Reading Goals, Reading during the Pandemic and #JaneAustenJuly

I set my reading goal with Goodreads for 2020 at 50 books, an increase of 10 on 2019. Now at the halfway mark I find I am 3 books behind schedule.

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22 books of my 50 book reading challenge completed

This is not the full picture, some of those 22 books weren’t really books at all. I included a few short story audiobooks I listened to on Youtube and added those to swell the books read numbers. These included The Magic Shop by H G Wells (27:12 minutes), The Lottery Ticket by Anton Chekhov (14:46 mins) and Hallucination by Isaac Asimov (49:17) minutes.  Of the books I felt worthy of listing and which I have reviewed on this blog, I only count 14 books this year.

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Books read 2020

The only person I am cheating is myself, there is no prize for meeting the target. I thought with the Pandemic lockdown I might read more, but that hasn’t been the case. In January 1997, in a similar situation; I was looking after my sick first wife, isolated in a small village in Corsica, then I read 19 books in one month, my personal record. The difference between then and now is that now I have access to the internet, and waste many an hour on Facebook and other sites to my shame, when I could be reading. Before the Pandemic I was mostly reading on public transport, now I rarely use public transport as my teaching has moved online.

This month is #JaneAustenJuly I have joined a readalong on Goodreads, I have read the first 200 pages of “Emma” from a physical book.

Jane Austen July is a month-long readathon hosted by Katie of Books and Things and Marissa of Blatantly Bookish, all about reading Jane Austen and related works.

The challenges are:

1. Read one of Jane Austen’s six novels
2. Read something by Jane Austen that is not one of her main six novels
3. Read a non-fiction work about Jane Austen or her time
4. Read a retelling of a Jane Austen book
5. Read a book by a contemporary of Jane Austen
6. Watch a direct screen adaptation of a Jane Austen book
7. Watch a modern screen adaptation of a Jane Austen book

I watched “Clueless” a film loosely based on Emma and hope to soon watch the 2020 film “Emma.” with Anya Taylor-Joy in the titular role.

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Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Mr Woodhouse (Bill Nighy) in Emma. (2020)

 

 

A trip to Lagodekhi and the Ninoskhevi Waterfall

I hadn’t been out of Tbilisi this year, until yesterday (21 June 2020). The last trip I can remember was visiting Svaneti last Summer (A Trip to Svaneti….been there got the fridge magnet!). It was good to get out of the city and back into nature. Because of the COVID-19 restrictions instead of taking a marshutka (mini bus), where our numbers would have been limited to 10 and we’d have had to wear masks until we reached our destination, we went in a convoy of private cars. We were with the Adrenaline Hiking Club led by Giorgi Papelishvili. Lagodekhi is in the far east of Georgia very close to the borders with Azerbaijan and Dagestan.

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Lagodekhi in the east of Georgia

Our plan was to hike from the Gurgeniani entrance of the Lagodekhi Park to the Ninoskhevi waterfall.

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The whole hike to the waterfall and back takes 4 to 6 hours, and it depends on the conditions of the trail. It took us around 2.5 hours to get to Ninoskhevi Waterfall because the trail wasn’t in perfect condition. There was only a few wooden bridges across the river at the beginning and later we had to cross the river on our own several times – luckily Giorgi was there to help.

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Giorgi carries a damsel in distress across the river

 

The hike to Ninoskhevi Waterfall (also known as Gurgeniani Waterfall or the Big Waterfall) is a highlight of Lagodekhi Park. The waterfall itself is really beautiful, and the hike to get there is very pleasant.

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Ana, my 11 year old granddaughter had less trouble with the trail than I did.

The trail travels alongside the river through very green verdant forest.

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verdant

The hike was at points challenging for me, at 55, I was probably the oldest in the group  and having spent three months in COVID-19 Lockdown, I wasn’t in great physical condition.

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some scrambling is necessary at certain sections of the way

At times we had to remove our shoes and wade through the (quite strong) river, or  hoist ourselves over some large boulders which required a fair amount of upper body strength.

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wading through the river

Hiking boots are definitely not needed, but good running shoes are recommended to help you keep your balance while scrambling over rocks, and to help support your feet as you will be walking quite a bit over the rocky banks of the river. The Georgian Travel Guide says: “the path to the waterfall is not so easy for inexperienced hikers. On the way you may have to cross the river several times. You will also often have to walk on wet boulders and stones, so it is advisable to use flexible, sporty shoes.”* It took us about 2.5 hours to get to the waterfall walking at a gentle pace, about 2 hours to get back. The waterfall is 40 meters high and very scenic.

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Ninoskhevi Waterfall
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Khato and I at the waterfall

It is important to pay attention to the trail markers, especially on the way back as it can be tricky to spot the actual trail in sections. Adrenaline Hiking Club trips always finish with a supra (Georgian feast), and far too plentiful food.

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Supra

 

*Georgian Travel Guide: Ninoskhevi Waterfall

Book Review : “Toys” by James Patterson and Neil McMahon

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Toys by James Patterson and Neil McMahon with added Jaguar XJ220s (Hot Wheels)

“Toys might seem like harmless fun to you, as they do to most people, but they can be sinister and very dangerous. I’m not exaggerating for effect. These toys are not what they seem.”

This novel is set in a future where a new kind of technologically advanced human has emerged, the Elite. These Elites have super-human strength and powerful intelligence and have pushed ordinary humans to the margins of society.  Into this story we meet Hays, an elite and top operative in the Agency for Change, an entity engaged in eliminating human “terrorists”. By an odd twist of events Hays finds himself as a fugitive fighting the elites to save humans from annihilation. The action is like that of a comic book, Hays is like some kind of Marvel superhero, capable of running at 60 miles per hour and fighting like a veteran of The Matrix movie.

“I dove sideways to the neighboring balcony, twenty yards away, caught its lower rim, and swung myself down to the floor below.
The searchlights followed, and then bursts of laser fire hissed around me.”

This was very different to other James Patterson books I’ve read, like those featuring Alex Cross, (Along Came a Spider), those books I found enthralling page turners, with this I was disappointed. James Patterson is a very prolific author, many of his books are co-authored, I don’t know how much of this is Patterson and how much Neil McMahon. I picked this up for the title, the author and the illustration of the Jaguar XJ220 on the cover. There is no XJ220 in the book (there is a Mazda RX74, that can fly and go underwater…it is 2061), the XJ220 is an incredible supercar, back in the early 90s it was the fastest production car in the world (Jay Leno drives an XJ220). There is precious little character development, little suspense and not much science fiction to marvel at.

 

My rating 2.5 out of 5

Dandelion Clock

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dandelion clock ბაბუაწვერა

 

A single stem of a dandelion in its post-flowering state with the downy covering of its head intact. The term is applied when the flower is used, or is thought of as suitable for use, in a children’s pastime by which the number of puffs needed to blow the seeds from the head of the dandelion is supposed to tell the time.

Who first called it a clock? And who spread the rumour you can tell the time by blowing seeds into the sky? One o’clock. Two o’clock. Three o’clock…..

Book Review: “The Odd Women” by George Gissing

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“Half a million!” Rhoda laughed again from the girl’s naive reaction. “Something like that. So many odd women – no making a pair with them. Pessimists call them useless, lost, futile lives. I take another view. I look on them as a reserve.

I’d never heard of George Gissing until Katie Lumsden  suggested that we read this book as a Goodreads readalong (readalong link), the proposed pace was two chapters a day from the beginning of May until 16 May. Because of COVID-19, I was unable to go around the bookshops to find a physical copy of this, but I did download an e-book onto Kindle and also listened at times to the LibriVox recording on archive.org. I prefer reading a physical book where possible, but recognise the benefits of e-books and audiobooks on occasions. I rarely listen to audiobooks but I found I could do this whilst practising my Drawing, a skill I hope to improve over the duration of this lockdown.

The “odd women” of the title refers to the discrepancy between the number of men and women in the population of late 19th Century England. There were far more women than men.

The story begins with a widower, Dr Madden who has six daughters, the eldest of whom is 19 year old Alice. Dr Madden is thrown from his horse and dies, leaving the fate of his progeny in a precarious position. In the late 19th century there were few opportunities for middle class women, if they didn’t find a husband the jobs open to them were very limited, jobs like governess, lady’s companion, teacher or nurse. The second chapter jumps forward 15 years, three of the sisters had by this time sadly died, the eldest sisters Alice and Virginia talked of starting a school in Clevedon, but they had little resolve and precious little financial reserves. Alice and Virginia had been trying to raise their youngest sister, Monica, just six when she was orphaned but as their friend Rhoda observed: “They were useless as guardians; they made her half a lady and half a shop-girl. She will never be good for much.” The action moves to London, where the sisters are living  a life of shabby-genteel desperation, existing meagerly on a simple vegetarian diet of unexciting fare, such as plain boiled rice. Rhoda Nunn, a dynamic school friend, who was determined to make something of herself as a single woman, re-enters their lives, she is working with a Miss Barfoot at an academy, teaching girls useful skills such as typewriting and hosting talks about female emancipation. The sisters persuade Rhoda to take Monica on as a student, Monica had been  wearing herself away working crazily long shifts at a draper’s. 

Alice and Virginia mope quietly in the background of this novel, with their spirits for solace (the holy spirit for one and gin punch for the other), too plain to hope for husbands and too timid to break out of their roles, serving as the example its other women react against. The two main narrative threads concern an emancipated woman conflicted by the attentions of a man who is attracted to emancipated women (with dreams of dominating one), and an asocial man who marries a seeming doormat who turns out to like thinking and refuses to bend to her master’s wishes.

This is a surprisingly feminist novel penned by a man of that era. The novel questions the role of women’s work, relationships, marriage and position in society. It is also a riveting read, as we follow the struggles of the women in the book. I teach English as a foreign language and a text I frequently use concerns the Suffragettes. One question I ask the students is “which country first gave women the right to vote in modern times?”, then I give them the choice of United States, Sweden, Switzerland or New Zealand. Very few to choose the correct answer which is New Zealand, where women got the vote in 1893, the same year this novel was published. Switzerland only allowed women to vote in 1971….

My rating : 4 out of 5

Audiobook on Youtube: audiobook: The Odd Women

E-book on Archive.org: The Odd Women e-book

Katie and Marissa talk about the book on YouTube here: The Odd Women, Gender and Class – with Katie from Books and Things

 

 

Drawing

I was never very good at art in school, after the first year of secondary school, I dropped art to take up German (which, I also dropped a year later). As a child, I would often draw two dimensional cars from my own imagination but the drawings were not great.

In the late nineties my first wife became ill, I had to drop my work to care for her, in some of my free time I had a go at drawing a comic strip to pass the time. The strip I called Betty Zapat and Yorrick the name was an anglicized version of the French “Betises à Pattes” (which meant a silly thing with paws). Later in England I drew a comic strip called Leyton’s O, which was published in a football fanzine the Leyton Orientear. 

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My granddaughter Ana drawing from a YouTube video

Over the years, I have tried various art projects, now with grandchildren, I try to encourage them to draw and paint. In these times of the COVID 19 pandemic, I have been trying to draw something every day as part of my routine and hopefully, improve my skills. I have been copying the illustrations of a cherished book from childhood: The Ladybird Book of Motor Cars

The first cars I copied weren’t good, but I have improved a little.

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the first six cars

I tend to copy pictures or photos or clips on YouTube. I rarely draw from real life or from pure imagination.

This picture I drew entitled “The Sultans of Swing” was copied from a photo I took some years ago of some teenagers practising their parkour skills.

Drawing The Sultans of Swing

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parkour in Mziuri Park

I don’t have any special high quality pencils, they are the same as the grandchildren use for their drawings, I don’t even have a full set of colours, I’m missing red for example. I am trying to make the best of the COVID-19 lockdown to develop my skills.

What are you doing with your COVID lockdown time?

Book Review: “David Copperfield” by Charles Dickens

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David and Mr Micawber on the cover

In the preface Dickens wrote, “like many fond parents, I have in my heart of hearts a favourite child. And his name is David Copperfield. David Copperfield is Dickens’ eighth novel and, coincidentally, the eighth of his novels that I have read, but I haven’t been reading them in chronological order. My first impression of Charles Dickens came with a BBC TV adaptation of David Copperfield back in 1974, my parents watched it and I caught a couple of the six episodes. I remember Arthur Lowe’s tremendous performance as Mr Micawber. I also remember the fawning obsequious character of Uriah Heap and Barkus telling David to pass a message on to his nurse, Peggoty,  that “Barkus is willing”. I remember little else of the story from that time. My next encounter with Dickens was at school in my teenage years, when we had to read “A Tale of Two Cities“, this put me off Dickens for a very long time, not because of the story but because of the way literature was taught in school, destroying the magic of reading. I was in my thirties when I picked up “Great Expectations” and I loved it. In the past few years I’ve set myself the task of reading through all of Dickens’ novels. I started by rereading “A Tale of Two Cities“, which didn’t impress me as much as Great Expectations as it lacked the humour that characterises Dickens’ work. David Copperfield has such humour in abundance.

“We went downstairs, one behind another. Near the bottom, somebody fell, and rolled down. Somebody else said it was Copperfield. I was angry at that false report, until, finding myself on my back in the passage, I began to think there might be some foundation for it.”

David Copperfield after having rather too much to drink (Chapter 24)

 

David Copperfield has so many wonderful memorable characters. Mr Micawber is “a man who labours under the pressure of pecuniary embarrassments”, but no matter how bad things get he is forever optimistic, thinking his luck about to turn for the better (it is surely no coincidence that Dickens’ father also knew pecuniary embarrassments).
The protagonist, David Copperfield we see as a boy and a young man, this is supposedly the most autobiographical of Dickens’ novels, it is the first of his novels described in the first person. David as a boy goes to work in a factory for a time cleaning bottles, Dickens worked in a blacking factory as a child. David as a boy, like Oliver Twist,  makes a long journey with almost no money, whereas Oliver walked to London, David walked away from London to Dover to seek out his aunt. Charles Dickens also enjoyed walking at night to stimulate his imagination. As a young man David begins a writing career and meets with early success as did Dickens.

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David is much more convincing as a child than Oliver Twist. David’s childhood friends James Steerforth and Tommy Traddles are both intriguing characters. The fawning Uriah Heep, who claims to be “ever so humble” rises by devious means and provokes David to strike him at one point. David’s eccentric aunt Betsey Trotwood, is a wonderful character and provides comic relief when chasing donkeys off her land.

Aside from his aunt, there are some other interesting female characters: Little Emily, Dora Spenlow, Clara Peggoty, Agnes and Martha. Martha and Emily show how society shunned “fallen” women at the time. David falls madly in love with Dora on first meeting her but later rues the lack of intelligence of his “child-wife”, some suggest this might also reflect on Dickens own marriage, which wasn’t happy. Agnes, David’s childhood companion in Kent, attracts the unwanted attention of the obsequious, Uriah Heep. Peggoty, looks out for David and his frail mother as best she can at the start of the novel and introduces David to her brother in Suffolk, Mr Daniel Peggoty, and his strange family of strays, an adopted son, Ham, an adopted daughter, little Emily and Mrs. Gummidge, a widow.

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Martha, David Copperfield and Mr Peggoty by the River Thames, illustration by Phiz

There are echoes of other dickens novels, the plotlines rely much on coincidence, characters meet, part and meet up again in unlikely circumstances. Australia, where Magwitch made his fortune in Great Expectations is seen as a place to start again. Barkus like Fagin and Scrooge has a miserly character. The dark River Thames features as it does later in Our Mutual Friend as a brooding melancholy presence. The book shows David coming from an impoverished troubled childhood to make his way in the world.  There is far too much in the 800+ pages to condense into a simple review, I thoroughly enjoyed the entire novel.

My rating : 5 out of 5

My reviews of other Dickens novels:

Book Review: “Oliver Twist” by Charles Dickens

Book Review: “Our Mutual Friend” by Charles Dickens

Book Review: “The Old Curiosity Shop” by Charles Dickens

Book Review: “The Pickwick Papers” by Charles Dickens

Book Review: “Hard Times” by Charles Dickens

Book Review: “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens

I have also read “Great Expectations” but that was before I kept a blog.

Book Review: “Hard Girls” by Martina Cole

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 “There was nothing, nothing at all to go on, nothing she could grab hold of and try to make sense of.”

This was a little disappointing, I think it was overly long (143 chapters!). When I read crime fiction, I am looking for a page-turner, that is focused on the investigation of the crime. The plot here seemed to spend more time on the romantic and professional relationships between the characters at Grantley Police Station, than in following the series of grisly murders. The central relationship of retired DCI Kate Burrows and a gangland boss, Patrick Kelly, a strange romantic pairing, is broken apart by the case.  Kate Burrows is the wrong side of fifty and worries about her fading looks, her boss is a creep and she finds the jealousy of her understudy, DCI Annie Carr difficult to handle. A growing series of prostitutes working out of nice houses and flats have been gruesomely murdered. The murderer has had the time to work undisturbed and clean up the crime scenes, leaving the police with very little to go on.

Kate sat back at the kitchen table… “We’re missing something, we have to be. There’s nothing we can find that ties the girls together in any way…”

My rating: 3 out of 5

The Ladybird Book of Motor Cars

One of my most treasured possessions as a child was the Ladybird Book of Motor Cars. I don’t still have the copy I had as a child, I moved too many times, but I did pick up a copy as an adult from a secondhand book store.

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Ladybird Book of Motor Cars (1968)

I had three different editions as a child the 1966 edition, the 1968 edition and the 1972 edition. There was also a 1960 version. The book featured 72 cars illustrated by David Carey, with a paragraph of information on each and some technical details.

In the self-isolation brought about by COVID-19, I have tried copying some of the illustrations with pencil and paper, my skills, I fear, are rather rudimentary.

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copying the illustrations

I realise now, that the book gave me a warped impression of the size of some cars, like the Lancia Flavia Saloon, a full 20 inches longer than an Austin 1800, but which looked small in the picture, or the Volvo “Amazon” 131 which looks small in comparison with the MG MGB below.

 

 

The book began with small engined cars like the Reliant Regal, Fiat 500 F and Honda N600 and finished with the big American-engined cars: the Jensen Interceptor, Buick Riviera and Cadillac Eldorado.

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Final Pages: the Cadillac Eldorado has the largest engine of all the cars in the book

If I still had my childhood copies, they would have been marked with spots as I would often sit at the window marking down the cars I saw drive past. I don’t remember seeing an Eldorado, but the pages with the Morris Minor and Ford Escort were very spotty.

Some of the first words I learnt were related to cars, now I teach my grandson, Lazare to identify the car badges as we walk in the street. He likes the Lexus logo as it is an L in a circle and his name begins with an L.

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Lazare pointing to the Lexus logo

In the 1968 book, there was no Lexus, the brand didn’t exist, there were only two Japanese cars, a Honda N600 and a Daihatsu. Maybe half the cars were British; in the index at the back are listed 5  Triumphs and 6 Austins, two marques sadly gone as Britain no longer has its own mass produced car companies. Jaguar and Land Rover are still made in England but they are now owned by the Indian Tata company. Even the Rolls Royce, the archetypal English car is now German owned. The world has changed significantly since the book was published.

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Index includes 6 Austins and 5 Triumphs

Despite my keen interest in cars from an early age, the cars I owned in real life have been rather mundane: an Opel Corsa, a VW Polo, a Citroen ZX, a Honda Civic and a Peugeot 306. Living in a big city, I don’t have a car at present, preferring to walk or use public transport and not have the headache of finding somewhere to park.

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page 44 Jaguar E Type, Daimler Majestic and Ford Mustang
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I’m happier with this than my first attempts to copy the pictures but still not happy with the wheels…

I do have several hundred little cars, this is another nostalgia thing which I examine in more detail in another post: Why I collect Model Cars.

I like to find the cars in the book, my favourite era for cars is the late sixties and early seventies.

 

 

I was asked recently, what my favourite books were as a child, and I thought of books like those of Roald Dahl and Dr Seuss, but on reflection I think my absolute favourite as a kid was this The Ladybird Book of Motor Cars, much as I loved Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Cat in the Hat, this book got more, erm… mileage out of me.

Pages from the 1961 edition (like that below) can be seen here: Ladybird Book of Motor Cars (1961)

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From the 1961 edition, in the 1968 edition the illustration of the Aston DB4 here was tweaked to show the Aston DB6.