Monday, December 20, 2010

Book Reviews and More Adelaide Collection

Here's another sample of the fabulous new Adelaide Collection of William Morris fabric from Michele Hill.

And here are some book reviews that I have finally got round to writing today about my most recent reads....

One of the great things about Librarything is the fabulous people you get to meet - even if only virtually. PaperbackPirate recommended I consider this book for my bookclub on the other side of the globe in the land down under. What an excellent suggestion!

Even though I do describe myself as a Bear of Little Brain and can truthfully say I spectacularly failed Science at school, I did manage to make my way through this amazing book. A couple of times I did stop myself and rehearse what I would say if someone asked me what it was about....aka "Well it's about cell culture thingummies" just wouldn't cut it with the scientific fraternity.

So what is it about? Well it's about one woman's journey to find out who Henrietta Lacks really was. Rebecca Skloot first heard about Henrietta in a community college biology class. She learned that she had died in 1951 from cervical cancer but that before she died, "a surgeon took samples of her tumor and put them in a petri dish." Her cells differed from other human cells in that they reproduced every 24 hours and didn't die. She wanted to know more but no-one could tell her anything about Henrietta despite her cells being omnipresent in most labs around the world today.

This book is, at face value, about scientific discovery and ethics. But it is so much more than that. There were times when I had to put the book down and take a big breath because some of the subject matter was so tough to read. It impressed upon me the immense vulnerability of those who through misfortune do not have access to education, good health or parents to protect their best interests in their childhood.

Ultimately what impressed me most was Rebecca Skloot's tenacity and compassion to work together with Henrietta's descendants to uncover the truth . She gives an honest account of that journey which was not easy by any stretch of the imagination. Yes the book is about science but it is also a story about a family's and an individual's struggle. This book is a tribute to Rebecca, to Henrietta and her descendants.

Excellent Women by Barbara Pym

At long last ! My very first Barbara Pym! I wasn't quite sure to expect but being rather fond of a Pimms at Christmas I thought it couldn't be too bad and probably rather nice. An enthusiastic response from fellow Virago-ites confirmed my supposition and I leapt in with both feet.

This particular edition has an introduction by Alexander McCall Smith which is also an excellent sign as I'm very fond of his sense of humour. He sums up the world of the book very cogently by describing it as "a world of shortages and genteel drabness". Excellent Women is in fact the perfect tonic for these austere times. For our book-club this year we have decided to swap books for Christmas as a nod towards belt tightening. Some lucky gal will be snaffling this treasure tomorrow night.

So what's it about? Well it's about living in a small community where everyone knows who you are and thinks they know where you will end up - including you - only you sub-consciously wish it might be different. The story is set after the war when, no doubt, a lot of eligible young men were knocked off and there is a surplus of eligible young women - or spinsters as some unkind people used to call them.

Mildred is our heroine of sorts. She provides a wry commentary of the goings-on of her new neighbours, the Napiers, and the disturbance they cause to the delicate balance that is ultimately village life, even in the big smoke - London. When you discover that the lead male "interest' Mr Napier's christian name is Rockingham, you know you're in for a treat. Mildred is a clergyman's daughter and spends much of her time with the local vicar and his sister organising the odd bazaar and, before she can object, the rocky domestic life of the Napiers.

As McCall-Smith says, much of the joy in this book is to be gained from a reflection of our own human foibles. Chapter Two for example concludes with the following observation...

"I hoped the Napiers were not going to keep late hours and have noisy parties. Perhaps I was getting spinsterish and 'set' in my ways, but I was irritated at having been woken. I stretched out my hand towards the little bookshelf where I kept cookery and devotional books, the most comforting bedside reading. My hand might have chosen Religio Medici, but I was rather glad that it had picked out Chinese Cookery and I was soon soothed into drowsiness." Well I may not have Chinese Cookery or Religio Medici for that matter in my collection, but I am guilty of taking a good craft book to bed, secure in the knowledge that I will never complete one tenth of the projects therein but deriving great satisfaction from considering them nonetheless.

There are so many wonderful lines in this work. Barbara Pym celebrates the ordinariness of life - the sheer, at times, tedium of existence and how we invent ways to deal with it.....shall I share one more quote? Here Mildred is describing Everard Bone, the object of Mrs Napier's unrequited affection....

"He was certainly very clever and handsome, too, in his own way, but there was no warmth or charm about his personality. I began imagining him as a clergyman and decided that he would make a good one. His rather forbidding matter would be useful to him. I realised that one might love him secretly with no hope of encouragement, which can be very enjoyable for the young or inexperienced."

Fabulous stuff! Excellent Women - you know from the get-go what kind of book it will be and sometimes that is a very comforting place to be indeed.

What will you be reading over the Christmas holidays?  What do you hope to be given for Christmas?


Captain Nick Sparrow said...

Right now I'm rereading The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis and next I will read Silver Dreams by Sondra Rice Newman. It begins on Christmas Eve so I thought it would be appropriate.

What are you going to read next?

little hat said...

Happy Christmas Alex. I don't come by that often but it's great to see you're still blogging as am I. and I've signed up for a Writers Centre "Year of the Memoir" adventure.

All the best for the New Year.
Steve c