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Tag: book

Book of the Year 2018

Thursday, 27 December, 2018

Weighing in at 1.5 kilogrammes, Churchill: Walking with Destiny is a heavyweight. The index runs to 60 pages, the author’s notes to 37 and the bibliography to 23. But size alone isn’t everything so Churchill: Walking with Destiny is our Book of the Year for reasons other than sheer volume.

There have been more than 1,000 previous studies of Churchill’s life, the publisher helpfully warns readers, so anyone intending to add another tome to the heap had better have something original to offer readers. Andrew Roberts has. His access to and analysis of previously hidden materials is what makes the difference. Then, there’s his storytelling. This is from the pivotal year of 1939:

“Churchill dined with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor in Antibes in January. The Duke, wearing a kilt of the Stuart tartan, argued vigorously against Churchill’s recent articles opposing Franco and in favour of a Russia alliance. ‘We sat by the fireplace,’ recalled Maxine Elliott’s nephew-in-law Vincent Sheean, ‘Mr Churchill frowning with intentness at the floor in front of him, mincing no words… declaring flatly that the nation stood in the gravest danger in its long history.’ The Duke was eagerly interrupting whenever he could, contesting every point, but receiving — in terms of the utmost politeness so far as the words went — an object lesson in political wisdom and public spirit. The rest of us sat in silence: there was something dramatically final, irrevocable about the dispute. Churchill had discovered beyond doubt how fundamentally unsound the ex-King was about the Nazis. He remained respectful throughout this ‘prolonged argument’, but did point out to him that ‘When our kings are in conflict with our constitution, we change our kings.'”

Why did Churchill loathe the Nazis and their appeasers from the outset? According to Andrew Roberts, the young Winston had seen Islamic fundamentalism at work in India and Sudan and what he observed there was “a form of religious fanaticism that in many key features was not unlike the Nazism that he was to encounter forty years later. None of the three prime ministers of the 1930s — Ramsay MacDonald, Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain — had seen true fanaticism in their personal lives, and they were slow to discern it in Nazi Germany. Churchill had fought against it in his youth and recognized its salient features earlier than anyone else.”

Churchill: Walking with Destiny


Unboxing a book of Vermeer

Saturday, 25 March, 2017 0 Comments

The trend of making videos of the unpacking of a newly-purchased box containing a desirable gadget has given dictionary makers the word “unboxing.” Example: “Did you see Juan’s unboxing of the new super-thin Asus ZenBook UX305?”

A book can be unboxed, too. Here, Vermeer — The Complete Works by Taschen, the art book publisher based in Cologne, is unboxed by Annie Quigley, owner of Bibliophile.

Johannes Vermeer (1632–1675) painted during that extraordinary period of exploration, trade and creativity that occurred during the Dutch Golden Age in the seventeenth century. The modern eye is tempted to compare his works to photographs, but deeper observation reveals far more. His paintings are, in fact, exquisitely designed compositions of light and shadow, colour, contours and shapes.


The Netflix Irishman of Scorsese, De Niro, Pacino

Thursday, 23 February, 2017 0 Comments

Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel… That’s what a $100 million budget can get you today. The big story, though, is that this star cast will be working on The Irishman for Netflix rather than one of the big studios and this indicates that something seismic is happening in the movie industry.

Anne Thompson of Indiewire, who broke the news of the deal, noted that The Irishman had long been planned as a Paramount Pictures production, but “Scorsese’s movie is a risky deal, and Paramount is not in the position to take risks. This way, he can make the project he wants.” And these projects involve serious money. STX Entertainment reportedly spent some $50 million for the international rights to The Irishman at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, which was very good news for Charles Brandt.

The Irishman The Irishman is based on Brandt’s best-selling book, I Heard You Paint Houses, about Frankie Sheeran, a killer who claimed he played a part in the legendary vanishing of the corrupt union boss Jimmy Hoffa. The book’s title, by the way, comes from the criminal slang for contract killings and the resulting blood splatter on walls.

Charles Brandt befriended Frankie Sheeran, who confessed to him that he’d been involved with the killing of Hoffa, who disappeared in 1975 and has never been seen since. Sheeran was an odious piece of work. He served with the US Army in Europe during World War II and experienced combat during the Italian Campaign, including the invasion of Sicily and the Battle of Cassino. He then took part in the landings in southern France and the Battle of the Bulge and admitted that he had been involved in several massacres of German POWs. He also claimed to have had inside information about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. According to Sheeran, Jimmy Hoffa wanted Kennedy dead, as Bobby Kennedy, the US Attorney General, was “persecuting” him. The killing of Kennedy was a Mafia hit, said Sheeran, who maintained he’d transported three rifles to the alleged assassins. Fact or fiction? Netflix is betting $100 million that people will want to watch, thanks to CGI, a youthful De Niro play Sheeran and Pacino star as Hoffa.


Kim Cattrall reads Rosemary’s Baby

Sunday, 30 October, 2016 0 Comments

Satanism on Manhattan’s Upper West Side? Ira Levin’s 1967 novel Rosemary’s Baby sold more than four million copies and launched the modern horror genre. The following year, it was made into a controversial film starring Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes and directed by Roman Polanski. This weekend, especially for Halloween, it’s being read terrifically, terrifyingly, as part of BBC Radio 4’s Fright Night series by Kim Cattrall, the English-Canadian actress who became famous as Samantha Jones in Sex and the City.

Rosemary's Baby

“Are you aware that the Bramford had a rather unpleasant reputation around the turn of the century? It’s where the Trench sisters conducted their little dietary experiments. And Keith Kennedy held his parties. Adrian Marcato lived there too… The Trench sisters were two proper Victorian ladies — they cooked and ate several young children including a niece…Adrian Marcato practiced witchcraft. He made quite a splash in the ’90s by announcing that he’d conjured up the living devil. Apparently, people believed him so they attacked and nearly killed him in the lobby of the Bramford… Later, the Keith Kennedy business began and by the ’20s, the house was half empty… World War II filled the house up again… They called it Black Bramford… This house has a high incidence of unpleasant happenings. In 1959, a dead infant was found wrapped in newspaper in the basement…”


The Stoner sonnet

Friday, 30 September, 2016 0 Comments

The central character in Stoner, a 1965 novel by the American writer John Williams, is William Stoner, who begins life as a farm boy in Missouri. His parents send him to the University of Missouri to study agriculture, but after reading Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73, Stoner switches to studying literature. After receiving his Ph.D. he continues at the university as an assistant professor of English, the job he holds for the rest of his career.

“In his forty-third year William Stoner learned what others, much younger, had learned before him: that the person one loves at first is not the person one loves at last, and that love is not an end but a process through which one person attempts to know another.” — John Williams, Stoner

The novel sold poorly when it was published but that changed at the beginning of this century, when it became an international bestseller. Stoner was reissued in 2006 by New York Review Books Classics with an introduction by John McGahern, who wrote that Stoner is a “novel about work.” This includes not only traditional work, such as Stoner’s tasks on the farm and his academic duties, but also the work he puts into relationships. It’s also a book about passion, and Stoner’s passions are knowledge and love. According to the critic Morris Dickstein, “he fails at both.” It’s Shakespearian.

Sonnet 73

That time of year thou may’st in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day,
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by-and-by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

William Shakespeare

September


Emporium Dubai

Tuesday, 10 May, 2016 0 Comments

It’s the second day here of CONNECTOGRAPHY: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization by Parag Khanna, and we’re reading Part Four, “From Nations to Nodes,” which kicks off with “If You Build It, They Will Come.” The chapter is mainly about Dubai, a city Khanna calls “Home to the World,” and, coincidentally, it’s one of the few sections of the book that contains a reference to language: “Money has long replaced Arabic as the official language of Dubai. Its daily lingua franca has become English and among South Asians Hindi and Urdu, but the glue that binds everyone together is the desire for stability, prosperity and connectedness.”

Driven by this yearning for stability, prosperity, connectedness and the convenience of a lingua franca, 250,000 Chinese now reside in Dubai, as do 30,000 Somalis and 40,000 Kenyans. Ashish Thakkar, a Ugandan of Indian descent, “got his start shuttling back and forth to Dubai’s bazaars to purchase secondhand computer parts,” writes Khanna, but he also quotes Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, who speaks of the “agony of being a minority in my own country.” The “most noted intellectual dissident” of the emirates used the “extinction” word in a conversation with the author, which gives Khanna occasion to ponder the price of transforming Dubai into a home to the world: “It is as if the Filipina or European boutique owner greeting a fellow foreigner with the Arabic ‘As-salamu alaykum’ is doing so out of respect to a local population that no longer exists.”

More connectography here tomorrow, and, a special treat, we’ll have a seven-question interview here on Friday with Parag Khanna.

Dubai


The Deceiver by Forsyth

Saturday, 5 March, 2016 0 Comments

Browsing this evening in a rather topsy-turvy second-hand bookshop run by an ex-banker and came across a thriller stamped “First English Edition.” Unusual, that. Especially unusual as the author is the great Frederick Forsyth. His “first editions” tend to be in English.

Anyway, The Deceiver is a page turner of the best kind and is full of ripping-yarn stuff. Rich dialogue, too. “Sam, I know you’ve been in more tight places than a shepherd’s right arm.”


Rain: Too much and not nearly enough

Monday, 8 June, 2015 0 Comments

“Do not be angry with the rain; it simply does not know how to fall upwards,” said Vladimir Nabokov. His comment is atypical as rain rarely earns a good punch line. Worse, in a rapidly urbanizing world, rain is regarded as a nuisance and few people have a kind word to say for it. The stuff that fills shoes, wrecks hairdos and allows unscrupulous umbrella sellers to practice a form of surge pricing that would make Uber envious lacks a lobby. But that should change soon thanks to Cynthia Barnett, author of Rain: A Natural and Cultural History. Using humour and science she examines rain’s role through the ages, and what emerges is a unifying force of nature that has nourished our planet for more than four billion years. Snippet:

“Rain brings us together in one of the last untamed encounters with nature that we experience routinely, able to turn the suburbs and even the city wild. Huddled with our fellow humans under construction scaffolding to escape a deluge, we are bound in the memory and mystery of exhilarating, confounding, life-giving rain.” Cynthia Barnett, Rain: A Natural and Cultural History

Rain


The power of Zuckerberg

Tuesday, 6 January, 2015 0 Comments

“Power is the ability to direct or prevent the current or future actions of other groups and individuals. Or, put differently, power is what we exercise over others that leads them to behave in ways they would not otherwise have behaved.” — Moisés Naím, The End of Power

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced at the weekend that his New Year’s resolution was to read a book every two weeks this year. He promises to read books that will “emphasise learning about new cultures, beliefs, histories and technologies.” His “Year of Books” Facebook group has attracted 179,000 likes so far and his first selection, The End of Power by Moisés Naím, sold out on Amazon.com within 24 hours.

According to the blurb, The End of Power examines the global tilt in influence “from West to East and North to South, from presidential palaces to public squares, from once formidable corporate behemoths to nimble start-ups and, slowly but surely, from men to women.” For Zuckerberg, the book “explores how the world is shifting to give individual people more power that was traditionally only held by large governments, militaries and other organisations. The trend towards giving people more power is one I believe in deeply, and I’m looking forward to reading this book and exploring this in more detail.” Facebook watchers will, no doubt, read a lot into the CEO’s picks.

The question on the tips of many tongues now is: Will Zuckerberg recreate the “Oprah Effect”? Oprah’s Book Club, which Oprah Winfrey hosted on her talk show from 1996 until 2011 turned many literary works into million-sellers.

“To put it simply, power no longer buys as much as it did in the past. In the twenty-first century, power is easier to get, harder to use — and easier to lose. From boardrooms and combat zones to cyberspace, battles for power are as intense as ever, but they are yielding diminishing returns. — Moisés Naím, The End of Power

The End of Power


Kickstarting Amanda Palmer

Wednesday, 20 June, 2012

Amanda Palmer’s sensationally successful Kickstarter campaign has raised more than $1 million to finance her next creative venture, which will involve an album, a book and a tour. This is the future of popular music, she says.