Friday, February 29, 2008

The Sixteen Pleasures - Book Review - R18

The Sixteen Pleasures By Robert Hellenga
Delta Books (Dell Publishing) 1995

This review has to be rated R18, so if any readers are under the age of 18, please STOP READING now. Thank you.
In 1524, Pietro Aretino wrote [lewd] sonnets to accompany the drawings of sixteen sexual positions by Giuliano Romano, Raphael's talented twenty-five-year-old pupil. Their collaboration produced one of history's most notorious works of erotic art.

In November 1966 (thats just over 41 years ago) the city of Florence (Firenze) in Italy was flooded. Hundreds of artworks and old books were damaged and destroyed, and many others were saved.

This novel is about Margot Harington who went to Italy as soon as she heard about the flooding, as a "mud angel" to help save the books in a small convent. Margot was a book conservator. That was her speciality. She was assigned to a small Catholic Carmelite convent with a small library. Some of the books were damaged beyond repair, and others were saved. Still others were damaged but salvageable. Together Margot and the nuns worked to save as many books as they could. One of the first tasks to be done was to slip pieces of tissue or toilet paper in between every single leaf of every single wet book. A very time consuming task. The tissues would draw out the water from the book pages. Margot also re-bound and re-covered some of the books as well.

While Margot is at this convent, the nuns discover a book of erotic drawings. This book had been bound together with a Roman [Catholic] Missal and Prayer Book. The erotic art book is called I Sonetti Lussuriosi di Pietro Aretino. The Sensuous Sonnets of Pietro Aretino. The practice of binding two books together was not uncommon in the early Middle Ages, but was unheard of by the seventeenth century.

Aretino's "Sonnetti Lussuriosi" were composed after he first viewed Giulio Romano's drawings, and were later compiled into a printed edition with Raimondi's splendid engravings. All except a very few copies of this book were promptly burned by the Church. No surviving complete copy is known to exist.

The Bishop of Florence claims that the book should be taken to the local Diocese office for safekeeping. Margot feels that the book belongs to the convent and that they should benefit from the sale of the book, not the bishop. Margot spends several weeks rebinding and recovering the book. She also asks another art restorer to sell the book to a book seller. But when the book sellers offer is only a few thousand dollars, Margot changes her mind and says the book is not for sale. She knows that such a rare book should bring a lot more money in the market. So Margot steals the book, takes it to Switzerland (without an export license) and sells it through Christies. She makes almost a quarter million dollars, and after taking off her 10% commission, the rest goes into a trust fund for the women at the convent, and then finally she returns home to America.

I liked this book. Margot does other things as well such as sleeping with a married man, but none of that was as interesting as the conservation details. If you truly like the arts of the book, then you should read this novel.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Canada is too cold to be looking for a job

This has been one of the worst winters ever. Apparently there is an arctic mass of cold air sitting over much of Canada and probably Russia and Europe. It has been much colder than usual all around the Northern Hemisphere. It's not global warning, but global cooling. Today is -10 degrees Celcius and the windchill is -27 Celcius. Apparently -27 degrees is where Celsius and Fahrenheit meet. In Hawaii, the locals have had to resort to wearing long-sleeved T-shirts - instead of the short sleeves they usually wear.

Yesterday was a bad day for me. I lost my bank debit card - the result of my memory getting worse since my operation - and I am very lucky I did not lose my credit card as well. So after tramping around several shops where I last remember using it, I headed for the bank to get a new one.

I also had a job interview - on the telephone. It started off well until the job started expanding beyond what was originally stated. This was a home based position writing market analyst reports (results of survey and focus groups). I was happily stating that I would be available at home during the day and the evenings (with a 3 hour break between dinner, and sons bedtime) until the employer mentioned that occasionally there might be some last minute work that would mean working the weekend. I immdiately deflated. The weekend? Thats family time. I lost enthusiasm after that. I'll have to wait and see who they choose, but I dont expect it to be me. It's too cold to be looking for a job.

And my son has a new craze. Well two new crazes really. First the skateboard - I purchased that last week because it was on sale and the prices was really too good to pass up. Now he wants Chaotic cards. Chaotic is the latest TV craze. A cartoon program where kids fight imaginary animals in an imaginary world. Someone has developed a card game out of this. And my son was upset that I did not immediately go out and buy him a pack of cards. Well for one they are hard to find. I had to call several shops looking for them. Am still debating whether or not to actually get them, right now. It's too cold to be outside.

I should have another book review up later today.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

What Punctuation Mark Are You?

You Are a Colon

You are very orderly and fact driven.

You aren't concerned much with theories or dreams... only what's true or untrue.

You are brilliant and incredibly learned. Anything you know is well researched.

You like to make lists and sort through things step by step. You aren't subject to whim or emotions.

Your friends see you as a constant source of knowledge and advice.

(But they are a little sick of you being right all of the time!)

You excel in: Leadership positions

You get along best with: The Semi-Colon

I found this at BookHunter's Blog. And no I do not have any Leadership skills. I prefer to be in the background.

Dan Brown - pinning his hopes on a new megaseller..

Remember Dan Brown, the guy who wrote that book about the mysterious murder of a Louvre curator?

Well he's back again, hopefully, and pinning his hopes on the next megaseller. Brown's long overdue follow-up, originally tipped for publication by Doubleday in 2005, will not slide in under anyone's radar.

With Harry Potter in retirement, the next book by Dan Brown is threatening to become the publishing world's own Holy Grail, both in anticipation of its potentially magical commercial powers and the fact that, for the moment at least, no one but the author himself seems certain when it might materialize.

Brown's U.S. publisher indicated in one press report that the book, which is said to probe the shadowy reaches of the protectively secretive Masonic brotherhood, is nearing completion, heightening anticipation it might hit stores sometime this year. There is even speculation Brown has a specific date in mind, possibly one linked to an anniversary of a Masonic milestone.

Brown is under a LOT of pressure because if the new novel is not as HUGE as the last one was - then there can often be a huge let down if the next book does not live up to the hype.

Ulysses, By James Joyce - 50 Greatest Books

This weeks Greatest Book is Ulysses by James Joyce

Ulysses contains detailed references to The Odyssey, Hamlet, Don Giovanni, Plato, Aristotle and Catholic theology; untranslated passages of Latin, Italian and Hebrew; boldface capitalized headlines that make a section set in a newspaper office resemble a newspaper; seemingly endless, farcical lists ("Patrick W. Shakespeare" and "Brian Confucius" as "Irish heroes and heroines of antiquity") and wild swings between poetic writing and raucous adolescent humour, even fart jokes.

MM maybe I better read this if it has all these literature references. But then the storyline doesnt interest me that much, neither does Dublin. I am not Irish. Ok I'll settle for skimming it instead, if I can find a copy.

Next week: Das Kapital

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Cross-X By Joe Miller - Book Review

By Joe Miller
Farrar, Straus and Giroux New York 2006
Striving for an Education Challenge

I picked up this book because of the interesting cartoon cover. I read it because it was about education.

In 2001, Joe Miller, a journalist in Kansas City, Misouri, was invited to attend the Kansas City Central High School by the student body president, because the school board had fired the superintendent and the school was now officially declared to be "academically deficient".

Miller was introduced to Jane Rhinehart, a debate teacher and coach, who had coached several KCCHS debate teams to victory against other more academically qualified high schools. The trophies showed proof of this.

But debate was not recognized by the district as a worthy activity. Unlike Football, Baseball and basketball which got all the money and no travel restrictions, the debate team was constantly being restricted to how far it could travel and how often, to attend competitions.

Listening to Rhinehart's pained accounts of this conflict, I began to see the sketchy outlines of what I came to Central hoping to find. Joe Miller

Joe Miller spent the year of 2002-2003 with the KCCHS debate team, and followed them through an entire year of debating practice and competitions. He tried to keep himself apart from the team, but eventually became personally involved as an assistant debate coach. Hw watched Jane Rhinehart battle against red tape and bureacracy from the school staff, the school board, and the Missouri State Activities Association.

The MSHSAA (Missouri State High School Activities Association) controls all extra-curriculum activites in the state. For debate, the rule was no more than 10 tournaments per year, and no more than 250 miles travel to get to the tournaments. This effectively ruled out all West coast and East coast tournaments.

This review may be hard to read, because I am going to be blunt. This book is about inherent racism in American schools - where some white teachers (in general and in 2003) do not teach the black kids because they think the black kids are "deficient" and incapable of learning.

Debate is an elite sport. The majority of debaters are white - there are very few minorities - not just Blacks, but Hispanic and Asians as well. The majority of schools that participate in debate are upper class majority white schools, and a majority of these are private schools.

This is a rap by one of the Kansas City Central HS debaters.
Geoffrey Stone, 2003, page 449 set to Dr Dre.

My school is almost 100 percent black
Just seventeen out of 3000 kids tested proficient in Math
It's the same in English, Social Studies and Science
"academic deficient" is how we're defined
The only foreign language we get offered is Spanish
French or Russian, Teacher said I wouldnt understand it

Walk in my school is like going to jail
Metal detectors guard our academic hell
Early last month there was a fight at my school
Two girls hitting each other trying to be cool.
Has your school ever had a fight?
Maybe some teachers break it up, right?
Not in my school.
The state beleives all blacks are fools
At central they treated us like rioters
The called in twelve cop cars and a helicopter

High School debate is an activity skewed toward the elite. In order to succeed, the kids need thousands of dollars to attend [debate] camp. They must learn to argue un a way that's utterly foreign [to them, arguing] at breakneck speed, using enough scholarly material to overwhelm a PhD candidate. And even then, there was only so far they can go. (Page 455)

Most of this book is about how the Black kids forced a change in debate by introducing hip-hop music and rap to the debates. The white teams promptly claimed it was not within the rules, but the blacks kept winning their rounds and began winning tournaments. But since hop hop and rap are not encouraged in the college debate scene, the kids cannot continue these new ways if they wanted to go on and debate in college.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Freedom to Read Week - starts next week

Freedom to Read Week 2008

Freedom to Read Week is an annual event that encourages Canadians to think about and reaffirm their commitment to intellectual freedom, which is guaranteed them under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Here is the list of books currently on the Challenged list. (PDF file)

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Rosetti Letter by Christi Phillips - Book Review

The Rosetti Letter
By Christi Phillips
Pocket Books (PB) February 2008

Clair Donovan is writing her dissertation on a little known event in Venetian history - known as the Spanish Conspiracy. This event really did occur in Venice in 1617, but it is not known what actually did happen. Claire however cannot afford to go to Venice to do some research or to attend a history confernce being held there.

So Claire is prevailed upon to chaperone a teenager to Venice for one week while she attends the conference. She also plans to spend some time at the Biblioteca Marciani. Once they arrive in Venice, Claire spends her time running around looking for books and documents to complete her dissertation, and trying to keep the teenager out of trouble. Claire also discovers that she has competition. Another professor from England who is also writing a book on the Spanish Conspiracy. If this author gets their book published first, then Claires dissertation will be for nothing. Claire and the English professor meet at the conference in Venice, and the sparks fly.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book for the detailed infomation I learnt about Venice in the 1600s. I also enjoyed it for the tour through Venice of the present. I loved that both the heroines (past and present) were educated and interested in learning more. And at long last I know how a courtesan behaves and why.

The only extra I felt was really not necessary was the addition of the teenager. Her romances and teenage angst did not add to the story.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Before Green Gables

The new Anne of Green Gables book is reviewed in the Toronto Star today. It's called Before Green Gables.
Before Green Gables
by Budge Wilson,
Penguin Canada,
447 pages, (hardback)

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Don Quixote - 50 Greatest Books

Yes I'm sorry, I know I havent posted all week. I have been reading some large and heavy duty books. I hope to have 2 more reviews up this weekend. In the meantime, here is this weeks top 50 book from the Globe and Mail.

Don Quixote - Knightly Virtue.

A few years ago, in 2002, 100 major writers from 54 countries agreed to answer a remarkable question: What is the best work of fiction ever written? By an overwhelming margin, the authors chose Don Quixote. Why is this 400-year-old Spanish novel held in such high esteem by readers, writers and critics? Entire libraries are filled with answers to that question, but I'll confine myself to just a few.

Also for those of you who have not browsed in a bookshop for a while, Benazir Bhutto's last book, Reconciliation, has been released. As we all know, she was assassinated on December 27th last year. And today there is news of yet another bombing in Pakistan right before the elections which will be held next week.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Reading Meme

Reading Meme
This came off Melanie's blog.

Which book do you irrationally cringe away from reading, despite seeing only positive reviews?
Catcher in the Rye. It's the one book I STILL have never read, and I'm not sure I ever will, because I just cant find any connection with the main characters.

If you could bring three characters to life for a social event (afternoon tea, a night of clubbing, perhaps a world cruise), who would they be and what would the event be?
Dirk Pitt, Horatio Hornblower and Captain Nemo - All Men of the Sea, so a world cruise sounds good to me.

(Borrowing shamelessly from the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde): you are told you can’t die until you read the most boring novel on the planet. While this immortality is great for awhile, eventually you realise it’s past time to die. Which book would you expect to get you a nice grave? War and Peace

Come on, we’ve all been there. Which book have you pretended, or at least hinted, that you’ve read, when in fact you’ve been nowhere near it? The Kite Runner

As an addition to the last question, has there been a book that you really thought you had read, only to realise when you read a review about it/go to ‘reread’ it that you haven’t? Which book?
N/A I usually end up getting books I thought I HAVEN'T read, only to discover, that I HAVE read it.

You’re interviewing for the post of Official Book Advisor to some VIP (who’s not a big reader). What’s the first book you’d recommend and why? (if you feel like you’d have to know the person, go ahead of personalise the VIP)
Sophie's World - Everyone needs to know SOMETHING about Philosophy.

A good fairy comes and grants you one wish: you will have perfect reading comprehension in the foreign language of your choice. Which language do you go with?
French because I eventually want to read EVERY book and manuscript in the Bibliotheque Nationale.

A mischievious fairy comes and says that you must choose one book that you will reread once a year for the rest of your life (you can read other books as well). Which book would you pick?
84 Charing Cross Road - its the ONLY book I can re-read.

I know that the book blogging community, and its various challenges, have pushed my reading borders. What’s one bookish thing you ‘discovered’ from book blogging (maybe a new genre, or author, or new appreciation for cover art-anything)?
In the 11 months since I started blogging, I have discovered Bibliography and Rare books. I never knew they could be so fascainating.

That good fairy is back for one final visit. Now, she’s granting you your dream library! Describe it. Is everything leatherbound? Is it full of first edition hardcovers? Pristine trade paperbacks? Perhaps a few favourite authors have inscribed their works? Go ahead-let your imagination run free.

I'm not one for fancy rooms, so I just need a LARGE room with all 4 walls completely built up with wooden shelves from floor to ceiling - except around the door. A rail runs along the top shelf curving around the corners, and of course a ladder on wheels so I can swing along the shelves looking for books. A medium sized card catalogue in the middle of the room, with a few comfy chairs, some small tables with lamps on them (for good reading light) one for each chair, scattered around. Lastly a box on top of the catalogue with lots of BOOKMARKS in them. No fireplace - fire and books just do not make a good match - central heating is the way to go.

My library will be ONLY non-fiction. Mostly Bibliography, books about books (and no novels). Memoirs of booksellers, booksellers catalogues, Bibliographies, Discoveries of Old and Rare Books etc, etc. Other subjects will include Shakespeare, History, Historical Biographies,

There are only 4 rules in this library.

1 - Never pick up a book from the sidetable if it has a book mark in it. Wait till it is back on the shelf before you start reading it.

2 - All books are filed in author surname order - although the catalogue cards index will have cross-references for first names, titles and keywords about the book.

3 - ALWAYS use bookmarks when you need to. Do NOT turn down the corners.

4 - IF you damage the book, you pay the price - of whatever its currently valued at in the price guides.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Education Challenge and Consolation Part 2

I forgot to mention the newspaper article about Michael Redhill's book Consolation in the Toronto Star last week.

I also forgot to mention that I have started a new reading Challenge. The Striving for an Education Challenge is to read four (4) NON-fiction books about Education starting now and going through to Xmas day (Dec 25) this year. Books about students struggling in school, about schools being underfunded, and about people going against the system to get an education. If you would like to join the blog, please email me and I will send you an invite.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Consolation By Michael Redhill - Book review

By Michael Redhill
Anchor Canada (PB) 2007 Caribou River (HC) 2006

This novel is actually 2 stories in one. Toronto in the present (1997) and Toronto in the past (1856). As most of those who live in Toronto know - the Downtown area - south of Front Street - where the docks and the lake shore currently meet - is mostly filled land. I also happen to live in that area. Just think that 150 years ago, this land did not exist.

The present story involves the Hollis family - David Hollis, his wife Marianne and their two adult daughters - Bridget and Alison. Bridget has been engaged to John Lewis for a number of years. Alison does not feature much in this story.

David is a Forensic Archaeologist. He goes digging in dumps and digs up the ground for signs of humans and therefore the history of that area. He has always done this. Bridget remembers how she used to go on these digs with her father, when she was 3 years old.

The story starts with David Hollis committing suicide. He asked Bridget's fiance John Lewis to drive him to the docks, where he purchased a ticket, hopped on the ferry to the Toronto Island and then jumped overboard. That was chapter one.

The rest of the book was alternating chapters between Jem Hallam, a chemist (apothecary) in Toronto of 1856, and Marianne Hollis in Toronto of 1997, trying to figure out why her husband killed himself. David claimed that there was a strong box filled with photographs - lost on a ship that went down at the docks - before the land was filled in. It would be buried under what is now the Air Canada Centre. In the book it's called the Union Arena. And in 1997 is when construction on the arena/ACC began.

Jem Hallam was from England. In 1856 he left his wife and 2 daughters and moved to
Toronto to start a branch of the Hallam family apothecary business. But he found too
much competition in Toronto, and within a few months he had changed careers and become a supplier of photographic chemicals. And gotten involved with taking photographs as well.

While the early parts of the story in 1997 were rather slow to set the place and background of the novel, the later parts were better, because once Marianne had ensconced herself in the hotel room overlooking the arena construction site, she could see everything going on, and that is when the action really started. All the sections about Jem Hallam in 1856 were excellent as well.

I really enjoyed this book, although it did take me a few days to finish it. It won the 2007 Toronto Book Awards. And in February 2008 (ie - right now) it is the Toronto Public Library's choice for Toronto to read - in the Keep Toronto Reading Program. the TPL is challenging everyone in Toronto read this book for february.

I read this book for the TPL Library, Chunkster and Canadian challenges.

Michael Redhill is an American-born Canadian. His partner is a Frenchwoman and they live in Narbonne in Southern France with their 2 sons. He has 2 blogs as well.

Consolation - The Book

Narbonne - Family - Home

Saturday, February 9, 2008

The Republic by Plato - 50 Greatest Books

The Greatest Book for this week is The Republic by Plato.

Cambridge University philosopher Simon Blackburn is author of Plato's Republic: A Biography.

Another classic I haven't read. Mostly because the language is too difficult for me to read. If I cant read smoothly, then I dont remember what I read. Although I have read parts of these Plato books - Critias and Timaeus for the Atlantis stories.

Actually Herodotus reads more smoothly than Plato - but then I am interested in geography - so maybe the subject matter needs to be interesting for me to want to read. I'd be willing to bet that Herodotus's Histories shows up on this list sometime during the year.

Next week Don Quixote

Deep Storm Book Review

Deep Storm
by Lincoln Child
Doubleday January 2007 Website

I know, I know, I haven't posted for almost a whole week. And for me that is unusual. Blame it on the weather. Toronto has been hit with 2 snow storms, and I use up all my energy every time I have to go outside and walk around in the snow. And I have to go outside at least 3 times every day - twice to take my son to and from daycare, and again to buy food. Lifting legs with heavy boots on them is very tiring.

Anyway, I have finished reading several books. Deep Storm is one of them. Doctor Peter Crane is a former Navy medical doctor who worked on submarines, and thus became an expert on illnesses of submersion. He is summoned to a top-secret oil rig out in the North Atlantic (just 40 miles off the coast of Greenland). Once there, he must sign various secrecy documents, and only then is he told of what has been found at the bottom of the Atlantic. ATLANTIS. The problem is that the research staff submerged on the Ocean bed are now falling ill with various illneses - some of the symptoms are physical and others are neurological. So far noone has found any commonality.

So Peter is taken 2 miles down to the Research facility on the Ocean bed. This is where the drilling to Atlantis is done. Once he arrives there, he witnesses various people having psychotic episodes. The Facility is divide unto two sections - the Unclassified section and the Classified section. When the illnesses start spreading to the Classified section, Crane is given security clearance to cross into the classified section. While there he takes EKG readings of the personnel and discovers the THETA waves. These are causing the illnesses. At the same time, Crane discovers that the drilling for Atlantis is just a cover story. The Facility is actually drilling down to the Mantle of the Earth.

The Mohorovicic discontinuity, usually referred to as the Moho, is the boundary between the Earth's crust and the mantle. The Moho serves to separate both oceanic crust and continental crust from underlying mantle. So what will happen when the mantle is breached? You have to read this book and find out.

I enjoyed this book a lot and actually read it in just a few hours. I could not put it down. This is the best of Lincoln Child's solo novels. Child and Douglas Prestion are the authors of the popular Pendergast series as well as a number of other thrillers.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Divine Comedy by Dante - 50 Greatest Books

The Greatest Book this weekend is The Divine Comedy by Dante.

It may begin in Hell, but Dante's masterpiece is finally entirely heavenly.

I will admit I have never read this book. Mainly because the language is difficult and abstract, and I just do not do well with abstract. I am also not a fan of poetry.

But I have read a few novels that use Dante's books as part of the storyline. The Last Cato is one of them. I have another one on my TBR list but still haven't read it yet, called In the Hand of Dante.

Prequel to Anne of Green Gables

I posted a story about Anne of Green Gables a few days ago. I didn't realise that there was a book being published this week.

The new book, Before Green Gables, will focus on the young girl's hard-luck life with a string of foster families and at a Nova Scotia orphanage in the years before her momentous appearance as an 11-year-old adoptee at Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert's farm in turn-of-the-century Avonlea.

The prequel is to be written by award-winning Nova Scotia children's author Budge Wilson and released in early 2008 as part of an array of centennial tributes to Montgomery and her cultural legacy.

I saw a brief item on this book on the TV on Saturday evening. If it doesn't cost too much I will try and buy a copy.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Curious Case of the Forged Biography

I know I am not posting. Right now I am not in the mood for reading. I'm not sure why - probably a mix of the winter snows, the freezing cold winds and the fact that I am supposed to be looking for a job. Another storm is currently blowing over Toronto. My son had his first ever "snow day" - a day off from school. And I found an interesting story today.

The Curious Case of the Forged Biography by Robert Fisk.