Thursday, January 28, 2010
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
With 680 reviews on Librarything already, what could I possibly say that would be different or original from anyone else? This is my second Cormac McCarthy. It won't be my last. My sister-in-law lent it to me. "You'll read it in a day," she said. She was right. Good stuff to read on hot summer nights when you've turned the air-conditioning off for fear of global warming. Our pantry has always been the source of mirth in our family...well stocked with tins by my husband - a hangover from his grandfather from the war years - the sisters-in-law always joke they know where to come when the apocalypse hits. Now I'm thinking we should be building a donger - or whatever they're called. Speaking of words there were quite a few in this book I'd never heard before and that's always a good thing - to stretch the brain. At 1am I got up and googled "krugerrands". I've led a sheltered life obviously. This is a simple and a difficult book to read. It is a classic "and then" story. The father and son talk much like fathers and sons do these days but it's so much more poignant in their predicament. And then again is it? Is that what Cormac is asking? We wonder what we will be like when faced with a challenge like this or any challenge. Are we prepared enough ? - mentally, physically, morally. Can anything prepare us for life and what we might face? Are we just victims of the blind biological drive to keep going? I can see we're going to have fun at bookclub with this one. And the movie comes out today!
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
The String of Pearls by Joseph Roth
"A fairy story that has swallowed a novel..." Michael Hofmann, in the Introduction to his translation of "Die Geschichte der 1002en Nacht" or "The Tale of the 1002nd Night" sums up Joseph Roth's artistry admirably. Roth's writing is indeed Dickensian in style "but at a third of the length" - an even more admirable quality in my books. This volume published by Granta books London is delightful to hold and delightful to read.
It is not without its disturbing qualities. And by disturbing I don't mean scary or unpalatable; I mean disquieting, uncomfortable and rousing the reader to deep contemplation of the world and its human occupants.
The story is set in 18-- and for the most part in Vienna. It starts in Persia however with the Shah-in-Shah who is "sick". His Chief Eunuch diagnoses boredom but not in so many words and so the royal delegation and all its retinue head off to Vienna in search of variety. The Shah's visit has unintended consequences for various unsuspecting individuals which I won't reveal for fear of spoiling the story.
This is my first experience of Roth. I will definitely be going back for more. So many of the passages in this book are spine-chilling in their accurate observations of human frailty. His characters often commit "monstrous" acts and yet the reader is still compelled to observe them with compassion if only out of a knowledge of shared weaknesses.
Here is one little quote to give you a sense of his style:
"Experiences, when one encountered them, looked bright, colourful, floating. You held on to them as to a balloon on a string, for as long as they were fun. Then, when you got bored, you let go. They floated off prettily into the air, you watched them go with gratitude and affection, and they they went quietly pop somewhere in the clouds. But a few hadn't gone pop at all. Instead, treacherous and invisible, they had hung around somewhere for years, in defiance of all the rules of Nature. And then, full of ballast, they fell back like lead weights on the head of poor Taittinger."
Roth's observation of humanity is almost scientific in its accuracy but mercifully he softens it with a large dollop of droll humour. Enjoy!
Monday, January 25, 2010
Sunday, January 24, 2010
Right - well the weekend of experimenting is almost over....I made a loaf of bread that Bel reckons tastes like croissants. I made pizza dough very successfully and have put on half a kilo as a result. Was it the pizza or was it the sitting and knitting??? The experiment knitting a Sublime pattern with Debbie Bliss wool is over. I reckon I'll knit a Debbie Bliss pattern with Debbie Bliss wool now......Thanks for being a patient model teddy....the more photos I take, the more I admire window dressers, photographers of fine food, knitting et al...it's an art and requires bucket loads of ..of....of....something I ain't got...
I pronounce this the year of the salt and pepper shaker! Let me explain....Christmas is a tricky time of year for our family. Robbie loathes presents and gift giving (mostly because the thought of the credit card debt gives him apoplexy) so gifts to each other is approached with caution. This year he proclaimed a need for a drill, went out and bought it for himself and before I could stop him, wrapped it as well and put it under the tree. My task then became to get him something cheap but cheerful from somewhere like Crazy Clarks so he couldn't get cross with me for spending too much money. I found what I thought was the perfect gift - battery operated salt and pepper shakers. We have inherited a variety of salt and pepper shakers from friends and relatives moving house...none of which work properly...the ones from Crazy Clarks were a bit putrid to look at but you pays your money.....Christmas Day arrived...Robbie opened his surprise gift and was I thought not as chuffed as I thought he might have been...but then, it was Christmas Day. And then I opened my present...two battery operated salt and pepper shakers...only really nice ones...really expensive Russell Hobbs ones. Ooops!
But wait, there's more!!! Friends of ours went to Sri Lanka to catch up with rellies over Christmas. We looked after their Fighting Fish and Budgie. On their return they plied us with gifts; genuine Ceylon tea, shimmering shawls and ..... salt and pepper shakers...but aren't they something? They remind me of a what-not I've been carrying around for years that I was given as a child - the kissing bunnies...I can't throw it out...I don't know who got it for me...maybe Daddy returning from one of his trips away...so ....Compliments of the Season to you....hugs and kisses all around...and if you want to catch up on a bit of etiquette regarding Condiments I urge you to check out the video here....which gives all sorts of advice about buttering bread rolls and passing salad dressing to your right...but apparently you don't ever pass the salt and pepper unless you are specifically asked for it. Why ??? Can anyone tell me??? Condiment by the way comes from the Latine - condire - to season....so Condiments of the Season to you!!!
Sunday, January 17, 2010
Lily the Pink Design by Sublime
So Grand Purl Baa and I did go to Tangled Yarns within 48 hours of my spying it. And very nice it was. I bought some Debbie Bliss Baby Casmerino and am using a Sublime pattern to knit a cardigan for Kylie's imminent baby girl.
I dutifully knitted a tension square. I have perfect tension I might add but wools are different....and sure enough the square came out at 11cm - not 10cm. So I went down a kneedle size and knitted another square...this time too small at 9.5cm. So I've gone up a 1/4 size and am hoping for the best.
My daughter is 6 hours off being able to go for her "P"s so we drove carefully over to Sherwood to Threads and More where I bought a Debbie Bliss book just in case there was a disaster and a pair of needles that I didn't have already. I have hundreds of pairs of needles but never the ones I need!!!
And so now I am knitting - hooray hooray. Watched two silly movies with the kids - Drag Me to Hell and 17 Again. Hubba Hubba the boy in 17 again is a bit like the next Tom Cruise....Oh and cleaned the bathroom and baked bread so the Domestic Goddess within me is feeling quite fine thank you very much.
Friday, January 15, 2010
I've signed up for the Complete Booker 2010 Challenge - reading 6 of the longlist nominees....so there...always fun trying to pick the winner. Review of Bright Star to follow in the not too distant future when I've had a chance to think about it a bit more....
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Nothing really to report but just want to crow a little bit that when I went for my monthly weigh-in this morning, I actually somehow managed to weigh less than I did before Xmas. Hallelujah! So, since I joined Curves I have lost 13.5 centimetres. The weight loss is negligible (sp?) but it's a loss. We start a weight management plan thingy this weekend.
In other breaking news, I have discovered Book Crossing and released my first book into the wild on Monday. I am conducting a controlled release today.
I might go exploring today too. As I dropped off an Express Post parcel to the Valley Post Office last night I noticed a new knitting shop around the corner in Chester Street. It took all my self control to keep driving the car home and not stop and have a look. It's called Tangled Yarns . I can't believe there is a knitting shop so close to where I work - it's a dream come true.
Saw Sherlock Holmes on Sunday night with dear friend Karen which I thoroughly enjoyed. I'm not all gooey for Robert Downey Jr. like a lot of women seem to be...and I spent most of the movie thinking Rachel McAdams was Kylie Minogue - sorry Rachel. Music by Hans Zimmer - my personal all time favourite composer. I am very interested to see what Inception is about - Zimmer did the music for this too....it was one of the trailers leading into the film and stars scrummy Leonardo di Caprio - what is it about that boy that I love so much???? It's not out til July apparently - can I last that long???? By Chris Nolan - who did The Dark Knight, The Prestige, Batman Begins, Insomnia and Memento.....should be good huh?
Off to see Bright Star tonight - should be a visual feast. Am also looking forward to seeing it because it is set in exactly the same time zone as the book I was reading a couple of weeks ago The American Boy so it should be fun to compare the two....one about Keats and one a fictional musing about Edgar Allen Poe's childhood.
Am I a culture vulture or what????
Posted by Alex Daw at 8:03 AM
Sunday, January 10, 2010
The Help is marketed in Australia as a Great Women's Weekly Read. Normally this sort of branding would completely turn me off the book. However one of our bookclub members chose this as a Secret Santa gift. She was somewhat apologetic, but excused her choice by thinking that it would be a good, mindless read over the lovely long Summer holidays by the beach. To a degree she was right. This book is not difficult to read at all - in fact it is a real page-turner which I think is somewhat of a recommendation. But it is definitely not mindless. It is set in the 60s in the deep south of the USA. The genre is probably best described as chick-lit as the blokes tend to get a cursory treatment. It focusses on the relationships between white women and their black maids - a relationship which often extends over several generations. Many issues are explored - gender, race, mother-daughter relationships, child-care, female friendships, work/careers. This is Kathryn Stockett's first novel and I think it is a fine effort. Characters "speak" in their own vernacular which gives them authenticity. They are well drawn and the plot works well - keeping you guessing all the way as to how it will unfold. I think it's a great book for bookclub and will provoke much discussion over dinner.
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Gambling with Books in 2010
1. The American Boy by Andrew Taylor
This was my gift from Secret Santa at our Christmas Book Club dinner 16 December at the very swish Montrachet Restaurant in honour of our reading Julie and Julia by Julie Powell last year.
You might not be able to see it in the photo of the cover but it is a very beautiful cover with a kind of reflective foil finish on the green bits which makes it even more Christmassy. The cover gives a hint of the story to come. Up til now I have regarded the female figure on the front as somebody from Ancient Rome but now I realise that she is a probably more likely a Regency figure. The novel is set in 1819/1820. The swirling lines indicate the complex plot to follow.
A few disclaimers on my part as a reviewer up front. Firstly I am not a lover of crime fiction. Secondly, I know next to nothing about Edgar Allen Poe - allright - I recognise the name and that's about it!! [The American Boy] won the CWA Historical Dagger for Fiction. As an Australian who doesn't have a great interest in crime fiction this can be somewhat of a misleading piece of information to have on the back cover. The acronym CWA in Australia probably has a greater profile amongst females as the venerable institution - the Country Women's Association - rather than the Crime Writers Association. I therefore perhaps foolishly spent the first chapter looking for references to scone recipes or needlework or good works. No !! I jest. But this story does sum up my conflicted response to the book.
It was not an entirely difficult read but I didn't fully enjoy it and I'm not quite sure why. Perhaps the lead character, a school teacher/tutor, wasn't quite strong enough for my liking. The novel itself is a marvellous study of a society adhering rigidly to notions of class. It is set well before the Married Women's Property Act where women are at the bottom of the social heap in terms of rights/standing and must marry well to have any form of tolerable existence. Men are valued first and foremost by their property. Servants are not to be trusted - even by each other and it's a slippery and long slope to the bottom of the social scale - ignominy and ruin. There was no-one I really liked or wanted to barrack for. It's a shame because I think the author put stacks of work into researching the time period and reflecting it accurately in so many ways -from language, to accounts of conveyances and the mores of the time. I think he may have had rather more enjoyment constructing it, than I did reading it.
Twenty Four Hours in the Life of a Woman was my first Stefan Zweig experience - polished off in less than twenty four hours. And the experience wasn't too bad at all and has whetted my appetite for more. I don't read many short stories (though maybe this qualifies as a novella; I'm not sure of the precise definitions). It was nevertheless a diverting - nay an absorbing read. One was very quickly sucked into the world of the story and intrigued to find out what happened next. I was conscious much of the time of the enormous debt a reader bears to the translator. Zweig obviously loves language and is keen to communicate just the right nuance in his carefully chosen words. I think this must put an added pressure on the translator to capture those sometimes ephemeral nuances between languages. In this instance Anthea Bell was the translator and has received awards for her work. Did you know she translated Asterix the comic for us? No wonder I like her work!!
There were a couple of things that grabbed me about this story. I liked the idea of someone trying to amuse themselves when they were bored witless by changing the way they viewed the world i.e. by looking at the gambler's hands rather than their faces. I will never forget that and may now employ the technique in other fields! Secondly, I liked the account of how a person changes in the grip of an addiction. Zweig impressively managed to capture the hurt/insult that our heroine suffered at the hands of the man she tried to save from ruin. I have only been to a casino once with my husband - never again !!! It was truly appalling witnessing a very smart man thinking he could possibly beat the system. There was no reasoning with him - well in hindsight there must have been because we did emerge from that truly tacky establishment eventually - but it was one of the loneliest and scariest experiences I have ever had the misfortune to experience. Zweig captures it beautifully.
Saturday, January 2, 2010
I have just returned from four beautiful days in Canberra. Most of my childhood was spent in Canberra (from the ages of 4 to 15). Each time I return I am more in love with the place than I was before. On New Year's Day my old friend Judith and I discovered Reconciliation Place - or at least a part of it. We were waiting for the National Portrait Gallery to open and wandered around the back of the building to discover this beautiful creation and others. We reflected on their simple message and were inspired. This particular artwork is Artwork Number 11 by 'Munnari' John Hammond, Ruby Hammond's son. This is a quote from Ruby: "Aboriginal Dreaming sings to us of living in harmony with the land and with each other." I tried to take a photo of the beautiful countryside around Canberra - funnily enough I ended up showing more of a bitumen road than the countryside - but perhaps that says it all!! So my wish for 2010 for us all is to live in harmony with the land and with each other.
Posted by Alex Daw at 9:10 AM