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).

Mother of Eden – Chris Beckett

Mother of Eden follows on from Dark Eden, but the characters in the former have now passed into mythology. Instead we are facing another round of social change and world development as different communities via for resources, space and ownership of their creator history.

Its set with a young woman who has barely been exposed to this wider world moving out to become part of a less innocent community, and the change this triggers across all of humanity.

Without revealing what happens, it is a story of politics, intrigue, dreams and sexism. It explores what we know against what we think we know, and how myths can be started and spread. Plus there is suspense and a battle between different factions.

Well worth reading if you enjoy far-future science fiction.

Cleopatra – Chorley Little Theatre

Its panto time! For this edition of using our Chorley Little Theatre membership, we also took the little lad, because panto is really for the children after all. He asks a lot of the time when he can go to the theatre again, and when something suitable for under-fives comes up at any vaguely local theatre I try to take him. For this one he was bouncing off the walls with excitement.

This panto was written by the local director, for “Little Theatres” to put on. It stuck faithfully to all the tropes, but with a story we hadn’t already seen a hundred times. There were only two little criticisms, firstly that the Evil Asp was too scary: my reception-aged child was genuinely terrified and he wasn’t the only one hiding on a parent’s knee in the audience. He didn’t want to watch the second half until we explained that we needed to see Cleopatra defeat him and we were all going to shout “Booo” even more loudly to let him know we weren’t really scared of him. And secondly, the sing-along was very complex with an unfamiliar tune (instead of a minor rewording of a nursery rhyme/carol) so even I struggled to follow and the young audience didn’t stand a chance.

But we still had a fabulous time. The chorus were great: doing complex dance routines and singing well known songs. Everyone liked shouting “Ali Ali Ali!” although at the end my son reported that a man and a lady and two ladies had got married. Apparently he didn’t quite get the cross-dressing part! I didn’t have the heart to tell him that one of those two ladies was supposed to be a man…

And in the little one’s own typing:

BEAUTIFUL  WEDDING AND DRESS AND THANK YOU FOR MAKING THE MONSTER GO DOWN!

Edit: I’m told the song is a One Direction song called “History”. I am clearly not down with the kids.

Breaking the Code – Hugh Whitemore

After seeing Breaking the Code at the Manchester Royal Exchange, there were a few monologues that I wanted to read at leisure. Unfortunately the script was printed in 1987, so copies of it are hard to come by and expensive. Thankfully though, Lancashire Libraries have a good collection of published scripts, so I requested it and it came from the reserve stock (not on the shelf anywhere in the county).

This is of course a script, with light stage directions from the 1986 Guilford production. As a stand-alone read it isn’t much, but it just added that ability to reflect on specific sections of the play that I had enjoyed, such as this  tiny segment of one of Turing’s monologues:

Hilbert took the whole thing a stage further. I don’t suppose his name means m-m-much to you – if anything – but there we are, that’s the way of the world; people never seem to hear much of the really great mathematicians. Hilbert looked at the problem from a completely different angle, and he said, if we are going to have any fundamental system for mathematics – like the one Russel was trying to work out – it must satisfy three basic requirements: consistency, completeness and decidability.

How often do concise explanations of the fundamentals of mathematics like this make their way into any cultural piece of work, much less a play that fills the house?