2020 Six Month Stats

These are my book stats so far for 2020 now we have got to six months through the year. I have read 97 books so far and 25402 pages. My monthly average of books is  16.2. This broke down into these monthly totals:

January – 17

February – 16

March – 16

April – 16

May – 16

June – 16

The split of books read

Male Authors – 66

Female Authors – 31 i.e. 32%

Review Copies  – 43

Library Books – 26

Own Books– 28 (This is already more than last year!)

 

Non-Fiction – 68 – 70%

Fiction – 17 – 17.5%

Poetry – 12 – 12.5%

 

Stars Awarded:

5 Stars – 5 Books
4.5 Stars – 11 Books
4 Stars – 38 Books
3.5 stars – 18 Books
3 stars – 18 Books
2.5 Stars – 4 Books
2 Stars – 2 Books
1.5 stars 0 Books
1 stars – 0 Books

 

Genre

I use a spreadsheet to keep a note of the types and genres of books that I read. There are detailed below:

Travel 23
Poetry 12
Natural History 10
Memoir 9
Fiction 8
Science 7
Fantasy 5
History 4
Science Fiction 4
Psychology 2
Politics 2
Language 2
Miscellaneous 2
Environmental 1
Sport 1
Craft 1
Britain 1
Cricket 1
Humour 1
Reportage 1

 

Publishers

These are the number of books read by each publisher so far:

Eland 6
John Murray 6
Penguin 5
Faber & Faber 5
Canongate 5
Little Toller 4
Granta 4
Jonathan Cape 4
Sandstone Press 3
Fly on the Wall Press 3
Corgi 3
Elliott & Thompson 3
Cinnamon Press 3
Haus Publishing 3
William Collins 3
Bloomsbury 3
Saraband 2
Picador 2
Icon Books 2
Bradt 2
Allen Lane 2
Dey Street 1
Michael Joseph 1
Salt 1
Profile Books 1
Wildings Press 1
Stella Maris 1
The Westbourne Press 1
Headline 1
Fitzcarraldo Editions 1
Headline 1
Little, Brown 1
Sphere 1
Duckworth 1
Hamish Hamilton 1
Seven Dials 1
Myriad Editions 1
The Bodley Head 1
Gollancz 1
Michael O’Mara Books 1
Tor 1
Allen & Unwin 1
4th Estate 1
Inkandescent 1
Influx Press 1

June 2020 Review

Another month has gone by in this year that never ends… And another 16 books read too and I thought it was a really good reading month with lots of variety.

I was kindly sent one of the shortlisted books, Cricket Country, to read for the Wolfson blog tour, run in conjunction with the prize publicity. This book by Prashant Kidambi is about the Indian Cricket Team and is a well researched and detailed account of their early history.

I will admit to having had this in my to-read pile for far too long before picking it up. I am not a big reader of fiction, but The Glass Woman had a certain sort of appeal and I was lucky enough to get a copy sent to me. Set in Iceland, it is a story of a young lady who because of misfortune is betrothed to a man whose previous wife dies in mysterious circumstances. He is very strict and she is forbidden from talking to any of the other villagers. It is very atmospheric and full of dark creepy moments.

The natural world is full of many wonders, but for many people around the world, it has a large spiritual element too. In Wanderland, Jinny Reddy explores various places around the UK with the hope of finding that extra dimension.


My two poetry books this month were new books out from Chris Emery and Edward Ragg. Both very different and I enjoyed both of them very much.

   

Sadly we still live in a world where a vast proportion of the population are still under some form of dictatorship or restricted authoritarian leader. The Dictatorship Syndrome book by Alaa Al Aswany is a considered approach to why this happens and steps we can take to stop this happening.

I have read a number of Steven Johnson’s books in the past and picked this up in the library a while before they closed. It is about the process of making decisions and started off well before fizzling out a little.

Two little chemistry books this month that look at the same subject elements (sorry) in very different ways. The first book looks at 50 elements and some of their history and the second covers all the elements.

   

There were five travel books in this months reading, the first two are by the same author, but set in very different places. In Against a Peacock Sky, Monica Connell is high up in Nepal learning about the people of Talphi. Closer to home, Gathering Carrageen is about time spent on the wild coat of Donegal. She is a beautiful writer. Another travel classic is Roumeli by the immense talent that is Patrick Leigh Fermor. Another very good book about the country that he fell in love with, Greece.

       

The Frayed Atlantic Edge is a book about travel and history and people and place. In this David Gange travels down the western seaboard of our island and experiences all that the Atlantic Ocean throws at him. Though it was really good. This next book is one for my #20BooksOfSummer and #WorldFromMyArmchair Challenge and is a blend of history, travel and biography about the author George Orwell. Really nicely written book.

   

I normally hate football, but my first book of the month is a book about football, Unseen Academicals. But is it Terry Pratchett who manages to make this so much more than the beautiful game (it isn’t, that is cricket…) and does it with wonderfully wry humour about the human condition. My second book of the month is Greenery, the latest book from the writing genius that is Tim Dee. He is following the swallows from South Africa north into Europe, but there is so much more to this. Like all of his others, it is magnificent.

     

Have you read any of these?

 

Now you have seen them, is there any that you want to read now?

 

Let me know in the comments below.

The Frayed Atlantic Edge by David Gange

4.5 out of 5 stars

The Atlantic Ocean has shaped us as an island nation as much as the North Sea did. As the petrel flies there are 800 miles between the tip of Cornwall to the very northern point of Shetland, Out Stack. This coast though is not straight by any means, as that short distance of our planet is a complex blend of beaches, cliffs, inlets, coves caves, headlands and makeup around 10,000 miles of staggeringly beautiful coastline.

The communities that face this mighty ocean rely on it for income and livelihoods and have grown used to its changing moods from balmy summer days to the fiercest winter storms that pummel the coast. The best way to explore these places is on the water and that is exactly what the historian and nature writer David Gange sets out to do over the course of a year. He wasn’t there to just to paddle it over the shortest routes, rather he wanted to experience the coastlines, feel the swell of the Atlantic, explore the towns and villages along the shore and soak up some of the histories along the way.

Being that close to the sea all day paddling slowly past and sleeping wild on the shore means that Gange develops an intimacy with these places that he passes, so much so that he starts to become one with nature. He sees countless seabirds, giant basking sharks, countless seals and watches otters from his kayak many times. As well as the swell that comes of this ocean, he occasionally feels the full power of the Atlantic storms as they hit the coastline. Where this really works for me as a book though is the in-depth knowledge of the history of places that he writes about as he passes them.

His journey begins in Shetland just as spring turns to summer. He sits watching the sun gleam off the back of fulmars as it barely dips below the horizon. Three hours later he is awake and being watched by a skua. He first journey is across the water to Out Stack with the North Sea on his right, turning left he is going to be at the mercy of the Atlantic now. It is not a constant journey, rather fitted in via work and other commitments, so his next journey is past the Islands of Orkney in late summer. It is here too that he starts to see the power of the ocean, taking photographs of waves that would warm a surfers heart.

Later September finds him in the Western Isles as he paddles down from the Butt of Lewis to Barra Head, stopping in at Taobh Tuath to get a feel for the history of Lewis. The journey from Balnakiel to Ullapool take him past the magnificently named Cape Wrath and onto the mainland of Scotland for the first time. December’s forecast had promised storms, so the journey headed inland for the first time, heading from mountain to Bothy whilst savouring the wildness of the landscape. The New Year finds him paddling around the beautiful Isle of Skye. This was much more geared to the tourist than he had so far been used to, and the weather was beginning to worsen. It wasn’t until Gange got to Argyll and Ulster that it fully turned and he was hit with snow.

It takes two separate journeys to paddle the West Coast of Ireland and it is here that he considers just how much we rely of the sea to provide for us as a species and just how little with know about the secrets of the deep. The next journey is technically in the Irish Sea, but going from Bardsey to the Bristol Channel is still facing the Atlantic, before returning to the ocean for the last stretch along the Cornish coast.

I really enjoyed this book about our Western seaboard. Gange’s writing doesn’t feel that you are jumping from one subject to another, rather he has has a way of neatly wrapping the layers of history, natural history and travel up in his prose. It also shows that history and life do happen outside the south-east and London and always has done. It doesn’t feel rushed either, the important thing about this book is the places he passes on his journey. Time spent Life at the pace of a kayak means he can absorb the seascape and mull things over as he bobs about. This book has the best maps I have ever seen in a travel book. Why can’t every travel book have them this well produced? Glad to see some photos in the book, but there are a lot more of his journey here.

Emperors, Admirals and Chimney Sweepers by Peter Marren

4.5 out of 5 stars

If you were to stop someone in the street and ask them to name three butterflies then you would probably get Cabbage White and Red Admiral before they’d be struggling to name a third. There are some people that know more, but there are not many people who would be able to name a large proportion or even all of the 59 species that we have in the UK. It is the same with moths, they are attracted to your lights at night, but which of the 2500 species could it be?

And where did these beautiful insects get their names unusual and creative names from? Well if you go back to several hundred years you’d find the first butterflies appearing in print in Theatrem Insectorum by Thomas Moffat. Even though he was the author, the majority of the work has been completed by Edward Wotton and Thomas Penny, by Penny had died and passed the manuscript to Moffat. It finally appeared in English in 1658 and in the 241 pages dedicated to insects or lesser living creatures. The woodcut drawings within didn’t help the identification, but the watercolour paintings that inspired the woodcuts made the identification of the species very easy. But they still didn’t have any names.

They did start to appear about a century later in a book by Petiver. He was the first to use words like fritillary, and argus. Many of his names have faded from memory now, but his Brown Meadow eye is now called as the Meadow Brown, and his Admiral is now known as the Red Admiral. Interest in these insects grew when artists started to paint accurate images of them. Maria Sibylla Merian portrayal of butterflies was so good that she was described as the godmother of modern scientific illustration, thankfully they have included some examples of her work.

In the first part of the 1700s, the Aurelian society was formed. The membership of this group was a collection of artists, merchants, poets, and unusually for the time, even took in member from what were considered the lower classes. It was a little while after the Linnaeus started to apply his newly invented naming system and spilt them into five groups,  which were used for a fair time until the Victorians made the study of insects, or entomology, a thing.

The second part of the book is a very detailed A to Z of the weird and wonderful names of butterflies and moths. There are short essays on how names have been inspired by things as diverse as carpets, hair, architecture, Manchester, spices and even something called wainscots. This is where the real detail is as Marren teases out the reasoning behind the names that these ornamental insects have ended up with, for example how the goat moth got its name, the original name for the deaths head moth and how many are named after thieves.

This is the first of Little Toller’s field guides, and if this is anything to go by then it is going to an excellent series. It is beautifully produced, as with all their books and Marren’s writing as he flits from fact to fact, just like a butterfly, is both informative and captivating without feeling academical, But you know it is backed up by solid research. If there was one thing, not a flaw, just a preference, I would have liked a few more colour plates as some of these creatures are magnificent.

 

Three Favourite Butterfly Names

Lulworth Skipper

Brimstone

Clouded Yellow

 

Three Favourite Moth Names

Dark Arches

Cinnabar Moth

Transparent Clearwing

July 2020 TBR

This month is mostly going to be travelling the world via books, so here is my TBR for July:

 

Finishing Off (Still!)

Vickery’s Folk Flora – Roy Vickery

Hollow Places – Christopher Hadley

Lotharingia – Simon Winder

 

Blog Tours

None!

 

Review Copies

Thank you to the publishers (and one author) that have sent me these review copies:

Tall Trees Short Stories – Gabriel Hemery

Rock Pool – Heather Buttivant

Into The Tangled Bank – Lev Parikian

American Dirt – Jeanie Cummins (still wavering on this one a little with all the publicity about this)

The Many Lives of Carbon – Dag Olav Hessen, Tr. Kerri Pierce

The Maths Of Life And Death – Kit Yates

So You Think You’ve Got Problems? – Alex Bellos

The Story of Codes – Stephen Pincock, Mark Frary

Fibonacci’s Rabbits – Adam Hart-Davis

 

Library Books

Read hardly any library books in June, so still aiming to read these:

Lone Rider – Elspeth Beard

Sea People – Christina Thompson

The Way To The Sea – Caroline Crampton

A Beginner’s Guide To Japan – Pico Iyer

Pie Fidelity – Pete Brown

The Bells of Old Tokyo – Anna Sherman

 

Challenge Books

As well as a dusty shelf challenge that I am running on Good Reads, I am joining in with #20BooksOfSummer run by Cathy at 746 books.

The Way Of The World – Nicolas Bouvier, Translated By Robyn Marsack

Warriors – Gerald Hanley

Bitter Lemons of Cyprus – Lawrence Durrell

Jungle – Yossi Ghinsberg

Mirror to Damascus – Colin Thubron

From Rome to San Marino – Oliver Knox

Among Muslims – Kathleen Jamie

Naples 44 – Norman Lewis

 

Own Books

Water and Sky – Neil Sentance

Ridge and Furrow – Neil Sentance

 

Poetry

Flèche – Mary Jean Chan

Reckless Paper Bird – John McCullough

 

Science Fiction

Didn’t read any last month (again!!!) so this is still on the list:

One Way – S.J. Morden

 

Depth Charge by Chris Emery

3 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the author in return for an honest review.

This is Chris Emery’s first collection since Departure and he has a variety of themes from the natural world to the contrast of modern life on the part of the country that he lives in. His poems on the natural world are about the bittern, seals and snowdrops and his poems on the region concern the way that the place has changed as the years past.

To stand and see beyond motionless blackthorn
The sweet chestnuts sweeping our silent blue,
The far gold hills, a single jay
A single buzzard blithely turning where
I will ask you to forget this white hour

Even though it is very short, there are only ten poems in here, Emery has a rich imagination. His form changes in each poem moving from the longer style to a shorter style add to the interest. That along with the imagery that he can conjure with the words adds to the charm of this collection.

Depth Charge has been privately published in a limited edition of 100 signed and numbered copies. It may be purchased from the author here

The Glass Woman by Caroline Lea

4 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Rosa always dreamt of a simple life staying close to her parents in their village in Iceland but circumstances in 1686 can and do change very rapidly. Before she knows it she is swapped for a dowry and is to be married to the trader, Jón Eiríksson. She knows that she is going to be missing her Mamma and her childhood friend Pall, and she knows all the rumours about him burying his wife in the middle of the night.

Jón ‘s friend, Pétur, who is thought to be some kind of changeling or part demon by others, takes her to the remote village of Stykkishólmur where she is to join her new husband in his croft. It is a bleak and unsettling place, she can feel the evil in the landscape. He gives her a glass figurine on a necklace and a list of instructions that forbid her from talking and mixing with the other people in the nearby village and commands her to remain in the croft. The villagers are wary of outsiders and given Jon’s history, thy do not trust him.

It is a lonely life there as Jón and Pétur are often working in the fields or our fishing and she has been expressly told that she is not to mix or talk to the villagers. Jón barely talks to her too, only to bark commands and instructions to her. Their croft is unusual as it has a loft, but this is locked and she is told that she is never to enter. The thought of what went on up there with his previous wife, Anna, sends shivers down her spine. This unease turns to terror when she starts hearing noises from there. Not having anyone to comfort her, she begins to surreptitiously talk to her neighbours and it dawns on her that the rumours about her husband may well be true.

Far from home and very alone, it feels like the darkness is closing in on her and she fears that she may be her husbands next victim…

I don’t read that much historical fiction preferring to get my history from facts normally, but I do like to read the odd one now and again. This is the first of Lea’s book that I have read, and I must say that I quite liked this. She has managed to pitch it such that the dark, brooding and atmospheric coastal village feels authentic. On top of that, she has made the very atmospheric and at times really creepy. Plot-wise it isn’t too bad either, there are layers of meaning that unpeel as you go through the story. The Christian faith is present on the island and whilst its influence is strong, however, I liked the fact that the Viking and Icelandic folklore have been neatly woven into the plot, the old Gods showing that they still have power over the people. If there was one small flaw, I would have liked a little more of the landscape to shape the style of the book, as Ben Myers does with his stories. It has a stunning cover too.

Lands Of Lost Borders by Kate Harris

3.5 out of 5 stars

 

As a child, Kate Harris wanted to be an explorer, to discover parts of the world that had not been seen by any human. It was as a teenage though that she realised that this dream was almost impossible as almost everywhere had been mapped and explored. As our planet had been so extensively explored, she decided to become a scientist and follow her dreams and explore Mars.

The appeal of seeing some of this planet first grew on her after trips to Italy and hearing the Dali Lama talk. Reading about the Himalaya’s brought out the desire to travel even more and decided to write her thesis about the Siachen Glacier. Knowing that a good result in this would mean she could qualify for her doctorate that she wanted to do, she poured her heart and soul into the work but feared for her marks after a conversation with her tutor. MIT beckoned… Her new tutor was not that keen on fieldwork, preferring to work in the lab, so she was dispatched to Yellowstone with some others. But all the time she was there, the silk road beckoned, and one day she decided that she wanted to cycle along it again.

Departing from Istanbul with her friend, Mel, they hear a young lad tell them not to crash. They choose to ignore him, preferring to savour the smell of the spices in the bazaar and head to the boat to cross the Bosporus where a chance meeting with a really old school friend means they miss their stop. Quickly resolved, they climb onto their bikes and set off. Turkey was a bit of a mixed bag, lovely people and food, but dirty and busy roads tarnished their opinion of it.

Passing from Turkey into the countries of the Caucasus is a reminder that this is an unsettled region and often subject to closed borders and warring enclaves. It is a change they can feel too, as they go from paved road to a cratered and potholed road and their speed drops accordingly. As they pass through Tbilisi in early March, the winter is just starting to lose its grip, trees were just showing the first buds and the light increased day by day.

They couldn’t cycle all parts of the journey, various sections were passed in trains or other transport, but they relish the time that they spend cycling, moving in the early morning to avoid the heat of the desert, deciding that they are too tired to wave at every driver that passes and trying to find somewhere to camp on the Tajikistan and Afghanistan border.  The thing that they still don’t know is if they will be able to ride up onto the Tibetan Plateau to be able to complete their journey.

Our bicycles cast long cool shadows that grew and shrank with the desert’s rise and fall, its contours so subtle that we needed those shadows to see them. The severity of the land, the softness of the light – where opposites meet is magic.

Harris is not a bad writer and I thought this was a reasonable book overall. Sit feel like she is an observer of the people that she meets rather than fully engaging with them. There are lots of lovely little details and descriptions of the towns and villages they pass through. It was a shame that they couldn’t complete the whole journey by bicycle, but other factors made that almost impossible. Just didn’t have that extra something to lift this though.

Farsighted by Steven Johnson

3 out of 5 stars

Life is full of decisions; they can be a low impact as to what to eat, which route to take around a town or whether to buy a particular book or not. Other decisions have a much greater impact on our lives, the partner that you want to spend more time within the long term, the place that you choose to live or the path that you take in a career.

We are supposedly living in the age of the shortest attention span, not even being able to read the 280 characters from a tweet before the next notification attracts our attention. Other books have been written on the best way to make that instant decision when presented with the scantest of facts. But in this book Johnson wants us to change the way that we make decisions using a more deliberative decision-making approach.

  1. Mapping
  2. Predicting
  3. Deciding

He argues that this multi-dimension way of thinking about all the factors in a decision helps us make a better decision. He uses various real-life cases to explain the show the methodology behind it, including influence diagrams for the mapping stage to comprehend all of the factors about making a decision.

People who have deemed themselves super-forecasters have been shown to be no better than a primate with a dartboard when their predictions are assessed against their results and in predicting he explains the methods of ensuring that the decision is correct by contemplating all manner of possibilities.

The end result of that is then having to make a decision based on all the information provided. Not easy for very complex problems, but the tools like cost-benefit analysis and weighting assist with this part of the process.

You’d like to think that we as a species would be a better place to do this, but sadly we’re not. Vested interests often ensure that the decision process is skewed or flawed from the very beginning. Also having more diverse teams selected from people with a variety of experience and knowledge and give them the tools to challenge conventional thoughts will produce much better results than similar minded people.

I hadn’t read much about the Bin Laden takedown, so it was fascinating to read the level and layers of detail that went into the investigation of the site he was staying at and the suite of methods that they had at their disposal to accomplish the mission. In theory, then you will have come to a better decision if you follow these principles. Organisations with red teams provide the proverbial spanner in the works, also improve this by testing the resilience of the decisions that are being made. The bottom line is though that people make better decisions by planning in much more detail. Not just what you are intending to do, but the various possibilities could be and what the short and long term implications are.

I thought that it was an interesting book about a subject that we seem the fallout and failure from every day. I would have liked to have had more on the Marine Corps Planning Process that is mentioned in the book, and I’ve not read Middlemarch, so some of what he was describing about the fiction of George Elliot, and how it helped with decision making wasn’t relevant to me. However, I don’t think that this is his best work, my favourite of his Everything Bad is Good For You. has a much superior premise and narrative. That said, he is a good writer and I always find his books entertaining and informative and this was no different.

The Brief Life of Flowers by Fiona Stafford

4 out of 5 stars

My other half is a gardener and out front and back gardens are full of flowers in amongst the fruit trees, it does make sitting in the garden quite nice, and even when I’m in the office, the view out the front window is a sight to behold. Flowers are the beautiful and occasionally garish parts of a plant that are primarily evolved to attract an insect or bird to aid pollination. For some people, they are an irrelevant part of their lives, but their impact has permeated our culture in many ways.

Fiona Stafford has had a lifetime of enjoying flowers, from the gaudy red and yellow snapdragons, soft mounds of aubretia gladioli spikes and a huge rambling clematis, that made her childhood summers. Every time they moved her mother would begin to garden once again in the new property. The way flowers permeated her life is reflected in wider society, the loss of a loved one is often marked by flowers by the roadside, a couple on their wedding day have some sort of spray to hold and poppies are worn to remember those lost in wars long gone.

In this book, Stafford has selected fifteen flower species that are significant to her in one way or another. Beginning with the first of the late winter flowers, the snowdrop, that for me is the first hint that the world is still turning and spring is coming, she moves through the other flowers, such as daffodils, foxgloves and thistles as they appear in the year.

For each flower she has chosen there is a little potted history of each mixed with some personal memories and a little folklore and cultural and contemporary anecdotes mixed in. She talks about some of my favourites, bluebells, roses and lavender and ends on that most elusive of plants the ghost orchid.

I think overall I preferred this to her first book, the Long Long Life of Trees. Good as that was, this had the edge in a couple of ways. First her passion for her subject is very evident in the prose and secondly her writing as she deftly weaves between contemporary and historical anecdotes about her subject plants is a pleasure to read.

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