Books, life the universe

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Bright Shiny Morning

No, not a reference to the weather which is anything but bright and shiny, but the title of a book I finished yesterday by James Frey. I wouldn't have even looked at this book if it hadn't been on the Amazon Vine list - this is the invitation only bit of Amazon where you get free books etc provided you write a review - good or bad. I think I was attracted by the cover as much as anything which is quite striking in blue and red neon lights. When the book arrived I realised that I might not enjoy reading it and wished I hadn't picked it. As you have to read three out of every four books before you can chose any more, I started it last weekend. I wanted to stop reading about page 50 but realised I did actually care what happened to the characters.

The main character is really Los Angeles - its history, the people who live in and visit it, the good and the bad, the famous and the infamous, the high and the low. There are no real chapter divisions, his misuse of the apostrophe annoyed the hell out of me, but somehow I kept reading. It is written in a sort of documentary style which makes you feel as though you're looking down on what's happening. Each section is only two or three pages long and is interspersed with lists of facts about the city, gangsters, natural disasters etc. If you take out the sections about the characters you have an unconventional guide book to Los Angeles.

There are four sets of characters - Amberton Parker - super rich film star, with his marriage of convenience in order to cover up his homosexuality; Maddie and Dylan - runaways who have come to LA to find their dream life; Esperanza - of Mexican parentage and American birth who lets one moment of humiliation rule her life for a time; Old Man Joe - drop out and alcoholic who worries about Beatrice - a young girl he met by chance. The playing out of their stories is set against many other minor characters who are often not named - many of whom came to LA to find their dreams - some succeed some fail.

It does keep you reading and some of the passages showing the dross behind the tinsel are masterpieces. In fact I would perhaps sum it up as a flawed masterpiece. As I have a proof copy I don't know whether the punctuation errors are in the final version, though I suspect they are part of the whole design of the book. I'm not sure I would recommend it to anyone but I was impressed with it. It's difficult to know who it would appeal to in any case though I wonder whether it will win the Pulitzer prize - in which case thousands of people will read it.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

A Dance to the Music of Time

For those of you who love Anthony Powell's 'A Dance to the Music of Time' series there is a reading group starting here:
reading I gather, a novel a month. Maybe this will be the year I will finally read the series. I read the first two over 25 years ago but never got around to reading the rest.

I mentioned the novels to Keith - see Zen Mischief blog and - who fell under their spell and was one of the founder members of the Anthony Powell Society and is still their Secretary. He holds me responsible for totally changing his life.

Maybe more later this weekend.

Friday, 20 June 2008

It's the weekend!

Friday night - one of my favourite times in the week. No work hasn't been that bad I think it's the restrictions on my freedom to do what I want that I resent - obviously my brain thinks I should retire!

I have been captivated by a very old book this week - E M Delafield's 'Diary of a Provincial Lady.' Such marvellous descriptions and self deprecating humour. It reads almost like a 1930s version of a blog I suppose. I was fortunate to pick up a Folio Society copy with Nicholas Bentley illustrations on Ebay for £1.99, and I'm savouring it in short bursts. I suppose in tone it is a little like E F Benson.

I have also just about finished Katherine Swift's 'The Morville Hours.' This is an epiphany of a book with delicious descriptions of the garden at all seasons with digressions into local history, the history of plants and their uses and comments on local people. It is arranged according to the monastic hours of worship - Vigils, Lauds, Sext, Terce, Prime, None, Compline,Vespers. I'm not convinced I have those in the right order but I'll correct them when I pick up the book. Whilst I have always admired the illustrations in books of hours I had not appreciated exactly what purpose books of hours fulfilled - now I know. They were for lay people to carry around so that they could read the prayers etc for each of the hours, just as monks and nuns would have done. I could have done with some photographs of the garden itself but the descriptions do bring it vividly to life.

Have a good weekend everyone and let's hope it doesn't rain as much as they're forecasting.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Back to Work and another book read

I went back to work yesterday - what a shock to the system! Everyone seemed just as fed up as when I was last in the office. Loads more work coming my way because we keep losing people left right and centre from various bits of the organisation. As I said to the boss today - 'I can only do what I can do.' Felt like saying I'm not paid to worry about the backlog building up, but decided I'd start off polite. When I can't see my desk that'll be the time to get out the bad language. I felt marginally less fed up today, but relieved to get home.

I've finished reading Martin Edwards' 'The Cipher Garden' which I thoroughly enjoyed - even better than 'The Coffin Trail' which is the first in his Lake District series. Hannah Scarlett of the cold case review unit is investigating the murder of Warren Howe, a landscape gardener and ladies' man. There were plenty of suspects at the time of the murder but not enough evidence to charge any of them. Her own private life is full of tension and she finds herself looking forward more than she should to her meetings with Daniel Kind - exiled Oxford don and son of her old boss. Daniel himself is trying to work out the hidden cipher in his overgrown cottage garden - which includes some of my favourite trees - monkey puzzles. He is distracted by hearing about the murder and sets out to try and find what he can about it. The fast paced plot soon throws up many possible suspects with many and various motives, and the reader is kept guessing until the violent ending. The characters are well drawn and complex and Daniel's growing relationship with Hannah is subtly drawn. I'm looking forward to reading the third in the series - 'The Arsenic Labyrinth.'

Saturday, 14 June 2008

The Burning Times and freedom of speech

Debi who blogs under the title of The Burning Times has now 'hidden' her blog so that only the favoured few can read it. So the link in the last but one post will not work. I tried opening a Word Press account but all previous links to the blog simply lead you back to the Word Press home page. It seems a shame that she could not accept other people might have different views on the subject - especially as many of them were expressed in extremely temperate language.

The following saying springs to mind - 'If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.'

There's protest and then there's protest

I'm all for peaceful protest which doesn't stop people going about their lawful business but this was a step too far in my opinion:
How dare they try and stop a power station running? How dare they try and inflict their views on everyone else? I'm pleased everyone was arrested - they deserve it.

I remember feeling very much the same during the fuel protest back in 2000 for similar reasons even though I was in sympathy with the cause. Once again ordinary people were prevented from going about their day to day lives. At the time that started I was on my way to Gateshead for a conference with a colleague. It was touch and go whether we managed to get enough fuel to get home again. The A1 was virtually deserted when we came back, though it had been packed with queues of protesting lorries on the way there.

Lobby your MP, write a blog, write to the papers protest outside parliament - whatever, but do not obstruct other people - this is civil disobedience.

It's not often I get this riled by any issue - but this is something I feel very strongly about.


I almost always read Dr Crippen - see NHS blog link at the top of this page as he writes with a great deal of common sense and compassion. I don't always agree with what he says but I find what he writes to be balanced and fair. He seems to have stirred up a lot of vitriol amongst the extreme feminist lobby again when writing about so-called 'obstetric rape'.

Rape of any description is always going to be an emotive issue for anyone. Please let us not forget that men can be raped as well. But to equate any medical procedure with rape is I feel going a little bit far. I have had many vaginal examinations in my life - some more painful than others - but I have never felt as though I was being raped. They have all been carried out with sensitivity and frequently humour which help me. I have never felt powerless or in any way oppressed during the procedures which to me are some of the essential properties of a rape. I am not decrying this lady's experience She obviously feels extremely strongly about the issue.

What I would say - as a woman - that not everyone feels like her. I do not agree with her apparent suggestion that anyone who doesn't agree with her has been brainwashed by the patriarchal society. There is always room for more than one point of view. I think both men and women should have equal rights in society, but you cannot change a culture overnight. I am not sure how this lady wants to change things from reading her blog. Does she want everyone to accept her particular view of the world as the only view? If so then I think she would advocate locking up half the human race and not allowing them access to the other half - or that's how it reads to me.

Yes there are some really awful things that happen both in the UK and in America which appear to show that women are still treated as objects and property by some men. Just because some men behave like that doesn't mean all men are unreconstructed male chauvinist pigs at heart. I currently work in a male dominated environment but I have no problem with this. In fact it makes it easier to be frank about what I think as I know no one is going to take offence. I have worked in all female environments and I found I really had to watch what I said. Maybe this says more about me than society in general. I don't like laddish talk and behaviour any more than many people of both sexes do, but in general I find it easier to work in a male dominated environment.

When I was working exclusively with a small group of women I found my own views had to take a back seat. I was always quizzed about the contents of my sandwiches - they were all vegetarian and I'm not - told off I ate chocolate, commiserated with if I had to go for a smear test - because 'it's really unpleasant and a chance for a horrible man to look at your bits' etc etc. In fact I'm sure this particular group of people would have very much sympathised with the views expressed in The Burning Times. I found I was on a different wave length completely. In spite of this I would say I am broadly in sympathy with traditional feminist views. I read Germaine Greer and Betty Friedan and didn't wear a bra if I felt like it without feeling I was a shameless hussy.

So what has happened to feminism? Is it alive and well and living with this type of comment

"This kind of shit happens a lot, as I’m sure you all know, as soon as you get into blogging and you have the audacity to be both female and have a brain. Normally, I just ignore it, but this man is dangerous"

No I don't agree and the whole of The Burning Times leaves me with a very uncomfortable feeling because I know that any comment I post will be treated as criticism and deleted. Women are allowed to use their brains - it is one of the main benefits feminism has achieved in my opinion. I was always brought up to think of myself as equal to any man, but then my parents never encouraged me to think I should stay at home and let the man go out to work - even though my mother did stay at home until we were all teenagers. I wasn't treated as inferior because I was a girl and as a consequence I suppose I've always felt that equal rights for men and women were logical and sensible.

If the views - evidenced by The Burning Times are widespread then I dread to think what could happen to society.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Book meme

Thanks to kcm at Zen Mischief for this one:

One book that changed your life: Dorothy L Sayers' Gaudy Night - it introduced me to the Golden Age of British detective fiction

One book that you have read more than once: Any of the Rumpole books by John Mortimer

One book that you would want on a desert island: John Hadfield - Love on a Branch Line - to remind me that even Civil Servants have a wild side to them

One book that made you laugh: E F Benson - Mapp and Lucia - any of the Mapp and Lucia books as you can still identify similar people today.

One book that made you cry: Checkmate by Dorothy Dunnett

One book you can’t read: Stephen Hawking - A Brief History of Time.

One book you wish you'd written: Any of Donna Leon's Brunetti series - brilliant plots and superb characterisation.

One book you wish had never been written: Karl Marx The Communist Manifesto - communism - apart from religion is probably responsible for many of the world's problems.

One book you're reading: Katherine Swift - The Morville Hours - beautiful.

One book you're going to read: John Cowper Powys - A Glastonbury Romance.

I haven't tagged anyone because all the people I know with blogs don't like doing them - lame excuse I know but there it is!

The Vows of Silence

No - I haven't taken a vow of silence - heaven forbid! I finished reading Susan Hill's latest Simon Serrailler offering 'The Vows of Silence'. I'm starting to find Simon himself slightly annoying. He resents his father's lady friend Judith for taking his mother's place and makes it clear in a very childish way that he does. Even Cat, his sister takes him to task over it. He can't seem to make up his mind whether he wants to be single and celibate for the rest of his life and objects to his sister talking about it. He nearly fails to catch the criminal because he lets his own prejudices get in his way. However I'm sure it makes for a more interesting story to have a fallible detective. I went from wanting to shake some sense into him to crying for him.

This story is a tear jerker in any case. Simon's brother-in-law Chris is seriously ill and Cat must combine the skills of mother, doctor and wife. The gunman who is terrorising Lafferton is killing newly married women for no apparent reason. There is about to be a society wedding to which Royal visitors are expected - a security nightmare for the police including Simon - especially as the gunman has killed once as a newly married couple leave the church. There are many minor sub plots as well to hold the reader's interest and an insight into the mind of the gunman. Definitely gripping stuff though I did work out who the gunman was before the end.

I had a good example yesterday of why I do most of my food shopping - and everything else come to think of it - online. I called in at Tesco because I wanted a particular type of Hovis bread and some cash back. They hadn't got the bread so I went to look for a couple of other things I wanted - they only had one of them. The place was packed. On a Monday morning? I had to queue to be served and was tempted by their latest 'green' hessian bag - because it's got ladybirds on it.

I was standing idly in the queue watching everyone else and noticing how everyone had brought their bags with them so that they didn't need many carrier bags. What a lot of sheep I thought all brainwashed by this rubbish about climate change. So I deliberately took a couple of carrier bags - one of which I used to put my new 'green' bag in! Childish I agree. I have used a Marks & Spencer's black fabric bag for ages to put my sandwiches etc in when I go to work and that's what I shall use the ladybird one for.

I just found the whole experience so irritating and frustratingly slow - in fact it probably took me as long as it would have done to do the shopping online!

We then had to go and get some oil to top up the car. It's a Mitsubishi Outlander and the handbook says it needs to have VW oil in it because it's a VW engine. So we trot along to a VW dealer because it's nearer than going to a Mitsubishi dealer - and they wouldn't sell us any. Words failed both of us, so we trotted off to the Mitsubishi dealer where the car came from - who kindly put the oil in for us.

We then went to another branch of Tesco and managed to get the bread we wanted - and rather too many things we actually didn't need but just fancied. This is why I save money by shopping online I thought. But this experience was better as they weren't so crowded. We also - from B&Q - got some ant killer and a leaflet about this new Dulux painting system - Paint Pod - which does everything but make you a cup of coffee. I may invest in one since it looks easy and much less messy - trouble is they cost nearly £70. But we do have a personal recommendation from someone who hates decorating who says it makes the whole process much quicker with no mess. Of course £70 is cheaper than paying a decorator. Now we just need a similar system for gloss painting and I'll be the first in the queue to buy that.!

I now need to potter about and do some housework and surf the newspapers for what's going on in the world and then it will be time to work out what to have to eat this evening. I could definitely get used to this life though I suspect I wouldn't get enough exercise unless I made an effort and went out for a walk regularly.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

No more ants and Veronica Heley

They do seem to have gone - but I shall be buying the chemical means of killing them as well tomorrow to ensure they don't come back.

I finished reading Veronica Heley's latest - 'False Picture' last night. This is the second in the Abbot Agency series in which widowed Bea Abbot takes on problems which are better solved without reference to the police. In this one her friend Velma wants Bea to track down her missing step son. The resulting mayhem includes a trip to Bruges and various people turning out to be not what they seem. Bea sticks up for herself and discovers she can rise to a challenge and think on her feet. Her assistants Maggie and Oliver develop as characters and there are an assortment of murders. Well written and just that little bit different - very enjoyable.

Next on the pile are Martin Edwards' 'The Cipher Garden' - the second of his Lake District series, and Susan Hill's 'Vows of Silence which by all accounts is something of a tear jerker.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Katie Fforde and others

Katie Fforde's new book 'Wedding Season' arrived on Monday and was finished by Tuesday evening. I've been slightly disappointed by her last few - more dialogue than description to the extent they almost read like a film script. This one was better balanced and had all the sparkle of her early books - 'Thyme Out', 'Living Dangerously', 'The Rose Revived' etc. Sarah, Bron and Elsa organise weddings for other people. But what about their own love lives which are sadly neglected and going nowhere. The background - wedding planning - is well researched and interesting and the characters come alive on the page. I loved it. This is chick lit at its very best.

Sue Gee's 'Reading in Bed' was just as good in its own very different way. The educated middle class and their belief that everything will continue as it has done for years is well portrayed. Georgia, Henry, Dido and Jeffrey have all been friends since university. Now Henry is dead, leaving Georgia a widow and the status quo is about to be upset. The children are grown up and having their own crises which impact on the parents and then there is Cousin Maud who appears to have finally tipped over the edge into madness. Jeffrey is in trouble because of inappropriate behaviour with a student - but how one sided is it really? Does the text message Dido read against her better judgement have anything to do with it? The writing is subtle and understated. I enjoyed it.

Then there's Sharon Owen's 'The Revenge of the Wedding Planner' - which I was finding slightly annoying. I did finish it and enjoyed it though it's not a five star read. I found the narrator a bit too chatty and I didn't think the title fitted the book at all. Obviously wedding planners are the people to write about at the moment - especially those who do not believe in love.

I have two by Martin Edwards to read now and Susan Hill's latest Simon Serrailier 'The Vows of Silence'. How can you tell I'm not at work?

Sunday, 1 June 2008

It's Sunday and monsoon weather

It's dry at the moment but about 7.00am this morning it was just like a monsoon, though I suppose it wasn't quite as hot!

I haven't yet read the Sunday papers online, but I heard on the BBC News Channel that Fern Britton is in trouble with the Mail On Sunday for not saying that she had weight loss surgery. Why are we so focused on women's weight? You don't ever hear similar comments made about men - with the exception perhaps of that annual rush to try and get pictures of the leaders of the main political parties in their swimming shorts. Again you rarely hear comments about the way men in the limelight dress - David Beckham's famous sarong being the exception. It's very much double standards in my opinion.

Currently reading Sue Gee's 'Reading in Bed' - old age and the educated middle classes and Sharon Owens' 'Revenge of the Wedding Planner' - which is starting to annoy me and I may not finish it. I have 'The Morville Hours' by Katherine Swift and Veronica Heley's 'False Picture' to read next amongst others.

Off to trawl the papers and then chicken for tea - not sure about dessert yet