Category Archives: Book Reviews
I remember long ago my grandmother (now dead) once challenged me to keep a record of all the books I have read. I’m an avid reader and I have a few books that I’ve recorded this. Nowadays I get really irritated with my diaries, because they take up too much space. So I figured I might just as well put them on my blog. The “Books I’ve Read” category will depict mostly the back covers or excerpts from the books and a personal rating I’ve given the all over reading experience.
Hercule Poirot is dreading a visit to the dentist… While there, he encounters a bunch of people. Later, he is informed that the dentist has been murdered.
Using the nursery rhyme “One, two, buckle my shoe” the detective must solve this mystery.
What I liked about the story: Just like with Crooked House, Agatha Christie takes a rhyme and bases a story on it. Each line from the poem brings us closer to the answer.
Buckle my shoe;
Knock at the door;
Pick up sticks;
Lay them straight:
A big fat hen;
Dig and delve;
Maids in the kitchen;
My plate’s empty
I also liked the fact that Hercule Poirot also hates going to the dentist. I can relate to that.
First published: 1941
Imagine you are madly in love with a woman called Sophia, but the only way you can be together is to solve the mystery of how her grandfather died. The whole family lives in a mansion and each one has a certain trait of ruthlessness. Everyone is a suspect.
It seems Christie likes to take nursery rhymes to base her stories on. This time she takes the rhyme about the crooked man who lives in a crooked house.
First published: 1949
Hercule Poirot is on holiday. The peace is disturbed when a woman is murdered and he must help solve the mystery. This woman has a reputation for being a harlot and it is confirmed that her killer was a man. But it’s not that easy, because both the husband and lover have a tight alibi. Who did it?
First published: 1941
Ten people are lured to a remote island on false pretenses. There they find a rhyme of ten Indian boys and 10 ceramic figurines on the table. One by one someone dies according to the rhyme. The question is: who is the killer?
Ten little Indian boys went out to dine;
One choked his little self and then there were Nine.
Nine little Indian boys sat up very late;
One overslept himself and then there were Eight.
Eight little Indian boys traveling in Devon;
One said he’d stay there and then there were Seven.
Seven little Indian boys chopping up sticks;
One chopped himself in halves and then there were Six.
Six little Indian boys playing with a hive;
A bumblebee stung one and then there were Five.
Five little Indian boys going in for law;
One got into Chancery and then there were Four.
Four little Indian boys going out to sea;
A red herring swallowed one and then there were Three.
Three little Indian boys walking in the Zoo;
A big bear hugged one and then there were Two.
Two little Indian boys were out in the sun;
One got all frizzled up and then there was one.
One little Indian boy left all alone;
He went out and hanged himself and then there were none.
The only thing I didn’t like was the ending. I felt cheated. Christie didn’t have to spell out who the killer was. She could have just ended it with that question.
First published: 1939
Interesting fact: The original title was Ten Little Niggers based on a blackface minstrel show.
No longer whispering to power by Thandeka Gqubule
Thuli Madonsela achieved in seven years as Public Protector what few accomplish in a lifetime; her legacy and contribution cannot be overstated. In her final days in office she compiled the explosive State of Capture report and, two years before that, Secure in Comfort, the report on (then) President Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla residence. Praised and vilified in equal measure, Madonsela frequently found herself on centre stage in the increasingly fractious South African political scene.
Yet despite the intense media scrutiny, Madonsela remains something of an enigma. Who is the soft-spoken woman who stood up to state corruption? Where did she develop her views and resolve? Thandeka Gqubule, journalist and one of the SABC 8 fired and rehired by the broadcaster, attempts to answer these questions, and others, by exploring aspects of Madonsela’s life: her childhood years and family, her involvement in student politics, her time in prison, her contribution to the Constitution, and her life in law.
Madonsela once described her role as Public Protector as being akin to that of the traditional Venda spiritual female leader, the Makhadzi, who whispers truth to the ruler. When the sounds of the exchanges between the ruler and the Makhadzi grow loud, Madonsela said, that is when the whispering has failed.
First published: 2017
While I read the story of Madonsela something kept bothering me. Perhaps it was the author’s choice of words. One thing I hate about the news is that they (politicians and journalists) always use particular words over and over again: not because it’s particularly necessary but maybe because politicians think that’s what their followers want to hear. Words like “community”, “issues”, “institutions”, etc. I could just gag from all the political speak.
Another thing that bothered me as that the author is too subjective. I can’t recall that she ever gave a full character sketch of Madonsela: it’s always positive, the descriptions felt excessively sweet. Yes, she is a hero, but no one is perfect. I wouldn’t have minded to read about some of her flaws.
This story didn’t really help me with my research. I assumed that because the story is called The Trial it would at least explain what happens during a trial.
The story did remind me a lot of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Just like the two characters waiting on a mysterious entity called Godot who never turns up, in The Trial we learn that “K.” is being arrested for a crime but we never learn what that is. The whole story revolves around the idea of going to trial, but that never happens. There is a lot of talk, but not a lot of action.
I especially liked the part where “K.” informs his lawyer that he will no longer be using his services and everyone else reacts like he is crazy.
First published: The Trial was published after Kafka’s death, in 1925 and against his dying wishes. He wanted The Trial and his other written works destroyed. His friend Max Brod decided not to.
Interesting fact: The Trial was never finished.
In between trying to figure out my story this month, I also read and tried to understand Stephen Hawking’s book.
So, did I understand it? No, not really.
But I did learn some things. I learnt about space-time (4D space/events) and that black holes are formed when a star starts to shrink and the gravitational forces are so strong that not even light can escape it.
I always thought a black hole is this weird phenomena you usually find in cartoons where the cartoon can walk into another time dimension.
Now it turns out if you ever find yourself in space and come across a black hole (which you’ll probably only realize when it’s too late) you’re that joke in the Big Bang Theory where Sheldon says he’s screwed.
“A brief History of Time” is briefly about how scientists or theoretical psysicists (i.e. Stephen Hawking and Sheldon from the TV series) try to contemplate the universe through science and maths.
Just like how Sheldon tries to explain to Penny what Leonard does, Hawking starts at the very beginning (the Greeks and Aristotle) and works his way up to where they were when he wrote the book.
It’s very interesting to see how man’s thought processes developed through time and the different theories each one came up with.
Also, if it weren’t for Hawking’s brilliant examples, I wouldn’t even have understood this much (see above). And the joke on page 1 is hilarious.
Back cover: Was there a beginning of time? Could time run backwards? Is the universe infinite or does it have boundaries? These are just some of the questions considered in an internationally acclaimed masterpiece [their words, not mine] which begins by reviewing the great theories of the cosmos from Newton to Einstein, before delving into the secrets which still lie at the heart of space and time.
First published: 1988
Rating: 3/5 (Mostly because I didn’t really understand what I was reading).
In an unrelated note, the thing which I found most surprising was this:
“In October 1981, I went to Moscow for a conference on quantum gravity… In the audience was a young Russian, Andrei Linde, from the Lebedev Institute in Moscow…” He came up with the idea of “the new inflationery model “A better model, called the chaotic inflationery model, was put forward by Linde in 1983.”
Now, for you it might seem like useless information, I mean who cares who this Linde guy is, but as a person who shares the same surname I find it fascinating that he knew Stephen Hawking and that Hawking actually mentions him in his book.
I would love to know his family history, because as far as I know is that our forefather Hans Jurgen Linder came to South Africa about 1753 and it was through the Dutch East Indian company (VOC) that our surname was changed to Linde without the letter ‘r’.
From what I gathered the inflationery model is a theory on how to explain how and why the universe is expanding.
More than a year ago I’ve started the tradition of lending books to read to our security guard at work. His name is John and he loves to read – mostly about religion and education. He has even started a library back at home in Zimbabwe. We’ve collected books to give to him and he sends them along.
This is the first book he’s lending me to read.
There is no back cover on this book, so I’m going to have to rely on my memory. This book revolves around the main character called Martin Rattler. It kind of reminds me of Tom Sawyer – a very naughty youth who ends up going on an adventure and grows up along the way.
Most of it takes place in Brazil where we learn about the natives and the different animals in the forest.
I think what appealed to John about this book is that it is both about religion and education.
First published: 1858
Note: I read David Wright’s modern prose rendering of The Canterbury Tales.
I’m confused. I read the book, but still can’t say what the actual plot is. Yes, it’s a bunch of people each telling a tale, but to what end?
Turns out each character was supposed to tell four stories each, but Chaucer only wrote 24 stories and some of those aren’t even complete.
Chaucer’s masterpiece is one of the most astonishing productions of the Middle Ages. Completely original in concept and method, its range and variety have never been surpassed within the confines of a single work. Believing that much has been lost (and not only the poetry) in the many verse translations that have been attempted, David Wright has produced this brilliant rendering of The Canterbury Tales in contemporary English prose in order that the general reader and the student may gain a more immediate awareness of their freshness and of the skill, humour, irony and pathos of Chaucer’s narrative art.
What I liked:
There is in fact a wide variety of stories, but only one tale that still lingers with me. It’s the story told by the “Sergeant-in-law”. It’s a tale of a woman, taken away from her homeland and almost lost everything.
Even though some of the stories are very vulgar and women are portrayed as two-timing hussies, there is also truth in these pages:
“The Lord on high chose to live a life of voluntary poverty… Poverty is honourable when it’s cheerfully accepted… He who covets is a poor man, because he wants what he cannot get; but he who has nothing and covets nothing is rich… Though it may seem hard to bear, poverty is a kind of riches, one which no one will try to take away from you.” (p.189, The wife of Bath’s tale)
“Eternal God, that through Thy providence guidest the world with such control, it is said that Thou hast made nothing in vain. But, Lord, these fiendish, black, forbidding rocks that seem rather the work of a foul chaos than any fair creation of a God so perfect, wise and unchangeable – why hast Thou made so irrational a creation? For neither man nor bird nor beast is benefited by them in any quarter of the world; they do no good that I know of, nothing but harm…” (p.268, The Franklin’s tale).
“The guilty suppose themselves the subject of every conversation.” (p.293, The Canon’s Yeoman’s Prologue).
The host’s reaction to Chaucer’s tale; and
The Franklin talking about one of the characters in his story: “I shall leave the unhappy creature lying there in this desperate torment and distress of mind; he can live or die as he chooses, for all I care” (p.271)
First published: 1476. This book/rendition was published in 1965.
I enjoyed The Odyssey more than The Iliad. Perhaps it’s because I didn’t know what was going to happen and perhaps also because there aren’t as many fighting and death scenes in this book.
I was a little disappointed in the ending though. It felt rushed. One moment they’re fighting and the next they’re making peace… The End! Huh?
Anyway, so the book is based on the character Odysseus, one of the brave warriors who went to fight the Trojan war in The Iliad. It tells of his journey of the aftermath when he tried to return home, but was prevented by several characters.
First published: This book was published in 1946 but was written in the 8th century BC.
I couldn’t believe my luck when I found the translations of Homer’s “The Iliad”and “The Odyssey” at a bargain price at our church bazaar. The saleslady was very disappointed that she didn’t laid hands on it first. Score!
If you’ve ever seen the movie Troy, it was based on the book “The Iliad”. You know that classic line of the movie: “Helen of Troy, the face who launched a 1000 ships”? Well, it starts where Helen’s husband, Menelaus, and the Achaeans reach Troy and prepare themselves for a fight. Helen ran away with one of King Priam’s sons, Paris. These two are the real reason “The Iliad” is called a tragedy, because if someone just took some responsibility and reprimanded Paris, none of the destruction and death would have happened. Then again, there wouldn’t be much of a story.
We also meet Achilles, the famed fighter who the Trojans all fear. In “The Iliad” Achilles is in disagreement with the Achaeans’ King, Agamemnon. Achilles refuses to help the Achaeans and a lot of bloodshed follows.
Odysseus, the main character of “The Odyssey”, also features.
Two things that really annoyed me:
Most of “The Iliad” involves the fighting which can become very tedious. See, with everyone being killed, Homer has to tell us their name and history. It’s never ending. If that isn’t bad enough each side has this long speech before they start fighting each other. It makes the story somewhat unbelievable: how can you in all that chaos and noise not die of a stray spear?
Secondly, why does Paris feel no remorse when his brother is killed because of his actions? It’s like his character disappeared, we don’t hear or see his reaction to the tragic news.
First published: This book was published in 1950 but Homer wrote the two epic poems during the 8th or 7th century BC.
- According to Homer, the Lesbians are from the country Lesbos.
- What is an Iliad? The city of Troy was also known as Ilios or Ilium thus “Iliad” is the epic poem or song of Ilium.