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review 2018-06-20 16:41
The Nice and the Good
The Nice and the Good (Vintage Classics) - Iris Murdoch,Catherine Bates

This might officially be my last Iris Murdoch novel. 

 

As with Fitzgerald's short stories, there was a time when I loved Murdoch's novels but the last couple of times I've read her books, I didn't enjoy them much at all ... Granted, the messed up relationship games in A Severed Head did nothing to endear the book to me, but even this one here (The Nice and the Good) is struggling to spark any enthusiasm in me. And I'd be happy to skip much of the relationship-babble and stick to finding out why the Whitehall official shot himself (or did he?).

The trouble is, by focusing on the mystery part, I'm going to miss Murdoch's point, which, inevitably, is not going to be about solving the puzzle. 

 

Saying that, will this story about a set of well-off members of a rather homogeneous section of society that is really similar to the sets of characters in Murdoch's other books really reveal any new aspects of Murdoch's writing? Unlikely.  

 

I've dithered for the last 30 pages whether to finish this one or move on to something I am likely to enjoy more, and I don't believe this book will ultimately hold the same magic for me as the novels that introduced Murdoch to me initially.

 

DNF @ 135 out of 350 pages.

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review 2018-06-18 15:17
The Love Boat and Other Stories
The Love Boat and Other Stories - F. Scott Fitzgerald

We all have that exasperated moment!

There are times when you almost tell the harmless old lady next door  what you really think of her face - that it ought to be on a night nurse in a house for the blind; when you'd like to ask the man you've been waiting ten minutes for if he isn't all overheated from racing the postman down the block; when you nearly say to the waiter that if they deducted a cent from the bill for every degree the soup was below tepid the hotel would owe you half a dollar; when - and this is the infallible earmark of true exasperation - a smile affects you as an oil baron's undershirt affects a cow's husband.

(from The Smilers)

I may have to face it - I may have grown out of that phase when Fitzgerald's short stories were delightful, quaint, diversions. I still count some of them as my favourites, but more often than not reading his stories has become somewhat repetitive - telling fairly superficial stories about fairly superficial people, most of whom seem to be Princeton men, or Harvard men, or Yale men, or someone closely connected with them. Like the characters in Wodehouse's stories, they never develop, never amount to anything more real than a cliche.  

 

Unfortunately, many of Fitzgerald's short stories seem to feature them. Even more unfortunate was it that most of the stories in this particular collection featured them. 

 

Still, there are the odd gems. In this collection, The Smilers stood out for me. I liked it just as much as The Ice Palace, Bernice Bob's her Hair, The Camel's Back, or May Day, but sadly it was the first story in the collection and the rest of the stories did quite manage to live up to the quality of that first story.

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review 2018-06-10 13:06
The Silk Roads: A New History of the World
The Silk Roads: A New History of the World - Peter Frankopan

This book. It's been such a disappointment: Not only is the title an exercise in how to cram several misrepresentations in less than ten words, but the writing style left me rather unimpressed, too. 

 

There is little that is new about the history contained in the book. It certainly is not a history of the world (Europe, perhaps, but the focus on the power struggles between Christianity and Islam, and later on the West v. the East, and the US against Iraq/Iran/Afghanistan does not make this a book about the history of world). It is even less a book about the Silk Roads.

 

If you picked this up in the hope of learning about the trade routes and the people who live or travel along them, you've picked the wrong book. 

 

Sure there were a few interesting snippets of history in this, but the authors choice of not going into a lot of detail and preferring to follow up events with other events without providing a lot of deliberations about the possible connections or effects, does not make for inspiring reading. Unless, that is, we are talking about the inspiration to look for other books.

 

Maybe the premise of the book was a little too ambitious? Maybe some editor should have pointed out some of the gaps ... or at least that the title does not reflect the content of the book?

 

Whatever the cause of its failings, I was hoping for a thoughtful insight into the history of the Silk Roads, but all I got from the books was what read like the work of a self-congratulatory academic who couldn't make up his mind what to write about and looked at history mostly through Union-Jack-striped goggles.

 

Previous Reading Updates:

 

Reading progress update: I've read 201 out of 636 pages.

Reading progress update: I've read 159 out of 636 pages.

Reading progress update: I've read 136 out of 636 pages.

Reading progress update: I've read 90 out of 636 pages.

Reading progress update: I've read 62 out of 636 pages.

Reading progress update: I've read 26 out of 636 pages.

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text 2018-06-09 21:24
Reading progress update: I've read 201 out of 636 pages.
The Silk Roads: A New History of the World - Peter Frankopan

"Merchants could be found crossing the South China Sea in ever greater numbers, establishing trading posts in Sumatra, on the Malay peninsula and above all on the Malabar coast of southern India, home to the world's great supply of pepper - long established as a favoured commodity in China as well as in Europe and elsewhere in Asia. By the middle of the fourteenth century, so many ships were sailing to towns like Calicut that some observers commented that all maritime transport and travel in this part of the Indian subcontinent was being undertaken in Chinese boats. An example of their typical flat-bottomed design has been recently identified wrecked off the coast of Kerala.

The lubricant in this long-distance trade was silver, which took on the form of a single currency across Eurasia. One reason for this was the innovation of financial credit in China that had been introduced before Genghis Khan's time, including the introduction of bills of exchange and the use of paper money. Adopted and improved by the Mongols, the effect was the liberation of enormous amounts of silver into the monetary system as new forms of credit caught on. The availability of the precious metal suddenly soared - causing a major correction in its value against gold. In parts of Europe, the value of silver plunged, losing more than half its value between 1250 and 1338. In London alone, the surge in silver supply allowed the royal mint to more than quadruple output between 1278 and 1279 alone.

Production rose sharply in Asia too. In the steppes, too, coin production took off as rulers of the Golden Horde began to strike coins in large quantities. New regions were stimulated too. Japan, which had relied heavily on barter or on payments in products such as rice as an exchange mechanism, shifted to a monetary economy and became increasingly active in long-distance trade."

 

And this is all that Frankopan has to say about the revolutionary introduction of a monetary system. Seriously, those three paragraphs are all there is.

 

He spends the next five or so pages on the effects of the Black Death on Europe. While I agree that this was a huge event changing everything, the effects of the plague in Europe are not what I look for in a book supposedly about the Silk Roads.

 

But who am I kidding...this book is all over the place.

 

Btw, guess what the next chapter is about?

 

Yup, Columbus and the exploration of the Americas.

 

This is where I am going to abandon ship. I'll skim/skip-read to end but that is it.

 

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text 2018-06-09 19:31
Reading progress update: I've read 159 out of 636 pages.
The Silk Roads: A New History of the World - Peter Frankopan

The Crusades. Blah, blah, blah...

 

Why is this even in here? 

Oh, I see, that's right, the author previously wrote a book about the Crusades.

 

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