Uneasy Money

I just finished the audio book Uneasy Money by P.G. Wodehouse, whom I discovered just last year. The audio book’s packaging stated that Jonathon Cecil narrated the story, which was why I got that particular set of CDs. Actually, that was a mistake and someone else, not as talented narrated. How odd.

The story itself is entertaining. The hero, William (Bill) FitzWilliam Delamere Chalmers, Lord Dawlish, wants to marry but his fiancée won’t consider living on his measly allowance. So Bill decides to seek a fortune in the US, where he believes money is easily plucked from trees by the bushel. Just before he’s about depart, he learns that a man he happened to meet and happened to coach on how to straighten out his golf swing, has left him 5,000,000 £! Feeling guilty, that the tycoon gave his fortune to him, Bill decides  to seek out the man’s niece and nephew who’ve gotten a pittance. They’re both living outside New York.

In the meantime, Bill’s fiancée comes to America when her newly rich friend sends her a ticket to visit her. On board, the fiancée meets a millionaire and agrees to marry him.

New romances, mix ups and misunderstandings ensue all described with Wodehouse’s delicious, witty language.

While the story is entertaining, it’s not on par with the Jeeves stories. Nonetheless, I enjoyed Uneasy Money.

Quotes:

“At the age of eleven or thereabouts women acquire a poise and an ability to handle difficult situations which a man, if he is lucky, manages to achieve somewhere in the later seventies.”

“The ideal girl . . . would be kind. That was because she would also be extremely intelligent, and, being extremely intelligent, would have need of kindness to enable her to bear with a not very intelligent man like himself.”

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Agamemnon

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This month my online book club went back to the classics and read Agamemnon. I got Oliver Taplin’s translation from the book above that had the entire Oresteia trilogy. Taplin’s translation was smooth poetry that was quite easy to understand but I wanted some footnotes so I wouldn’t have to look up all the specifically Greek terms like threnody and such.

Aeschylus takes the audience and readers on a fierce journey with powerful people betraying each other, killing their daughters, and getting revenge as they story examines whether people have free will or not. It’s a swift read that still has power today. The play is stark with few extras. Whereas contemporary stories have lots of walk on parts, the Greeks had the chorus do most of the exposition, analysis and commentary on the characters. Aeschylus wisely knows that he’ll cause the audience to become involved by creating complicated characters who do terrible or foolish things and deserve punishment, but since those inflicting the punishment are even worse people, who articulate their side well, that your mind will spend days turning the story over in their minds.

I’m glad I read this powerful play because it showed me that paring down a story to its essentials and making characters bold makes a story stronger. Even though Clytemnestra gives Lady Macbeth a run for her money, the story’s so absorbing that I stayed with it.

There’s a reason people still read the ancient Greeks and Shakespeare. I liked this translation so much that I will read the other two plays.

Sweet Tooth: The Bittersweet History of Candy

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I started Kate Hopkins Sweet Tooth: The Bittersweet History of Candy with lots of enthusiasm and excitement. It was my first microhistory read. Like many, I have loved candy and I am curious about its origins and place in history.

While I did learn about how the Arabs brought sugar candy to the world, first as a form of medicine, how candy went from something only available to the rich to something children could buy with their allowances or pay and how the use of chocolate developed.

While Hopkins travels to Europe, New England and, of course, Hershey, PA, were often interesting, her writing style often was wordy and she bored me with long-winded descriptions of her memories of her childhood and overly detailed descriptions of trivial observations of her travels. I wish she did a better editing and had talked to more candy experts. Most of her research was from books, which is fine, but adding more interviews with candy makers and experts would improve this book.

The book did make me see that wherever I travel internationally, I should find a local candy shop and taste sweet local specialities.

Lennon: The New York Years

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If you have even a slight interest in the Beatles’, you’ll like graphic biography, Lennon: The New York Years. With simple black and white illustrations, Lennon: The New York Years tells the singer’s life as a series of therapy sessions which help John Lennon make sense of his life.

Though I’ve read other books on The Beatles this book added new details about his childhood, particularly his relationship to his father, and about his later life. I wasn’t aware of the assistant Yoko hired after she caught John being unfaithful. (True, John and Yoko both cheated on their spouses when they first met but still John’s infidelity hurt her.) The assistant May was to report in to Yoko daily and was a spy as well as an assistant. John knew that. There apparently was a tacit agreement that sleeping with May was okay. These arrangements did not lead to happiness or enlightenment or freedom. (I’m not surprised.)

Definitely, told from Lennon’s perspective, the book is a quick read and the illustrations enhance the story well, conveying a past era. It’s not a book I’d recommend to a young teen because of its adult experiences and their depictions, e.g. showing Lennon using heroin. But for mature readers interested in music history or for graphic novel enthusiasts, it’s a satisfying book.

It Was the War of the Trenches

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A gritty look at WWI, Jacques Tardi’s It was the War of the Trenches shows the dark side of World War I from the French side. Most of characters are jaded, egotistical schemers, who’re willing to break the rules. They’d inflict themselves with wounds to avoid fighting. They’d collude with the enemy if it meant survival. They would shoot women and children if that was the order given.

Nonetheless, I felt bad when a man would die, even though that same man would desert his comrades or cheat them one way or another. It’s an interesting angle to a historical book.

Well, it’s not exactly a historical book. In the forward Tardi says:

“This is not the history of the First World War told in comics form, but a non-chronological sequence of situations, lived by men who have been jerked around and dragged through the mud, clearly unhappy to find themselves in this place, whose only wish is to stay alive for just one more hour…”

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The drawings convey the horror and violence of the war, but I must remind myself and you to realize that this book is just one perspective on the war. It’s definitely worth reading, though I don’t think children under 15 should read it (maybe older still). But also, we should read and view other more historical books or films to really understand “The War to End All Wars.”

Audubon, On the Wings of the World

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I learned so much about the life of John James Audubon from the graphic biography, Audubon, Audubon, On The Wings Of The World [Graphic Biography]. I knew nothing about his dedicated wife, who had to put up with her husband’s long absences as he worked on his magnum opus,  The Birds of America

This book tells the story of his life from his first foray into illustration and his courtship. His wife was incredibly patient and supportive. What Audubon was trying to do, illustrate birds so that they seemed fully alive, was unheard of in his day and he experienced great frustration because people kept comparing him to Alexander Wilson, an earlier illustrator, who inspired Audubon, but whom Audubon believed was inferior.

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I was shocked at the number of birds, Audubon shot in order to illustrate all the species found in American. He’d shoot many of one species and shot thousands over all. According to the book, he did not find this at odds with his love for birds or his desire to add to their conservation and our understanding of them.

On The Wings of the World, has good illustrations, though they aren’t on par with Audubon’s own work. That would be amazing — and would probably mean a much more expensive book. I feel I’ve a fuller and deeper understanding of Audubon, who’s presented warts and all. It would make a great gift and belongs in every library.

Abraham’s Well

I just finished my friend, Sharon Ewell Foster’s Abraham’s Well: A Novel. Since I know Sharon and have enjoyed her books set in modern times, Ain’t No River and Ain’t No Valley this work of historical fiction was a departure. I can’t pretend that my review is unbiased so don’t say I didn’t warn readers.

The story reminds me of The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman as it consists of an elderly woman looking back on her life during a significant historical period. Armentia, the main character, is African American and Cherokee. She lives in the 19th (and I suppose early 20th century) experiencing tribal life, slavery, the removal of Cherokee and other native Americans during the Trail of Tears and eventually freedom. It’s the story of an imperfect character, rather than a superhero, finding strength and courage to surmount injustice and hardship. I’m a sucker for such stories.

For me historical fiction succeeds by teaching me and entertaining me and Abraham’s Well does both. Although I’ve read a little about the Trail of Tears and knew that some African American’s are part Native American, I had no knowledge of African American involvement in this chapter of American history. Sharon includes an explanation of why she decided to write about this topic and her family heritage as it relates to the themes of the novel. I found that quite interesting. I could see this making a good movie.

The book reads very fast, as Bridget points out. Bridget’s also right about the chapters on the preaching but there’s probably less church-going in this story than the others I’ve read so I had a different view of that aspect. I didn’t mind it. I realize that Sharon’s fans will be looking for Christian fiction when they decide to read this novel.