Book blog revisited

After a one year break from writing about books I am now ready to start again. I stopped blogging for a while because I took on a major task of writing a website for a charity working with disabled children in Peru and then another rewrite of the same after an internal reorganisation.  I was then approached by two other organisations whose webmasters had either died or left without notice and hadn’t a clue what to do about their websites – a reminder if someone runs a website for you – think about succession planning!  The person who had died had made himself owner of the domain name and the hosting arrangement and these now became the property of his estate – you can imagine the problems of sorting that one out.

It’s not that these activities took up all my time, far from it, just that I limit my computer time to early morning and prefer to be out and about doing other things during the daytime (like taking photographs).

My home town

My home town

However, books continue to pile up and most of them get read and I think its time to start writing about them again. I continue to have an interest in European books in translation to English – even more so with the current turmoil around the continent.  But most of my reading comes from English-language writers and I intend to review several recent releases.

If you are reading this, I thank you for keeping in touch and I look forward to reading any comments you may wish to leave on my articles.

Autumn colour at Sheffield Park

Autumn colour at Sheffield Park

By the way, I’ve just moved this whole website across to so that I can let someone else look after the tekkie things of making sure it’s always up and running properly and thoroughly backed up.  I used to do all this myself but was worried that one day a small mistake on my part would kill the whole thing.  The new site still needs some tidying up in terms of links and images and I’m working through it to get it back to as it should be.

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Summer Break

I will be taking a break from reviewing books this summer and intend to return in September.  I may write occasional posts but these will be few and far between.   Life gets very busy during June to August and it’s difficult to find the time for serious reading and at the moment I’ve even been finding it hard to get through even a couple of Scandi-crime novels.

I hope all my readers and fellow book-bloggers have a good summer.


Seaford Beach, East Sussex, England

2011 Round-up including best books

La Flotte - Ile de Ré

La Flotte - Ile de Ré

2011 was an eventful year for our family, with the birth of Florence, a new grand-daughter in February and the marriage of our son in September.  We now have two little girls to look after on Wednesdays  while our daughter works and I have spent many afternoons doing Sudoku puzzles with half an eye on the girls in the soft-play area of our local leisure centre.

We travelled into the Eurozone in summer with a Rhine Cruise in June and a week in the Ile de Ré in September (which my wife and I will remember forever as the holiday in which I filled my diesel car with unleaded petrol on the journey home).  Will I need Deutschmarks and Francs to do the same travels next year?

Well, it seems to be the thing for book bloggers to produce “best of” lists at the end of the year.  I’ve been through my list of books this year and the results are below.  I’ve written 53000 words in 2011 and reviewed 49 books (with one more to come on Thursday).  I reviewed 70 books last year, but this year I had a break from book-blogging during July to September.

My best books in various catergories are as follows:

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Review: The Etymologicon – Mark Forsyth

EtymologiconLike many people I am mildly interested in where words come from and I’ve occasionally read and reviewed books like David Crystal’s By Hook or By Crook which looks at where English place-names come from. Unless books like these are skilfully written they can quickly become tedious and its usually best to get this sort of information in small chunks – for example, Michael Quinion’s World Wide Words is a great online resource for occasional browsing.

Mark Forsyth publishes the Inky Fool blog in which he looks at the derivation of words, but links one to another in a humorous ramble through the English language. Mark is one of those lucky bloggers whose blog has now become a book, The Etymologicon,  and I have to say, it makes for a very good read which I’ve been dipping into over the last week.

Its probably better to illustrate Mark’s methods with an example than to describe them so here’s an article headed A Game of Chicken:

Gambling in medieval France was a simple business. All you needed were some friends, a pot, and a chicken. In fact, you didn’t need friends – you could do this with your enemies – but the pot and the chicken were essential.


First, each person puts an equal amount of money in the pot. Nobody should on any account make a joke about a poultry sum. Shoo the chicken away to a reasonable distance. What’s a reasonable distance? About a stone’s throw.

Next, pick up a stone. Now, you all take turns hurling stones at that poor bird, which will squawk and flap and run about. The first person to hit the chicken wins all the money in the pot. You then agree never to mention any of this to an animal rights campaigner.

That’s how the French played a game of chicken. The French, though, being French, called it a game of poule, which is French for chicken. And the chap who had won all the money had therefore won the jeu de poule.

The term got transferred to other things. At card games, the pot of money in the middle of the table came to be known as the poule. English gamblers picked the term up and brought it back with them in the seventeenth century. They changed the spelling to pool, but they still had a pool of money in the middle  of the table.

We read on to learn the forward connections to the game of pool and then to pooling money, and resources and then onto typing pools and car pools and ends with pointing gout that we have all become part of the gene pool “which, etymologically, means that we are all little bits of chicken”.

I was surprised how in order to get his connections Mark has to link words from all the European languages.  I’d heard before that most of our languages spring from a root called Proto Indo European but it never struck me how much of the English language is derived from this source.

This is a nicely produced book which would be a perfect Christmas gift for anyone who might be interested in where our words come from.

Incidentally, Mark is appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Loose Ends programme tomorrow (Saturday 3 December 2011)

My Desktop

The Guardian has started a new series called Writers Desktops in which various literary folk talk about the environment they spend most of their working lives in – their computer screen.  So following the same theme, I now present:

A Book Blogger’s Desktop:

I like to take a minimalist approach to my desktop – I like clarity, and not for me, those distracting holiday snaps or family photographs.   I like to see what I need to do without having to search for it.

So, when I turn the computer on in the morning it looks something like this (you can click on these images to see them in larger size):

I like the Stonehenge photograph as it has lots of calm sky.  The colours are nice too and I could get all philosophical and say that it speaks of timelessness and longevity.  The grass is covered with frost and I love cold clear mornings when you step outside and feel the freshness of the air.

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Miscellaneous Thursday

Is That a Fish in Your EarLondon Review of Books

As a book reviewer I like to read plenty of other reviews.  This lets me keep in touch with what’s being published, and also to learn how other people approach the task of book reviewing.  Earlier in the year I took out a trial subscription to the London Review of Books – 12 issues for £12 which is fantastic value.  I let this lapse when it ran out and contacted them this week to ask what they could do for me if I wanted to continue their subscription.  They replied saying that I could take advantage of their current offers so I’ve signed up for  a year’s subscription as 61% off – which also works out at £1 a copy which seems almost too good to be true.

The great benefit of taking out a subscription is that it gives you access to their website which contains a fully serachable archive containing “every piece ever published in the magazine: over 12,000 articles by more than 2000 contributors from the past 30 years”.

Is That a Fish in Your Ear?

I’m not going to be able to produce a second review this week because I’m reading two lengthy books, both of which deserve some time.  Is That a Fish in Your Ear by David Bellos is about the art of translation – a fascinating read for anyone who reads translated fiction.  David Bellos is a prolific translator himself and has translated works by Romain Gary and George Perec.  He has some fascinating things to say on the value of translated books.

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