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Review of The Prime of Miss Jean Brody

Originally published in 2 parts, in April and May 2004.
Book 14 in my first 52 books challenge.

Author: Muriel Spark
Published: 1961
Where got: second hand shop
Genre: Literature, satire

I seem to have a knack for choosing books that have been made into movies. I wonder why?

This week's choice was made into a memorable, if rather stagy, movie, starring the wonderful Maggie Smith.

SPOILERS AHEAD!
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Don't say I didn't warn you!

The book is about a teacher at a private girl's school in Edinburgh (Scotland) who has her own special ideas about education. She strives to turn out girls who are liberated and free thinking - or what she thinks is liberated and free thinking. Her behaviour and teaching methods are far from orthodox in the conservative environment of the school. She makes enemies among the other teachers and the headmistress is constantly trying to find an excuse to get rid of her. Her closest allies are a group of her students, six girls known as "the Brodie…

Wednesday reading experience #43

Read an epistolatory novel.

These are novels written as a series of documents, e.g. letters or e-mails, blog entries, historical documents, reports, reviews, excerpts from books, newspaper clippings and diary entries. Basically anything that is traditionally written or typed, used without any connecting passages to form a narrative. It enables the author to let the characters (or a chosen number of characters) express themselves directly without having a narrator tell the story.

I have already recommended reading fictional diaries, which form part of the epistolatory genre, so a different epistolatory form is recommended.

Here are some that I have enjoyed:
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. Written as a series of accounts of the theft of a precious stone, using different styles and voices.
Letters to Alice, Upon first reading Jane Austen by Fay Weldon. What the title says, plus much more besides.
Dangerous Liaisons by Choderlos de Laclos. A novel told entirely in letters between the characte…

Holiday notice

I am off to India for the next 5 weeks. During that time it is unlikely that I will post anything new, but there will be some automatic postings, including the Wednesday reading experiences for the whole time.

Top mysteries challenge review: The Murder of the Maharajah by H.R.F. Keating

In keeping with my India-oriented reading I chose a Top Mystery that takes place in that country, not long before the end of the Raj when Maharajahs still had some power (even if it was dependent on British support).

Year of publication: 1980
Genre: Mystery, cozy
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Police officer
Setting & time: The fictitious state of Bhopore, India; 1930.

Story:
The immensely rich Maharajah of Bhopore is murdered and several people had the means, motive and opportunity (or at least two out of the three), to have done it. Due to an impending visit by the Viceroy of India, the Resident Adviser calls in District Superintendent of Police, Mr. Howard, and presses him to solve the case quickly, because if the murderer turns out later to be the heir to the throne, it isn’t good for the Viceroy to have met him. Howard sets out to methodically investigate the case, and in a reconstruction at the end makes some interesting and startling revelations.

Review:
Keating has …

Review of The Gentle Tamers

Originally published in 2 parts, in April 2004.
Book 13 in my first 52 books challenge.

Entry 1:

Full title:The Gentle Tamers: Women of the Old Wild West
Author: Dee Brown
Year published: 1958/1981
Where got: second hand bookshop
Genre: Social history, women, pioneers

This looks like a promising piece of women's history. If we were to go by the history books we read in school, it would seem that men single-handedly settled the western parts of the United States. This is of course not so - women did their share of the work and had a great deal of civilizing influence on the men. I'm looking forward to exploring the west with them, through this book.

Written by the author of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee


Entry 2:

The Gentle Tamers is a collection of true stories about the women of the wild west. Some who are included are true pioneers, like Janette Riker, who survived a harsh Montana winter alone in a covered wagon, others are included because a history of women in the Wild West wouldn'…

Wednesday reading experience #42

Challenge your prejudices some more: Read a book that you have panned or derided without actually having read it.

Some frequently panned books that come to mind include novels by Dan Brown, Stephanie Meyer, Nicholas Sparks and Danielle Steel. Others include such famous and/or infamous works of the more distant past, like philosophical and religious writings of all ages and eras, Marx’s Communist Manifesto, Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, and anything by the Marquis de Sade. Of course you should choose one that you have prejudices about.

Whether your prejudices are rebuffed or confirmed, you will at least now be able to pan or praise the book in question without hypocrisy.

Books I have enjoyed, pt. 1

About 10 years ago, as I waited in a Canadian airport lounge for my flight to be announced, I found some unused Canadian currency in my pockets and went to browse in the airport stores to find something on which to spend the money. I chose a small bottle of Canadian maple syrup, and then decided to get a book to read on the plane. Among all the usual bestsellers and other typical airport books, I found a small shelf of Canadian literature and gave it a browse. One of the books I picked up had a whimsical image on the front, of a block of small shops. The title was Home from the Vinyl Café and the author was Stuart McLean. I opened the book and found myself engrossed in reading a story of a hapless husband charged with cooking the turkey for the family's Christmas meal and running into all sorts of difficulties, starting with forgetting to buy the turkey.

I promptly bought the book and read most of the short stories therein on the flight home, with frequent giggles and stifled laug…

Review: Holy Cow!

Author: Sarah MacDonald

I am heading to India at the end of the month, and have been doing a lot of reading about various places I might visit. I had this one unread India travelogue in my TBR stack, and decided to read it to whet my appetite.

This is the story of how MacDonald returned to India after having left it over a decade earlier, wowing never to return. But fate plays funny tricks on people: her boyfriend, a broadcast journalist, was stationed there and she quit her job and moved to Delhi to be with him. She was not a religious or spiritual person when she arrived, but a fortuneteller's prophesy set her off on a search of spirituality among the many religions of India, and in the main the book is about this search. Each religion and spiritual experience is examined - often extremely superficially, I thought - and she takes away something good from each of them, but eventually rejects them all because none is perfect for her, finally finding the peace she is looking for wit…

Review of Seabiscuit

Originally published in 2 parts, in April 2004.
Book 12 in my first 52 books challenge.If you're wondering about no. 11, it was The Wordsworth Dictionary of Idioms. I did not feel it was worth republishing.

Entry 1:

Full title:Seabiscuit: An American Legend
Author: Laura Hillenbrand
Year published: 2002
Where got: book store
Genre: History, biography, sports

This book is about a famous American racehorse and the men whose belief in him took him from the lowest rungs of the racing world and right to the top.

I am not particularly interested in sports, and know next to nothing about horse racing, so this is not a book I would have picked up if it had not been for the fact that it has been made into a film.

As a teenager I enjoyed a film about another famous racehorse, Phar Lap, and so when Seabiscuit hit the cinemas I decided this was a film I wanted to see.

Well, somehow I managed to miss it. However, after watching a National Geographic documentary about Seabiscuit, I decided I would read th…

Wednesday reading experience #41

Read THAT book.

You know the one I mean: the one every one of your friends has read, or the one you promised someone you would read, or the one that you want to have read but don’t particularly want to read, or the one that you have desperately wanted to read just about for ever but haven’t because it daunts you because of its size or its reputation.

THAT book can be just about any book ranging from Twilight to War and Peace, so I would love to hear what you would choose and for which of the above reasons.

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When I have finished my current reading challenges I am planning to tackle a tome that is the embodiment of THAT book for many people: James Joyce's Ulysses. I want to do this to challenge my prejudices about Joyce, whose short stories were apt to put me to sleep when I was studying him in modern literature at college. It is also one of those books that any literary snob worth her salt wants to have read, and I dearly want to be able, when said snobs start talking about Ulysses, …

Top mysteries challenge review: The Game, Set & Match trilogy by Len Deighton

I suddenly realised that I had not yet posted my review of Deighton’s trilogy, so here it is:

While I listed these books separately on my TBR list, the trilogy is listed as one book in the CWA list, so I will be reviewing them all together. Each book gets a brief synopsis and a very short review, and then I will review the common points together. I will try not to drop serious spoilers in the synopses, so they will necessarily be rather telegraphic, but if you have not yet read these books you probably should avoid this review anyway.


Published: 1983-5.
Genre: Espionage thriller.
Type of investigator: MI6 agent.


Title:Berlin Game:
Setting & time: London and Berlin, contemporary.

Story:
Agent Bernard Samson has been doing desk work for 5 years but his superiors in MI6 want him to go out back in the field to convince a frightened spy in East Germany to stay in place for a while longer. The man is convinced that Stasi or the KGB are about to discover his identity, and the only person he trus…

Review of The Book of Intriguing Words

Originally published in 3 parts, on March 28 to April 3, 2004.
Book 10 in my first 52 books challenge.

Entry 1:

Full title:The Wordsworth Book of Intriguing Words: The insomniac's dictionary of the outrageous, odd and unusual
Author: Paul Hellweg
Published: 1986 (as The Insomniac’s Dictionary)
Where got: University Student Bookstore
Genre: Dictionary, glossaries

I'm studying for exams and writing final essays for the next three weeks, so during that time I'm going to review some of the reference books I use in my field of study. To make it more fun, I'm going to pick some of the more unusual reference books in my library.

As a student of translation I am naturally interested in etymology, semantics and semiotics. This book is not only a nice way of finding unusual words, their meanings and origins, but it is also quite short for a dictionary and fun to read.

Entry 2:

Being a confirmed logolept, I like to collect words, and this dictionary was a windfall for me because it has plen…

Wednesday reading experience #40

Now that you have become firmly familiar with the diary form, both in reality and fiction, why not try keeping one for a while?

This may look like a writing assignment at first sight, but I’m getting to the reading part:

Read your journal at the end of the journalling period, and again in 5, 10 or 20 years time. Annotate it if you feel like it.

Alternative suggestion: If you are a regular journal/diary writer, have you ever read your old ones? It can be like meeting a total stranger who is sort of familiar, but sort of not, and it’s interesting to read about how you saw or reacted to something back then versus the way you see or remember it in retrospective.

I have occasionally dipped into my travel journals from years past, and have often been surprised at what I have found in them. I have been amazed by the prejudices I held, the opinions I had, the way I handled a situation, how immature I was. I still cringe every now and then when I take one of these nostalgia trips, but even though…

Reading Larsson

I am about 90 pages into the English translation of the second volume in Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy, The Girl who played with Fire. It's a slow beginner, but the main storyline seems to be kicking off.

I take grave exception to all the [insert expletive of choice] product placements in the beginning chapters of part 2. Who cares whether Lisbet Salander bought Bonde or Billy bookcases? Or what was the brand name of her sofa or her coffee table? It isn't even necessary to list what she bought - surely it would have been enough to say she went shopping for new furniture at IKEA and brought back just about everything she needed for her new apartment? The whole thing reads like a combination of an IKEA advert and instructions for a movie set designer.

Earlier in the book there are several other such lists that, although not as heavy on the product placement, do make the book longer without mattering to the story.
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If anyone who has read the book in Swedish reads this, cou…

Review of The Loved One

Originally published in 2 parts, on March 24-26, 2004.
Book 9 in my first 52 books challenge.

Author: Evelyn Waugh
Published: 1948
Where got: second-hand bookshop
Genre: Social satire

I first saw the movie as a child and again recently on TCM. I had no idea it was based on a book until I started reading about the film on IMDb, and when I found the book I immediately bought it in anticipation of a good read.

Here are a couple of links to information about the author and his books:

Evelyn Waugh: The best and the worst
Evelyn Waugh (includes a bibliography)


The novel tells the story of Dennis Barlow, a poet and ex-pat Englishman who has managed to make himself a nuisance to the stiff upper-lipped Englishmen of Hollywood by taking a job at a funeral home for pets - something that "just isn't done" by Englishmen Abroad. When arranging the funeral of a friend at Whispering Glades, a fancy and extremely kitsch funeral home, he meets a young cosmetician by the name of Aimée whose job it …

Reading report for September 2009

I only finished 13 books this month, which would have been about average for most years except this one. Since I read 20+ books every month of the year up to now, this is actually quite far below average, but I‘m not worrying. After all, one needs to have a social life too.

In the challenges, I read:

3 Icelandic books:
Benedikt Gröndal:Sagan af Heljarslóðarorrustu - a literary parody that tells the story of the battle of Solferino as if it were an Icelandic Saga.
Páll Líndal: Reykjavík 200 ára - a short 200 year history of the city of Reykjavík, mostly told in photographs.
Þórarinn Eldjárn: Sérðu það sem ég sé - a collection of quirky short stories from one of Iceland‘s best short story writers.

TBR challenge:
John Berendt:The City of Falling Angels - a combination of travel book and the history of the fire that destroyed the Fenice opera house in Venice.
Dashiell Hammett: Red Harvest (also a Top Mystery read) – a brutal crime thriller.
Betty MacDonald: Onions in the Stew - funny memoir.
James…