Archive for July, 2008

Boys’ ideas of right and wrong

Thursday, 31 July 2008

223. Tom Brown’s School Days by Thomas Hughes

I actually began reading this a few weeks ago, but didn’t get into it, and then found this very good reading of it among Librivox’ newly catalogued works. I’m guessing the lone reader may have had a bit of a public school education himself – he certainly seemed very comfortable reading the quotations in Greek and Latin.

Once the story gets going it’s a very good one, describing Tom Brown’s time at Rugby and his growth there, in company with his friends Arthur and East, and under the supervision of The Doctor. I read Hughes’ preface to the 6th edition as describing it mostly as a polemic against bullying, and while that is an important issue I think there is rather more going on. Hughes is very open about recommending a whole moral code to his intended readership of (public) school boys of his time, from a particular Victorian view of Englishness, boyhood and Christianity. I wouldn’t espouse it all myself, by any means, but I can see that he ties it together, and justifies whatever he sees as being at all non-mainstream. He is very strongly against bullying, in all its forms, and sees it as a trait to be stopped early (often through corporal punishment) or never.

The volume I have also includes Tom Brown at Oxford, which I’m looking forward to reading, now that I’ve got interested in the characters and how they are progressing. Will Tom’s moral compass hold true as he is exposed to new ideas? Indeed, how much will he be?

Over in Niccolo Rising, chapter 5, Claes, Felix and their friends are also showing their ability to cause large amounts of mischief without malice (we hope).

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Wednesday, 30 July 2008

DSCF0425
My platelets donation went perfectly today! We tried the right arm, since the left has been problematic for about a year, and even though the vein is not ideal, it’s evidently better than the scarred left one, with a bit of care.

Luna is getting very excited about exploring Europe, but her Travelling Teddy group isn’t ready to start yet [go sign up!] so she came out with me for the day. She was a bit scared for me, as Moon Bears get horribly mistreated in the extraction of their bodily fluids (bile) for human benefit, but in contrast, human blood/component donors have a choice, have their own health as paramount in the process, are not caged or shackled and are very well treated, rather than horribly abused.
Luna bear outside the Blood Donor Centre
Anyway, Luna got a sticker for coming along, and if any of the visiting teddies are here when I go next, in a month, they can come and get one too. (Only those would say ‘Auntie’, not ‘Mum’.) They will not be asked to donate themselves! Luna also finally got to model her rucksack for completed display.

From the Blood Donor Centre we went to the shopping centre, to see was anything left in the yarn sale at John Lewis and there was…

We got a book of crochet patterns for small people, and some yarn. Only a representative sample of the yarn is in the photo (in the interests of me not getting told off for buying 22 balls of a colour – the orangey one – that doesn’t even look good on me) but I do have tentative plans for it, and I love the yarn. (I’ve used other colours of it.)

Also in the picture is the American crochet magazine WHSmith seem to have begun stocking, as I obviously need to encourage this trend, and the lap blanket I finally finished! I got it to the last 6 inches of the edging by the time we had to leave where we have our knit/crochet group, but I did those on the walk home. Tomorrow should be a great time to visit the intended recipient, and even though it won’t be so much use in the current summer weather, I think she’ll like to get it at last. She’s probably forgotten I was even making it for her after all this time!

And I threw my current copy of Niccolo Rising in as well. Chapter 4 hasn’t got me any closer to working out which grudges are personal yet, and which have history as well as current provocation behind them.

Lacking Pity

Monday, 28 July 2008

222. Miracle Ride by Tzipi Caton

I’ve read this cover to cover in a few short hours this evening, and feel like I’ve learnt something from it, although I hope I already knew not to be quite so pushy and/or judgemental as some of the people ‘Caton’ (the book is written under a pseudonym, with some names/details changed for privacy) is confronted by. (It’s a good thing I already hated both the word and the concept of ‘nebach‘. Completely unhelpful, in my opinion.)

This book is a rewritten version, including some later perspective, of her journal of the year from when she first noticed her lymph nodes were enlarged, aged just sixteen, through diagnosis (Hodgkin’s lymphoma), treatment, and trying to get back to normal life afterwards, but then discovering that she just isn’t quite the same person she was beforehand, and can’t do things in the same way, following the same track as her classmates. While their troubles and stresses for the most part still are the latest test by an unsympathetic teacher, she cannot fully relate while dealing with debilitating treatments, friends (of friends) dying, and the side-effects of powerful drugs. It’s a powerful tale, that has some strong lessons for the people around those going through life-testing situations, the Orthodox Jewish community in particular, and for those dealing with teenage girls in general. Baruch Hashem I amn’t qualified to judge its value for those actually going through such situations, but I don’t doubt it would have a high one.

Otherwise, it’s still hot (this weather was supposed to break days ago) and I’m still hardly crocheting. The Braille is progressing, however, and as I type and read words I keep semi-consciously working out which contractions they would include!

Niccolo Rising chapter three: Poor (unmarried) Katelina is going to regret repeating something she should never have been told…

Close to home

Sunday, 27 July 2008

I want my crocheting inspiration back! I’m too hot to work with anything big, but I amn’t getting on with the small projects either.

220. Memoir of Jane Austen by James Edward Austen-Leigh

I still amn’t clear as to how much time the author of this memoir personally spent with his aunt, but he does quote several other members of the family, as well as letters and other documents, throughout the account. There is a definite 19th Century style, but I enjoyed listening, and now appreciate more of where Jane Austen was coming from as a novelist, which is presumably the point. There are several readers through the book, but they are all quite reasonable, and some very good.

221. Moonfleet by John Meade Falkner

Somewhere among my childhood books should be a copy of this (although it probably originally belonged to one of my parents), but I don’t think I got very far with it then. I’ve enjoyed it this time, however, although I think many of the morals and ethics apparently learned by the young hero, and indeed generally espoused by the protagonists, are … interesting.

Not, I suppose, that one couldn’t say the same for the protagonists of Niccolo Rising. Chapter 2 had me landing on a line that I wish could have been true, throughout the series, even if it is possible here, both for the character who says it and for those around him: “‘We will have care in the future. We did nothing with malice, nor ever will.'” It seems to me now that much of what goes wrong later on is because they forget or ignore these principles. (Which isn’t to take away the blame from those who act consistently with malice.)

Beginning Again

Sunday, 27 July 2008

I’ve just reread the first chapter of Niccolo Rising by Dorothy Dunnett, and since most of my ‘reviews’ of books here are my reactions rather than real explanatory reviews, I am wondering about interspersing those with more of a read-along (even if it is on my own) with points worth noting every chapter or so. I would try to avoid the blatant spoilers, but it might be hard sometimes.

Now you’re going to say, what kind of spoilers can there be in a discussion of the very first chapter of a book, series, double-series? Well, it’s more because this is a reread, and Dunnett is an absolute mistress of foreshadowing, unseen hints, and historical reference, and my thoughts tend to go off to points that won’t seem relevant for those who don’t know the books yet. (Which is all my way of saying to go warily if you don’t, and dislike spoilers. There is one of my normal reviews of another book below.) I amn’t convinced I can actually read it slow enough to do this, so you may hear no more until the end of the book, but we shall see.

Anyway, Venice, Cathay, Seville and the Gold Coast of Africa. The series definitely goes to the first and last of those, and although I don’t recall precisely I’m sure gets close to Seville, but I don’t think it goes to Cathay. I do love Dunnett’s opening lines, however, and could probably identify most of them.

We get introduced to Julius, Felix, Claes, Bishop Kennedy, Katelina, a Florentine, Anselm Adorne, and Simon, and to my amusement, amongst all the action, I noticed for the first time that Claes allows/encourages a dog to do its business all over Simon’s crest.

I got to thinking about just how many characters in the Niccolo and Lymond books have questions raised, for readers, themselves, other characters, or a combination, about their parentage. Mothers, fathers and children very often do not all know each other for certain, or acknowledge each other if they do. Siblings too. Off the top of my head the questioned children are/include: Claes, Lymond, Eloise, Marthe, Kuzum, Khareddin, Henry, Jordan, Anna, Bonne, Julius. I haven’t forgotten the one that is brought into question (question then answered, of course) right at the end of Checkmate, but that really might be a spoiler. As soon as it’s relevant we generally learn that there is a question over the others. Have I missed any?

219. The Bamboo Cradle by Avraham Schwartzbaum

A much quicker reread, this, but also worth getting back to, for its interest and inspirational value. Dr Schwartzbaum writes honestly and interestingly, allowing for the changes in his own opinions and beliefs through the course of his family’s story; this is the deservedly one of the classics of modern Jewish biographies.

Simply put, an American academic couple on a visiting placement to universities in Taiwan, find themselves sudden parents to an abandoned baby, and once back in America find their desire to bring her into their own religion of Judaism brings them fully into it themselves.

End of term

Friday, 25 July 2008

I think I need a holiday as much from sorting out the end of term stuff as from the term itself! I’m looking forward to sleeping and reading over Shabbos, and getting some crochet in on Sunday. We have a couple more days next week, but the end of the tunnel is in view…

A good weekend to all!

A blurred view

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

My bag is remarkably empty of crochet projects at the moment (I purged it of the four I had been carrying around, but evidently went too far) so now that Luna’s bag is well and truly finished I began a log cabin style table mat from the same string. If I don’t fall asleep first I’ll take and add some pictures once I finish writing this entry.

216. Women’s Costume of the Ancient World by Paul Louis de Giafferri

This book is a great idea, pulled together (so far as I could tell) from extant murals, statues, bas-reliefs and so on of a few thousand years ago. The problem for me is the ‘flowiness’ of many of the costumes. I don’t believe images of wild Bacchante tell us how women actually dressed. But this is a very impressive collection indeed.

217. London: The Panoramas by Mark Denton

Fabulous photographs of London on the larger but still human. I really enjoyed the section at the end with brief notes on each photo. Denton appears to prefer long exposures which turn movement ghostly. I especially like the Impressionist appearance of “Autumn, Tavistock Square” and “Horsechestnut, Thames Path” which both show leaves in a blaze of colour. The Tavistock Square one features several people sitting reading on park benches, so they are all in focus, not having moved particularly, but the branches overhead were evidently swaying in a wind, and float as a beautiful mass through the air.

218. Great Lives: Marie Curie by Philip Steele

A very important woman whose family devoted themselves to the greater good. The science you need to know is explained clearly, and there’s lots of context on the state of women’s education and the changing political status of the countries Curie lived in. (And yes, the ‘Great Lives’ moniker is backed up rather than argued against in this instance.)

Future Travels

Monday, 21 July 2008

Luna the Moon Bear (teddy)
So I told you I’ve signed up for Travelling Teddy number 2, where one teddy is visiting 15 of us around the world. That teddy is already at his first host, and I’m looking forward to greeting him in a few weeks.

I’ve also now signed up for round 7, which is a group round, where ten of us around Europe are due to each send our teddy representative around the group and around the continent. I’m thinking Luna, here, will be the one to go. I’m about halfway through making her rucksack (how does one travel without a rucksack?); I’ve made the back itself, but still have the button and straps to fit and make.

The actual travelling this round may not begin until September, because of participants being abroad themselves in August. There are still spaces in the round, so go sign up!
Luna the Moon bear (teddy) and her crocheted bag
I hadn’t thought of the fact that an ecru bag won’t photograph well against a black bear, which is why you’re getting two photos. Unfortunately I don’t get the opportunity to take my pics in natural daylight all that often, which would help.

So far Luna’s not due to go to Scotland, so far as I know (although she’d love to) but I should go again someday, and in the meantime I’m reading up.

213. Step-Up Geography: Scotland by Alan Rodgers and Angella Streluk

This covers the physical geography of the country, both internally and in relation to the rest of the British Isles, and then the social and political impact that physical state had and has, as well as the modern impact of history.

214. Step-Up History: Famous Scots by Rhona Dick

The book isn’t bad, but I don’t like it so much as the rest of the series. Many of the featured Scots seem rather arbitrarily chosen, and I either wanted more information or rather less on each. That’s just my opinion, of course.

215. Step-Up History: Robert Bruce by Rhona Dick

I’m a novel reader at heart, and must admit that the thing that struck the greatest chord for me in this book was the context and explanation of the Declaration of Arbroath, as quoted by Jamie Fraser in A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon. I did once upon a time mention Bruce in a project I did for school, but only in the context of a family story, and had to be corrected (before the project was in) as to his first name being Robert. Having this book then might have spared me some blushes! Better late than never, I suppose…

Women’s Lives

Sunday, 20 July 2008

I want to pay tribute to a wonderful woman who I hadn’t seen in a couple of years, and who I have just discovered I will not get to meet again, but who will retain a special place in my memory and heart. For privacy I won’t say more than that, but I’ll be thinking of her and the rest of the family.

209. Brain Waves by Shuli Mensh

There are a few parallels with Fortune Seekers, that I read about a month ago, with lawyers to potentially hook up (okay, so that doesn’t happen till the end of either book, but it’s fairly obvious that it will in both cases, so I amn’t giving much away) and memories to make sense of, but they are quite different stories. This one uses the classic scenario of a character losing her memory and having to find herself, with the changes that makes in her, but it has been thought through and researched, and does not deserve the groan that was my first reaction to the event.

210. Emma Brown by Clare Boylan

The first two chapters of this are from an unfinished manuscript by Charlotte Bronte, put aside upon the latter’s marriage, apparently. Boylan has done very well at keeping the same authorial voice going throughout the book, but there is a part of me that thinks Bronte would never have been as explicit over certain issues as Boylan is. On the other hand, Bronte’s original readers might have been better at reading between the lines than most of us are today.

The eponymous heroine of this novel has nearly as many monikers as one of Dorothy Dunnett‘s heroes, but they are generally not of her own choosing, and this story is not quite as complex as one of Dunnett’s sagas, either. Emma Brown is another to have lost her prior memories, leading her on her own quest for identity and home, with an annoying habit of truth-to-her-own-detriment that takes her away from those who wish to help her and into a series of dangerous situations. In the meantime, those who have been trying to help her get in each others’ way. I’m making this sound a farce, and it really isn’t – it’s very well written, and in many ways a satisfying tale – I just amn’t sure Boylan has given herself a plausible task.

Don’t get me wrong; she has written a great book that suits the manuscripts she worked from, but in the notes at the end she explains that it is Bronte’s apparent developing interest in social commentary and the condition of poor young women in London that she is trying to live up to. Perhaps Bronte did want to write a political novel, in what is now the tradition of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Charles Dickens or Anna Sewell, that would draw the attention of those who could bring change, but what is the point in writing such a work now, about a situation that no longer exists?

Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Oliver Twist etc. and Black Beauty are all classics that are most definitely worth reading nowadays, for their literary merit as well as for the opportunity to learn the wrongs of the past to prevent their repitition today, but they were written for their own time, not for now.

But that’s my only real complaint about Emma Brown, and I’d still say it’s a good read.

211. Extreme Motherhood by Jackie Clune

This one could be said to be social commentary, I suppose, but mostly I reread it because the author is a stand-up comedian who can also write funnily. I’ll have to see has she written any books other than this diary of the year from discovering she was expecting triplets to their first word (maybe) as I expect it’d be worth the read.

212. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Alcott definitely did have social commentary and change in her sights when she wrote. Heather on Craftlit is going straight from this into Good Wives as LW part 2, but I always read them as two separate books, along with their sequels Little Men and Jo’s Boys, so that’s how I’ll be listing them. I’ve read them countless times, of course, but it’s always good to get Heather’s commentary, and sometimes I can appreciate that more when I know the context of what is to come later in the story as well. She got podcast listeners to rerecord several of the chapters instead of using them from Librivox, so that’s another reason to go for the Craftlit version.

People!

Thursday, 17 July 2008

I was out late last night, and didn’t put the computer on once I did get home, so no post and not much crocheting. (I have finished Syd Rabbit’s tummy, but not attached it yet.)

The books I have to discuss have no unifying theme at all, that I can think of. Any suggestions?

206. Great Lives: Mao Zedong by Fiona MacDonald

This is the point where I wonder at the series being entitled “Great Lives”, when the book ends up being pretty negative about Mao as a person and national leader. I suppose they really meant “Influential Lives” or some such. (I’ve only actually so far read this and the Gandhi one I mentioned a couple of days ago, although I know there’s one on Saladdin, among several others. It’ll be interesting to see what judgement is made on him.)

Anyway, Mao is certainly portrayed as influential in his middle and later career, but also egotistical, domineering and murderous. It’s got pictures, quotes, context and dates, and is an interesting read. I have recently read one or two books about modern Chinese life (although not politics/leadership specifically) but nothing really about the country’s history since Wild Swans, well over a decade ago. Another major topic to explore further!

207. The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

A great fun novel, with thoughtful characters who have interesting and amusing adventures, without shying away from the darker side of life, even in a country apparently as wonderful as Botswana. I have heard episodes of the radio dramatisation of the series before, but I enjoyed the book more, and look forward to getting to the rest of the series.

208. Reaching the Stars by Ruchoma Shain

Shain writes as well about her own life as about her father’s, although this is a quite different book from All For the Boss. This is much more of an anthology of her memories and those of her many students in different contexts and continents, and of very different ages, as well as tips and thoughts on being an educator and guide to life, as well as the timetabled class. I enjoyed it, but would be far more likely to return to her first book than this one.