The Anglo Saxon World by M.C.D. Drout

The Anglo-Saxon World

In between rolling translations of Anglo-Saxon chronicles, poems, histories, M.C.D. Drout hawks 566 years of kings, pirates, popes, monks, wars, buildings and battles. But most and first of all, he hooks us with language, giving us bits of Anglo-Saxon poems, lists of Old English words (some, siton, foton), Old English websites, including kingalfred.com, where he has written a free Anglo Saxon grammar called “King Alfred’s Grammar” named after his (and soon to be yours) best and biggest hero : King Alfred; and anglosaxon.com where he serves up his recordings of the entire corpus of Anglo-Saxon poetry. Whew!
Then he gives us, cut up into nice round 100 year sizes, the history of a “people who lived in a place full of Celtic place-names, surrounded by Roman ruins, bringing with them Germanic legends, and building Christian Churches”. Organized by the MaCGyVr principle, it is a history of 6 ages: Migration, Conversion, Golden, Viking, Reform and Fall.
Throughout, he tells us marvelous stories of the marvelous, noting what historians know, what they fight about, what they hate each other for, and how to read historical interpretations as interpretations, how to consider what makes sense, what doesn’t, and how to fall in love with the material of Anglo-Saxon history, its indeterminacy, its scarcity, its ongoing reconstruction.
In between he does stand-up:

Jefferson came up with the idea that the front of the [great] seal should have a picture of Hengist and Horsa …. and that the backside of the seal … would picture Pharoah, sitting in a chariot, as he road through the parted red sea … with the Israelites on the other side, following the pillar of fire that led them to the promised land. You know, I have to say, the eagle was probably the safe way to go here….

The Bull Hunter by Dan Denning

Within the first minute and 34 seconds you know you are going to understand this book because Denning quotes James Dyson:

“Of the world’s ten largest corporations by revenue, 9 make big, heavy things, like cars.”

This is easy to follow, sensible stuff – and just the kind of obviousness that industrial strength money market manuals pass over.

Give him time, and Denning will explain a lot of “obvious” things. For example, that you can’t automatically grow rich by buying stocks. Or that you can’t automatically stay rich by being an American. Or that just because you live in America doesn’t mean you can’t invest in anything but fictional (paper) assets. Or that a bear is called a bear because once upon a time when traders were also hunters, bear skin jobbers sold skins from bears they had not yet caught. By entering into these early futures contracts, the hunters were guaranteed a fixed price. By “selling short” they lost out on the possibility of getting a higher price for their bear skins in the future. The practice came to describe those who sold short on a stock or commodity.

In fact, within the first 13 minutes, the ‘obvious’ no longer is.

Home ownership, Denning writes in 2005, is “the new serfdom” and paints a picture of a housing bubble where no equity is built and no real ownership is achieved. Combine falling home prices with increases in monthly payments AND a flat income, writes Denning, and you get trouble. In other words, you get 2008.

The Bull Hunter

ORIGIN & CAUSE by Shelly Reuben

Let’s just say that murders happened in the middle of other things: a cop,  a lawyer, a fire investigator get up, they fight with their wives, they eat. Sometimes they think. The law is something they think about.  How it came to be what it is, where it came from, when it changed.  If you have a father who reads, who respects the history of things, who loves the Law, you think about what a lawyer should be, what the law should be, what an institution like the law allows human beings to be.

In Europe, rich people sometimes keep a modest apartment in a poor or marginal area of their city. They call it their “pied a terre”. Translated, this means “foot on the ground”. It is said that their purpose in maintaining these small apartments is to remind them of their roots and to keep them in touch with reality. And that’s exactly why I always keep my copy of Letters To A Young Lawyer in my briefcase. The words within, the philosophy, Harris’  love of simplicity and reverence for the law, this is my psychological pied a terre.

The Girl Who Played With Fire by Steig Larson read by Simon Vance

Quiet, patient, relentless intelligence spills over the pages of this story about a girl geek, a journalist, a news magazine devoted to the critique of corrupt Swedish institutions, and an odd assemblage of  Stockholm’s thugs, bureaucrats, intellectuals, and cops.   None are verbose. Men and women think. Thinking happens without talk, without sounds, without annunciation. It is sometimes   signaled  by cigarettes. Sometimes by a  walk.   Much goes unsaid, and unshared.

All the good guys use Macs. Some of them smoke.  The geek uses a powerbook, the journalist a Mac ibook, the magazine editor  an Airbook. The geekgirl (Salander) is  skinny,  occasionally violent,  abnormally intelligent, obsessively private. She does not emote; she enjoys:  mathematics, sex, hacking.  She has  lesbian girlfriends, bank accounts in the Canary Islands, lawyers in Gibraltar, and a local accountant. She buys a 2.5 million kroner flat with a view and decorates it in one day of shopping in Ikea,   for a total of 97,000 kroner.

Bruno, Chief of Police by Martin Walker read by Robert Ian MacKenzie

An intimate look at the arrangements, organization and order of small town French village life, through the eyes of the jovial, wise and well fed chief of police, for “…not  a single pig made it to market without some part of it being offered as part tribute part toll to Bruno…”.

He put the grill close to the coals, arranged the steaks, and then under his breath sang the Marsellaise, which he knew from long practice took him exactly 45 seconds. He turned the steaks, dribbled some of the marinade on top of the charred side, and sang it again. Then he turned the steaks for 10 seconds, pouring on more of the marinade, and then another ten seconds. Now he took them off the coals and put them on the plates he’d left to warm on the bricks he’d left to warm on the side of the grill.

The strolling investigator offers up an amiable mix of local types, of those who “evidently conformed to the English stereotype of bizarre affection for animals dressed in gleaming black boots, cream jodhpurs,” of the prissy European officers of hygiene who threatened the taste of the local cheese, of old men who had not spoken to each other since the war.

The reader sometimes sounds as if he’s sucking on bubbles, a kind of terrible English mumbling.

Social Crimes by Jane Stanton Hitchcock read by Barbara Rosenblat

All About Eve, Manhattan style. A generous but unwitting socialite wife is betrayed by a younger version of herself. Exiled from high society, kicked off the boards of the most desirable charities, she obsesses about the woman who took her place. Fat, friendless, and poor, she plots the woman’s downfall.

A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny read by Ralph Cosham

Imagine a big black woman, Myrna from Montreal, who decides to drive South, but feels peckish after an hour and a half and so stops and bumps into a one-vache town, a fairy-tale town:

Three Pines had what she craved. It had croissants and cafe au lait. It had steak frites and the New York Times. It had a bakery, a bistro, a B & B, a general store, it had peace and stillness and laughter. It had great joy and great sadness ….

It had sweet gay couples and poor married artists and old unmarried women; it had village size problems and village size evil and village style murder. It had Christmas, and at Christmas, “homes full of people there and not there,” yakking away in English and French. Myrna never leaves. Inspector Gamache, on the other hand, comes and goes. Each time there is a murder.

The bistro was his secret weapon in tracking down murderers. Not only in Three Pines but in every town and village in Quebec. First he found a comfortable cafe or brasserie or bistro. Then he found the murderer. Because Armand Gamache knew something that others didn’t. At the root of each murder was an emotion. Warped no doubt, twisted and ugly, but an emotion. One so powerful it had driven a man to make a ghost. Gamash’s job was to collect the evidence. But also to collect the emotions. And the only way he knew to do that was to get to know the people. To watch and listen, to pay attention. And the best way to do that was in a deceptively casual manner, in a deceptively casual setting. Like the bistro.

Kingdom of Lies by N. Lee Wood read by Ralph Cosham

Kingdom of Lies (Unabridged)
Length: 16 hours and 13 min.
Release Date: 05-03-2006

First: ignore the Audible summary. There is an office bureaucrat sitting in Bangalore who listens to audiobooks in between doing customer service calls for Verizon and emergency care calls for Viagra wives. Which explains summaries that sound as if they were based on hearing every third verb, badly. So, forget the summary.

This is a well arranged, nicely plotted detective novel, featuring a depressive Yorkshire cop of the John Harvey variety, divorced, dedicated, and dieting. He is comfortable in his own melancholy, his own territory, with his own defeat. His ex-wife’s robust ambition has moved her and their twins to a monied life in London. His neighbor’s wife irons his uniform shirts. His cat welcomes him home.

One day, a woman academic disappears while at a local conference; she turns up drowned and drunk and is identified by a pretty American colleague on vacation.

The Yorkshire seargent and the pretty American professor begin to investigate the dead woman’s death, and then her life, and then her taste for sad encounters.

The coupling is obvious, the end is not.

David Rakoff, Don’t Get Too Comfortable

Grass soup is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a recipe for food of last resort that my father has apparently squirrelled away somewhere. I have never actually seen this recipe but it was referred to fairly often when I was a child. Should everything else turn to shit, we could always derive sustenance from nutritious grass soup… At heart, it’s an anxious romantic fantasy that disaster and total financial ruin lurk just around the corner. But when they do come, they will have all the stark beauty and domestic fine feeling of a Dickens novel….