Having just read it for the 5th (or is it the 6th?) time, I think I notice some flaws I did not spot in earlier readings, but would still give it 5 stHaving just read it for the 5th (or is it the 6th?) time, I think I notice some flaws I did not spot in earlier readings, but would still give it 5 stars for the tension, the excitement, the facing of strange dangers. Though the blurb describes it as "Celtic", the Einheriar of the Hearlathing sound pretty Anglo-Saxon to me, and the "old straight track" is anything but old, and was concocted by a 20th century businessman, but it still makes for a good exciting story, not of other worlds far away, but other worlds impinging on this one.
The flaw I noticed this time, however, was the heavy commuter traffic between Alderley Edge and Shining Tor. They rush the 9 miles to Shining Tor, on horseback or sometimes on foot, only to discover that they have to rush back again to consult the wizard Cadellin Silverbrow about something. This shuttling back and forth makes it seem that something is happening, but it isn't really. It gives it the feel of one of those comedy films or stage shows where people are rushing from room to room in a house looking for someone who is looking for them, each one looking in the rooms that the other has just vacated.
Loyal Blood is a farmer's son who leaves home after his girlfriend dies. How she dies is never revealed, though he feels somehow responsible, and afteLoyal Blood is a farmer's son who leaves home after his girlfriend dies. How she dies is never revealed, though he feels somehow responsible, and after that has an allergic reaction if he touches a woman. He wanders around doing various odd jobs. and occasionally sends postcards back to his family, but they can never reply because he leaves no address.
The book covers about 40 years, from 1944 to about 1984, and in some ways was an evocation of my childhood, remembering things like turning the handle of the milk separator to get the cream, and turning the handle of the wooden butter churn to make butter. Remembering what it was like to have no mains electricity, and waiting four years for the post office to install a telephone line. That was life back in the 1950s. I recall going to the Rand Easter Show, and looking at agricultural machinery, shiny in red and green paint, with springy metal seats for the operator, and then seeing such machinery, abandoned and rusted and useless, behind a ramshackle shed.
I wanted, at times to be a farmer in those days, and used to read Popular Mechanics and the Farmers' Weekly. I never read the articles, just the small ads of farms for sale, or farm equipment. There was a course advertised in Popular Mechanics on "How to break and train horses", which cost $50.00. That would have been about R40.00 in those days, but about R6000 in today's money.
And this book brought it all back, with its descriptions of rural life, the life behind the Popular Mechanics ads. And the reason I never took it up is that farming is hard work with no let-up. Those cows have to be milked every day, rain or shine, winter or summer. The milking shed has to be cleaned or they get foot-rot. There are no weekends off, no holidays. And the book brings this out.
And I wonder if the urbanised people who talk about land redistribution are aware of this. Your grandfather may have been unjustly dispossessed back then, but are you prepared to go back and recreate his life, and take up where he left off? Back in the 1950s there were no big supermarket chains whose bulk buying could squeeze prices they paid for agricultural produce.
In Postcards Loyal Blood is sometimes a farm hand, sometimes trying farming on his own account, sometimes a fur trapper, sometimes a miner, sometimes a uranium prospector. And most of these rep[resent a way of life that has vanished. I remember those ads in Popular Mechanics for geiger counters and books on how to get rich quick as a uranium prospector in the 1940s and early 1950s. And somehow [author:Annie Proulx] manages to capture all of that.
So what genre is the book? A family saga? A snapshot of a period? Or a series of snapshots. It's quite well done, in a way, and yet strangely unsatisfying. What happened to the girlfriend? Did he kill her? Did her family look for her? Did anyone wonder about her?
For the last 40 years we have been researching our family history, and in a way real family history is very like this book. There are snatches of recollections and old photos of cousins who disappeared and no one ever heard from them again. But they must have had lives, and perhaps some of them ended up like Loyal Blood in this book.
I recall Joan Rogers, who at one time lived in a caravan in our driveway. She had a horse called Royal and an old pointer dog. She worked in the lab at the South African Institute for Medical Research beyond Silvamonte, and at one time showed us the dessicated button spiders that they ground up and injected into the necks of horses to make the antivenin for the spider bites. She was something like Loyal Blood in the book, a wanderer, whose path intersected with mine for a couple of years but where she came from and where she ended up is unknown, at least to me.
And it was things like this that the book was evocative of. For other people it will be evocative of something else, other scenes, other people, other experiences....more
When I read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in 1965, at the age of 24, I wished I'd had it to read when I was younger. Even though I was preparinWhen I read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in 1965, at the age of 24, I wished I'd had it to read when I was younger. Even though I was preparing for final exams at university, I bought as many of the other Narnia books as I could find, and shared and discussed them with friends, and bought them as Christmas presents for children that I knew.
One day a group of us were discussing the genre of children\s fantasy, in a wood that reminded us of the Lantern Waste, and we tried to recall such books we had read as children. One friend mentioned The Princess and the Goblin, and I was sad that I had not read any of the ones the others mentioned. The only such book I had read as a child had "rainbow" in the title, and it featured children looking for their parents, and being helped by St George and hindered by the dragon, At one point there were two forests, one bright and good, and the other dark and evil, where the dragon tried to distract the children from their quest. But I could not remember the title or the plot, so I wanted to re-read it. I knew only that one of the children was called Rosamund.
The following year I was in London, and knowing that the British Museum was a copyright library, supposed to receive a copy of every book published in the UK I spent a couple of days there searching for books with "rainbow" in the title, without success.
Eventually I found a copy on a secondhand bookstall in Woolwich Market. I grabbed a copy, and read it. It was a huge disappointment. It was nothing more than imperialist propaganda. It featured a lion cub called Cubby, who always got sick when he wasn't dosed with a patent medicine called "Colonial Mixture". St George was no saint, but was a mascot of the British Empire.
All those passed me by as a child, at least consciously, thought it may have brainwashed me into being a closet colonialist. But in 1967 is stuck out like a sore thumb.
So why did I read it a third time?
I was taking part in NaNoWriMo (National Novel-Writing Month) and the novel I was writing featured St George, so I re-read it to remind myself how St George was handled in fiction.
I suppose, when I read it as a child, I would probably have given it three or four stars. But now, it's somewhere between one and two. And I still wish I had had The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to read as a child....more
I read this book only three years ago, and could not remember it at all. It was like reading a completely new book. The only scene that triggered anyI read this book only three years ago, and could not remember it at all. It was like reading a completely new book. The only scene that triggered any memory at all; was right at the very end.
So what can I say about such an unmemorable book? That I enjoyed reading it the scond time because I can't remember what I thought the first time? I won't try to review it, but will just comment on what i thought was one of the saddest scenes in the whole book. Inspector Pekkala is a member of Stalin's secret police, and the only one who has the trust of Stalin. Twenty years earlier he was an equally-trusted secret policeman of the Tsar. The sad scene has little to do with the unfolding of the plot, but has a great deal to say about the contradictions of living in a totalitarian state.
It is the story of Talia, the little girl whose parents were taken away to the Gulag, though they were good communists. So she lives with her grandmother in the same building as Pekkala, Stalin's special investigator. Talia comes to call Pekkala to have tea with her grandmother, wearing her Young Pioneers uniform, which she still wears, even through her membership was revoked when her parents were arrested. That is the saddest story in the book.
And Pekkala goes to have tea with Babayaga, and finds her cutting up newspapers, or rather cutting out small pieces, with nail scissors. She was planning to use the newspaper as toilet paper. She said she is cutting out Stalin's name, because she heard about a man who used old newspaper for toilet paper, and when the police came to search his house they found some in the toilet, and arrested him because it had Stalin's name on it. That she should happily tell this to Stalin's own special investigator is one of the most self-authenticating parts in the book. ...more
It you read the blurb at the top of the Good Reads entry for this book, you will see it's described as a hipster story from the 1990s. That puts it inIt you read the blurb at the top of the Good Reads entry for this book, you will see it's described as a hipster story from the 1990s. That puts it in the same genre as other semi-autobiographical hipster novels, like those of Jack Kerouac. Perhaps it's a generational thing, but I liked Jack Kerouac's books better. Or perhaps I just identified more closely with the hipsters of the 1940s (On the Road) or 1950s (The Dharma Bums) than w1th those of the 1990s.
He says pages 209-301 are just stuff about people in their 20s, and the book could just as easily have stopped at page 109. I agree. I quite liked it up to page 109. The story about this family in Chicago whose parents died, and they moved to California, and Dave Eggers ends up looking after his younger brother Christopher (Toph for short).
I read about 30 pages beyond page 109, got bored, and following the author's recommendation skipped to page 301. But the last pages were not as good as the first ones. He goes on and on and on and on describing his thoughts when trying to decide whether or not to throw his mother's ashes into Lake Michigan. I was occasionally tempted to start skimming such passages in Ulysses, but the temptation was far stronger here. The best bits are better than Kerouac at his worst, but don't approach Kerouac at his best....more
A few days ago I read Embrace by Mark Behr, and then read this book. I picked them up almost by accident at the library, and found quite a number of sA few days ago I read Embrace by Mark Behr, and then read this book. I picked them up almost by accident at the library, and found quite a number of similarities. The protagonists are separated by age, but there are also similarities, in that both look back on earlier parts of their lives. In Embrace the protagonist is a boy who has reached puberty, and looks back on his childhood. In The Remains of the Day the protagonist is a butler, looking back on his working life.
If I hadn't read them one after the other, perhaps I might not have seen a connection, but what stands out for me is the similarity of technique. For the schoolboy the "present" is a year of school; for the butler the "present" is a holiday trip he takes to the West of England. But in both the bulk of the story is taken up with recollections of the past, and wondering how accurate those recollections are.
In both there is a contrast between the present, and recollections of the past, and it is the recollections of the past that gradually lead to a reinterpretation of the present.
There are also notable differences, based on the age of the characters, and Kazuo Ishiguro manages, in my view, to handle it better. The butler, self-effacing, writes his memoir in a formal and professional style, which is inevitably stilted. He is dominated by the requirements of his job, by the need to give everything to the service of his employer. His own feelings and needs must be subordinated to the needs of the job, and so it is the the job that dominates his life. Even a sense of humour is to be cultivated according to the needs of his employer. Ishiguro portrays this very well indeed....more
A book about a 13-year-old boy in Standard 6 (Grade 8) in the Drakensberg Boys Choir School.
It's a long book (over 700 pages) and written partly in "A book about a 13-year-old boy in Standard 6 (Grade 8) in the Drakensberg Boys Choir School.
It's a long book (over 700 pages) and written partly in "stream of consciousness" style. It follows Karl De Man though his school year, but it also jumps back to his memories of earlier events in his life, from his earliest childhood.
The novel is semi-autobiographical, as the protagonist, like Behr himself, was born in Tanganyika (before it united with Zanzibar to become the United Republic of Tanzania). When he was 2 years old the family moved to South Africa where his father became a game ranger for the Natal Parks Board, and he then attended the Drakensberg Boys Choir School from the age of 11. The main period covered by the book is his third year at the school, when he develops a crush on one of the teachers and also on a fellow pupil, as well as a girlfriend whom he sees in the holidays, who is two years older than him.
Another teacher recognises his ability in art and writing, but his macho father wants him to ignore his talents and prepare for a more lucrative career, even if it is in fields that don't really interest him. So a lot of the book deals with teenage angst, and probably quite authentically, since it is based on the author's personal experience.
The chronology is at times confusing, as the "present" moves through his year at school, but there are conversations in which he refers to previous events in his life, which he later recalls in stream of consciousness fashion. He also tries to sort out what are genuine memories, and what he has been told by others, and he becomes quite lyical in his descriptions of the Mfolozi, Hluhluwe and Mkuzi game reserves where he lived until the age of about 7.
I found that in some parts the book, like Frankie and Stankie, was evocative of my own childhood and life. Both books mentioned not only childhood experieves that were similar to mine, but also people whom I had met in real life, though not as a child.
At one point he writes of shooting mousebirds with an air rifle, and I remember doing that, standing in our paddock, and shooting at mousebirds in the almond trees. I was with someone else, I forget who, and my mother stormed out, very angry, and said she would confiscate my air rifle if she ever caught me shooting birds again.
Another similar childhood experience was when he was riding a horse behind another, which kicked him, and he had to have stitches in his knee. I recalled being kicked by pony Tom, on the sole of my foot, in similar circumstances. I could recall the cold and the wet and my bare feet in the stirrups, my wet jeans, my wet shirt clinging to me, and down below the Jukskei River, flowing through Lyndhurst. I thought he had kicked me on the knee too, but perhaps that was another occasion, and I remember my knee being bruised and swollen, though not so that I needed stitches.
There were also considerable differences, however. Mark Behr describes the racist and white supremacist views of many of the pupils and teachers at the Drakensberg Boys Choir School in the 1970s. It was a private fee-paying school, and therefore under no obligations to give the National Party indoctrination that went on in government schools, but apparently it did. When I was the protagonist's age I attended St Stithian's College in the 1950s, and I don't recall such racist attitudes among the teachers at all, and relatively rarely among the pupils.
Another thing that struck me, which has nothing to do with the content, was that the publishers (Abacus) had obviously paid no heed to the adage "Putt knot yore trussed in spell chequers." The book really could have made use of a human editor, but was apparently produced by an el-cheapo publisher who tried to save money by dispensing with their services and relying on a semi-literate typist using a spelling checker. Among the numerous errors were "in cohort with" where "in cahoots with" was obviously intended, and "pallet" instead of "palate".
I'd finished all my library books and was looking at the bookshelves for some bedtime reading and my eye lit on Veil of Darkness, just as the protagonI'd finished all my library books and was looking at the bookshelves for some bedtime reading and my eye lit on Veil of Darkness, just as the protagonist's eye in the story had lit on a book on a shelf, a book called Magdalene. Veil of Darkness had sat on our shelves for 16 years, and I had never read it. We bought it at a sale for R20.00, shelved it and forgot it.
Kirsty Hoskins, fleeing from an abusive husband, gets a summer job as a chambermaid in a Devon hotel. On her way down there on the train she meets two other women who are hoping to forget males who have hassled them, Avril, whose ne'er-do-well brother is about to be released from prison, and Bernadette Kavanagh, trying to get over being jilted by a posh boyfriend, whose parents thought she wasn't good enough for him. They all end up sharing a room in the staff quarters of the hotel.
The thing that frist got me about this book so far was that it could so nearly have been an alternative story of my life. When I arrived in England in 1966 as a penniless student without a work permit in 1966, someone said that foreigners could easily get jobs in the catering industry, and I had one lined up as a kitchen boy in a Devon hotel at £7 a week all found, and the man was pressing a rail voucher on me, and just in time I got offered one driving buses for London Transport. It was so close.
So as I read I kept thinking, so this is what it would have been like.
From the beginning it seems to be chicklit, or women's fiction, a genre in the GoodReads "Compare Books" function that always comes up blank for me. Three women trying to escape from obnoxious males -- that surely fits, doesn't it?
But then Kirsty discovers The Book...
The Book seems to be a classic Gothic horror novel, featuring a nun who plots revenge. And that is about as much as we are ever told about it. After Kirsty reads it she and her roommates start having thoughts of revenge and standing up to their persecutors. So perhaps it's not chicklit, but a Gothic horror novel, and that's not a genre I usually avoid.
Having finished it, I shift its genre again. It is "a book about books or reading". The book featured in the story, Magdalene is a Gothic horror novel, certainly, but Veil of Darkness isn't. Or is it a Ruth Rendell-type whydunit psychological crime novel?
After reading The Book Kirsty gets the idea of doing a rewrite job on it, and publishing it under her own name. Avril, the typist at the hotel's reception office, agrees to type it up, and when Kirsty realises, almost too late, that she can't publish it under her own name because then her husband might find her, Bernadette agrees to take the public and publicity role.
And that is where it becomes unconvincing, and drops from three stars to two. The idea that Kirsty, who has only ever read Mills & Boon, could do a rewrite job on an old out of print book and turn it into a literary masterpiece is way too far-fetched.
What happens next would be too much of a spoiler, but I found it had more plot holes than The da Vinci Code. It falls a long way short of Ruth Rendell's psychological crime novels, where every event seems to lead inexorably and inevitably to the next, sliding down into the commission of a crime. This seems more like a series of random events with only the vaguest hint of causation.
It had enough interest to keep me reading to the end just to see what happened (and not just, like The da Vinci Code and Interview with the Vampire, so that I could say I had actually read them to people who might say "But you can't criticise a book you haven't read"). This one wasn't that bad, but it wasn't all that good either.
And I'm still not sure what genre it belongs in. ...more
What do you think of your fellow passengers on a bus, or a plane, or a suburban train?
Usually they are anonymous.
You might sometimes idly wonder abouWhat do you think of your fellow passengers on a bus, or a plane, or a suburban train?
Usually they are anonymous.
You might sometimes idly wonder about their lives outside the conveyance that briefly brings you into the same moving space, but rarely does it go beyond that.
But in this book it does go beyond that. A group of people, with their own lives and thoughts and histories are drawn together as passengers (and a driver) on a bus, and by the end of the book they have all interacted with each other, and their lives have all been changed in some way.
Some knew each other before they got on the bus: there is a family travelling on vacation, and two of the passengers were employees of the driver, but none knew all the others before they gathered for the bus trip, and before the journey ended they knew things about the others, and about themselves, that they had not known before.
There is little action, and no real plot. The book is a study of character and human interaction between people whose paths briefly, and apparently randomly crossed....more
This book won the Booker Prize, so someone must think that it's great literature. I'm not so sure. I nearly stopped reading after the second chapter.This book won the Booker Prize, so someone must think that it's great literature. I'm not so sure. I nearly stopped reading after the second chapter. I just didn't connect with any of the characters.
It's about a university professor who seduces a student. Her father complains and he is asked to resign and does. He goes to stay with his daughter in the Eastern Cape, and doesn't really connect with her.
I didn't connect with any of the characters, and their motivations seemed strange to me. Or perhaps their actions seemed to be unmotivated. I found the ending very sad.
The other day I came across an article about St Nicholas of Japan's approach to Buddhism, and I blogged about it here Christianity and Buddhism | KhanThe other day I came across an article about St Nicholas of Japan's approach to Buddhism, and I blogged about it here Christianity and Buddhism | Khanya. St Nicholas acquired his knowledge of Buddhism at first hand, from Buddhist sources. He lived among Buddhists, talked to them and read and translated their scriptures.
My knowledge was much more remote. We learned something about it in history classes at school, and then, in our English classes, we were given Kim to read.
Kim is fiction. It's about a 13-year-old boy in Lahore in what is now Pakistan who attaches himself to a Tibetan lama who is searching for a river of healing. Kim is a street kid. He is worldly wise, an expert beggar, and he is impressed that the lama, unlike most holy men of his acquaintance, is not in it for the money. As he sets off with the lama in search of the river, however, he is given a message and a packet by an Afghan horse trader of his acquaintance to deliver to a British colonel. At that time the British ruled India, and the message was an intelligence report. So Kim becomes a teenage spy.
After reading St Nicholas's account of Buddhism, I looked at Kim again, intending to glance quickly at it to see where some of my earliest knowledge of Buddhism had come from. But I read it all the way through, for the fifth time, though the previous time was nearly 30 years ago.
Why read a book five times? I've read only a few books through five times, and it is because I found something new in them each time I read them, and this time was no exception.
One thing that struck me this time was that the last time I had read it, in 1988, the Cold War, which we had thought would last for ever, was about to end. And this time the Cold War is starting up again, and so a lot of things that passed me by in previous readings suddenly stand out.
One of the themes of Kim is the clash between British and Russian imperialism. So in a sense it is very up-to-date. The Russophobia in the book reflects the Russophobia we see in the news and in social media every day. One merely has to mention the name of a Western politician as having a less than hostile attitude to Russia for that politician to be discredited, at least in the minds of some people. There is not need to say what the politician has done wrong, or what the Russians have done wrong. He talks to Russians, he's a bad guy. It's as simple as that. And so in the book, the bad guys are all those who make friendly overtures to the Russians, and the aim of the British spy network is to detect and neutralise them.
As the story goes on Kim himself is more deeply drawn into the spy network, and is educated and trained for the task, though his education is paid for by the old lama. During the school holidays, however, Kim goes back to the lama and joins him in his wanderings, much to the disapproval of the school authorities, who regard the lama as a street beggar.
On my first few readings the parts I liked best were Kim's wanderings with the lama, and the accounts of the different religions, castes and cultures of India, the human variety, and the vivid descriptions of the different characters.
But always the lama stood out. from the rest as a centre of tranquility. It looks as though, in writing it, Kipling was himself torn between the worldly concerns, including the concerns of British imperialism, and the thought of the lama, that all this was illusion, and a hindrance to enlightenment. ...more
Most of the book is a description of a voyage to the Gulf of California. John Steinbeck's friend Ed Ricketts was a marine biologist, and they chartered a fishing boat to collect specimens of marine invertebrates. There is an appendix, Steinbeck's memoir of his friend Ed Rickett's.
I found it interesting because it's a part of the world I knew nothing about, and after reading the book I know a little more, at least about what it was like 70-odd years ago. And in the process I learnt something about marine biology; most of what I knew about that was from bed-time stories my father read me when I was 3 or 4 years old from his biology text books. Who needs extra-terrestrial monsters when you can have a sea urchin? That caused me problems in my later reading when I came across descriptions of children as urchins -- were they all spiny?
As for the philosophy, I'm not sure if I understood it all. I think Steinbeck was coming from a completely different place, with different assumptions. He seemed to be anti-teleology, and to think that there is too much teleology in the world, but he seemed to see it in a quite different context.
Some of his comments were interesting, but some seemed to make little sense.