…But With A Touch of History

Posted on January 11, 2010. Filed under: Uncategorized |

In a previous post from the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia (remember that? Man, good times), I wrote about the books we had been reading in South East Asia. It's been almost two months and two continents since then, so I figured now was the time for another literary break. We're also almost up to date with our postings recently, so it also acts as a nice inter-continental rest for us all. Imagine that you're on a quiet trans-Pacific flight, with only a large selection of books to get through.

The last time I did a book summary, it was all a bit higgledy-piggledy and hard to follow. Because of this, I've revised the format somewhat and added some photos to the mix. Hopefully this'll read better; it'll certainly be a hell of a lot easier to follow! Let us know what you do and don't like in the comments – it's always good to have feedback.

Our rate of reading slowed somewhat in Australasia, which is down to us renting a car (it's harder to read all day when you're driving all day) as well as the wide availability of cheap newspapers. My favourite was New Zealand's "The Press (Weekend edition)" (parocial South Island news a speciality), which I picked up three times. Good crosswords you know.

Anyway, where was I? Ah yes – books.

<b>Title</b>: Good To A Fault
<b>Author</b>: Mariana Endicott
<b>Picked up</b>: Tanah Rata – this was one of three exchanges we made at our guesthouse in the Cameron Highlands. For the sake of argument, let's say we swapped MIdnight in the Garden of Good and Evil for this. It's a suitably literate swap.
<b>Dropped off/Exchanged</b>: Gave to our host Robyn (from Sydney), as good reading material for the summer. In effect we swapped it for another book (Marching Powder) which her her son Luke gave to us gratis. Keeping it in the family says I..
<b>Thoughts</b>: We'd never heard of the author before picking it up, but the blurb and cover caught Rachel's eye. It's the story of a woman from Canada who is in a minor car accident in Canada, and how her life changes as a result of the family in the other car. I loved the writing – infused with emotive words and perfectally described feelings and situations – but I was a little disappointed with the ending. The story comes from a short radio play the author had previously written, and that also might explain the feeling of distinct acts and scenes in the book. Worth picking up!

<b>Title</b>: Evolution
<b>Author</b>: Stephen Baxter
<b>Picked up</b>: Tanah Rata – this was another of the three exchanges we made at our guesthouse in the Cameron Highlands. We like to think that this was a direct swap though; we dropped off our Collection of the Year's Best Science Fiction when we arrived there (it's heavy and we were tired of hauling it around). Someone had just put this book into the exchange, so Rachel found him and recommended he pick up the Sci-Fi book we had just dropped off. Worked out nicely all around, especially as the Collection includes a Baxter short story.
<b>Dropped off/Exchanged</b>: Dropped off in in the Christchurch YHA exchange. Our selection there was a bit sparse, but our second time through the hostel, Rachel  found a collection of autobiographcial extracts called "Written By Herself Vol 2", which we'll get to in another post :->.
<b>Thoughts</b>: Wooph – an epic book. I love Baxter's short stories and novellas; he is a master of the form. I had never read a novel by him though, and in this case it wasn't hugely easy going. Evolution is essentially that – the story of the evolution of mankind, from a defined proto form in the distant past, until an imagined future. It's hard science with a large interpreted twist – so for example, he paints the Cretacious era of one of our found ancestors, and describes few potential episodes in her life. This includes some dinosaurs – some known, and some speculated.

The whole thing rotates around a center point – the near-present – but is largely episodic in nature. The episodes aren't told purely chronologically though, so it can take a while to get your head around. In short – you can take hope from the story of life, but it might be heavy going.

<b>Title</b>: A Murder on the Appian Way
<b>Author</b>: Steven Saylor
<b>Picked up</b>: Tanah Rata – this was the third exchange we made at our guesthouse in the Cameron Highlands. As the last book we picked up there, we must have exchanged it for the Clapton auto-biography.
<b>Dropped off/Exchanged</b>: We actually can't remember. We tried to sell it to a second hand stockist in Canberra (a city full of interesting book stores), but she didn't take it because it was too dog-eared. That store was where we sold our South-East Asia guidebook though, and picked up Mandela's huge autobiography for cheap.
<b>Thoughts</b>: Loved it. This is a book that sets up a murder mystery around a known historical event and trial in Ancient Rome. The descriptions of events, characters, architecture and culture is enthralling, and reading about the historical result afterwards gives you a feeling that you were really there. Obviously, you should never forget 'tis mere fiction, but it's a great read. If you like Ellis Peter's 'Cadfael', you'll love this, and it's a great book regardless.

No picture!

<b>Title</b>: Scherzo
<b>Author</b>: Jim Williams
<b>Picked up</b>: Bought for cheap in a book store in Lucky Plaza Singapore (3 Singapore Dollars), whilst prospecting for new reads.
<b>Dropped off/Exchanged</b>: Gave to our amazing hosts in Welly, as we thought they'd like the Venitian setting. We didn't exchange it for anything in particular, since we had bought it in addition to our other books, and so was excess to requirements.
<b>Thoughts</b>: An odd mystery book. Like Appian Way, it evokes a sense of Venice when it was still a city state, but it is an oddly fractured book. The story is slow to unfold (in old told and sometimes confusingly paced episodes), and bits of revealed plot are never fully explored. Despite all that, I enjoyed reading it, but I certainly wouldn't recommend it as an astounding read.

<b>Title</b>: The Secret River
<b>Author</b>: Kate Grenville
<b>Picked up</b>: The Book Grocer, an awesome bookstore in Canberra stocking excess print runs. It's actually a small independant chain in Australia, and because the books are what they are, they're a great price in mint condition. The guy running the store was helpful in suggesting an Aussie author writing about the Land Down Under whilst we were actually travelling through it. And the store is one of the best named bookshops ever!
<b>Dropped off/Exchanged</b>: Haven't done it yet! We're currently searching for a good home for it.
<b>Thoughts</b>: The book is set up around the life of one man, William Thornhill, and his family who are transported to New South Wales for a crime that he commits. The novel sets up a feeling of what life was like for the unfortunate (and numerous) poor who lived in London at the time, as well as a feeling of what the early settlement in Sydney and the surrounding territory. Interactions with Aborigines are both enlightening and saddening, but I felt I came away with a greater understanding of how the relationship between Europeans and Aborigines developed the way it did. Humanising it always works for me. I found it a profoundly sad book all the way through, but enjoyed it nevertheless. A Booker Prize nominee, and probably worth reading.

<b>Title</b>: Marching Powder
<b>Author</b>: Rusty Young
<b>Picked up</b>: Given to us by young Luke in Sydney, as mentioned above. It is a fascinating personal story. Since it concerns South America, he thought it might have an extra something for us (although what that is, apart from a healthy fear of Bolivian prisons, I'm not sure :->).
<b>Dropped off/Exchanged</b>: 3 days ago, in our mulltilingual Hostale in Valpairiso, Chile for 'Cooking for Mr Latte'
<b>Thoughts</b>: Fascinating. It's the story of an English drug-trafficker who gets jail time in Bolivia for attempting to get drugs out of the country. The book is interesting, both as a look into Thomas' life before getting caught and then his description of the prison after he is charged. The only thing I would have wanted a little more of in the book is his motivation for trafficking in the first place, just as a point of interest. Thoroughly recommended, although quite a quick read.

..and that's it! We're currently lugging around 2 huge books, 2 guide books (haven't managed to ditch the New Zealand guide), and one comparatively svelte number. These should hopefully last us most of South America, but in anycase, you'll probably get a final literary post when we get back.

Thanks for sticking with me through this gargantuan post,

James

Posted via email from dreadpiratesarcas

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