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pamelad's reading log

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Club Read 2012

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Edited: Jan 1, 2012, 9:49pm Top

I've been lurking around here for quite a while, reading reviews and adding to the wishlist, so this year I've joined up .

A selection of my favourite books of 2011, most of them recommended by people on LT:

The Makioka Sisters Jun'ichiro Tanuzaki Japan
The Bridge on the Drina Ivo Andric Bosnia
Life and FateVasily Grossman Russia
Alone in Berlin Hans Fallada Germany
Doctor Zhivago Boris Pasternak Russia
The Flame Trees of Thika Elspeth Huxley
Chronicle of a Death Foretold Gabriel Garcia Marquez Colombia
Out of Africa Isak Dinesen
The City and the House Natalia Ginzburg Italy
The Water of the Hills Marcel Pagnol France
Judge on Trial Ivan Klima Czech
The Haunting of Hill House Shirley Jackson US

I read 195 books last year, over half of them crime novels. Best crime of 2011:

The Cabinda Affair Matthew Head
Build My Gallows High Geoffrey Homes
The Fabulous Clipjoint Fredric Brown
Blood Moon and Whispering Death Garry Disher

Edited: Jul 7, 2012, 7:37am Top

January - June

70. City of Whispers by Marcia Muller
69. The House of Whispers by William Le Queux
68. My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier
67. Icefields by Thomas Wharton
66. The Sentry by Robert Crais
65. Hotel Bemelmans by Ludwig Bemelman
64. Trade Wind by M. M. Kaye
63. Brazilian Adventure by Peter Fleming
62. Grey Souls by Philippe Claudel
61. V is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton

60. Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd
59. The Ballad of Peckham Rye by Muriel Spark
58. One's Company by Peter Fleming
57. The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout
56. Ordinary Lives by Josef Skvorecky
55. The Driver's Seat by Muriel Sharp
54. A Death in Summer by Benjamin Black
53. Elegy for April by Benjamin Black
52. Nada by Carmen Laforet
51. Iphigenia in Forest Hills by Janet Malcolm

50. American Detective by Loren D. Estleman
49. The Reversal by Michael Connelly
48. The Making of Modern Britain by Andrew Marr
47. My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok
46. Candidate Without a Prayer by Herb Silverman
45. A Quiet Life by Beryl Bainbridge
44. The Finishing School by Muriel Spark
43. Our Ancestors by Italo Calvino
42. The Siege by Helen Dunmore
41. The Samurai by Shusaku Endo

40. Badenheim 1939 by Aharon Appelfeld
39. Pereira Maintains by Antonio Tabucchi
38. Old Filth by Jane Gardam
37. Night train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier
36. De Niro's Game by Rawi Hage
35. Honk If You Are Jesus by Peter Goldsworthy
34. A Drop of the Hard Stuff by Lawrence Block
33. The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson
32. Slipstream by Elizabeth Jane Howard
31. The Mottled Lizard by Elspeth Huxley

30. The Shooting Party by Isabel Colegate
29. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin
28. The Devil in the Bush by Matthew Head
27. Operation Mincemeat by Ben Macintyre
26. Casting Off by Elizabeth Jane Howard
25. The Big Change by Frederick Allen
24. So Well Remembered by James Hilton
23. My Dear Charlotte by Hazel Holt
22. Confusion by Elizabeth Jane Howard
21. Child of All Nations by Irmgard Keun

20. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
19. A Fringe of Leaves by Patrick White
18. Villa des Roses by Willem Elsschot
17. Hotel Berlin by Vicki Baum
16. Heartstone by C. J. Sansom
15. Marking Time by Elizabeth Jane Howard
14. As We Are by E. F. Benson
13. Thinking, fast and slow by Daniel Kahneman
12. The Double Image by Helen MacInnes
11. The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard

10. According to Queenie by Beryl Bainbridge
9. The Aunt's Story by Patrick White
8. Blindness by Henry Green
7. The Eliza Stories by Barry Pain
6. Moral Hazard by Kate Jennings
5. The Artificial Silk Girl by Irmgard Keun
4. Prisoner's Base by Rex Stout
3. The Fifth Queen by Ford Madox Ford (first volume of trilogy)
2. Potterism by Rose Macaulay
1. Sauve Qui Peut by Lawrence Durrell

Edited: Jul 16, 2012, 7:17am Top

July - December

77. Two Little Rich Girls by Mignon G. Eberhart
76. The Patient in Cabin C by Mignon G. Eberhart
75. The Ivory Swing by Janette Turner Hospital
74. Death of an Old Girl by Elizabeth Lemarchand
73. Quiet by Susan Cain
72. Still Midnight by Denise Mina
71. The Dead Hour by Denise Mina

Edited: Jan 1, 2012, 10:41pm Top

Sauve Qui Peut by Lawrence Durrell

Amusing tales of life in the diplomatic corps in fifties Vulgaria. Madly snobbish and very funny. Preceded by Esprit de Corps and Stiff Upper Lip.

Potterism by Rose Macaulay

Potterism stands for greed, sentimentality, illogical thinking and materialism, shortcomings embodied by the popular press. Macaulay's satirical novel, first published in 1920, centres on a group of young people opposed to Potterism, who seek truth and integrity. WWI has just ended, Britain is gripped by strikes, and Europe is being divided up.

While not in the same class as The Towers of Trebizond, Potterism is well worth a read. It's available as a free ebook from Project Gutenberg.

Jan 2, 2012, 7:44am Top

Welcome to Club Read, Pam! Great to see you here.

Edited: Jan 2, 2012, 8:35am Top

Nice choice of books! The Flame Trees of Thika for example; I will be reading some Elspeth Huxley this year. I downloaded Potterism, may have a look at that later.

Will certainly follow your thread. Welcome here.

Jan 2, 2012, 8:52am Top

Great to see you here, Pam! I did not realize you had read so many books last year! (and half were crime novels? wow)

Jan 2, 2012, 6:13pm Top

I have never raed any of Lawrence Durrell's diplomatic core books, I think I will put that right because I am sure I will plug into his sense of humour.

Jan 2, 2012, 10:56pm Top

Thank you for the welcome, Lois, Rebecca and Edwin.

Edwin, are you a crime fan? Elspeth Huxley wrote three good crime novels set in Africa.

Baswood, the Durrell comedies are period pieces now, which makes them even more delightful because we can allow ourselves to be amused at attitudes that today we might think we "need to take a stand" on.

Lois, 105 crime novels in 2011. This year I am planning to reduce the criminal proportion. I've started well. Currently reading The Fifth Queen (historical) and The Eliza Stories (humour).

Jan 3, 2012, 3:26am Top

Gosh! I'd love to steal your reading list! But I've already sort of made one already. But Out of Africa and Flame Trees of Thika are old favorites!

Jan 3, 2012, 6:00am Top

Hi Pam, I'm interested to see your list of 2011 favourites. I read and enjoyed The Bridge on the Drina last year and hope to read Life and Fate, Dr Zhivago and Alone in Berlin this year - looks like I have some treats in store!

Jan 3, 2012, 8:10am Top

I am not particularly fond of crime, but want to read Elspeth Huxley on her African experience, for example Red strangers.

Jan 4, 2012, 1:18am Top

Edwin, I'm going to search for the sequel to Flame Trees of Thika, The Mottled Lizard.

Rebeki, you definitely have some good reading ahead. Although all three of those books are long, and you might feel a bit totalitarianed out if you read them in a row, they really move along and keep you involved.

Poquette, since I don't have a reading list for this year, I can steal other people's. Heading off to look at yours.

Jan 4, 2012, 1:33am Top

I've never come across someone else who has read Natalia Ginzburg's The City and the House. I also loved her book of essays, The Little Virtues. What did you think of Family Sayings?

Jan 4, 2012, 1:39am Top

Family Sayings was the first Ginzburg I read, and I thought it was so good that I've been searching used book shops for her other books. Will try to find The Little Virtues.

Her style is so simple and she seems so detached, which makes her impact even stronger. Family Sayings was devastating.

Edited: Jan 4, 2012, 6:34am Top

The Fifth Queen by Ford Madox Ford

This is the first volume of a trilogy about Katherine Howard, the fifth wife of Henry the VIIIth. Ford's style initially makes the narrative confusing, with characters suddenly appearing without introduction and carrying on conversations about things unfamiliar to the reader. A few chapters in, things start to make sense.

Katherine Howard is also a character in C. J. Sansom's Sovereign. She is short there rather than tall, frivolous and empty-headed rather than well-educated and intelligent, suggesting to me that there is little information about the real Katherine Howard so both authors created a Katherine to suit their plots. Ford Madox Ford, so I have read, did not allow historical accuracy to constrain his creativity. His Katherine is an appealing character who will not deserve her fate.

I shall read on to Volume 2.

Prisoner's Base by Rex Stout

This was first published in 1952, a very good year, so I read it for AnnieMod's first challenge, here.

Although I'm a fan of Rex Stout, I wasn't keen on this book. In the cosy tradition the murder victim(s) should be unpleasant people. This time they weren't.

Only 25% crime so far. Not too bad.

Jan 4, 2012, 2:44pm Top

I'm intrigued by your comments re The Fifth Queen. My final read of 2011 was Ford Madox Ford's The Good Soldier which was a 5-star book, IMHO. Have you read it?

Also I'm a huge Rex Stout fan. About ten years ago when I was commuting I listened to most of the Nero Wolf books on tape which were narrated by someone with a William Conrad kind of voice, and I wish I still had some of them. Alas, they were rentals and Books on Tape is out of business so those recordings are probably lost to posterity.

Edited: Jan 5, 2012, 1:07am Top

Poquette, it's a good twenty years since I read The Good Soldier and Parade's End. They have faded into the mists of time, but I must have thought The Good Soldier was worthwhile to have tackled Parade's End. It was during my Jean Rhys period.

Jan 5, 2012, 3:42am Top

>I'll definitely have to look for Family Sayings now - those are some of the reasons why I loved The Little Virtues. A couple of essays in that book were like a punch in the gut - in a good way. It's a shame her books aren't more readily available.

I also loved The Good Soldier - I think it's a 'unreliable narrator' classic.

Jan 5, 2012, 11:29am Top

I agree with The Good Soldier being a 5-star read and yet at the same time the narrator is a complete imbecile. That to me is why it is such a good novel, the reader is willing to overlook that fundamental flaw.

This could be the year Ford Madox Ford makes a comeback - the BBC are going to show a big adaptation of Parade's End.

Jan 5, 2012, 12:51pm Top

Thank you for the reminder about Natalia Ginzburg. I read something of hers years ago -- an article, I think, or a short story -- and always meant to follow up.

Jan 5, 2012, 2:27pm Top

>20 Jargoneer: – Yes, Dowell was an imbecile. But didn't he have to be in order for the story to unfold the way it did? None of the characters possessed a shred of emotional intelligence — surely a function of the times, but what a sad collection of dysfunctional people. Still the novel was so well-written.

Edited: Jan 7, 2012, 12:34am Top

I'm plodding so slowly through the second volume, The Privy Seal, of The Fifth Queen that I've decided to give up on it. What a relief!

Ford has created an ornate language that mimics the language of the times. Every character declaims: inn-keepers, ladies-in-waiting, road-workers, but Katherine Howard most of all. The narrative moves ponderously, waylaid by poetic descriptions, historical asides and characters making speeches.

It's not at all my type of thing. A reputation as a prose stylist is no recommendation to me.

I skipped to the afterword by William Gass and found that Ford himself described all historical novels as fakes, which explains why his Culpepper and Katherine bear so little resemblance to the historical figures, and persuades me that there is no need to keep reading.

Rob, I hope you enjoy Natalia Ginzburg. She is the antithesis of Ford Madox Ford.

Jan 8, 2012, 12:57am Top

The Artificial Silk Girl by Irmgard Keun

First published in Germany in 1932, Keun's book documents a year in Berlin in the dying days of the Wiemar Republic through the eyes of the seventeen year old Doris.

At the start of the book Doris works as a typist; she's poorly paid, undereducated and not particularly competent. Her father is a drunk, so to avoid violence she hands over most of her wage to him. She spends her spare time in restaurants and bars, paid for by the men she picks up.

When Doris loses her typing job, she becomes a stage extra and fantasises about becoming a filmstar. She steals a fur coat and runs away to Berlin. There she tries to get work in films, but is reduced once again to finding men to pay her way.

The Artifical Silk Girl has been compared to Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, but Doris' helplessness reminds me more of Jean Rhys' heroines, drifting from man to man in a corrupt and threatening world, and drowning their sorrows in booze . Unlike Rhys' women though, Doris is not yet defeated.

The fascination of The Artifical Silk Girl lies in its descriptions of Berlin in the late twenties. The streets are full of unemployed. Uniformed thugs take over clubs and restaurants, causing the customers to flee in fear. Racism is rife; people are already talking about getting rid of Jews.

Keun herself escaped Germany for Belgium, where she spent two years with Joseph Roth. She re-entered Germany under a false name and spent the war years there in hiding.

I thought this books was well worth reading, but have a few quibbles about the translation. Doris admires America, so I'm assuming the original book contained some American slang. Unfortunately the translator has chosen to render it in the American of today and the recent past. I doubt that Americans were calling people "losers" during the Great Depression, and they certainly hadn't heard of "Women's lib."

Jan 8, 2012, 5:32am Top

Nice review of the Keun - I think I saw it on sale at one of my bookstores so will have to try to give it a look next time.

Also noticed that you've read a lot of books by Rose Macaulay besides Potterism - how did they compare to The Towers of Trebizond? I loved that book and was wondering about her other ones.

Jan 8, 2012, 5:45am Top

Moral Hazard by Kate Jennings

I picked this up in a local bookshop because I felt I should buy something after browsing there so long, and it has turned out to be a good choice.

Kate Jennings is an Australian based in New York. Her older husband died of Alzheimers, so she worked as a speech writer on Wall Street to pay the medical bills, as does Cath, the protagonist in the novel.

Cath is tough and sarcastic, with a dry, self-deprecating wit. Even so, the chapters about the decline of her husband Bailey and her struggle to care for him are tragic. Jennings doesn't carry on about it, but the health care system, with its policy of pauperisation, is appalling.

Chapters about Bailey roughly alternate with chapters about Wall Street. Jennings has an insiders knowledge of the financial excesses of the late nineties, even predicts that without regulation worse financial collapses will occur, as they have.

Short, well-written, worth reading.

Jan 8, 2012, 5:55am Top

Good review of The Artificial Silk. From your description the book seems to take the reader into another world. Modern slang used in translation of older books can be very jarring especially if your head is back in the 1930's.

Edited: Jan 8, 2012, 6:09am Top

Thank you Diefledermaus and Baswood. I thought Keun's After Midnight was even better. As in The Artificial Silk Girl, the main character is a naive and apolitical young woman. It's set a few years further on, in Berlin literary circles. Writers make their choices about cooperating with Hitler's regime.

I think The Towers of Trebizond is far and away Rose Macaulay's best book. I enjoyed her earlier books, which are drily amusing, but they are brittle in comparison. More satire, less humanity.

Jan 8, 2012, 6:14am Top

The translation of The Artificial Silk Girl mentions a "fast food restaurant", but from watching many thirties movies I know that it's an Automat, where the little doors open, the customer takes out a cake or a sandwich, and hordes of women behind the scenes replenish the items. Fast food restaurant gives a picture of MacDonalds, or KFC, which is all wrong.

Jan 10, 2012, 2:53pm Top

Enjoying your thread here, great books you've been reading...and many of them. I'll try to keep up. :)

Jan 10, 2012, 4:56pm Top

Thanks for the warning about Rose Macaulay's earlier works. I loved The Towers of Trezibond when I read it last year and was wondering about her other books.

Jan 10, 2012, 5:30pm Top

Welcome, dchaikin.

Rebecca, perhaps I've been a bit harsh about Rose Macaulay's early books. I'd recommend Crewe Train and Told by an Idiot.

Edited: Jan 13, 2012, 1:32am Top

The Eliza Stories by Barry Pain

The first of the Eliza stories were published in 1900 and the last in 1913. The narrator of the first four books is Eliza's husband, a pompous and pretentious twerp who works as a clerk in a city firm. Their awful son, the priggish and mercenary Ernest, narrates the last book. I was gently amused by this collection, which is in the same vein as Diary of a Nobody and Augustus Carp.

Blindness by Henry Green

Years ago I gave up on Living, Loving, Partygoing, but on coming across this book in a used bookshop decided to give Henry Green another try. Blindness is Green's first book. He started it when he was at Eton and it was published when he was twenty-one and a student at Oxford.

When we first come across the central character, John Haye, at the Eton-like Noat, he is a play-producing, article-writing aesthete proud of his ability to wound his inferiors with sarcasm. On the way home at the end of term he is tragically (and ludicrously, it seemed to me) blinded by a stone thrown at the train by a small boy.

Nothing much happens. The book consists of the characters' interior monologues, which I didn't find particularly interesting. The blinded John meets the "brutish" yet fascinating Joan, daughter of a drunken, defrocked vicar. Joan is a badly-drawn character, little more than a collection of unappealing traits.

Although I wasn't much taken with Blindness, I found the book quite readable and will probably try one of his later works, perhaps Concluding.

Jan 13, 2012, 3:06am Top

Glad you joined up. You have an interesting choice of books. I was considering reading a book by Kate Jennings last week, but then pocketed a different book. Will read the book by Jennings later.

Jan 13, 2012, 4:25am Top

Thank you Edwin. One of my goals is to read more books by Australians, so I'm pleased to have found Jennings. Topical, too. The film Margin Call, which covers some of the same ground, is being released here soon.

"Here" is Australia.

Jan 14, 2012, 4:37am Top

What did you think of Green's style? I've heard it's a little weird. Living, Loving, Partygoing has been on the pile so long I no longer know where it is.

Edited: Jan 14, 2012, 4:49pm Top

In Blindness Green's writing style is quite straightforward. One person reflects or talks at a time; punctuation is traditional; articles are included. I've read that his style changed from book to book, and am wondering whether I started with the wrong book years ago, perhaps one that avoided the use of "a" and "the". This article mentions that Nothing and Doting are more traditional in style.


ETA You can register as a member at the NY times for free, and get access to this article.

Jan 17, 2012, 7:00am Top

The Aunt's Story by Patrick White

Patrick White is the only Australian winner of the Nobel Prize for literature. 2012 is the 100th anniversary of his birth.

There is a discussion thread for The Aunt's Story in the Patrick White 100th Anniversary Challenge group.

Jan 20, 2012, 4:04am Top

According to Queenie by Beryl Bainbridge

Samuel Johnson, the man who wote the dictionary, makes a second home with the rich brewer, Henry Thrale and his wife, Hester. The demanding Johnston comes to depend on Hester. Their story is told by Hester and Henry's daughter, Queenie.

Not bad.

Jan 20, 2012, 4:31am Top

I enjoyed According to Queenie. I love the whole persona of Dr Johnson - the wise man of literature or so he liked to think of himself and Beryl Bainbridge hits the right note here.

Jan 21, 2012, 8:37pm Top

I read According to Queenie too soon after The Fifth Queen, so was too aware that I was reading Beryl Bainbridge's twenty-first century interpretation of Johnson's and Hester's actions.

Poor Hester. So many syphilitic, doomed children.

Jan 21, 2012, 8:51pm Top

The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard

This is the first of four volumes of the Cazalet Chronicles, a family saga that begins in the late thirties. The events closely parallel those in Howard's own life. She was born in 1923 into a middle-class family that had made its wealth from the timber trade.

The writing is good, the characters are well-drawn and their stories move along. At the end of the book, Neville Chamberlain has just announced that negotiations with Hitler have avoided the war. I will have to read the next volume to find out what happens to everyone in WWII, because I have become quite attached to the Cazalets.

I enjoyed The Light Years: an easy, relaxing book and a good change of pace after Patrick White.

Edited: Jan 22, 2012, 8:32pm Top

Perhaps I've damned the The Light Years with faint praise? It is a first-rate family saga, not quite in the same class as Buddenbrooks, but well above Susan Howatch's The Wheel of Fortune. Howard is a large-minded writer, who takes as much interest in the servants as she does in the family members.

I'm very impressed by the thoughtful and detailed reviews I've read so far on Club Read, and feel as though I'm not pulling my weight. However, time spent reviewing is time not spent reading, so I think I'll write brief comments on books that I found quite good, and make a bigger effort for those that made a stronger impression: the very good and very bad.

Edited: Jan 22, 2012, 10:33pm Top

pamelad - I also tend to write shorter reviews for books I like but don't love or hate. The Light Years sounds right up my alley. I had never heard of it, but I've put it on my TBR list and would like to get to it at some point. I read The Winds of War and am going to read War and Remembrance soon, Herman Wouk's WWII family saga from an American family's point of view. I wonder if you've read them and how they would compare? So many books, so little time!

Jan 23, 2012, 5:34am Top

Thanks japaul. I'll keep an eye out for The Winds of War.

A very good thing about The Light Years is that it's the first of four volumes. I've already ordered the second.

Apparently the success of the Cazalet chronicles reduced Elizabeth Jane Howard's literary credibility. She commented, "So long as my books didn't sell they were very well received, but as soon as they started selling I became instantly unfashionable."


Jan 23, 2012, 8:34am Top

What an interesting life! Thanks for sharing the article - now I'm even more interested in the book!

Jan 24, 2012, 7:55pm Top

>43 pamelad:, 44 - I agree, sometimes it's easier to write about the things you loved or hated, not just liked and enjoyed. I read one book that I thought was pretty good but spent most the review complaining about things, then mentioned that the majority of the book was about a dog defecating and being in heat. I probably sounded like I didn't like the book but I did.

Jan 26, 2012, 8:07pm Top

Pam, I think the shorter comments are just fine. I suspect most of us what to know basically what kind of book it is and why you did or didn't like it. That can be communicated in few words or many, yes? I keep paraphrasing Oates from a 2000 essay where she said we were in danger of becoming a nation who reads more about books than they do reading books. I'm trying not to be one of those people but sometimes one just has to talk about a book...it haunts...it nags...it won't let you go....

Edited: Jan 26, 2012, 11:39pm Top

The Double Image by Helen MacInnes

Helen MacInnes writes spy stories that have lots of local colour, competent plots and a bit of romance. This one was set in Mykonos.

I read it as a break from Thinking, Fast and Slow, which is excellent. I had to give my brain a rest after coming to grips with regression to the mean.

Lois, I agree that some books definitely have to be talked about. Thinking Fast and Slow is one of them. The Double Image is not.

DieFledermaus, that sounds like a book that would be hard to like!

Jan 27, 2012, 1:55am Top

>48 avaland: - I'm thinking it will soon be a nation where everyone is writing a book instead of reading one - what with the ease of self-publishing and creating ebooks. But reading about many of the books here has inspired me to read them - or at least buy them and have them sit on the pile.

>49 pamelad: - It was surprisingly funny and well-written for a book that was mostly about somewhat unappealing dog activities. I thought it would be just a standard dog memoir but - no.

Jan 27, 2012, 7:27am Top

>48 avaland: Well, reading more about books on LT has only increased my reading. The year before I joined LT I read about 40 books, and that was a big increased from the previous 5 years. Last year I read 79 books. But more important than the number, talking about books has led me to expand my reading and discover new authors and new writing traditions. So I'm ok with all the talking!

Looking forward to hearing about Thinking Fast and Slow!

Jan 28, 2012, 6:10pm Top

Have fallen a bit behind, but just wanted to say thanks for the reminder of According to Queeney. That's a book I have been wanting to read. I'm putting it right on the wish list. A couple of years ago I read Boswell's London Journal, which really piqued my interest in Johnson.

#48 I keep paraphrasing Oates from a 2000 essay where she said we were in danger of becoming a nation who reads more about books than they do reading books. I'm trying not to be one of those people but sometimes one just has to talk about a book...it haunts...it nags...it won't let you go....

Avaland, sooo well said. Sometimes I wish I would shorten my own reviews, but that would actually take more time! I just finished reading (and reviewing) Moby-Dick, and the it-haunts-it-nags-it-won't-let-you-go sentiment definitely applies.

And japaul has nailed it – my reading spectrum has definitely increased since I got involved with LT and especially with Club Read.

Edited: Jan 29, 2012, 6:04am Top

Thinking, fast and slow by Daniel Kahneman

Daniel Kahneman has dedicated this book to his late friend and colleague, Amos Tversky, with whom he formulated these ground-breaking theories in behavioural economics, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics.

Kahneman describes the human decision-making process in terms of two systems. System 1 makes fast, intuitive decisions, while System 2 analyses, computes and reasons. System 2 is called into action only when System 1 detects a problem it cannot solve, but System 2 requires effort and System 1 can be manipulated, resulting in us making snap judgements in situations where we should be analysing alternatives.

System 1 can be manipulated in many ways, one of which is priming. A pile of Monopoly money, or a screen saver showing dollar bills, primes the experimental subjects with suggestions of money . Observations of money-primed experimental subjects suggested that thoughts of money induced greater independence and, unhappily, less willingness to help others.

System 2 requires mental energy and self-control. A worrying example of the effects of distraction and depletion on rational decision-making is provided by a group of parole judges in Israel. They were observed for a number of days, and the main factor influencing the frequency of parole applications granted was not, as we would hope, the quality of the application, but, shockingly, how long it was since they had eaten. Most parole requests were granted soon after a meal, and none near the time the next meal was due.

Beware of cognitive ease! Research indicates that people who are relaxed and happy are relying on System 1. A bit of stress can mobilise System 2 and reduce cognitive errors. I was fascinated by these results because I am a science teacher, and would have assumed that students learn best when they are relaxed and happy.

In fact I was fascinated by the whole 418 pages and if I go on describing all the thought-provoking examples that shook my assumptions, my review will be as long as the book.

Highly recommended.

Jan 29, 2012, 4:37am Top

japaul, LT has really increased the quality of the books I read. There are so many more good books to choose from now. Being able to buy books online has had a big impact, too.

This year I'm planning to get a lot more books on inter-library loans. The World Cat feature on LT makes it easy to find which local libraries hold a particular book.

Poquette, Hester was quite scathing abour Boswell. Perhaps she was jealous. Have you read anything else by Beryl Bainbridge?

DieFledermaus, I made the mistake of reading an ebook for the Early Reviewers' Program. It was an absolute shocker, but I felt I had to finish it. Now we can publish any old tripe just by uploading it to Amazon! Perhaps Amazon should have an editing service.

Jan 29, 2012, 6:00am Top

And so Pam after reading Fast and Slow are you thinking of ways to make your students lives more stressful? A fascinating review.

Jan 29, 2012, 8:28am Top

Great review of Thinking Fast and Slow! Is it highly technical to read? I do like Barry's suggestion about thinking of ways to make your students' lives more stressful!

Jan 29, 2012, 1:55pm Top

pamelad – sorry to say I have not read any Beryl Bainbridge. But somewhere along the line I heard about Queeney and it sounded interesting. Have you read any other Bainbridge?

Jan 29, 2012, 5:23pm Top

Bas, I teach Chemistry to international students, many of whom have studied in education systems that encourage rote learning, so rather than increasing their stress by my first thought, writing on the white board in semi-legible green marker, it might be more productive to increase the frequency of activities that require them to speak publicly in English and to apply their existing knowledge to new situations.

Fortunately I no longer teach in the secondary school system, where some parents complain if their kids experience any stress at all. One mother rang up because a science revision sheet wasn't exactly the same as the test, so her daughter didn't get an A!

Off hobbyhorse now.

japaul, Thinking Fast and Slow was written for the lay reader, so Kahneman explained quite clearly and used lots of examples. I have no background in economics, psychology or statistics, and while I had re-read some sections a few times, eventually everything made sense. I learned a great deal by reading it.

Poquette, According to Queenie is the only Bainbridge I've read, but I will try another that's not historical. I'm quite off historical fiction at the moment.

Jan 30, 2012, 1:36am Top

Thinking Fast and Slow sounds pretty interesting. I remember reading about the example of the Israeli judges - it was in this article (long, but interesting)


>54 pamelad: - Yes, I worry about a flood of tripe whenever I see articles or people talking with the general theme of ebooks are the future and publishers are dead. But LT is good for sorting through the tripe.

Jan 30, 2012, 2:35am Top

Interesting article. It would seem to be useful to reduce the number of trivial decisions we make. I knew there was a valid reason for having the same breakfast and taking the same lunch to work nearly every day. Now I just need a work uniform for eliminating decisions about clothes.

Jan 31, 2012, 12:43am Top

As We Are by E. F. Benson is an odd melange of fiction, biography and social commentary. The first ten chapters are a tragicomic novella about the decline of an aristocratic family, interspersed with Benson’s personal commentary on the changes wrought in British society by WW1. The last three chapters consist of character sketches of four eminent men, an analysis of contemporary fiction, and a summary of the effects of the war on Britain and Benson’s predictions for the future.

The four eminent men are Balfour, the British Prime Minister, Davidson, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Ernest Cassell and Sir Edgar Speyer, Jewish businessmen born in Germany, who were naturalised British citizens but suffered from victimisation during WW1. Only the last two are clearly linked to Benson’s theme of the effect of WW1 on British society.

In the chapter on contemporary fiction, Benson compares James Joyce and Virginia Woolf unfavourably with Henry James, who is, according to Benson, the first writer to base his works entirely on the stream of consciousness method. James “employed that economy which distinguishes the great artist,” unlike Joyce and Woolf whose books, some thought, were “the uncohering reflections of some isolated and insulated consciousness that droned on, seemingly forever, about the uncensored film picture that passed before it.”

Benson is appalled by the restlessness and superficiality of post-war youth, while remaining compassionate towards the sufferings of the wartime generation. He describes an evening with three returned soldiers. One had married hastily during the war and was stuck in an unsatisfactory marriage. Another was losing his sight, and the third had lost his left hand. Their attention was drawn by a copy of Laurence Binyon’s poem, “For the Fallen” which begins,
“They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them nor the years condemn.”
The men’s bitter, frenzied response shocks Benson, who writes “even now that sense of the searing horrors they went through,…….of the incomprehension, even in those who loved them best, of what ailed them, of the apathy of the nation……….to the consequences of the war on them, still festers and perhaps will never heal.”

As We Are is one man’s account of the devastation of war on the England he loved. It is inconsistent, biased, emotional and deeply personal. It is these qualities that heighten the impression that the book leaves: a lingering sadness and compassion for a generation destroyed by war.

Jan 31, 2012, 4:23am Top

Wow, that sounds all over the place but sometimes I like things like that. Interesting.

Edited: Jan 31, 2012, 5:05am Top

Excellent review of As we are, E F Benson, Thumbed

Feb 7, 2012, 6:28pm Top

Glad you found Thinking Fast and Slow as interesting as I did!

Feb 11, 2012, 4:22am Top

Thank you, Barry, for the encouragement.

Rebecca, you review such interesting books! It was your recommendation that led me to Thinking Fast and Slow.

Feb 11, 2012, 4:35am Top

Marking Time by Elizabeth Jane Howard is the second volume of the Cazalet saga. While the first volume was haunted by WWI, the second is set during WWII. Rupert, the youngest Cazalet son, is stationed on a destroyer. Hugh, maimed in WWI is running the family wood business. Edward, the middle son, is doing something useful for the airforce and taking advantage of his absence from home to spend time with his mistress. The wives and children are crowded into the Cazalet family home, away from the danger and excitement of London.

The war is seen from the perspective of the women and children at home, in particular the young girls. They are waiting: to be independent, to be useful, to be adults, for the war to be over.

I found the waiting of the second volume less engaging than the activity of the first, but have become attached to the characters and want to know what happens to them. I have ordered the next volume.

Feb 11, 2012, 4:51am Top

Heartstone by C. J. Sansom

It is 1545 and the hunchback lawyer, Matthew Shardlake, continues to fight for the victims of the corrupt courts and officials condoned by the cruel and money-grasping Henry VIII.

At over 700 pages Heartstone is too long, but there is plenty of historic detail to pass the tinme: dirt, squalor, fleas and disease; the functioning of the corrupt Court of Wards; the operation of the Court of Requests; the enclosure laws; the debasement of the coinage and the huge taxes levied by Henry to finance the war against the French; the ebbing and flowing of the influence of the religious reformers and their traditionalist opponents.

Shardlake is investigating two cases: a woman who is incarcerated in Bedlam and a boy who is a ward of the court. The strands of the plot join on th ewarship, the Mary Rose, as she waits in the harbour at Portsmouth to do battle with the French.

This is the fourth volume of the Matthew Shardlake series. I have enjoyed them all.

Feb 11, 2012, 5:33am Top

Hotel Berlin '43 by Vicki Baum

Baum was Austrian and Jewish. In 1929 she had great success with the book Grand Hotel and left Germany for Hollywood. Her parents remained in Germany and died there during WWII.

Hotel Berlin has been taken over by the National Socialists, a "half-official branch of the Government," occupied by Hitler's elite, including army generals, foreign industrialists and high-ranking members of the SS. There is no shortage of food and wine, although the rest of the country is starving.

Baum tells the stories of the residents of the Hotel Berlin: the general who has taken leave from the front; the actress who is a favourite of Hitler; the British writer who makes propaganda broadcasts; an SS man; a diplomat and, most importantly, the student, Richter, who has escaped the Gestapo on the way to his execution and is hiding in the Hotel Berlin.

Baum described herself as a "first-rate second-rate writer." The writing in Hotel Berlin is heavy-handed, the characters have little depth and are driven by the requirements of the plot, but none of this matters. Baum is writing in 1943 about the Germany of 1943 and she knows what she's talking about. She predicts the attempted assassination of Hitler; she describes the motivations of the professional soldiers, the ruthless quelling of dissent, and living conditions in Germany. How can she have known?

Well worth a look.

Edited: Feb 11, 2012, 8:27am Top

How can she have known?

I assume she must have soaked up a stream of information from refugees. By 1942 / 1943, it was quite well-known what was going on in Germany. There had been earlier attempts at Hitler's life, so predicting another would not be that hazardous. Published in 1944, she may even have had information from liberated areas.

Baum published a number of novels featuring hotels, and with different titles in German and English, as well as subsequent film titles, they can be a bit confusing:

1929: Menschen im Hotel (German, 1929), in English published as The Grand Hotel;

1937: Hotel Shanghai (German, 1939), in English published as Shanghai '37

1943: Hier stand ein Hotel (German, 1944), in English published as Hotel Berlin '43

Feb 17, 2012, 6:14am Top

A Fringe of Leaves by Patrick White

The Roxburghs are on their way back to England from Van Diemen’s land when their ship is wrecked off the coast of Queensland. The frail hypochondriac, Austin Roxburgh, had made the perilous journey to Tasmania to see his younger brother, the brutal Garnet, who had left England many years before to escape the consequences of his criminal activities. Roxburgh is accompanied by his wife Ellen, a farmer’s daughter. Ellen now has a ladylike veneer, the result both of her mother-in-law’s training, and living with her fastidious husband.

A Fringe of Leaves takes as its starting point the true story of Eliza Fraser who was shipwrecked then saved by aborigines. In A Fringe of Leaves, this is Ellen’s fate, and the first half of the book is taken up with establishing her background. What was it about Ellen that enabled her to survive the harsh existence with the aborigines then convince an escaped convict to accompany her hundreds of miles through the bus, living off the land?

Other reviews of White have mentioned his wordiness. A Fringe of Leaves is full of descriptions of people and places, but they contribute to the narrative and the language is beautiful.

Highly recommended.

Feb 17, 2012, 7:05am Top

Nice review of A fringe of leaves. It is the only book of White I haven't located (yet), although I suspect which box it might be in. It means I won't read it soon, hopefully later this year.

I have started by reading The Twyborn Affair, and there also notice the richness of vocabulary and detail. It makes for very careful reading.

Are you not taking part in the Patrick White 100th Anniversary Challenge?


Feb 17, 2012, 4:00pm Top

OUP published an edition of Shanghai '37 in the 1990s, but it is no longer in print. I have been chasing it down for a while, but it always seems to be extraordinarily expensive on used sites. NYRB Classics website lets you suggest titles, so I tried it there, but alas, I think I will have a very long wait!

Feb 17, 2012, 5:20pm Top

SassyLassy, I found a copy on BetterWorld books for about $12, which wasn't too bad considering they don't charge postage to Australia. It's in quite reasonable condition. Like you, I looked around for quite a while.

I see that there's a cheap copy at Amazon Canada.

Edited: Feb 17, 2012, 5:23pm Top

Edwin, I saw your initial review of The Twyborn Affair on the Patrick White Challenge thread and had a quiet chuckle. It shows enormous sticktoitiveness on your behalf to read it a second time.

Feb 18, 2012, 1:07am Top

For second-hand book search, I use www.addall.com; It has 117 hits for Shanghai '37 by Baum with prices below $10 USD for the first 10 records; after that prices gradually go up, mainly for early editions.

Feb 18, 2012, 5:28am Top

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

A dreary old man reflects on his life and on the unattractive people he knew. I am surprised that this small, pointless book won the Booker.

Feb 18, 2012, 6:21am Top

Perfect review of The sense of an Ending

Feb 18, 2012, 11:36pm Top

>76 pamelad: - Ouch! I'll have to read it pretty soon to see if I'm in the love it or hate it camp.

Feb 19, 2012, 5:32am Top

Child of All Nations by Irmgard Keun

Unable to publish, with her books banned, Irmgard Keun joined the German literary diaspora in Europe. From June 1936 until January 1938 she travelled with Joseph Roth. They borrowed from acquaintances, extracted advances from publishers, and lived on credit, moving on when their visas expired. Kully, the nine-year old narrator of Child of All Nations travels the same route as Keun and Roth. The character of her unreliable, extravagant father may even be based on Roth.

The book begins with Kully and her mother, Annie, stranded penniless in a first-class hotel in Ostende while Kully's father tries to raise money in Prague. Annie and Kully avoid the front desk and eat only one meal a day in the restaurant, where they order the most expensive dishes on the menu because they are afraid of annoying the waiters. Under instructions from her husband, Peter, Annie desperately tries to wangle an advance from Peter's Belgian publisher so that she can pay the hotel bill and move on to Amsterdam.

The unpaid bills, the expired visas, Peter’s absences and her mother’s sadness are the norm for Kully. She knows that her father cannot return to Germany because he would be jailed. She cannot write to her friends in Germany because receiving a letter could put them at risk from the Nazis. She hears her parents and their friends talk of death, and witnesses the attempted suicide of another writer. Kully relates these events from the matter-of-fact, accepting perspective of a nine-year-old.

Keun’s book provides a fascinating glimpse of life as an exile from Hitler’s Germany. Highly recommended.

Michael Hoffman translated Child of All Nations, and while I cannot tell whether his translation is true to Keun’s book, it flowed well and was far less grating than Kathie von Ankem’s anachronism-laden interpretation of Keun’s The Artificial Silk Girl.

Feb 19, 2012, 8:44am Top

Thanks for bringing Irmgard Keun to my attention. I'd never heard of her, but both The Artificial Silk Girl and Child of all Nations sound really interesting.

And your review of The Sense of an Ending is very effective!

Feb 19, 2012, 10:30am Top

That's fascinating about Keun and Joseph Roth; naturally, I know a lot more about him, so I'm especially glad to learn about her. Michael Hoffman is also a big Roth translator.

Feb 19, 2012, 8:06pm Top

Nice review of Kind aller Länder (Child of All Nations), and its author, Irmgard Keun, whom I have never heard of and will definitely read if I can get a copy of in German.

Feb 19, 2012, 11:51pm Top

>>#68, #69

I read Baum's Secret Sentence last year, which was first published in 1926, and while it shows a good grasp of the political situation that time, it doesn't seem to have the least suspicion of what was coming. It's an eerie read in that respect.

Feb 20, 2012, 1:12am Top

>83 lyzard:

To know what was coming in 1926 would have been a bit early. Hitler had only just published Mein Kampf in 1925; but at that time nobody could foresee that he would actually be in power eight years later.

Feb 20, 2012, 2:41am Top

Rebeki, I can also recommend Keun's After Midnight, which I read last year.

Edwin, you'd be able to give an opinion on how good Keun's translators are, if you were to read a German and an English version. But you already have thousands of books to read.

lyzard, where did you find your copy of Secret Sentence? Was it in English?

Rebecca, Hoffman's translator's note gives some interesting background on Keun and Roth.

Feb 21, 2012, 6:25am Top

Confusion by Elizabeth Jane Howard

Third volume of the Cazalet chronicles. Louise has made an unfortumnate marriage to a mother's boy. Polly and Clary are living in Londaon and working as secretaries. The saga continues. I enjoyed it and will now order the last volume.

Feb 21, 2012, 10:06am Top

> 73, 75: Thanks for the suggestions. The prices do seem to have come down since I last looked. I was not familiar with addall.com, so thanks for that link (I think!). I had mainly been looking on abe.

Feb 22, 2012, 4:26am Top

Interested in your reviews of Fringe of Leaves and Child of All Nations (I had not heard of Irmgard Keun before).
I have White's Tree of Man, which I'll start as soon as I can fit it in. If I can get through it and enjoy it, I may try Fringe of Leaves. Your review certainly encourages me.

Edited: Feb 22, 2012, 12:48pm Top

I've got the sample of Thinking Fast and Slow on my iPad and am looking forward to reading it--the whole book I mean. I've read about much of the research he reviews, but it's always good to have it all together and be reminded of the ways we are influenced in our decision-making. Nice review!

P.S. I bought The Makioka Sisters based on arubabookwoman's rec and am glad to see it get another rave.

Feb 24, 2012, 2:49am Top

Dan, I hope you enjoy Tree of Man. A Fringe of Leaves is substantially shorter, should you be looking for a less demanding introduction to White. I have Voss waiting in the pile.

Bonnie, enjoy The Makioka Sisters. Wonderful book!

Edited: Feb 24, 2012, 2:58am Top

My Dear Charlotte is an epistolary novel based on Jane Austen's letters to her sister Charlotte. Hazel Holt, author of an unreadable biography of Barbara Pym, does a good job of interweaving her additions with Austen's originals, but in the end the exercise seems pointless. This is a crime novel with no pace, no mystery, and an unsatisfactory ending.

Pleasant enough, but not worth seeking out. It was a free ebook.

Feb 26, 2012, 1:16am Top

So Well Remembered by James Hilton

Hilton is known for Goodbye Mr Chips, Lost Horizon and Random Harvest, all of which were made into films. In this less successful novel Hilton tells the story of George Boswell, a good man whose life's work is to improve the living conditions of the working people in the small industrial town of Browdley. The story begins on September first, 1921, the day after the official end of WWI, at a ceremony to lay the foundation stone of a housing development that will replace some of the town''s worst slums.

Hilton is writing in 1945, and his concern is with the future of Britain. George stands for public action, progress and concern for one's fellow man. His wife, Livia, stands for the opposite. Other two-dimensional characters appear, as needed, to make philosophical and political points.

So Well Remembered is didactic and a little tedious, but I kept reading because I was interested in Hilton's ideas about Britain: what he thought had gone wrong, and what needed to be done.

Another free ebook. Most of Hilton's books are available on Gutenberg Australia.

Feb 26, 2012, 2:30am Top

Interesting, Pam. It is great to hear more about relatively unknown works. It helps browsing and picking works from the multitudes of free works nowadays (or soon to be) freely available. I think LT is sometimes slightly skewed to most recently published works.

Feb 26, 2012, 2:40am Top

I found a copy of Snake by Kate Jennings in a bookstore the other day, but felt $29 US dollars was really over the top for a slim paperback.

Feb 26, 2012, 3:59am Top

I have heard of the films but not of James Hilton. Sounds interesting.

Mar 12, 2012, 6:32am Top

The Big Change by Frederick Allen

In the early thirties, Allen wrote Only Yesterday about America in the twenties, fascinating because it described the causes and effects of 1929 crash jsut after it had happened. Since Yesterday, Allen's history of the thirties, is just as interesting. The Big Change also starts off well, with a compassionate description of the lives of the citizens of the early 1900s. The poor lived in cramped, insanitary conditions, close to starvation. Life expectancies were less than fifty years.

Allen's thesis is that mass production brought prosperity, education and democracy to the working classes, dragging them out of poverty. This is, he says "THE American story of the first half of the twentieth century." The statistics Allen presents certainly seem to support the claim that Americans in the fifties were far better off than they had ever been before.

Th problem is that Allen is too concenrned with countering the criticisms of unnamed "European" critics. When the critics claim, for example, that the majority of African-Americans (negroes in this book) still live in poverty, in fear of lynchings, Allen counters that lynchings are fewer, and the people on the bottom of the economic heap are better off then they were in 1910. The Europeans just do not understand American society. This boosterism reduces the credibility of the book, which is unfortunate because the first two thirds are well worth reading. The ending is oddly abrupt, as though Allen suddenly ran out of time.

The Big Change is available free on Project Gutenberg, as are the previous two books.

Mar 12, 2012, 6:41am Top

Casting Off by Elizabeth Jane Howard.

The fourth and final volume of the Cazalet saga is well-written and finely observed, as are the first three volumes. A nice easy read after a hard day at work.

Edited: Mar 12, 2012, 7:04am Top

The Devil in the Bush by Matthew Head

Matthew Head was the nom de plume of John Canaday, art critic for the New York Times. In 1943 Canaday worked for six months in the Belgian Congo as a French interpretor for a US government mission. Head's Dr Mary Finney crime series is set in the Congo and its narrator, Hooper Taliaferro (pronounced Tolliver) is a US government functionary. This is the first book in the series.

Hooper is on his way to the Congo-Ruizi plantation to investigate whether it is set up to grow the insecticide pyrethrum. He arrives to find a run-down, unproductive plantation, its owner newly dead. Hooper acts as incompetent side kick as Dr Finney solves the crime. Head has a light touch, Finney and Hooper are likeable characters, and the Congo locale is intriguing in a Greeneish way. An entertaining crime novel. I enjoyed it.

Mar 12, 2012, 7:13am Top

Operation Mincemeat by Ben Macintyre

A fisherman finds a body in the ocean off the coast of Spain. Attached to the wrist of the dead man is an attache case containing documents that could change the course of WWII, should they get into Nazi hands. The documents do get to the Nazis, as was intended all the long. This is the true story of one of the most successful deceptions of WWII.

I enjoyed this book, but at times it became bogged down in trivial detail. Mackintyre's Agent ZigZag was better.

Mar 12, 2012, 9:10am Top

Wow - lots of reading!! I'm definitely interested in the Frederick Allen books, especially the ones you mentioned about the 20s and 30s. Also still determined to get to the Cazalet series at some point since they seem right up my alley.

Thanks for the reviews!

Mar 17, 2012, 3:27am Top

Crooked letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

In a small town in Mississippi, a girl disappears. Her body is never found, and the boy who saw her last never confesses. For twenty-five years he has been an outcast. Now another girl has disappeared and he is the only suspect. Two men know he isn't guilty, but they are saying nothing.

A gripping crime novel with believable characters and an evocative small town setting.

Mar 17, 2012, 7:52am Top

Oh, I loved Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter. I thought it created such a great atmosphere and I was so invested in the characters. Glad to hear you liked it to!

Mar 18, 2012, 4:27am Top

The Shooting Party by Isabel Colegate

Crack shots, famous beauties, friends of the late king and other assorted aristocrats are assembled for a shooting party at a country estate. We know that someone is going to die, but not whom. Will it be Osbert, desperately searching for his pet duck; or Cornelius Cardew, the anti-bloodsport campaigner? It is the end of the Edwardian era and gentlemen aren't what they used to be: they're keeping score at shooting parties and renting out their country houses. The rural workmen are living in poverty, their houses falling apart as the fortunes of their aristocratic employers decline.

I quite enjoyed this book, but I was expecting something deeper.

Apr 20, 2012, 5:50am Top

I've read three excellent books in a row, all of them recommendations from LT.

Pereira Maintains by Antonio Tabucchi

Pereira is the journalist in charge of the culture page of a newspaper that, in Salazar's Portugal of the thirties, dare not print real news. His meeting with a dangerously radical young man causes Pereira to question his own disengagement. The book is written in the form of a statement of interview, hence "Pereira maintains."

Old Filth by Jane Gardam

Old Filth was a Raj orphan, boarded out in Britain while his father remains in India. Now, after a brilliant legal career in Hong Kong, he is a retired judge. Gardam unwinds Filth's story in flashback.

Badenheim 1939 by Aharon Appelfeld

Every year the same Jews come to the spa town of Badenheim for the culture festival. This year they are bickering, carrying on intrigues, eating pastries and pretending this is just like any other year, as they ignore the unmistakeable signs of disaster.

Apr 20, 2012, 5:58am Top

I also enjoyed The Mottled Lizard, Elspeth Huxley's followup to The Flame Trees of Thika.

Next on the pile are Winter Journey by Isabel Colgate, The Siege by Helen Dunmore and The Samurai by Shusaku Endo. They all arrived at the local library at once. Due to budgetary constraints (do not consider fixing up anything around the house: one thing just leads to another) I am experimenting with inter library loans instead of buying books.

Apr 20, 2012, 5:14pm Top

Pam, it's interesting to hear your comments on the Appelfeld. At last year's PEN festival, the author of The Last Brother (Natacha Appanah, i think. The ipad isn't letting me fix the touchstone) highly recommened his work.

Apr 20, 2012, 10:44pm Top

Glad to see you are back (after a month-long gap).

Apr 22, 2012, 9:26am Top

All three books in #103 sound interesting. Good luck with the fixing up.

Edited: Apr 24, 2012, 2:10am Top

Sorry! I completely lost your thread there for a while, and left your question unanswered:

lyzard, where did you find your copy of Secret Sentence? Was it in English?

I accessed a copy from the University of Sydney, which was translated into English in 1932 by Eric Sutton.

Apr 24, 2012, 3:53am Top

Badenheim 1939

Dr Pappenheim, the impresario, is worried that the Mandelbaum Trio will not arrive, even though Mandelbaum has promised. Doctor Schutz, the famous mathematician is besotted with a beautiful schoolgirl. Professor Futzhoolt ignores his pretty wife as he corrects the proofs of his latest paper. The readers, twin brothers, lock themselves in their room for days without food, practising their readings of Rilke.

The Jewish guests and staff of the Badenheim hotel have been compelled to register with the sanitation department and have been notified of their forced removal to Poland. The Austrian Jews believe their removal is a mistake, and that the government will sort it out, while the Polish Jews look forward to returning to their own country. The hotel is running out of food, the post office is closed, everyone who isn't Jewish has left the town and Jews are arriving from all over Austria. Even so, people hope for the best.

This book has been haunting me.

Lois, I'm planning to read Aharon Appelfeld's autobiography. and will definitely seek out more of his fiction.

Edwin, thank you for the welcome back!

Dan, Club Read is a great source of fiction by authors I'd never otherwise have heard of. The proportion of good to bad reads is much higher since I joined LT.

Thanks lyzard.

Apr 27, 2012, 8:02am Top

The Siege by Helen Dunmore

This book received some enthusiastic reviews on LT, but if you really want to read about the siege of Leningrad, read Life and Fate instead.

Edited: Apr 27, 2012, 8:08am Top

I've been waiting to hear what you thought of The Seige since it's on my TBR pile, too. Maybe I'll read both books! Was there something in particular you didn't like about Dunmore's book, or did the comparison to Life and Fate just overwhelm The Seige?

Apr 27, 2012, 8:27am Top

The Samurai by Shusaku Endo

In seventeenth century Japan, Catholic priests and teir converts are being jailed, even executed, but Father Velasco, an ambitious Franciscan priest, believes that he can bargain the possibility of trade with Mexico for permission to preach Christianity. He sets sail for Mexico, accompanied by four low-ranking Samurai who have been appointed as trade envoys. These unsophisticated men believe that if their mission is achieved, their ancestral lands will be restored to them.

A fascinating historical novel, told from the points of view of a samurai and the manipulative Velasco.

Unfortunately the translation grated. I read that the samurai was pining for home at New Year's. New Year's what? Eve, day, celebration? American slang is jarring in seventeenth century Japan.

Despite the translation, and rather too much talk about Jesus, I'd recommend this book.

Edited: Apr 27, 2012, 8:30am Top

japaul, The Siege was sentimental and trite in comparison to Life and Fate. I thought of it as the Pat Boone cover version. The scope of Life and Fate is so much broader.

Edited: Apr 27, 2012, 2:10pm Top

#111 Life and Fate is one of the most impressive books I've ever read, but I did like The Siege too. It is a different book; it by no means has the scope of L&F, but I thought it was good for what it was, with a solid basis in history, and didn't find it as sentimental as you did. Not everyone will read L&F, and I think those who don't will get a meaningful picture of the siege from the Dunmore. The book I really didn't like about it was Ice Road by Gillian Slovo; now that was "sentimental and trite"!

#113, I find it so grating too when contemporary slang/language is used for a historical novel. I found that in Shipwrecks, a Japanese novel I read last year and it was annoying.

Apr 27, 2012, 2:47pm Top

>114 pamelad: &115 Thanks for the comparisons. I would like to try The Seige since I've heard good things about it. I think I'll make sure to read it before reading Life and Fate though.

Apr 28, 2012, 6:03am Top

Rebecca, I'll certainly give Ice Road a big miss. I thought Helen Dunmore did a good job of imagining herself into the siege of Leningrad, but because she's a contemporary Briton that's her frame of reference. I thought her perspective was too narrowly domestic and that the main character, Anna, was annoyingly self-sacrificing and noble. Dunmore mentioned the criminal desperation that drove people's actions, but Anna never did succumb.

japaul, I hope you have two siege books in you. It would be awful to be all sieged out before you got to Life and Fate.

May 6, 2012, 5:02am Top

The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino

I very much enjoyed this charming, playful story. In 1697, the twelve year-old Baron Cosimo refuses to eat the snails cooked by his mad sister Battista and, to escape his father's hectoring, rushes away from the dinner table and hides in a tree, from which he refuses to come down. In the garden of the house next door, he meets a wilful, fascinating girl, and to impress her says that he will never return to the ground. He never does.

The Baron does not allow his life in the trees to isolate him completely from his fellows. His vantage gives him an overview of life on the ground, and he tries to help. He organises the peasants and farmers into a fire-watching group that saves the farming land from the fires that ravage the land in summer. He joins trade associations. He has love affairs with women who meet him in the treetops. Ultimately though, he is separate from the people on the ground and can never fully participate in the world the way they do.

This is one of the three fables collected in Our Ancestors, a Vintage Classic. In his introduction Calvino explains that, having failed to write the "realistic-novel-reflecting-the-problems-of-Italian-society" that was expected of him as a "politically committed writer", he chose to write "the book that I myself would have liked to read, the sort by an unknown writer, from another age and another country, discovered in an attic."

Highly recommended.

I'm having an Italian week. Saw the film, Illustrious Corpses, IMDB link here, which was directed by Francesco Rossi. Political corruption in Italy, mid-seventies. Worth watching.

May 6, 2012, 5:11am Top

The Finishing School by Muriel Spark

Entertaining novella about a couple, Rowland and Nina, who set up a finishing school so that Rowland will have the leisure to write his novel. Rowland becomes hysterically jealous of a seventeen-year-old student, Chris, who is also writing a novel, with far less effort than the blocked Rowland, and has already received offers from publishers. Is Rowland unhinged enough to murder Chris? Nina thinks he might be.

A drily amusing and perceptive story by the wonderful Muriel Spark.

May 6, 2012, 8:57am Top

The Baron in the Trees sounds like a terrific book to get lost in.

May 6, 2012, 4:49pm Top

The Baron in the Trees is one of Calvino's books that has somehow escaped me. I love everything I've read by him and really need to add this one to my list. Enjoyed your comments about it!

May 6, 2012, 7:08pm Top

Glad to see that you enjoyed The Baron in the Trees - I loved all of his books in the Our Ancestors collection.

The Finishing School also sounds like it would be a fun read.

May 7, 2012, 8:03am Top

A Quiet Life by Beryl Bainbridge

Not a fun read! A sad book about an unhappy English family. Well written, but if it hadn't been so short I'd have become too depressed to finish it.

Might have to read some Wodehouse to recover.

May 7, 2012, 9:51am Top

I've been intrigued by the Bainbridges I've read; maybe will look for this one.

Edited: May 7, 2012, 10:06am Top

>119 pamelad:

Quite some convergent reading again, two weeks ago I read Muriel Spark's The Driver's Seat for the Muriel Spark week April 23-29 in the Virago Modern Classics Group.

>123 pamelad:, 124

Yesterday, I pulled A Quiet Life out of my TBR pile, to read it this month. Last week, I finished Another part of the wood by Beryl Bainbridge.

have you noticed that Beryl Bainbridge is the Quarter 2 author for the Monthly Author Group?

Do let's hear what else you are reading by Bainbridge.

May 11, 2012, 8:54am Top

After the inept crime novel, An Unsafe Pair of Hands, I swore I would not read another Early Reviewer book, but I succumbed to Candidate without a Prayer.

This book did not need to be written! If you were 12 years old and pondering the existence of God you might find it enlightening. Herb Silverman's life is just not interesting enough to write a book about.

May 11, 2012, 9:11am Top

So...have you requested any ER's this month? : )

May 12, 2012, 4:37am Top

Giving the ER's a miss this month, thanks Dan! Don't want to take more than my share.

Edwin, I'm interested in hearing your opinions of A Quiet Life and Another Part of the Wood. On the basis of the two books I've read so far, I'd say that Beryl Bainbridge is a good writer whom I don't much like.

What did you think of The Driver's Seat?

May 12, 2012, 5:21am Top

My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok

I started this while I was reading Herb's atheist book. Huge contrast! This is the third book by Potok that I've read, and again I became immersed in the lives of the Hasidic Jews.

The book begins with Asher Lev introducing himself as the painter of The Brooklyn Crucifixion, notorious as the observant Jew who appropriated that Christian symbol. In Asher Lev's community of Ladover Hasids there are no artists. His father is a traveller for the Rebbe, as his father and grandfather were before him; his life's purpose is to save the Ladover Jews. At great risk he works to get the few survivors out of Stalin's Russia. He sets up yeshivas all over Europe, where the Ladover community comes together to study the Torah. Painting, to him, is frivolous.

Even as a small child, Asher is driven to draw and to paint. Despite his father's anger and his mother's anguish, being an artist is the core of his existence and he cannot stop. The book traces Asher's life, from childhood to his present notoriety. I found it fascinating: the history of the Ladover Jews; Russian persecution; Stalin's purges; the isolation of the Ladover community; its cohesion in the face of evil, represented as "the other side" and characterised by the Goyim and their ways.

Highly recommended. Also recommending the other Potok's I've read: The Chosen and The Promise.

May 12, 2012, 5:37am Top

The Making of Modern Britain by Andrew Marr

This is a journalistic history of Britain, from the death of Queen Victoria to the end of WWII in Europe. It's not very scholarly and it covers a lot of ground in its four hundred or so pages, but it was an engaging read.

Last year I read Austerity Britain, about the war years. Marr's book has filled in a lot of the background. I am aghast, once again, at the plight of the lower classes: badly housed, over-worked, underpaid, underfed and uneducated, unable to vote because they own no property. In WWI, the average height of officers, from the upper and middle classes, was eight inches more that that of the enlisted men.

Worth a read.

Edited: May 12, 2012, 10:21am Top


My reviews have to wait till the few lost hours. I am still working on my book, with a hard deadline at the end of the May. From next week, we'll be in the last 6 weeks of term, which means I will be buried in work until the beginning of July.

I can keep reading, but not post reviews. I have posted an impression of The Driver's Seat in the group read thread. I entirely agree with you on Beryl Bainbridge a good writer with an awful style which I don't like, and a penchant for thoroughly unlikeable characters.

I pulled two of her books out of the pile, and started reading According to Queeney. I liked the beginning a lot, but now, after 80 pp. am getting into the same unclear mess that most of Bainbridge's novel characterize. (I never understood what Master Georgie was about.)

Having read four books by Beryl Bainbridge, my average score for her books is

May 12, 2012, 10:54pm Top

#129 - I read those Potok's and some others all about ten years ago. At the time I really liked them, not sure what I would think now. But Asher Lev still makes me sad.

May 14, 2012, 9:09am Top

Catching up with your reading, Pam. It's always interesting.

May 17, 2012, 8:03am Top

The Reversal by Michael Connelly and American Detective by Loren D. Estleman

My resolution this year was to cut down on crime novels, which last year made up 50% of my reading, and diversify. This crime mini-binge brings the total to only seven out of fifty.

The American Detective is a hard-boiled specimen with principles, who wise-cracks his way through the plot. A lot of the time I didn't know what he was talking about, but it didn't matter much. Many people died violently. I'm sure I've seen this plot before.

The Reversal was more to my liking. A convicted child killer is released when DNA tests cast doubt on some of the evidence that convicted him, but the police are sure they have their man so they charge him again. Because the original trial was tainted by police and judicial incompetence, the defence lawyer, Mickey Haller, is hired as prosecutor. Connelly has done his usual competent job. A good rainy day read.

Edited: May 17, 2012, 8:23am Top

Iphigenia in Forest Hills by Janet Malcolm

RebeccaNYC mentioned reading this book. I'd been fascinated by the author's article about the case in the New Yorker, so was pleased to see that the local library had a copy.

Marina Borukhova is on trial for hiring a hit man to kill her husband, Daniel. The divorced parents were fighting bitterly for the custody of their daughter. Marina accused her husband of beating her and molesting the child, but the courts sided with Daniel. Malcolm shows, a step at a time, how the welfare and justice systems failed Borukhova and her daughter.

May 17, 2012, 8:35am Top

Glad you found it interesting, Pam. I wasn't sure whether it was too "New Yorky" for people in other places.

May 17, 2012, 8:39am Top

Taking stock after the first fifty.

Top five
My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok
Badenheim 1939 by Aharon Appelfeld
Pereira Maintains by Antonio Tabucchi
Child of All Nations by Irmgard Keun
A Fringe of Leaves by Patrick White

Bottom Five
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
My Dear Charlotte by Hazel Holt
Candidate Without a Prayer by Herb Silverman
A Quiet Life by Beryl Bainbridge
The Fifth Queen by Ford Madox Ford (first volume of trilogy)

May 26, 2012, 3:51am Top

Nada by Carmen Laforet

The orphaned Andrea moves to Barcelona to study at the university. She moves into a decrepit apartment, owned by her grandmother and also inhabited by her married uncle, his wife and baby son, a second uncle and an aunt. Both uncles have suffered during the civil war: one is evil and the other is insane. Life in the flat, with its arguments, violence and decay, mirrors life in Barcelona in the aftermath of the civil war, rife with fear, oppression and corruption.

This was Laforet's first book, winner of the 1944 Premio Nadal. Its first publication in English was in 2007. It's great to see European classics like this one being translated into English.

Highly recommended.

May 26, 2012, 4:05am Top

Elegy for April and A Death in Summer by Benjamin Black

Just in case there is someone who hasn't come across this writer, Benjamin Black is the crime writing alter ego of the Booker winning John Banville. He has written a series, set in fifties Dublin, featuring the pathologist Doctor Quirke. As crime novels, they're not bad. A bit too long to get started, and a bit too quick to tidy up at the end, but there's enough plot to manage on. The writing, as you might expect, is excellent.

It was a mistake reading these books one after the other, because the themes were too similar. I won't say more because I don't want to spoil the endings.

Worth reading, but not too close together.

May 26, 2012, 4:40am Top

Ordinary Lives by Josef Škvorecký

In Škvorecký's last novel, Danny Smiricky returns to Kostelec for a second reunion with his high school classmates. Smiricky, like Škvorecký, emigrated to Canada and is now famous. The first reunion was in the sixties, before the brief Prague Spring, and the second after the 1989 collapse of the Communist government.

Škvorecký wrote his book after he turned eighty. He is reflecting on life under the Nazis and in Communist Czechoslovakia and after, tracing Smiricky's schoolmates and the people of Kostelec: the priest who was sent to Acuhwitz for marrying a Jewish girl to a Czech boy, both of whom were killed by the Nazis; the girl who reported them; the vicious bureaucrats, both Nazi and Communist; the ethnic Germans, brought up speaking Czech, who are drafted into the German; the people who stuck to their principles and suffered; those who had none and prospered. People from many of Škvorecký's novels wander in and out of this one, as the people from his past wander into his thoughts. He provides a list at the end, describing who the characters are.

Although this book drifts about and is not as well-written as The Cowards and The Engineer of Human Souls, it is definitely worth reading.

May 26, 2012, 6:52am Top

>139 pamelad: Interesting about the Banville...

May 26, 2012, 7:04am Top

I really do mean to read Škvorecký . . . The Engineer of Human Souls has been on the TBR for years.

May 28, 2012, 5:01am Top

Rebecca, it's time! The Engineer of Human Souls is a good place to start.

May 28, 2012, 5:15am Top

The Driver's Seat by Muriel Spark

An unsettling little book. Lise is going on her first holiday from work in sixteen years. She has bought her travel clothes, a strangely clashing collection of garments that makes people notice her, and it's important that they notice. She's an odd person, Lise, and she's looking for the man who is her type.

Right from the start of the book we know that Lise is going to die very soon from "multiple stab wounds". We follow her progress during the course of a day.

This book was shortlisted for the Lost Booker. Highly recommended.

May 28, 2012, 10:23am Top

#143 But it's time for so many books, Pam!

May 28, 2012, 5:39pm Top

Some nice recent reviews - Iphigenia in Forest Hills is on the list to get and Nada and more Škvoreckýs are on the pile.

I really enjoyed Memento Mori and have The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie on the pile to read first but I might have to get The Driver's Seat next - a tempting review.

Jun 2, 2012, 5:23am Top

Since I share with MrDurick an interest in psychopaths, I've borrowed a couple of his recommendations from the library, the latest being The Sociopath Next Door. Martha Stout's book is anecdotal and easy to read, but I don't know that it's very scientific. However, one useful item I have gleaned from the author's "Thirteen Rules for Dealing with Sociopaths in Everyday Life" is her "Rule of Threes."

One lie, one broken promise, or a single neglected responsibility may be a misunderstanding instead. Two may involve a serious mistake. But three lies says you're dealing with a liar, and deceit is the linchpin of conscienceless behaviour. Cut your losses and get out as soon as you can.

Stout is at pains to dissuade us from envying sociopaths. Perhaps we believe that out lives would be more successful had we no conscience to hold us back from ruthless and dishonest behaviour? Stout says, "No." In her experience psychopaths have empty and loveless lives and come to bad ends. I found this chapter quite amusing.

I doubt that the person I was thinking of when I picked up this book is a psychopath. Must read something on narcissists.

Jun 3, 2012, 7:40am Top

>147 pamelad: I think I'll stick to fiction for my psychopaths (i.e. The Triumph of the Spider Monkey, Zombie, African Psycho, We Need To Talk About Kevin...)

Edited: Jun 3, 2012, 5:53pm Top

I think it was Stout too who said that the primary distinguishing mark of a psychopath is that the psychopath seeks sympathy. I have seen with the probably psychopath with whom I am dealing that that can be clever -- mine said to our board president in an e-mail that he might not have expected would get to me, "I was disappointed by Robert...," before going on to show how he had been mistreated. Except that I hadn't mistreated him.

I am keeping her book close at hand to be able to refer to the section of which you speak.


Jun 5, 2012, 1:02am Top

>147 pamelad: - I've appreciated all the reviews on sociopath/psychopath books. Planning to check some out from the library. Does Stout suggest any ways to deal with sociopaths other than avoiding them?

>149 Mr.Durick: - MrDurick - The probable one I knew loved to tell sob stories although some of them were likely an effort to get out of various punishments from the law.

Edited: Jun 5, 2012, 5:36am Top

Many of Stout's rules for dealing with sociopaths are about trusting your instincts about sociopaths and refusing to engage with their behaviour: no second chances; no pity; no blind trust in authority.

The thing I find hardest to accept is Stout's contention that you're either a sociopath or not, have a conscience or have none. Digital, not analogue. I'm sure some of the people I've found hard to deal with aren't totally without conscience: their loyalties are narrow and they have their consciences firmly under control.

I worked in a religious school whose principal treated people appallingly. Most of the staff were in constant fear of losing their jobs for doing something the madwoman didn't like. When they did, she'd say, "It's God's will." Teachers would huddle in offices and call her a psychopath, but none of us really believed it because she wasn't an actual axe murderer and we like to think the best of people. She'd fit Stout's definition, though.

Robert, Stout would tell you to trust your instinct and to resist the temptation to join his intrigues. I hope the people he's trying to hoodwink aren't taken in.

Jun 7, 2012, 7:08am Top

The Ballad of Peckham Rye by Muriel Spark

Dougal Douglas, aka Douglas Dougal, would definitely fit Martha Stout's definition of a psychopath, but since he's a Muriel Spark creation, a very entertaining psychopath. Meadows Meade, the local nylon factory, has expanded, so it is time for them to take on an Arts man, and Dougal gets the job. In the few months he is there, absenteeism increases, employees fight, managers have nervous breakdowns and someone is murdered. Is Dougal the devil?
He hints that he is.

Another strange comedy from Muriel Spark. Recommended.

One's Company by Peter Fleming

Peter Fleming was the older, and, at one time, more famous brother of Ian, the creator of James Bond. Peter was an adventurer, a public school man with a devil-may-care outlook who started his travels in Brazil, joining an expedition seeking the lost Colonel Fawcett. A year or two later, he is travelling in China. It is 1933 and the Communists have gained territory from the Nationalists. Fleming can't see the Communists prevailing, however, despite the incompetence and corruption of the Nationalist leaders.

Manchuria is occupied by the Japanese and menaced by bandits, many of them Nationalist soldiers set free to live off the country. Fleming travels with the Japanese, meets Chiang Kai Shek, who impresses him greatly, and hears tales of the capable and indispensable Mao Zedong, who is moving up through the Communist hierarchy.

Fleming's public school persona is a little hard to take - this is a man who is very, very pleased with himself - but he writes well and tells a fascinating tale. Recommended.

Jun 10, 2012, 2:13am Top

Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd

Boyd tells a good story, and this one is no exception. It is just before the start of WW1 and the young actor, Lysander Reif, has come to Vienna to consult a psychiatrist. Reif becomes obsessed with the mad, manipulative sculptress, Hettie Bull, and has to flee Vienna, putting himself in debt to the British foreign office. The payment is a dangerous intelligence mission to Geneva, at the height of WWI.

While this book was not up to Boyd's usual high standard, I enjoyed it.

V is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton

It's winter, I have a cold, and I've been to the library to lay in a stash of crime novels. This was the first. Kinsey Millhone is drawn into investigating a shoplifting ring. Too many criminals in this book, including a crime boss with a heart of gold, a psychopath, a corrupt cop and an erratic burglar. No one deserved my sympathy.

Jun 10, 2012, 6:06am Top

Discarded Christopher Brookmyre's Pandaemonium because it appears that a group of scientists has inadvertently dug down into Hades. I was expecting a crime novel, not "an earthly battle between science and the supernatural, philosophy and faith, civilisation and savagery." I hope science wins, but I'm not going to read it to find out.

Edited: Jun 11, 2012, 5:25am Top

Grey Souls by Philippe Claudel

During WWI, in a town so close to the front that the inhabitants can hear the guns and smell the powder, a little girl is strangled. Wounded soldiers fill the streets and die in the hospital. Deserters hide in the woods. The narrator, a man drowning in his own sadness, writes an account of the circumstances surrounding the child's death as he tries to piece the evidence together and identify the killer.

There is not a gleam of light in this book, just war, death, corruption, greed and depravity. Just as well it was short.

The blurb says "a sumptuous novel whose theme bears comparison with the great Russians," but I disagree. The scope is too narrow. The people are small. It reeks of despair.

Not recommended. A good book that I disliked.

Jun 12, 2012, 8:05pm Top

"I hope science wins, but I'm not going to read it to find out." :)

Catching up. Fun reviews, Grey Souls does look very bleak. Knowing the set-up, one of the book covers on the work page becomes very creepy.

Jun 14, 2012, 3:46am Top

Thank you for dropping in, Dan.

Jun 14, 2012, 4:33am Top

I've tagged my books by decade, so can threaten lists of bests back to the 1870s. Starting with 2010s. No five star reads so far, but a few 4.5. Leaving the crime novels in, so it's not the most erudite of lists.

Whispering Death and Blood Moon by Garry Disher
The Poisoner's Handbook by Deborah Blum
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

Jun 14, 2012, 10:47am Top

Love the jump to the 1840s, Pam!

Jun 15, 2012, 8:44am Top

Pam's just skipping over the unimportant eras... :)

I've only read two off your list, and one is Jane Eyre, which I read in high school. The other is Olive Kitteridge (which I didn't like).

Jun 15, 2012, 9:57am Top

Enjoyable thread as always, Pam. I love what you say here:

I'm sure some of the people I've found hard to deal with aren't totally without conscience: their loyalties are narrow and they have their consciences firmly under control.

Exactly, and not to mention how different are the ideas on what is one supposed to be loyal to, or for what one's conscience must suffer.

It's utterly irresponsible to divide people starkly into sociopaths or not-sociopaths. Also dangerous.

Are you seriously interested in material on narcissism? Some years ago I went through a terrible period when I read tons about the stuff (I was in love, and worse, a relationship with one), and I recommend highly Essential papers on narcissism as the first book. It could easily be the last, even, depending on just how much you want to explore. It's not recent, but psychoanalysis is not about cutting-edge science.

Jun 17, 2012, 5:36am Top

Lola, thanks for the recommendation of Essential Papers on Narcissism, which I will chase up. I see that there are also Essential Papers on Borderline Disorders, which might also be interesting.

Regarding the psychopath classifications, it's a worry that there are so many mental disorders available to us now. Is our definition of normal a lot less elastic than it used to be, I wonder?

In Australia, three year olds are about to be screened for signs of mental illness. The checklist includes, according to the Sunday Age, sleeping with the light on, temper tantrums and extreme shyness. A child protection organisation has asked that the checks include home visits to check for family problems including domestic violence, drug and alcohol problems and neglect.

Jun 17, 2012, 5:56am Top

I've just finished M. M. Kaye's Trade Wind, a historical romance set in Zanzibar. I enjoyed it, although it is not a good book. Perhaps it fits Orwell's classification of a good bad book, "the kind of book that has no literary pretensions but which remains readable when more serious productions have perished." Kaye's The Far Pavilions is an even better bad book.

Reading Orwell's article I was appalled to come across the following: "During the last fifty years there has been a whole series of writers--some
of them are still writing--whom it is quite impossible to call "good" by any strictly literary standard, but who are natural novelists and who seem to attain sincerity partly because they are not inhibited by good taste....the author has been able to identify himself with his imagined characters, to feel with them and invite sympathy on their behalf with a kind of abandonment that cleverer people would find it difficult to achieve.....there is the same ability to take seriously the problems of commonplace people."

This brings me to Brazilian Adventure, by Peter Fleming who, like Orwell, was an old Etonian and therefore qualified to judge coarser examples of humanity from his lofty public-school perspective. Initially I was entertained by this tale of a group of young men setting off down the Amazon to trace the last steps of the missing Colonel Fawcett, but by the time I reached the end of the book I was simmering with loathing for Fleming and his ghastly 1930s British snobbery.

Jun 17, 2012, 6:11am Top

Hmmm..... its the snobbery that you don't like in Orwell's statement (I wonder if Orwell thought he was being snobbish). Otherwise I think that his views are probably quite perceptive for the period.

Jun 17, 2012, 6:15am Top

I dare say he didn't. After all, he wrote Down and Out in Paris and London and tried to experience the privations of the poor.

You wrote yourself, Barry, of the difficulties D. H. Lawrence experienced in being taken seriously by the literary establishment. Not one of their kind.

Jun 17, 2012, 6:39am Top

There's always something interesting on your thread, Pam. I loved the Disher and thought it interesting that he spend so many words on "Mrs. Grace," the cat burglar, which reminded me very much of Port Villa Blues and that professional thief. I don't remember him doing that to this extent in previous Challis/Destry books.

Jun 17, 2012, 7:34am Top

Lois, glad you liked Whispering Death. I thought it was well up to Disher's usual standard, even though I can no longer remember all the details. Apparently there are a few Wyatt books, which is good to know, having read all the Challis and Destry series.

Jun 17, 2012, 10:18am Top

Interesting comments about Orwell. That quote does sound terribly condescending, but I suppose he meant something more perceptive and just couldn't help revealing his background.

As for the screening of three-year-olds, it sounds a little odd, if well-intentioned. Are sleeping with the light on, temper tantrums, and extreme shyness now considered signs of mental illness in kids that young????? Isn't there any sensitivity to nuance????

Edited: Jun 17, 2012, 1:06pm Top

All I can say is, I hope it does more good than bad. I mean, it would be terrific to identify and help children who need help as early as possible, but what effect may it have on the rest? Must we poke and probe at kids quite so much?

About Orwell, I don't think he saw himself as the upper crust, in fact, I seem to recall he suffered at school as the child of a minor official or a clerk. Otoh, his education would certainly separate him from the true blue workers. That said, there is a very claustrophobic atmosphere to most of that white-boy Anglo lit that still dominates Anglo reading. Whatever their pretensions, unconsciously or not they were writing strictly for their buddies (possibly because they never learned how to talk as one equal to another to anyone else), and anyone not answering to the description of an educated white male is bound to feel the rhetoric and concepts as foreign to some extent.

Jun 18, 2012, 7:39am Top

Hotel Bemelmans by Ludwig Bemelman

Bemelmans is the author of the Madeline books, which I remember fondly from my childhood. He was born in Austria, brought up in Germany and, in 1914 at the age of 16 arrived in New York with letters of introduction to the managers of some of the city's big hotels. After a few false starts he ended up at the Ritz-Carlton, known in these stories as the Hotel Splendide.

This is a delightful collection. Bemelmans is a generous, good-humoured man who shows great loyalty and kindness to the lowliest hotel employees, and a comic disdain for the worst of the hotel's clients. Here he is describing a rich and difficult client, Madame George Washington Kelly. "The Italian waiters called her 'bestia', the French 'canaille', and the Germans 'die alte Sau'. She had a desperate countenance, partly concealed by a veil; behind this her face shone the colour of indigo. Her skin had the texture of volcanic rock seen from the air with dirty snow swept into the crevices."

Bemelman saw himself as an artist rather than a writer, and the stories are littered with wonderfully detailed descriptions. The obsessive Mr. Tannenbaum, polishes the silver, shines the plates and lives on "a strict diet of cereals, boiled rice, celery, stewed fruits and milk.....His meals were almost a religious ceremony. Lights burned, silver shone, vessels were covered and uncovered or moved from one side of the table to the other." The details pile up until we get to Tannenbaum himself. "To this atmosphere of Te Deum and fetish, the ascetic countenance of Mr. Tannenbaum was entirely appropriate. It was the face of a man a few days drowned, his hair the colour of ashes."

This book popped up among the recommendations on my home page. I'd never heard of it, but am very pleased to have found this copy in the municipal library of Boroondara, "City of Harmony".

Edited: Jun 19, 2012, 6:33am Top

The Sentry by Robert Crais

Joe Pike, tattooed hard man, has killed a lot of people but we can tell he's no psychopath because Elvis Cole's cat likes him, and cats can tell. Daniel, the hired hit man who likes to torture people, definitely is a psychopath, and he's closing in on the woman Pike's fallen in love with. It's a plot device, this love affair, and seems quite unlike Pike. He needs a reason to be protecting this woman and putting himself in the path of this madman.

There are many twists and turns, involving a Mexican crime network, a Bolivian drug cartel, Hurricane Katrina, restaurants, fishermen, good cops and bad cops. This is a workmanlike effort from Robert Crais, but perhaps he is running out of ideas. I truly dislike reading about the ingredients of people's dinners and the brand names of the beers they drink. Is this the way Crais shows character development ?

Not bad, if you like the Joe Pike and Elvis Cole series, but could be better.

Jun 19, 2012, 11:26am Top

The Bemelmans book sounds like fun!

Jun 20, 2012, 6:44am Top

Icefields by Thomas Wharton

A man slips on the surface of a glacier and falls into a crevasse. Trapped and slowly freezing, he sees a vision of an angel in the ice. He is saved, and spends the rest of his life searching for his vision.

There are a lot of poetic descriptions of ice, in cool and distant language. The people are distant too. Despite their enthusiasms and their passions, they seem remote and passive, without depth, characters set in motion by the writer.

I did not like this book. Everything about it was too icy. I assume that's its point.

Jun 20, 2012, 9:52am Top

Sorry you didn't like Icefields, but funny last paragraph. I have a new copy is sitting on my TBR shelf, hopefully I'll get there this year, maybe late in the year.

Jun 20, 2012, 5:01pm Top

Oh, too bad. I've been looking forward to reading Icefields (and I must admit icy sounds appealing when it's 93°F out), but maybe I'll let it languish on the TBR for a while.

Jun 20, 2012, 9:02pm Top

Rebecca and Dan, many people really liked Icefields. Slow, dream-like and poetic are just not to my taste. And it's winter here!

Jun 21, 2012, 9:14am Top

It's always good to see someone express well why they don't like a book. I liked your review and agree with >176 dchaikin: on the last paragraph.

Initially I had the same thoughts when reading Icefields, but then I came to think that yes, they were remote characters, but not so much passive as trapped. It seemed to me that instead of the metaphoric electromagnetic fields that surround most people, setting into motion their relations with others, these people had icefields. Eventually I came out on the side of those who really like this book.

Jun 21, 2012, 6:35pm Top

Well, "slow, dream-like, and poetic" are not generally to my taste either.

Jun 24, 2012, 6:04am Top

SassyLassy, in Australia heat, drought and the blazing sun permeate much of our local fiction, trapping the characters in lethargy. It's interesting to see ice performing a similar function in this Canadian book.

Jun 29, 2012, 1:26am Top

Two Whisper books.

The House of Whispers by William Le Queux

The only good reason for reading this would be to gather examples of how not to write a crime novel. The book was first published in 1909, so can't fairly be judged by today's standards, but since I'm a bit of a fan of elderly crime novels, I'd say it doesn't measure up too well to the standards of the 1900s.

It is set in Scotland, which gives the heroine, Gabrielle, who is "sweet, almost child-like in her simple tastes and delightful charm", far too many opportunities to go romping through the heather in her fetching tam o'shanter, trusty sheep-dog by her side. The Scottish setting also allows Le Queux to wander off into pages of Scottish history, which is only marginally relevant to the plot. There are many pages of poetry, some of it in Italian, some of it in French, but most of it in this type of Scottish English: Oh Castell Gloom! on thy fair wa's Nae banners now are streamin'; the howlit flits amang thy ha's, And the wild birds there are screamin'.

The sickening Gabrielle is devoted to her elderly (he's 53!) grey-faced, blind father, who was a brilliant politician until he suddenly went blind one evening. Unfortunately, because she is a woman, no amount of devotion can make Gabrielle trustworthy, so the dreary old man chooses to believe the tales told him by a disreputable childhood friend of his wife's. This man, party to Gabrielle's terrible secret, "held her irrestistibly within his toils. His clean-shaven face was a distinctly evil one. His eyes were set too close together, and in his physiognomy was something unscrupulous and relentless. He was not the man for a woman to trust."

There is a great deal of waffle about the terrible secret. Gabrielle would rather die than disclose it, but no secret can survive that sort of build-up, so in the end it's a bit of a disappointment.

Characters pop in and out as needed and at least one undergoes a complete personality change. The plot is ludicrous.

I cannot recommend this book.

City of Whispers is another competent offering from Marcia Muller. Sharon McCone receives an email from her psychotic, drug-addled half-brother, who is in danger in San Francisco. Sharon, who has recently recovered from shut-in syndrome ( I have read nearly all the books in this series, but couldn't face that one), starts a desperate search.

An entertaining read. I like Sharon. She's a bit of a leftie, and looks out for the underdog.

Jun 29, 2012, 1:32am Top

I cannot recommend this book.

And yet, you've made me want to read it...

Don't worry - I promise I won't blame you!

Jun 29, 2012, 9:00am Top

It looks like The House of Whispers can easily be avoided, however it is free on Project Gutenberg with 20 other titles by William Le Queux

Enjoyed your review

Jul 7, 2012, 6:45am Top

lyzard, you'd better not!

Barry, with The Four Faces I've now read two by Le Queux, and that's enough. Apparently he's best known for two novels about the German invasion of England, The Great War in England in 1897 and The Invasion of 1910.


An interesting man.

Edited: Jul 7, 2012, 7:39am Top

Quiet by Susan Cain

On Saturdays and Sundays, outside Bunning's hardware stores, there's always a charity sausage sizzle. The tantalising smell of sausages, fried onions and tomato sauce draws the crowds, but on this particular Saturday a spruiker was doing the hard sell, a loud, excited and voluble man with an American accent. He leaped upon the diffident Australian shoppers, who scuttled away, sausageless, into the shop. My friend and I exchanged a glance and said, "Imagine living in a country full of them."

We were joking, but according to Susan Cain we'd hit upon the truth. America is the most extroverted nation in the world, with a culture that does not value the talents of introverts. Cain even blames the GFC on extroverts, risk takers who ignored the warnings of their introverted colleagues.

Quiet is not at all scientific. Cain has a premise and she seeks out the anecdotal evidence that supports it. She gives no clear definition of introversion so is free to roam around the scientific literature appropriating snippets that illustrate her points.

I don't at all mind reading about the power of introverts and how undervalued we are. I just wish that Cain's book were weightier and more logical.

Jul 7, 2012, 4:52pm Top

Thats an interesting review of Quiet, Susan Cain. I have seen other much more favourable reviews in club read and so it is good to get another opinion. Perhaps it is a book that speaks more loudly to Americans.

Jul 8, 2012, 1:12am Top

It would be a useful book for extroverts to read in order to understand more about the introverts in their lives, but this article might do just as well. It's much shorter and far more entertaining. (I posted this link a while ago in another thread, but it's worth posting again.)


Jul 9, 2012, 9:41am Top

#186 - interesting response to Quiet. I'll keep that in mind if I ever get there. Love the article links in #188.

Jul 9, 2012, 10:18am Top

Hilarious review of Le Quex, Pam, I too am glad you read it.

By the way, on the ancient mystery front, I wonder if you could help me--some time ago someone recommended with greatest enthusiasm an obscure or thoroughly forgotten female author (anglophone), maybe even earlier than earliest Christie, first name... well, I can only think of Gladys. Any bells?

Edited: Jul 10, 2012, 7:38am Top

Lola, could it be Gladys Mitchell? Her first book was published in 1929 and she went on to write seventy or so more, right up until the eighties. She was forgotten for a while, but recently some of her books have come back into print with prefaces by someone famous whose name I have forgotten. He calls her "the great dame Gladys." As well as writing at least a book a year, Mitchell was a school headmistress. She must have been an intimidating woman!

Here she is on Fantastic Fiction. http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/m/gladys-mitchell/

I can recommend The Rising of the Moon and Tom Brown's Body.

ETA I seem to have imagined the prefaces. It was Philip Larkin who was a fan of "the great Gladys" and he hasn't been with us for quite a while!

Jul 10, 2012, 11:48am Top

Thanks, that's it!

Jul 12, 2012, 8:22am Top

Death of an Old Girl by Elizabeth Lemarchand

This mystery popped up in the LT recommendations on my home page, so I looked it up and found that it had 4.33 stars. My expectations were high, but the book was dull. The characters were lifeless and the plot trite.

A disappointment.

Jul 12, 2012, 3:23pm Top

I'm intrigued that you look at the recommendations on your home page; I'll have to take a look at mine. However, I'm very skeptical of the whole star system because everyone has his or her own interpretation of what stars mean. I'm more interested in books that people I know (like you!) recommend!

Jul 12, 2012, 5:43pm Top

Yes, my own star system is no system at all. The number of stars depends on how I feel on the day and what I'm in the mood for reading. You can't possibly compare Life and Fate and Mapp and Lucia, but I've given both of them five stars.

Jul 13, 2012, 8:16am Top

I'm still interested in reading Quiet but I agree with baswood - it's good to get a different opinion.

A funny and entertaining article at 188.

Jul 15, 2012, 6:04am Top

I'll be interested to hear what you think of Quiet, DieFledermaus.

The Ivory Swing by Janette Turner Hospital.

This is Hospital's first novel, the winner of Canada's Seal Award.

Juliet moves, with her husband David and their two children, to a remote village in the southern Indian state of Kerala, where David, an academic, is carrying out research. Despite her love for David, she has been thinking of leaving with the children for Montreal because she feels trapped in the small Canadian town of Winston where they have lived for the last twelve years.

Being trapped is the theme of the book. The family's servant, the sweeper Prabhakaran, is only twelve, a Dalit whose menial work and poverty are pre-ordained. Yashoda, a beautiful young widow, is virtually imprisoned on her in-laws' property because widows must retire from the world. Juliet and David believe that they are helping when they treat Prabhakaram as one of their children, and encourage Yashoda to believe she can defy her family's code of honour. Their interference leads to tragedy.

I liked this book for the vivid descriptions of life in India, which made up for my lack of interest in Juliet and David's relationship. Recommended.

Jul 15, 2012, 6:17am Top

The Patient in Cabin C by Mignon G. Eberhart

This is Eberhart's fiftieth crime novel, published in 1983. Its title recalls the first, The Patient in Room 18, which was published in 1929.

This was not a bad effort for a woman in her eighties. A group of people is trapped on a yacht in a fog, with all communication disabled, when a man is thrown overboard. A gun goes missing and the yacht's occupants fear death from the murderer among them. A classic plot.

The main character is Sue, a nurse who is engaged to the yacht's owner. Unlike the gormless orphans who feature in most of Eberhart's books, Sue is quite intelligent and useful. She's still an orphan, of course, so in need of a man to look after her. Fortunately, when the fiance starts acting wildly there's another man on board to look after Sue.

This was rubbish, but I liked it. Sometimes I just want an undemanding read where everything works out tidily.

Jul 15, 2012, 7:13pm Top

I will put The Ivory Swing down as a maybe purchase, because I have fond memories of Kerala.

Jul 15, 2012, 8:17pm Top

Where did you ever find a copy of The Ivory Swing? It appears to be out of print and though I scour used book stores for books by Turner Hospital, I have yet to see it. Anyway, interesting to see that even in a first novel she is going with the theme of people being trapped. I will look for this book based on your review.

With you on the rubbish track!

Jul 16, 2012, 2:03am Top

This user has been removed as spam.

Edited: Jul 16, 2012, 7:27am Top

Thanks Muouo. Welcome.

Sassy, I borrowed The Ivory Swing from the local library, a University of Queensland Press edition. The book is still in print here.

Barry, that's why I picked it up, too. The Indian bits more than compensate for the dreary bits. Well-observed.

Jul 16, 2012, 5:32am Top

Sassy, it's $7 from Fishpond, plus a trillion dollars postage to Canada.


Jul 16, 2012, 7:16am Top

Two Little Rich Girls by Mignon G. Eberhart

Emmy Van Siedem, one of Eberhart's more capable orphans, arrives at her married sister's townhouse to find a dead man in the hallway. He was a frequent escort of Emmy's sister, Diana. Diana ends up in jail for the murder because she tells too many lies and behaves like an idiot, but she didn't do it. Poor Emmy suspects nearly everyone she knows, but in the end the real murder is revealed.

Mindless entertainment. I enjoyed it.

Jul 16, 2012, 9:01am Top

>203 pamelad: Thanks for that link (I think!). I didn't know of this supplier, but already I have found books there I have been looking for for a while. Off to see how the exchange rate on Australian dollars is.

Jul 17, 2012, 10:42am Top

#204 Always good to have the mindless entertainment. I don't do that enough. #197 (numbering to make the point this comment isn't related to my first comment) The Ivory Swing sounds quite interesting.

Jul 19, 2012, 10:18am Top

Just before I went on holiday I finished Janette Turner Hospital's volume of short stories Forecast: Turbulence, which I did not like that much. I may try The Ivory Swing following your recommendation.

Jul 21, 2012, 7:26am Top

After Candidate Without a Prayer and An Unsafe Pair of Hands I resolved never to read another ER book, but when I saw that a real book by a real author was available to Australians, I had to request it. It turns out that there was a mistake and that the publishers hadn't really meant to send Mark Billingham's The Demands to Australia, but they offered an ebook instead.

It's a good, solid, readable crime novel, briefly reviewed here.

Jul 22, 2012, 5:18am Top

In a fit of absentmindedness I have given my new thread the same name as the old one. Confusing.

Edwin, I'm also looking for Hospital's Due Preparations for the Plague, which has good reviews.

This topic was continued by pamelad's reading log.

Group: Club Read 2012

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20,218 messages


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