My Friday Post: Bitter Lemons of Cyprus by Lawrence Durrell

Book Beginnings Button

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

My book today is Bitter Lemons of Cyprus by Lawrence Durrell, one of the books I’m currently reading.

Bitter Lemons of Cyprus

It begins:

Journeys, like artists, are born and not made. A thousand differing circumstances contribute to them, few of them willed or determined by the will – whatever we may think. They flower spontaneously out of the demands of our natures – and the best of them lead us not only outwards in space, but inwards as well. Travel can be one of the most rewarding forms of introspection …

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

30879-friday2b56These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56: Durrell is buying a house in the Greek village of Bellapaix and the owners have gathered their family in the village cafe to agree upon the price.

They sat on a semicircle of chairs, sipping coffee and arguing in low voices; a number of beards waggled, a number of heads nodded. They looked like a rugger scrum in an American film receiving last-minute instructions from their captain. Soon they would fall upon us like a ton of bricks and gouge us. I began to feel rather alarmed.

~~~

I’ve visited Cyprus several times, but not the area Durrell wrote about in this book – Kyrenia in Northern Cyprus. His description of it and Bellapaix makes me wish I could have seen it then in the 1950s.

Blurb

Bitter Lemons of Cyprus is Lawrence Durrell’s unique account of his time in Cyprus, during the 1950s Enosis movement for freedom of the island from British colonial rule. Winner of the Duff Cooper Memorial Prize, it is a document at once personal, poetic and subtly political – a masterly combination of travelogue, memoir and treatise.

‘He writes as an artist, as well as a poet; he remembers colour and landscape and the nuances of peasant conversation . . . Eschewing politics, it says more about them than all our leading articles . . . In describing a political tragedy it often has great poetic beauty.’ Kingsley Martin, New Statesman

‘Durrell possesses exceptional qualifications. He speaks Greek fluently; he has a wide knowledge of modern Greek history, politics and literature; he has lived in continental Greece and has spent many years in other Greek islands . . . His account of this calamity is revelatory, moving and restrained. It is written in the sensitive and muscular prose of which he is so consummate a master.’ Harold Nicolson, Observer

~~~

What about you? Does it tempt you or would you stop reading? 

New-To-Me Books

These are some books that I’ve recently added to my shelves, all Christmas presents:

bks xmas 2018

From top to bottom they are:

The Pocket Detective: (British Library Crime Classics) compiled by Kate Jackson –  including word searches, anagrams, snapshot covers, and crosswords based on the series of British Library Crime Classics and Golden Age Detection authors. I love word puzzles of all sorts, so this is just right for me.

The Inner Life of Animals: Surprising Observations of a Hidden World by Peter Wohllenben. This book looks fascinating as it is about what goes on aside animals’ heads with insights into their behaviour, emotions and instincts. In his Introduction Wohllenben says that the more he closely paid attention the more he noticed ‘our pets and their woodland relatives displaying what are supposed to be exclusively human emotions.’

The Story of the British Isles in 100 Places by Neil Oliver – described on the book jacket inside cover as ‘a broad sweep of British history and landscape’. I’ve enjoyed watching Neil Oliver’s TV documentaries and his book looks just as informative, encompassing our earliest history, via Romans and Vikings, civil war, industrial revolution and two world wars, looking at the places that he considers to be the most characteristic of our history, with many colour photographs.

Sea Change: The Summer Voyage from East to West Scotland by Mairi Hedderwick. This is a beautiful book with watercolours and pen and ink illustrations. It describes Marie Hedderwick’s journey in an antiquated 26-foot long yacht through the Caledonian Canal to the fjords of the west: Lochs Linnhe, Etive, Ailort, Moidart, Nevis and Leven.

Leonardo Da Vinci: the Biography by Walter Isaacson – A biography that brings Leonardo Da Vinci to life, a man of science and engineering, just as much as an artist and a man of endless curiosity about a vast range of subjects. I think this book could take me most of the year to read.

And finally a novel:

Love is Blind by William Boyd, set at the end of the nineteenth century about a Scottish musician, who leaves Edinburgh and his tyrannical father when he is offered a job in Paris. ‘A tale of dizzying passion and brutal revenge; of artistic endeavour and the illusions it creates; of all the possibilities that life can offer, and how cruelly they can be snatched away’.

Do any of any these books tempt you too?

My Friday Post: World Enough & Time by Christian McEwan

Book Beginnings Button

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

World Enough & Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down

This week I’m featuring World Enough & Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down by Christian McEwen, a book I’ve borrowed from a friend:

 

When the Lilliputians first saw Gulliver’s watch, ‘that wonderful kind of engine … a globe, half silver and half of some transparent metal [glass!]’, they told themselves it had to be his god. After all, ‘he very seldom did anything without consulting it; he called it his oracle, and said it pointed out the time for every action of his life.’

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

30879-friday2b56These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

Consider this quotation:

and this is what we mean by friends. Even when they are absent, they are with us … even when they are weak, they are strong; and … even when they are dead, they are alive.

CICERO

~~~

About the Book (extracted from Goodreads)

Slowness can open doors to sustained creativity, claims poet and teacher Christian McEwen. Over the course of ten years training teachers to write their own poems in order to pass the craft along to students, McEwen realized that nothing comes easily when life is conducted at a high rate of speed. She draws not only on personal experience, but on readings ranging from literary anecdote and poetry to Buddhism, anthropology, current news, and social history, all supplemented by interviews with contemporary writers and artists. This is a real reader’s book, one that stands up as both sustained narrative and occasional inspiration.

~~~

This is a book to take your time over reading it – you can read straight through or dip in and out of the chapters, focusing on different themes. I don’t want to rush through it – so at times, as I’m reading it I may quote further extracts  in future posts rather than writing a review.

What about you? Does it tempt you or would you stop reading? 

WWW Wednesday: 19 December 2018

IMG_1384-0

WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

It’s been over a month since I last wrote a WWW post so I thought it was time for another one.

I’m currently reading: just one book – Great Britain’s Great War by Jeremy Paxman. I began it in November because it was the 100th  anniversary of the end of the First World War and I wanted to know more about it.

Great Britain's Great War

So far I’ve read just over half the book – now just starting to read about 1916 and the situation in Ireland. It’s written chronologically, analysing the causes of the war and why people at the time believed it to be unavoidable and even necessary. Paxman writes clearly and goes into detail which means it’s not a quick read and I’m taking it slowly. He writes about the people involved – the men who enlisted and those who were conscripted, the conditions they experienced from the trenches to the French brothels they frequented. It’s also about life back in Britain and the changes the war brought about. It is fascinating.

This morning I finished:

The Division Bell Mystery

Qnother fascinating book – The The Division Bell Mystery first published in 1932 by Ellen Wilkinson, a 1930s politician, about a murder in the House of Commons.  One of the reasons I enjoyed this so much is the setting in the House of Commons and the details it gives of not only the procedures and traditions, but a look behind the scenes and what it was like for the early women MPs. It’s a good murder mystery too!

My next book could be:

It’s time to start another novel but I am torn, as usual, and am trying to decide what to read next. It will probably be The Accordionist by Fred Vargas as it is a library book dues back at the beginning of January.

The Accordionist (Three Evangelists 3)

It’s the final novel in the Three Evangelists Trilogy – I’ve read the first two. This one has the same characters – three thirty-something historians, Mathias, Marc and Lucien, all specialists in three different periods of history, who live in a rambling house in Paris.

I love Fred Vargas’s quirky crime fiction, with eccentric characters and intricate plots that I find so difficult to solve. This one is about the murder of two Parisian women killed in their homes. The police suspect young accordionist Clément Vauquer and it seems like an open-and-shut case.

Have you read any of these books?  Do any of them tempt you? 

Books Read in November 2018

This month I read seven books, made up of one review copy that came to me via  NetGalley, two library books and four of my own books (two of these on Kindle). Two of the seven books are non-fiction and the rest are fiction. My ratings range from 5 to 2.5 stars and are based solely on my reactions to the books.

I’ve written about three of these books (click on the links to read my reviews):

Jacob's Room is Full of Books: A Year of ReadingAbsolute ProofIn a Dark, Dark Wood

  1. Jacob’s Room is Full of Books by Susan Hill 5*  – in which Susan Hill describes a year of her reading.
  2. Absolute Proof by Peter James 3.5* –  a standalone thriller that is very different from his Roy Grace books. It has similarities to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, as the search is on for proof of  God’s existence.
  3. In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware 2.5* – I was disappointed as this book promised to be a psychological thriller but it neither thrilled nor scared me, although it is a page-tuner. Leonora and Clare haven’t seen  or even spoken to each other since they were 16, ten years ago. So why has Clare invited Leonora to her hen party held in a glass house in the middle of a wood?

Here are some brief notes about the remaining four books:

I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes With DeathThe ReckoningThe New Mrs CliftonTombland (Matthew Shardlake, #7)

I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell 5* – I wrote this Friday post about this book, with two quotations and a summary of the book. It’s a memoir with a difference: seventeen encounters of near-death experiences, with Maggie at different ages, in different locations, revealing a whole life in a series of tense, visceral snapshots. It’s a beautifully written book that I loved.

The Reckoning by John Grisham 5*, about Pete Banning, Clanton’s favourite son, a returning war hero, the patriarch of a prominent family, a farmer, father, neighbour, and a faithful member of the Methodist Church. Why did he shoot and kill the Reverend Dexter Bell? And then refuse to say why he killed him? I was intrigued and fascinated by the whole book that went back into Pete’s wartime experiences during world War Two during the Bataan Death March in the Philippines.

The New Mrs Clifton by Elizabeth Buchan 4* this begins in 1974 with the discovery of a skeleton, the remains of a woman, between twenty-five and thirty, buried beneath a tree in the garden of house in Clapham, facing the Common. Her identity and why and how she was killed is not revealed until very nearly the end of the book.

It then moves back in time to 1945 when Intelligence Officer Gus Clifton returns to London with Krista, the German wife he married secretly in Berlin. For his sisters, Julia and Tilly, this broken woman is nothing more than the enemy. For Nella, Gus’s loyal fiancée, it is a terrible betrayal. Elizabeth Buchan paints a convincing and moving picture of life in both London and Berlin post-war, highlighting the devastation of the bombing and showing how people have to come to terms with the changes in their lives. All the way through the book I wondered who the killer was and which woman had been murdered.

Tombland by C J Sansom 5* – I wrote this Friday post this book, giving two quotations and a summary of the book. Set in 1549 this is a remarkable and detailed book about the situation as Edward VI is on the throne following the death of his father Henry VIII and his uncle Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, rules as Protector.

Matthew Shardlake has been working as a lawyer in the service of Edward’s sister, the Lady Elizabeth. He is employed to investigate the gruesome murder of Edith Boleyn, the wife of John Boleyn – a distant Norfolk relation of Elizabeth’s mother. But the main part of the book is about Kett’s Rebellion – as thousands of peasants, in protest about the enclosures of common land, gather together on Mousehold Heath outside Norwich and battle ensues.

It’s an enormous book and I’m planning to write a longer post about it.

 

 

 

 

Jacob’s Room is Full of Books by Susan Hill

Nine years ago I read Susan Hill’s Howards End is on the Landing: A Year of Reading, a book in which she wrote about the books from her own collection she’d read or re-read over the course of a year. Jacob’s Room is Full of Books is a similar book in that it follows month by month a year during which she reflects on the books she has read, reread, or returned to the shelves as well as her thoughts on a whole variety of topics.

Jacob's Room is Full of Books: A Year of Reading

It’s full of her observations on the weather, on nature – birds, flowers, trees, moles, eels, egrets and so on – on writers and writing, about religion and fairy tales and many more besides as well as on books. She also writes about herself and notes her obsessions with, for example, Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Set, Marilyn Monroe, wood engravings, medieval monasticism, Elizabeth Bowen, Benjamin Britten and her collection of Ladybird Books. Some of her observations on other topics are short but conjure up vivid pictures, such as in November she recorded: ‘RAINING. Sky like the inside of a saucepan.‘ (page 208) And in October: ‘THIS GOLDEN OCTOBER continues to drift slowly down like a twirling leaf.’  (page 186)

One of the things I like about this book is the passion with which Susan Hill writes and her strong opinions about books, writers, literary prizes, what makes a good reader and so on and so forth, that she has no qualms about expressing (and why should she?) You are left in no doubt about what she does and does not like. For example she likes Robert Louis Stevenson (so do I) and the way he cleverly and cunningly creates a sense of sinister and evil in his creation of Mr Hyde. She thinks he’s the ‘perfect writer’ (page 188) and describes him thus: ‘Next to Dickens, I think RLS was the greatest writer of his time.’ (page 54) She didn’t like fairy tales as a child (I did), describing fairies as

Wispy, wafty, wish-washy things. Nowhere near on a par with sprites and goblins, witches, wizards, trolls. As a child I lapped up stories about any of these. I can understand why I did not, and do not, have any patience with fairies and their stories. They are so colourless (despite Andrew Lang’s best attempts). So dull. Yes. Just dull. (page 21)

And yet as a child she also liked the Flower Fairies books by Cecily Mary Baker (as did I) and pored over their illustrations, but followed that up by describing them as ‘just an excuse for pretty pastel pictures.

She doesn’t like fantasy and science fiction, although as a child she loved fantasy. She likes, amongst others, Thomas Hardy, Somerset Maugham, Raymond Chandler, Muriel Spark and Barbara Pym, to a certain extent, describing her books as ‘dated, but not dated enough’, but not Jane Austen – oh my, I love Jane Austen’s books:

I read most of the reissued novels [of Pym’s] at the time and never entirely saw the point of the praise, probably because everyone compared them to Jane Austen and that is never a good recommendation to me. (page 200)

She then goes on to change her mind about Pym after reading Shirley Hazzard’s review of Pym’s Quartet in Autumn, which I haven’t read, but after reading her description I think I would like.

She has no interest left in the First World War, particularly in fiction about it (I have) since she wrote Strange Meeting in 1971, but she admires Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier, but has ‘not even tried Parade’s End‘. She seems to have more time for the Second World War novels, praising Olivia Manning’s novels, the Balkan and Levant trilogies, which reminds  me I still haven’t read the third book in the Balkan Trilogy.

She is scathing about creative writing courses: ‘I don’t suppose anything is obligatory for these courses, which are as thick as autumn leaves on the ground. Writing is the thing. Ye gods.’ (page 189)

There’s plenty more on the same lines about other authors and books – there are many, many more that I could mention – and I found it all fascinating, rambling and chatty, a bit repetitive in parts, but still fascinating. And there is a list of the books she refers to at the end of the book. It’s probably a book that could stand a second reading.

And as she says:

Reading is magic. Books are magic. It starts when we are shown picture books and realise there is another world beyond the everyday one we know. Once we can read ourselves, we live inside the magic. The only problem is that we have to emerge at the end of a book, and we don’t want to return to that dull domestic world we know. The only solution to that problem, of course, is that there is always the next book, and the next and there is bonus magic if it is another in a series we already love, so we are plunging back into a magic other world but one we already know. We feel a lift of the heart, a lurch of the stomach, when we find ourselves in it again. (pages 55 – 56)

Yes, reading is, indeed, magic!

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Profile Books (5 Oct. 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781781250808
  • ISBN-13: 978-1781250808
  • ASIN: 1781250804
  • Source: a library book
  • My Rating: 5*

Nonfiction November Week 5: Additions to my TBR

Week 5: (Nov. 26 to 30) – New to My TBR (Katie @ Doing Dewey): It’s been a month full of amazing nonfiction books! Which ones have made it onto your TBR? Be sure to link back to the original blogger who posted about that book!

I’ve had a great time doing these Nonfiction November posts, found yet more book bloggers and I’ve added these books to my TBR:

From the comments on my Ask the Expert post asking for recommendations about books on World War One:

The War that Ended Peace: How Europe abandoned Peace for the First World WarThe Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern AgeDead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

From posts on Nonfiction that reads like fiction:

Midnight in the Garden of Good and EvilLeonardo da VinciThe Sound of a Wild Snail Eating

  • Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt from Rennie of What’s Nonfiction. She writes ‘Berendt’s story begins with a murder in the old-fashioned, uniquely southern atmosphere of Savannah but develops into so much more.’
  • Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson from Deb Nance at ReaderbuzzWalter Isaacson is not an art historian, he’s simply a lover of Leonardo, who manages to communicate the sheer joy of this remarkable man’ Books of the Year – The Times.
  • The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey from Brona’s Books, Brona writes, ‘Bailey uses examples from poetry, literature and science to bring forth the nature of her snail. Each little nugget is revealed with care and circumspection. Watching her snail, Bailey comes to terms with her own illness.’

Thanks everyone for your recommendations!