Annabel's House of Books

Noli domo egredi, nisi librum habes – Never leave home without a book.

Month: October 2011 (page 1 of 3)

I love Non-Fiction really …

Updating my books read list yesterday, I suddenly realised that The Luck Factor (reviewed here), was the first non-fiction book that I’ve read this year! Last year I read a dozen non-fic books, and the year before 18 out of over a hundred. This year, it just seems to have bypassed me, or maybe I bypassed it until now…

I do genuinely love reading non-fiction titles, especially popular science ones, and good showbiz/music biographies.  I have several shelves of biographies and other non-fiction titles sitting there patiently waiting to be read.  The two pictured are now on my bedside pile for reading soon.

Do you read non-fiction?
What are your favourite sub-genres?
What percentage of your reading does it make up?

I should be so lucky ….

The Luck Factor: The Scientific Study of the Lucky Mind by Dr Richard Wiseman

Richard Wiseman’s speciality is a fascination with the quirkier side of psychology, (his website and blog are here).  A magician and psychologist based at the University of Hertfordshire, (which is still Hatfield Poly in my mind), he and his team investigate the science behind the paranormal, luck, belief, self-help, deception and much more. He regularly pops up on TV to explain quirky behaviours, and pleasantly and wittily debunks liars and cheats.

In these turbulent days of recession, and all round insecurity, who wouldn’t hope for a bit of luck – winning the Euromillions would do nicely!!!  Few will get that lucky of course – but luck is more than just having pots of money. According to Wiseman, there are lots of little things that we can do to improve our Luck Profile, and from years of research and interviews, he has distilled it down into four principles – which I’ll explain in a mo.  However, one really important thing to realise is that we’re not born lucky – we make our own luck through our mental attitudes and behaviour, and optimism plays a large part in this.

The Luck Factor is not just a popular science book though, it’s also a self-help manual.  After the introduction, the first thing we’re asked to do is to make an initial Luck Profile, grading our responses to a range of questions – from talking to strangers in a queue, to degrees of optimism, and learning from mistakes.  The twelve questions in the Luck Profile between them subdivide into Wiseman’s four principles, and form the bases of the following chapters.  This profile will be referred to throughout the book, and your scores will indicate the main areas you need to work on to improve your luck.  Without further ado, they are:

  1. Maximise your chance opportunities.
  2. Listen to your lucky hunches.
  3. Expect good fortune.
  4. Turn your bad luck into good.

Simples!  However, of course it’s more complex than that, and may require some hard work, especially if, like me, you’re more of an introvert than extrovert. You’ll never know if you’re in the right place at the right time unless you make the most of each experience.  We’re encouraged to build a ‘network of luck’, to talk to people and be open to new experiences, but also to try to be relaxed about life. Lucky people make the most of intuition and learn when to trust their gut feelings – not just in love, but all areas of life.  According to Wiseman, one of the ways of boosting your intuition is meditation – something I’ve never done – maybe I should start now… I’ve always been broadly optimistic, never being Eeyoreish for long periods. Having had a few hard knocks over the past year and a half, I am trying to look forward to a positive future.  Banishing negative expectations is a key, and being optimistic about goals and people. Turning luck around is harder – finding the up side in bad experiences, learning from our mistakes, but not dwelling on it even if you have to take the long view – it’ll all end up alright in the end.

Each chapter of the four principles has loads of examples, interviews, quizzes and exercises and has illustrative charts and statistics. The final chapters show how implement what you’ve found out about your luck profile and how to put it into use – but one step at a time.

It’s all common sense really, but it’s always good to be reminded about things and this was a revealing read. Yes, I have a lot to work on – but I’m looking forward to it.  More a self-help manual than a pure popular science book, the rules do tend to become a bit repetitive like a mantra, but it was a quite interesting look into just one facet of the huge science of psychology.  (6.5/10)

Apparently lucky people are more likely to find coins on the street, unlucky people just don’t see them.  I found 5p last week, so maybe my luck is changing!

I’ll close with a memorable quote on luck from Dirty Harry, as uttered by the inimitable Clint …

 I know what you’re thinking. “Did he fire six shots or only five?” Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?

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I bought my copy. To explore further on Amazon, click below:
The Luck Factor: The Scientific Study of the Lucky Mindby Dr Richard Wiseman, pub Arrow, 2003, 240 pages.

Portrait of a middle-class family before & after WWI

Greenbanks by Dorothy Whipple.

Not considering myself a typical Persephone Books reader – Tsk! I hear you say, there is no such thing, I have loved the handful of the beautiful dove grey covered books that I’ve read so far, (the last of which was The Hopkins Manuscript earlier this year).  If there is no such thing as a typical Persephone reader, there is such a thing as a quintessential Persephone book – and Greenbanks is such a one.  I was delighted to be offered a review copy, and thus to be introduced to my first Dorothy Whipple…

Greenbanks was Whipple’s third novel, first published in 1932.  The title is the name of a house in a small northern town, the residence of the Ashton family for generations. The book spans the years around the first world war.

Louisa Ashton is the matriarch of the family, with daughters Letty and Laura, sons Jim and Charles.  Her children are now grown up and beginning to make their way in the world.  Letty has married the solid Ambrose, and given Louisa a delightful granddaughter in Rachel, and twin grandsons; Laura is courting a nice young man, Cyril; Jim is now helping to manage the family business; and Charles, her beloved youngest, has yet to find his métier.

With her family around her you would think she’d be content, but Louisa, a kind woman worries about others constantly including Kate Barlow – a young woman of the town who’s rumoured to have got herself into trouble. Then Laura breaks it off with Cecil, and marries George, an older man, in a fit of pique. When Louisa’s husband Robert dies, Ambrose takes on looking at fter the family finances, and Jim takes on the factory. We all wonder how Letty puts up with the stifling Ambrose, and how long Charles will take Jim’s bullying. Louisa is grateful for the steadying presence of her granddaughter Rachel, who is fast growing up and developing a mind of her own, much to her father’s annoyance.

War intervenes, and everything changes. We will follow the Ashton family closely with all its ups and downs over the next years into the 1920s.  The pressures on the family continue to mount, and with them will come moments of sublime happiness, but also pain and tragedy, and many hard decisions to be made.

Being a middle-class family drama set in a small northern town, my immediate first impression was that this novel could be a successor to my namesake’s Cranford. Small town gossip and politicking abound, and there is snobbishness aplenty; but the domesticity of the opening peels back to reveal a novel of morals and social comment hiding beneath the genteel veneer and ever-present embroidery.

If, before the Great war, you became a fallen woman – there was no chance for you to redeem yourself, something poor Kate Barlow had to cope with.  But afterwards, with so many young men gone, and women having been empowered to work, there was less chance of your past catching up with you – there might be a chance at a happy ending for some. This empowerment also extended to family roles, as Ambrose, who had visions of being an old-fashioned patriarch, finds out being attacked on all sides by three generations of Ashton women now standing up for themselves.

Alongside the slight changes in moral stance with the time, we see the march of technology and changes in the style of living. Nowhere is this more pertinent than in the demise of the horse and cart which is highlighted in the manner of Robert’s death. Later in the novel the advent of the telephone provides for a lovely scene where Louisa cuts Ambrose off mid-flow. The novel covers part of the same period of course as the TV series of Downton Abbey. Although the two families may share some concerns, there is little in common between them, and Greenbanks manages to have high drama without over-egging it like Downton tends to, although I do adore it.

Although this is an emotional novel, that’s not to say there is no room for humour – most of which is at Ambrose’s expense.  When Letty and he go to London to stay with Laura, there are countless vignettes which show off his pomposity…

Ambrose’s appointment was not until two-thirty the following day. He therefore accompanied Letty in the morning. They walked about Regent Street, Oxford Street, Bond Street and Piccadilly, but without pausing to look in the shop windows, except the silversmiths in which Ambrose was interested. The most tantalizing bargains kept occurring in Letty’s eyes: a sweet, cheap little frock for Rachel, and a marvellous line of sandshoes for the boys at half the price she had to pay in Elton. If only Ambrose would see that he could save by spending a little money in advance! But she knew he would not; his budget rules were rigid. She repressed the bargain-hunting fervour and followed him wherever he led. But what a waste of good shop windows and places where you could have coffee and a rest! If only she had been with someone else, or even by herself!

Men and shopping!

At 374 pages (plus afterword), there is plenty of space for character development, but the book never drags. We really get to know the women of the Ashton family particularly well, as we do Kate whom Louisa keeps trying to rescue.  Of the sons, Jim is present by his absence – a workaholic, and Charles flits from one thing to another, popping back to cheer his mother up now and then.  The real star of the male characters, and arguably the most fun of all is Ambrose.  He’s a real Captain Mainwearing (from TV’s Dad’s Army) type – puffed up with his own self-importance and operating way beyond his level of achievement.

Reading this gripping, well-crafted and satisfying novel has made me into an instant Dorothy Whipple fan, and I will look forward to reading as many of her books as I can (all Persephone editions of course!). (9.5/10)

* * * * *
My copy was kindly supplied by the publisher – Thank you.
To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Greenbanks by Dorothy Whipple (Persephone Books, pub Oct 2011, 392 pages)
Cranfordby Elizabeth Gaskell
Downton Abbey – Series 1 & 2 Box Set [DVD]

He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy!

Had to write a short post on the BBC4 drama Holy Flying Circus which aired this week, it was a mostly marvellous 90 minutes of real Pythonesque homage. It followed the life of the Pythons around the time that Life of Brian was released in the cinema (1979), the TV ‘debate’ between Cleese and Palin v Muggeridge and a bishop that made TV history for its time, and the battle to get the film off the screen.

Life of Brian is forever etched in my mind in rose-tinted memories…

I was a student at Imperial College in South Kensington in 1979. Wandering into the Union Bar one lunchtime, there were tickets being waved around to go and see a free screening of a new film.  I went with my then boyfriend.

The screening was in the basement cinema of one of the film distributors in Soho. There were beanbags all over the floor for the student audience to sit on, and a row of comfy armchairs further back.

So we all slobbed around in the beanbags, and waited for the film to start. Within seconds we sat up to attention, then fell about laughing for the next hour and a half or so.  The film we saw was the uncut and not quite finished version of Life of Brian – it was hilarious – scandalously funny. All Python fans to start off with, we couldn’t believe our luck, especially when we glanced behind and saw that the row of armchairs were now occupied by the entire Python team (Cleese excepted).  Palin documents the screening in the first volume of his diaries – making me almost feel that I’m in there!

There were a few changes in the final film.  The title animation hadn’t been added – instead the titles read ‘A title’, ‘Another Title’ Another F***ing title’ – echoing the short film about Gondolas that had accompanied Holy Grail.  This got us off to a good start.  A couple of scenes were cut; the soundtrack hadn’t been finished, but it was so fresh and funny.  What a great evening!

Now of course, with some maturity behind me,  I can see the serious points beyond the comedy about freedom of speech and individuality. This was the key theme of the TV drama too.   Holy Flying Circus was very cleverly done, using all of the Python’s tricks, surreal tricks and full of references to the film itself, but in an updated sort of way that if the Pythons were still together they would do themselves, including animations and fantasy sequences.

The best scenes by far were between Michael Palin and his wife, who was played by Terry Jones, played by actor Rufus Jones.  Slightly uncomfortable, but bloody brilliant!

Not all of the jokes worked – much like the original Python shows, but it was very engaging, chucklesome and wonderfully nostalgic.  I’m sure they’ll show it again (and again, and again) if you missed it.

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To explore further on Amazon UK, click below:

Monty Python’s Life of Brian – The Immaculate Edition [Blu-ray] [2007][Region Free]

Diaries 1969-1979: The Python Years 1969-1979 by Michael Palin


I haven’t told you about my latest book acquisitions for simply ages.  I went to a book sale today at a local church hall, and came away with a bagful, so I thought it was an ideal time to share what’s new on the bookshelves at Gaskell Towers …

Pile, the first – my haul from the booksale…

Pile, the second – mostly bought plus a couple of review copies…
  • A Rich Full Death by Michael Dibdin – not an Aurelio Zen novel, this one is set in 19th C Florence and features poet Robert Browning.
  • Crippen by John Boyne, a fictional account of the notorious murderer, my next book to review for the Transworld book club.
  • Brideshead Abbreviated: The Digested Read of the Twentieth Century by John Crace – a collection of his wonderfully funny ‘Digested Read’ columns from the Guardian.
  • Greybeard (S.F. Masterworks) by Brian Aldiss – he was at the Kennington (nr Oxford) Literary Festival last week. I couldn’t go, but got a signed book from the bookshop later.
  • The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan. Heard a lot about this one, and it sounds my kind of book!
  • Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick – a new book from him is always a treat to look forward to. A love story across the centuries, for teens and upwards.
  • Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. This novel which combines text with vintage photographs could be a gimmick, but it was intriguing enough to pick up…
  • Death Comes to Pemberleyby P D James. It’s rare that I pluck up courage to ask a publisher for a review copy of a book, but the minute I heard about the Baroness’s latest, I couldn’t resist. Set after P&P, Lizzie and D’Arcy are married and when a distraught Lydia arrives at the ball saying that Wickham has been murdered, they have to solve the crime. Thanks to Faber. This will be the next book I read!

Have you read any of the above?
What have you added to your TBR piles lately?
Do tell…

…and the winner is:

Firstly a big thank you to everyone who visited my blog during the Literary Giveaway Blog Hop this week. Special thanks to all those who’ve subscribed or are following.

Now to the giveaway results – I employed my proven method of cutting all the names up and getting my 11yr old daughter to pick the winners, who are …

Ellie Potten & Nicole Sender

I will email you for your adresses and send you one of these fab (5 star for me) books


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