Books of the Month: November 2006

Books Bought

Nick Hornby: House Keeping and Dirt

Ken McCleod: The Sky Road

Gladys E. Alesi: Barron’s How to Prepare for the US Citizenship Test

Frank McCourt: Teacher Man

Babcock & Laschever: Women Don’t Ask

Michele Simon: Appetite for Profit

Books Borrowed

Margaret Frazer: The Sempster’s Tale

Anne Karpf: The Human Voice (renewed)

Joe Klein: Politics Lost

Michele Mitchell: Our Girl in Washington

Books Read

John Brockman (Editor): What We Believe But Cannot Prove

Margaret Frazer: The Sempster’s Tale

Nick Hornby: House Keeping and Dirt

Anne Karpf: The Human Voice

Mario Livio: The Golden Ratio

Ken McCleod: The Sky Road

Frank McCourt: Teacher Man

Michele Mitchell: Our Girl in Washington

Lots of Dick Francis for the umpteenth time!


In the end, November was a good month for reading. I went of to Washington for a few days so I had the train journey there and back and there were also those extra days for Thanksgiving, which I do not really celebrate. I do not have any one I really want to travel to visit at the busy traveling time of the year, so I can rest for almost a week. It is great. I could really go for three day weeks. As long as I still get full-time pay, of course.

Those of you who have been reading this blog for some time will remember that I started my monthly book reviews in honor of Nick Hornby’s Polysyllabic Spree which I read last December. Housekeeping vs. the Dirt is his essays from Feb 2005 – June/July 2006. Interestingly, the only books we appear to have in common were:

  • 9/11 Commission Report both bought. I read it and then gave it away.
  • Michael Frayn “Spies” both read!
  • Alan Bennett’s Untold Stories; NH bought – I bought for Dad last Xmas and then read it this August.
  • Marjane Satrapi “Persoplis” – Mum was given this and I read it last Xmas. I haven’t read Persoplis 2 yet!
  • Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer – I read years ago when a reader of Outside magazine.

It is great to know that there are even more good books out there for me to read as I need more books. I just read too fast. At least it means I can reread books over and over again – such as Dick Francis – when I need to escape from whatever horrors I’ve decided to opt out of this time. And I wonder why my eyes are sore.

In the Preface of Housekeeping vs. the Dirt, NH says we should read for enjoyment. It is all very well reading for education or to impress some one. He is particularly frustrated by the fact that we think reading a book should be hard work. His final comment on this was:

Please, please: put it down. You’ll never finish it, Start something else.


This reminds me of a library teacher in my secondary school. Unfortunately, Ms X, I have totally forgotten your name, but I have not forgotten your advice. She told us NOT to be pulled in by the book cover or the blurb on the back or even the first page. Nope, Ms. X told us to open the book some where in the middle, start reading to see if the book gripped us. That has been the best advice ever. Mind you, she was a bit disparaging over the fact that about five minutes after being given this advice, I discovered Malcolm Saville and spent the rest of the term only reading him. Can’t win them all.

One problem with reading so much is that I then have to write about it all. Well, I suppose I don’t have to, but I feel obliged to now I’ve started this Books of the Month idea. Perhaps next time I won’t tell you all the books I read.

So where do I start with the other books I read this month? WWBBCP has been a bathroom book ever since I bought it months ago. It has introduced me to some great authors, especially Robert M. Sapolsky, whose brilliance I have probably quoted before but here just because I can:


A religious friend of mine once remarked that the concept of God is useful, because you can berate God during the bad times. But it is clear to me that I don’t need to believe there is a God in order to berate him.


Mario Livio’s The Golden Ratio has similarly been a bedroom book. Unfortunately, these days, I do crosswords on my Treos before I sleep. So the Golden Ratio was neglected for a long while. So long in fact that I forgot what the golden ratio was. It is tau (τ) or phi (φ) and is the irrational number that if you take the line ACB such that the ratio of AB/AC is the same as the ratio AC/CB and can be roughly approximated to 1.618…

It is also important for pentagrams and Fibonacci numbers. This last bit did interest me as I sometimes sort of use Fibonacci numbers to organize stripes when I am knitting. Apparently it is more pleasing to the eyes if stripes are arranged: 1,1,2,3,5,8,13… than organized randomly. I do not always remember the Fibonacci numbers properly though and my so my stripes may be aren’t as pleasing as they could be.

In the book Golden Ratio, there are sections looking for the deliberate use of the golden ratio in everything from art to architecture and found wanting. When this book is revised, ML will have to include my knitting! At least it was deliberate, unlike the Greeks building the Parthenon.

Our Girl is Washington, probably should stay where she is because if she goes anywhere else the world gets too dangerous and unbelievable. Our Girl’s close friend is horribly murdered in Paris, making the world even more scary and dangerous, especially as the murderer might be one of the people for whom Our Girl is a consultant. Then, suddenly, bam, Our Girl uses her brain, changes sides, works some weird dodgy oil deal and does in the Baddy at the same time as having vengeance for her friend. I fear this is going to be a series of detective stories where all Our Girl’s close friends are eventually killed off – you know like the “Cat Who” books by L.J. Braun. I probably won’t be joining Our Girl again – too unbelievable, even if the world is like that. I’ll stick to Dick Francis, thanks.

Or even visit Margaret Frazer’s Medieval world with Dame Frevisse. At least Dame F’s friends don’t get killed. And I learnt something new. In the Sempstress, I learnt about Jews in England in the 15th Century. Or perhaps I should say non- Jews in England in the 15th Century. As they were expelled from England in 1290 after over a hundred years of prosecution. When I lived in York, Clifford’s Tower always seemed rather creepy to me as in 1190 Jews took refuge there, ending up committing suicide rather than converting or being killed by the mob. So it was interesting to read more about Jews in England and also about the Inquisition. One issue raised was and whether you can be an heretic if you’ve never been a Christian. Hmmm. I also enjoyed her comments in the notes at the back. The word seamstress didn’t get common usage until after 1600. Hence the title. Also smuggling, looting and mob are words that were adopted in the English language after the time this book was set. I’m sure she uses words that have also been adopted since that time – after all they aren’t written in the style of Chaucer – but I admire her for trying and being interested. The story is the usually thoughtful rip-roaring murder and the Baddy gets it the end. That is the kind of story I like. I read this kind of book to escape, I know baddies probably get away with it real-life, but I like them getting their comeuppance in fiction.

By far the best book of the month was Anne Karpf’s the Human Voice. It really deserves a review of its own but I’ll never get round to it. I want to return it to the library soon so some one else can read it. I will be buying this when it comes out in paperback – it is a great resource. A little bit repetitive in places, but fascinating. I didn’t know there was so much to know about the human voice. It is about the speaking voice, not singing, but as she says in the introduction:


This book isn’t about the singing voice either, even though if there are more similarities between the singing and speaking voice differences. The same part of the brain may produce both singing and speaking – we have one voice, and not two – but the speaking voice is enough for one volume.


Too right it is. I enjoyed reading this book some much that when I had finished the main text, I read through the end notes to see if there was more information to be gleaned.

The book is in three parts:

  1. The first about how the voice develops both from an evolution stand point and from a human development viewpoint.
  2. The second part discusses how our voices are shaped by who we are – gender, cultural, historical changes. Women’s voices, for example, have deepened over the past 50 years.
  3. The final section is how the voice is changing with technology; how becoming literate can destroy oral traditions, how modern voice printing are being developed as security measures

I was shock to learn that the BBC and other radio stations wouldn’t let women read news or announce on the radio because their voices weren’t appropriate. This went on until quite late and even now women rarely are chosen to be serious announcers on the radio:


Many different reasons for denying women access to the British and American airwaves were advanced in the 1920s. One newspaper reported that ‘the general opinion is that there is only one women in about 10,000 who is sufficiently educated in the general problems of the day to be able to announce the news items as they should be spoken’ and then went on to quote an official saying that ‘women would no doubt get flustered in the rushing from one studio to another’.


Even Jon Snow, a British broadcaster whom I had considerable respect for until I read this quote:


‘a woman without bass registers in her voice would find it very hard to get on in broadcasting unless she was exceptionally beautiful’


Karpf brings this to our attention because she says the male voice is considered to be the ideal voice and the women’s voice that is wrong. Interestingly, though, boys are more often identified as working class and girls as middle class more often than they actually are. Apparently even male brains process male and female voices differently. As AK rather cattily puts it:


…the researchers hadn’t yet conducted the complementary study to find out how women’s brains in turn process male and female voices. And yet all round the world headlines claiming that men’s brains weren’t designed to listen to women’s voice rang out (“Can’t hear you, dear…blame my brain,’ ‘Why Men Don’t Listen to Women’, etc.). Truly we hear only what we want to hear.


Technology has obviously changed our perception of the voice. How often are we communicating verbally – using our cell phones mostly? Sometimes I think that the students cannot spend 5 minutes without talking to some one. Yet public speaking is one of the scariest experiences for most people.

I bought Teacher Man to give on to Mum at Christmas, only to discover this weekend that she had already bought it for herself. It is an interesting read, especially if you have anything to do with teaching. My main criticism is that he takes the self depreciation to a whole new level. I realise that he is Irish and they are the experts at self depreciation, but he went a bit too far and unbelievable in this book.

I reviewed Ken McCleod’s The Sky Road in May, finally buying myself a copy this month. I want to know why the earlier books in his Fall Revolution series don’t seem to have been published in the US. What’s up with that?

Enough already.

The best book of November was Anne Karpf’s The Human Voice. Enjoy.



4 thoughts on “Books of the Month: November 2006

  1. The Golden Ratio is a fascinating concept. The next time you are at a Flecktones concert, chat with Futureman after the show. He’ll have a bunch of stuff to say about golden ratios. Isn’t there an ancient myth that says a statue will come to life if you play music made up of golden ratios?

    Is Teacher Man worth buying?

  2. I would only recommend Teacher Man if you are a teacher and if you have a long train/plane ride.

    I haven’t heard the myth about the statues and the golden ratio. How can you play music made of golden ratios? Quarter note, quarter note, two eighth notes, a triplet? Hmm, now I have to go back the book and see if he mentioned music. I look forward to talking to you and Futureman about this after a Flecktones’ concert. Whenever that will be for me!

  3. Alan Bennett is indeed a brilliant writer, I have nearly all of his books and have now started to get the audio books. Listening to him is even better than reading his books!

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