Hugh's 2019 reading and notes, part 2
This is a continuation of the topic Hugh's 2019 reading and notes, part 1.
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This week's picture may mean more to haydninvienna than other Dragoneers. We used to know an old dear who lived in the Kloof Rest Home, just along the road from the church I pointed out, Richard. Indeed, when she got very ancient a considerable part of her book collection moved into mine -- at her insistence, let it be added! Anyway, from her front verandah in the rest home she had a truly amazing view, of which this is part:
Richard will be able to make sense of the road in the "foreground", which is the steep bit going up to our suburb; the bend is where I asked you to look left. You can also see the approach to the viewsite that's now been closed. Home is a bit off to the left, and just behind the slight grassy rise.
Technical bit: This is a telephoto view. I used a 300 mm mirror-lens and a 2x extender. I then had to tweak the contrast digitally.
The Ascent of Money. I've been avoiding this on the library shelf, expecting it to be deadly boring. But then I saw that it's by Niall Ferguson, whose book on Empire is most interesting and full of good things. So I tried this one, and it is too. Maybe as a history of human greed and folly, but nevertheless, readable and interesting.
>2 hfglen: Nice picture to start your new thread with. While the rest of us were not there I think we can appreciate the view.
La Belle Sauvage. I distinctly recall a BBC dramatisation of this broadcast about when it came out. As I recall, that production missed very little, essentially nothing, of value to the story. However I also recall that further dramatisations of the following volumes were promised. According to LT the next volume is out (has anybody in the pub read it?), but no sign of any dramatisation.
Here we are treated to a short period in Lyra's babyhood, ending, as befits the first part of a trilogy, on a massive cliffhanger. As suggested by the LT reviews, this is considerably darker than His Dark Materials, and the anti-religious message is every bit as heavy-handed as one might reasonably expect.
Wild Karoo. An account of an expedition starting from Cape Town and going more-or-less clockwise through the driest parts of South Africa. The inclusion of details of the places where he stayed may make parts of this book date relatively quickly, but other parts, on the history and ecology of selected parts of the Karoo (mostly National Parks and private reserves) are probably timeless. Well written, full of interest and beautifully illustrated.
I have just received an e-mailed circular with the rather questionable English "please see below call...". But the next line really takes the cake:
"Please reach out if you have any queries."
Am I the only Dragoneer inspired to puke rather than respond?
I agree with Peter. Unless this is something you already know about and are in desperate need of, get rid of it.
"Are you looking at me? If so, why?"
Mr Inky Mistoffelees enjoying a moment's sunshine.
>14 hfglen: Ah, a background where you can actually see a black cat in the photo! I have the hardest time getting a good photo of my dark little shadow cat, who isn't actually black, but a tortoiseshell. She blends into almost everything. Nice photo.
>14 hfglen: As I may have said, Inky is the blackest black cat I’ve seen for a good long while. He wasn’t particularly interested in talking to me so I didn’t make any close inspection, but he didn’t seem to have any white hair at all. Most black cats have ar least a few.
>16 haydninvienna: He does, in fact. A fine white stripe on his chest and some random white hairs on top of his head. (Shame, poor kitty; the strain of living with his pet hoomins is making him grey before his time ;-)
It's taken four years (after he demanded that we adopt him!) for him to decide that lap-sitting is actually possible, and he still often only talks to me at any length when the fridge door is open.
Did I ever show you this picture of the mountains around Outeniqua* Pass behind George, Western Cape?
*Outeniqua: from a Khoekhoen word meaning "man laden with honey", which seems somehow appropriate.
>19 hfglen: Oh, nice! Honey, indeed.
Mr Inky up in >14 hfglen: reminds me of our beloved black cat Fia who we had to put to sleep what must be 17 years ago. She was part Angora, so her fur was very thick and very black, but whatever else she was led to it being quite short.
Still miss her, after all these years...
>21 Busifer: I can well imagine that you still miss Fia. You have my sympathy.
Karoo was written 65 years ago, and forms an interesting counterpart to the recent Wild Karoo I noted recently. Mr Green's book concentrates on the people and their stories, where Mr Reardon's focuses on efforts to rehabilitate nature after the damage caused by not-always-innocent farmers and hunters. I bought the older book on a "bookshop-crawl" that haydninvienna and I undertook and (I hope) enjoyed recently.
>23 hfglen: Enjoyed? indeed yes, Hugh. Just arrived back in Doha at sparrow-chirp this morning, so the Adventure is officially over. Pictures to follow.
I've finally given up on Hitler's Pope, which became infinitely slow-moving, tedious and repetitive about 40% through. A quick skim suggested that matters improve slightly towards the end, but did I need the frustration of getting there? He'd already made the point many times over that his subject was a deeply flawed human being, with all the backward-looking rigidity I, at least, associate with the not-very-bright trying to cope with a job in which they are out of their depth.
*sigh* there are so many good books out there, waiting to be read.
>20 hfglen: I’ve had mixed reactions to most of the Miéville works I’ve read. I think I mostly enjoy his convoluted imagination, but I get frustrated with his convoluted sentence structures. To be fair, they may not exactly be convoluted, but something about the way he phrases things doesn’t get parsed easily by my brain. Unlike with most other books, I frequently have to re-read sentences to understand what he was trying to say.
I haven’t read Kraken yet. I’m planning to read Embassytown later this year.
It looked to have double-posted, so I deleted, and then it deleted both?!
>20 hfglen:, >26 YouKneeK: I have read and enjoyed both Embassytown and The City & The City but convoluted certainly seems like a good word to use, here.
I had planned to read one or more of Perdido Street Station, Un Lun Dun, and Kraken, at one time or another, but maybe not Kraken, then.
Edited, because when writing it up the second time I seem to have picked up a dash of dyslexia...
>28 Busifer: I liked The City & The City fairly well, although I wanted more background and details about the city itself. I thought it was the most accessible of the four books I’ve read by him.
I also read the three books in the Bas-Lag series, including Perdido Street Station. I liked Perdido quite a lot, but it took me some time to get into it. I was also frustrated because, although he went into much detail about the city that the story is set in and its inhabitants, other things were surprisingly (and annoyingly) poorly fleshed out by comparison, such as the magic and the world beyond the city. One does learn a bit more about the world beyond the city in the other two books, but the magic remains hand-wavy.
I haven’t read Un Lun Dun.
>20 hfglen: thru >31 AHS-Wolfy: I have only read three Miéville books so far. Kraken was the third and I rather enjoyed it. More so than Perdido Street Station, which I did not dislike, but I had similar issues with it like >30 YouKneeK: describes. Beyond the hand-wavy magical aspects, I also thought there were too many things going on that were not adequately wrapped up by the end - but it did have a megaton of cool concepts, (slake moths, the Weaver, the Construct Council, etc).
Embassytown is my favorite Miéville to date. I found it to be more coherent than the other two titles. When it comes to genre, I'm also more of a science-fiction reader - as opposed to fantasy - and Embassytown is purportedly his least 'weird' and most SFnal novel. Also, the overall concept is really quite remarkable.
Tavern of the Seas (bought at the Kloof SPCA with haydninvienna) is a description of Cape Town and its immediate surroundings. As it was written just over 70 years ago it is acquiring the patina of a historical document. Nevertheless, Mr Green's writing is still eminently readable. This one will probably mean more to those who have lived in, or at least visited, Cape Town than those who haven't.
The forensic science of C.S.I. Interesting. The series is intermittently screened on South African TV, generally in the middle of the night and/or on subscription channels. For the most part it appears that the TV series displays a reasonably accurate image of what CSIs do. The book explains the detail that couldn't possibly be fitted into a TV program, in sufficient detail and simply enough that most readers will have no problem. Only one chapter requires an effort to hang on to one's supper: that dealing with the investigation of dead bodies.
>34 hfglen: I remember watching the show when it originally aired; the original Vegas version, that is. I liked it, but one of the few things that I find genuinely disturbing is when you turn a dead body and the maggots fall out. As a small curious kid living at the edge of a forest I had this happen a couple of times as I poked dead animals (mostly birds) (with a stick). I pretty soon learnt to stay away. Seeing that on a screen is the only time I'll close my eyes.
>34 hfglen: My brother's (a retired policeman) complaint about that show, and all other TV crime solving shows, is the timeline for answers from the labs. He said they were lucky if they got results back in a month. Guess it would be a dull show if they stuck to all the facts. :)
I can see the opening sequence for episode four:
"Hey, boss, we just received the lab report on the blood stains at the crime scene in episode one."
"Which one was that? I get all the episodes mixed up."
Went out into the garden and saw that a climber we bought last year is flowering.
It's a Butterfly Pea (Clitoria ternatea), indigenous in a wide area of tropical Africa and Asia. If you look closely and work it out, it's a pea-flower that grows naturally with a 180° twist in the stalk, and so opens upside down. In Southeast Asia the flowers are used as food colouring, and in China it has medicinal uses due to, ahem, the appearance of the flowers (which also give rise to the scientific name). It's also widely grown for ornament, and in Australia apparently it has been used for revegetating land damaged by coal mines.
French Spirits. Memoir of an American couple who bought a semi-derelict presbytery in an obscure village in northern Burgundy. We learn a bit of the couple's backstory as well -- the author in particular seems to have had a most unpleasant upbringing. Nevertheless, a delightful story, with space for a sequel.
>40 hfglen: I can speak for the food colouring. I was on a Thai Airways flight a couple of years ago and a tiny jar of something called “butterfly pea jelly” turned up on the breakfast tray. Apparently it was essentially apple jelly coloured with the extract of those flowers. I’ve never been able to find it again, even in Bangkok Airport or on Thai Airways.
>44 haydninvienna: Hmmmz. If the plant had more than 3 or 4 flowers I'd be suggesting that you come to Durban to make the obvious experiment. I presume one extracts the pigment into alcohol (cane spirit or vodka?).
>45 hfglen: With jam or jelly you might be able to just steep the flowers in the boiling jam. Apparently in SE Asia rice is sometimes coloured by adding a bud or two to the rice while cooking. The dye is an indicator and turns pink in acid solution though. I recall the jelly being distinctly blue although under aircraft cabin lighting I couldn’t be sure.
I tried googling the jelly after encountering it and found it very difficult to get any useful information. I’ve never found any kind of commercial source, as I said above, although there must be one.
>46 haydninvienna: All very interesting, thank you. I'm planning to cook rice tonight, but the mind boggles at the idea of blue (or even pink) rice. Might add some turmeric, cinnamon and raisins though (a good Cape tradition, that).
21 lessons for the 21st century. Depressing, overall, though much of what he says needs to be said, often, to those in power (no names, no pack drill; it's just that the planet's survival depends on the message being heard, understood and acted on correctly). I think I'd rate reading this one as a necessary chore, although he writes well and factually.
Dumb question: How do you ride a bicycle in more than one direction at a time (as forbidden by this sign)?
Seen at Giba Gorge MTB park in Durban this afternoon.
I was at a craft beer festival this afternoon (hic!). A picture or 2 to follow.
>49 hfglen: LOL, it is kind of a funny way of phrasing it. I assume it’s like the “One Way” signs I see on roads here in the U.S. sometimes, meaning travel is only permitted in one direction and if you go the wrong way you're likely to cause a head-on collision. So for example if it’s an east/west road, you might be permitted to travel east only and never west.
>50 YouKneeK: We usually use the international one-way graphic, a white arrow on a red rectangular background. The other end of the one-way stretch has (should have) an international no-entry sign: a white horizontal bar on a red circle.
1603. The year Queen Elizabeth I of England died and James VI of Scotland became James I of Great Britain, thereby ushering in the Stuart dynasty. Theme by theme, the author works through the salient features of one of British history's great turning points. Interesting, if a tad dry in places.
Rudyard Kipling and his world. Only 114 pages, at least half of which are pictures. Hardly surprising that it only lasted one interrupted sitting. But the authorship of Kingsley Amis guarantees a good and interesting read. Curious that he considers Bateman's (Kipling's home for his last 34 years) to be cold, dark, damp and miserable. But then he saw it in winter, and I went there on a sunny summer's day, and didn't see any of those adjectives applying.
>59 -pilgrim-: No, but I see several copies on the Durban Libraries' e-catalogue. I'm now planning to request it, as none of these copies are in the Hillcrest, Kloof or Waterfall branches. And I, too, enjoy Durban, for all its faults.
>60 hfglen: Warning: it is a rather original urban fantasy, but the author does have an axe to grind over Christian religion, which takes over a bit in the middle. However the setting is an integral part of the plot, so I look forward to hearing what you think of it.
>61 -pilgrim-: Thanks for the warning. Is the axe-grinding even more obvious than in His Dark Materials? The book would be dire if that is so. I expect it will be some time before I comment further, as it takes Durban libraries several weeks to deliver books requested from other branches, and they only do so about half the time.
>62 hfglen: It is a debut novel, and it shows. I actually received the sequel, Clockwork City (set in London) as a review copy, liked the opening chapters but realised that I was missing some background, so went back for the first book. The sequel is better, and enabled me to grit my teeth through the middle section of Poison City. At least Philip Pullman's cosmology made sense! ... Or I think it probably did... I confess that I got so bored with "feisty", bratty Lyra and the heavy-handed lecturing that I never made it further than Northern Lights.
Crilley's tone is rather more petulant, but just when it gets almost too irritating, he throws in a cracker of a final battle. Perhaps the style is best described as a Philip Marlowe-style noir crossed with Zelazny (although far less polished than either).
>63 -pilgrim-: Many thanks. Lyra does grow up (to an extent) in the last book, but the heavy-handed lecturing does not abate.
Cars Cars Cars Cars. A quick read, as most of the area of each page is occupied by pictures, and there are relatively few pages. So it counts as a coffee-table potted history of the automobile to 1967, the year in which it was published. He traces the history back to Hero of Alexandria (2nd Century BC), and notes several failed attempts of the 17th and 18th centuries to use steam power in a road vehicle. But success came in the 1880s, and he illustrates nearly everything from then on. The author is/was evidently a racing/rally driver and motoring journalist, and so lards his account with his own experiences of driving some of the more eccentric vehicles. His final chapter is speculation on the future, which at this distance in time makes interesting reading. It was evidently written just before the six-day war, as he doesn't see a turbine engine's inordinate thirst as fatal, and he holds out hope for a Wankel engine. His descriptions of crude GPS, self-driving cars and electric buggies are quaint. A fun read for a rainy afternoon, overall.
Special for MrsLee this week. Here's a mediaeval (c. 14th century) clapper bridge at Postbridge on Dartmoor.
This is quite close to Widecombe-in-the-Moor (shades of the Old Grey Mare, Uncle Tom Cobley and all), and not all that far from MrsLee's ancestors' home at Hele.
The old dear looking cold on the bridge is the Aged Mother; I have numerous pictures of her looking cold when those around her were coping adequately. Indeed, one of her many nonsensical instructions went "Put on a jersey; your mother's cold".
>66 hfglen: Thank you, Hugh. What a lovely bridge indeed! Easy to see monks, serfs, and merchants, possibly even a knight and squire, climbing those steps and scurrying across.
I like your mother's advice and believe I have given the same to my own children once or twice. ;)
Of tricksters, tyrants and turncoats. South African history includes many bizarre and memorable stories that have long since been filtered out of any school syllabus (they might make the subject interesting; God forbid that should ever be allowed to happen!). Max du Preez is one of our best journalists, and probably about the best qualified person in the country today to tell them with the verve they need. This is his second selection of such tales, and very readable it is too. In deference to the sign at the door of the Pub I must point out that the political repercussions of at least one of the stories are still reverberating in South Africa.
The Long Weekend. It must have been wonderful to visit an English country house between the wars, when most of them were in full flower. If, that is, one could survive the sometimes stifling formality. Less fun to own one, as the upkeep must have been a perennial and horrendously expensive problem. We are told in one place that a small country house for a moderately prosperous owner would have four or five living rooms and a minimum of ten bedrooms (and no more than two bathrooms, that only if you were very lucky). Is this a house or a boutique hotel, one asks oneself? This book is a history of the "country retreat" between1919 and 1939, and the people who owned and lived in them. It is beautifully written and illustrated, with the occasional laugh-out-loud turn of phrase. Thoroughly recommended, especially as many of the houses can be visited nowadays with a National Trust or English Heritage card.
The Olive Season. Evidently the second in a series of four, but perfectly satisfactory as a standalone. She lives on a farm in Provence with her lover (later husband), and chronicles their work in bringing the farm back to life, mainly producing olive oil. One of many threads is the battle with bureaucracy to get their oil registered for AOC status. This plays like a soapie, as French bureaucracy always seems to have another sheaf of forms and pettifogging regulations up its sleeve (sounds like home!). But not all the threads can be handled that flippantly; there are heart-warming moments and tear-jerking ones. I shall look for others in the series.
Some time ago I promised a picture or 2 of the material the Railway History Society's museum acquired recently, and in particular the teacup that is the local equivalent of the one that Busifer showed us. Here it is, at last:
I was amused to see how well our railway sleeping compartments of yore agree with T.S. Eliot's description of Skimbleshanks's domain in Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats.
We don't have a complete mock-up of a sleeping compartment, and so "every kind of light, you can make it dark or bright / and a handle that you turn to make a breeze" are missing, but here's "a funny little basin you're supposed to wash your face in".
Non-stop!: London to Scotland Steam. The first time I visited Edinburgh was a few days before my 16th birthday, by Flying Scotsman. Sadly, only a few months earlier British Rail replaced the A4s with Deltics on this route, so I never got to see any of the locomotives on this route (except for Mallard in the National Rail Museum at York, much later). This book is well written and profusely illustrated, in black-and-white, as colour film was as rare as hens' teeth in the period covered. I enjoyed it, but can see where it's a specialist book with TMI for most Dragoneers. Possibly also TMI: I bought the book for Railwaysoc on a sale at this month's S.A. National Society meeting, and read it between cataloguing and placing in the library.
Hickory Dickory Dock, aka Hickory Dickory Death. How come I haven't seen this Agatha Christie in the library before? Grabbed with glee and read with pleasure (predictably). The student digs sound like the ones I knew back in the day, admittedly some 15 years after the period when this one was set. However our students' nefarious activities were more concerned with politicking than smuggling. As usual with Mrs Christie, a good story with an unexpected twist in the tail.
>78 MrsLee: I love that my GD friends know me well enough to give book bullets for my bathroom reading. lol!
A Thief in the Night. Pope John Paul I's body was hardly cold when conspiracy theories started flying around. John Cornwell was given the job of investigating how and why the Pope in fact died. The result is this book, which reads like a good whodunnit. It is, effectively, a story of lies, evasions and stonewalling despite orders from the highest authority for complete co-operation. Although there is no evidence for any actual wrongdoing, the Vatican bureaucracy does not come out of this well. One wonders if anything has changed -- can change --since then.
>80 hfglen: Two films that have hypotheses about Pope JP I's death are, "The God Father III" (the worst of the films) and "Kill the Pope" with Robbie Coltrane. The latter is a comedy about a hippie priest with the same name as a cardinal who was elected to the papacy by a conclave that was fixed by the mafia. As you can imagine, the hippie priest is elevated to the papacy by mistake and the mafia and its cardinal try to get rid of him. An amusing romp if nothing else.
>82 Busifer: Thank you. Here's an example of the coffee pot they used to bring round to compartments in the morning (unlike on Skimbleshanks's train, we could get early-morning coffee as well as tea).
One says coffee, but Heaven knows what they made it of; I can only tell you that our chairman makes the stuff for those present at Inchanga on working Saturdays. It's "black and bitter as a witch's soul", with a flavour that only remotely resembles coffee beans. Nor is it all that close to French chicory.
>83 hfglen: Great description of the "coffee", there. I guess a reliable metal pot is in order, to keep the coffee from escaping ;-)
>86 haydninvienna: Railway coffee in Sweden is usually potable, with the exception of the over-night trains. For those trips I have started to bring my own coffee, in a thermos. I don't want to walk through two to three carriages, first thing in the morning, to reach the bistro only to realise that the coffee there likely has been on the hob while I slept... and if ingested will end up burning a hole in my stomach.
Airline coffee in Sweden come in several varieties. Most commonly it's Nescafé, but one carrier has more like real coffee. They boast that they have made several tests to find a brew that works well on high altitudes, and I'm leaning towards almost trusting them on that.
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