Friday, December 1, 2017

November Books

The best month of the year has arrived!! Yay! 🎄⛄☃☆

Of course, every month is reading month and here is the first part of my November book list. I've started making an effort to mix in more of our own books along with library books. We have a bunch of books we plan to keep but lots and lots of them come into the house on a temporary basis. This is a nation of readers and there are books everywhere. The wee free library is often stuffed full. The charity shops are usually drowning in books and sell them at 4 or 5 for a euro. It's really easy to come home with a pile. A few of these are keepers, but most we bring home with the intention of reading them and then re-donating them. Then we end up requesting things from the library and reading them first and the piles keep growing. So at the beginning of November I set a goal for myself. In addition to any library books that came in,  I would try to read 7 of my own books before placing them in the wee free library. I am happy to say that I actually placed 8 in there--one because I started it and didn't care for it, so off it went. There will probably be fewer leaving the house this month, because suddenly almost all the books on my library request list are in transit. Anyway, on to the books!

The Law’s Delay by Sara Woods
I picked this book up in a charity shop, having read a different book in the series last year. I looked up the author after I read this one and discovered that she wrote 49 books in the Antony Maitland series! Wow. I enjoyed the couple of books I read, but I must admit that I find them odd in a way I cannot quite put my finger on. This one went to the wee free library when I was done with it.

Gutenberg’s Apprentice by Alix Christie
This was another lucky charity shop find. The author says in the historical note at the end that this is a 'work of fiction based on fact.’ She did extensive research into the Gutenberg bible, Mainz, the church, and the larger historical context.  She says that nearly all the people in the book were actual people, but that not much is known about them. This is not surprising--many people who worked as labourers are absent in the historical record. The book begins in 1485 with Peter Schoeffer telling his story to an interested monk (Trithemius was an actual monk who wrote two volumes chronicling Schoeffer’s story).The story then moves back and forth in time. The recollections move from 1450 to 1465, with occasional returns to the conversation between Peter and Trithemius. Peter begins his story in 1450, when he was a young talented scribe, working in Paris. He is dismayed when his foster father, Fust, recalls him to Mainz. When he gets there, he is brought to the workshop of an obsessed man named Gutenberg, who has developed a new method of printing.  Peter is to be apprenticed to this man, in part because Fust has invested heavily in the project and wants someone on the inside and partly because he sees that the days of the scribe are numbered. Peter, who is very proud of his skill, craftsmanship, and abilities, resists strongly, but eventually comes to see the craft involved in this new invention as well and he also becomes obsessed. The story goes on from there as they try to make the invention pay as a business venture while dealing with the local guilds and trying to keep things secret from the church. I had never heard of Fust or Schoeffer and had no idea that they played just as big a part as Gutenberg--in Peter’s case, possibly a bigger role--in the development of printing. A couple of other things came to mind while I was reading. One was to be reminded how books have always been considered subversive and potentially dangerous. They had to keep the whole operation as secret as they could and when people did find out, many considered it blasphemy. I was also thinking about how some things play out in similar ways in 2017 as they did in 1450. Peter is angry about and resistant to the idea that this mechanical process will put scribes out of business and render their skills obsolete. We see the same things today as people are displaced from previously well-paid professions by automation or by new and cheaper alternatives. While I was reading this book, I happened to come across an article about coal workers in a part of Pennsylvania in the US. They were eligible for retraining classes, but it was hard to get people enrolled. They are clinging to the idea that coal will come back and they will have their old jobs back again. A gas company wants to begin operating in the area and needs properly trained workers, but cannot get them. The former coal workers say it doesn’t pay enough. I am not saying the gas company (I assume they will engage in fracking) is a good idea. But I do see a parallel with what happened back in 1450 and throughout history. There used to be a lot of blacksmiths and scribes around, too, just as there used to be more coal workers. Then technology changed and some jobs were no longer needed in the same way. People are continually forced to adapt. Change is difficult and often extremely painful, but it is a part of life. In the case of the printing press, Peter Schoeffer, resistant and hostile at first, saw how his skills could be utilised to improve this new technology. He and his foster father, Fust, ended up creating the world’s first major printer, which Peter turned into a dynasty after Fust’s death. He adapted because he could see that he had to. Anyway, great read! This is another one for the wee free library.

One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson
Hard to describe this book. On the cover, it said it was ‘a jolly murder mystery.’ It was certainly complicated, with lots of different strands twisting together. The whole thing is not completely explained until the very last sentence of the book (and it was quite an unexpected sentence!)  It was a page-turner right up until the end and at no point was I bored or inclined to skip ahead. That’s a tribute to the the author’s skill, I think. Everything begins outside the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where a crowd of people is waiting for an event to begin. A guy walks in front of a car driven by someone we know is using an assumed name and who is in a shady line of work. The guy in the car slams on the brakes, the guy in the street makes a rude gesture, and the car behind slams into Mr Shady. The driver of that car gets out, punches Mr Shady, gets a baseball bat and is ready to bring it down, when a briefcase flies out of the crowd and hits him on the shoulder, which causes him to drop the bat.  The police have been called and sirens can be heard in the distance, so Mr Baseball Bat takes off and Mr Shady is brought to the hospital. Some of the characters are connected in that moment and other connections take a while to unfold. The book is like a collection of novels twisting in and out of each other--like the Russian nesting dolls that keep coming up--and culminating in that final sentence. One chapter brings one person’s story along and the next moves to another person. This was the first book by Kate Atkinson that I have read, although I’ve heard a lot about a couple of her more recent books on various podcasts over the past few years. She is definitely someone whose work I will read more of--great book! I’d picked it up at a charity shop and it went to the wee free library when I was done with it.

I'll post the next segment of the list tomorrow. In the meantime, happy December!

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