Friday, 29 June 2012

Notes from Eve Abbey ~ July 2012

I enjoyed reading Double Entry: How the Merchants of Venice Shaped the Modern World - and How their Invention Could Make or Break the Planet by Jane Gleeson-White ($24.99 Pb 294pp incl index). Guess who features in the first part? None other than my favourite The Merchant of Prato: Francesco di Marco Datini: Daily Life in a Medieval Italian City by Iris Origo ($28 Pb 400pp), who appears under his proper name of Datini. I remember those rules of bookkeeping (‘debit what comes in, credit what goes out’) and can see the good sense. Did you know that the printing of mathematics was delayed for some years after Gutenberg because they hadn’t worked out how to handle the numbers? Environmentalists will approve of the final proposition.

Even more fun was had when I read John Irving’s latest In One Person ($32.95 Pb 425pp). Irving is the comic genius who wrote The World According to Garp ($19.95 Pb 608pp) way back there in 1980. This is his thirteenth book, but he is always remembered for Garp. In his latest book, he offers a cavalcade of eccentric characters - in Vermont, naturally - most of whom are, in some way, sexually ambivalent. High school drama classes and Community Players give space for some interesting literary discussions. Never a dull moment, although I thought the final scene was not a success. Not an easy book to recommend - because some may be offended - but grasp it with both hands with your tolerance to the fore.

His other novels include Until I Find You ($22.95 Pb), Last Night in Twisted River ($19.95 Pb 672pp) and The Cider House Rules ($19.95 Pb). He usually writes in the first person, so the situations ring very true, very involving and, as you can see by the number of pages, good value! And there is usually some wrestling as well.

Now here’s an unusual and fascinating book – who will it appeal to? Historical Fiction readers or Egyptology buffs? It is Egyptian Fakes: Masterpieces that Duped the Art World and the Experts Who Uncovered Them by Jeana-Jacques Fiechter ($65 Hb 251pp incl index). I don’t really think it will be a useful aid to a would-be faker in Balmain. The big trick is to find a willing buyer! I see the author also writes history and detective fiction. Quite exciting. Lots of illustrations. I think archaeologists would also be interested.

A good way to get some local colour is to read detective stories from other places, authors such as Donna Leon for Italy, or Peter Corris for Australia. I’ve just discovered an interesting writer from Malaysia. Her name is Shamini Flint and she is an author of crime books and young adult stories. She is also a lawyer and environmental activist. Her first book is Inspector Singh Investigates: A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder. You can guess the issues here, such as logging in protected forests and corrupt officials. Her detective is not especially attractive, being fat and untidy, but he has his heart in the right place. The titles in the series, all $19.99 and all beginning with “Inspector Singh Investigates”, are A Bali Conspiracy Most Foul (#2), The Singapore School of Villainy (#3), A Deadly Cambodian Crime Spree (#4) and A Curious Indian Cadaver (#5).

If you’re just beginning to be interested in Medieval History, I recommend Matilda: Queen of the Conqueror by Tracy Borman ($59.95 Hb 297pp incl index). There is very little archival material from this time (the conqueror being William the Conqueror, hero of 1066), so the story of Matilda serves as a background to the times, with many extracts from Anglo Saxon Chronicles and other slightly later writings. Matilda was the first crowned Queen of England and it is claimed all later Queens of England descended from her, right up to the present day. She makes a good role model - pious, independent and diplomatic. A good starting point would be The Cambridge Companion to Medieval English Culture edited by Andrew Galloway ($38.95 Pb 321pp incl index). This nicely produced volume is full of information presented in a very readable way.

Don’t forget to show your Abbey’s Card at the till to get 10% discount on the spot. Valid in Abbey’s, Language Book Centre and Galaxy. If you don’t already have one, just ask. It’s free.

Keep well, Eve.

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