What with the lockdown, insomnia and what-have-you, I've been a) reading more, and b) thinking about reviving the blog a little. I'm not going to do the weekly 'Books and Stuff' posts that were a feature of the early years of the blog, but I may start posting a little more often and record my thoughts on my reading.
So Far in May 2020...
Goodreads.com tells me that I've completed 25 books so far this year. These are the ones I read in May.
How can you not like the little chap? This is the second book in the Paddington series, and he's already very much at home in the Brown household.
There's not really much to be said about this. The stories are lovely. 1959 attitudes to the sale and handling of fireworks are something of an eye-opener to some-one who was brought up on 1970's public information films though!
I can't help hearing Sir Michael Hordern's voice when I read the stories (which always makes it a little odd when I watch The Spy Who Came in From the Cold or Where Eagles Dare - oddly enough it never bothers me when I listen to his Gandalf).
This is a book by my old friend, New Zealand author Joan Druett. Here she looks at the events around the 1841-42 Pacific cruise of the whaler Sharon of Fairhaven, MA, which saw Polyneasian crewmen mutiny and murder the captain. This was of course a great scandal at the time but the causes were covered-up. Joan examines the financial presures on the captain and his brutality and racism which lead to the mutiny (the turning of a blind eye to such things telling us a lot about the American merchant fleet of the time).
A really excellent read, well-worth looking into even if you're not particularly interested in maritime history.
Michael Chabon, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
The Pulizer Prize-winning novel which tells a story of two Jewish cousins who battle Nazis by creating a comicbook hero. A great depiction of New York in the early war years that manages to tell us a lot about the Golden Age of comics and their creators.
My description doesn't do it justice. It's a great read: I literally sat up all night reading this one!
Michael Bond, Paddington Helps Out
What can I say? After mutiny, murder, mayhem and Nazis I needed another helping of the kindest bear you'll ever meet.
Robert W Chambers, The King in Yellow
The 1895 collection of short stories that had a huge influence on the Lovecraft Mythos.
The stand-out of the collection is the first story, 'The Repairer of Reputations', a story of madness and a truly unreliable narrator. The others are a mixed bunch - perhaps the next best is "The Street of the First Shell", a tale of American artists living through the 1870 Seige of Paris. The stories about Paris perhaps get a bum deal from those who go to the book expecting weird literature (only the first four of the ten stories - with the 'King in Yellow' and 'Yellow Sign' motifs - fall into that category).
Boria Sax, Crow
A study of the cultural impact of corvids. An interesting little book, even if it did sometime make me a little cross with its generalisations and assumptions.
J D Davies, Gentlemen Captain
First book in the Matthew Quinton series of novels about an officer in the Restoration Navy and the (not insignificant) conflicts therein. This one is set in 1662 and is concerned with treason in Scottish waters.
It sounds pretentious to say that I was aware of Davies' non-fiction and academic works on the period, but I hadn't tried the fiction. Well, now I have and I enjoyed it a lot. I've already ordered a cheap copy of the second book in the series.
Alan Abbey, Blood, Bilge and Iron Balls: Naval Wargame Rules for the Age of Sail
All this maritime reading prompted me to dig out and re-read BBIB. The immediate results can be read here, more will no doubt follow.
Peter Le Fevre and Richard Harding (edd), Precursers of Nelson: British Admirals of the Eighteenth Century
Published in 1999 - right in the middle of what publishers of naval history were touting as 'Nelson Decade', ie between the bicentenaries of the Battles of the Nile and Trafalgar - this is a study of British naval leadership in the Long C18th (so from Torrington to Keith). With over a dozen authors, there's a mix of stuff here. Solid work though. Neither a light nor quick read.
Arthur Conan Doyle, Tales of Unease
As the editor says in his introduction (the editions I read of both this book and the King in Yellow were by Wordsworth with introductions by David Stuart Davies), Doyle's work can be overlooked both because of the overwhelming presence of Sherlock Holmes and because of the sheer quantily and variety of stuff he wrote. His longer works can be a bit thin, but he is the master of the short story though.
If he'd only written these ghost stories they'd be worth remembering. They're not as good as MR James, but they compare well with the RW Chambers.