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On the reading front, I’ve been going non-stop, alternating fiction and non-fiction. On the fiction side, I’ve worked my way through a few John Grishams:

A Time to Kill, A Time for Mercy, Sycamore Row and Gray Mountain. The first three of those all feature the character of Jake Brigance, as played by Matthew McConaghy in the movie of A Time to Kill. Gray Mountain tackles the effects of open cast, coal-mining on communities in Virginia. Although a work of fiction some of the detail is based on fact and is disturbing to say the least. Highly recommended and, along with the others, good reads that rip along at a good pace.

Other reads include David Baldacci’s The Simple Truth, The Various Haunts of Men - Susan Hill, The Cuckoo’s Calling by JK Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith, Charles Bukowski – Hollywood and Tolkien’s, The Hobbit which is essentially a children’s book but after reading Lord of the Rings felt I had to go back and read it too.

I would particularly recommend The Cuckoo’s Calling for the very likeable characters of Cormoran Strike and his secretary Robin. This is the first in a series of four books and I look forward to reading the rest of them in the not too distant future. Bukowski’s Hollywood had some real laugh out loud moments where the main character basically drinks himself through the book and is certainly worth a read.

I also read The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje. This is one of my favourite films and I also have the sound track on CD but had never read the book. There are a few differences between it and the film and I was lucky enough to get a first edition. The dust jacket has a bit of damage but one to add to the library. With all the war talk at present, it highlights the utter stupidity/futility of humanity and war. History teaches us nothing and it seems as if humanity will only learn the hard way.

On the non-fiction front, Nomadland by Jessica Bruder gives us a frightening look into the world of the poor and marginalised in today’s America. A damning indictment on the ‘allegedly’ richest nation on earth, something I would strongly dispute. The US is being dragged to its knees and is at the forefront of Western decline and nothing captures the utter waste and hopelessness of it all as much as this book does. Again, it highlights the absolute stupidity of those in charge; the military/industrial complex has bled America dry and this is the result. Old age must be terrifying for so many in the US. Is this really the best they can do for their people? Is this the best we can do for humanity?

Breath by James Nestor talks about how breathing through our mouths, coupled with dietary changes, has caused a lot of the dental problems we have today. Our breathing habits and soft diets have led to a loss of bone mass in our jaws and, consequently, the dental issues of ‘crowded mouth’ and sinus problems so many of us suffer from. The evidence is compelling when our modern features are compared to the strong jaws and great teeth of our ancestors, there is a reason the slack-jawed yokel is a slack-jawed yokel!

The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel tells the strange, but true, story of Christopher Knight who lived undetected in the woods of Maine for 27 years with no other direct human contact. Although some suspect he did have contact with members of his family, as he wasn’t too far from home and was never reported as missing. He had been stealing to survive and was eventually caught and that is how the story came to light. He never really said why he did it and he remains a bit of a mysterious character. But it’s an interesting story and sort of ties in with Nomadland; those who choose to escape society and those who are forced into it. That is one of the good/bad things about the US, because it is so large, you can just disappear.

I have a love for all things Japanese and following on from Memoirs of Geisha, I read the Geisha of Gion by Mineko Iwasaki on whose story Memoirs was based. She wrote her memoir as she was very unhappy about the portrayal of Geisha in Arthur Golden’s book. As always, the real story is more interesting and provides a great look into an aspect of Japanese culture that is sadly, disappearing.

I also ready Peter Carey’s, Wrong about Japan, a look at modern Japanese culture. It details a trip he took with his son, who is a fan of anime, and different aspects of present day Japanese culture and life. It’s not a very long book but it was interesting all the same.

On the theme of escaping society, which is another thing I am very interested in, I bought Mark Boyle’s, The Way Home. Mark gave up modern life in England and moved to somewhere in Galway to live a sustainable life, off grid. He actually wrote the book by hand which has to be commended. One interesting point in the book was in relation to the changes in Irish society over the years and in a conversation with one of his elderly neighbours, the neighbour remarked that years ago when they heard that in the US old people were being put into homes, they found this shocking and now they were doing it in Ireland.

Thinking about this, I realised that this was one of the downsides of the feminist movement. When women stayed at home, they would have performed this duty, the women in the family would have pulled together and cared for the young and old. I’m not advocating a return to women having to stay at home but there is a case for women with young children to be allowed to stay home and for those who care for elderly relatives to be paid a decent allowance – I feel another blog coming on, anyway, happy reading!

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Summer Reading

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Edited by Aideen Devine, Thursday, 1 Sep 2022, 12:42

So in between art attacks I was reading a lot over the summer. I finished the Tom Rob Smith Trilogy which includes Child 44, The Secret Speech and Agent 6.  I would definitely recommend them. Child 44 was made into a film, I haven’t seen it but my sons didn’t think it was up to much.

One of the local charity shops has a whole room of second hand books so I pick up most of my fiction there quite cheaply. They always get them back when I’ve finished with them, so it’s a win, win all round. I read some ‘womens’ fiction, if you’re allowed to call it that now. Anita Shreve’s, A Change in Altitude and one called Home but I cannot remember who wrote it, Trophy Child by Paula Daly, and The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan. You could rattle through them in a day or two and they won’t tax your brain too much. One of the reasons why I don’t particularly like ‘women’s’ fiction is that the central characters are always so bloody weak and drippy. And it’s all a bit ‘Oh no! Gerald is shagging the au pair again, and that’s the third time this week, whatever am I going to do? But I still love him so much!’ It hard to feel much sympathy for the characters when it usually turns out she started shagging Gerald at the Christmas party when his wife was 6 months pregnant. But they’re a cheap read and it’s probably the only way I would ever read them, I wouldn’t spend good money on them. One exception was Sail Away by Celia Imrie. I got this as part of my prize for winning the Haiku competition and really enjoyed it, so this is one I would recommend and will definitely read more of hers.

I’m not a great reader of fiction and prefer autobiography over other genres. But as I worked my way through The Gulag Archipelago, I needed a break now and again, as the brutality was quite harrowing at times and, more so, at present, as we seem to be sleep walking back into totalitarianism. Everyone should read this book, it should be on the Secondary School curriculum. It is an appalling indictment of man’s inhumanity to man and, as I’ve said before, Stalin killed no one, it was the ordinary Russians who ‘followed’ the orders of the tyrant. They estimate 14 million Russians died in World War 2 and 17 million Chinese. They estimate 65 million died under Stalin and Mao, killed by their own, murdered and starved. An appalling lesson from history that everyone should know about, but seems to have been forgotten by our glorious leaders and their minions. Ignore the lessons of history at your peril!

Other good reads were Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. The Geisha who the book was based on was not impressed with Arthur’s interpretation and wrote her own story afterwards.  I have it on the Kindle but haven’t read it yet, but I would still recommend Memoirs.

Other fictions were John Grisham’s The Appeal. I enjoyed this up to a point and it felt very relevant considering it’s themes of political and corporate corruption. There is no happy ending to this one so don’t read it if you’re feeling depressed, it just might tip you over the edge especially with ‘life’, if you could call it that, at present.

On the rest of the reading list was Wilbur Smith’s Blue Horizon, this is book 11 in a whole series about the Courtney family but I haven’t read any of the others. It was a bit of an epic and set in Africa in the early days of colonialism. I did enjoy it and will look out for the others.

John Case’s The Genesis Code was ok. I could see where it was going quite early on, part of the ending didn’t quite gel, but it was ok and worth a read, if you’re not looking for anything too taxing on the brain cells.

Since it was a bit of a Russian summer, I also read Shallow Graves in Siberia by Michael Krupe. This took me back to autobiography. He was a Polish national and this is the story of how he ended up in the gulags and managed to escape both them, and the Jesuits, eventually ending up in Britain. A happy ending for once! I would strongly recommend it. A great read and a reminder of just how amazing the human spirit can be and what we can endure and overcome.

And after all that, and to continue on the Russian theme, I was trawling through some music on Youtube and came across this stunning piece by Tchaikovsky. I’m a big fan of Tchaikovsky but I had never heard of this one, it is called Hymn of the Cherubim. It has to be the most beautiful piece of music I have ever heard and it gives me great pleasure to share it with you all today. It shows that even though we can be absolutely appalling to one another, we can also be beautiful and wonderful, and this is a demonstration of what humanity can produce when we are at our absolute best. Food for the soul that speaks to God. Turn out the lights, turn up the volume and let your soul soar to the heavens. Amen!

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky - Hymn of the Cherubim - YouTube

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