Books: And What Are You Reading?

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It is high time to start a nice, welcoming, book thread.

This week, (in addition to studying French - two nights a week, online) I read, well re-read, slowly, by my standards, (thus, the book took several nights of reading), The Far Pavilions - which is undoubtedly her masterpiece, nothing else she wrote came close to it - by M M Kaye.

The book is set mostly in India, British India, the "Raj" of the 1850s to 1879 (the second Afghan War), and also partly in Afghanistan.

Among other interesting details, or footnotes, I had not known that her literary agent was Paul Scott (who wrote the Raj Quartet).
 
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lizkat

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It is high time to start a nice, welcoming, book thread.

This week, (in addition to studying French - two nights a week, online) I read, well re-read, slowly, by my standards, (thus, the book took several nights of reading), The Far Pavilions - which is undoubtedly her masterpiece, nothing else she wrote came close to it - by M M Kaye.

The book is set mostly in India, British India, the "Raj" of the 1850s to 1879, and partly in Afghanistan.

Among other interesting details, or footnotes, I had not known that her literary agent was Paul Scott (who wrote the Raj Quartet).

Well there's certainly a home run of a post:

1. Love the thread, thank you for starting it...

2. Loved The Far Pavilions, nearly got fired for going to work late while staying up reading that thing into the wee hours back in the early 80s, a few years after it was published.

3. Loved the Raj Quartet (the books as well as the (more chronological) DVD series.

4. Impressed by your diligence in taking the online French course as well.
 

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My father had the book, which I read - well, raced though, not really grasping all that much, and, frankly, more than a little bored by and not remotely comprehending the sections set in Afghanistan - as a teenager.

That was then, and this is now.

However, now, as an adult, more specifically, as an adult with time on her hands, (something I didn't have when responsible for my mother's care), and having worked in that part of the world - I was curious, with adult hindsight and adult knowledge, to return to this work, and see if what she had written somehow tallied with my own sense of things.

It did; her insights into the political and socio-economic-cultural background of Afghanistan was excellent - and surprisingly (and unexpectedly) sympathetic to the Afghan perspective.

Her comments on the three major religions - well, two, (Hindu and Islam, for Christianity is the sort of assumed cultural default, although some wonderfully barbed asides are offered), in the context of the tale she tells, are, again, thoughtful, and intelligently insightful and very interesting.

And, while teenage me really liked the protagonist, adult me wants to shake him, kick him and slap him around the head at times.

Actually, I thought it excellent.
 
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I posted about this elsewhere; the French classes have been taking place since late July.

The govt is paying for it, and AF (Alliance Française) are conducting the classes.

Online.

My French was quite good at school, and I loved the language & culture - but that is quite some time ago; however, I do have a fairly extensive dormant vocabulary in that language.

When I returned from Africa two years ago, the foreign ministry (because they wished to be able to deploy me on EU/CSDP capacity building missions & EOM (election observation missions) in Francophone regions, suggested (advised, strongly recommended) that I take up French classes.

Accordingly, I engaged the French husband (himself a teacher) of an old school friend (who herself was also a teacher) to give me private classes, an arrangement that worked well until my mother's health further deteriorated, which was followed by her death, whereupon my interest and motivation in many things (including French classes) vanished.

Towards the end of this January past, the foreign ministry contacted me with a view to ascertaining my interest in French classes to be run by AF (but paid for by them); then, before matters could proceed any further, Covid struck, putting paid to all such plans.

However, the classes - now held in an online format - were resurrected in July, and I have been suitably occupied since then.
 
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lizkat

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Actually, I also re-read the Raj Quartet, recently (the weeks immediately preceding my mother's death, in December 2018) and thought it excellent.

[ Not to drift too far into film from books here but the original DVD set for the series The Jewel of the Crown --based on that quartet of novels-- had rather atrocious audio, not that it stopped me getting bleary-eyed watching it once I laid hands on a used set. I keep meaning to get the remastered set. It came out quite awhile ago after being held up for US release for a long time, doubtless some licensing issue. Tim Pigott-Smith, the English actor who passed away just a few years ago, had played the role of Ronald Merrick so very well in that series. ]

Okay I'm heading back to my books now... my current read is Akwaeke Emezi's novel The Death of Vivek Oji. Drawn to it by a powerful review I bumped into in the LA Times.


Emezi has a way of being succinct, blunt or movingly eloquent all of a piece, and brings the reader into the minds of the characters, from whose various POV the book is written, and not in chronological order overall. The parts written as Oji can break the heart.
 

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Agreed, @lizkat: Tim Pigott-Smith was absolutely brilliant as Ronald Merrick (and the portrayal of that intersection of class and race his character represented was superbly done).
 

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I've been going through this strange thing recently, maybe the start of a midlife crisis, where I've been revisiting all the things I used to love back in my childhood days of yore.

It started with 80's movies, now it's books I used to love when I was in elementary and middle school. Specifically, the Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators novels. I've been trying to track them down to read through them again.
 

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I've been going through this strange thing recently, maybe the start of a midlife crisis, where I've been revisiting all the things I used to love back in my childhood days of yore.

It started with 80's movies, now it's books I used to love when I was in elementary and middle school. Specifically, the Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators novels. I've been trying to track them down to read through them again.

Ah, I remember those: Jupiter Jones (the bright one), Pete (yawn, the athletic one), and Bob (the bespectcled researcher).

My main gripe (but this applied to almost everything I read, or watched in those days) was that there were no female characters, - not, no strong female characters, just no female characters whatsoever - not among the investigators, their mentors, friends, antagonists or their supporting cast.

However, two or three of the books were really excellent, some of the others were pretty good, but the series became very formulaic.
 

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Ah, I remember those: Jupiter Jones (the bright one), Pete (yawn, the athletic one), and Bob (the bespectcled researcher).

Ha! It's so nice knowing that there's someone else out there who has actually heard of these books!

Yeah, they're not exactly too strong on female leads. They're boys adventure novels written in the 60's. It's not going to align perfectly with more modern social standards. Though if I recall correct, some of the John Bellairs books have a few good strong female characters.
 

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Ha! It's so nice knowing that there's someone else out there who has actually heard of these books!

Yeah, they're not exactly too strong on female leads. They're boys adventure novels written in the 60's. It's not going to align perfectly with more modern social standards. Though if I recall correct, some of the John Bellairs books have a few good strong female characters.


To my mind, The Stuttering Parrot, The Fiery Eye, and The Talking Skull (the last book, I learned last night, that had been written by the original author, Robert Arthur) were the three best books in the series.

And, following the death of Robert Arthur, the quality of the books (and mysteries) took a serious nose dive.

Thread bookmarked. I’ll be back when I finish my dissertation.
Look forward to seeing you whenever you choose to drop in.
 

Renzatic

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Okay, @Renzatic: I am taking look at (re-reading) "The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot, last encountered A Very Long Time Ago.

I've started The Secret of Terror Castle. Of the 6 Three Investigators novels I've read, it was always my personal favorite. The one I would reread time and again. The others would be the Mystery of the Silver Spider, The Fiery Eye, the Moaning Cave, the Screaming Clock, and the Talking Skull. I vaguely recall seeing the Stuttering Parrot, but I don't believe I had ever had the chance to check it out.

One thing I've noticed though, publishers were more on the ball over releasing appropriate art for their books. Compare The Fiery Eye's initial release with the the 90's editions. There's no contest. The 60's release cover actually conveyed a sense of mystery and danger to it. The later editions look like they slapped on some generic stock photos, and called it a day.

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f5718c7e16bf454d2dc1c9dc5c4061f1.jpg
 

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I'm reading through -- Paper: Paging Through History by Mark Kurlansky ---- and ---- The Battery: How Portable Power Sparked a Technological Revolution by Henry Schlesinger. Love history books like these.

I just finished Radium Girls by Kate Moore (amazing and heartbreaking).
 

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I've started The Secret of Terror Castle. Of the 6 Three Investigators novels I've read, it was always my personal favorite. The one I would reread time and again. The others would be the Mystery of the Silver Spider, The Fiery Eye, the Moaning Cave, the Screaming Clock, and the Talking Skull. I vaguely recall seeing the Stuttering Parrot, but I don't believe I had ever had the chance to check it out.

One thing I've noticed though, publishers were more on the ball over releasing appropriate art for their books. Compare The Fiery Eye's initial release with the the 90's editions. There's no contest. The 60's release cover actually conveyed a sense of mystery and danger to it. The later editions look like they slapped on some generic stock photos, and called it a day.

View attachment 147

View attachment 148

While Terror Castle set the scene for the series, once the 'reveal' came, I never had any real interest in returning to the book. I may revisit it, because the side story of the Rolls Royce is very entertaining, and I liked Worthington.

The world depicted is very obviously that of the late 50s/early 60s world of California - pre-hippy world, pre Flower Power, actually, more with a flavour of LA Confidential than Flower Power.

The kids come from decent (middle class) backgrounds, but they work (in the scrap yard, or cleaning their parents cars, and, in Bob's case, in a library) to earn extra money, and they know the value of a dollar. They are not spoilt. Likewise - the bizarre exception of the Rolls Royce apart - they cycle everywhere. They pay for their own telephone. Very different from the world of today.

However, in the Stuttering Parrot, the actual crafting of the mystery, the sequence of the discovery - and working out of - clues, and dawning comprehension, are all very well done; it is clever - and intellectually satisfying, in a way that some of the more mundane mysteries are not.
 
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I'm reading through -- Paper: Paging Through History by Mark Kurlansky ---- and ---- The Battery: How Portable Power Sparked a Technological Revolution by Henry Schlesinger. Love history books like these.

I just finished Radium Girls by Kate Moore (amazing and heartbreaking).

I read the Kuransky book (Paper) - have it here on my sofa. It is very good - well researched and thought-provoking - until the last chapter which is, as is the case with many similar books, by far the weakest in the entire book.

His earlier book "Cod" was excellent - strongly recommended.
 
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