Friday, May 28, 2010

World Cup, Weather and Wartime Secrets: BBC Oxford Afternoon Bookclub for May

...and you can add 'Walking' to the slightly overcooked aliteration in that title.

(Click here to listen to the show until 2nd June - you'll need to fast forward to about 1 hour 8 minutes. A list of the books reviewed this month - and past months - can be found here).

With Father's Day and the World Cup looming there's a distinct 'guys' flavour to the book choices this month. But fear not - Summer Reading is firmly on the agenda for June...

We kicked off with Helen Peacocke's wonderful follow-up to Paws Under The Table - entitled Paws For History. It's the same inspired mix of great pubs, food, walking and dog-friendly welcomes as in the first book, but include new pubs, and this time each of the walks has a historical twist. Helen is a well-known (not to mention well-loved) local food writer, who has easily visited every single pub in Oxfordshire (and most on more than one occasion); she knows her stuff, and she writes beautifully and passionately. My personal favourite is The George and Dragon in Sutton Courtenay, where you can visit the grave of one Eric Arthur Blair (better known as George Orwell) en route to a well-deserved pint (and some water and treats for your canine companion). Even if you don't have a dog, these are great suggestions for getting out and discovering the county now that the weather has vastly improved...

Then it was on to some suggestions for Father's Day. 30-Second Theories is a wonderfully-edited, brain-stretching collection of the 50 most thought-provoking theories in science. It works as both a great gift (it's a beautifully-produced large hardback) and also as a great dip-in book (which some men prefer - especially if they are not great readers) with a few 'gee-whizz' moments. It's all edited brilliantly by Paul Parsons. From Occam's Razor to Information Theory, The Selfish Gene to Dark Matter, this is a great refresher for anyone interested in the biggest ideas in science.

The World Cup is looming large, and there's a slew of tie-in publications (the official FIFA guide being particular good for anyone wanting to geek-up on the teams ahead of the tournament) but I've gone for a small hardback book - ostensibly published for kids, but great for kids to share with Dad - The World Cup: A Very Peculiar History by David Arscott. Full of the weird, wonderful and downright disturbing history of the World Cup, this has surprising bite and depth for what might seem a lighthearted tie-in - summed up by the double-edged quote on the inside cover by Nelson Mandela...

That's the non-fiction - for fiction I first chose a father's day recommend : Turbulence by Giles Foden. The author of the Last King of Scotland, Foden here brings his 'faction' style to bear on the men (or, in this case, one man) charged with trying to understand the chaotic nature of weather. Predicting the weather weeks or months ahead has always been a bit hit and miss ("Barbecue Summer" anyone?) but imagine the pressure of trying to predict the weather for one of the most important dates in history: June 6th, 1944.


Turbulence begins in a slow and chaotic way (which I feel is deliberate) but builds to a page-turning climax, and the skill of the author here is to make what might have been a dull subject - meteorology - not just interesting, but a page-turning race-against-time set against the backdrop of the drama of the imminent D-Day Landings.

Finally, Oxfordshire-based author Eliza Graham's third novel Jubilee is a darkly plotted mystery which spans the post-war years - and plays out against the backdrop of two separate Jubilee's - Silver in 1977 and Golden in 2002. As with her first two novels (Playing With The Moon, and Restitution) it examines secrets uncovered by the current generation, which reveals the long shadows cast by war - and the sometimes extreme acts individuals did (both good and bad) under the duress of wartime situations.

Declaring an interest here - we will be hosting the official launch of the book on June 16th - you can read what the author herself says about her latest book here.

The story focuses on Evie, who arrives at a Berkshire farm as an evacuee in 1940, and stays for the rest of her life - although never quite shaking her status as an 'incomer'. Eliza is adept at moving the story backwards and forwards, while slowly piecing together the mystery of the the disappearance of Evie's only daughter Jessamy on the day of the Silver Jubilee. After Evie's death, it is left to her niece - Jessamy's cousin - to final put the pieces together and discover what happened on the village green 25 years before.

With the Berkshire Downs almost appearing as a character in the story, given the wonderful descriptions of the area, this is a compelling Summer read with the extra bonus of a local setting - and a satisfying conclusion...

Summer Reads in earnest next month (oh, and apparently I need to cut down on using the word 'absolutely' on the show...)

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