Now that the free MX magazine has ceased and the temptations of I-spotted-a-future-boyfriend-on-the-South-Morang-3:47pm letters have faded, I’ve been able to focus on my backlog of London Review of Books and the Monthlys. Meanwhile, some bedtime books are getting read too.
Firstly, let me say what a terrible disappointment the Punch books have been. It probably didn’t help that my cheap copy of Mr. Punch goes to War arrived with goop on the front cover, was full of dust and neglect, and when I attempted to clean it, managed to smear the gilt lettering on the cover with green dye. I rated it as disappointing on Abebooks and promptly had a guy all over me selling his arse to get me to change my review. I’d forgotten how important online reputations are to sellers, and didn’t mean any harm – was just an honest assessment of the quality of the book that arrived. So, in the end, he sent me Mr Punch on Tour, which was in better nick, though no funnier. Not recommended, though the pictures were fun. Two stars.
HHHH by Laurent Binet was quite a change in pace, and an enthralling page turner about Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the SS in WW2. Particularly horrifying was the vengeful obliteration of the town of Lidice as a consequence of the attack on Heydrich. I cannot recommend this book enough – Five stars.
The Saturday book is a charming annual (I have mild aspirations towards collecting the set from 1941 to 1973(?) – this one being #23 from 1963) – there’s the usual slightly salacious cartoons and an article about old rude postcards, an article about the origins of ladies bloomers, and a short biography of the creator (Heinrich Hoffmann) of the apparently well known Struwwelpeter (the original Edward Scissorhards I suppose) from the mid 1800s. Finally an interesting look at the eccentric Marie Laurencin and her unique ghostly paintings.
Katherine Boo’s Beyond the Beautiful Forevers is an earnest expose on the conditions and knife-edge lives of Mumbai slum-dwellers. Completely compelling, though sad, and meticulously researched (in person), I heard the film adaptation was canned by critics, and came across as clichéd, but the book doesn’t read like that in the slightest. Four stars.
I just loved A Wanderer in Holland by supposedly populist writer E.V Lucas, written in 1905 and filled with forthright statements about the sillyness of certain Dutch towns for their architectural or artistic decisions to not champion world class artists or writers. Primarily a travel guide to the countries greatest artwork and writings, filled with paintings of towns and from galleries, with copious gruesome historical details such as the Spanish siege of Haarlem (and others), it was a wonderful introduction to the country, just as I was doing my dutch genealogy research. I got to read about cities my relatives lived in (Dordrecht and Leiden), whilst the author travelled the country on boats and railways which no longer exist since the destruction of WW1. It made me want to pay some good dollars for a Baedekers handbook for Holland. Four stars.
Bill Bryson’s At Home was also quite the page turner – he covers an awful lot of ground, but does it in an entertaining way. The bibliography is stupidly, snobbishly long and even improbable I think, but the 632 pages were full of early facts about the habits of home life and the surprisingly uncomfortable lives that mankind led up until very recently. Four stars also.