Monday, February 13, 2017

january-february 2017 books…

Love, Nina (Nina Stibbe): This book was first published in 2013 (and it’s subsequently been turned into a television series). I knew nothing about any of this, but Moira thought I’d enjoy it. It’s 1982. Nina Stibbe has come to London (from Leicester) to work as a nanny to the two boys of a grand literary editor in their big Camden home (Alan Bennett is one of their distinguished neighbours and features in the book on a regular basis). Nina becomes part of the family (despite having no idea how to cook or look after children) and writes letters home to her sister about them and their friends. Almost 30 years later, her letters are published as a book and becomes an unlikely bestseller. Well, in these tough times of Trump, Brexit et al, this is the PERFECT book. I found it laugh-out-loud funny. Situations are described and are frequently followed by bits of hilarious dialogue from the household - the mother Mary-Kay (MK), the boys Will+Sam, Alan Bennett (AB) and Nina herself. Quite, quite brilliant… funny, warm, life-affirming and wonderfully observed. I really enjoyed it.
Cold Comfort Farm (Stella Gibbons): I’d never read Gibbons’s 1932 novel, but Moira reminded me that we’d listened to Kenneth Williams reading it on Radio4 in 1974. So, as you might imagine, I read this book ‘hearing’ KW’s wonderful voice throughout! The book tells the tale of orphaned Flora Poste (“expensively, athletically and lengthily educated”) descending on her truly bizarre relatives at Cold Comfort Farm… and how she “felt it incumbent upon her to bring order into chaos”. It’s a lovely parody of the somewhat melodramatic novels of the period and I very much enjoyed reading it.
The Invention of Nature (Andrea Wulf): This book is about Alexander von Humboldt. Who? No, I hadn’t heard about him before I read the book. Humboldt (1769-1859) was an amazing, intrepid explorer and the most famous scientist of his age. His adventurous life included climbing the world’s highest volcanoes, racing through anthrax-infected Siberia and translating his extensive research into countless important publications that changed science and thinking. He inspired other naturalists and poets such as Darwin, Wordsworth, Goethe, Thoreau, Simon Bolivar, Thomas Jefferson and John Muir. This is a brilliantly researched and compelling book (there are some 120 pages of notes, sources and bibliography alone!) about someone who should probably be regarded as the greatest scientist of the 19th century.
Ink (Alice Broadway): I’ve blogged about this elsewhere, so I won’t bother to repeat myself… but, essentially (in the words of the publisher’s blurb): “Every action, every deed, every significant moment is tattooed on your skin for ever. When Leora's father dies, she is determined to see her father remembered forever. She knows he deserves to have all his tattoos removed and made into a Skin Book to stand as a record of his good life. But when she discovers that his ink has been edited and his book is incomplete, she wonders whether she ever knew him at all”. I loved it (but might be a little biased!).
Seven Brief Lessons on Physics (Carlo Rovelli): This is an extraordinary book. It comprises (as the title suggests!) 7 brief lessons written for people who know little or nothing about science. Rovelli is a wonderful communicator and gives explanations of the most complicated theories in simple, everyday language… and he’s amusing with it! I’ve always had an interest in science, but the things that struck me in reading this book were: a) just how much we owe to the physicists of the past 100 years for the things we take for granted in our lives today, b) just how amazingly imaginative, creative and inventive physicists have been and continue to be, and c) just how vast is the extent of what is still unknown. I can’t pretend to have understood all of Rovelli’s explanations (loop quantum gravity? gluons?), but I did find his short book rather wonderful… did you know, for example, that there are in the universe “thousands of billions of billions of billions of planets such as Earth”? Me neither.


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