My dear Bessie

In times when everybody had a pen and pencil and using a computer or chatting online seemed unthinkable or only possible in the mind of some people living way ahead of their time or writing science fiction, letters were the only way to stay in touch with the people your care about. Letters which took days or weeks to reach their recipient, especially during the Second World War, when people struggled to find out if their relatives or loved ones were okay.

„I could hug you till you dropped!“
Chris to Bessie, 21 February 1944

The letters in „My dear Bessie“ compiled by Simon Garfield tell a love story no author could possible imagine in a more touching way that never gets kitschy. A love story which unfolds between Chris Barker and Bessie Moore only because Chris, who stationed at the Libyan coast, decided to write a letter to Bessie who worked at the Post office and attended the same training course as Chris. During the war, Bessie worked as a morse interpreter and despite the fact that she was dating another man (till the relationship ended), kept up the correspondence with Chris – a very platonic one.

„You are as precious to me as life itself, for it goes on and on.“
Bessie to Chris, 14 December 1944

Chris‘ letter from September 1943 changed not only their way of writing but in the end their whole lives. As time went by, they wrote more and more letters of which 500 survived. The book contains the most heartwarming ones as Simon Garfield writes in his introduction. Together with the afterword by Bernard Baker, their son, and Irena Barker, their granddaughter, the wonderful letters are understandable within their historical context and tell the whole story of this love of a lifetime.


Simon Garfield: My dear Bessie, Canongate Books, about 7 £.


Quick look at a huge book

If you stumbled across Alan Turing because of the film „The Imitation Game“ starring Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead role, you may be aware of Andrew Hodges‘ biography „The Enigma“ – the basis of Graham Moore’s Oscar awarded screenplay.

A much deeper inside look at Alan Turing’s work which helped breaking the German enigma code, shortened the Second World War by at least two years and saved millions of lives, you should read the huge book „Alan Turing – His work and impact“ by S. Barry Cooper and Jan van Leewen. Yes, there are lots of mathematical theories, even formulas (something very awful for people like me unable to cope with numbers) but the more than 870 pages, accompanied by indexes and bibliographies are worth reading, browsing through essays about and from Alan.

„He was a genius: he was ‚a Wonder of the world‘.
Bernards Richards about Alan Turing

One essay that strikes me most  – besides the ones by Alan himself which offer a look inside the brain of a man a colleague described as „a Wonder of the world“ – is the piece „Why Turing cracked the Enigma code and the Germans did not“ by Klaus Schmeh. The German computer scientist explains that Germans were unable to bring their cryptographers together to find a possible weakness in the Enigma code itself. Despite the fact that German experts were aware of a possible breach, Britain’s success in breaking Enigma was only revealed in the 1970s when details about the codebreaker’s work at Bletchley Park became public.

„Alan Turing – His work and impact“ may not be an easy read. But it is worth every try.

S.Barry Cooper, Jan van Leeuwen: Alan Turing – His work an impact, Elsevier, £ 53 can be ordered here.

Foto: pb

Foto: pb

Sherlock Holmes and London

Given the fact that Sherlock Holmes is one of best known fictional character not only in Britain where he is part of the national heritage but worldwide, it is not astonishing that there are whole libraries filled with all sort of books about the only consulting detective. So you have to look very carefully on any new one, if you don’t want to be disappointed.

The book cover Foto: pb

The book cover Foto: pb

„The man who never lived and who will never die“ isn’t just another book about Sherlock Holmes. Although it is accompanying the exhibition in the Museum of London which is still open till April 12th, it totally stands on its own feet. Alex Werner who compiled the book, throws a very different light on Arthur Conan Doyle’s figure, setting him in his surroundings while explaing that he only can exist within London. The city as some critics say is besides Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson the third main figure in all stories. And so the book pays tribute to that by showing lots of historic pictures of London while explaining the historical background not only of the original Conan canon but of all adaptions throughout the years – no  matter if you are watching a film situated in Victorian or contemporary London.

The articles are well written and stuffed with all information a Sherlock Holmes fan needs to know. And he will also need this book which will be a treat long after the exhibition is gone.

Alex Werner, Sherlock Holmes – The man who never lived and will never die, Ebury Press, about 20£/ 20€.

Sherlock Chronicles – a wonderful treat for a fan

Sherlock Chronicles. Photo: pb

Sherlock Chronicles. Photo: pb

You think you do know everything about BBC’s Sherlock? Think twice, dive into the wonderful book „Sherlock Chronicles“ written by Steve Tribe and take a stroll from the very beginning (or even before the beginning itself) to the latest episode so far.

The book is stuffed with all kind of information any Sherlockian needs to know. There are deleted scenes-scripts, behind the scenes pictures and interviews with cast and crew members. But was makes this book outstanding compared to other Sherlock fan books is the reference to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories. „Holmes from Holmes“, as the writer names it, shows quotes from the canon and how and where Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat used them in one of the episodes. You will always find it baffling to read and realise again how modern Sherlock Holmes is and always has been – and how brilliant all episodes of „Sherlock“ are, how carefully they are arranged and how deep their connection to Doyle is.

„Sherlock Chronicles“ is a must have book for every fan and a wonderful gift for a Sherlockian dear to your heart.

Steve Tribe: Sherlock Chronicles. BBC books, Penguin Random House, about 16 £/ 22 €.

Ordinary topics made fascinating

If you finish a book and you feel empty inside, the same feeling you have when you leave good friends, knowing you will not see them again for quite a while, if ever. If you have this feeling, the book touched you, simply because it is a good book. Ian McEwan’s new novel „The Children Act“ is a good book, not because you get a look  inside British society – maybe not as deep if your are not British – but because the story is so intense and well written, that you have to force yourself to interrupt your reading session from time to time. And get things done in real life.

The problems the main character Fiona Maye is facing are situated between her work and her private life as many middle aged woman do. As a leading High Court in London judge Fiona is used to long working days on a regular bases, dealing with heartbreaking family affairs but her most demanding case is different. The 17-year-old Adam is about to refuse medical treatment that would help him with his leukaemia because of his religious believes. In her private life she has to face the problems of her marriage that after 30 years is about to fall into its biggest crises she and her husband – Jack, a professor of ancient history – ever had to cope with.

All these topics are neither new nor thrilling and could be boring, kitschy and simply trash. But only a master writer and narrator can unfold this story in a totally different  and fascinating way. Ian McEwan is a brilliant master, he takes the reader by his hand and won’t let him go till the final page. The only problem is: the novel is unfortunately a too short one.

Photo: pb

Photo: pb


Ian McEwan: The Children Act, Vintage Books, £ 16,99/14,95€

A tribute to Sherlock Holmes – full of love

When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes, he showed his readers – who soon loved his figure – a man in his middles ages, with his abilities in full bloom. What the famous detective did before he moved into 221B Baker Street is hovering in the mists of fiction and so is his life after his retirement, despite the fact that he cares deeply for his behives.

In Mitch Cullin’s „A Slight Trick of the Mind“ we find Sherlock Holmes, now 93, in a Sussex farmhouse, living a quiet and solitary life, with only his housekeeper and her son as a company. And to write it just here:  What could be a infringement of the original canon as a whole and to the famous detective in particular, is a tribute to Sherlock Holmes –  full of respect and full of love –  that is moving and heartbreaking and one of the best novels around. Cullin unfolds a fine portrait of a man who is perfectly aware of his age, his fragile body – he’s only able to walk with the help of canes – and of his once so brilliant brain that is no longer able to remember every detail.

„There are many (…) scenes in my head, and all are easily accessible.
Why they remain and others flit away, I cannot say.“

Sherlock Holmes

And so the story is about a case about a woman who still impresses him deeply (not the woman though), about a journey to Japan where he meets a pen pal. But the story is much more than just another case and another client. It’s the attempt of an old man looking back on his long life and setting himself at rest with himself and the people surrounding him. Of course John: „You know“, Holmes tells his Japanese friend, „I never did call him Watson – he was John, simply John.“ John who never was the fool „both dramatist and so-called  mystery novelists“ show him and which Holmes takes as an insult to himself because he still respects him deeply, the man „who with his customary humour, patience, and loyalty, indulged the eccentricities of a frequently disagreeable friend.“ Sherlock fans will remember the best man’s speech in „The Sign of Three“ of BBC’s series 3 where Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock confesses his love for his Martin Freeman’s John in a similar way.

As much as the creators of BBC’s Sherlock love and care for the original canon, so does Mitch Cullin – and so will the readers.

„A Slight Trick of the Mind“ will hit  cinemas in 2015 with Ian McKellen as the iconic detective.

Mitch Cullin,  „A Slight Trick of the Mind“, Anchor Books, 2005, 10.90 Euro/15 Dollars/ 8 £

Letters of Note – A joy for book lovers

The writings – novels, poems, stories and dramas of all kind – we get to read because their authors created it for the public. And it still stays this way even if the work is called „letters“ – or for example „diaries“ as Max Frisch calls two of his works  (english versions here). He made it quite clear that „diaries“ (though they are called „sketchbooks“ in the English translation) for him is just a way of writing like writing a novel for example.

A book you want to have at hand

When it comes to letters – real letters – things are different. Often they were written for one purpose: to keep in touch with people over a more or less long distance.
The wonderful book „Letters of Note“ collected by Shaun Usher makes 125 letters available for readers in one huge volume. A volume that deserves a very favourite place in the bookshelf nearby or on a table because the variety of the topics and the writers are so well chosen that the reader will like to have it at hand to open and flick through it every once in a while and get hooked by letters of love, of dramatic situations or letters from famous persons. All of them give a very intimidate look into the brains of the writers which is emphasized  by facsimiles of the letters placed to a reader friendly transcript of the writings.

The book is also available as Kindle version and although I do love my kindle, I’m glad I decided to buy the hardcover. If you are a book lover or if you want to gift it to a book lover dear to you, do the same.

„Letters of Note“ is a treat for book lovers. Photo: pb

If part of this article sound weird this is due to the fact that I’m not a native speaker, so don’t be too harsh.
Feel free to share this blog entry but please quote and link properly.

Buy books, do good, love Benedict

Buy a book and donate one at the same time. Foto: pb

It’s this time of the year we all try to get a little bit of rest. But before that – and before Christmas of course – we think about all our beloved ones and how to make them happy with a special gift.
Most of us – the Cumbercollectiv – love to read books. And we know that Benedict Cumberbatch always has too much books (and clothes ofDallaglio Foundation 8Rocks course) in his baggage when he’s flying all around the world twice in a month.

„Reading is one of the joys in life.
Once you’ve started, you can’t stop.
And you got so many stories
to look forward to.“
Benedict Cumberbatch

Wouldn’t it be lovely if you can buy a book for yourself or as a Christmas gift and donate a book for someone in need – just with one click? That’s exactly what Better World Book does all over the world. And this year you can buy books and honour Benedict who asked his fans doing good for someone else, throwing love his way – and for people in need.
All you have to do is this:
Sign in at the top of the page by clicking on „My account“ (yes it’s yours even if you don’t have an individual one)
Use as your email address and Cumberbatch (mind the capital C!) as password.
Please be aware to change the shipping-address so that you get the book you ordered right to you. That’s all you have to do. Let’s make this Christmas a special one for book lovers, for people who can’t effort books and honour Benedict Cumberbatch.

[Update 12/15/2013]
So far 31 books have been ordered from Better World Books. Which means: 31 books will be donated for the book drive and 441.67$ will be donated to literacy projects.
Please note that we will close this project on 24th December, so it’s still time to order a book. If you are outside the US your order will probably not reach you in time for Christmas – but what about a book for yourself?

If part of this article sound weird this is due to the fact that I’m no native speaker, so don’t be too harsh.
Feel free to share this blog entry but please quote and link properly.