Posts Tagged ‘autobiography’

Post Shavuot catch-up

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Well, I didn’t finish the dress I’m making DD, so she wore some existing clothes for Shavuot (and was proclaimed very cute when we went out for lunch today). I finally just now got around to adding five books to the reading list from the past few weeks, only the last of which was actually finished today. I’m looking forward to talking about some of them here, at least, and will try to do at least one review tomorrow.

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Down the side of the bed

Monday, 16 May 2011
The Speed of Dark

Image via Wikipedia

I read in bed quite a lot. It’s something I’ve always done, and it goes together quite well with a baby who doesn’t like to sleep without a parent next to her. I usually have a few on the go, piled on the top corner of the bed (in a corner of the room) and occasionally one or two fall down the side, from where I fish them out as I realise they’re missing. The bed got jogged out of place this morning, however, and when I went to retrieve the avalanche I realised that there were a few older escapees. To be unnoticed as missing these were ones I hadn’t actually got into, and sometimes hadn’t even started, but had just thought might be interesting. Anyway, I thought I’d list them here, with comments on how I’m getting on with them. (The order is just as they were piled.)

The ones I really wasn’t reading will probably go back on the shelf for now, but renoticing them has got me intrigued by some of them again. Watch this space to see which ones make it to the ‘Read’ lists…

The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon

Unstarted, although it looks interesting. Looks a bit different from the other science-fiction I’ve been reading of late.

Cover of

Cover of Farewell, My Queen

Farewell, My Queen by Chantal Thomas

About three-quarters of the way through this novel of the last days French royal court in July 1789, and enjoying it quite a lot.

Cover of "The Green Flag: A history of Ir...

Cover via Amazon

The Green Flag: A History of Irish Nationalism by Robert Kee

While this officially covers the history right from the 12th century it really picks up the detail from the mid-17th century. I’m up to the late 18th century, approaching but not yet at the 1798 rebellion.

The Little Girl Book by David Laskin and Kathleen O’Neill

A rather different approach to a parenting book than I’ve come across before, this discusses the complicated issue of bringing up little girls while negotiating the stereotypes and sexism of our societies. The book was published in 1992, so still seeing how it stands up two decades later to my own opinions. Definitely interesting, though.

Cover of "Byzantium Endures"

Cover of Byzantium Endures

Byzantium Endures by Michael Moorcock

The two or three chapters I’ve read of this so far are decidedly odd. I’ll give it more time gradually and hope it grabs my attention. I wasn’t enjoying it all that much, and yet it was somewhat compelling.

Cover of "PEOPLE OF DARKNESS"

Cover of PEOPLE OF DARKNESS

People of Darkness by Tony Hillerman

I got side-tracked from the Hillerman books, but will get back to them. (I’d better, seeing as I ordered the entire set on Bookmooch!) I’d read a chapter or so of this one, but would probably restart from the beginning.

The Sea Wolf by Jack London

I haven’t read any London since I was seven, and read White Fang in one sitting (staying with my grandparents I picked it up off their shelves to sustain me through a long morning meeting of my grandmother’s). I’m still in the introduction here, and I hadn’t realised what a fascinating life the author himself had.

Cover of How I Came West

Cover of How I Came West

How I Came West, and Why I Stayed by Alison Baker

A rather bizarre collection of often fantastical (but always so far set in modern-day USA) stories that I’m enjoying so long as I read each story in a single sitting, as they can be hard to keep track of after a break.

I don’t think I’ve read a collection of stories that was neither from one of the orthodox Jewish publishers nor aimed at children in an absolute age. (These are definitely not for children, although not crude, just for adults.) I’m enjoying the different perspective, and wondering why the general market avoids them so much.

Med Ship by Murray Leinster

I think this is a compilation of a lot of stories and novellas Leinster set in the same universe, but which aren’t always about the same characters, but I’m not far enough in to be sure.

Cover of China WitnessChina Witness by Xinran

More academic in its feel than the other books by Xinran I’ve read, this offers a very broad sweep of 20th century experience in China, as told by the survivors and thrivers of that period, an apparently reticent and now elderly generation. Each chapter, about a different person or small group, is relatively short, and tends to leave me wanting more, but that’s not a bad thing.

Wisdom of the Fox by Harry Turtledove

I don’t know why I haven’t got into this, seeing as I’ve been enjoying Turtledove’s alternate histories so much. I think I wasn’t really in the mood for what appeared to be more classic fantasy. I’ll try again at some point.

Cover of Wild Swans

Cover of Wild Swans

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang

The first book about Chinese history I read. That was as a teenager, shortly after it first came out, and with all the Xinran I’ve been reading I thought I should go back to this one too. I’m picking up on details I certainly hadn’t remembered, partly because I’m older and partly because I do know a bit more about China now and can make more sense of what was going on (not that it’s badly explained in the book, but there’s only so much context a writer can be expected to give). Still looking for other modern writers on the country.

Not miserable

Friday, 18 March 2011

Here’s a book I almost certainly wouldn’t have read if it hadn’t been for BookMooch. Basically I wanted to get something from someone in another country who wanted at least two to send here, and this looked the most potentially interesting of the remaining inventory.

Cover of Evelyn

Cover of Evelyn

38. Evelyn by Evelyn Doyle

Honestly, when I looked at this book it looked like one of those misery memoirs that have become so popular over the last few years but that don’t appeal to me at all. The first few chapters didn’t dispel that notion, since the maternal care provided to Evelyn and her five younger brothers is entirely neglectful and just appalling. However she really doesn’t wallow in that, and is quite positive about the convent care she received, and never negative about that of her brothers (who were in an entirely different establishment many miles away), which considering all the child abuse scandals laid on the Catholic Church and its institutions in Ireland and elsewhere was almost a surprise! Here it’s the Irish state policy (heavily influenced by the Church hierarchy) that are seen to be at fault, and which are battled by Evelyn’s father, to an eventual change in practice and legislation.

The book was apparently made into a film, which I’ve never seen but which doesn’t sound all that accurate to the book.

Past and present

Saturday, 22 January 2011

NaBloPoMo Jan2011I thought I might have a new book for the reading list and to discuss here already, but I haven’t quite finished it, so here’s another catch-up from 2010. Far less frustrating than that current novel, which I’m literally only reading the second half off to discuss here!

Cover of Frogspawn and Floor Polish

Cover of Frogspawn and Floor Polish

62. Frogspawn and Floor Polish by Mary Mackie

I assumed I must have discussed this book here before, but apparently I actually hadn’t reread it in the past three years. It’s part of a trilogy discussing the author’s experiences living at Felbrigg Hall, a National Trust property her husband Chris Mackie was working at and then managing.

Like the others it is both informative and amusing, with a few laugh-out-loud moments. As a former long-term National Trust member, it’s decidedly interesting to find out more of the behind-the-scenes action, and the lives still lived at these properties we mostly only see as day visitors, trying to get a taste of what went on there in the past.

Despite all my intentions I never did get out to Felbrigg itself, not having any other reason to go in that direction, but I much enjoyed the NT sites in and around London, and previously York, when I was living there. If we lived in the UK I’d probably be a member still.

But back to this book. While I believe all three of the series were written after the Mackies left Felbrigg, this third is the one that’s really set after they left, with much discussion of their later visits back, and reminiscences of their own time there. This makes it possibly more episodic than the others, although I don’t call that a fault.

Well recommended for anyone who enjoys gentle humour, background looks at public places, or National Trust members generally!

300!

Friday, 28 November 2008

Well, I’ve made it, and any more books I add to the list are now bonuses. Maybe we can aim for 365 (not a leap year) in 2009. Or perhaps I should just do a bit more work on the masters instead…

I haven’t even told you that Reginald and Holzmichel (the latest Travelling Teddies) have been here a week already, because I can’t show them to you. I’d be less frustrated by this if there were actually something wrong with the camera, and it wasn’t that I’ve still not found the charging cable…

Anyway, this is about the books:

296. Into the Fire by Miriam Walfish

In World War I East End London, a group of Orthodox Jewish boys about to be conscripted decide to join up together as a group of Pals, who could thus stay together and support each other religiously through their training and service. We are reminded that these are just boys by the other plot about an orphaned child in Salonika, who despite the war wants to make his way to England where his only surviving relatives live.

297. Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi

I was actually disappointed by this classic. One of my main childhood memories of the long car journies to and from my grandparents during the December school holidays is always stopping in the same village, and going to the same craft shop, where they always had a video of Disney’s film of Pinocchio playing, over and over again. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it from start to finish, but I must have seen all of the scenes many times. So, I thought it would be good to read the original now. (To be fair, the original is in Italian, and this edition doesn’t even say who their translator was, so it’s possible the adaptation is responsible for some of the faults I’m about to describe. If I’d enjoyed it more, I might try reading one of the English translations on Project Gutenberg, but I amn’t inspired enough to do that now.)

I think the main thing that annoyed me is the lack of continuity. The first example of this I noted (and one of the slightest) is that near the beginning we’re told Pinocchio doesn’t have ears; a few pages later his smile is so wide it reaches his ears, and then a few chapters later he’s being pulled along by his ears. The timeframes mentioned don’t match up either. I suppose a lot of this has to do with Collodi having (according to the Wikipedia link about him above) originally published this as a newspaper serial, and honestly, it reads like an oral saga, where the individual tales all concern the same characters, and interrelate, but were never really meant to all be told together, or be held to each other’s details.

But this may be a rare case of the film being better than the original book, and I don’t plan on seeing the film to check does it live up to my memories!

298. The Midnight Fox by Betsy Byars

This book, about the quiet indoor son of two very outdoorsy parents, who is sent to stay on his aunt and uncle’s farm while his parents go on a cycling holiday, and hates it until he comes across a rare black fox, made me think of another childhood memory, but this time a book I read over and over. A Family of Foxes, by Eilís Dillon, first taught me that foxes come in colours other than red and tells of some far more hardy island boys from a place where the phrase “cute as a fox” is only negative (meaning “cunning”, not “sweet”!). In both books the boys attempt to protect the unusual foxes from adult detection and thus slaughter, and have to overcome moral quandaries to do so. I think I still prefer my childhood read, but this one is good too.

299. A World of a Difference by Elisheva Mintzburg

This is a really well-written autobiography (although I believe the names have been changed for privacy), and a very interesting tale. The author describes her life, and how she came to convert to Judaism, with the steps along the way. She explains the steps and qualms along the way, and how this was right for her, with the help and the hindrances she received.

300. King of the Cloud Forests by Michael Morpurgo

And number 300. I had always thought of Morpurgo as a writer of realist fiction, but here he verges onto the fantastic, and perhaps because it isn’t what I had expected from him, I wasn’t as convinced as I might have been. The beginning made me expect one set of issues, but then that really wasn’t what the book ended up being about at all. So not my favourite of his canon, but it won’t put me off reading others.

Booking Time

Friday, 17 October 2008

I don’t feel like I’m getting much actually done that I’m aiming for these days. I’m pottering along, doing bits and pieces, but nothing seems to get to measurable levels. Perhaps I’m being affected with the malaise I’ve been trying to help others through, of barely meeting already extended assignment due dates. I haven’t done so much for them, and now I’m waiting in fear for my own, rather than ensuring I won’t be late.

So perhaps it will help to remind myself that I have actually read some good books (even if they aren’t the ones my course requires!) from cover to cover. (We’ll forget that I’m two or three weeks behind my aim of one per day this year.)

The first three are all audiobooks (from Librivox) that I listened to while preparing for the Yomim Tovim, while the second three are Jewish books I read during those festivals.

265. High Adventure: A Narrative of Air Fighting in France by James Norman Hall

I would say this book lives up to the enthusiasm expressed by its Librivox reader. Hall was an American volunteer airman in the French forces in World War 1 (he went before the USA became involved) and is a most interesting raconteur of his experiences, from arriving in France without knowing any of the language, to his dodgem style pilot training, to the fears and exhilarations of flying and fighting. I was a little disturbed in the first chapter or two at the reader’s inaccurate pronunciations of the French words and place names that constantly crop up, but quickly realised that this is probably reasonably accurate to how the author would have pronounced them, as he never seems to have become fluent in French, even after a few years in the country. Knitters and crafters who make items for soldiers might like to listen to the first few minutes of chapter 12…

266. Stickeen by John Muir

This is quite a short tale (only three chapters) of the adventures of a dog (Stickeen) and a group of men exploring the far North, one of whom (the narrator) decides to go for a solitary walk on the glaciers one stormy day (no, he doesn’t give a good reason for doing so). Stickeen accompanies him, and they spend a frightening day bonding while leaping cracks in the glacier, trying to get back to the camp they shouldn’t have left! While I don’t think much of the sense of the narrator, he does tell an exciting tale well.

267. An Old-Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott

I read this for the first time as an adult, unlike Little Women and its sequels, or Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom. While in some ways it is slightly more formulaic than either of those – the visiting Old-Fashioned Girl (Polly) makes a modern leaning family too interested in fashion and making money reassess and appreciate each other in the first half – in many ways she becomes more modern than they in the second half, with her interest in women’s rights and insistence on financial independence.

From all of these books I feel like Alcott’s ideal woman and girl synthesises the traditional feminine and home-building skills of cooking, crafting and caring with a strong mind and the full use of all of her individual talents both for her own expression and to support herself independently should she so desire and require.

268. Educating Our Daughters, Why? by B. C. Glaberson

The short introduction to this series of interviews with women educating girls in Yiddish in Israel states:

You may not agree with everything they say. In fact, you may disagree strongly with some of their opinions.

While I don’t disagree with their right to educate their daughters in this way (and it’s not Alcott’s way, as above, although it shares that synthesis of practical and academic), and share some of the values (I don’t speak Yiddish, for one) it’s not entirely the system I would be involved in. Definitely thought-provoking, well argued and well written, it does present a spectrum of opinion, showing one of the things I most appreciate in the Jewish education I have seen, that there isn’t just one way that will suit everyone, and that each child should be educated in the way that suits her or him.

269. A Touch of Warmth by Rabbi Yechiel Spero

Rabbi Spero is an inspiring raconteur, who can bring out a moral without drowning you in it.

270. The Winds of Change by Lena Spitzer

East End London of the 1930s, as at any other time, was a place of flux. It’s always been an area for immigrants, and in the 30s a great many of them were Jews escaping the poverty and persecution that was ever increasing in mainland Europe. In coming to a new country, often with nothing except the clothes on their backs, they had to meet the challenges of a new country and a changing world that included fascism not only in power in Germany and elsewhere, but in vocal minority in England, notably Oswald Mosley and his Blackshirts. It’s an involving, well-written and researched book, and I heartily recommend it.

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…

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.

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.