Friday, 13 February 2015

What I've been reading

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The Mysterious Stranger
by Mark Twain

narrated by Don Randall
"The stranger comes to a medieval village in the persona of a beautiful, lovable, yet exasperatingly amoral young man claiming to be the blameless nephew of the devil. Befriending a small group of boys, he expounds on the Moral Sense which distinguishes men from brutes, and changes the lives of many of the villagers."
This seems to be a fairly obscure work - Twain's last, published posthumously. My limited research suggests he'd had quite a bad time in his last few years, and perhaps this book reflects his disillusionment with his fellow man. The Stranger's philosophy is that humans are worse than animals, who do not deliberately inflict pain or death on each other in the name of religion or moral goodness, and that there is no god and all reality is an illusion. The narration is astonishingly bad for a commercial publication - there is an alternative version available so I don't know why I chose this one.

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A Brief History of Time
by Stephen Hawking
"Was there a beginning of time? Could time run backwards? Is the universe infinite or does it have boundaries? These are just some of the questions considered in an internationally acclaimed masterpiece by one of the world's greatest thinkers."
I went to see the film "The Theory of Everything" in between reading the previous science book "In Search of the Edge of Time" and starting this. The film is based on the book written by Hawking's wife and the science content is brief and tangential to the life story, but it made a nice trio. I first read this book not that long after it was published in 1986, and it's difficult to remember whether I found new information in it, but I can't deny the fine writing making the subject extremely accessible. It would be interesting to know how much of the content still holds true, and where our current knowledge of the subject differs.

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by Kurt Vonnegut

narrated by Ethan Hawke
"Billy Pilgrim is a man who becomes 'unstuck in time' after he is abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. We follow Pilgrim simultaneously through all phases of his life, concentrating on his shattering experience as an American prisoner of war who witnesses the firebombing of Dresden."
Although this was obviously written very much earlier and is set in a very different landscape, there are clear similarities with 'The Time Traveller's Wife', which is one of my favourite books. I wonder if the author of the latter has ever acknowledged the connection? Many of the reviews I've read compare this book to 'Catch 22', another of my favourite books, but that similarity is less clear to me - they say both books are funny, but I don't think they are. I'm sure this is fine literature, and it's certainly well written, but I was looking for meaning in the alien abduction, or some connection with the Dresden fire-bombing, but could find none. I find many 'classics' similarly unsatisfying. But then, 35 years ago I got an 'E' in my English Literature O level, so what do I know?

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On the Way to the Wedding
by Julia Quinn
"Unlike most men of his acquaintance, Gregory Bridgerton is a firm believer in true love - he is just biding his time until the right woman comes along. But when she appears in the rather lovely form of Lucinda Abernathy, Gregory is dismayed to discover that she is set to marry another man."
Another trashy Regency romance - I mooched three of them at once, so another two are on the shelf for easy reading when days are short and nights are long. Not in the least taxing, nicely written and so straightforward that I don't end up feeling that I've missed something. What I don't understand is how I can bear this type of book but can't stomach modern chick lit?

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The Pursuit of Love
by Nancy Mitford

narrated by Emilia Fox
"Longing for love, obsessed with weddings and sex, Linda and her sisters and cousin Fanny are on the look out for the perfect lover. But finding Mr Right is much harder than any of the young ladies thought."
This book is the first of the trilogy - I read the second one first (Love in a Cold Climate), which was a bit of a shame, but still enjoyed this immensely. The characters are so real! I didn't expect to like Nancy Mitford so much, but she does seem to have a habit of bringing the book to an end very abruptly. The story shows no sign of stopping even though the ipod says there's only 20 minutes to go, and then wallop! it ends. We'll see if the third book does the same thing.

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Londoners: The Days and Nights of London Now—As Told by Those Who Love It, Hate It, Live It, Left It, and Long for It
by Craig Taylor
"From the woman whose voice announces the stations on the London Underground to the man who plants the trees along Oxford Street; from a Pakistani currency trader to a Guardsman at Buckingham Palace - together, these voices and many more, paint a vivid, epic and wholly fresh portrait of Twenty-First Century London."
Lola II loaned me this book and it's very readable and rather good. Lots of different people talked to the author and he has simply transcribed their words into short chapters. He could have talked to a million more people and their stories would all have been as interesting as the ones he has chosen.

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