BrokenTune

Reviews & Rants - Blogging about books, authors, and generally 

BrokenTune's 24 Tasks of the Festive Season - Update Post

 

I have not thought of markers, yet, but just wanted to make a start on how I will keep track of this game. Tasks completed will be marked with a Jingle Sheep, additional tasks will be festive baubles. I'll re-post this post whenever there is an update, will list the tasks/books completed below, and will link to the relevant task/book post.

 

Points: 23

 

Day 1 - Día de los Muertos!:

Task 1:  Write a silly poem or limerick poking fun at the fiction character of your choice.

Task 2:  Share your favorite gravestone epitaph (you know you have one).

Task 3:  Create an altar (either digital or physical) for your favorite book, series, or book character, and post a picture of it.  Inclusion of book cover encouraged.

Task 4: If you like Mexican food, treat yourself to your favorite dish and share a photo of it.

Book:  Re-read an old favorite from a now-deceased author, a book from a finished (dead) series, or a book set in Mexico.

 

Day 2 - Guy Fawkes Night (November 5): 

Task 1:  Burn a book in effigy.  Not that anyone of us would do such a thing, but if you HAD to, which book would be the one you’d sacrifice to the flames (gleefully or not)?

Task 2:  List your top 3 treasonous crimes against books.  Not ones you’ve committed, but the ones you think are the worst.

Task 3:  Share your favorite / most memorable BBQ recollections or recipe, or your favorite recipe for food “flambé” (i.e., doused with alcohol which is then set aflame and allowed to burn off).

Task 4:  Find 5 uses of the word “gunpowder” in book titles in contexts other than for blowing up things or shooting people (e.g., Gunpowder Green by Laura Childs = tea).

Book:  Set in the UK, political thrillers, involving any monarchy or revolution; books about arson or related to burning.

 

Day 3 - Melbourne Cup Day (November 6):  

Task 1: Pick your ponies!  MbD has posted the horses scheduled to race; everyone picks the three they think will finish (in any order).  

Task 2:  Cup day is all about the hats.  Post a picture of your favorite hat, whether it’s one you own or not.

Task 3: The coloring of the “horse of a different color” in the movie version of The Wizard of Oz was created by rubbing the horse’s fur with jello. What’s the weirdest use of jello you’ve ever come across?

Task 4: Have you ever been to or participated in a competition involving horses (racing, jumping, dressage, whatever)? Tell us about it. Photos welcome, too!

Book: about horses or a horse on the cover.  Books with roses on the cover or about gardening; anything set in Australia.

 

Day 4 - Diwali (November 7):  

Task 1:  Share a picture of your favorite light display.

Task 2:  Cleaning is a big part of this holiday; choose one of your shelves, real or virtual, and tidy / organise it.  Give us the before and after photos.  OR Tidy up 5 of the books on your BookLikes shelves by adding the CORRECT cover, and/or any other missing information. (If in doubt, see here: http://jenn.booklikes.com/post/1782687/state-of-the-database-booklikes-database-halloween-bingo-and-a-mini-rant-with-pictures).

Task 3: Eating sweets is also a big part of Diwali. Either select a recipe for a traditional sweet, or make a family favorite and share a picture with us.

Task 4: During Diwali, people pray to the goddess Lakhshmi, who is typically depicted as a beautiful young woman holding a lotus flower. Find 5 books on your shelves (either physical or virtual) whose covers show a young woman holding a flower and share their cover images.

Book: Read a book with candles on the cover or the word “candle” or “light” in the title; OR a book that is the latest in a series; OR set in India; OR any non-fiction book that is ‘illuminating’ (Diwali is Sanskrit for light/knowledge and row, line or series)

 

Door 5:  Veterans' / Armistice Day (November 11)

Task 1:  Using book covers (real or virtual), create a close approximation of your country’s flag (either of residence or birth), OR a close approximation of a poppy.  Take a pic of your efforts and post.

Task 2: Make an offer of peace (letter, gift, whatever) to a book character who has particularly annoyed you this year.

Task 3: Tell us: What author’s books would you consider yourself a veteran of (i.e., by which author have you read particularly many books – or maybe even all of them)?

Task 4: Treat yourself to a slice of poppy seedcake and post a photo. If you want to make it yourself, try out this recipe: https://tastesbetterfromscratch.com/poppy-seed-cake/ … or this one: https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/1629633/lemon-and-poppy-seed-cake

Book:  Read any book involving wars, battles, where characters are active military or veterans, or with poppies on the cover.

 

Door 6 - International Day for Tolerance (November 16):  

Task 1:  Find some redeeming quality in the book you liked least this year and post about it.

Task 2: Tell us: What are the tropes (up to 5) that you are not willing to live with in any book (i.e., which are absolutely beyond your capacity for tolerance) and which make that book an automatic DNF for you? (Insta-love? Love triangles? First person present narrative voice? Talking animals? The dog dies? What else?) 

Task 3: The International Day for Tolerance is a holiday declared by an international organization (UNESCO). Create a charter (humorous, serious, whatever strikes your fancy) for an international organization of readers.

Task 4: UNESCO is based in Paris. Paris is known for its pastries and its breads: Either find a baker that specializes in pastries and bring home an assortment for your family, or make your own pastries using real butter and share a photo with us.

Book:  Read any fiction/non-fiction about tolerance or a book that’s outside your normal comfort zone.  (Tolerance can encompass anything you generally struggle with, be it sentient or not.) OR Read a book set in Paris.

 

...

 

Day 18 - Winter Solstice / Yuletide (December 21): 

Task 1:

Task 2:

Task 3:

Task 4:

Book: Read any book that takes place in December OR with ice or snow on the cover OR that revolves around the (summer or winter) equinox OR a collection of poetry by Hafez.

Day 19 - Festivus (December 23): 

Task 1:

Task 2:

Task 3:

Task 4:

Book: Read any comedy, parody, or satire.

Day 20 - Christmas (December 25): 

Task 1:

Task 2:

Task 3:

Task 4:

Book: Read any Christmas book.

Day 21 - Kwanzaa (December 26 - January 1): 

Task 1:

Task 2:

Task 3:

Task 4:

Book: Read a book set in Africa or the Caribbean OR by an African, Caribbean, or African-American author OR a book with a green, red, or black cover.

Day 22 - New Year's Eve (December 31): 

Task 1:

Task 2:

Task 3:

Task 4:

Book: Read a book about endings, new starts, or books where things go BOOM!

Day 23 - Hogswatch (December 32)*: 

Task 1:

Task 2:

Task 3:

Task 4:

Book: Read anything by Terry Pratchett. 

Day 24 - Epiphany (January 6): 

Task 1:

Task 2:

Task 3:

Task 4:

Book: Read a book with three main characters OR a book about traveling on a journey to a faraway place OR a book that’s part of a trilogy OR with a star on the cover OR with the word “twelve” or “night” in the title OR or concerning kings or spices.

24 Tasks: Door 6 - International Day for Tolerance (November 16)

Task 1:  Find some redeeming quality in the book you liked least this year and post about it.

 

Is there any one book I liked least this year? There may be a handful, not just one. However, if I have to think of one with a redeeming feature, I need to mention Steve Brusatte's The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs. I thought the book was pretty awful. The redeeming feature, tho, was that Brusatte makes mention of Walter Alvarez who also wrote about what caused the dinosaurs to disappear. So, I picked up Alvarez' book T. Rex and the Crater of Doom and have been enjoying it since. I'm not sure I would have found the book if Brusatte had not mentioned it.

 

Task 2: Tell us: What are the tropes (up to 5) that you are not willing to live with in any book (i.e., which are absolutely beyond your capacity for tolerance) and which make that book an automatic DNF for you? (Insta-love? Love triangles? First person present narrative voice? Talking animals? The dog dies? What else?) 

 

Insta-love and love triangles are definitely off-putting but I don't read a lot of books that have a focus on romantic entanglements so these aren't my two top peeves when it comes to reading.

 

What puts me off, is when:

 

- the author comes across as an arrogant or self-indulgent;

- the book contains a lot generalisations/cliche/stereotypes;

- the book contains a lot of inaccuracies;

- the author plays fast and loose with the historical facts.

 

I would have listed that I DNF when the MC is TSTL but sometimes it is just too much fun rooting for the MC to go down.

 

 

Task 3: The International Day for Tolerance is a holiday declared by an international organization (UNESCO). Create a charter (humorous, serious, whatever strikes your fancy) for an international organization of readers.

 

Readers shall read what they want, when they want, and how they want, for how long they want, in any location they want, in any position they want, for any reason they want, making of their reads what they want, taking breaks when they want, putting books back if they want, or reading several things at once if they want.

But most of all,

Readers shall read! 

 

Task 4: UNESCO is based in Paris. Paris is known for its pastries and its breads: Either find a baker that specializes in pastries and bring home an assortment for your family, or make your own pastries using real butter and share a photo with us.

 

Do Parisian butter cookies and macaroons count?

I brought home some of both of them from my trip, tho ... there was only one macaroon left when I took this picture yesterday.

 

 

Book:  Read any fiction/non-fiction about tolerance or a book that’s outside your normal comfort zone.  (Tolerance can encompass anything you generally struggle with, be it sentient or not.) OR Read a book set in Paris.

 

I read Irene Nemirovsky's The Fires of Autum earlier this month, which is set in Paris. 

The Sunday Post

Good evening,

 

I can't believe it is Sunday night already. Not that I have been so busy that I didn't even notice the weekend flying by, on the contrary, but it flew by all the same. 

I spent most of the last two days decompressing from last week: I returned from my trip to Paris late on Tuesday night and spend much longer days at work than anticipated for the rest of the week. By Friday night I was exhausted.

So, apart from pottering about and sleeping and unpacking, I have done as little as possible.

 

This included reading. We've started our buddy read of Patricia Highsmith's A Game for the Living yesterday, but I didn't even have enough focus to manage to make a real dent into the book until this afternoon, after I had cleared my head with something a little lighter yesterday. And even this was only possible because of extra reading fuel.

 

 

Oh, and I also picked up a book in Paris. Shocking, I know, but look at the restraint!

 

 

Actually, I was looking for a copy of Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex, but the bookshop I was in only had a the latest translations (which apparently suffers from some translation issues) and then I spotted this one, proudly took it to the desk, and the bookseller even commented that she really enjoyed the book. To say that I'm excited about the book is putting it mildly.

 

My only real break from sleeping, reading, and pottering about came last night when I attended a panel discussion about women in politics, where local councillors, MSPs (Members of the Scottish Parliament), and MPs (Members of Parliament) of  various political persuasions discussed ways to get involved in local politics and what differences women might face to men when doing so. This was organised by a local group that has been running events throughout the year to commemorate Women's Suffrage in the UK. 

 

It was a fascinating debate and I'm glad I went: not only because I thought it was great of the politicians who attended to take part, but also because there don't seem to be a lot such open and collaborative discussions across parties.

 

I must admit that I also liked the setting. The Town House is a rather nice venue. 

 

 

Reading progress update: I've read 175 out of 278 pages.

A Game for the Living: A Virago Modern Classic (Virago Modern Classics) - Patricia Highsmith

‘Iguana, señor! Five pesos! Make a fine belt!’

‘No – no, thank you,’ Theodore said, leaning away from the horribly grinning face of the thing. He moved the car slowly.

‘Four pesos!’ The boy held it by its fat throat and its tail and walked along beside the car. The iguana looked straight into Theodore’s eye, and, like something out of hell, it seemed to say: ‘Buy me and I’ll fix you!’

‘Three pesos!’

‘I can’t use an iguana!’

I don't know why, but this made me laugh.

Reading progress update: I've read 130 out of 278 pages.

A Game for the Living: A Virago Modern Classic (Virago Modern Classics) - Patricia Highsmith

‘So now Ramón is staying with you.’

‘Yes.’

‘Tsch-tsch. It is scandalous, Teo.’

‘What is scandalous?’

‘Our courts of justice. Our police force and their psychiatrists.’ Her large dark eyes, full of feminine wisdom and quite devoid of logic, glanced around the room impatiently.

 

Ouch. Is this Highsmith writing or Theodor? If it's "Teo", it kinda fits in with his other preconceptions, I still can't quite make him out.

 

Incidentally, I took to Andrew Wilson's biography of Highsmith to read up a little bit about the background to the book and found this:

Later, Highsmith came to regard A Game for the Living, published in November 1958, as one of her worst novels. ‘The murderer is off-scene, mostly,’ she said, ‘so the book became a “mystery who-dunnit,” in a way – definitely not my forte.’46 She concluded that the book, which she said was ‘the only really dull book I have written’,47 lacked the elements which she thought were vital in her novels – ‘surprise, speed of action, the stretching of the reader’s credulity, and above all that intimacy with the murderer himself . . . The result was mediocrity.’

From Andrew Wilson's Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith (Bloomsbury Lives of Women)

 

I'm intrigued how this book will end, and what will happen to Teo and Ramon in between now and the end, but I can see that this book presents some difficulties that other Highsmith books haven't got (apart from Stangers on a Train). 

 

I did, however, like the way that Teo interacts with his cat, Leo, and imagines the following dialogue:

There was a pen-and-ink drawing of himself hectically feeding Leo in the kitchen, setting a broiled and split lobster before the cat with one hand and with the other pouring melted butter from a pitcher, and below it their dialogue:

 

LEO: Where have you been, damn you! Don’t you know it’s after midnight?

T: I told you I’d be late coming home, and I’m sure Inocenza gave you a little something at five o’clock.

LEO: She did not.

T: Don’t lie, Leo. And here’s a fine broiled lobster. Smell it!

LEO: R-row! If you think this makes up for waiting six hours!

T: I promise not to do it again.

LEO: You will. You’re lucky I stay around at all, because you don’t deserve me.

Reading progress update: I've read 92 out of 278 pages.

A Game for the Living: A Virago Modern Classic (Virago Modern Classics) - Patricia Highsmith

The smell of the Cathedral irked Theodore – candle wax, incense, the hollow, stale smell of a tomb without even the virtues of coolness and privacy, the smell of old cloth and old wood, the sweaty sweetness of crumpled peso notes, and, bringing it all out and binding it like salt, the smell of human bodies and breaths. Theodore supposed that Ramón reacted like Pavlov’s dog to this particular smell and its variations in other churches. Sanctity. Genuflect. Cross yourself. Tread lightly. This is a holy place. The air has not been changed in four hundred years – or however old the place might be. This Cathedral was nearly four hundred years old. And now to bring his barbarity in here with him and spill it all out! With the bland certainty, too, that some invisible yet all-powerful thing was going to forgive him!

   Theodore squirmed on the hard wooden seat. Ramón’s sins were only different in degree, after all. People came in sometimes scheming how to pick somebody’s pocket. A sign on the front of the door warned people in Spanish and in English to beware of pickpockets within the Cathedral. It was impossible to get one’s mind off money. Wooden alms boxes on pedestals everywhere pleaded in printed notices for money for the children, for the poor, for the upkeep of the church; and each had a huge padlock on it to keep those very poor from taking what was as much theirs as anybody else’s.

This story is dripping with nihilism. Maybe that's why all the characters feel so detached?

 

Reading progress update: I've read 56 out of 278 pages.

A Game for the Living: A Virago Modern Classic (Virago Modern Classics) - Patricia Highsmith

He walked to his bed and lay down slowly, as unrelaxed as a figure of stone on a tomb. No more conversations with Lelia, no more happiness shared with her when she sold a picture, or when a reviewer wrote a word of praise. As a painter, Lelia was going to be judged by what she had done up until yesterday at the age of thirty years and one month. Theodore’s blood began to stir with thoughts of revenge. Whoever had done it would pay with his life. He would see to that, even if there were no capital punishment in Mexico.

So far, this book is quite different from other Highsmith books. I'm not complaining. 

 

We're straight into the action, but there is more visual cruelty in this one. This is unusual for Highsmith. There is also more deliberation about the concepts of art and character, which reminds me of The Tremor of Forgery in that we follow a character who is an ex-pat in a society that is foreign to him. He tries to blend in, but he just can't overcome standing at least a little aside from the rest of the people he interacts with. 

The Fires of Autumn

The Fires of Autumn - Irène Némirovsky

THE NEGOTIATIONS FOR the aeroplane parts that had begun in 1936 were only concluded two years later: the engineers had stated that the American parts were not suitable for French planes. The question was discussed in Parliament. ‘I’ll deal with Parliament,’ Raymond Détang had said. ‘We’ll sort it out one morning when the benches are empty. We won’t allow those troublemakers to prevent us from making a pretty packet. Why should I worry about the engineers? They’re specialists, and specialists only ever see their side of a problem. This is much greater, on a much bigger scale than they could imagine.

I have not read Nermirovsky's Suite Francaise. To be honest, the hype around the book put me off. However, I did watch the movie (because, erm, Kristin Scott Thomas...) and have been intrigued by Nemirovsky's writing ever since. Just not about Suite Francaise, which by now would be rather pointless because the plot no longer holds any interest for me.

 

Anyway. I picked up The Fires of Autumn from the library and once I started reading, I was drawn deeply into the world of Nemirovsky's Paris of the early part of the 20th century. The book started out as a family saga and a portrait of Paris society but then the plot turned into the war years (WWI) and we saw the characters develop by having to deal with the war and the emergence of the inter-war society with its decadence and thrills, and yet, the undercurrent of doom. 

Eventually, the characters are thrown into the next war. And this is where I found the book utterly gripping. 

The book was written in 1940 and, as we know, Nemirovsky never saw the end of the war. So, her descriptions of the life in France during the war, her descriptions of the war from the perspective of the soldiers are written by someone who didn't know which way the war was going to end. There is no all-knowing perspective and no hindsight, and this makes the writing very, very tense in the final chapters. Tense but not hopeless.

 

While I love a book that thrives on plot, this is not the case with The Fires of Autumn. The book thrives on the characters and the description of the changing times that the characters act within, and still, it was a fascinating read.

THE ARMY WAS beaten in Flanders, beaten at Dunkirk, beaten on the banks of the Aisne. There were no supplies left. It was only the civilians who clung to insurmountable hope in their hearts; in the cafés in the Lot-et-Garonne, they even tried to establish an imaginary line of defence south of the Loire, but the soldiers no longer had any illusions. The soldiers knew that the army had lost; they could even see the day approaching when there would be no more army, when amid the mass of an entire population in flight, soldiers would disappear, just as the debris of a ship sinks to the bottom of the sea during a storm.

Reading progress update: I've read 4 out of 278 pages.

A Game for the Living: A Virago Modern Classic (Virago Modern Classics) - Patricia Highsmith

There was an awkward silence, in which Theodore could think of nothing to say. The two men began to talk to each other again. Theodore was reminded of other moments at parties and dinners when something he said – granted, not of much importance – had been completely ignored as if it had been either inaudible or an unspeakable obscenity. He wondered if it happened to other people as often as it happened to him.

More insignificant-looking men than he were listened to, no matter how stupid their remarks were, he thought. Now the two men were talking about somebody Theodore did not know, and it occurred to Theodore too late that Ortiz y Guzman B. might have been interested to know that he had been asked to show four paintings in a group show in May at one of the I.N.B.A. galleries. After a moment, Theodore drifted away and stood by a wall. Perhaps being ignored did not happen more often to him than anybody else.

Social gathering awkwardness. I hear you, Theo. 

 

Just starting our new Highsmith buddy read with Isanythingopen and Lillelara, which I am really looking forward to. It's always fun to explore the ... erm ... messed-up-ness of Highsmith's characters and plots with others. 

Not that I already know that the characters in A Game for the Living is going to be messed up, I really don't know anything about the book (and haven't even read the blurb). I'm merely prepared for messed up characters as this is Highsmith's trademark. We'll see how this one goes. 

 

Btw, apparently this story is set in Mexico City, so it would qualify for the Dia de los Muertos book task. 

24 Tasks: Door 5 - Veterans' / Armistice Day - Tasks

Update - 16.Nov.: Tasks 1 & 2 completed

 

Task 1:  Using book covers (real or virtual), create a close approximation of your country’s flag (either of residence or birth), OR a close approximation of a poppy.  Take a pic of your efforts and post.

 

With a little bit of improvisation...

 

 

 

Task 2: Make an offer of peace (letter, gift, whatever) to a book character who has particularly annoyed you this year.

 

Dear Vic,

 

It has taken some time to come to terms with your decision to run off with the man in the brown suit, but, in the end, it's your call. Entirely. 

I still think you have a lot more going for you, and maybe someday you'll see that, too.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this peculiar adventure.

 

BT

 

 

 

Task 3: Tell us: What author’s books would you consider yourself a veteran of (i.e., by which author have you read particularly many books – or maybe even all of them)?

 

I guess there is a small number of authors that I think I can consider myself a veteran of: Agatha Christie, Carson McCullers and Patricia Highsmith come to mind, but there is also Ian Fleming - the task didn't specify that we needed to like the author. ;D

 

However, I'm going to go with Graham Greene for this task. As some of you might remember, I dedicated a reading project to Greene in 2014/15 with the goal of reading all of his novels. It was such a fun and enlightening journey to travel in Greene-land. I really miss reading his books for the first time. 

 

 

Task 4: Treat yourself to a slice of poppy seedcake and post a photo. If you want to make it yourself, try out this recipe: https://tastesbetterfromscratch.com/poppy-seed-cake/ … or this one: https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/1629633/lemon-and-poppy-seed-cake

 

(Not going to happen. I'm not a fan of poppy seedcake.)

 

Book:  Read any book involving wars, battles, where characters are active military or veterans, or with poppies on the cover.

 

I'm going to claim this task for reading The Road Back last week.

 

 

Bookish Post

It arrived. That is, I finally made it to the Post Office to pick it up.

Thank you so much Markk!

 

24 Tasks: Door 4 - Diwali - Tasks

Update - 11/11/18: Task 1 completed.

 

Task 1:  Share a picture of your favorite light display.

 

 

I am a big fan of the sunrise down at our beach, especially during the "dark months" when it seems that daylight is extra precious.

 

Task 2:  Cleaning is a big part of this holiday; choose one of your shelves, real or virtual, and tidy / organise it.  Give us the before and after photos.  OR Tidy up 5 of the books on your BookLikes shelves by adding the CORRECT cover, and/or any other missing information. (If in doubt, see here: http://jenn.booklikes.com/post/1782687/state-of-the-database-booklikes-database-halloween-bingo-and-a-mini-rant-with-pictures).

 

(wip)

 

 

Task 3: Eating sweets is also a big part of Diwali. Either select a recipe for a traditional sweet, or make a family favorite and share a picture with us.

 

(wip)

 

 

Task 4: During Diwali, people pray to the goddess Lakhshmi, who is typically depicted as a beautiful young woman holding a lotus flower. Find 5 books on your shelves (either physical or virtual) whose covers show a young woman holding a flower and share their cover images.

 

Amazingly, I don't seem to have even a single book that matches this description. Not.A.Single.One!

 

I have books with women on the cover, but they seem to hold hammers, hatchets, and scythes. I'm kinda impressed.

 

Update: Task complete! Posted here.

 

Book: Read a book with candles on the cover or the word “candle” or “light” in the title; OR a book that is the latest in a series; OR set in India; OR any non-fiction book that is ‘illuminating’ (Diwali is Sanskrit for light/knowledge and row, line or series)

 

(wip)

 

 

 

Paris Update - Natural History Museum

Just a small update from today's adventures in Paris: It's been raining. That didn't really stop anyone doing anything, tho, and I went out adventuring.

I'll not spam your feeds with pictures of Paris landmarks, but I wanted to share pictures of the Gallery of Evolution at the Natural History Museum. This is the place I didn't get to on my last visit. This time, I had no fever holding me back - this place is fabulous!

The light in this building changes every few minutes and there are sound effects, too. And I love how the terrestrial animals are placed on a mezzanine above the sea creatures. 

 

 

Apart from this, I had a fun wander around Pigalle last night, mostly people-watching and avoiding clouds of dope smoke, and I went to Montmartre and the Trocadero this morning. Montmartre is still as tacky as I remembered from my first visit in the 1990s.  

On another fun note, I have also spent some time looking for great crepes. The one I tried tonight had lots of potential for improvement, but the Grand  Marnier was nice. 

The Road Back / Der Weg Zurueck

The Road Back: A Novel - Arthur Wesley Wheen, Erich Maria Remarque Der Weg zurück - Erich Maria Remarque, Tilman Westphalen

I'm yet again lagging behind in writing reviews. This one is one I meant to pen last weekend shortly after I finished my re-read of The Road Back in anticipation of the centenary of the end of the First World War. 

As it happens, I'm finally sitting down to write a review on the evening before Armistice Day and writing it while in Paris, where the US President (I still can't type this with a straight face, sorrynotsorry) has canceled visiting the US war graves today because it was raining. 

 

Let that sink in for a moment. 

 

Neither he nor his staff could find an umbrella to shield them from the light rain this morning. 

 

Incompetence? Or could he just not be arsed? Every other head of state in town at the moment managed to find a way. 

 

Anyway, I'm getting back to the book now:

 

Remarque is, of course, best known for All Quiet on the Western Front, which follows a group of schoolboys from a small village who volunteered to fight in the hells of the First World War.

However, it is in The Road Back (Der Weg Zurueck) that Remarque shows how those that survived the front had to keep on surviving, and how the "ravages of war" took lives in more ways than by bullets and shells. The book was published in 1931 and I could not help notice that there were some similarities between the main character's life and Remarque's. As far as WWI literature goes, there are lots and lots of poems and quotes about war, but not that many books written by someone with first-hand experience.

 

So when the book starts of with a scene like this, I have no problem believing that this has happened the way Remarque wrote it. 

"The fog moves and lifts. And suddenly I know what it is that has thrown us all into such a state of alarm. It has merely become still. Absolutely still.

Not a machine gun, not a shot, not an explosion; no shriek of shells; nothing, absolutely nothing, no shot, no cry. It is simply still, utterly still.

We look at one another; we cannot understand it. This is the first time it has been so quiet since we have been at the Front. We sniff the air and try to figure what it can mean. Is gas creeping over? But the wind is not favourable; it would drive it off. Is an attack coming? But the very silence would have betrayed it already. What is it, 

then? The bomb in my hand is moist, I am sweating so with excitement. One feels as if the nerves must snap. Five minutes. Ten minutes. “A quarter of an hour now,” calls Laher. His voice sounds hollow in the fog as from a grave. Still nothing happens, no attack, no sudden, dark-looming, springing shadows——

Hands relax and clench again tighter. This is not to be borne. We are so accustomed to the noise of the Front that now, when the weight of it suddenly lifts from us, we feel as if we must burst, shoot upward like balloons.

“Why,” says Willy suddenly, “it is peace!” —

It falls like a bomb.

Faces relax, movements become aimless and uncertain. Peace? We look at one another, incredulous. Peace? I let my hand grenades drop. Peace? Ludwig lies down slowly on his waterproof again. Peace? In Bethke’s eyes is an expression as if his whole face would break in pieces. Peace? Wessling stands motionless as a tree; and when he turns his back on it and faces us, he looks as if he meant to keep straight on home.

All at once—in the whirl of our excitement we had hardly observed it—the silence is at an end; once more, dully menacing, comes the noise of gunfire, and already from afar, like the bill of a woodpecker, sounds the knock-knocking of a machine gun. We grow calm and are almost glad to hear again the familiar, trusty noises of death."

This passage breaks me every time.

 

 

Eventually, peace does break out, and the group starts on their long walk back from the Western Front. There is no infrastructure, it's a long, long march.

Marching, marching. We have now reached the zone of field ambulance stations, of supply depots. A spacious park with plane trees. Stretchers and wounded under the trees. The leaves are falling and covering them in red and gold.

A gas hospital. Bad cases that cannot be moved. Blue faces, waxen green faces, dead eyes, eaten by the acid; wheezing, choking, dying men. They all want to get away; they are afraid of being taken prisoner. —As if it were not a matter of indifference where they die. We try to cheer them, telling them they will be better cared for with the Americans. But they do not listen. Again and again they call to us to take them with us. The cries are terrible. The pallid faces seem so unreal in the light out here in the open. But most awful are the beards. They take on a life of their own; they stand out stiff, fantastical, growing, luxuriating over the sunken jaws, a black fungus that feeds and thrives the more these sag and waste away. Some of the badly wounded reach out their thin, grey arms like children. “Take me with you, mate,” they say, imploring, “Take me with you, mate.” In the hollows of their eyes lurk already deep, strange shadows from which the pupils struggle up with difficulty like drowning things. Others are quiet, following us as far as they can with their eyes.

The cries sound gradually fainter.

Once demobilised, they are handed old civilian suits and boots and are sent back into village life. Most of the survivors had not finished school yet when they enrolled, so they are sent back to their classrooms. Imagine this. They are no longer kids. Most of them spent two years in the trenches, trying to survive the slaughter. 

There is nothing that their old school can possibly teach them. They no longer fit in.

 

Remarque also describes how their family lives have been torn apart. Parents are no longer able to recognise their sons, and the men don't know what to do or say at home. They are no longer fit to converse about trivial matters and neither are they able to talk about the things that are on their mind. They are restless, and even tho they are at home and safe, they are not able to unwind.

 

Some go mad. Some try to reconcile their minds in other ways. 

 

Against the backdrop of the Revolution in Germany, the rise of the Freicorps, and black market trading, Remarque's story also pitches the fate of the ex-soldiers against more than their individual struggles.

What does it amount to? —Everywhere profiteering, suspicion, indifference, utter selfishness.

Even tho the war had just ended, the memory of it is already being erased. Or rather, the memory of the war and the lives of the soldiers are already being hijacked for propaganda.  

The fact that Remarque perfectly captures the rise of fascism at a much earlier stage than many others just makes the book so much more tragic. And the fact that there are so many comparisons to be drawn between the rise of nationalism and people hijacking the historical events to advocate for their own purposes at the time that R. wrote this and some of the things that are going on right now is just sad and rage-inducing.

 

This is no easy read. This is gut-wrenching, hard, at times sickening.

 

However, Remarque ends this book on a note of hope:

“There will always be such people,” answers Willy, unusually earnest and thoughtful, “but don’t forget us; we are here too. And there’s a lot of people think as we do. Most of them, probably. Ever since then—you know, since Ludwig and Albert—all sorts of things have been going around in my head, and I’ve come to the conclusion that everybody can do something in his own way, even though he may have nothing but a turnip for a head. My holidays are over next week, and I’ll have to go back to the village as a schoolteacher again. And, you know, I’m positively glad of it. I mean to teach my youngsters what their Fatherland really is. Their homeland, that is, not a political party. Their homeland is trees, fields, earth, none of your fulsome catchwords. I’ve considered it all on and off a long time, and I’ve decided that we’re old enough now to do some sort of a job. And that’s mine. It’s not big, I admit. But sufficient for me—and I’m no Goethe, of course.”

I nod and look at him a long while. Then we set off.

Yet, that hope is not sustainable without the foundations of education and remembrance, something that was acknowledged by a number of heads of state this weekend, except for one notable cancellation.

 

Reading progress update: I've read 34%.

"T. rex" and the Crater of Doom (Princeton Science Library) - Walter Alvarez, Carl Zimmer

Another example showing how Alvarez' account has a very different tone from Brusatte's:

"Standing in line for lunch on the first day of the meeting, I found myself next to a tall, blond young man who introduced himself, in a pleasant Dutch accent, as Jan Smit, from Amsterdam. Jan said to me, “I read a story about your iridium anomaly in the New Scientist, and I want to tell you that I’ve confirmed your discovery. I have a really complete KT boundary section at Caravaca, in Spain, and it has anomalous iridium, too!” It was further evidence of the global nature of the iridium anomaly, and it was the beginning of a deep friendship which would carry us together through 15 years of intense intellectual controversy. It would be some years before I fully understood the degree of personal integrity that lay behind Jan’s opening remark. Studying the rock record of southern Spain for his Ph.D. thesis, Jan had been intrigued by the abrupt KT extinction of forams at Caravaca, just as I had at Gubbio. Looking for a chemical clue to the KT event, he had contacted Belgian neutron activation analyst Jan Hertogen, just as we had contacted Frank Asaro at Berkeley.

Hertogen had found high iridium values, but at the time Jan was sick with mononucleosis and not up to looking at the chemical data. As he was recovering he came across the article about our work, looked for iridium in the data printouts, and there was the immediate confirmation. Some scientists might have been tempted to claim an independent discovery or quickly rush out a paper to establish priority of publication. But from the moment we met, Jan treated his analyses as a confirmation of our discovery.

 

This is the high standard of ethical behavior that scientists aspire to, and which makes the collaborative scientific endeavor possible, but which is not always met because scientists are very human. I hope I would have had the character to do as Jan did, if the roles had been reversed.

Now that I know the whole story, I have come to consider Jan Smit the codiscoverer of the evidence for impact."

Reading progress update: I've read 30%.

"T. rex" and the Crater of Doom (Princeton Science Library) - Walter Alvarez, Carl Zimmer

I'm still suffering from the effects of The Rise and Fall of Dinosaurs, but the one good thing that came out of reading the book was that it introduced me to Walter Alvarez' book T. Rex and the Crater of Doom.

I originally DNF'd Brusatte's book but then went back to read different parts for comparison with Alvarez' book, only to find that I was right to DNF Brusatte in the first place.

 

Anyway, Alvarez strikes a much different tone in his book, quotes and credits other scientists without derogatory commentary, and gives actual explanations of the science and thought processes that he based his work on. 

 

It's a fascinating book.

"The question was now precisely formulated: Did the clay bed represent a few years, or a few thousand years? It was also formulated in a way that would tell us something interesting about the extinction event: Were the limestone-producing organisms out of action for a few thousand years, or had there been a few years of abnormally rapid clay deposition?

 

IRIDIUM

 

How could we answer that question? We needed something that had been deposited in the Scaglia limestone and in the clay bed at a constant rate, and then we could calculate the time represented by the clay bed. The year before, Dad had suggested that we use beryllium-10, formed at a constant rate in the atmosphere. Now he had a new idea of the same general kind—that the deposition rate of meteorite dust would be unchanging. Big meteorites fall very occasionally at random places, but fine meteorite dust from outer space falls constantly, as a very light sprinkling all over the Earth, and if we could measure the amount of meteorite dust in the clay bed and in the normal Scaglia limestone, we would know the time represented by the clay. But this is rare stuff! You don’t realize it when the occasional microscopic grain of meteorite dust settles on your hand or your head, and we knew of no way to extract meteorite dust from ancient sediments and weigh it. But there was a chemical approach.

 

Dad realized that we could analyze the clay for one of the platinum-group elements.3 These elements are far from abundant in meteorites, but are present in quantities sufficient to measure. The Earth as a whole must have about the same fraction of platinum-group elements as meteorites do, because both came from the swirling cloud of dust and gas which condensed to form the solar system. But the Earth’s crust and sediments have much lower contents of platinum-group elements than meteorites do. This is because these elements are absorbed by iron, and the Earth has an immense iron core where the Earth’s allotment of the platinum-group elements must be concentrated.

 

As a result, the sediments at the Earth’s surface are strongly depleted in them, to the point where they are barely detectable with the most sensitive techniques. We reasoned that meteorite dust, slowly accumulating over thousands of years, would be the main source of the platinum-group elements in the Scaglia sediments. If the clay bed had been deposited over a few thousand years, it would have had time to accumulate a detectable amount of platinum-group elements, but if it had been rapidly deposited in a few years it would be essentially free of these elements."

Currently reading

The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe by Jane Wagner
A Game for the Living: A Virago Modern Classic (Virago Modern Classics) by Patricia Highsmith
Progress: 175/278pages
"T. rex" and the Crater of Doom (Princeton Science Library) by Walter Alvarez, Carl Zimmer
Progress: 40%
Teller Of Tales: The Life Of Arthur Conan Doyle by Daniel Stashower
Progress: 9/472pages
Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection by Arthur Conan Doyle, Stephen Fry
Progress: 79%
Im Auto durch zwei Welten by Clärenore Stinnes