Thursday, 25 August 2011

What I've been reading

I've been weeding out books that I don't want to keep, and listing them on Bookmooch. Eight have already gone, but the Morecambe and Wise book in this post and three others are still available: Mansfield Park, One Hit Wonderland and Longitude. If you are interested in taking any of them off my hands, go create yourself an account, put up some books you want to give away, and then mooch these from me (user name leam38) - it's free! Or, alternatively, drop me an email.

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Morecambe & Wise
by Graham McCann

"This book charts the progress of the duo from a conventional working class music hall act to a mass-audience television team to a national institution. From northern working men's clubs at the beginning of their career to the 1977 Christmas special that had an audience of 28 million, Morecambe and Wise were a double act continually changing the dynamics of their relationship to reflect their influences and their times."
A comprehensive biography of the men and the times, nothing especially revelatory, but a reminder of the fun that used to be Saturday night television. And they are revealed to be very nice men, with integrity, who worked hard for their success. Which they richly deserved, in my opinion. I will always laugh when an emergency vehicle goes by with its siren blaring, and someone says, "They're not going to sell much ice cream going at that speed!"

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Following the Equator
by Mark Twain

narrated by Michael Kevin
"This vivid chronicle of a sea voyage on the Pacific Ocean displays Twain's eye for the unusual, his wide-ranging curiosity, and his delight in embellishing the facts. The personalities of the ship's crew and passengers, the poetry of Australian place-names, the success of women's suffrage in New Zealand, an account of the Sepoy Mutiny, and reflections on the Boer War as an expression of imperialistic morality, among other topics, are the focus of his wry humor and redoubtable powers of observation."
I enjoyed this for two reasons. One is his humorous turn of phrase, very dry, very Wodehouse. The other is the differences he reveals in the 19th century world through his ordinary narrative of his daily routine. For instance, he describes being given pyjamas to wear in place of his nightshirt, and how he dislikes this garment for various practical reasons, but also because he doesn't want to feel that he is wearing his day clothes in bed. There is no strong storyline, just a series of essays about wherever he is in the world and what he has observed or read or people have told him. To enjoy this I think you have to like Mark Twain's non-fiction, which luckily I do.

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Diabetes: A Biography
by Robert Tattersall

"The book describes the story of the disease from the ancient writings of Galen and Avicenna to the recognition of sugar in the urine of diabetics in the 18th century, the identification of pancreatic diabetes in 1889, the discovery of insulin in the early 20th century, the ensuing optimism, and the subsequent despair as the complexity of this now chronic illness among its increasing number of young patients became apparent."
Fascinating account of the history of diabetes, including some discussion of the associated complications. In today's scientific age it is instructive to remember how much we know now compared with former times - the simple fact that diabetes has its origin in the pancreas is a surprisingly recent discovery. The extent to which diabetes affects eyes, nerves, kidneys and the cardiovascular system and how it does so are still topics for discussion and disagreement, and the book lays it all out rather well. It's a sobering thought that the information is probably already out of date.

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The Death Maze
by Ariana Franklin

"Henry II’s favourite mistress, Rosamund Clifford, has been poisoned – and, rumour says, by his jealous wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine. If Henry believes the stories, England will be torn apart as King battles Queen. Twelfth-century anatomist, Adelia Aguilar must once again examine the dead as gruesome events unfold."
This is the second book in the series by this author, and the key characters are sustained from the first, which I liked very much. It has sufficient complexity yet key points in the mystery stand out, so you imagine that, if you could be bothered, you could put together the clues and work out whodunnit yourself. All the people that you should care about are likeable, and even the villains are three-dimensional characters. Very satisfying.

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