Book Review: “Tolstoy Selected Stories” by Leo Tolstoy

I found Tolstoy in translation much easier to read than Vazha-Pshavela in translation, sadly I am as yet unable to read either author in their original language. Tolstoy Selected StoriesA collection of 20 morality tales of which 2 really stand out :The Story of Ivan the Fool and The Death of Ivan Ilych
Ivan Ilyich is a decent man. He has all of the trappings of a “successful life”: respectable family, respectable job, respectable home. He is by all intents and purposes content with his position in life.

But has he truly lived? Socrates said that an unexamined life was not worth living.

Tolstoy describes Ivan Ilyich’s failing health in such a way that the reader can almost feel what it was like for him. The gnawing ache in his side, the pain… unrelenting, demoralizing… every simple facet of existence plagued by torturous, insufferable, incurable pain. It’s agonizing. He cannot escape it. Ivan Ilych’s awakening comes through the realization of death which ignites within him fear, anger, contemplation and eventually acceptance. The story is probably the best account of the physiological and psychological panic, a man feels when so close to his own death.

Some of the other stories read like biblical parables and included bible verses and even the occasional imps and angels. Count Lyov can certainly tell a good story.

Le droit de ne pas finir un livre.

Reblogged from my old blog.

jimholroyd365b

Daniel Pennac the French writer and teacher, wrote a short non-fiction book, originally published in French in 1992 “Comme un Roman” (The English title was “The Rights of the Reader“). It’s a wonderfully economical and witty exploration of why we read and why we don’t.

Pennac describes how young children are introduced to the magic of reading. Then he examines how they’re put off usually at school, when they are asked questions about what they are reading and reading becomes a dreary chore.

In the book Pennac lays down the 10 rights of the reader (droits du lecteur).

  1. Le droit de ne pas lire.      The right not to read.
  2. Le droit de sauter des pages.    The right to skip pages.
  3. Le droit de ne pas finir un livre. The right to not finish a book.
  4. Le droit de relire. The right to reread.
  5. Le droit…

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Review 2019

2019, another revolution around the Sun. This is the time of year for looking back and looking forward. I made a lot of resolutions at the beginning of the year New Year’s Resolutions (when made), which I didn’t keep very well… New Year’s Resolutions (seen from December).

Teaching

I continue to teach English to private students ranging in age from 6 to over 50 years old. It is an interesting job but not something I really planned to do, but I guess that is where my career path has ended. I also teach in the German School in Tbilisi and at Trinity Education.

Blogging

This is one of three blogs, this is the general blog, the most viewed post (over 1200 views) was my post looking at the good and bad aspects of living in Georgia for 10 years (A Decade of Living in Georgia: the Good and the Bad…).

The other blogs are more specialised : one concerned with my diecast collecting (My Diecast Blog) and, the other with my struggles with the Georgian Language (The Reluctant Georgian Learner).

These blogs fulfill my pressing desire, almost a need, to write.

Travel

We didn’t do a lot of travelling this year, we didn’t even leave Georgia. We did finally see Svaneti, a unique mountainous area of Georgia, with stunning vistas.

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Svaneti

More about our trip: A Trip to Svaneti….been there got the fridge magnet!

Reading
I read 42 books in 2019, according to Goodreads (but some of the entries were cheating a bit, being short novellas). 25 were over 200 pages long, one  “Jonathan Strange and Dr Morrell” by Susanna Clarke was over 1000 pages long. Two books, I think everyone should read are “21 Lessons for the 21st Century” by Yuval Noah Harari and “Why We Sleep” by Matthew Walker. Other highlights included “The Tattooist of Auschwitz” by Heather Morris,  “Dandelion Wine” by Ray Bradbury and  “Alias Grace” by Margaret Atwood.

And finally…

Happy New Year to all my readers and followers, I hope 2020 brings you health, happiness, love and fulfillment.

Book Review: “Fortune’s Son” by Jennifer Scoullar

fortune's son

Enchanting historical tale set for the most part in Tasmania, with a short interlude in South Africa. Jennifer Scoullar conjures up evocative images of the Tasmanian bush at the end of the 19th century. There is a great appreciation of the natural history of the land and some of its more unusual fauna especially the Thylacine and the Tasmanian Devils. Set against this backdrop is the romantic tale of Belle and Luke, whose relationship is torn apart by class and injustice. At the beginning of the novel, a teenage Luke lashes out at a rich mine owner trying to protect the reputation of his sister, for this act he is thrown into prison for 15 years hard labour, he eventually escapes and spends time in the bush with a big Newfoundland dog called Bear. Luke is an outdoorsy type and “The prospect of living rough with the animals as his sole companions didn’t daunt him. Bear was no longer the only one torn between two worlds.”

Sadly for the Tasmanian Tiger, extinction dawned on the horizon. Coorina, the female thylacine in the story and her cubs meet up with Luke.

Her sensitive nose tested the air over and over for the scent of another thylacine. She was ever disappointed.


The last known living thylacine died in a zoo in 1936 of neglect, the zoo thought it would be easy enough to find another, but they never found another. The thylacine was the apex predator in Tasmania, a carnivorous marsupial with a head like a dog and stripes.

thylacine
thylacine (photo: National Geographic)

I spent three weeks in Tasmania in 1988, reading about the nature brings back fond memories. There were rumours of sightings of thylacines at the time, but it has since been declared officially extinct.

 

New Year’s resolutions 9 months on

My resolutions were made with no great hope of success. New Year’s Resolutions.

1. Get into shape: I’m still 70 kg, no increase, no decrease. I’m walking around 10 000 steps a day according to the pedometer app on my phone, this went down in July and August, with few lessons I had less motivation for getting out of the house. I also climb the 172 steps up Ikalto Hill to home about twice a day.  (How do I think I’m doing on this resolution: 3 out of 10)

2. Start eating healthier food, and less food overall. I am visiting fast food outlets less frequently, I can’t remember the last time I visited Wendy’s or McDonalds’s (I used to visit Wendy’s at least once a week), I still visit KFC about twice a month.  I also eat far too many sweets. I do occasionally opt for a salad and chose water rather than a sugary drink. This still needs more work. (How do I think I’m doing on this resolution: 4 out of 10)

3. Stop procrastinating: At the beginning of the year I was bingeing on “Grey’s Anatomy” now it is the turn of “The Wire”. I have a fuller timetable now, so less opportunity to laze around. (How do I think I’m doing on this resolution: 1 out of 10)

4. Meet new people: Most of the new people I meet are those who attend the English Language Exchange on Mondays, this is the social highlight of the week for me. I have trouble remembering names. (How do I think I’m doing on this resolution: 3 out of 10)

5. Give up cigarettes: This was a joke resolution, I have never smoked… (How do I think I’m doing on this resolution: 10 out of 10)

6. Read more: My target for the year is 40 books, I am on target according to Goodreads, (my challenge) having read 28 books to date. But I have been cheating a little, some books are bigger than others. (How do I think I’m doing on this resolution: 5 out of 10)

some books are bigger than others
some books are bigger than others…
goodreads reading
my reading as recorded on Goodreads

Some of the books I wouldn’t normally count as books read… Saul Bellow’s novella is just 64 pages, Pre-Raphelites and Rembrandt  mostly show the paintings, there is little text, Horton Hears a Who is the kind of book I learnt to read with (thanks Dr Seuss),  King Lear is a brief summary for children and the Edgar Allan Poe “books” are just short stories. So my actual book total should really be 21, I’m well behind schedule to read 40 “proper” books in a year.

goodreads reading 2

7. Become tidier: I need to work on this. (How do I think I’m doing on this resolution: 1 out of 10)

8. Start saving money: and this… (How do I think I’m doing on this resolution: 0 out of 10)

9. Learn a new language. I have been using Memrise to learn some Georgian words and Duolingo to learn some German, Portuguese and Dutch. I don’t know how useful these apps have been. I currently have a streak of 63 days on Duolingo but if I were to meet a Brazilian or Portuguese person, there is a limit to what I can say. I’m listening to Georgian songs on YouTube, the tunes stick but few of the words are sticking :/ (How do I think I’m doing on this resolution: 2 out of 10)

10. Pick up useful skills or fun hobbies. I have bought a computer with photoshop but haven’t done anything with the program yet. (How do I think I’m doing on this resolution: 0 out of 10)

11. Travel more. I began January in Tsagveri and I finally managed to visit Svaneti in July but I doubt I will get out of Georgia this year. (How do I think I’m doing on this resolution: 1 out of 10)

12. Go see your doctor more often: the only doctors I’ve seen are the pretend doctors on “Grey’s Anatomy” and those I have taught English to. (How do I think I’m doing on this resolution: 0 out of 10)

13. Learn to cook new recipes: I tried banana pancakes, but it wasn’t a great success, the result was more of a banana omelette.

banana pancake
my banana pancake

(How do I think I’m doing on this resolution: 1 out of 10)

14. Start being more creative: need to work on this…. (How do I think I’m doing on this resolution: 2 out of 10)

Far more progress on my resolutions needs to be made if I am to avoid the usual disappointments when I reach January 1st and make resolutions anew.

 

 

Book Review: “True History of the Kelly Gang” by Peter Casey

When I was a child of around nine or ten, I read a book entitled “Bushrangers Bold!” about the bushrangers in 19th century, Australia. I remember little about the book except the title and one of the bushrangers, Ned Kelly, who stood out because of his showdown with the police in homemade armour.

bushrangers bold

Bushrangers were Australian outlaws, a mix of highwaymen and Wild West outlaws. They were thieves, who sheltered in the Australian bush, to some they were heroes to others they were villains. Ned Kelly has been portrayed in many films and played by actors such as Mick Jagger (1970) and Heath Ledger (2003).

In my twenties, I was fortunate to visit Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) and see the historic site of Port Arthur (the main prison in colonial Australia). In Victoria, I didn’t visit Kelly Country, I only visited Melbourne and the Mornington Peninsula. I also had the chance to read Robert Hughes’ s remarkable book “The Fatal Shore” about the convict history of Australia.

True history of the Kelly Gang
True History of the Kelly Gang

The “True History of the Kelly Gang” is not 100% true, there is much fictional embellishment in this historical novel. Ned Kelly is given a wife and daughter in the book, which he never had in real life. The author puts himself in the mind of Ned Kelly and it is written as though Ned were writing his own story to his (fictitious) daughter. Ned left school at an early age to team up with bushranger Harry Power so the narrative seems at times semi-literate…”I were”, “could of” etc… also to protect his daughter Ned Kelly doesn’t write out the cuss words, using “adjectively” or “b——d” or “b——-rs” or “effing” in their place.  There is a lot of Australian and Irish argot, too. The police are “traps”, his ma runs a “shebeen” and of course there are the swagmen.

The Kelly Gang only appear two thirds of the way through the book. The early part of the book is just about Ned Kelly himself and includes his first bushranging connection with Harry Power, who takes him on as an apprentice. The story is a continuation of the historic troubles of the Irish Catholics at the hands of the colonial British establishment. The police, the “traps”, are “proddies”, in league with the squatters, who had taken all the best land for themselves, leaving the poorer plots for the Irish. Ned Kelly’s father was a transported convict from Tipperary, who died shortly after serving a six month prison term, leaving the 12 year old Ned as the oldest male in an evergrowing family. Kelly is a hero of the book, not a cold-hearted murderer, he is shown to have initially killed policemen in self defence and when he later robs a bank, some of the proceeds are distributed to the poor, who need it.

Ned Kelly is still a divisive figure in Australia, some see him as a Robin Hood type figure, whilst others view him as a murderous villain. He has been the subject of more biographies than any other Australian. This book was awarded the Booker Prize in 2001 (a literary prize awarded each year for the best original novel written in the English language and published in the United Kingdom.)

Ned Kelly by Sid Nolan
Ned Kelly by Sidney Nolan (1946)

This was the first book I read this year in paperback, the other books I finished “The Pickwick Papers” by Charles Dickens , The Short Stories of Edgar Allan Poe and “21 Lessons for the 21st Century” by Yuval Noah Harari were read on my Kindle app. Both paperback and Kindle app have their pros and cons, I find reading a physical book is more immersive, reading on my phone, I am often distracted by notifications and the like.

My rating 4 out of 5