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”

The Lambton Worm – Terry Deary

The Lambton Worm is evil, EVIL, EVIL.  And all it needs to be set free is someone to perform one wicked act, just one bad deed.  When young John Lambton, son of Lord Lambton, defies his father and sneaks out of the castle at dawn on a Sunday morning to go fishing, he has no idea of the evil he has setting in motion.

I read this book in primary school, not that I remembered much about its contents when starting this recently, just a recollection of a protracted fight scene.  There has also been a question in my mind for years over whether I did, in fact, enjoy this book or found it plain scary.

The story is based on an old legend from County Durham, in England and dates from the 14th century, retold here for children The Lambton Worm retains the history of the story, featuring castles and also has a side story about the Crusades as well which I didn’t recall but enjoyed immensely.

The titular worm is by far the best character in the book, starting off with the thought, “Oooooh, I’m evil!”, the cartoonish nature of the beast subtly changes as it grows more powerful throughout the story.  The worm is a pitiable creature but also faintly sinister, which was the main reason I think that this book always bothered me. Continue reading “The Lambton Worm – Terry Deary”

A Suitable Quote

This quote sums up so much of what it is to be a reader, and to explore and attempt to make sense of the puzzles that books give us.  To learn and better ourselves through the chronicles of accomplishments of those before us.

“She paused by the science shelves, not because she understood much science, but, rather because she did not. Whenever she opened a scientific book and saw whole paragraphs of incomprehensible words and symbols, she felt a sense of wonder at the great territories of learning that lay beyond her – the sum of so many noble and purposive attempts to make objective sense of the world.”

East of Eden – John Steinbeck

California’s fertile Salinas Valley is home to two families whose destinies are fruitfully, and fatally, intertwined. Over the generations, between the beginning of the twentieth century and the end of the First World War, the Trasks and the Hamiltons will helplessly replay the fall of Adam and Eve and the murderous rivalry of Cain and Abel.

Like Alasdair Gray’s Lanark, there are certain books that you just know will become treasured reads even before the first page has been fully read. These special books also keep me awake at night, itching to write a review as soon as is decent and the coffee is brewed.

East of Eden is a sprawling masterpiece of a story, giving the reader far more to get their teeth into than the blurb could possibly convey, even if it were aiming to do so. Over generations the story tackles themes of revenge, love, good and evil, and a whole plethora of facets in the human condition.

Firstly, the reader is drawn in by the perfectly described landscape, and then once lovingly established, the believable and flawed set of characters is introduced.  I found myself interested in all their stories, from the side characters who rarely featured but whose fates were revealed, to the main protagonists who grew throughout the pages.  Continue reading “East of Eden – John Steinbeck”

Modern Art an the Death of Culture – H. R. Rookmaaker

This illuminating, disturbing, highly original book shows how modern art reflects a wholeculture – a dying culture. Dr Rookmaaker outlines the various steps, the decisive choices that have been made, which have led to the modern movement. But the steps have not been made in isolation from socety generally. They depend on a worldview, particualrly on the values and presuppositions of the Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, which have made our culture what it is today.

With his analysis of both well-known and lesser-known works of art, his broad understanding of contemporary cultures and sub-cultures, pop and op, happenings and hippies, jazz and beat, protest and revolution, Dr Rookmaaker builds up a message for our times which may be devestating, but is also profoundly helpful and positive. He sees above all the tremendous potential and relevence of Christian attitudes, to man, to society, to freedom, to the whole of reality, as the basis for a way ahead in the future.

It is always a pleasure to get a particular insight into art, and especially paintings that have passed my ignorant self by. Reflecting on this book, parts of it are dated yet it is an intriguing read, especially if you have your internet browser of choice handy for referencing the artwork mentioned but not shown.

Like the proverbial game of football, this is a book of two halves.  I really enjoyed the exploration of art through the ages, the way it was framed, and the stories the paintings tell, as well as those of the artists.  On the downside, there were plenty of bones of contention I had with some of Rookmaaker’s assertions when it came to religion and science.The book was first published in the 70’s, and it has dated to varying degrees.  Mainly though I spent an inordinate amount of time looking for the bit about Émile Zola, which was promised in a chapter and never appeared, which was a disappointment.

My main gripe with the author’s arguments were the plentiful attacks on science, Rookmaaker bizarrely complains that science has reduced reality to the things we can see and leaving out explanations that lack a naturalistic or rationalistic reason.  No offer of how one would test for those explanations is forthcoming, unsurprisingly. Continue reading “Modern Art an the Death of Culture – H. R. Rookmaaker”

Not Enough Women

Amelia always watches in fascination as I read, and then gets angry when she can’t turn the thick cardboard pages of her own books.  This got me thinking that much of the literature I read is by male authors, and in the future, I will be wanting to introduce Amelia to a good blend of both men and women.

Winter reading with Amelia, she made sure I was pronouncing all the words correctly.

As most of my readers are of the female variety, this is where your expertise would be greatly appreciated.  I would love some recommendations for good authors, especially beyond the women who wrote the classics.  I have a bit of list of books gathered already but would love to add to it and have a richer reading list.

I am already a huge fan of Virginia Woolf, Irène Némirovsky as well as the recently read Marguerite Yournecar, and Daphne Du Maurier, and plan to read some more Barbara Kingsolver, Dava Sobel, Eowyn Ivey, and Enid Blyton. Continue reading “Not Enough Women”

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”

Get Yourself A Free Book

Everyone loves free stuff, and what can be better than a good book bargain to take your mind off whatever is on currently on it?

I have been informed by my good friend Estelle – who runs a blog for the books of Indrajit Garai – that The Bridge of Little Jeremy, is currently on a free giveway on Amazon, which you can find at the link here.

I have also read and reviewed Indrajit’s two short story volumes, The Sacrifice,  and The Eye Opener, which I enjoyed immensely. Both of which I can happily recommend to you.

Here’s the blurb for The Bridge of Little Jeremy, check it out and indulge yourself in a story about family, the changing face of Paris, and the meaning of beauty, for absolutely no pennies.

Jeremy’s mother is about to go to prison for their debt to the State. He is trying everything within his means to save her, but his options are running out fast.

Then Jeremy discovers a treasure under Paris.

This discovery may save his mother, but it doesn’t come for free. And he has to ride over several obstacles for his plan to work.

Meanwhile, something else is limiting his time…

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”

Under the Jaguar Sun – Italo Calvino

A couple on an epicurean journey across Mexico are excited by the idea of a particular ingredient, suggested by ancient rituals of human sacrifice. Precariously balanced on his throne, a king is able only to listen to the sounds around him – sure that any deviation from their normal progression would mean the uprising of the conspirators that surround him. And three different men search desperately for the beguiling scents of lost women, from a Count visiting Madame Odile’s perfumery, to a London drummer stepping over spent, naked bodies.

Once again Italo Calvino delights with a – sadly -never completed, but ultimately rewarding collection of short stories that explore the senses, taste, hearing, and smell. Just like his other books, most notably The Castle of Crossed Destinies and Invisible Cities, Calvino‘s love of symbolism and theme is thickly lavished throughout the prose.

Each story is a pleasure to read, and all are, unsurprisingly, totally different in their execution, nevertheless each tale is filled with intensity as well as both intoxicating and sometime repulsive imagery.  It is a feast for the eyes, so in a way that sense is indeed incorporated into the book and tells its own story through the reader.

“To be sure, the palace contains some so-called historic chambers, which you would like to see again, even though they have been redone from top to bottom, to give them back the antique aspect lost with the passing years.”

Different facets of each of the senses are explored, the differing perceptions and sensations, and the thought processes which logically follow in this world of magical realism. Continue reading “Under the Jaguar Sun – Italo Calvino”