Kategorie: Book Review (Seite 2 von 3)

Jim Ottaviani: Alan Turing in a comic book

Welcome, reader! Or should I write: Welcome user? Either way, it may be possible that you won’t be able to read this at all: Without the help of Alan Turing the invention of modern computers may have been quite different. Even if you are not a mathematician you may have stumbled upon Alan Turing and you may connect his name  with the Enigma. A machine that Germans used to encrypt their messages during World War II. and nearly helped them win that war. Of course this is the story of the Comic book “Alan Turing Decoded” by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Purvis which I think can be seen as a summary of Andrew Hodges’ “The Imitation Game” – at least this is what came to my mind when I enjoyed reading it and of course I thought of the film, too (sorry, fangirl here).

A bit different

But the book also brings that brilliant man Alan Turing (of course he had lots of helping hands back in World War II in Bletchley Park) to life who always was a bit awkward and different compared to others. He ran miles on end, wore a gas mask as a prevention from hay fever, chained his mug to his heater in his office at Bletchley Park  – and he was a homosexual when this was illegal in Great Britain. Sadly enough he was prosecuted for that  – a treatment that may have been the reason why Alan took his own life. Though the circumstances are still unclear as Jim Ottaviani writes in his author’s note.

Of course this beautiful made comic book isn’t a documentary or biography on Alan Turing, so readers shouldn’t take any word or any picture as a historical fact. But it is a lovely way of getting the story of Alan Turing out to readers who don’t want to be bored by huge books with endless footage and bibliographical lists (although there are a few in this 232 page hardcopy, too) – but being entertained and touched by an intriguing life story with a tragic ending.

Photo: Petra Breunig

Photo: Petra Breunig

Jim Ottaviani, Leland Purvis (Illustrations): The Imitation Game, Alan Turing Decoded. Abrams, round 24$, £16, €16.

You may find more on Alan Turing on my blog – some of them are in German.

James Rhodes “Der Klang der Wut” – A story like a fairy tale

The truth one might think is something you can’t suppress. But it looked highly unlikely that the book “Instrumental” (“The sound of rage” is it in German – my note) would never make it onto the shelves of the book stores. Not until the British Supreme Court allowed the publication of the book saying that the author is allowed to tell his story. The judges rejected Rhodes’ ex-wife try to prevent not only the publication of the book . She tried to prevent Rhodes from talking about his past publicly.

A different kind of pianist

The author is James Rhodes, a pianist who is exactly the opposite you expect a concert pianist to be. He appears on stage in Jeans, tee and trainers, seems to be hyperactive and calm, witty and serious and has no problem at all to get rid of his black, long sleeve tee with “Bach” written in capital letters on the front (“Sorry, I’m warm, have to get out of that shirt. Be envious, I was at the fitness centre.”). And creating worlds out of music on a very impressive huge and polished Steinway piano, fascinating his audience in London’s Barbican centre last autumn. And then this small, fragile 40 year old British guy who takes off his nerdy glasses when playing thousands of notes out of memory, seems like he has been happily playing this wonderful music, just himself and his piano, for all his life.

But what he is writing in his book – that is now available in German – hasn’t anything to do with classical music, at least not for a start. Without whitewashing anything, Rhodes writes how he was abused by his boxing teacher over the range of five years. Yes, he doesn’t describe all the most devastating details but even without them, the book is shocking, stirring, disturbing and moving. That is because Rhodes writes the same way he communicates on Twitter with his followers or describes his audience why he is playing the piece of music he is playing, what it means to him – and he tells something about the life of the composer.

 “I started writing at 3.47 am. Something is wrong with me.”
(My translation)

Of course “Instrumental” is about classical music, pieces of great composers, even outsiders know their names, even if that sort of music isn’t their cup of tea. This music is more than just a way to earn money. It has saved his life because, Rhodes writes, music comforts him “when there is desperation, music gives pure energy in a very high doses when one feels empty, broken and exhausted.” (My translation). Music that a friend smuggled inside his mental hospital on an iPod where Rhodes tried to commit suicide several times after his marriage broke up and he stopped working in the City.
The fact that he now is married happily to his second wife, writes for British papers, had a show about music on British telly and has his own label – thanks to his manager he met in a café – reads like a fairy tale. Of course the book “Instrumental” isn’t a fairy tale at all even if the story could have come out of the mind of a screenwriter. But he would lack that direct, puzzling tone which comes with the swearing of the original in the German version where the reader is addressed as “Sie” (the polite way to talk to strangers – my note) – and which sounds a bit rough from time to time. The joy of reading is completed by a Spotify playlist of all of the pieces introducing every chapter.

Photo: Petra Breunig

Photo: Petra Breunig

Book & music
James Rhodes: Der Klang der Wut, Nagel & Klimche, 22,90 Euro.  [You can find my review of “Instrumental” here]
James Rhodes offers some of his pieces for free on https://sound-
cloud.com/jrhodespianist
His latest album is „Inside Tracks”.

[The German version of this article was first published in Fränkischer Tag, 10th February 2016 and online  (paid).  This blog entry is my translation and has a few notes to explain specific German expressions]

Shakespeare in the World

William Shakespeare is one of the best known author of plays. And even if one hasn’t read or seen any of them at all, some sentences seem to be familiar, written forever in the memory of mankind. But little is known about the man who was born in Stratford, went to London to write and perform his genius plays, retired to Stratford where he died. We can only imagine that he hat books important for his work, that he had friends to chat with and that he had some belongings dear to his heart. What remained of his life are property transactions, a marriage license bond or christening records.

Stephen Greenblatt gets behind these documents and brings the human being behind the genius  that was William Shakespeare to life. Though Shakespeare imagined worlds while creating his plays, he always was very aware of the real world: “Shakespeare understood his world in the way that we understand our world – his experiences, like ours, were mediated by whatever stories and images were available to him”, Greenblatt writes. Stories he may have read or heard while sitting in a pub, listening and watching the people around him, stories he needed for his plays, hints that are visible in his work as Greenblatt explains his reader.

“How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable
seem to me all the uses of the world!” Hamlet, I,2.

But, according to Greenblatt, we find more of Shakespeare’s own feelings and his grief about the death of his boy, the 11 year old Hamnet. Although  it took him a few years (maybe he had to recover from the loss of his boy), Shakespeare managed to “respond with the deepest expression of his being” and gifted the world with “Hamlet” – playing the ghost himself.

“Will in the World” is an entertaining read filled with countless references to Shakespeare’s work but without any educative tone. Those who want to read more get pages of bibliographical notes for further studies.

 

Photo: Petra Breunig

Photo: Petra Breunig

Stephen Greenblatt: Will in the World, Norton, 14£/12€

Bücher meines Jahres

Zum dritten Mal ziehe ich Buch-Bilanz (zum ersten Mal auf meiner eigenen Url) und wie auch schon in den Jahren 2013 und 2014 ist das Ganze wieder zutiefst subjektiv und bar jeglichen feuilletonistischen Anspruchs.

Im Vergleich zum vergangenen Jahr habe ich heuer vier Bücher weniger gelesen, was vielleicht daran liegt, dass ich William Shakespeare’s Hamlet mindestens zweimal ganz und ein paar Stellen mehrfach nachgelesen habe – auf Deutsch und auf Englisch – als Vorbereitung auf den Besuch des Stücks im Londoner Barbican mit Benedict Cumberbatch in der Titelrolle.

Meine Bilanz sieht demnach so aus:

Gesamt: 34
Deutsch: 17
Englisch: 17
Kindle/Tablet: 3. (Mit Tablet meine ich, dass ich die Bücher bei Google gekauft und in der App auf meinem N7 gelesen habe – einfach deshalb, weil eines der Bücher dort früher erhältlich war und weil ich die App sehr schön gemacht finde. Mein Kindle ist ein mittlerweile vier Jahre alter Kindle Keyboard.)

Von den gelesenen empfehle ich diese Bücher:

Ian McEwan
Black Dogs, Atonement, Inbetween the Sheets, On Chesil Beach: IanMcEwan ist einer meiner absoluten Lieblingsschriftsteller, der es schafft, selbst banalste Geschichten spannend und mit völlig überraschenden Wendungen zu erzählen. Auf Deutsch sind seine Werke mit durchwegs sehr guten Übersetzungen bei Diogenes erschienen.

Lukas Hartmann
Auch von Lukas Hartmann habe ich schon einiges gelesen und mag seinen Stil. Heuer waren es “Abschied von Sansibar” (das ich schon mal gelesen habe, aber das Buch nicht mehr finden konnte) und sein neuestes Buch “Auf beiden Seiten”. Eine Geschichte aus der Zeit kurz vor und nach dem Mauerfall. Hartmanns Bücher sind ebenfalls bei Diogenes erschienen, darunter auch Kinder- und Jugendbücher. Eines davon, “AnnA”, hat mir besonders gut gefallen.

Donna Leon
Ich bin bekennender Guido-Brunetti-Fan, daher habe ich alle Fälle des Commissario gelesen. Diese Jahr gab es mit “Tod zwischen den Zeilen” und “Endlich mein” gleich zwei neue Bücher, die wie alle anderen ebenfalls bei Diogenes erschienen sind.

Alan Rusbridger
Der Ex-Chefredakteur des “Guardian” beschreibt in “Play it Again– an amateur against the impossible”  (Deutsch: Play it Again – Ein Jahr zwischen Noten und Nachrichten”, Secession-Verlag) wie er versucht, trotz seiner stressigen Arbeit Zeit fürs Klavierspielen zu finden. Ein sehr privates Buch, das daran erinnert, dass man Zeit für etwas finden kann, wenn man nur will.

James Rhodes
Wer mit klassischer Musik nichts anfangen kann, sollte dem britischen Pianisten James Rhodes eine Chance geben und einer Auswahl seiner Stücke auf Soundcloud anhören. Und sein biografischen Buch “Instrumental: Violence, music and love” lesen – oder zumindest die deutschsprachige Ausgabe “Der Klang der Wut – Wie die Musik mich am leben hielt” (Nagel&Kimche), die im Februar 2016 erscheinen wird, auf seine Leseliste setzen. In dem Buch, das in Großbritannien erst nach einem Gerichtsverfahren erscheinen durfte, schreibt James  über seine Kindheit, in der er über Jahre vergewaltigt wurde, seine Zeit in der Psychiatrie und darüber, das Musik, klassische Musik, sein Leben gerettet hat. Es ist zutiefst erschütternd, gleichzeitig aber auch witzig und sehr direkt geschrieben. Wer James auf Twitter folgt, wird den Stil wiedererkennen.

Sherlock-Holmes-Pastiches
Anthony Horowitz’ “Moriarty” (deutsch: “Der Fall Moriarty”) ist ganz im Stile Arthur Conan Doyles geschrieben. Allerdings hat mir “Das Geheimnis des weißen Bandes” (Beide Insel) besser gefallen.
Nur etwas für echte Sherlock-Holmes-Fans ist “Sherlockian” von Graham Moore.  Der Autor, der das Drehbuch zu “The Imitation Game” geschrieben hat, taucht hier sehr tief in die Welt des großen Detektivs ein. Eine deutsche Ausgabe habe ich bisher nicht gefunden.

Neuentdeckt
Angharad Price: “Das Leben der Rebecca Jones” ist ursprünglich auf Walisisch erschienen und wurde vom Englischen ins Deutsche übersetzt. Ein Glück, denn die Geschichte ist wunderbar erzählt und hat ein völlig überraschendes Ende.
Anthony Doerr: “Alles Licht, das wir nicht sehen” ist eine meisterhaft erzählte Geschichte, die man nicht weglegen möchte und die einem noch lange im Gedächtnis bleibt.
Donna Tartt: “The Secret History” (Deutsch: Die geheime Geschichte, Goldmann) spielt an einem  College in Neuengland, an dem es scheinbar nur um alte Sprachen und Literatur geht. Netter Nebeneffekt: Die Hauptfigur erinnert an Sherlock Holmes.

Zum Immer-Wieder-in-die-Hand-nehmen:
Shaun Usher: Letters of Note II – eine Sammlung von Briefen, die ganz unterschiedliche Menschen zu unterschiedlichen Zeiten geschrieben haben und die zum Teil als Faksimile abgedruckt sind. Der erste Teil “Letters of Note – Bücher, die die Welt bedeuten” ist auch auf Deutsch erschienen. Mehr über die unterschiedlichen Ausgaben des Buchs und über das Projekt “Unbound”, auf dessen Seite man Bücher crowdfunden kann, gibt es hier (auf Englisch).

Prof Alan Turing decoded

What is the point in writing another biography of Alan Turing more than 60 years after his death? And what can be really new when you know Andrew Hodges’ “Enigma” which is both a thrilling approach to the professional life of the man who helped breaking the German Enigma code in the Second World War and an look inside the man who wasn’t allowed to live and love as a homosexual man in the UK of the 50s?

The point is that the author Dermot Turing, is Alan’s nephew and although he has never met his uncle, he takes the reader with “Prof – Alan Turing decoded” inside the Turing family, presenting not only pictures you may not have seen before but also letters and notes scribbled by Alan when thinking about his work (which makes me wonder how his third notebook which was sold at an auction earlier this year may look like. ) Although the book is – as always when it comes to very specific scientific topics – not always an easy read. But even if you don’t have the brain of a mathematician  or a computer expert, you’ll can’t help but to be in awe of a man who apparently was awkward and brilliant as a codebreaker in Bletchley Park and as the father of the computer age, somehow way ahead of his time and down to earth in a stunningly pragmatic way.

“He was a strange character, a very reserved sort, but he mixed in with everyone quite well.”

A way that wasn’t always an easy one to cope with. Imagine Alan at your door at any time of day without any notice to announce his visit or him walking away when he found a conversation boring. But he easily connected with children whom he met on equal levels and talked seriously about such things as if God could catch a cold when he sat on wet grass.

“Prof” is a biography about a man “who had something special which the rest of us do not”. It is worth reading.

 

Dermot Turing: Prof – Alan Turing decoded. A biography. The history press, about 20€/ 16£.

Further reading:
Alan Turing – his work and impact.

Letters of Note II

The moment you free that huge coffee table book from its packings, you feel that is indeed something special. This is of course because of its size (21 x 3,5 x 28,9 cm) but it is also because of its content. As I wrote before when I had the first volume in my hands, “Letters of Note, Volume II” again makes letters available for readers and lure them into a very special place. The place – maybe the living room – is a very private one, normally not open for strangers, a place where letters were written in a time when the internet wasn’t even thought of.

So this book is a treat to dive into, to flick through its pages and get hooked by facsimiles, pictures or the name of the writer or their receivers. You want to have it within reach to hold it and re read certain letters again, so do make room on your shelves. And you’ll get letters by Abraham Lincoln, Aldous Huxley, Janis Joplin, Charlotte Brontë, Michelangelo, Alan Turing, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Florence Nightingale and many more. They tell stories of their writers, give  little insight looks into their lives at a special moment in time and will never leave you untouched.

LettersOfNote2

Photo: Petra Breunig

You will find different editions but even if you love reading ebooks (as I do), do yourself a favour and go for a hardcopy. It’s worth the money.

Unbound is a way of crowdfunding books directly by supporting their authors. Depending on how much money you want to spend, you get goodies and of course the books you are supporting. After signing up for Unbound – which is for free – and you have made up your mind to support a book you want to get to life, you’re getting emails keeping you updated on the progress the book is making.

Shaun Usher, Letters of Note II,  Unbound.

[Note: I was one of the subscribers and am very happy that this book  wouldn’t exist without me, as Shaun Usher wrote.

Alan Rusbridger: Play it again

It doesn’t sound that much: twenty minutes a day for playing the piano. But it becomes a real struggle to sit down every morning and try to learn Chopin’s Ballade No. 1 within a year and perform it in front of an audience when you are Alan Rusbridger, then editor in chief of the Guardian at a time when news seem to be breaking for weeks on end.

The book - with yellow labels and a book mark. Photo: Petra Breunig

The book – with yellow labels and a bookmark. Photo: Petra Breunig

But he manages to squeeze practising the piano into his incredible schedule most of the time even when there are such topics as the publishing of the WikiLeaks files and the hacking scandal of “News of the World” that hit every news all over the world, and everything in between from meetings and conferences to editing a newspaper with working days that end in the early hours of the next day. So what seems to be insane is in fact very healthy for the brain and the body as a whole because while playing the piano, the brain has to concentrate on the very moment, the keyboard, the fingers, the notes so that everything else is shut out. “With other people it’s yoga, or a run or a burst in the gym. Twenty minutes on the piano have the same effect for me,” writes Alan – twenty minutes as a preparation for another stressful day.

“I gave fifteen reasons why Twitter is such an astonishing medium for journalists (…) and why senior executives in media companies who don’t ‘get it’ shouldn’t be in a job.”

So “Play it again” is of course a book about music, about learning to play a piece with a lot of specific terms that sound like a foreign language for ignorants like myself but this isn’t a reason to stop reading because  the moment you start the book you are hooked by the story that is just wonderfully written, full of inside views of Rusbridger’s work, his views and how he comes to term with them but without any arrogance others might have shown when learning that “News of the World” is about to be shut down: “It’s one of the most dramatic moments I can remember as an editor. (…) It’s a hold-the-front-page, stop-the-presses, stop-the clocks, stop-everything scoop. The history of newspapers has just been rewritten.”

“Should I ever make a book out of my endeavour with the Ballade, I resolve, I’ve at least got the title: ‘Play it again’. (…) The journalist in me also likes the fact that it’s a misquote. Bogart never said it.”

And  “Play it again” is also about Rusbridger’s struggle with the music, his doubts about his abilities to get the notes right or remember them at all and it is an inspiration for those of us who always want to go for a run, a swim or just reading a book instead of being bored by telly. They can do it. We all can.

 

Alan Rusbridger: Play it again  – An amateur against the impossible, Vintage Books, £10,99
Deutsch: Play it again – Ein Jahr zwischen Noten und Nachrichten, Secession-Verlag, 25 Euro.

 

 

 

Donna Tartt: The secret history

What is a good book, a good novel? One that grabs you, draws you inside it’s pages, inside the story and even stays in your mind when you have read the last word.  At least this is what I consider a good book.  And “The secret history” by Donna Tartt is definitely a good novel.

That is because the  story is so well written that once you have read a few pages, you have difficulties putting the book aside and if you have to – you know real life can be very demanding and your boss won’t take “reading” for an excuse – you want to know very badly how the story unfolds. That story takes the reader to Hampden College in New England, together with the narrator Richard Papen who moves all the way from California to study English Literature here.  Soon he discovers that the only thing he really wants to learn is classic languages and attend the classes of Julian Morrow, a teacher who only has few pupils, four boys and a girl. A elitist group which is centred around Henry Winter. Henry is a stranger in modern times together with his intellect, his knowledge about everything and his appearance he seems to be another Sherlock Holmes. A hint that Sherlockians of course will get at the very beginning of the story but which Donna Tartt picks up every now and then.

“(Henry Winter) might have been handsome had his features been less set, or his eyes, behind the glasses, less expressionless and blank. (…) He spoke a number of languages, ancient and modern, and had published a translation of Anacreon, with commentary, when he was only eighteen.”

Richard convinces Julian to take him into his classes and finds himself within a community that while  concentrating on ancient languages lives a life separated from their fellow students, even from modern life itself.

“The secret history” is thrilling, neither boring nor predictable and you will regret deeply when  you have reached the final page.

 

Donna Tartt: The secret history, Penguin £ 8,99.

James Rhodes: Instrumental: Violence, music and love

The thing with autobiographies is they can go totally wrong, trying to convince the reader what a perfect, clever, self-confident and of course perfect looking human being the writer is – and leaving you as the reader either laughing or sick because you can’t cope with a super man (of course there are super woman around, too).

James Rhodes’ “Instrumental”, that is finally available, isn’t that sort of book at all. It is funny, it is shocking, it leaves you shaking your head in disbelief and it touches you deeply. That is because – and for me the most important thing – James writes about his life, his experiences and the things that matter most to him in such an open, honest way as if he is talking to you as a very close friend. Being able to literally write about grief, sorrow, shame, feeling insecure and simply not fit for the world outside is a kind of getting rid of it. No matter how people will react.

“I started writing this at 3.47 am. There is something wrong with me.”

And people will react, they always do. Especially in a time when they can throw their rubbish onto the internet and straight into James’ Twitter and Facebook (He’s on Google+, too but unfortunately doesn’t keep that account alive). And especially when it comes to abusing children or as James names it: rape. The fact that he was raped, humiliated and tormented by a school teacher when he was a boy, is not only disgusting, may turn your stomach and makes you cry when reading about it (so this book is not a book for children or people unable to cope with violence). It is also unbelievable for people who never experienced violence in their lives. But this is the truth and it is a miracle that this boy now a man of 38 hasn’t committed suicide, is able to speak out – not only with this book but also in various articles and on Twitter – and is desperately trying to bring classical music to a broader audience. From the moment a friend gave him an iPod, smuggled into the hospital James was living because he had tried to kill himself frequently – together with his destroyed self confidence, the feeling that everything that has happened was his fault was result of the raping experienced as a boy – James knew and still knows that classical music can make a difference: “Anything changed.” The Bach-Marcello Adagio “took me to a place of such magnificience, such surrender, hope, beauty, infinite space, it was like touching God’s face.”

“I would not exist (…) without music.”

And because music is so important to him and because he is as different from a “normal” pianist – sitting in tee, jeans and trainers at the piano – as you possibly can imagine, it’s thrilling to listen to his work, to his explanations about the composer or watching him on telly or on Youtube. Or simply finding out that classical music isn’t something for an elite audience but for normal people who are not able to remember the name of the composer but just like or dislike a special piece of music. No wonder that he tries to catch people whereever he can, engaging with his fans on Twitter and on Facebook, offering free music on his soundcloud and promoting his book. A book that is worth every hour reading it.

Screenshot: Petra Breunig

Screenshot: Petra Breunig

Every chapter has an introduction about a special piece of music. There is a play list on Spotify

James Rhodes: Instrumental, Canongate, £16,99.
As ebook on Amazon, iTunes and Google Play Books.

And interview with James Rhodes can be found here.

My dear Bessie

In times when everybody had a pen and pencil and using a computer or chatting online seemed unthinkable or only possible in the mind of some people living way ahead of their time or writing science fiction, letters were the only way to stay in touch with the people your care about. Letters which took days or weeks to reach their recipient, especially during the Second World War, when people struggled to find out if their relatives or loved ones were okay.

“I could hug you till you dropped!”
Chris to Bessie, 21 February 1944

The letters in “My dear Bessie” compiled by Simon Garfield tell a love story no author could possible imagine in a more touching way that never gets kitschy. A love story which unfolds between Chris Barker and Bessie Moore only because Chris, who stationed at the Libyan coast, decided to write a letter to Bessie who worked at the Post office and attended the same training course as Chris. During the war, Bessie worked as a morse interpreter and despite the fact that she was dating another man (till the relationship ended), kept up the correspondence with Chris – a very platonic one.

“I just had to give you all I could in the only way possible, and I did it because all of me responded to you with a force that I wasn’t aware of possessing. (…) You are as precious to me as life itself, for it goes on and on.”
Bessie to Chris, 14 December 1944

Chris’ letter from September 1943 changed not only their way of writing but in the end their whole lives. As time went by, they wrote more and more letters of which 500 survived. The book contains the most heartwarming ones as Simon Garfield writes in his introduction. Together with the afterword by Bernard Baker, their son, and Irena Barker, their granddaughter, the wonderful letters are understandable within their historical context and tell the whole story of this love of a lifetime.

MyDearBessie

Simon Garfield: My dear Bessie, Canongate Books, about 7 £.

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