The English Country House

By Ralph Dutton

Yes, I can wallow in the reading and imagining about the life of the people who could afford building the stately homes of England, and who could afford to live there. So what? I can always say it’s good research for the novel-in-planning.

  • Author: Ralph Dutton
  • Title: The English Country House
  • Pages: 200
  • Published: 1962 (revised edition: first 1935)
  • Publisher: B.T. Batsford Ltd.

This little paperback volume is an expanded and revised edition of a book first published in 1935 or thereabouts by a certain Ralph Dutton. If you google for his name, you’ll find lots of references to a fifteenth century namesake of the author, apparently quite an important chap.

Quick with his judgment on taste and style, the author of this book takes us on a whirlwind tour of English country houses. There are quite a few good b&w pictures; and some very useful maps. He’s also pretty good in describing life in those houses, and in giving references. So it was well worth the one Euro I paid for it; I would have willingly paid double that.


By Dorine van den Beukel

As I said before, I rather like good buildings. Irina knows this, and when she came across this book in our local bookshop, she knew it would be a perfect birthday present.

  • Author: Dorine van den Beukel
  • Title: Architecture
  • Pages: 543
  • Published: 2003
  • Publisher: The Pepin Press
  • ISBN: 90 5496 077 9

Architecture is a so-called Visual Encyclopedia, an invention or innovation Pepin Press seems to be very proud of. I don’t know why; it’s just like those Dover books. Perfect reprints of out-of-copyright C19 material, with little or no introduction or commentary.

The pictures of building from all over the world are gorgeous. Mostly engravings, and printed with a lot of care so no details get mucked up. Palaces and hovels, shacks, towers, castles, squares and streets. Lots and lots of inspiration.

Theoria — De orthodoxe interpretatie van de Heilige Schrift

By V. Jean Breck

I’ve started studying theology, having enrolled in the correspondence course of the Saint-Serge Institute, as translated and provided by the Centrum voor Theologische Vorming Johannes de Doper in Brussels. One Saturday every month I travel to Brussels to receive a wad of papers and some face-to-face tuition. I’ve had only one lesson yet, because Irina was away the weekend of the second lesson, and the third Saturday, coming up now, we already have exams.

  • Author: V. Jean Breck
  • Title: Theoria — De orthodoxe interpretatie van de Heilige Schrift
  • Pages: 54
  • Published: 1986
  • Publisher: Instituut voor Orthodoxe Theologie Saint-Serge

That means that I’ve had two months instead of one to go through the stack of papers, and I have a hard time coping. The papers have been translated from the original French (mostly written by native speakers of Russian, I think) into Flemish, and Flemish is not Dutch. Indeed, at one point I had to carefully translate because I was missing the point. And writing in English about what I read in Flemish is even harder. And I lack the theological vocabulary, I find.

The best paper of this month’s lot was, I think, Theoria. Despite counting only 54 pages, it took me a month… The paper describes and argues an Orhtodox way of interpreting the Bible, both Old and New Testament, constrasting the Alexandrian, or mainly allegorical exegetical tradition with the Antioch, or mainly typological exegetical tradition.

The author, V. Jean Breck, makes a strong case for using typology in an Orthodox egesis, but he is perhaps a little to deferent to the western, Protestant exegetical tradition, which is purely historical and text-critical. Orthodox exegesis exists to support the Church and the believers, and has therefore a different writ.

I will need to re-read this paper, because I don’t think I understood everything correctly, and because I don’t think I remember everything quite correctly. The second time will be easier, no doubt.

Buddhist Mahayana Texts

By E.B. Cowell

When I studied Chinese, Sanskrit, Pali and a few other East-Asian languages in Leyden, I was pretty interested in Buddhism. One of the books I bought at that time was this volume, a nice and durable reprint of the out-of-copyright Oxford University Press series published near the close of the nineteenth century, when scholars where scholars and books were books.

  • Author: E.B. Cowell
  • Title: Buddhist Mahayana Texts
  • Pages: 207
  • Published: 1988 (Dover first 1969, but first as Volume XLIX of “The Sacred Books of the East” by Clarendon Press, Oxford, in 1894)
  • Publisher: Dover
  • ISBN: 0-486-25552-2

This volume is also one of the reasons I quickly lost interest in Buddhism as a path for myself. The texts are rambling — the very opposite of the conciseness of the gospels — and then I realized that this was only a small selection from the Mahayana texts; Theravada Buddhism has the real interesting stuff, in the tripitaka, or three baskets. Tens of thousands of books… It’s not nothing.

Even so, that’s only my personal reaction. Just as personal is the fact that I can use the Pragñâ-pâramitâ-hridaya sûtra to form the basis for the philosophy of the evil sorcerer in my current WIP.

There’s much that is beautiful in these texts, of course, and the translations are very good, very careful. Possibly a little superceded since 1894, because the scholars are still working hard at a better understanding of Sanskrit, of Pali and of these texts (and more manuscripts keep getting discovered, too).

From a scholarly point of view, this selection of texts is a good introduction to the most important tenets of Mahayana Buddhism, I feel, but one should study it in concert with a good introduction to Buddhism, like Harvey’s, because otherwise interpreting the contents will be impossible.

The Orthodox Church

By Timothy Ware (Bishop Kallistos)

Being an Orthodox Christian myself, it behooves me to know something about my religion, naturally. And this book, The Orthodox Church was both my first introduction and one of the books I now and then take up again, to refresh my memory.

  • Author: Timothy Ware (Bishop Kallistos)
  • Title: The Orthodox Church
  • Pages: 359
  • Published: 1993 (1963)
  • Publisher: Penguin
  • ISBN: 0-14-014656-3

The blurb says “A clear, detailed introduction to the Orthodox Church written for the non-Orthodox as wel as for the Orthodox Christians who wish to know more about their own tradtion”, and it doesn’t lie. It’s all that.

It is also singularly wide in its coverage, not missing the existence of ancient Orthodox Churches in the Middle East. Many people in the West believe that the Middle East has always been Muslim, don’t realize that Israel (or Palestina, I don’t want to get into that hornet’s nest), and indeed all of the Middle East, except for the Arab peninsula, used to be Christian until the Islamic invasions.

Anyway, before I start frothing at mouth from indignation about the way the Church is treated in Turkey and elsewhere and about how the much-vaunted medieval Islamic cultural superiority has its origin in the Byzantine Christian culture prevalent in the terrories occupied by Islam — this is a good book, and a good and instructive read.

Excerpts at: (possibly bootlegged)

La vie quotidienne pendant la guerre de cent ans, France et Angleterre

By Philippe Contamine

I’m not a dab hand at French — when I was in Brussels last weekend, I had a hard time getting the taxi driver to understand me, and had to resort to  English, because he refused to understand Dutch. And everytime I wanted to say something in French, I could only produce a broken Greek.

  • Author: Philippe Contamine
  • Title: La vie quotidienne pendant la guerre de cent ans, France et Angleterre
  • Pages: 287
  • Published: 1976
  • Publisher: Hachette

But reading French isn’t a problem, especially not when it is as well written as this. The author, Philippe Contamine, has adopted an excellent style for this pop-science history book I once bought second-hand, years ago.

And it’s quite packed with useful information, well organized, and, as I said, very readable, which scholarly French seldom is.

Learn Greek in 35 Years

By Brian Church

I know that Greek is quite a difficult language, especially for someone who isn’t used to inflections and so on. But 25 years… For someone living in Greece all the time? No wonder the subtitle of this little booklet is for the linguistically challenged.

  • Author: Brian Church
  • Title: Learn Greek in 25 years
  • Pages: 101
  • Published: 1999
  • Publisher: Athens News
  • ISBN: 960-86395-1-4

Actually, this is a collection of some very witty, and rather more rather less witty columns the author has written for the English language Greek newspaper Athens News. (I prefer to read the Kathimerini, because it’s got more substance.) but he doesn’t use transcription, and his observations are often quite acute. A fun little book, perhaps not destined for a place on the linguistcs shelves, but downstairs, between the variety books.

Nederlands – Nieuwgrieks en Nieuwgrieks – Nederlands

By K. Imbrechts, c.p.

In January this year we accidentally stumbled upon a chest filled with forgotten dubloons. (Virtually, that is — a savings account we both had forgotten, even through some quite hard times. We tend to be organizationally challenged. Differently organized, that’s the phrase). This windfall enabled is to go on holiday; a real, long holiday, really far away. After consultation with the children we decided to go to Kea, Greece. This resolution was taken in February or March, leaving me with a month or three to learn Greek in.

  • Author: K. Imbrechts, c.p.
  • Title: Nederlands – Nieuwgrieks and Nieuwgrieks – Nederlands
  • Pages: 467/512
  • Published: 2002
  • Publisher: Standaard Uitgeverij, Antwerpen/Het Spectrum, Utrecht
  • ISBN: 90-712-0751-3/90-712-0661-0

In three months one cannot learn enough Greek to keep up your end in an interesting conversation, not if you try to teach yourself using an old course and a tape recorder. It helped that Naomi wanted to learn Greek, too, and joined me. We worked real hard, and one week before we departed for Kea, we had finished all twelve chapters of the Teleac course. A very good course, much better than the more recent six-chapter Oriste. Naomi now knows more Greek than English.

And then all that was left to do was to buy a dictionary and pack our bags. It seems that there is only one Dutch-Greek, Greek-Dutch dictionary, and Naomi’s English (she’s nine years old now), isn’t up to handling the famous Oxford dictionary. So I settled for the Prisma, glad that there was a dictionary in Dutch at least.

In some respects, it’s a pretty decent dictionary. It’s quite portable, good typography, useful grammatical summary, and quite extensive.

It falls down in a few specific points, though, points that were quite important for us. First of all, there is a dearth of ecclesiastical terms. And, being Orthodox, and having selected Greece because we wanted to be in an all-Orthodox country for once, we rather needed things like the correct Greek for ‘acolyte’ and ‘church-choir’. A hint: even though it’s Orthodox Greece, you need to have a working knowledge of Roman Catholic terminology to find most things.

The second problem, but that’s a perennial problem, were the names of food and drink. We still don’t know what gavros are, but we guess it’s sprat.

For the rest, we wouldn’t have enjoyed our holidays so much without these volumes. And yes, even though some Greeks thought I was mentally retarded because of my meager vocabulary and atrocious grammar, others were quite impressed with what could be done in a few months. It’s a beautiful language, Greek, and I look forward to returning there. But not in 2004.

Things a computer scientist rarely thinks about

By Donald E. Knuth

It used to be custom at the company where I worked to give departing colleagues a book by way of souvenir. Because the company was called Tryllian, the souvenir was naturally Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. However, there were people who already had that book in profusion on their shelves, and Otto Moerbeek was one of those. And he already possessed The Art of Computer Programming, the default second choice. So we presented him with Things a computer scientist rarely thinks about. And
now I have borrowed his copy and read it. In one sitting, between five o’clock in the afternoon and midnight.

  • Author: Donald E. Knuth
  • Title: Things a computer scientist rarely thinks about
  • Pages: 257
  • Published: 2001
  • Publisher: CSLI Publications, Stanford, California
  • ISBN: 1-57586-327-8

Because this is a very fascinating book. People who have explored this bit of website or who have known me for longer know that I am an Orthodox Christian and a programmer. There are not many programmers who regularly go to church, but Donald E. Knuth is one of them. Or rather, he’s a computer scientist, but c’est la meme chose, more or less. (One of the famous other ones is Larry Wall.)

Things a computer scientist rarely thinks about is the collection of six special lectures Knuth gave at MIT. He was already retired at that time, and had written the book 3:16, which contains a calligraphic version of all verses 3:16 in the Bible, and a four-page essay giving an analysis of every verse. In these lectures, he spends a lot of time giving his method and reason for this endeavor.

In one way, this is a pity. The lectures often descend into fond remeniscing and artistic appreciation of calligraphy and typography. Only the first and the sixth lecture delve deeper into the relationship — undeniable to me — between creating software and religion. In the sixth chapter Knuth quotes Dorothy L. Sayers, just as Brooks did, and just I would have done. Her Mind of the Maker is the manifesto of the creative intellectual creed for more than one generation, and as such it should have received an even wider dissemination. I would have liked more and deeper discussion.

As an aside, Knuth is ‘guilty’ of that particular ‘heresy’ which is so attractive to the very scholarly; namely thinking that it is not the destination that is important, but the journey. Not the answers, but the questions. This has been very well described by C.S. Lewis in The Great Divorce. I like my intellectual pursuits, but I would prefer to be with God all the time.

The great and redeeming feature of all lectures is the Question and Answer section. What a great and intelligent public must he have had, to have so many great questions! I cannot imagine a body of Dutch students coming up with even one question like those.

The final section, the transcription of a panel discussion is almost worthless by comparison. In a panel discussion people seldom have time to develop an argument, and spend what time they have on being witty. There are one or two moments, one of them explicitly acknowledged by Knuth, but on the whole, no, not up to scratch. The rest of the book is far better.

As a final remark: each lecture is liberally be-noted. Only not be-footnoted, but be-end-of-chapter-noted, the worst kind of notes there are. Footnotes please! Only footnotes. On the same page of the text. Some of us are not so retarded we cannot read a text and the notes simultaneously, and we would like to have the whole picture in a glance.

Olive Oil, way of long life

By Stella Kalogeraki

One of the books Irina bought in Greece. Curiously enough, I didn’t buy a single book during our stay in Greece. Not because all the books were in Greek — as you can see, this one is in English, and I would have liked to pit my meagre Greek skils against a whole book, but because the selection was very limited on the small island we visited. Anyway, this book is about olive oil. And olives. With traditional recipes, no less. And written by an archaeologist.

  • Author: Stella Kalogeraki
  • Title: Olive Oil, way of long life
  • Pages: 137
  • Published: 2002
  • Publisher: Mediterraneo Editions
  • ISBN: 960-8227-00-3

It’s a light-weight, factoid filled booklet, but very nice nonetheless. Nice photographs, very nice recipes, and some interesting bits of text. But look, it’s no use writing up a detailed
critique with this kind of is it? But nice to have, nice to have in any case. But there’s not much that I can say about it.