Tim Armstrong: Feur Buidhe an t-Samhraidh

Chan eil mi ag ràdh nach do mheal mi an leabhar. Ach tha amharas orm gun do mheal mi e sa mhòr-chuid on a bha e sa Ghàidhlig, amharas nach mealainn nam biodh e sa Bheurla. Oir chan eil ann ach sgeulachd eile-sheòrsach eile mu dheidhinn balaich òig a ghabh gaol air caileige àlainne. Agus gu traidiseanta, tha a’ chaileag nas còire agus nas glice na tha esan – gu dearbh, tha ise gun smal. Ge be dè dona a dh’èiricheas dhan phaidhir, tha fios gur e fèinealachd no baoghaltachd an duine as coireach. (Ann an seadh, tha feimineachas ann an litreachas fada, fada nas sine na feimineachas ann am poileataigs.)

 

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Westminster Confession of Faith

Interesting. Basically it says, “Whether you end up in heaven or in hell is entirely up to God’s whim, but you should try and be a good Christian for His greater glory notwithstanding”. Some passages are in fact more of a horror than James Hogg’s The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner; other ones reminded me of George Orwell’s doublethink.

 

Robert Louis Stevenson: Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes

Allegedly one of the very first hiking travelogues, Stevenson’s book is a pleasant account of a twelve-day trip in his late twenties over a mountain range in southern France, accompanied only by a jenny to help with carrying his gear.

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Quotations:

But we are all travellers in what John Bunyan calls the wilderness of this world—all, too, travellers with a donkey: and the best that we find in our travels is an honest friend. He is a fortunate voyager who finds many. We travel, indeed, to find them. They are the end and the reward of life.
 

To make good resolutions, indeed! You might talk as fruitfully of making the hair grow on your head.
 

And yet even while I was exulting in my solitude I became aware of a strange lack. I wished a companion to lie near me in the starlight, silent and not moving, but ever within touch. For there is a fellowship more quiet even than solitude, and which, rightly understood, is solitude made perfect.
 

I have never thought it easy to be just, and find it daily even harder than I thought. I own I met these Protestants with a delight and a sense of coming home. I was accustomed to speak their language, in another and deeper sense of the word than that which distinguishes between French and English; for the true Babel is a divergence upon morals.

 

Book shopping spree

What do you do when you find out the debit card for your bank account abroad will expire soon, and you have no way of preventing the bank from sending a new one to the address where you used to stay there except by phoning them – but you suffer from phone phobia?

You spend a fifth of the remaining balance on buying all the (thirteen) Kindle books you’d noted down for buying gradually in the future, send another fifth to your best friend still in that country, and transfer the rest to your account where you stay now, only leaving a token amount in the old one.

The ‘Unread’ (meaning ‘not even begun’) collection on my Kindle now contains 27 items. Enough to read not only for the rest of this year, but also for the next I guess, especially given I like rereading one of my favourites every now and than. (But I do feel like I’ve lost another link to the country of my heart …)

 

Kim Knott: Hinduism: A Very Short Introduction

It did give me some basic information I hadn’t had; it did have a few surprises for me (for instance that Hinduism can be perceived as both polytheistic and monotheistic; that January is a harvest time in India; and that the Hare Krishna movement is in fact a Hindu one). Still, one of the weakest of those in the Very Short Introductions series I’ve read. Given that these are really very short books, primers as it were, there’s a lot of wasted space. One would prefer, for example, a little more detailed information about Bhagavad Gita to recurring questioning whether Hinduism can be called a religion, despite its not fitting a rather narrow definition of the term based on the Abrahamic ones.

 

Latent male chauvinism

The other day I began reading a short introduction to Hinduism. It’s a topic I know pathetically little about, considering; however, the first surprise had nothing to do with the religion. The forename didn’t warn me, but it soon became apparent that the author was a woman. Now the rational part of my mind always insisted that generally speaking, neither men nor women were more able in any intellectual task than the other sex. Yet now I immediately felt a slight irrational disappointment, as if the writer’s being female meant in itself a lower standard of the writing.

Perhaps the next time I come across another stupid remark by some chauvinist (whether male or female) I better remember the mote in my eye before smirking at the beam in theirs.

(Incidentally, soon after she mentioned she was also a Quaker. Which at first felt sort of reassuring, but on second thoughts, it shouldn’t do that either. On the other hand, the author’s gender does influence the outcome: when describing the Ramayana, much more attention is paid to Sita than to Rama, let alone to Ravana.)

 

Daniel Freeman, Jason Freeman: Anxiety: A Very Short Introduction

Needless to say, I knew a fair amount already (or suspected, like the role of having had “overprotective or controlling parents” – I had overprotective and controlling ones). Needless to say, I learned a fair amount of what I didn’t know (eg that environment is generally more to blame than genes). And needless to say, the book hardly gave me any advice except the obvious “maintain a healthy lifestyle; if this doesn’t help, find a CBT therapist or have some pills prescribed”.

The only thing which really surprised me was my results from the self-assessment questionnaires. Not the social phobia one (19 out of 68 possibly indicating the condition: I scored 35). But the fact that I scored much higher for OCD (21 out of 72, me 33) than for generalised anxiety disorder (60 out of 80, me 60). I pondered this and concluded it’s probably correct. While I’m definitely a worrier, and while I’m not know for exceptional cleanliness or ‘hoarding’, I’m probably more prone to obssessive-compulsive ‘checking’ and ‘ordering’ than I’m willing to admit to myself. Now, there’s something I might probably work on …

 

Pierre Véry: Signé : Aloutte

Un « roman policier » pour les enfants. Je dois admettre qu’il est un peu médiocre, mais j’ai un faible pour le livre : je l’ai lu la première fois quand j’était environ aussi âgé que le héros – et aussi petit, fluet et seul comme lui. (À vrai dire, il était un des amis imaginaires de mon enfance.)

Alors, jusque-là j’ai lu – en français – trois livres pour les enfants et une bande dessinée*. Ils me plaisaient tous les quatre, mais le temps est venu de lire un pour les adultes. Ainsi, j’ai commencé La soupe aux choux. Et après ça … finalement quelque chose que je n’ai jamais lu même en traduction ?
 

* Extraordinaire : je n’ai lu que quatre livres en gaélique écossais …

 

Laurence Sterne: The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman

Quite a weird experience. Half the time I had no idea what the author was on about – and yet I read on. Because the brazen playfulness with which he treated (some might say mistreated) the format was amazing. There were features I thought to have been ‘invented’ in the second half of the last century by writers like Joseph Heller or Kurt Vonnegut – yet this book was published in the second half of the eighteenth.

Some tricks I even never saw before. Example? How about just giving two following chapters numbers, leaving them otherwise completely blank; later mentioning (but not explaining) “the necessity I was under of writing the 25th chapter of my book, before the 18th” and then having the two chapters ‘bona fide’, as it were?

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Quotation:

Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine;—they are the life, the soul of reading!

 

S. R. Crockett: The Grey Man

Not bad as a 19th-century semi-historical adventure book for boys. No match for, say, Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Black Arrow, but no worse than George Manville Fenn’s novels, and better than his own The Black Douglas.

My only complaint is about the first, fairly long, scene in Sawny Bean’s cave. Quite ‘Gothic’, but as of course it was obvious the heroes would survive so they could marry and live happily ever after, it was almost unbearably boring, rather than thrilling.

 

James Hawes: My Little Armalite

Tolerably captivating, and featuring some favourite Hawes themes like the post-Soviet East or the main hero’s fear that his life passes too fast, but nowhere near the geysers of hilarity and ordinary-life observations that were A White Merc with Fins and Rancid Aluminium. The best feature for me was one of the characters explaning something I had long been convinced about myself: you can plan your life as you will, but something brutal and quite unexpected by any average citizen (in his case the Yugoslav Wars, incidentally my favourite example) can always be just around the corner.

 

James Robertson: The Fanatic

I can’t say I was bored, but of the three novels by the author I’ve read so far this one was the weakest. The ‘historical’ hero doesn’t seem able to decide whether he wants to be a martyr for his faith or to save his skin at any cost; the reasons for the interest a particular contemporary of his takes in him are unclear (they were to me, anyway); and although I could find some similarities between the ‘modern’ hero and myself, there were not enough to enable me to really relate to him. So while not bored, having finished the book I didn’t even look the main characters up to see which, if any, were based on real historical persons, as I would normally do.

 

Pink Dandelion: Quakers: A Very Short Introduction

Very good. A concise account of the Friends’ past and present: if I had this book a few years ago, when first becoming interested in the topic, it would have saved me a lot of time and effort spent on gleaning all the information therein contained from divers internet sources. Also, the author being British, Liberal Quakerism is given a bit more space than the Evangelical and Conservative traditions. (Incidentally his name is really Ben Pink Dandelion, poor soul.)

 

2016

Generally, a very bad year.

Of course, it had its good moments too; for instance, I’ve read some good (even some very good) books. But outwith books and the Net there were few pleasant moments. On the contrary, there was no lack of nasty things. I hate this noisy stinking land and nation more and more. I’m even losing my affection for Rob; while Tommy has obviously lost all interest in me.

So the cancer I’ve been diagnosed with is quite bad as well, but in fact not extremely bad. Sure I’d like to overcome it, but if I don’t and the next year is my last . . . I suspect I won’t lose all that much. There’s precious little to look forward to either way; I’m only driven by the instinct of self-preservation.

 

Neil Gaiman: American Gods

A bit of a disappointment. The problem was, partly at least, that I had the book recommended by Terry Pratchett (in A Slip of the Keyboard), which led to the mistaken belief it was a comic fantasy like the Discworld novels. In fact, despite the ocassional wisecrack, it’s about as comic as a Philip Marlowe mystery. (Also, a lot of the cultural allusions/references were lost on me.) In fact, I enjoyed best the part when the hero goes to lie low for a time in a small Wisconsin town – an almost slice-of-life part. And the ‘end’ drags on and on like the end of Planxty Noel Hill . . .

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Quotations:

No man, proclaimed Donne, is an Island, and he was wrong. If we were not islands, we would be lost, drowned in each other’s tragedies. We are insulated (a word that means, literally, remember, made into an island) from the tragedy of others, by our island nature.
(Mr Ibis, p 322)

 

I believe that all politicians are unprincipled crooks and I still believe that they are better than the alternative.
(Sam(antha) Black Crow, p 394)

 

John Gillingham & Ralph A. Griffiths: Medieval Britain : A Very Short Introduction

Despite the title, the book is about medieval England; Wales and Scotland are only mentioned in the context of English wars with them and English attempts at colonising them – there’s as much about Ireland and more about France. But given that English history of the period was what I was after, having had tolerable knowledge of Scottish history from other sources, I wasn’t disappointed.

 

Terry Pratchett: Thud!

There seems to be a pattern to late Discworld novels: They begin as mostly jokes, wordplay &c, but gradually the fun is being sidelined and some ethical allegory takes the centre of the stage.

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Quotations:

No excuses. He’d promised himself that. No excuses. No excuses at all. Once you had a good excuse, you opened the door to bad excuses.
(of Sam Vimes, p 138)

 

      Vimes tried to think. Don’t think of it all as one big bucket of snakes. Think of it as one snake at a time. Try to sort it out. Now, what needs to be done first?
      Everything.
      All right, try a different approach.
(p 163)

 

Home was where you had to feel safe. If you didn’t feel safe, it wasn’t home.
(of Sam Vimes, p 341)

 

Na Daoine Sìthe is Ùirsgeulan Eile

Trì seann sgeulachdan à Earra-Ghàidheil. Fìrinn innse, mur eil ùidh mhòr agaibh ann am beul-aithris agus/no mur eil sibh gu math fileanta, cha chreid mi gun còrd an leabhar ruibh mòran. Chan eil an dàrna (agus as giorra) sgeulachd dona, ach tha a’ chiad tè ro mhì-reusanta eadhon mar fhairytale, agus an treas tè làn briathrachais co-cheangailte ri calanas.