SIMON GARFIELD – Just My Type: A Book About Fonts

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12 Jan 2011

An excellent gallimaufry of information about typefaces, their history, development, variations, etc., with interstitial chapters on particular fonts or families of fonts.  I did like that it ended with Calibri, a font of which I’ve become fond.  Only one (bizarre) proofing error spotted in the whole book.  Entertaining and informative – I can’t really find anything else to say about it, but it was a good read!

MURRAY GUNN – Dragon Bones

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Library Thing Early Reviewers’ Programme – arrived 05 July 2011

Two years in Bhutan described by an Australian man, with a mix of life there as a rare Westerner and the effects of and on his rather hasty marriage to a French aid worker that allows him to be with her and stay in the country.  Interesting and honest, although short, and the sections were a little abrupt and disjointed.  I’d have liked a bit more detail and context (this is because it was a good read and I wanted more!), as well as some photographs or drawings and amybe a what happened next section for all of the characters we meet.  I found very few typos in this small press offering, by the way, which was refreshing. 

This book would appeal to people who like reading about exactly what it’s like to live in a new country, or a particular country, as well as those interested in aid and development.  The story of the marriage adds an extra dimension which means it would attract people who are more interested in human interest and relationships.

LUCY WADHAM – The Secret Life of France

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Acquired via BookCrossing – picked up at the Kitchen Garden Cafe, 30 Jan 2011

Interesting member of the English-in-France genre, taking a more serious, socio-political viewpoint than many (although still funny and talking a lot about gender relations etc. as well as racism, war and geopolitics!) and involving the author’s own story only really as a framing device and to illustrate one of her points. Very interesting on racism and attitudes to WWII and the role of the French in their own fates at that time. 

THOMAS HARDY – Desperate Remedies

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Kindle – Hardy Collection

His first book, and so first in Ali’s reading challenge book group reads.  A real pot-boiler with hidden wives and lost letters, reminiscent of "The Woman in White" and the racier Francis Brett Youngs, and with distinct touches of the Gothic.  But it does also iinclude some lovely descriptive and nature writing that we’ll see blossom later on.

ANNE FINE – In Cold Domain

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Acquired via BookCrossing 21 Jan 2011 – BookCrossing-registered birthday gift from Geoff

Interesting and amusing novella about a seriously dysfunctional family that requires outsiders to fix its glaring problems. Rather reminiscent of "The Steep Approach To Garbadale" in the portrayal of tangled family relationships. The plot is a bit far-fetched and some viewpoint shifts are a bit clunky, but perceptive and wry on the whole. A very quick read, perfect for a holiday read!


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A notorious book that’s been going the rounds around bookgroups – what happens if someone slaps someone else’s child at a barbeque?  The repercussions of this event reverberate through a friendship/kinship group which represents a handily wide range of Australian ethnicities and experiences.  So far so good, but unfortunately, although it’s written from 8 different viewpoints, the narrative voices of all but the Greek grandfather (and perhaps the last teenager) are too undifferentiated, and the narratives are full of swearing (which I don’t mind, although some will – but the same way of swearing for all these different people?) and rather tedious and misogynistic sex scenes, which I have to admit did put me off a bit.

Happy Birthday, Iris Murdoch

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A quick post to highlight Iris Murdoch’s birthday – she would have been 92 today.  There’s been a little celebration on Twitter, with the hashtag #IrisMurdochDay during which we’ve voted for our favourite novel and tried to summarise some of the novels in only 140 characters.  A donation page has been set up to give some funding to the Alzheimer’s Home where Iris spent her last weeks, and Open Road Media, who have put up some lovely information and e-books pertaining to Iris, have posted a video tribute to Iris.

More information on my Iris Murdoch research project can be found here and here.


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12 Jan 2011

This book, fairly slender in appearance, really hinges on just two ideas: so-called genius rests on hours of hard work and opportunity, not just innate ability, and we are all products of our cultural heritage.  Fair enough, and Gladwell does have an ability to state the fairly obvious in a fluent and interesting way: the examples are as good as ever (but the plane crash one goes on a bit).  But it’s basically too slender (and not tightly connected) a pair of ideas to make into a full and satisfying book.  I still prefer his "Tipping Point" although I’m glad I’ve finally read this.

JEAN ESTORIL – Ballet for Drina

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Acquired via BookCrossing 26 Oct 2011 – from Sorcha

A charming children’s book, beautifully informed by the world of ballet stories that came before it, about Drina and her yearning to learn to dance.  Lessons are learned by children and adults alike in this lovely and atmospheric read – I will look out for others in the series.

Iris Murdoch project update – July 2011


I thought it was about time for another update on how my Iris Murdoch and Book Groups project is going.   For those who don’t know about it, there’s a page here on my website explaining the background, and I’ve done a series of posts about how it’s all going, which you can find in the Iris Murdoch category.

I’m really pleased with progress so far.  29 groups have agreed to take part so far – mainly reading groups but also a couple of classes of students who are studying the book, with their tutors reporting back to me.  I’ve sent out 24 questionnaires so far and had 9 sets of responses back – several of the groups who still have questionnaires to answer have either read the book very recently or wanted to have the questionnaires in advance, so I’m confident I’ll get many more of them back before the end.  And I’ve had a little spate of groups wanting to join recently, as word continues to spread (people are reading the book up to January 2012 so do get in touch if you’d like to join in before then). Thanks to everyone who has told people about the project – including the Iris Murdoch Society itself!

I have to wait until all the questionnaires are in before I can really go through and pick out themes, etc. – but I have read every word of every one of them as they’ve come in, and they’re great – really detailed, with lots of interesting responses.  And I’ve been spending the waiting time learning how to “code up” responses to questionnaires that collect qualitative, rather than quantitative responses (or words rather than numbers, if you prefer).

My own reading group has come to the end of our chronological read of Iris Murdoch’s novels – a very bittersweet experience as we tackled “Jackson’s Dilemma”, which I certainly wasn’t looking forward to. But we managed it … and now we’ve all got to fill in the other half of my questionnaire and provide the material to finish off my case study! Thank you again to all the participants of that group for their input through the years of reading, and now, for their help with my case study.

So – part way through, still as enthusiastic about the books and the research project.  Oh, yes – and I’m going to re-read “The Bell” myself this summer, too …

Do get in touch if you’d like to take part in the project – pop a comment to this post including your email address in the contact information (this won’t show to anyone else) and I’ll drop you a line with more details.