MICHELLE GRATTAN – Back on the Wool Track

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Bought 05 Jun 2009 – Sensible Bookshop, Hay-on-Wye

Yup, still on the Hay books! This was an "in the footsteps of" genre travel book, looking at the outback and sheep farmers of New South Wales in Australia.  A bit disjointed but lots of atmosphere and interesting stories, and the author does make a good connection with the author she is following.  Interesting stuff.

PAUL SCOTT – Staying On

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Bought 05 Jun 2009 – Sensible Bookshop, Hay-on-Wye

The companion piece to the Raj Quartet, looking at what happened to those Raj characters who stayed on in India after Independence.  A slimmer volume than the quartet and a bit of an easier read, although like the Quartet it takes one or two episodes and investigates them from all angles and viewpoints.  We find minor Quartet characters Tusker and Lucy aging ungracefully at Smith’s Hotel with only the smallest of English communities around them.  News comes of more central characters, obliquely, and the whole is bittersweet and elegiac.  A good and wistful read.

Will register on BookCrossing as I didn’t keep any of the Quartet, and will release unless anyone reading this would particularly like a go with it.

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS – Librarians of Congress 1802-1979

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Bought 04 Jun 2009 – Cinema Bookshop (outside), Hay-on-Wye

Yes, yes, but it was half price. A history of the LoC and its librarians; each article is written by a different author and I think they were published in the Library’s Journal at one point.  Lots of illustrations and facscimiles of important documents; this is actually more interesting than you might suppose, although at points the writing can get a little turgid and sometimes the important information gets lost in a welter of facts!

I particularly liked the detail on how the catalogue got created and the classification sorted out – much later than one would have supposed. And of course an update would also be good.

But – on the whole readable and enjoyable!

GWEN MAKA – Riding With Ghosts

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Bought 05 Jun 2009 – Sensible Bookshop, Hay-on-Wye

Working my way through those Hay purchases! Noticed that most of my TBR was acquired up to and including BookCrossing Unconvention in early July!!

I picked this up because of the publisher, TravellersEye – they do books about "ordinary people" who undertake travels in various places.  Usually good reads.  This was no exception.  Gwen, of unspecified age but with grown up sons and few responsibilities, decides to cycle from Seattle down into Central America (Mexico and south is actually another book entirely).  She wants to go on her own but ends up with a travelling companion for the first part and various friendships and a liaison along the way, none of them entirely successful and all narrated with a characteristic honesty and openness, and an acceptance that her own feelings and attitudes may cause some of the friction.  

Maka is hyper-aware of the Native American history around her.  I was worried about this aspect as I thought it might be mawkish and sentimental, or too supernatural for my liking.  But no; she is aware of the history, the events, the attitudes that modern Americans have; she has read up on the history and presents clear-sighted and sympathetic accounts, and is humble and respectful around the people and the sites.

A very good read, I must admit better than I’d expected.

MICHAEL COLLINS – The Likes of Us: A Biography of the White Working Class

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05 Jun 2009 – Sensible Bookshop, Hay-on-Wye

An excellent book.  Collins takes his family, past and contemporary, as a starting point and constructs a (not "the" – he is clear about this from the start) narrative about their personal histories as representative of the history of the urban white working class.  Centered around the Elephant & Castle, this is strongly about South London, although would have resonances for other inner-city areas.  Waves of middle-class do-gooders (and he is as scathing about slum novelists and missionaries as he is about more modern people bending old ladies into odd shapes in "performance spaces") try to "improve" the area, and most changes, from monolithic housing estates with terrifying walkways, to the contentious but well-handled issue of immigrants from outside the UK, are imposed upon these people from outside, without consultation.  Without condoning racism and fascism, he explains how they can come about, and he mourns with real feeling the communities which have been lost as areas are cleared and people move outside London.  Interesting, melancholic and well-researched, and a good companion to other volumes on London such as Peter Ackroyd’s and Roy Porter’s.

RUSSELL TAYLOR – The Looniness of the Long Distance Runner

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05 Jun 2009 – Sensible Bookshop, Hay-on-Wye

How could I resist this title?!  This is a likeable and amusing story of one man’s struggle to achieve running the New York Marathon.  From his first efforts on the treadmill through to Race The Train and other proper races, he manages to be funny and to capture the feelings of the runner, especially a beginner who is trying to work up to something fairly spectacular.  I liked that, like me, he is not at his best in the first 20 mins of a run (and therefore doesn’t like doing 5ks as they stop before he’s got into his stride) and the bits about the feeling of anticlimax after doing a big race.  One for the runner, I think, who will recognise bits of the experience and smile wryly.  I wonder what the author is doing now.

Half-marathon sponsorship

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Sorry to those also on Facebook who get this twice… I think there are people who aren’t on both though…

Jen and I have a sponsorship page at www.justgiving.com/liz-and-jen-for-lucia where you can sponsor our second try at the Birmingham Half-Marathon.

No compulsion to sponsor us, esp if you’ve already given to the BookCrossing challenge sponsorship page…



KATH KELLY – “How I Lived A Year On Just A Pound A Day”

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Acquired via BookCrossing 08 Sep 2009 – BookRing

What it says on the tin really – the author spends a year trying to only spend up to £1 per day.  This has the feel of one of those blogs-turned-into-a-book, not that there’s anything wrong with this; it gives a book an immediacy and a propulsion through the project.  She’d read "Not Buying It" and had the same issues as me with that book (why maintain 2 households and have expensive haircuts then say you’re not buying anything) and from that point I knew I’d enjoy this book.

The most important thing Kelly does, I think, is *enjoy* her year. As well as not buying stuff, she makes the effort to go and find free stuff to do. So as well as the BookCrossing, Freecycling and Couchsurfing, she goes to concerts, university lectures, taster sessions for various activities, and enjoys them. This does make the book joyful and fun, and it’s not too preachy, even when she finds she does change her views quite considerably.

Like others on this bookring, in a way it’s preaching to the converted. I already BookCross and Freecycle, buy cheaper, non-branded stuff (I won’t buy dented tins though!) and am not keen on consumerism.  But it’s always nice to have your views confirmed, and there are a lot of resources listed in the back of the book that I wasn’t aware of.

A good read, worthy and fun too.

DAVID CRYSTAL – Txtng: the gr8 db8

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From Library

I had fun cataloguing this (had to put a separate catalogue title entry reading "Texting: the great debate"*) and, of course, reading it.  Crystal really is the master of the accessible linguistics book and this was no exception.  His central premise is that there shouldn’t be such a foaming at the gills about "text speak": a) the features included in it have been used for decades in acrostics and other word games, b) the amount of texting that is in "text speak" is actually a very small part of the whole, and c) it is fascinating to see language change as it happens.  He looks at how we use language in texting, differences between ages and genders of texters, and there’s a particularly interesting chapter on the use of text speak in languages other than English.

Great stuff!

* yes, cataloguers out there, I know I didn’t need to do a 246 including the subtitle, but I checked, and I did.

TIM GUEST – My Life In Orange

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Bought 05 Jun 2009 – Sensible Bookshop, Hay-on-Wye

I had read Guest’s book about Second Life a year or so ago and both Matthew and I had wanted to look out for this one, so I was pleased to find it for £1.  A wistful and quite shocking – but not sensationalist – description of growing up in various Bhagwan Rajneesh communes, Guest manages to communicate clearly both the dislocating experience of being a child within the movement and the attractions and consolations it had for the adults.  A section at the end dealing with how he and his mother tried to resolve their issues was interesting and honest.

Quite a sad book, and made more poignant by the fact that Guest actually died a couple of weeks ago, suddenly and unexpectedly.  It made this quite difficult to read at times. 

Matthew’s going to add it to his TBR then I’ll probably offer it on a bookring at some stage as it is interesting and clear-sighted.

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