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What are you reading in 2017?
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Caro



Joined: 22 Nov 2008
Posts: 2980


Location: Owaka, New Zealand

PostPosted: Mon May 29, 2017 12:17 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I have started a NZ novel which was a contender for fiction of the year in this year's Ockham Book awards. Billy Bird by Emma Neale.  It was recommended to me, but so far I am struggling to 'get into it'.  Billy, after a family tragedy, apparently turns himself into a bird and it is the family's attempts to cope with this that the book is about.  As yet, I have just got to the part where Billy has just begun squawking like a bird after reading only about birds and learning about them in detail.  (He was just 6 when the accident happened, but already a fairly competent reader.)

And I am getting through my book on WWI postcards from NZ soldiers.  It is a skimmable book, but has some very interesting bits, like an accident at a Devon rail station where NZ soldiers mistakenly got off when another express train was coming and ten of them were killed.  Bere Ferres was the name of the station.  I feel I had read that before, but hadn't remembered it.


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Joe McWilliams



Joined: 10 Feb 2012
Posts: 689


Location: Canada

PostPosted: Tue May 30, 2017 12:28 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Caro I just read the Wiki article on the Bere Ferrers rail disaster. How sad for those young chaps and their families. They thought they should get out the same side they got on or some such thing and the timing was very bad.
It reminded me of something I once did in Agra, India, getting out onto the open track on the wrong side of the train. Obviously I got away with it.


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Joe McWilliams



Joined: 10 Feb 2012
Posts: 689


Location: Canada

PostPosted: Thu Jun 01, 2017 10:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm reading Mark Twain's Life on the Mississippi, the most difficult river in the world to type, and I suppose I should say something about it.
His purpose seems to be to evoke the heyday of the steamboat era and as such he is a much more serious version of himself than I grew to love in the just-completed 'A Tramp Abroad.' Twain was thoroughly untrustworthy in that account of European travel, and very funny. Here he tries hard to refrain from exaggeration and the story, while interesting enough for the history that's in it, is not nearly as much fun to read.
Twain's career as a riverboat pilot ended early, in 1861 when the Civil War broke out. It suspended business on the river, but railways killed it. He went west, became a journalist and wrote about a celebrated jumping frog and the rest is history. Years later he returned to the Mississippi and in the book I'm reading is now travelling down it on one of the rare boats still doing that in the early 1880s, noting the differences.


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Joe McWilliams



Joined: 10 Feb 2012
Posts: 689


Location: Canada

PostPosted: Thu Jun 22, 2017 3:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I've started 'Case Histories' by Kate Atkinson, a writer about whom I know nothing, apart from a certain positive vibe I picked up on this forum. So if it sucks, somebody here is to blame!

It's growing on me. For a while I thought I'd stumbled into a Maeve Binchy story by mistake; then - bam! - something awful happened. So she got my attention. After three such short and apparently unconnected stories - each of which seemed to be trying to lull the reader to sleep by its sheer ordinariness - I decided I'd been wrong in my initial impression this was a novel and was rather a book of short stories. It made sense, being called 'Case Histories.' But no, now comes a private investigator named Brodie. A plot appears to be developing. I have high hopes of the narrator taking a break and giving us some actual dialogue, sooner or later.


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Caro



Joined: 22 Nov 2008
Posts: 2980


Location: Owaka, New Zealand

PostPosted: Thu Jun 22, 2017 10:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

One of the people you can blame is me, Joe.  I love Kate Atkinson, and her Jackson Brodie character.  But anything written by her is well worth the effort, most especially to my mind Behind the Scenes at the Museum.  

It's interesting that you mention Maeve Binchy; for all that she is thought of as a warm but bland Irish writer, she is the only person I can think of who has written a non-crime book with an unexpected death.  Just while kids are playing in her book, one of them falls off a bridge and is killed.  There is no warning, no suggestion that this is the last time they will play together, nothing. It just happens, the way it would in real life.


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Caro



Joined: 22 Nov 2008
Posts: 2980


Location: Owaka, New Zealand

PostPosted: Tue Jul 04, 2017 4:08 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I have started a book called Gutenberg's Apprentice by Alix Christie.  I don't remember reading anything about either the book or the author, but its historical aspects intrigued me.  Haven't got very far with it, and it dwells rather more than I need on the physical side of printing, the machines, the smells, and the work, but I am finding it interesting.  Gutenberg's appretice is Peter Schoeffer, brought back to the German dying city of Mainz from Paris where he was working and enjoying life as a scribe.  His father is a merchant in Mainz and wants him there to take advantage of the new invention.  

I have just read a short chapter set in 1485 (most of is set in 1450 or thereabouts) where he is bemoaning how the printing press has devalued all that was sacred about the scribe's and monk's work.  "The world is flooded now with crude words crudely wrought, an overwhelming glut of pages pouring from the scores of presses springing up like mushrooms after rain.  Churning out their wmut and prophecy, the rantings of the anarchists and antichrists - the scholars of the classics are in uproar at how printing has defiled the book."
I am not sure why he has put this near the start of the book at Page 51, but he spends most of the rest of the book, as far as I can see, in the mid 1400s.

We'll see how it goes.


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Joe McWilliams



Joined: 10 Feb 2012
Posts: 689


Location: Canada

PostPosted: Tue Jul 11, 2017 3:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

'A world full of crude words, crudely wrought.' - That sounds like something I might have said about the current situation.

I'm back to reading John Gunther's 'Inside Europe,' a tour through the political leadership of each country in the late 1930s, on the brink of the cataclysm. Given what came next (it was published in the lull between the German and Russian partition of Poland and the next phase of the war, which the author did not anticipate), it is probably irrelevant and long out of print. But I like it very much.

On the way from the library is Paul Theroux's Sir Vidia's Shadow, a book about V.S. Naipaul. Perhaps I should do Naipaul the courtesy of reading one or two of his books before reading what somebody else has to say about him. But Theroux has me in his spell. I want more of him, after just completing Ghost Train to the Eastern Star.


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Sandraseahorse



Joined: 21 Nov 2008
Posts: 1160



PostPosted: Fri Jul 14, 2017 8:48 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I am about 40 per cent of the way through "Dombey and Son."  When I read a Classics Illustrated version of the story as a schoolgirl, I found Paul Dombey weedy and irritating but now I find the relationship between Paul and his sister, Florence, touching and his death moving.

Over the years I've known quite a few families with a child who had a terminal illness (I was governor of a special needs school for a while) so I'd like to think I have more compassion and empathy now.

The received wisdom is that Dickens was mawkish and sentimental about children, especially child deaths,  because infant mortality was so high then.  But I wonder are things now really so different?  Surely the death of a child is something that most people find moving, especially if they are parents themselves?

There have been recently some high profile cases of children with terminal illnesses in the news and some of the press coverage has been just as sentimental as anything I've read in Dickens.


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Caro



Joined: 22 Nov 2008
Posts: 2980


Location: Owaka, New Zealand

PostPosted: Tue Jul 18, 2017 6:28 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

When I started The Old Curiosity Shop, Sandra, the intro by GK Chesterton was rather scathing about Paul Dombey's death scene, but he said it wasn't Little Nell's death that was so sentimental but her life.  I agree that the deaths of children nowadays is equally sentimentalised, less so perhaps by the press writers as the commenters under the story.  

I was away for a week and took quite a few books with me, including TOCS which didn't even get opened!  I didn't finish any so can't add them to the July Jests thread.  I probably would have finished (for the second time) 44 Scotland Street, but my husband who finished one of the later Botswana ones with Mme Ramotswe, hadn't taken any other book and pinched that one off me.  I was reading at the same time Gutenberg's Apprentice but it is quite slow-going and also too heavy to hold in bed.  I started one by Millicent Baxter, a memoir.  She was part of two very notable families in NZ.  Her grandmother was the first woman in the British Empire to get an honours degree and her father was a founder of Canterbury University College.  

She married Archie Baxter, a conscientious objector in the first world war, who was taken against his will to the battlefield and subjected to Field Punishment No 1, more or less hours of crucifixion in the hot sun.  She sought him out after reading a letter to the editor of his about his treatment (how did it get through the censor?) and they married and had a very happy marriage.  They were the parents of one of NZ's most famous poets, James Keir Baxter, who founded a commune for strays and became a strong spiritual man, I think a Roman Catholic.  His poetry would be easily found on the internet if anyone wants to seek it out.


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Joe McWilliams



Joined: 10 Feb 2012
Posts: 689


Location: Canada

PostPosted: Tue Jul 18, 2017 5:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Caro, I looked up and read a bit about Mr. Baxter junior, thank you very much. A spiritual man who drank too much and died young. That sounds awfully familiar.

Looking back through this thread I see I mentioned V.S. Naipaul. I don't believe I've ever met anybody who has read a book by this winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, not to mention every other award under the English sun. Then again, I have never asked. What an awful person he was (based on Sir Vidia's Shadow). Awful, but fascinating and capable of brilliant writing.


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