For January, I read six books as planned. It was a close run thing though, and I almost didn’t succeed. I had intended to reduce the number of books I started for this month, but that didn’t work as I currently have five on the go again. However, I’ve only started enough books to reach my reading goal for February (six books again), so that counts as being organised, right??
Be awesome: modern life for modern ladies – Hadley Freeman
This is the first book I read in 2014, which is a shame as it was quite disappointing in places. I’m not the first one to make this observation, but it’s basically a poorer version of Caitlyn Moran’s How to be a woman. I thought the author had a tendency to waffle, and many sentences were too long. Still, the book raised some interesting points regarding feminism, so it’s still an ok book to read.
Plain and simple – Sue Bender
This book is written by a lady who, after becoming intrigued by the Amish, goes to live with them for a summer on two separate occasions. The book is interesting for anyone who likes the Amish (like me), but I didn’t like something about the way the author adores them. I’m not sure “adores” is the right word – there’s almost a tone throughout her book of idolisation. At the end of the day, the Amish are just one group of people who have chosen a specific way of life. We can study their lives, but we shouldn’t put them up on pedastals. If you ignore the author’s sentiments though, it’s an interesting sneak-peak into a world we don’t get to see.
Travels with my aunt – Graham Greene
I can’t remember why this book ended up on my reading list, but I’ve been reading it on and off for quite a few months now. It really shouldn’t have taken me as long to read as it ultimately did. It’s not a big book, and it was quite amusing and insightful in places. You could easily read it in a week if you stopped picking up other books! The book is about a retired bank manager who, on the death of his Mother, meets an aunt at the funeral that he never really knew. They become companions and go travelling to various European places together, and stories ensue. It’s set in the 50s (maybe 60s?) when travel was more glamourous than it is today. Maggie Smith played the aunt in the film version of the story, which I can totally imagine!
North and South – Elizabeth Gaskell
This is one of my favourite books ever, and I thought it was time I re-read it. I also watched the TV series twice during January (not that I’m obsessive at all…). I love Mr Thornton – he’s totally better than Mr Darcy. It’s also a fascinating look into the North/South divide, which Brits will know is a centuries long argument about which part of the country is better (FYI, I’m a Midlander. Maybe I should be Switzerland, but I’m not; the North is better!). The book is very similar to Pride and Prejudice (sort of), and basically follows the story of Margaret as her Father uproots the family from a small village in Hampshire and moves them to a mill town up north (fictional town, but thought to be Manchester). Margaret has to learn the ways of the north, adjust to living in a town of industry and navigate the stress of family life after the upheaval. It’s a great read!
The South Pole: 1910-1912 – Roald Amundsen
Gosh, this book took me ages to read. Months! Amundsen was a bit of a rambler. Haha, I’m kidding – maybe. He did after all go to the South Pole; he had a lot to write about. The book’s actually really well written (and I assume well-translated). I originally decided to read this book because I’ve naturally favoured British explorers, and therefore hated all non-Brits that have beaten us to important geographical locations. Amundsen is doubly disliked by the British as he beat Scott to the Pole, and then Scott died on the way home (this is obviously Norway’s fault).
Having now read his biography, I have many thoughts (if you’re not a polar fan like me, skip this bit as it will be boring):
- Amundsen’s team were much better equipped for the journey than Scott’s team. Sorry, Britain. The Norwegians relied on centuries of mankind’s experience in cold climates, and therefore bought dogs and traditional skis to Antarctica. Britain decided these people didn’t know what they were doing, disregarded history and tried to do it with ponies.
- The Norwegians had much better weather than the British. This has been remarked on many times over the years, from both modelling and the diaries that all the explorers kept. This is partly down to luck, as Amundsen chose their landing point based on where the British were landing, and so little was known about the continent that knowing which areas suffered bad weather wasn’t possible.
- The Norwegians had a much better attitude than the British. This is most clearly notable in the journals. Granted, the Brits were hungry and having a crappy time of it, but Amundsen’s journals are cheerful and full of little anecdotes about his colleagues, the dogs and the continent he was walking.
- In conclusion, Norway deserved the win!
On a sad note, the Norwegians – knowing they’d got to the Pole first – left a tent with some equipment they didn’t need for Scott in case his team needed anything. Ironically, they didn’t leave any food because, having an over-abundance of their own, they must have assumed he would too. Had they left food as well as equipment for Scott’s team, they may well have made it home again. As it was, Scott’s team starved to death on the journey back and Amundsen’s team couldn’t eat everything they’d brought with them. Their dogs were in such fine form when they got back to the ship that they ended up taking them off Antarctica (instead of shooting them) and giving them to the Australian Antarctica team who were going out the following year.
How to be free – Tom Hodgkinson
I read this book on a whim because it was in my local library’s digital section (most the books are fiction, which I don’t read much). I’m really glad I did spot it, because it’s a gem. The book is written by an anarchist who lives in the UK. It’s about living separate from the State, making a living of your own choosing, and basically being off the grid as much as possible. It’s mixed with anecdotes, theories, British and world history and advice. It’s a brilliant read, and I really recommend it.
Did you read any good books in January?