Some more odds and sods here before I completely forget the gist of them.
“Thinking Medieval” by Marcus Bull had delectable front cover artwork and was thin enough to tempt me despite the dry tone and feeling that it was someone’s PHD thesus. The takeaway for me was being aware of the traps for historians examining and assessing a former age and rigour needed to keep an open mind and not make assumptions based on today’s values. 3 stars.
In complete contrast, “The Adventures of Holly White and the incredible Sex Machine” by Krissy Kneen was lurid and thrilling – especially to begin with, but the repetitive sex scenes in Paris became a little wearing and the ending was so wilfully climactic that I don’t even really know what happened. 5 stars for imagination and a willingness to go into unknown surreal territory, but I’ll have to deduct 1 point for the last third of the book which was all over the place in trying to bring the story back to some sort of end. Crazy stuff! So much fun – 4 stars.
There’s nothing by Coetzee I haven’t liked, including his decision to become an Adelaide resident and Australian Citizen, so an $8 hardback “Youth” – the story of his move from South Africa to England in the 1960s was always going to be interesting to me. Every bit as interesting as Clive James, (less funny, but more honest and self deprecating) this was a marvellous read. Who knew his beginnings as an early IBM programmer would be just the antidote needed to force him into writing and a more satisfying life. 4.5 stars.
Footnote: How embarrassing, I read the above book seven years ago and reviewed it more comprehensively here. Sigh.
It took me awhile to read, but the comprehensive and never boring “Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England” by Ian Mortimer contained stories and samples of daily life in the 1300s. There’s not an aspect of life that isn’t covered – from how many shoes people owned, to how many people slept in a bed or where the term “room and board” came from. From mostly horrifying sections on the Law, Medicine, Hygiene and Food to more fun parts about humour, language and pastimes, the crazy facts just kept coming. I loved the small cheats guide to Chaucer section, because I’m never going to read Canterbury Tales anyhow. 4.5 stars – enthralling.
The closest I get to Sci Fi nowadays is Margaret Atwood, and the Oryx and Crake trilogy needed to be completed with “Maddaddam” and it was. Genuinely imaginative, the absolutely necessary matter of fact summary of the first two books at the beginning of the third was a godsend to me. The story is so out there that it’s troublesome to describe to a friend or partner as it reads as part kids story and part dystopian Animal Farm, where everyone has an odd name and copes as best they can with the increasingly dire situation. Atwood tries very hard to be original and succeeds wonderfully – her blue Craker race of genetically modified, simpler, gentler humans being absolutely believable. Although a little sad towards the end, I felt I’d been on a great journey – the Zeb and Adam story was particularly interesting (if a little improbable) and formed the backbone of this third book. 4.5 stars.