Book Review: Regeneration – Pat Barker.

I wrote the other day about my first ever book club meeting, and how much I had enjoyed it. Now comes the review, my thoughts and feelings.

For the record, I read this at the first part of a trilogy (I purchased all three parts as a single volume, it was cheaper than the individual parts) and it was on my Kindle. The Amazon page for this is here.

Plot Summary (Slight Risk of Spoilers).

The story revolves around Siegfried Sassoon, the famous poet. Most British people have heard of him because of having to study World War I poetry at school, and his poetry is useful for those studying because it shows a very distinct arc. At the beginning of the war Sassoon’s writing was full of patriotic fervour, but by the end it was a bitter, angry denouncing of those in charge.

Regeneration is set in 1917. Siegfried Sassoon has written a declaration denouncing the war, and an MP is shortly going to read it out in Parliament (everything that happens in the chambers is recorded in Hansard, the official record of government business). As an act of protest it was a dangerous one. Sassoon could have been considered to be stoking dissent in the ranks. Robert Graves, another famous writer persuades Sassoon to accept being sent to a hospital for shell shock.

At the hospital Sassoon meets Rivers, a doctor charged with helping those officers who are suffering from shell shock to get better with an eye to being sent back to the front line.

Reading It.

This is one of those strange books where it isn’t really appropriate to say that I enjoyed it. The story is at times extremely harrowing, and my notes that I made as I read show that. I describe one character as a bastard having read the chapter where he, to all intents and purposes tortures a poor patient. Having said that the writing was excellent, never feeling laboured or stilted in any way. This is especially important in those sections that talk about the awful experiences the soldiers have endured.

I would say that if anyone is setting out to read it they should probably avoid doing what I did. I found myself wondering how much of the story was factual, and what, if any were the product of the author’s imagination. This being 2014 I did what any right minded, internet connected person would and googled Sassoon. Obviously he has a Wikipedia entry, and obviously it tells you about what happens at the end of the book!

Reading More.

I really did find this a striking book to read, and one that I am sure will stay in my memory for a long time. I didn’t want to start reading the rest of the trilogy straight away. It was the sort of read that you feel the need to ‘decompress’ after. But I will, and soon. And I’m looking forward to it.

And Finally.

I have signed up to the Blogging101 blog-prompts. Today’s task was to change the title of my blog, so I’ve done this. But the above is my actual blog entry. I have a list of blog topics in case the prompts don’t work, or require an entry. I’m trying to improve my blogging habit and my writing style.

2013 Book Report 22: Superstition in Pigeons – B.H. Skinner.

I work in a Department of Psychology, but I’m no psychologist. However, I had read something that put me on to the idea of reading about a bit more around the subject.

There is a Wikipedia article on B.F. Skinner. It outlines both his life and his theories.

Like many giants of their field, the things that Skinner did and said now seem pretty much obvious, but were clearly radical in their day. Skinner’s research was largely targeted towards the nature of free will and responses to punishments and reward.

This short book (available for the Kindle here) is a summary of the investigations of responses given by pigeons to various stimuli. The behaviour seems to indicate that the pigeons become, in some way superstitious about their behaviour, and start to carry out series of rituals which they somehow associate with being provided with rewards.

Anyone who has tried to train any animal will know that it is vital to give a clear, consistent command and then reward the correct behaviour. If the command is inconsistent then the animal would associate the wrong thing with the behaviour. It seems pretty self explanatory. ┬áBut then, as one of the presenters of Myth Busters once said ‘The only difference between screwing around and science is writing it down” –@donttrythis #MythBusters‘. This stuff didn’t become science until Skinner tested the various hypotheses and wrote them down.

Given the combination of quite a technical subject and a stilted, academic and older English idiom, this book is surprisingly readable, and a starting point to learning much more about psychology.

 

2013 Book Report 19: Getting Started With Raspberry Pi – Matt Richardson and Shawn Wallace

For most geeks the Raspberry Pi (from now on the RPi) needs no introduction. Originally designed to enthuse children by providing a small, easy to understand computer, the RPi has taken the geek world by storm, and has sold more than a million units.

It isn’t clear how many of these units have found their way into the hands of youngsters… I suspect most have gone to adults enticed by the low cost computer that bucks the trend for more and more powerful processors.

This book then, is a sort of manual for getting to grips with the RPi. Most users will, I suspect have started their RPi journey using resources that they found on the internet, so a perfectly valid question to ask might well be what advantage a book, static and unchanging can have in the fast moving world of open source.

This seems to me to be the biggest weakness of what is otherwise an excellent resource. The world of computing changes quickly, and this is especially the case at the fringes, and items like the RPi are definitely on the fringe.

The book covers useful territory such as what the various components on the RPi’s board are (surely part of the demystifying of this small computer), how to obtain and install a suitable operating system (one of the areas that has changed most rapidly) and what to expect when you first boot the system.

These are all great tools for beginners, and I would suggest that the thing that you are getting in a book, rather than a random collection of web pages is the expectation that the writing is well done, clear and easy to follow. In my opinion that is exactly what the reader gets here.

The rest of the book is a quick trip through some of the things that you can do with a RPi. This is a useful section in that when I first got one the question I got most often was ‘what is it for’. The really interesting thing with a device like the RPi is that it has connectors which can be used in software to do a whole range of things. These connectors offer a range of ways of interacting with the world. One day I may even build something from the suggestions (or I may try and find something useful to do online).

In summary, this book is both an easy to read and and easy to follow book. It is well written, and doesn’t come over as being dry (well, not to me, less geek orientated readers may disagree). While it is in danger of being rapidly superceded by the changes in the systems that it describes, the quality of the writing compensates for this danger. I would probably recommend just checking for any updates online before undertaking any particular projects.

 

2013 Book Report 10: The Man With Two Left Feet and Other Stories – PG Wodehouse.

A confession: I had never read any PG Wodehouse before this book. In fact, I didn’t even watch the much praised TV series starring Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry. I was, essentially a noob, a novice, a PG Wodehouse virgin.

It is possible that this wasn’t a good book to start my journey with, there may be far better in the canon, but I did enjoy this one enormously.

It is a series of short stories, one of which features PG Wodehouse’s most famous comic creations, Bertie Wooster and Jeeves. But the other stories are all stand alone pieces.

I enjoyed these stories. They are fluffy confections, whimsical and funny enough to raise a smile, though not, for me at least, to make me laugh out loud. Obviously the stories are dated, as is some of the language, but they have stood the test of time. And one advantage of reading books like this on a Kindle is that you can look up the obscure and archaic words simply by placing your cursor over them.

I won’t be rushing out to stock up on PG Wodehouse, but I won’t be averse to reading more in the future.