Context: Long days in the conservatory with the early spring sunshine as I read this.
Like Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, this is the agonising tale of humanity bravely told. Fisk displays the full range of his encyclopaedic knowledge of the Middle East, knowledge gained by 30 years of first hand experience on the front line of pretty much every conflict the area has seen in that time. Many would struggle to write this even if we had the world’s greatest libraries at our fingertips. Fisk managed it without even using the Internet (something he despises).
I don’t want to give you the impression that this is an easy read. For a start, it is nearly 1,300 pages long. Secondly, and again like Wounded Knee, it’s crammed with the details of the worst we can do to each other. The torture and abuse, often in the name of governments who deny these behaviours, are often stomach-turning.
There are some amazing vignettes there. Fisk is a fantastic story teller. He grips you with this ability from the very first page. His near murder, [click to continue…]
Context: Was at our house up north with the new development over the road as I finished this.
In preparation for heading out to Saudi to work, I started to teach myself Arabic. First thing to master is the beautiful script. My local library had a copy of this book which I think is a very good, succint way to start learning not only how to read but also how to write Arabic.
The strengths of this book like in the fact that they teach you not just the standard printed text but also help you master reading and writing handwriting. I probably won’t have much cause to read handwriting in Arabic but I do know that the best way to learn a script for me is to write it over and over again. Having done that, I usually remember it. This book helped me do just that.
The one thing I think I’d add is more examples for the learner to read. There are some supplementary chapters at the end which do contain examples of signs and notices and so on. But I’d rather have more of these as the book develops so that you get more of a feel that your understanding of Arabic script is actually growing. [click to continue…]
Context: We had a freak weekend of snow in early April while I was reading this.
Very quick read this one and it’s been a while since I dipped my feet in Russian lit. This novel brought it all back to me and would be a great intro to anyone wanting to find out what this genre’s all about.
The novel is written under a pseudonym. There are still debates about who actually wrote it. But it contains all you want in a Russian novel: brooding self-absorption, moral decay, the hated or absent conscience of the individual, and the gradual plunge into doom and despair. Lovely!
The eponymous cocaine appeared much later than I thought in this brief book. But early on you get the feeling that the protagonist is heading for disaster. From almost the very first page, he treats his mother abominably. And his pursuit of pleasure is what leads, eventually, to his undoing in an orgy of snorting.
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Context: Walked by the Catholic cathedral in Cambridge while reading this… in the end, a building Henry would happily have seen never built.
There, in a charity shop, completely unblemished as in a proper bookshop, lay Weir’s encylopaedic description of one of the most magnificent courts of English royalty. And it was mine for only 95p.
I’ve not read any of Weir’s books before. She’s written about pretty much every Tudor monarch or individual connected with Tudor monarchy you can think of. I used to read books like this all the time but the 1001 list has my heart set on novels. Because this was immaculate and a tenth of the price it was supposed to be, I snapped it up though. It sat well with my reading of Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies.
There are plenty of reviews out there which complain that this book isn’t actually about Henry VIII at all. They complain that it’s hard to find the king, buried as he is under the detailed descriptions of the world he inhabited. Having read the book, I agree. This book should really be entitled The Court of Henry VIII.
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Context: Finished this off as I travelled back from visiting my mum’s place in Portugal.
Right, I think it’s time to share the news with the faithful few who follow this blog: I’m off to Saudi Arabia in a few weeks to work teaching English for an oil company. So, in preparation for that, I went a-browsing in Waterstone’s a few weeks ago. This was one of a handful of books that dealt with Saudi. In fact, this was the only book explicitly about Saudi that I could find.
Hammoudi is an anthropologist, a Moroccan by birth and a professor at Princeton. By his own admission a nominal Muslim, he undertakes the complex and confusing process of making the pilgrimage to Mecca both to assess it from an anthropological point of view and to see what impact it has on his faith. I was interested in both.
If you are hoping for a travelogue of a journey to Mecca and back, you’d be disappointed. If you are hoping for an anthropological treatise, you’ll also be frustrated. This kind of falls somewhere in the [click to continue…]
Context: Read this as I worked for EC language school in central Cambridge.
The second installment in Mantel’s chronicle of the life of Thomas Cromwell is as good, if not better, than the first. This trilogy is turning out to be a classic piece of historical fiction, the likes of which I’ve not read before.
It’s not just that the subject matter is excellent, with a panoply of stupendous characters who are captivating and complex in their own right. No. It’s that Mantel has created a style of fiction to suit them and their political intrigues down to the very vocabulary she uses. It’s one seamless package.
The novel picks up where the first in the trilogy leaves off. Wolf Hall brought us through the protracted process of having Henry’s first marriage to Katherine annulled and ushering in the short reign of Anne Boleyn. Bodies focusses on the period of Anne’s demise, one which also saw the death of Katherine.
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It’s an historic day people: the spreadsheet is back after an 8 month absence.
What’s new? Well, the clean and simple new look includes…
- all the changes since the new edition was published in October 2012
- page numbers (to the nearest 50 pages) for every book
- publication dates for every book
- autofiltering on titles and authors’ surnames to make finding and filtering books a breeze
- sort by title, author, date, edition and more
- enter dates you finished books
- see how long the remainder of the list will take in days, hours and minutes
- an import tab so you can keep all your data from v4
FAQs also available here.
Context: Signed a contract with the publishers of the 1001 series to re-release the spreadsheet and apps while reading this. Happy days!
Never heard of Barbara Pym, let alone read anything by her. But she turned out to be a sardonically witty writer with a lot to say about life, particularly relationships and British culture in the early 1950s. This was a particularly interesting time to understand if you want to understand 20th century Britain at all, in fact, because it was a tipping point between the stiff upper lip, make do austerity of the war years and the frivolous, fashionable idolatry that the 1960s spawned. You can only really understand anything about post 1950 Britain unless you understand 1950 Britain first.
And so I very much appreciated Pym’s pastiche of life as a single women in post-war urban Britain. The characters were strong, the setting was beautifully crafted and the humour was as dry as desert sand in a Dyson hand dryer.
Miss Mildred Lathbury is single and, lest she forget, is constantly reminded of that fact by the do-goody company she keeps. She and her companions are the eponymous excellent women who make middle [click to continue…]
Context: Another book read on the bus into and out of Cambridge.
I’m a teacher and that means I thing or two about how to get people to learn new skills. Many’s the time I’ve wanted to grab an author of a computer book by the mouse balls and smash them in the face with a keyboard. I mean, these people are supposed to be good at logic, right? If so, why does their writing seem so completely illogical. Websites written to “help” you do technical stuff are pretty much the same. Usually, these begin something like this; “This book/website/blog post is written for absolute beginners…” That’s the point at which you should simply turn away and cry. I usually make it to, oooh, about the third paragraph. By that point, I can’t see any logical connection between the points the writer is making. I’m lost. I give up.
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Context: Listened to this from Librivox as I commuted back and forth to Cambridge teaching English there.
Only read The Scarlet Letter by Hawthorne before and I enjoyed that. This though, was another story. It started well enough with a Poe-like sense of mystery and doom foretold. But then it tailed off into meandering prose and finished fairly predictably.
Hawthorne is not my favourite writer, I have to say. I found it pretty hard to keep track of what was going on. Okay, I was listening to the audio book and your attention can drift when you do that, but if the book is a good one (as Scarlet was), the audio can hold your attention (as Scarlet did).
The opening passages made me think I was in for a tale of suspense. But when things settled down, I quickly lost interest. None of the characters really grabbed me and, although I knew that the inevitable curse was bound to come to pass, I couldn’t really be bothered either way by the time I’d got halfway through.
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