My Haunted February : a 104 books in 2014 roundup

Grim Tales cover

11. Grim Tales by E. Nesbit.

Traditional British ghost stories from an author I’m most familiar with from her work for children. Peter Yearsley is a brilliant narrator. The one thing which strikes most forcibly when listening to these stories is how scared of any and every ghost Victorian people were supposed to be. In the present day, if you’d been separated from the wife you loved by death, and her ghost started to knock on your door, would you hide your head under the covers? Personally, if I didn’t just fling open the door and take my luck with the consequences, I’d at least carry on a conversation through a convenient window.

Churchyard and Hawke cover12. Churchyard and Hawke by E.V. Thompson.

A country house mystery story set in Victorian Cornwall. It’s acceptable as a puzzle, although it breaks one of the Detection Club rules of fairness. I felt the ending was a bit of a letdown, although to explain why would spoil the puzzle. Acceptable, but not brilliant, so if you have no strong connection to Cornwall, you might try one of the many wonderful alternatives. The reader of the audiobook does a marvellous job with the voices.

13. Low GI Shopper’s Guide 2014.

It’s an excellent little book, and it cuts through the blizzard of information quite effectively. That being said, most of the information can be found on the University of Sydney’s free website, so when I’m shopping I find it easier just to carry my smartphone bookmarked to that site. The Library does have earlier editions, but given that it is health information, I’d not recommend them, given that free and recent information is available.

Books cast aside incomplete

Mr Beeton's book of household management cover14. Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management.

In audio, it is just over 52 hours long, and shows the strength of Librivox, in that it can create non-commercialisable works like these.  I gave it up, having listened to about half, because

  • it is extremely long. I enjoyed the social history elements of it, and skipped most of the the recipes to listen to them, but the pure commitment is too much for me right now.
  • I have Alton Brown’s cookbooks to get through, and am thinking of recording one of Soyer’s and they are more amusing.
  • Beeton did not cook much, and compiled her recipes untested. For example I really doubt one should cook macaroni for 30 minutes before cutting it into rings and then cooking it again for 15 minutes.
  • its stronger recipes, indeed most of its recipes, are stolen wholesale from other books I’ve read.
  • I’m a vegetarian, and even the vegetable soups in the book have a roasted meat stock base. That’s not an objection to the quality of the book: just a note that I’m outside its core audience.
  • Beeton feels that strong spices are only used when ingredients are poor. I disagree: strong spices are used when recipes have little fat in them, because the flavour needs to be more concentrated to carry. Her food is deliberately blander than it needs to be, or has more cream in it than is technically sane.

15. The Count of Monte Cristo: I’m really enjoying this book, but I’m wanting to track the earlier parts of Crash Course Literature, so I need to set this aside for a while and come back to it later.  It is 54 hours long in audiobook, but so far I’ve found that it’s interesting so long as you are patient with its need to describe every phase of each scene in detail. The authors (Dumas had a ghosting partner. Who knew?) don’t do swift transitions between scenes and feel no need to get to the main parts of the plot.  Having paid my dues with hours and hours of the protagonist being imprisoned and escaping, I will be back for my promised revenge-tragedy ending.

Librivox has three versions of this, but the solo edition by David Clarke is excellently read. That it must have taken him at least 100 hours to read and edit is also remarkable.

Book of ghosts cover16. The Book of Ghosts by Sabine Baring-Gould. Baring-Gould takes a lot of time to build up his stories, and so they require a little patience. Good, in the sense that each story has a single image that’s vivid and memorable, but a retelling would edit the book heavily. The comedic stories work better than the horrific, although some of his jokes are cobwebbed. For example the central joke of one story is that the Scots are a race of drunken misers, which can’t have been fresh as a joke even in his day, and is just kind of depressing in ours.

I’ve left it unread simply  because I have so much else I’d love to finish. It’s not terrible, but it’s not great enough I may come back to it, but even in this list, the Count of Monte Cristo would attract my time first.

Skyrim cover17: Skyrim : The official game guide. This is an excellently produced manual for the game, but similar information is available electronically, and that makes it keyword searchable. Also, by its nature it contains plot spoilers. Good for a flick through, if you are a fan, to see what parts of the game you have missed.

Book from my home library I finally read

18: Lord Arthur Saville’s Crime and Other Stories by Oscar Wilde. This is a set of collected short stories by a noted English wit, but given his scandalous life and skill in transgressive bon mots, I found it suprisingly subdued. The first story, which is about a man who discovers he is fated to become a murderer, and decides it’s only fair on his fiance to get it out of the way before marriage, is charming. The Canterville Ghost is a lovely deconstruction of tropes, but less funny than, for example, Tales Told After Supper by Jerome K. Jerome. His folk tales are well told, but they are very conservative in form. At the time, perhaps, they were a little challenging, but compared to either the Grimms before or Carter afterwards they lack bite. The version in the Library catalog is read by Sir Derek Jacobi, and his performance is wonderful, although the American accents of the Canterville ghost come from that strange region of America found mostly on the British stage.

…and my Youtube binging continued this month. We’ll talk about these more when classics month rolls around later in the year, but I’d like to note for your consideration The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. I have also watched Welcome to Sandition which is weaker because its source material is weaker, and Emma Approved. I’m not enjoying it, essentially because Emma is designed in the source material to be unlikeable and the story has not yet progressed to the point where she’s sympathetic.  I’m not sure I’ll follow it weekly: I may just binge it at the end. I’ve also bingewatched The Brain Scoop, which is just fantastic, and has kind of convinced me to do some vlogging of my own, but not about library things, so I’ll stop that line of though here for now. The Brain Scoop is the web diary of a museum volunteer (who is later hired by another museum to be their web presence person, so score for her.) If you’ve ever wanted to see someone prep a wolf carcass for museum display, or wander around the collection of bottled specimens, this is the vodcast for you.