Sunday, 5 October 2014

What I've been reading

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South Riding
by Winifred Holtby

narrated by Carole Boyd
"In this rich and memorable evocation of the fictional South Riding of Yorkshire are the lives, loves and sorrows of the central characters. They are the people who work together in the council chambers and backrooms of local politics. Alongside them, however, are the people affected by their decisions."
A long book, narrated beautifully, although Ms Boyd declines to use the suggested accents for the character known as 'Geordie' and one who's clearly Scottish. This is set in the 1930's and I've been reading it at the same time as Middlemarch, which is set in the 1830's, so some nice comparisons and clear changes in social mores during the intervening century, especially around gender roles and marriage.

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by George Eliot
"Named for the fictional community in which it is set, Middlemarch is a rich and teeming portrait of provincial life in Victorian England. In it, a panoply of complicated characters attempt to carry out their destinies against the various social expectations that accompany their classes and genders."
Oh my goodness this seemed to go on for ever. I think it was originally published as a series of books, and it did improve in terms of provoking interest as I progressed, but it also became a bit depressing towards the end. As a work of social history it provided much food for thought, and an interesting contrast with South Riding. I'm never going near it again, though.

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The Corinthian
by Georgette Heyer

narrated by Georgina Sutton
"The accomplished Corinthian Sir Richard Wyndham is wealthy, sophisticated, handsome, and supremely bored. Tired of his aristocratic family constantly pressuring him to get married, he determines to run away after meeting the delightful, unconventional heroine Penelope Creed."
She writes such delightful heroines - ingenious and ingenuous, sparky and witty, and the heroes aren't bad either. For my taste, there isn't much leisure reading that can beat Georgette Heyer, but I'm sure my taste differs from other people's. I can relax while reading knowing that I am in safe hands, and that despite tribulations and an eventful journey, all will end as it should for the hero and heroine as well as the villains.

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Nature via Nurture
by Matt Ridley
"Nature via Nurture chronicles a new revolution in our understanding of genes. Ridley recounts the hundred years' war between the partisans of nature and nurture to explain how this paradoxical creature, the human being, can be simultaneously free-willed and motivated by instinct and culture. "
A previous book by this author, Genome, is one of the best books I've read, and covers the basics of genetics and inheritance clearly and concisely in a highly readable way. This one is much more difficult to read and understand. It delves into the nature/nurture debate and shows that the relationship is circular: genes both affect and are affected by both nature and nurture. For me it reinforces the influence that environment has on the expression of genes, and reminds us that it is no longer believed that genes are immutable. While the DNA code does not change through an individuals lifetime, genes are continually being switched on and off in response to environmental cues as well as the physiological environment of the cell. 'Gene encodes protein' is just the starting point of the impossibly complicated dance within every cell in our bodies.

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