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December Book Review Winner

A big thank you to all of those who entered our Love2Read book review competition each month last year. It was wonderful to find out what all of you were reading, and discover some new writers!

Patricia Allen has won the last Love2Read book review competition for 2012 – congratulations, Pat! She also won back in October with her entry about The Man Who Loved China, by Simon Winchester, and was an interviewee on our podcast, Listeners in the Mist.

You can read her winning entry for December here:

The Surgeon of Crowthorne, by Simon Winchester, is an intriguing tale, including murder and madness, describing the mighty effort involved in the making of the Oxford English Dictionary.

Though there had been attempts before Dr Johnson’s dictionary in 1755, there was no in depth help for the meanings of words. By the 19th Century the need for a comprehensive dictionary was manifest. In 1878, James Murray, a brilliant lexicographer, born in 1837, was asked to produce one. He considered the work might take several years.

Murray needed the help of hundreds of volunteers who would read ancient writings, record words, write meanings and usages for assessment.

It took years to complete the letter A. The letter T took 5 years. It would take another 44 years to complete. Altogether, more than 70 years passed to produce the first edition of the great New English Dictionary in 1928. In 1933 the first supplement was known as the Oxford English or OED.

An American medical doctor , William Chester Minor born 1834, was retired from the American Army having been a surgeon in the American Civil War. Events in 1864 had unhinged this gentle man. He was irreparably damaged psychologically and medically discharged with a pension enabling him to travel to England. Dr Minor was highly intelligent, a cultured and an educated graduate from Yale university, though one with a greedy sexual appetite.

Simon Winchester’s vivid description of mid 19th Century London is a necessary reminder for those who only know present day London. Dr Minor was living in the area of the Lambeth marshes, south of the Thames, with undrained swamps, miserable slums, stinking tanneries and soap boilers. It was an area of many brothels enabling easy access to women. One night in 1872, tormented out of his mind with paranoia, Dr Minor shot a man and was subsequently committed to the Broadmoor Lunatic Asylum for the criminally insane.

At Broadmoor, he became a trusted prisoner housed in comfort, rather like a gentleman’s club, with privileges, books etc. His comforts included tobacco, a penknife, coffee, bookcases of his own books (his consuming passion), clothes, his flute and music, fob watch and gold chain.

When James Murray sought volunteers for his project, Dr Minor answered the call and for decades filled his days, whilst imprisoned in his cell at Crowthorne, reading, writing, and contributing to the compilation of the OED. It became a bizarre friendship for over 30 years, between two highly intelligent gentle men who loved the written word.

James Murray aimed to assess 33 words per day but sometimes one word would take almost a full day. It was a huge undertaking.

Dr Minor would read voraciously, record the words from rare, ancient books, especially 17th C authors, and send the scripts to Oxford for assessment.
Work on the Dictionary was Dr Minor’s medication.

A change of Prison Superintendent caused removal of many privileges from and heartless treatment of Dr Minor. He became unsettled and unhappy. As he aged his mental state deteriorated, delusions increased and his memories of past sexual conquests caused such loathing of his ‘sins’ that one day in December 1902 he amputated his penis with the penknife and threw his member into the fire.

Dr Minor was taken to America by his brother, Alfred, in 1910. By then he was frail, wasted, and in ill health. He died in March 1920.
His resource books are preserved in the Bodleian Library museum in Oxford.

This was a beguiling and thrilling read. The Surgeon of Crowthorne


Winner of the November National Year of Reading Book Review Competition

boy raised as a dogThe November theme was ‘Cry’ and this review by Samantha Mckay won the judges admiration.

The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog by Bruce Perry and Maia Szalavitz

Found on the Adult Non-fiction shelves at ANF 618.9289 PER

Imagine crying over a book on psychiatry!! I did! I wept buckets over ‘The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog’. This book is a series of case histories about traumatised children, their pain and loss, and of hope and healing.

But I didn’t cry only out of sorrow, but for sheer joy and wonder that such a man as neuroscientist and child psychiatrist Professor Bruce D.Perry, M.D., PhD. exists. If ever there was a tender, insightful and compassionate man, it is he! His book is a mind opener and should be compulsory reading for any one who desires to be a parent. So many children are blamed, or medicated, for unwelcome behaviour when a lot of it can be due to a terrible ignorance of early brain development and lack of respect for that.

After birth the brain develops ‘explosively’ says Perry which means by age four the brain has developed to 90 percent of an adult brain. Correct, sequential development depends on the stimuli received. Lack of love and neglect can produce monsters, as Perry found. There was Leon who, at 18, murdered two teen age girls and raped their dead bodies. In court he asked why were the girl’s parents crying. “They aren’t going to jail,” he said.

He wasn’t insane, nor was he stupid; but as a child he met the criteria for attention deficit disorder and various other acronyms. What became chillingly clear Leon was totally without feeling. Why? He had a good, solid working class family and an elder brother Frank who was law abiding and loving. But due to circumstances, described in the book, four week old Leon was left alone all day in a dark room, with basic attention, for many months. For a time he cried bitterly, then he stopped. His mother heaved a sigh of relief. But from then on Leon stayed emotionless. Perry described him as being a classic sociopath, a person who was almost entirely a product of his early environment, not his genes.

Professor Perry, despite his qualifications and international recognition, doesn’t hesitate to say he owes a lot to a foster Mum called Mamma P. This person, says Perry, ‘ intuitively discovered’ what would become the foundation of the neurosequential approach to treating traumatised children. A child’s brain develops sequentially from the brain stem up and at what stage of development the trauma, or stress occurs, that’s where the appropriate treatment must be aimed. Chronological age doesn’t matter. “The key to healthy development, “says Perry,”Is getting the right experience in the right amounts at the right time.”

Mamma P. knew that. She could calm a child, regarded as uncontrollable at school, diagnosed as ADHD, ODD, whatever, by gently holding and rocking, or back rubbing. “She intuitively knew you don’t interact with traumatised children according to their age, but based on what they need, what they may have missed during sensitive periods of development,” said Perry.

So too was it with the boy raised as a dog. At five years Justin was regarded as ‘hopeless’, he couldn’t walk or talk, his brain scan showed shrinkage of the cerebral cortex (the thinking part of the brain). He had been cared for; kept clean, fed and watered but received no handling and no loving. Doctors concluded he was beyond help – until Professor Perry and his team found him, and started the long haul of awakening the boy’s brain.

Three years later Perry got a message and a photo of. Justin standing outside a school bus. At age eight he was starting kindergarten. The message written by Justin simply read, ‘Thank you Dr Perry’.

“I cried,” said Perry.



You have one last chance to enter the National Year of Reading Book Review Competition.  There is a nice National Year of Reading prize pack to be won. Read the rules here and put your entry in for December.

The winner has, with their permission, their entry published here on this blog and if they are happy to, we also interview them for our Listeners in the Mist podcast.

December’s theme: Love2Read

Podcast with Book Review Winner Patricia Allen

As some of you may remember, Patricia Allen was our winner of the Love2Read Book Review Competition back in October. This week she was a guest on Listeners in the Mist, the library podcast, reading her winning entry and talking to John Merriman about her reading life. It’s a wonderful podcast episode, which you can listen to here, or download in iTunes by searching for ‘Listeners in the Mist’.

Listeners in the Mist

October Book Review Competition Winner

We have the pleasure of announcing the latest winner of our Love2Read Book Review Competition today: the winner for October, with the theme of ‘Explore’, is Doreen Patricia Allen with her review of The Man Who Loved China by Simon Winchester.

You can see her review below:


The Man Who Loved China  by Simon Winchester – review by Doreen Patricia Allen

Simon Winchester, a prolific author, was born in England, but having lived in Africa, India and China, he has a wide cultural experience and writes in an easy readable style that becomes a page-turner.  He had been a journalist in East Asia.

The Man Who Loved China, the fantastic story of the eccentric Scientist who unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom of 336 pages, was published in hardback in 2008.  There followed other editions in paper-back and e-book.

It is a  well researched biography of the relatively unknown  Joseph Needham, ( Noel Joseph Terence Montgomery Needham) who was born in   1900, the only son of a Harley Street Specialist who was always stimulating the young boy’s enquiring mind.  Needham  was  a brilliant Cambridge Don, who, although married,  took a mistress with his wife’s knowledge. He was an eccentric, a nudist, open-minded intellectual, a scientist (biochemist), musician, with leftist leanings politically.  He became a member of the prestigious Royal Society at the age of 41.

In the late 1930s he met Lu Gwei-djen, a Chinese research student at Cambridge,  fell for her, and took her as his mistress.  He learnt fluent Mandarin during their daily close encounters.  She ultimately became his second wife after the death of his first wife.  Japan invaded her homeland, China, in 1937 and Japanese power spread west as far as the ancient city of Chonqing.   It became the provisional capital under Chiang Kai-shek and the anti-fascist headquarters till 1945.

When World War 2  broke out, the British Government sent Joseph Needham to China via India and flew him across the Himalayas to spy out the land.  He spent a long time in western China and that part of the Silk Road, recording his findings and some amorous adventures,  before returning to Britain and the other women in his life. His zest for living, and his insatiable curiosity, was legendary. He questioned why the Chinese fell behind when they had been so far ahead of the West technologically, for millennia.  Needham was an astonishing scholar, and intrepid traveler, who gathered data as he traversed the vast land of China,   He left an 18 volume love letter to China:   Science and Civilization in China.

Winchester tells the story with quick character sketches and does justice to Needham’s impressive accomplishments.  He had access to the diaries of Needham for this account.

We wish for more details, since Needham’s fame and work faded after his death in 1994.

At the end of this book Simon Winchester has  recorded many pages of  innovations and  things Dr Needham found to have been invented by the Chinese,   not just the abacus or gunpowder, but much, much more going back to 3 thousand years BC, including printing, the umbrella, and the compass.

It is a bizarre yet fascinating account, a compelling  masterpiece, which I found edifying. It will expand the reader’s understanding of the roots of the Chinese civilisation.

Anyone can enter the monthly Book Review Competition, there is a nice National Year of Reading prize pack to be won. Read the rules here and put your entry in for next month. The winner has, with their permission, their entry published here on this blog and if they are happy to, we also interview them for our Listeners in the Mist podcast.

November’s theme : Cry

December’s theme: Love2Read

Your Chance to Win!

If you’ve read something interesting lately, why not write a short review of it and send it to us for your chance to win a Love2Read prize pack!

During each month this year, The National Year of Reading 2012, the library is hosting a Love2Read Book Review Competition for library patrons.   

To enter the Book Review Competition, entrants are to write a book review of between 400 – 600 words. The book reviews must address a fiction or non-fiction book that fits into the theme for the relevant month. Entries are due by the last week day of each month.

The winner for each month will win a prize pack, and will also have the opportunity to read their winning entry on the library podcast, Listeners in the Mist.  

Monthly Themes:




Oct— Explore



General Terms & Conditions

1.   The entrant must be a current patron of the Blue Mountains Library, and over 16 years of age.

2.   Entry is free of charge.

3.   Entries must be the original work of the entrant.

4.   Patrons may enter the competition multiple times per month.

5.   Only entries received by the due date will be accepted.

Email your entry (including your name, borrower number and phone number) to: OR submit your printed entry to any Blue Mountains library branch (including your name, borrower number and contact phone number) .

Want some inspiration? Here’s the winning entry for August, by Warwick Stanbridge:

1Q84 by Huraki Murakami

Japanese author Huraki Murakami’s latest book ‘1Q84’ (1984 in Japanese) is a 900-page novel in three parts that addresses the idea of the relative or absolute nature of reality. The question what is real – and how do we know?

If this is the same world we woke up in yesterday, or last week, or even a year ago? In the novel a young woman (who is on a mission to assassinate a man who has committed a savage sex crime) is caught in a traffic jam in a large Japanese city. Hoping to save time she climbs down an industrial stair of a freeway and unwittingly enters a parallel world (1Q84) with two moons in the sky, where a strange group of creatures called the Little People manipulate the fate of the world. But the little people are not totally in control. An unseen force lies behind them that redresses the balance of power between humanity and their influence. When they, through various channels, become overpowerful, ‘something’ always mysteriously happens to force them to retreat into their own world.

Murakami’s protagonist has a long lost childhood sweetheart she is unwittingly moving towards in a tangled Skein of fate. In the world of 1984 she came from, she undertook to kill a prominent businessman who has committed crime against young girls. In this world he is actually the head of a sinister quasi-religious cult growing in power.

The question of what is moral or ethical nature appears in this book as a major backdrop. She finds her intended victim is far from the black hearted child molester she has undertaken to eliminate. He knows of her intentions and reveals himself to be a victim of fate (the Little People). His wish is to be free in death from his fate and actions. No one in this world is free to follow a path of their own choosing, every fate and action is derived from or entwined with other lives. The two reunited lovers flee the world of 1Q84 ahead of the avenging cult and the strangle Little People behind it, back into what they hope is the ‘real’ world. They can only hope. 

Murakami’s novel reads like a cross between the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stephen King and Philip K Dick. Nothing is absolutely real. Decisive actions only open up more possibilities (and questions). Life is a maze of forking and intersecting paths. The question of who, what and where we are at any given time can only be answered in a perceptive, not absolute, manner.



July Book Review Competition Runner Up

*Here is the Runner up  for July in our monthly book review competition. 

The July theme was DISCOVER and Samantha wrote this piece about several books she has read read on that theme and which she has titled :


If we want the world to change, for humans to stop killing each other and children to be ‘good’, the latest findings of neuroscience show why we are not achieving that ideal. Their discoveries emphasise the enormous importance of early childhood and how ignorance of this can disadvantage a child for life and shape the world’s future. Psychiatrist Dr Thomas Verny says,”Findings in the peer-reviewed literature over decades establish, beyond any doubt, that parents have an overwhelming influence on the mental and physical attributes of the children they raise.”

After all the fuss about the Human Genome, it isn’t our genes after all that determine us, but how our brain is influenced and shaped by the environment we experience from from the date of conception. It is we, over countless generations, who have unconsciously perpetrated the erroneous ideas that babies are unaware blobs, that children should be seen and not heard, that a son is preferable to a daughter and that you can’t change human nature.

There are several very readable books that oppose such stagnant views.

They are ‘Biology of Belief’ by Bruce Lipton, ‘The Brain That Changes Itself’ by Norman Doidge’, ‘The Woman Who Changed Her Brain’ by Barbara Arrow-Smith Young and ‘Spontaneous Evolution’ by Bruce Lipton and Steve Bhaerman. All of them send a refreshing, cleansing wind through out-dated, disabling beliefs that continue to be entertained throughout the world.

In ‘Biology of Belief’ by Bruce Lipton it is written that ‘awake or asleep, the studies show, they (the unborn children) are constantly tuned in to their mother’s every action, thought, and feeling. From the moment of conception, the experience in the womb shapes the brain and lays the groundwork for personality, emotional temperament, and the power of higher thought,’ and that ‘pre-birth life in the womb profoundly influences their long-term health and behaviour.’

Even scarier is the thought that… ‘it makes a difference whether we are conceived in love, haste, or hate and whether a mother wants to be pregnant…’ Fathers, of course come into it too, as ‘what he does profoundly affects the mother, which in turn affects the developing child’.

In Spontaneous Evolution, by Bruce Lipton and Steve Bhaerman, it is claimed that in the first six years of a child’s life ‘their perceptions of the world are directly downloaded into the subconscious without discriminations and without the filters of the analytical self conscious mind. Consequently, our fundamental perceptions about life and our role in it are learned without having the capacity to choose or reject those beliefs.’ In other words, we are programmed!

Even more confronting is the fact that the subconscious mind has been found to be one million times more powerful than the self-conscious mind and that 95 percent of our decisions, actions, emotions and behaviours come from the subconscious mind.

In the remarkable book ‘The Woman Who Changed Her Brain’ by Barbara Arrowsmith-Young we learn how Barbara overcame severe, unrecognised learning disabilities by sheer perseverance despite the dreadful ignorance of the 1950s. As a child she was punished for her inability to understand language, numerals or commands to the point of contemplating suicide. Dr Norman Doidge also writes about this incredible woman and her achievement in ‘The Brain That Changes Itself.”

His book, and Arrowsmith’s, discuss brain plasticity, the fact that the brain can change up to any age, has exploded a lot of stale theories, especially about learning difficulties. These books are world changing and fortunate is the person who reads them.

Anyone can enter the monthly Book Review Competition, there is a nice National Year of Reading prize pack to be won. Read the rules here and put your entry in for next month. The winner has, with their permission, their entry published here on this blog and if they are happy to, we also interview them for our Listeners in the Mist podcast.

Get thinking about September’s theme : Grow.

* Addendum 28/08/12 Apologies to Samantha. I erroneously initially posted that she was the winner of the competition for July. In fact, Samantha was the runner up with her thoughtful piece. You can see the quality of the entries we are getting! We will post the winner as soon as we can confirm they give permission to do so. – HC

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