Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Some Summer Reading

Although I haven't written about what I've been reading these past few months, I have read a fair selection of books, mostly novels. Some are more memorable than others

Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin tells the story of Angel Tungazara, a Tanzanian now living in Rwanda and running a small business making cakes for special occasions, parties, weddings, anniversaries and the like. The stories that people tell her about themselves as they choose their cakes form the basis of the book and also reveal the complexities of life in a modern African state, which has suffered a civil war and an AIDs epidemic. Although the tone of the writing is fairly cosy, this in some ways highlights some of the darker side of the tales Angel hears from people ordering one of her cakes, as well as some of the more difficult aspects of her own life - she is bringing up her grandchildren, as both her son and her daughter, their parents, are now dead. Nevertheless, there are several lighter tales in the book, such as how to ensure the tailor does not measure one too tightly for a new dress, so it fits more comfortably on one of traditional build!.

I'm a bit late to the party in reading James Rebanks The Shepherds Life: a tale of the Lake District, which came out to excellent reviews in 2015. It begins with young James Rebanks in school, listening to a teacher expounding on the Lake District, talking about the 'wild' landscape, but without really mentioning the farmers and other local workers, whose families had worked the land for generations and were no less proud, intelligent and ambitious as people elsewhere, and whose work over probably thousands of years, made the Lake District what it is today. The book roughly follows the seasons on the small hill farm  owned by his family, raising Herdwick sheep. He explains the business of the farm, raising sheep for sale, either as breeding ewes or for meat. Although the author had an early disdain for education, when in his early twenties, he attended evening classes to study for A levels and went to Magdelen College, Oxford. He then returns to farming, but also has a job as a consultant to UNESCO.

When I came across The Reading Cure by Laura Freeman in my local library, how could I not borrow it. Laura Freeman was diagnosed as anorexic in her early teens and gradually and gently restored her appetite for food by reading about it, not in cookbooks, but in novels, whose appeal to the imagination is much more powerful. She describes her anorexia as the voice in her head, which reading managed to replace with a more positive one. Reading about a dish or a meal roused her curiosity to want to taste it, which led to actually eating it. The list of books included at the end of the book is both extensive and varied, and includes many titles by Dickens as well as Virginia Woolf. A beautifully written book about the power of novels to change a life.

While we were away in France earlier in July we went for a walk up above the Vallee du Mars, following part of the Grand Randonee 400, one of France's long distance walks. The views over the valleys and mountains are well worth the climb up.

A view of the Vallee du Mars, Cantal. The  yellow flowers in the foregroud are a variety of gentian, whose roots are used to make a liquer.

I read W G Sebald's The Rings of Saturn on my Kindle, as I was away at the time and couldn't get hold of the physical book. Apparently classified as "documentary fiction" this is a somewhat discursive description of a long walking tour through parts of Suffolk and Norfolk,particularly those near to the North Sea coast.
There was a read-along on Twitter, hosted by Robert MacFarlane earlier this summer, with some interesting points raised.
The narrator, unnamed, raised many thoughts in his wanderings, with references to Thomas Browne, Roger Casement, silkworm raising in Europe, a hare which crosses the walkers path and is apparently terrified. The style is almost 19th century in its effect, although it was written in 1995, originally in German, (translated into English by Michael Hulse) and densely written, full of allusions and inferences. In many ways a visual book, as it has many photographs and illustrations, and many descriptions of what the narrator sees on his travels, it also considers listening and hearing. This is the first book by Sebald I have read, and will probably look out for others.

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