A Whole Life – Robert Seethaler

This has been on the bookshelf for ages – it was actually chosen by my son to give to my husband for Christmas. But it looked interesting so once he’d read it it was snagged into my “to read” pile. Not a compelling plot, but a slow reflection on life and the changes that took place through the twentieth century.

I read this whilst on a ski holiday in the Alps, drinking in the worms-eye view on the sweeping change that came with the development of cable cars and ski holidays, and ultimately year-round tourism. Plus the depth of grief, along with the sense of space in the mountains, which drive the development of Egger’s character.

I have ordered this in the original German to read in that as well.

Funny Girl – Manchester Palace Theatre

Don’t tell me not to live
Just sit and Putter

Sheridan Smith’s interpretation of Fanny Brice’s rise from Brooklyn musical halls sparkles with energy. She easily handles the big numbers in this show, as well as the emotional depth of how she handles her personal life.

Life’s candy and the sun’s
A ball of butter

But then it is a piece from its own time, with some rather dated views on the roles of women and men within relationships, which are held up to be right and proper. But at least we establish that Fanny won’t let anyone rain on her parade.

Don’t bring around a cloud
To rain on my parade

I couldn’t work out how the set was moving until I saw this video (with the Orchestral Overture) of how it was built. Fascinating to watch for someone like me who belongs firmly in the audience.

Every Man in This Village is a Liar – Megan Stack

Stack is a green journalist when the Twin Towers fall. She just happens to be in Paris and well-placed to send to the Middle East and this is an opportunity she grasps to try and understand

We are then taken on her journey, as a woman reporter in the Middle East. She intertwines the wars, with the dangers she is in and the impact this has on her family, and her changing attitude to violence. She sees the people of Lebanon during the Israel-Lebanon war, not as Hesbolla insurgents but as the poor and trapped who are becoming radicalised by endless violence from Israel and an uncertain future.

She also is tied up in seeing people both as sources, and as people whose lives can be destroyed by talking to an American journalist. She sees hopes and dreams and ambitions. And how a bomb can tear all that away in an instant.

Ultimately she comes to the futility of it, how the circular nature of war means that all it ever begets is more chaos and war, and that the US is more deeply enmeshed that she knew, with tear gas cannisters “made in the USA” and an acute awareness that the bombs being dropped around her are funded by her own country.

This offers a powerful view of war, and is well-worth reading.

Minor note: the cover of this book jarred every time I picked it up. My mental image of Stack is of her being driven fast in sedan cars full of smoke. The cover is a horse and cart filled with people in traditional Islamic dress. If we must steer away from the true subject matter, at least keep it in the same tone as the book!

The Sleeper and the Spindle – Neil Gaiman – Audiobook

This was a treasure found on the library’s eAudiobook collection: a full cast recording of a Gaiman short story. I hadn’t read this before, and it is a good twist on the Sleeping Beauty fairy story.

We don’t have a Prince Charming, and there are a couple more twists that make this particularly delicious. I also appreciated the decision to make the spell into a “plague” that spreads throughout a kingdom, turning the sleeping spell into something much more menacing. This combines with Gaiman’s usually dark imaginings as the story develops to create a compelling story which had me clinging to every word.

The cast did a good job, I always knew who was speaking and they set the tone well as we journeyed.

The Sleeper and the Spindle

Knitting Rules – Stephanie Pearl-McPhee

I don’t add all my knitting pattern books to this blog, because they are hard to judge on similar merits to a ordinary book. Knitting Rules however is not a pattern book, but a book of advice and observations on knitting.

Not intended for the beginning knitter, it instead advocates moving on in knitting, having confidence in your work and taking the necessary steps to plan as you move to the next level of knitting. What makes this a book to read though is not the good advice, although it is packed full of this, but the humour within that advice. There were several moments when I laughed aloud. Sometimes from the joke, and sometimes from guilt that this applies to me as well.

On a hat that is not working:

“Look for a friend with a bigger head…

Is it possible – and I know this may seem a bit avant-garde – but is it possible that you have, in fact, not knit a hat?”

I am delighted to learn that Pearl-McPhee has a blog, which I am now following. Of course it would be better if I made progress on the shawl I’m knitting for a wedding this year, but I’ve done loads this week! Mostly making a Lego-holder for the little lad, but there’s months to go before the wedding yet!

 

Stone Mattress – Margaret Atwood

In an intesting twist on the usual coming-of-age transition, in this collection Atwood tackles reaching widowhood, and other key stages as life comes to an end.

This leads elegantly to anti-heroines, to the righting of wrongs and the acceptance of change. A couple of the stories are intertwined, offering different viewpoints on the same past, and allowing a view of each party’s view, and building up of the detail. Mostly however these are good stand-alone short stories. We are given just enough to tell the tale, in a well-structured satisfying manner.

My favourite was “The Dead Hand Loves You” – about an author who had spent his adult life in the shadow of a cult horror book he’d written as a student. It reflects on decisions taken, and allows closure on lifelong relationships.

I’ve been a bit of an Atwood fan ever since I was recommended A Handmaidens Tale at uni, and also love short stories which can be swallowed in one long gulp, so this collection was definitely one to read.

Professor Stewart’s Casebook of Mathematical Mysteries – Ian Stewart

As a somewhat lapsed mathematician, I enjoy reading popular mathematics books. This series by Ian Stewart is a particular gem: a miscellany of mathematical facts connected by a parody of Sherlock Holmes.

The puzzles were all the right sort of difficulty for me to enjoy: I had to sit, think and occasionally doodle, but they were all solvable. However I remain sadly too aware of my limitations to think that I could possibly prove the ABC conjecture, or other unsolved issues that Stewart mentions as he brings modern mathematics into the mix.

If you are of a mathematical inclination, have a fondness for puzzle-solving and like Sherlock spin-offs, then this is a fun book with bits to learn.

Man Booker 2016 Tidy-up

I again took advantage of The Book People Man Booker shortlist pack as soon as the list was released, but then my September/October was busier than I expected, so I only managed to read three before the winner was announced (then the winner as it wasn’t one I’d done). I also failed to do most of my reviews at the time, so to tidy up for the end of 2016, I have some quick summaries below.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing – Madeleine Thien

This was a heavy read, about loss in the face of political change, love and family ties. It is also about how music can transcend these things: and how sometimes it can’t. Despite the serious nature of the subject matter I couldn’t stop turning the pages, lost in the worlds of Kai, Sparrow and Zhuli. The writing was good, it led to deep thinking and overall was a good read.

All That Man Is – David Szalay

I only read the first hundred pages of this. It was so tedious in its “plot” mostly about young men wandering every advantage they have and making the worst of themselves. Its gone to the charity shop.

Hot Milk – Deborah Levy

 I did manage to review this one. In summary: a page-turning read, but not really worth of the Booker.

The Sellout – Paul Beatty

This one didn’t particularly call to me from the shelves, so I only read it after it won. I can see why it was the one the judges agreed on; and feels very appropriate given the year we have just had. Because of the format of the writing, it was harder to follow: but that will also have been why it stood out to the judges.

Overall

I would have given the prize to Do Not Say We have Nothing: which is a suitably deep book whilst also being good to read.

Mapping the Roads – Mike Parker

It is a month for Mike Parker – this one was given to me as a Christmas present.

Mapping the Roads builds up a picture of the UK road network, from its beginings, as it has been mapped through history. Building up from prehistory, through how the Romans made their conquest of England firm through mapping their new roads, all the way into how the GPS is changing our relationship with maps and the road network we travel through.

Swampy gets a mention, as not only the relentless growth in roads is celebrated, but also the change in culture that led to that deceleration in road-building speed, and an acceptance that the “futuristic” urban motorways of the 1970s and 80s may not have been a positive development for communities.

The one downside of this was that I was aware that this was a book published by The AA. There is lots of detail on AA patrolmen, and as it moves into the modern era, the maps are either OS or AA. I understand that if they are supporting then there will be fewer copywrite headaches, but it made the book feel biased. Overall though, a good read which gives an interesting history.

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics – Carlo Rovelli

I failed both general relativity and quantum mechanics at university, although the few lectures I sat through in the physics department made much more sense than those in the maths department. Sadly it was the maths department that set my exam! So I enjoy reading about physics as long as I don’t have to memorise tensor calculus as part of it, and obviously picked this up as it is such a popular book on cutting edge physics.

It is very simply seven lessons in physics: each of which takes a well-known issue in modern physics and explains it in lay terms for everyone to understand. From my nemisis, general relativity to black holes and free will, the complexity is cut through a the basic principals explained. Of course if you think you understand some of these principals, you almost certainly don’t, but its nice to have a grasp of what is going on.

A collection of short essays, it comes in at 79 pages of content, so not a big commitment to anyone who wants to understand more of physics. And it is all clear and very well written/translated (from Italian).