January Books

As Feb has started I can discuss the books I read in Jan. I stole this idea from Nick Hornby as discussed in earlier. First of I want to boast about being a NaJuReMoNoMo winner:


Actually I am a winner twice as I read two new novels (to me) month so here is another icon:


Thanks for FOMA* for suggesting this idea.


On Food and Cooking – Harold McGee

Cookwise – Shirley G. Corrier

The Orchid Thief – Susan Orlean

Birds of America – National Geographic


The Polysyllabic Spree – Nick Hornby

Earthsea Pentology – Ursula Le Guin (I blame Chris Mooney)

How Can I Keep From Singing? – David King Dunaway

Where have all the flowers gone : a singer's stories, songs, seeds, robberies – Peter Seager (songbook)

Thud – Terry Pratchett

The Orchid Thief – Susan Orlean (abandoned)

Spies – Michael Frayn

Home Grown Democrat – Garrison Keillor

Others I’ve forgotten

I reread Ursuala Le Guin’s Earthsea Series after a discussion on them at Intersection. I first read the Wizard of Earthsea when I was a kid, looking at the publication date, it was about when it first came out in paper back. My mum (hi mum) discovered it, she was always on the look out for good children’s books as she was a remedial English teacher and need inspiring, interesting, intriguing books to use in the classroom. I was her book tester, which meant that I carried on reading children’s books long past the age I probably should have. Certainly long past the time when all my friends had stopped reading them. Actually on the basis that Earthsea and Harry Potter are children’s books, I haven’t stopped reading them. This is not meant to disparage any book by the way, there are excellent children book authors; another children's author that adults should read is Rosemary Sutcliffe.

Terry Pratchett returns us to Disc World with another Sam Vimes-against-the-world adventure. JK Rowlings may have claimed not to have read TP, but going by the subtle digs about HP books, TP has certainly read JKR. Thud is about the war between the dwarfs and the trolls that has being on for thousands of years, and through a series of unbelievable (it is Disc World after all) coincidences and while the world's leaders, and others, try to manipulate him, Vimes prevails. A thoroughly enjoyable book with the usual Pratchett puns, I would love to have a Gooseberry™ (I hope it survived – this isn’t clear in the book) and it took me two reads to really get one of the plot features and there probably more that I have missed. I’m trying very hard not to tell you anything about it as every one should read Terry Pratchett and then if you don’t like his style of writing or humor, well tough.

Garrison Keillor goes on a rant in Home Grown Democrat. Boy, is he pissed off [can I write that in a blog?]. But he is cross. The current regime has upset him greatly and he wants to tell us all about it and make us cross and upset as well. SO THAT WE DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. It is full of pithy sayings in parenthesis and capitals (DO UNTO OTHERS AS YOU WANT DONE UNTO YOU; YOU AREN'T ANYTHING SPECIAL) which he claims his parents told him and presumably he is passing on to his kid and to us. Unfortunately, I returned the book to the library yesterday so don’t have it here to get more wittier sayings. It is a good book, written for the 2004 election and clearly explains with humor, why GK is (and everyone else should be) a democrat. And why the current republican policies are against the American Dream and Way of Life. The chapter on Paul Wellstone made me cry, but his death was a travesty. Oh, I personally particularly liked the fact that GK said he would rather have dealings with a moral atheist than a self serving Christian. And that the lack of belief is between God and the atheist. Precisely.

Pete Seeger’s biography and autobiographical songbook were next to each other on the library shelf (let’s hear it for the libraries, yeah). While I was ill, I read a Dizzy Gillespsie biography and realized that I could read biographies of musicians whose music I already knew and liked. Quite an innovative idea, what? Since the Mammals haven’t been around long enough yet to have a biography, I started with the next best thing, Pete Seeger. There are also bios of Arlo and Woody Guthrie that I shall read next. Actually I did read Ralph Vaughan Williams’ bio and his and Holst's letters when we sang RVW's Dona Nobis Pacem a few years ago and I read Beethoven’s Hair as recommended by a conductor when we sang the Ninth last time round. So this isn’t the first known and liked musicians’ biography I’ve read, but may be the first living one. There are by the way, for Mammal fans, a few very cute pictures of Tao in the song book.

It was interesting to read one and then the other. I found the biography fascinating, not only for the glimpses into the live of a great folk singer but also for a history of the time. Pete, for those who don’t know, was a left winger at the time it was a bad idea to be a left winger in the USA. I have always found idea of having an Committee on Un-American Activities, thus suggesting that you can be and Un-American American, mind boggling. DKD mentions in passing (Pete was touring the UK) that there wasn’t a British Un-British Activities Committee. The idea is laughable. Communism in Britain in the 1950s was trendy. Every one was getting on board, well until Hungary at least. It was very interesting to read about this time. I truly believe that the McCarthy era is the blame for the fracturing of the US Left and the current destruction of social policy in the USA. Democrats have done a lot since and may continue todo so but without a viable Left (and the Democrats are only Left in the US) there is no one keeping check. This is also happening currently in the UK but hopefully some of theLeft Labour MPs will keep the party in check, once Tony Blair stops strangling the government. The two books, yeah, ok back to the books, give a slightly different perspective but one was written 5-10 years after the other (I should write this before I take the books back to the library). I will probably buy the song book for the songs, but both were a great read. The song book has better pictures too.

Michael Frayn’s Spies is a great read, with potentially scary twists. The idea of a child trying to understand the adult world especially during war time reminds me a little of Carrie’s War and I can also understand why the blurb mentions the Scapegoat, but it wasn’t clear why until the end. This also fed into my current fascination with WW2 history. At least I am getting slightly more up to date, previously I was fascinated by the period of the English Enlightenment and the industrial revolution. Actually that fascination has not gone away, I’ve just added WW2 (and 1950s USA?) on top.

I abandoned the Orchid Thief as I had scant sympathy for any of the characters, not least the orchids, which make me sneeze any how.

I glimpsed into the Harold McGee book. I used the first one extensively as background material for my freshmen class Food For Thought and not doubt will use the second when I next teach it. I’ve been off food science for a while, I think the anaesthesia was affecting my brain as I haven’t wanted to do or read any science since the op (except Bill Byson). Fortunately, yesterday I had a long chat with a colleague about some work we were doing together and my interest seems to returning. Another stage of recovery? In Feb I hope I to read both of the “Food�? books I bought last month.

This ended up being a much longer post than I expected; I should read less. I found it useful to write as it helped me focus my thoughts about what I read. Perhaps it will help me target my reading better. Who am I kidding? Feb being shorter and with teaching starting means I will read less. Jan was a very long month – it started in England and ended up in the US with the semester nearly beginning. For some reason that seems to make the month longer. Perhaps there is an alogrithm about how distance travelled influences the perception of time passed. I hope my next post on Lab Cat will be about food science. After all, one of the reasons for the blog was to practice writing to non-scientists about food chemistry.


3 thoughts on “January Books

  1. I love the Nick Hornby format of bought versus read. I would run about 2:1 there. My one beef with Terry Pratchett is that he is a little too prolific and its tough for a new reader to catch up, let alone get ahead.

  2. Actually I cheated as I bought lots of books the back end of December, making my Jan list look shorter.

    Terry Pratchett does write a lot, and I haven’t read half the Disc World books. You can read them as one off. Reading “Thud” reminded me that I have a great source next time I have a fit of “I need to read a book now”. Better than rereading Dick Francis again and again, something I might have finally grown out of, having read all his books at least twice.

  3. Pingback: Books of the Month: November 2006 « Lab Cat

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