31 August 2010

Hallelujah! I Hope...

It’s alive! My desktop computer, that is. It’s been fitted with new and more capacious memory which Robbie the Computer Guy assures me will stop those pesky blue screens.

(Well, unless it’s not the memory but the motherboard, in which case it’ll need more bits taken out and replaced.)

Still, the wretched thing seems to like Robbie - it actually loaded Windows for him, which is more than it would do for me - so maybe now it will behave. Certainly Firefox has stopped hanging, so that must be a good sign. Edited to add: It wasn’t the memory ... or at least not only the memory. But it took two and a half hours to crash this time, and it restarted afterwards, so it’s definitely improving.

It’s Tuesday, Where Are You? / Teaser Tuesdays

It’s Tuesday, Where Are You?

I’m a Greek slave in republican Rome, secretary to Marcus Tullius Cicero. My master is consul and surrounded by enemies - not least of whom is that psychopath Catilina.

Lustrum by Robert Harris.

Teaser Tuesdays TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from - that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

But the moment Hortensius resumed his speech, the racket of conversation started up again. By then he could have combined the tongue of Demosthenes with the wit of Plautus - it would not have made a difference.

From Lustrum by Robert Harris, p. 72.

26 August 2010

Booking Through Thursday: Giving Up

If you’re not enjoying a book, will you stop mid-way? Or do you push through to the end? What makes you decide to stop?

Call it stubbornness, or an excessive sense of duty or optimism, or whatever, but it takes a lot to get me to quit on a book. I’ve dragged myself to the end of some absolutely God-awful books, and a lot of mediocre ones. I don’t like abandoning books; there’s always that unshakeable thought that I might be missing out on something by not finishing; or that I ought not waste the time I’ve already invested in a book by quitting. (Of course this means the additional waste of the time spent finishing the book, so there’s a certain lack of logic there.)

On the rare occasions I do give up, it’s most likely because I couldn’t stand the characters or I was bored stiff, and I just didn’t care what happened. The books that are entertainingly bad at least offer the chance to write a caustic review, which is incentive enough to carry on.

24 August 2010

Weekly Geeks

Weekly Geeks

So today's Weekly Geeks is about examining a book (or books) which were published in your birth decade. Tell us about a book that came out in the decade you were born which you either loved or hated. Is is relevant to today? Is it a classic, or could it be? Give us a mini-review, or start a discussion about the book or books.

It’s a pity 1984 wasn’t actually published in 1984, because my immediate response to this topic was a total mental blank. The 1980s? What on earth have I read from the 1980s?

Wikipedia to the rescue!

More than I’d thought; enough to make it hard to choose a few favourites (and one not-so-favourite) to blog about. (Though none from my actual year of birth.)

Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
I loved this book when I was younger. I still have fond memories now that I’m older. After struggling through assigned reading about girls working themselves up into knots over boys, friends, boyfriends, school, parents, etc, etc, it was a relief to discover Sophie. I haven’t read it in years - I borrowed it from the library, I never owned a copy - but she remains one of my all-time favourite heroines. She’s smart and fast-thinking, she doesn’t let a witch’s curse stand in her way, and she’s not about to take any nonsense from a vain wizard with a mobile home. Sophie’s had a lasting effect: I still prefer heroines who deal with whatever life throws at them with good humour (and a backbone) and without histrionics.

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
It can be slow going, crammed as it is with historical and literary references, and philosophy, and theology, and probably other stuff I’ve forgotten. But it’s worth it, for two reasons. Take away the intellectual trappings, and it is at heart a clever whodunnit. At the heart of the whodunnit is the suppression of ideas deemed - by some - too dangerous for people to be allowed to access. Censorship is an issue as alive today as it was in the Middle Ages when the book is set; just witness the annual Banned Books Challenge. Or witness the possibly-soon-to-be-former government of the (democratic) country I’m blogging from. They plan - or planned - (there was an election on Saturday but we still don’t know whether they’re past or present tense) to impose mandatory ISP-level censorship of the internet. Without revealing precisely what will be filtered out. Or what leeway there’ll be for future governments to expand the filter without consulting or informing the people. Or how much it will slow everything down.

The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Penman
Reading Shakespeare’s Richard III in Year 10 English was fun. Getting to team up with my friends and cram the whole thing into 10 minutes - and playing 11 different characters and getting killed with a stapler - was really fun. But it toed the Tudor line and portrayed Richard as a deformed monster. This is the perfect antidote; I was half in love with Richard by the time I finally emerged back into the 21st century. It’s the book that sealed my fascination with all things Wars of the Roses. I love reading doorstoppers, I love learning about history while I read, and I love books that make me think. This succeeds on all three counts. And as is sits on my bookshelf it’s a visible (and large) reminder that there is always more than one way to look at the past.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

And this would be the one that I hated. From what I’ve heard of The Secret, the two sound similar: wish enough, and believe enough, and you’ll make it happen. There’s a line between hope and delusion, and it’s on the wrong side; and I can sum it up in one word. Bollocks.

It’s Tuesday, Where Are You? / Teaser Tuesdays

It’s Tuesday, Where Are You?

I’m with the Murder squad in Dublin, investigating a case I should probably keep well away from. The victim was found in the area where, twenty years ago on the day I can’t remember, my two best friends disappeared and I somehow survived.

In the Woods by Tana French.

Teaser Tuesdays TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from - that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

By the time we got back to the site, the reporters had arrived. I gave them the standard preliminary spiel (I do this part, on the basis that I look more like a responsible adult than Cassie does): body of a young girl, name not being released till all the relatives are informed, treating it as a suspicious death, anyone who may have any information please contact us, no comment no comment no comment.

From In the Woods by Tana French, p. 64.

23 August 2010

Hello from the Laptop!

Because my desktop computer is currently unavailable. As in, possibly a few steps away from the Great Silicon Chip in the Sky. Or, since I’m an atheist, the council’s next Kerbside Cleanup. I’m hoping the computer guy can make sense of the jumble of letters and exclamation marks it presents whenever I switch it on.

(Ironic, really. I’m a stickler for correct English, and my computer now won’t spell a single word properly. Of all the ways to go kaput, it had to choose that.)

Fortunately, I have my laptop. Even better, Blogger’s start page has finally decided to load, and Firefox on this computer doesn’t crash. So I have a functional internet connection for the first time in what feels like ages.

And I had every last file backed up. I learnt my lesson on that when the last desktop died.

15 August 2010

Library Loot

Library Loot











In the Woods
The Fool’s Tale
Lustrum
White is for Witching

In the Woods - Tana French
The Fool's Tale - Nicole Galland
Lustrum - Robert Harris
White is for Witching - Helen Oyeyemi

We have fiction! My last few Library Loots have been heavy on the fact, but this week I finally had a good hunt through the fiction section. (Well, last week, actually. But Friday night my computer was driving me nuts - hopefully someone at the Tech Support Forums can help me sort out the mess. And last night I was at the Queensland Ballet’s version of Swan Lake. Russia, Rasputin, Romanovs ... I was a little sceptical when I read the program but it worked out quite well.)

And I now have almost a complete list for the Historical Fiction Challenge. I’d hoped to find something set in ancient Rome and something else mediaeval, and the library obliged beautifully.

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire and Marg.

12 August 2010

Booking Through Thursday: Evolution

Have your reading choices changed over the years? Or pretty much stayed the same? (And yes, from childhood to adulthood we usually read different things, but some people stick to basically the same kind of book their entire lives, so…)

Woohoo! Blogger’s finally decided to load!

I feel slightly underqualified to answer, given my age (or lack thereof). But then, I’ve been a book addict long enough to have seen that some things have changed, and some definitely have not.

As a child I read Enid Blyton’s mysteries and Nancy Drew novels, and I am still hooked on whodunits. Cosies, thrillers, historical, contemporary ... if there’s a corpse I’ll read it. I’ve also retained my liking for ghost stories, especially on dark, stormy, power-failure nights....

Over the years my reading has not changed so much as expanded. First I came to love classics, even recently discovering an appreciation for Dickens which I never thought I’d possess. Then I fell in love with history, in both its fictional and non-fiction forms, although I do seem to be reading ever-greater quantities of the latter. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before I find something else to add to the list.

10 August 2010

It’s Tuesday, Where Are You? / Teaser Tuesdays

It’s Tuesday, Where Are You?

I’m in Oxford, where I’m quite certain someone connected to St Frideswide’s church is going to be murdered.

Service of All the Dead by Colin Dexter.

Teaser Tuesdays TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from - that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

She had seated herself, not as usual in one of the of the pews at the back of the church, but directly behind him in the choir-stalls; and as he played he’d watched her with interest in the organ-mirror, her head slightly to one side, her face set in a wistful, half-contented smile. As the deep notes died away around the empty church, he had turned towards her.

From Service of All the Dead by Colin Dexter, p. 24.

05 August 2010

Booking Through Thursday: First Time

What is the first book you remember reading? What about the first that made you really love reading?

The short answers are, don’t know, and not applicable.

Now for the longer ones. I’ve been reading for as long as I can remember - longer, in fact. (And I’m a little envious of those who can recall the wonderful moment of discovery that they could read.) So my early reading experiences are lost to time. I do know they included a lot of Enid Blyton and the dictionary. Don’t actually remember the latter, though I’ve been solemnly assured it was once my bedtime reading of choice, but I do recall having one of Enid Blyton’s mysteries in my desk in Year ... was it 1 or 2? (And just which mystery was it?)

As for the book that made me love reading ... if there ever was a time when I a. could read, and b. didn’t love to do so, it’s long ago and long forgotten. In fact, I don’t think I can remember a time when I didn’t have bookshelf space issues!

03 August 2010

It’s Tuesday, Where Are You? / Teaser Tuesdays

It’s Tuesday, Where Are You?

I’m in a future society where who you are depends on what colour you can see and how well you can see it. Specifically, I’m in East Carmine, to do a chair census as part of a spot of humility realignment.

Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde.

Teaser Tuesdays TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from - that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

‘No one ever gets lost at night and returns,’ observed Daisy, ‘except Jane, of course.’

I tried not to appear interested.

From Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde, p. 24.

Book Review: Brilliant Women by Elizabeth Eger and Lucy Peltz

Brilliant Women As well as some of history’s most ridiculous hairdos, the eighteenth century produced some of history’s most brilliant women. The bluestockings were viewed as further proof of England’s superiority ... so long, of course, as they comported themselves with the utmost decorum. They wrote plays, poetry, and history; they produced literary criticism and translations from ancient Greek; they included artists and musicians and social reformers. In the 1770s nine of their number were depicted as modern English Muses; twenty years later the bluestocking movement was on a downhill slide into nineteenth-century propriety, another victim of the French Revolution and the upsurge of British conservatism that followed.

This is actually a group of essays put out as a companion piece to a museum exhibition in London, but it works perfectly well as a book in its own right (and indeed I heard of it when the local newspaper reviewed it as such). As you might expect with such a provenance the illustrations are lavish - portraits aplenty, images of contemporary prints and publications, and other works of art. It’s a treat for the eyes as well as the brain.

The Enlightenment is one of the reasons I love the eighteenth century. To me there’s something romantic about there being so much to discover that anyone with the time and inclination (and money) could start experimenting and maybe change the course of science, before everything became so highly specialised. There are no scientists here (were there any among the bluestockings?) which I think left me even more impressed by their accomplishments. That Ancient Greek business, for instance, would be entirely beyond me. But since - for women - intellectual endeavours had to be paid for exemplary behaviour (female scholarship being an eccentricity only tolerable if not accompanied by any other trait the least bit objectionable) I’m glad I’m here in the 21st century. No matter how many years of university one has to go through to get anywhere.

For a book with a century to cover - without the discussion of the bluestockings’ nineteenth- and twentieth-century legacies - it’s very slim. Make a further subtraction for the sidebars and illustrations, and there’s not that much space to write about the wide-ranging accomplishments of a hundred years of women. But as an introduction to the lives and work of the most prominent of the Georgian era’s female intellectuals, it’s well worth reading.

Rating: B-

01 August 2010

Weekly Geeks: To Kill a Mockingbird

Weekly Geeks

July 11th marked the 50th anniversary of the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird, a Pulitzer Prize winning novel, and arguably one of the most influential cultural books of its kind in the U.S. Have you read To Kill a Mockingbird? When did you first read it? Did it affect the way you think about race and class in the U.S.? Do you agree that it's an influential and/or important book? If you read the book but don't live in the U.S., how did the novel influence your opinions about race in the U.S.?
I have read To Kill a Mockingbird. Naturally it was courtesy of a high school English class; classic or not, I doubt I’d ever have gotten to it otherwise. Mid-twentieth-century isn’t really my preferred literary territory.

There’s confession #1. Now for #2: All I remember about it is being bored. Yes, I utterly failed to appreciate it. It didn’t influence the way I think about anything (not, admittedly, that America and its history are topics I much attention to). As for whether it’s influential and important ... it must be, mustn’t it, to have been considered so for so long?

In my defence, however ... I would point out that I was 13 or 14 when I read it, and the crucial issues of my life were grades and bullies - attaining the one and avoiding the other.

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Header image shows detail of A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, c. 1776