Saturday, January 02, 2016

Books read in January 2016

1. Christian Pipe-Smoking: An Introduction to Holy Incense by Uri Brito and Joffre Swait

A small booklet in praise of the present unfashionable habit of pipe smoking.
I do not think it will encourage anyone to start puffing but it will give pleasure and some good quotes for afficionadoes.

2.Realm Divided: A Year in the Life of Plantagenet England by Dan Jones 

One knew of 1215 as the year of Magna Carta but Dan Jones shows how important a year this was in English history and its relations with France and the Papacy. Jones divides his chapters between the big events history in 1215 and the social history of the period. It makes for real understanding of the times. I would like to read more history written after this excellent pattern.

3. Frost: That Was The Life That Was: The Authorised Biography by Neil Hegarty

A fascinating story of the man who went from a Methodist manse to become the foremost TV interviewer of his age. He enjoyed a loving, stable home with his parents and two elder sisters with whom he cotinued to be close. He went from grammar school to Cambridge on a scholarship. At university he was more interested in the theatrical and journalism than in his English degree. Narrowly escaping being sent down he barely scraped through to graduate but in The Footlights club he was most diligent and ambitious hoping for a future in entertainment. We are told he was resented by public schooled undergraduates but no specific examples of this snobbery are given. After university, still in his twenties, Frost has a meteoric career in TV starting with That Was The Week That Was. As a teenager, this was for me essential late Saturday night viewing. It broke the mould of TV respecting the establishment. From there Frost's TV career on both sides of the Atlantic is chronicled. He had intimate relationships with several women and a short first marriage before he met the love of his life and entered into a stable marriage producing three sons.  There is recounted his interviewing tachnicue and many of the people he interviewed, most famously the Nixon interviews after Nixon's resignation from President. One aspect of Frost's story I found of particular interest was how far he moved from his modest Methodist upbringing.. He became a lover of fine food, wine and cigars and a friend of royalty. Formal Christian observance disappeared yet his wife said he prayed every night. His background enabled him to converse well with Billy Graham and to put Blair on the spot as to what Christian observance he shared with George W Bush.  Overall we read of an able man in his field and one who was respected and loved by family and friends.

4. Troublesome Words by Bill Bryson

Bryson is a favourite author and there he gives us a reference work on English usage. I do not think this is a book one is likely to read cover to cover but one to dip into when needed. It seems fairly comprehensive but I spotted one omission. There is nothing on full and the false comparative fuller.

5. Truth for All Time by John Calvin 

Calvin wrote the French original when he was a twenty something year old asylum seeker in Geneva. He tells the reader how to become a Christian and expounds the creed, ten commandments and the Lord's prayer as well as outlining the Christian's duty to pastors and rulers. A fine summary of basic Christian truths.

6. Girl From The South by Joanna Trollope

I have read a number of Trollope's novels. They have all been about middle class English families with some measure of dysfunctionality and divorce. This novel is different. It is set in London and Charleston, USA. The latter concerns an old established local family. In London it is a number of thirty something singles not able to commit to marriage. I did not find the characters to be attractive. All seem too self centred. The different culture of the southern USA is well described.

7. No Mortal Thing by Gerald Seymour

I have read all of Seymour's thrillers and count him a master of the genre but he has slipped up here. I found the main plot totally unrealistic That an English banker should pursue a young Italian criminal to his home in southern Italy. His family has no attractive features killing a kidnapped child and despatching adults who incur their wrath via acid bath or being fed to pigs. I will not spoil the story except to say the final twist is the most unrealistic part.

8. Second Honeymoon by Joanna Trollope

A London couple whose adult children have left home are faced with the unexpected return of their progeny and also a young actor as lodger.. The relationships of the younger generation do not  seem to include marriage. The parents are in a happy marriage but their mother's sister is separated from a rogue of a husband. All in all the young adults are not a recommendation for cohabitation outside of marriage.

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