Thank you...

... for taking the time to stop by. I hope some of these ponderings will resonate with you.

Leave a comment if you want to - your contributions are more than welcome.

(Unless stated otherwise, all text & pictures are © Lee Labuschagne, all rights reserved.)

Friday, October 8, 2010

1+1+1 for 365, day 38: The Mysts of Fantasy


"The gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge.” - Albert Einstein

Myst - The Book of Artrus and Myst - The Book of T'iana by Rand & Robyn Miller with David Wingrove

I did it yesterday, so I am cheating again by slipping in another two-for-the-price-of-discussing-one-book.   This is because once you've read the first of these, you more or less feel obliged to read the next. Like the three original books of The Lord of the Rings or the five volumes of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy trilogy (no mistake, Adams fans will know that!) and indeed of most fantasy novel series and sagas, they form parts of one big story.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

1+1+1 for 365 day 37: A brilliant answer to all those self-help books about becoming successful

"To Quin-Xiang-Yi who in 1846 was given the title 'distinguished failure' in recognition of his 20 years spent failing the Chinese Civil Service entrance exams.  Buoyed up by this honour he went on to failed several times more." - Dedication of "The Return of Heroic Failures" by Stephen Pile.

The Book of Heroic Failures - (subtitled The Official Handbook of the Not Terribly Good Club of Great Britain) and The Return of Heroic Failures by Stephen Pile

So I'm breaking a rule (an appropriate failure) and talking about more than one book. But these two really go together and very sadly are both out of print, although available as second-hand copies from various sellers.  Thus sadly I don't expect a rush of people to book stores to try and acquire a copy.

But if ever a duo books caused belly-aching, tears-inducing, raucous laughter then these are the ones.   When Stephen Pile first published The Book of Heroic Failures in 1979, it became a runaway bestseller (thus failing at failing!) for good reason.   It was followed by The Return of Heroic Failures in 1988 and promptly  became yet another one of those books that you borrowed from a friend and found hard to return.

To illustrate that last statement, my copy of  The Book of Heroic Failures disappeared into that black hole created by trusted friends who 'will definitely return stuff', whereas the copy of The Return of Heroic on my bookshelf does not actually belong to me, but to a friend, as her name written on the inside cover clearly attests. 

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

1+1+1 for 365, day 36: a guide for digital photographers

“Some photographers take reality...and impose the domination of their own thought and spirit. Others come before reality more tenderly and a photograph to them is an instrument of love and revelation.”  - Ansel Adams (American photographer, 1902-1984)

Digital Photographer's Handbook by Tom Ang

There are very many good books about photography on the market, and good ones do not come cheap - so for one of them to sell more than half a million copies, there must be something about it that makes it worthwhile. 

Tom Ang's books get rave reviews because he really manages to demystify the subject. He is a professional photographer, has presented TV programmes on photography and as senior lecturer in photographic practice at London's University of Westminster, also has that academic background working for him in this book.  It is virtually a short course in digital photography and excellent for beginners, but it does not stop there.  It is beautifully presented, and is also logical, has a useful glossary  useful and covers everything from choosing equipment to image editing on computer.

Monday, October 4, 2010

1+1+1 for 365, day 35: Pure cat-opera delight

“Parsifal - the kind of opera that starts at six o'clock and after it has been going three hours, you look at your watch and it says 6:20” - David Randolph

Opera Cats by Susan Herbert

I love cats - everybody who's known me for longer than a chance meeting, knows that.  The result is a large collection of cat figurines and illustrations of cats on objects - but also dozens of books about cats around my house.

Some of these deal with cat breeds or the care of your cat, but many of them are small books with sayings, stories and quotes - many of them gifts friends and family.  I enjoy them greatly.  This one by well-known artist Susan Herbert and which I received as a Christmas gift from my sister some years ago, deserves special mention - because most people who know me, also know I love music and opera (not all opera though - like David Randolph I don't much like Wagner's over-long operas and only really enjoy The Flying Dutchman).  

Sunday, October 3, 2010

1+1+1 for 365 day 34: Seville, priests and mysteries

Some people go to priests; others to poetry; I to my friends. - Virginia Woolf

The Seville Communion by Arturo Pérez Reverte

I thought this note on this book by Spanish TV-journalist turned novelist Pérez-Reverte would be a good choice for a Sunday, since its story concerns issues of Roman Catholic Church tradition and personal battles of  faith and conscience.

I enjoyed this book, for which Pérez-Reverte won the Jean Monnet Prize for European Literature. He  is a good story teller and creates some very well-drawn characters:  from priests who have lost their faith, Spanish aristocrats, ambitious businessmen, a mysterious computer hacker, a seductive Andalusian beauty, an old priest with an interest in astronomy and cynical members of the upper echelons of the church in Rome to smaller characters such as a once famous flamenco dancer and a bullfighter-turned-boxer-turned-small-time crook and a greasy tabloid reporter.  There are suspicious deaths, much inner conflict endured by many of the main characters - and tales of tragic romances.   All the ingredients therefore, for a good read: an interesting story that also makes you think written in the unpretentious style of a seasoned journalist.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

1+1+1 for 365, day 33: The magic that Walt made

"I would rather entertain and hope that people learned something than educate people and hope they were entertained." - Walt Disney


The Art of Walt Disney by Christopher Finch

The first thing you notice about this book is that it is really big and heavy. In fact, at roughly A3 size and 450 pages, of which many are actually double pages that fold out, it is one of the largest books in my library and only rivalled by a really big atlas and some other coffee table books on art. The reason I mention this, is that I bought it during a trip to the US many years ago. It was only when I got to the teller carrying it and some other books, all of them fairly large, that I realised this was going to play havoc with my weight allotment for luggage on the plane back to Switzerland where I lived at the time.  But there was no ways I was putting back such a treasure. 

Because if it is very big, it is also very beautiful and contains a wealth of information about a remarkable man and his art.  (Although Walt Disney himself did not refer to his work as art - he maintained "I never called my work an 'art' It's part of show business, the business of building entertainment." ). So I paid for the book, left it at the store while I collected some more books I had bought earlier from my hotel, and let them mail it to my home address.

Friday, October 1, 2010

1+1+1 for 365, day 32: The artist as a poet - and the poet as an artist

Do what you will, this world's a fiction and is made up of contradiction. - William Blake

Songs of innocence and of experience - William Blake

Was there ever another poet whose exquisite illustrations for his own poetry can equal that of William Blake? Similar to the stories of many other artists and authors, he did not become well known during his lifetime, but his work became very popular posthumously. He is remembered equally as poet, visionary artist, engraver, printmaker and as mystic and intellectual rebel of his times.

My copy of the illustrated Songs of Innocence and Experience was acquired a long time ago in London and contains lovely reproductions of this illustrated poems in the original size. I picked it up on a whim at a sale and have never been sorry that I bought it. 

Thursday, September 30, 2010

1+1+1 for 365, day 31: Not all beds are the same

“The bed comprehends our whole life, for we were born in it, we live in it, and we shall die in it” - Guy de Maupassant


The Bed Book of Short Stories
This compilation of short stories by women from Southern Africa - some well-known, others new voices - was compiled by Lauri Kubuitsile, edited by Joanne Hitchens and published by Modjadji Books, which is run by Colleen Higgs and who first came up with the idea of a themed collection. She says about the theme of the bedroom that "although I was wary of the stories being too explicit about sex, it seemed just the right theme to capture the imagination of reders and writers alike."

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

1+1+1 for 365, day 30: a very long novel , but a very fine one...

TODAY'S QUOTE: "All our pursuits, from childhood to manhood, are only trifles of different sorts and sizes, proportioned to our years and views. " - Samuel Richardson

Clarissa by Samuel Richardson 

I don't expect that many of  the readers of my blog have rushed out to buy Clarissa, or the History of a Young Lady. The reason is not the storyline or the quality of the writing, but rather the fact that it is long.  In fact it is very, very  long and at around a million words (I had to look this up) it is one of the longest novels in the English language.  

But I've always thought one of my minor claims to fame is that I indeed read all of it and wrote a paper about it during my honours year at university.  I had to make do with library copies at the time, but today it would be possible to buy it at a reasonable price in printed format or even download it in e-book format.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

1+1+1 for 365 day 29: Don't panic - the answer is still 42

TODAY'S QUOTE:  "For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons." - Douglas Adams (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy)

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe by Douglas Adams

Swoon warning: this is one of my top favourite books ever.  Or to be more correct, the trilogy in five parts that forms The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe is of those special things that I return to often for the sheer joy and fun of it: I always find something new to smile about or to make me marvel at the genius of Douglas Adams.

In his honour I try to remember Towel Day every year on 25 May (and yes, carry a towel with me).   After all, without THGTTG we would not have known that the answer to life, the universe and everything else is 42, that one should never underestimate mice or dolphins and that you should think twice before drinking more than one intergalactic Gargleblaster.

Monday, September 27, 2010

1+1+1 for 365 day 28: .. of people who are "different"

“No matter what you've done for yourself or for humanity, if you can't look back on having given love and attention to your own family, what have you really accomplished?” - Elbert Hubbard

House Rules by Jodi Picault

The main reason why I am writing about a Jodi Picault book so soon again, is that I read this one over this past weekend as a form of escapism from "everything else".  It tackles an interesting subject:  the way that individuals and families are affected by autism and specifically Asperger's Syndrome.  The story line is one of a murder mystery that involves a single mother and her two sons and of course there is a bit of romance on the side.  I enjoyed it because it was well researched - as all of Jodi Picault's books are - and because she writes in a very accessible style.

I'm behind...

I'm behind with entries because of life interfering.  Some of the stuff has been written but needs to be edited.

So to those who are regular followers, I'll get back on track soon and will fill in the gaps.

Sorry about this....

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

1+1+1 for 365, day 23: Ode to a cook book

“Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.” Harriet van Horne

Kook en Geniet (Cook and Enjoy It) - S J A de Villiers

I would have included this book anyway at some stage, but decided to talk about it today as a small tribute to its author, Mrs SJA de Villiers, who passed away 2 days ago at the age of 91.

Kook en Geniet was my first cook book.  It was a book prize at school (for doing well in Biology, no  less!) and I was only too happy to have a copy of it, since it had been more or less the standard cook book in the country for a long time already by the time I received a copy of its 22nd impressum. It is illustrated by only four colour photographs - the rest, although numerous, are in black and white and if one looks at them today, the table settings and other items also tell quite a lot about of the interior decoration and style of the times.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

1+1+1 for 365, day 22: Away from the shire and back again

"It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him."

- J.R.R. Tolkien (The Hobbit: Or There and Back Again)

The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

The Hobbit, or There and Back Again, to give the book its full title, Tolkien's second most famous work and first published on 21 September in 1937 - and this date is the reason why I chose it for today's post.

I was given my copy of  by a poetic boyfriend a long time ago.  He thought (quite rightly) that my education would not be complete without having read Tolkien and he said best to start with The Hobbit before I get round to The Lord of the Rings.  I was in a phase where I read completely different things and at first I could not relate to its fantasy world. But the boyfriend patiently introduced me to the magic of hobbits and many other things relating to Tolkien. Maybe the many cups of coffee and glasses of sherry helped, but in order to ensure that I would actually read the book, my romantic suitor stopped reading from poetry books for me for a while, and proceeded to read from it out loud while holding my hand during long cold winter's evenings in my small flat.

Monday, September 20, 2010

1+1+1 for 365, day 21: A really long saga - but a good one

"Idealism increases in direct proportion to one's distance from the problem." - John Galsworthy

The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy

John Galsworthy, who was among the first widely read authors of the Edwardian era, published the first book in The Forsyte Saga (A Man of Property) in 1906, while and the others followed between 1918 and 1921.  The books that make up the sequel, A Modern Comedy, followed between 1924 and 1928 and  the last book of The End of the Chapter, the second series of sequels, was published posthumosly in 1933.  Thus it took almost 30 years - a whole generation of reading - for this remarkable example of a family saga to reach the bookshelves.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

1+1+1 for 365, day 20: A life in science

"Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex... It takes a touch of genius - and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction." -  Albert Einstein

Einstein - A life in Science,  by Michael White & John Gribbin

Anyone who knows anything about science or the history of the 20th Century, knows about Albert Einstein. Numerous biographies have been written about this giant intellect and interesting personality. Indeed, more books have been written about his work and various aspects of his life than probably about any other scientist.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

1+1+1 for 365, day 19: Off to the Groot Marico

"Oh yes, there are two varieties on this side of the Limpopo. The chief difference between them is that the one kind of leopard has got a few more spots on it than the other kind. But when you meet a leopard in the veld, unexpectantly, you seldom trouble to count his spots to find out what kind he belongs to. That is unnecessary. Because, whatever kind of leopard it is that you come across in this way, you only do one kind of running. And that is the fastest kind." - Herman Charles Bosman  (Mafeking Road)

The Illustrated Bosman - Herman Charles Bosman

After writing about Edgar Allan Poe yesterday, it was one easy step to the work of a South African master of the short story, Herman Charles Bosman, because Bosman studied among others the work of Poe.  
Herman Charles Bosman (1905-1951) was raised in both English and Afrikaans, and this reflected in his writing: he wrote in English, but his down-to-earth stories with their wry humour, unexpected twists in the tail and warm humanity, resound with a voice that straight from the African soil and indeed, the music of the Afrikaans tongue indeed Afrikaans is tightly woven into his work with Afrikaans words and phrases.  

Friday, September 17, 2010

1+1+1 for 365 day 18: Pioneer of whodunnit, scifi and horror

"I wish I could write as mysterious as a cat." - Edgar Allan Poe

Tales of Mystery and Imagination - Edgar Allan Poe

I admit, I don't find it easy to read Edgar Allen Poe, at least not when you first open a volume of his stories.  His old-fashioned prose can be difficult to follow, and I can easily understand  how modern students frown when they are first confronted with it.

But I found something of a cure years ago when a group of friends and I went out for a New Year's picnic: gather some pals, take this (or another) collection of Poe's stories and start reading out loud.  If one of your friends is good at reading, let them keep going as long as they want.  Then, simply listen to the story.  Having friends around also has the added advantage of having people to discuss his tales.

Besides, if you are a student of literature or an aspiring author in any of the genres of horror, science fiction or detective stories, or if you want examples of the art of short story writing, Poe's your man because of his his contribution to the development of these genres. 

Thursday, September 16, 2010

1+1+1 for 365 day 17: The fairy-tale musician who died much too soon

"I love the physical thing of being on the earth that bore you. I have the same feeling when I walk in a very beautiful place that I have when I play and it goes right." - Jacqueline du Pré

Jacqueline du Pré by Carol Easton

This book was given to me by a friend shortly after it was published in 1990 and I immediately devoured it since I had always been a fan of Jacqueline du Pré.  The extraordinarily talented cellist had passed away in 1987 at the age of 42 - a victim of multiple sclerosis (MS).  The disease is a terrible one anyway, but for an artist of her calibre - one of the greatest cellists ever - it was particularly cruel.  It forced her to stop performing at the young age of 28, but by that time she had left behind some remarkable recordings and her name invariably comes up in any discussion of famous cellists.   Most often associated with the Elgar Cello Concerto, she also performed a wide range of the other great compositions for the instrument - many of which she also recorded.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

1+1+1 for 365, day 16: A Precious Lady Detective

"It is sometimes easier to be happy if you don't know everything." - Alexander McCall Smith (Morality for Beautiful Girls)

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency - Alexander McCall Smith

The novels featuring Mma Precious Ramotswe, who sets up the first private  detective agency in Gaborone,  Botswana, have become international bestsellers.  These stories are as much about human nature and a celebration of the best things about Botswana as it is about Mma's Ramotswe's unique way of solving her cases - cases that are not about murders and other major crimes, but about those smaller yet intriguing matters that are important to her clients.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

1+1+1 for 365, day 15: Nightwatch

"Astronomy compels the soul to look upwards and leads us from this world to another" - Plato

Nightwatch by Terence Dickinson

Terence Dickinson's astronomy books are bestsellers.  Nightwatch, in particular, has been a runaway success.  According to its publishers, it has been called "the best general interest introduction to astronomy" and the three editions sold more than 600 000 copies.  It is in its fourth edition now, and is sure to sell hundreds of thousands more.

I was introduced to this book by my dear Canadian friend Ken Hewitt-White, who is also a well-known astronomy writer and speaker.  I own many astronomy books, but this one is certainly one of my favourites.  Another one of Dickenson's books, The Universe and Beyond, will also feature in this 1+1+1 project, because like Nightwatch, it is not only well researched, presented and illustrated, but the text is accessible and he has the knack of enthusing his readers.

Monday, September 13, 2010

1+1+1 for 365, day 14: "The best spy novel ever"?

"If you wish another to keep your secret, first keep it to yourself." - Seneca (Lucius Annaeus Seneca)

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold - John le Carré

When the Berlin Wall came down, the spy novel was suddenly under threat - because most of the best spy novels had their roots in the cold war between East and West.   The authors that specialise in that genre have meanwhile found new material in new conflicts,  but the classic Spy v Spy novel has undergone a shift towards a kind of international intrigue that is somewhat different in scope and focus.

If ever there was a single name that stands out among the writers of spy novels, it is that of John le Carré.  And if ever one book became the symbol of the genre, it is The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.   Graham Greene, who had written the screenplay for that most iconic of spy films, The Third Man, called it "The best spy story I have ever read."  

Sunday, September 12, 2010

1+1+1 for 365, day 13: Things that make your brain hurt


“I have noticed even people who claim everything is predestined, and that we can do nothing to change it, look before they cross the road.” - Stephen Hawking

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking has been in the news a lot this past week.  This follows the release of his new bestseller, The Grand Design  (co-authored by Leonard Mlodinow, with whom he had also written A Briefer History of Time).  Specifically the words "Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going," are being quoted widely.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

1+1+1 for 365, Day 12 - Books of words

“Words are only postage stamps delivering the object for you to unwrap” - George Bernard Shaw


I’m breaking the pattern today by not talking about a specific book, but about some of the most useful reference books in my library.

Dictionaries – and reference books in general – are the quiet backroom boys and girls among books. I cannot think of anyone – with the possible exception of some and obsessive compilers of lexicons – who would read a dictionary for fun. Sure, they can lead to some fun: people use them to compile word games, crossword puzzles and settle arguments about what is allowed in a game of Scrabble. But curl up with a dictionary? Probably only if you are a desperate insomniac.

Friday, September 10, 2010

1+1+1 for 365 day 11: Beguiling Trinity

"The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched, they must be felt with the heart” - Helen Keller

Trinity Rising by Fiona Snyckers

Modern chiclit is not my favourite reading matter - I'm not exactly sure why, but much of it has to do with one-dimensional characters and predictable outcomes, or because I just don't get what makes some of it interesting to others.  I read some Mills & Boon novels once upon a time, but more or less stopped enjoying it around the time I left high school.

When one meets Trinity Luhabe, the heroine of this book, she's so completely the opposite of what I was as a student, that I thought "Oh no..!" 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

1+1+1 for 365, day 10: Old Possum's delightul cats

“When a cat adopts you there is nothing to be done about it except put up with it until the wind changes.” T.S. Eliot

Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats - T S Eliot

I'll get to the serious, "big" things that Thomas Stearns Eliot wrote later. In fact, he is one of my favourite poets (Blake, Keats, the South African poets Uys Krige and Elizabeth Eybers some of Yeats and Milton are some of the others). 

But this volume  is the delightful one with light verses that most people who has seen the musical "Cats" know by heart.  It is playful, sad, sentimental, funny and generally whimsical entertaining for the whole family - not only for cat lovers. Eliot originally wrote these verses about practical cats for his godchildren and included it in letters to them during the 1930s.  In writing and sending them, he used the nickname name "Old Possum", which  Ezra Pound - his friend and fellow author - had given him.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

1+1+1 for 365 day 9: Imagining things


“You can't depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” - Mark Twain

Second Glance, by Jodi Picault

I don't believe in ghosts. But nevertheless, I enjoyed Second Glance, first published in 2003 and one of the first two Picault novels I acquired (I also bought the more recent House Rules, but have not read it yet).

So this is the first book I'm mentioning in the "bestseller", popular genre.  There is no particular reason for it other than it is the most recent of that kind of novel that I've read. 

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

1+1+1 for 365 day 8: A love story about books

"You know you've read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend.”  - Paul Sweeney

84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

Something for bibliophiles, travellers and those who still enjoy the gentle art of letterwriting. This true story about transatlantic friendships that developed as the result of a simple trade enquiry about some books is also a reminder that small things matter and how kindness and simple courtesy affect our lives in many ways.  Furthermore it also tells us quite a bit about  London and New York at the time, although two of her later works go further and focus specifically on the those two cities as they were in the 1970s and 1980s respectively.

From the 1950s until the 1970s, Helen corresponded from New York with Frank Doel, the chief buyer of Marks & Co, an antiquarian bookseller in London.  By the time that she finally visited London, Frank had passed away, but

Monday, September 6, 2010

How do I choose?

I've been asked how I choose the books and quotes that get included in the 1+1+1 for 365 project. 

The answer is simple but not necessarily easy:  there is some method in my madness, but not a rigid one.

Let me try to explain some of what has emerged until now and as I see it at the moment:

1+1+1 for 365 day 7: Thoughts about Pi


What you think means more than anything else in your life. More than what you earn, more than where you live, more than your social position, and more than what anyone else may think about you. - George Adams.
Life of Pi  by Yann Martel
I swooned about this book for days after I read it.   The story about the boy named Pi who ends up in a small lifeboat boat with a hyena, a zebra, a orang-utan and a Bengal tiger called Richard Parker after a shipwreck that kills his family and the rest of the inhabitants (the family zoo). The book tells the story of their lone journey on the vast ocean full of sharks.  I won't spoil the rest for those who have not read it.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

1+1+1 for 365 day 6: Scary stuff

TODAY'S QUOTE:   "Big Brother is watching you."
OK, since it was so short, here is another by the same author: "In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act."

Still too short?  Well, I am really breaking my own rules, but here  is a third one: "Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them."

And all those come, of course, from George Orwell.

1984 by George Orwell
This is not a work of gothic horror. It is not about murder, war, vampires or some extraterrestrial threat to Earth.  But few books are as scary as this one.  
Yet as much as it is uncomfortable to read as it may be, there are few other books that I would rather recommend for every single person in their late teens and early twenties - and again once every decade or so thereafter.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

1+1+1 for 365 day 5: Puppet on a string

No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit. - Helen Keller


The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi

Yes, it is time that I included a "children's book".

Please, please, ignore all the versions that tone it down to a Disney-ish cute story.  (Not that the 1940s Disney movie was bad - it was charming.  But the book is better.) When, as a youngster,  I read this in the original version (translated from the Italian), I cried because it was so sad in places. Yet I found it gripping, even though the original novel is long and the language is quite dense for a young kid reading it on her/his own.

Friday, September 3, 2010

1+1+1 for 365 day 4: Rustic and classic

"When you re-read a classic, you do not see more in the book than you did before; you see more in you than there was before." - Cliff Fadiman


A year in Provence by Peter Mayle

I think of this as a modern classic of a autobiographical travel journal, but also a book on food, life and above all a celebration of the Provence - or at least those parts of it that have not been overrun by too many tourists.  This bestseller about the adventures of Mayle and his wife when they first bought a house and settled in the Provence is rich with atmosphere, keen observations and down-to-earth wisdoms.  Even if you had never been to the Provence (I'm lucky, I have been), reading his books on the subject makes you feel that you can smell the earth (and the truffles) and taste the wine, cheese and olives.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

1+1+1 for 365 day 3: Galileo


"I render infinite thanks to God for being so kind as to make me alone the first observer of marvels kept hidden in obscurity for all previous centuries." - Galileo Galilei


Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel.

Some of Dava Sobel's other books are sure to feature later in the 1+1+1 for 365 project, but I mention this one first because it was the first of her books I read and also it ties in well with today's quote.

Einstein said of Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) that he was "the father of modern physics - indeed of modern science altogether."  Galileo revolutionised observational astronomy - and man's view of our place in the universe - by being the first to make scientific observations of the heavens through a telescope.  How remarkable his work was, becomes clear when you look at pictures of his telescopes: they were tiny and indeed less powerful than the smallest amateur telescopes available today. 

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

1+1+1 for 365 day 2: Reflections


"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars."  - Oscar Wilde

I've loved this quote for many years. Astronomy is one of my enduring interests - but even if it weren't, I would have found the words inspirational.


The Picture of Dorian Gray - Oscar Wilde

Wilde's only novel and one that could be summarised in the phrase "Vanity, thy name is... man?" (I know this might get me in trouble with some of my friends, but could not resist.)

There is no particular reason why I chose this as thefirst "classic"book to feature in this challenge other than the fact that I wanted something to tie in with the quote. Choosing between those many books that are standard works in so many libraries is not easy. I'll feature many more in days to come - not only because it was my field of study at varsity, but also because I feel naturally drawn to the elegance of books from the 17th to early 20th century.

Those novels made me fall in love with literature even as a young girl, and before I started my studies. I carried arms full of books home from our local library - often using my mom's library card because that meant I could

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

1 plus 1 plus 1 for 365 days

Let me start with the thank you: I have to thank Suki Lock, who is a fellow astronomy enthusiast, young mom and freelancer doing tons of different, interesting things, for the idea to do this 1+1+1 for 365 thing.

Or rather, I have to thank her for the picture part of this concept.  She has a 365-pictures project going and I suggested casually the other day that "maybe, I should copy your idea in my blog."  She did not mind - so there you go.

My overall concept goes a bit further, though and it starts today:  One picture, one book and one quote per day for a year.  I've been thinking for a while about adapting my blog to something that has a theme that will inspire me to keep going regularly. Well, this is it and let's see how long I can make it work.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Suddenly they were gone

It was a case of "now you see them, now you don't". That is how fast the cooling towers at the old power station at Athlone came down - 4 minutes before schedule.It happened quickly and indeed we were caught unawares because they pushed the button 4 minutes ahead of the scheduled time at noon. Also, there had been a rain shower and most of us had our cameras hidden at the time. I managed to get only one shot of the actual implosion, because my camera was hidden under my sweater. But I did manage to capture some of the atmosphere at Pinelands from where we watched.
The two "salt and pepper" towers had been a Cape Town landmark for decades since they were commissioned in the early 1960s. The power station was closed down in 2003 and after it bacame clear that the tower structures had become dangerous, the decision was made to implode them, following the example of similar cooling towers at power stations in other parts of the world.

I watched the event from Pinelands where my family live, together with my nephew Ulwin and niece Tara. It was one of those events where you know that people will say in future "I was there when..."

It took only a few seconds to destroy the towers, but somehow it had become a large, sociable event with many thousands people of all ages and backgrounds sharing the experience of witnessing it first hand. No decision has yet been taken about what the area will be used for in future. There have been many ideas and in the end it will probably end up being used for a mixture of residential, commercial and perhaps cultural and educational purposes. We'll have to see..

Also see my article at Digital Journal here where there are some excellent pictures courtesy of the demolition company Ross Demolitions and a video.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The best is yet to come for astronomy in SA

Among the many electronic newsletters on various subjects that end up in my inbox, the ones that I always glance at least briefly, are the astronomy-related ones.

Together with regular “clicks” to visit links via the places like the Astronomy Picture of the Day and numerous newsfeeds, the newsletters from NASA, JPL,,, the Planetary Society and various astronomy clubs & societies around the world are very useful to keep up to date with relevant developments.

Naturally, for professional as well as amateur astronomers the “looking up” is the main thing. Professionals worry about funds and research project deadlines if their domes remain closed and data cannot be gathered from ancient light hitting their mirrors. Big, complicated research telescopes like SALT are not commissioned overnight and running them smoothly takes the technical expertise of some of the best minds on the planet. The astronomers find ways to work around problems and use existing data to continue their work or plan new projects from their offices – indeed, their telescopes no longer have the traditional eye pieces and modern research astronomers are mostly desk bound.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

8 Management Lessons from Paul the Octopus

The world's most famous octopus may  have retired from the arduous task of predicting football games' outcomes, but he still has some lessons for managers. On the one hand, his high profile job is now done, but on the other hand, he leaves behind some perfectly sensible management principles. As far as the other four hands  and two legs are concerned (according to scientists, an octopus has six arms and two legs), he will use them doing what he likes best: entertaining children.

So what did we learn from Paul?  Here are some of his lessons:

Monday, July 12, 2010

¡Viva la Roja! and Viva South African pride!

The FIFA World Cup was an extraordinary event in many ways.  Not only did it produce a winner that had never won a World Cup before (from two finalists who had never done it), but it was held in a continent where it had never been held before. 

Many thousands of words have been written about how successful South Africa had been as hosts - and about the surge of national pride and togetherness that it brought.  Most of us are hoping that the same spirit will continue.  For a few days the "What now?" question will reflect the national psyche and then we'll have to address the "What's next" question in all seriousness. If somehow we can put the same energy behind education, the arts, science and especially also job creation and delivery of services as we did behind staging a successful world cup, we could keep those flags of pride flying high.

Meanwhile, I bet never before in the history of mankind has so much Rioja (the red wine that immediately says "Spain" to me) and cerveza been consumed by so many supporters of la Roja (literally "the red ones") in so little time. Or headache tablets on the morning thereafter.  And who would blame them?  As one of my favourite teams from the start, I was supporting them during the later stages of the tournament and was delighted that they won.  Having lived in Spain for a while many years ago as a young girl, there was a personal link - especially since I started watching football on TV in Spain on a small black and white set in my tiny apartment in Calle Capitan Haya in Madrid.  I became a fan of Real Madrid and have

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Intermittent Internet driving us crazy

There's been a problem with local Internet service for many people using a range of ISPs due to part of the SEACOM cable being damaged.   Very frustrating not to know when you will be able to send/receive messages or reach your own or other websites.

Anyone reading this and who may have be suffering from this issue, may want to read the stories here (from Moneyweb) and various items on My Broadband , especially this one.  There is also this informative article by my friend  Christopher Szabo.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Starlit Ponderings July 2010 - Looking for Links

I was multitasking – working and listening with one ear to one of the FIFA World Cup matches on the radio - when my concentration was interrupted by the little voice that says “time you wrote the Ponderings for this month.” Well of course the inevitable happened – I started thinking about a link between the big celebration of the Beautiful Game here in South Africa and what I think of as the Beautiful Science.

First to the rescue was Albert Einstein. Since I am working on updating my talks about his life and work, I am reading yet another biography and from thoughts about space, time and gravity it was one quick mental jump to thinking that the world’s football lovers had been drawn as if by some strong force of gravity to South Africa.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

From the author of "the Little Prince"

"Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward in the same direction. " Antoine de Saint-Exupery (one of his most beautiful quotes on the day he would have turned 110)

"I know but one freedom, and that is the freedom of the mind. " - Antoine de Saint-Exupery

"It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye." - Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Google appropriately commemorated him with their Google Doodle today.

There's more in this article from The Guardian

Friday, June 25, 2010

Vuvuzelas et al

WOW the FIFA World Cup sure is interesting.  My early prediction is that Argentina has the best chance to take the Cup, with their closest competitors being Brazil, Spain, Portugal and dark horse the Nethnerlands.   In the meanwhile I was glad that both the US and UK made it to the next round since I have many friends in both those countries.

Bafana Bafana ended their campaign with honour, beating the French 2-1 but sadly did not get through to the next round. I shall be shouting for my two sentimental favourites Switzerland and Spain (two countries where I lived) for as long as they keep going...

Meanwhile, on those vuvuzelas that has everyone talking, some Friday fun:

Monday, June 7, 2010

Well done to the SpaceX team on Falcon 9 launch

One of the best "good news" stories of the past week has been the successful launch of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket.

If their programme continues to be this successful, it will indeed start a new era of spaceflight. It is already helping to stimulate new ideas about how to approach launch vehicles for spacecraft and may help to go further into other aspects of space exploration.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The FIFA World Cup 2010 - yes, it is here

It has been in the headlines for so long that one can almost not remember what it felt like without the FIFA World Cup dominating just about everything else in South Africa as far as hot topics are concerned.

For very many it is truly a dream come true. Some couldn't really care less about sport in general and football in particular, or about large events involving big crowds. Many worry about the real economic impact the World Cup will have on the South African economy. 

Others worry for different reasons - because they are in charge of some of the major arrangements nationally or in their home city. Let's hope for their sake they will have reason to start relaxing soon.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Case of the Missing Ring and the New Bright Spot

Well no, this is not a whodunnit story (although it might easily be one!), it is a real science mystery.

The case of Jupiter's missing South Equatorial Belt is one that even professional astronomers are finding hard to explain. Although it has happened before on this planet with its turbulent weather, it is relatively rare for us to see the gas giant without that belt. Generally it is a rather baffling event.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The restaurant at the end of the Universe does not close in 2012...

25 May is a special day in the lives of fans of the work of Douglas Adams (1952-2001). Since I am one of those fans, I’m indulging in ponderings about his writings which, as I have discovered over the years, are close to the hearts of many of my friends and acquaintances  as well.

I am not aware of many other authors who have a special commemorative day that is celebrated all over the world. But on Towel Day, the annual celebration on 25 May, Adams fans around the world – and presumably the rest of the universe - proudly carry a towel in his honour. If you forgot to do so this year, then there are about 360 days left to plan your outfit (plaid dressing gown and slippers are strongly advised) and get your towel laundered.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The greatest threat?

Recently I was contemplating the significance of Earth Day (today, 22 April) and asked people on one of my websites what they thought of as the main candidates as the “greatest threat to Earth”. The answers included global warming (and related factors such as the ice caps melting and major coral reefs and forests dying), over-population, the lack of (or limited use of) renewable energy resources, a strike by a major asteroid or comet, some other major event in the Solar System, a nearby supernova and of course also the Sun.

My original question had been a bit misleading, because I wanted to see to what extent people equate the future of the planet with the future of life on Earth, and specifically the future of the human race. It is natural that we see the universe from the one point of view with which we can identify – the human perspective.

Although natural disasters may play a role, modern man is the probably the greatest threat to life on Earth - or to sustain life for beings such as the human race. There is no agreement on the time scales involved, but the majority view seems to be that, unless we act fast, we are heading towards destroying the environment to such an extent that in time to come, only very resilient life forms (and man might not be one of those!) will survive.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Fleeting moments - astronomically speaking

The fireball seen in the Northern parts of South Africa the country late last year prompted me to ponder about our fragile planet being hit by objects from space. However, it also made me think about the thrill and lasting impressions of some fleeting moments relating to astronomy.

There is the “everyday” beauty of moments of unexpected delight: a full moon that suddenly rises from behind buildings or a mountain like a butter-coloured yellow balloon against a navy-blue early evening sky. Or the pleasant surprise of looking up from the centre of a light-polluted city on a very clear evening - and realising that I could easily count six of the Seven Sisters in the Pleiades. Or watching the stars pop out one by one as you sit at the beachfront and having a stranger come up to you to ask if they may borrow your binoculars for a moment to look at Jupiter or Saturn.