Flashback Friday : 2001 A Space Odyssey

Flashback Friday is a meme hosted by Bookshelf fantasies  focusing on showing some love for the older books in our lives and on our shelves.  wpid-9781857236644.jpg This is another wonderful book that I read as a teen. It is the first science fiction book that I ever read and it opened up a whole new world of thought and ideas that I hadn’t known existed. Arthur C Clarke immediately became one of my favourite writers and he still is.

This book was written in 1964 (four years before the first moon  landing). It was conceived as a movie before it was thought of as a book. Stanley Kubrick apparently approached  Arthur C Clarke and told him that he wanted to make “the proverbial good science fiction movie” and that was how 2001 came to be.

It is based on a short story that Clarke had written a few years earlier called The Sentinel and the book and the movie were created almost in tandem. But there are a few small differences between the two and the three sequels follow the movie and not the book.

The story begins when an ancient artefact is found under the surface of the moon. The moment it is brought into the sunlight, it lets out a loud radio signal aimed directly at Saturn and then it becomes completely unresponsive. The scientists on the moon believe that there must be something on Saturn, a device or a machine that the radio signal was intended for.

And so they set up a manned mission to Saturn. Things are very peaceful in the beginning, but soon they start to go wrong. HAL, the on board computer, goes rogue and kills all the crew members except one…the captain, David Bowman.

He shuts off the computer and takes manual control of the ship and he is all alone when he comes face to face with another artefact…a gigantic monolith which is the shape as the one on the moon, only many, many times bigger…he enters the monolith and finds a universe that he could never have imagined…

It is a gripping tale and it is told very, very well…

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Flashback Friday : All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot

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Flashback Friday is a meme hosted by Bookshelf fantasies  focusing on showing some love for the older books in our lives and on our shelves. 

My book for this week is one of my favourite books of all time and I suspect, a lot of other people’s as well.

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This is another book that I first read as a teenager and it is one of those rare books that I fell in love with almost instantly. This is the first of James Herriot’s books and it is the best.

This is a memoir of a country vet, James Alfred Wight. James Herriot is his pen name. This book begins in the 1937 when Herriot went from Glasgow to Yorkshire looking for a job and it chronicles all his adventures and experiences as a country vet, tending cows and horses, sheep, pigs and dogs.

It talks of all the interesting, funny, crazy, wonderful people he encountered and all the joys and quirks of a country life.There have been other books like this, I’m sure, but this book and this writer are both exceptional.

Herriot writes with a lot of warmth and there is a certain joy in his writing that is hard to find. His writing is funny and engaging, it is gripping, it charms you, it touches you, it makes you laugh and it makes you cry.

When this book first came out, the publishers dubbed it “a miracle” and a lot of the reviewers agreed. The review in the Chicago Tribune said,

“...a book that offers something for everyone…gusto, humour, pathos, information, romance, insight, style. It is vicarious living with one of the happiest and most admirable of people…Many more famous authors could work for a lifetime and not achieve more flawless literary control than this unknown country vet has in his first book…

But if living well is even mote difficult than writing well, his character and his temperament are more miraculous than his style…The whole book, in both it’s funniest and most tragic episodes, expresses a joyous and affectionate acceptance of life, animal and human.”

Flashback Friday : Island by Aldous Huxley

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Flashback Friday is a meme hosted by Bookshelf fantasies  focusing on showing some love for the older books in our lives and on our shelves. 

My pick for this week is Aldous Huxley’s Island. The synopsis goes somewhat like this:

In Island, his last novel, Huxley transports us to a Pacific island where, for 120 years, an ideal society has flourished. Inevitably, this island of bliss attracts the envy and enmity of the surrounding world.

A conspiracy is underway to take over Pala and events begin to move when an agent of the conspirators, a newspaperman named Will Faranby, is shipwrecked there. What Faranby doesn’t expect is how his time with the people of Pala will revolutionize all his values and — to his amazement — give him hope.

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I must have been eighteen when I read this book. It got under my skin the way all good books do. It stayed with me long after I read it and I drew me back to it again and again. Island is a novel, but it is so much more than that. It is a book of ideas… about living and it grabs you and makes you think.

The story is set on a fictitious island called Pala. This is a place that is largely cut off from the rest of the world. The remarkable thing about this island, is that it is, quite literally, a happy place.
Pala is a country whose government, economy and society are all organised in way that promotes maximum human happiness. This was Huxley’s vision of a Utopia and unlike other such visions, it isn’t filled with irritatingly idealistic folks, but with real people with real problems.

It is not a utopia because it is a place without problems. It is a place where people have learnt to deal with their vices and their unhappiness in a rational manner. The basis of their lives is Buddhist, but they are not steeped in religion, nor do they follow it slavishly.

They believe in paying attention to life and living it moment to moment, accepting both the good and the bad and and not  yearning for something they cannot have. Given the circumstances of their lives, they try to be as happy as possible.

Will Farnanby, the protagonist, is a journalist, hardened by his experience of life. He finds himself shipwrecked on Pala after an accident. He’s injured and he has to stay on the island for a couple of weeks as he slowly gets better. He meets a few people and talks to them and begins to get to know their way of life which is unlike anything he has ever seen before.

He begins by being skeptical, but he’s open minded enough to observe and listen to what the people of the Pala tell him about their way of life and their beliefs and much to his surprise, he finds himself thinking that this way of life could actually work and that human beings are maybe, not so bad after all.

This is a book that is a bit heavy on ideas and philosophy and there are times when you have one character talking for nearly three pages. But the ideas are so unique and interesting that I didn’t mind at all.

I’ve read this book many times over and it continues to amaze me. It has a wisdom and a breadth of vision that is incomparable.

Flashback Friday : Persuasion by Jane Austen

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Flashback Friday is a meme hosted by Bookshelf fantasies  focusing on showing some love for the older books in our lives and on our shelves. 

The book I have chosen to celebrate this week is Persuasion by Jane Austen. I love Jane Austen and her books to the point of craziness.

I have read all of her books several times over the years. Most people say that Pride and Prejudice is their favorite. It is the first Austen that I read and I like it a lot, but I like Persuasion more.

It has a lovely set of characters, some sensible, some ridiculous. A heroine, Anne Elliott, who at twenty-seven is older, smarter and wiser than the rest of Austen’s heroines. A hero, Captain Frederick Wentworth who is charming, sensible and strong willed.

The story goes somewhat like this:

Eight years before the story begins, Anne and Fredrick Wentworth meet and fall in love. They even get engaged, but Anne’s family does not approve and she is persuaded to end the relationship. A decision that she regrets deeply in the years that follow.

Eight years later they meet again. There is contrition on her side and wounded pride on his. Throw in a couple of young girls who are determined to marry Captain Wentworth and Mr Elliot, Anne’s cousin who insists on wooing her and there is plenty of drama before they find their way back to each other.

This is a love story, but it is so much more than that. The book is beautifully written. It is prose at its best. There is a fluidity and an ease in the writing that is charming. The characters are nicely fleshed out and if some of them seem like caricatures, that is only because they are intended to be.

The thing about Austen’s books is that they are not just romance, there is satire here and a faithful depiction of the society and customs of her day, combined with a commentary on the same.

Persuasion is Austen’s last published book and it is her best. There is plenty of satire and ridicule here, but there is a lot of warmth as well. It is a beautiful book and one that will stay with me forever.

Friday Flashback : 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

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Flashback Friday is a meme hosted by Bookshelf fantasies  focusing on showing some love for the older books in our lives and on our shelves. 

The book I have chosen this week is one that has been on my mind for the last few days. I don’t quite know why, but I have been thinking about this book a lot. I was fourteen years old when I first read it and I have read it many times since. I only stopped re reading it when I realised that I almost knew it by heart.

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“I am a poor writer with an antiquarian taste in books…” 

This is the ultimate book about books. It is a record of a twenty year long correspondence between Helene Hanff, the afore mentioned writer with the antiquarian taste in books and Marks and Co, a second-hand book shop in London, located at 84 Charing Cross Road.

Most of the letters written on behalf of the bookshop were written by Frank Doel, who was their principal buyer. The book is made up of letters written between 1949 and 1969 and though they are primarily discussions about books, they carry all the flavour of that time, everything from post war food rationing in Britain, to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth the second to the advent of television.

Helene has an abiding love for the England of English literature and hopes to see it for herself one day. In the meantime, she has her bookshop. She buys books from them because as she says, “Why should I run all the way to 17th Street to buy dirty, badly made books when I could buy clean, beautiful ones without leaving the typewriter?”

But mostly, she keeps buying books from them because she likes to have a link with London. Marx & Co. send Helene old books and Helene sends them food parcels. She is appalled to hear about the food rationing in Britain and uses some of her meagre income to send parcels of eggs and meat to her friends at the bookshop.  They write her thank you letters and send her gifts for Christmas, which are mostly books.

What makes this book so unique is Helene herself. She is a spirited soul with a wonderful sense of humour and a passionate love of books. Here are a few of my favourite quotes from the book.

“The books arrived safely. The Stevenson is so fine it embarrasses my orange-crate bookshelves. I’m almost afraid to handle such soft vellum and heavy cream coloured pages…I never knew a book could be such a joy to the touch.”

“I do love second-hand books that open to the page that some previous owner read oftenest. The day Hazlitt came, he opened to ‘I hate to read new books’ and I hollered ‘Comrade!’ to whoever owned it before me.”

“I love inscriptions on flyleaves and notes in margins, I like the comradely sense of turning pages someone else turned and reading passages someone long gone has called my attention to.”

“Frankie, guess who came while you were away on vacation? SAM PEPYS! …he came a week ago, stepped out of four pages of some tabloid, three honest navy-blue volumes of him; I read the tabloid over lunch and started Sam after dinner.

He says to tell you that he’s overjoyed to be here, he was previously owned by a slob who didn’t even bother to cut the pages.”

This book is a must read for anyone who loves books.

 

 

 

Flashback Friday: Biplane by Richard Bach

 

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Flashback Friday is a meme hosted by Bookshelf fantasies  focusing on showing some love for the older books in our lives and on our shelves. 

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I was fourteen when I read this book for the first time…it is one of the first memoirs that I ever read and it pretty much made me fall in love with the genre. This is one of Richard Bach’s earliest books and unlike some of his later work which strayed into pop psychology, this is a book about flying and it does not pretend to be anything else. Sure there are questions about life and meaning that are asked and answered along the way, but it is no more than the sort of introspection that all of us engage in from time to time. 

This book was written in 1964 and it is a record of a journey across America, all the way from the east to the west in an open cockpit biplane, the Detroit-Parks built in 1929. Bach traded in a modern closed cockpit, full instrument Fairchild for a old biplane that did not even have a radio. He did it because he wanted to experience flight the way the earliest pilots had experienced it, with the sun on his face, the wind blowing around him and whistling through the wings of the plane…

So he bought the biplane in Lumberton, South Carolina and flew it all the way across America to Los Angeles. This book is a record of that experience, an experience of a new (old) way of flying and a new way of living. There are plenty of anecdotes along the way about his experiences on other flights in other planes, his time in the air force, the friends he made and the things he learnt that make for interesting reading. 

There are plenty of other (better) writers who have written about aeroplanes and flying, but Richard Bach brings a certain immediacy to his narrative that is refreshing. It is hard not to get caught up in the story and feel as if you are up there in the plane with him, seeing and feeling everything he describes. 

As Ray Bradbury says in the introduction, this is “a book not about flying, but soaring, a feat not of machines but imagination.”