AlisonY - Still Randomly Rambling On in the 2H of 2021

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AlisonY - Still Randomly Rambling On in the 2H of 2021

1AlisonY
Lug 4, 5:42am



Welcome to my 2H of 2021 reading. It's going to be a time of huge personal change for me on the job front, which feels fearful yet very welcome. Onwards and upwards! I'm hoping to bump into the old me again at some point later this year - it's been a hard 6 years in my current role.

On the reading front I have no plans beyond going where the winds take me. I have a few books waiting to be read on my shelf at home, and look forward to meandering into different authors and genres as the notion takes me. In the last few years I've been reading more and more non-fiction (c. 60/40 F/NF), which often gets inspired by reviews on CR or historical events that some fiction books are centred around, so I'd like to keep that up as much as possible.

2AlisonY
Modificato: Ieri, 11:28am

2021 Reading Track

January
1. Life Under Fire by Jason Fox - read (3.5 stars)
2. Trick of the Light by Jill Dawson - read (3.5 stars)
3. All That Remains: A Life in Death by Sue Black - read (4.5 stars)
4. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel - read (4.5 stars)

February
5. Hunger by Knut Hansum - read (3.5 stars)
6. The Salt Path by Raynor Winn - read (4 stars)

March
7. Running for the Hills by Horatio Claire - read (4 stars)
8. Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel - read (5 stars)
9. The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell - read (4 stars)
10. Touching the Void by Joe Simpson - read (5 stars)
11. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco - read (4 stars)

April
12. A Summons to Memphis by Peter Taylor - read (2.5 stars)
13. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey - read (4.5 stars)
14. The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs - read (3.5 stars)

May
15. The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel - read (4.5 stars)
16. Yang Sheng: The Chinese Art of Self-Healing by Katie Brindle - read (4 stars)

June
17. The Wedding by Dorothy West - read (3 stars)
18. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston - read (4 stars)
19. The End of the World is a Cul de Sac by Louise Kennedy - read (3 stars)
20. Mr Mac and Me by Esther Freud - read (3.5 stars)

July
21. Amo, Amas, Amat and All That by Harry Mount - read (3.5 stars)
22. Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell - read (3.5 stars)
23. Your Best Year Ever: A Five Step Plan for Achieving Your Most Important Goals by Michael Hyatt - read (3.5 stars)

August
24. The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee - read (4 stars)
25. This Game of Ghosts by Joe Simpson - read (4.5 stars)
26. The Corner That Held Them by Sylvia Townsend Warner - read (3.5 stars)
27. More Than a Woman by Caitlin Moran - read (4.5 stars)
28. 84 Charing Cross Road/The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street by Helen Hanff - read (4.5 stars)

September
29. Reading in the Dark by Seamus Deane - read (4 stars)
30. Childhood, Youth, Dependency by Tove Ditlevsen - read (4.5 stars)
31. Lean, Fall, Stand by Jon McGregor - read (4 stars)
32. The Maiden Dinosaur by Janet McNeill - read (4.5 stars)
33. The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between by Hisham Matar - currently reading

Non-fiction / memoir: 14
Fiction: 18

3AlisonY
Lug 4, 5:43am

4Caroline_McElwee
Modificato: Lug 4, 5:50am

Really keeping my fingers crossed that the perfect new job comes your way Alison. The process isn't fun or easy on the whole, but the outcome will be good. Imagine what you want it to be, and you will draw it to you.

5AlisonY
Lug 4, 6:08am

>4 Caroline_McElwee: Thanks Caroline. Glad I'm still able to keep up a steady reading pace despite the busyness at the moment.

6labfs39
Lug 4, 9:17am

>5 AlisonY: I think it's great that you are reading such great books at such a good pace while dealing with life stress. My reading tends to become drop in both quality and quantity when I'm stressed.

I started off the year reading a lot of nonfiction, but then became engrossed in several novels in a row. I currently stand at 30% nonfiction.

7rhian_of_oz
Lug 4, 9:36am

Good luck with the job hunting. I'm in the same boat, I left my job of (almost) 6 years without another job lined up as I'm hoping for a career change. Both exiting and terrifying!

My reading is all over the place - I'm "currently reading" six books - so I admire your steadfastness.

8AlisonY
Lug 4, 10:09am

>6 labfs39: I usually fall off on my reading when life is stressful too, so I'm pleased I've been slowly keeping at it. I won't break any reading records this year, mind you.

>7 rhian_of_oz: Hey job hunting buddy! Best of luck with the career change - that does sound exciting. Have you a firm idea of what you'd like to move into? I need financial stability at the moment so I'm tied to keeping within the same functional role but I'm keeping my eye out for a new industry opportunity.

I think a lot of people in CR juggle a few different books at the same time, but I would definitely end up adrift in my reading if I attempted that.

9labfs39
Lug 4, 10:31am

>8 AlisonY: I used to have a fiction and a nonfiction work going at the same time, but for the last year or so, I find I can only focus on one at a time. These days I also try to write the review right away, before I start the next book, or I lose momentum.

10rhian_of_oz
Lug 4, 11:20am

>8 AlisonY: I want to move into data analytics. I have the soft skills required but am missing the technical experience so I'm splitting my days between looking for/applying for jobs, and online study.

I wanted to do this 7 years ago when I was made redundant but the circumstances weren't right so I absolutely sympathise where you are at the moment.

11AlisonY
Lug 4, 12:33pm

>9 labfs39: I'm exactly the same but it seems to work for me.

>10 rhian_of_oz: Best of luck with it. I'm currently working in the tech sector and know that there are huge opportunities within the data analytics field.

Yeah, it sucks that the money trap so often influences whether we can follow our dreams / passions or not. I'm convinced you need several lives to be able to pursue many different careers (and of course to read so many more books!).

12BLBera
Lug 4, 12:54pm

I love the Eliot quote, Alison. Happy new thread. Hamnet was one of my favorite books of last year. I'll watch for your comments.

And, again, good luck with the job hunt.

13AlisonY
Lug 4, 1:49pm

>12 BLBera: Thanks Beth. I still can't believe I've not read any Eliot yet - must address that soon!

14SassyLassy
Lug 4, 5:21pm

Back at Amo, Amas, Amat and All That - the geek part of me was interested in the refresher, but having read your review, I suspect I would have the same reaction to that suppressed teenaged boy as you did, and would chuck the book quickly.

Happy New Thread

15VivienneR
Lug 6, 1:42pm

Good luck on the job hunt! And, glad you are still reading. I rely on your reviews!

I hope you enjoy Hamnet as much as I did, it was hands down my favourite book last year.

16sallypursell
Lug 6, 2:10pm

I am totally out of the loop, as you know, but I wish you the best in your job search.

17AlisonY
Lug 7, 2:04am

>14 SassyLassy: Yeah, less is more is the phrase that comes to mind. I get that he wanted to make it refreshingly modern, but it was too much at times. I also felt that by trying to be funny / smart with many of his examples the translations were too difficult to be a 'refresher'.

>15 VivienneR:, >16 sallypursell: Thanks. Nerves are starting to set in a little, but hopefully all will fall into place.

18AlisonY
Modificato: Lug 13, 5:28pm



22. Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell

Hamnet. Hmm. Long awaited, much anticipated, not what I expected.

This novel took me a long time to get into it, and to be honest were it not the book talk of the town last year I'd probably have abandoned it. The stilted prose style felt suffocating somehow, unduly dense.

A hundred odd pages in I finally got into my stride with it, but then the child Hamnet dies and it became simply the saddest, most upsetting thing to read about it, and I found myself getting cross that O'Farrell was getting her literary creative juices flowing by ripping the reader's heart out with what can only be one of the most upsetting contexts of grief, that of a mother losing her child. I enjoy a bit of misery lit probably more than the average person, but this was too much, even for me. I thought of how many of my CR pals had said they'd felt emotionally manipulated by A Little Life, which I didn't get at all from that book, but boy I got it in spades from Hamnet. It was the book equivalent of rubber-necking at the most terrible car crash, and by the end I felt like the whole point of the novel was simply to sell us some cheap seats to the most upsetting of shows.

I get why others liked it, but I was surprised at how this particular portrait of grief rubbed me up the wrong way. Most likely it's because it was based on the death of an 11 year old child, and with one of my own children that exact age it just wasn't something I enjoyed immersing myself in.

Also, as little seems to be known about Anne Hathaway, O'Farrell also seemed to take huge historical licence with her interpretation of her marriage to Shakespeare and her life in general, and whilst I'm happy with the necessary padding that comes with historical padding, this novel seemed to go a step further.

3.5 stars - a tale well told once I got used to the narrative style, but it pushed my buttons in the wrong way.

19labfs39
Lug 13, 5:38pm

>18 AlisonY: I haven't been eager to jump on the Hamnet bandwagon for some reason, and your review solidifies my hesitancy. Not my cuppa.

20kidzdoc
Lug 13, 6:11pm

Thanks for your balanced and very good review of Hamnet, Alison. I bought a copy of it after reading numerous glowing reviews of it, but I haven't picked it up yet. I have plenty of books that I'm much more eager to read, so it will stay in my bookcase for the time being.

21cindydavid4
Lug 13, 6:49pm

(note I am a huge fan of 0'Farrell, which may color my opion) The author books often tell of some kind of loss,and she wrote a memior I am I am I am, which is about her own daughter who has significant health issues. Im not sure shes trying to manipulate anything, I do think she used the real story of his death to bring the parents together I like the idea that Shakespear wrote Hamlet for his son

That being said, having a child of that age I can see why it would rub you the wrong way and if I had a child i am not sure Id read it.

as far as Anne Hathaway since there is no record, she invented a story that made sense to her. Its historic fiction, not real. Authors like Sharon Kay Penman and Hilary Mantel know how to fill in the spaces, by using what the history tells them. i had no problem with that characterization at all I will say she has written better, but this is the first time I've seen her go into the whelm of Historic Fiction. and would be interested to see what she does next. However you many not want to read her anymore. And I do think your review does give us pause.

22AlisonY
Lug 14, 4:41am

>19 labfs39:, >20 kidzdoc: I never wish to put anyone off a book, and know that I'm probably in the minority with my thoughts on this one. I didn't hate it, but I'd struggle to recommend it to anyone.

>21 cindydavid4: I definitely can see why people liked it, but for me it just dwelled on something that was so heartbreaking as a parent that it made me quite miserable reading about Agnes' grief.

24labfs39
Lug 14, 8:02am

>23 AlisonY: I'm not sure this is going to be a more uplifting book than your last, Alison. I look forward to your review, as Emperor of Maladies has been sitting on my shelf for years while I wait for the mood to strike.

25AlisonY
Lug 14, 8:19am

>24 labfs39: Ha - yes, the very same thought did occur to me. However, so far I'm enjoying the writing style. I've also had it on my shelf for a while and keep thinking I'm not in the right mood, but I decided to take the plunge this morning on my day off.

26rocketjk
Lug 14, 12:58pm

>18 AlisonY: I had trouble with the first half of Hamnet, also in a button-pushing sort of way, but thought the novel got better in its second half. I wouldn't say the book lives up to its hype. In the end I was glad to have read it, but I wouldn't go out of my way to recommend it to anyone.

27cindydavid4
Lug 14, 1:33pm

>22 AlisonY: I totally get it, really. hope your next read is better......tho, um.....

28AlisonY
Lug 14, 3:21pm

>26 rocketjk: I agree the second half was better, but it just made me too miserable.

>27 cindydavid4: Well, we'll see!

29kidzdoc
Lug 14, 9:17pm

Despite its grim topic The Emperor of Maladies is more or less a feel good story, as it focuses on the success of the treatment of childhood leukemias. When I was a child ALL, acute lymphocytic leukemia, would have been a death sentence, but now the 5 year survival rate is approximately 90% in all cases, and higher for kids 1-10 years of age who have favorable markers in their leukemic cells. A dear friend of mine, a nurse who I worked with until recently, has a young daughter who was diagnosed with ALL just over a year ago. She had a very rough year, but her prognosis remains excellent, and she is doing well.

I loved The Emperor of All Maladies, and I enjoyed Dr Mukherjee's subsequent book The Gene: An Intimate History nearly as much.

30AlisonY
Lug 15, 4:32am

>29 kidzdoc: Thanks, Darryl. I agree - so far I'm not finding it a depressing tale at all. It's fascinating to learn about just how far cancer treatment has come. Last night I read about how patients with breast cancer were severely butchered at one point, with their clavicle and pectoralis major removed in addition to the breast. Patients truly were human guinea pigs, with consent not even a notion.

31kidzdoc
Modificato: Lug 15, 5:29am

>30 AlisonY: Right, Alison. I'm proud to say that Dr Bernard Fisher, an alumnus of and a professor of surgery at my medical school, the University of Pittsburgh, was key in combatting the dogma that radical mastectomy was required to cure breast cancer patients, and instead using lumpectomies for localized tumors. He was roundly criticized and vilified by the medical community, and when I was in medical school from 1993-97 he was accused of fraud, after a statistician from Montreal who worked with him was found to have falsified data, and his shining star was severely tarnished. Fortunately he was found to be innocent of misconduct in 1997, his findings were revalidated, and his good name was restored, although the University of Pittsburgh had to publicly apologize to him. Dr Fisher taught into his 90s, and died two years ago, at the age of 101.

The PBS series Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies discussed Dr Fisher, which is shown in this short video segment about him (he grew up in the city, and he has a discernible Pittsburgh accent!). I think the book discusses him, but it's been quite a while since I've read it and I'm not completely sure.

32AlisonY
Lug 15, 6:25am

>31 kidzdoc: That's really interesting. Cancer surgical innovation must have been a particularly difficult area to work in, with plenty of grey areas in the statistics (mind you, probably still is). Certainly the piece I most recently read spoke of this, with some early pioneers patting themselves on the back for close in improvements in mortality rates, when in reality people were still mostly succumbing several months down the line after surgery.

Lies, damned lies and statistics... The flawed data that hugely exaggerated the breast cancer risk for women on HRT is another medical data minefield that springs to mind.

33kidzdoc
Modificato: Lug 15, 2:44pm

>32 AlisonY: Yes, I think it's fair to say that surgical management of cancer is still an evolutionary process. My father was diagnosed with an aggressive form of prostate cancer last year, and 10 years ago he would have probably undergone a radical prostatectomy; now, though, he is being managed with hormone therapy, as that will keep the cancer in check. Due to his advanced age (86) and other health problems it is unlikely that it will be the cause of his death.

One major problem with advances in medicine throughout history is the dogma associated with pioneering physicians, and the associated egos of those physicians and those who unquestionably follow their tenets. Medicine is a very conservative profession, and surgery especially so, and surgeons, as I'm sure you're aware, tend to be arrogant and difficult to convince, even in the face of data such as Bernie Fisher submitted in support of his position. We all tend to practice medicine based on our personal experiences, especially if we've been in the field for a number of years (I'll celebrate my 21st anniversary as a pediatric hospitalist in two weeks). Younger practitioners tend to look toward their older colleagues and partners for advice on how to manage challenging cases, and we older docs tend to practice the way we were trained in residency. That's why continuing medical education is so important, so that we all stay abreast of the latest studies and recommendations and practice up to date, evidence based medicine. This process was hyperaccelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic, as my partners and I spent dozens and possibly hundreds of hours reading journal articles and listening to lectures about the management of COVID-19 and MIS-C, multisystem inflammatory syndrome of childhood, which is known as PIMS (paediatric inflammatory multisystem syndrome) in the UK. My partners and I are now comfortable managing those patients, but that doesn't mean that we should stop learning or that we'll practice exactly the same way this time next year.

Lies, damned lies and statistics... The flawed data that hugely exaggerated the breast cancer risk for women on HRT is another medical data minefield that springs to mind.

Yes. I'm not as familiar with this controversy, as it's obviously out of my scope of practice, but it's a great example of why we have to remain vigilant and open minded, and continuously question data and the way we practice medicine.

Apologies; I seem to be very wordy this morning...

Edited to correct several grammatical errors.

34AlisonY
Lug 15, 8:47am

>33 kidzdoc: Not at all - I find it hugely interesting. We all obviously have a patient view of medicine, but it's very interesting to get perspective from the clinician POV.

35BLBera
Lug 15, 2:21pm

I'm one who did love Hamnet, Alison. I thought the portrayal of grief was beautiful. However, if I had a child that age, I can see how disquieting it must be.

36cindydavid4
Modificato: Lug 15, 2:37pm

I don't know if Id say beautiful, but very very realistic. Both parents finding their own way of grieving. Reminded me of Joan Didions non fiction the year of magical thinking when she lost her husband and daughter. So realistic that it feels like a punch in the gut or a stab in the heart. Think its a rare person who didn't feel that when reading it

37lisapeet
Modificato: Lug 15, 2:35pm

>33 kidzdoc: Interesting commentary to me too, Darryl, and I really want to read the book—I think in advance of any major changes in my husband's cancer status (there are a few areas to keep an eye on but nothing considered a full-blown recurrence) and also since it looks like he's changing hospitals—his oncologist just got nudged out of her practice seeing patients, not sure what's going on there but I've disliked the system he's in for the entire four years he's been there and I'm very happy he's talking about changing.

One totally OT thing that fascinates me about Mukherjee is that he's married to artist Sarah Sze. Which has nothing to do with his medical practice, but I love the idea of artists and scientists in relationship/conversation. and they're two standouts in their respective disciplines, in my opinion.

Still interested in reading Hamnet, but all the thoughts here are interesting.

38cindydavid4
Lug 15, 2:36pm

>36 cindydavid4: Lisa, I didn't know that! Keeping both of you in my thoughts....

39AlisonY
Lug 16, 2:42am

>35 BLBera:, >36 cindydavid4: Yes, I think it was because it was a child that I found it so upsetting; the part that dwelled on her with the child's body for so long just was too much for me. It felt laboured on gratuitously.

>37 lisapeet: From what I've read so far I wouldn't be nervous to read it whilst dealing with cancer in the family, but I'm only about a quarter of the way through and I'm at the historical stage rather than the present, so I'll let you know.

40rocketjk
Lug 25, 12:47pm

Greetings! Just a quick hello and an fyi that I've finally read Their Eyes Were Watching God and that my short review is posted on my CR thread. All the best.

41lisapeet
Lug 26, 11:22am

>38 cindydavid4: Thanks, Cindy.

>39 AlisonY: I wasn't thinking about not wanting to read the book while dealing with a cancer recurrence so much as being better informed in advance of switching care providers. At this point I'm kind of in the bring it frame of mind when it comes to reading.

42SandDune
Lug 28, 2:53pm

>22 AlisonY: We read Hamnet for my RL book club recently. It was one of the very few books in over 20 years where everyone agreed that they loved the book. I thought that I would worry about lack of historical accuracy when so little was known about about Shakespeare’s wife, but it really didn’t seem to matter.

43cindydavid4
Modificato: Lug 28, 4:58pm

I think the fact that the background, where and when it was taking place, was very accurate, as well as the plague itself. And the events that took place, while not historical, were certainly realistic given the time, and human nature not changing a lot in 500 years. (thinking in particular William and Agness meeting and going from there)

44AlisonY
Lug 29, 4:59am

>41 lisapeet: I'm about halfway through, Lisa (got terribly distracted by rare good summer weather!), and have got to the mid 1980s. Nothing startling in terms of what you're referring to, other than historically it seems to have been the luck of the draw in terms of which oncologist you end up with as they all have their own ideas. Not sure how much that has changed these days - I'll let you know by the end of the book.

>42 SandDune: I definitely seem to be a bit of an outlier on my thoughts on Hamnet. Even if I put to the side my annoyances with labouring the child's death, it's not a book that's stuck with me particularly. Guess that's what makes our discussions interesting - it would be a dull place if we all had the same reaction to every book!

>43 cindydavid4: I get where you're coming from on that point, Cindy. It probably resonates more when here we are living our own modern day epidemic.

45AlisonY
Lug 30, 5:37am



23. Your Best Year Ever: A Five Step Plan for Achieving Your Most Important Goals by Michael Hyatt

The minister at my local church is an incredibly kind and thoughtful chap, and knowing that I'm going through a big work transition at the moment he contacted me last week to ask if I wanted a loan of this book which he'd found quite helpful.

I have a consistent mental pattern with self-help books: I start off super engaged for the first 2, maybe 3 chapters, and then my enthusiasm falls off a cliff. There's always something nagging me at the back of my head that the writers of these books are laughing all the way to the bank on the back of peddling some mysterious black art that's actually stuff we generally know already but which feeds our common weaknesses. A few choice lines in this book certainly didn't challenge that train of thought for me (Hyatt taking all his staff and partners on a Caribbean cruise in celebration of goals achieved, and his personal assistant doing things that he's clearly too important and busy to have the time to do, like phone up and make a restaurant reservation for date night with his wife).

In a nutshell, this book is about identifying your habit and achievement goals, zoning in on your motivations to keep them, identifying actions on how you're going to meet your goals, regularly reviewing progress and celebrating achievements. Anything mind blowing for anyone there? No, me neither. It is useful to a degree if you need a kick up the backside to do some of this stuff. Perhaps my biggest realisation on the back of reading this is that I've not really had any personal goals for a long while as I've been focused for too long on the goals of my company and my family, so if nothing else it was worth reading to get a prod on that.

For sure there are some useful techniques and takeaways from this book, but I'm not entirely sure I want to be one of those laser-focused Alphas who runs their life like a military operation. I can see why guys like Hyatt and CEOs of multi-million pound businesses love all this stuff, but I'm mostly OK with where I am right now.

3.5 stars - an interesting enough read and a good prompter if you're into this sort of book, but nothing earth shattering in terms of methodologies.

46VivienneR
Lug 30, 5:47pm

>45 AlisonY: My experience with self-help books is much the same as yours - initial interest that falls away. Your rating was quite generous.

47cindydavid4
Modificato: Lug 30, 9:16pm

Questo messaggio è stato cancellato dall'autore.

48cindydavid4
Lug 30, 9:15pm

the only self help book that did me any good was the first one to make a splash: Im Ok, You're OK. Read it in college, during a particularly low point in my life. The book explained a lot to me, how I was, how my parents were, and how that all made a difference. Reread it a couple of times as an adult and still rang true, but have no idea how it would fly today. Also read Staying OK which is more about how to use the ideas sto deal with trama and PTSD. (I think these books were the start of TA transcedal analysis. Had lots of disagreements with how people interpreted that but still think the book itself was sound)

49baswood
Lug 31, 7:11pm

The only self help book that has been of any use to me was Cooking in a Bedsitter by Katherine Whitehorn

50BLBera
Ago 1, 12:50pm

>45 AlisonY: Great, helpful comments, Alison. My experience with self-help books mirrors yours. I also think that the ones I've picked up have reflected changes I'm already going through, so much of what is in them seems obvious or stuff I've already thought about. Still, if one can gain one insight, it's not time wasted.

51AlisonY
Modificato: Ago 1, 3:58pm

>46 VivienneR:, >48 cindydavid4:, >49 baswood:, >50 BLBera: Thanks for stopping by. Funny we generally seem to get the same out of self-help books (i.e. very little) yet there's a multi-million pound industry on the back of them. Probably the same as the gym effect - that first chapter or two of enthusiasm is like the gusto one finds in gyms around the world in January.

Oh, and by way of aside on these guys and gals who write this stuff laughing all the way to the bank, I recently went on a freebie webinar run by an English life coach who specialises in career transitions. Clever psychological (brainwashing) stuff - that dream job really is obtainable and you only need to work 4 hours a day, etc. etc. And then the classic ending - 'If I was to price up everything you'll get in my one-of-a-kind course it would come to over £10,000. Yes, £10,000. But you can have this for the special price of..... £4,500. If you order within the next 2 days....' Oh, and he'd prize 'giveaways' too. Only a few, mind you, so I was quite chuffed to win one - a £300 voucher to use with his company. I thought that might buy me a brand new job, but no - I'd have to put £100 towards it to buy the cheapest session available (probably 10 minutes whilst he's waiting to pick his kids up from school).

The webinar was filmed in his house which looked pretty nice, so I guess there are enough schmucks out there willing to pay this kind of money to finance his lifestyle.

52AlisonY
Modificato: Ago 3, 4:37am



24. The Emperor of all Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Depending on where you live, if you're in the western world chances are you're looking at a pretty high chance of getting cancer in your lifetime. In the UK it's now 1 in 2, and my nearest geographical neighbour - Ireland - has the third highest rate of cancer per 100,000 people in the world (behind Australia at #1 and NZ at #2). We all know people who have survived it and people who have died from it, and sadly that's often just within our own immediate families. In my own family I've had it and my father currently has it, so given that there's no getting away from it I was interested in learning more about it, and this Pulitzer prizewinner from 2011 seemed as good a place to start as any.

It does what it says on the tin, taking us from the earliest known examples of cancer (breast) in BC times to savage surgery in the 1800s, the first use of radiation in the early 1900s, the introduction of the first chemotherapy in the 1940s (nitrogen mustard) and the critical discovery of the first identified oncogene in the 1980s and pursuant biological and clinical strategies in the fight against the disease.

Mukherjee is thorough in relaying this history to us. Although some patient stories are included that area was a lighter touch than expected, but in retrospect I appreciate that. This book is not an emotive, personal account of cancer (although it's clear that patients are front and centre in Mukherjee's mind during his day job as an oncologist) but rather a biological and clinical focus (with the emphasis on the former). It's a complicated subject area, and although a book for the layman Mukherjee doesn't overly dumb it down so some chapters are harder going than others. Overall, however, it was a hugely informative read, and my big takeaway was a much better understanding of the complexity of the cancer war, with not only stark differences between cancer types but also hugely different personal cell mutations even within the same cancer type.

Given that there are so many different types of cancer, this book concentrates especially on leukaemia, breast cancer and lung cancer, where perhaps there have been most marked changes in survival rates over time.

Would I recommend this if you're currently dealing with cancer, either personally or with a close family member? I'm not sure. It's not a depressing read and mostly is a chronological account of development in surgical and biological advancements, but there is the odd line here and there that's pretty sobering. This isn't a book like Atul Gawande's Being Mortal - I don't think there's anything in here that would hugely influence any decisions you'd make around treatment.

Not being from a medical background this book did raise a number of questions in my head. There seemed to be quite a chasm of missed opportunity between biologists and clinicians at various points in this history of cancer, and I wonder if this is still true today (sadly I expect it is). Also, given the advancements that were made in treatment at the cost of early patients' lives, I wonder in this modern day of medical governance and ethics just how free today's oncologists are to try out new ideas with patients, or if the fear of litigation hampers that.

My main gripe with the book was that it's very much an American biography of cancer. Yes, Mukherjee touches on advancements from other countries when it's relevant to the narrative in the States, but it's definitely very much an American political, biological and clinical journey of cancer.

All in all a dense but interesting read. Sorry to be the one to deliver a spoiler, but it appears that the notion of a magic bullet for cancer is the stuff of fairytales, and the best we can hope for are personal therapies that adjust throughout our lifetimes as personal cancer mutations change trajectory.

4 stars - a fascinating journey through what is indeed the emperor of all maladies.

53AlisonY
Ago 1, 4:56pm

54labfs39
Ago 2, 6:16pm

>52 AlisonY: Thank you for the review of Emperor of Maladies. It's been on my shelf for a long time. Based on your comments, I think I will hold off on reading it for now, but keep it teetering in the pile.

>53 AlisonY: I'll be curious to read your opinion of Simpson's book. Opinion seems to be divided on this one.

55AlisonY
Ago 3, 2:39am

>54 labfs39: I think you have to know it's an OK time to pick up this book. Much of it is totally fine as it's historical, but as he comes more up to date there are some areas that could be very affecting for people depending on their circumstances.

>54 labfs39: I'm not far in but I think I can understand the mixed reactions. I'm trying to settle myself to it not being a competing book with his experience in Touching the Void.

56AlisonY
Ago 3, 4:39am

>52 AlisonY: Edited, as I forgot to add my moan about this book being very much a US journey of cancer.

57VivienneR
Ago 5, 3:03pm

>53 AlisonY: I'll be watching for your review of Simpson's book.

58AlisonY
Ago 6, 2:47am

>57 VivienneR: Nearly done, Vivienne. Loving it.

59AlisonY
Ago 6, 4:24pm



25. This Game of Ghost by Joe Simpson

After being blown away by Touching the Void, This Game of Ghosts took me by surprise in that it started with Simpson's account of growing up as an army brat in Malaya and Germany, with boarding school in England during term time. At first it felt a bit disappointing - interesting enough from another writer, perhaps, but not what I'd expected from Simpson. However, he doesn't let the reader down, and it later becomes a useful backdrop to understanding what makes these crazy, risk-taking mountaineers tick. If Simpson's anything to go by, the mountaineers of tomorrow are the primary school kids of today who are already on first name terms with their local accident & emergency staff. You know the kind - a dangerous combination of excess energy and fearless recklessness and several plaster casts down before they're in double figures.

This Game of Ghosts is both a prequel and sequel to Simpson's horrific Andes accident recounted in Touching the Void. The latter was gripping, can't-look-away horror, so it seemed unlikely that any follow up book could hold a candle to it, but in many ways This Game of Ghosts takes the drama up a notch and the reader into utter disbelief. Even the most risk-averse armchair reader could probably cut Simpson some slack for being unfortunate enough to have that dreadful accident in the Andes, but then you learn in This Game of Ghosts that he'd had not one but two major falls before that in the Alps which could have killed him, and incredulously goes back to climbing after the Andes fall and is almost killed in Asia.

This is not just a book of mountain escapades and disasters; it's an unsentimental, self-deprecating introspection of reckless passion, loss and what drives mountaineers to take such enormous risks time and time again. The ghosts in the title refers to the huge number of young friends Simpson loses in the mountains over the years, many of whom beam at the camera in photos included in the book, young twenty-somethings who appear carefree and high on life.

I found this book hugely affecting, in many ways more than Touching the Void simply because Simpson exposes just how huge the risks are for those addicted to serious climbing, no matter how experienced.

4.5 stars - sobering yet utterly riveting. True rubber necking territory. Simpson triumphs once again.

60NanaCC
Ago 7, 10:18am

>59 AlisonY: This sounds really good, Alison. Whether I will get to it is another story. I still haven’t read Touching the Void which you had put on my list.

61AlisonY
Ago 7, 11:18am

>60 NanaCC: He's a great writer, Colleen. Mountaineers are crazy people, but a little part of me envies their live for the moment attitude.

62labfs39
Ago 7, 11:56am

>59 AlisonY: Sounds fantastic. Onto the list it goes.

63AlisonY
Ago 10, 1:04pm

>62 labfs39: It certainly worked for me. I'm always a bit nervous about recommending books like this as maybe it's just because the subject interests me.

64labfs39
Ago 10, 3:43pm

>63 AlisonY: I have done just enough backpacking and rock climbing, and known just enough mountaineers personally, to make this appealing. Although my experiences are small potatoes, it gives me an appreciation for what true mountaineers do. I lost a classmate in college to a climbing accident, and it was sobering to realize how dangerous it can be even on smallish mountains.

65lisapeet
Ago 10, 4:42pm

>59 AlisonY: Hmmm... I bet my son would like that. He has a birthday coming up, too—though I'm a bit reluctant to buy him books right now because he has so little time to read. But this might be a good diversion from hospital rounds, who knows.

66AlisonY
Ago 11, 3:47am

>64 labfs39: I'm the same, Lisa. I'd never take on the sport knowing the risks, but whilst part of me thinks these guys and gals are mental for doing so, another part of me admires and envies their guts.

Oddly enough, a classmate of mine from school also died climbing when he was around 20, and Touching the Void made me think of him as I was reading it and how tragic it was to lose your life at such a young age.

>65 lisapeet: Has he read Touching the Void already, Lisa? I would start with that if he hasn't, as the second book mentions that accident but doesn't get into it as Simpson assumes you already know about it from the first book.

67lisapeet
Ago 11, 8:18am

>66 AlisonY: Ah, good to know. Thanks!

68arubabookwoman
Ago 11, 11:53am

Your prior review made me purchase Touching the Void for Kindle, but I haven't gotten to it yet. And now you are tempting me with the sequel/prequel. So far, only tempting, and I'll try to wait until I read the first one before pursuing it further.

69cindydavid4
Ago 11, 12:03pm

reading into thin air from the Outside article was enough for me. I never had a desire for climbing, think Ill stick with what hiking im able to do.

70AlisonY
Ago 11, 1:54pm

>68 arubabookwoman: Hopefully I've not over sold it!

>69 cindydavid4: Oh I'm an armchair adventurer really. But I do envy their nerve.

71rhian_of_oz
Ago 20, 9:57am

>59 AlisonY: "Even the most risk-averse armchair reader could probably cut Simpson some slack for being unfortunate enough to have that dreadful accident in the Andes, but then you learn in This Game of Ghosts that he'd had not one but two major falls before that in the Alps which could have killed him, and incredulously goes back to climbing after the Andes fall and is almost killed in Asia."

Have you read Between A Rock And A Hard Place (the story of the fellow who cut off his arm)? His story sounds similar in the sense that while the accident he had was freakish he'd had so many close calls (I remember considering him reckless when reading his story) that it was really only a matter of time until something happened.

72AlisonY
Ago 20, 1:07pm

>71 rhian_of_oz: No, I haven't read that book, but I do remember that story well from the news. I think there's a fair smattering of recklessness to many of the guys and gals who get involved in that stuff.

73sallypursell
Ago 21, 12:37pm

Hi, stopping by. I am avidly interested in your climbing books, and I think I'm just about ready to read some. But I might have to read The Emperor of All Maladies first. That sounds mesmerizing.

I can't imagine doing the climbing myself. I also am risk-averse, and an armchair athlete only. I seem to have never had the sports gene, and I don't even watch the Olympics.

Your reviews are fine reading, by the way.

74AlisonY
Ago 21, 2:50pm

>73 sallypursell: Good to see you, Sally! The book on cancer is interesting, but not a quick gallop to get through. It gets bogged down in the science at times, but with your background you'd probably enjoy that.

I'm the same re. the mountaineering books. I'm a wannabe adventurer, but was cautious as a child and have stayed the same as an adult.

75AlisonY
Modificato: Ieri, 9:02am



26. The Corner That Held Them by Sylvia Townsend Warner

I had such a muddled reaction to this book, and those who commented to me in advance that it is bizarrely paced were spot on. At times I got really into it, and then on the next page I got completely bogged down and more often than not lost the thread of the story.

The story chronicles the lives of nuns at a nunnery over three decades in the fourteenth century. Major potential plot points come and go without a great deal of fuss, to the point that I kept regularly glossing over key sentences and then realising in the next few pages that I'd obviously completely missed something key. Normally I can quite happily read without distraction whilst the TV blares in the background and my family carry out a conversation over the top of my head, but that just didn't work with this book. It requires 100% attention, and I probably didn't get the full experience that I could have done if I'd had the luxury of reading it at a leisurely pace in peace and quiet.

It's a work of genius in many ways, yet at times it required stamina to keep my attention with it so veered into slog territory. It's probably the most lost I've got in a book's plot in quite some time, and sadly I mean lost as in confused rather than lost in a dreamy happy place. Many passages were quite dense with no particular focus, and I didn't notice I wasn't giving it my full attention until I realised that yet again I'd lost track of who was now prioress and the back-story of the nun currently under discussion.

3.5 stars - a work of beauty in many places, but not a book for snatched bouts of reading, and one that I was quite glad to finish in the end.



76AlisonY
Ago 21, 3:16pm

77lisapeet
Ago 21, 7:38pm

>75 AlisonY: I can totally see how this would be an exhausting book. I think I had the benefit of reading it at a very leisurely pace—it was a book club book and I started really early, and had another book going at the same time. To me it was like drifting past a very strange but often wonderful shoreline in a very slow boat. But yeah, I had to go back often and check to see who was prioress and which nun was which. For whatever reason, that didn't bother me too much.

I can't read (or write) with the TV on in the background or even music most of the time. We have a big enough house that I can go elsewhere if my husband is watching TV without his headphones—he's basically very considerate of me, but he also has a really nice sound system and I'd feel bad if he didn't get to listen to it at least some of the time—but I'm not sure how it would all work if we downsized to a smaller place. I think it would have to be at least a 1-bedroom for that reason alone.

78AlisonY
Ago 22, 3:23am

>77 lisapeet: I think I probably should have read it as a second book with something else like you did and in smaller chunks at a time. It definitely required close reading as several times I realised I'd missed something important and had to go back, and I think you have to be in right mood for that kind of book.

79AlisonY
Modificato: Ago 23, 5:26pm



27. More Than a Woman by Caitlin Moran

Hitherto I've avoided reading any books by Caitlin Moran. It's not because I don't think they'll be any good - I enjoy her column every Saturday in The Times magazine and most weeks envy her linguistic cleverness and fierce, witty intelligence. No, it's just because she's always come across as a bit annoying. Brilliant, but in that precocious child self-satisfied way. A grown up who never managed to mentally evolve beyond her student days of grungy clothes and getting naked when she gets drunk.

However, if Moran was standing in front of me now I'd look her in the eye and apologise. Well, partly apologise, for I do think she was like the above for a long time, but if this book is to believed she's finally grown up (extreme eyeliner excepted).

As the prime target audience for this book (i.e. a middle-aged woman and mother), this book made me laugh out loud at times but it also touched me really quite deeply in places. For Moran exposes with brutal honesty what it's like to be a middle-aged woman in current times, a world where we spend years utterly exhausted from the juggling of jobs and housework and child rearing and parental caring and realise we need to be 'more than a woman'. We need to be several women.

Your previous problems were all problems with yourself. Young woman problems. But when you enter middle age, you'll know you're middle-aged, because all your problems are... other people's problems.

I kept coming back to that paragraph, as it so neatly sums up what makes this stage in life tough.

Whilst parts of the book are a passionate polemic against the various injustices that women continue to fight against (safe streets, equal pay, etc.), this book is more than a clever feminist manifesto. Yes, Moran is passionate about fighting women's corner, but she's also pretty much up for fighting just about everyone's corner and trying to make the world just a teeny bit better to live in. In one chapter she rails about the issues modern men are dealing with and how expectations on how men should 'be' sadly often leaves them with no one to talk to when the going gets tough. In another deeply sad chapter she talks about dealing with her teenage daughter who has developed a serious eating disorder and made several attempts on her life, and how difficult it is when normal motherly nurturing urges not only cannot bring her around but moreover often makes things worse. Yet interspersed with rallying cries for change and insightful commentaries on the world around us are hilarious witticisms and one-liners that had me chortling away to myself.

Perhaps one of the most refreshing things about Moran is that she's that rare breed of someone who is utterly content in her own skin, neck wattle and all, and that self-contentment makes for what is ultimately a rallying cry of hope and possibility rather than bitterness and reproach.

4.5 stars - honest, insightful, hilarious. All hail being a middle-aged woman.

80Caroline_McElwee
Modificato: Ago 23, 6:04pm

>79 AlisonY: Glad you liked it Alison, as I recently took a punt on it for a friend, without having read it myself. I have read one of her earlier books for a book group though.

81AlisonY
Ago 23, 6:15pm

>80 Caroline_McElwee: It was a present from a pal of mine for my birthday, Caroline, and it was a great choice. Hope your chum enjoys it as much as I did.

82AlisonY
Modificato: Ago 24, 3:34am

83elkiedee
Ago 24, 8:13am

On The Emperor of All Maladies, I read and reviewed this fairly soon after it was published, in 2011. I thought it was excellent. I read the book a year or so after my mum was first diagnosed with cancer, before she was told it was terminal (though she actually lived until October 2016). I liked the style and I actually found it really helpful to have a more informed understanding of what "cancer" is. I can see that this being a very American account is a valid criticism (am in England). I'm not the person who actually had cancer in this case, and I don't assume that everyone would find it as helpful or as relevant to them as it was to me, but I was and still am very glad that I read it when I did.

84AlisonY
Ago 24, 9:04am

>83 elkiedee: I agree - I learnt a lot more about the complexities of cancer and why it is so difficult to cure which I found very useful.

The first 3/4 I was pretty confident that anyone could comfortably read, even if they're in the middle of dealing personally with cancer. However, in the last quarter there were the odd lines here and there which felt a little hopeless with regards to treatment of certain types of cancer, and on the basis of those few lines I don't think I'd rush to recommend it to someone who's in a place where holding onto hope is vitally important.

85Caroline_McElwee
Ago 24, 10:28pm

>82 AlisonY: I love that book.

86AlisonY
Ago 25, 3:08am

>85 Caroline_McElwee: It's such a joy, Caroline. If only more people were like Helene Hanff. The world would be very jolly.

87AnnieMod
Ago 25, 3:11am

>82 AlisonY: First time or reread? if first time - have fun - it is one of my favorite books. :) If a reread - well, you know what to expect :)

88AlisonY
Modificato: Ago 25, 4:23am

>87 AnnieMod: First timer. It's such a delight.

Edited to add you've actually got me thinking about how I'm probably one of the few in CR who never re-reads a book. I have total FOMO where unread books are concerned. Perhaps one day when I retire and have more reading time (although I can't see that happening. My family has a thing for constantly having to be busy. Sitting reading during the daytime would be akin on the sloth meter to watching Jerry Springer all day with a bowl of fried food. When we walk past people in cafes my 81 year old Mum's regular comment is What do they do all day? How have they got time to sit there?).

89NanaCC
Ago 25, 7:26am

>88 AlisonY: I love your mother’s comment. It made me laugh.

90AlisonY
Ago 25, 8:50am

>89 NanaCC: My mum is the worst for it, Colleen. She'll look for housework to do, whereas I'm closer to the other end of the spectrum pm that one.

91cindydavid4
Ago 25, 11:24am

I didn't used to reread books, with a few yearly reads of special to me books. But there have been so many times on finishing a book, that I just have to reread it. Or stumble upon a book noted here that I forgot all about and decide to reread it with mixed results. Still most of my reads are new reads. And a word of warning - even if you were retired, believe me, I don't always have time to read let alone reread!

92AlisonY
Ago 25, 11:48am

>91 cindydavid4: Well that's what I'm thinking. I can't see retirement being restful days doing nothing but reading!

93AnnieMod
Ago 25, 1:27pm

>88 AlisonY: Rereading is always an interesting topic. I rarely reread complete books (unless I am reading a book in a new language or I read the book in my teens and barely remember it). Although I have a few books I revisit often when I feel like I need a known quantity - this one had been on this list since I read it back in 2014.

And your Mum sounds like my grandmother - she could not sit down without having something to do - knitting, wool spinning, whatever - and was always getting up to do something. Although she got used to the idea that reading was something to do (being functionally illiterate, it baffled her for awhile). Her only problem was that her "sitting" activities were often in company while gossiping and that does not work with reading ;)

>90 AlisonY: I'd say it is a Mom's thing but who knows...

94AlisonY
Ago 27, 3:00am

>93 AnnieMod: There are probably 20+ books that I'd really like to reread at some point, but who knows if I ever will. If I could just catch up on all the books I've not read yet....!

95AlisonY
Modificato: Ago 27, 6:21am



28. 84 Charing Cross Road/The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street by Helene Hanff

I really was quite spoiled on my birthday a couple of weeks ago, and got books from three different people which was an absolute joy. This one had been on my wish list for ages.

When I think of ways to describe this book words like 'delight' and 'joyful' and 'jolly' are the first that spring to mind. This edition is actually two books, and includes the sequel The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, but as they're both novellas and barely make a slight novel when sandwiched together I'll consider them as one book.

Helene Hanff, small-time writer of children's books and plays, became something of a quiet sensation amongst book fans after she published 84 Charing Cross Road, an epistolary chronicling her warm and witty correspondence from New York with an employee at Marks & Co. booksellers in London over 20 years from 1949 until his sudden death. Helene's teasing and mischievous prose is utterly charming, a wonderful piece of bygone nostalgia which just wouldn't happen in today's world of technical and professional efficiency.

Having always threatened to visit London and the store, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street is a diary-style account of when Helene finally gets to visit London in the early 1970s on the back of the success of 84 Charing Cross Road. By then, sadly the book shop has closed, but Helene has a fine old time jaunting around the sights she'd always dreamt of visiting, with outings facilitated by people connected with Marks & Co. and various fans, including the British actress Jean Grenfell. Hanff can't quite believe her luck at what a high time she's having, and as she keeps them all on their toes with her witty commentary it feels a privilege as a reader to get to tag along.

4.5 stars - a refreshing delight from start to finish. We all want to be in Hanff's gang.

96AlisonY
Modificato: Ago 27, 6:10am

Up next:



Reading in the Dark by Seamus Deane

I was down south in Leitrim in the Republic of Ireland for a few days earlier in the month, and visited a small bookshop. I decided that I couldn't possibly buy anything other than something by an Irish author, so this is what I came away with.

97thorold
Ago 27, 4:01am

>95 AlisonY: I wonder if anyone has ever failed to like that book? It is such a delight.

98AlisonY
Ago 27, 6:10am

>97 thorold: It really is. Such a fun read.

99rachbxl
Modificato: Ago 27, 6:50am

I've enjoyed catching up with your thread, Alison, but I'm particularly interested in your comments on More than a Woman. I confess to sharing your (old) views on Caitlin Moran. I have actually read and enjoyed a couple of her books over the years, but just recently I picked up another (old one) in a second hand shop, and as soon as I started it I realised that I just couldn't take any more of this brilliant but slightly tiresome overgrown adolescent. I am delighted to read that you think she has grown up, and I won't hesitate to give her another chance because I do think she has a lot to say that's worth listening to.

As I haven't been around much over the last few months I was unaware you were looking for a new job. I'll keep my fingers crossed for you.

100AlisonY
Modificato: Ago 27, 7:29am

>99 rachbxl: There's still a tinge of the tiresome overgrown adolescent here and there in this book (probably more in the first quarter, although that was also the funniest part of the book in places). However, that aside I felt she mostly had a lot of really interesting commentary to make, and probably because I'm the target audience and in the same stage of life it very much resonated with me. If you buy it I would say stick with it even if you feel the first 30 pages still feel a bit Moran of old, as her topics become a little more serious as she gets into her stride and she handles them accordingly.

And thanks for the job seeking best wishes. I'm spinning a few potential plates at the moment, so hopefully the right one falls into place.

101cindydavid4
Ago 27, 10:20am

>95 AlisonY: did not know there was a sequel!!! ok, gotta read that! Also i get to reread the first, if I can just find it!!

102BLBera
Ago 27, 10:27am

>95 AlisonY: Great comments on 84 Charing Cross Road, and I think you are right that any reader would find joy in this book. I need to revisit it. And read the sequel.

103AlisonY
Ago 27, 10:48am

>101 cindydavid4:, >102 BLBera: I can't imagine how 84 Charing Cross Road stood up as a book on it's own - it's only 90 pages, and most of those are half or 3/4 filled!

I actually enjoyed the sequel of sorts more, as it was such fun being in Helene's shoes as she basks in her new-found success and journeys around London with all sorts of characters.

104AnnieMod
Modificato: Ago 27, 11:28am

>95 AlisonY: Nice review :)

>103 AlisonY: As I said in my review a few years ago (https://www.librarything.com/work/18487/reviews/105701391): You do not need 6000 pages to tell a great story. You do not even need 300. :)

>97 thorold: - you’d be surprised. Look at the 2 star reviews on Amazon for example. Some people are just weird.

105Caroline_McElwee
Ago 27, 1:30pm

>95 AlisonY: I've yet to meet someone who isn't smitten Alison.

106AlisonY
Ago 27, 2:25pm

>104 AnnieMod:, >105 Caroline_McElwee: I think the shine has really gone out of life if you can't find joy in this book.

107jjmcgaffey
Ago 27, 3:19pm

Huh. I went looking - and apparently there is no ebook edition of 84, Charing Cross Road. Not in the libraries, not on Amazon. So weird. There is one (or more) of the sequel... So I got the Duchess and am going to check the first book out of my library.

I read so many more ebooks than physical books these days...

108AlisonY
Ago 28, 6:59am

>107 jjmcgaffey: That is strange, given they have the sequel. Definitely read them in order.

109AlisonY
Ago 28, 7:51am

US pals - I have to ask as there's been lots of debate on Trump in CR over the years and I know many of you breathed a sigh of relief when Biden got in. Biden is getting a LOT of negative press in the UK over the Afghanistan situation, and not just in terms of his foreign policy but also in terms of the way he's handled things and come across in the past couple of weeks. The right wing newspapers here are having a field day commenting on his 'I can't cope with this' body language and continue to try to paint him as an old man with poor mental faculties.

How's he being perceived in the States by Democrats right now? I don't want to open up a can of worms on how people's politics lie and whether they agree with the withdrawal or not (please don't go there or I'll really regret asking the question - I don't wish to upset anyone): I'm just interested in how this is all going down on your side of the pond and what the sentiment is on how he's handling this major test of his leadership.

110SassyLassy
Ago 28, 8:57am

>107 jjmcgaffey: It's kind of fitting that a book celebrating a bookstore isn't in electronic form. I like that!

>95 AlisonY: I love those events when you receive well chosen books from others, often books you would not have selected yourself.

111AlisonY
Ago 29, 6:42am

>110 SassyLassy: In this case the book was gifted on the back of my wish list, but the previous book wasn't and was an unexpected delight.

112RidgewayGirl
Ago 29, 11:15am

>109 AlisonY: I think that in general people are glad we're getting out of another "forever war." The end was never going to be easy and the fact that Afghanistan fell so quickly after we'd occupied it for two decades shows what a waste of resources and lives it was. 120,000 people have been evacuated since the US told Americans and visa-holders to leave in March, and I think when the smoke clears, history will judge Biden well for his willingness to not go along with the Warhawks and those making money off of the suffering of others. Of course the right wing here has forgotten that Trump negotiated us leaving with the Taliban (and omitted to include the American-installed Afghan government in the negotiations), but we are so polarized as a nation right now that there is nothing Biden can do that the right would praise, just as there was nothing Trump did that the middle and the left could say was fine. I'm sorry that we have exported that polarization to the UK. At least you guys have fewer people who take their polarization to the level of screaming at healthcare workers or physically assaulting teachers.

113AlisonY
Ago 29, 4:21pm

>112 RidgewayGirl: Thanks Kay - that's interesting to get that perspective from your end. Hard to know what the right or wrong answer is where Afghanistan is concerned.

I'm not quite sure where British heads are on many political things just now. I think everyone's still so preoccupied with COVID we've gone a bit insular.

114rocketjk
Modificato: Ago 30, 10:47am

>112 RidgewayGirl: & >113 AlisonY: I'd say that there are almost as many opinions about this issue among Democrats as there are Democrats. Speaking as one myself, I will offer a couple of counter perspectives to some of Kay's remarks (only one a couple of points: mostly we agree), offered with respect. These are my personal opinions, only:

"the fact that Afghanistan fell so quickly after we'd occupied it for two decades shows what a waste of resources and lives it was."

This might just be semantics, but I don't know if it's accurate to say that the U.S. ever "occupied" Afghanistan. I only comment on this point because I heard a political pundit also use this word on the radio the other day. At the end there were around 2.500 U.S. soldiers, plus a lot of non-government contractors, on the ground there. And that was a draw-down from, what, 12,000 before that? Hardly an occupying force. Even at the height of the U.S. presence there were 140,000 soldiers, so that's a lot, but I don't think of their presence there as being an occupying force in the same way that, say, Nazi Germany occupied France. Again, perhaps semantics, only.

Also, my perception is that the women of Afganistan do not look at the two decades of American presence in the country as a waste of resources. From what I've read and heard in interviews, our presence there (or, perhaps I should say the forced absence of the Taliban) allowed women to make very substantial advances in all sorts of ways that brought significant enhancement in their quality of life. Certainly, whether that was worth American money and lives is an open question. I wonder (and I mean that literally, it's not some sort of rhetoric device; I'm saying I really don't know) how the soldiers felt about fighting to try to rid Afghanistan of the Taliban, and whether they'd say that that period of relief for Afghan women was worth while (or what families of the soldiers who died would say), even though the effort ultimately failed.

That massive numbers of mistakes were made along the way is evident. For example, everything I've read over the past few weeks has made it clear that the idea that we were never going to be able to build an effective Afghan Army of 300,000 soldiers was always a pipe dream. What we did do was create an effective small cadre of specialists who were actually operating quite well within their own designed portfolio. But everyone knowledgeable on the subject that I've heard speak has had nothing but contempt for the idea that "the Afghans wouldn't fight for their own country" as Biden and others have alleged. Afghan soldiers have died by the thousands, and in much larger numbers than U.S. and European soldiers.

"I think when the smoke clears, history will judge Biden well for his willingness to not go along with the Warhawks and those making money off of the suffering of others. Of course the right wing here has forgotten that Trump negotiated us leaving with the Taliban (and omitted to include the American-installed Afghan government in the negotiations), but we are so polarized as a nation right now that there is nothing Biden can do that the right would praise, just as there was nothing Trump did that the middle and the left could say was fine."

Agreed, mostly, as I think it's at least worth considering the possibility that the Afghan people as a whole will henceforth be suffering more rather than less. But, we should remember that Biden was against U.S. involvement in Afghanistan from the beginning, and as VP strongly advised President Obama against the "surge" that brought the numbers of U.S. soldiers up to that 300K level. Biden, as Kay says, was definitely hamstrung by that agreement that the Trump administration made, which basically gave away the farm and also cut the Afghan government entirely out of the process, serving to deligitimize them at a time when they most needed support in that way.

I really look back to the Bush administration, though, who, through their hubris, turned down the Taliban's offer to surrender 20 years ago.

"'The United States is not inclined to negotiate surrenders,' Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld said in a news conference at the time, adding that the Americans had no interest in leaving Mullah Omar to live out his days anywhere in Afghanistan. The United States wanted him captured or dead."

The NYTimes article from which I took that quote is here. There may be a paywall, but a google of "Taliban surrender offer" should bring up something you can read:
https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/23/world/middleeast/afghanistan-taliban-deal-uni...

Again, possibly pay-walled, but David Patraeus, a fellow with a bit of knowledge on the subject, does have some unkind words for the way Biden has handled the situation, but in a very nuanced manner. Patraeus has given a bunch of interviews, though. One or more ought to be available.
https://www.newyorker.com/news/q-and-a/david-petraeus-on-american-mistakes-in-af...

Finally, journalist Stephen Coll, who has written a couple of books on the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, has some very insightful comments to make. Again, this is from the New Yorker and may have a paywall in front of it, but Coll has also been interviewed quite a bit, and I think there are a couple of youtube videos of talks he's given recently:
https://www.newyorker.com/news/q-and-a/how-america-failed-in-afghanistan

So, anyway, obviously, there is no unified point of view among American Democrats. As usual!

But the bottom line, I agree with Kay, is that for the most part folks (including me) are glad to have us wash our hands of this whole mess. Whether we will feel so happy about that 20 years from now, or even 10, is of course unclear. My guess is that people will feel that the Taliban takeover was inevitable, and that it is the Afghans' business to clean up their own country. Of course, the people supplying the Taliban with their weapons take another view of that question. With luck, though, the Taliban will stick to at least some of their promises to rule with a somewhat gentler hand this time. I've got my fingers crossed on that, but I wouldn't make any bets on it. Also, they're being hit by all sorts of international sanctions, and have had a lot of their offshore funding frozen. So we'll see how long they're able to stay dominant.

Sorry to go on at such length. Reading those interviews with Petaeus and Coll have given me a lot to think about. But I certainly don't consider myself any sort of expert. I'm feeling around in the dark just like all my friends here.

115AlisonY
Ago 29, 7:01pm

>114 rocketjk: Jerry, you are a mine of information as always. I appreciate that. I'm going to go back to some of those links in the morning as it's getting late and I want to digest them properly.

116cindydavid4
Ago 29, 10:44pm

I will add to Jerry's comments; if Bush stayed on task with afghanistan perhaps a standing afghani military would have been a reality. Instead he decides to invade Iraq who had little to nothing to do with terroism, and ended up taking resources and money away from afghanistan. I don't hear many people remembering that, but I sure do.

117jjmcgaffey
Ago 30, 5:02am

>116 cindydavid4: Afghan. Afghani is money (the word is the equivalent of "dollar"). We used to correct newcomers and tourists all the time - it really grates on me that now, even ethnic Afghans born in the US call themselves Afghani. Their parents gave up on correcting the entire nation...

I read an article recently (in the SF Chronicle, I think) that was about the fact that the US training was all about teaching Afghans to fight like modern Americans (with all the supplies etc that requires). Unsurprisingly, it pretty much failed. The Afghans are, as a people, really good at fighting - but how they fight - what they've won so many times before - was a guerilla war. Stand-up fighting...not so much. The article said approximately "so we trained them to be Redcoats when we should have been training minutemen...". Those specialist forces that were the only effective ones were also the only ones fighting in more-or-less traditional styles (and there weren't enough of them).

Note that these are the people who held off - defeated, really - both the British Raj in the 1800s and the Russian army in the 1970s and '80s. Both times, by ambush and sniping and raids that secured them better weapons which they used for better ambushes and sniping and raids...

I lived in Afghanistan as a child, from '73 to '76. They are a people I admire, and I'm really pissed about this mess - but it's way too late to complain now. There was never any way Biden could pull out, especially on Trump's timeline, without a disaster; the speed of the Taliban's moves surprised everyone (yes, there was intel that suggested they could. There is _always_ intel that suggests...everything. It's only after the fact that the bits that support what actually happened can be sorted out from the mountain of intel), but it wasn't going to be good ever. Big public timeline was a bad idea...but how else could it be done? I don't know how many troops there were in Afghanistan at the beginning of the pullout - but there were many more non-military Americans (support staff, NGO staff, missionaries (religious and other), weapon sellers, etc.). They needed the timeline - and too many of them left it to the last minute even with the timeline. It looks like only the Taliban were paying attention to the deadline.

I have no idea how this all will shake out. The Taliban are the first major opponent Afghans have had who are Afghans themselves - _they've_ been fighting the sniping war. Maybe they'll take all the tanks etc and mess themselves up so the real Afghans can take the country back - though the problem with that is that the ones best able and willing to fight don't really believe in the country. Remember the "Afghan warlords"? They, many of them, are chiefs of tribes who never really accepted being "Afghans"; the country exists because the Brits drew a line around (basically) "that area we can't win in" and lumped all the tribes there together. Most of the countries in that area are similar - which is why there's all the conflict with the Kurds, for instance. They are one tribe divided by national borders, which they pretty much ignore (when they're allowed to). Maybe "Afghanistan" will collapse into multiple small tribal states. Maybe the tribes will accept some over-ruler (like the king, before he was chased out). Maybe some Taliban leader will become that over-ruler. Maybe a lot more Afghans will leave, again, the way they did in the 80s and 90s, and the various Afghan settlements in the US and Britain and Europe will get an influx of new residents. Maybe all of the above, maybe none - who knows?

118cindydavid4
Ago 30, 9:17am

>117 jjmcgaffey: oh, thanks for correcting me. Its imporant to be accurate with names, whether for people or countries.

Note that these are the people who held off - defeated, really - both the British Raj in the 1800s and the Russian army in the 1970s and '80s. Both times, by ambush and sniping and raids that secured them better weapons which they used for better ambushes and sniping and raids..

yup. read enough about both of those, saw Charlies War, assumed others did as well. Think once we got Osama, we should have started pulling back, slowly, with time give for people to escape. But the speed which the invasion happened was like lightning. Really people sort of forgot about the country, except for the families of those fighting of course. Now of course everyone is an expert

Wonder what would have happened to both middle east and central asia would have been like if the Brits didn't draw their line in the sand. Maybe just more war between the tribes? Wonder if skipping iraq and focusing on building afghanistan would have been worth it. What it looks like is a waste of money and lives. Those poor people.

119Caroline_McElwee
Modificato: Ago 30, 1:50pm

Interesting reading over here.

I always wondered what would have happened if Massoud rather than Hekmatya was supported as leader. Massoud was assassinated two days before 9/11, his son is now following in his footsteps as a potential leader.

120RidgewayGirl
Ago 30, 2:08pm

>114 rocketjk: Thanks for that more nuanced take, Jerry. I agree that the fate of Afghan women is made worse by withdrawing. I don't, however, think that women were ever a real consideration for why we went in or stayed so long, although they were useful for propaganda. Maybe we can channel some of the trillions we're not spending on this war into making opportunities for women and girls around the globe.

>117 jjmcgaffey: How fascinating and wonderful to have lived in Afghanistan.

121AlisonY
Ago 30, 2:38pm

>116 cindydavid4:, >117 jjmcgaffey:, >118 cindydavid4:, >119 Caroline_McElwee:, >120 RidgewayGirl: Enjoying all the debate on this question. Thanks folks.

122rocketjk
Modificato: Ago 30, 3:37pm

>120 RidgewayGirl: "I agree that the fate of Afghan women is made worse by withdrawing. I don't, however, think that women were ever a real consideration for why we went in or stayed so long, although they were useful for propaganda."

I mostly agree with you. But since we often focus in on "collateral damage," I think it's also worthwhile to consider "collateral benefits" to attempt to approach an understanding of the full scope of events. We originally went in to punish terrorists for 9/11. But there were multi-level reasons that we stayed in to take another swing at "nation building." A big part of that was at the impetus of multi-national corporations who wanted to sell their cement, backhoes, helicopter parts and jeep tires. I think we're agreed, there. But I do think that there were also people who thought that "nation building" meant spreading "the American way," which at least partially includes, nowadays, the kind of secular society that improves the lot of women over what the Taliban have to offer, to put it mildly. Certainly, that was what we told the Afghans.

fyi, John Oliver's take-down of the whole U.S. adventure in Afghanistan and, in particular, of the withdrawal (that first aired a week ago Sunday), which in total I feel is sort of a mixed bag of accuracy and ramped up over-the-topness (mostly due to Oliver's ranting tone), includes a short but powerful section on this topic at about the 11:30 mark:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dykZyuWci3g

"Maybe we can channel some of the trillions we're not spending on this war into making opportunities for women and girls around the globe."

As my Russian Jewish grandma would have said, "From your mouth to God's ears." But that's another proposition that, sadly, I'm not making any bets on.

123baswood
Ago 30, 6:11pm

That was all very interesting about Afghanistan. I spent a short time in the country in 1976 when it was relatively peaceful and the hippie trail was flourishing. My impressions were that it is very much a collection of tribes, probably as ungovernable as most map drawn countries. By modern standards (1970's) it was very backward, but there was not the miserable poverty that was so evident in the big towns of Pakistan and India. However much of the country is desert, there was only one paved road through the country linking the towns of Herat, Kandahar, Kabul, and Mazar I Sharif in the north. There was rumoured to be another road through the centre and I travelled on this for a short way before turning back.

The Pashtuns were the ethnic race that controlled much of the local business in Herat and Kabul, and they were encouraged by the Americans, however the problem was that the grouping stretched across the border into Pakistan. It would seem that the porous border with Pakistan has led to all sorts of problems. In my view America and the UK should never have sent troops into Afghanistan the whole idea of taking the "war on terror" as a euphemism for an attempted invasion or a sphere of influence was doomed to failure. When will countries learn that a war launched against an extremist faction in their own country will more often than not only succeed in uniting that country against the aggressor. There comes a time when you have to negotiate with the extremists and America missed that opportunity. In my view, now America and the UK have to be very careful - a drone war will let in Isis or Daech.

Sorry about adding my two pennyworth, but I have good memories of Afghanistan - a proud people with a culture very different from mine, but one of course worthy of respect - instant westernisation was never going to work, but as a couple of you have said the temptation to make money overrides everything.

124jjmcgaffey
Ago 30, 6:12pm

>120 RidgewayGirl: I'm a Foreign Service brat - lived in four countries (five counting a little while in the US) before I was a teen. Afghanistan was my favorite...but the country I loved hasn't existed for quite a while. A lot of the people that made it such a great place are in the US, and Europe, and elsewhere.

Note: I was 6 when we arrived in Afghanistan and turned 9 a couple months after we left. Just old enough to be paying attention...

125jjmcgaffey
Modificato: Ago 30, 6:15pm

>123 baswood: When/where were you in Afghanistan? My dad worked for the embassy in Kabul until spring 1976.

Also, my parents had been Peace Corps volunteers in Farah (far south-west corner - along that theoretically paved road through the center) about 1966. I was conceived there, born in the US.

126elkiedee
Ago 30, 6:22pm

>120 RidgewayGirl: I'm glad to see someone questioning the rhetoric about the situation of Afghan women on this thread.

And I'm quite dismayed by the use of some of the same stereotypes used to justify 19th century imperialism in Afghanistan and elsewhere, albeit with a more secular vision in place of the Christian missionary rhetoric. Errrrrrrr, warring tribes?

127baswood
Ago 30, 6:55pm

>125 jjmcgaffey: I was there for about four weeks September/October 1976 and again April 1977 (on the journey back from India) I did not visit the American Embassy, but probably knew where it was. Kabul was not a large town.

128jjmcgaffey
Ago 30, 7:04pm

Yeah, warring (or at least, not unified) tribes. Really. Imagine if the US, instead of taking over the center of the country and pushing all the Native Americans out, had drawn a line around all their territories (which wouldn't have left any space for the US...the Brits had areas they had been able to conquer, around the sides) and said "this is a country". The Sioux and the Navaho and the Apache and the Iroquois and the Cherokee and...all the others - though they were not fighting each other all the time, they were definitely not one people (and there was plenty of fighting between them). Add a thin skin of "dealing with outsiders", from mostly the members of one tribe (the Pashtun, in Afghanistan)...but when that breaks down, the tribes are still living not too differently from how they were in the 1800s, and nearly as independently.

Which does _not_ justify any imperialism - they're doing fine on their own terms, and if the Brits hadn't pushed to conquer they might have been good allies. But as it was, they retreated and held on to old ways stubbornly - and Afghans are champions of stubbornness.

In Kabul in the 1970s, there were definitely tribal areas - not ghettos (in the modern sense), where people are pushed together as they're kept out of others, but by choice. "I will live here, near the people of my tribe, who do things the way I understand and think the way I do". And those were the ones who were willing to leave their traditional lands and go live among strangers and deal with outsiders. There might be a dozen little shops, but if you were from Farah you went to the shop run by the people from Farah, not any of those _other_ ones (my parents were scolded, when they finally found the Farah shop, for going to strangers instead of the people who knew them).

129jjmcgaffey
Ago 30, 7:06pm

>127 baswood: Ah, OK. So we didn't overlap, and probably wouldn't have encountered each other even if we had. It's always a curiosity for me - and I've found many many people who did encounter my parents, and sometimes even remember them. I think that's fun.

130cindydavid4
Modificato: Ago 30, 7:20pm

>123 baswood: your memories jibe with my readings of different memoirs esp Jason Elliots An Unexpected Light This is really a travel narrative, and one of the best Ive seen. Like others, he emphasis the kindness and hospitality to strangers, and how much they are like us as members of the human race.. Then again, Elliot never does talk about how all that hospitality appeared suddenly on the ground. Women were very much in the background, not much said. I wonder now, after women and girls have had two decades of freedom, if they will risk it all to continue those freedoms and how far the taliban will let them go

ETA it had been a long time since I read the book, one of the reviewers reminded me of a great section of the book "The centrepiece of the book, an alphabetical tour through Afghan history while imagining a flight over the country on the back of the Simorgh of Sufi legend, is breathtaking, and really gives you a sense of the country that no one else was reporting"

131AlisonY
Modificato: Ieri, 8:58am

Thanks for all the perspectives on Afghanistan. I love that we can tap into this little global group for different insights on current affairs and more.

Anyhoo, back to books....



29. Reading in the Dark by Seamus Deane

This is a fine Northern Irish novel that was a real grower. Set in Nationalist Derry during the 40s and 50s, at first this book reads like a series of vignettes in a young Irish Catholic boy's life, but as the novel gathers pace a connection begins to emerge between what had initially seemed like disconnected snapshots of growing up and the truth behind a series of family tragedies relating back to the the divided politics of a new Northern Ireland beginning to emerge.

There are a number of recommendations on LT linking this to some of Frank McCourt's books, but beyond them both being set in Ireland during a certain era the similarities stop there for me. Whilst McCourt's Angela's Ashes is firmly in the misery lit territory of impoverished Ireland, Reading in the Dark is a window to Catholic Nationalist sentiment before The Troubles and dark family secrets born out of loyalty to 'the cause'.

This novel really evoked a sense of a forgotten rural Northern Ireland for me; although it was set many decades before my birth, many of the characters typified people I came across as a child when visiting grandparents in rural Fermanagh. As someone born on the Unionist side of the divide, whilst I can never empathise with or condone loyalty to the IRA, books like this from Nationalist writers are an important part of the understanding that must come from Protestants if we are ever to properly heal together as a nation.

Whether this novel would touch readers outside of Northern Ireland as much I can't say, but for me this is a work of tragic loss conveyed through pitch perfect prose.

4 stars - devastating yet so deftly sewn together.

132Caroline_McElwee
Set 3, 3:36pm

>131 AlisonY: Many years since I read this Alison. Maybe it should go on the 'to reread' list.

133AlisonY
Set 3, 5:22pm

>132 Caroline_McElwee: I really enjoyed it, Caroline. The style of writing really worked for me.

134AlisonY
Set 4, 5:26am

Up next:



Childhood, Youth, Dependency by Tove Ditlevsen

A bit of Nordic literature next. I don't think I've read a fictional book set in Denmark before.

135Caroline_McElwee
Modificato: Set 4, 11:30am

>134 AlisonY: I read this a couple of months ago, the middle of the three short books was the one I liked the most Alison. I'll be interested to hear your thoughts.

136AlisonY
Set 4, 10:49am

>135 Caroline_McElwee: I expect it was from your thread that I hit upon it, Caroline.

137BLBera
Set 4, 10:02pm

Reading in the Dark sounds good, Alison. It's been on my shelf for a while. Maybe time to dust it off.

138AlisonY
Modificato: Set 5, 5:11am

>137 BLBera: I enjoyed it more than I expected to, Beth.

139SassyLassy
Set 5, 9:31am

>131 AlisonY: Studiously avoiding Irish misery porn for years has meant that I have probably missed many worthwhile Irish books. This sounds like one of them. I'll have to look for it.

140LolaWalser
Set 5, 1:42pm

>103 AlisonY:

I seem to be doing this a lot--bringing up movies when people talk about books--but this one, 84 Charing Cross Road, is a little special and if you liked Hanff's books you may enjoy the effort they made to show the bookshops of the era (or similar). The movie was made in 1987 so before the Great Bookshop Disappearance set in.

Anne Bancroft plays Hanff and Anthony Hopkins her main correspondent. Of course there's very little "plot" to talk of, but that only makes it more perfect a "book movie", IMO.

141AlisonY
Set 6, 2:59am

>139 SassyLassy: To be honest I've been the same. I was either bored of the misery lit or put off by novels that are too much about the Troubles (lived through them, don't really feel a want to read a fictional account of them). However, I really enjoyed this book, and the setting of the era before the Troubles kicked in was very interesting, particularly as it was subtly done.

>140 LolaWalser: Oh thanks for that. I didn't realise there was a movie of the book. I'll have a look on Netflix and see if they have it. My husband hates this kind of slow moving film, whereas it's just my kind of movie, so if they have it I'll watch it in peace late one evening.

142Caroline_McElwee
Set 6, 5:10am

>140 LolaWalser: >141 AlisonY: It is definitely a good movie of the book Alison. I think it is on Prime.

143AlisonY
Set 6, 5:19am

>142 Caroline_McElwee: Oh excellent - I have Prime. When I get everyone off to bed early one night I'll watch it.

144SassyLassy
Set 6, 9:08am

>141 AlisonY: It's also on Netflix. I've been contemplating watching it again, as it keeps popping up in suggestions.

145AlisonY
Set 6, 9:32am

>144 SassyLassy: I must have missed that amongst all the suggestions for war and action films. You can tell that it's not me who mostly uses Netflix...! Thanks.

146jjmcgaffey
Set 6, 3:54pm

>145 AlisonY: That's what profiles are for...very useful.

147NanaCC
Set 6, 10:38pm

>131 AlisonY: I’m glad I got caught up here, or I might have missed Reading in the Dark. I’ve added it to my wishlist.

148AlisonY
Set 7, 4:42am

>146 jjmcgaffey: Indeed. Unfortunately no one else in our house enjoys the slow burn kind of films that I like, so my Netflix profile isn't much use as I usually end up watching stuff that everyone else likes!

>147 NanaCC: I hope I've not over-sold it, Colleen, but I enjoyed it.

149elkiedee
Modificato: Set 7, 5:08am

>148 AlisonY: You can add things to your Watchlist even if you don't get round to actually watching them. The person who uses Netfix most is our teenager, but he uses his dad's profile, as he watches stuff which probably isn't age suitable. Lots of violence and very action based, and a lot of swearing, mostly.

150AlisonY
Set 7, 8:54am

>149 elkiedee: I think the problem is that I never get good recommendations on Netflix because I watch my kind of film so rarely it doesn't get the chance to build up much in the way of suggestions. I used to have a window of 'me' time once everyone went to bed, but now we're in the teen zone too they go as late as us so the TV is no longer my own!

151jjmcgaffey
Set 7, 2:15pm

That's what the profile is supposed to be for - separating wants and watches so you do get good recommendations. But if you never get to watch...yeah, not so useful.

152avaland
Set 15, 10:51am

Interesting discussion of Afghanistan; and notes re movies & books. I love to watch multiple cinema or television adaptations of books I have read (from classics to mysteries/crime novels).

153AlisonY
Set 15, 5:42pm

>152 avaland: I always forget to note the films of books I want to watch. One day I'll catch up...

154AlisonY
Set 15, 6:58pm



30. Childhood, Youth, Dependency: The Copenhagen Trilogy by Tove Ditlevsen

A well known author in her native Denmark, Tove Ditlevsen has only become well known outside of Denmark in recent years as the trend in autofiction has developed.

A work of 3 novellas, in The Copenhagen Trilogy Ditlevsen writes with brutal candour about three key phases in her life. In Childhood we observe the child Ditlevsen in 1920s Copenhagen as the burgeoning writer within her struggles to identify with the narrow horizons of her working class neighbourhood of blue collared workers. As her poetry career begins to take off, in Youth we begin to see how an upbringing filled with insecurity about being loved has shaped the young adult Ditlevsen, as she tumbles into the security blanket of a bizarre chaste marriage to a short and overweight much older bachelor who publishes her first poem and whom she later quickly leaves without a backward glance when she meets a young student who sets her pulse racing.

Whilst Childhood didn't overly work for me (it read as an intelligised adult's observation of childhood rather than childhood seen through the eyes of a child), once the trilogy moved into Youth I was hooked. A classic stereotype of a tortured and deeply self-absorbed writer, Ditlevsen spares no punches in her depiction of herself as someone who is only truly happy when writing about life and relationships yet remains largely unsentimental and emotionally detached when it comes to her own love affairs. When, in Dependency, she reluctantly returns to a medical student she had a one-night stand with to abort the child she's unsure is his or her husband's, an utterly bizarre sequence of events marks the abrupt end of her second marriage and the beginning of a car crash marriage to a psychotic doctor who nurtures her addiction to prescription opiates, an addiction which plagues the rest of her adult life along with deeply depressive episodes (which no doubt contributed to her suicide at age 58).

Ditlevsen is her own worst enemy throughout her life, truly at the mercy of her erratic artistic temperament and need for self-gratification without care or interest in the consequences. I'd be highly surprised if her writing didn't influence a young Karl Ove Knausgaard, for this trilogy feels like the birthplace of nordic autofiction. Despite its setting in the 1930s and 40s, this work reads as fresh as if it had been written yesterday, as Ditlevsen conforms to the expectations of no one and follows only her own impetuous desires.

4.5 stars - After a disappointing first volume, this ended up a compelling page-turner which I was sad to reach the end of.

155kidzdoc
Modificato: Set 15, 9:18pm

Great review of The Copenhagen Trilogy, Alison. I'm now very curious to see if her work inspired Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle series. It looks as though I won't read Book Five and Book Six until sometime in 2022.

ETA: I just read this enticing review of The Copenhagen Trilogy, and I've added it to my library wish list.

156AlisonY
Set 16, 2:22am

>155 kidzdoc: Oh that's interesting that they mention Knausgaard in that article! The first part (Childhood) was probably a 3.5 star read for me, and it took me a while to get through it as it wasn't holding my attention, but the next 2 volumes were hugely gripping in a sad, rubber-necking way. It's only around 270 pages, so an easier commitment time-wise than Knausgaard's books (although you're right to postpone them until you've time to properly absorb those last 2 books).

157AlisonY
Set 16, 3:41am

158Caroline_McElwee
Set 16, 7:58am

>154 AlisonY: Yup, I think we pretty much agree on that trilogy Alison.

159AlisonY
Set 16, 10:26am

>158 Caroline_McElwee: I wondered if I'd have felt more enthusiastic about Childhood if I'd gone back and reread it after loving the 2nd and 3rd volumes, but I had a quick flick through it again when I'd finished and I still feel it's much weaker than the other two volumes. Still, I loved them enough to have selective memory on that first one when it came to my star rating!

160kidzdoc
Modificato: Set 16, 6:48pm

>156 AlisonY: Will do, Alison. I hope to finish My Struggle: Book Six in early 2022.

As a subscriber to Archipelago Books, which published Knausgaard's My Struggle series in the US, I received a copy of his essay collection In the Land of the Cyclops, which I'll also plan to read next year.

161AlisonY
Set 17, 2:53am

>160 kidzdoc: Did you know he has a new book out at the end of this month / start of October (in the UK at least)? Some of his other titles haven't overly appealed to me, but this new one looks good.

162kidzdoc
Set 17, 4:05am

>161 AlisonY: I didn't know that, but I do now! His new book is titled The Morning Star, as you know, and it will also come out in the US at the end of this month, on the 28th here. It's published by Penguin Random House in the US, so I won't automatically receive it as part of my Archipelago Books subscription, but based on what little I've read about it I'll want to give it a go. Thanks for mentioning it!

163AlisonY
Modificato: Ieri, 8:57am



31. Lean Fall Stand by Jon McGregor

This was a book I didn't know much about before starting it (it was a gift and I find the book blurbs can often be spoilers), and it surprised me as from part 1 I thought it was going to be an atmospheric thriller but parts 2 and 3 went in a very different direction.

Lean, Fall, Stand in the title is the name of the three parts of the book. In Lean, an Antarctic research trip goes badly wrong, Fall tells the immediate aftermath of a stroke for both the survivor and his wife and Stand is about recovery and the impact the stroke has on both of their lives in different ways.

It's a well told tale that keeps enough suspense about the truth of the tragedy in Antarctic whilst transitioning from an action and adventure novel to a human life story and honest portrait of a marriage of two hugely independent people navigating their way through cataclysmic change.

I wasn't sure where this novel was ultimately going, and enjoyed McGregor taking me on a bit of a ride through the dark in the story.

4 stars - a great page-turner. One that I'd recommend if you've hit a reading slump and just need a 'damn good read' type of book to get you out of it.

165AlisonY
Modificato: Ieri, 9:17am



32. The Maiden Dinosaur by Janet McNeill

Janet McNeill lived most of her adult life in Northern Ireland and was a prolific writer of plays and children's books as well as 10 adult novels and a number of volumes of short stories. She wasn't on my radar until I came across an article called ' Ten great Northern Irish novels you may have missed'.

Compared on the jacket to Barbara Pym, Anita Brookner and Elizabeth Taylor, the writing in this novel certainly reminded me of Barbara Pym's writing, particularly in terms of characterisation. I've not got to Taylor yet, but McNeill's writing quality is absolutely on a level with Pym's and Brookner's, and it's a shame that she's never received the same level of recognition (Virago, Persephone - sort it out).

The Maiden Dinosaur centres around the main character Sarah, a fifty-something year old spinster teacher and minor poet who shares her former family home (now divided into 4 apartments) with two of her childhood friends and the daughter and son-in-law of another friend. The plain, sensible, clever one, with no family of her own Sarah is the no-nonsense linchpin both they and their wider friendship group turn to as conveniences them, whilst Sarah has quietly devoted herself for over 40 years to Helen within the group, whose personal tragedies and vanities demand much of Sarah's willing attention.

As the shifting sands of life bring inevitable significant events within the lives of the group of friends, the novel explores themes of loss and new beginnings in a middle-age context over one summer in Belfast.

McNeill's writing in this novel doesn't evoke a sense of place in terms of Northern Ireland itself, but in a way I quite liked that and enjoyed the absence of the usual local colloquialisms. Belfast Zoo (or Bellevue Zoo as it used to be known) is mentioned quite often, as the novel is set in North Belfast where the zoo still to this day sits looking down over the city just below Cave Hill. There was a charming children's film called Zoo made in 2017 which is filmed at Belfast Zoo. It's based on the true story of a woman in a terraced back-street in Belfast who hid an elephant from the zoo in her tiny back yard to stop it being euthanised when the Belfast Blitz began (somehow that story could only be true from Northern Ireland).

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and will definitely be looking out for other titles by McNeill which are still in print.

This type of novel won't appeal to everyone, but if you're a lover of Pym or Brookner I recommend it (I believe it's titled The Belfast Friends in the US).

4.5 stars - A wonderful depiction of the claustrophobia that life as a middle-aged woman can become.

166japaul22
Ieri, 10:19am

Thank you for bringing this author to my attention! I love the similar authors you mentioned so this goes straight on my wishlist.

167lisapeet
Ieri, 10:28am

>165 AlisonY: My Iris Murdoch Fan Girls Book Club is looking for suggestions—we just read Elizabeth Taylor's The Soul of Kindness, and this sounds like it would be up everyone's alley. Thanks!

168AlisonY
Ieri, 11:23am

>166 japaul22:, >167 lisapeet: You might need to try under the other name in the US. I hope it's still in print on your side of the pond.

170japaul22
Ieri, 11:42am

>168 AlisonY: Hmmm, not very easily accessible and doesn't seem to be in print, but looks like I can get a used copy on ebay or abe books.

171AlisonY
Ieri, 2:00pm

>170 japaul22: Now I'm hoping I haven't over-sold it....!

172japaul22
Ieri, 2:09pm

I never mind scrounging up a book by a woman author who should still be in print!

173labfs39
Ieri, 2:16pm

>165 AlisonY: I loved the title The Maiden Dinosaur, I wonder why on earth they changed it to Belfast Friends!

174Caroline_McElwee
Ieri, 4:09pm

>165 AlisonY: A new to me author as well, and I enjoy both Pym and Brookner, so on the list she goes Alison.

175AlisonY
Oggi, 2:53am

>172 japaul22: A most noble attitude!

>173 labfs39: I couldn't agree more. The Maiden Dinosaur is such a great title and really typifies what many of the characters think of the main character Sarah. It's strange the ideas that publishers get sometimes. Belfast Friends is so dumbed down.

>174 Caroline_McElwee: I think you'd like it, Caroline. Some of her other titles are also highly recommended (in small circles!).