The Life & Times of John Wheater(Farnborough, Wokingham, Bristol, Toronto, Farnham) .

John Wheater 16Jul24 (this page updated 25Oct06)


This is a list of some books I've read since mid-2003, each one with observations of varying (sometimes zero) depth and quality.

David Thomson's Woodbrook. He lived from 1914 to 1982, and spent much of his twenties in rural Ireland.This book has had a lot of recognition, though not from the library, who have relegated it to reserve stock. Tressa recommended it to me in our library, who did get it for me. See an excerpt, (copied from a personal page within this Irish site ), also My notes and maps. Buy it for about £20 hardback or £3 paperback through AbeBooks.

A.S. Byatt. Well. See reviews of Whistling Woman. What about that Christian Science Monitor guy? An idiot! See my diagram of relationships in Babeltower.

Uncle Rudolf: Paul Bailey

The Asquiths: Colin Clifford, John Murray, 2002.

The Journal of a Voyage to Lisbon: Henry Fielding, Tom Keymer(ed), Penguin, 1996.

In Parenthesis: David Jones

The Anathemata: David Jones

Diana Mosley - A Life: Jan Dalley, Faber and Faber, 1999. This includes the information that Hitler thought Mosley's use of the term 'Fascist' for his party was unwise, recognising that it did not ring for the English. AH suggested that 'Ironsides' would have been better.

What an absolute cracker of an observation this is! OM attracted tens of thousands, in spite of all his dressing up, out of despair with the old order. It could all have been very different with him as Cromwell, and his background was not unlike.
Suppose he had come to power as leader of a Parliamentary majority of Roundheads, how would he then have got on with Germany? Might he have been OK, and turned AH away from beastliness?

Dalley is probably a bit of a GuardiaToynebeeste, but writes clearly & well, with not much nonsense.

She gives the words of the BUF anthem, new to me, to the tune of Horst Wessel:

Comrades: the voices of the dead battalions
Of those who fell that Britain might be great
Join in our song, for they still march in spirit with us
And urge us on to win the People's State!

We're of their blood, and spirit of their spirit,
Sprung from the soil for whose dear sake they bled
'Gainst vested powers, Red Front, and massed ranks of reaction
We lead the fight for freedom and for bread!

The streets are still, the final struggles's ended;
Flushed with the fight we proudly hail the dawn!
See, over all the streets the Mosley banner waving -
Triumphant standards of a race reborn

(You can hear Germans singing the H-W, if you've got Real Player installed, or Install it now).

It's cleverly composed, but I'm not sure it would have done for us, whose National Anthem asks the Deity to "Confound their politics, Frustrate their knavish tricks". 2003

Horst Wessel reminds me of my time working in Montreal in 1960. Ed Schultz, one of my colleagues, had been a German fighter pilot in the war, and he wrote down the words for me. The whole business of the Germans and the war was then seen in a curious and intense light. And for long after: in 1976, working in Darmstadt, it still seemed incredible that there we were, where actual Germans lived who had done their stuff (and, more so even, visiting Berlin). Jennie summed it up in the humorous tape she made after her visit: "...he might be the very bloke that dropped the bomb on Myrtle Ferret's riding school in Cainscross there."

The Map That Changed The World: Simon Winchester, Viking, 2001. The story of William Smith, pioneer geologist and author of The Map, which is the first geological map of Britain.

This has set me off on a geology enthusiasm. Smith found himself doing surveying, and did a Somerset mine and the Somerset Coal Canal. He saw a lot of strata, and it seems Somerset was a lucky place for him to have sliced up, as it's moderately orderly & holds a good set of fossils. Smith realised you could date rocks from fossils; and he was the first to do so.

I owe the book a large debt (thanks Mr W), and it is packed with information. But I do find the style irritatingly overblown; not unlike that of Richard Fortey, who has had successes in the same field, with The Hidden Landscape and Trilobites.There is a feeling I suppose that the pill must be sugared to sell well; though Winchester's Surgeon of Crowthorne, about the mad OED doctor who amputated his own penis, was steadier.
Fortey reminds me a bit of 'Steve' Jones, who famously attributed "Malt does more than Milton can..." to Chesterton! They are, I imagine, first class scientists with a gift for clear writing; but they get tempted beyond their literary range. --Richard Dawkins, of course, is similarly tempted, though there I'm not so sure of his science. Feb04

The Solace of Leaving Early: Haven Kimmel, Flamingo, 2003.
Kimmel is I guess well-read & proud of it, and it shows, though she is uncertain of Latin plurals. Dale Peck might grumble about the whiff of the Creative Writing class (and indeed the wrapper discloses she did attend); but this is a cracking good novel - and DP doesn't like AS Byatt... 24Feb04

A Computer Called LEO: Georgina Ferry, Fourth Estate, 2003.
SW gave me this for my 71st birthday; I'd glanced at it before, but this time found it gripping. A grim tale of crushed innovators and loss of English leadership. Recommended to old codgers who were computing in the 60s. I had an extremely brief glimpse of the LEO III with Stuart Loney at Smiths in 1963, but know nothing about it. Caminer, well known at ICL, is a key figure. I suppose he joined when English-Electric-Leo-Marconi-Uncle-Tom-Cobley-Computers was formed. Mar04

Dennis Potter A Biography: Humphrey Carpenter, Faber and Faber, 1998.
This is a huge and successful effort, 590 pages of text, then 80 of reference material. As I remarked to Dave Evans, who runs a Potter site, the personal letters to La Seebohm should maybe not have been published, even though she was naughty enough to hand them over - a bit like Alan Clark's widow finishing off his Diaries with pungent tales of his incontinence. 03Apr04

No Highway: Nevil Shute, Heinemann, 1948.
There's quite a lot about this old favourite on the web. I remember it being filmed when I was at Farnborough; we laffed when a crowd of extras pretending to be workers (instead of the actual workers) were filmed going in through North Gate.
It also got a lot of attention for seeming to adumbrate the Comet disasters. Mar04

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time: Mark Haddon, Vintage, 2004.
Reserved (me and about 80 other people) on April 18th 2004, after a review in Telegraph Books. Curiously, the fee was only 20p, maybe because it's such a long wait. (Steve will fetch it perhaps). I cancelled the reservation & read Sallie's copy in the end, as Daisy has chosen it for their book group. It's a quick read, important & moving. See what the Guardian had to say. May04

The Smoking Diaries: Simon Gray, Granta, 2004.
Wanted to reserve on April 18th 2004, after a review in Telegraph Books, but not yet in the catalogue. You can see the appeal, man born in 1936 grumbling about, though resigned to, his inability to affect the modern world...

Tokyo: Mo Hayder, Bantam, 2004.
Reviewed in Telegraph Books, 24Apr04. An 'Historical Novel'. This appellation often rules out serious consideration, a fact much objected to by Zoe Oldenbourg, author of my most-read books "Destiny of Fire" and "Cities of the Flesh". These are fictional treatments of the Albigensian Crusade, of which she also wrote a history. In the preface to DOF she says

The author has endeavoured to convey...the spirit of the Catharist religion as it really was
The present work is neither a chronicle nor colourfully embellished history. The action takes place marginally to history proper, which serves as a backcloth for it...The struggle in which these fictional characters are involved takes place beyond strict historical time.
and here is a serious excerpt from the book.

We may hope that Hayder's work (partly also a thriller) on Japanese atrocities of the 1930s (You have two minutes on...) has similar aims.

The Next Big Thing: Anita Brookner, Viking, 2002.
An old Jewish chap mulls over his life and wonders what to do in the time before the title overtakes him.
Doesn't sound too promising, but is actually riveting, at least to an old chap mulling over his life and so on... Apr04

Cevennes Journal: Robert Louis Stevenson
Mentioned in an outrageous puff, TB 01May04, written by ++Richard Holmes for a new Folio Society publication to which he contributes the introduction. He mentions a mountain with a spring at the top, and I was interested as SW & I had a walk up above Dourbies, with my Webley firing. This also had a spring at the top. RLS's was called Mont Lozère, about 25 miles NEN. See here . Not yet read

The Sword and the Cross: Fergus Fleming, Faber & Faber, 2004
TB 01May04. Story of the French colonisation of North Africa. Moroccan interest, after our penetrating 1-week Jules Verne visit. My reading programme is cribbed for a bit by my resolve to read and take notes on my OU  A220 set books.

Lighthouse: Jeanette Winterson, Fourth Estate, 2004
TB 01May04. "Straightforward by Winterson's standards"...Interesting Stevenson connections, both in characters (Pew, Silver) and his family business of lighthouse building.

Shantaram: Greg Roberts, , 2004
Telegraph Feature 04May04. By a convicted & escaped criminal who did good works in India.

Film: Bus 174, , 2004
Not yet seen

Cryptonomicon: Neal Stevenson, Heinemann, 1999
I stumbled across this in the library, and became obsessed by it. It's a huge book of about 900 pages, and I read it twice. It's a cult, googling in at 77,000 (plus one now I've written this). As part of my obsession I started a tabular chapter summary, but only got to page 200 odd.

It's not literature, it won't tug the heartstrings; but NS is a true writer, master of complexity, and master story teller. To enjoy it you'd maybe need to like WW2, computers, and code breaking.

Maybe not though, consider this excerpt: Feb04

Telegraph Books 15May04
Lancelot Andrewes' Private Prayer (presumably the Manual of Private Devotions) is mentioned today by ++Christopher Howse, who tells us that his original notebook, written in Greek, is in the Bodleian. It is he who was denied Canterbury by James, who seems to have vacilated between Puritan & Arminian appointments. Andrewes served on the 'King James' translation team, and, I believe, wrote the (or a) preface.

Which of AS Byatt's FQ books included the snails? And was it maybe David Brown, in today's obituaries, who provided the advice.

Wood, J.(2004) The Irresponsible Self, London, Jonathan Cape.
Collection of literary criticism by one seen by Sam Leith as the new, or current, Leavis.
he is in the Guardian.

Patrick McGrath
"The reader can settle comfortably into an uncomfortable tale..." and thus, we are told, a new book by him is always welcome.

What We Lost: Dale Peck, Houghton Mifflin, 2003
A brilliancy by the stern critic of the creative writing school noticed above. It's just too grim at first, but mercifully (I shouldn't like to have missed it) I persevered, as did the missus. May04

Telegraph Books 29May04
Griffiths, Neil.(2004) Betrayal In Naples, London, Viking.
A first novel. The author has a weblog; this page mentions the Telegraph review, and also that the Telegraph's and Spectator's politics do not suit Mr G.

Ancient Greek Religion: Jon D. Mikalson, Blackwell, ?2004, flyleaf states 2005 in July 2004
This is American, with spelling, BCE, worshiping, etc, to match. M is a Classics Professor at the University of Virginia. Here are some things I learned:

Chapter 1, An Overview: Greek Sanctuaries and Worship pp.1-31:

asylum is an alpha privative plus 'stolen'. Things within a sanctuary were not to be stolen; also people within it were not to be removed.

temenos, from temnein is the enclosed space forming a sanctuary.

votive is from vow. You vow a gift to the god if he helps you; when he has helped you, you put the promised gift in his sanctuary.

Another class of offering is made in gratitude, not coupled to a vow. All offerings, or dedications, are placed in the temenos of a sanctuary of the god honoured.


Telegraph Books 25Jul04
Woodward, Gerald.(2004) I'll Go to Bed at Noon, London, Chatto.
His first novel was August, 2001, (in Bagshot library) and this is a sequel. It's about a family at WW2 time, but "not the usual collection of cardboard cutouts thinly strung on a frame of social history". reviewed by Tom Payne. Probably won't read it, I disliked August.

Baddiel, David. (2004) The Secret Purpose, Little Brown.
This review by Sam Leith is notable for the remark: "It reads like a more intelligent version of Sebastian Faulks: a faintly sentimental potboiler lent grandeur by the borrowed intensity of its subject matter."

Imagine being Faulks and reading that. Deadly for being so accurate. I too hated Birdsong, unlike Hannah Morris, who wrote: "Birdsong is a fantastic book. It gives a real insight to the emotional drama that many soilders went though at that time and an unbeilable love story is in the mist of it all. I couldn't put the book down once I had started and picked it straight up again once I had finished. A compeling read to say the least."

Even so, Faulks must have done something terrible to Leith (achieved fame perhaps), for him to be so wounding. Just as detraction is a graver sin than calumny, so the publication of a cut is more hurtful if true.

Telegraph Books 14Aug04
Kermode, Frank. Pieces of my Mind

Cartwright, Justin. The Promise of Happiness

The Making of Henry: Howard Jacobson, Jonathan Cape, 2004.
This naturally appealed, as it centres on a chap considering his last years. It has been widely reviewed. I finished it, well worth it although complex. Here is a quote:

The world was a blank to him; he noticed nothing unless he was in love with a woman. Then he approved and noticed nothing but her.

Here are some notes I made, where I thought he should have been better edited:

On page 2, lunatics expelled and made to wander the streets would be more forceful.

On page 148, I think penetralium is probably an error. Penetralia has passed into English as the plural of the Latin penetrale. The OED gives penetralium as an "erroneous back-formation from penetralia".

On page 193, I was taken aback to see "Crist if my love were in my arms". 56 of 62 googles give that, which I remember, and which has more force. But Stravinsky did set a version, "Westron winde", which has if and Crist.

On page 217, mordant is just carelessness.

On page 284, "Never seek..." is riddled with errors. Maybe I'm missing some literary point in the misquotation.

On page 331, I was puzzled by "heart of a division".

After all, his stuff will be read long after he's dead, and his editor should protect him from smart alecs getting off on these things at his expense. Jul04

Telegraph Books 25Sep04, 02Oct04
Wolitzer, Meg.(2004) The Wife

Mount, Ferdinand. (2004) Mind the Gap

Galgut, Damon. (2004) The Quarry
The second book from a white 'New South African". Well received, as was his first, The Good Doctor, a Booker nominee last year.

L'Engle, Madeleine. (Puffin, 1967 [1963]) A Wrinkle in Time
'For Older Children'. Mentioned by the author of The Da Vinci Code, which is recommended by HBM.

The Information: Martin Amis, Flamingo, 1995.
Not an easy read, but you don't want to miss it. One curious thing: the metaphor "like trying to put a raw oyster into a parking meter" is used (p.168) for inadequate sexual activity. The same words occur in a rap lyric by Bob Schneider, but I couldn't find out which was first; certainly there's no acknowledgement. Oct04

Don't Move: Margaret Mazzantini
Literary Review Aug04.

Eichmann: David Caesarini
Literary Review Aug04. I finished it, but didn't find it memorable.

Youth: J M Coetzee
Steve was reading this, and by chance I found it in the library & devoured it. S said the hero had a job as a programmer with IBM which was deadly dull (Programing? Dull? Eh??). But it turns out he moved to ICL at Lily Hill House in Bracknell, where he became duly obsessed with programming the Atlas.
So that's all right... Jan05

Telegraph Books 16Jan05
Goldman, Francisco The Divine Husband ("a real novelist" - Colm Toibin, see his earlier works, but T thinks this the best)

Forster, Margaret Is There Anything You Want?

Valerie's recommendations 18Jun05
Dalrymple, William From the Holy Mountain

Dalrymple, William The White Moguls
For some reason, not interesting.

The Kite Runners

The Bookseller of Kabul

Miss Garnet's Angel

Telegraph Books 14Jan06
Botsford A Life of Privilege, Mostly

O'Hear Plato's Children (Will Cohu)

Christopher Bray on civilisation - Asquith "a buttress of the Church, supporting it from the outside"

Telegraph Books Mar06
Evans The Coming of the Third Reich

Healey, Edna Part of the Pattern

Tombs. That Sweet Enemy (us & the French)

Unsorted Notes I don't want to lose
BOOKS & RECORDS ------------------- Schutz: Christmas, 12/12/99 Kuijken, DHM05472 77511 2 .Rachel Ames Night Falls on the City Design for Dying Timothy Leary 8.99 The Lyttelton Hart-Davis Letters Hart-Davis (ed), 1978-84 6 vols (see obit. 9/12/99) !ntellectual History of Europe Friedrich Heer. 1953 (article 12/12/99) The Quest for C. Alan Judd (review 13/12/99) The Code Book Simon Singh (review 13/12/99) read 28/6/00 Uncovered Editions HMSO ..(13/12/99) David Beaty. Obit 23/12/99 Which of his books did I read? The Heart of the Storm?. Cone of Silence? I hear in my mind's ear "Proving Flight", not mentioned in the obit. Twentieth Century: A History of the World, 1901 to the Present. J.M.Roberts. 906pp. 26/12/99 Headlong Michael Frayn Diary 1847-1889 William Allingham (knew Tennyson & Jowett) Private Angelo Eric Linklater (set where he worked 1944) bought, started, failed, April?00 J.A.Gere (ed) Bensoniana & Cornishiana (incl Belloc Elevation story) J ulia Blackburn The Leper's Companions Ouida - 'neglected genius' - A.Massie C.S.Godshawk Kalimantaan Alan Sealy - novels of India Hero The Everest Hotel Purcell King Arthur W.G. Sebald - lecturer at U E Anglia The Rings of Saturn D.J. Taylor - journalist also Trespass M.John Harrison Climbers mentioned by N Royle in review of Taylor above. John Lanchester Mr. Phillips Bach St. Matthew Passion Herreweghe HMC 95 1676 3 CD's Meriol Trevor (obit 22-01-00) Novels, also trad. R.C. Alan Ross Reflections on Blue Water Patricia Highsmith (is a Texan) Strangers on a Train The Talented Mr. Ripley Douglas Coupland Review by V.Glendinning. 5/2/00 Carol Shields Dressing up for the Carnival Lit. Review Feb 00 Michel Faber Under The Skin Lit. Review Feb 00 Thomas Sowell is an American conservative economist: The Vision of the Anointed b,r,f May00 The Quest for Cosmic Justice Chang-Rae Lee A Gesture Life (Jap-Korea,WW2,women) Matthew Kneale English Passengers (Novel, history, Tasmanian Eden Pilate: the Biography ... Ann Wroe M.D. Petre Autobiography & Life of GeorgeTyrrell. 1912 When you are a king White Plains. Mackay Brown Greenvoe l,r,f April?00 Magnus Allan Bloom The Closing of the American Mind Paulo Maurensig The Luneburg Variation about chess Charles Bukowski 1920-1994 Post Office Factotum Ham on Rye Chang-rae Lee A Gesture Life Michel Houllebecq Atomised. Translation of 1998 novel Les Particules élémentaires Penelope Fitzgerald - ob. 3/5/00 e.g. The Blue Flower Ornet Coleman ? Jazz 1959 Poet to Poet. Faber series "beautifully produced" Douglas Dunn's includes Garioch. C.K. Stead Novels rec by J de Falbe Spec 27/5/00 Sarum David Rutherford The Leper's Companions Julia Blackburn The Natural Philosophy of Time Gerald Whitrow 1960, Trilobite Richard Fortey 19/6/00 Karen Armstrong reviewed b on Orthodox Christianity 26/6/00 Don't read that book, by Victoria Clark. Carter Dickson d.1977. Ingenious detective stories e.g. The House in Goblin Wood. Terence Davis - autobiography read on R4 in June 2000. RC school 28Jun. Schubert Piano Sonata in G D894, Brendl. 2nd movement played on DED 30-06-00. Beethoven Piano Sonata #30 in E major, Ashkenazy. 3rd movement played on DED 30-06-00. This was MP's favourite of the 8. Dr Max Perutz, guest on DED above, sounds nice, & writes.

Telegraph Books 27May06
Saunders, George The Brief and Frightening reign of Phil

Homes, A.M. "Well-known chronicler of suburban American family"

Later, Jun06

James Runcie Canvey Island

Telegraph Books 02Sep06
Kawabata The Master of Go

Faber,Michel The Crimson Petal and the White

Harris,Robert Imperium

Telegraph Books Oct06
Barry Unsworth [eliminated from the Booker]

Edward St Aubyn Mother's Milk

Michael Burleigh Earthly Powers and Sacred Causes

Michael Frayn The Human Touch [Philosophy]

Sisman The Friendship: Wordsworth & Coleridge

John Wheater - John.Wheater@gmail.com

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