This week I've been staying with my son and his family in Brussels, One of the very many nice things about doing this is that I get the opportunity to read lots of new books. It starts on the journey over there. I travel from Bristol to London by train or bus, and then usually on the Eurostar, so there's plenty of time to read, and my Kindle allows me to take a good supply of books along with me. This time I finished the second book of The Flaxfield Quartet by Toby Forward, which is a fantasy about wizards (but not at all like Harry Potter). It's very good, and I'll be reviewing it soon over on Abba Reviews. Then I began The Storm Bottle, an unusual adventure story set in Bermuda, by fellow SAS author Nick Green, who knows so much about dolphins that I suspect he may have been one in another life. I'll finish that later today on the journey back.
Then I have a treat in store - Mary Hoffman's David, which is about the model for Michelangelo's famous statue. Mary Hoffman is another SAS person, and I first heard about this book when she talked about it at an SAS conference, just before it was published a few years ago. I've been meaning to read it ever since, and now the right moment has arrived: yesterday, I went to an exhibition in Brussels about Leonardo da Vinci, with my son and eldest grandson, Oskar. There were models of many of Leonardo's inventions - here's Oskar trying one out - and a film about his life and about the re-creation of some of his designs: notably an early parachute which an English adventurer with a gleam in his eye decided to try out - and survived to tell the tale! Anyway, there were hints of a not-very-friendly rivalry between Leonardo and the much younger Michelangelo, so I'm hoping Mary might have something to say about that. Even if she doesn't, I just want a pass into the world of fifteenth century Italy, and I know her book will give me that.
Richard and Joanna are great readers, so there are usually lots unfamiliar books for me to read here - though nowadays Richard mostly uses his Kindle: apart from the convenience, it's much cheaper to buy English books in Belgium that way. Still, I was able to read Ian Rankin's latest, Standing In Another Man's Grave, in which crotchety detective Rebus makes a welcome return from retirement, and also a book called Train Dreams, by an American writer called Denis Johnson. I'd never come across this author before. The book, which was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize, is very short (only 116 small pages), but it packs quite a punch without wasting a word. It's about an ordinary man, Robert Grainier, living in rural America in the first half of the 20th century, and it reveals how the extraordinary can be found inside the apparently ordinary: Robert is an unassuming, kindly man who endures some terrible things, and just keeps on. Despite being so short, it somehow manages to have an epic sweep.
Joanna is Polish, and she lent me a book of poetry by a poet called Wislawa Szymborska, called Tutaj/Here. The poet was 85 when this book was published, but her quiet, ironic, amused voice is ageless. I particularly liked a poem called Thoughts That Visit Me on a Busy Street, which ponders the possibility that Nature recycles faces:
These passersby might be Archimedes in jeans
Catherine the Great draped in resale,
some pharoah with briefcase and glasses.
Then there are the books I read with my grandchildren. Oskar has been 'doing' Julia Donaldson at school, so we read several of hers, and also a book I'd taken over for him - Vivian French's Hedgehogs Don't Eat Hamburgers, which is a rhythmic, funny delight. Casper is only sixteen months old, but he already has his favourites: Rod Campbell's flap book, Dear Zoo, an Usborne nursery rhyme book which plays the tunes, and two French board books which he knows will play sounds if he presses a finger in the right spot. I took him a book by Jack Tickle called The Very Silly Sheep, which has brilliantly engineered pop-up animals. Casper loves it, as you can see, but I'm not sure how long it will survive intact!
This is my last post for the time being; I decided it was time to stand aside for a while. You'll see some exciting new blogsters joining us over the next month, namely Damian Harvey, Lari Don, Saviour Pirotta and Anna Wilson. I'll continue to review over on ABBA Reviews, and to post on The History Girls. Thank you for reading, and I hope to see you over there!