Posts Tagged ‘biographies’

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.

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.

Friends and Family

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

I’ll admit that I knew next to nothing about this book when I asked for it on BookMooch, but I thought it might be of interest, and it was. The sender has offered me another in the series, which I’m currently looking forward to.

Cover of Donkey's Ears Apart51. Donkey’s Ears Apart by George Torode

I somehow suspect the author mightn’t have expected a copy of this to turn up in Jerusalem, since it’s a series of reminiscences about some Guernsey characters (with greater and lesser degrees of eccentricity). Most of the datable incidents appear to be from the 50s, 60s and 70s, although since the book was published in the mid 1990s some may be later, and one or two are from the Nazi occupation of the Channel Islands, so the 40s. Seeing as my ancestors left Guernsey about five generations ago I certainly haven’t come across any of these individuals before.

The book appears to have been self-published, and that does come out in the proofreading, but it’s well worth the read in any case. My impression is that the author is a great oral storyteller, and has simply written his stories as he’d tell them, and 99% of the time that works great. (The other 1% is largely me being persnickity as someone who’s been paid to proofread a time or two.)

Time, love and distance

Thursday, 24 March 2011
Cover of "Sky Burial"

Cover of Sky Burial

Hm, so is this the second or third book of Xinran‘s I’ve read, considering I started China Witness before it, but am still about halfway through that?

30. Sky Burial by Xinran

This book could so easily be a novel, and as a foreigner I wouldn’t know how plausible it then was. I have enough confidence in what I’ve read of Xinran’s work to believe it isn’t, however. What it is, is a fascinating insight into Tibet and China over the past few decades, as well as a lyrical evocation of loving relationships of different kinds. A number of marriages are key, although none of them meet the usual expectations of most of us, whether Shu Wen’s where she and her husband were separated after just 100 days and she slipped into an entirely different life searching for him, Zhuoma’s family and fortunes being turned upside-down and the long mutual search for the man she loved, or the Tibetan family that takes Wen and Zhuoma in of Gela, his brother Ge’er and their wife Saierbo. I think I want to read this again already.

What this book doesn’t try to do is really explain the politics and background of the dispute over Tibet and its status vis-a-vis China, and I feel I do need to learn more about that. It does show a taste of how these issues are perceived by a few of the people on the ground, however.

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!

Once again, in green

Sunday, 1 August 2010

NaBloPoMo August logoNot convinced I’m going to stick to the NaBloPoMo theme for this August of “Green”, but it might prompt the odd thought here and there, and I do find the challenge helps me to keep up the regular blogging.

Anyhow…
18. The Good Women of China by Xinran

Yep, read this this one before too. Its episodic nature (each chapter is pretty much a story in itself, although they do tie together) would appear to make this a good book for dipping into, and yet I pretty much always seem to read the whole thing together. It’s relatively short, of course, and very well written, as well as generally being enthralling, so I suppose that’d do it. I read a couple of the chapters aloud to my DH as I went, this time (talking about the book to him is what made me think to reread it) and that made the emotional pull of these true stories (especially the deep sadness in many) even stronger.

From my recollection, these stories were gathered mostly in the early 1990s, although many of them relate back several decades, and it really becomes apparent how fast Chinese society and governance has changed over those decades, with younger and older women having had completely different lives. (I first read about that phenomenon many years ago in Jung Chang‘s Wild Swans, which I really should reread – and which has a green cover! 😉 ) I have to wonder what a new version of this book, compiled a decade or two later, would be like.

Busy Day Ahead

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

I woke up early to do one thing, which didn’t work out, so I’m aiming to do this, and not run out of time for it later…

From 2009:
64. The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester

I am pretty sure I heard about this book when it first came out, and was interested, but never got hold of a copy, so when I found it on my DH’s shelves I was quite pleased. There are three main characters: the original Oxford English Dictionary, Professor James Murray, its major editor, and Dr. William Chester Minor, an American Civil War doctor who had come to Europe in the hope that the change of scene would help with his mental illness, but who ended up killing a man and being detained at Broadmoor for over 20 years. As a highly educated man with enough income for a large library and a wish to be useful, he was one of the most prolific contributors of early quotations and usages of words for the massive reading project necessary to the first edition of the OED.

All three are fascinating topics, although the major protagonist is Minor. The book is sympathetic to his plight without excusing his negative actions and their terrible results. It simply allows his positive actions to speak for themselves as well.

Books unfinished

Friday, 30 October 2009

White tapestry crocheted bookmark holder, with a few bookmarks visible at the top.

I have to admit, the number of books I have listed as read, but haven’t yet reviewed here is a bit daunting, so I thought I’d make things a little less so by discussing some of the books I haven’t finished. Hopefully most of them will get added to the list and mentioned again reasonably soon…

This post will mention some crochet, though, since the bookmark holder I made yesterday would seem rather relevant! I’ve been playing around with Tapestry Crochet, with the leftover yarn from the sheep’s head I made for Rosh Hashana, since that is the only set of matching yarns with different colourways I have at the moment. I’ve been using the white as background and the variegated browns for the pattern, which works fine when the actual browns show. The ecru, though, is rather too similar to the white for full impact. The first thing I made so is a present, for someone who does read this blog occasionally, so I won’t show the pictures, but Ravelers can see it here.

What I made yesterday was for my DH, however, and he received it when he arrived home (about five minutes after I finished it), so I can show you that. I used a cross stitch writing tool from Stitchpoint, which I’ve mentioned on this blog before, but shouldn’t have chosen an italic font, since tapestry crochet adds to the slant, meaning that a non-italic font would have looked somewhat italic, and been far more legible. That and the clumps of ecru mean that my DH can’t actually read the text (having it all around the container doesn’t help either, but it was going to be far too tall done sideways), but he appreciates the item and its immediate value to us (he’s a bookworm too), so that’s okay!

I’ve never blocked acrylic (I’ve barely blocked anything), but if anyone has good ideas for how to make it stand straight I’d appreciate hearing them!

And now to the unfinished books (I would say the ones still with bookmarks in them, but I have the habit of leaving bookmarks in after I finish the book, so that would not be the correct category).

Jewishly, I’m reading Praying with Joy by Rabbi Daniel Yaakov Travis, as well as Anshei Hayil: Volume 1 by Rabbi Haim Levy, both of which will hopefully help me improve my tefilla. I’m enjoying both in small sections at a time.

In print non-fiction, I’m reading The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester, which I heard about when it came out, I think, but have never found before. Thankfully my lovely MIL gave it to my DH several years ago, so I get to read it now. It’s about the creating of the OED and two of the major players involved in the project. They were very different Victorian gentlemen, and it’s intriguing and apparently well-researched so far.

My DH and I are both reading a book my father gave him, What Did You Do Today, Professor?, edited by Eoin P. O’Neill, which is a collection of essays by TCD scientists about their research and what led them to this point, often with a particular emphasis on how mathematics is important to all the other sciences. It’s really interesting. I like learning about current research, and while this is written to be accessible to non-specialists, it isn’t dumbed down in the way some popular science is. I have to say I’m finding the Irish/Dublin/TCD references much easier than my DH, of course, but they aren’t stopping him enjoying the book.

The fiction is mostly audio at the moment, but I am occasionally dipping into Harry Potter agus on Órchloch (yes, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, in Irish, by J. K. Rowling, of course) just to see if I can… I amn’t getting through it very fast, but then I think I know the original well enough that it’s not very fun to read slowly.

From Librivox I’m most of the way through Agnes Grey, by Anne Brontë. I haven’t read this before, and am enjoying it. The protagonist seems very self aware, and though some of the other characters are somewhat one-dimensional, most of these are being pointed out as what happens when children are thoroughly spoilt. There are multiple readers, so far all (I think) women I’ve heard on other Librivox recordings, so obviously quality and pronunciations vary, but they’re mostly pretty good, and none had me wanting to turn the thing off.

Unfortunately the same can’t be said of the new recording of Dubliners by James Joyce. Part of the problem is just that I am a Dubliner, so it jars when placenames, intonations and phrasing are completely wrong in a series of short stories so specifically written to show the city and its people. I’ll admit I only listened to the first one-and-a-half stories, each read by a different (American) man, so the later readers might be better, but at the moment I’m severely tempted to just read the whole book myself for Librivox. Not that I could do all the accents for the different groups of Dubliners in the book, but at least I would know what the references were too. Perhaps I could do that in time for 2012, when the book will be out of copyright in the EU… (And no, I wasn’t in the EU when I downloaded or listened to this, and amn’t now. Copyright is important.)

Okay, I admit it, I’m a snob. It doesn’t bother me for very English or American fiction to be read by voices from all over the world, but it does when the voice should be a Dublin one, and isn’t. Still, it does help for any reader to check unfamiliar words for their pronunciation.

So that’s what I’m reading (or amn’t, but chose not to finish).

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.