Magician's Nephew: The Books of 2019
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Well, I'm back.
My name is Jim I live in New York City with my Sweet Babboo Ffortsa and after twenty plus years - you know maybe it will work out.
I work with computers for a large Wall Street firm -- I get to play with all the new cool tech toys -- and hope to retire one of these days.
I love reading books of history and fantasy and fiction of all kinds. Books and theater and history are my passions. And people.
Have met some wonderful people on Library Thing - waving hello to all old friends and new.
“You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension: a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You’ve just crossed over into… the Reading Zone.”
Zoe we'd love to see you and any other LT'ers who happen to find their way into the Big Apple area
So -- a book!
The Song of Riddles is a lovely way to start the year - (actually I've been dipping in and out of it for a few weeks now).
It's a deep dive into the Song of Solomon of the Old Testament Bible with lots of time to wallow in the poetry and also understand the history and dig into the analysis too. WHY is this deeply lyrical deeply poetic deeply erotic book included in the Christian Bible?
They say a joke you have to explain isn't a good joke.
Well sometimes hearing a poem explained - teasing out the secret forgotten references, the little asides, the Biblical half quotes - makes the journey richer and more fulfilling.
And the subtleties of translation - why some times one word is used and sometimes another - also leads to deeper more satisfying understanding
And it's a BOOK! a physical oaper book with a cover and big illustrations and lots of elegant typefaces to enjoy. I mean Kindle is all very well, but . . .
It's a very sensuous piece of love poetry and a deep and rich allegory and so so much more. Really enjoyed this one.
My dove in the clefts of the rock, in the hiding places on the mountainside,
A year full of books
A year full of friends
A year full of all your wishes realised
I look forward to keeping up with you, Jim, this year.
One to regret, I guess.
I love reading history and didn't know all that much about World War i so when someone recommended The War That Ended Peace I had to get a copy.
This is the most detailed book I have ever read about the long weary road up to the First World War.
The author goes back properly I think to before the turn of the century and captures a lot of good information about the various national insecurities and the various national attacks of paranoia. There are capsule biographies of many long forgotten statesmen whose words and deeds add color and texture to the landscape.
(The Modern world reminds me muchly of the time before 1914 for the general touchiness of various world leaders, the fanatic nationalism (or sectionalism), and the sense that what "everyone knows" to be true today may turn out not be true after all.)
But you know this week I put it down about half finished and I doubt i will pick it up again. When you study every tree root to branch and leaf to leaf sometimes you lose sight of the forest.
Prince Bulow, the former German chancellor asked : "How did it all happen?"
>11 magicians_nephew: Sorry to hear that one was not better for you, Jim! I read a good book on WWI a couple of years ago, but cannot remember the name at the moment. If you are still interested in reading about WWI, I will look it up for you.
As I recall, The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman also dealt with the beginnings of the war, and started with the death of Victoria's son Bertie, with all the cousins attending the funeral from all corners of Europe. Haven't read it in a LONG time.
And happy thread. How did I miss it?
Happy New Year To You. May it be filled with health, happiness, light and love!
All good wishes!
The Guns of August is a great book but it was written at a time when historians were more inclined to the "The Germans Started It" theory.
Kaiser Bill feared the Yellow Peril (which in his world included the "Mongol" Russians) and thought that Germany would have to face them alone.
Going back a few generations as Ms MacMillan does perhaps shows more clearly the other sides of the (many) disputes.
Max Hastings' Catastrophe is a good book for the day to day details. Nobody does it better
>13 magicians_nephew: I will have to look for the Kenneally book. Thanks for the recommendation, Jim.
The book I was thinking of is A world undone : the story of the Great War, 1914-1918 by G.J. Meyer. I thought it was excellent.
Our book group took a swing at The Remains of the Day Kazuo Isiguro's curious and subversive and glorious little novel.
We Meet Mr. Stevens, the very model of a modern British Butler who grew up serving a Lord in a great hall. Now he serves a jumped up American businessman in much reduced circumstances. His life has been circumscribed by the two gods "Dignity" (As a shield to hide behind) and "Banter" (As a way of human communication - something Mr. Stevens is NOT very good at.).
We hear a lot about the "Unreliable Narrator" - this book I think gives us an "Oblivious Narrator" someone who really doesn't see what is happening in the world around him.
Mr. Stevens takes a drive across the English Countryside to meet an old colleague. It gives him a chance to reminisce and reflect. It's the genius of the writing that while Mr. Stevens doesn't seem to see the many chances for love and human contact and maybe happiness he is passing by - we as reader and audience do.
It's at times a very funny book and overall a very sad and very moving book. Our book group had a great discussion. The book will stay with me.
CRICHTON: My Lady! I am the son of a butler and a maid. The happiest of all combinations. To me the most beautiful thing is the haughty, aristocratic English home with everyone kept in his place. Any satisfaction I might derive from being your equal would be ruined by the footman being equal to me!
I'll bet The Remains of the Day made for a great book club discussion. I love your phrase "Oblivious Narrator" - exactly. As you say, as readers we get see all he misses. Funny, sad, moving - yes, all of those.
my OTHER book group took a look at Love in a Cold Climate and I'm here to report it is a good Book Club book.
It's (part of ) the story of two young girls in the whirlwind of titled, wealthy (not too bright) grotesques in England between the wars.
One of the girls is just a commoner who watches with an affectionate but not uncritical eye the strange rites and rituals that are enacted all around her. She's got a couple of bratty sisters who serve as cheerful Greek Chorus to the festivities.
The other girl is the "Honorable" daughter of a Lord and Lady groomed to be the bride of a Prince, at least. Well she has other ideas.
Nancy Milford was one of the famous Milford sisters and knows the titled nitwits and brutes she writes about very well. (And she wrote "Zelda" about the rise and fall of the Scott Fitzgerald's of our American nobility)
It's entertaining to watch most of the time and our author has a sharp eye and ear for dialogue. OTOH with a few exceptions, the people we meet are all such shallow one note birdbrains that it's pretty hard to care a rap about them.
The ending just ends because its the last page but until the last page this is a very entertaining menagerie to spend the afternoon touring. There's a sort of prequel and a sequel that nobody ever reads -- but they read this one. It's a good one.
“Strange children should smile at each other and say, "Let's play.”
I really ought to read Remains of the Day. I actually bought it once, and for some reason had to return the book. Never bought another copy.
This is a hard one.
Astounding by Alec Nevala-Lee is a new book about John W. Campbell the editor of "Astounding Science Fiction" and the early days of "pulp" science fiction
This book focuses on Campbell and three of his superstar writers : Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein and (how did he get in here?) L. Ron Hubbard.
The time after the war was a time of scientific excitement and the dawn of real space travel. Science Fiction was getting past the "Matt Basterson, Space Marshall" stage and trying on long pants and Campbell was a big big part of that. Asimov's Foundation series, Heinlein's early Future History stories, the wonderful A. E. Van Vogt and others are recalled. So that's good.
You also have to hear about Campbell the racist and the mystic, who used the "Hard Science" pages of Astounding to push Hubbard's loony "Dianetics" nonsense. And you have to hear about Kay Tarrant whose title was secretary but was really co-editor in all but name but never got one tenth of the credit due to her.
And you have to hear that Heinlein started out as libertarian and visionary and ended up
a paranoid (and cruel) curmudgeon. (and lazy writer, endlessly recycling old plots)
And L. Ron Hubbard who was never better than a "C" level writer anyway (and was a creep besides) and whose creation of "Scientology" and the deep deep madness that followed that might have been (has been) better covered in a different book.
And Isaac Asimov who was funny and chatty and a good hard working writer but who was so insecure about women and so immature about it that he tended to pinch bottoms and brush "Accidentally" against breasts to the point where women who knew the score learned to avoid the part of the office or the part of the Sci-Fi convention where Isaac Asimov happened to be. "The Sensuous Dirty Old Man" he called himself. Women might have challenged the "Sensuous" part.
Confession to make: I was one of the geeky kids who liked to hang around Dr Asimov and I certainly was witness to some of the above. Did i call him out on it? I sure didn't. Did I know better? Yeah, I did.
A good book and well researched. If you're interested in the history of science-fiction this is not a bad place to start. And yet. And Yet.
"The future ain't what it used to be"
>24 magicians_nephew: And yet....it's not calling to me after your wonderful review.
And the quote is (unfortunately) all to true.
Hi Ellen! Thanks for stopping by.
I remember reading The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie back in my college days with the memory of the movie and Maggie Smith strongly in my mind.
It's the story of a single woman after the first World War who teaches at a school for girls in Scotland. She's strong feisty cultured iconoclastic and teaches the girls of "The Brodie set" to be the same.
Back then I thought that Miss Brodie was a good role model for a strong independent woman and Huzza! for her and her girls.
But reading the book again now we see Brodie through the eyes of the girls especial Sandy the "watcher" who begins in worship and ends in "She must be stopped".
We see a woman who controls her girls and shapes them as she thinks they ought to be. It's a personality cult. It's not always pretty.
What is Miss Brodie teaching when she talks about her trips and her art and (discretely) her love affairs?
What is Miss Brodie teaching when she takes the girls to the Opera and the Ballet and walks them through the slum districts?
What are the girls learning??? Hmmmm.
The writing by Muriel Spark is clear and sharp and elegant -- I could just say "it's by Muriel Spark" and leave it at that. Satire with a scalpel. Keen insight into people.
Brodie is a bit of an enigma - we only see the performance she is putting on. And how the girls respond to her. One dies, one enters a nunnery. All of them say she was the major influence in their lives.
The Book group discussion was very good.
Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten
>24 magicians_nephew: I think Going Clear was the best book on Scientology that I've read (though I haven't read many). It is supposed to be an unbiased account, though of course it leans strongly towards to Scientology-is-a-cult-and-L-Ron-Hubbard-is-a-crazy-jerk side. It covered a little bit about Campbell as well, though not much.
On a side note, my grandpa actually knew L. Ron Hubbard when he was still an unknown writer and hadn't founded Scientology. Not very well, but still. I think it's kinda cool.
>29 The_Hibernator: last year LT was offering some of el-Ron's early pulp novels for Early Reader review. Some of them are (unintentionally) pretty funny - most of them are (unintentionally) pretty bad.
And crazy jerk seems to be an understatement.
Cool that your Grandpa knew him.
I knew Asimov well enough to say hello at SciFi cons but that was about it. I met Heinlein once. Never met Hubbard.
"Let me tell you i was bitterly disappointed to learn that this book is, in fact, an instructional guide to the profitable husbandry of ducks as a career.
There is not one sliver of insight about holding ducks accountable for their crimes against humanity, God and Man"
>30 magicians_nephew: Interesting that you knew Asimov at some level. My grandpa also knew Ray Bradbury, though less so than Hubbard. They all belonged to a SF writer's book club that met in LA at the time.
>33 The_Hibernator: don't forget that Asimov was east coast (Boston then New York) based and pathologically afraid of flying
Was your grandfather in the Manana SF Club? (Named because it was a group of writers talking about the books they were going to write - manana?)
>34 magicians_nephew: I don't know what the name of it was. I'll have to ask my dad, as my grandpa is long-since passed. Not sure if my dad would know. My understanding was that it was a club that met on 5th Saturdays, though. That's really all the details I know. (Not even sure why that detail has stuck in my head, lol.)
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