Tag: Books: Nonfiction

Review: Reflections: On the Magic of Writing

Posted 11 April, 2017 by Lianne in Books / 4 Comments

Reflections: On the Magic of Writing
By: Diana Wynne Jones
Format/Source: Hardback; my copy

Diana Wynne Jones is best-known for her novels and stories – of magical fantasy – written mainly for children. She received a World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2007, as well as two Mythopoeic Awards and the Guardian Fiction Award for Charmed Life. But she was also a witty, entertaining speaker, a popular guest at science fiction and fantasy conventions and an engaged, scholarly critic of writing that interested her.

This collection of more than twenty-five papers, chosen by Diana herself, includes fascinating literary criticism (such as a study of narrative structure in The Lord of the Rings and a ringing endorsement of the value of learning Anglo Saxon) alongside autobiographical anecdotes about reading tours (including an account of her famous travel jinx), revelations about the origins of her books, and thoughts in general about the life of an author and the value of writing. The longest autobiographical piece, ‘Something About the Author’, details Diana’s extraordinary childhood and is illustrated with family photographs. Reflections is essential reading for anyone interested in Diana’s works, fantasy or creative writing.

The collection features a foreword by Neil Gaiman and an introduction and interview by Charlie Butler, a respected expert on fantasy writing.

As you know, I love her book Howl’s Moving Castle (review). I’ve been meaning to read more of her books, but I also really wanted to read this book and learn more about her approach to writing. So I was delighted when I found a copy at the bookstore months ago and snatched it up immediately.

I don’t know how much I can say about this book. Reflections: On the Magic of Writing is a fantastic collection of lecture notes, essays, and letters from Diana Wynne Jones about writing, about her books, about historical narratives, and about her life. It’s a fascinating look at the author herself as well as, more importantly, her approach to her writing and about writing in itself. It’s quite illuminating, and encouraging in a way, and writers I think will find this book incredly useful in the little gems she talks about when it comes to writing. The pieces written by others–Neil Gaiman, Charlie Butler, and her sons–were also very interesting pieces about the author and the impact of her works. My favourites pieces in this collection were “The Shape and Narrative in The Lord of the Rings“, “Two Kinds of Writing?” (especially interesting), “The Value of Learning Anglo-Saxon”, A Talk About Rules”, “Some Hints on Writing”, “Freedom to Write”, and “Characterization: Advice for Young Writers.”

There’s not much else I can say about this book except that it was an interesting one and that I learned a lot about Diana Wynne Jones the writer and the person. Fans of the author’s works as well as writers will want to check out this book!

Rating: ★★★★★

Visit the author’s official website || Order the book from the Book Depository

Review: Two CBC Massey Lecture Books

Posted 30 March, 2017 by Lianne in Books / 2 Comments

After reading Margaret MacMillan’s History’s People (review) a while ago I decided to revisit two CBC Massey Lectures (see tag) I had previously read but never got around to reviewing here (which also happens to be the two first lectures I’ve read from the series) 🙂

The Malaise of Modernity
By: Charles Taylor
Format/Source: eBook; my purchase

In Malaise of Modernity, Charles Taylor focuses on the key modern concept of self-fulfillment, often attacked as the central support of what Christopher Lasch has called the culture of narcissism. To Taylor, self-fulfillment, although often expressed in self-centered ways, isn’t necessarily a rejection of traditional values and social commitment; it also reflects something authentic and valuable in modern culture. Only by distinguishing what is good in this modern striving from what is socially and politically dangerous, Taylor says, can our age be made to deliver its promise.

I read this book back in 2011 after seeing a blogger friend had read it and greatly recommended it. It also happened to be the first Massey Lecture book I had ever read. I found the premise interesting as every now and then I do find myself wondering about the topics mentioned in this book. I greatly enjoyed reading it the first time around, which was still the case the second time around, only this time perhaps it left me a little wanting. I suppose this is the general case with this lecture series as it serves as an introduction to the larger topic without losing its audience entirety with its intricacies.

One major thought that struck me as I was re-reading this book was how this book could really go hand-in-hand with Soren Kierkegaard’s The Present Age: On the Death of Rebellion (review). Much of this book talks about individualism and its impact on changes in the broader social scene, whether it is seen as a detriment to society or not. Intertwined throughout his argument is its impact on the political scene and the socio-economic scene. In retrospect the arguments felt a little more muddled rather than structured–it’s hard to explain in retrospect, but as I was reading it, I wished it focused on each aspect of his argument or each part of the human experience rather than going back and forth between elements. I was also surprised at how the political element played a role in his overall discussion for some reason; it makes sense, of course, given how much the political impinges on general society, but I was expecting the focus to be broader as oppose to individuals and their civic duty.

I had initially gave this book a full five stars but this time around I gave it four stars because, as interesting as the discussion was, it didn’t come to any definitive answer. I suppose any book of this nature can offer any concrete solution or address about the future, but I wasn’t terribly convinced by his wrap-up. It’s nonetheless a fascinating discussion and a book worth checking out if this topic is of any interest to you.

Rating: ★★★★☆

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So You Want to Read… (Soren Kierkegaard)

Posted 22 March, 2017 by Lianne in Lists / 1 Comment

So You Want to Read… is a monthly feature here on eclectictales.com in which I recommend books by particular authors to readers who have never read a book from certain authors and would like to start. I’m always happy to recommend books and certain authors to my fellow readers and bloggers! 🙂

I was pondering for a while as to who to feature for this March edition of “So You Want to Read…” I sometimes schedule posts based on the time of year, what holidays are coming up, etc. It took a bit of pondering, but in the end I decided to go with Soren Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher and writer from the 19th century. I first encountered his works when I was in Grade 12 high school and took a philosophy course. It was his concept of the leap of faith that solidified my interest in his works, and since then had been slowly getting around to reading his works. The list might not appeal to everyone has his works can lean heavily on spiritual philosophy and what people nowadays see as an early form of psychology, but nonetheless I find he quite acutely pinpoints some realities about the human condition in an eloquent and rational way.

So, to anyone interested in reading a bit of philosophy for a change and have always wanted to check out Kierkegaard’s works, here’s my recommendation on where to start:

  • The Present Age: On the Death of Rebellion (review) — Possibly the most easily accessible of all of his works, this particular work of his is especially timely in with the current political climate as he discusses about the mass media and its role in shaping society and the public’s response to information. There is a latter essay included in this collection, “Of the Difference Between a Genius and an Apostle,” which may initially strike readers as an odd addition but it does make sense as to why it was paired with “The Present Age.” Anyhow, I strongly recommend starting here for first-time Kierkegaard readers to get a flavour of his writing and thought processes.
  • Either/Or (the first part at least) — This book is actually a collection of essays and writing fragments. I recommend reading the first bit as they’re merely a collection of thoughts that Kierkegaard has about life, the human condition, love, etc. They’re interesting and incredibly astute; I found myself nodding my head for much of this segment as I agreed with many of the conclusions he came to about life.
  • The Sickness Unto Death — Okay, it was a toss-up between this book and Fear and Trembling. Both I think are equally famous when you think Kierkegaard but while the latter is shorter, The Sickness Unto Death may appeal more as his discussions serve as some predecessor to psychology and a deep analysis of the self, of despair, of the human condition and the mental process. Like most of his writings, a lot of his ideas are still deeply rooted to Christian theology but his conclusions are nonetheless interesting and the material he uncovers along the way fascinating.

And that’s my list! I hope it helps if you’re interested in reading something by Soren Kierkegaard for the first time! 🙂

Review: The Twelve Caesars

Posted 3 March, 2017 by Lianne in Books / 0 Comments

The Twelve Caesars
By: Suetonius
Format/Source: Mass market paperback; my purchase

‘Twenty-three dagger thrusts went home as he stood there. Caesar did not utter a sound…’

This vivid, racy account of the men who wielded absolute power over ancient Rome – including maniacs, tyrants, warriors, sadists and murderers – is the source for nearly everything we know about one of the most dramatic periods in history.

This was one of the new titles that were recently included in the Pocket Penguins line-up and as I had never read this book, and it looked quite shiny amongst the other titles, I decided to pick it up. I had been reading this book to and from work but alas, my book met quite the accident when my water bottle leaked all over my knapsack and drenched most of the book. The stuff of a bookworm’s nightmare O_o The remainder of the book was still readable but it’s all cold and wrinkly and messed up now 🙁

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Review: The Invention of Russia

Posted 16 January, 2017 by Lianne in Books / 0 Comments

The Invention of Russia: The Journey from Gorbachev’s Freedom to Putin’s War
By: Arkady Ostrovsky
Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase

By tracing the history of modern Russia from Mikhail Gorbachev to the rise of ex KGB agent Vladimir Putin, Arkady Ostrovsky reveals how the Soviet Union came to its end and how Russia has since reinvented itself.

Russia today bears little resemblance to the country that embraced freedom in the late eighties and gave freedom to others. But how did a country that had liberated itself from seventy years of Communism end up, just twenty years later, as one of the biggest threats to the West and above all to its own people?

The Invention of Russia tells the story of this tumultuous period, including the important role played by the media, and shows how Russia turned its back on the West and found itself embracing a new era of Soviet-style rule.

Having studied the history of the country from its earliest times up to around events of 2008/2009, this book naturally piqued my interest the minute I saw it shortlisted for the Orwell Prize for books 2016 (and later won).

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