Books, life the universe

Saturday, 14 April 2007

Money saving and Donna Leon

I was recently incensed to discover that if you order new books way in advance of publication date from Amazon you may well end up paying more than if you order close to or after publication. I am prone to order books by favourite authors as soon as they are listed. Now I shall just add them to my wish list and review that regularly so that I pay the lowest price possible. I have recently reviewed all my pre-publication orders and cancelled them where the price shown on the site is now less. Grhh!! But glad I spotted it.

For most books I will look on Amazon second hand listings and on EBay before I commit to buying new in any case. I keep a fairly tight rein on my book collection these days and only retain what I know I will want to read again. Anything else gets read and sold on Amazon or Ebay.

I'm very much into second hand stuff at the moment and I can't remember the last time I bought new clothes from a conventional shop. Even cheap prices strike me as expensive. I was conducting an interview this week and needed to look smart so I wore a black jacket I bought last year and had not worn. £10 on Ebay - if bought in a shop would have cost probably about £90 - and it was new!! It was an Elvi jacket and those of my readers who are familiar with clothes for 'traditionally built ladies' in Alexander McCall Smith's immortal phrase, will know how good their quality is and how expensive they are. In fact my whole outfit on that day cost less than my shoulder bag - which was expensive and was a Christmas present!

Donna Leon - I have just read her latest Brunetti novel - 'Suffer the little children'. Excellent as always though not perhaps up to the standard of 'Through a Glass Darkly'. A convoluted story offering several ethical dilemmas for Brunetti. This time, topically, illegal adoptions. If you have not read Donna Leon then I would thoroughly recommend her for complex characters and motives and the never less than honourable Brunetti himself and his firebrand wife Paola who we don't see enough of. Satisfying well written crime novels with violence only where it is necessary to the story. Love them.

Have just got hold of 'Dark hearts of Chicago' by William Horwood - I saw it reviewed on Dove Grey reader's blog - link above - and it seems like 'a good thing'. I will report when I have read it. Currently reading the never less than trenchant Theodore Dalrymple's 'Romancing Opiates' a polemic against the medicalisation of drug addiction. He's demolished for ever my lurid ideas of withrdawal symptoms - they only last about 3 days and are nothing like we're led to believe. I was fascinated by his quotes from Thomas De Quincy's 'Confessions of an English Opium Eater'. De Quincy apparently used Opium on a very occasional basis for 20 years before becoming an addict. More anon when I've digested it - if that's the right word to use?

Monday, 9 April 2007


It worked!! Well little things please little minds.

New links added I hope . . .

I have just added some links to the template so I hope they will show up - if not it's back to the drawing board!


I finished reading 'Ghostwalk' by Rebecca Stott in less than 24 hours. I found it gripping reading. Lydia returns to Cambridge at the request of a former lover to complete his mother's magnum opus about Sir Isaac Newton. Naturally enough her relationship with the married Cameron takes on a new lease of life. Unfinished business from the past becomes mixed up with dangerous goings on in the present. Neither the reader nor Lydia is sure who they can trust completely. Is Will (short for Willow) really all she seems? What is Dilys Kite - a clairvoyant - really up to? Above all who is the spectral presence with white hair and a red gown and what does he want with Lydia? I was left with the feeling that even the narrator wasn't wholly to be trusted. The book has stayed in my mind for several days now and I'm still wondering whether the real murderer was put on trial.
It's a combination of murder mystery and ghost story set in a background of Cambridge academia, and very well written. The cover is a work of art with a shimmering quality to it which really sums up the book quite well.

Friday, 6 April 2007

Book Lover

I'm in the process of reading 'Book Lover' by Jennifer Kaufman and Karen Mack. It is American which did not endear it to me, but the synopsis did, so I put aside my prejudices and got a copy. This is someone who turns to books for comfort and looks for her answers to all life's problems between the covers of a book.

There is a helpful list of authors and titles at the back so that you can read the same books. There are memorable characters as well - Fred the book shop assistant and his mother Bea, and niece Harper. The heroine - Dora - named after Eudora Welty -soon finds that Fred even though he works in a book shop, is not really the ideal person for her.

I would not have said the book was particularly light reading in spite of what the review on Amazon says. Maybe the reviewer was trying to impress with their literary erudition. If you are a book addict like I am then read it.

I've just bought a copy of 'Ghost Walk' by Rebecca Stott which looks fascinating - I will post my thoughts when I've read it; and then there's the latest Donna Leon which I can't wait to read . . . Too many books, too little time . . . .

Why do people get ill?

I was absolutely fascinated by 'Why do people get ill?' by Darian Leader and David Corfield. Its sub title is 'exploring the mind body connection', which really says it all.

There are so many case histories detailed in the book you have to wonder what's going on whenever we fall ill. From my own experience I know that when things aren't going well I can succumb to anything that's doing the rounds. I had a bad year in 2004 and had a cold about every 6 weeks throughout the year. But when I say bad I perhaps should say boring. Nothing much happened and I knew I was getting a bit fed up with the job I was doing but didn't really want to admit it even to myself.

2005-06 was an even worse year in many ways and yet I only had one cold! I did however discover I have an eye problem which is basically still not treatable in spite of the miracles of modern medicine. Is there a connection there? I wonder.

The case that most struck me in the whole book was of the young woman who was diagnosed with MS after various upsetting symptoms which had at first been attributed to her pregnancy. She told her parents, who reacted very strangely. Her mother immediately announced she had severe stomach pains and would have to go home. She then looked at the photograph of her daughter and without looking at the young woman in front of her announced that it was a shame she no longer had a daughter.

This weird behaviour sparked such rage in her daughter that she vowed to find out exactly what was going on in her family and enrolled on a course in psychology. Within a few months she had reached a better understanding of the family dynamics and when tested a year later she no longer had any signs of MS and never has had ever since. Whether or not this is an apocraphal story it does make you stop and think about the mind body connection. Admittedly MS is a disease that can come and go, but even so people don't usually eliminate all signs and symptoms like that.

I've been interested in the mind body connection for a long time ever since I had a conversation with my then GP about someone I know well. I could not see at the time how there could be any benefits to an individual in being ill. His comment was 'do you expect less of someone who is ill?' This made me think and it's true you do make allowances for someone who is ill. Yet why should you? They may be ill but still be capable of leading a normal life. Illness doesn't absolve you from the normal requirements of living in the world and yet that's how we treat people. The disabled who overcome their difficulties to lead a normal life are regarded as exceptional and yet why should they be? Surely we should all be trying to overcome our problems, not magnifying them as many people do.

I will always try and find a way to overcome a physical problem. I remember vividly an incident while I was still in hospital recovering from a hysterectomy. I dropped something on the floor and instead of waiting for someone to come in and pick it up for me I got out of bed and very gingerly squatted down until I could pick up the object without having to bend in the middle. I was about to return to a standing position when a nurse came into the room (this was a private hospital) and was horrified to find me in that position. 'Why didn't you ring the bell?' My answer was along the line of well if I can find a way to do it myself why do I need to bother you? I hadn't burst my stitches or done myself any other injury so what was the problem? She seened quite surprised that I'd tried to help myself instead of immediately calling for help! I'm not reporting this to show how independent I am but to show how other people react when anyone with a physical problem tries to help themselves.

I have another book to report on but I think I'll make it a separate post.