So, I'm going to post reviews of the last 5 books I've read - as I read another one I'll take the last one of the list.
All the reviews are also posted on Amazon UK - you may care to visit the links if you think the book sounds interesting. All reviews are put up under the the name "SCM - Victoria, Australia". You can find all 227 reviews here.
A Kestrel for a Knave - Barry Hines - 5/5
This is a really very good book about a boy and a kestrel.
Yes, it’s bleak rather than uplifting.
Yes, the image of school with its bully-boy pupils and (largely) complicit staff may be a little too close to real memory to be enjoyable.
And yes, most of the characters in the book are at best flawed and often unlikeable.
However, the composite of these elements gives a real feeling of truth to this book – and while it may play the “it’s rough up north” card strongly, it does not over do this. In fact, it may be possible to argue that the presence of farm land just outside of most of the pages of the book runs counter to the smoky hell cliché of northern England.
Under most circumstances I don’t take well too phonetic spelling of accents, but in this case it did not jar as much as in some cases.
The book lacks the happy ending, much beloved of other tales of growth and redemption. The boy flies for a while, but just like his bird, this flight does not last forever.
Very highly recommended.
Sightlines - Kathleen Jamie 5/5
This is a really rather remarkable book. Normally I would recommend a book on the basis of the majority of its pages. But this one is different.
Even if the rest of the book were poor – which it most certainly is not – it would be worth reading Sightlines just for the observation about sheep in a winter landscape. Clearly, I’m not going to tell you what that line is – but it made me stop, put the book down and wonder just how acute your observations would have to be to come up with a line like it.
The rest of the book is excellent and just as in Findings, some of the best sections are based indoors rather than outside. Time spent in a pathology lab, and a museum (maybe mortuary?) for whales produced wonderful essays.
The prose in the book is neither flamboyant nor self-consciously clever, but it is wonderfully well constructed – there is barely a word out of place, and each one seems to add to the sense of place that this book is about.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough – and you may be pleased to know that the line about the sheep come early in the book!
Fresh Woods Pastures New - Ian Niall 4/5
This volume is a combination of two books published in the early 1950’s. They recount the meandering adventures of the author through fell, moor and wood in search of game – and possibly understanding.
There are at least two aspects of these books that make them stand out from other similar “country childhood” books. The first is the voice of the author and the second is the structure of the books.
In terms of voice, the author often addresses the reader directly – “Let me take you to the far pasture”. I found this a little distracting at first as these sentences seemed take me by surprise – they often bobbed up when I was least expecting them.
And this element of surprise may have been caused by the second aspect of the books – their structure. There are no chapters in either of the books– the prose just rolls on and on.
As you may be able to tell this is where I get to the “however” part of the review.
The chapterless structure seemed to encourage a rather rambling approach – with places that we had visited before coming back to the fore again and again. While this may be a realistic way to portray childhood wanderings, with favorite places revisited time and time again, it does lead to a sort of “I’ve been here before” feeling in parts of the book.
The thing that rescues this book is the quality of the writing and the depth of the observation.
Did I find going back to the same places a few time a bit annoying? – yes.
Did this detract from my overall enjoyment of the book? – a little.
But would I still recommend the book? – yes I would.
Read, enjoy and take chapter breaks whenever the urge takes you!
Australasian Nature Photography - South Australian Museum - 4 /5
The tenth collection of images from the broader Australian region maintains the high standard of the previous collections.
Like most collections of award wining images there are ones that take your breath away, and others that leave your wondering, “How long did it take to get that image”?
But there are also a few images that leave you thinking, “I could have taken that as well”. I’m not sure this is really a criticism, as it seems to offer at least some faint ray of hope for us neophyte nature photographers.
The Overall Winner is a remarkable image of two birds – but maybe is a sign of the times my “Photoshop Antenna” were twitching as I looked at it. I am almost certainly wrong about this, but the picture does have a strange “other world” kind of luck.
As I am based in Australia I think I may be a bit biased toward seeing images of places and animals that are at least theoretically available to my camera and me but I think the pictures would have a wide appeal.
Street photography is clearly not easy. The shifting composition of the street, the difficulty of getting close enough (but maybe not too close), and the modern suspicion of photography in public places all combine to make it a challenge.
This rather good book looks at the work of a number of street photographers, who all meet these, and other challenges, in a variety of ways to produce a body of varied and interesting work.
There are a number of longer chapter that explore the “philosophy” of street photography, as well as shorter accounts of the specific works of each photographer. So far so good.
Many of the pictures are really interesting – full of great composition, found humor and visual puns. And even on repeat viewing (and reading) I found things I had not noticed before. Still so good so far.
But I can help wonder about some of the images here. Some of the pictures seem to be about the power of the photographer to show people in as ugly a light as possible; the awkward looks on peoples faces, the distortion caused by short focal length lenses, the broken clothes. Here the power rests with the photographer who seems to be saying –“look at these” and of course, “don’t look at me, because I am not like that”.
I am not suggesting that street photography should be all about cute dogs and bunches of flowers, but the ethic of ugliness seems to go unchallenged.
This is an interesting book that I would recommend – but I think some sections would benefit from a more critical eye.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer - Mark Twain - 5 /5
This is a really wonderful read. The fact that I need to say that is based on my experiences of other classics, which I have often found disappointing! Nothing could be further from the case here.
Although the settings – and some of the behaviors – in this book are dated, it is the understanding of the minds of the young characters that makes the book so readable.
The ‘psychology’ aspect of the book has not really dated at all - the need to impress and be wanted and the “you’ll be sorry when I’m gone” thoughts leading up to a runaway are all wonderfully explored.
This is not a long book, but it is a good one.