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Posts Tagged ‘true life’

…but I haven’t forgotten this blog! Life kind of got on top of me; I’ve been reading a lot and working a lot and doing a lot in general so I let the blogging slide.  But I find as I’ve been reading I’ve been coming up with more topics that I want to blog about, so hopefully over the next few weeks you’ll hear more from me.

So what have I been reading recently? Well, I’ve just updated my ‘Books read in 2011’ page so you can see exactly what I’ve been reading. But I think there are some in the list that deserve a special mention.

Moab Is My Washpot & The Fry Chronicles, both by Stephen Fry: The first 2 books in Fry’s biography are nothing short of fantastic. He’s honest, self-depreciating, critical, humorous, and passionate and throughout it all his language and vocabulary keep you grabbing for the dictionary (in a good way).  His love of words resonates across the pages and you can’t help but smile at the loquacious style and wealth of word play.  I loved these books and heartily recommend them.

Travelling with Che Guevara by Alberto Grenada:  I think I’m safe in making the assumption that everyone has heard of Che Guevara.  Many will have heard of or watched the film based on Guevara’s book, The Motorcycle Diaries.  I’d heard of Guevara and the film, I knew a little about his politics but my knowledge was vague.  This book is the diary of Guevara’s travelling companion when they took off on an old motorcycle to cross South America and explore their own continent and how the locals live, work and survive under a variety of different regimes.  They meet a variety of characters along the way and Grenada’s descriptions carry you along with them.  You can smell and envision their surroundings; you can hear their conversations with locals.  You can sense their frustration at the lack of democracy and the influence of American capitalism on the impoverished locals and indigenous peoples.  It’s a great book and an excellent insight into the early formation of Guevara’s politics.  It’s so good, I went straight out and bought Guevara’s Motorcycle Diaries.

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World Press Photo Winners 2010

Whilst browsing the BBC website I noticed a link to a photo gallery of World Press Photo winners.  The photos are stunning and sometimes disturbing but definitely worth a look.  After looking at the BBC gallery I thought I’d find out more about this competition.  A quick google search brought me to the World Press Photo website.  According to the website the organisation was founded in 1955 and is run as an independent, non-profit organization based in Amsterdam.  Their mission, “is to encourage high professional standards in photojournalism and to promote a free and unrestricted exchange of information.”

I had a browse through the winners gallery and this photo stood out for me:


It doesn’t make the same impression when it’s so small but it’s well worth a closer look.  I just loved the clarity of the colours and the simplicity.  Many of the other winners focus on current affairs such as natural disasters.  The photos are amazing and they really do bring home the plight of the people involved and the reality of the situation they’re living with; but I probably wouldn’t want a copy on my wall.  I can appreciate the truth of the images but I think I’d rather look at something beautiful.

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“A fascinating, intelligently told tale, full of intriguing revelations that penetrates deeper into the Andean past than previously attempted.” Traveller Magazine

I’m off to Peru in a couple of months for a holiday so a friend bought me this book as a Christmas present and I decided that the best way to say thank you was to try to get across how fabulous I found this book in a blog post.

I thought I knew what I was going to visit when I booked my trip to Peru, I was excited at the thought of seeing Machu Picchu, but it turns out I really didn’t know anything about the history and culture of this fascinating country.  Hugh Thomson takes on the immense task of trying to convey five millennia of Peruvian history and culture in one book, whilst also attempting to express his own intellectual and physical journey through a country he has been exploring for over twenty five years, in a way that the non-scholar can relate to.  And as far as I’m concerned, he succeeds.

This is a tale of his own journey, so it allows Thomson to interweave personal stories and experiences alongside the historical and archaeological facts.  This brings a human touch to the book and gives the reader an insight into Thomson’s own feelings about Peru and its people.  It’s astute, captivating and, most importantly for a book full of dates and facts, not dry.  Thomson introduces us to Peru’s cultural history and the people who lived and worked the land over millions of years and why they may have lived the way they did.  He also introduces explorers and archaeologists, their viewpoints and arguments and provides his own opinions and perspectives.  The book may be full of detail and history but it’s written like a travel book rather than a history book.  And it’s also inspiring!  Thomson takes us on a journey through Peru’s past but also introduces us to the modern Peru and the beliefs and lifestyles.

His accounts of his travels and discoveries got my adrenaline pumping and heart racing with anticipation.  I know I’m not going to hunt for any undiscovered temples but Thomson allowed me to imagine how it would feel and experience it vicariously.  If I hadn’t already decided to visit, this book would have had me reaching for the travel brochures and I’m now counting the days until I get to follow in some of Thomson’s footsteps.  Plus I really feel like I’ll be able to appreciate what I’m seeing now that I have a much clearer idea of why the temples and other structures were built and how the different cultures relate to each other. 

As further proof of how much I enjoyed this book, before I had even finished it, I purchased Thomson’s earlier book, The White Rock.  I can’t wait to see this amazing country for myself and thanks to Hugh Thomson (and my friend for buying me the book) I’ll be able to view the sights and really feel like I understand what I’m looking at.

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It’s been a while since I wrote a blog so I thought it was about time, especially as I’ve just updated my ‘Books read in 2010’ page and I realised just quite how many books I’ve read over the last month!  I know that quite a few of them only took a few hours but it’s still quite a long list.

So, what have I been reading and what can we surmise from this list.  Well, there’s been quite a lot of escapism; I was a little unwell so I took solace in quite a few detective/thriller novels.  As I’ve said in a previous post these books are one of my favourite ways of clearing my head and escaping from everyday realities and stresses.  My favourite?  I’d say probably Linda Fairstein’s Hell Gate.  It featured the familiar protagonists and made excellent use, as usual, of the New York setting.  One of the features of this series that I particularly love is learning more about New York and its history, it’s evident that Fairstein is extremely knowledgeable and a fan of this great city.  This really brings an atmosphere and sense of location to the novels and captures the reader, bringing them into the story.  I won’t go into any further detail about the book, other than to say fans of this series won’t be disappointed.

I must say that before I started reading I assumed that Tess Gerritsen’s The Killing Place would be my favourite and it was pretty good but I just didn’t think it matched some of her earlier work.  Although it featured many of the same characters it was based in a new setting and felt a little disjointed.  I didn’t get carried along with the story or caught up in the struggle for survival and rescue that it seemed I was supposed to!  I was particularly disappointed by a lack of emotion in the writing.  Without wanting to give anything away, there were some deaths that seemed almost to be mentioned in passing and had little impact on any of the characters and were barely referred to again.  I’ll keep my fingers crossed that the next in this series is a huge improvement.  Though it does remind me of how Patricia Cornwell’s Scarpetta series went downhill as she focused on the characters and their stories as opposed to the genre itself.  I just want to shake these authors and say, the reason we love these books is because of what the characters do and how they react to grisly murders and risky situations, I don’t really care as much about their emotional entanglements, certainly not enough for that to be the primary focus of the book!

Anyway, onto more enjoyable reads.  I’ve previously read Ben MacIntyre’s Agent Zigzag and I thought it was excellent; brilliantly researched with evocative and emotional language that really captured a sense of time and place.  So not long ago I purchased Operation Mincemeat but then I put it on my TBR pile and it’s been sitting there ever since!  Then I happened across a second hand copy of A Foreign Field and I started reading it.  This is another of MacIntyre’s books focusing on a little known piece of war history.  The story starts with MacIntyre working for The Times in Paris and being invited to the unveiling of a memorial to British soldiers killed during the First World War.  There he meets the daughter of one of these soldiers, born following a war-time romance in this remote little village situated near the front line.  MacIntyre takes us on a journey of discovery as he tells us how soldiers separated from their regiments took refuge amongst the villagers and how in turn the villagers coped with the stress of hiding fugitives, the lack of food and the strict regime imposed by the Germans.  In some ways this is a detective novel, with MacIntyre acting as the detective.  He uses a number of historical sources to build up his story as well as speaking with the remaining villagers who remember that time and the relatives of those who have since passed away.  One thing is clear; everyone believed that someone betrayed the soldiers to the Germans.  MacIntyre feels a compulsion to find the culprit, though the villagers seem keen to let the past lie.  Throughout the book there is a clear sense of how the villagers and soldiers lived and the difficulties they face and it is an excellent read.  One of the great things is that MacIntyre’s writing doesn’t diminish as he brings the story up to date and reaches his conclusion as to who the guilty party may be.  The reader is captured from the beginning and can’t resist staying for the rest of the ride.  I’d highly recommend this as an example of how a historical novel about a true story can be just as gripping and intriguing as any fictional detective story or thriller.

Anyway I think that’s enough for one post.  Though I do think it’s worth pointing out that Chasing Shakespeare by Sarah Smith was really not that great a read, more infuriating than anything.  Especially when she got such basic facts such as the location of a tube station wrong!  But on the other hand George Orwell’s collection of essays, Books v Cigarettes, was a fantastic commentary and insight on a specific time and society and well worth the read.

Generally I would say that the books I’ve read over the past month are pretty typical of my reading habits, a good mix of escapism, fantasy and real life adventure to keep me interested, amused and intrigued.

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