Fridays are more fun with puns…

83744270

 

 

Advertisements

Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch – Sally Bedell Smith (2012)

book412Since we’d just finished watching the latest season of The Crown TV series, I decided that I was interested in learning more about Her Majesty (HM)* QE2, and having had an enjoyable read of a biography about Prince Charles (same author), followed it up with this bio of his famous mother.

Sally Bedell Smith is an American author who has a penchant for writing biographies of royalty, whether that is monarchy-related royalty (such as the Queen) or Camelot-related royalty (such as JFK et al.) This author can write very readable books and does so in a breezy rather People-magazine-like manner, so I think if you know that this is fairly superficial coverage of a very private and elite world, then you’ll be squared away. It’s not, however, a very heavy fact-based book, but Smith doesn’t claim otherwise really.

So this title covers the life of Queen Elizabeth II (or Lillibet, as the Queen Mother would call her) up until 2012, and the one word that jumps out at me after having read this now would be “dutiful”. Smith does a thorough job covering how QE2 has grown up, inherited the throne when she was a young 21-year old, and she seems to do a pretty decent writing job with the limited public information that the Palace office releases. (Obvs, no F2F interviews with the royal family.) (All the info seems to come from secondary sources, and thus the People magazine comparison.)

The Queen is portrayed as playing a huge role in continuity and consistency, whether complications arise from within her family or outside in the world at large. My own take on the Royal Family is that they are a link over the centuries in the history of the UK, and although they may be expensive to keep and house, they are also interesting in their right, acting as a strong lure for tourists from around the world. From this read, it was interesting to see how hard (some of) the family actually work in the Firm (the nickname for themselves), and although I can see the attraction of being a princess, it’s also a gilded cage in a lot of respects.

This read is obviously pro-monarchy, and does seem to be rather full of speculation rather than fact in places, but if you remember that the book is just a biographical take on a very private but public figure through an American author’s worshipful lens, you’ll get on ok with this. It’s not academic; it doesn’t break any new ground; there are no surprises in this, but it’s also quite a good read (despite all those caveats).

What I liked most about this biography was that it was also a useful primer for some of the history of England during the twentieth century. Despite growing up in England, I still had some huge gaps in my historical knowledge wrt prime ministers, Princess Margaret, politics, and other topics, and I found that this was a pretty useful history book (albeit in a sycophantic and superficial manner).

As I think about this, this title was (and is) tailored to the American market (myself included since I live here), and through that lens, it does what it says on the tin, simplistic though it may be. It’s a good birds-eye view of the world of QE2 and the people who surround her, and it was helpful to me to be able to put more context on some of the larger monarchical events that have happened during my lifetime.

However, I think it’s important to remember that this is more of a celebrity biography than anything, and perhaps is more of a taster of the life of HM than anything else. Despite the shallow depth, this was still an enjoyable read, and I think that it’s scratched that “The Crown” itch for a while, and opened several rabbit holes down which to chase.

Now I’m going to peruse the shelves to see what else I can find to read from the TBR pile.

  • So I did have Her Royal Highness (HRH) here, but that wasn’t actually correct. QE2 is referred to as Her Majesty (HM) as there is no one in the family who has a higher position that she does.

(Re-)Learning, Learning, Learning….

books_rev

So with this leg of mine in a plaster cast, I’ve been having a huge weeks-long lesson in patience, a skill that, frankly, wasn’t very honed before now. However, being cast-bound has definitely not been as bad as I had thought it was going to be, mainly because the Superhero has really come through and been fantastic in putting up with supporting me. He really has been great in helping me get around, and I honestly do not know how people who don’t have a Superhero handle this situation without one. I’m very grateful.

Reading – I’m ploughing my way through Sally Bedell Smith’s biography of QE2, which has been enlightening. I do wonder if it’s a little sycophantic in places, and I am not sure how reliable some of the material is in ref to her sources, but hey now. It’s a good read all the same, and surprisingly difficult to put down at times.

With this free time before the semester starts, I’ve been going to the office in the afternoons to keep an eye on work email and projects, and also renewing/updating my writing skills. (You can never do too much learning, I think.)

I’ve been reading my writing bible, Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, an older book but with some absolute writing rules that I use in my professional life. Incidentally, the White in the author list is actually my loveliest essay guy, E. B. White, whose work I adore most of the time. (See reviews for both Charlotte’s Web and a book of White’s essays here.)

This also reminds me that I have a NF in the TBR pile on how the Elements of Style actually came to be written… Might have to move that up the pile in a moment or two once I’ve remembered the title. (Here it is: Stylized: A Slightly Obsessive History of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style by Mark Garvey.) Be still my heart.

Along with the Strunk and White, I’ve also been reading a reference book from the Associated Press, Guide to News Writing (Rene J. Cappon). Written in 1999 (wot? no updates?), this is a nuts-and-bolts guide on how to approach writing from a journalism angle. I’ve written for most of my career, but mostly from a PR angle. JOUR writing is very different, so I’ve been swotting up on that a bit since I also do a bit of that type of writing now and then. (I also need to edit this style of writing a lot, so I have to know of what I speak, yes?)

This reference guide is pretty good, but the pages are printed on crappy quality paper and the actual type is tiny. (I mean, 8 or 9 point tiny.) WWWHHHYYY?

Incoming Books….

New_books_dec2017

So, Christmas has come and gone. New Year’s has come and gone. Time off almost come and gone. What has been quite steady is the reading habit and, along with that, the buying-of-books habit (although curtailed a bit last year).

Here are some of the new titles which have slipped by the goalie in the last month or so. Top to bottom are as follows:

  • We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation – Jeff Chang (NF)
  • Eye on the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press – James McGrath Morris (NF)
  • Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic – Sam Quinones (NF)
  • Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity – David Allen (NF)
  • Fashion: The Collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute (NF)

The majority of these were bought on our recent trip to Santa Fe because (a) they are interesting titles, and (b) I wanted to support the indie bookshop there. (Check out Collected Works in Santa Fe if you’re there. Great place.)

And so: what am I reading? None of these titles. :-}

A biography of Queen Elizabeth II (a curiosity piqued by watching Season Two of The Crown, naturellement.)

The Best of… 2017 Edition

end-of-the-year-reflection

As December comes to a close, it’s a nice end-of-year tradition for me to review my reading for the past year, and just see how it panned out. There’s no number goals or similar, but I do likes to see how I’ve spent my reading time over the last twelve months, just out of curiosity.

(Note: like a lot of other bloggers have noted, these titles weren’t necessarily published in 2017; they were just read by me in the last twelve months.)

First, a huge thank you to everyone who drops and reads my blog, whether you are a one-off reader or a regular. I appreciate your time and comments!

Picture1

To the numbers:

  • Total # books read: 58 (about right for the average year the past few years)
  • Total DNF’s: 2
  • Total fiction: 31 (51.2%)
  • Total non-fiction: 21 (44.2%).
  • Total Pages: 15,542
  • Format of books (e-books vs. tree books): 3 e-books, 55 tree books.

Years Published:

  • Oldest title: 1897
  • Nineteenth century: 1
  • Twentieth century: 28
  • Twenty-first century: 27

TBR Progress:

  • Off the TBR: 28 (48.2%)

New books in:

  • Bought new/new-to-me:  16 books bought (compared with 27 TBR read (i.e. out of house)

Demographics:

  • Male vs. female/other identified authors: 26 male authors, 32 female/other
  • POC author or POC-related topic: 13 (23%)

Fiction: 29

  • Novels: 26
  • Plays/Drama: 1
  • Graphic Novel: 1
  • Short stories: 2

Top Five Fiction:

  • Lantana Lane – Eleanor Dark (1986)
    • Australian novel set in small community in outback.
  • Beloved – Toni Morrison (1987)
    • Second in trilogy, but also works as stand-alone. New York city life of troubled African-American couple set in mid-century.
  • Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel (2014)
    • Rollocking good dystopian read about (American) life after an explained/ unexpected epidemic
  • Ceremony – Leslie Silko Marmon (1977)
    • Series of interlinked stories set in First Nations community during modern times.
  • The Lizard Cage – Karen Connelly (2005)
    • Fictional retelling of political prisoner living hard existence in world of corrections in Burma/Myanmar.

Non-Fiction: 26

  • Most read about topic: history (especially social history), social justice, travel

Top Five Non-Fiction:

  • Dreams from my Father – Barack Obama (1995)
    • Autobiography from our former U.S. President. Reads like fiction when compared with our reality with the Orange Goblin. 😦
  • Medical Apartheid – Harriet A. Washington (2007)
    • Hard-hitting investigative/historical journalism closely reviewing the troubled past of how the U.S. medical establishment has treated African-Americans over the past century or so. Fascinating and disturbing.
  • Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life – Sally Bedell Smith (2017)
    • No blog post, but trust me, this is a good read, however you may feel about the possible future King of England.
  • A Kim Jong Il Production: The Extraordinary True Story of a Kidnapped Filmmaker, his Star Actress, and a Young Dictator’s Rise to Power – Paul Fischer (2015)
    • A very weird and very true tale about how a young North Korean dictator kidnapping a foreign filmmaker and his movie star wife to force him to improve the quality of the North Korean film industry. Fascinating and keeps you reading.
  • At the Broken Places: A Mother and Trans-Son – Mary Collins and Donald Collins (2017)
    • A dual POV from a mother and her trans-son’s gender transition. Fascinating because the mother is so unsupportive and doesn’t seem to understand why the adult child should choose to do this “to her”. Really, people?

Movie of the Year:

  • Chicken People (2016)
    • Absolutely charming documentary about the world of competitive chicken showing in the U.S. It’s a real thing, and this was just lovely (even if you’re not into chickens that much). Over the course of one year, follows a small group of amateur (?) chicken breeders and how they progress in the competitive season.

Goals for next year? I am keeping it very open and laid back as I enter my first semester teaching college for the Spring, and with my new job responsibilities. Whatever numbers I read, they are less important than the quality of reading.

Here’s to a happy new year for all!

 

Christmas Greetings!

Image result for cosy socks fireplace

One of the major benefits of working for a large state-run university happens between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, and consists of one solid week when the university shuts down for the holidays. I imagine the Police et al. are still there, but for us worker bees, we have a whole week plus two weekends off. It’s glorious, and one of the best presents that the university can give to us. And that time is now, my friends.

So – have I been using my free time wisely and crossing pesky things off my To-Do list? HA.

Shall we see just what I’ve been doing the last few days?

  • Had quite a few naps. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz….
  • Read half of a novel, couldn’t get to caring about the characters or the plot, and so it was a DNF. (One off the TBR pile though, so that’s good.)
  • Finished up a British Library Crime Series book called “Crimson Snow” with lots of snowy murder mystery short stories. Another off the TBR…
  • Superhero deserves a big raise for putting together my new large desk. It had so many pieces, and something like 67 cam-bolts, but he did it, and I can’t wait to get situated in the room now. Next step: chair for desk and chair/ottoman for reading. Plus lights.

My ankle is still encased in a plaster cast and so I’m cruising around on this knee-scooter thing. On a nice smooth surface (such as in the university library), it’s really fun to see how fast you can go. It’s fun until you hit the edge of a carpet which then catapults you over the handle bars and gives you bruised knees, a black eye, and breaks your glasses. Not only that, undignified as it was, but it also took three kind people to help me off the floor as I can’t put any weight on that surgery ankle. Needless to say, I have kept to a more sensible speed since then, but it was fun while it lasted. 🙂

It’s been freakishly cold here since Christmas, and so of course, the (mostly outside) cats have been sneaking inside for a nice warm snooze in the evenings. The temps got down to 24 degrees the other night (when 32 is freezing), and who can say no to three small furry faces looking up at you on the door step? Plus there was a dusting of snow the other day…

I caught some of the great Christmas sales for the community stockings that I put together each year. (Total fun to do, and if you time your shopping just right for the sales, you can get some good stuff without breaking the bank.)

Saw the new Star Wars movie, caught up with some friends, and am generally not doing much which is just what we need to get ready for the new year.

I’m working on a Best of… book post, catching up with the book stats and showing off my new acquisitions, so expect those soon, and in the meantime, I’m just diving into Emily Eden’s books, The Semi-Attached Couple and The Semi-Detached House (Virago imprint, 1859/60). It’s very forward thinking for being written more than a hundred years ago, and Eden has been compared with Austen et al., so looking forward to the read.

Hope your holidays and Christmas/Kwanzaa/Solstice/Hanukah et al. have been fun for you and yours. I’m off to catch up on some of my blog reading….