scribbles tagged ‘book’


Thursday, July 25th, 2013 | tags: , ,  |

boiler chimney design

Dad’s a ‘Civil Engineer’. Most appropriate noun and moderator. Dad trained as a draftsman, and often found reasons to use his skills at home. Unfortunately he hasn’t kept any of the drawings that, as a child, I remember him making like plans and elevations of the full rigged model sailing ship that he was going to build for us children.

When I asked him about the drawings he scuttled off into his well-stacked study and returned with a small leather bound book about boilers. Almost every-other page was a detailed engineering drawing of a unique boiler design. He showed the drawings to me and commented on the engineering notations that made them easy for him to understand. When he got to this drawing of a brick chimney stack for a boiler I couldn’t resist photographing it. That’s dad’s hand. It doesn’t look like the hand of an 82 year old. He’s aged well and has beautifully shaped nails.

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The fall. Albert Camus

Sunday, April 28th, 2013 | tags: , , , ,  |

Inspired by “The Outsider” I moved onto another Camus book “The fall” knowing that the band “The fall” were named after this book, but not having read any book reviews.

Recommended for people who like deconstructing writers techniques and thinking and philosophy, whether that’s pub or academic philosophy.

3 smiles:  :)  :)  :)   Ratings explained

Two things kept me gripped through-out the book:

  1. It is written as a series of one-sided conversations, where the reader is the other half of the conversation. Listening to the protagonist, rarely questioned by the protagonist. A simple idea, incredibly difficult to write. I’ve never read a book written using this technique.
  2. What is ‘The fall’? Early on the protagonist talks of his fall from being a prestigious and effective Paris lawyer to hanging around in fog-ridden Amsterdam, drinking with strangers in bars. This tracks the distance fallen, but not the actual fall. The book describes the fall, the ideas and insights bring the protagonist to Amsterdam bars.

I’m planning to read the book again because I suspect that I’ve missed many of the subtleties that it contains.  At the moment, I preferred “The Outsider“. I suspect “The fall” might turn out to be an acquired taste.  I’ll re-read it with the aid of some matured whiskey….

The fall. Albert Camus
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The outsider. Albert Camus

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012 | tags: , , , , , ,  |

Reading Albert CamusI found Albert Camus’s ‘The outsider” profoundly disturbing. In just under 115 pages it moves the reader from a funeral through a killing to legal conviction and sentencing with straightforward and gripping prose. The protagonist appears to lack pretention. He lives with an uncomplicated world view, within a world that requires he play a role, demostrates conformity to social complexity.

Recommended for people that find human behaviour fascinating at both human and societal levels.

4 smiles:  🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂  Ratings explained

‘The Outsider’ appears to be one of those books that teenagers are encouraged to study – there are plenty of reviews online. Somehow my teenage self missed this book, making do with  ‘The catcher in the rye’, ‘To kill a mockingbird‘ and slighly later with ‘On the road

Someone's notes in the 2nd hand bookI found the book disturbing because it was so easy to identify with the protagonist, to be him.  To feel his pleasure, pain, passage of time and the way others criticise any lack of socially acceptable expression of  strong emotions.

I picked up my copy from Reading town’s Oxfam, this 2nd hand copy came littered with the study notes of someone who read the book in a radically different way from me. I found the notes almost as disturbing as the book itself. The notes accuse the protagonist of being unemotional, unfeeling. Yet I read him as experiencing a wide range of normal feelings described in short sentences, using very physical descriptions.

The outsider. Albert Camus
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listening at high speed

Sunday, July 8th, 2012 | tags: , , ,  |

Oxfam art nouveau shop frontHe spoke with floods of enthusiasm but without punctuation. Goodness knows how air made it’s way INTO his lungs:

Would you like a bag Ive got a bag Ive got a bag thats just for you its an em and ess bag see

His enthusiasm and personal approach drew me into a large smile then the mention of M & S almost prompted a LOL. Ah yes, I’m a woman of a certain age. The age where women are expected to start shopping at M & S. He continued his stream of thoughts, picking up my book of London pictures and flicking through the pages to look at them.

As he talked I realised that the ‘Lemmy’ look was completely misleading:

That’s a very nice book. Beautiful pictures. Have you been there? (points at Parliament). Its very good. It was done by Pull Gin.

Wendy: Pugin?

Yes. He died when he was forty. He fitted a whole life into 30 years. He did Gothic. He did all of Gothic. If it wasn’t for him we wouldn’t have Gothic. He went mad. Have you been to Windsor castle? That’s good too. Did you know they had a fire there? My dad helped rebuild it. He’s a carpenter. He saw Prince Harry and Prince William. They went to the school that’s there, near windsor.

Wendy: Eton?

Yes. They looked like penguins

Wendy: In their black and white school uniform?

Yes. It must be nice to be rich. I’d like to be rich. But I like being me it’s ok not being rich. I dont want to be them they have a lot of things to do.I like working here.

Will you come back again? Will I see you again?

A queue had started to form behind me, I was impressed by how quickly he reacted to a queue forming. He clearly understood that this shouldn’t happen and he clearly enjoyed talking to me. I was very glad that I hadn’t been in a hurry because taking the time to listen to his child like enthusiasm was very refreshing

Wendy: Yes. I’ll come back, it’s been nice to meet you, have a good day, bye bye

listening at high speed
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Litter arty

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012 | tags: , , , ,  |

Local interest

Normally I’m not thrilled by large chain bookstores. I prefer to find second hand, or at least independent, book stores. The Reading town Waterstones is changing my impression. Recently it hosted a little soiree in the local interest section for the launch of AFH’s new book. AFH told stories about the mysteries of children and beards, showed us his book, signed copies of the book, and let us eat coloured cakes and ginger beer. All very civilised.

Reading Waterstone's guest authorsThe counter-staff in Reading’s Waterstones are all very personable.  They talk as if you are a friend and seem genuinely interested in doing a good job. One young lad spent nigh-on 15 minutes explaining why his computer system wasn’t working and how unreliable it is – not tolerating typing or spelling errors. As you can imagine, I found this type of conversation totally engaging.

He told me that Michael Palin was only doing one book signing in a Waterstones’ store and he’d chosen the Reading store. Evidently people had phoned the store with book orders from all over the country and would be travelling to get their copy signed by Michael.

We’re expecting more than 200 people! We don’t know where we’ll put them, how it will work

He sounded very excited and happy. I asked why he thought Michael had chosen the Reading store “Probably because of our events organiser, she’s very good, she can persuade anyone to do almost anything” . His proud words about his colleague were envigorating. I liked listening to this young chap chat, much better than a ‘shopping experience‘ more like a ‘shooting the breeze‘ experience.

Meanwhile I purchased a ticket to listen to Jasper Fford talk about his next thursday next book. Oh!

Litter arty
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3mph between daydreams

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012 | tags: , , , , ,  |

Stroll route around Aldermaston wharf The Butt Inn Guide book for the strollsWalk 14: The Butt Inn at Aldermaston Wharf

A Sunday morning stroll is a sociable stroll.

A wizard disguised as an elderly gentleman stopped to give me advice on the best position to see the Kingfishers on the river Kennet. Sitting with your hand over your mouth works best.  He also explained that local Geese are the top of the local food chain and they are maliciously breeding and pooping-up the place. Pests and hygiene hazards.

The wizard advocated a ‘bash their eggs in‘ approach to flock-size control. With a little persuasion we managed to compromise on a strategy of collecting then selling the eggs for outstanding breakfast omelettes.

Silver Speedy Ramblers Old man Inbetween stories and advice the wizard would pootle-on ahead at about 6mph. Gradually making up the ground between myself and the other silver-haired speedy ramblers who blazened past while I pondered the emotional commitment of copulating dragonflies.

Sunday morning strolls are full of these speedy silver strollers. I met them coming the other way and was overtaken by at least 7 of them per mile of my walk. They are a healthy, plucky, lot. I prefer them to the dressy ramblers. Silver strollers’ casual outfits look like they are pulled together from stuff anyone might have around their house rather than using a small overdraft in a specialist ‘Outdoors’ store.

Even without go-faster gear they still outpace my meagre 3 mph between daydreams.

As expected, despite valiant efforts, I went off-track

Both off and ontrack revealed all sorts of countryside goings-on, animals galore – Goats, Cattle, Lambs, Alpaca, Chickens, Horses, Kingfishers, Geese etc, meadow flowers, avenues of ancient trees, ponds, rivers, canals, faerie grottos and Indian hide-outs. Who would have guessed that wandering through Berkshire would take me to all these magical places? Can you see the magic?:
Tent  Canal boatsSwings  through the trees

3mph between daydreams
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Stroll from the Horse and Groom around Mortimer (walk 13)

Sunday, June 17th, 2012 | tags: , , , , ,  |

Guide book for strolls A very refreshing saturday stroll around Mortimer tackling gusts of 40 mile an hour winds. Thank goodness for fitted hats!

It seems that a ‘Stroll’ is a walk that doesn’t involve any:Horse and Groom

  1. severe inclines
  2. special equipment other than a stout pair of shoes and a drink and some snacks
  3. unfit people such as myself breaking out in a sweat, huffing and puffing…

By contrast, a ‘Ramble’ requires a bright Goretext jacket, Hiking boots, thick wool socks, a walking pole, gloves and all sorts of fancy accessories.  I know this becuase I turned up at the head of a ramble arranged by the Berkshire ramblers association where a flock of brightly Goretexed people were circling a style at the trail head.

I looked at my lack of Goretex and all terrain hiking boots. This equipment has been hibernating in my cupboard since leaving the mountain ranges of the NW USA.  Temporarily downhearted, I decided to work my way up to releasing my rambling gear with a few less imposing, walks.  The idea of some morning strolls with the help of Nick Channers book of Pub Strolls in Berkshire raised my spirits.

Walk 13: Mortimer from the Horse and GroomWalk 13: Horse and Groom

If the stroller can follow the instructions provided, “Walk 13” is a 3 1/4 mile stoll that starts and ends at the Horse and Groom in Mortimer. It’s a problem solving challenge to follow a map that is not to scale and omits a lot of key landmarks.

Very quickly I discovered that my walk was actually likely to be 6 miles, the extra distance caused by going the wrong way, realising it, and retracing my steps and trying another option. This could me more healthy than I’d anticipates!

I never managed to get to the 3rd marker point, several unmarked junctions near the “N” north sign proved too distracting.

The latter part of my walk turned from problem solving into a creative fiction.

It all ended well, at lunch time in the Horse and Groom. A substantial Victorian pub with a classic 1970’s decor, decent real ales and a rather good chef.

Yummy. I might be back to see if I can find the real route on another day…
Trees on the horizon Trees in the valley Iron style

Stroll from the Horse and Groom around Mortimer (walk 13)
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Holy pronoun, I wrote it!

Thursday, September 1st, 2011 | tags: , , ,  |

A book!

Bound with an ISBN number, available to the public  in a library

My agent:

  • commissioned the book
  • met with me, irregularly, to check progress
  • provided encouragement and suggestions to improve the process and book quality

My publisher:

  • provided strict regulations for binding, cover-cloth, font size and placement
  • specified the primary distribution method – library system
  • specified the minimum number of copies – 3

My printer:

  • a large Xerox machine in a University department
  • me, one copy a night across 3 nights

As author

  • It took 4 years of research and scribbling before I was ready to publish over 300 pages
  • I knew every sentence, every sketch, intimately
  • weeks after I’d deivered it to the publishers I’d rewrite sentences, paragraphs, and themes in my dreams

It was difficult to let go of this growing  intimate part of my life. I wanted to chuck it away and start writing again from scratch, I could do an infitnitely better job with all that I’d learned along the way. But I’d run out of money, I needed a job. The book was ‘good enough’. Good enough. hurumph. I wanted it to be special, unique, exceptional. More than good enough

Even when your book isn’t a PhD thesis, the agent a PhD superviser and the publisher a University, the experience of writing a book has strong similarities

Holy pronoun, I wrote it!
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Dorothy, not Toto. Parker, not Lady Penelope

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011 | tags: , , ,  |

The Viking Portable Library: Dorothy Parker

Dorothy ParkerThis weekend involved a new haircut, classic 1920’s bob and a lot of serious, if creative, woodstaining. My log store should now last at least a decade before crumbling. Some of the nearby blooms also got their share of preservative, the pathway is developing early signs of Pollockism

As reward for achieving this chore, with aching arms I tackled the internet to dig up a wee treat – Dorothy Parker – her portable library.  This Viking edition is from 1944, the original publication year. Its one of only 3 books in the ‘portable’ series that has been continuously in print, the other two are the Bible and William Shakespeare

The font is charmingly well spoken

The paper smells of ages

Immersed in Ms Parker

A good place

Dorothy, not Toto. Parker, not Lady Penelope
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Reading books for free

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011 | tags: , ,  |

Books for freeWandering through downtown Reading I often stumble across pleasant surprises.

This is one of those lovely surprises – free books offered from an ostentatious doorway as part of a Healthy planet initiaitive.

Topical that Reading provides free books!

Reading books for free
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Read dating people

Saturday, February 19th, 2011 | tags: , , , , , , ,  |

The evening started with a £3 fee, a sticky name-tag, an empty-crib-sheet for notes, two opposing rows of 10 chairs, and a glass of wine. The organiser, Laura, recognised me by my bookMervyn Peake’sLetters from a lost uncle

Soon the evening was buzzing with quick animated talk as we used our 2 minute timed slots to promote our favourite book to each other. 20 people, each with 2 minutes to entice another person to read their favourite book. At the end of the 40 minutes we all voted for the book we liked-best.

A fascinating cross section of books, people and Library staff. All personable, quirky and good natured. And me. Organising this diverse collection of literary enthusiasts is a challenge. The Reading Central library team failed with flare and  improvised with charming grace.

For people that want a novel introduction to a range of books, to meet local people, and have a good swig of wine thrown in, this is an excellent event.

4 smiles: Ratings explained

Read Dating crib sheet

Two minute book promotion techniques varied from reading 4 pages of bulleted notes on a book I’d been given as an 18th birthday present, read, and loved (Lynne’s Gormenghast trilogy) to Marie Claire’s brief, almost self-apologetic, statement ‘Its like a soap opera, its about people‘ (Men from the boys by Tony Parsons).

Adam produced a polished, yet souless, advocation of Wuthering Heights. If I hadn’t already read the book his persepctive ofnHeathcliffe as misunderstood by the general reading public would have put me off reading it. Adam had no sense of tailoring his delivery to the audience, to me. His delivery felt cold, dispassionate.

Arathy bought the book that had changed her life ‘The science of self realisation‘ by his divine grace Srila Prabhupada. Ernestly she showed me chapter headings and managed to talk in a way that I found difficult to follow. I tried asking her questions about how it had changed her life but she didn’t manage to give me an insight into her revelations, her life before and her life after the change. I was pleased for her discovery but not persuaded that this book would engage me.

During a mid-session break I uncovered snippits of these people’s lives, an emigrant from Australia, an unemployed teenager from Henley-on-Thames, and a mother who’s children had recently left home learning German to fill the gap. No-one asked about me. Even in the midst of lively conversations my ability to feel invisible seeps in.

Read dating people
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Read dating in Reading

Friday, February 18th, 2011 | tags: , , ,  |

It’s not dating, I’m sorry

Laura seemed concerned that I might have misunderstood the Central Library’s Read Dating event

That’s ok, I like how inclusive it is – you don’t have to be single to take part, anyone who has a book they love can join in, that’s great!

Unfortunately they hadn’t received my online sign-up and now the popular event was fully booked. I’d been excluded. Laura was very apologetic.

Can you put me on a waiting list incase someone drops out?

Laura explained that people just fail to turn up on the night, they never let her know first. Sadly, I thanked Laura for taking the time to be so helpful then checked that she had my phone number just incase. Disappointed at missing what sounded like a good evening out:

Read dating, like speed dating but with literary attitude!  Reading Library presents a fun and friendly evening where you can share you reading passions with like-minded people.
Come ready to enthuse about your favourite read 1:1. You will have just a couple of minutes to woo readers to your book. Prize for the reader whose book scores the most “dates”.

Later that evening Laura called

Cinderalla you shall go to the ball (Library)!

Actually she said

I’ve phoned round everyone that signed up and found a person that can’t come, so there is a place for you. Can I take your library card number?

Wonderful personal service! Laura asked if I had any idea what book I would be bringing. With no hesitation I blurted out

Mervyn Peake’s – letters from a lost uncle

Reading Library staff’s humanity  humility and imagination – you can get some without a prescription, it’s FREE!

Read dating in Reading
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exam preparation

Thursday, February 10th, 2011 | tags: , ,  |

Information navigation - Sam's organisationwhen I asked Pat if I could photograph the information navigation system Pat was using in preparation for the PRINCE2 practioners open-book exam, Pat blushed and said ‘I can be a bit anal sometimes

Pat’s desk was equally well ordered, there was an elegance and functionality to the layout

I sat between Pat and Sam. After photographing Pat’s book and desk I asked Sam if I could photograph Sam’s book and desk

Information navigation - Pat's organisationSam smiled, giggled a little, and said yes. Sam spent time colour coding the highlighted sections, reading and highlighting, tearing-up post-it notes to strips then placing them on pages as we encountered information. As the course progressed the post-it notes became creased and were moved around, re-ordered. Sam’s desk looked a little hap-hazard to the outsider but in reality there was clear order and functionality to the process being used.

My book? No highlights, no highlighter pen, no post-it notes, page markers or even pencil notes.


My plan was not to spend any time finding stuff in the book during the 2 and a half hour exam, not to create and remember colour-coding systems.  Why not? My goal was to understand the book’s contents to a level that alleviates the need for reference and developing a reference system beyond the existing contents list, index and glossary. Novel approach for this course where the instructors actually told us what to highlight! A risky approach because there is more information in the book than I could learn in the time I’ve been studying. Not marking-up the book was partly a motivation to learn the contents.

To my amazement – I PASSED! without opening the book in an open book exam! Now many people might say that’s just

stubborn and silly?

You know me well!

exam preparation
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not geographical nor alphabetical

Sunday, January 9th, 2011 | tags: , , ,  |

Israel…   …Afghanistan…          …Vietnam…

library shelvesbaffled

I was baffled

by the organisation

the organisation of the books, by country, in the Reading central library

there is some organisation principle in place

can you guess the logic behind the juxtapositions?

not geographical nor alphabetical
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Derek Jarman’s garden

Friday, January 7th, 2011 | tags: , , , , , , ,  |

Derek Jarman's GardenFrom the orangerie, she looked around the garden “it reminds me of Derek Jarman’s garden‘. She described pebbles, driftwood, wilderness holding-up brave plants. A pleasing story, as if she could see potential in my newly planted garden. As if she had a vision that flowed with my own anticipation

Later, I placed felled tree-stumps in the borders and a few big pebbles between the about-to-overgrow plants

This christmas she gave me a book, so I can see Derek’s garden for myself. As with his films and life, it continues to inspire

Inspiration is one of the best presents ever

PS 100 word post before the PS
Derek Jarman’s garden
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On chesil beach

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010 | tags: , , ,  |

Not recommended as an audio book to accompany your commute. I found the soft porn way too distracting to manage listening and driving simultaneously. I found the book persistently, mildly, uncomfortable.

2 smiles: Ratings explained

Ian’s usual high standard writing was evident throughout. Detailed observation of social rules, class, relationships, like a modern Jane Austen. It was a joy to realise what he was doing with his writing and how he was achieving it. The places, settings, emphasised the storyline, the mood. Excellent.  Ian’s topic is also a familiar ground, English social taboos,  in this case knowledge of sex between two young adults in the early 1960’s.

Technical writing skills can take a good story to lift it to an exceptional experience. I found the story failed to intrigue, grip, or really move me to any place other than mild discomfort. I cringed and hoped the story would move somewhere unexpected, or a plausible extreme. I don’t read (listen to) a Novella to experience persistent, mild discomfort, and disappointment. The last pages of the book felt like a disappointment, the writing peaked to soon for my taste.

On chesil beach
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virgin member

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010 | tags: , , , , ,  |

My overdue trip to join Reading library. Overdue will not turn into a relationship theme

Palmers Park library Membership packI walked up to the desk opposite the door with the large sign saying membership. A young lady watched me as I picked up a leaflet describing how to join. easy, fill in this form provide evidence of address (Driving license) and normal signature (Debit card). As I reached for a pen from the pot on the far side of the desk the young lady walked over.  She picked and passed me a pen as she sat down good, I get to sit down now

wendy: can I take a photograph of that sign?

staff: Oh! No-one’s ever asked that before…Um…if there are no people in the picture

Excellent, the Saturday staff feel able to make decisions on unusual requests. The girl sweetly listened to me tell her about Kevin’s blog as I completed the form. Then she went into coorporation style ‘rote-retell’ mode as she desciribed the contents of the new member’s pack before handing it to me.

  • 2 hours of free internet access a day
  • The addresses and opening times of all the branches, including one in Palmers park that opens ’till 7pm 2 nights midweek
  • A free CD/DVD loan because of my new membership
  • charge-rates
  • Frequently Asking Questions
  • Special services (alas all the ‘coffee mornings’ are on weekdays, when I can’t join in)
  • Adult services (adult book groups. OH! who’d have guessed?! One group meets in the ‘Back of Beyond‘)
  • Children services (they have Pyjamma evenings in the library – wish I was a real child!)
  • Toy library

After this preliminary dance I was let-loose on the stock. …..ooOOOOooooo…. I left with an unabridged Audio book; Ian McEwan’s ‘On chesil beach’ read by the author.  It may not smell of book, but the commute to work this week will be a joy….

Goodies, lovely goodies…

virgin member
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cartoon noir

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010 | tags: , , , ,  |

the girl with the dragon tattoo over 500 pages by Stieg Larsson in his first novel.

A good read for people that enjoy an investigative story with some dramatic twists without details of emotional complexity or strings of fancy adjectives. I finished this with about 6 hours of reading. My interest was held firmly for the first 4/5ths, then I had to work at the last fifth. The last fifth made sense and tied up a lot of ends, but felt a bit too much like being ‘tidy’ in a fairly predictable way.

2 smiles: Ratings explained

Surprisingly, most of the online book reviews that I’ve read (The Guardian, The Times online) seem to focus more on telling the storyline and speculating about the late authors likely influences. They didn’t really give me sense of  the strengths and weaknesses of the book. Unlike Alfred Knopf’s  The New York Observer review. Knopf states the books popularity in Europe then makes an upfront fairly negative evaluative comment for the US audience – ‘The book is terrible, but there’s certainly something to it’.  Knopf uses lovely words like ‘preposterous’ and ‘ridiculous’ to describe the incidents and storyline.  This wasn’t my experience. The book storyline was nothing more preposterous than a combination of Joseph Fritzls story with Nick Leeson bringing down Barings bank with the connection strategy being a journalist.  Believable. But Knopf does have a point. There were times when the storyline or characters shifted from plausible to a comic style, exaggerated characterisation.  Both good and bad guys appeared to have super human abilities. For me this was actually a strength, I was rooting for the heroine to pull fabulous, unexpected, stuff and she did not disappoint. I wanted the bad guy to be a cunning, nasty person with no redeeming features. Stieg delivered.

The book’s Swedish title was ‘Men Who Hate Women’ and book sections start with surprisingly low Swedish statistics that describe violence against women and its impact. At first I wondered why, then I realised that the girl is probably supposed to be some incarnation of a feminist hero. To me, she is clearly a male construction of a feminist heroine. Not an everyday hero. She is a difficult to recognise extreme character. It felt like a shallow deptiction. She reminded me of the well meaning outlaws in US westerns, betrayed by the system they operate outside it. Masculinised roles resorting to violence and activities outside of the law to achieve their own ends. The book had an angle that appeared to celebrate the international crisis of violence against women by making it into the core theme for a piece of entertainment.

Knopf’s assessment of Stieg’s writing style ‘To call the dialogue wooden would be an insult to longbows and violins’ suggests to me that Knopf”s not spent much time in the company of Scandinavians. It doesn’t recognise that there are differences in the way they think, see and value things.  Steig doesn’t provide long adjective strings and rich emotional descriptions. Steig tells you what is happening and lets you bring your interpretation to the framework he supplies. I found Steig’s writing style engaging, though the last part of the plot lost my interest.

I wont be reading the next 2 books in the series, 500 pages of a shallow cartoonish, masculinised heroine for womanhood was enough for me.

cartoon noir
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The Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance, by Paul Strathern

Monday, September 20th, 2010 | tags: , , ,  |

Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance, by Paul Strathern

Recommended for people who love reading history books or are fascinated by the Medici family.

🙂  one smile. Ratings explained

On the good side the journey through the family’s history we meet Michelangello, Botticeli, Galileo, lots of Popes and all sorts of kings and queens of France and Spain. Murders, double dealing, cunning plans galore. Lots of fascinating goings-on.

My brother started reading this book and gave up one third of the way through. Mumzie read it and loved it. I was determiend to get to the end, hoping it would get a bit more gripping and less like a History course text book.  Though other reviewers cite it’s strength as being the non-academic writting. Academic writing must be deadly tedious. This book was a bit too dry given how fabulous the story actually is. I started reading this 400 page tome in December 2008 and finally finished in August 2010. Way too long.

I have not seen the PBS TV production, I suspect it is probably a much more rewarding experience to watch this series than read the book.

The Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance, by Paul Strathern
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the scheme for full employment

Friday, January 1st, 2010 | tags: , , , , ,  |

by  Magnus  Mills

Highly recommended for people who  love watching the social dynamics of the British workforce.   This book was  a Birthday pressie!  

4 smiles: Ratings explained

What is the book about?  

A story of gradual social change within a nationalised industry featuring,  tea, cakes, chat, meetings  and canteens.   We watch the gradual decline of a national treasure – the scheme for full employment – through the eyes of an unnamed  employee.   Reminiscent of the decline of the national mining  industry,   national car industry,   and the NHS.  

The reader gradually learns how the scheme works through the daily experiences of  one employees.   We meet his colleagues, supervisers, and learn about what employees should do and what they acutally do.    The manner of storytelling reminded me of Kafka’s ‘The Trial’, as the protagonist appears to accept and observe all that goes on around him.    The short sentences, descriptive focus, economy with works,  make the book  very easy to read.   I wish I could write that beautifully.

Unlike the majority of modern novels this one focuses solely on work contexts.     The action, and sometimes  inaction, all  happens on work time, in work venues.   There is only one female character named and present in this workplace.   The scheme is currently, predominantly,  a boys world of work.

Is the book boring?

Unlike Kafka, the story is full of  situational humour that Mills gradually reveals like clues in a detective novel.   Other reviewers describe the humour as ‘Deadpan humour’.    For me the funniest part is what the scheme for full employment does,   how it delivers value above and beyond full employment.   Many of the reviews I read actually gave this away rather than allowing the reader to discover it within the book.   I am glad that I didn’t read any reviews before reading the book.

the scheme for full employment
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serious tut-tut-tutting

Sunday, November 29th, 2009 | tags: , , ,  |

How can I visit Alexandria and not know that there is a pillar called Bombay Pompey’s pillar there?

There is some serious tut-tut-tutting going on

Alexandria LibraryI was drawn to Alexandria  Library

More wonderful than anticipated.   It was highly anticipated. I spent much of the time there  sitting, listening to the building, watching the students.   The library website has a collection of photographs of the museum, its settings and collections.

The library has a ‘Nobel section’ that is furnished with a replica of the furniture and lighting designed specially for the Nobel Institute in Stockholm and  contains the  book collections of Nobel Prize Laureates in Literature from 1901-2006. I don’t think that fits strictly with the Dewey Decimal system. It is a socially meaningful way to highlight books ‘I’d like something from the Nobel room please…  

There are several museums, a planetarium and a caligraphy centre within the Library.    This  makes sense to me,    being more than a repository of books,   being  a place to explore the world beyond the here and now.   Most libraries are more than a repository of books,   this one has so many enticing advantages through imagination, United Nations funding and gifts from many countries.

I had less than an hour at the Library

The library warranted staying in Alexandria for at least a year….   …seeking sponsorship for specialist research….     ….something more than a tourist walkthrough….


serious tut-tut-tutting
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looking for a guide

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009 | tags: , , , ,  |

Oxfam art nouveau shop frontWith the quick approach of my HOLIDAY to CAIRO I skipped out  in search of some Holiday reading. Normally I pop into the tiny yet beautiful Reading Oxfam.   The friendly staff and customers chat, the book choice is excellent,  always something to inspire and entice.

One of my friends has recently moved to Cairo and made a specific request for a copy of the Lonely Planet guide to Egypt.   Alas, the local Oxfam cold not deliver

A short walk to the Waterstones chain, a small Victorian style shop front.   Inside the store is like the TARDIS   it goes backwards and upwards,   from house to house with glass roofs between.   The store is architecturally beautifully designed and maintains unusual features such as  the mezannine floor pictured below

Once I stopped looking at the architecture and started looking at book shelves   I was lost with no idea of where  the ‘Travel’  section might be.   Looking at the labeling on the shelves only tells you what is here,   not where something that is elsewhere might be.   Unperturbed I wandered over to the foot of the stairs (both of them)  expecting to find a list of the sections on each floor.   Nothing.

Waterstones in ReadingThe  front door did not offer a guide to the store store layout with the sections identified.     The cash and information desk by the door was being stormed by an outsized  orderly  queue of people.   Glancing  back into  the huge store I felt a little overwhelmed and wandered in looking at shelf labels and the people nearby,   which are the staff who might help me?   Before full panic could set-in, eye contact with a lady….

Lady: Can I help you?

Wendy:   Do you have a map of the store layout?

Lady: What section would you like?

Wendy:   Is there a display showing where the sections are?

Lady:   No,   I’m working on that,  what section would you like?

Wendy: Travel

Lady: upstairs ahead through the arch,   on the right hand wall arranged in alphabetical order by country

Wendy: Thank you,  love the display thing you’re working on

looking for a guide
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librarian bypass

Sunday, September 20th, 2009 | tags: , ,  |

Book ExchangeSeveral pubs I’ve visited recently have bookshelves labeled ‘book exchange’.   Unlike a library, you do not get a wide range of choice, helpful advice, and an occassional dose of ‘shushing’.  This  can be a  bonus  for noisey, decisionally-challenged, me.

Until now I’d treated the bookshelves of friends and family as book exchanges,  now my net has widened to include pubs….   …some people are releasing their books into the wild then remotely tracking their progress via websites like bookcrossing.

librarian bypass
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Mach 4

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009 | tags: , ,  |


When returning an assessed  cousework essay on UK history in the 19th century to a 17yr old me¦


Tory School teacher (TST):   you are very Machiavellian

Wendy:   is that a good or a bad thing?

TST: let me know when you find out


Within a couple of hours I’d  read a copy of The Prince .   It was fascinating, written beautifully, based on multiple case study research to provide a  pragmatic set of behavioural recommendations for a leader (Prince) occupying a recently acquired territory to maintain effective control.   In the 1960’s psychology used the term Machiavellianism to label a personality Disorder with the core theme of  deceiving others for personal gain.      I wish I’d kept the essay that prompted the TST’s comment.        


You  can self-assess yourself for 1960’s style psychology Machiavellianism here.

Today I scored as a ˜Low Mach’.   The results say that I reject Machiavelli’s opinions.   Indeed, I am not and have never aspired to be a prince, princess or banker.    Alternatively, I could have lied here and on the questionnaire¦.

Low Mach

I vote that we rename Machiavellianism with the more topical outbreak of:


Chief Executive Bankerism

Mach 4
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release your inner book

Sunday, February 8th, 2009 | tags:  |

books in nooks

find the plot

tie the characters to the pages

order the chapters

push it to the publishers


release your inner book

release your inner book
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atomic farmgirl: growing up right in the wrong place

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009 | tags: , ,  |

an autobiographical  Novel of Teri Hien’s early life in Eastern Washington State  that I picked up at the Spokane Museum shop on an excellent weekend vacation

Recommended for people that interested in US social and political history from personal, first hand stories.

3 smiles:    Ratings explained

Atomic? The proximity to the Hanford, former nuclear, site that supplied the plutonium for the Manahattan project.   The most radio-active contaminated site in the US.    An American hero of WW2 and the villain.

Right? Stories of the countryside,     pioneer farmers settling and farming the rich lands of Eastern Washington with horses and tractors,   Stories of community and  local Native  Americans.   Funny and poignant

The wrong place? Downwind of Hanford, the downwinders.   The building of the plant, the management of waste and information about that waste, the cancers experienced by family and neighbours,   the deaths.   Sad and disturbing.

atomic farmgirl: growing up right in the wrong place
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have mercy on us all

Saturday, January 24th, 2009 | tags: , , ,  |

by  Fred Vargas (translated from original French by David Bellos)

Highly recommended for people who like innovative twists on crime thrillers, novels that cunningly intertwine history with fiction, and rich characterizations of people living in another country (Paris, France).

4 smiles: Ratings explained

Times Literary Supplement Ruth Morse summarises the content in a recognisable way when she comments that “Fred Vargas has everything: complex and surprising plots, good pace, various and eccentric characters, a sense of place and history, individualized dialogue, wit and style.”
I cannot comment on how the translation had changed the book from the original. David Bellos worked with the original author on the translation.

Ruth Morse makes a scathing comment on the translation writing that David Bellos had ”simplified, adapted and anglicized throughout, diluting the specificity of Vargas’s well-modulated French. This is not a matter of competence, but of style choices. David Bellos’s translation is so free as to amount to wholesale rewriting, at the expense of the atmosphere. Reading his prose is like watching a hastily dubbed film.” David Bellos  replies to Morse’s criticisms.

I wish I could read the original French version because despite not being particularly interested in murder mysteries I was so gripped that I read this book in one, long, day. A rare un-put-down-able experience for me as a single girl and curmudgeonly reader, intolerant of murder mysteries with plots that are either

  • easily guessable
  • so obtuse its virtually impossible to guess potential plot evolutations

This book managed to effectively walk the line between these two literary traps.

have mercy on us all
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bless my cotton socks

Monday, January 5th, 2009 | tags: , , , , ,  |

Since 1981 my dress sense has been significantly influenced by Julian Cope.   As the Guardian recently reported:

Julian Cope arrives on my doorstep looking exactly like he does in all his photos. He is wearing leather trousers, heavy boots (it is midsummer) a flowing camo jacket and The Hat. He politely takes his boots off when asked, but The Hat stays on throughout the afternoon

Julian was the front man for one of the first  bands that I saw live in concert, Teardrop Explodes, the band included Alan Gill who co-rote rewards and joined Teardrop from Dalek I Love you   who’s Compass Kumpas album is one of my favourite vinyls.    Through the years Julian has supplied much worth attenting to including a couple of treasured books (e.g. The Modern Antiquarian).   Fabulous fellow.

Teardrop Explodes sang Rewards

bless my cotton socks
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remember, remember, …the bees

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008 | tags: , , , ,  |

Tea rose and beeAs part of my birthday treat,   I purchased the 45th copy of AFH’s poetry book ‘Of birds and bees’.   The book is  beautifully illustrated by Jo Thomas.   The first line I read was Jo’s introduction to  the Bee  illustrations:

In spring 2007 walking,  a bee fell, in front of me, on the pavement, dead. I picked it up and drew it. Since then I have continued to collect and draw found and gifted dead bees.”

I’ve not yet seen a dead bee.   This summer some beautiful large fluffy bees tended the tea roses at the Wendy house.   This may become a treasure of the past as I learn to collect dead bees as memories.   At 1pm today the British Bee Keepers Association (BBKA) is coordinating a  demonstration In London,   Whitehall outside Westminster palace  and delivering a petition to Downing street (Prime Minister’s residence).    Guidance provided by the BBKA  to potential demonstrators includes:

You need to look your best as you may well be on TV! An umbrella probably makes sense too.

They are demonstrating to raise awareness of the impact of the the lack of government funding provided to avert an impending ecological disaster that has clear financial, agricultural implications.   According to the Guardian:

Beekeepers have warned that most of the country’s honey bees could be wiped out by disease in 10 years unless an urgent research programme is launched to find new treatments and drugs…    

 ….the Department for Farming, Environment and Rural Affairs revealed that bees contribute £165m a year to the economy through their pollination of fruit trees, field beans and other crops. In addition, the 5,000 tonnes of British honey sold in UK stores generates a further £12m

remember, remember, …the bees
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pronunciation police

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008 | tags: , , , ,  |

During a conversation about films  that are substantially at variance with the books that provided their original  title and approximate plot and characters:  

Wendy:   W’thering Heights

Bros:   WUH,   Wuh-thering Heights

Wendy: yes,   that’s what I said W’thering Heights

Bros:   Wendy,   Wuh-thering has a U in it

niece & her friend: (snigger,   sniggger,   snigger,   hiding mouths behind hands and flashing smiles at each other and checking to see if we ‘adults’ notice)

Bros:   (shakes his head and tuts)

 Wendy:   (decides not to mention that Bros appears to  have  failed to count the double-u)

pronunciation police
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