Monday, 11 November 2013

Book review: Bad Science and I Used to Know That- History

Product Details
Bad Science by Ben Goldacre.
I whizzed through this book, which was actually quite entertaining, as well as thought-provoking. Essentially, he explains the 'bad science' behind alternative remedies/medicine, the dubious credentials of some famous providers of health and nutritional advice, and discusses the media storm around healthcare stories, such as the MMR vaccine's link (or not, as it turned out) to autism.

I felt like I was already vaguely familiar with a lot of the information on how scientific research is conducted (although the last time I did anything even close a scientific experiment was about 10 years ago, at A-Level) but there was a lot that I have forgotten, or was not familiar with in such depth. This was a very accessible book, which didn't treat the reader as stupid. It has given me a healthy suspicion of health/science stories as reported in the media...I suppose I always thought there were a lot of dubious/exaggerated stories which may have misunderstood the science, but now I will be reading Ben Goldacre's website and this website, mentioned in the book, to have a look at the research myself and hopefully make up my own mind. I am looking forward to being more informed about these topics!

 Product Details
I Used to Know That- History by Emma Marriott
Despite having a history degree, I sometimes feel that I have large gaps in my historical knowledge, particularly when it comes to modern history. This book aimed to give an overview of history (albeit from a British/European perspective). Due to my patchy knowledge, it became more useful the further into it I read, and I think it was quite good at showing how the 'headlines' of history fitted together.
One issue that I had with this book in Kindle format was that what were probably well laid out information boxes in the print version became jumbled up in the Kindle version, so I found that I was jumping between the main paragraph and the 'detail' box- annoying!

I seem to be getting through the Kindle books quite speedily (and making slow progress on the print books- if only the print books would hold themselves open whilst I knit!). Next up is 'A Brief History of the Third Reich'- bought in an attempt to fill in my knowledge gaps, I think!

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Book reviews- Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating

Product Details
Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother- The Official Biography- William Shawcross 
Generally, I found this an interesting book. The first fifty years of the Queen Mother's life were interesting as I didn't know that much about her life during that time, and indeed my knowledge of that period of history is a little vague. The last ten or so years were interesting, as I remembered some of the events quite clearly, and it was interesting to contrast the world as it was then with the world she was born in to.
I did find the long lists of charities she supported and official engagements a bit dull and repetitive. I also felt that, as it was an official biography, it was a bit...sanitised. (This could also be because Princess Margaret burned a lot of her mother's letters- if they had been in the royal archives, perhaps there would have been some more revealing insights. Also the QM seems to have been quite discreet, so it is probably impossible for anyone outside of her family to know what she really thought).

An interesting read, over all- especially if you are prepared to skim over the slightly dull parts!

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating- Elisabeth Tova Bailey

Product DetailsThis is a very short book, which focuses on the snail that the author is given during a bout of reoccurring, debilitating illness. I found this quite a soothing book, as if it was somehow infused by the slow movements of the snail. I loved snails as a child (there is a photo of me with them crawling all over my arms) but I didn't know that much about them (or if I did, I had forgotten it). The author's observations of the snail were interspersed with her later research on the biology of the snail, which was fascinating.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

A Book at Bedtime- revisited

Following Dar's post over at An Exacting Life, I thought that it was high time to revisit my (unread!)
book collection, which I listed, err, some time ago here.

I have actually managed to reduce the book collection quite significantly...but sadly not by actually reading them! I went through them recently and decided that I was very unlikely to actually read or use many of them again- especially books of seventeenth century documents! (Only really useful if you are doing a degree in history). Many of the books are now waiting in a cupboard for someone to buy them from Amazon...

I'm going to make a concerted effort to finish at least one physical book per month- and those that are worth selling will be listed on Amazon and join their friends in the cupboard! There may be some that I decide are not worth ploughing through- straight to the cupboard with them...

So, here is the updated list:

Physical books (all non-fiction)

1. The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn by Alison Weir-  I am half way through this- it's slow going, partly because I've not been reading it consistently, and keep forgetting who everyone is.
I've decided that I am unlikely to finish reading this, and also not really enjoying it very much, so it can be rehomed without finishing.
2. The Three Edwards by Michael Prestwich- started this yesterday- I had only read chapters before during degree. Quite a brief history, and thus should be possible to make it to the end!
I've decided that, as the reigns of Edwards I, II and III are no longer top of my list of 'interesting things', I'll sell this without finishing.
3. Newton and the Counterfeiter by Thomas Levenson Finished March 2014.
4. The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins Finished March 2014
5. Witchfinders: A Seventeenth Century English Tragedy by Malcolm Gaskill
5. Medieval Women by Henrietta Leyser
6. England under the Norman and Angevin Kings by Robert Bartlett  Another book that is firmly in the 'past interests' category- so I'm not even going to attempt to read it!
7. How to Read Buildings by Carol Davidson Crangoe
8. The English Civil War by Diane Purkiss
9. Chivalry by Maurice Keen If I didn't read it properly when I was writing a dissertation on medieval chivalry, what makes me think I am going to read it 7 years later?!
10. Six Wives: the Queens of Henry VIII by David Starkey
11. The Wonders of Life by Professor Brian Cox
12. Savage Fortune: An Aristocratic Family in the early Seventeenth Century by Lyn Boothman and Sir Richard Hyde Parker This was relevant to my old job- so it can be made use of by people who still work there, rather than me!
13. A History of Bury St Edmunds by Frank Meeres finished Jan 2014

14. The Suffolk Landscape by Norman Scarfe
15. The National Trust Book of British Castles by Paul Johnson  Another one which I have decided that I am not going to finish- to the charity shop!
16. Medieval Warfare edited by Maurice Keen Again, I didn't read this one during my dissertation, why would I be enthusiastic about it now?!
17. Armies and Warfare in the Middle Ages by Micheal Prestwich
18. Tournament by David Crouch Another 'didn't read at uni, never will'.
19. The Oxford Illustrated History of Tudor and Stuart Britain by John Morrill Didn't read at uni, won't read now!
20. An Elizabethan Progress by Zillah Dovey  Again, more relevant to my previous job, so it can be given to people who may still use it.
21. Britain in Revolution by Austin Woolrych
22. Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England by Amanda Vickery
23. Discovering Life on Earth by David Attenborough
24. Plant Earth by David Attenborough

Since my last post, I don't seem to have made much progress through my Kindle books either (!) I'll carry on reading them when a physical book is not convenient- such as when knitting, which I need both hands for!

Kindle books:
1. Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother by William Shawcross- Finished November 2013.
2. The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins
3. Bats Sing, Mice Giggle by Karen Shanor etc
4. A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe
5. I Used to Know That- History by Emma Marriott- Finished November 2013
6. Delusions of Gender by Cordeila Fine
7. The Man Without a Face: the Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin by Masha Gessen
8. A Brief History of the Third Reich by Martyn Whittock
9. The Universe Inside You by Brian Clegg
10. 50 Facts that Should Change the World by Jessica Williams
11. The Diamond Queen by Andrew Marr
12.  Broadmoor Revealed:: Victorian Crime and the Lunatic Asylum by Mark Stevens
13. The Borgias by Christoper Hibbert
14. As Good as God, as Clever as the Devil by Rodney Bolt
15. Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang
16. Map of a Nation by Rachel Hewitt
17. Written in Stone by Brian Switek
18. God is not Great by Christopher Hitchens
19. Birdwatching with your Eyes Closed by Simon Barnes
20. Bad Science by Ben Goldacre Finished November 2013

21. The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey: read November 2013

And some Kindle fiction:
22. Dracula by Bram Stoker
23. Beowulf
24.The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
25. Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
26. Lorna Doone: A Romance of Exmoor by R.D. Blackmoor
27. Oliver Twist by Dickens
28. A Tale of Two Cities by Dickens
29. Nicholas Nickleby by Dickens
30. Cranford by Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell
31. David Copperfield by Dickens
32. A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka
33. The China Bird by Bryony Doran

So, at the rate of one book a month, the physical books along would keep me going for 2 years! And I then have three years of Kindle books to get through... I think I may have to ban myself from buying books (other than knitting books for my City and Guilds course, obviously..!)

I'll write a mini review of each book that I finish/decide to 'rehome' without finishing- although my reviewing skills are such that it will probably be a brief 'yeah, not too boring''s been a while since A-level English Lit!

Saturday, 5 January 2013

New Years' Resolutions- a little late.

Here are my New Years resolutions- hopefully nice and specific, not impossible and fairly easy to tell if I have done them...they also may change as the year goes on, if I realise that they are impossible or foolish.

1. No alcohol. It may be a sign of age, but over the past couple of months I have had a headache and then felt sick for about a week after even one modestly sized glass of wine. As I rarely drink, this should not be a problem...maybe. I drink in the English style- nothing for months, and then a party with much, much wine- i.e. binge drinking. Yey!

2.  Horse riding- pass ABRS Equitation 5 and Stable Management 7 and 8. (Information here and here, if you are interested). Update- since I made this list, I've passed Equitation 5- just about. Not going to aim to pass 6 this year though, as I don't think I will improve enough.

3. Exercise- do more. Nothing crazy- yoga twice a week (yes, that is exercise!), swimming twice a week, walking twice a week. So far I have been swimming a couple of times- this morning I did 40 lengths, which is half a mile (the pool is very short!).

4. Save money. At the moment I fritter it all away on my hardcore pony habit and serious knitting habit. £100 a month seems reasonable, especially now I am old and my car insurance has dropped considerably. (May have something to do with the fact that I no longer drive a sports car...).

5. Plan meals. So I don't end up eating cheese because I can't be arsed to cook and everything else is frozen. Hopefully this, along with point 3, will result in my ending the year lighter than I started it- but I don't think that 'lose weight' is a very helpful resolution, if you have no plans on how do it!

6. Sleep more. Not as in napping randomly during the day, but going to bed earlier- 9.30pm. I need to accept that my natural waking up time is 5.30-6am (thanks, dad) and thus if I want to not be a zombie during the day, I have to have an old person bedtime. Sigh.

7. Get rid of things that fall into the category 'shit I don't need'. Less to clean, less for the cats to break, less furniture, more room to lay on the floor like a starfish. I've already got rid of some 'stuff' to willinh recipients- the breadmaker, for instance, as I am going to make bread from scratch (see item 13).

8. Read more. I've written a whole post on this!

9. Spend 45 mins a week in the garden making it grow stuff. Mostly thus far I have made elaborate plans but shirked the actual work...first- digging. It's been a bit wet for that so far this year.

10. Knitting course- actually do this. The bits I've done so far have been interesting, but I've not done much of it, as there is always something else to do, such as getting the kitchen sink really shiny, and other such vital tasks.

11. Knitting- get down to two WIPs (work in progress..ess..) and use the enormous collection of yarn I have rather than buying more. (See point 4- knitting addiction vs. saving).

12. Sew stuff. Rather than just re-arranging fabric and thinking 'I should really make something with this.'. My bfs mum made me a dress for Christmas and gave me the paper pattern, so I will make one of those.

13. Learn to make good bread from scratch. This book was a Christmas presents, and first bread attempt went well. No more manky processed bread! So far, bread attempts have gone quite well, and tasted like actual bread. Today's effort (see photo) was made using flour that mum ground herself. (Well, in an electric grain mill- apparently a millstone requires too much effort).

14. Go "no 'poo". No, not some weird constipation cult, but cutting out commercial shampoo, conditioner and cleaning products. Bicarbonate of soda and vinegar are my friends. (Plus lavender essential oil to avoid smelling like a chippy..). I may also experiment with using olive oil as a moisturiser, but I suspect that would result in a greasy face.

I know, it's quite a long list. But if I don't write all of my ideas down now, I will forget them.

Does anyone else have New Years' Resolutions? Perhaps a shorter list than this..?!