Thursday, 24 February 2011

A love letter to a dead woman

Cry Downriver Cry Down-river by John Pepper.  This book was passed to me by a blog-friend who has a lovely blog of her own - Lovely Treez Reads - and I am glad to have read it, although the word enjoy is not the one to use for this book.  This is not fiction.  The author, and the woman to whom he writes are real people. Following the death of Ruth, a long term friend and lover when her car is swept away by a flooded river, John Pepper writes to her to explain how he feels about her life, his life, the times their life was together, the times when they were apart.  I have no personal experience of depression, but certainly, Ruth, the woman who died, certainly had periods of severe depression, which affected their relationship.  Also, although she committed to many men in her life, she could not quite commit to John Pepper, and he could never quite say the words "I love you".  If he had, would she still be around?  Its very hard to say, and it is a difficult book to read as you are very near to the writer's soul, and he pulls no punches at all.  But it is a book that should be read, by men and women alike, for whilst I was reading it I kept thinking that "I would never have let him go" or "why is he letting her go again?" every time they drifted apart.  But then I am a quite different person to Ruth, a woman who was much more complicated than me.  Don't be mislead into  thinking this is just chick-lit and letting it go by.  Its nothing like, and deserves to be read.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Candide - Leonard Bernstein

.......   because some things have to be shared!  Even if you are familiar with Leonard Bernstein's Candide, you may never have seen this version of "Glitter and be gay", played for laughs, but with not a note mislaid.  (Cunagonda has run away from her marriage to Candide, and is a high class whore in Paris). Perfection with a smile!  Stay till the end.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U5liuHR6wug

Monday, 14 February 2011

These is my words - The diary of Sarah Agnes Prine



     net_book_these.jpg (23057 bytes) These is my words - The diary of Sarah Agnes Prine

This is not chick-lit.  The author, Nancy Turner, got this book exactly right, she did some exceptional research, but the thing that impresses the most is that the journal, which is an important part of Sarah's life, is started when she is 17 or 18, not very well read,  and cannot write particularly well.  It shows.  The sentences are short, and she writes in the vernacular.  As she gains knowledge, and acquires books, including a dictionary, and someone helps her to read well, she can then become more elequent and the entries in her journal improve accordingly.  The journal takes her from a young girl on a wagon train from New Mexico eastwards through Texas, and then, when her father is dead, a brother has lost a leg, and her mother has retreated to a world of her own, back in the other direction to Tucson, Arizona.  The timescale is about twenty years, from the early 1880's up until 1901, when the west was still dangerous, but the last of the Indians were being put onto reservations, and the great Geronimo was to be found and arrested for the last time.
Descriptions of death, childbirth,and a hard life in general, pull no punches, but the book is gem.  Sarah, having lost a parent, a sibling, and various friends, is a strong character, able to shoot (indeed, at one point she kills two white men who are raping a young teenager without a thought), and is loved by a man she does not care for.  She marries the first man who asks her, produces a child and is a ranch woman who knows nothing of love and the care of a soulmate until she is widowed.  The man who has always loved her then makes his case......
If you like historic drama  you may like to try this one.  It made me smile and it made me cry (not a sign of weakness, but no mean feat for a book).  The description of her first night with the man who truly loves her involves her first and last drink of hard liquor, so that he can tell her things about himself that she should know, but does not, yet.  That entry in the journal is a lovely piece of writing.   And he quotes the Song of Solomon whilst he bathes her " ...behold thou art fair...." .
The author Mary Stewart says that "this is right up there with To Kill a Mockingbird" .  I don't know if that's right, but it was a book I enjoyed reading and recommend it to you.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Well, that was my first week!

Fun!  I didn't know if it would be but it is.  And I don't intend to have an input every day!  I still have some older reviews to put on, and if you, dear reader, come across something you have not read, and I have moved you to find and read that book, well, good!  You'll find nothing now until next week because we are in for a busy weekend.  Fi and Jude are here on Saturday for a quick visit and overnight stay which is always fun and a bit manic, and Sunday its the Fitzies, because we are celebrating Sid's 18th.  Lots of food cooked and eaten, wine drunk, laughs had - that's the spirit!

I see that the bulbs are all showing their tops in the garden now, including the wild bluebells which I don't want but nature knows best.  Its not that I don't like them, but they won't be controlled! (Bit like me, really).  Jude is bringing a large-ish plant for planting out so she can get her hands dirty out there as she is younger than me... :) and will be giving me advice in the kitchen.  My marmalade didn't set (about 8 lbs of it) and she phoned me last night with input from t'internet.  I must boil it all again and add more sugar. That will have to wait until next week as no time to get jam pot covers and greaseproof circles until then.  Good job I didn't stick the labels on the jars, eh?

Remembrance - Theresa Breslin

Product Details "By the end of the War, more than half the army was under nineteen years old.  The old die, and we are accustomed to that.  It is almost a proper thing.  They signify the past which slips away, as it should.  But the death of youth denies us what might have come.  Our present is obliterated and our future altered irrevocably".
The above is a quote from one of the characters towards the end of the book.  That is extraordinary.   " ...by the end of the War, more than half the army was under nineteen years old".   It was the war to end all wars, and it didn't, of course, no war will ever be.  Theresa Breslin has researched well, and written a very truthful book about youth and war. The five main characters are all very young, and this is WW1 seen from their viewpoint.  They all contribute to the war effort in some way, joining up, becoming nurses, being conscripted.... and having to just keep going, loosing their youth on the way.  Most of the conditions in the trenches are described by the oldest of the five, who didn't want to be there, but as an officer had to support his men, in letters home to a friend.  She wrote back, and doing so, she found that she was no longer the daughter of a shopkeeper who would be expected to marry soon, but someone who could have views of her own, and someone who could broaden her mind with books.  There are heartbreaking passages, but its an easy book to read.  Aimed at YAs, but would suit any age if interested in the Great War.  The stupidity(?)  of Haig and many senior officers was breathtaking, and is only touched on here, but it is easy to see why so many men died.  The descriptions of those left at home to wait and wonder are also something we don't always think about, the "hope that perhaps..." which may or may not become reality.  I was glad to have read this as my Remembrance Day read last year.... and put it on now hoping that some of you will find it and read it.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

One more non-fiction.......

Product Details In the late 1940's, May Savidge bought half of a 500 year old house.  The other half had been a bakers for many years, but was now empty.  She tried to buy that other half but the local authority bought it instead  because eventually they were doing to demolish the whole building to make way for a ring road and a roundabout.  She battled for years against this decision, and eventually the ring road was not to be, and in 1969, having acquired the other part of the house, took it apart, almost single handedly, and had it shipped to Norfolk where she had bought a building plot.  And then, from 1969 until her death in 1993, she attempted the impossible - to put the house back together again.                                                                      
 
She may well have been the last of her kind.  A single lady who did so much for others, but without blowing her own trumpet.  A fantastic story of her war efforts  would have made another book but are only lightly touched on, but then this is the tale of the house, rather than Miss Savidge herself.  She never quite made it.  Indeed, the author, her niece by marriage, took over the job as she promised, and it took another eight years of her life.  Truly eccentric, May Savidge saved everything, cereal boxes became filing systems, their tops cut off for use became available for shopping lists and notes to self, diaries became notebooks, the ephemera of everyday life was put aside but never thrown away.  She didn't ask for much help, and when she sought to employ carpenters, bricklayers, etc, they so often let her down, and so she soldiered on alone, except for the odd cat and dog.  She became famous for a while, appearing in newspapers and on documentaries.  But it doesn't take long for people to be forgotten - and she shouldn't be.  This is a gem of a tale, a little glimpse into a tiny bit of history.       

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

How about some non-fiction?

Book Cover Image  The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - Rebecca Skloot 

Amazon Best Books of the Month, February 2010: From a single, abbreviated life grew a seemingly immortal line of cells that made some of the most crucial innovations in modern science possible. And from that same life, and those cells, Rebecca Skloot has fashioned in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks a fascinating and moving story of medicine and family, of how life is sustained in laboratories and in memory. Henrietta Lacks was a mother of five in Baltimore, a poor African American migrant from the tobacco farms of Virginia, who died from a cruelly aggressive cancer at the age of 30 in 1951. A sample of her cancerous tissue, taken without her knowledge or consent, as was the custom then, turned out to provide one of the holy grails of mid-century biology: human cells that could survive--even thrive--in the lab. Known as HeLa cells, their stunning potency gave scientists a building block for countless breakthroughs, beginning with the cure for polio. Meanwhile, Henrietta's family lived in innocence, and when they began to find out the background story.........
~ 
I was fascinated, horrified, intrigued. Henrietta Lacks died from a particularly virulent kind of cervical cancer in 1951. This is the story of Henrietta Lacks, her family, and the cells which were taken from the tumour. She was poor, working the tobacco farm that her family owned, not always able to sell all of the tabacco they grew. The lived in a small all-black town where cousins married cousins, or had babies with cousins, generation after generation. Rebecca's children were all partially deaf, including her first child, who was institutionalised, and died after her mother at age 15. Rebecca's remaining children were grown when they first starting hearing about HeLa, the cells taken from Henrietta, and they had no money or education to fight for their mother's name, nor for education about the things they read, and this caused many misunderstandings. Rebecca Skloot, a scientific journalist, spent several years of her early career, and filed several filing cabinets putting together the information that makes up this book.    Enjoy it?  I did, racing through every page.  It was harrowing in parts, not least the descriptions of Deborah, who had devoted her life since she  found out (following a BBC crew interviewed her about her mother for a programme aired as recently as 1996) more about how the cells were being used, how they had been obtained in the first place, and how the knowledge that part of her Momma was "still alive" nearly unhinged her.  It is a true story of medicine, research, racism and poverty.  Henrietta's cells helped with the cure for polio, they invaded nearly every major lab in the world, they are used towards the work foar the curing of cancer, AIDs, and other serious conditions.  They live, and therefore so does Henrietta.

And then I also recommend:
    Can Any Mother Help Me? by Jenna Bailey
 I loved being swept up by the women's lives in this wonderfully put together book, adapted from a "secret" magazine started in England in the 1940s.  The title is how it all started, a letter to a mother and baby magazine. I thought it a really good example of recent history, though one which will never go down as "important".  But of course it is important, for the nuggets of real life within.  The thing that really struck me, the more I read was, how many people now would understand a world without TV, often no phone, hardly ever a car, food on ration, no birth control, several children; and if you lived in rural areas during the war years, either you saw no-one for weeks, or you were descended on by your family getting out of cities that were under attack from bombs.  We do take phones, cars, computers and cheap food for granted now.  The women who contributed to their own secret magazine, the Co-operative Correspondence Club, "talked" to each other on the printed page (we have computers now).   There was an editor who made sure every contribution was put into the magazine, and the magazine was sent on a journey regularly round the members.  Everything was discussed, from sex to holidays, with everything in between and there were meet-ups on a regular basis!  It is laid out in sections with explanatory pages and mini-biographies by the author.
If you contribute to website forums, you may, like me, see this as a forerunner to that kind of interaction.  For me, a lovely slice of history that will take a long time to forget.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Look up Diana Athill.....

For those too young to recall the publisher Andre Deutsch, Athill worked there as a kind of co-director (officially editor) for more than 40 years.  She has written several memoirs, and the one about publishing is Stet.
Its fascinating to see the number of known authors that came through the doors, some they kept, some they turned away(!).  Instead of a letter describes her early adulthood, when she was jilted by her fiance - an action which deeply affected her for 20 years.  All her memiors are available in one volume now, but I liked the business of reading a small but well written book by her every so often as a treat.  At 90+ she now resides in a North London home fo the elderly, and is as bright (if not as spry as ever).  If you've never heard of her, do try.

I swore I wouldn't (but there you are!)

I thought I might, then I swore I wouldn't, and now here I am.  You will get bits of news, you will get bits of books, and you will get bits of us.... and if I ever find out how, bits of the garden!!

I read an average of eight books a month, this month will be higher as I seem to be ploughing  through smaller, thinner tomes, but there is at least one fatty waiting.

Today I am reading Kisses on a Postcard by Terence Frisby based on the playwright's own experiences of being evacuated to Cornwall during WW2.  Light and entertaining, and a joy because so many of those who were evacuated seem not to have had a good time at all, but Terry and his brother Jack ended up with two glorious Welsh souls, who lived in a terrace overlooking a railway station and juction.  They already loved the railways, their father's job was a railway job, so you could describe their immediate thoughts as died and gone to heaven!