Penguin 70's Series (2006)

by Various | e-Books |
ISBN: 0522853781 Global Overview for this book
Registered by BookGroupMan of Criccieth, Wales United Kingdom on 3/1/2006
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1 journaler for this copy...
Journal Entry 1 by BookGroupMan from Criccieth, Wales United Kingdom on Wednesday, March 01, 2006
A place for my reviews of the excellent 'Pocket Penguins'

I have set myself a challenge to read 20 this year (2006) on top of last year's 15 - see other journal

Journal Entry 2 by BookGroupMan from Criccieth, Wales United Kingdom on Wednesday, March 01, 2006
4: Summer in Algiers by Albert Camus

Disappointing, turgid-apathetic, soulless (existential?), dry, African, prose*

*ps. I’m using fewer words than usual to counter-balance Camus’s profligacy, and because I’m behind with my reviews :)

Journal Entry 3 by BookGroupMan from Criccieth, Wales United Kingdom on Wednesday, March 01, 2006
39: Three Trips by John Updike

I’ve not read any John Updike since I read one of the 'Rabbit' novels in the 80’s - although maybe I didn't, I forget?! These 3 stories seem to be a bit more grown-up and sophisticated, although I think I mean ‘understated’ & atmospheric rather than purely story-led.

As the blurb says, ‘...a trio of stories that reflect the excitement of adventure in fresh terrains’. There are 2 stories set in Africa, an empty grand hotel in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and a Nile river cruise. The first piece, the most approachable, about a recently divorced father, is set in the Nevada desert & gambling towns. Not so much ‘adventures in fresh terrains’, more quiet sojourns into the minds and behaviours of the leads.

Journal Entry 4 by BookGroupMan from Criccieth, Wales United Kingdom on Wednesday, March 01, 2006
55: Protobiography by William Boyd

To his credit, WB (in the prologue) is quite reticent about autobiography, and he recognises the pitfalls of a writer trying to capture the unreconstructed truth of their own lives without introspection, analysis and, dare I say, embellishment! He simply wants to, "...tell the truth before I forgot...rather than exposing anything particularly revelatory about myself".

This collection concentrates on his early years in West Africa (the son of a colonial ex-army doctor), and at boarding school in the highlands of Scotland. It’s all fairly honest and homely without being too interesting. I like Boyd’s fiction, and I think I would quite like him as a person...but I hope he doesn’t get carried away and write a whole biography :) As the blurb says, ‘His fiction is often a revealing excavation of an individual life’ - as is this non-fiction.

Journal Entry 5 by BookGroupMan from Criccieth, Wales United Kingdom on Wednesday, March 01, 2006
5: Innocent House by P D James

This was uninspiring and a poor show, I was just getting into the story and it stopped dead (no pun intended!) This seems to be a random extract from the novel ‘Original Sin’, closer to the country house and tea shop style whodunit of Christie than the gritty psychological thrillers of her contemporaries like Ruth Rendell, or even McDermid, Cornwell & Walters who she must be competing with now? I don’t read much crime fiction anymore, although I was a big fan, but I won’t be rushing out to buy the full text.

Journal Entry 6 by BookGroupMan from Criccieth, Wales United Kingdom on Friday, March 17, 2006
13: 2 Stars by Paul Theroux

I've read a travel book of Paul Theroux's in the past - the genre that he's most famous for?

This is an investigation into the nature of stardom, particularly the Hollywood variety. There is a longer biography of Elizabeth Taylor sandwiched between smaller pieces; a nothing description of the Hollywood starlet and a surprisingly poignant essay about the auction of all of Marilyn Munroe's personal effects - in fact her whole life for sale to the highest bidders, the seekers of glamour, fame (by association) or some baser fetishest desire.

'Liz in Neverland' looks at Taylor's life, marriages and relationships as a series of movie-like chapters, where she takes on each role to the extent of changing her appearance, mannersims and behaviour. You are left with a feeling of real pity for Taylor, who doesn't seem to know who she is. Theroux also gains access to Micheal Jackson, and continues the theme with the pair acting out the parts of 'Wendy and Peter' - which is undoubtedly the longest and probably the most equitable of Taylor's roles.

Journal Entry 7 by BookGroupMan from Criccieth, Wales United Kingdom on Thursday, March 30, 2006
34: Cloud, Castle, Lake by Vladimir Nabokov

Although written in English - I assume rather than translated from his native language – these short stories definitely have a ‘Russian’ feel to them; a certain ‘masculine’ directness of prose rather than poetry, and the faded and somewhat sad perspective of a grand but ageing empire. It’s disappointing that the only story that I can remember after a month or so is ‘Razor’ - the shortest and most shallow of the collection. Maybe Nabokov is meant to be read and enjoyed at a superficial level, rather than causing any deeper resonance?

Journal Entry 8 by BookGroupMan from Criccieth, Wales United Kingdom on Tuesday, April 11, 2006
41: The Country of the Blind by H G Wells

Wells may well be the ‘founding father of modern science fiction’ but these 3 stories are not really ‘science’ fiction as we would recognize it now. But they are quite interesting little pieces about the nature of man confronted with a changed perception of the world (well 2 out of 3 anyway). In the case of the title story, Wells explores what would happen in a world where sight was not the predominant sense, a closed society where everyone was blind. ‘The Remarkable Case of Davidson’s Eyes’ considers the possibility of sentience over large distances.

Journal Entry 9 by BookGroupMan from Criccieth, Wales United Kingdom on Sunday, May 07, 2006
57: The Worst Thing a Surburban Girl Could Imagine by Melissa Bank

...and the worst thing that the younger Jane could imagine; was someone returning clothes to a shop that had been worn. That was until her father was dying of Leukemia, and she was going through her own life crisis.

This is much better than the ‘chick-lit’ that I had expected; despite the female angst and the slightly self-obsessed New York wine-bar 20-somethings. Firstly, some great 1 line gags; Jane to her boss, ‘Your hair is dyed?’, ‘Coloured,’ she said, ‘never say dye’; and the same boss Mimi, or ‘Me me me me’ as she is known!

And secondly, there is a surprisingly poignant story for such a small book and written in simple unprepossessing language. Jane’s problems include her lack of a partner and feelings of inadequacy, lack of career direction, and opportunities for her own family and fulfilment. When talking to her re-acquainted ‘ex’, talking about an older colleague. "It’s like he can’t even see me. I’m just your young thing. I’m just a blurry young person sitting across the table." He kissed me and said, "You are a burry young person."

When Jane’s father does die it was the hardest thing in her life, "We are all children until our father’s die."

"Coleridge said that happiness is just a dog sunning itself on a rock. We’re not put on this earth to be happy. We’re here to experience great things." I hope Jane does find her ‘great things’ – she deserves it!

Journal Entry 10 by BookGroupMan from Criccieth, Wales United Kingdom on Thursday, May 18, 2006
14: Of Pageants and Picnics by Elizabeth David

This is a collection of writings from Elizabeth David, ‘…perhaps the most influential postwar cookery writer in Britain’. Well I’ve never heard of her, and on this evidence things have moved on a great deal, both in the variety of foods available in the UK and the quality of the food writing! Its all a bit out-of-date and out of touch, talking about how to make 3 – frankly horrible sounding – meals from a rabbit, ‘nanny’ cooking breakfast mushrooms with cream in front of the nursery fire, calves feet, olive oil only available in a chemists, dripping, mushroom stalks ‘stewed in oil’ etc. Some of the sections on French country markets, cooking local woodland & sea produce on holiday in the UK, and even some of the elaborate and famous ED picnics could have been interesting...but in the end I found it irritating and lacking in any real sense of flavour (or ‘savour’ as she calls it!), or the sights, sounds and smells one needs to make cookery & food writing come alive.

Journal Entry 11 by BookGroupMan from Criccieth, Wales United Kingdom on Thursday, June 15, 2006
69: Murder by John Steinbeck

The oft-quoted first line from The Go-Between, “The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there” is very appropriate for this collection of Steinbeck short stories. Written, I assume, in the 1930’s, and set in and around the southern states of the USA; poor, parched, racially divided and misogynist, I didn’t find the stories particularly appealing, although they have a certain atmosphere and slow measured style. If you like Steinbeck, you’ll probably love these…I’m undecided.

Journal Entry 12 by BookGroupMan from Criccieth, Wales United Kingdom on Tuesday, June 20, 2006
23: In Defence of English Cooking by George Orwell

First things first; it’s outrageous that this collection of essays was given this title and an awful cover design of a ‘full English’ breakfast. In Defence of British Cooking was a nothing few pages at the end of a book with some fascinating insights from GO on the nature of nationalism, political persuasion vs. patriotic instincts and the threats to free speech, criticism and the arts in a totalitarian state. GO was famously a ‘political’ writer both overtly and through parables such as Animal Farm & 1984, but it was good to see that a committed socialist could be rational and see the dangers in extremism of any hue, but specifically the ‘blind’ adherence to Stalin/soviet communism by British liberals and intelligentsia.

Journal Entry 13 by BookGroupMan from Criccieth, Wales United Kingdom on Sunday, August 20, 2006
7: On Shopping (Which Gladdens the Heart) by India Knight

India Knight seems to have led quite an interesting life - I think I would enjoy her autobiography. In this selection we get snippets of the young India being taught the arts of shopping and style by her mother as she trails around Europe (and India!) alternating between famine and feast. Her absent father, the swinger and inverterate lover of women and porn seems quite a character as well. But, in the end, being a man I didn't really find much of interest or use in learning how to put on make-up, dress the larger figure, dealing with certain, ahem, hair removal dilemmas...etc.

Journal Entry 14 by BookGroupMan from Criccieth, Wales United Kingdom on Wednesday, September 20, 2006
9: The Mirror of Ink by Jorge Luis Borges

I must admit to not having heard of Borges, possibly because he is from South America (Argentina) and plies his trade in the short story form. But, if this selection is anything to go by, he doesn’t need to write novels; so a large readership (like me) is potentially missing out. For example, the sublime ‘The Witness’ covers so much ground in only 2 pages (2 pages!), 'What will die with me the day I die? What pathetic or fragile image will be lost to the world?'; in fact they are all rich in allusion & allegory, and create sophisticated classical and imaginary worlds.

I especially liked ‘The Lottery in Babylon’ and `The Library of Babel’. The latter creates a world of near infinitely connected libraries in which the entire population of librarians are constantly searching meaning for their lives and the code or pattern of the universe through the books. ‘The Lottery’ is even more subtle different view of the human condition as an infinitely complex game of chance, causality, good and bad events, which may or may not be controlled by the ‘Company’. As I say, fabulously rich and erudite little stories – who needs a novel!

Journal Entry 15 by BookGroupMan from Criccieth, Wales United Kingdom on Friday, October 13, 2006
20: Noise by Hari Kunzru

See review in duplicate copy

Journal Entry 16 by BookGroupMan from Criccieth, Wales United Kingdom on Thursday, October 19, 2006
37: Hotheads by Steven Pinker

This is an extract from 'How the Mind Works' in which, '(Pinker) takes us deeper in the human psyche, as he considers the desire for happiness, the power of the emotions, our capacity for self-deception and how love can conquer all'

I wasn't convinced by all his ideas, although its a difficult challenge to map all complex human emotions back to basic Darwinian ideas; why do we trust, show compassion, love, smile etc. For example he uses the idea of 'reciprocal altruism' to explain why animals/humans appear to act for the good of the tribe, or for the benefit of others, rather than slavishly following the 'selfish gene'. The writing and arguments aren't as easy to follow as, say, Botton

Journal Entry 17 by BookGroupMan from Criccieth, Wales United Kingdom on Thursday, November 09, 2006
54: Letters from Four Seasons by Alistair Cooke

Sublime examples of AC’s famous letters from America which focus on the 4 seasons in different US locations over a 50 year+ time span, but it's so much more than this. In his very clever and urbane style Cooke he tells us a lot about the American psyche and anecdotal stories as well history, geography, political commentary...not ‘travel’ (travelling through?) writing per my recent review of Jan Morris, as much as ‘being there and feeling’ writing.

For example, we learn about the joy of the absolute quiet and bitter cold of a Vermont winter, the gap between the Long Island, NY, North Fork natives (from Suffolk!) and their nouveau South Shore near neighbours, the history of Augusta golf course, the climactic and biological reasons for the glorious riot of reds and yellows and golds of a US fall.

Lastly, a great quote from the New York Herald Tribune weather report (AC reading the Paris edition); ‘London, fair, 71 degrees, continued hot; Paris, 78, warm; New York, clear, high 83 seasonably cool’ – it made me smile anyway : -) Cooke was refelecting on the phrase ‘light suit’, my point being, to know a people and a place you have to understand why an Englishman thinks that 71 is hot and wears white flannel to play cricket in, but a New Yorker doesn’t!

Journal Entry 18 by BookGroupMan from Criccieth, Wales United Kingdom on Friday, November 17, 2006
42: Doctrines and Visions by Noam Chomsky

(17/11) These 2 essays consider American foreign policy in Central America and the Mid-East (written in 2004 after the 2nd Iraq war) from a very cynical and quite paranoid standpoint, albeit well researched and erudite...and it comes across as very very depressing (some of the arguments which I can’t disagree with btw).

Chomsky suggests the existence of a 2nd world superpower, public opinion, although knowing how ill-informed, prejudiced and politically naive/inactive most of us are, I don’t see how we, the ‘giddy multitude of beasts in men’s shapes’, can resist the ‘men of best quality’, as the ruling classes were self-declared in C17th England. Bringing everything up to date, the prevailing western ‘Wilsonian’ model, after Woodrow Wilson, is the of a, ‘...system of elite decision-making and public ratification’. So democracy is just a sham not in the 2nd and 3rd worlds, nor in Communist or Nazi dictatorships but right here at home in the polyarchys that we hold so dear; it makes one think that Orwell’s view of state control is alive and flourishing?

Journal Entry 19 by BookGroupMan from Criccieth, Wales United Kingdom on Thursday, November 23, 2006
12: The Cave of the Cyclops by Homer

(22/11) This is my 20th Penguin 70 this year (my target) and 35 in total - yoo hoo!

Not the best unfortunately, despite the blurb, 'Homer's Odyssey is a founding tale of Western civilization: an epic story of one man's struggle to return home from the Trojan war'. The stories of gods on earth and their capricious dealings with humans and other creatures, notably our hero Odysseus, son of Laertes, are a bit too simplistic and disjointed. Of course we don't do such elemental story-telling now, and maybe we are more demanding and less credulous?

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