Tuesday, 6 September 2016

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover

Utz
by Bruce Chatwin
"Kaspar Utz lives in Czechoslovakia during the Cold War. He is a collector of Meissen porcelain and finds ways to travel outside the eastern bloc to acquire new pieces. Whilst in the West Utz often considers defecting but he would be unable to take his collection with him and so, a prisoner of his collection, he is unable to leave."
I don't mind saying that I'm not sure what to make of this book. It was perfectly pleasant to read and I thought the story (mostly) made sense, but I finished with the distinct impression that I have utterly missed the point and there was a completely different story being told that I'm simply not bright enough to understand.


Image of the book cover

The Return of Tarzan
by Edgar Rice Burroughs
"Tarzan had renounced his right to the woman he loved, and civilisation held no pleasure for him. After a brief and harrowing period among men, he turned back to the African jungle where he had grown to manhood. It was there he first heard of Opar, the city of gold, left over from fabled Atlantis."
There are a lot of story threads to follow here - Tarzan is associated with all of them, in France and Africa and on a boat and in the jungle and there's Jane and her fiance and her friend and her father... It wasn't bad, I suppose I felt it just went on a bit when you know that he's going to survive and end up with Jane. It took its time but we got there in the end.


Image of the book cover

Dune
by Frank Herbert

narrated by Simon Vance and others
"Set on the desert planet Arrakis, Dune is the story of the boy Paul Atreides, who would become the mysterious man known as Maud'dib. He would avenge the traitorous plot against his noble family and would bring to fruition humankind's most ancient and unattainable dream."
This was a performance as much as a narration but it worked so well. The majority of the text was read by one individual, but on occasion the dialogue was voiced by actors, and sometimes there was some underlying 'noise' - not exactly music, more like the sound of a sandstorm outside, or rumbling of something sinister. I think I would have liked the writing anyway, but it was a wonderful way to enhance the words without being distracting or annoying, and I loved it. There are many more books in the 'Dune' family, but I'm not sure I need to read any more than this one.


Image of the book cover

Mr Midshipman Hornblower
by C. S. Forester
"As a seventeen-year-old with a touch of seasickness, young Horatio Hornblower hardly cuts a dash in His Majesty's Navy. Yet from the moment he is ordered to board a French merchant ship in the Bay of Biscay and take command of crew and cargo, he proves his seafaring mettle on the waves."
Comparing this with the first Patrick O'Brian book covering the same historical period, I have to say that this contains far less seafaring detail, more story, but less personality. Both books are great to read, though. I've got a few more in each series, and am looking forward to reading them all.


Image of the book cover

Disgrace
by J. M. Coetzee

narrated by Jack Klaff
"After years teaching Romantic poetry at the Technical University of Cape Town, David Lurie, middle-aged and twice divorced, has an impulsive affair with a student. Willing to admit his guilt, but refusing to yield to pressure to repent publicly, he resigns and retreats to his daughter Lucy's isolated smallholding."
What makes a good book? This is the question I was pondering as my iPod counted down the hours and minutes to the end of the book and no hint of a resolution seemed to appear. Yes, there was a story, and a very interesting and sometimes gripping one too. There were well-defined characters (mostly unhappy and unpleasant), and there were definitely ideas to stimulate thought. I was baffled by some of it. The narrator was excellent. But what it lacked, and I feel this is true for many 'serious' books I have read recently, is any sort of satisfactory conclusion. Maybe the last chapter is supposed to be taken metaphorically, or perhaps it reflects some greater truth about the events related in the book, which are mostly depressing and grim: the professor's use of prostitutes, his affair with his student and his subsequent dismissal; the attack on his daughter and the theft of belongings and his car, the burglary and ransacking of his house, and so it goes on. I don't need a happy ending with all the plot threads tied up neatly and satisfactorily, but I dislike reaching the last sentence without any idea of what it was all about, what it meant, some hint of a reason why it was written and what difference it makes to anyone, and why it ended there, at that point, in the middle of something, not at the end. The words are not enough; there has to be meaning to it, and I couldn't see any.


Image of the book cover

Mauve
by Simon Garfield
"In 1856 eighteen-year-old English chemist William Perkin accidentally discovered a way to mass-produce colour. This experimental mishap that produced an odd shade of purple revolutionised fashion, as well as industrial applications of chemistry research."
This could have gone either way. A book on a single subject that I hadn't considered before - previously there have been triumphs (Cod, Gut) but this, despite its potential, didn't pass muster. I think there just wasn't enough interesting material - a guy invented mauve by accident, lots of industrial history follows - who capitalises on the colour, where it led in terms of manufacture and use of dyestuffs, and that's about it. A single issue book, but the issue is industrial chemistry rather than human interest. But if you like industrial chemistry it's probably a real treat.

Image of the book cover

Think Like a Pancreas
by Gary Scheiner
"The book provides the tools to "“think like a pancreas" and successfully master the art and science of matching insulin to the body’s ever-changing needs."
As an book aimed at Type 1's and Type 2's on insulin in the USA, there are some interesting differences between their approach and ours. One is their treatment of fibre - it is subtracted from the total carbohydrate when matching insulin against carbs. Another is the routine use of a drug called 'Symlin' to replace a hormone called amylin which apparently is secreted by pancreatic beta cells, and is therefore missing in people with Type 1 Diabetes. I asked one of our consultants about this, and he'd never heard either of amylin or Symlin, which simply isn't used in this country. Interesting. Lastly, and most importantly, the book is written with the underlying assumption that you're going to be paying for your consultations and your medications and any other equipment such as blood glucose meters and testing strips and ketone sticks or strips and insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitoring (CGM). On the down side this means there may be basic management tools that you can't afford, but on the other hand if you understand how it all works you might get better control by having a wider choice of insulins and having the option to pick the right one for the job in a specific situation. And if you have good insurance you would probably have access to more kit, because for example routine CGM isn't available through the NHS in this country. Overall I think it can't be denied that the existence of the NHS makes the life of a person with diabetes in this country significantly easier, and probably longer.

No comments:

Post a comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...