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willoyd

Willoyd's Reading 2016

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What an incredible, in-depth reading log. It must be nice to look over your past reading logs and reminisce about books you'd read in previous years. I like the way you have set everything out in an organised fashion.

 

I was particularly struck by one of your aims to concentrate on certain authors, as this isn't something I've done myself. I generally concentrate on the more well-known books by certain authors and ignore the rest of their works. This thought only came to me recently when I thought about my favourite writers and how much fun it would be to read through their collected works and watch as their writing grows. Your log has certainly encouraged me to give it a go.

 

I was also wondering what it is about Jane Austen that makes her one of your favourite authors? She is one of those famous writers who I have not read, and indeed am not sure if I should read, as her stories sound too 'romantic' for me, but I'm not sure if I'm merely being stereotypical. I suspect there must be something in her works to make her so well known, and I'd love to hear what it is about her that reaches out to you.

 

Also, are there certain non-fiction books that you gear towards? I had a quick skim through your list and can't say there were many titles that I recognised so I was just curious.

 

Anyhow, best of luck with your reading and with this fantastic log. :)

Edited by Angury

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Thank you Angury for your kind comments. You're right about looking back - it also helps my dreadful memory!

You asked a couple of questions, and I'll answer the last one first as it's probably the easier:

I read a pretty eclectic mix of non-fiction, of which I've got a lot more books than fiction on my shelves. My biggest collection is probably history (including one of my hobbies, London history). Other bigger collections include historical biography, nature, travel, popular science and bibliophilia (probably in that order), but I have a lot of other lesser collections, so I suppose there isn't an easily visible pattern, although it all makes sense on my bookshelves!

So, onto Jane Austen! I fell in love with her books as a teenager. I studied Emma for A-level, and have to admit I hated it at first. But then, during the summer between my first and second years in the sixth form, I decided to read all my set texts just as books, and found that I absolutely loved it. I rapidly read all the rest of her major novels, other than Mansfield Park which I didn't get around to until a few years ago for some reason (partly because I wanted to have one to look forward to!), and found I'd fallen in love with her books.

I think quite a lot of people make the same mistake of thinking she is a romantic novelist, and looking at the plot outlines, it's easy to see why. I suppose they are romances to the extent that people fall in love and get married, but that is anything but the main theme of her books. Instead, they are highly incisive examinations of the social mores and relationships of the time. Rather than being romantic, she is satirical, and very funny, cutting through pretention and snobbery with the sharpest of knives. I love her books for the timeless relevance of what she has to say about society and people, and the thoroughly witty way she has to say it. Just take Emma for instance, described by Jane Austen as "a heroine whom no-one but myself will much like." She may be "handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and a happy disposition [who] seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and [who] had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her," - the opening sentence - but you just know from this that she's in fact over-indulged, a bit of a social snob, all too full of her young self, and just has to be heading for a fall. Austen's characters are superbly delineated, some awful (but brilliant!), some (fewer) who are wonderful, but you've met them all at one time or another, and know them all too well .

Squeezed between the rumbustious but somewhat long winded stories by the likes of Henry Fielding et al, and the heavier (but very enjoyable!) and more convoluted Victoriana of the likes of Dickens and Eliot, Austen is also an increadibly easy and thoroughly modern read. True, her world is narrow, and she doesn't write about some of the big social issues as Dickens does, but she does write about the world she knows, or at least in the context of the world she knows, because the issues she addresses are universal.

So, that's the reason I love Jane Austen. Do give her a go; I don't think you will be disappointed given the sort of reading you list on the Classics board. Northanger Abbey is probably her lightest, and often seen as the best to start with, but it's actually my least favourite. My top Austens are S&S, Emma and P&P, but I rate none of her books at less than 5 out of 6 stars. What you could do, is read one of her younger pieces, Lady Susan, a very short but wickedly funny novella, and then (quickly) go and see it as Love and Friendship, which I think should still be in the cinema (starring a brilliant Kate Beckinsale), and which is actually the title of another piece of juvenilia.  More obviously 'funny', but a lovely precursor to what was to come. The reviews were rightly in the rave range! But for 'typical' Austen, I'd read one of the above or Persuasion, as Mansfield Park is perhaps her least universally liked novel (I loved it!).

Hope that helps (and if you like her, then Fanny Burney is worth a try. Not in the same league, but still of a similar era and style, and very enjoyable).

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Finished Emma tonight - a wonderful book which is such a joy to be able to immerse oneself in at what is a really stressful time. Having last read it as a teeenager, and really rated it then, it's only this time round that I've really 'got' all the asides and sideways humour. Loved it!

 

Probably moving onto Frederic Manning's Middle Part of Fortune or Martin Middlebrook's equally classic non-fiction The First Day on the Somme, for pretty obvious reasons.

 

Grabbed a few books in the past few days, including the two listed above. Others included:

 

Tom Blass: Naked Shore

Peter Millar: All Gone to Look for America

Owen Wister: The Virginian

Miranda Seymour: Noble Endeavours (my antidote to Brexit)

Alan Moorhead: White Nile and Blue Nile

Edited by willoyd

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I hope you enjoy all your new books :).

 

I'm still upset about the Brexit too (and I don't live in Britain).

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Reading update

Emma and Brexit really did leave me in a tail spin! I started The Middle Parts of Fortune, but realised fairly quickly I really wasn't ready for such a grim narrative, so floundered around a bit for an alternative. Eventually decided to simply finish off a long-term read, which I'd been dipping into on and off for the previous couple of months, Stephen Fry in America. It is enjoyable enough, but is better suited to dipping, so perhaps didn't achieve as high a rating as it might if I'd left it at that. Still, interesting enough, and  I'm looking forward to watching the DVD.

Next up, somewhat taken with the political shenanigans that is the outfall of June 23rd, I decided to tackle the political memoir needed for my Popstar Reading Challenge, so started on Gyles Brandreth's Breaking the Code. Couldn't settle to this either, too much name dropping for my taste, so swapped to Chris Mullin's A Walk-On Part, which felt better, but then Gary Sheffield's The Somme arrived, and, dipping into that, I found it concise enough and interesting enough that, in turn, I swapped to that: quite a lean book, and very much an overview of the whole campaign, with little human detail, so nicely sufficient as an introduction, but I came away wanting a bit more meat. However, whilst deciding what to turn to as a follow-up, I started Sarah Perry's The Essex Serpent. Phew! - At last a a book to settle to, and am loving every second of it at present (up to around page 100).

In the meantime, visited our local bookshop, and decided on and bought Peter Hart's The Somme, acquiring Carlo Rovelli's Seven Brief Lessons of Physics at the same time.  I also decided, after browsing later pages, that Gyles Brandreth's book may be worth another try. I didn't buy it, as I already have it on the Kindle, but I did definitely prefered reading the paper copy. I'm not sure why overall, but one factor is definitely the lack of page numbers that are still prevalent amongst so many e-books. I hate the percentage indicator!

 

So I may have finally shaken off the post-Brexit/Emma reading blues, and with the summer holidays looming, am looking forward to getting stuck into some bigger reads.  We're also spending a couple of weeks cycling in northern Germany and the Netherlands, starting in Berlin, so aim to do some complementary reading to these parts. 
 

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I wish you fun on your holidays :). Where in the Netherlands will you be going?

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I wish you fun on your holidays :). Where in the Netherlands will you be going?

 

I don't know precisely.  We're cycling from Berlin to Amsterdam, and planning to stick to a northerly route along the Aller to Verden, then across the northern plains towards Cloppenburg and then Meppen.  If so, we're likely to come into the Netherlands from Meppen, through or near Zwolle, then down through the woods to the south of the Veluwemeer, and follow the line of the south side of the Gooimeer into Amsterdam - then to the ferry at Ijmuiden.  But that's all very tentative - we tend to plan from day to day as we go.  However, we want to keep north of the Rhine for sure, as we know that part pretty well from previous trips.  Ideas and suggestions welcome!

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That sounds nice :). I'm afraid I'm not very familiar with the north of my country, I've only been there a handful of times (I live in the south-east). Sorry I don't have any tips for you.

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Germany, Memories of a Nation by Neil Macgregor ******

 

This sounds like an interesting read. I've added it to my wishlist, thanks. :)

 

 

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4 by Sue Townsend **

 

I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who didn't enjoy this. I felt like I must have missed something, as so many people seem to love it. Like you, I thought it was dated and not funny at all (although I do love Ricky Gervais and Diary of a Nobody).

 

 

As I've said before on these pages, I don't get much of my humour from books - very little in fact - or indeed TV or cinema (with a few exceptions: Victoria Wood, Dad's Army and Big Bang Theory for three!)

 

 

Now this surprises me! I never would have pegged you for a fan of Big Bang Theory! :)

 

 

I've, unusually, been reading another book in the background to the others recently listed: Stephen Fry in America, the tie-in book to the TV series he presented a few years ago, and one I've been meaning to read for a while.

 

I love everything Stephen Fry does, and I enjoyed this show when I saw it a few years ago. I'd be keen to read the book one day.

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Now this surprises me! I never would have pegged you for a fan of Big Bang Theory! :)

It's always interesting/fun to see what others make of you, especially at a distance on-line. So, being hopelessly curious and with heart in mouth (!), what would you have pegged me as a fan of?! (On Big Bang - I soooo empathise with Sheldon, who I also find laugh-out loud funny. Have to remember that offspring is a physics postgrad, so, whilst he's nothing like Sheldon, there are quite a few ring-true moments!

Edited by willoyd

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Reading Update

 

The perennial chaos of an academic year ending means I've not kept up with reviews, but hopefully I'll catch up now the summer break is upon us.  Summer break?! - Actually, it looks like I'll be busier than ever, but at least I can now work to my schedule, not a school timetable. 

 

Even with all the chaos, I managed to finish The Essex Serpent this morning, not least because it's easily the best first-time read so far this year for me, indeed one of the best for quite some time, and I struggled to put it down - so quite a bit of catching up to do workwise as a result!  I'm tempted to sit down and re-read it again straightaway, but won't as I want to fit in at least one book before our holidays, The House on the Lake by Thomas Harding.  We're heading off in that direction in a couple of weeks, and intend to at least pass it by when we're there.

 

I've also been dipping into Alan Clarke's diaries when I've only had the Kindle and not my book.  Entertaining is not sufficient to describe these - searingly honest (or so they feel) and revealing, they're like no published diaries I've read before.  Pepys is the only diarist I've encountered to date who wears heart quite so openly on sleeve, even if presumably intended for personal consumption only originally (I wonder how long before he decided they were going to be published?).

Edited by willoyd

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Summer Lightning by PG Wodehouse ****
I used to consume PG Wodehouse books voraciously, particularly the Blandings series, but as I've got older, so my enthusiasm for them has waned. I regularly pick them up in bookshops and tell myself that they are worth at least a browse, but every time I've soon put them down again, unconvinced. So it was with a rather weighty heart that I picked up Summer Lightning as the Shropshire selection for the English Counties Challenge, in spite of the fact that, of those Wodehouse books I had read, this was the one that stuck as a favourite.

As I started to read, so my prejudices felt increasingly confirmed. The rather jolly style, almost so overdone it felt to be more pastiche than original, grated, the characters were caricatures and barely two dimensional, and the story sounded obvious. Oh dear!

But then, around the time that Sue travels down to Blandings, the plot started to gel, and the story started to entertain, developing the distinctive characteristics of a French farce. Characters who had felt wafer thin to that point suddenly seemed to have a point, and the whole package started to take off. And as the plot took off, Wodehouse continued to add further layers that took it ever higher, and the silly lunacy started to become funny, at least in a smiling, occasionally snorting, sort of way (!). By the end, the narrative was fairly rattling along full tilt, and I at last could see why people find Wodehous novels so entertaining.

The secret, I think, is in his plotting, which whilst initially unappealing, proved masterful. The characters are obvious to the point of stereotypes; several never did rise above the level of caricature, not least Lord Emsworth himself and his sister, but Wodehouse, starting from the all too obvious, weaves a knot of such Gorgonic complexity, that one is almost compelled to keep reading simply not to lose the thread - one setting down and both trail and pace would be lost in that instant.

So, Summer Lightning finally proved to be a thoroughly entertaining read. I can't say that I'm sufficiently convinced to want to spend much time re-exploring the Wodehouse list, there is a limit to how much of his characters I could stomach, but as a one off, and as an example of a certain style of writing, it certainly earned its place on the challenge list.

Edited by willoyd

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Emma by Jane Austen ******
I first read Emma as one of my set texts for my A-level, back in the 1970s (an awfully long time ago). I remember initially hating it as we studied it throughout the first year, but things soon changed. Over the summer holidays, I set myself the challenge of reading all my set texts as books, and I suddenly discovered that I actually loved the book, so much so that by the summer's end I had also read all the other Austen full length novels, bar Mansfield Park (which, for reasons not relevant here, took me another thirty years to get around to!). The odd thing is, though, that since then, whilst I have reread all the other Austen novels (some several times), I've never got around to rereading Emma. I have no idea why - just happenstance I think, unless there was a subconscious reason?

Whatever, its inclusion as the book for Surrey in the Counties Challenge has now put paid to that, and I've at last got around to that second reading. It was worth the wait. Oh, it was so worth the wait!

Austen famously decided to make Emma "a heroine whom no one but myself will much like." This is flagged up in the first sentence of the novel; one is automatically wary of a young woman declared to be "handsome, clever and rich", and the first paragraph or so makes it abundantly clear that Emma is in danger of being spoiled, with far too many of her older intimates all too prepared to indulge her. Her own opinion of herself, particularly as a matchmaker, is dangerously overblown, and one can soon see the dangers looming.

However, Emma has a saving grace. However spoiled and indulged, her heart is in the right place, and one always feels that given sufficient direction, and as long as she avoids the worst of the rapids, she'll make it along the river to the calmer waters beyond. She's just got to negotiate those rapids first!

What I found particularly fascinating about Emma is what a big book it is, and yet how tight the stage is. The whole novel takes place in the small village of Highbury, with only 3-4 families involved. The furthest anybody travels is Box Hill, a few miles away. And yet, within those tight bounds, so much happens. It's not the big plotting of a Dickens or a Fielding, or even a Burney, but it's a social and physical landscape with which Austen is completely familiar with, and she handles it as one who is intimately acquainted with the ins and outs of what is on the surface a simple society, but which runs deceptively deep.The instances are apparently small, but it' a small world and they profoundly affect the lives of those involved. There are a number of mysteries, made all the more obscure by the fact that we see the world very much through Emma's eyes, although there are enough clues at times for us to spot what's going on, even if Emma doesn't. I suspect that this is why I enjoyed the book even more this time round, as the previous time I was even younger and more inexperienced as a reader than Emma herself; this time I'm reading it with more of the knowledge that Austen expected of her readers.

I'm also reading it with the knowledge that Mr Knightley is the means by which Emma will receive the direction that will save her from herself (or from the indulgence of others). Early events teach us to use him as the sounding board of what is really the case. I have to admit that for me he is perhaps the weakest character in the novel - almost too perfect, too much the guiding light. I prefer my characters flawed, and every other in Austen's cast is just that, i.e. they are all too human. Yes, there is the odd near caricature, such as Mrs Elton, but actually, we've all met people just like her. And that is perhaps above all why I loved Emma so much: her perfect set of characters,and their all too real interactions: a small stage that in microcosm so closely reflects so much of our world at large. And the fact that Emma, that heroine who Austen apparently wanted to make so unlikeable, learns her lessons, and, acknowledging her faults, actually turns into one of Austen's most human, and thus likeable, heroines. Just brilliant.

Edited by willoyd

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It's always interesting/fun to see what others make of you, especially at a distance on-line. So, being hopelessly curious and with heart in mouth (!), what would you have pegged me as a fan of?! (On Big Bang - I soooo empathise with Sheldon, who I also find laugh-out loud funny. Have to remember that offspring is a physics postgrad, so, whilst he's nothing like Sheldon, there are quite a few ring-true moments!

 

:D I pictured you as watching documentaries and generally more high-brow TV...and steering well clear of American sitcoms! :)

 

I love Sheldon too. I've dated two guys who are rather like him (extremely smart, extremely nerdy but rather weird and not very good with relationships—apparently I have a 'type'), so occasionally his funny quirks make me a little sad. But that's rare (and becoming rarer with the passage of time). I always have a good laugh at/with him. :D

 

Sheldon has so much in common with my more recent ex that I've often tried to convince him to watch the show by describing some of the nerdier scenes, or at least mentioning the references to, or guest appearances by, people I know he likes ('Neil de Grasse Tyson!', 'Star Trek/Star Wars/Doctor Who/Firefly!', 'Stephen Hawking!'), but he has a thing against American sitcoms (perhaps I was projecting that onto you ;)).

 

 

 

Great reviews of Wodehouse and Emma! I really need to start planning to re-read Austen's novels. I count her among my very favourite authors, but I've only read each book once (that is, the six more well-known novels; I still have her short and unfinished fiction to read).

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I wouldn't have pictured you watching Big Bang Theory either. I watched the first season of that show and liked it to an extent, but after that really felt that it was written by people who have no idea what actual nerds or socially awkward people are like, and that a lot of the humor is at the expense of nerds, rather than just nerdy humor, or in some cases just name-dropping nerdy things which is, in itself, somehow meant to be funny, and again just basically saying 'nerds are hilarious'. Community is, to me, a much better 'nerdy/comedy' show in that the characters are not (all) necessarily nerds, but there is a lot of humor that people with supposedly 'nerdy' interests, like Dungeons & Dragons etc, will find funny. So I'm now very curious to see what you think of it, if you've seen it!

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I wouldn't have pictured you watching Big Bang Theory either. I watched the first season of that show and liked it to an extent, but after that really felt that it was written by people who have no idea what actual nerds or socially awkward people are like, and that a lot of the humor is at the expense of nerds, rather than just nerdy humor, or in some cases just name-dropping nerdy things which is, in itself, somehow meant to be funny, and again just basically saying 'nerds are hilarious'. Community is, to me, a much better 'nerdy/comedy' show in that the characters are not (all) necessarily nerds, but there is a lot of humor that people with supposedly 'nerdy' interests, like Dungeons & Dragons etc, will find funny. So I'm now very curious to see what you think of it, if you've seen it!

 

I haven't seen Community, so, sorry, can't comment! Interesting that you find BBT gains its humour at the expense of nerds.  Personally, I found an awful lot of it rather similar (if exaggerated!) to some of the things that go on in this household - especially by me!  No, I'm not a Star Trek fan, or games fan, but the style is still traceable.

 

TBH, I don't watch huge amounts of this (or anything else).  My original comment just gave the pointer to three series/programmes I find funny (of which BBT is about the only American TV I see - at least since MASH finished!).  It's all a small proportion of the small amount of TV I watch.  If I do watch, it's usually sport (mostly cycling - now that IS an addiction in this household!), plus the occasional film, documentary or costume drama (e.g. War and Peace is the latest).  Otherwise, I seem to record a fair amount, but not watch much of it.  I think I've said before, that if it was up to me, I wouldn't bother having a TV. As it is, I would guess I average (outside cycling) barely an hour a week, but often none at all. On the whole, I'm more likely to dig a DVD out (non-fiction as well as fiction) than watch a TV programme.

Edited by willoyd

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I watch very little on my TV except live sport - of which there is an awful lot watched in this household! 

 

Outside that though I struggle to remember to watch a series every week, so I go through binges on Netflix but I'm so far behind everyone else. I'm currently on season 2 of Big Bang Theory and very much enjoying it :D 

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Sounds similar! I've just gone back over my TV watching over the past fortnight. Aside from the Tour de France, I've watched just one programme - a recorded documentary on Einstein's development of General Relativity. I'll need to watch it again to understand it though! I've also deleted half a dozen programmes unwatched!

 

We may be sport watchers, but we'll be away for much of the Olympics. Might be able to watch the last two or three days, but actually neither of us are that bothered this time round.

Edited by willoyd

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Reading Update

 

Just returned from our cycling tour through northern Germany from Berlin into the Netherlands.  We didn't make it as far as Amsterdam, as we decided that we were finding the country we were passing through so interesting, that we wanted to linger a bit more, so Zwolle became our final destination (although we did cycle through the Zuid Kennemerland national park to get from Haarlem to Ijmuiden for the ferry - well recommended, both city and park).  It was an absolutely brilliant trip, which I could fill up pages writing about. 

 

One highlight was that we went to see if we could see the house featured in Thomas Harding's The House by the Lake and found a couple of people working on clearing the grounds.  They appeared delighted that we were familiar with the history of the house, and we were invited in to take a look around - it's still in a pretty delapidated state with much work to do, but the layout and many of the features mentioned in the book were unmistakeable.  Thrilled was an understatement!  Later on in the trip, we were invited into a working restored cap-windmill that a group of enthusiasts had been restoring and were working on the day we passed by, and went climbing right up into the windmill's workings.

 

Finished just three books on the trip: Nancy Mitford's The Pursuit of Love, Berlin Now by Peter Schneider, and The Blackhouse by Peter May. Spent most of my time dipping into German histories and reading up guidebooks - the guide to the Museumdorf at Cloppenburg being particuarly fascinating and relevant to what we were seeing and travelling through.

 

One other highlight: birdlife was brilliant: loads of raptors (common and rough-legged buzzards, red kites and kestrels were, inevitably, the most common - we saw 12 kites feeding in one field on one occasion- but also a hen harrier, a probable marsh harrier, and an osprey), white storks by the dozen, cranes, great and little egrets, a flock of Egyptian geese in Germany, a pair of Bar-headed geese in the Netherlands, and a host of smaller birds.  Other wildlife included hares, a pine marten, a red squirrel, and a wide variety of deer.

 

Both countries (especially the Netherlands) continue to make our cycling (and non-car) provision look pathetic and rundown: the Sustrans Hadrians Wall route that links the ferry at North Shields to Newcastle City Centre, was so disappointing by comparison after three weeks cycling in countries from whom we have so much to learn on this front (little wonder that tonight's British news led on the child obesity report just published).

Edited by willoyd

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I'm glad you had a great trip :). I've never really been in Zwolle (well, unless you include the time I was on the train going through Zwolle to get to Groningen), since it's far away from here (relatively speaking). Nice to hear about all that wildlife. I have to admit, while I know some bird names in Dutch, I don't know all of their English names. So some of the bird species you mention, don't mean anything to me, but I'd probably know some of them by looking at them or by their Dutch names. We don't have grey squirrels here, we have red ones. I find they're quite beautiful creatures. I'm glad you got to see one. We have them in the garden every once in a while.

 

I'm glad you had a great trip all around :).

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I have to admit, while I know some bird names in Dutch, I don't know all of their English names.

Hope I've got the spellings right!

 

Buzzard = Buizerd

Honey Buzzard = Wespendief

Red kite = Rode wouw

Kestrel = Torenvalk

Hen harrier = Blauwe kuikendief

Marsh harrier = Bruine kuikdendief

Osprey = Visarend

White stork = Ooievaar

Crane = Kraanvoge

Great egret = Grote zilverreige

Little egret = Kleine zilverreige

Egyptian goose = Nijlgans

Bar-headed goose = Indische gans

 

We saw loads of others, especially smaller passerines, but these were the ones that created the most interest for us. What also surprised us were the sheer numbers of swallows (Boerenzwaluw) and house martins (Huiszwaluw) that we saw - literally hundreds each day, especially during the first half of the holiday.  Perfectly common at home (although we see more swifts - Gierzwaluw - round us), but not in anything like these numbers any more.

 

Edited by willoyd

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Wow Willoyd, that's so kind :)! I know most of those Dutch bird names. Almost all of the spellings are correct (3 miss 1 last letter of the word, 1 is I think a typo). We do have a lot of swallows here. Thank you so much :)!

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Stephen Fry in America by Stephen Fry ***

This has sat on our bookshelves for some time, picked up cheaply, an attractive topic but never quite got around to (true of so many TV tie-ins). However, I needed to read a book written by a comic for one of the challenges I'm doing, and this seemed to fit the bill perfectly - a book I've long intended to read, about a country that has increasingly interested me.

The book lends itself to reading in short stints: a series of short chapters, each devoted to one state. It proved perfect bedtime reading. Stephen Fry has a laconic, dry, but sympathetic style that is eminently readable (and watchable), adding to its night-time suitability. About half way through, however, I switched to more sustained reading and, whilst successive states tended to merge together, I started to develop a better overview of the journey as a whole - swings and roundabouts.

Overall, this was an entertaining read - it's hard to believe that Fry would be anything else - and whilst it included instances of iconically American visits, there was enough that was sufficiently off the mainstream to capture the imagination. My biggest disappointment, however, was the superficiality, perhaps inevitable in a book and short TV series trying to cover the whole of such a large nation. However, when some states barely get a mention (literally), and most others are represented by no more than one visit, one is left wondering quite how much of the USA we are actually getting a feel for. But then, any greater depth would have probably been totally impracticable.

So - what there was proved interesting, an interest that was rather too often frustrated by lack of depth. But as an introduction to the country, including so many aspects that might not be at the forefront of what a Brit would expect, this certainly whetted my appetite, and left me more intrigued than before - which is probably as much as one could expect. I would just like the producers to have found a way of developing this, perhaps, into something more in depth (maybe Stephen Fry in New England, in the Deep South, in the Midwest, etc etc??). I'm glad to have read it though, and have now bought the DVD to go with it!

Edited by willoyd

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Some mini-reviews

I'm getting quite heavily behind on my reviews, so a quick half a dozen mini-reviews to help catch up and keep on track. I've been reading more than usual this year, and it's hard keeping up! More mini-reviews to follow I think.

The Somme by Garry Sheffield ***
A useful overview of the months long battle, that is notorious for the bloodshed on its first day, too slim to dwell on the detail, so maybe of limited use to those more familiar with this period. Sheffield is one of those who do not see the battle as the complete disaster so commonly portrayed nor the leadership as quite the 'donkeys' of Oh What A Lovely War. I didn't find him completely convincing, but I still felt I learned a lot from this workmanlike and readable history.

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry ******
Set in nineteenth century England, recently widowed of a domineering, perhaps abusive, husband, Cora Seaborne moves out of London into coastal Essex to follow her interest in natural history, in particular to investigate a rumoured sea serpent, the stories of which are threatening to terrorise the local neighbourhood. This sounds like the basis of a Victorian mystery, but whilst the plot, and other sub-plots, bubble along, the real centres of focus are the characters and their relationships, particularly that between Cora and the Ransome family, Will Ransome being the local vicar.

I absolutely adored this book, wrapped up in it from the opening page. I loved the language (regarded as rather too florid by some, but to my mind simply wonderfully coloured and evocative), I loved the characterisation, and I loved the setting, all crowned by a series of plot lines that gently intrigued me. As close to a perfect read as I'm ever going to get from modern fiction - with the most fabulous dust cover to boot!

Cotillion by Georgette Heyer ****
Classic Georgette Heyer Regency novel, enhanced by a pitch perfect reading from Phyllida Nash, with a bit of a twist in it compared to Heyer's usual fare (although visible from miles away!).  Whiled away a couple of long, tedious journeys very pleasantly immersed in a world of light intrigue, knotty affairs, silk gowns, pelisses, multiple capes and quizzing glasses! Heyer is definitely one of my not-so-guilty pleasures.

Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford ***
The story of Linda Radlett as told by her best friend, Fanny Logan. Nancy Mitford's light, fluid writing, leavened with strong streaks of comedy (particularly from the rest of the Radlett family, foremost amongst whom is Linda's father, 'Uncle' Matthew), belies the gently searing tragedy of Linda's life in pursuit of love, some of it reflecting Mitford's own (several characters being recognisably based on Mitford's own family and close circle). Mitford combines the two opposites with almost consummate ease, and it's little wonder that this is such a favourite for so many. However, reading it for a second time, I couldn't help feeling a certain hollowness at its centre, with characters that that seemed to lack real heart - or was that because that was what they were looking for? I'm not sure, but I didn't quite warm to it the way I did first time around. Hmmmm.

Berlin Now by Peter Schneider ***(*)
Interesting series of essays looking at aspects of Berlin's development since the wall came down, particularly some of the challenges posed by the merging of effectively two separate cities with different ideological backgrounds into one. Definitely gets beneath the surface, even if one always needs to be aware that this is a personal viewpoint. Provided some illuminating reading on a visit to Berlin, although one or two chapters, particularly on the social scene, felt a bit laboured.

The Blackhouse by Peter May ***
The first in the Lewis trilogy of crime mysteries. I was looking forward to this, the setting if nothing else, but in the end I found it hard work. Yet another damaged detective investigating yet another gory murder. The conceit was that this was a homecoming for the detective brought in because the murder resembled one on his patch in Edinburgh, and he knew all the protagonists (including the victim) from his youthful years. Much swapping of timelines, with the present told in the third person and the past in the first. It was cleverly constructed, although I found the ending a bit predictable, and it will appeal to aficionados of grittier crime I'm sure, but I found it just OK.  In particular, the flashbacks were irritatingly distracting (even though they were essential to understanding the story), and the unremitting gloom in the character's lives became thoroughly debilitating.  Didn't help that I was trying to read this on holiday! Almost mis-lit, and I hate that genre.  I'm not going to bother with the rest of the trilogy - one's OK but enough.

Edited by willoyd

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