Books

29 November 2014

My third Newsletter will be published this coming Tuesday, and, for the whole month of December, subscribers will have the opportunity of buying either of my two books at a discount. Also, on the 16th December, there will be a new giveaway, and the winner will be able to choose either Room Nineteen OR The Space in Between. However, you must have signed up in order to be part of the draw (or the discount).

Next week, I will be reviewing Cloud Atlas, an amazing book by prize-winning author David Mitchell.

26 November 2014

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer


William Shirer based his book on six years working as a reporter of the Third Reich, captured documents – including diaries of people like the propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels and the Italian Foreign Minister Galeazzo Ciano ‒ as well as British Foreign Office reports and testimony from the Nuremberg trials. All 1143 pages of the resulting basically neutral account of NAZI Germany from 1932 to 1945 (add another 100 pages for the index) are amazing, even though the book does not always escape an American interpretation of German history. 

Nevertheless, when weighed against the monumental undertaking of chronicling this period in minute detail, such personal interpretations are possibly neither here nor there and can be either accepted or rejected by a discerning reader. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich is a book, which, at the same time as it is a historical record, is also a great page-turner. It gives a thoughtful understanding of these eventful years, not only in relation to Germany but also to the rest of world, and is worth reading.

 Photo from en.wikipedia.org

23 November 2014

Liking and not liking

It is interesting to reflect on the fact that a review is simply one person's experience of something, and, in the case of this blog, that something is a book. When I write that I do not particularly like a certain book, there are probably thousands of others 'out there' who would disagree; the same is true when I extoll the merits of a book - there will always be others who do not agree with me, for whatever reason. As individuals, we have the right to like or dislike, but, there should always be some kind of intellectual or emotional basis for our liking or disliking: if we say that we like something, then we have to be able to give a reason for our opinion.

The line between like and dislike is heavily nuanced, especially when it comes to books. For example, I may like the theme of the book, but I may be disappointed with the characterization. I may love the language, but I may feel that the story itself is a non-story. Nothing is really ever black and white.

Unfortunately, certain social media sites ignore the nuances and settle for the black and white - we like or we dislike. I feel that this is having a marked effect on how many people now regard other people and the world in general: people are good or bad, actions are right or wrong, political decisions are beneficial or disastrous - there is nothing in between. Are we beginning to lose the ability to form intelligent, considered opinions on things where like and dislike are actually at opposite ends of the scale and where we should be able to verbally defend our reasons for standing at some point in between?  

19 November 2014

Genie: A Scientific Tragedy by Russ Rymer


This story about a little girl who suffers such horrendous physical and psychological abuse at the hands of her parents that, when she is finally released from their care at the age of thirteen, she has no language and no social skills is definitely a tragedy. That the scientific community then saw a chance to study language from a number of previously impossible perspectives need not have been a tragedy had the people behind all the research and experimentation not lost sight of the fact that Genie was actually a human being with very human needs. 

The first part of the tragedy was Genie's misfortune to have been born into a completely dysfunctional family; the second part was the fact that those people who later assumed responsibility for her physical, emotional and psychological well-being did not fully understand her need to be able to bond with one caring human. They were all focused on their research, and, somewhere between the reams of tests and papers, they all lost sight of Genie; when they finally realized that she was still there, it was too late. 

RussRymer has woven together a desperately sad story with substantial descriptions of scientific research into the origins of language, and the result is extremely interesting, compelling and definitely readable. It is impossible to read the book without questioning oneself where the line goes between what is ethically acceptable and what is not.


 Photo of Russ Rymer from  mvbookfestival.com




15 November 2014

The other day, Xerxes phoned me. (I know, the name is most unusual, and it could well be a nom de plume, but, of course, he was phoning, not writing.)  Anyway, whether he actually is Xerxes or not is of little importance. This is the gist of our conversation:
Xerxes:   Do you know that 'thingy' on your blog?
Diane:     ??
Xerxes:   Something about a letter...
Diane:    A Newsletter?
Xerxes:   Yes, that's it. A Newsletter.
Diane:    And?
Xerxes:  Well, I didn't get one.
Diane:    But you had subscribed?
Xerxes:  Subscribed? I read every blog post you write; I assumed that it was automatic; that it was like a reward for like 'sticking around'.
Diane:    No, I'm afraid it doesn't work like that.
Xerxes:   It doesn't?
Diane:    No, it doesn't. If you want the Newsletter, you actually have to subscribe. There is a subscription form on the left of the blog. You type in your email address and then click on 'subscribe'.
Xerxes:   And that's all?
Diane:     That's all. You don't have to put in any other information, and if you later want to unsubscribe, it's just as simple to opt out.
Xerxes:   So what's the difference? I mean, like, what's the difference between your Newsletter and your Blog?
Diane:     The Newsletter only comes out twice a month, while I post twice a week on the blog. On the blog, I review books I've read; in the Newsletter, you can read about Vegetarian Cooking, Numerology, Creating gardens, the books I've written, and much more...
Xerxes:   But I've already missed the first Newsletter...
Diane:     That's really not a problem. The next Newsletter will be published on the 18th November, and there you'll have a chance to download the introduction to the Numerology Course that was in the first Newsletter. The first Newsletter was more of an introduction, so you haven't missed a lot.
Xerxes:   I've always wondered what vegetarians eat, and that about Numerology might be interesting - perhaps it will tell me if I'm going to win the lottery?
Diane:     No, it won't tell you that, but it will tell you other things.
Xerxes:   I'll subscribe today.
Diane:     Glad  to have been of help, Xerxes. Keep in touch.  

12 November 2014

Ireland and Her Story by Justin McCarthy


This book, written in 1903, gives a very good background to Irish history, beginning with the Celts arrival in Ireland around the dawn of time and ending with Second Home Rule Bill and the passing of the Land Bill at the turn of the nineteenth century. McCarthy does not go into unnecessary detail, but he provides a platform for further study and investigation. He ends his book on a positive note, and, indeed, relative to all that had previously happened in Ireland, the passing of a Home Rule Bill was positive. However, in 2014 with the added awareness of everything that has happened in Ireland since 1903, it is possible to see just how relative a word like 'positive' can be. The fact that McCarthy was born in 1830 means that he was writing about many issues contemporary to himself which gives the book an integrity and an authenticity which is both refreshing and extremely valuable from the point of view of understanding the Irish situation. 
 
Photo from www.libraryireland.com

09 November 2014

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini


The blurb at the front of the book says that this "... is a novel about friendship, betrayal and the price of loyalty. It is about the bonds between fathers and sons, and the power of fathers over sons..." I agree, but it is also a story about love: the need to be loved or, at the very least, the need to belong. Moreover, it is a book about choices and the responsibility that is an integral part of any choice. It is not always that we want to assume full responsibility for our choices, and the degree of responsibility we accept or do not accept will, in turn, often instigate other choices and other degrees of responsibility.

(Please note: spoilers in this paragraph)  
Baba's liaison with Ali's wife is a choice he makes, but he then weighs his need to take full responsibility for his son Hassan against the social mores of the day and place. He straddles the line, hoping that material gifts will, in some way, obliterate his responsibility on a deeper, emotional level. He chooses not to tell Amir that he has a half-brother which, in turn, impacts on the way Amir relates to Hassan, who, by virtue of his mother, belongs to the Hazara minority which is looked down upon, especially by the Pashtuns - the ruling class to which Amir and his father belong. Amir makes a choice not to go to Hassan's assistance in his time of need, and it takes almost the whole book for him to realize that, eventually, he has to take responsibility for that action - or lack of action - by taking care of Hassan's son, Sohrab. It is impossible to run away from the choices we make.

The book is well written and it gives an indirect but very poignant picture of Afghanistan before the Russian invasion (and, of course, before the invasion by America and her allies). It is obvious that the author has lived in Afghanistan, because he brings it alive in a manner that is very difficult to do if one has not actually experienced the smells, the sights, the nuances of light and the sounds of the land and its people.

I felt that the story was extremely well-balanced, and I was very pleased that it did not have the obviously happy ending that could have been possible, and would probably have been the case, had the author been completely American and not only by proxy. 

 Photo of Khaled Hosseini from www.magialiteraria.com

07 November 2014

I seem to have got a little out of sync here (normally I post on Saturday/Sunday and then, again, on Wednesday). The reason is most probably the launch of my Newsletter - first issue last Tuesday. It has gone well, and I have already had some great feed-back. If you have not yet subscribed, and you would like to, all information is to the left of this post.

I have just finished reading Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. It is a fantastic book, and I will be writing about it a little further down the track.

In the meantime, have a great day, and I will try to get back into my normal posting routine as soon as possible.

02 November 2014

Den kalla elden by Arnaldur Indridason


Indridason, a writer of Scandinavian Crime Fiction, is from Iceland, and he wrote this book (in direct translation: The Cold Fire) in 2010. Although the book has been translated to Swedish, I have not yet found any reference to an English translation (although many of Indridason's earlier books have already been translated). When the book is finally translated to English, it could well be given a completely different name.

This is a tale of loss, revenge and murder set against the very prominent harshness of an Icelandic winter. I felt that Indridason managed to sustain a certain air of suspense throughout the book, with the reader knowing vaguely what may have happened but not exactly why or how. However, that said, I also felt that much of the story was built on a mixture of co-incidence and the, at times, extremely strange actions of the main character, Erlendur, which, in any normal situation, would have been considered bizarrely outside the law.

Although descriptions of the harsh landscape and even the characters themselves are well-rounded, giving a good background to the story, Erlendur's obsessive concentration on things that have absolutely nothing to do with him is, at times, quite disturbing. The ending, though vaguely hinted at in the beginning of the book, is, I felt, slightly out of sync with the book as a whole. Easy to read. Something to fill the gap between more challenging books.



 Photo of Indridason from www.babelio.com