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Tag: :KS’s Bookshelf:

Review: Alessandro Baricco’s “City”

alessandro baricco cityThis is an outgoing Xmas gift which as rebounded as a loan, and it was a delirious, largely unsignposted journey. Basic semblance of plot: Shatzy Shell, quirky-nuts young woman who reminds me of the heroine of Ali Smith’s The Accidental, becomes the governess of adolescent genius Gould, whose only friends are Poomerang (mute and bald) and Diesel (a giant). I *think* the book was about conflict and choice and passivity and participation in life, but I’d prefer you don’t quote me on that. It’s also about football (soccer) refereeing, boxing, mental illness, and other random factors such as curves and Monet’s waterlilies. It swoops and dives between characters and scenes and voices, and is kind of absorbing and disorienting at the same time. Oh, and I’m sure I read the climactic Western scene — it’s also about Westerns, btw — before, perhaps in a Granta, perhaps I’d already read this and forgotten…? A good read, but you need to either really have your wits about you or be willing to not understand a great deal. More hallucinogenic than Ocean Sea, which I loveloveloved. Recommended.

Where it came from: KS’s Bookshelf
Time and manner of reading:
Insomniac, bed and armchair reads, with bewildered attention
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that: Very strongly of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest
Who I’d recommend it to:
Seekers of fiction that’s happy to be outside the square
Also reading: Rabbit #4; How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Being Alive edited by Neil Astley

Review: Margaret Craven’s “I Heard the Owl Call My Name”

margaret craven i heard the owl call my nameSecond time around, this book is still an utter pleasure, and a perfect palate cleanser after my last read. Young vicar Mark Brian is sent to minister to the Tsawataineuk people in Kingcome Village, British Columbia. During his two years there, he learns enough about life to be ready to die. Simple, clear and poetic, this slight novel is a humble hymn to the world. The descriptions of Kwakiutl life are sensitive, those of the country magnificent. I cried at the end. My life is richer for reading this book.

Where it came from: KS’s Bookshelf
Time and manner of reading:
One caffeine-fuelled Sunday morning read
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that: Splendid simplicity
Who I’d recommend it to:
Everyreader
Also reading: Rabbit #4; How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; The Light between Oceans by M.L. Stedman; Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Review: Byambasuren Davaa & Lisa Reisch’s “The Cave of the Yellow Dog”

b. davaa cave of the yellow dogWritten to accompany the film of the same name, The Cave of the Yellow Dog shows a few days in the life of the Batchuluun family from the steppes of Mongolia. The film was made by Mongolian woman filmmaker, Byambasuren Davaa, with German funding and assistance, and the stills included in the book are both lovely and informative. As a book, the narrative is a bit thin, but it’s easy to imagine that grand cinescapes must have filled those gaps onscreen. A good and picturesque taster of ger living and traditions. Recommended.

Where it came from: KS’s Bookshelf
Time and manner of reading:
A couple of time-filling reads
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that: Global blue-jean monoculture
Who I’d recommend it to:
Those curious about other worlds
Also reading: Rabbit #4; How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; The Light between Oceans by M.L. Stedman; Jacob’s Room by Virginia Woolf; The Harp in the South by Ruth Park

Review: Mary Chamberlain’s “Old Wives’ Tales: Their History, Remedies and Spells”

mary chamberlain old wives' talesOriginally published in the early 80s, Chamberlain sets out to make the pop-academic case for the exclusion of women and their traditional knowledge from professionalised medical culture such as we know it, and she succeeds quite well indeed. I’d heard the glib summary “doctors forced wise women out of medicine and instigated surgical hegemony”, but this was the first time I read a comprehensive historical survey which proved the point. Chamberlain researches medicine in classical antiquity (Egypt, Greece, Rome, etc.) then follows the trail to then-contemporary British medical practice; a second section of the book briefly lists traditional remedies, including spells, and compares them to those authorised in the 1979 British Pharmacopoeia*. Her work is thorough, her writing adequate to the task although not beautiful, and I found the work a useful reminder of the capitalist/patriarchal systems (ooh, I dared use those words! And on a general interest blog!) and their impact on women’s oppression. I also found the point that the UK’s Poor Laws “invented” the notions of “charity” and “pauper”, whereas before the poor were integrated members of small rural communities. A useful book, recommended.

* Note for the publisher who merely reissued the original text: I think medicine has advanced just a wee bit since this book was published 30 years ago: an update of this section would have been most useful.

Where it came from: KS’s Bookshelf
Time and manner of reading: Intermittent reads on a waiting-room day, then a learn-in with my local friendly naturopath based on the Remedies section
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that: Feminist histories are oh so necessary yet oh so difficult to track down
Who I’d recommend it to: Those wishing to fossick beneath the roots of our current medical system
Also reading: Rabbit #4; How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch; Selected Essays by George Orwell; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Kalila and Dimna by Ramsey Woods

Review: Beatrix Potter’s “The Story of a Fierce Bad Rabbit”

And in the second of the chefly entertainments… a Beatrix Potter which neither of us had even heard of, telling the naff story of a mean rabbit who steals carrots from cute bunnies and therefore gets shot tailless. We suspected that a less-famous relative had written this one and was in dire need of income from the BP brand. Skippable.

Where it came from: KS’s Bookshelf
Time and manner of reading: Also out loud to entertain the chef
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of: Famous writers need editors more than non-famous ones
Who I’d recommend it to: Kidlets
Also reading: Rabbit #4; How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch; Selected Essays by George Orwell; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Kalila and Dimna by Ramsey Woods

Review: Beatrix Potter’s “The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck”

It must be over 25 years since I’ve read this one, and goodness me, Jemima *is* hard done by. She’s monumentally stupid but such a clucky duck. The sandy whiskered gentleman with a bushy tail is just so charming. The dogs eat all her eggs in the high-action rescue. And of her next and last batch of egg-babies, still only four survive. Poor Jemima. But the illustrations and nostalgia value remain high, what with the quirky quaintsomeness of it all, and I’d happily snaffle a Beatrix Potter set for friends’ kidlets. Farm retro ahoy.

Where it came from: KS’s Bookshelf
Time and manner of reading: Out loud to entertain the chef
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of: All the stuff you *don’t* get when you read kids’ books as a kid
Who I’d recommend it to: Kidlets
Also reading: Rabbit #4; How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch; Selected Essays by George Orwell; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Kalila and Dimna by Ramsey Woods

Review: Sándor Márai’s “Embers”

In the twilight of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, two close male friends meet after an absence of 41 years to revisit the demise yet ultimate endurance of their friendship. Essentially a beautifully crafted monologue against a minutely detailed social backdrop, this brief novel delves into the ageing soul of the General, and sets out an exquisite anatomisation of love, betrayal and the desire for revenge. Profound, moving, and so very gloriously written – abundant kudos go to the translator Carol Brown Janeway – this book is a melancholy joy. I had previously read Márai’s La mujer justa (Az igazi, published in English as Portraits of a Marriage) and found it skilful but horrifyingly bleak; I’m so delighted to have finally read his writing in English. Splendid.

Where it came from: KS’s Bookshelf
Time and manner of reading: Two or three most pleasurable, snuck-in-around-the-main-game reads
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of: Oh, the beauty of immaculate writing
Who I’d recommend it to: Readers who want to explore another’s soul
Also reading: Rabbit #4; How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch; Selected Essays by George Orwell; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Kalila and Dimna by Ramsey Woods