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A Post and Packaging

Last year, back when I had time on my hands and no job I read a really interesting review for a book on Bruce’s inimitable site (which you can find on this very word) by retired Norwegian ambassador Nils-Johan Jørgensen. Later that day the publisher offered to send me a copy of the book for review, naturally I was well up for it and wrote the review, a few days later (also on this very word).

I forgot all about that specific review, what with life and other books and shiny things to distract me, when out of the blue an email arrived from the author thanking me for my reaction to the book, which he liked and would I email back my address so he could send me two of his other books as a thank you (reviews will follow throughout the year, naturally).

One email and a rather out of character smug(gish) post on Facebook later and I was still excited, only to be even more ecstatic when the package came through with not two but four books and a rather nice letter as well.

Four's a Treat

Now I’m not normally one to take half as much pride in what I achieve as what others do but I have to allow myself to indulge a little here, and as I was mentioning my good fortune to random people when out and about and how it felt good to feel like I was getting somewhere with my blogging, one guy said it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.  To a certain extent I agree but in order to get networking, there has to be a degree of knowledge on one’s chosen subject. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 29/05/2015 in Blogging

 

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The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway

Reviewing this and the previous post’s book Chess, has been an interesting exercise, both books have featured forced solitude in isolation and all of the psychological consequences that come with that.  As a reader in the individual pursuit of a good story, the effects of such books can only be compelling, as life can be examined from a different and altogether more challenging perspective.

Fogey and WatterSet in the Gulf Stream off the coast of Havana, Hemingway’s magnificent fable is the story of an old man, a young boy and a giant fish. It was The Old Man and the Sea that won for Hemingway the Nobel Prize for Literature. Here, in a perfectly crafted story, is a unique and timeless vision of the beauty and grief of man’s challenge to the elements in which he lives. Not a single word is superfluous in this widely admired masterpiece, which once and for all established his place as one of the giants of modern literature.

Hemingway has always been a hit and miss for me author for me but this was the book that encouraged me to pick up more of his works and appreciate them more than previous encounters.  I loved this story the first time around so having time to reread it and reflect on it, is one of life’s simple but rewarding pleasures.  Rereading is not something that I tend not to do very often.

At ninety-nine pages the book does that wonderful thing of placing the reader squarely in a remote and lonely setting, one that I suspect most readers will already be in, ignoring the world at large to read, a sort of Inception style reading process, so to speak.  Once there the book takes hold of the senses and gives the peruser a satisfying ordeal to remember.

As you would expect with a Hemingway book, his prose is precise and economical, being short on the conversation which have always failed to entice me in H’s other books, A Fare to Arms being a prime candidate.  The beauty of what is written here is that it is a simple tale, one told time and again throughout myth and history, it’s the never-ending human struggle against nature, what we wish to accomplish, usually complimented with a generous streak of stubbornness. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 26/05/2015 in Modern Classics

 

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Chess – Stefan Zweig

The other day I finished The man Who Loved Dogs, of which a review will be forthcoming soon but upon finishing said book and being impressed by it, everything else on the shelves seemed a little less exciting.  With a day out with mates on the cards – which means getting to a meeting place at least five hours early to read – I needed something to occupy myself.  So I finally decided to reread a couple of novellas, the first of which, being this slinky effort.

Chess-mondoTravelers by ship from New York to Buenos Aires find that on board with them is the world champion of chess, an arrogant and unfriendly man. They come together to try their skills against him and are soundly defeated. Then a mysterious passenger steps forward to advise them and their fortunes change. How he came to possess his extraordinary grasp of the game of chess and at what cost lie at the heart of Zweig’s story.

At 78 pages you wouldn’t think that this story would contain much in the way of depth but despite the length or lack of, it’s thinness is at odds with its surprisingly weighty subject matter.

The challenge of writing a review for such a short book is a bit like a game of Chess itself, both have limits, for one it’s 64 black and white squares and for the other, allowing only a certain amount of information to escape the review without spoiling anything important for the reader.  Both are fascinating pursuits, whose limits belie the ridiculous amount of depth involved and an infinitely malleable ability with which to play with.

Chess can be read as a straight forward story of two men squaring off against each other in an epic battle to decide who wins between these two polar opposite (in all ways) opponents.  It’s not just the colour of their chess pieces that differs, there is a clash of experiences, styles and mindset, as well as histories and motivations that are completely different and their only shared desire being the extreme obsession to win.

Naturally there is substance to the tale than that, Zweig wrote this book at a time when Hitler was busy conquering Europe and although he escaped to the Americas, his disgust and sadness at seeing the events unfolding eventually lead to the author and his wife’s suicide shortly after this book was first published.  There is certainly a feeling in the prose of the profound effect of surviving,  coupled with that of despair as well, with a lack of anything approaching real redemption. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 22/05/2015 in Fiction, Modern Classics

 

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Musings, Ribs and Mad Max: Fury Road

So I’m on the bus the other day and with the road works effecting every conceivable route (all one of them) to my destination, I had much time to ponder and luckily having a window seat to peer out of made me feel like I was acting in a reflective scene for a film as well, I always enjoy that, just in case anyone is glancing in my direction.

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After having had a wander around for a bacon cob and securing cinema tickets, a pint was well due, as my latest book (one for the anthropology fans amongst you) hadn’t been getting the love it deserved that day.  Partly because I had wandered into the big bookshop armed with my wish list and found none of the obscure titles that had taken my fancy, neither could I find the new titles being spoken of by my fellow bloggers which begs the question what do I do in future if I want to actually physically buy a book I want.

It is that becoming a reader with different tastes from the big name authors is actually a hindrance when shopping?  Maybe high street shops are redundant for me, as they aim for a different market, it’s a sad state of affairs but my mind quickly turned onto something more whimsical.   I was quite surprised to have found that alone with my thoughts and still not having read that book yet, I had been taking in this fairly surreal set up and it hadn’t clicked for at least twenty minutes.

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All that was quickly put right by meeting Tom at a barbecue joint and having a can of Pistonhead Full Throttle, picked purely because it seemed appropriate for the film we were about to see.  Red’s True BBQ is a curious place, it’s very friendly staff seem not to notice that they work in a restaurant which is the spitting image of the location of the knife fight in West Side Story, the only difference being that Hey Joe by Jimi Hendrix was blasting out which is always a welcome aural pleasure
Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 20/05/2015 in Films, Life, Travel

 

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Planning Ahead (For A Change)

673Today’s short effort is post number 376 or post CCCLXXVI if you are of a Latin persuasion. In 24 posts time, I will have reached a personal milestone 400th post and in keeping with my haphazard way of dealing with such things, I am due to do something big(gish).

I didn’t manage it for posts 100 (which I actually forgot about) or 300, in which I promised to do something impressive for post 400 thus avoiding any effort at the time.  Post 200 saw you ‘treated’ to a vlog filmed 6,000 miles from home, so keeping with the even numbers preference I now consider a habit, I need to do something different and if anything, a little bit impressive.

As a consequence, the planning really needs to begin now and I am throwing the doors open for suggestions on what you, my dear friends would like to see for this latest chapter in the journey and I’ll see what I can do  .All ideas are welcome – the wackier the better –  and whilst you think of something I am off to reconnect with your blogs again, catch up and write something new and better wtitten to boot.

 
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Posted by on 16/05/2015 in Blogging

 

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The Extraordinary Voyage of Pytheas the Greek – Barry Cunliffe

PithySome 2.300 years ago a Greek adventurer named Pytheas set out on an astonishing expedition: to find out what lay in the fabled lands of Northern Europe.  Rumours abounded of these fearsome barbarian territories, but Pytheas was the first literate man ever to visit them.  Here Barry Cunliffe recreates his staggering journey as he sailed to the islands of Britannia, home of our distant ancestors – the ‘tattooed folk’ – and beyond, all the way to Ultima Thule, the mysterious Arctic limits of the known world…

I hadn’t heard of Pytheas before this book and these days this obscure chap is a marginalised figure, a brief footnote of history.  Thanks to Cunliffe, this intrepid Greek now comes out of obscurity and is revealed as an adventurer, a man of curiosity who explored Britain and parts of Scandinavia before many of the famous travellers of antiquity.

As well as being a travelogue and biography – albeit a little less than expected – there is also lots of a lot of scene setting, involving lots of explanation about the current politics and customs of the day, not to mention plenty of lift hitching…maritime style.

Pytheas wrote about his adventures which are sadly lost to us apart from a few fragments, so this book is also a detective story, with the author using later writers’ comments on Pytheas’ book as sources in conjunction with archaeology.  The irony of using these authors is that most disbelieved that P. has actually made his journey so gives a fascinating look at the jealousy and petulance of great writers and the character assassination they descend to when wishing to appear the supreme authority on matters.

The book is therefore going to be based on educated assumptions and these are always reasonable and established through evidence from a wide range of varying sources.  It’s a captivating journey, digging through various archaeological strata of earth and memory and not only brings the voyage to life but also the wider economic and social situation of the time. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 09/05/2015 in History, Travel

 

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Slaughterhouse 5 – Kurt Vonnegut

SH%Prisoner of war, optometrist, time-traveller – these are the life roles of Billy Pilgrim, hero of this miraculously moving, bitter and funny story of innocence faced with apocalypse. Slaughterhouse 5 is one of the world’s great anti-war books. Centring on the infamous fire-bombing of Dresden in the Second World War, Billy Pilgrim’s odyssey through time reflects the journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we are afraid to know.

The blurb doesn’t give much away but how to describe this book, it’s been a challenge for this reviewer but I persevered after much thought and have scraped the surface in a bid to whet your appetite…

Upon starting to read the story I hoped it wouldn’t be another Catcher in the Rye, a book I loathed and found extremely overrated.  I can imagine this book splits readers’ opinions as well, with its often repetitive phrases and cynical outlook.

I feared reading this book, as it is a big hit with students and so for that unreasonable reason alone I have avoided it but having read the reasons why people keep trying to ban it  – and finding them all laughable – I succumbed to its prose.  People seem afraid of good literature and messages contrary to their own but why censor something (with simplistic argument) when you could talk about like reasonable adults?  Probably because the would be ban mongers are not those sort of people.

As far as conflict books go, this is up there with the razor-sharp satire of the magnificent Catch 22 as anti-war material.  I find it interesting that the US has some of the best anti-war literature of the 20th century, widely read all around the world yet still finds itself mired in conflicts around the world, it’s a case study begging to be written methinks.

Billy Pilgrim is an awkward and pathetic protagonist whose not always likeable but is extremely fascinating, there are strong hints to him having a psychological disorder suffered after witnessing the aftermath of the Dresden bombings. However that would be to over simplify a man whose can move through time and lives his life in a different order, real or imagined, his attempt to cope with life and just stagger through passively,  powerlessly accepting his fate should endear him to everybody as we’ve all been there at sometime or another.  Billy is at once likeable and unlikable and trying to quantify the life of the man from the jigsaw pieces is endlessly fascinating and is perhaps best looked at through our own actions. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 06/05/2015 in Fiction, Sci Fi

 

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