Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Carola Dunn

Carola Dunn is the author of 20 Daisy Dalrymple mysteries, set in
England in the 1920s, three Cornish mysteries, and over 30 Regencies.
Her latest books are Gone West (Daisy) and The Valley of the Shadow (Cornwall).

Not so long ago I asked Dunn about what she was reading.  Her reply:
Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

An old Chinese proverb says: Women hold up half the sky. Until recent years, China didn't do very well at observing the implication, that women's contribution to society is as important as men's.

Nicholas Kristof and his wife, intrepid journalists, have been all over the world documenting the condition of women. Their book starts out with some appalling stories of horrible things done to women just because they are women, so appalling I wasn't sure I could go on reading. But gradually they introduce ways of helping to change how societies treat the female half of humanity. They end on a hopeful note: Things are changing, will change, and while never perfect can be much improved. They suggest ways the reader can contribute to positive change.

Chasing Venus: The Race to Measure the Heavens by Andrea Wulf

This is a fascinating story about how scientists from all over Europe travelled all over the world in the 1700s to measure the rare transit of Venus across the face of the sun. It occurred twice in that century then not again until the late 1800s. This measurement would allow calculation of the dimensions of the solar system and be of inestimable value to navigation. The scientists faced all the difficulties and dangers of travel at the time; among others, a war between France and England. Though astronomers from both countries took part, they were not immune to getting involved in naval battles.

On the lighter side, I've been rereading some Edmund Crispin (aka Bruce Montgomery) mysteries from the '40s and '50s. His protagonist, Gervase Fen, an Oxford lecturer, is one of my favourite amateur detectives. He gets involved in the most extraordinary adventures. For instance, in The Moving Toyshop he figures out how and why a toyshop found in one part of Oxford one night miraculously reappears in another part of the city thereafter. Not to mention what actually happened in the shop and who is responsible.

Also for fun, I've read the recent books of a couple of favourite fluffy/cozy authors, Marian Babson (No Cooperation from the Cat; The Cat who Wasn't a Dog) and JoAnna Carl (The Chocolate Cupid Killings; The Chocolate Cupid Clue). As you can see, Marian's books tend to favour cats, whereas I'm a dog-person, but she's a good writer. JoAnna (aka Eve) sets her stories in a chocolate shop, instant success as far as I'm concerned.

At present I'm reading Wealth and Poverty of Nations, by David S. Landes, because it was cited by Kristof and sounded interesting—I've always had an interest in geography's influence on culture [If I remember correctly, I wrote in one of these blogs about Jared Diamond's Collapse, which contrasts the environmental fates of pairs of apparently similar societies]. Purely as a writer, Landes is by no means as good as Kristof, much of whose prose is crystalline. But Kristof is a journalist (not that that guarantees good writing!) and Landes is an economic historian.

And I just finished it. Landes gets a bit over-polemical as he reaches modern times, but I was sorry that, having written it in the late '90s, it didn't cover the past 15 years or so. I would have liked to see what he made of them.
Learn more about The Valley of the Shadow at Carola Dunn's website and blog.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Carola Dunn and Trillian.

The Page 69 Test: The Valley of the Shadow.

--Marshal Zeringue