Some end-of-year nonfiction book reviews

November 27, 2008

The Comet Sweeper: Caroline Herschel’s Astronomical Ambition by Claire Brock
I bought this biography at the Herschel Museum of Astronomy in Bath. It was a really interesting story about Caroline Herschel‘s life, beginning in Hanover (in modern-day Germany), doing most of the housework and being a general slave for her ungrateful family, then her move to England to be with and help her brother William who was working as a musician in Bath. While she was to help run her brother’s household, Caroline was also trained by William in music (singing and playing instruments) and they performed together many times. Caroline followed William’s interest in amateur astronomy and generally she has been portrayed as William’s helper but she herself discovered many nebulae and comets and was a very interesting woman. She had a lifelong wish to be financially independent which was only fulfilled quite late in life. The book says she was the first woman to be employed as a scientist but I can’t help but wonder whether she was the first woman in modern-era Europe (do we know for certain that no other woman in other eras in other civilisations were not employed as scientists?).

Ada Lovelace: The Computer Wizard of Victorian England by Lucy Lethbridge
Don’t know much about the origins of the computer? Well read this tiny book (81 pages) and find out about the daughter of the poet Lord Byron, who became interested in Charles Babbage‘s Analytical Engine (or Thinking Machine – the first computer) and her work with him on it which is now seen as the first computer programming. The book focuses on Ada Lovelace and not really on Charles Babbage, so I’d like to find an equivalent book on him.

Psychogeography by Merlin Coverley
A good introduction to psychogeography. It looked at the literary tradition and the flaneur and the situationists, and novels set in Paris and London (and New York) and I now have a long list of novels and nonfiction books to check out.

Occult London by Merlin Coverley
An interesting book covering Elizabethan, Eighteenth Century, Victorian and Twentieth Century London, looking at witches, witchcraft, Nicholas Hawksmoor, secret societies (like The Theosophical Society and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn), and more. I wish I’d taken notes of all the interesting places I could visit while living here in London (I took a lot of notes when reading Psychogeography). Merlin Coverley has also written a book called London Writing which I would like to read.


Some end-of-year fiction reviews

November 27, 2008

I’m always reading books but I haven’t written any reviews here for a while so I thought it was time for some end-of-year fiction reviews. I have given up on the bookclub – there just weren’t enough committed people to make me feel like it was worth my time and energy – so I might try to attend one or two of the bookclubs out there organised by libraries. One of the things I’m really looking forward to when I move back to Brisbane (probably some time next year) is joining my friends’ bookclub.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Not a bad kids’ book about a boy who grows up in a graveyard (after his family are murdered) and is raised by the ghosts who live there. Quite cute. Unfortunately I haven’t read the Jungle Book so can’t compare it (I think it’s meant to be in that style).

Girls of Riaydh by Rajaa Alsanea
An easy-to-read story in the form of regular emails sent out to subscribers of the loves and losses of young, rich women in Saudi Arabia. It didn’t do anything to lift my opinion of Saudi culture and its treatment of women but it shows how you can get around/try to live within oppressive cultural restrictions. The women in this book were all very well off. Made me wonder about the poorer Saudi women who lack the resources and opportunities that the women in this novel had.

Zodiac by Neal Stephenson
Really fun, interesting story about pollution in the Boston Harbour and the environmentalists working to catch the various culprits – lots of racing around on zodiacs and scuba diving and being chased by evil businessmen. It’s also a lot easier to read than some of Neal Stephenson’s hard sci-fi books.

House of Clay by Naomi Nowak
Short, but very beautiful graphic novel about a girl searching for what to do with her life while working as a seamstress in a sea-side town to save money to study. The artwork is very colourful, and sometimes a bit confusing. The story is quite short but I enjoyed the look and feel of it.