Author: Paul (Page 1 of 107)

Soho by Richard Scott

2.5 out of 5 stars

Poetry is often about intimacy, those moments with someone else that will always remain a secret between the people concerned. In this shortlisted collection, Scott is prepared to reveal some of those secrets from his life in this very graphic portrait of gay love. Some of these poems are extremely explicit and his prose feels raw, but they are written by drawing from a deep vein of experience and emotion.

the moon bleeds 

light onto the black ash

every branch

in this dismal canopy

rasps indifference

In these very personal poems, run themes of love and sex and it is these encounters, some of which are occasionally disturbing, that have formed his character. I can’t say the subject matter was particularly to my taste, very much not my usual reading material. However, I do need to read out of my comfort zones every now and again. My favourite poem was health and for me, this showed the potential that Scott has as a poet and the power of his language to explore almost any other subjects though his poems.

May 2020 Review

May has come and gone, and we’re already into June. It seems to drag, but also passed really quickly in other ways. It was an interesting reading month too with a wide variety of books being read too. And here they all are:

 

The art and craft of stone masonry has always fascinated me and in the lovely book, Andrew Ziminski takes us through the stone monuments and buildings from the Neolitic period right up to the present day. Really enjoyable reading

 

   

Two very different fiction books this month, A Tall History of Sugar was set in Jamaica and England and is the story of a boy and man who never really fitted in either place. Didn’t really get along with this one.  I did like A Good Neighbourhood though which is a story of conflict between neighbours over a newly built home and the damage it caused to a tree. As the parents argue, they don’t notice their children are falling in love

 

I love books about language and The Cabinet of Calm by Paul Anthony Jones is a book of words that he has found to offer us comfort in these difficult times. Fascinating, as ever, from this word master.

 

I had read one of Nicholas Royle ‘s novels before, which I liked but didn’t love. I was offered his new book, Mother: A Memoir and found it to be a touching portrait of a proud lady. Well worth reading if you want to read a book about life in the 1960s

 

     

I read four natural history books this month, the first of which, The Birds They Sang is a wonderful book by the Polish author Stanisław Łubieński about his love for our avian friends. Paul Evan is a quality author and his first book for the Little Toller Monograph series, Herbaceous is a series of experimental essays on plants

 

   

Even those people who don’t like insects tend to like butterflies. The convoluted way that they got their names is explored in Peter Marren’s book, Emperors, Admirals and Chimney Sweepers. Beautifully produced and a wonderful read. Another plant book, The Brief Life Of Flowers by Fiona Stafford is the follow up to her book on trees. Small potted histories on a variety of different flowers.

 

     

Still managing to read two poetry books each month. I have only read Paul Farley’s non-fiction and was fortunate to win a copy of this. The Mizzy was the first of his collections that I have read, it is a contemporary take on the natural world and I can thoroughly recommend it. Poetry and photography is a powerful combination and Simon Corble has done a grand job of showing the landscape he loves in White Light White Peak.

 

Ignoring nasty things that happen to other people seems to be a thing at the moment! In The Bystander Effect, Catherine Sanderson considers just why we as humans we choose to walk on by, and discusses strategies for dealing with it better. Interesting reading.

 

          

The Silk Road is legendary now for the trade and ideas that flowed back and forth along it. Kate Harris and her friend decide that they want to cycle the route and experience the places and people. Not too bad a book overall, but didn’t have that extra something to make it a great travel book.

Being stuck on an island in the south Pacific has quite a lot of appeal at the moment. This travel classic by Eland, The Book of Puka-Puka is the story of Robert Dean Frisbiefalling in love with the island where he set up a trading post. Great insight into the people who acknowledged the external Christain Western influence, but never fully accepted it. Another by Eland is Mortiz Thomsen’s book written after he had been devoted off his farm in Ecuador and took a boat ride up the Amazon. he is quite introspective as a writer as he relives most of the pain of his life.

 

My book of the month is written by the youngest author I have ever read a book by.  – Dara McAnulty began this at the age of 14 and it was published last week a couple of months after his 16th birthday. He is autistic and is equally passionate and besotted about the natural world, life can be tough at times for him with bullying and the general nastiness of kids, bu wandering along a beach or finding insects in a field give him the peace and solace he needs to cope with the modern world. This is his story so far and he has a lot more to tell.

Mother: A Memoir by Nicholas Royle

4 out of 5 stars

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

Families have a way of generating their own traditions and occasionally legends and Nicholas Royle’s family is no exception. His parents were introduced by a man called Peter Townend. He had been social editor of the Tatler and was far more used to moving in much elevated circles in British society. Royle’s father worked for him at Burkes Peerage and he was responsible for introducing Maxwell Royle and Kathleen McAdam. He still has no idea to this day how Townend knew his mother.

Kathleen was Scottish and Maxwell was English and they had fairly comfortable upbringings and their relationship blossomed and they were soon married and before long had two sons, Nicholas and Simon. Kathleen worked as a nurse before the boys were born and carried on after they had arrived. They were a comfortable post-war middle-class family and the boys were allowed a certain amount of freedom that other children weren’t necessarily afforded.

This book by Royle is his kaleidoscope of memories of her and family life in short essays. We read of her sitting in the kitchen doing a Times or Telegraph crossword, the tidy house that was so very different to his cousins home. The brothers would spend hours wandering the countryside, birdwatching and searching for dead animals joy of the family Sunday roast. She would read voraciously, a habit and pleasure that she passed onto Royle, but she could be utterly scathing about the books that she didn’t like, dismissing one classic as drivel!

But in amongst all the happy times were moments of tragedy, he lost his brother to cancer when he was in his twenties, and you can sense that every time he talks about him, that it is still raw even now. The book opens too with Kathleen saying that she ‘is losing her marbles’ and he effectively lost her twice, once to dementia and finally when she passed.

I really enjoyed this as it is a touching book about a normal family growing up in a time that seems to be in a different world to today’s relentless pace of life. I liked that these fragments of his memories did not fit a regular timeline, it felt like someone sifting through a box of photos and the snap found would trigger the memories of a favourite holiday, reminders about other members of the wider family or the time when his brother kept raptors and his father working at Burkes Peerage. A detail mentioned in an earlier essay is expanded on in another before being concluded in yet another. He does not try to make you like her, rather he presents her to us just as she was and tells us he loved her then and still does now.

The Saddest Pleasure by Moritz Thomsen

4 out of 5 stars

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

Mortiz had not really had the easiest of upbringings, he had a tumultuous relationship with his tyrannical and extremely wealthy father, he saw combat in World War Two serving as a bombardier, farmed in California and at the age of 44 volunteered to join the Peace Corps and went to Ecuador where he was an agricultural expert in the small fishing town of Green River. He left the Corps after four years but was to remain in the country for 35 years.

He bought a farm with a man called Ramon which was hard manual work scratching a living out of the land and dealing with neighbours who would use his land as their own. In his early sixties Ramon expelled him from the farm and he was at a loss as to what to do. He decides to indulge in what is called the saddest of pleasures – travel – and decides to take a trip to Brazil and voyage up the mighty Amazon River.

However, there is much more depth to this that of his journey, that is almost an aside to his forensic examination of his past life as he relives the pain of the battles that he had with his father, who considered him a communist and refused to fund him in his ventures. He spends time considering his time spent on the farm and the relationship he had with Ramon and the way that it deteriorated up until the crux point. He is reflective and angry, considering a lot of what he has done in his life has been a failure.

He has a piercing gaze at the things that he sees on his travels, the injustice against the Amazonian Indians as the modern world squeezes their lands in the search for resources, the whores who are waiting for customers and those that are trying to make a life out of the scant luck that life has thrown at them.

Standing on the deck I wait in the darkness for the first light. It comes slowly, leaking weakly out of the east as though there were not enough light pouring in from below the horizon to fill the immense sky and the dimly felt, flat land below it, half underwater and flowing away on every side in a staggering monotony.

I must admit it is not the most cheerful of travel books, he is quite introspective and frankly can be quite depressing at times. However can forgive him for that, as he is an excellent writer, something that he struggled with as he never even considered himself a writer. His descriptions of the tiny details from other peoples lives as he observes them, a man inspecting a mango that has just fallen from a tree or watching two fishermen in a small boat showing their mastery of the river and driving through garua in the dark. Personally I would have liked more on his travels in Brazil as he is such a perceptive and intense writer.

Twenty Books Of Summer Challenge

It is almost summer, and it feels like it with rising temperatures and almost a drought, so it must be time for this challenge once again. Run by Cathy at 746 Books, it is a challenge for blogger and anyone else to try and read through 20 books that are on their TBR. Last year when I took part, I had a few themes for the books that I was reading for it, Wainwright Prize,  water, mountains and Sicily and the odd travel book included. I managed to read 18 in the end, which is close but oh so annoying!

This year I am going to link it to another very long term personal challenge that I have been doing called, The World From My Armchair. The intention is to read a non-fiction travel book from every country in the world. There is more about it here and follow the hashtag on Twitter:  #WorldFromMyArmChair . I also chose travel because of the times we are living in, we had been aiming to go on holiday in August with four other families and it is not going to happen. The world that had been open to all that could is now closed as countries deal with the pandemic. Thankfully we can travel all around the globe from the comfort of our homes. So here is my list of books that I am intending (and hoping) to read:

Bangkok – Alec Waugh

In Bangkok, Alec Waugh has created the most fluent, truthful and affectionate portrait not only of the city, but also of the dynasty and culture which created it. Cutting through confusion and veiled mystery, he unravels the plots, coups, wars, assassinations, invasions and countercoups of three hundred years of history as if they were this evening’s street gossip. This loving description of the genius, fascination and enduring vitality of Thailand is told with Waugh’s customary delight in life and sensual appreciation. The story is brought up-to-date with an afterword by Bruce Palling, former Times correspondent in Thailand.

 

 

 

 

 

The Way of the World – Nicolas Bouvier and Translated by Robyn Marsack

A cult classic, The Way of the World is one of the most beguiling travel books ever written. Reborn from the ashes of a Pakistani rubbish heap, it tells of a friendship between a writer and an artist, forged on an impecunious, life-enhancing journey from Serbia to Afghanistan in the 1950s. On one level it is a candid description of a road journey, on another a meditation on travel as a journey towards the self, all written by a sage with a golden pen and a wide, infectious smile. It is published here for the first time in English with the Vernet drawings which are such a dynamic part of its whole.

 

 

 

 

 

Warriors – Gerald Hanley

Somalia is one of the world’s most desolate, sun-scorched lands, inhabited by independent-minded and fierce tribesmen. It was here that Gerald Hanley spent the Second World War, charged with preventing bloodshed between feuding tribes at a remote outstation. Rations were scarce, pay infrequent and his detachment of native soldiers near-mutinous.
In these extreme conditions seven British officers committed suicide, but Hanley describes the period as ‘the most valuable time’ of his life. He comes to understand the Somalis’ love of fighting and to admire their contempt for death. ‘Of all the races of Africa,’ he says, ‘there cannot be one better to live among than the most difficult, the proudest, the bravest, the vainest, the most merciless, the friendliest: the Somalis’.

 

 

 

 

Living Poor – Moritz Thomsen

At the age of 48, Moritz Thomsen sold his pig farm in California and joined the Peace Corps. For the next four years he lived in an impoverished village on the coast of Ecuador; its inhabitants were so poor that six chickens represented wealth, and cigarettes were bought one at a time, on credit. Thomsen discovered how difficult it was for an outsider to help, and most of his attempts were a mixture of tragedy and farce. This did not prevent him from entering into the hearts and minds of an alien people, becoming ‘just another person in a poor village, working out my own problems and frustrations, making friends and enemies like one more citizen of the town.’

 

 

 

 

 

Against a Peacock Sky – Monica Connell

For two years in the early 1980s Monica Connell lived as a paying guest of Kalchu and Chola in the Nepalese Himalayan village of Talphi. Gradually she was accepted as a member of the family, sharing its joys and sorrows as well as taking part in its various tasks from mud-plastering the house to rice planting in the terraced fields. The village, in the remote Jumla region of western Nepal, was ten days walk from the nearest road, and its only contact with the outside world was through trading expeditions: north to Tibet for salt, and south to the Indian border for cotton and metalware.

 

 

 

 

 

A Dragon Apparent – Norman Lewis

Travelling through Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in the twilight of the French colonial regime, Norman Lewis witnessed these ancient civilisations as they were before the terrible devastation of the Vietnam war. He creates a portrait of traditional societies struggling to retain their integrity in the embrace of the West. He meets emperors and slaves, brutal plantation owners and sympathetic French officers trapped by the economic imperatives of the colonial experiment.
From tribal animists to Viet-Minh guerrillas, he witnesses this heart-breaking struggle over and over, leaving a vital portrait of a society on the brink of catastrophic change.

 

 

 

 

 

Slow Train to Guantanamo – Peter Millar

Modern-day Cuba. Disabled by an American blockade, with a Communist system that has delivered atrocious standards of living, Cuba looks and feels like a nation at the end of a long, hard war.
Award-winning journalist Peter Millar jumps aboard a railway system that was once the pride of Latin America – and is now a crippled casualty case – to undertake a railway odyssey the length of Cuba in the dying days of the Castro regime. Starting in the ramshackle but romantic capital of Havana, once dominated by the US mafia, he travels with ordinary Cubans, sharing anecdotes, life stories and political opinions, to the far end of the island, where it meets a more modern blot on American history, the Guantanamo naval base and detention camp. Millar may not have all the answers but he asks the right questions on an anarchic entertaining and often comic adventure.
This is a journey everyone will want to read about – but no one in their right mind would want to follow!

 

 

 

Bitter Lemons of Cyprus – Lawrence Durrell

Bitter Lemons of Cyprus is Lawrence Durrell’s unique account of his time in Cyprus, during the 1950s Enosis movement for freedom of the island from British colonial rule. Winner of the Duff Cooper Memorial Prize, it is a document at once personal, poetic and subtly political – a masterly combination of travelogue, memoir and treatise.
‘He writes as an artist, as well as a poet; he remembers colour and landscape and the nuances of peasant conversation . . . Eschewing politics, it says more about them than all our leading articles . . . In describing a political tragedy it often has great poetic beauty.’ Kingsley Martin, New Statesman
‘Durrell possesses exceptional qualifications. He speaks Greek fluently; he has a wide knowledge of modern Greek history, politics and literature; he has lived in continental Greece and has spent many years in other Greek islands . . . His account of this calamity is revelatory, moving and restrained. It is written in the sensitive and muscular prose of which he is so consummate a master.’ Harold Nicolson, Observer

 

 

 

Hokkaido Highway Blues: Hitchhiking Japan – Will Ferguson

It had never been done before. Not in 4000 years of Japanese recorded history had anyone followed the Cherry Blossom Front from one end of the country to the other. Nor had anyone hitchhiked the length of Japan. But, heady on sakura and sake, Will Ferguson bet he could do both. The resulting travelogue is one of the funniest and most illuminating books ever written about Japan. And, as Ferguson learns, it illustrates that to travel is better than to arrive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where The Hell Is Tuvalu? – Philip Ells

How does a young City lawyer end up as the People’s Lawyer of the fourth-smallest country in the world, 18,000 kilometres from home?
We’ve all thought about getting off the treadmill, turning life on its head and doing something worthwhile. Philip Ells dreamed of turquoise seas, sandy beaches and palm trees, and he found these in the tiny Pacific island state of Tuvalu. But neither his Voluntary Service Overseas briefing pack nor his legal training could prepare him for what happened there.
He learned to deal with rapes, murders, incest, the unforgivable crime of pig theft and to look a shark in the eye. But he never dared ask the octogenarian Tuvaluan chief why he sat immobilised by a massive rock permanently resting on his groin.Well, you wouldn’t, would you?

This is the story of a UK lawyer colliding with a Pacific island culture. The fallout is moving, dramatic, bewildering and often hilarious.

 

 

 

Red Tape and White Knuckles – Lois Pryce

Unafraid of a challenge, Lois Pryce began the kind of adventure most of us could only ever dream of. She put on her sparkly crash helmet, armed herself with maps and a baffling array of visas, and got on her bike. Destination: Cape Town – and the small matter of tackling the Sahara, war-torn Angola and the Congo Basin along the way – this feisty independent woman’s grand trek through the Dark Continent of Africa is the definitive motorcycling adventure.

Colourful and hilarious, Red Tape and White Knuckles is an action-packed tale about following your dreams that will have you packing your bags and jetting off into the sunset on your own adventure before you know it.

 

 

 

 

Jungle – Yossi Ghinsberg

‘I heard the rustle again, too close and too real to ignore. I clutched the flashlight, stuck my head out of the mosquito net… and found myself face-to-face with a jaguar.’
Four travellers meet in Bolivia and set off into the Amazon rainforest on an expedition to explore places tourists only dream of seeing. But what begins as the adventure of a lifetime quickly becomes a struggle for survival when they get lost in the wilds of the jungle.
The group splits up after disagreements, and Yossi and his friend try to find their own way back without a guide. But when a terrible rafting accident separates them, Yossi is forced to survive for weeks alone. Stranded without a knife, map or survival training, he must improvise in order to survive. He wonders if he will make it back alive.

 

 

 

 

Street Without a Name – Kapka Kassabova

After years on the outside, Bulgaria has finally made it into the EU club, but beyond the cliches about undrinkable plonk, cheap property, and assassins with poison-tipped umbrellas, the country remains a largely unknown quantity. Born on the muddy outskirts of Sofia, Kapka Kassabova grew up under Communism, got away just as soon as she could, and has loved and hated her homeland in equal measure ever since. In this illuminating and entertaining memoir, Kapka revisits Bulgaria and her own muddled relationship to it, travelling back to the scenes of her childhood, sampling its bizarre tourist sites, uncovering its centuries’ old history of bloodshed and blurred borders, and capturing the absurdities and idiosyncrasies of her own and her country’s past.

 

 

 

 

 

Roumeli – Patrick Leigh Fermor

Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Mani compellingly revealed a hidden world of Southern Greece and its past. Its northern counterpart takes the reader among Sarakatsan shepherds, the monasteries of Meteora and the villages of Krakora, among itinerant pedlars and beggars, and even tracks down at Missolonghi a pair of Byron’s slippers. Roumeli is not on modern maps: it is the ancient name for the lands from the Bosphorus to the Adriatic and from Macedonia to the Gulf of Corinth. But it is the perfect, evocative name for the Greece that Fermor captures in writing that carries throughout his trademark vividness of description. But what is more, the pictures of people, traditions and landscapes that he creates on the page are imbued with an intimate understanding of Greece and its history.

 

 

 

 

 

The Traveller’s Tree – Patrick Leigh Fermor

In this, his first book, Patrick Leigh Fermor recounts his tales of a personal odyssey to the lands of the Traveller’s Tree – a tall, straight-trunked tree whose sheath-like leaves collect copious amounts of water. He made his way through the long island chain of the West Indies by steamer, aeroplane and sailing ship, noting in his records of the voyage the minute details of daily life, of the natural surroundings and of the idiosyncratic and distinct civilisations he encountered amongst the Caribbean Islands. From the ghostly Ciboneys and the dying Caribs to the religious eccentricities like the Kingston Pocomaniacs and the Poor Whites in the Islands of the Saints, Patrick Leigh Fermor recreates a vivid world, rich and vigorous with life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Marsh Arabs – Wilfred Thesiger

During the years he spent among the Marsh Arabs of southern Iraq-long before they were almost completely wiped out by Saddam Hussein-Wilfred Thesiger came to understand, admire, and share a way of life that had endured for many centuries. Travelling from village to village by canoe, he won acceptance by dispensing medicine and treating the sick. In this account of a nearly lost civilization, he pays tribute to the hospitality, loyalty, courage, and endurance of the people, and describes their impressive reed houses, the waterways and lakes teeming with wildlife, the herding of buffalo and hunting of wild boar, moments of tragedy, and moments of pure comedy in vivid, engaging detail.

 

 

 

 

 

Finding George Orwell in Burma – Emma Larkin

Over the years the American writer Emma Larkin has spent travelling in Burma, also known as Myanmar, she’s come to know all too well the many ways this brutal police state can be described as “Orwellian.” The life of the mind exists in a state of siege in Burma, and it long has. But Burma’s connection to George Orwell is not merely metaphorical; it is much deeper and more real. Orwell’s mother was born in Burma, at the height of the British raj, and Orwell was fundamentally shaped by his experiences in Burma as a young man working for the British Imperial Police. When Orwell died, the novel-in-progress on his desk was set in Burma. It is the place George Orwell’s work holds in Burma today, however, that most struck Emma Larkin. She was frequently told by Burmese acquaintances that Orwell did not write one book about their country – his first novel, Burmese Days – but in fact, he wrote three, the “trilogy” that included Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four. When Larkin quietly asked one Burmese intellectual if he knew the work of George Orwell, he stared blankly for a moment and then said, “Ah, you mean the prophet!”
In one of the most intrepid political travelogues in recent memory, Emma Larkin tells of the year she spent travelling through Burma using the life and work of George Orwell as her compass. Going from Mandalay and Rangoon to poor delta backwaters and up to the old hill-station towns in the mountains of Burma’s far north, Larkin visits the places where Orwell worked and lived, and the places his books live still. She brings to vivid life a country and a people cut off from the rest of the world, and from one another, by the ruling military junta and its vast network of spies and informers. Using Orwell enables her to show, effortlessly, the weight of the colonial experience on Burma today, the ghosts of which are invisible and everywhere. More importantly, she finds that the path she charts leads her to the people who have found ways to somehow resist the soul-crushing effects of life in this most cruel police state. And George Orwell’s moral clarity, hatred of injustice, and keen powers of observation serve as the author’s compass in another sense too: they are qualities she shares and they suffuse her book – the keenest and finest reckoning with life in this police state that has yet been written.

 

From Rome To San Marino – Oliver Knox

In the spring of 1980, Oliver Knox Set out to follow on foot the track of Garibaldi’s retreat from Rome over what is still a very beautiful and little visited part of Italy. The Walk he describes is a long zig-zag up Central Italy, along the foothills and over the high Apennines. The author’s experiences and encounters are interwoven with the story of the retreat from Rome to San Marino during the summer of 1849 after the fall of the short-lived Roman Republic.

The ghost of the romantic General is ever-present to enhance the scene that meets the traveller’s eye. Oliver Knox has drawn on contemporary diaries and accounts, hitherto unpublished in English, to tell a vivid story of skirmishes and escapes, of ambushes and ‘miracles’, of the losings of the way on the stony mountain-tracks, of kidnapping of monks, of hunger and thirst endured and satisfied. These adventures touch a sympathetic chord in the author, whose enjoyment of the weather and wild country. of small towns and the company he finds in them sharpens his appetite for what is set before him. He does not allow the figure of Garibaldi to obscure the feeling of the citizens of Orvieto, Todi, Arezzo and other towns suddenly faced with the incursion of this strange army that numbered among its officer a distinctly disreputable ex-Coldstreamer as well as a Barnabite priest and a wine-merchant.

It is this awareness of people and the enjoyment of their welcome that gives especial delight to this enchanting account of a long walk through out-of-the-way parts of Tuscany, Umbria and the Marches. Everyone who enjoys travelling in Italy will enjoy this book.

 

Drinking Arak off an Ayatollah’s Beard – Nicholas Jubber

An engrossing blend of travel writing and history, Drinking Arak off an Ayatollah’s Beard traces one man’s adventure-filled journey through today’s Iran, Afghanistan, and Central Asia, and describes his remarkable attempt to make sense of the present by delving into the past.

Setting out to gain insight into the lives of Iranians and Afghans today, Nicholas Jubber is surprised to uncover the legacy of a vibrant pre-Islamic Persian culture that has endured even in times of the most fanatic religious fundamentalism. Everywhere—from underground dance parties to religious shrines to opium dens—he finds powerful and unbreakable connections to a time when both Iran and Afghanistan were part of the same mighty empire, when the flame of Persian culture lit up the world.

Whether through his encounters with poets and cab drivers or run-ins with “pleasure daughters” and mujahideen, again and again Jubber is drawn back to the eleventh-century Persian epic, the Shahnameh (“Book of Kings”). The poem becomes not only his window into the region’s past, but also his link to its tumultuous present, and through it Jubber gains access to an Iran and Afghanistan seldom revealed or depicted: inside-out worlds in which he has tea with a warlord, is taught how to walk like an Afghan, and even discovers, on a night full of bootleg alcohol and dancing, what it means to drink arak off an Ayatollah’s beard.

 

Mirror to Damascus – Colin Thubron

Mirror to Damascus is a unique portrait of a city now obscured by recent upheavals, by one of the most indefatigable and popular of travel writers.
Described by the author as simply “a work of love,” Mirror to Damascus is an enthralling and fascinating history of Damascus from the Amorites of the Bible to the revolution of 1966, as well as being a charming and witty personal record of a city well-loved.
In explaining how modern Damascus is rooted in immemorial layers of culture and tradition, Thubron explores the historical, artistic, social and religious inheritance of the Damascenes in an amusing and perceptive manner, whilst interspersing the narrative with innumerable anecdotes about travellers of bygone days.

 

 

 

 

So there we go. Is there any that you’ve read? Or now want to read? Let me know in the comments below

 

June 2020 TBR

I seem to only have the time and concentration to get through around 16 books a month at the moment, but intend to pick them from this list below:

 

Finishing Off

Vickery’s Folk Flora – Roy Vickery

Hollow Places – Christopher Hadley

Lotharingia – Simon Winder

Farsighted – Steven Johnson

 

Blog Tour

Just the one this month from the Wolfson History Writing Prize

Cricket Country – Prashant Kidambi

 

Review Copies

Amazingly I have read all of the 2020 books that I have been sent / request bar one! So will be trying to work my way through some of the older ones that I have had for far too long:

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

The Dictatorship Syndrome – Alaa Al Aswany

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

30-Second Elements – Eric Scerri

Elementary – James M. Russell

The House of Islam – Ed Husain

Blue Mind: How Water Makes You Happier, More Connected and Better at What You Do – Wallace J. Nichols

When the Rivers Run Dry: Water – The Defining Crisis of the Twenty-first Century – Fred Pearce

The Glass Woman – Caroline Lea

Sunfall – Jim Al-Khalili

 

Library Books

Ended up reading a couple of other library books instead in May, 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.  Will be posting my list for that tomorrow

Unseen Academicals – Terry Pratchett

Gathering Carrageen – Monica Connell

Against a Peacock Sky – Monica Connell

#20BooksOfSummer – TBC

#20BooksOfSummer – TBC

#20BooksOfSummer – TBC

 

Own Books

Wanderland – Jini Reddy

Greenery – Tim Dee

The Frayed Atlantic Edge – David Gange

Water and Sky – Neil Sentance

Ridge and Furrow – Neil Sentance

 

Poetry

Equal Rights – Edward Ragg

Depth Charge – Chris Emery

 

Science Fiction

Didn’t read any last month so this is still on the list:

One Way – S.J. Morden

 

Herbaceous by Paul Evans

3.5 out of 5 stars

Venturing out for a walk in mid-spring is a delight, gone are the drab stark colours of winter, instead, all our senses are assailed by life springing forth after its dormant period. Perennial plants that come back every year, such as celandine, cowslips and bluebells can lift our spirits and remind us that regardless of what is going on in the world, the seasonal change will still happen regardless.

In this collection of nature writing Evans has spilt them into five sections, Yellow, White, Pink Blue and Brown. The grouping reflects the way that the seasons change, the increasing light of spring moves to the intensity of summer before the light retreats in autumn and winter. He writes about various plants in each section, from the Lesser Celandine in the first part, toothwort in the white section, sanfoin for summer and harebell and black knapweed in the later parts of the book.

All the stories were drawn up by the grass and trees and midsummer spaces rolling over the Edge; drawn up in a dreaminess of bees in the wild thyme of Natures telling.

These short essays vary in length from a few sentences to a couple of pages at most. They can be dipped into at random and feel like experimental writing at times as Evans explores our relationship with plants and the places that they grow. As with all of his other books that I have read, he has a poetic style of writing that I like, but every now and again the essays did feel a little random. It is a nicely produced, as all the Monograph books are and I thought that the illustrations by Kurt Jackson were stunning.

Last Days in Old Europe by Richard Bassett

4 out of 5 stars

Europe in the 1970s and 1980s was still in the grip of the cold war. The Iron Curtain was very much closed and in certain cities, there was still an underlying paranoia about who was working for who. Richard Bassett was a staff reporter for the Times and he was there watching events unfold around him.

Whilst Trieste is still in Italy, it has a very different feel, the light in January is at its most intense after the Bora wind, it scours the sky and lends an intensity and clarity to the place. It is this light that welcomes Basset in 1979. It had not long been in Italy but an international agreement had returned it from Yugoslavia a few years before. Basset was there to write about the people and place for the Times. As he looked around the city, he could still find fragments of the Habsburg Empire that hadn’t been fully extinguished in 1918. He settles in fast, being welcomed in by the great and the good of that society, making friends he would have for a long time. Away from the echelons of Trieste was a different world, a blend of dialects and culture left over from the Hasbergs could still be heard.

His second appointment was in Austria, which at this time, in particular Vienna, was where some of the warmer parts of the cold war were played out. Its proximity to the Iron Curtain and an austere rebuilding after the Second World War meant that it felt frozen in time. It was a strange staid society, men with slicked-back hair spoke in a language that was both sophisticated and insulting at the same time. It took Basset a while to get used to it, but he reached the point where he could hold his own against them. It was a place utterly drenched in history, plaques denoting a plethora of famous people and their achievements could be found down most streets. He would attend parties and circulate with the upper echelons of Viennese society, but this charmed life had to come to an end, as the paper expected him to cross the Iron curtain to visit Prague and Budapest.

Life of the other side of the curtain was very different to what he had come accustomed to, highlighted by an elderly lady that he met on the train who for the first time was allowed to travel but as the conversation carried on, the limits of where she could and couldn’t go still were very apparent. Basset was in Warsaw at the beginning of 1989 and as snow fell in the city all he could think of was the warmth and sun of the Adriatic. Life was about to get much busier for this reporter though, change was in the air in the Soviet capital and he would witness events as they unfolded that would change Europe for a generation.

I really enjoyed this. Basset has managed to give a taste of what it is like to mix with minor royals and aristocrats that had no power left but still had oodles of charm. This way of life has almost entirely vanished now, and it had echoes of the Europe that still existed back in the time that Patrick Leigh Fermor walked through. He is a perceptive writer, almost certainly from his journalist background, but his stories of these European cities are full of characters and life. It feels like ancient history until I remember that I can recall details of these events as they unfolded on my TV screen and in the papers.

The Mizzy by Paul Farley

4 out of 5 stars

I first came across Paul Farley in the brilliant Edgelands that he co-authored with Michael Symonds Roberts. I have read a couple of Symonds poetry now, but until I won a copy this I had not actually got to read one of his collections of poems.

There is no central theme to this collection, but around a quarter of the collection is about birds in one form or the other, even the title is short for Mistle Thrush and naturally, he has dedicated it to the great writer, Tim Dee. There are other poems about gadgets, poker, data miners and the ubiquitous hole in the wall.

The silence deepens. The world turns.

As with any collection, there were some poems that I liked more than others. I liked his selection of subjects and the way that he is happy to play with the rhythm and form depending on the writing. I read this in what seems like no time at all, and have since dipped back in every now and again to read some of the poems again whilst it was in the pile awaiting reviews and they have grown on me. Kind of now regret not reading some of his work before. As a small aside, the cover of this book is just beautiful, very much recommended.

Before we fell asleep while he stood guard
As the fire died and the stars formed above

Three (plus one) Favourite Poems
Life During the Great Acceleration
Goldcrest
Lark and Linnet
The Green Man

The Book of Puka-Puka by Robert Dean Frisbie

4 out of 5 stars

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

Robert Dean Frisbie was born in Cleveland at the end of the 19th Century and grew up as any American lad did in those days. He served with the U.S. Army during World War I, but after he was discharged the medical advice was for him to go so somewhere warm as if he stayed in the USA then the next winter would kill him. This was 1920 and he needed to get somewhere warm, and the pacific islands seemed to be a perfect combination.

He ended up in Tahiti for a while before moving the island of Puka-Puka in 1924 to set up a trading post.  This is a sun-kissed coral atoll about four miles by two in the Pacific pretty remote from anywhere else. He had only been there a few months and he had learnt the language and fallen head over heels in love with the island and the culture. The locals take to him and call him Ropati. He begins to learn its ancient ways and the self-sufficiency that they had developed to survive in the little piece of paradise.

Even though the island was visited by missionaries and there was a church that most of the population attended, they still carried on with life as they knew it, sleeping, fishing, making love and playing games. It was a life that Frisbie took to, he married one of the local ladies and had five children with her and relaxed into his little bit of paradise on earth.

The culture of the people of Puka-Puka was not advanced, but it was highly developed. Frisbie fully embraced it too, settling into the life there, catching turtles with them and partaking in the various rituals of life there. It is a fascinating book, I liked the poems from the people there that preface each chapter, some are traditional ones and others were created by an individual for a particular event, like the visit of a supply ship. Frisbie’s prose is very readable, he has a knack of portraying the way of life there in such a way that you can feel the warmth of the sun lifting of the page, hear the gentle sound of the sea lapping the beaches or share the terror of being battered by a typhoon. Highly recommended and if this part of the globe interests you then I can also recommend A Pattern of Islands by Arthur Grimble.

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