Category Archives: books

Book Review – Now All Roads Lead to France

Now All Roads Lead to France – Matthew Hollis

Paperback: 432 pages

Publisher: Faber & Faber; Main edition (5 Jan. 2012)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 057124599

ISBN-13: 978-0571245994

Now all roads lead to France
And heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead
Returning lightly dance:

Roads – Edward Thomas

 

It’s a book about the final years of Edward Thomas, covering the rise of Georgian Poetry, modernism, war poetry, Dymock and Robert Frost.

It also covers the question of his punctuation. I don’t know about you but in some of Thomas’s verse, like the quote at the top of the page, the punctuation seems at variance with the natural rhythymn of speech. This is intentional, though my personal feeling is that it doesn’t improve the piece.

The “Georgian” refers to George V and was meant to show the modernity of the new poetry as it emerged from the time of Victoria. It may have done at the time, but it always makes me think of George III. The fact that the modernists took over after the war also tends to make the Georgians look old-fashioned, despite their intentions.

You’ll need to read the book to get the full details – Matthew Hollis is much better at explaining than I am.

To summarise, as the war came, Thomas was a well-known (and over-worked) literary critic and a difficult husband. He moved to Dymock to be amongst the poets who had congregated there and under the influence of Frost (who had come to England to advance his poetry career) started writing poetry. After much soul-searching, he joined the army, bacame an instructor and, instead of staying in the UK instructing, applied for a commision and went to France . I don’t think I’m giving too much away if I say it didn’t end well.

Hollis covers a lot of ground in this book, and does so in depth. Despite this it’s almost always interesting and moves along at a decent pace.

The exception to this is several of the passages dealing with the theory of poetry. However, they aren’t long and don’t hold things up too much. That’s what happens when you have a book about poets written by a poet – the style is good, the information is well handled and you get all the passion you could ask for. But you do get a bit too much discussion of poetry.

It’s an excellent book, with an interesting in-depth view of Thomas’s poetry career and family life set within the literary life of the UK in the lead up to the Great War.  You can read it as history or biography or literary criticism.

If you get a chance do read it. I mean, how often do you hear me being this enthusiastic about a book?

Of course, if you aren’t interested in the Great War or poetry, it might not be the book for you.

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Photo of books – it fills a space. 

 

Book Review – Lives of the Improbable Saints

Lives of the Improbable Saints – Richard Coles

Paperback: 192 pages

Publisher: Darton, Longman & Todd; UK ed. edition (17 Oct. 2012)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0232529558

ISBN-13: 978-0232529555

I’ve always quite liked Richard Coles, and I find the lives of the early saints very interesting, so this should be exactly the book I’m looking for.

It’s not bad (and the Amazon price, as with most of my purchases, was considerably less than the postage so it was good value). However, there’s a lot of white space on the page and some of the illustrations are very large.

Given the choice I’d browse the net. I’ve always found this site to be sound on saints, though short on humour.

Richard Coles is a bit short on humour too, but when you’re a vicar and your target market is Christians I suppose you have to keep yourself under control. I could probably write a funnier book but the Church would might burn it and excommunicate me. Or, even worse, burn me and excommunicate the book.

It’s been one of my stand-by books for NHS waiting rooms, and despite (or possibly because of) the gentle nature of the humour, was enough to pass the time and keep my mind off things.

Could be a lot worse, and it has the advantage that you can put it in your pocket, which isn’t the case with a website.

It’s good to change gear now and again, as life can’t be all Blandings and Wooster. Sometimes gentle humour and a simple story is all you need.

There’s a second volume, and one day I’ll probably read it, but I’m not going to rush out and buy it right now as I have other things to read.

Call it qualified approval – I wouldn’t turn down a Wodehouse to read Volume 2 of this.

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Book Review – The Wildlife Garden

The Wildlife Garden – John Lewis-Stempel

Paperback: 176 pages

Publisher: How To Books (6 Mar. 2014)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0716023490

ISBN-13: 978-0716023494

Price £8.99 or £5,99 (Kindle)

I have read a number of books by John Lewis-Stempel and enjoyed them.  Several reviews can be found here. (That’s the book review page I started but didn’t continue. Two of his books are there.)

This is a comprehensive book and covers everything that you could possibly want in a clear and concise manner – garden design, ponds, lists of plants and notes on wildlife. If someone gave it to me I’d be happy to have it. If all you had to work from was this book you could produce an excellent wildlife garden, though a few more diagrams of feeders and shelters might be a help.

My problem is that I don’t feel the price represents value for money. £8.99 is a lot of money for a small book. After all, the information is available on the net and there are diagrams to go with it. You can also generally pick up illustrated books on the subject from charity shops for under £2.

I might be showing my age here, or my ignorance of the book trade, but £8.99 for a thin paperback, or £5.99 for an electronic version, just doesn’t seem like value for money. I know the worth of a book isn’t measured in its size, but I also know that the buying public (which includes me) is thought to buy on that basis. That’s why you sometimes find yourself reading a book with plenty of white space and a larger than usual font – they are trying to bulk it up.

Though my first impression was of thin book, my second was of a thin book that seems to have a Monarch butterfly on the cover – a rare migrant to the UK. I’d have preferred a proper British butterfly. I’m not impressed by that.

So what do you say? I like the author and the book is packed with information. I just think it’s over-priced compared to other sources of the same information.

Buy it by all means, but buy it as cheaply as possible.

 

 

Book Review – A Pelican at Blandings

A Pelican at Blandings – P G Wodehouse

Paperback: 256 pages

Publisher: Arrow (2008)

ISBN-10: 0099514028

ISBN-13: 978-0099514022

I ordered this by accident just before Christmas – I’d meant to order a set of Jeeves and Wooster books to help me through the horror of the Festive Season but these arrived. It didn’t really matter because deep down I’ve always preferred Blandings to Wooster – the reason I’d ordered the Wooster books was because I thought I needed to to make more of an effort with them.

Anyway, here we are, Blandings Castle, where the sun always shines and the twentieth century seldom intrudes. This is the real deal, for despite my admiration of Timothy Spall, the TV adaptation was a grotesque parody.

You could say that the novel is also something of a parody, but in the hands of Wodehouse it avoids that pitfall and weaves a fresh story out of what is pretty standard Blandings fare. A formidable sister, an American millionaire and that renowned blister Alaric, Duke of Dunstable all conspire to make Lord Emsworth’s life a misery. At that point Gallahad Threepwood, younger brother of Emsworth, and one time member of the Pelican Club, enters the picture.

There are two plots to steal a (fake) painting, a couple of romances (one of which does not run smoothly), two imposters in the castle, an incident with the pig in the night, a certain amount of slapstick and a spot of blackmail. It takes a sure touch to navigate all that to a safe conclusion but yet again Wodehouse manages to dovetail the plot, tie up the loose ends and bring the book (the last of his Blandings novels) safely home.

I bought them to ease the pain of Christmas, but ended up reading several of them in hospital to ease the pain of various unfortunate incidents relating to cameras and tubing. It worked – they were a perfect antidote to my troubles. In fact I can’t see any circumstance that can’t be broghtened by a touch of Blanding therapy.

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Perfect light reading…

Biblioperigrination – new word for an old problem

I learned a valuable lesson about book reviews recently. That lesson is do not promise reviews on books you haven’t read yet. The photograph shows The Normans and their Myth, which is quite interesting but not riveting, so I haven’t actually finished it.

Same goes for taking care of books you’ve promised reviews on, as I’ve mislaid 50 ways to make you Home and Garden Greener. It’s easily done when you have piles of books everywhere. I suppose I could review it from memory, but I can’t really remember it that well – I’ve read so many books on this subject.

Reviewing a book from memory, particularly with my memory, could be a dangerous occupation.

The problem is that books seem to have a secret life of their own and are much more mobile than you think. I’m going to see if there is a Japanese word for that. If decided on the word for this phenomenon – biblioperigrination. According to Google there is no mention of this, so I claim to have invented the word. As it’s now going to be in my title and I’m putting in a bid to have it recorded as the first known use. I may write to Susie Dent about it.

I’m going to do The Elements of Murder next. I’ve read it, and I can see it from here, so there shouldn’t be any problems with that. I just need to make sure I’m reading fast enough to keep up with myself.

With that in mind, I won’t tell you what’s next, though I will tell you I’ve just had V. S. Naipaul’s  A Turn in he South delivered. It has been recommended by arlingwoman and I’m looking forward to reading it.

We’re going out now as I’m going to treat Julia to a cream tea. We breakfasted late on scrambled eggs, mushrooms and brown toast, so the cream tea will be a late lunch, which makes me feel better about eating it whilst on a diet. There’s no eating between meals, but if we have it as a meal it’s not a problem.

 

Tsundoku revisited

I’ve written about tsundoku before – the habit of piling up unread books. It was brought into painful focus earlier today when I opened up  a box of books that has been undisturbed for several years. For “several” you could probably substitute “ten” judging by the publication dates.

When I read The Elements of Murder  last month I was surprised at my familiarity with poisons and notable poisoning cases. Not only surprised, but quietly impressed with the breadth of my knowledge.

So when I found a copy of the paperback edition in the box today it was a bit of a downer. Not only is my knowledge based on reading the book ten years previously, but my memory is in fact so bad I didn’t remember buying the book twice.

It’s also a reminder that when I pictured the seven books in the photograph I was intending to review them swiftly. I’ve actually managed two and started two more. I haven’t even finished reading one of them. But I have bought more, and read several of them.

Ah well.

I suppose this officially the start of old age…

 

Schrödinger’s books

A while ago,  when I was in the Oxfam bookshop I saw a book I didn’t buy. To be accurate, I actually saw thousands of books I didn’t buy, but there was one particular book. I picked it up, looked at it, asked myself if I had a good reason for adding it to my existing mountain of books, and reluctantly put it back. (Under my new system I’m trying to buy books only when I’m sure I’m going to read them within the next few months. It’s a forlorn hope but I have to tell Julia something.)

After I dropped Julia off yesterday morning I wondered about visiting the bookshop while I was on that side of town. However, I had a list of  errands to do and decided to make a start on that. As for the book, it will either be there when I go back, or it won’t, and that was when the phrase Schrödinger’s Books passed through my mind.

As everyone knows Schrodinger’s  Cat is an illustration of  what he saw as the problem of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics applied to everyday objects.

What? You don’t? You need to stay in more and read Wikipedia. Then, having read Wikipedia, you have to understand it.

It problem features a sealed box containing a cat, a source of radioactivity and a flask of poison. If radioactivity is released it is detected by the Geiger counter which releases the poison and kills the cat. If no radioactivity is released, the cat lives. Because the box is sealed the cat might either be alive or dead, or both.

Alternatively, like me, you can use cut and paste and get by with a vague understanding, secure in the knowledge that most of your readers are similarly vague. To be honest, when I first saw the words Schrödinger’s Cat, I thought it was the sequel to Flaubert’s Parrot. It would make quite a trilogy with Lady Chatterley’s Plover.

I’d have to take issue with “everyday objects” , as I don’t tend to have a Geiger counter, a source of radioactivity and a flask of poison lying around the house. However, it does make more sense than Einstein’s  assertion that a barrel of unstable gunpowder can exist in both exploded and unexploded states. Having, in my re-enactment days, had an Explosives License, I can’t appreciate the subtlety of Einstein’s position. With gunpowder I’ve always thought of it as an either/or situation. Either you have a roof, or you don’t have a roof. There isn’t much room for compromise.

Anyway, back to books. You see a book in a shop and don’t buy it. When you walk out of the shop you can no longer see it and  don’t know whether it is there or not, so it’s both there and not there.

My version of the problem works better with secondhand books. In a shop selling new books it’s more likely they will have a copy when you want one. In a second hand bookshop there’s probably a bigger chance of the book being gone when you go back. Unless it’s Fifty Shades of Grey. There are plenty of them about.

It also works better with books than cats: in the absence of food and water, there is, I feel, a fundamental flaw in the assumption that the cat is alive beyond a certain point.

This is probably a good way of defining a scientist – a man who can reveal the mysteries of the Universe but can’t run a cattery.

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