Geographically Challenged

Back in the day I used to go a local pub that had  ‘award winning’ bangers and mash on the menu,  even the staff didn’t know anything about this award, and the meal wasn’t up to much anyway.

The day was sunny, but I was sulky.  This had to do with my usual reading table being occupied, as well as my back up reading table.  Making do with a different view and some less than satisfactory light and shooing away a work colleague who wanted to chat on a day off, I settled down to my book, accompanied by a pint of mediocre bitter.

The book in question was Hugh Thomas‘, The Conquest of Mexico. This is a weighty tome detailing how the Spanish came to the Americas and into great depth on the titular conquest itself.

I slowly became aware of a chap in my peripheral vision who seemed to be bobbing up and down whilst facing my direction.  In the end I made the mistake of looking. He was stood up but was contorting his body in an uncomfortable manner in an attempt to read the title on the spine of my book.

Making eye contact – a big mistake – he decided this was an invitation to join me.  Amiable as I was back in the day, I was happy to chat with someone who showed an interest in books.  The conversation started well as he commented not many people read in pubs, especially in our town. Continue reading “Geographically Challenged”

On the Shortness of Life – Seneca

The writings of the ancient Roman philosopher Seneca offer powerful insights into stoicism, morality and the importance of reason, and continue to provide profound guidance to many through their eloquence, lucidity and wisdom.

Picking this book was entirely thanks to a video by PewDiePie, who, in between his usual meme and gaming content enjoys indulging in books, and particularly those of a philosophical nature. This time he explored Stoicism.  Being at a loose end for a book, and not having a copy of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations to hand, this slim tome was the next best thing.

Of the three essays on offer, those being On the Shortness of LifeConsolation to Helvia, and On Tranquillity of Mind, the first was my favourite, mainly because of all the famous Roman military and political figures that have become familiar over many books about that empire. The message of bettering oneself is always one that resonates strongly as well and writing that encourages reading is already preaching to the converted.

Each essay is written to a particular person, the first to Paulinus talks of spending time fruitfully in the timeless pursuit of wisdom through philosophy, the second consoles his mother on his exile to Corsica, and the final essay is written in letter form to Serenus, in which he offers advice on how to achieve a peaceful mind with moderation and self-control. Continue reading “On the Shortness of Life – Seneca”

Hymns and Hymn Writers of Denmark – J. C. Aaberg

Hymns and Hymn Writers of Denmark tells the fascinating life stories of three major Danish hymn writers: Thomas Kingo (the Easter Poet of Denmark), Hans Adolf Brorson (the Christmas Singer of Denmark), and Nicolai Grundtveg (the Singer of Pentecost). The lives of other significant Danish hymn writers are also covered. In addition to telling about the musical influences, marriages, and Christian experiences of each of these talented musicians, “Hymns and Hymn Writers of Denmark” provides the translated text of many Danish hymns.

Never let it be said that I do not scour obscure literature to bring you an unexpected review, and as I lack knowledge on hymns in general, but especially Danish hymns, this book was a prime candidate to help remedy this intolerable situation.  As I always say to myself, any subject can be fascinating as long as the authors enthusiasm shines through, so it was worth a punt on both counts, just in case.

Naturally, I am out of my depth with this book, with little foreknowledge about the Danish church or its singing traditions, I still found it interesting, especially when learning such facts as, American Lutheran hymnals contain a number of Danish entries (at the time of publishing, 1945). What more could I need as a hook to explore further? Especially since having my appetite for the region whetted with Northern Light: Norway Past and Present.

As the Catholics forbade singing in church, the Danes chose to do so at home instead, first with translations of the Latin works before composing their own. There are plenty of hymns included here, and as a form of poetry they are of interest even if you aren’t a Christian.  Some of those included, perhaps lose something in translation but as the foreword compelling states: Continue reading “Hymns and Hymn Writers of Denmark – J. C. Aaberg”

Modern Art and Old Titles

Modern art is really not my thing, however I will turn my hand to anything, and the result is about as on par with the other nonsense that graces popular galleries, so I will be accepting bids for this one starting at £20,000.

The one armed doll is a metaphor, please add appropriate £ value.

In other news, I have been gathering up the books of late and am now looking forward to reading some more eclectic and obscurer works to go with the madern titles that are more familiar.

In the future expect to see reviews for such travel books as Lord Dufferin‘s Letters from High Latitudes, more Indian works including, A History if Indian Literature, and A History of Indian Railways, thanks to our respective countries’ ties. And I’ll throw in The History of Chess for good measure.

Another geographic area that fascinates is Polynesia, so I’m pleased to have my grubby hands on Legends of Ma-ui: A Demi God of Polynesia.  And finally, to round off the southern hemisphere jaunts, and perhaps unsurprisingly I have also procured, Barangay: Sixteenth Century Philippine Culture and Society, and Looking for the Prehispanic Filipino.

My quest to vary my reading matter, and to push myself ever onward to new, fascinating, and perhaps undeservedly forgotten books will continue constantly, and I hope you will join me in these ventures, and perhaps suggest any fascinating titles you come across on your own reading journey.  The stranger, the better.

Treasure Hunting

Throughout the last week I’ve been on a quest following rabbit trails like an intrepid adventurer.  Trawling through sources, hunting for names and locations, it was an unexpectedly exhilarating romp through a wealth of riches.

Recently, I unearthed my much-prized DVD boxset of The Mysterious Cities of Gold (based on Scott O’Dell‘s novel, The King’s Fifth), which happens to be my favourite ever cartoon.  The blend of history, adventure, and an atmospheric soundtrack have stayed with me since first watching in the mid 80’s, as does the beautifully realised scenery which never fails to make me happy and in a creative mood.

Originally, the BBC cut out the mini documentaries at the end – presumably for the bits of mild nudity – which is a shame as we children watching could have been further inspired by the real history of the Conquistadors and the native peoples of South and Mesoamerica, their myths, beliefs, and culture.

Watching this again brought back many memories.  The first, the excitement of picking up the DVDs in my mid-to-late 20’s and wondering if it would be as I remembered (it was and so much more).  The surprise discovery and fascination of seeing those documentaries for the first time, which although looking very outdated, struck a chord and further encouraged me to fill out my knowledge of the subjects mentioned. Continue reading “Treasure Hunting”

Renaissance Books

Wandering around the websites of various publishers, I was delighted and a little surprised to find one of my reviews was featured on the website of Renaissance Books, hereRenaissance Books are academic publishers offering a new, robust and independent platform for peer-reviewed scholarship on Asia Pacific, in particular East Asian Studies – principally in the Humanities and Social Sciences

From the website:

Renaissance Books was established in 1996 to promote gifted, aspiring authors and books of general interest. Later, its focus moved to East-West themes relating to people, culture and way of life.

In 2015, the imprint was re-launched in order to concentrate on scholarly reference in the Humanities and Social Sciences, publishing especially in the field of East Asian Studies, notably Japan and Korea, as well as Central Asian Studies. To this end, we have launched a new peer-reviewed Renaissance Books Asia Pacific Series drawing on recognized authorities from within the region and beyond, offering a platform for comparative and interdisciplinary works on historical and cultural themes as well as those relating to contemporary issues, especially in Politics & Economics, Conflict Resolution, Globalization, NGOs, Security, Human Rights and Media Studies.

As someone interested in learning, especially in light of the proximity to the subject area in my adopted home of the Philippines (where I look forward to being later in the year again), it is a publisher that deserves a lot more attention for the body of work that they are putting out.

Northern Light: Norway Past and Present, A Critical Analysis – Nils-Johan Jørgensen

Here is a new and challenging appraisal of Norway, the author’s country of birth, that redefines its history, culture and heritage -‘after Ibsen – and looks, with a degree of ominous foreboding, at its future and the future of Europe.  Ex-diplomat and widely published author Jørgensen explores an array of topics, from Norway’s Viking pat, its pursuit of independence, the German occupation, its politics and cultural heritage, the defence of NATO, the relationship with Europe, and the challenge of Russia, concluding with ‘self-image and reality’.  In Northern Light, the author challenges many existing perceptions and stereotypes, making this an essetial reference for anyone interested in Norway and its people, international affairs, European history and its cultural legacy.

Back with another book by blog favourite Nils-Johan Jørgensen, Northern Light, much like his other nonfiction books, An Image of the Times and Four Days in January, is an insightful look at his chosen topic, which in this case is a well-rounded, authoritative insight into his country of birth. One that is not too well known on the international stage, especially considering the dramatics of other countries, but is nonetheless worthy of thorough investigation.

After the Vikings, and the discovery of America, the history books tend to go quiet when it comes to Norway, and Scandinavia in general, up until the second world war in the case of the UK education system.  This book allows for the discovery, or rediscovery, of Norway’s role in such diverse events as the Napoleonic Wars and its relationship with Russia, a nation whose shadow looms large with aggression over the whole arctic region.

A country of mystery with the Aurora Borealis, the picturesque fjords, as well as its international exploration, and being the so-called best place to live, there is so much more to uncover.  Not least its inhabitants attitudes of both isolationism yet at the same time the wish to embrace the world. Continue reading “Northern Light: Norway Past and Present, A Critical Analysis – Nils-Johan Jørgensen”

Shining a Light on Things.

Recently, I had the good fortune to yet again be sent a book from blog favourite Nils-Johan Jørgensen.  Having commenced reading briefly (due to last week being the busiest week for the university), I’m already enjoying  this a great deal and learning a lot about Norway and its history, which can only be a good thing, I do hate to be uninformed.  Full review – and others – coming soon.

UK RED

Whilst helping students get sorted for their studies, I had the good fortune to stumble upon a great resource called UK RED, that will interest anybody who has a curiosity in reading, it’s history and the myriad contexts that make up the rich fabric of our cultural experience.

From the about page:

UK RED is an open-access database housed at The Open University containing over 30,000 easily searchable records documenting the history of reading in Britain from 1450 to 1945. Evidence of reading presented in UK RED is drawn from published and unpublished sources as diverse as diaries, commonplace books, memoirs, sociological surveys, and criminal court and prison records.

UK Red captures the literary experience as told by everyday readers.  The search options are comprehensive, covering century, socio-economic group, whether the source is from a reader, listener, or reading group.  It even goes so far as to check through translations, publishers, etc.  The choices allow the reader to go deep into history for study, or just for curiosity.  The room for context of a particular book to a specific group of people at a specific time (and also the changing opinions of society over time) can be fascinating.

Poet Letitia Elizabeth Landon spoke of her experiences reading Robinson Crusoe: Continue reading “UK RED”

Where the Mind is Without Fear

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
Rabindranath Tagore

 

I had a whole mini essay on why I like this poem, sadly it got lost and  way too much time and effort went into it the first time for me to wish to write it again.  I’m sure you’ll be thinking along the same lines as myself being the esteemed and intelligent readers that you are.

*Image found at Pixabay