Make Chiangmai Mail | your Homepage | Bookmark

Chiangmai 's First English Language Newspaper

Pattaya Blatt | Pattaya Mail | Pattaya Mail TV

Book Review: by Lang Reid

Update March 14, 2015

1000 years of annoying the French

I re-read this book 1000 years of Annoying the French (ISBN 978-0-552-77575-5, Bantam Press, 2010) by Stephen Clarke, a writer who these days lives in Paris, and found it just as enjoyable as the first time. After 12 months of book reviews, this book gets my ‘pick of the bunch’ award.

My dear Scottish mother detested the French. She forgave the Germans for their couple of hiccups. She was sympathetic to the Poles. She tolerated the Spanish. But the French? Even French cheeses were not welcome in her house.

So along comes a book, which I thought might give me the answer to my Mother’s antipathy to all things Gallic.

The early years were mainly military skirmishes, with France and England taking it in turns; however, despite French history books, the Brits seemed to be on top, which did not please the French at all.

When you come to notable figures in British history, there is Mary Queen of Scots. According to Clarke the historian, “Mary Queen of Scots was a French creation. She was as Scottish as foie-gras flavored haggis.” Mother would not have been as amused as I was.

Champagne and Dom Perignon get their mention on the French side of the ledger, but historian Clarke claims that it was an English chap by the name of Merret who worked out how to keep the bubbles (and in fact manufacture some with the second fermentation in the bottle) from exploding in the bottle. So there. Methode champenoise was invented not by the Dom, but by the English.

Interestingly, at the court of Louis XIV, courtiers were obliged to bribe palace officials for any little favors. Did the French then bring this to Thailand via Ayutthaya, I wonder!

The infamous Ponzi schemes and similar rackets in 1720 led to the British South Sea Bubble, but this was only following what the French had done earlier that year. It would seem that greed is universal on either side of the English Channel.

By the time we have the Americans getting involved with both sides, Clarke writes about Benjamin Franklin’s eccentricity thus, “…to develop his theory that the best protection against sexually transmitted disease was a hearty post-coital pee. Not one of his better ideas.”

And that Oh so French decapitation machine, the Guillotine, turns out not to be French at all, but was invented in Halifax, Northern England as early as 1286. Dr. Guillotin might have popularized it in France, but France cannot claim bragging rights. The first to experience this machine in France was an unfortunate robber in 1792 called Nicolas-Jacques Pelletier, lucky I suppose that it was not called a Pelletier, though Pierre-Andre Pelletier, of the Amari Watergate might perhaps know more.

This book is the equivalent of Bill Bryson’s travelogues, but historical (and hysterical). I laughed all the way through this book and you will too. Unless you are French! It will still be available through the Bookazine outlets. This is an ideal book to read in a hammock nestled under a shady tree. We all can use a little humor!

Update March 7, 2015

Don’t Worry - Be Grumpy

The author of the book reviewed this week is a Buddhist monk, Ajahn Brahmavamso Mahathera (known to most as Ajahn Brahm). He was born Peter Betts in London, United Kingdom in August 7, 1951, and came from a working-class background, but won a scholarship to study Theoretical Physics at Cambridge University in the late 1960s. At Cambridge he joined the university’s Buddhist Society and after a few weeks at the age of 18, he saw a monk for the first time. He knew then that was what he wanted to be. After graduating from Cambridge he taught in a school for one year before travelling to Thailand to become a monk and train with the Venerable Ajahn Chah Bodhinyana Mahathera.
Whilst still in his years as a junior monk, he was asked to undertake the compilation of an English-language guide to the Buddhist monastic code - the Vinaya - which later became the basis for monastic discipline in many Theravadan monasteries in Western countries.
It does seem to go together well - a Buddhist monk and a self-help treatise. After all, Buddhism promotes the concept of personal enlightenment through meditation.
This new book (ISBN 978-1-61429-167-1, Wisdom Publications, 2014) adds to his three other books, and again he suggests ways that the ordinary man or woman can separate the mind from the difficulties surrounding it.
“Don’t Worry - Be Grumpy” is perhaps a (sub) conscious play by Ajahn Brahm on the pop song “Don’t worry - Be Happy”, a song by musician Bobby McFerrin. Released in September 1988, it became the first a cappella song to reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, a position it held for two weeks. The song's title is taken from a famous quotation by the mystic Meher Baba.
Ajahn Brahm calls the contents of his book, “Inspiring stories for making the most of each moment.” This promise comes in the 108 brief stories with titles like “The Bad Elephant,” “Girlfriend Power,” and “The Happiness License”. Ajahn Brahm offers up more timeless wisdom that will speak to people from all walks of life. Drawing from his own experiences, stories shared by his students, and old chestnuts that he delivers with a fresh twist, Ajahn Brahm shows he knows his way around the humorous parable, delighting even as he surprises us with unexpected depth and inspiration.
For someone who is having problems with the everyday mental clutter that one engenders, this book may help you get the mind’s house in order with a few humorous chapters.
One of the short chapters deals with negative thoughts and memories, and Ajahn Brahm exhorts the reader to banish those thoughts, and replace with happy ones instead. Whilst the principle reads well, it is not quite as simple as he suggests, I fear.
One chapter deals with low self-esteem and Ajahn Brahm shows a very concrete way of attacking the problem, complete with reinforcement to “save you spending a lot of money on therapy!”
Expensive at B. 633 on the Bookazine shelves, but for those looking for this kind of publication and its uplifting messages, it is probably cheap therapy.

Update March 1, 2015

The Age of Dis-Consent

Christopher G Moore is one of Thailand’s foremost authors. His Vincent Calvino series has 15 titles, his other novels 11 titles, non-fiction has five and he has three anthologies which he has edited as well as contributed items to them.
This new book, The Age of Dis-Consent (ISBN 978-616-7503-31-8, Heaven Lake Press, 2015) was literally hot off the press when it arrived on the reviewer’s table.
He has split the book into seven sections, beginning with Thailand in the Age of Dis-Consent, followed by Thai law enforcement and cultural mindset, Evolution of violence and the border-less world, Crime investigation in a changing world, Space, Time Technology and Cultural gravity, Information and theory of mind and finally, On writing and authors.
Moore discusses neutrality as a remedy for political stalemate in Thailand, looking objectively at the options, and coming to the conclusion that mindset and culture has to change in Thailand for there to be resolution of political differences. He opines, “We are a long way from reaching that point. Meanwhile we remain hostages to personalities who will never be expected to pay for their crimes.”
The book’s content is current, as the chapter on Mitsutoki Shigeta discusses the background and future as presented by this wealthy Japanese who is building up an empire of his children. “A thousand children would be the ultimate immortality-vanity project. Leaving a legacy population of genetically related people who will shape the political, social, economic and demographic fate of more than one country.”
His final essay looks at the “persona” as committed to posterity by painters such as Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon notating them as two of the most important painters in England over the past hundred years.
Moore looks at the commitment artists have in recording all the details, in one instance, Martin Gayford sat for one and a half years for a portrait by Lucian Freud and penned a memoir “Man with a Blue Scarf: On Sitting for a Portrait by Lucian Freud.” A commitment by both the artist and the sitter.
What becomes very obvious in these essays is the fact the Moore is far more than just a good story teller. He is a thinker who is able to transfer his thoughts into the written word. This is not an attribute that all thinkers have.
Moore shows something of his own intellectual reasoning with: “If there is a single reason why I continue to write books and essays, it is to continue on a journey of exploration of what is in front of me …”
For B. 495 (Bookazine) you have the starting point for hours of discussion, at which good essayists excel. It would be nice to hammer points out in a one on one with him; however, since that would be difficult to arrange, suggest that one of your own literary sparring partners buy the book as well and set aside several weekends and several bottles of red (try Stonefish shiraz) and thrash out the discussion points one by one!.

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

1000 years of annoying the French

Don’t Worry - Be Grumpy

The Age of Dis-Consent