Unfinished: The Journal of Beatrix Potter transcribed by Leslie Linder

Yet another library oddity – a collection of Potter’s journals, which were originally written in code, transcribed by Linder. Unfortunately although the cracking of the code was interesting, the journal entries themselves had value only for dipping in and out of. Potter had kept a private diary for her own purposes, and as such this was not written from prosperity, but instead just a collection of very human comments.

I do want to see if I can hunt out the Beatrix Potter collection at the V&A next time I am in London though. Linder donated much of it as part of his fascination with Potter.

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Bye Bye BnB – Joan Campell

Following two quite heavy-going books, Bye Bye B&B is a humorous anecdotal biography on the last year of operation of a B&B near Thurso in the far north of the Scottish Highlands. This had me laughing aloud at times, especially when Campbell is dealing with BT and their notoriously dreadful customer services. Or when she lets guests ride her own horses and they get carried away by them

The life of a B&B owner is not for everyone, and even for those who choose it certainly has its challenges. Not least the tourist board Visit Scotland’s changing standards and methods of inspection. This is hard enough for a woman who ultimately leaves her B&B for a career with VisitScotland, so you are left wondering just how those less connected to the organisation feel.

 

The Great Escape – Angus Deaton

In the original “Great Escape” some individuals escaped from a prisoner of war camp, but in doing so had little impact on, or even made things worse for, the people left behind. In this book Deaton argues that the Western economic and medical success is of a similar kind, and that much of the world has been left behind. The question then posed is is this inevitable? And are there solutions to the cruelty of inequality?

Although this is by no means a light read, I found the experience of reading an economic text from an economist who doesn’t necessary push that the solutions to structural problems lie in the market to be a good one. Having tackled the costs as well as value of IPR, he then moves onto the aid paradox, and how it can support regimes that would otherwise fall and for which a case should be made that they should be allowed to fall with the will of their citizens.

There are some good bubble charts in the early pages where the underlying patterns for how the health, wealth and inequality of nations are linked, and he makes all this analysis understandable to this statistician.

Since this book was written Deaton has won the Nobel Prize for Economics, which is promising for the recognition of the direction this field can go in.

The Path – Professor Michael Puett and Christine Gross-Loh

One of those books that just seems to have appeared in my to read pile, The Path didn’t grab me for a long time. But I finally picked it up prior to a road trip this summer, and it certainly gave me something to think about.

The central theme is that ancient Chinese philosphy is valuable to everyday life in the modern Western world. I was sceptical of this before I read it, certainly books that usually make such promises then disappear down a rabbit hole. But this book is short and to the point. Each philosopher’s teachings are linked back to the modern world and how they can help us today, and with generous margins this book comes in at under 200 pages.

Puett’s normal audience is an undergraduate course of, not necessarily philosophy, students. It is accessibly pitched and intended to help think about how to live your own life, but also how to manage others, be they family members or in a work environment. It is about how to find The Way, and guide your life so you are working with it rather than struggling against both your own nature and the outside world.

It is a very good sign when a non-fiction book leaves me hunting through the further reading section to learn more, and thinking about how what I read can be woven into my life.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge – Selected Letters – Edited by H. J. Jackson

I had been inspired to try Coleridge from reading The Lure of the Lake District, which specifically recommended some of Coleridge’s letters as further reading. This has been sitting on the “guilt pile” for a while, since the non-completion of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Selected Poems. But I added it to the set to take away with us on a camping trip, and rattled through it.

He has an enviable list of correspondents, including Wordsworth and Humphrey Davvy. It is fascinating to read the correspondence between these “Greats” as just friends who mostly discuss ordinary matters. But in his earlier years he did not shy away from big topics, some of which remain contemporary as he discusses the benefits a minimum wage, and guaranteed work “from the parish” and his and Poole’s plans for a Pantisocracy, a classless society.

Aside from his letters on living in the Lake District, I was surprised by his frankness with his correspondents on the subjects of his ill health, both depression and pain-related. He is an entertaining, satisfying letter writer, and I’m now tempted to keep an eye out for the full letter collections should I find them in a second hand shop.

The Clothing of Books – Jhumpa Lahiri

This is a lovely little essay I borrowed in ebook format from the library. It examines how little influence most authors have on their book jackets, and yet how much what is on the book jacket influences reader perceptions.

The opening is not on books but on real clothing, and how we choose it to present who we are to the world. She then explores her experience as a normal author, and how covers change between translations.  One little gem was how Virginia Wolfe’s first edition covers were designed by her sister following conversation between them.

I love this look at this aspect of perception of books, and the irony as I was reading this as an eBook, chosen based on the library service’s tagging of it, so with the cover having such little impact on my reading experience!

Rethink – Steven Poole

Rethink is a look at the history of ideas. How there are very few truly new ideas, but a lot of ideas which were thought up before they reached their time. The focus was spread across scientific, political and economic disciplines, leaping from astronomy to mental health via chess.

The encouragement is to look again at currently discredited ideas, and to be patient with new ideas that require time and understanding be accepted as conventional. It makes fascinating reading, as links to modern ideas are found in ancient texts, and I enjoy a good story on an old academic debate, where what we know as a fundamental truth was first proposed.

Then there is a look at what ideas could be due for renaissance. This is where we steer quite firmly into political and economic territory, betraying Poole’s lack of scientific training. But these are all ideas which are moving into the Overton window, and becoming feasible in a way that they weren’t 20 years ago.

An interesting look on how ideas develop and move in and out of being accepted truths in human society.

The Lure of the Lake District – Steve Goodier

We are fortunate to live close enough to the Lake District that day trips are possible. It is an area I have returned to again and again throughout my life, as a child, doing my Gold Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Expedition, with my husband and now with our son. I have walked mountains, cycled, taken boat trips, had tea shop visits and even skied within the confines of this national park.

Goodier captures the spirit of everything we love about the Lakes, its wild spaces which are well-tamed, and how well recorded life in the Lakes is. He tells us of his days in the hills, and inspired our walk on Saturday with his description of “doing a number 35”, that is taking advantage of the days when no-one is up to a famous peak to pick up one of the easier walks towards the end of a Wainwright book. We had a lovely day in the snow on Selside Pike, but the going was definitely too hard for a tough mountain.

 Then there is the review of other Lakeland writers. As well as acknowledging Wainwright, he picks out some less well-known authors, who developed the whole concept of a writing guide. I have ordered a couple of books by Coleridge and am now aware of John Wyatt’s work for when my to read pile is more manageable

Messy – Tim Harford

As one of the BBC’s top statistics correspondents, Harford is not the person I would expet to write a book subtitled “How to be Creative and Resilient in a Tidy-Minded World”.  But this is not a book on tidying, but on how the human brain requires opportunity to be creative, new constraints to seek new solutions and move outside our comfort zones.

Now in the spirit of “forced improvisation”, a quote from a page picked at random:

As Bezos [of Amazon] liked to say during the crunches of 1998 and 1999, ‘If you are planning more than twenty minutes ahead in this environment, you are wasting your time.’ He was a man in a hurry. No wonder he created such an almighty mess.

This was from a chapter titled “Winning” and describes how some successful military and business tactics involve making “good enough” decisions so fast that your opponents are unable to react. This is also descibed as Trump’s tactic as getting inside his opponents’ OODA loop such that they are incapable of reacting before he has moved onto his next tactic.

Overall this is a fascinating look at how to keep yourself on your toes, and the benefits that can come from doing so. I’m still going to keep my tidy desk though!

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!