Lewis, Novy Odense and China

I’m delighted that most of my week off has seen glorious sunshine, and some of the couchsurfers I’ve hosted this week from hotter climes have found great amusement in my protestations that on occasion it has even been a bit too hot.

I’m the only person I know to have found Glasgow summers too hot. Surely global warming can’t make the same now true of Inverness…?

Today’s cooler though, with overcast skies and rain making their inevitable arrival to coincide with Rock Ness.

Besides the couchsurfers, the main activity of the week has been reading, and I’ve been working my way through quite a pile.

Earlier in the week I finished off The Living Past by Donald MacLeod, a book which (to say the least) has something of a niche market. It’s a reminisence of life growing up on the isle of Lewis in the middle of the twentieth century, touching on issues like childhood, school, religion and faith.

Like most other books by Lewismen that I’ve read, there’s a strong dose of self-importance, a belief that Lewis is the centre of the universe and everyone else ought to be told about it. For instance, MacLeod simply assumes that the reader will be fascinated by the minutiae of communion traditions in the island or in his views on fairly semantic issues of Presbyterian and Calvinist doctrine.

But then the book of obvious narrow interest, so I suppose why shouldn’t the self-selecting reader be expected to find it interesting? I must admit I found it well-written, occasionally fascinating and gently amusing in places.

On a slight tangent, if you want a slightly more contemporary and accessible exposé of life in Lewis, I can highly recommend the uncompromising, dark and highly amusing The Stornoway Way by Kevin MacNeil. Think “Trainspotting” set in Lewis, with the most beautiful and clever use of language (not just English). One of my favourite Scottish books of recent years.

Anyway, from Presbyterian reflections to Christian fundamentalist anathema – I went on to read the short novel Once Upon a Time in the North, by Philip Pullman, a follow-up to the brilliant His Dark Materials (about which I blogged some time ago, to much interesting and gratefully-received comment).

After Lyra’s Oxford it is the second novella to come out of the His Dark Materials universe, helping us understand more about the amazing world(s) and characters Pullman created in the epic trilogy. It is similarly short, readable and dramatic, with an action-packed, flowing but compact plot-line, and is highly recommendable to any fans of HDM.

Then today I finished the latest book from Joe Bennett, whose previous publications I have loved. Where Underpants Come From is part travelogue and part commentary on the modern capitalist world, and sees the author trace a pair of underpants he buys in his local supermarket back to source. He notes they’re “made in China”, but wonders specifically where and how.

It’s a mission that sees him visit factories, fields, cities and villages in China (and also, briefly, Thailand), his straight-talking wit proving a useful tool to tackle the diplomatic minefield of Chinese political, economic and cultural growth.

At times thoughtful, but mostly level-headed, funny and factual, it’s an accessible and entertaining examination of China’s history, its place in the world, and the nature of the global economy. Bennett is a very funny writer, and while writing this paragraph I’ve just hopped on to Amazon to buy three more of his books.

So that’s my reading from the past while, and there’s more to come as I continue to attack the “to read” pile. I seem to be spending a lot of money on books these days, but I suppose it’s better than blowing it all on prostitutes and crack cocaine.

Of course, I could be doing that too, and just not blogging about it…

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