Review: Maestros and Their Music – John Mauceri

“…I realized that we artists actually have no idea what we are doing. We study. We think. We rehearse. We perform. The audience is the recipient of our translations, and how it perceives our actions is the only truth, whether we are personally satisfied or not.”

In Maestros and Their Music, John Mauceri gives us unique access into the world of conducting. What is the man waving with his hands in front of the orchestra really doing? How does one become a conductor? How is quality in conducting judged; what makes one better than another? And truly, why are they important in performances of classical music? All the natural questions that might arise for anyone thinking about the art of conducting is wonderfully and convincingly explored in this book. John Mauceri writes from personal experience, as well as the experiences of people he has gotten to know through the years; combining anecdotes with general discussions of the staple-parts of the job, the skill, the controversy, and the history of the conductor. He begins with giving the historical origins of the conductor, as music began to change in the 19th century and the need arose for someone to oversee increasingly complex compositions, and further gives us an overview of this invisible art form’s development and progression through the 20th century and beyond.

What is lovely about this book is that Mauceri tends not to assume that you, as a reader, have any familiarity with music history or terms that to him and his fellow artists seem second-nature. He explains the musical notation system – the language of music, that is the conductor’s source material – and continually uses the metaphor ‘translates’ as a way to explain what the conductor does. The musical notes are the composer’s original image of the music, their vision as closely presented as possible, and it is up to the conductor to translate these notes into music. Hence, each performance being a translation – and much like the translations of books, there is an important element of interpretation in it; different conductor’s valuing different things and looking to highlight one thing over the other.

With every memoir of the kind that deals with a narrow field of occupation – the specialization and its rewards comes with a price. Mauceri touches on the many issues a conductor has to face on a regular basis such as the conflicting interests between the different actors involved in creating the performance (the director, the singers, the musicians, etc); the fact that most conductor’s don’t get much time to prepare their work or become acquainted with their fellow ‘team mates’ before they have to perform in front of an audience together; or the system through which they are re-hired (or not) as basically eliminating job security. Traveling is a basic part of the job, from one place to the next – conducting with orchestras one has not even met a week before their final performance; packing one’s entire studio – basically a life – into one suitcase and hauling it the world over, getting stuck in airport security for carrying a baton, being away from loved ones, having few friends among the people one spends most of one’s time with. There’s actually an entire chapter called “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Maestro” that is in my opinion one of the best parts of the books as it deals with these rather non-glamorous aspects of a conductor’s physical reality and what is the daily prize paying for doing the work of their dreams. A conductor has so little time to wind down, you will possibly find yourself wondering how on earth Mauceri even had the time or mind to write this book.

“Over a period of a few months I wrote down what I was doing and feeling as I prepared, traveled, rehearsed, and performed [..] Slowly but inexorably, this book took shape, and each time I went on the road there were more things to add and more memories brought to the surface.”

While the author is telling his own story and sharing his own memories, it’s worth pointing out that for the most part he talks of these experiences as universal. At times, he actually writes in the first person plural; making clear both how much of this is shared experiences, how small their world is and how we as readers are invited into this mostly offstage ‘club’. It’s a thrilling feeling to see all of the building blocks of the performed musical wonder. At times, Mauceri does get lost in his own nostalgia. He will talk about a specific director, or singer, or symphony, or whatnot – either he gets lost in his own memories, or of those close to him, his mentors. While these parts can be tedious at times, and at others seem self-congratulating – on the whole, the book does not suffer for the occasional tangents. Rather, in many parts, the discussions of a more general nature are given more depth and grounding in his personal additions.

“It is a kind of wizardry world, after all, complete with a magic wand: One person, at the epicenter of as many as a hundred musicians – playing many different instruments, and sometimes in concert with singers and soloists – is the essential conduit through which music is invoked, supervised and shaped; is the overriding interpreter – and sole possessor – of runic instructions written in a complex and arcane language that indicate a series of sounds that may or may not last over four hours; is completely dependent on the craft of everyone else; and silently and uniquely delivers an invisible controlling force to its intended goal: the audience.”

I think it would be hard to read this book and think of music in general, classical music in particular, the same way again. Of course, you will not be able to look at the conductor’s role in all of this the same way – the waving won’t just be waving, the expressive face of the man standing in front of the musicians will hold meaning. But there are other things too, to take away from it – like the way we digest music now and how it changes the rules of the game – how for example, silence is used in classical music performances is vastly different in the live as opposed to the recorded kind. Mauceri describes how composer’s have noted silences as part of their music, and how it is up to the conductor to decide the length of that silence – measuring the audience in front of him, just right, to get the desired effect. Of course, this finesse and others like it are lost in a recording; the medium itself changes the way we hear classical music, too. It’s easy to take for granted the accessibility that comes with musical recordings and the digital era, but it’s worth thinking about what is lost to us in the changing times, as well as what is gained through the development of technology and new possibilities being born.

If you have ever wondered about the man – oh yes, this book highlights the fact that this is a very male-dominated field too – seemingly pulling the strings of the orchestra, what is actually happening on stage and offstage, and you are looking for a deeper understanding of classical music through a historical look-back and the music’s ever-changing form in the present day, this book is for you.

About the Book
Title: Maestros and Their Music
Author: John Mauceri
Year of Publication: 2017
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Genre: nonfiction, music


Review: Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin

“‘Where is Nina?’ I ask again, frantically. Hundreds of needles of pain radiate from my throat to the extremities of my body.
Your mother isn’t asking for my consent. Your mother is asking for my forgiveness, for what is happening right now, in the green house. I let go of her hands. The rescue distance knots up, so brutally that for a moment I stop breathing. I think about leaving, about getting out of bed. My God, I think. My God. I have to get Nina out of that house.”

Fever Dream is the debut novel of Argentinian writer, Samanta Schweblin, that was notably shortlisted for the Manbooker International Prize in 2017. Around the time of its release, it gained attention and a resurgence of reviews came with its nomination for the prize. Since then, all of the reviews I’ve seen have been unanimous on one thing – that this is a one-sitting kind of book. It demands to be read in large gulps, preferably without pause. There is good reason for this advice, as the book has no chapters nor does it have paragraph breaks. The narrative of Fever Dream runs along like a disaster told after the fact, with a danger still lurking giving the book its sense of urgency. It’s a book that mimics the nightmare of an experience when you realize something has gone terribly wrong, and you don’t yet have all the facts nor do you know if there are things yet waiting to happen. It’s the feeling of your blood rushing down in shock, when you are increasingly sure that the nightmare wasn’t a dream but reality.

‘Fever Dream’ is an apt title for this book, but the original Spanish one is even better. It is “Distancia de rescate”, aka the ‘rescue distance’. This particular phrase is central to the book and it’s narrator. It is explained in the book as “the variable distance separating me from my daughter, and I spend half the day calculating it, though I always risk more than I should“. Amanda is the narrator of this book, and the mother of the story. Her daughter is a girl called Nina. The other individual in the ‘running time’ of the book is the little boy, David, and in the flashbacks – his mother, Carla. The story mainly follow these four figures moving through the recent past and the hurried present coming to a rapid halt. The reason the original title is so apt is the way the story centers around Amanda’s (and her friend’s) role as a mother, and it is the relationship between mother and child that move the story in the particular direction it takes. The phrase is repeated, as Amanda’s uncertainty in a situation shortens the rescue distance – she wants to keep her daughter close in her distress, and loosens the rope between them when she feels safe and relaxed. ‘Fever Dream’ is in itself suitable to describe the atmosphere of the book, rather than its contents. It follows a very rapid pace of narration and we go through it blindly stumbling in the dark; it’s not until the narrator herself gains some clarity over what has happened that we as readers do, too.

The book itself seemed to me to deal with a sort of environmental contamination, in one nondescript little town – where many of the children have deformities, and the same source of the poison that has caused this seems to be running through Amanda. It is never explicitly said what the poisoning really is, rather it is at times hinted as something almost supernatural – a kind of curse over the town and a question of evil spirits or energy rather than some kind of large-scale industry pollution on an entire town and its inhabitants. I’m leaning towards the latter though, in terms of the intended meaning behind the story and the words dealing with the cause of the sickness of the narrator. It’s vague, and not really discussed even in the end – so that it’s up for interpretation, what is really happening or what was behind it all. I would argue that it’s not that important for the story – whichever route you decide on – as the story’s core is more about the state of awakening and realization dawning than it is about why. What Schweblin does best is the atmosphere of absolute fogginess in mind, and haziness of spirit – as she guides us with Amanda and David, making their way back and forward in time again.

It’s hard to clearly capture this book in a review, as much of it is about the totally consuming experience of it. It’s also hard to really put across how well Schweblin transports you into the blind woman’s eyes or back in her memories; you become part of her body as she tries to drive off with her daughter in the backseat, crying. You can feel her motionlessness, the fatigue in every movement, the blindness spreading. It’s really a remarkable book for a debut, and I look forward to exploring what this writer brings out next.

About the Book
Title: Fever Dream
Author: Samanta Schweblin
Translator: Megan McDowell
Year of Publication: 2017 (Org. 2014)
Publisher: One World
Genre: literary fiction

Review: The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim

“And there they were, arrived; and it was San Salvatore; and their suit-cases were waiting for them; and they had not been murdered.”

The Enchanted April follows four women as they decide to take a break from their dreary lives in gray London, for a month away in the Italian country side – where they rent a villa together. None of the women know each other previously; it all comes to be through the actions of one particular woman – Mrs Wilkins, who has seen an advertisement for the renting of this villa over the month of April and instantly falls in love with the idea. She reaches out to an acquaintance (although they have never spoken, only passed each other by in common circles) and they decide to share the rent for the house. Later, they invite two other women to share and thus split the cost for the rent by four. Each woman has her own circumstances in London, different things they are looking for and ultimately find in the beautiful setting that is San Salvatore.

The best way to describe this book is that it is warm, like an early summer day when the morning is brisk but clear, the warmth of the sun is heating up the earth and slowly releases all tension and chill from the bones. It is not just the setting and the holiday-theme that gives the book its summery, sweet and warm feel – it is mostly done through the characters and their steady growth through the novel’s progression. Mrs Wilkins is one of the warmest characters I have ever come across. While she at first seems meek and unremarkable, even forgettable, you will find she ends up making quite the impression by the end of it. San Salvatore makes her bloom, and in return, she has the same effect on the women she house-shares with. Even the most resisting end up giving in to her openness, slowly but surely. Her presence in the book is what gives it such a welcoming atmosphere, an open invitation for the reader to the San Salvatore villa in April, anytime anywhere. I am sure it will end up being a book to return to, because of this sense of magic and timelessness within the set time and place of the book.

Mrs Wilkins is lovely, but she is not alone in carrying the story. The first woman she reaches out to is Mrs Arbuthnot. Her troubles are connected to her husband, who writes scandalous memoirs for a living – and her religion comes into conflict with his profession. The young and beautiful Lady Caroline is running away from her family and friends, not to mention her admirers, as she is starting to realize how shallow her life has been up to this point and how she wishes for something else, or more, of her future. Lastly, there is Mrs Fisher who is an elderly woman, giving the impression of being quite wealthy and proper, who is looking for time “to remember” her old friends, as she describes it in accepting the offer for the house-share. She is the most obstinate in opening up to the others and the atmosphere of San Salvatore, and shielding herself away in nostalgia of times gone. When she finally warms up to the place and its inhabitants, you can’t help but smile as you’ve seen her resistance throughout the book and see her entire transformation, and in fact, her getting younger and younger in spirit as the book goes on.

While the women have their own specific set of circumstances and life styles, they share the idea of wanting to get away (or run away) for a little bit of peace, indeed – to be alone for a bit. It turns out what they get is something quite different, but not the worse for it. They get something they hadn’t looked for, but needed more than anything. Appreciation, true companionship, joy, ease, peace, and optimism for the future. The book on the whole is of course a character study, as is probably evident by now. But it’s a combination of Von Arnim’s ability to capture these very different personalities so fully, and richly, as to make each relatable and recognizable – with the beauty in the writing itself, the portrayal of nature and setting, the passing of time and changing of season mirroring the change in the character’s, that makes this book time so well spent.

I hope, if you read this, and you have yet to make the acquaintance of these four women, that I have convinced you to do so. The Enchanted April is an absolute gem of a book, and you will feel sorry it doesn’t go on for longer by the last page, and yet feel some comfort in knowing it will always be there for you to return to, anytime you so choose.

About the Book
Title: The Enchanted April
Author: Elizabeth von Arnim
Year of Publication: 2011 (Originally 1922)
Publisher: Virago
Genre: classic

Review: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

“How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?”

Fahrenheit 451 stands together with Huxley’s Brave New World and Orwell’s 1984 as the trio of dystopian classics, the foundational stones to the genre. While Ray Bradbury’s novel carries with it the labels of science fiction, alternatively speculative fiction and dystopian story; this book is different in significant ways to the other two works above mentioned. Whereas Orwell and Huxley both imagine, as is the definition of the genre dystopian, a horrible version of the world as it could be, based on what it is now – Fahrenheit 451 is less focused on the actual political climate than about the emotional experience of living through it, and seeing its end.

The book opens with a fireman, Guy Montag, doing his job – in this world, firemen start fires rather than put them out. It’s a well known fact that this book is about the burning of books. Well, partly anyway. The burning of books stand as a symbol for something else and something more. As one of the characters later states, the books themselves stand as the records of real things out in this world, of other places or lost times, even of our present – and the idea of the book’s inside being more important than its appearance strikes home throughout the book as the conclusion too shows the different ways books – or the stories that books give home to – can take shape.

The fireman, Montag, has worked with burning books and burning everything in his way for ten years, not having any time to question the state of affairs as it stands. One day, he meets a girl across the street – his neighbor, Clarisse, who starts talking to him about anything and everything. Her vision of the world is so different to his and all of the people he know, her words therefor strike him hard. He starts thinking about her words, her questioning of what this world has gotten to and what it once was – back when people talked, just talked, or watched the stars or took notice of the dew in the grass early mornings. Her curiosity and hope for the world, as well as her – purity, really, as she seems not to have any great wish to change things or take action herself but rather to live freely in her own capacity, to resist – starts to unravel Montag’s world view and he is set on a path of destruction and change.

One of the things I loved about this book is how much it feels like a nightmare. Rather than being scary outright, in visions of fire and mechanical hounds, this book carries the sense of dread of having lost something important and not being able to wake up from a dream, through its entire duration. In one scene, Montag asks his wife how they first met. Neither of them can for the life of them remember where, how, they met. It’s not a forgetfulness of age or general haziness, it’s rather like their memories have been overwritten with new information, and pointless information at that. Sometimes, Montag seems to notice that there’s something hidden right underneath the surface of their present living world, but he cannot quite grasp it or fully visualize it. Or its full meaning. The mass forgetfulness of the people living in the world of Fahrenheit 451 is one of the novel’s strongest themes and I think, it’s central strength. The way the forgetfulness is dealt with gives it its nightmarish quality – it is not a dystopian society where you are being controlled by Big Brother or any other such super power, there are no dictators here. Rather, in Fahrenheit 451 the control has become completely embedded into the society’s bones, and ultimately in all of its players. Each individual is contributing to his or her own prison. While the firemen serve the role of keeping things in check through the burning of books, and in so doing – controlling information and the possibilities for subversive thinking, the firemen themselves are less the leaders of the movement but rather its outer appearance, its symbolic mascots. They do in fact control the spreading of information and anyone who breaks the rules for book keeping (or reading) or any other form of norm breech, is punished. But it is less a society governed by the fear of the invisible hand as it is a community in a trans; because they cannot see, they don’t know they are being controlled and it is the idea of Montag sticking his head out of the water for the first time in a long time that gives away the nightmarish reality.

There is a lot of interesting things to be said of Bradbury’s writing, aside from the novel’s important and interesting themes and its long endurance in popular culture. Bradbury writes about emotions rather than politics, he writes about the emotional experience of living in such a world rather than describing the political structures that the world is made up off. The way the emotional emphasis comes through in his writing is the way he plays with language through word choice, pacing, and more. He changes the pace of the writing by constantly shifting between longer sentences and short phrases, repeating certain words, changing the order slightly, beating on you like he is speaking these words to you rather than writing them down. There is a sense of urgency in many parts of the book, where I thought of Bradbury’s writing as being quite “oratory” in style. But the cleverness lies in the shift between short and long clauses, the way certain words repeat often or sometimes further apart as to make the word more of a whisper and echo than a shout. Sometimes there is a sense of echoing not just through the use of words but through imagery, as if we go back and forth, back and forth, like the protagonist is likely doing through his processing and re-processing of the world, the more his understanding grows. The way the novel is written seems a mirroring of Montag himself as he is uncertain and is changing, from the conservative fireman to the rebel – his own uncertainties in this new future, and his place within it, shows too in the way the plot goes but is more subtly done through the shift in the writing from quiet to loud tones, from gentle humming to loud preaching and roaring anger.

Fahrenheit 451 is one of those books most people will likely find a certain element of truth in. Whether it is the nightmare of the world that could be or is already here, whether it is a cautionary tale of human’s reliance on science and technology, or even read purely as an adventure story as Bradbury himself describes the book as being first and foremost – it is a book worth reading, loud or quiet, slow or fast, backwards and forwards, and over again.

About the Book
Title: Fahrenheit 451
Author: Ray Bradbury
Year of Publication: 2013 (Originally 1953)
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Genre: dystopian, classics

Why Polygamous Reading is Better Than Reading One Book at a Time

Before anything else, let’s clear this up right off the bat: polygamous reading means reading more than one book at a time, monogamous reading the strictly one-at-a-time traditional style. When I say better, I am mostly thinking of one thing: quantity. So what I am saying with this rather opinionated title is that polygamous reading lends itself to reading more books in general. This is not to say that every reader in this category of style is necessarily reading more than people who read one book at a time and then move on to the next and the next. It is rather to say that the style itself is more applicable to reading in greater quantities. Here is why.

When you pick up a book, a number of things can happen. You can for instance A) get immediately into the flow of the thing, feel like you’ve known the characters for years, settle nicely as if in your own home, or B) feel like you are thrown into a world and don’t understand what is going on, feel confused and frustrated and clueless. This is going to be hard work! Of course, these two are just examples of the many possible ways we can feel about a book upon those first few pages, but all the same starting a new book is always a bit of a fitting challenge and it takes a bit of wiggling into place to be all on board. Some books takes more than a little wiggling, a lot of wiggling or you just don’t really get comfortable at all. An example of this for me is one of the nonfiction titles I am reading at the moment, “The Matter of the Heart” (by Thomas Morris), that is having me constantly googling names of famous heart surgeons I don’t know, what the heart looks like, all the parts that make up its construction, how it moves, where it is connected to other parts of the body, what a pacemaker looks like, etc. It’s not a flow-type kind of reading experience, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a bad one.

I’ve come to think that one of the problems with only reading one at a time is when you come up with that sort of book, that doesn’t let you settle in for the first fifty pages or maybe ever through its entire page length. What do you do when the one book you’re reading ends up being that kind of slogging, interesting and enriching but tough work moving uphill kind of a deal? Well, most likely you read slower. Which obviously means, you read less. For a polygamous reader facing this kind of a challenge, you have the option of picking up another book alongside the slog. Something completely different, something fun and thrilling and fast paced maybe. In which case you could decide in what hours of the day you have the power to read the challenge, and when you’d rather dive in headlong to a story and lose yourself in another world. Reading more books than one at the same time allows you to read books for all moods, all situations whether it be short bursts of time in queues or on public transport, or settling down in a sofa with a hot beverage of choice and lots of uninterrupted reading time.

You can have book for each appropriate aspect of your life. Whatever your schedule and busy levels, you might end up reading more if you can adapt what kind of books you read depending on the situation, your concentration levels, your time frame, even adapting formats for convenience like paperbacks for traveling and audio-books for house chores. While the schedule aspect is important to many people, I find the concentration bit even more so. I have often found, for example, that I need something easy to digest right after studying. Later in the day when some hours have passed, I might be able to focus on more demanding reading again. All this is to say that were you to read just one book – it’s likely that one book would only be suitable/fitting in certain situations and levels of concentration, whereas reading multiple books more easily fits into your life as it is, and fills up more of those breaks with reading.

Another point that I want to make is the reason I wanted to write this today. What if you don’t let a sloggish book slow you down? What if you instead ramp up the pace? Just to get it over with, or to push through the slog. I have done this many times, and I can tell you more often than not it was not a good idea. Why? Well, first off it is much less enjoyable. You’re pushing yourself after all, it becomes more of a chore than enjoyment – which is really what reading is for most of us. It is easy to loose one’s concentration in forcing-situations, because your mind is not really in on the game. It requires more energy, is more tiring, and ultimately might not make you read more in the end. Part of the problem is that this kind of reading can lead you to not wanting to read at all. Not this book, nor any other book. It can also make the reading of this one book, that might actually be good and interesting otherwise, seem less rewarding of an experience just because you wanted to read it quicker than your mind was able to follow along. Maybe people don’t do this as much as I have in the past; but I don’t recommend it. There are better ways to enjoy reading, read more, and read deeper than this masochistic route.

The reason I was thinking about reading pace and styles, is because I have been reading monogamously for a few weeks now, for a change. It happened unconsciously, I was finishing up books on my nightstand pile and suddenly I was reading one at a time and it worked for a while, until I came up on the more challenging books on my tbr. Now I’m back to my senses and reading more than one book at a time (four in fact), and it works so much better for me.

There is a way monogamous reading might work well, and that is if you mainly read books that makes you feel comfortable, right off or soon thereafter. That is not to say you’re reading a certain genre, difficulty level, or quality. Rather, depending on what you are used to, what you have the best background to settle into, affects how long it takes you to fit into the world of the book. Maybe you are for instance, an expert in the field of heart surgery. When you read “The Matter of the Heart” as I mentioned above, you might not find it a struggle, challenge, or requiring frantic googling of valves and heart anatomy. Maybe you are an avid sci-fi reader, you might find it a piece of cake to imagine new worlds and technical structures whereas you might struggle through a multiple-narrative form in literary fiction. If you read the same kinds of books, within a certain genre or topic or even the same author, you are most likely finding it easier to “settle in” as I put it earlier. If most of your reading could be described as such, monogamous reading might be more suitable for you. However, if you happen to be like me – actively searching for challenges in my own reading and my own understanding, knowledge and comfort zone, constantly – you might want to consider reading multiple books at a time.

That all said, I know of readers who read one book at a time and are constantly trying out new things in their reading and seem to have no problem in adjusting themselves to all kinds of books and reading experiences. I also know of polygamous readers (myself included, at times) that end up reading less because of not finishing up all of the juggling books. That is what I meant by the style of the polygamous reader lending itself to reading more but it doesn’t necessarily equate to reading more. It’s all up to the individual reader, how the two different styles are used and adapted – maybe a bit of a mix, depending on time of seasons or even day of the week. What do you think about monogamy vs polygamy in reading? Any experiences similar to my own? I would love to hear about it.

Have a wonderful Friday!


Review: E. H. Shepard – The Man Who Drew Pooh by Arthur R. Chandler

“One evening at the Punch Table Shepard was sitting next to E V Lucas who was then chairman of Methuen’s, the publishers. They had been offered some verses for children by A A Milne and wanted an artist to illustrate them. Shepard jumped at the opportunity. Author and illustrator met and it at once became obvious that they would be able to work happily together.”

Rather than being a biography of the illustrator and artist, Ernest H. Shepard, and his long life working with many illustrious and well-known figures of the 20th century; this book is an art collection, with companion text as a kind of general time-line to which each art piece can be placed in its correct historical context. The book opens up with the disclaimer that Ernest Shepard himself wished for no biography to be written about him, until thirty years after his death. It is likely this is the reason that the book itself rarely delves very deep into the person behind the artist, the mind behind the art. Arthur R Chandler has been given access and right to share some of the sketches, art work, photographs, and even some documents that now belong to the University of Surrey. Within the book’s pages we find things such as diplomas of military service, personal notes of Shepard himself, photographs of him and his family members, as well as many of his art pieces. This book is first and foremost a kind of coffee table book, although it does contain quite a bit of text along-side it.


As far as the text itself goes, I mentioned “time-line” for a reason – it is not much more than a point by point time line written in prose form. The text itself is divided into miniature paragraphs, form-wise, while also having about as much life as a Wikipedia entry. There is nothing in the writing itself to bring this person or artist to life, nor are you really given more than the basic facts of his life. The book’s text could be said to be a compilation of all known facts that make up the man Ernest H. Shepard, giving no place for speculation or emotional background to either art or man. The text is only there for one reason; to give each piece of the art biography its necessary situational clues. Think of the text in this book as a Holmesian detective’s pile of notes; the foot prints, the family registers, the school records, those kind of details to a life that make up only the most material outline of a whole character.


All this said, the art included within these pages makes the book an absolute treasure trove for any fan of Ernest H. Shepard’s work. Not only did he do some fantastic line-art in his life time, worked on major projects like Winnie the Pooh and The Wind in the Willows among the most known but also did major work in connection to the war, illustrations for text books and for Punch for many, many years. He also had an incredibly long career, and basically kept busy with his work until his death in 1976, aged 96 years old. The book is largely lacking in illustrations from Winnie the Pooh, probably because the rights for all Pooh characters (and possibly most of the art work in connection to them) now belong to the Disney company who bought the rights in the 1960s. These are likely to be found in other books, same as can be said for The Wind in the Willows illustrations that are sparse in this collection. Otherwise, it is both extensive as a source of Shepard’s art work and lovingly published in lush paper and great quality of all the art, photography and memorabilia included.


About the Book
Title: The Story of E. H. Shepard – The Man Who Drew Pooh
Author: Arthur R. Chandler
Year of Publication: 2001
Publisher: Jaydem Books
Genre: art, art biography

Review: Leap In by Alexandra Heminsley

“As I read those lines, they crystallized what was both so liberating and so terrifying about open-water swimming: when you’re in the water, it’s all down to you. You are boat, cargo and crew. That solitude, the space to let your eyeballs slacken and your mind, breath and being follow suit – that is the essence of why we swim. A sort of vertigo swept over me, rendering me dizzy with the possibilities.”

As I stumbled upon this book around the time of its paperback release on International Women’s Day, I picked it up mostly out of curiosity. I’m not a swimmer, nor do I exactly enjoy the experience of swimming or being in water. Rather, my interest lies in learning about other people’s passions and that’s exactly what you get from this book. Leap In: A Woman, Some Waves, and the Will to Swim is Alexandra Heminsley’s memoir of learning how to swim the front crawl, as well as a bit of a general cultural history and discussion on swimming and its place in human history.

We start off with learning about Heminsley’s original relationship with water and how some bad experiences with water created a fear that she felt needed to be faced, head-on. This spurred her on to take up swimming courses where she learnt to swim the front crawl by deconstructing everything she thought she knew, and re-learn the style to make her body glide through the water rather than fight against it. One of the things that makes this book such a delight to read for anyone who is not an advanced swimmer is that Heminsley is learning and re-learning everything as she goes, which allows for the reader to do the same. Because of the “beginner” approach to the book, there are several surprises regarding popular beliefs about swimming and techniques, rights and wrongs, interspersed in the personal story. Rather than taking for granted what is known, this book – through Heminsley’s own experience, actively take apart misconceptions and common mistakes that might ultimately make people fall out of love with swimming or never decide to take it up in the first place. While I use the word “learning” to swim, it’s not as if the author has no experience with swimming whatsoever but rather there is a wish to learn from the ground-up rather than flail around and “fake it til you make it” in fancy but inefficient fashions, that could ultimately be dangerous or even fatal.

The book is split into two parts. The first is the memoir content of the book, and it is the larger of the two sections. It is here we see the gradual learning of basic techniques and forms of front crawl, the mental leaps needed in order to get over physical hurdles, the misgivings and uncertainties, and even fears felt throughout the process. We follow the author as she graduates from one swimming level to the next – in pools to rivers to seas, the situations change as the swimmer herself grows more and more confident in her abilities. The second section features a sort of FAQ, partly told through bullet point lists, combined with a short history of swimming and covers everything from swim-wear and gadgets that are useful – and what you can do without – to the historical women who pushed against the gender norms that constrained women in swimming, and ultimately changed the possibilities for the women of the future. The second part is more information heavy and is certainly helpful if you are a budding swimmer to be, as well as being of general interest. Even as a non-swimmer, you’re likely to find a surprise here and there that will make you rethink our relationship with water, sports history, body ideals and acceptance, etc.

A lot of what Heminsley’s journey chronicles is the hard work made to look (and feel) effortless, the facing of fears and the gradual incline in learning rather than running blind into heights way above one’s abilities. So much of the bits and pieces of the progress and process could be applied to other forms of learning and other types of goals, like language learning, where the finish line is similarly unclear and inconceivable at times but where the process can be just as valuable and rewarding. Leap In is a book about swimming but it’s also about learning something new, loving the challenges, being brave, staying strong, finding the inspiration and the motivation to be consistent and upping one’s game, but also just enjoying the ride. It’s a positively elevating book.

About the Book
Title: Leap In – A Woman, Some Waves, and the Will to Swim
Author: Alexandra Heminsley
Year of Publication: 2017
Publisher: Hutchinson
Genre: Non-fiction, memoir