Update

Finally got around to updating all my reading over the last few months. There are a couple of good posts there at least. Certainly one on Georgette Heyer whom I’ve been re-reading steadily, and another one on fantasy writer Raymond E Feist. Quite when I will get around to writing them I don’t know, but you never know, I might.

Writing worth reading #2

Here are another five recommendations from the list of books that I have read so far this year. Like last time, these are books that I can actively recommend, either because they kept me reading frantically, or because they were really interesting, if not necessarily easy reads. I make no claims that any of these books is ‘beautifully written’ or may have any literary pretensions, simply that I found them good reads.

1. Are we Rome? by Cullen Murphy. This was fascinating. We are all, I think used to the comparisons between modern Western culture and that of ancient Rome. There is, I think, a certain smugness in the feeling that we are Rome’s successors. However, this book provides a thought provoking and worrying analysis of why Rome collapsed that we can compare with our culture. Well worth the read, even if you don’t agree with the conclusions.

2. Why Shoot a Butler? by Georgette Heyer. I am always going to include Heyer in this sort of list, because I love her books. This is another of her detective novels, and an early one at that, written in 1933. A classic country house novel, it’s an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.

3. The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld. I’m always a bit suspicious about crime novels that turn non-detective historical people into detectives. It never seems to ring quite true to me. This one is different. Sigmund Freud on a trip to New York working out whodunnit. A great, page-turning read. And the arguments between Freud and Jung are superb.

4. Bleeding Heart Square by Andrew Taylor. Another mystery novel, I’m afraid, and historical one at that. This is set in the 1930s, and has at its heart a rather sad story, which I won’t divulge because it would spoil the plot. It has a nicely complicated plot with numerous layers and twists. Kept me reading.

5. The Cathedral of the Sea by Ildefonso Falcones. There seem to have been a lot of books translated from Spanish lately. This is a straight historical novel set in Barcelona in the mid fourteenth century. It’s not just another plague novel, of which there seem to be one or two about at the moment, but much larger in sweep than that. The translation is good too which always helps.

Writing Worth Reading

I hadn’t realised it had been quite so long since I had posted here. I have, of course been keeping my reading list up to date, but somehow seem to have lost interest in writing full length reviews. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t do the occasional batch of mini reviews, which is what this post is all about. So, going back to the start of this year, here are five books that I think are worth reading.

1. The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer. Great literature it ain’t, but this light novel keeps the attention for a few hours. Witty, well written, and well researched this historical romance is a classic of the genre.

2. The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin. Any historian knows that going back to the primary sources is essential. Thus with Darwin. So much has been written and said about what he wrote, both good and bad, that it makes sense to read the original. It’s not easy reading – he was a Victorian gentleman after all – and his sentence structure and language are complex, but it is worth the effort.

3. In search of the Holy Mountain by William Dalrymple. I’ve read a couple of Dalrymple’s books before – he writes really insightful travel books. This one is about a trip from Turkey through Syria, Jordan, the Lebanon, and Israel recreating the journey of a 5th century saint. In it he examines the destruction of various middle eastern Christian denominations, particularly in Turkey over the last century, and uncovers yet another tragedy of that tragedy struck region. I’ve travelled in the area and have been to many of the places he mentions, but even if you haven’t, it’s a good, thought provoking read.

4. Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond. Diamond is always good for answering the big questions of history. In this case why did the West industrialise first? Bringing in geography and ecology, this is a fascinating read, and well worth the effort as it’s very long and the print minute.

5. The Sacred Cut by David Hewson. Another Nic Costa thriller from Hewson. I discovered this hugely enjoyable contemporary Italian set crime series when I worked in a library, not previously having been much interested in contemporary crime. As far as I can tell, it’s well researched and the main character is sufficiently different to keep one’s attention. Good stuff.

Reading

It’s been quite a while since I posted anything here. I am still regularly updating the reading page however. When I look at what I have been reading, and what remains on Mount TBR (currently about fifty books or so) it is the usual mix of historical fiction and older ‘classic’ novels and literature, with a bit of modern crime and non fiction thrown in.

This year it is both the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species, so I treated myself to reading it, which I hadn’t done before. Anyone interested in doing so could do worse than to read Blogging the Origin a most excellent blog that takes you though it chapter by chapter. I also have a couple of other books that discuss Darwin in Mount TBR and I might get around to them later this year.

I still have one Louise Gerard left in the pile from my great grandmother, and I hope to read that soon too. Aside from that there remain a couple of other 19th century romances on the pile, but they look heavy going, so I might not get there these year. We shall see!

Reading 2008

This is the list of books I read in 2007. Links are to posts where I have discussed the book or author, either here or elsewhere online.

1. PS I scored the bridesmaids! by Ross O’Carroll-Kelly
2. The God delusion by Richard Dawkins
3. Collapse by Jared Diamond
4. Alibi by Joseph Kanon
5. A Literature of their own by Elaine Showalter
6. A natural history of the senses by Diane Ackerman
7. The Sword in the Stone by TH White
8. The Queen of air and darkness by TH White
9. The Silver Swan by Benjamin Black
10. The wounded name by DK Broster
11. Jimmy the Hand (Legends of the Riftwar series) by Raymond E Feist & Steve Stirling
12. Lost Temple by Tom Harper
13. Sword of God by Chris Kuzneski
14. Clerkenwell Tales by Peter Ackroyd
15. The Butcher of Smithfield by Susanna Gregory
16. Death on the Holy Mountain by David Dickinson
17. Last Train to Kazan by Stephen Miller
18. The Sun King Rises by Yves Jego and Denis Lepee
19. All Quiet on the Home Front by Richard van Emden
20. The Norman Invasion of Ireland by Richard Roche
21. Manly Pursuits by Ann Harries
22. Children of Freedom by Marc Levy
23. Next of Kin by John Boyne
24. Duplicate Death by Georgette Heyer
25. Tropical Tangle by Louise Gerard
26. Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
27. The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammet
28. The House with Green Shutters by George Douglas Brown
29. The Map of Love by Adhaf Soueif
30. Taste by Kate Colquhoun
31. A Shot Rolling Ship by David Donachie
32. The Chatelet Apprentice by Jean-Francois Parot
33. Making Money by Terry Pratchett
34. Never let me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
35. The Road to Independence? By Murray Pittock
36. Britain BC by Francis Pryor
37. Free Expression is no Offence ed Lisa Appignanesi
38. The Garden of Evil by David Hewson
39. Purity of Blood by Arturo Perez Reverte
40. Uncle Silas by Sheridan Le Fanu
41. The Season of the Beast by Andrea Japp
42. The Eliza Tales by Barry Pain
43. Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier
44. 1610 by Mary Gentle
45. The Stones of Venice by John Ruskin
46. The Great War of Words by Peter Buitenhuis
47. The Dante Trap by Arnaud Delalande
48. Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
49. Imprimateur by Rita Monaldi and Francesco Sorti
50. The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson
51. The Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susanna Clarke
52. Cotillion by Georgette Heyer

Still fabulous: The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (2008)

It’s not often that I do movie reviews in this blog, but since this is a special film it deserves a special mention. I was lucky enough to attend the world première of the film in Dublin last week, and as I’ve never been to one before it was quite an experience. Everyone was in their best togs but it was a bit disconcerting to see people with buckets of popcorn – it didn’t seem quite right somehow. But what a relief to see a film without twenty minutes of ads beforehand!
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Aye, see him: The house with Green Shutters by George Douglas Brown (1901)

This is a classic of Scottish literature that many non Scots will not have come across. Actually, a lot of Scots won’t have come across it either. This is most likely because it was only Brown’s second book – he died the year after it was published, and the other was published under a pseudonym. It is generally seen as a rejoinder to the sickly, sentimental fiction known as the Scottish kailyard, popular in the late nineteenth century.

I could perhaps best summarise this book as Lewis Grassic Gibbon meets the Mayor of Casterbridge, to give an idea of what it’s about. It shows rural Scots society in an altogether different light from that of the Kailyard, and I’m sorry to say, it’s a portrait that I still recognise to some degree in contemporary Scots culture – all small minded niggling and ‘ah kent his faither’.
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