books monthly august 2017

A stunning new edition of Stephen King's IT, an amazing new Tudor novel from Philippa Gregory and Charlie the Choo Choo!

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Francesco Maria Galassi & Hutan Ashrafian: Julius Caesar's Disease, a New Diagnosis


Published 30th November 2016



The It is generally accepted as a historical fact that Julius Caesar suffered from epilepsy, an illness which in classical times was sometimes associated with divinely bestowed genius. The ancient sources describe several episodes when, sometimes at critical junctures, one of the most famous military commanders in history was incapacitated by his illness referred to as morbus comitialis. But does the evidence really fit with the diagnosis of epilepsy? And if it was not epilepsy that afflicted Caesar, then what was it? These are the questions that doctors Galassi and Ashrafian seek to answer by applying modern medical knowledge to the symptoms and circumstances described by contemporary historians and commentators of Caesar's life (which include the great man himself). The result is a fascinating piece of historical-pathological detective work that challenges received wisdom about one of the most famous men of all time.


Dr Galassi is a paleopathologist at Zurich University; Hutan Ashrafian is a surgeon and paleopathologist at Imperial College London. Both men are perfectly well qualified to re-examine Caesar's symptoms and to offer an alternative diagnosis to the well accepted one of epilepsy, which was considered to have been a divine illness which bestowed upon Caesar the favour of the Gods and therefore elevated him above other, ordinary mortals. The book examines the possibility that Caesar's symptoms also fit the characteristics of ministrokes, or TIAs, as we now also call them. Julius Caesar remains the most fasconating of all ancient Romans, and the two authors keep his legendary status in mind whilst proposing their diagnosis and at the same time entertaining their readers. I am of course not qualified to comment on their findings or proposed diagnosis, but I found the book to be both readable and informative, and a worthy addition to the various biographies of the great man, most of which concentrate on his military prowess and politics. A most fascinating read.






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Book of the month #1: Stephen King's It

Published by Hodder & Stoughton 25th July 2017

Soon to be a major motion picture - Stephen King's terrifying classic. 'They float...and when you're down here with me, you'll float, too.'To the children, the town was their whole world. To the adults, knowing better, Derry Maine was just their home town: familiar, well-ordered for the most part. A good place to live.It is the children who see - and feel - what makes the small town of Derry so horribly different. In the storm drains, in the sewers, IT lurks, taking on the shape of every nightmare, each one's deepest dread. Sometimes IT reaches up, seizing, tearing, killing ...Time passes and the children grow up, move away and forget. Until they are called back, once more to confront IT as IT stirs and coils in the sullen depths of their memories, reaching up again to make their past nightmares a terrible present reality.


I don't need an excuse to read again what is probably, in technical terms, Stephen King's finest novel, my favourite, of course - but I have one in this magnificent new edition from Hodder & Stoughton, published to coincide with the release in September of a new motion picture. There have been many news articles about the new movie, one, at least, suggesting that it would be done in two parts because of the enormous length of the story. Obviously, I haven't yet seen the film, but I doubt if the whole material of this amazing book could be covered adequately in a little over two hours - the previous filmed version, with Tim Curry as Pennywise, was a TV miniseries and there were huge swathes of material ommitted from that. In that respect, I reserve judgment. Now to the book itself. King provides us with a rich variety of characters, young and grown up, with whom to identify. I find myself thinking that there is a little of Bill, a little of Ben, a little of Richie and a little of Eddie in me. The best parts of IT are, undoubtedly, those set in the late 1950s. I came to Stephen King via IT, having bought it for my eldest son as a makeweight for his birthday. I found it in his bedroom whilst tidying, or hoovering or something, and having at first though that it would surely only be suitable for a teenager, I decided to borrow it and read it for myself. This was the start of a long and extremely satisfying relationship with the man who I consider to be the greatest living novelist. Along the way I discovered The Stand, Salem's Lot, Insomnia, The Dark Tower, and latterly, 11:22:63, Doctor Sleep and Under The Dome. IT remains, for me, the very best of King's novels, not only because of the way it is structured, but also because I can identify so readily with being bullied as a kid, even as a teenager, and not knowing what to do about it, not wanting to tell my parents because my father would not have understood why I didn't fight back. Bullying was tolerated at my grammar school because the headmaster believed that the only way to survive bullying was to fight back. I had enormous respect for the headmaster except on this one point. Bullying is wrong and should be punished. You don't make men out of boys by allowing them to be beaten up. A lot of nonsense is spoken about bullies being cowards. Not in my experience. They derive real sadistic pleasure out of hurting you, and if you're not given to fighting, you're always going to be picked on and made to suffer.


I can identify with the terror of cinematic horrors - tame by today's standards, but enough to deprive me of sleep temporarily until exhaustion took hold. It didn't take much to scare me in those days - I couldn't listen to the BBC radio dramatisation of The Day of the Trifids, for example. But if the local fleapit was showing a horror film, for example The Fall Of The House of Usher, I had to be there, even though I was under age for X films (I looked old enough, and I often persuaded my Mum to go with me, so that was OK, no questions asked). They say that being frightened by horror films and horror novels is good for people. If that is genuinely the case, then a lot of good was done to me in the late 1950s, when I was 14. But it was not until the late 1980s that I discovered and embraced the works of Stephen King. For me, it isn't that important that a new movie has been made of IT. What is important that I'm re-reading it, and still finding bits I don't remember, bits that reinforce my belief that it is the greatest of King's novels.

Book of the month #2 - Beryl Evans: Charlie The Choo Choo

Published by Hodder Children's Books 13th July 2017

A children's book and future classic about friendship, loyalty and hard work, written by the bestselling author Stephen King as 'Beryl Evans'. Engineer Bob has a secret: his train engine, Charlie the Choo-Choo, is alive... Fans of Stephen King's bestselling series will recognise Charlie, the Choo-Choo, adapted from a section of his novel The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands. The piece of art created by Ned Dameron for book three is now the cover image for this picture book. 'If I were ever to write a children's book, it would be just like this!' - Stephen King


I could have put this quite happily on the children's books page, but in many ways it is quite unique. In my opinion this book is a more likely candidate for being recognised as part of Stephen King's Dark Tower series than The Wind Through The Keyhole. It figures largeright through the series, and Dark Tower followers will already be familiar with it - it's one of the books Jake Chambers bought from the bookshop, coming to the fore in Wolves of the Calla, of course. I forget where I've previously seen the illustration on the front cover, but I have to say that this is a magnificent facsimile of the book that plays a hugely important part in King's most important work, and the publishers should be congratulated - if there were Oscars for books, this should get one! The reproduction is superlative, the story is brilliant, and the pretence that it is a reprint of a book from the 1930s is a master stroke. I wouldn't be without it...


And finally, I just need to tell you the publication dates for the next couple of months: the September issue will be uploaded on September 1st; the October issue will be uploaded on September 26th because of the new Stephen King book, a proof of which I am now reading! See you next month!

The small print: Books Monthly, now well into its twentieth year on the web, is published on or slightly before the first day of each month by Paul Norman. You can contact me here. If you wish to submit something for publication in the magazine, let me remind you there is no payment as I don't make any money from this publication. If you want to send me something to review, contact me via email and I'll let you know where to send it.