26 June, 2008

Two Reviews

Two, because i've been quite slacky about posting lately ~ though not about writing.  Let's go then, first with:

Riotous Assembly
Tom Sharpe

It seems to me that the last time i read one of Tom Sharpe's works i was less than pleased with it; let me place it firmly on the record now, that that is not the case this time around. Not at all. This was the first Sharpe i ever read, and i clearly remember being in the library at Loretto, sitting in the window beside the newspaper stand, devouring it. It was just as funny this time around, or more so. The absurdity is so overwhelming that really i cannot even begin to describe any of the plot machinations or characters, except to say it takes place in the South Africa of the National Party, with all that implies; the actual events are, perhaps it is to be hoped, just a little too extreme even for that country at that time, but the farcical nature of the policemen who try to prevent crime by committing it, cover up death by causing it, and show respect by destroying the object of respect is a joy to read for anyone who ever has had reason to doubt the efficiency of ~ let alone the philosophical basis for ~ a police force. I hope that one day i may cause someone as much pleasure as they read something of mine as i have gained from Tom Sharpe here.

Enjoy that?  Good, then there's:

The Way it Was
Ken Walters

A collection of eleven sermons by Ken Walters, until last year Warden of the Church of St. Michael and all Angels, Aberystwyth. I have heard him preach a few times, though none of these sermons, and reading them i can hear his voice: He has a very distinctive style which comes through in each selection in the collection. Perhaps it arises from being a professor in a complicated subject ~ applied mathematics, what i think is called engineering in North America ~ which needs slowly and carefully explaining to occasionally half-witted students; he is thereby prepared to spend time explaining to a slow congregation the particular points he feels led to make. Several of the sermons i have heard, and all in this collection, are what you might call character studies, a small autobiographical snippet from, usually, a lesser known character of the New Testament; Ken has an ability to draw all the known facts of, for example Silas, together, and present them as a coherent whole, giving what might well be new insight into how and just why Silas acted as he did at certain points in his story. Well worth listening to, and worth reading, as well.

11 June, 2008

Fat, Bald, and Worthless

Fat, Bald and Worthless
Robert Easton

Light reading, for the average reader who picks up the book just on the basis of the title. Not, in other words, to be taken as a final source for research results, though an excellent place to start such hypothetical research, because it has, amongst fifty pages of end matter, ten small print pages of bibliography.

I really make no comment on the accuracy of the stories Easton gives; some of them seem a bit dubious, and in some cases he strives for a cuteness not really suited to a history book (see, for example, “John the Wizard”, who “simply lacked the magic needed to prevent his homeland from tumbling into vassalage after his death”). A second point which i shall comment upon, is the questionable names some of the subjects are given: I don’t suppose that i have read everything, nor do i imagine that i am aware of all the many and varied names given the nobles of Europe; i do think, however, that it is surprising that i haven’t ever heard of a British monarch’s primary nickname, and yet that is the case with Edward the Caresser ~ the admittedly appropriate name Easton gives Edward VII. “Tum Tum”, Bertie, “the Uncle of Europe”, Edward the Peacemaker ~ all these i have heard or read previously; but the caresser? I wonder to myself where Easton found it?  It didn't even turn up in the biography i had previously read. And, curiuosly, the very next name is another Edward, “Edward Carnarvon”, to whom i have always given a medial “of”, a minor point, to be sure, but odd.

These caveats aside, i did enjoy the book, and would certainly keep it for light reading, and a good bibliographical source.

01 June, 2008

26 Tales from the Testaments

26 Tales from the Testaments; An Alliterated Bible Passage in Every Letter of the Alphabet
Cameron M. Semmons & Marc Rader

Lovely retellings of some Bible stories in verse ~ of a sort ~ with the primary catch that almost all the words in most of the poems are alliterative, so Semmons works his way through the alphabet. Sometimes the work is, as one might expect, a bit forced, though never painful and, i should think, still good in performance; many of the stories, however, are brilliantly retold, with new insights and ideas pushed forward because of the need to avoid or emphasise certain vocabulary. I particularly enjoyed the sound effects in the story of the wise and foolish builders (letter F words) and Pentecost (P) ~ especially interesting to me in that i have always linked flowing water with the sound of F, as in my poem “The Fountains of Rome”, and now perhaps i’m not alone. This will be a good source for our Church drama group to draw from; i’m sure that we can bring a newness to an occasional reading with one of these poems. Certainly a good thing that Andrew lent me the book.