Tricky choice for an audio book, with 25 CDs, a cast of thousands, and ranging over all of Europe, including elaborate military evolutions which could only be intelligible with a map – especially while distracted by counting stitches, reading recipes, sorting out cupboards etc. The main contention seems to be that WWI was not a case of ‘sleepwalking’ but was triggered by intentional German aggression. It was difficult to tell if certain phrases were quotations from other authors or Hastings’ own. I did like the one describing the badly planned battle of the Heligoland Bight as a Grand Fleet ‘come-as-you-are party’. Also one army officer (whose name I didn’t catch) saying that with aeroplanes increasingly involved in warfare, he could only tell his soldiers ‘to put hay on their heads and make a noise like a mushroom’.
I’ve been crawling on the floor while sifting a library. The library is on the floor because the children who use it are only little dots and need low shelving, but it’s agony on the knees. The cover of this rather elderly item caught my eye. The story was less original than I had hoped, but the author occasionally has a good idea, such as the hungry tiger saying, ‘The pleadings of the buffet can be really quite amusing’.
There used to be an unfortunate tendency to put children’s literature into drab jackets. This book won a Newbery back along, and deserved a better outside, especially as it is not illustrated within. The setting is the austerity of an American great plains farming community not far from its pioneering origins. Sarah from the East coast answers an advertisement for a replacement wife for a widower and his two children, and visits the family for a month while she tries to decide. The courtship between the children and Sarah teeters gently back and forth, and the father’s overtures are hinted in the background. This subtlety was coarsened into a mainstream film, in which the children are dislodged from the centre of their own story and the events of the original tale sensationalised – the book is its superior in every respect.
If fame is indicated when an author is referred to only by surname, how about when initials are enough? It’s somehow fitting that GBS and GKC faced off across the early years of the twentieth century. GKC is a bit mannered, but I enjoy his relish for words: ‘The most interesting thing about Mr. H. G. Wells is that he is the only one of his many brilliant contemporaries who has not stopped growing. One can lie awake at night and hear him grow.’ (But somehow one doesn’t call him HGW.)
And I’ll always love Chesterton’s definition of a heretic: ‘that is to say, a man whose view of things has the hardihood to differ from mine’.