Saturday 29 May 2010

Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold

I thought I'd do something a little different today and read one of my favourite poems for you. It's called Dover Beach and is written by Matthew Arnold in 1867 - I discovered it when I read Ian McEwan's Saturday. I love the way it sounds and although there are several great recordings of it already on Youtube, I wanted to add my own. Besides, it would be lazy to pinch someone else's recording!

I hope you enjoy!


By Matthew Arnold

The sea is calm tonight,
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.
Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Agean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.
The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Sunday 23 May 2010

Literary mashups: What do you think?

Before we go any further I'm going to come right out and say it. It's been said before and if you read my blog you'll already at least suspect this. I am a book snob, a literary purist, a lover of fine writing and hot tea. I'm not ashamed of it and short of a sharp blow to the head I don't see this ever changing.

So when I saw the first of these so-called literary mashups Pride, Prejudice and Zombies, I just about choked. Granted, despite my love of classic literature, I'm not the world's biggest Austen fan. I've given her a go and I respect her work greatly but swooning and corsets and Mr. Darcy just don't quite get my pulse racing like it does some other folks. Anyways - to return to the point - someone thought that taking this classic and adding the undead into the mix was a good idea. More like someone (correctly) thought it was a darn good way to get some shock factor and cash revenue.

Back it up, you might say - you haven't read it so you can't judge. You're right on one count. I have not read it and I never will. There are just far too many good books in the world that I may never have time for that I really don't want to throw away precious reading hours on something I know that I'll hate. That said -someone else might really enjoy it and hey - that's a good thing.

So my question is this - literary mashups: love them or hate them? I'd love to know your thoughts!

Tuesday 18 May 2010

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society: Review

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
By Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Published by Bloomsbury
Published in 2009 (Paperback)
ISBN: 978-0-7475-9668-4

I read this book as part of a bookcrossing book ring and have not been paid for this review.

Every once in a while I come across a book that I REALLY want to read. Once this happens it is inevitable that I won't be able to read it for a variety of circumstances for a good long while, thus heightening my desire and anticipation. So many times this dangerous combination of expectations and desire has brought me crashing to my reading knees when a long waited for book turned out to be really rather average, or, worse, totally crud. I have waited for a very long time to read TGLAPPPS. Maybe close to 7-8 months. I was not disappointed.

Picture of Guernsey

Set in 1946, just after the end of World War II, Juliet Ashton is looking for a new subject to write about. Something serious, something meaningful - something that can get her away from her the comedic writer box she has firmly been placed in due to the success of her war-time commentary under the persona of Izzy Bickerstaff. Out of the blue, Dawsey Adams writes to her as he has somehow come to possess a book she once owned and has fallen in love with it. However, given his location on Guernsey he is a little hard put to find other books and so has written to Juliet for help. This initial contact begins a friendly correspondence that blossoms into something far far bigger.

The narrative structure of this novel is that of a series of letters to and from an ever-increasing series of characters which I found to be very engaging but those who prefer a more straightforward narrative style might find it challenging. I loved the personal element to it - each character had a distinctive voice that I felt connected to throughout the novel - and I felt that despite the limiting nature of the narrative structure, nothing was lost in terms of storytelling. 

The writing in this book is wonderful and satisfies you in a way that a bowl of chicken soup does on a cold day. It's not overly flowery but describes the island extremely well - so well in fact that I can still see the mental image of it in my head 3 weeks after I finished reading it. Add to that the subject matter - entirely about reading and books and well hey. You've really got a winner on your hands. 

One of the most interesting things about this book was that it taught me something I had no idea about. I had no idea that the Channel Islands were occupied during WWII and I had no idea to what degree the inhabitants of the islands suffered under German occupation. It was a huge hole in my historical knowledge - I mean I have many of these sorts of holes but this one was about a time period I knew a fair amount about and in a place that is owned by my home country. But far from being depressing and downbeat, this novel manages to deal with the awful things that happened in an upbeat manner that focusses on hope and everyone pulling together. The people of the GLAPPPS are exactly the kind of people you would want to be stuck on an island with under those circumstances, should you have to be.

I absolutely LOVED this book. My one complaint was that it was too quick - I read it in 2 days - but then again I would happily read this one again, just not this copy as I need to get it sent on it's way to the next book-ring reader! If you've thought about reading this book but have been a little put off by the hype - don't be. It's worth every bit of the hype and then some. It's a gem of a book that I'll be putting on my "You have GOT to read this" list.

Monday 17 May 2010

Some of my favourite sentences: Part V

That's what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you onto another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It's geometrically progressive - all with no end in sight and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.
From The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Saturday 15 May 2010

Reading Habits Meme

This is a meme that is going around the blogosphere at the moment. I got it from Helen's Book Blog.

Do you snack while you read? If so, favourite reading snack?

I don’t normally but if I had to pick a favourite it would be a couple of nice biscuits.

What is your favourite drink while reading?

Tea. Always tea. All sorts of tea – English Breakfast, oolong, green tea…. I’m not fussy.

Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you?

No I don’t mark books, I tend to write down stuff I like from it on a notepad although if I photocopy a page or two for study purposes, I go nuts and write all over the copy.

How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears? Laying the book flat open?

Dog-earing is evil! I use bookmarks or anything that casually resembles a bookmark.

Fiction, non-fiction, or both?

Mainly fiction but I do like a bit on non-fiction from time to time. It’s good to keep it real, if that makes sense.

Are you a person who tends to read to the end of a chapter, or can you stop anywhere?

I have to finish a chapter. If the book is particularly good and the chapter finishes where I can see the first page of the next chapter I have to put a physical barrier between my eyes and the next page or else I will never stop reading!

Are you the type of person to throw a book across the room or on the floor if the author irritates you?

No I just vocalize my frustration ;) Volume and colour of language vary with degree of frustration.

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop and look it up right away?

Yes. I have to, I’m a self-confessed word nerd!

What are you currently reading?

Many things including theory books for my thesis and three different novels all set in India, one being a Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry.

What is the last book you bought?

Generation Kill for my husband because he loved the TV series. He has yet to open it.

Are you the type of person that reads one book at a time, or can you read more than one?

I always read more than one at a time. Always. I have a scattershot brain that wants to do ten things at once when really I can only humanly do five.

Do you have a favourite time/place to read?

When I have the house to myself or on the train/bus.

Do you prefer series books or stand alones?

No preference. I like good books, be they stand alone or series books.

Is there a specific book or author you find yourself recommending over and over?

Wuthering Heights (all time fave), Ian McEwan and Jodi Picoult.

How do you organize your books? (by genre, title, author's last name, etc.)

Right now they’re piled on shelves in no real order…. They used to be alphabetized but I gave that one up.

Thursday 13 May 2010

Skinny is overrated: Review

Skinny is overrated: The real woman's guide to health and happiness at any size
By Danielle Milano, MD
Published by Synergy Books
Published in 2010
ISBN: 0-9842358-3-3
Disclaimer: I was sent this book to review by Synergy Books, however I was not paid for this review.

If you put a bulldog on a diet, you don't end up with a greyhound. This is the chapter title of the first chapter in this book and as soonas I saw it I knew I was in for a good time. I couldn't possibly have thought of a better way to put, being something of a bulldog myself, that absolute realisation that no matter what you do you're only going to get to a certain size. I've never been skinny - ever - and I never will be. There was one stage where I got really big and I had to lose a LOT of weight to get back to a healthier size but no matter I do, I always seem to end up being around about the weight I am now. I was this weight when I was 18 years old and I am the weight nearly a decade later at 27 and I think the best I can do is lose some tummy jiggle and tone up a bit.

This book came at the perfect time for me. I'd lost sight a little bit of what it was that I did right when I lost 20kgs a few years ago, especially now I'm in a completely different country selling vegetables I can't pronounce and offering no gym classes in English. I needed a bit of inspiration to remind me which track to get back on and it's worked. Basically, reading this book was like having a good yarn with your favourite Aunt - the one who always puts you right and isn't shy of calling it like it is. Danielle's warm but frank manner beams right off the page and leaves no room for either the self-doubt or the silly justifications we give ourselves. What she's saying is pretty simple but it's something that we all need to be reminded of - stay away from processed, nasty food, eat more natural foods and plenty of greens and get moving more.

That said, although the basic message is simple this is a very well researched and written book. It has a lot of medical research and useful facts in it without being overwhelmingly in your face with the science of it all. The chapters are a nice readable size and focus on one essential point after another. I've read a few diet books in my time and each time I have come away from it feeling overwhelmed and like I'm facing a daunting task. This book is not a diet book - it's a book about how to change your lifestyle: something far more permanent and healthy.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is not looking for a quick fix but rather someone who is looking for a real and lasting improvement on their overall health. Take the focus off the number on the scales and place it on feeling better. The number on the scale will change for the better if you follow this advice but that shouldn't be the focus. This book is fun, readable and REAL written by someone who actually wants you to succeed. Weight is just a number but feeling good about yourself is unquantifiable. Enjoy!

Tuesday 11 May 2010

MISSION: Taipei Living 10th Edition - nearly completed.

Wow wow whee, have I ever been slack in the last month. At first I was insanely busy (brother in law got married, had the in-laws staying with us) and then that slid into a case of serious denial and writer's block. One good thing though is that in the last couple of weeks I have found myself in the final stages of my current editing project - we have a cover and the final proof copy and everything, how exciting!! The book is called Taipei Living (10th edition) and is basically an everything you need to know about living in Taipei as a foreigner. It's got info on areas for shopping, how to sort out your rubbish, where to get good coffee, how to get a driver's license, what to do if there's an earthquake, hot spring etiquette, info on the international schools and way, way more. It's a gold mine and it was an honour to be involved in bringing it to it's tenth edition. I even gave a nifty new cover and everything.

Anyway, hopefully now I have broken the barrier and posted here the drought will lift and I'll be back with more book-related stuff. Oh and for those of you who like photos, I started Project 365 over here a couple of days ago which should be fun!

Hope you're all well and talk again soon!