Archive for February, 2011

Maintaining people

Tuesday, 22 February 2011
Cover of "The Baby Owner's Manual: Operat...

Cover via Amazon

22. The Baby Owner’s Manual by Louis and Joe Borgenicht

I’m in two minds about this book. On the one hand the information is clear and occasionally slightly amusingly presented, with a recognition that there isn’t just one way to look after babies. On the other, I’m uncomfortable with discussing babies as if they weren’t people (the pretence is that this the manual for a newly acquired machine of some kind). Yes, it’s a joke here, but personally I feel it’s the lack of recognition of the very young as small individuals that leads to the parenting suggestions I like least. I don’t want to be my daughter’s owner, I want to be a decent mother to her. Yes, that means being in charge for the next few years, but that’s because she needs care and education to help her develop into a capable adult, and I (and DH, of course) have been given the responsibility of giving her the attention and interaction necessary to that end.

I’m probably making far too big a deal over a running joke, but there it is. As above, it’s a clear source of basic and necessary information, with stylised pictures that clearly show the given point without extraneous details. The actual advice is not too regimented, and certainly discusses options like cloth nappies and babywearing, as well as recommending breastfeeding. In the sections not specifically discussing those options, however, it does assume disposables, buggies/strollers, and even to a lesser extent bottle feeding. Still, it’s the only book I’ve seen that discussed swaddling (and has pictures showing how to do it) while admitting that not all babies like to be swaddled. (Ours certainly doesn’t.)

So for the most part I think well of this book – it does what it aims to in a clear and handy format that would be easy to read on the go. I have enough of a problem with the language, however, that it’s probably going to go back into our BookMooch inventory (that’s where we got it from), even though I am pleased to have read it.

Bird Shapes

Monday, 21 February 2011

Here are two fun little journals to bring out the artist and/or birdlover in you.

Bird Book 1 Journal cover

Bird Book 1 Journal cover

Bird Book 1 Bookmooch Journal


Bird Book 2 Bookmooch Journal

These are a pair of small booklets (each page about double the size of a credit card), on each page of which is the outline of a bird. (I’m no expert, but the shape makes me think of the small garden birds commonly seen in the British Isles.) Journallers are invited to decorate a page (or more) using that outline. (Some participants have stuck their work over the top, if inspiration didn’t involve using the given outline.) It looks like the pair have so far travelled together, though they don’t need to.

There’s been a lot of very creative work done on these already, particularly in multi-media, but there are still some blank pages too. I’ve just added these to our inventory, so they’re available at the moment.

The End of the South

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Image by spike55151 via Flickr

I should have taken my DH’s advice, and not read this while or just after our baby was sick (he’d not brought it to the hospital when I needed reading matter, but I found it when we got home). Parts of this are depressing generally, especially when the family with a baby finally have a real discussion about what’s going on.

19. On the Beach by Nevil Shute

Apparently, like several of Shute’s other novels, this quickly became a now classic film. I’ve never seen that, however, and came to the book all unknowing. For an end-of-the-world novel, this is self-aware in its difference from the more American style – here the Northern hemisphere has simply been wiped out through a series of terrorist actions by rogue states, and misunderstanding reactions by large ones, and the Southern hemisphere is suffering through really no fault of its own.

Scientifically, I don’t see that the premise here makes any sense at all – if the air of the North has been affected enough to wipe out all human and then animal life by a series of nuclear bombs in different places, why would the radiation be spreading evenly north to south? And if the air is affected, why aren’t the oceans? Still, suspending disbelief in this regard, the human psychology makes some sense, although I don’t believe there’d be as much uniformity about it as is presented here.

Basically, he has his characters, mostly Australians based in and around Melbourne, as well as a couple of US Naval crews who were in Southern waters during the short war and who  have placed themselves under Australian command, as well as all those elsewhere in Australia, South America and anywhere else that still has human population, acting fairly calmly, and happily staying in their current bases, unless there’s a job to be done elsewhere. Half of them pretend everything will continue, and plan for the future, planting gardens that they won’t be around to benefit from, while the other half party, drinking and taking any risk that takes their fancy, because it will make at most a few weeks of difference. While it’s discussed as an option, no-one comes south to them, or goes south from Melbourne, to try to survive a few days, weeks or months longer. I just don’t believe people wouldn’t try to hang on. It seems highly unlikely and defeatist to me.

Again accepting an unlikely premise, however, the novel does work. People care deeply, much as they often try to hide it, and they try to make the best of a bad lot as they go, retaining joy and dignity, as it strikes them, right to the end. I’m not convinced this is one I’ll be rereading regularly, as it can’t help but be somewhat depressing, given the storyline, but I’m not sorry to have read it at all – just thinking I should have left it for another time!

An individual list

Saturday, 19 February 2011

The thing about these lists is that there’s a lot of agreement – many of the same books just keep coming up, which is part of why I haven’t been commenting much on individual entries. Just the way this list worked out, however, there seem to be more titles that I’ve read part of, or have other things to say about, so there will be occasional comments. Not many, however. This is one I just found randomly online, and is one (seemingly well read) person’s opinion, but then so much of reading is!

As before books I’ve read are bolded, and linked if I’ve previously discussed them here, with just the author bolded if I’ve read others of their works but not this. Authors are linked haphazardly. As suggested by Yelena on last week’s list I’m going to mark where I recall having seen a film, play or other dramatisation of the book. Books You Must Read by D. J. McAdam

  1. Plato, The Republic (I read some of this as a teenager. Possibly all of it. In English translation.)
  2. Homer, The Odyssey
  3. William Shakespeare – One really must read all of Shakespeare (Perhaps, but I’m in no hurry. I’ve seen several of the plays in the theatre and some in the cinema/on television as well. I studied The Merchant of Venice, Hamlet and several sonnets in school, and have also simply read King Lear, Macbeth and The Taming of the Shrew.)
  4. Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights (A very strange book I’m in no hurry to reread, ever. I don’t recall seeing a film version.)
  5. Nathaniel Hawthorne, The House of the Seven Gables
  6. Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo
  7. Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (I may have seen a film of this, MANY years ago.)
  8. Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol (My favourite dramatisation of this probably remains Patrick Stewart’s reading, but I’ve seen others too.)
  9. Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White. (Listening to it on Craftlit at the moment.)
  10. Owen Wister, The Virginian
  11. Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment
  12. Franz Kafka, The Trial
  13. Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises
  14. James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
  15. Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (Seen this.)
  16. Herman Melville, Moby Dick (Seen this.)
  17. Edgar Allan Poe, Complete Short Stories
  18. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Collected Essays
  19. Henry David Thoreau, Walden.
  20. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings (I actually haven’t seen the recent-ish big budget films. I think they showed us the old cartoons in primary school.)
  21. Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre (Seen this on stage and screen.)
  22. Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles
  23. Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales
  24. Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
  25. Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Stage and screen.)
  26. Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (I was certainly read some of this as a child. Not sure about all of it.)
  27. Hermann Hesse, The Glass Bead Game
  28. Bram Stoker, Dracula (I don’t think I was in our school production of this, but I have seen Nosferatu!)
  29. Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels
  30. Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography
  31. Jack London, The Call of the Wild
  32. Henry James, The American
  33. Edith Wharton, Ethan Frome
  34. Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
  35. Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
  36. George Orwell, Animal Farm (The cartoon doesn’t do this justice at all.)
  37. Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon
  38. Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep
  39. P. G. Wodehouse, Carry On, Jeeves (I’ve certainly read some Jeeves, but not sure of the titles. Also seen several of the Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie television versions.)
  40. Jules Verne, A Journey to the Center of the Earth
  41. Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe
  42. Robert Louis Stevenson, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
  43. Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot
  44. Sherwood Anderson, Winesburg, Ohio
  45. Henry James, Daisy Miller
  46. E. W. Hornung, Raffles, The Amateur Cracksman
  47. Henry James, Washington Square
  48. James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson
  49. Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged.
  50. F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
  51. John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath (Studied this in school)
  52. Hermann Hesse, Demian
  53. Hermann Hesse, Steppenwolf
  54. Albert Camus, The Stranger
  55. Jack Kerouac, On the Road
  56. Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
  57. Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (Screen and possibly stage.)
  58. George Orwell, 1984
  59. Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
  60. Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
  61. Sun Tzu, The Art of War
  62. Thomas Paine, Common Sense and Other Essays
  63. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations (This was just roundly reviled by a minor character in a book, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, I’m reading at the moment. He had read it on the strong recommendation of a friend, however.)
  64. Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front (I think this is one we were supposed to study in school, but never got to.)
  65. St. Augustine, Confessions (Unlikely I’ll ever read this one, to be honest.)
  66. Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote (I started a very good translation of this, but had to give it back to the library when I moved. I should try again.)
  67. W. Somerset Maugham, The Razor’s Edge
  68. H. G. Wells, The Time Machine (Need to get to this one. I have seen the film.)
  69. Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac
  70. Sun Tzu, The Art of War
  71. Anne Rice, The Witching Hour
  72. Lee Child, Die Trying

Not sure I’m entirely consistent in my memory of some of what I read long ago, but nevermind…

Matching pasts

Friday, 18 February 2011
The Guns of the South

Image via Wikipedia

I do believe this is the first book both DH and I have read and reviewed on our respective blogs, so I will refer you to his take on this book for his discussion of its historicity, which leaves me to focus on how it worked for me as a novel. After all, I’m the first to admit that my prior knowledge of 19th Century North American history comes largely from novels and television series about it. What I remember most are John JakesNorth and South trilogy, which I saw the television series of before seeking out the books. He, having grown up in the USA, has far more knowledge of the history than I do.

18. The Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove

So, we have two main viewpoint characters in this novel, both attested real historical people, although far more is known of the one than the other. We begin with General Robert E. Lee, in charge of the Army of Northern Virginia, and alternate with one of his First Sergeants, Nate Caudell. At the opening of the novel the army is under-supplied and demoralised, up against an enemy with not only more soldiers, food and weapons, but far more technologically advanced equipment as well, and Lee as their commander is thoroughly aware of the fact.

He is approached by a strangely dressed and unrecognisably accented man who offers him weapons far better than anything available anywhere, in vast numbers at a nominal price and despite some qualms about what this gift horse might be hiding in its mouth, sees some hope for his cause, the right to self-determination of his beloved state of Virginia. As the fortunes of the Confederate States of America dramatically change, both his hopes and his fears in the new situation are validated, and he is inescapably drawn into politics and nation-building, even when the direction his conscience takes him is completely opposite to the desires of his strange new friends of the AWB.

Both Lee and Caudell, neither of whom fight on a principle of keeping slavery, but rather through loyalty to their respective states (Virginia and North Carolina), gradually grow less and less enamoured of the behaviour and arrogance of the AWB and more and more convinced that an end to slavery must come – Lee because he feels this is the way his new country must go if it is to receive any respect in the community of nations, and Caudell (who was never well-paid enough to be a slave-owner, even had he wished so to be) because his horizons are widened in the war, and he sees that given the opportunity to be so, Negroes are just as good soldiers and men as anyone else. (To simplify vastly in both cases.) Through these two perspectives, as well as the view of people around these two, we are shown how some attitudes and people can change.

While the AWB men are thoroughly evil, with it being made clear although thankfully not generally shown in graphic detail that besides their supremacist ideology at least some of them are complete sadists happy to take advantage of their new ability in the past to own, control and hurt others, we are also shown that some of them at least do actually believe wholeheartedly in the supremacist position. I don’t personally see this as a redeeming feature, although I think the lack of hypocrisy is supposed to be one for at least one of the vilest characters. It is their inability to change, or to allow the Confederacy to be other than what they wanted which is ultimately their downfall, but that downfall comes at a great cost in lives of all sides.

As a novel this works, and certainly I think we can all hope that even if the US Civil War had ended with two nations rather than one that slavery would still have ended shortly thereafter. Who in sanity can but be glad that’s officially gone? Now for the world to work to rid us of all forms of slavery in modern fact as well.

Finding yourself at home

Thursday, 17 February 2011
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Image by Timothy Valentine via Flickr

I had heard of this book, but never had the chance to read it, until someone I got in touch with on BookMooch found out I have a family connection to Guernsey, and recommended it. I am really grateful to her!

21. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

So I still haven’t written up numbers 18 and 19 on the booklist, because of their topics of war and destruction, and yet I really enjoyed this book, even though it’s decidedly set in the aftermath of war and destruction. This is an epistolary novel, and I wonder might that have something to do with it – people are telling others what happened, and there’s a certain level of reserve and protection involved, although at least some of the horrors of Nazi occupation and the concentration camps are shown clearly.

The novel is set in (or at least the letters are from) 1946 in London (with a brief tour of the British mainland) and Guernsey, where lives are being rebuilt after the horrors of war. Juliet Ashton is enjoying the success of a book based on the newspaper columns she wrote during the war, but not at all sure what she’s going to write about next, when she somewhat randomly receives a letter from a Guernsey-man who has bought second-hand a book she had sold a duplicate copy of. She is intrigued by his mentioning the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and its coming “into being because of a roast pig we had to keep secret from the German soldiers” during the island’s Occupation and continues the correspondence both with him and other Society members. She also continues to correspond with old friends and others, and we are thus given a fairly rounded picture both of her and the Society.

I laughed out loud at several points, and cried a couple of times. The voices are distinguished (some more than others, but there’s a level of realism in that) and believable, and the characters are worth caring about (even the ones we might love-to-hate). Considering the lack of contact between the Channel Islands and Britain during WWII itself, the level of explanations required for the modern reader without specific local knowledge of the history is reasonable, and eye-opening. Another area for me to look into the ‘real’ history!

This is one I’m pretty sure I’ll be rereading more than once.

Busted Beat

Wednesday, 16 February 2011


Cover of Cloud Busting

Cover of Cloud Busting

54. Cloud Busting by Malorie Blackman


Like Heartbeat by Sharon Creech, which I discussed here a couple of years ago, this is told in first person poetry. The topics (beyond the obvious growing in maturity, since both are about young adolescents) are quite different, however. This is a bullying story with a bit of a difference, since it’s told by a guilty ex-bully who in many ways feels he’s got off too lightly.

I’ve given a fair bit away, here, but it’s a very good book and well worth the read.

Water works

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

I haven’t been listening to the current book on Forgotten Classics, but I did enjoy the previous one.

Original cover of The Riddle of the Sands

Original cover of The Riddle of the Sands

41. The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers

I had certainly heard of Childers before Julie read this book, but hadn’t read anything of his; I hadn’t realised he pioneered the spy novel like this. Since I don’t think she’d mentioned it I’d forgotten that he ended up an Irish nationalist, and hadn’t realised until I just read the Wikipedia article linked above just how complicated his allegiences to Britain and Ireland were. I might have to look for a decent biography of the man.

What Julie did explain in some detail was the political relevance and then impact the novel had on British Naval and other military preparations for the (then potential) upcoming conflicts with Germany, which really wasn’t very far away by sea. (RofS was first published in 1903.) While there’s certainly a clear message coming across about the value and importance of covert knowledge of what’s going on in other nations (especially enemies or possible ones) at a time when spying was seen as underhand and not something for gentlemen to take part in, the story is not lacking, and most of the characters come across well.

As someone who’s done a fair bit of sailing (all but one voyage in dinghies, however, although that voyage was aboard the Asgard II, the Irish sail training vessel actually named after Erskine’s own Asgard) I quite enjoyed and appreciated the technical details, although apparently some just saw that as a bit of a necessary evil. I do have to wonder how much of the same geographical and sailing knowledge Childers displays in this book is what he used when gun-running in Asgard

In memory of Asgard II.

Happy days

Monday, 14 February 2011

While my baby’s still sick (although out of hospital) I don’t feel like discussing novels of death and destruction, so for the first time I’m going to skip around in the 2011 reading list and go straight to a fun and friendly children’s book.

Cover of Here Comes Charlie Moon

Cover of Here Comes Charlie Moon

20. Here Comes Charlie Moon by Shirley Hughes

I’ve been looking out for some of Hughes’ beautiful books for very young children, but came across this novel of hers first, and thought I’d see what it’s like. I’d expected illustrations, and in fact every single page of this chapter book has a unique and appropriate picture at the top, but the story isn’t bad either.

Charlie Moon lives with his Mum in a big city, and to save him being bored underfoot over the summer, she sends him to stay with his Auntie Jean, who runs a joke shop in a Welsh seaside resort, Penwyn Bay. His older cousin Ariadne (12 years old to his 10) is similarly staying with their aunt, and while the two wind each other up a bit they’re really very good companions and then friends. Neither Auntie Jean nor her neighbour and ex-colleague Carlo Cornetto are doing all that well at their tourism-based businesses, since the other end of the bay is where the modern attractions are, but Charlie and Ariadne still manage to make themselves some friends, foil the local bullies, and help to revive their Auntie’s and Mr Cornetto’s businesses through a series of quite plausible adventures.

At a guess, this’d be a good one for 8-12 year olds to read themselves (boys or girls), and good for reading aloud so long as everyone’s close enough to see the line drawings, which aren’t all that large.

Home again!

Sunday, 13 February 2011

I’ve done remarkably little reading over the four days till yesterday. It’s not like we did much of anything else, either – I didn’t even get online once! This is because my baby daughter rather unexpectedly ended up in hospital, and while they got her on the road to recovery within a few hours, she needed hospital treatment until yesterday morning, so they let her out yesterday evening. (Yesterday’s post was pre-scheduled, as we’d expected to be with friends for the weekend.)

Anyway, she’s much better now, and we’re getting used to being home again and catching up with email, laundry and life generally. I’ll aim for a real blogpost tomorrow. I’m still going to participate in PostADay2011, with the aim now being to get in at least 300 posts this year. Hoping for no more health scares…