was a vociferous atheist before eventually arguing himself full circle into converting to Catholicism. This tug-of-war between belief and non-belief and the effect of each on how one leads one's life is developed as a key theme within this novel, and although it got lost in itself in a few passages it felt original and an interesting concept within the context of the novel.

4 stars - heady and intense, but those who like their fiction with a liberal sprinkle of joyfulness it may be too bleak.

lokakuu 30, 2020, 6:52pm

35. Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

Given that Wine of Solitude left me feeling hugely underwhelmed, I'm glad I took on board the recommendations to still give Suite Francaise a shot. What a hugely different book in terms of writing style. Fantastic characters - tick. Good pace to the narrative - pick. Page-turning - tick. Everything Wine of Solitude wasn't.

Set in occupied France during WWII, Suite Francaise consists of two separate parts. In the first we journey along with a number of different characters from Paris as they hastily exit the city upon hearing that the Germans had broken the Maginot Line. The wealthier have the resources to open up more options in their exodus than those who are forced to flee on foot, but war is indiscriminate and all are ultimately impacted one way or another.

The second part of the novel takes place in a small French village that is occupied by German soldiers and is a window into the complicated relationships between the occupiers and the occupied. Nemirovsky affords humanity in her depiction of the Germany soldiers as fathers, sons and husbands who treat their hosts with respect and politeness. Whether this is something Nemirovsky truly felt we will never know - she knew she was at high risk when writing the novel as a Jewish Russian exile living in France.

And there, after the second part, the novel ends. Nemirovsky intended the novel to be made up of 5 parts, with each part connecting the characters, but sadly she was sent to Auschwitz and never got to write the remaining 3 parts.

It's an incredibly affecting book, so much more so given the poignancy that the author was writing about the very enemy which would shortly send her to her death. I've not read any other WWII fiction which tells the story of what it was like to live in occupied France, and I doubt any could hold a candle to the authenticity of Nemirovsky's real-life experience.

Often during the year I read books which are enjoyable but not necessarily great page-turners. It was a joy to pick up a book that was simply a great read whilst also being hugely thought-provoking. It's incredibly sad that both Nemirovsky and her husband both died in concentration camps. Who knows what other remarkable work she would have written, and how she would developed this book and tied all the different parts together.

4 stars - simply a great read that brings this side of the war to vivid life.

I've already got the film added to my list on Amazon Prime for the weekend.

lokakuu 30, 2020, 8:16pm

>91 AlisonY: Lovely review. Suite Française is wonderful, the details have stayed in my mind since I read it.

lokakuu 31, 2020, 4:38am

>92 VivienneR: Yes, I think it will stick with me as well, Vivienne, and I'm normally rubbish at remembering what I've read.

marraskuu 1, 2020, 1:51am

Catching up!

>56 AlisonY: Great review and it makes me want to read Someone at a Distance even more!

>62 AlisonY: Oooh this sounds good, for a sucker of Japanese literature like me!

>90 AlisonY: very good review. I enjoyed this one a lot too. My favorite Greene

marraskuu 1, 2020, 4:22am

>91 AlisonY: I too loved this novel Alison, and have read many of her other novels too.

marraskuu 1, 2020, 6:34am

>94 Simone2: Thanks for dropping by, Barbara!

>95 Caroline_McElwee: I watched the film last night, Caroline. I was surprised by how much the'd changed from the book - somehow that always feels a little disappointing.

marraskuu 15, 2020, 11:02am

36. The Book of Ebenezer Le Page by G.B. Edwards

It doesn't happen very often, but every now and again you come across writing that is so unexpectedly honest, true and life affirming that it feels like it leaves a permanent stamp on your soul.

Written as a three-part fictional (or was it???) memoir, The Book of Ebenezer Le Page is like nothing I've read before. Written in the timbre of the anglicised Guernsey patois, this is a novel of enormous heart which leaves the reader with a firm reminder of the extraordinary specialness of an ordinary life.

The first line of the blurb on the jacket calls our narrator Ebenezer 'cantankerous', which had been putting me off picking it up for a long while. I expected a book with a spiky, unlikeable narrator who would spew endless vitriol and complaints. Instead, however, I found him to be a wonderfully forthright but steadfast character, quietly capable of immense depths of love and compassion.

This is not a book with shouty plot moments clambering for attention, but rather it sews together the tapestry of memories and relationships and people that make up the story of a long life and ultimately shape the person whose life it is.

At times in the first half of the book I got muddled on the characters and I found it needed my close attention to keep up with it. I also wasn't mad about this NYRB edition, which was printed with narrow line spacing in a small font which seemed to slow my reading speed per page right down. Despite that, it would be criminal of me to give this novel anything less than 5 stars.

G.B. Edwards' writing was nothing short of genius, and it's desperately sad that this was the only book he left us with. But then again, perhaps it's just perfect that this hugely reclusive and private man should, like the wonderful Ebenezer, leave us with this glorious swan song to enjoy once he was long gone.

5 stars - a very, very special novel.

Muokkaaja: marraskuu 15, 2020, 2:59pm

>97 AlisonY: Isn't it marvelous? It really is a special book. I need to reread.

If I didn't mention this before, there's a fun episode of the podcast Backlisted devoted to the book, recorded at the Guernsey Literary Festival.

marraskuu 15, 2020, 3:10pm

I've a feeling you put it on my radar, Lisa, so thanks for an excellent steer.

I'll check out the podcast too.

marraskuu 15, 2020, 7:01pm

>97 AlisonY: This seems to be a special book for quite a few people. I had many childhood holidays on Guernsey I might like the book.

marraskuu 16, 2020, 4:13am

>100 baswood: The writing is just a joy. I hope you enjoy it if you ever pick it up.

marraskuu 16, 2020, 3:10pm

>97 AlisonY: Wow. Not a recommendation to be ignored Alison.

marraskuu 16, 2020, 4:51pm

>97 AlisonY: Noted. I like the look of the NYRB editions, so despite the issues you raised, I'll pick up a copy when I find one.

marraskuu 17, 2020, 3:29am

>102 Caroline_McElwee: I'd definitely recommend it, Caroline.

>103 RidgewayGirl: Apart from so much text being squished into a page it's a nice copy, Kay, with a good cover. I suspect that with another publisher the page count would be 100 pages longer with more spaced print.

marraskuu 17, 2020, 7:25am

I noticed that too, about my NYRB copy. Back when I first heard of the book and wanted to read it, a friend tracked down an old hardcover—this was in the early 2000s, so there wasn't such a robust online used book market yet—and it was a pleasure to read. But then she borrowed it and never returned it, even after I asked for it (not refusing to return it or anything, she's just very disorganized and still has every book I've ever lent her... and don't think I don't have a tally in my head). So I sprang for the NYRB copy, which is a great size in hand but yeah, small and crowded print. That's OK, though. It'll be worth it on the reread.

marraskuu 18, 2020, 11:53am

37. Desperate Characters by Paula Fox

This was a dark and foreboding read about a comfortably well-off New York couple and the seeping uncontrollable infiltration of the ugly side of the world into their lives. At the beginning the wife is bitten by a stray cat, and as the bite gets steadily worse she sees it as an ominous omen about all that's becoming unhinged in their lives, from the encroachment of the poorer part of their Brooklyn neighbourhood on their home to the collapse of her husband's business partnership and a sense of unexplained destabilisation between the couple.

The writing was cleverly unsettling which I enjoyed; you're not sure where Fox is ultimately taking you, but you know that it's not going to be somewhere pink and fluffy. There's the sense that the couple themselves can't get a grip on their own emotions, which leaves us discombobulated and unsure as readers.

This isn't a novel that particularly goes anywhere plot-wise, but it's stylishly written quicksand and a dark snapshot of an elitist white middle-class marriage in an evolving 1960s New York.

I appreciated and enjoyed this novel, and can see how it would be a great novel for literary criticism, but I doubt I'll spend too much time looking back on it.

3.5 stars - a short, dark and unsettling ride.

marraskuu 21, 2020, 9:29am

Great review of The Book of Ebenezer Le Page, Alison. I'm all but certain that I own a copy of it, but my LT library says otherwise, and I don't see it in my stack of NYRB Classics. I'll add it to my wish list, then.

I may honor the memory of Rebecca (rebeccanyc) and purchase it from Book Culture, on W 112th St in NYC's Upper West Side, during its New Year's Day sale, when everything in the bookshop is discounted by 20%. We met there for our only in person meetup a couple of years before she died. Her favorite bookshop, Crawford-Doyle Booksellers on the Upper East Side, had a vast collection of NYRB Classics, but, sadly, it closed several years ago.

marraskuu 22, 2020, 11:47am

>108 AlisonY: Nice idea, Darryl. Rebecca had the best book taste - she's very much missed from the group.

I think you'd enjoy Ebenezer.

joulukuu 2, 2020, 4:53am

Ugh - hopelessly behind on LT. Some distracting stuff going on at home, which combined with evenings spent online Christmas shopping is having an effect on my time and attention for reading.

This novella should have been devoured in a night or two but it's taken me a couple of weeks instead.

38. A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler

A Whole Life is a gentle, moving novella about the life of a simple, unremarkable man from the mountains. Told in matter-of-fact prose we journey with him (at some pace) through experiences that shape a lifetime, where tragedy and suffering is met with private forbearance and resignation whilst quietly extinguishing any future hope or expectation of joy.

There's more to this slim book than meets the eye, and the more I think about it the more I appreciate just how cleverly it invokes emotion despite it's apparent lack of sentimentality.

4 stars - gently moving.

joulukuu 2, 2020, 9:47am

>109 AlisonY: Glad you liked that one — I enjoyed it very much (my mother did too!). That rare thing, a non-sardonic Austrian novel that's worth reading...!
After that I also read Der Trafikant (The Tobacconist), which was interesting (all about the boy who sold cigars to Freud in Vienna...), but not quite as special as A Whole Life.

joulukuu 3, 2020, 2:17am

>109 AlisonY:
Oh, that's right up my proverbial alley for 2021 as it checks off several boxes. Thanks for introducing me to this book

joulukuu 3, 2020, 2:02pm

>110 thorold: Ohhhh, I never connected him as being the author of The Tobacconist. I've not read that, but it's more familiar to me as a title than A Whole Life was.

>111 Nickelini: I know you enjoy a good mountain setting too, Joyce.

joulukuu 8, 2020, 5:59am

I also loved A Whole Life. I purchased a secondhand copy of The Tobacconist from the Marylebone Oxfam shop in London last year, but I haven't read it yet.

joulukuu 13, 2020, 5:28pm

39. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

After being totally bowled over by Beloved, The Bluest Eye came as a bit of a surprise, and, dare I say it, a bit of a disappointment.

It's a difficult, uncomfortable and desperately sad book focused on the poverty and violence at the heart of the black families portrayed and the subconscious learnings of the black children that being white, blonde and blue-eyed is the dream and that they are somehow lesser for not being this.

I don't think Morrison was ever setting out to make this a a book that would be 'enjoyed', but rather aimed to throw out a stick of dynamite and blow open some difficult truths. I admired what she was trying to achieve in this novel, but it didn't properly work for me on a number of levels. Firstly, it felt very over-written, and it wasn't surprising to learn that this was her first novel. The language felt contrived and overworked at times, and for me it got in the way of the points she was aiming to get across. This was in complete contrast to Beloved, which was written with such a deft hand that I never once contemplated how it was written but simply fell headlong into the story. Secondly, as Morrison acknowledges herself in the afterword, the fragmentation of the story into sections didn't work for me. I kept picking up and dropping the thread of the story, and it felt an unnecessary literary device. When it was flowing I enjoyed it, but just as I was starting to connect with how the characters she'd break off to come back around to the tale from another direction and that connection was broken.

In the end I felt frustrated that this book could have blown me away but instead left me turning every which way as a reader, and as a result I didn't feel the emotion that I wanted to feel from it.

3 stars - Noble yet unnecessarily over-written which got in the way of the truth of the novel.

Muokkaaja: joulukuu 20, 2020, 8:03am

40. The Pearl-Fishers by Robin Jenkins

I really enjoyed Poverty Castle by Jenkins last year, so I've been looking forward to reading more from this much overlooked author.

If you've not read anything by Jenkins before I wouldn't recommend starting with this novel necessarily. It's naive in its idealised romanticism between a member of the traveling community and a devout Christian man soon to embark on his theological training, and could be accused of straying too far into the realms of the romance genre. However, having said that I have to admit that I enjoyed this novel. It was a straightforward page-turner that didn't require me to overly engage my brain, which is just what I need at the moment as work has my brain somewhat pickled.

From the two books of Jenkins' that I've read to date I would say he's a pastoral writer who searches for the absolute goodness and truth in his characters. One could therefore argue that his novels are missing some of the dramatic tension that comes with the inevitable flaws in human beings, but there's something charming about his 'Little House on the Prairie'-esque feel good approach. There's never a bogeyman around the corner and his characters won't let you down, so you can journey around the Scottish countryside with him at ease without holding your breath.

The Pearl-fishers felt a little too wholesome, and I would have enjoyed a little sprinkle of jeopardy somewhere, but to give Jenkins some credit I think he wanted to give a glass half full portrayal of people from different backgrounds coming together, and to highlight the injustice of prejudice. Trying to achieve this with flawless characters didn't feel very credulous, however.

3 stars - Enjoyable, but this is not a novel to dwell on too much.

joulukuu 20, 2020, 8:25am

42. Thief Prisoner Soldier Priest by Paul Cowley

From September to December I took part in an online version of the Alpha Course, and Paul Cowley was one of the people featured one week on the videos. I was subsequently gifted this book by our minister in thanks for some other work I've helped him with.

Without giving too much away, as the title suggests this is the memoir of a man who has had an incredible journey in life. Growing up with alcoholic parents in a volatile marriage in Manchester, he was eventually kicked out of home at a young age and quickly fell in with a bad crowd, becoming involved in crime. When he received a custodial sentence in a young offender's centre he joined the army upon his release, where he proved successful at improving his respect for authority and developing his career but still lacked the ability to forge successful relationships in the marriages he quickly fell into. As someone who had been a typical 'lad' all his life he seemed in many ways an unlikely person to find religion, and even more so not someone you could imagine would eventually become a church priest. Receiving an MBE 5 years ago, Paul has devoted himself in his ministry to rolling out a forces version of the Alpha course worldwide and to expanding the role that Alpha plays in prisons to help prisoners.

This book really surprised me. Given that Paul dropped out of school without a single 'O' level to his name this memoir is extremely well written (his wife helped co-write it, so I'm not sure who we should give the kudos to). He's a colourful character, and each part of his life is extremely interesting, but evidently due thought has been given to the pace and structure of the narrative. There are a couple of editing faux pas, but generally it's as well written as other more successful memoirs I've read, and I zipped through it in one day.

Is this a memoir that you need to be a Christian to enjoy? No, not necessarily so. Paul is far from preachy when he gets to the part of his life when he finds God, and it's fascinating to watch from the sidelines as his life evolves into something completely different.

4 stars - a hugely interesting and enjoyable read.

joulukuu 20, 2020, 10:25am

>114 AlisonY: >115 AlisonY: — Both very interesting! I also remember having trouble with The bluest eye, makes me wonder a bit whether a chronological (re-)read of Morrison is a good idea...

And you remind me that I really should read some more Robin Jenkins, maybe not necessarily that one...

joulukuu 20, 2020, 1:23pm

>117 thorold: It had lots of lovely Jenkins prose, but was just a bit.... well, silly I guess. Still, I did enjoy it, but I can't say I'd recommend it.

On The Bluest Eye, glad it wasn't just me. If there are others you'd recommend I go to next let me know, as Beloved blew me away.

Muokkaaja: joulukuu 20, 2020, 2:11pm

>118 AlisonY: I think Song of Solomon is the one I remember best (and wrote essays about when I was doing OU...). But there are several I haven’t read yet.

joulukuu 20, 2020, 8:57pm

I think Sula is also a short read. That and Song of Solomon are the first two I read by Morrison.

joulukuu 21, 2020, 3:15am

>119 thorold:, >120 markon: Thanks for the tips. I'm interested in whether she eventually found her ultimate writing style as per Beloved, or if she's a writer than changes from book to book. I was surprised at how different the writing in Bluest Eye was to Beloved.

Muokkaaja: joulukuu 28, 2020, 12:16pm

43. Bad Dirt by Annie Proulx

I'm generally not a lover of short stories (hence this has sat on my TBR for ages), but wow - this collection was just fantastic. This is the second collection of Proulx's Wyoming stories (I'll now have to buy the first), with each story a vignette on life in rural Wyoming. Some of the characters vaguely interconnect along the way, but each vignette sits independently.

Many of the stories are darkly humorous with a sprinkle of craziness here and there, and throughout the writing is just sublime. I've not enjoyed a book of short stories as much since F. Scott Fitzgerald's 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button', and the impressive imagination at work in this collection put me in mind of Fitzgerald's superb skill at short story writing, albeit with more of a backwoods feel.

It's been too long since I read something by Annie Proulx - I'll be moving her further up the groaning wish list.

4.5 stars - everything a collection of short stories should be: fun, slightly bonkers and a joy to read.

joulukuu 24, 2020, 8:40am

Happy Christmas, everyone. I hope Santa is suitably generous with book gifts. Stay safe.

joulukuu 24, 2020, 3:31pm

I have a few Annie Proulx books on the shelf. You have reminded me that I should read them soon.

Best wishes to you and your family for a happy Christmas too. It's been a difficult year (to say the least) but next year will be better.

Your well considered reviews are always a pleasure to read and I look forward to following again in the new year. Happy 2021 and may it include lots of reading.

joulukuu 24, 2020, 3:51pm

Happy Christmas!

Yes, Proulx is an amazing writer. I must get round to Bad dirt and Barkskins soon... I enjoyed Close range, but it was a long time ago.

joulukuu 24, 2020, 4:59pm

I hope there are some treats, some relaxation, and some reading over the festive season, and that 2021 is a kinder year to everyone.

Hoping there will be some fine reads among your parcels Alison.

joulukuu 28, 2020, 12:16pm

I've edited the Proulx to give it 4.5 stars. When I compare it to my other 4 star reads it was head and shoulders above them in terms of writing.

Muokkaaja: joulukuu 30, 2020, 12:20pm

44. Mountains of the Mind by Robert Macfarlane

Everyone has their happy place, and for me its the mountains. I'm no climber (I prefer my limbs all in one piece), but there's nowhere I feel more at peace than when I'm taking in the view from a beautiful mountain or hilly peak. In Macfarlane's Mountains of the Mind, he sets out to explain what drives people to the mountains in their droves, and especially what drives those who are prepared to risk their lives in pursuit of a particular summit.

The premise of this book is, potentially, a difficult one. It's one thing to be a lover of the mountains and just 'get' what it's like being amongst the peaks, but it's entirely another to try to explain that over the full length of a book. Hence the mix of climbing history, geology, personal memoir and religion which makes up 'Mountains of the Mind', subtitled 'A History of a Fascination'.

I must admit that when I bought this book I missed the subtitle*, so I probably went into this read on the wrong foot. I was expecting (and looking for) a travelogue that would sweep me back up amongst the mountain peaks in this tiresome year of non-travel, but if I'd read the full title properly I'd have realised that this is more of a history of mountain attraction. Some of the history had me riveted (for example the chapter on Mallory's fatal attraction to Everest), but in other places I feel he got too caught up in trying to give a fully comprehensive chronological account of British climbing development. In my mind that's a different book, and I would have loved if he'd spent a little less time back in the 1700s and focused more on modern climbing. For example, what drives 20,000 people - many of them inexperienced tourists - to climb Mont Blanc every year, despite helicopters lifting on average a body a day from the peaks above Chamonix in climbing season?

That said, Macfarlane is both an explorer himself and a talented wielder of the pen, and overall I really enjoyed this book. When he wasn't bogged down in the extensiveness of his own research, Macfarlane's knowledge and passion for the mountains is translated into wonderful writing that brings you shivering to the edge of many a snowy precipice. His own climbing adventures were fascinating - in fact, I'd have loved to have seen more of those memoirs in place of some of the historical detail.

Despite my niggles (and again, my fault for going in with the wrong expectation), this book did teleport me back to the mountains for a few days, and has left me with a hunger for some further mountain reading in 2021. I find myself particularly interested in the climbing history of the sherpas, whose achievements are so often overlooked in climbing history. If anyone has any recommendations on that front let me know.

4 stars - a fascinating read (but you can still keep your crampons - I'm happy to climb by armchair).

* In my defence this book seems to have a number of editions, many of which have 'adventures in reaching the summit' as the subtitle, which is closer to what I was expecting.

joulukuu 30, 2020, 12:21pm

And that concludes my 2020 reading. Thanks for joining with me in discussing many of the books I read this year. See you in the next thread.

joulukuu 30, 2020, 1:01pm

>129 AlisonY: Your threads are always full of interesting books I wouldn't just stumble upon on my own. Looking forward to your reviews next year.

Happy New Year.

joulukuu 30, 2020, 2:16pm

>130 SassyLassy: Thanks! As random as my title suggests! Likewise I look forward to following along with your reading in 2021. Happy new year.

joulukuu 30, 2020, 2:29pm

Thanks for a year of good book discussion and more than a few recommendations, Alison. See you in 2021 threads!

joulukuu 30, 2020, 2:40pm

>128 AlisonY: Sounds as though that would be an interesting follow-up to The moth and the mountain. But the world is full of armchair-climbing books that have yet to be scaled...

I wish you another interesting reading year in 2021!

joulukuu 30, 2020, 4:39pm

>132 RidgewayGirl: Thanks Kay. Look forward to the 2021 book bullets.

>133 thorold: Wilson actually got a fleeting mention. I'd never heard that story and then I came across it twice in a few days! See you in the new threads.

joulukuu 30, 2020, 7:05pm

>128 AlisonY: Sounds interesting, like you I love to read about climbing.
Happy new year

joulukuu 30, 2020, 7:31pm

>135 baswood: It was definitely interesting. I'll look out for more of his writing - he seems to have quite a following.

Happy new year, and catch you in the new threads.

Muokkaaja: joulukuu 31, 2020, 7:10am

>128 AlisonY: I've had this on the shelf for an age, I had started it, then misplaced it. I refound it recently, and may put it in the pile for reading soon Alison. I do remember being quite stunned to read how recently some people believed the world was flat, despite the ancient Greeks knowing it wasn't.

joulukuu 31, 2020, 8:00am

>137 Caroline_McElwee: Yes it's mind-blowing when you think of how far science has come in the past two hundred years even, Caroline, which really isn't that long.