Friday, 5 February 2016

Happy to See This Post Back Again

The Broke and the Bookish (here) used to regularly post a cocktail hour.  Book bloggers and others interested in books answer a Thursday Query while sipping a cocktail. Virtual of course. As she says, it is always 5:00 somewhere in the world.

Here is today's question and I will attempt to answer it with what comes first to my mind. I don't want to think about it too much as I think the books in the world would run rampant over my brain. That happens enough already.

 What is one book you recommend pretty much across the board -- regardless of genre or what the person normally reads?

Quickly without thinking these are the three books I would recommend to anyone.

1.  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Maggie Smith (1943)
I have read this book several times and it tells a story of Francie amongst the poor immigrants in New York City. She is a young girl, age 12 who deals with not only the poverty of her family and others who enter her world but has a yearning to be educated and read as much as she can.  She is a wonderful character and it is interesting to see this world from her eyes. 

2.  87 Charing Cross Road by Helen Hanff  (1970)
I had read this book perhaps more than any other book except Black Beauty. The wonderful relationship between the book shop owner in London and the woman in New York is wonderful. The discussions through the mail, long before email, Facebook and mobile phones is wonderfully told and it is probably my biggest comfort read of all books. 

I might add the film with Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins is just as good and one I  have seen dozens of times. Just love it.

3.  Mao's Last Dancer by Li Cunxin (2003)
The story of a young boy from poverty like we have never known in rural China. He rises through the dance world eventually ending up in The United States. I  think the best part of this book is when he first visits America and discovers the materialism of the country, that he could not ever have imagined. It was quite embarrassing to this American/Australian and made me realise what an absolutely wasteful society the west really is. 

I MUST add, these are the three books that popped into my mind TODAY.  You could ask me the same question and I would probably strongly recommend other books like Grapes of Wrath or Olive Kitteridge or All the Light We Could Not See.  There are just so many really excellent books that have been written over the years and three recommendations are never enough but for today this is what you get.

What book pops into your mind, RIGHT NOW, without thinking more than 5 seconds? I'd love to know. 

I'll talk to all of you again next week. This weekend I am going with 27 members of Ulysses motorbike club to the northwest of the state on my big Italian scooter. More than a 1000 km return so I probably won't be able to do much next week except lie in bed and type.  And I imagine at the rate the Penguin is going with those cocktails he may be there too.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Monday Mania and Some New Penguin Books

It has been a bit crazy in Tasmania the past couple of weeks.  We have had the western half of the state covered in bush fires, one count was as many as 80 separate fires, many in very remote areas.

Then came the water. A deluge of rain covering, wouldn't you know it, the eastern half of the state and lightning sparking 16 more fires in the west.

We have fire fighters in the state from several states on the mainland as well as some Americans who came over here with some great technology.

My favourite second hand book store, Cracked and Spineless let me know these wonderful green Penguins had been purchased by them and he set some aside for me.  Today I was in there and the flooding had come through their ceiling soaking a great many of their newer books. I always hate to see that. The books were so swollen with water Richard could not pull them off from the shelves as they appeared wedged and glued together.  Thank goodness for insurance but the loss of so many books is very sad.

I have been busy reading this month trying to get caught up on book club reads. I finished the Gilded Hour which I have spoken of previously. My Book Club book club rated Gilded Hour as 4 stars and everyone loved it. It is also the beginning of a series so we look forward to the next book that is published. We loved the characters, especially and there are lots of story lines to continue wrapping up.

I am also halfway into Magic Lobsters and Flying Tangines by J.P. Haley.
This is a fascinating book. It is translated fiction under LGBT umbrella. It takes place in Morocco and is one of the quirkiest tales I have gotten into for awhile. More to come later.

I will say the descriptive writing makes one feel as though they are in this dusty little town south of Morocco. You can smell the decay in the buildings. You can laugh at the manipulative female characters and feel exhausted by all that happens.

Then I finally finished All The Light We Cannot See, the Pulitzer Prize winning novel about WWII by Anthony Doerr.  I won't even try to review this book because I know a lot of people have done better than I could.  I will say it must be the best book I have read in a very long time. If I had to think of one word to describe the writing I would have to say, "Exquisite".  Our Fullers Shop book club will talk about it in more depth on Thursday night.

Our next books for the book clubs are The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman.  Our group will see the movie once it is produced.

Also the The Lady in the Van is to be discussed. The movie will be here in March and we have set a date to see that together. It should be a lot of fun. I love Maggie Smith.

Reading I am behind with? Yes, my Spin Book was supposed to have been reviewed by 1 February. It is a vintage Penguin about New South Wales. I do still want to have a look at it and I have another short story in the Deal Me In Challenge to do TODAY!

So much to read so little time. In my defence, I did finish the Photoshop Course I signed up for. Thirteen lessons of reading, exercises, assignments and exams.  I had hoped to have it done by Christmas but me and the best laid plans of course. But that is a large chunk of time I have gotten back. Now to start all the photographic projects.

Our writing group begins this Wednesday. I am the facilitator for the next 6 month and that will be a new experience.  I need to get cracking and get some pieces turned out. We are putting together a book of our writer's work for 2015. That should be finished soon and off for printing.

Friday I have a performance to see at The Theatre Royal, which I do look forward to. Then Saturday we have a 3 day motorbike ride through the highlands of the state to the far northwest coast. A ride of more than 500 kms (300 miles). Another ride the following day from the cabin that 5 of us are staying in and then the ride home on the Monday which is a bank holiday for Regatta Day. The only state I know of that has a public holiday for boat races. That is Australia for you.

I will post up some of the travel photos that occur next week as the state is beautiful. I hope some of the fires are out and we don't end up in heavy smoke and that the flood waters have receded.

So far there has been a great start to 2016 and already it feels as though we are more than a month into it.

The Penguin is exhausted from all of the activity so we will take a couple of days this week to work on our Macro on a Tabletop challenge, due Friday for the Hobart Photographic Society.

What have you been up to this week and what book has been in your hands this week? And where has it taken you?

May the Penguin smile upon you.............

Places travelled this week through books:  Germany, France, Morocco, countryside south of Morocco.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Deal Me In Short Story- Thomas Pynchon

Entropy by Thomas Pynchon

The Deal Me In
Short Story Challenge
This was the story I picked at random through the Deal Me In Short Story Card Challenge.  I didn't enjoy it much. Probably because I didn't understand it. So after I read it I needed to look in Wikipedia and Google and see if what I thought about it was correct or not. Fortunately I pretty much figured it out without knowing it.

This is the book I choose a story from the
15th of every month.
It was first published in 1960 and it is very much a 60's story from what I remember of the American 60's. The time period in the story is February 1957 and the location is an apartment in Washington DC.

There is a lease breaking party going on. There are several musicians walking around. While they are playing a 54 year old man is chanting about thermodynamics. More university students continue to arrive. It seems like a typical university weekend party in someone's unit.

The main protagonist is holding a baby bird cupped into his hands. This made no sense to me as I doubt he would find a fledgling in February in Washington DC.  The names are Saul and Meatball Mulligan. The dying baby bird stood for several ideas in the story.

You might ask what Entropy means?  I did. According to a dictionary online it is a measure of the loss of information in a transmitted signal or message. I imagine people who studied physics would know this.

In this story it is a metaphor for the discussions people are having and also as the evening progresses the baby bird is quietly slipping away. This story is full of metaphors. There are almost too many to bear. But if I remember people of the 60's were really into metaphors.
From Wikipedia

During the party a group of policemen arrive at the door. Instead of saying, "Hey, turn the music down" they walk through to the kitchen and join the party. There are drugs and alcohol and many deep and meaningful conversations happening in every corner of the room. The descriptions make one feel as if they are sitting in a chair in a corner watching everything.

What did I learn from this?  Well if you're having a deep and meaningful conversation while at a party imbibing in drugs and alcohol you are probably going to sound less profound than you think. There will probably be a lot of gaps as your mind struggles to organise itself. Entropic brain I guess.

The themes are the slipping away of many things that come and go in a pop culture and drugs give you quite a different view point of the status quo.  Conversations aren't connected much, life at times seems sporadic in a drug culture. There is also a bit of bad humour but of course the participants don't know it. I picked up on it.

There turns out, as the party progresses to be a complete breakdown of all of the systems of control.

Like I said, it is very sixties.

I liked that I had no idea about anything Thomas Pynchon related and now I have read several documents on the web about him I feel I know a bit more about him.  It was an interesting exercise.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Weekend Wrap Up 17 January, 2016

I can't believe we're already over half way through the month of January.  I wish the calendar would slow down a bit. This has been a pleasant week as there are still groups I belong to that are on holiday until Feb or March so I have had lots of time to read, walk the dogs, play with photoshop.

This week was a funny week weather wise. We had one day where the temp was well into the 30's (90'sF) and the very next day it was down to 12 (50's F).  One night all the windows would be open and we'd by lying on top of the covers, the ceiling fan going. (Odie thinks the ceiling fan might come down during the night and get him so he usually hides under a blanket when it is on)  The next we were hunkered down under blankets. That is the joy of Tasmania's weather. If you don't like the weather just go to bed because it will be different when you wake up.
You can barely see the river through the smoke haze.
Just a very light outline.

The city of Hobart is currently under a smoke haze from the bush fires happening on the west coast. Everytime the fire department puts out a total fire ban warning across the state all the arsonists in the place jump to attention and start lighting the place up. Though I understand these west coast fires are from lightning.

Usually we have a view of the river Derwent out the front living room window but this morning we could barely see it.

Books on the go?  Well I have been reading and listening All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I am only about a third of the way through it but need to finish it soon as our book club is discussing it the first week of Feb.  So far I am really enjoying it. I would expect it to be a very good book as it won the Pulitzer Prize and I generally enjoy those award winning books. Will do a post on it after the group meets.

I read another book in the Alex Cross series by James Paterson on the day that was too hot to concentrate. I know people think James Paterson is not literary and they kind of curl their lip if you say you read one but I saw an interview with him.

He was asked why he doesn't write more literary masterpieces and he said simply that he can't so he writes what he is good at which are good thrillers and he makes a mega ton of money. So I say "Good Onya James."

I started his Alex Cross series years and years ago and love the family of Alex, an African American police detective who lives with his family in Washington DC.  He has a wife, a few children and a wonderful 90 some year old Nana who I really like. Over the years I have been with him when his first wife was murdered, his children were born, his second wedding. He solved some horrendous cases with his friend Sampson and I enjoy the area around DC. Some books are also set in North Carolina where he still has family.  His family seems very real to me. His first Alex Cross mystery was published in 1993 and was called Along Came A Spider.
The one I just finished was Cross Justice and was the 22nd  in the series. I have now read all 22 of them. I don't read his other books but I do follow this series as I began it such a long time ago.
Thomas Pynchon

It was also time to pick my Deal Me In 15th of the month short story and it was one from Thomas Pynchon called  Entropic.  It was a difficult story to get my head around at first. I read it last night and at the end of it I needed to sit and think a bit. Then I researched it on the web and now I have a much clearer understanding of it. Thomas Pynchon was an interesting writer. He was born in 1936.  I will do a separate post this week on this short story.

The rest of the week was pretty uneventful. I did meet a friend for a coffee at Fuller's Book store and did enjoy looking around the shop. I bought a great photography book to help me with my photography lessons.  I plan on going through some of the exercises in it but that might come to this post a bit later. The coffee is always good. So are the desserts but I did resist. Still have Christmas fat on me.
The coffee shop is at the back on the left. Best book
shop in Hobart by far for new books.

I did a bush walk with the dogs the other day and we had a good time with them and the camera. They are finally not pulling on the lead so much and are used to me stopping and making them wait while I focus the camera. It has been a good exercise for all of us.

I also completed Lesson 8 of my Photoshop course. Learning this software is a real bugger. But after spending 2 days studying this particular lesson I got through it and my exam score was 88% so I was happy with that.  The answer I gave for the question wasn't wrong, it just wasn't the best answer. I hate how they do that.  Five more classes to get through.

I didn't make it to the cinema so no news to report on that front though there are several good movies appearing I wouldn't mind seeing. Overall I would say the week was a good one albeit quite quiet. That's okay. I like quiet.  I hope all of you had a good week and enjoyed some reading enjoyment.

May the Penguin continue to have a good life.......

Sunday, 10 January 2016

The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House

The Residence: Inside the Private Worth of the White House.

Today the Penguin and I finished this book and we're still talking about it. It was lots of fun. The author, Kate Andersen Brower went to a lot of trouble to write this.

There really hasn't been much written about the inner workings and the staff within the white house especially as you see there are more than 100 people who work there.

When you think about how  many people are needed to take care of one family the numbers are amazing.

We had head ushers and more junior ushers, butlers, maids, cooks, chefs, electricians, plumbers, hairdressers, garden staff and mechanics just to name a few. Every time someone turned around they ran into another person. Then there were nannies and educators for the children.

The white house has six stories though you might  not know it because of the way it is arranged. There are mezzanines here and there. The presidential family pretty much stayed on floors 2 and 3.  There is a bunker underneath it for security.

It seems once staff were hired they stayed there a very long time. Some as long as 40 to 55 years. The staff positions are not advertised but rather gained by word of mouth. One butler had 9 other family members who worked there.  Police checks of course are vital. The other skill they had to have was the ability to keep their mouth closed.  If they talked to anyone outside of the white house they were sacked immediately. The loyalty of the staff was first and foremost and the author reiterated this point ad nauseam. No matter what was happening in the world they kept their head down, mouth closed and got on with the job at hand.

The time period went as far back as Truman and even Lincoln got a mention but the book mainly focused on John Kennedy's presidency through to Barrack Obama's.  

It is like an enormous Downton Abbey but with many more staff.

Some of the historical points were mentioned. The Kennedy assassination was a big one of course and the author writes how staff were affected by this. Very sad.  9/11 comes up in the last chapter. But rather than a chronological list of presidents, first ladies, children and events being the main focus, what was most interesting was the personalities and the families of the people who worked there. I especially loved the Ushers and Butlers. Most butlers were African American who worked there for very long periods of time. Decades. They were great grandsons of slaves and their histories were very interesting. Several of the main characters that were discussed told of their childhoods in the south and how they managed to get to Washington DC and live and work in the white house.

One butler who was there 55 years was buried in Arlington Cemetery when he died for service to quite a few presidents at the request of Jackie Kennedy to Lady Bird Johnson.

Interesting points included the personalities of the presidential families. Who was lovely and popular (Bush families, both Sr and Jr) and who was more difficult and needed kid gloves (Hilary Clinton and Nancy Reagan). It told who was traditional and did things by the book (the Johnsons) and who was casual and ran around in jeans and t shirts (Kennedys) The staff loved the Kennedys especially the young children, John and Caroline.

There were some funny moments too such as when staff might walk in on Reagan who was starkers or Kennedy who had naked women running around the second floor when Jackie was away.  Though it is not written from a sordid point of view, it is written simply with tongue in cheek and staff had to try hard not to laugh. The things these people saw and heard.
The Author: Kate Andersen Brower

The book has an extensive introduction, chapter notes for each chapter, a well documented bibliography and complete index.

The author, Kate Andersen Brower spend four years covering the Obama White House for Bloomberg News (as stated on the jacket cover). She is a former CBS News staff and Fox news producer. She lives outside Washington D.C., with her husband and their two young children.

In preparation for this book she read copious amounts of books, newspaper and periodical articles and interviewed one hundred staff members of the White House for this book.

It is well organised, entertaining, enlightening and informative. I thoroughly enjoyed it and read it in record time.

The Penguin when
he emerged from the
Lincoln Bedroom
(silly bugger)
The Penguin had fun too. He seemed quite fascinated with the Lincoln Room where the Gettysburg Address is homed and he loved it the day Elvis Presley popped in simply because he was in the neighbourhood. A lot of things like this happen.

That's it for this book. I would certainly recommend it to others.

May the Penguin be with you........