Category Archives: Books

Ham House Has a Story to Tell!

Here is Ham House, a jewel of a house and a stately pile if there ever was one

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Looks nice!

. Set in the midst of its level lawns and peaceful gardens, Ham House presents itself today as an oasis of calm surrounded by the noisy, westward sprawl of the metropolis. Yet, its present cosetted tranquility belies its bustling past, for it was once a hive of activity – political, social and cultural.

To understand why, you need to go back in time to the reign of the Stuarts in Great Britain. That reign began by accident, in a way, accident of a lack of birth — the last Tudor, Elizabeth I had no children and so the first Stuart, James I came to the throne from Scotland.

Built by a courtier in the reign of James I, i(Ham House) remained a courtier’s house well into the reign of his grandson, Charles II. Better than any other furnished mansion that has survived from the seventeenth century it conveys a sense of what life was like for those who were industrious and fortunate enough to work their way to the top of Stuart government and society. Moreover, it does this, not merely for one particular period of the seventeenth century, but repeatedly for the major part of it.

If you need a playing card to keep track of his history, James I ruled from 1603 to 1625.  He was the son of Mary, Queen of Scots. James I handed over the throne to his son, Charles I. Ah, yes, THAT Charles. The one that was beheaded at the close of the civil war in 1649.
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Some thought that the sky would fall and the wrath of God would engulf the world. Instead, the Lord Protector emerged, Mr. Cromwell. who ruled from 1653 ti 1658. Cromwell was not a particularly handsome man, and you can see that certain tough quality that he had in this portrait
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Then came the restoration, and Charles II who ruled from 1660 to 1685.
So yes, this was a tumultuous time. There have been many stories told about it. Even Conan Doyle gave it some play in  The  Musgrave Ritual.
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And you might give a novel about a real character from that period a try. Anita Seymour has written “The Royalist Rebel”. It is the story of Elizabeth Murray, the Countess Dysart and later Duchess of Lauderdale — who called Ham House “home”.
Image result for Elizabeth Murray, the Countess Dysart and later Duchess of Lauderdale
Or, you might just check out Ham House! A jewel of a house and a stately pile if there ever was one!

Amsterdam, Books and the History of a Pleasure Seeker

Richard Mason wrote the book “The History of a Pleasure Seeker”  a while back, and before one says anything else, you have to admit that the title is fantastic.

It was Mason’s fourth novel . His first three had found considerable success.

It received uneven reviews. Jonathon Yardley wrote for the Washington Post

The only thing wrong with this otherwise terrific novel is its title, which is (a) clumsy, (b) overlong and (c) only marginally accurate, for the protagonist to whom it refers is as much a giver of pleasure as a seeker of it. Never mind. “History of a Pleasure Seeker,” Richard Mason’s fourth novel, is the best new work of fiction to cross my desk in many moons.

Alex Presto of the Guardian also loved the book.

Here Richard offers some thoughts about the book


Morning Coffee with H.G.Wells

Something to dig into as you get ready for the day

In addition to the numerous pioneering works of science fiction by which he made his name, H. G. Wells also published a steady stream of non-fiction meditations, mainly focused on themes salient to his stories: the effects of technology, human folly, and the idea of progress. As Peter J. Bowler explores, for Wells the notion of a better future was riddled with complexities.

what is the problem?

Wells realized that this state of uncertainty would continue indefinitely, making it virtually impossible even for the enthusiasts to predict what would emerge

BTW, you might begin to appreciate more why the novel Frankenstein became so iconic. Are we adding to the sum of good on earth or doing something else?

Book rec: Colson Whitehead, The Nickel Boys

Dan Pink wrote this in his most recent newsletter

Last week I finished the best novel I’ve read all year: The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead.

I’m proud to say I was a Whitehead fan long before he snagged a Pulitzer for his 2016 novel Underground Railroad. (Several years ago, I even recommended his far more obscure novel, Apex Hides the Hurt, in this very newsletter.)

But The Nickel Boys is his finest book yet. Based in part on a horrifying true story, the book tells the searing tale of a Florida reform school brimming with sadism and racial hatred — and a boy who tries to steer around the cruelty.

Trust me: Just read it.

Gotch Dan! Thanks!

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Books: Why You Will Devour Shibumi

Before saying anything more, I will confess that I have not yet read the novel “Shibumi”. Indeed, I do not yet posses a copy of the book. But having read a plot intro, I like the idea of it — just for fun.

Image result for Shibumi

Here is a peek at the storyline

Nicholai Hel is an assassin, born in Shanghai in 1925 and raised in a cosmopolitan fashion by his mother, a deposed member of the Russian aristocracy, and a general in the Japanese Imperial Army who has been billeted in Nicholai’s mansion. Under the general, Hel is introduced to the concept of shibumi and the game Go, eventually being sent to Japan, where he trains under a famous master of the game and becomes ‘culturally Japanese’. The master of this school discovers Nicholai’s ability to mentally escape from reality and come back rested and refreshed (mystic transport). When Japan surrenders in 1945, Hel, after long months of hunger, finds (thanks to his knowledge of many languages) a job as an interpreter in the US Occupation Army and becomes a decoder agent in United States Intelligence.

Like the Bond stories, Shibumi is a meta-spoof, exaggerating the world of espionage. The author, who wrote under the pen name Trevanian, avoided public attention for most of his life, but was rather prolific.

Go for it!

Nabokov Figured Out Time, Just for You!

From Tim Ferriss

“Perfect Past” by Vladimir Nabokov. First published in 1950 in the New Yorker, it’s available here online but requires a subscription. Nabokov became a U.S. citizen in 1945, and I found the essay in The Best American Essays of the Century. I chose to read “Perfect Past” for the first few pages, which brilliantly describe the birth of young Nabokov’s perception of time. Nabokov is a dazzling wordsmith and aesthetic savant, but caveat lector: it can get rather flowery at times. This essay is no exception. It’s beautiful and ornate in a style that only Nabokov could pull off. If you’d like to read it on Kindle, “Perfect Past” was also expanded to be the first chapter in Nabokov’s memoir, Speak, Memory.