Tag Archives: Book

Goodreads.com, a great website for book lovers.

Discovered Goodreads last month and am very jealous, I wish I had made a website like this.  Actually they do have millions (well, lots) of people writing for it, so I have no chance of emulating it.

Anyway this is a great website and worth looking at.  You can rate the books you have read or create a would like to read list.   You can also see what your friends are reading and how they have rated the books.  There are also lots of groups to join or quizzes to do.  I have also been looking at their worst books of all time list, for some inspiration on my next post about rubbish books and there are some controversial choices in there like Animal Farm and Tess of the D´Urbervilles at 28 and 30 respectively.  Despite this travesty it is still a little bit addictive.

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To Kindle or not to Kindle?

The book group to which I belong has gone into the 21st century with almost everyone in it now reading the books on Kindle.  I am one of the remaining traditionalists, this is not due to technophobia but my love of a real book.

My main problems with it are; 

No lovely front cover or synopsis.

Hard to find the part of the book you want to re-read

Reading by the pool or beach or in the bath are virtually impossible

No charity shopping for second hand books

Bit boring and ugly – why don´t they make them in nice colours?  Or maybe they do.

However there are some advantages

It meant I didn´t  have to buy the book for the book club – I just borrowed a kindle.

Cheaper to buy new books on kindle

More space in the house – I have boxes full of books that don´t fit on my shelves.

I would not have to use most of my baggage allowance on books when I was on holiday.

Overall, I remain to be convinced but if anyone wants to buy me one that would be nice.

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Josephine Tey rip-off? Nicola Upson – An angel with two faces

Another mistake picked up in a charity shop.  This book, the second in a series, is strange in the fact that it has the character of the 1930s crime novelist, Josephine Tey investigating a mystery.  This seems  a ridiculous presumption considering she never really existed but was the pen name of Elizabeth Mackintosh.

It takes place in Cornwall with the drowning of Harry Pinching. Tey and her Inspector friend Archie Penrose are by coincidence visiting and become involved in the mystery.   The plot largely seems to be anachronistic – most of the characters seem to have a tolerance of incest, homosexuality, etc. despite being set in the 1930s.  I have a feeling (could be wrong) that Upson is a lesbian and is trying to introduce her agenda of homosexuality into a story into which it just doesn´t quite fit.  The plot is highly dubious and seems to just have too many strands, loopy sister, corrupt vicar, psychopathic gamekeeper, etc .  The novel starts well and then drags, I even found myself skimming parts during climax scenes such as murders.  Still the cover is nice but the ´Two can keep a secret if one of them is dead´, seems like it has been written for a Hollywood film trailer.Overall a bit tedious – avoid this.


 

 

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The Big Brother of books; Asne Seierstad – The Bookseller of Kabul

This successful book is about a bookseller´s family living in Afghanistan. I took this book along to a barbeque (just in case it turned out to be boring, ho, ho) and one of the guests told me that this book had been highly controversial as  the Afghan family who Seirestad lived with for four months in 2002,  were suing her for her account of their lives.

Now this didn’t overly surprise me as the portraits of most of the family are very unflattering, and her attempts to disguise their real identities did not seem too vigorous.  The classification of it as non fiction also seemed the most problematic as Seirestad has basically fictionalised the events in her own literary style because she was not even there for the majority of them.  I am thinking that in the light of this maybe we need to invent a new genre – the reality novel???  She argues the family knew her purpose was to write a book and she has not included anything they did not agree to, however this would seem to be debatable considering the family sued her and she was  forced to pay £26,276 damages to one of the booksellers´s wives.  http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/2010/jul/31/bookseller-of-kabul-interview-asne-seierstad.

The first part of the book is interesting and gives some background on the history of Afghanistan and customs such as  marriage  and polygamy,  the most interesting part for me were the parts where Seierstad stopped telling a story and stuck to facts, such as the chapter on the Taliban decrees issued after their takeover of Kabul.  These decrees included:

Imprisonment for shaving beards

“Kite flying has wicked consequences such as gambling, death amongst children, and truancy”

Men with long hair will be taken to the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and the Extermination of Sin to have their hair cut.

Prohibition against washing clothes next to river embankments

Sultan aka Shah Muhammad Rais, the real bookseller of Kabul

The book claims to tell the story of this local hero who risks his life to save books from the Taliban but as you read a very depressing picture of women emerges, they are essentially dominated by Sultan, the bookseller and have little freedom, apart from all the other views that an individual might hold on freedom of Muslim women.  He sends a poor carpenter with a starving family  to prison for theft of postcards and refuses to let his sons go to school preferring them to work long hours in his shop.

As the Guardian review points out;

“Seierstad has claimed that the book is not a criticism of the Islamic way of life – but that it “just reveals a lot about it”. This, I suggest, is disingenuous – and dangerous. Her outrage at the way women are treated in the book crackles on every page, but because she has written herself out of the narrative, her highly subjective account could be accused as masquerading as an objective report.”

It  seems highly unbelievable that a family  would agree to let themselves be portrayed like this so you are left with the feeling that they have been exploited by Seirsgard and  that it is impossible to write this kind of book in a fictional style and not take advantage of your subjects.  Is this the Big Brother equivalent of books?  I would argue that it is, the author argues that  you can not write a neutral story so maybe she would have been best leaving it alone.

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Very funny – Ian McEwan – Solar

Ian McEwan can be great as demonstrated in  On Chesil Beach and Atonement but  also not so great such as Saturday, Solar however belongs to the former category,  I really enjoyed this.  It is his funniest novel, an entertaining read and even had me laughing out loud.

The protagonist is Michael Beard,  a Nobel Prize winning scientist working for a governmental environmental think-tank.  He is short, fat, ridiculous and a serial shagger; at the start of the novel he is on his fifth marriage.     Beard is obviously intelligent and a bit of a twit but his ridiculousness makes him a  more sympathetic character than you would expect.  The plot concerns Beards’ not particularly diligent work to deal with climate change which are often disastrous.  As the story develops Beard steals an idea for  next generation Solar panels  from his fifth ex-wife´s dead lover.   The story occurs over a nine-year period and takes place in London, Alaska (with a very funny account of a penis freezing off) and finally New Mexico.

This book is very clever as there are very complicated scientific issues concerning climate change, which could be really boring and preachy,  but the humourous way that McEwan deals with them make this book both clever and interesting.

I would recommend reading this for the best description of salt and vinegar crisps and the hugely funny incident with them on a train and the frozen penis episodes on their own.

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Short ratings of some books I have read recently(ish)

Jorge Amado – Gabriella, Clove and Cinnamon.

Great and funny novel by one of  Brasil’s most famous novelist.

Jorge Amado – Dona Flor and her two husbands.  Good, but not as good as Gabriella.

Iain Banks – The Bridge

Can’t remember this at all but obviously liked it.

Tracy Chevalier – Remarkable Creatures

Really interesting novel about Mary Anning, the fossil collector overlooked because she was a woman.  Liked it so much that I had to go and visit her grave in Lyme Regis (did only live 30 mins away then)

Ian Fleming – Goldfinger

Tried to read this as I was told I would enjoy it and I do love the Sean Connery films.  However this is a case where I prefered the film to the book.  Book full of lots on sexist comments and Pussy Galore is a lesbian shocker!

Lawrence Hill – The Book of Negroes

Really interesting account of slavery written from the perspective of a slave with an implausible ending.

Thomas Hardy – The Mayor of Casterbridge

Again another one that I read due to living in Dorset and went to the not very exciting Hardy section of Dorchester Museum.  Enjoyed this but not as much as other Hardy novels. As I get older the fact that I know that it is all going to end badly upsets me even more.  Still selling your wife is novel.

Barbara Kingsolver – The Lacuna

Disappointing compared to the Poisonwood Bible.  Felt that the portrayal of Trotsky was too sympathetic and offended my historical sensibilities.  Still some of the McCarthy aspects were interesting.

David Mitchell – Ghostwritten

Great book, set in lots of places like Hong Kong, Tokyo, Russia.  A bit like Cloud Atlas with the links between the chapters becoming clear as you read on.

David Mitchell – Number9dream

As said before this I think is his weakest novel.

Joseph  O’ Connor – The Salesman

His first novel and the weakest.  A big disappointment after loving the Star of the Sea.  In fact I havent liked any of his other novels as much as that one.

Mark Steel – Reasons to be Cheerful

I LOVED Vive la Revolution, his extremely witty Marxist view of the French Revolution.  Parts of this were funny but not a patch on the former.

Rose Tremain – The Road Home

Interesting account about the difficulties of being an immigrant in England. I still prefer her historical novels like the Colour.

Colm Toibin – Brooklyn

The worst account of sea sickness I have ever read, I can sympathise

Sarah Waters – The Little Stranger

So much hype about this book from the papers but actually a bit disappointing, especially as I had to wait a long time on the reserve list at the library.  I remember being disappointed with the end.  I read that the doctor was meant to be like Lockwood from Wuthering Heights.

Hilary Mantel – Wolf Hall

I know lots of people liked this but for me I felt that there have been so many historical novels from Henry VIII’s reign.  Cromwell seemed suspiciously nice to me – a bit of a change from the normal interpretation.  Maybe  he will become more like his ruthless self in the sequel.  i suppose the historian in me doesn’t like te fact that the novelist has to make lots of things up, especially if it’s about a period I know really well.  Still read there was meant to be something revolutionary about the way she wrote this, cant remember what it was.

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William Boyd – Stars and Bars

Plot – English 40 something goes to America to change his life.  Ends up in the deep south (I think, Geography not my strong point for USA), and meets lots of bizarre people whilst trying to manage two women at the same time.  I suppose it is meant to be hilarious but doesn’t quite do it for me.  Seems a bit cliché -ridden and obvious.

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