Treat Your Shelves!

As has sadly become the norm for this blog, I’ve haven’t written for a couple of months – but I have a good excuse this time! At the start of July I finally had the surgery I needed that had been cancelled in April, so I’ve been taking my time recovering from that – that, and reading a heck of a lot. They say that time is a healer, but whoever’s saying that hasn’t been reading the right books.

Terrible attempts at jokes aside, I’ve been able to get out and about more over the past few weeks owing to lockdown restrictions easing and my own drastically improved mobility. Today was one such day and I ended up in Waterstones – though let’s be honest, I didn’t end up there by chance – and emerged triumphant maybe half an hour later with a stack of books, which I’m now going to share with you all. It’s been far too long since I’ve shared one of my book hauls with you all!

Part of the reason I’m so excited about these books is because I had enough points on my loyalty card to get £10 off – so I may have gone overboard! In no particular order of excitement – if I could read four books at once I would – they are:

William Shakespeare found dozens of different ways to kill off his characters, and audiences today still enjoy the same reactions – shock, sadness, fear – that they did more than 400 years ago when these plays were first performed. But how realistic are these deaths, and did Shakespeare have the knowledge to back them up?

In the Bard’s day death was a part of everyday life. Plague, pestilence and public executions were a common occurrence, and the chances of seeing a dead or dying body on the way home from the theatre were high. It was also a time of important scientific progress. Shakespeare kept pace with anatomical and medical advances, and he included the latest scientific discoveries in his work, from blood circulation to treatments for syphilis. He certainly didn’t shy away from portraying the reality of death on stage, from the brutal to the mundane, and the spectacular to the silly. 

Elizabethan London provides the backdrop for Death by Shakespeare, as Kathryn Harkup turns her discerning scientific eye to the Bard and the varied and creative ways his characters die. Was death by snakebite as serene as Shakespeare makes out? Could lack of sleep have killed Lady Macbeth? Can you really murder someone by pouring poison in their ear? Kathryn investigates what actual events may have inspired Shakespeare, what the accepted scientific knowledge of the time was, and how Elizabethan audiences would have responded to these death scenes. Death by Shakespeare will tell you all this and more in a rollercoaster of Elizabethan carnage, poison, swordplay and bloodshed, with an occasional death by bear-mauling for good measure.

Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Mao Zedong, Kim Il-sung, Ceausescu, Mengistu of Ethiopia and Duvalier of Haiti.

No dictator can rule through fear and violence alone. Naked power can be grabbed and held temporarily, but it never suffices in the long term. A tyrant who can compel his own people to acclaim him will last longer. The paradox of the modern dictator is that he must create the illusion of popular support. Throughout the twentieth century, hundreds of millions of people were condemned to enthusiasm, obliged to hail their leaders even as they were herded down the road to serfdom.

In How to Be a Dictator, Frank Dikötter returns to eight of the most chillingly effective personality cults of the twentieth century. From carefully choreographed parades to the deliberate cultivation of a shroud of mystery through iron censorship, these dictators ceaselessly worked on their own image and encouraged the population at large to glorify them. At a time when democracy is in retreat, are we seeing a revival of the same techniques among some of today’s world leaders?

This timely study, told with great narrative verve, examines how a cult takes hold, grows, and sustains itself. It places the cult of personality where it belongs, at the very heart of tyranny.

Wallace has spent his summer in the lab breeding a strain of microscopic worms. He is four years into a biochemistry degree at a lakeside Midwestern university, a life that’s a world away from his childhood in Alabama. 

His father died a few weeks ago, but Wallace didn’t go back for the funeral, and he hasn’t told his friends Miller, Yngve, Cole and Emma. For reasons of self-preservation, he has become used to keeping a wary distance even from those closest to him. But, over the course of one blustery end-of-summer weekend, the destruction of his work and a series of intense confrontations force Wallace to grapple with both the trauma of the past, and the question of the future.

Elegant, brutal and startlingly intimate, Real Life is a campus novel about learning to live from an electric new voice in fiction.

Berlin, 1940, and the city is filled with fear. At the house on 55 Jablonski Strasse, its various occupants try to live under Nazi rule in their different ways: the bullying Hitler loyalists the Persickes, the retired judge Fromm and the unassuming couple Otto and Anna Quangel. Then the Quangels receive the news that their beloved son has been killed fighting in France. Shocked out of their quiet existence, they begin a silent campaign of defiance, and a deadly game of cat and mouse develops between the Quangels and the ambitious Gestapo inspector Escherich. When petty criminals Kluge and Borkhausen also become involved, deception, betrayal and murder ensue, tightening the noose around the Quangels’ necks …

Hopefully I’ll be writing reviews for these at some point soon – in the meantime, I’m planning to write up a post of some of my best and worst reads from lockdown thus far. To date, I’ve read over forty books so it may be hard to narrow it down!

Here’s hoping it won’t be another two months until I write on this blog again. To everyone out there who’s reading this, thank you for sticking around. I really appreciate your patience. Until my next post – happy reading, everyone!

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