Thursday, April 29, 2010

April Reading Round Up | Book Circle Book

The story of Danny Dunn/ Bryce Corteney
In the 1930s few opportunities existed for boys in Balmain, but at just sixteen years of age Danny Dunn has everything going for him: brains, looks, sporting aptitude - and luck with the ladies. His parents run The Hero, the favourite neighbourhood watering hole, and Danny is a local hero. Luck changes for Danny when he signs up to go to war.~from the blurb
I dunno. This one was okay but kind of disappointing really.  I enjoyed Corteney's ealier writings but now he seems to be churning them out in industrial fashion and they are all the same.  This could have been a book with so much more depth but he tries to cover so much time and too many people IMO.  It was very predictable and too shallow.  The ending leaves things open for a sequel but I don't think I'll bother.

The book thief / Markus Zusak.
Trying to make sense of the horrors of World War II, Death relates the story of Liesel--a young German girl whose book-stealing and story-telling talents help sustain her family and the Jewish man they are hiding, as well as their neighbors. ~ from the blurb
This was one of last year's book circle books which I never got in time to read.  But finally my turn came and I must say I would recommend the book.  The mix of vulnerability, honesty and bravery against the back drop of WW2 with all it's desperation and deprivation is highly engaging.  It's not a "happy" book as such but eminently satistfying.

Eat, pray, love : one woman's search for everything across Italy, India, and Indonesia / Elizabeth Gilbert.
Around the time Elizabeth Gilbert turned thirty, she went through an early-onslaught midlife crisis. She had everything an educated, ambitious American woman was supposed to want; a husband, a house, a successful career. But instead of feeling happy and fulfilled, she was consumed with panic, grief, and confusion. She went through a divorce, a crushing depression, another failed love, and the eradication of everything she ever thought she was supposed to be. To recover from all this, Gilbert took a radical step. In order to give herself the time and space to find out who she really was and what she really wanted, she got rid of her belongings, quit her job, and undertook a yearlong journey around the world. Eat, Pray, Love is the absorbing chronicle of that year.~ from the blurb
This much celebrated book was one I'd had on hold for a while and it finally arrived.  I wasn't sure what to expect from it.  Sometimes I find the popular books are too saccharine for me.  The first few chapters made me wonder if I'd bother to finish it.  I was beginning to think this was another book about a spoiled, undercommitted, over-dramatic Westerner trying to get meaning in their lives.  However, I persevered and gradually got drawn into the book.  Gilbert's writing is quite amusing too so I found myself laughing a few times.  I enjoyed her investigations on prayer and meditation.  Prayer is something I feel like I fail at and I'd like to learn better how to be effectual.  Also in meditation - I find it hard to settle down and stop the self talk.  So those chapters were particularly interesting for me.  Unfortunately, I can't afford to take the time off to have month long explorations of spirituality and love so somehow I have to work this out in the here and now. It is probably a cultural thing but I did find myself rolling my eyes a few times with this woman.  The way she hung on to her previous lover got a bit annoying when it seemed obvious to me that it was never going to work.  But maybe that is me and my Kiwi "get over it and move on" attitude.

Unseen academicals / Terry Pratchett
Football has come to the ancient city of Ankh-Morpork - not the old fashioned, grubby pushing and shoving, but the new, fast football with pointy hats for goalposts and balls that go gloing when you drop them. And now, the wizards of Unseen University must win a football match, without using magic, so they're in the mood for trying everything else.~from the blurb
I always enjoy Prachett's satirical writing.  My French teacher in 4th form first introduced me to them and I've been a fan ever since.  I have my favourites of course - Mort being one of them.  This one is kind of about football, but also about assumptions and stereotypes.  Prachett always makes me laugh.  (And I really wish I had a Luggage).

Growing great marriages / Ian and Mary Grant.
Ian and Mary Grant maintain that the two great human desires are to know that we can love and that we can be loved. In their latest book, they give skills and tips on how to maintain your relationship with your husband or wife. Whether your relationship is flaming with passion or just flaming awful, this entertaining book gives you insights and practical ideas to make your life stronger and happier. You will take away keys and tips to transform your relationship into one that others will envy, full of fun, communication, passion and intimacy. Turn the dream into a reality.~ from the blurb
This one is good.  Janine recommended it and I also do.  I wanted DH to read it but there were so many holds on it I had to return it.

and then my reading history on my library record disappeared! So any others I read this past month I'll have to try and remember.

Book Circle April Book
Replenishing the Earth : the settler revolution and the rise of the Anglo-world, 1783-1939 / James Belich.
(2009). Oxford : Oxford University Press.

Pioneering study of the anglophone 'settler boom' in North America, Canada, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand between the early 19th and early 20th centuries, looking at what made it the most successful of all such settler revolutions, and how this laid the basis of British and American power in the 19th and 20th centuries. Why does so much of the world speak English? Replenishing the Earth gives a new answer to that question, uncovering a 'settler revolution' that took place from the early nineteenth century that led to the explosive settlement of the American West and its forgotten twin, the British West, comprising the settler dominions of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Between 1780 and 1930 the number of English-speakers rocketed from 12 million in 1780 to 200 million, and their wealth and power grew to match. Their secret was not racial, or cultural, or institutional superiority but a resonant intersection of historical changes, including the sudden rise of mass transfer across oceans and mountains, a revolutionary upward shift in attitudes to emigration, the emergence of a settler 'boom mentality', and a late flowering of non-industrial technologies -wind, water, wood, and work animals - especially on settler frontiers. ~from the blurb

Well the blurb sounded interesting okay?  I thought I'd enjoy it but oh boy, it was hard going.  Much more academic than I thought it was going to be!  Which is a shame because Belich can write in a more engaging style and his historical documentary on The New Zealand Wars was very interesting.
I did persevere until almost the end but I'm really not sure I "got" what he was trying to say except that much of the world speaks English because of the fortuitous factors that promoted English-speaking settlers where they settled, and their willingness to make a go of it despite the hardships they faced.

The curious thing about this is there were several holds on this book after me so either other people were seduced by the blurb or there are some dedicated historians out there.


  1. Every month I'm amazed at your prolific reading!

    I enjoyed Eat, Pray, Love, but it wasn't as amazing as everyone claimed. That being said, I can't wait to see the movie! I still remember my favorite line in that book when she is describing herself in her relationship as "a cross between a golden retriever and a barnacle." Made me laugh out loud! Maybe because on occasion I see myself in that description...

  2. It's not a cultural thing. I'm a Westerner and Eat, Pray, Love had me rolling my eyes the whole time. The last section really bored me to death. I was so sick of her whining. We're not all like that, I promise. The only thing that kept me going through it was her writing. Now if only she'd apply herself to something more worth while!

  3. I am looking forward to reading the new Pratchett :) Maybe I will give the Belich book a miss though - reading enough academic stuff at the moment!

  4. I'm still to read 'The Book Thief" too. It's v. popular @ our community library, so I'll be waiting a wee while yet.

    Was interested to read your review of the Ian & Mary Grant's book on marriage. We went to one of their "Growing Great Marriages" seminars a little over two years ago & got heaps from it. We were given written material to take away, so I'm guessing the book is an expansion on this.

    We also have a copy of Ian's "Growing Great Boys" which is excellent again. V. practical and full of commonsense strategies.

    Also been meaning to tell you I recently read the Carolly Erickson book "The Last Wife of Henry VIII" that you recommended in one of your reading round ups last year. I really enjoyed it and followed it up with her "Secret Diaries of Marie Antoinette". I'd now like to read some of her non fiction/biographies. So thanks again for the recommendation, Penny:)

    I'm giving the Belich tome a miss too. I left a comment recently on Mel's blog explaining why.

  5. You're a brave woman making it that far through Belich. I managed a couple of chapters but the academic style was just too much. Reading is supposed to be a pleasure after all.

  6. I do have a Luggage! Ok, it's only a figurine, but it is signed on the bottom by Pterry himself :-)

  7. Totally agreed with your views on Replenishing the Earth.

    I loved Eat, Pray, Love but I do agree with you that I felt she was very self indulgent - who has the luxury to spend all that time/money on finding themselves?