Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the category “reading”

Reader Round Up: August


August became my vacation month this year. Due to obligations, responsibilities, and unexpected events, my usual casual days of unwinding during summer before powering back up for the school year dwindled down to about two weeks of fetter free days. Amazingly enough during this hectic summer I found time to read. Actually, reading is what kept me sane. Chocolate might have, but that calorie thing always has me rethinking my grab towards the Dove bar whilst shopping.

Due to the unusual amount of stress this summer I read more than usual and this resulted in my hitting my Goodreads Reading Challenge of 101 books (and then some) earlier, much earlier than expected. Maybe stress can be a good thing after all? I do know reading is my go-to for relieving craziness that comes from being overwhelmed with the unexpected.

Here are the highlights for August reading:

King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
If you appreciate Indiana Jones and Lost World you will want to explore this foundational novel. Written around 1885, as a challenge to write something better than Stevenson’s Treasure Island, Haggard succeeds in providing an adventure in Africa that brims with narrow escapes, lost treasure, mysterious strangers, cruel villains, and legends to perpetuate. Several movie adaptations, yet none come close to the actual novel.

Coming Home by Rosamunde Pilcher ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Fans of Downton Abbey this is a book for you. English gentry, family drama, war drama, convenient plot devices, surprising plot turns, likable heroes, inspiring heroines, emotional involvement. It’s all there—all 977 pages. Update: the miniseries wasn’t exactly the plot, but decent.

Shakespeare’s England edited by R.E. Pritchard ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
The title is a bit deceptive in that it is actually an account of what life might have been like during the 1600 and 1700 time period in England. While this is the era when Shakespeare was prominent, the book is not focused on Shakespeare and his England. Fascinating information otherwise.

Sleeping Tiger by Rosamunde Pilcher ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
A perfect airplane read: light, non-demanding, read in the two hours of flight.

Researching James Herriot I read several of his books, mainly biographies. A separate post is here.

A Woman of Independent Means by Elizabeth Hailey ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
A fascinating arc of a woman’s life; however, it lost its appeal midway through due to the overly dramatic plot and epistolary device wearing thin. I am interested in watching the mini-series with Sally Field, as she strikes me as being capable of portraying the main character Bess having watched her in Places of the Heart.
Update: Even Sally Field couldn’t breathe solidity to this flimsy soap opera.

Report from Argyll by Alan McKinnon ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
If James Bond ‘60s espionage tales are on your list, look for this little Crime Club edition. The story comes complete with sexist dialogue, political undercurrents, skulking villains, plot twists, and red herrings.

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
A classic I wanted to revisit, yet I couldn’t finish. And I wanted to. However, beyond the dated attitudes and interactions, let alone cliche characters, I could not easily digest Heinlein’s diatribe against societal conventions and practices such as religion, politics, and gender roles. It felt like the novel had been designed around his views, not so much around the unique idea of a Man from Mars adapting to the planet of his heritage. The novel did give us “grok” which is something worthwhile.

The House of Paper by Carlos Dominguez ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
More of a short story then a novel and at barely 100 pages it might be a stretch to consider it a novella. One has to appreciate magical realism to fully grasp the focus of the story. The illustrations by Peter Sis are a bonus.

A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win WWII by Sonia Purnell ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Just when we think WWII might be exhausted for story angles, along comes the absolutely fascinating story of Virginia Hall, who might have gone unnoticed had it not been for scrupulously researched work of Sonia Purcell. Considering how Hall remained recalcitrant about her feats of super spy achievements in France, Purnell has honed a fascinating portrait of a person, no matter that she was an American woman with a prosthesis, who helped greatly during WWII, particularly with France’s efforts to free itself of the Nazi regime. Update: a movie is in the making

Yes, it is an eclectic list. Bouncing around to what catches my eye seems to be my indiscriminate pattern of reading selection. See anything of interest?

Author Spotlight: James Herriot


Eons ago I became smitten with the James Herriot series All Creatures Great and Small—both the books and BBC show.

The gentle humor, the insights into human nature, the animal stories, the quaint English countryside with all of its unique characters, the appreciation for life even in the hard circumstances of being a country became a tonic for this reader.

james herriot life work

It wasn’t until recently, while researching for a writing project, I came across James Herriot once again. This time I paid more attention to the writer. I came away more impressed than ever, and developed more respect for James Herriot or rather James Alfred Wight, the man behind the stories. Here are some facts I learned while reintroducing myself to his works:

  • He choose to write under the pseudonym of James Herriot due to strict veterinary association ethics of not writing under one’s own name to avoid self-promotion. He took the name from a professional football (soccer) player who played for Wight’s favorite Sunderland team.
  • Born in England, his family moved to Glasgow, Scotland when he was a baby. He spent 23 years in Glasgow and naturally developed an accent causing people to think he was Scottish.
  • He decided to become a vet due to the combination of loving animals, reading an article about choosing a vocation, and listening to a guest lecturer from the Glasgow Veterinary School.
  • Wight was an avid reader, one dedicated to classics and authors such as Sir Conan Doyle, H.G.Wells, H. Rider Haggard, O’Henry, P.G. Wodehouse, Charles Dickens, Shakespeare. These literary influences are evident in Wight’s writing with his ability to inject humor in unexpected moments with irony, imagery, and a turn of a phrase. His ear for natural dialogue added greatly to the rhythm of the story.
  • Being born in 1916 put Wight at a disadvantage since it placed him in the middle of an economic depression by the time he graduated from vet school, making it difficult to find a position.
  • He first worked with a veterinarian in Sunderland (where he was born) but due to the vet’s contract with the dog racing track having ended, Wight had to find another placement. This led him to Yorkshire where he would work with Donald Sinclair (Siegfried rom the books) for nearly fifty years.
  • After being hired by Sinclair, Wight had to run the practice single-handedly because Sinclair had joined the Royal Air Force.
  • Wight had tried publishing other stories before writing his country vet tales, yet only met rejections. He didn’t begin publishing his memoirs, his life as a country vet, until he was 50 years old and continued writing through his early 70s.
  • His initial book, If Only They Could Talk, was serialized in the newspaper, and a favorable literary review launched further reader interest. Soon after, his books sold constantly and his career as a writer began and to this day people are still fans of his writing.
  • Wight claimed 90% of his stories were true, having had the need to change names and situations, yet some dissenters, particularly Graham Lord, a biographer, say it’s closer to 50%, making his memoirs more fiction than fact. However, Wight’s son, Jim, maintains in his biography of his dad that 90% true is accurate [Does it really matter? The stories are marvelous—so what if there are embellishments?]
  • Wight continued his veterinary practice even while becoming a successful author, as he truly enjoyed being a country vet.
  • His books were bestsellers, sometimes remaining on the New York Times list for over six months.
  • To this day Wight’s books have sold over 60 million copies.
  • Thousands of fans, mostly Americans, would trek to Yorkshire to meet Wight and he would personally sign books and meet with people and he took the time to answer the cascade of letters sent to him. Today there is a World of James Herriot museum located at his original practice where devotees can learn more about the author.
  • James Alfred “Alf” Wight was always surprised at his success as a writer; he remained humble and in awe of his publishing achievement throughout his life. Though he became a millionaire author, he nevertheless lived a simple life, enjoying his marriage to Joan “Helen” for over 50 years and had a loving relationship with his two children, Jim and Rosie, who both became doctors (Jim carried on in his father’s practice, and Wight talked his daughter out of becoming a vet due to the strenuous work, so she became a general practitioner).
  • He received the OBE for his contribution to veterinary science, along with many other significant awards.

His original books published in Britain had titles such as It Shouldn’t Happen to a Vet, The Flying Vet, and were short volumes, which were combined to create longer volumes and retitled from lines of a famous British hymn: All Creatures Great and Small. Although I have read most, if not all of Herriot’s books, including his biographies, I do have my favorites:

Picture Books

Oscar, Cat-About-Town

Moses, the Kitten

Collections

James Herriot’s Cat Stories

Image result for james herriot cat photographs

The Best of James Herriot, Favorite Memories of a Country Vet

Biographies

The Real James Herriot, Memoir of My Father by James Wight

Television and Film

The entire BBC series with Robert Hardy

Image result for all creatures great and small bbc

The first film with Anthony Hopkins

Young James Herriot

Ka-Powell’s


For years I’ve heard about Portland’s Powell’s Bookstore. And people were amazed I hadn’t been or even knew of it’s existence. 

I can now say I’ve been Ka-Powelled after today. Ka-pow like being knocked out. Being booked up takes on new meaning. 

Doing my Pacific Northwest summer tour usually includes a dabble into Portland, but not too deeply since I am long out of practice of navigating city blocks and rush hour traffic.

Today I jumped in, with Siri’s help, and found my way into the heart of Portland. With my bag of books I and a three block walk, because city parking is a grab-it-when-you -see-a-spot, I wandered into the used book line.

And waited. There were four buyers, with seven sellers ahead of me (one guy had SIX boxes on a handtruck!?!), and more lining up behind me. Who says people don’t read anymore? 

After obtaining my store credit voucher I went shopping. The store was amazingly flush with customers. This place is like a Disneyland for bibliophiles. If you have yet to visit or are perhaps wondering–here are some Powell’s facts courtesy of Wikipedia (as with image):

  • Considered to be the world’s largest independent bookstore
  •  Buys around 3,000 used books a day
  • The building takes up a full city block.
  • The business started with a Powell and is still under ownership of a Powell.
  • Founded in 1971.
  • Five locations in Oregon.
  • Two million book inventory.
  • Employer of 530+ people.
  • Considered to be one of Portland’s top attractions.

Okay–reality factor. How many cities  can name a bookstore as a tourist attraction?

Feeling rather overwhelmed with all the choices, people,and sheer amazingness of it all, I finally    managed to use most of my store credit and stagger out an hour and a half later with five books in hand. I barely explored the offerings since there was too much to see. My brain froze at the totality of it all. Books, books, books. It was ever so lovely.

Anyone else been Powelled? 

Reader Round Up


As I prime for lots of unfettered summer reading I’ve been able to start my freed-from-grading daze with a few truly amazing books, an eclectic mix of non-fiction and novels.


First up is an Audrey book. I’m not much for reading full-blown biographies because they often reveal aspects of the person which might change my comfortable opinion. So when I spied this petite photo biography about Audrey Hepburn and her style relationship with Givenchy, how could I refuse when it practically hopped into my library book bag? If you are an Audrey fan, this is a must read.


This title was circled as a “want to read” selection in my Book Page circular. Be Frank with Me almost falls into “seen this before” trope of precocious kid, odd famous parent, and the Mary Poppins who is hired to bring order to chaos. Surprisingly, I ended up really enjoying this fast read. One reason is it has that forties comedy film feel to it with its madcap, impossible hijinks, situations, and characters. I simply accepted the break in versimilitude and let the show roll.


Yet another DE Stevenson. My list of her forty or so published titles is rapidly approaching completed unless her granddaughter finds more manuscripts in the attic. This one is post-war Britain and has Young Mrs Savage dealing with widowhood and four children all under the age of eight, and she’s not even thirty yet. There’s mystery, a variety of suitors, and delightful Scottish pluck and scenery. There is even a snarky set of villianesses to boo at.  I also adore the old school cover art.


Another non-fiction involved a flashback to my past, all the way to 1962 and the Seattle World’s Fair. Being a young thing then, the memories are a bit sketchy, so I definitely added this coffee-table photo historical to my checkouts.I reveled in forgotten exhibits, vendors, and magic moments of the fair. There is also that behind-the-scenes info the feeds my  craving for trivia snacking. Seattle remains a top fave for favorite cities, in case anyone is doing a poll. It’s such a unique, iconic landmark and I have some of the best family memories involving that futuristic trademark of the Emerald City. 

As of Monday afternoon I shall be released from the classroom and will gladly kick into summer vacation mode. Woo hoo!

Any other teachers out there ready to get their summer on?

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