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Willoyd's Reading 2018

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Farewell to the Horse by Ulrich Raulff **


Picked this up in Waterstones as part of the BOGOHP deal they have. Looked very promising, and started off really well, with some interesting and insightful chapters introducing the topic of horses in the long nineteenth century - the last century they horse predominated as man's main source of energy for transport.  There was, in particular, a set of figures that set me back a little bit on my heels: in 1900 there were some 130,000 horses in Manhattan, each requiring 4 acres of feed per year, and producing 1100 tonnes and 270,000 litres of urine per day (yes, per day!).  And Manhattan was a fraction of the size of London.....


Unfortunately, we weren't far into this history before things started to disintegrate, or at least get hopelessly muddled up.  There was simply no structure, with the author diving off left right and centre with apparently random chapters, and even sections within chapters, just, or so it seemed, following wherever the whim took him.  The history itself was all over the place, and certainly didn't seem to focus on this last century. 


There is an absolutely fascinating book to be written on this subject, and the author certainly knows a lot about it.  He writes well in spurts, so, given a specific framework to write to, he could even be the writer.  Sadly however, he seems to have no idea how to structure a coherent discussion/narrative (I'm not sure which of the two he was trying to produce - or maybe something completely different?), and is too fascinated with material that appears to have little relevance (it's hard to tell what is relevant and what isn't, it's all such a mess) or is so trivial as to be near meaningless; his editors don't seem to have helped him either.  I gave up about 60% of the way through, massively frustrated and increasingly irritated. This is advertised as being The Sunday Times History Book of the Year; I am, to put it mildly, surprised.


Edited by willoyd

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Two books completed this week:


A Book of Silence by Sara Maitland ***

Maybe it's a sign of age, but this is a topic that interests me more and more, particularly when travelling on the train!  I certainly value silence, or at least quiet, far more than I used to.  Sara Maitland, however, takes it several stages further, not only seeking more silence in her life, but exploring its place in our lives, from those who find it very scary through to those who consistently live by it.  She finds that there is more than one silence (for instance, a silence that fills the space, and a silence that sucks from it - interesting idea). 

Overall, I got a lot out of this - it certainly made me think, not least about what silence actually is (and it's not just the absence of sound - that's the silence that sucks).  However, I do feel that all too often the author entwined it with other issues, not least solitariness, and then focused more on that than on the silence itself.  I also feel that she focused too much, at least for me, on the religous aspects of silence.  This is obviously important to her, as evidenced by her record of previous writing, but there were too many occasions where she seemed to wander off and/or get bogged down in religious discursion, and lost sight of what her subject was really about.

I did come away with some useful and interesting insights, and it was never less than easily readable, but the distractions and over-emphasis on the religious aspects meant that it wasn't quite the read I had hoped for.


Tyke on a Bike by John Priestley ***

Picked up in the library and looked an interesting read: Priestley is in need of exercise as his blood pressure is too high. He acquires a (cheap) bike and sets off to cycle the towpaths of northern canals, starting in his native Yorkshire.  Living in Yorkshire myself, I found the travel descriptions and nuggets of information initially both interesting and incisive. 


The book is only just over 200 pages long, and he covers a lot of ground in that time, extending out to the other side of the Pennines, even up into Scotland and (briefly) south into the Midlands. The style is light and often amusingly readable.  After a while, though I started to find  some of the author's expressed attitudes grating badly - too much stereotyping (or using stereotypes for that amusement), with an underlying current towards women that I found uncomfortable.  He might, again, have just been trying to be humorous, trying to be the typical 'Tyke', but it wasn't. Actually, I started to find the bluff Yorkshireman point of view a bit forced.  At the same time, round about the end of the descriptions of the two Yorkshire-Lancashire 'rings', the descriptions themselves also started to feel rather repetitive: Priestley said (more than once) that he found the townscapes more interesting than the rural sections, and it showed - there was absolutely no feel for the countryside at all beyond the barest overview (aside from the nettles!).


Overall this was a book that initially attracted, but on closer acquaintance really was just an OK read, with reservations.  Two and a half stars rounds up to three, but not as strong a three as Sara Maitland's book, which was probably almost a three and a half (but not quite!).

Edited by willoyd

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After a string of 6 books that failed to score above 3 stars, the longest run of indifference that I can recall, I finished Patrick Barkham's Islander tonight, in which the author visits a range of islands in the British archipelago, of decreasing size from the Isle of Man to the tiny 115-acre Ray Island on the Essex coast, and examines life on them.  It's been shortlisted for the Wainwright Prize, and I can certainly see why: 5 stars (out of 6) - an excellent read.  Will probably now go onto Joseph Roth's The Radetzky March, but tempted by a number of the American states list.

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