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.

jazzy_dave: (bookish)
Shusaku Endo "Silence" (Picador)

I have extremely mixed feelings about this book. It is one of those given tome by my bother.

On the one hand, it is an intense and penetrating look at the travails of a Catholic missionary in 17th century Japan, after Christianity has been outlawed and its believers subjected to torture, and a deep and thought-provoking meditation on the meaning of faith. It is also beautifully written, and provides a vivid portrait of Japan as seen through Portuguese eyes as written by a Japanese author.

On the other hand . . . I not only have difficulty comprehending this depth of faith but also, as a non-Christian pro-aestheticism curmudgeon, I have never been able to understand the extensive, if not extreme, proselytising of Christianity, the need to convert as many others as possible to its beliefs. It seems patronising to me: "we know what's best for you."

These feelings coloured my reading of the book because, while I was appalled by the Japanese methods of torture (although torture has certainly been practised by those professing to be Christians too), I could understand why they wanted to keep such a foreign (and colonising) religion out of their country. Nor do I understand the appeal of martyrdom. I also found a little peculiar the way the protagonist, Father Rodrigues, seems to compare his suffering to that of Jesus, and his betrayer to Judas. Perhaps this would not be disturbing to someone who is Christian, so perhaps this reflects a lack of understanding on my part, but it seems a little self-aggrandising to me.

The overall question, of the silence of God, is more interesting. The 20th century, when this book was written, was a century of evil and suffering on a huge scale, and therefore this question is of even more import now than it was when Father Rodrigues travelled to Japan. Additionally, Endō, himself a devoted Catholic, alludes to the issue of how a western religion like Christianity can adapt itself to an eastern culture like that of Japan. Had he explored this more, I might have found more to like about the book.

As it is, I can only think that, throughout the centuries, not only have people of various religions persecuted and killed people of other religions but, as my father liked to say, more wars have been fought over religion than for any other reason (not sure if this is strictly true). I wish I could say this book helped me understand faith more, but it left me just as puzzled and perplexed. Perhaps Marx is right after all,that religion is the opium of the people.
jazzy_dave: (Default)
Slavoj Zizek "Philosophy in Transit - Event" (Penguin)

This is what the blurb says "An Event can be an occurrence that shatters ordinary life, a radical political rupture, a transformation of reality, a religious belief, the rise of a new art form, or an intense experience such as falling in love. This book examines the new and highly-contested concept of Event."

As Zizek says, with such a myriad of definitions available, there is no choice but to take a risk and begin the journey towards understanding the concept of an “event”, a journey that Zizek likens to that undertaken by Elspeth McGillicuddy in Agatha Christie’s 4:50 from Paddington.

Elspeth McGillicuddy is the innocuous old lady friend of Miss Marple who happens to be glancing out of the train window at just the right time to see a murder committed. The whole thing happens in an instant and, her view having been obscured by the train window, no one except Miss Marple believes her. For Slavoj Zizek, the experience of Elspeth McGillicuddy is the very epitome of an “event” – “something shocking, out of joint, that appears all of a sudden and interrupts the usual flow of things.”

This is a nice, almost straightforward introduction to the subject matter of Event but things do rapidly become more complicated. Zizek expands upon this sudden, interrupting kind of event to describe how, at first, an event is “the effect that seems to exceed its causes” and that, further, the “space of an event is that which opens up by the gap that separates an effect from its cause.” Zizek considers the various different definitions of “event” and addresses fundamental questions like: “are all things connected?; how much are we agents of our own fate?; and, in a world that is constantly changing, is anything new really happening?” It is through these questions of causality that the concept of “event” ties in with one of the central questions of philosophy: are all things connected with causal links?

After discussing the differences between transcendental and ontological means of philosophical investigation, Zizek steers Event on a journey that includes stopovers considering changes or disintegrations of the frame through which reality appears to us, felix culpa (a religious fall), the reality of Buddhist Enlightenment, the power and significance of truth, the role of self, and the central elements of psychoanalysis, before finally arriving at the undoing of an event induced achievement. Zizek explains everything in a clear, almost patient, fashion and offers plenty of “real world” examples but these are still heavy topics. If I were actually reading Event on my commute then I would definitely have missed my stop.

Event is an extremely interesting book and, if accessible is not the right word, one that will have popular appeal. Zizek draws on universal references from Plato to arthouse cinema, the Big Bang to Buddhism, in order to make Event a journey into philosophy at its most exciting and elementary. Through his investigation into the nature of an “event”, Zizek has crafted a book that serves as an excellent primer to understanding philosophy and philosophical investigation in general.

jazzy_dave: (Default)
Lois Martin "The History of Witchcraft" (Pocket Essentials)

Lois Martin's short book hits all the high points in the history of witchcraft as Westerners typically understand it. A well-researched and documented account, THE HISTORY OF WITCHCRAFT is a valuable resource for those looking for a quick read about the legalistic approach to heresy and witchcraft. Martin does not address any modern pagan movement, besides a brief mention of both Margaret Murray and Charles Leland, but rather sticks to the facts as history has shown them.

If the reader has any interest in witch trials, witch-hunting, or the so-called Witch Craze of a few hundred years ago, Martin's book is a great introductory place to start. Her chapter in which she lists her resources in some depth should appeal to the student or researcher. My only criticism is that she seems to address some trials twice, which can be confusing if one is reading straight through rather than picking individual chapters.

The book doesn't say anywhere that witchcraft is evil. Its purpose is not to pass judgement on the subject matter, but to educate and inform, and it succeeds brilliantly.

jazzy_dave: (Default)
Time for some music i think -

Tim Buckley - Once I Was

Tim Buckley - Song to the Siren

Tim Buckley - Phantasmagoria in Two

jazzy_dave: (bookish)
W.G Sebald "The Emigrants" (Harvill)

This is a book of 4 essays, each focusing on someone the author knew personally (a landlord, a teacher, a great uncle, an artist friend), all displaced emigrants, all fairly normal, but also very remarkable in ways that Sebald skillfully and subtly brings out. These are essays about history and fate and, often, the holocaust... which is wisely never mentioned directly.

He writes in a way you have to savour slowly, in a certain state of mind.I have a hard time putting my finger on what exactly I enjoyed so much about this book. Perhaps this is a compliment to the writer, in that nothing stands out as remarkable... it is stylistically and structurally pretty standard stuff, but it builds in a cumulative way. Something about the slow, personal way these essays develop. Something about the melancholy that isn't ever melodramatic. Enlightening without being simply (or ever) revelatory. In fact, there are no answers here, simply questions and pain and longing. It's complex and open ended and personal.

His essays, which are sometimes considered fiction, but really are a tightrope-walk between reality and our tenuous relationship with it, are interspersed with photos. Some of the photos obviously contribute to the pieces, but some--oddly--are very literal and do not seem to illuminate much. And oftentimes I want to see a photo of something that is frustratingly not shown. Perhaps this was deliberately withheld from the reader for a purpose.

This particular book satisfied a craving. A craving for something stirring and huge, but not sad in the traditional 'weeping over my pillow' way... but more restrained, more difficult, more like a very distinct stillness, like an enormous snow-covered mountain range.

Recommended reading i say.

jazzy_dave: (black jazz)
Another dank dreary day in which we had a combination of cold winds, rain and occasional sleet Bitterly cold infact.

So after the lie-in and a quick nip to the supermarket to get some food the rest of the day has been spent listening to music, the radio or reading.

Oh and i also received through the post yesterday a CD by Spring Heel Jack called Amassed featuring Han Bennink , Evan Parker, John Edwards and Matthew Shipp amonst others.

One of the tracks from the album.

Spring Heel Jack - Lit

jazzy_dave: (Default)
Lisa Randall " Warped Passages : Unravelling the Universe's Hidden Dimensions" (Penguin)

Lisa Randall is a theoretical physicist who specializes in the so-called Standard Model of particle physics. She explains the particles and forces depicted in that model, and where the model fails as a picture of the real subatomic world. For example, it does not explain gravity's weakness compared with electromagnetism and the weak and strong nuclear forces. Randall's proposed solutions to the deficiencies in the Standard Model, unlike some of the other propositions of string theory, can be experimentally tested.
Randall writes as clearly as possible, I think; but to follow the text is made much easier if one is already acquainted with some basic principles of theoretical physics.
One awaits eagerly the results of the tests at the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) at CERN, which will or will not support her theories. If she turns out to be right, we will know that there is at least a 5th dimension to our universe and that the 'branes' of String Theory are real.


jazzy_dave: (Default)

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