More happy reading

‘Tis still the season when one can get immersed in a good book or three. Here are a few more from readers.

By the by, check out this new technology for automatic page turning.  Must get one.  (Do we have hamsters in NZ?)

Jessica Boyd, Whitikahu

AJ Jacobs wrote The Know It-All, a book about reading the entire Encyclopaedia Brittanica. I have just completed his follow-up, The Year of Living Biblically. He outdoes himself in this one; it is a book about attempting to live by the Bible, and not just the Ten Commandments either.

While the author has mixed results, the book itself is successful, funny, thought provoking, and, erm, important, I think.

The jacket cover is an apt visual summation of the task: New York writer in religious garb of white robe clasping stone tablets in one hand and a takeaway cup of coffee in the other. His eyes are raised heavenward and the Manhattan skyline, a busy cityscape, is behind him. He is thwarted often by the decadence, or just plain convenience of modernity. However, his task is most difficult because of the complexities of language; of meaning as it is understood in its myriad forms across multitudes of believers.

He jots down every rule, decree, and commandment. Every suggestion of a Biblical lifestyle guide is typed up. He cannot adhere to them all, but he tries. He stones an adulterer – with a pebble. He does not sit where a woman may have sat. He wears tassels.

Much of it is gimmicky in this way, but he looks a little deeper, considers – with an army of spiritual advisors across Judaism and Christianity – the relevance of the rule in a historic and contemporary context.

Jessica and daughter Fern

Jacobs describes himself as agnostic, and in this book opens himself to many ideas that alter his everyday life and that of his family. Her opens himself to much weirdness, too. His journey, which ultimately does not take him too far from either side of the fence, is really funny. I laughed aloud.

I discovered some of the Bible’s Old Testament inscrutables. I got a peek into the life of an Orthodox Jew, an Amish patriarch, a snake-handling Baptist, an Evangelical usher, a religious guru/cult leader, and a neurotic, but clever New York husband, father, writer, and human who struggles daily not to covet, not to lie, and not to mix the fibres of wool and linen.

I would have toted it to beach in a pinch, but it is, I think, still light enough for Summer fare. It is also recommended.

Anne Graham, Vancouver, avid bookworm and N8N reader.
(Formerly from the Waikato, Ann’s goal was to read 111 books in 2011, but work and travel got in the way and she only managed 96. This year she aims to do better. She blogged about it here and that’s her in the biking reader at the top, drawn by her mother-in-law.)

My New Year’s treat for myself is The Wild Rose by Jennifer Donnelly, the third book in the trilogy which I have been waiting two years for (actually it might even be three!) so I figure that’s a good enough excuse to go back and read the first two: The Tea Rose and The Winter Rose’.

This series is the story of feisty Fiona Finnegan. It’s set in Whitechapel, London in 1888, but takes you to New York and beautiful Fifth Avenue. It’s the story of Fiona and her siblings, about love, courage, determination, murder, mystery, good and evil… in short, it has everything you want in a good novel. I absolutely love historical fiction, particularly historical fiction set in London around this time and the characters are so vividly written about by the author that they absolutely captivate me.

Ann on the dead sea, book in hand...

When I read The Tea Rose I had to call in sick one day at work because I couldn’t put it down. Then I read The Winter Rose while living in London and I didn’t talk to any of my flatmates for a week as I devoured it morning, noon and night. Husband is going to be left to fend for himself over the next week as I make my way through them all again.

I read some really great books in 2011 as part of my challenge, but my favourites are:

1. Goodbye Sarajevo, by Atka Reid and Hana Schofield
These two are sisters who were living in Bosnia at the time of the war. They now live in Christchurch – it’s an absolutely incredible story.

2. Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Gutering
This is set just across the water from where we were. It’s ultimately the story of Japanese-American relations, but it is beautifully written. The film is quite magical as well.

3. The Girl in the Red Coat, by Roma Ligocka
I read this book in an afternoon. The author retold her story as a 5-year-old girl living in the slums of Krakow during World War ll. She ended up travelling all over Europe as a set designer but returned to Poland after seeing the ‘Girl in the Red Coat’ in Steven Speilberg’s “Schindler’s List”.

Perry Rice, Hamilton Central Libraries, N8N history columnist
(Perry packs for a break away at Snell’s Beach – no surprise that books are top on the list.)

I always have several books ‘on the go’ as it were, at any one time. Sometimes when an author of the very highest calibre intervenes the residue goes into a state of suspended pagination – Alexander Fullerton or Edward Rutherfurd have been unputdownables.

In the full glare of daylight, all sitting about quietly (one hopes), I think I will be brushing up on my Gibbons. Not stamp catalogues, no – Peter Gibbons’ fine work, Astride the River. In my daily toil, I must have background knowledge of Hamilton city and its development – I need to absorb it, I don’t know enough and I doubt I ever will.

Gibbon’s is just the stuff to mitigate this shortcoming. Informative and, not infrequently, surprising. It was published in 1977 so is not in the bookshops today. I got my copy at Anna Dunsheath’s Rare Books in Auckland.

I also have a book I am reading very slowly – it’s a book you trudge through cos there’s the flicking back and forth to ‘get it’. It’s The Third Policeman by Flan O’Brien, the Irish satirist and civil servant. Now, here’s the thing, I would have thought those two ‘occupations’ mutually exclusive but I’m inclined to think that maybe a satirist is a civil servant.

At any rate, O’Brien (real name Bryan O’Nolan) from County Tyrone whence cometh a smattering of my ancestry, is one of those very unusual but nevertheless quite common Irish philosophical comics – or comic philosophers. Think Spike Milligan to Jonathan Swift. There is a word, a phrase, a sentence, in some books that ‘sells’ it to you. This book, on casually flicking the pages (as you do), threw up the lines (talking about where roads go),

“It ran westwards in the mist of the early morning, running cunningly through the little hills and going to some trouble to visit tiny towns which were not, strictly speaking, on its way.”

And, as if to demonstrate the Irish disdain for absolutes and intangibles and love of the unfathomable, there is this sentence: ‘It was always there and McCruiskeen is certain it was there even before that.’

You simply cannot ignore such challenges!

There is hardly a Christmas passes that I haven’t found a reason to retrieve Frank and Jamie Muir’s A Treasury of Christmas. Frank Muir was indeed a legend in his own time and his work stands up well to repeat reading. This tome deals with all things Xmas. There’s Dickens and Betjeman, and Charles Pooter made a Christmas speech, I’m sure Carrie was proud but I’m not pulling that book out to check. It has the c.1394 recipe for Xmas mince pies – not fruit mince as we know it today. So far I’ve not found a single soul to say ‘Yummy! Let’s do it!’

The thing is, once you have a book open in your hand it becomes the literary equivalent of a pint of Speights! And, if you’re not careful, one pint leads to another.

The book I am going to read has a ‘trout-fly’ title – a title which leaps at you and is so colourful you cannot resist; you grab it and you’re hooked! By Susan Hill (and not her usual genre), the curious title is: Howards End is on the Landing. What reeled me in? This sentence –

“I sometimes wonder if the books came into this house or if the house grew around them.”

This reminded me of a friend’s quoting of her university friend’s father (a Presbyterian cleric) who having books piled up all over the house claimed ‘they are a cheap form of insulation!’

Susan Hill’s book sounds interesting. It’s about books; what she reads or doesn’t read and why. It’s not ‘instructional’, it’s a part memoir, part dissertation.

Oh, and Charles Lamb’s A dissertation upon Roast Pig and other essays also makes it into the mix – a new Penguin edition – late night stuff with a wee gill of single malt.

This is the reading plan, but it may be usurped by Thomas the Tank Engine – we shall have our grandson (4¾ years) with us and he is bringing his entire library with him – all 60 or so!


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Number 8 Network - a community website for the rural areas northeast of Hamilton, NZ, is run by Gordonton journalist/editor Annette Taylor.

4 thoughts on “More happy reading

  • January 17, 2012 at 10:26 am

    Fantastic “happy reading” feature – thoroughly enjoyed it, EXCEPT for one small thing. Shame on you, Perry the librarian, for indulging in so many exclamation marks. As a librarian, you should be setting an example of good English and good manners. Please desist from using the dreadful things in future. I shall be visiting your library during the year. You can take that as a threat if you wish.
    Steve Braunias.

  • January 21, 2012 at 3:29 pm

    Thank you Mr Braunais. I have have found out your background – I could be flattered you read my contribution.

    Oh, good manners …….., my manners would not allow me to publicly scold a person on a matter of discretionary usage.

    You may be confusing the use of exclamations marks singly within a text and the use of multiple marks after one word as in, ‘No!!!!!!’. The latter is considered bad manners, (‘poor form’ in my younger days), the former is legitimate. Perhaps speed reading would blur the mark to oblivion. The fact is, it remains a valid form of punctuation.

    Good english? Allow me to suggest an authority. Sir Ernest Gowers’ revision of Fowler’s says (on the matter of Exclamation), ‘[a sentence] sometimes must be so marked to convey that the tone is not merely what would be natural to the words themselves, … or otherwise imply that the words, if spoken, would have a special intonation.’ On the 1394 recipe for xmas mince pies, I can assure you, both exclamations would be so marked. On the matter of Speights, it indicates the lofty position that beverage has in my soul – the comparison is no small beer.

    I did have the opportunity today to place my simple-minded prose before an author of some twenty or more published tomes. He made no negative comment so asked specifically as to the exclamation marks, he deemed them well used(!)

    I do regret I cannot accommodate your minimalist approach. I am not yet ready to enter the society of sound-bites, written sound-bites (whatever they are called), fast food, decaffeinated coffee and diminished english. Shakespeare used exclamation marks! (and not just for exclamations). Sir William Lyons used exclamation marks and he designed and built Jaguars. Gowers said they must be used. Three learned and creative men who, each in his own way, changed how we view life, the universe and everything. They set standards and, in so doing, set diverse parameters.

    It is such a bore that we are called upon nowadays to ‘dumb down’ our written language because you young people cannot enjoy nuance as we were educated so to do.

    Oh yes, manners! I do rather detest the use of capitals as in ‘EXCEPT’. This is from wikipedia on the matter (ultimately from somewhere else i guess):

    ‘… rule is to avoid typing in all caps or grossly enlarging script for emphasis, which is considered to be the equivalent of shouting or yelling.’ (my italics) Please Mr Braunais, don’t shout – you should be setting an example.

    I accept your threat with great good ease and hope you feel free to visit ‘my’ library at any time (during opening hours). I shall do my utmost to find a book sans exclamation marks for your exclusive enjoyment.

    Yes, it is a lengthy response. Such is required when someone prosecutes an ill-judged complaint and the other remains duty bound to defend it. I defend our right, those of us who share without expectation or payment, to express our thoughts as they occur to us. Authorities are as above and so settle the matter that I and others may continue to write with impunity.
    (Just in case – this reply is copyright and may not be reproduced elsewhere without the writer’s express permission!)

  • January 23, 2012 at 10:54 am

    You haven’t bothered to spell my name right. FAIL.

  • January 23, 2012 at 4:51 pm

    Dear Mr Braunias,

    Did so try – poor typing skills, very bad short term memory and pressed for time.
    My apologies.
    I shan’t mention your shouting again, that would be churlish.


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