jazzy_dave: (bookish)
George Orwell "Books v Cigarettes" (Penguin)

This collection of essays was published by Penguin UK a couple of years ago as part of its Great Ideas series. It consists of two long and five short and humorous essays, including the title essay. In "Books v. Cigarettes" he determines that his yearly cost of buying books is less than the amount he spends on cigarettes and alcohol, and argues against those who claimed that the cost of reading was prohibitively expensive for the average working man. Other short essays include a hilarious look at the life of a book reviewer, and his barbaric treatment in a Paris hospital.

The two longer essays make up the majority of the book. "The Prevention of Literature" is a critique of left-wing postwar orthodoxy, which at that time strongly favoured Soviet communism and limited intellectual freedom. "Such, Such Were the Joys", which chronicles his experiences in a boarding school in late childhood, comprises over half of the book. His middle class parents are unable to pay full tuition, and he is allowed to attend the school at reduced fees, due to his academic promise and the expectation that he will gain a scholarship to a prestigious private school—or so he claims. He and the other lower tier boys are constantly tortured and belittled by the headmaster, his wife, and the older boys in the school. He has nothing good to say about anyone there, and you can't help but think that it couldn't possibly have been that bad. His experiences at St. Cyprian's appear to be the genesis for his interest in social justice and anti-totalitarianism, as he expounds upon the lessons he learned during that time at the end of the essay.

This would a worthwhile read for anyone interested in Orwell.
jazzy_dave: (bookish)
John D. Barrow "The Book Of Nothing" (Vintage)

He may use flowery language to convey his thesis on the aspect of nothing and that to some he tried to cover so much stuff that it never lingered anywhere but when you are dealing with the vacuum of space in a non technical way to lay readers then you have to take time (in both senses of it as well as spactime) to convey such complex cosmological information. It may be heavy going at times but i did enjoy this book.

Perhaps not the best book to describe such things as the vacuum state,inflation, black body radiation , the cassimir effect or the value of the cosmological constant (lambda), so with this caveat i would suggest other books to read first.
jazzy_dave: (bookish)
Stephen S. Lundsburg "The Big Questions" (Free Press)

Steven E. Landsburg’s The Big Questions is an intriguing foray into the use of non-typical sciences to look at macroscopic philosophical questions. The questions in questions range from why is there something rather than nothing, is there a God, is logical disagreement a sign of inherent meaninglessness, can we really know everything, and so on. These are indeed interesting and challenging questions. Looking into philosophy using physics and economics is kind of fun and gets one thinking laterally and not directly, which on the whole is a good skill to have.

Landsburg’s tackling of these questions is in many ways logical and rich. There are indeed mathematical bases for following both morality and human perception of color (as well as other things in the universe). His main premise is that once you have math, everything else follows. One of the very mind-boggling assertions me makes is that almost no one is deeply religious because crimes are committed on a fairly regular basis and acts of martyrdom are not. That part makes for fun reading. And for the most part, Landsburg’s theories are engaging, flow well, and get you to think a little more critically about the larger picture.
jazzy_dave: (bookish)
Julian Barnes "Something to Declare" (Picador)

When i picked this up i thought it was a novel but to my surprise it is a collection of essays on France from an avid francophile.

This book of essays covers many of the topics that are recognised as French territory: filmmaker Truffaut and the New Wave, the Tour de France, the singers of the 50's-60's who moaned on finding out that they were sharing their mistresses with others. And then there are the nine, yes nine, chapters on Barnes' favourite writer, Flaubert.

The writing is engaging from the beginning as Barnes describes his family vacations around France year after year, and his growing sense of comfort with the French culture. I especially appreciated his chapter on those singers such as Jacques Brel and Georges Brassens (though I can't understand why my favourite, Serge Gainsborg wasn't included) and the one on author Georges Simenon was full of decadent scandal and therefore wonderful.

A very enjoyable book that is well-written and fun to read.

Good Night

Apr. 14th, 2017 11:24 pm
jazzy_dave: (Default)

Have a good night and sweet dreams.

Tomorrow i fancy pancakes bacon and maple syrup for breakfast.


Apr. 14th, 2017 11:20 pm
jazzy_dave: (intellectual vices)
Well,it certainly has been a quiet day.

Had lunch at the pub midday and then after three drinks i left the place.and had an afternoon siesta. A much needed one.

I did that for a couple of hours and then listened to the radio for awhile.The last programme being one by A.L.Kennedy on the Power or Reading.

She extols the virtues of reading and its power to encourage respect for the value and sovereignty of other people's existence.

"It allows you to look and feel your way through the lives of others who may apparently be very other - and yet here they are - inside your head."

I shall be watching a DVD i purchased from Thursday's charity shop visit by Michael Palin - a documentary series on New Europe.

Michael Palin's New Europe : Complete BBC Series [DVD]

Good night folks.

Oh i had to use DW due to the fact that the Quays Wi-Fi really screws up my LJ sometimes.
jazzy_dave: (Default)
Julian Barnes "Levels Of Life" (Vintage)

This a short and beautiful book as well as an honest and forthright book on grief.

Julian Barnes became a widower in 2008 when his wife died of a brain tumour at age 68 . Pat Kavanagh was a brilliant and well respected literary agent. They had been together, off and on but mostly on, for over 30 years. In this auto biography Julian Barnes has used his considerable writing skills to portray the ongoing depth of his loss... and depth of his love. His writing is restrained and contained, harnessed to to give us the merest glimpse into his pain. Not easy.

That covers the third part of this book. However the first two parts are about ballooning. He conveys his passions such as France, photography and Ballooning. These parts are written with gusto, and they are exhilarating. The stories touch on many themes and motives that are known to have fascinated Barnes, and can be found throughout his life and work. They cover a 19th century French portrait photographer, a British balloonist,Fred Barnaby, who falls in love with Sarah Bernhardt and then he brings this altogether in the final touching sad and profoundly intimate exploration of grief.

This is an ibncedible book which i found deeply affecting.
jazzy_dave: (bookish)
Wilfred Owen "Anthem For Doomed Youth" (Penguin Little Black Classics)

Poignant,harrowing and just beautiful.. these poems from the Great War (1014 - 1918) will melt your heart and reminds us of the futility of war. Contained within this slim volume are 37 poems by the poet who,was killed just a week before Armistice Day.

This is the poem that gives the book its title. For just 80 pence these little black books are terrific value for money.

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, -
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing down of blinds.

jazzy_dave: (bookish)
Sun-Mi Hwang "The Dog Who Dared To Dream" (Abacus)

Wow - what a great little book and not just a shaggy dig story (pun intended).

The Dog Who Dared to Dream tells the story of Scraggy, the odd one out of the litter of pups born to a mother who’s life has been series of pregnancies. Scraggly slowly sees her family disappear for various reasons until one day there is just her left. Alone she sets off to see the world outside the gates of her home. We follow her as she encounters other animals and humans, and grows up with her owner Grandpa Screecher.

The novel shows the trials of life through the eyes of Scraggly, grief at losing loved ones, the importance of friendship and the cruelties that can lay at the hands we trust the most.

This is a charming and moving tale about the relationship between man and dog. The symbiotic relationship and the often times cruel one that can exist. It is also a sad tale, one of the loneliness Scraggly faces as her family leave her.

It is a parable about the vagaries of life, of hardship, sacrifice and love. Scraggly’s children leave, some dying, others sold, never to return and she pines their loss equally. I was soon caught up with Scraggly’s tale, pulled along by the narrative, and oddly moved by it.

This is a short novel, only 160 pages in length but it packs a lot of story into those few pages. There is a fairytale like sense to the book, helped not only by the canine lead character but by the translation, which I always find tends to lend an aura of magic to a story. It opens on the door a little on a different culture, one perhaps unknown and therefore a little mysterious offering a stunningly evocative description of Korean culture and village life, while keeping the world small and self-contained.

I finished this in a day it was that enchanting!
jazzy_dave: (Default)
Fredrik Backman "A Man Called Ove" (Sceptre)

Who doesn't love grumpy old men? OK, maybe not in real life, but they are ever so appealing in novels, right? Fredrik Backman's delightful novel, A Man Called Ove, has a wonderful curmudgeon of a main character that you just can't help but adore and a quirky cast of characters around him that restores your faith in humanity.

Ove is only in his fifties but he comes across as much older. He is intolerant of ineptitude and has a deep reverence for rules. He patrols his neighbourhood, making sure that any and all signs, injunctions, and home owner rules are followed. He is a crusty bugger of a loner. And then he gets new neighbours. Patrick inadvertently flattens Ove's mailbox when he moves his family into the neighbourhood, not the most auspicious way to meet a man who is already annoyed that they've driven a vehicle down a street clearly marked for no cars. Yet Parvaneh, Patrick's pregnant wife, sees past the gruff exterior, finds him humorous, and starts to make inroads with Ove.

Having Parvaneh, Patrick, and their two young daughters living beside Ove engages him in the life of the neighbourhood again and foils his careful plan to commit suicide. He has come up with his plan because not only has he been forced to retire from his lifelong job, but he is also desperately grieving his wife Sonja, the only other woman who ever looked into his heart and saw the strong moral code of right and wrong and the sheer goodness and kindness that he is so careful to hide. But this family next door to him and then an increasing number of people in his community need him and so he must put off his plans to die day after day. As Ove becomes more and more engaged in living and in connecting with the people around him, he talks to Sonja, telling her about his days and reliving the past that made him the way he is.

This is a moving and emotionally satisfying book. Ove will make the reader laugh and cry in equal measure. He is a character who can fall out with a long time friend over the make of his car (Ove only drives Saabs) but he's also the man who can take in a ratty looking stray cat, despite disliking cats, because he knows it would have pleased his wife. Ove is such an appealing character that the reader can't help but root for him to find happiness and life sustaining friendship. Each time Ove is called on to postpone his suicide and help someone, his grumbling and muttering are completely entertaining. The book is absolutely delightful, touching, and brimming with a beautiful dignity.
jazzy_dave: (Default)
Georges Simenon "Félicie (Inspector Maigret) (Penguin)

Jules Lapie, nicknamed Houtebeen, is assassinated in a suburb of Paris. Partly with and partly without the cooperation of Lapies housekeeper, Felicie, Maigret finds out who committed the murder; a tough guy of Pigalle.

THis is a typical Simenon Book.The protagonist is a woman who complements her pretty one-sided life of hard work with a dream world have built on using all kinds of cheap novels and the schmaltz contained within them. It is a less than straightforward investigation by Maigret, and the author has created an atmosphere of geniality, good food and pleasant scents.

Simenon paints with a small palette of selected colours and hits the target time and time again.So fat,this has turned out to be one of my favourites as Simenon draws out Felicie's character and Maigret's interaction with her. The exasperation is well done.

A short novel which can be read easily in a couple of days and also an enjoyable book.
jazzy_dave: (Default)
Maya Angelou "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings" (Virago)

In this first of Angelou's memoirs, Maya and her brother Bailey are sent to live with their grandmother in Stamps, AR, when they are young children. They are raised in a strict but loving home and are aware, even at their tender ages, of the prejudices all around them. The children would sporadically live with their mother in St. Louis, their father in California and ultimately with their mother when she too moved to California. Both children were avid readers and excellent students. Maya's love for the written word would be her lifelong passion.

Although there were many instances of sadness, prejudice and even abuse, there was also a good deal of humor. The trip to Mexico with her father was quite funny as a 15-year-old Maya decided to drive her father's Hudson back to California, never mind that she had never driven a car before, with a drunk Daddy in the back seat. After crashing into another car at the border guard station and witnesses noticed the body on the back seat the incident nearly became criminal.

Maya spent a month living in a junk yard car, fought to become the first black allowed to work on city streetcars, and became pregnant at age 16. All of these things might have crushed a young girl's dreams, but Maya embraced all of her experiences into the woman she would become.

Highly recommended.
jazzy_dave: (Default)
Steve Stack "21 st Century Dodos : A Collection of Endangered Objects (and Other Stuff)" (The Friday Project Ltd.)

f you remember sliding your home made mix cassette tape, recorded in silence from the Radio Top 40, into your Walkman and strapping your calculator watch to your wrist before disappearing to play unsupervised in the local park until dinner time, then the nostalgic appeal 21st Century Dodos will be a source of nostalgic appeal.

Subtitled “A collection of endangered objects (and other stuff)” this is a light and humorous tribute to the end of an era. At just forty it seems almost obscene that so much of my childhood is now obsolete – rotary phones, Polaroid cameras, 10c mixed lolly bags (Cobbers were my favourite), school blackboards and roller skates but I enjoyed the reminder of these simple pleasures, and treasures.

A trip to the past is a welcome diversion and if you like doing that then this book is for you. 


jazzy_dave: (bookish)
Malcolm Gaskill "Witchcraft : A Very Short Introduction" (Oxford University Press)

This provides an informative introduction to the history of withcraft throughout the ages, though mostly focusing on persecutions, right up to modern times including the abuse of child witches in modern-day Nigeria recently featured in documentaries. It seems to take an unbiased view, and references many studies which investigate witchcraft and the circumstances under which accusations arose, including political and cultural.

An interesting introduction that opens up several avenues for investigating further.

He also wrote this book some time ago,and i have in my collection , yet to read of course.

jazzy_dave: (bookish)
Umberto Eco "The Mysterious Flame Of Queen Loana" (Vintage)

As I made my way through this book, I kept thinking to myself "This is Umberto Eco's best book yet!" Then I'd get bogged down in a bit of poetry or a narrative about Flash Gordon and I'd think "Perhaps it's not quite as good as Foucault's Pendulum." In the end I found it impossible to decide which was better (and perhaps it's irrelevant anyway). Perhaps that is part of the reason this book tool longer to finish than most.

The narrative about a sixty year old Italian man who loses all personal memories as the result of a stroke seems touchingly personal. The narrator spends the first part of the book trying to comprehend what has happened to him. In the second part, he returns to his childhood home to rummage through the attic and rediscover his past through paper. In a heart-rending trade-off, he is finally able to relive his memories but nothing else.

In a way, Eco is giving us three books in one: First, the intriguing novella about losing personal memories; Second, a rather eclectic review of literature and pop culture in 1940s Italy; Third, a gripping account of some of the most significant events in a young boy's life. By turns humorous and poignant, this wonderfully-illustrated book is definitely worth reading.

jazzy_dave: (Default)

E.H.Carr "What Is History?" (Penguin History)

Going back to re-read old university textbooks for fun must be a sign of incipient nostalgia for the lost days of youth - that or masochism. I didn’t get a nostalgic buzz (possibly as I was young and foolish enough to think I could get away by essentially skimming it) for my Open University courses in history but reading it now with age and experience has made it more rewarding.

Carr’s initial question is the springboard for six essays, transcribed from a series of lectures. It’s a musing on what history is and the role it has in our society – how it actually fits neatly in with sciences, how objective a historian can be and how history tells us as much about the time it’s written in as it does about the time itself. It’s actually aged very well, being prescient on a number of issues and forcefully making a point of how history should be a positive force. Still, one thing is concerning – if Carr’s thesis that a nation in decline harks back to golden ages and nostalgia and turns inward on itself then the UK is in a ‘sick’ state indeed.

A fascinating starting point for anyone looking at history and historiography.
jazzy_dave: (Default)
Harvey Pekar "The Quitter" (Vertigo)

The Quitter covers Harvey Pekar's childhood growing up in Cleveland. Some of this material was previously covered in American Splendor, but not much of it; that tended to focus on Harvey's later life, which only comes in at the very end here. What can I say about it beyond that it might be my favourite Pekar comic yet? He fills in his life in broad sketches, focusing into specific moments only a couple times, but this story really resonated with me-- as indeed, I suspect it would with anyone who's ever tried to do something and ended up giving up because it was hard. Or maybe just because of stupid reasons. The Quitter details Pekar's attempts to find something he won't give up at.

Pekar's short works resist "messages," but The Quitter has one, sort of, even if it's just that someday you might find something where you don't quit. Barely a message, but it's somehow uplifting, and I found myself feeling better about myself after finishing The Quitter, and I don't often like books that overtly try to do that to me.

Dean Haspiel might just be my favourite artistic collaborator for Pekar so far; his work is cartoony, but gritty, which suits Pekar's "neo-realist" style more so than some of the more realistic art I've seen in American Splendor, which tends to be too stiff to work as good comics. Lee Loughridge accentuates the whole thing with good use of "gray tones."

An excellent graphic novel.

jazzy_dave: (bookish)
Paolo Sorrentino "Youth" (MacLehose Press)

Paolo Sorrentino is a novelist and film director. He has writes books, with great success in Italy and less elsewhere.I found this paperback in Waterstones in a sale bin for a pound.

Youth takes place in a spa or wellness hotel in the Alps, a resort for the wealthy, with a daily medical check-up, sauna and fitness. Main Characters are octogenarians Fred and Mick, respectively, a retired composer and film director working on his latest film. Furthermore, the microcosm consists of a Hollywood star, an obese South American ex-football player and a bizarre German couple. The characters turn a bit around each other without causing more than ripples in the pool. That's the way things are towards the end of this non-film script novelisation and hence meanders aimlessly , almost without plot, with occasional comical, and almost absurd scenes.

Whether the film is better than the book, i do not know so i will have to check out the film out which, incidentally , has top actors like Michael Cain , Rachel Weiss and Harvey Keitel.
jazzy_dave: (bookish)
John Le Carre "The Looking Glass War" (Penguin Modern Classics)

I actually started reading this late December , and just finished recently,a reflection of this being not one of his best.

John Le Carre follows up The Spy Who Came In from the Cold with this more realistic take on the mundane, and inane, world of cold war espionage. The brief sparks of idealism occasionally present in the previous book is replaced here by an almost pervading cynicism as rival intelligence agencies compete for resources, with the fading military intelligence operation, the Department, snatching at the flimsiest of leads in an effort to prove their relevance compared to the political intelligence agency, the Circus. In doing so, lies are believed to the point where they become indistinguishable from truth, careers are made or broken, assets, including men, are wasted.

This is where the more modern Le Carre began to take shape, introducing a brand of scepticism that can only be wrought by a former insider. At the time of its publication in 1965 it was excoriated by critics and did not sell nearly as well as its predecessor, not surprisingly since it was not in the mode of the rah-rah spy novels in vogue at the time. Sadly, as evidenced by the dysfunction revealed in the 9/11 investigations, clumsy, uncoordinated intelligence agencies incapable of working together still rule the world with disastrous consequences. The writing is less polished, but here lies the germ of the style that would become Le Carre's hallmark in the Quest for Karla trilogy, which is probably his best known novels. I shall be reading these at some point ,although i have read "Tinker TailorSoldier Spy" before.

So in conclusion, not one of the best Le Carre novel but still good.


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