Monday, 15 November 2010

What I've been reading

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At Home: A Short History of Private Life
by Bill Bryson

"Bill Bryson was struck one day by the thought that we devote a lot more time to studying the battles and wars of history than to considering what history really consists of: centuries of people quietly going about their daily business - eating, sleeping and merely endeavouring to get more comfortable. This inspired him to start a journey around his own house, wandering from room to room considering how the ordinary things in life came to be."
This is a stream of factoids, loosely associated with rooms in a house, but so loosely as to be quite unconnected with any coherent thread of narrative. It's fun to read, even though I take issue with some of the 'facts', and was moved to look up the nutritional value of cornflakes and peanuts in response to one sentence (he is wrong about which contains more calories per gramme). I liked it, but there isn't much substance to it.

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by Georgette Heyer

narrated by Phyllida Nash
"Young Kitty Charing stands to inherit a vast fortune from her irascible guardian - provided she marries one of his great-nephews. Kitty devises an escape route: she convinces one of these gentlemen, the honourable Freddy Standen, to pretend to be engaged to her. Her plan would bring her to London on a visit to Freddy's family and allow her a glimpse of society denied to her by her guardian."
I do like a bit of Georgette Heyer - Regency 'chick lit' really, about women loving clothes, wanting to look attractive and needing a husband, but somehow more acceptable than the modern stuff. When I analyse it in that way, I wonder how I can hate modern woman-oriented fiction so much, and yet find this not only inoffensive but enjoyable. Maybe it's the passage of time and the change in society - women had vastly fewer options in the 1700's, and no safety net for the poor. Nowadays when women can do pretty much what they want in this country, it seems pitiful to be so very obsessed with shoes, clothes and personal grooming.

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Life On Air: A History of Radio Four
by David Hendy

"David Hendy's book tells how the favourite radio station of the British middle class has, over four decades, weathered internal faction-fighting, political intimidation, managerial bullying and the tough love of its all-too-devoted listeners. It describes a rich mix of talk-based programming, combining varied pleasures with a judicious degree of uplift, and resistant to both elitism and ratings-chasing."
This is more reminiscent of a volume of political history than an entertaining read, but interesting enough to plough through nevertheless. In more recent years I remember the fuss about 'Anderson Country', the move of 'Woman's Hour' to the morning and the ditching of 'Kaleidoscope'. It was all very dry, yet I carried on reading in the hope that it would improve. It didn't.

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Her Fearful Symmetry
by Audrey Niffenegger

"When Elspeth Noblin dies, she leaves her beautiful flat overlooking Highgate Cemetery to her twin nieces, on condition that their mother is never allowed to cross the threshold. The twins hope that in London their own separate lives can finally begin. But their aunt doesn't seem quite ready to leave her flat, even after death."
This is the first fiction book I've read in print (rather than audio) for quite a long time. I bought it on the basis of her other book, 'The Time Traveler's Wife', which I like a lot - this is good, but not as good as that one. Anyway, she ramps the pace up towards the end, to the extent that I read the final third of the book in one sitting and I HAD to finish it, which you can't do with an audio book, and then I couldn't sleep, but perhaps the two weren't related. So I'm really tired today, and a little bit cross that the ending wasn't quite as good as I hoped it would be, but was still OK.

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