Monday, 31 December 2012

Birthday present!

For my birthday and Christmas, which are incredibly close together, I made a wishlist on Amazon for my family and boyfriend, as I pretty much only really ever want books and such. One of the things I asked for was this book lamp, which my brother bought me. I thought it looked really cool online, and it also looks cool in real life!

Sunday, 30 December 2012

119/111 - Kid Rex by Laura Moisin

I downloaded a preview of this book on my iPad a little while ago, after it was the recommendation of a recommendation of a recommendation and it had a cool cover. I quite liked the author's voice so I decided to download and read the rest of the book on my iPad!

This book is the autobiography of Laura, who developed anorexia while she was studying at university in New York, and the story of her recovery. The book was okay, but I didn't finish it. I liked her style of writing a lot and it was well written, however I'm just not that interested in this type of book. I am interested in eating disorders and their prevalence however not so much from an individual perspective.

Reading on the iPad was okay, too. There were times when it was annoying, like when I kept accidentally flicking to the next page, but on the other hand it was also pretty mice not having to hold open the book, and also being able to read at night time. Hm. Still not totally convinced, I think this requires further testing.

Next: We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

118/111 - The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan

I bought this book at the same time as The Age of Miracles and I had pretty high hopes for it, too. I should have followed my own rule however, and read the first 30 pages on iBooks, because if I had, I would never have bought this awful awful book.

This book actually has a lot of potential to be great, and the idea seems really interesting, but for me, the main thing that makes it totally unreadable and totally enrages me is the fact that it's written in a Scottish dialect. The result is that it ends up feeling like dogshit when I'm trying to enjoy it, because I keep stumbling upon a few sentences of passable English before getting to 'cannae' and 'umnay' and 'disnae' and GO FUCK YOURSELF.

This has enraged me so much that I don't know that I'll be able to carry on with the book.

I was trying to think earlier about what it is that pisses me off so much about this, because it shouldn't, really, however I think I hate the fact that it's so forceful and jarring. Maybe that's supposed to be the point, however I like to think that I can get into the mindset of the characters without it being shoved in my face that OMG SHE HAS A SCOTTISH ACCENT. IT'S SET IN SCOTLAND! Is that honestly the best way you can think to convey that the story is set in Scotland and the characters are Scottish? Do you seriously have to interrupt every sentence with a contraction in it to add in a little Scottish slang that causes me to trip over the entire sentence? To the point where I can't bear to read the rest of the book?

Dreadful. Just thinking about it is pissing me off, because I take no pleasure in slagging off a book, especially not one that I have paid for and had hoped to enjoy. Totally ruined it for me. The only thing I wanted to do was to 'CTRL+F' every contraction and 'replace all' with the proper word.

Maybe I'm being a bit intolerant. Is this distracting for Scottish readers? Or is it just me? To me, this felt like a cheap attempt to make the book more interesting, or to make the character seem more different, however for me part of the enjoyment I get from reading a book is the fact that I can immerse myself in the story, get lost and let it wash over me until I don't even remember I'm reading, or that I can't bear to stop myself because I'm so engrossed.

A book like this, told in 'dialect' (I'm using that word loosely because the rest of the English is flawless, which only draws attention more to the Scottish words) makes me more aware that I'm reading as I am continually tripping up on every other word, and so it totally fails at its job, which is to entertain me and hopefully engage my thoughts. I think I'll be returning it.

117/111 - The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

I bought this book very recently based on a recommendation on a website, and it was fantastic, really really good. It's set in the present day and is sort of post-apocalyptic. Julia is a twelve-year-old girl from California and she lives in a world where the planet one day starts to slow down and the days become longer and longer. At first this seems like a fairly harmless thing - who cares if the day is ten minutes longer? However the days and nights start to become longer and longer, until eventually each day and night are 72 hours long each. This means that crops no longer grow as there is not enough natural light, and then people have to make the decision of whether to continue to live in clock time or if they want to switch to real time. Eventually, the fabric of the earth itself starts to come apart because of the changes in gravity, and the magnetic poles change, and lots of animals begin to die.

However, this wasn't really what was most excellent about the book. The post-apocalyptic setting stuff was really interesting - what if the world suddenly started to slow down? But the really riveting parts of the book all had to do with Julia growing up. The author is incredible at conveying what it's like to be a twelve year old girl, whether it's a bully lifting up her t-shirt, or a former friend suddenly becoming bitchy for no reason, the awkwardness of buying your first bra. I saw a lot of myself in Julia, also having been a fairly awkward young lady. Another great aspect is the family dynamics - Julia is an only child and she has a fairly neurotic mother and distant father, who she discovers having an affair with her piano teacher. At a certain point, he has to choose whether to leave with the mistress or stay with his family. This could have been in any setting at all, and it would have still been utterly convincing and engaging.

Really really impressed by this book.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

116/111 - The Complete Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby

I've read a couple of Nick Hornby's books before and after downloading the sample of this book on iBooks, I decided to go for it. I felt like I could do with a little inspiration for books, and that this would be a good place to start (I also bought Howard's End Is On The Landing by Susan Hill).

This book is a compilation of magazine columns that Nick Hornby has written for The Believer magazine, and is more a book about reading than a book of reviews. I enjoyed it a moderate amount, in that I found a lot of truth in how he conveys his book reading and buying habits, however my enjoyment was a little stunted because I had not read most of the books he talks about, and so a lot of the text didn't have much relevance to me (although I did find a few good recommendations!).

Nick talks about his haphazard reading habits, and how nothing ever seems to be read in any particular order. I related to this because I tend to read something in a certain vein and then blast through a whole bunch of other things that are similar to it, like the Young Adult kick I went on a few months ago, or the post-apocalyptic phase, or the non-fiction phase. It also tends to affect my buying habits, in that I'll read something and then feel suddenly compelled to go and buy a whole load of other books in the same arena to keep my momentum in that subject going.

I found the book to be really funny in places, much like the other stuff I have read, and like I said, for me it had a lot of truth to it.

1. I liked his attitude of not being snobby with the kinds of books you read. I like to read feminist theory, but I also like to read Stephen King, and ghost stories.

2. I agree that reading can sometimes be a disappointing experience, which is why I also agree that you should never force yourself to finish a book you're not enjoying, not like I had to when I was an English Lit student.

3. I laughed at the idea of putting certain books in a book graveyard of sorts, where at a certain point you really need to admit that the possibility of ever reading certain books should be abandoned as it's never going to happen. I feel this way about a lot of books.

4. I also understood and laughed at the compulsion Nick feels to buy books. I get that feeling a lot in bookshops, that I simply must buy this book, right now, even though I'm reading something else at the moment and probably won't get around to reading this book for several weeks, if not months, and already have dozens of other books waiting to be read. Doesn't matter - I need to have that book now.

I also laughed when he referenced Daniel Deronda, by George Eliot, which is a mammoth book I had to read not once, but TWICE while I was at university - once in my first year and once more in my final year. I had hated it so much that I had blocked out almost everything I had learned and so had to re-read the blasted thing. I hate hate HATE Victorian literature. In fact in this book, Nick makes a great point that one of the reasons that authors like Dickens wrote such laboriously long novels was that they were paid by the word and they also serialised novels back in the day, so there was no benefit to being concise, or cutting out superfluous characters, and so you're left with these huge monolithic novels which I take absolutely no pleasure in reading. Makes me shudder to think of those ghastly novels which put me off reading so much when I was a student. Ridiculous.

In summary: good book, lots of interesting stuff.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

iBooks Samples

Since I got my iPad I haven't really done much reading on it. It has pretty much replaced my laptop in terms of day to day stuff, mostly because it's so portable but I also don't need it to do anything complicated, or anything that requires a lot of power. In any case, I still haven't been using it much for reading because I'm still a book person at heart.

However, something that I have started doing is downloading samples from iBooks. Any book that is available on the iBookstore will have a sample of 20-30 pages for free, with the option to download the rest of the book afterwards if you want to. Yesterday I went on a bit of a frenzy and downloaded about 150 samples of books, some of which I already own and others which I want to read eventually. The idea is that since I usually always have my iPad with me, I can get to reading a sample of a book to see if I want to carry on with it enough to dig out the hard copy. Same goes for new books - instead of popping into a bookshop and coming out with another three books that I don't know much about, I can download the sample, read it, and then decide if I want to buy it.

If I'm honest with myself, then it's pretty likely that I'll still end up wandering around bookshops and making impulse buys, but I'm cool with that. It will also hopefully mean that I can settle more easily on what I'm going to read next, because sometimes I spend ages looking at my shelves, thinking about which one to go for, digging it out and then changing my mind. At least this way I can read a few pages and see if it catches.

Here are the samples I've downloaded so far:

115/111 - The Haunted Book by Jeremy Dyson

I've had this book on my Amazon wishlist for a while now and decided to go for it on a whim the other day. It's a really really interesting book and it did a great job of tricking me!

It first starts off with the premise that Jeremy has been asked by a small-time journalist to help him put together a book of true ghost stories from across the British Isles. In order to get a feel for the different stories he decides to go and visit each place to see what they're like and to pick up on the atmosphere. After a few stories, the book then seems to transform into another book from the past, and then again and again. So at first what appeared to be a factual book actually turns out to be fiction! The effect of going deeper and deeper into the book ends up being quite creepy as you go further and further into the past. Each time the book changes, the appearance also changes - for example the font, and the colour of the pages become more aged-looking. Eventually when you reach the end of the book, the pages have gotten darker and darker and you are sort of supposed to feel lost in the book. The pages are totally black and the text is white, and this disembodied voice talks you out of the book,NAND each page becomes lighter and lighter again until the pages are white and blank. Pretty surreal.

The stories themselves were pretty good, there were some fairly creepy ones in there. I think my favourite was probably the story with the guy who goes sailing round the world alone and then goes a little stir crazy on his boat. I also liked the one about the students who go to clean out an underground bunker, and the one with the stone circle. Those ones I probably enjoyed the most because they reminded me of some Stephen King short stories.

All in all, good book.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

114/111 - The Yellow World by Albert Espinoza

It's been ages since I finished off a book! I bought this recently as it sounded quite interesting. It's a sort of autobiography of a man who had lots of different types of cancer as an adolescent, and it talks a lot about how it's changed his outlook on life going forwards from there.

It was a little strange to read as it's translated from Spanish, and so some of the syntax is a little strange. It was also a little odd in the cultural sense, I think. Some things that didn't quite click for me.

I don't really know what else to say about this and it's late on a Sunday night so I'm going to leave this as it is I think.

Monday, 29 October 2012

13/111 - The Wisdom of Psychopaths by Kevin Dutton

I bought this book very recently because I fancied it. After reading The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson, which was really interesting, wanted to see if this would shed some more light on an intriguing topic.

I really wanted to like this because I find the topic really interesting, but I found it quite meandering and unfocused. The idea of the book is that Kevin proposes that his dad was a psychopath, and examines the condition and potential uses it might have as a positive trait. However I found it all a bit wishy-washy. I was most interested in the things like the research and the studies, and Kevin's own experiences interviewing psychopaths, but there wasn't enough of it and a little too much filler. The passage in which he has his brain manipulated in order to feel more like a psychopath was great, but glossed over too quickly in my opinion.

I think I might be judging this very harshly because I enjoyed Jon Ronson's book so much. It wasn't that I didn't like this, it's more that I wanted something a little more titillating, I guess.

Next: not sure yet...

Monday, 22 October 2012

112/111 - Sum by David Eagleman

I've had this book for quite a while now. I bought it back when I worked for Waterstones, and I primarily bought it because I really liked the cover, which has a door on it which is open just a crack, and the door is actually a hole in the cover! The tag line is '40 tales from the afterlives' and there are lots of endorsements from people all over it, which is pretty cool I guess.

I really enjoyed this book, although reading it was sometimes a strange experience. I read some of it at home some of it at the pub and some of it hungover the next day. When I was reading it at the pub I was waiting for some friends to arrive and I was sat across from two extremely drunk middle aged women who were celebrating the fact that one of them had just been offered her first job after eight years of unemployment. Ouch. They didn't really understand what the book was about but they were pleasant enough I suppose.

Anyway, onto the book.

The book is split into 40 different little stories, each one with a slightly different take on what life after death is like. Some of them talk about our relationship with our creators, and the reasons they have created us and what we are searching for while we are alive. It also talks about heaven and hell and the different punishments we might end up experiencing depending on the whims of our creator. For example one afterlife is spent in the suburbs leading pretty much normal lives, however eventually becoming bored with eternity, while the virtuous get to enjoy a peaceful death. I really really liked this book.

I think my favourite story was one of the first stories, which talks about what the afterlife would be like if we lived out all of our different experiences at once. So the idea would be, you do all your eating at once, and all your sleeping at once, but you also experience all your pain consecutively, and all your sadness consecutively. You also re-live all your love and happiness consecutively. So, you re-live all the experiences of your life but it was interesting to think about how much time in your life you spend, say, cutting your nails, or watching television, or blinking. If you had to re-live all these moments at once, would you feel as though you had spent enough time laughing, or relaxing, or being in love, versus the amount of time you spent being angry, or feeling anxious, or bored? Interesting.

Next: The Wisdom of Psychopaths by Kevin Dutton

Sunday, 14 October 2012

New Bookshelves

I moved out of home a few months ago into a flat without much space, however luckily there was enough space for a set of bookshelves, which I built and still have. I have some photos, and some of the books are still very familiar as they still haven't been read in the last two years, and some are newer.

I still have a huge number of books at my dad's house, however the ones I have left there are the ones I am much less likely to read, some of which I will most likely get rid of by giving to charity, or giving to people if I think they might get something out of them. But I really can't be bothered to read books I'm not going to enjoy. I'm already a fairly ruthless reader, and I tend to give up quite often on books I'm not enjoying, but I think now I've finished my experiment I'll become even more ruthless. I will not be spending any time reading something that I don't enjoy. So there.

Reaching 111

So reading 111 books over the last 20 months has been an interesting experiment. I've had months where I've read prolifically, and months where I didn't read anything. The most books I read in a month was March 2011 with 17 books. However I read nothing in July, November or December 2011.

I have bought countless more books since I started my project, and my list of books now looks almost nothing like the list I work from currently. When I first started out, I had planned to buy no more books until I read the ones I had, which didn't happen. My weakness for new books and my desire to read things RIGHT NOW stopped me from being able to do that.

I think now I'll list my favourites from the last 111 books:
4/111 - I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
12/111 - The Diving-Bell and Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby
27/111 - Light Boxes by Shane Jones
33/111 - Northline by Willy Vlautin
36/111 - Player One by Douglas Coupland
38/111 - A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
41/111 - World War Z by Max Brooks
42/111 - Grow Up by Ben Brooks
47/111 - Sarah by JT Leroy
52/111 - 11.22.63 by Stephen King
58/111 - The Eyre Affair (and the others) by Jasper Fforde
78/111 - Drive by James Sallis
81/111 - The Men Who Stare At Goats by Jon Ronson
94/111 - The Guardians by Sarah Manguso
101/111 - Locke and Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
104/111 - The Sex Myth by Dr Brooke Magnanti
106/111 - Horns by Joe Hill

So I guess I'm done!

I will be continuing with this in much the same fashion as before, continuing to write about the books I have read. I have very much enjoyed recording what I have been reading, and I'm glad to be back in full swing again after many months of feeling unable to read because I wasn't enjoying working in publishing. I'm glad to have left all that behind me now.

As for what I'm reading next, I haven't decided yet. However I have a feeling that a lot of my next few months will be spent doing some re-reading. I really want to re-read the His Dark Materials books by Phillip Pullman, and I'd also like to re-read the Dark Tower series at some point, including The Wind Through The Keyhole.

The last few months have been taken up by reading a larger-than-average portion of non-fiction material, however that's fine by me for the moment. We'll see how it goes.

111/111 - Anthropology by Dan Rhodes

So here I am at the 111th book! I got a copy of Anthropology for free with a copy of Waterstones Books Quarterly magazine a couple of years ago. My original copy of the magazine came with nothing in it, but then I saw that in Brighton they had copies with a free book included, so I went for that one.

This book is a series of vignettes about love. It contains 101 stories and each of them is like its own little joke. They are all about the narrator and his various love affairs. Some of them seem to contain the same girls as other stories, but in general the narratives seem to mix together. Each one is odd, sweet and funny in its own way, and a lot of them are a little sad, too. The narrator is mostly insecure and clingy, and occasionally cruel. The girlfriends are usually cruel or a bit dimwitted, but the stories are all told with a mixture of affection, desperation, anxiety and lust. I have quoted a few of my favourites below:

Horsebox - Although she's nearly twenty, Opal has an imaginary horse. When we met I was happy to join her in three-day-eventing on her lawn; jumping over tyres and saying 'giddy-up'. Now I'm starting to wish she would find another interest. So far this month I've bought her a riding hat, boots and a crop. She keeps suggesting we get a horsebox. 'Go on,' she says. 'Blaze needs one to get around in.' They're really expensive, but she looks so incredible in jodhpurs and with her hair up in a net that I'm finding it harder and harder to resist.

Kissing - Since the moment we met, my wife and I have not stopped kissing. I'm Catholic and she's Islamic, so there were some complications. Throughout the delicate negotiations with our families, our lips did not pass for a moment. Eventually they accepted our love, so we married. We walked, tongues tangled, down the aisle. Now, after six years of marriage, we are still fused. We had our first child without stopping kissing for the conception, pregnancy or birth. Our lips are four broken scabs, and our chins always covered in blood, but we will never stop. We are far too much in love.

Memories - My girlfriend and I have been together for so long that every day is some kind of anniversary. Whenever she gets home, she finds me waiting with a surprise, candle-lit meal. 'What is it today?' she asks, yawning after a tiring day at work. I gently stroke her face, and tell her that it's exactly three years since I thought up her pet name, Dimples, two years since our first pillow fight, or just one year since the night we tried to count the stars. She doesn't talk much during these meals. She's far too busy treasuring those golden memories.

Video - After Firefly left me I presented her with a video recording I had made of myself, so if she ever felt down she could be reminded that there was someone out there who loved her more than anything in the world. I met her in the street, and asked her if she ever watched it. She said she did, and that it always cheered her up. She told me she particularly liked the part where I kissed and caressed the tiny black skirt she had left behind, and cried like a new-born baby. She said that always made her smile.

A lot of these, with their half-punchlines, reminded me of Pictures For Sad Children. I liked the randomness and the quirkiness of each little snippet. I would say that this was an enjoyable read. Lovely to read through and quick to get through and although they were each very short, they were satisfying. I'd like to look at more of Dan Rhodes' books and maybe read another one.

Next: no definite plans yet, but there is some time for reflection coming up.

110/111 - X'ed Out by Charles Burns

So I only have two books to go before I reach 111 books, and I want to finish soon, which is leading me to maybe cheat a little bit by reading a couple of very short things. Which are still books, but a bit naughty really.

I decided to go for X'ed Out because it's one of the shorter ones I have. I got this from Vintage when I was doing work experience there. At one point during the two weeks, while everyone was encouraging me to take books with me, I started sending them back to my house rather than carrying them all the way home on the train, which was pretty cool. Especially since X'ed Out is a fairly large book.

I guess I enjoyed reading this, however there is something about the Charles Burns stuff I've read that I really like, but that I'm not sure I'm getting. I feel like I'm not quite grasping the meaning of the words and the art. X'ed out is the first book in a trilogy in some strange world that keeps flicking between dream and reality, or so it seems. There is a main character called Doug, who seems like a bit of a selfish prick. At some points he is in a bed looking pretty sick, and then there are flashbacks from before he became this way, and then there is a dreamworld which is really weird looking and he sort of looks like Tintin while he is in the dreamworld.

I think I felt a similar way when I read Black Hole, which was that it was all very mysterious and dreamy and a lot of the voices merged together, however this was slightly less satisfying because it was so short. The next part of the trilogy came out at the beginning of this month, so maybe I'll see if I can find it to read the next part.

Next: not sure yet, but probably something short.

109/111 - Lost At Sea by Jon Ronson

I got the new Jon Ronson book! I only heard about its release a little while ago, and I thought that since I have read almost everything he has published in the last year, I'll complete the collection with this book.

This book is comprised of a series of essays and interviews on various subjects, from a UFO convention with Robbie Williams, to groups of vigilante superheroes in the US. Once again, I really enjoyed this book, but the only thing I didn't like so much about it was that there were about half a dozen essays I had already read in precious collections, but that's no big deal.

Among my favourites was the essay on the Insane Clown Posse after their revelation that they have been evangelical Christians the entire time.he paints a portrait of two very unhappy men who have been trying their hardest and don't understand how they could have been so badly misunderstood by the public. I also really enjoyed the piece about the Disney cruise liner and the number of deaths which are covered up each year after occurring on cruise liners. And the essay on DIY superheroes was also really good. All across America there are individuals and small groups of men who dress up in costumes and patrol their neighbourhoods looking to stamp out crimes. They refuse to be afraid. One case which has rallied them around this cause is a case of a woman being stabbed in her doorway in Queens. Thirty-odd people walk past her doorway and no one stops to help. After that, her attacker returns and finishes the job. Pretty chilling.

There are loads of the topics which I would be interested to see expanded into longer works and investigations. Almost all of them, in fact. I have really enjoyed Jon Ronson's longer books, he should write more.

Next: not sure yet, but only two books left until I reach 111...

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

108/111 - Vagina: A New Biography by Naomi Wolf

I have never read anything by Naomi Wolf before, however I'd had my eye on this release date for a while. I thought that the subject matter old probably be quite interesting, and I also knew that Naomi Wolf is the subject of a fair amount of controversy. Her most famous work is probably The Beauty Myth which is probably around 20 years old now. I have had that on my shelf for quite a while, but I'm yet to read it.

When I bought this book, I must have been in the middle of reading Sweet Tooth, and I started to come across reviews of Vagina that weren't necessarily all that favourable. I tried as hard as I could to avoid reading any reviews, as I wanted the chance to make up my own mind.

It's a pretty dense book in a lot of ways, and it's taken me a while to get through it. I have mixed feelings, I guess. There were parts of the book I found really interesting and enlightening, and others that seemed batshit crazy, or extremely pretentious. I'm going to try to focus more on the parts I found interesting, as I'm sure there is plenty of criticism out there already.

I was really interested by all the biological explorations, such as the idea of the female pelvic nerve and the way it relates to female sexual pleasure. She also talks a lot about the way that this nerve centre is closely tied up with women's consciousness, and there was some really compelling arguments, however a lot of it felt quite anecdotal? She bases some of her writing on the trouble she had with her own pelvic nerve, and goes on to extrapolate that one of the reasons that rape and rape in warfare is so traumatic to its victims is because of that brain-vagina connection. I fully understand the idea behind rape being used as a weapon of war, and I think the idea that it damages its victims and keeps them repressed is interesting, however I would want to see more evidence of it first.

I think that is one of my main problems with the book, actually. There is a lot of biological research included, but there is also a lot of research which is based on observations, or conversations, and I'm not totally convinced that I can rely on the conclusions she has drawn, even though a lot of them speak to my own experiences as a woman. Perhaps I just find it difficult to admit to myself?

I really liked a lot of the ideas surrounding the way we view female sexuality and female sex organs, and the way we carry ourselves as women. I know that from my own experiences, I feel like I'm shrinking when a group of men shout at me in the street, and I'm aware that if I'm walking on my own, that if I wear a hat or cover my long hair, I become almost invisible to them, which to me feels like such a perversion. I think it's really difficult for men to understand the extent to which many of us feel unsafe outside our own homes. It makes me feel sick to admit this, but almost every time I leave my house I'm aware of my surroundings, I have my keys in my pocket ready to open my door quickly or stab someone. If I'm out at night, I don't feel safe walking alone. I have only very rarely been confronted out in the street, and mostly that kind of fear has occurred when I've been in bars, but that's almost worse. I can be in an area full of people and still have someone approach me and put their hand up my skirt, or 'accidentally' touch me, or physically threaten me. A lot of women I know sort of shrug it off as part of a night out, but I tend to be a bit more confrontational, and I'm not afraid to shove an elbow into someone or throw a drink. But really, what could I do against that kind of physical strength?

Anyway, that's a bit off topic, but Naomi's point is that this constant fear of threat, harassment, hollering, prevents women from living to their full potential. If even a tiny percentage of my energy is focused on diverting unwanted attention or unwarranted attacks, then that is a waste of energy I could be using to do something worth my time. However, there were points at which I became very irritated with her, for example her description of a party where one of her friends made some tasteless jokes, which apparently gave her writer's block for six months. Really?

There was a whole bunch of stuff in the middle of the book about literature that I found really dull, because even though I love books and fiction, I'm not at all sure that you can draw conclusions about life from what is essentially fiction. Well, you probably can, but it doesn't sound particularly credible. In any case, that wasn't what really interested me.

There was also a lot of interesting (and again, anecdotal) exploration of some of the essential differences between men and women. One example that struck me was that situation where you and your male partner come home from work, and the woman wants to talk about her day and share it with her partner, and the man is unresponsive and doesn't want to talk. Naomi talks about the fact that women have far more interaction between the right and left hemispheres of their brains, which makes them want to chat more, whereas men don't, and they find it more exhausting to chat. On the one hand, this is an incredibly simple explanation for something that a lot of people (myself included) experience, and therefore an easy way to let go of the tension it causes. On the other hand, it also feels like potential pseudo-science to explain away stereotypical behaviour. 

She also talks a lot about the link between sex and emotions in a relationship. Something I have experienced in my own relationships is that when the sex began to go bad, or when I no longer wanted to by physical with a person, it was usually because underneath, I no longer wanted to be with that person but was not able to consciously admit to that. There was a lot more about this that I don't really want to go into because I haven't fully digested it yet.

I realise that a lot of what she is talking about is pretty much unexplored territory, so it would be pretty much impossible to rely on science to provide answers. Many of the ideas are incredibly interesting, and the exciting thing is that she is barely scratching at the surface, however I'm not convinced that there is always anything underneath.

Next: Lost At Sea by Jon Ronson

Saturday, 15 September 2012

107/111 - Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan

As usual I've been buying books left, right and centre recently, and so when I saw the cover of Sweet Tooth and read the synopsis, I thought it looked fairly promising and decided to give it a go. I've read a few of Ian McEwan's books before, with mixed results. Some of them, like The Cement Garden, have been really haunting and weird, and others have been very dull.

He strikes me as an author that takes himself way too seriously, and he also seems to have a sexually perverted streak. There's nothing wrong with that in itself, it's more that it feels incredibly creepy coming from a middle-aged white dude. For example The Cement Garden is about three siblings whose father is dead. When their mother dies they are so worried that they will be taken into care that they bury her body in poorly-mixed cement and then start having sex with one another. I remember reading some of his short stores, too, one of which was from the point of view of a paedophile, I think? But it wasn't interesting or edgy, just sort of dull.

Which is exactly what I came away thinking of Sweet Tooth. For a 350-page book, nothing much happens. It's about a girl who has always sort of liked reading, but gets pushed into doing a maths degree. At university se meets a sugar daddy professor who begins to groom her for entry into MI5, which sounds much more exciting than it is. In reality, she is more like a secretary, and she has a series of bumbling kisses with one of her superiors, and then gets selected for operation 'Sweet Tooth'.

The government are trying to foster anti-communist views, and so they want her to groom a young writer to produce works that will capture the public interest and turn them away from any lefty views. She ends up falling for the writer, however their relationship is so incredibly dull that I could barely stand to finish the book. The characters are I insipid and self-centred little children, and by the end I didn't give a shit whether they were happy/maimed/tired/dead etc. The writer doesn't know that she's really a spy, and she is terrified of him finding out. Of course her jealous ex-lover eventually tells him, and the ending of the book is an overly long, gratuitous letter berating and forgiving her at the same time and blah blah blah. So dull!

There was only one line that made me sort of laugh, so I'll repeat it here:

"She seemed at ease, almost an equal, clearly empowered to make a joke,causing him to give a shout of a laugh and place his hand on her forearm briefly, as if to say, restrain that wit of yours or you'll make my life impossible."

That's all.

Next: Vagina: A New Biography by Naomi Wolf.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

106/111 - Horns by Joe Hill

After reading and thoroughly enjoying Locke and Key I decided to buy Horns and give that a read. Last year I read Heart-Shaped Box, and enjoyed it for the most-part, but it's not my favourite. I really enjoyed Horns, though.

Horns is the story of Ig, who wakes up one morning and finds that he has a pair of devil horns growing out of his head. He soon figures put that they have a very odd effect on people, in that they can't really seem to see them, however being in front of Ig seems to make the, want to confess their deepest and most horrible desires. Ig is somewhat of a pariah after the unsolved murder of his girlfriend the year before, and with the horns he finds out that everyone around him has secretly been hating him. He also finds out other weird things, like that his local priest has been shagging all the desperate housewives in the town, and that his two local redneck cops are gay for each other. The horns also seem to make people want to act on their horrible desires, and they ask Ig for permission, however he can't force them into doing something they don't already want to do.

One of the things he finds out from his brother is the he knows who killed his girlfriend, and he makes it his mission to kill him.

The book did a really good job of switching between the past and the present, and there was also a little time loop thing that was really cool and a little sad. I guess it's about getting in touch with and embracing your darker side, but also a lot about love. It touched on lots of things that stuck with me, like early relationships and how intense they are when you're really young. There is one particular part of the book set in a treehouse that I actually found really sad and it made me shed a little tear. Very good.

I've bought Joe Hill's other book of short stories to read, and if he's anything like his dad then they will be excellent.

Next: Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan

Sunday, 26 August 2012

105/111 - Locke and Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

After some really intense non-fiction I decided to download the rest of Locke and Key which I had started reading earlier this month. I really really enjoyed it, and the series hasn't quite finished yet but I'll definitely be reading more of it.

The characters are excellent and the story is really well put together. So so clever! When the Locke family move back to Lovecraft after the murder of their family, they find all sorts of supernatural things going on in the house. The house itself has 100 keys which each have a different magical power. For example, one turns you into a ghost, one takes you back in time, one changes your gender, one gives you control of shadows, etc etc.

The villain is a demon called Dodge who is inhabiting the body of a teenage boy. He is looking for the Omega key which will open a portal into another world of demons that desperately want to get through to this world. Very good.

Next: The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson

Thursday, 23 August 2012

104/111 - The Sex Myth by Dr Brooke Magnanti

Bought this book recently and it has totally blown my mind in a lot of different ways. Really really interesting and loads of stuff to think about.

Dr Brooke Magnanti is the real name of the woman who wrote the 'Secret Diary of a Call Girl' series several years ago, which was subsequently made into a TV show. She was an anonymous blogger who was later 'outed' by a newspaper, and I found out recently that she had written and released another book earlier this year, which is not directly about sex work, however it does talk about it quite a bit.

I have read the 'Secret Diary' books but it's been a few years and I don't remember too much about them (but did enjoy reading them). I remember at the time reading some criticism of the books which claimed that they were harmful because her experiences were not representative of sex workers as a whole and that she was the exception. Most people are obviously very unhappy it sex work etc etc. At the time, I didn't question this viewpoint at all, because it was a viewpoint which was backed up by what I had heard in mainstream media my whole life. Since then, I have learned a lot more and my response to the books now would perhaps be quite different.

One of the things that Brooke points out is that people are usually very closed off and once they have made up their minds about a particular topic, they will usually only listen to evidence which supports their particular point of view. So I decided that I wanted to make a concentrated effort to approach the material with an open mind. I don't know much else about Brooke's life and career, except that she is educated and has a background in science. As it turns out she has an extensive background in research and as a statistician, which is one of the elements I found so fascinating in this book, because it's a subject I know very little about.

The book is divided into a number of chapters which are broadly broken down into different widely-held opinions regarding sex. For example, that the presence of strip clubs increases sexual assault rates, or that pornography makes men more violent towards women. Her theory is that these beliefs that many of us gold are actually based on faulty evidence and are created by various organisations and individuals who have a particular agenda that they want to force on others. Some of these beliefs are ones that I have held, pretty much without question, which is actually a pretty frightening idea, now that I think of it.

One of the best examples she talks about is the myth that sex trafficking is a huge problem, when in actual fact numbers have been inflated by the thousands. The reason that some of these numbers have been inflated so much is due to the fact that various groups have something to gain if the public believe that sex work is a terrible thing, or they have money to make in order to implement policies which fight sex trafficking. I'm not going to re-hash all the evidence here because she puts it much better than I could and if you want toerless it then you should really buy the book. But it's brilliant. Another part which I really liked was her examination of rape statistics after claims that strip clubs had increased sexual assaults in the borough of Camden. Turns out its bullshit!

I would like to think that I am suitably intelligent to know when to question statistics and news stories, however I guess I've been a little naive, which I don't mind admitting. After all, I'm not an expert and it's pretty horrifying to think that someone would make this stuff up with no scientific basis. For example, the huge moral panic regarding the sexualisation of children is pretty much a fabrication. A good example is the scandal of padded bras and thongs for little girls which was taking the nation by storm, in reality, almost no major chain stores were actually carrying this so called 'sexualising' clothing. In another instance, reports showing that pornography is unhealthy and causes violence were actually funded by a right wing Christian lobby group who had also written a report entitled 'virgins make the best Valentines'...

On the whole, it seems like these crises are pretty much entirely fabricated in order to get some sort of shady policy in place, whether it be the criminalisation of prostitution or implementation of abstinence-only education for adolescent girls. In almost every instance the studies quoted were totally unscientific and without merit of any kind. Some of the reports produced which contained interviews did not even bother to survey the group of people they were referring to. When it comes to sex work, there is a lot of time and money invested in promoting the idea that sex work is bad, exploitative, bad for sex workers' health and that they are victims. In studies where sex workers themselves were interviewed it was discovered that enjoyment and high self-esteem were actually on par (or even higher) than the general population.

Those are just a small few of the points I particularly enjoyed, but I guess what made these arguments so compelling was that they were not based on intense emotions and bad science, but that the views I had taken for granted were actually questioned in a way that used proper evidence and science to back it up. Admittedly, I guess there is a potential problem in that it could be argued that as a former sex worker, Brooke herself could be seen to have an agenda of her own. Nevertheless, her arguments were compelling and backed up with evidence, and therefore I feel confident that I have questioned my own opinions in the right way. And certainly in the future I will question much more rigorously where certain evidence comes from, or what the agenda behind it might be.

There were a couple of bits that disappointed me a little bit, one of which was that Brooke has distanced herself from the label of 'feminist'. I find this really sad because the genuinely cruel attacks she has suffered from so-called feminists are pretty appalling, and this is something that I have witnessed myself during some of the reading I have done. A little while ago I was reading some information about how certain groups of feminists are against inclusion of trans-women, or non-biological women who nevertheless consider themselves women. I was horrified by some of the things I read on blogs, which were so full of hatred. That is a part of the movement that I would also prefer to remove myself from. In addition, recently I have been trying to find a local feminist group to join in order to share ideas and fun with like-minded women. The first group I joined began to talk about lobbying against local strip clubs, which really doesn't interest me in the slightest. I also think that she's spot-on in her criticism of feminism to mainly be concerned with the needs of white middle-class women.

I disagreed slightly with her analysis of some recent books I have read, such as Natasha Walter's 'Living Dolls' and Kat Banyard's 'The Equality Illusion' because I enjoyed reading them. When I think about women and sex work, I don't have a problem with it in principle. I think that if you want to do it, then good for you. However one thing that concerns me is that I sometimes feel as though the women who are making these choices are not doing so with self-awareness, which makes me sad. There is a lot of talk about 'choice', like the choice of a woman to get her tits enlarged. It's totally a choice, she can enlarge her tits if she wants to. However it would make me sadder to meet a woman who was doing it out of social pressure to have large breasts, or to have the 'perfect' body, or to please someone else. If women are making these choices with full agency and awareness, that's totally cool. And anyway, who am I to judge?

One last thing with regards to sex trafficking of women from overseas. I think I may have written about this on here before, but during one of the internships I undertook for a publisher, I was asked to proofread a memoir by a woman who claimed to have been trafficked into prostitution and sex slavery from age 12, all the way across Europe until she was eventually kept as a sex slave and then 'saved' by a UK reporter who was doing an undercover investigation of the sex trade. The book was awful. It was supposedly written under a pseudonym because the woman who was now supposedly married and living in France was still in hiding from the men who had trafficked her. It sounded like total horse shit and was a total Cinderella story. The publishers eventually reached the point where they had out quite a lot of work into the manuscript and were starting to get worried that they were being conned. They had not yet met the author as she has kept stalling over and over again, and when they had finally made plans, she mysteriously died the following day. What a coincidence!

I never found out whether it had all been a con, but to my knowledge the book was never published. As far as I could work out, the 'translator' of the book, who worked for a sex trafficking charity, appeared to have made up the entire story, and when different members of the publishing house had been contacting the author and her family, they had in actual fact been contacting the same person behind the curtain. Odd.

Anyway, this has been long and rambling, but I really enjoyed this book, and it has definitely changed my outlook.

Next: not sure yet, haven't read any fiction in a while, so maybe I should do some of that.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

103/111 - Sexuality: A Very Short Introduction by Veronique Mottier

The second book in my spree of reading books about sex. This is one I bought recently as there was a three for two offer on the 'very short introduction' series. I have read a couple of books from this series before, with mixed results. Some have been good, others not so good. I think this is due to the fact that you can get a very mixed bag of authors when writing something like this. Obviously, you need to find someone who is an expert in their field, but who can also write an accessible and interesting volume, that is also quite short.

When I was interning for a British publisher who were producing similar guides, sort of as an introduction to a topic. One of the tasks I undertook while I was there was to perform research into potential authors for an introductory guide to particle physics. It was tough. I had to just start googling professors and experts and compiling lists of people who might be suitable. It's not as simple as that, though. One of the other things I had to do was to proofread a manuscript for a guide to modern history. It was dreadful. I can't remember who it was written by, however it was never published, as it was basically incoherent. I found it amazing that someone who is a university professor could not write a basic introduction to the subject. Awful.

Anyway, onto this book. This book was actually quite good, and very interesting. One of the better guides, a good introduction to the topic which actually makes you want to read more into the topic. Some of the bits I found interesting included:

- The history of sexuality, with a brief outline of how the ancient Greeks and Romans approached sexuality. There was a cool part where they talked about finding some ancient fossilised footprints in the floor, where a prostitute had carved the words 'follow me' into the base of their shoes to advertise their trade.

- Early Christians actually didn't believe that marriage was a good idea. They believed mostly in chastity and believed that marriage and families distracted from getting closer to God. Which is probably one of the reasons that priests are not allowed to get married, I guess? Eventually the church decided that marriage was an acceptable compromise.

- Throughout the book, it outlines the usual stuff about women having been thought of as inferior to men. It was also traditionally thought that women had sexual appetites that were out of control, and that if men had sex with them too much, then women would drain their power.

- Many feminists initially viewed the pill with suspicion as it was seen as another instrument of male control over the female body. I already knew this, but some feminists believed that women should no longer have relationships with men, at least until the balance of power became equal. Sleeping with men was regarded as sleeping with the enemy. I think this is a difficult idea to get to grips with.

- The most interesting chapter was about the state in the bedroom. I had no idea that eugenics was so widely spread throughout Europe. There was a quote in the book from someone called Margaret Sanger: 'Funds that should be used to raise the standard of our civilisation are diverted to the maintenance of those who should never have been born.' Ouch. This quote was from 1921, but it sounds like it could have been written at any time. Like during the reign of the Nazi party, or even today! It's really difficult to think about this, because on the one hand it's an awful thing to think, and totally dreadful. However, on the other hand, from a pragmatic point of view it seems to make sense that people who don't have the money or resources available to raise families should maybe not have loads and loads of kids? I don't know, it's a really uncomfortable idea because historically, eugenics was very much racially motivated. People didn't want 'undesirable' races breeding, or people with supposed 'defects'. Creepy.

- Another thing which pretty much totally horrified me was to read that during the 70s and early 80s, gay rights groups and feminist groups had alliances with paedophile groups, and they worked together for the decriminalisation of sex with children. However, this was more to do with forming alliances between groups on the grounds of solidarity, since they were all groups of marginalised people. Obviously, gay rights groups and feminists are not paedophiles. It's crazy to think that there was at one point alliances between these groups! Eventually, gay rights groups released formal statements distancing themselves from paedophile advocacy and actively began to criticise their aims.

I guess in a way it's strange to think about how much things have changed. There was a time when it was unthinkable that women should be allowed to vote, they weren't allowed to own land, and they were not supposed to enjoy sex. Until quite recently, being gay was defined as a mental illness and was criminalised in many places (and still is in some). To me, this is unthinkable, and I fully support the rights of women and people in the LGBT movement. However, will we one day look back at paedophiles and be horrified at how badly we treated them? Will sex with children one day be decriminalised? I can't imagine it happening, and I hope it doesn't. Obviously I accept that women and LGBT people are adults with their own faculties and should be allowed to live their lives in any way they want to. But children cannot give informed consent and are not physically mature enough to have sex, no it seems to me that a relationship between a child and an adult would be too much of an uneven balance of power. Gross!

So yes, very interesting book, and I have one book on sex left to read, which I will be reading next! It's called 'The Sex Myth' by Dr Brooke Magnanti, who is actually the same woman who wrote the 'Secret Diary of a Call Girl' books under a pseudonym.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

102/111 - How To Think More About Sex by Alain de Botton

This is another one of the books in the 'School of Life' series. I know of Alain de Botton but I don't think I've ever read anything by him before. To be honest I wasn't expecting a book about sex from him, as he's a philosopher and so I thought he would be pretty dry.

He's got some interesting ideas about sex and the way we regard it and its part in our lives, and I don't agree with all of the. I didn't agree with his take on pornography. At one point he seems to suggest that religion and restrictions placed on women might be seen in a more positive light, in that it means that we are not always thinking about sex and it doesn't detract from our development and creativity. I think that's bollocks, personally.

However there were loads of bits that I thought were really interesting. His take on monogamy and infidelity is interesting, and he proposes that it's actually very hard. He also proposes (in a kind way) that the person who has been cheated on should also take some of the responsibility for the infidelity (of course, in cases where neither party is just a dick, more like if they have a stable relationship but have drifted apart sexually). He proposes that long term couples who manage to remain monogamous should express more gratitude for the faithfulness of their spouses, to acknowledge that fact. And that infidelity isn't always the end of a relationship. Strange to think of, because for me it has always signalled the eventual end of a relationship, either through a transgression of some sort, or the discovery of a transgression later on. Do we take these things too personally? Is monogamy realistic? I'm not necessarily sure I think it's unrealistic, but certainly difficult. Conversations I've had in the past about opening things up more in relationships have ended badly, however I think it's unrealistic to think that one person can be everything to you, forever. People change, get bored, have different needs, etc.

I also found it really interesting to read his ideas about how it's actually sometimes harder to be intimate with someone the longer you have known them and the closer you are. In this instance, he's talking about sex, however I have experienced for example it's sometimes easier to talk to a stranger about difficult things instead of people you're close to. It's sad but I guess it shows an inability to be vulnerable physically/emotionally. When he' talking about sex, he says that part of this difficulty is to do with 'shifting registers between the everyday and the erotic'.

I also really enjoyed that he talks about how hard it can be to love someone and again, how unrealistic expectations are nowadays with regards to romantic love. I'm not going to try and paraphrase what he says, so I'll just quote it: 'we can achieve a balanced view of adult love not by remembering what it felt like to be loved as a child [which is our first exposure to love] but rather by imagining what it took for our parents to love us - namely, a great deal of work.'

This was an interesting book, but I found it it be a little utopian in places. A lot of these ideas assume that people are balanced and generally good and able to act with the best intentions, and open up themselves and be bigger people. And people generally just aren't that good natured all of the time.

Next: not sure yet.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

101/111 - Locke and Key (volume 1) by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

Something I haven't done for a while is read any graphic novels, for a combination of reasons, so I decided to give it a go on the iPad. Firstly, it seems to be quite a bit cheaper than buying the graphic novels, so that's a plus. And it's a little more accessible - I don't have to carry around this huge thing with me that I'll only read once or end up damaging in some way. I ALS wanted to see how they would look on the iPad's display.

The experience of reading it was pretty good, and I liked the way the images looked on the iPad, very clear and bright. It didn't work so well in landscape mode, so I had it in portrait mode instead. The iPad comics also have this function called 'guided view' where the iPad will scroll through each individual panel in the correct order. I didn't like this. Firstly, if you have so much trouble reading comics that you can't read the frames in the correct order, you're probably an idiot. Secondly, I didn't like it because it seemed to detract from the overall effect of the page. It chopped things up too much, and the panels weren't a high enough resolution to keep the image quality, and it also meant that you're constantly swiping to the next panel. So I kept it in full page mode.

I enjoyed the story so far - its about a family whose father is murdered, and so they move back to his childhood home in a creepy old house that has loads of supernatural stuff going on. I'd like to continue reading it to see where it goes, but I haven't decided yet if it's worth the money at the moment. We'll see. With comics I tend to prefer reading a story once a large chunk has already been published, because I can't be bothered wiring week on week for things to unfold. I'm the same way with TV shows.

Not sure what's next, only ten books left, better make them good ones!

Reaching 100

I've done it! I have reached 100 books. It took me a year and a half to get there, but I have reached it. I still have 11 more books to go before I reach 111. Obviously. I wonder how it will feel? Will I feel good? Bad? Neither?

Should I do anything special for the remaining 11 books, or should I continue as normal? I should probably start to think about what I'll do when this is all over. Will I continue, or move onto something new, or just stop altogether?

Who knows. I have a little while longer to think about things in any case.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

100/111 - How to Stay Sane by Philippa Perry

Finally finished reading this after buying it at the airport a little while ago once I had finished everything I had already brought with me. I have already bought a couple of books from this series, which is called 'The School of Life' but this is the first one in the series I have actually read.

I think the idea of this series of books is kind of like the 'very short introductions' but more like for psychology and development, I guess. I have two other titles in the series, one about work and one about sex.

This book was surprisingly similar to 'Rip It Up' which I read recently. Again, it talks a lot about behaviour and the way that affects the way we feel, and it also explores how much choice we have in the way we react to things and the way we shape our lives. I especially liked the parts about how we end up repeating the same patterns in our lives over and over again, and if we eventually want to break out of them, then we have to recognise them and acknowledge them and do something to change them. That sounded way too deep.

I think I'm struggling for things to say because I'm also watching the closing ceremony of the Olympics while I'm writing this, and it's SO DULL. Holy shit, it's awful. I didn't see any of the opening ceremony, so I can only hope it was more interesting. I'm only watching it in the hopes of seeing the Spice Girls soon.

That's all for now. This was a fairly cool book but didn't blow me away or anything. There's a couple of things I want to try next, so not totally sure what I'll be reading.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

99/111 - UR by Stephen King

Since I bought my iPad I decided that I ought to try reading on it to see how it feels and whether or not I like it. I decided to download a couple of things that in the past have only been available as an e-book to kill two birds with one stone.

I decided to read UR by Stephen King first, because it had only been available as a Kindle download for ages. I don't have a Kindle but luckily there is a Kindle app, which I downloaded so that I could read this. It was all pretty simple, and once I had downloaded my book, I was ready to go.

At first, I actually felt pretty hesitant about reading it. It didn't feel like the right time, or I wasn't comfortable, or something. In the end I decided to just start reading it at work and go for it. It was okay. I didn't like the Kindle app as much as the iBooks app, because it looks less like a real book and is more like reading a PDF. Then I decided to finis reading the rest of the book when I got home. Eventually, it got late and so I decided to switch the iPad to white on lack mode for reading in the dark, which was actually pretty cool, and I ended up finishing the book. I wanted to add a screenshot of this, however it doesn't look like I can take one of the night mode, so whatever.

I wouldn't say I disliked reading on the iPad, but it was definitely a different experience. There was a strange sense of the unknown, in that I had no idea how far through the book I was unless I checked the cursor at the bottom of the screen. Which isn't a problem, really. The app also kept my place in the book, so that whenever I closed the app, my place was kept when I re-opened it. I think that these things probably impacted me more than reading from a screen, as I'm quite a physical reader. I fold pages and I crack spines. If I come away from reading a book and it's in perfect condition, I feel like I haven't properly absorbed it. I tend to keep most of my books, but I treat them badly while I have them.

Anyway, onto the story itself. Funnily enough, this is a story about an English professor who decides to buy a Kindle to impress his ex-girlfriend. His Kindle arrives in an unmarked box with no paperwork, and is also pink instead of white, like everyone else's. At first he doesn't question this, however when he visits the Kindle store he finds an unpublished work by Earnest Hemingway for sale, and his mind is blown. He shares this information with a colleague and a student and together they figure out that this Kindle is somehow a portal showing books and news from alternate realities. One of the options is to look to future news, which is when Wesley discovers that something terrible is about to happen. Should he interfere, and break the Paradox Laws, or should he wait and see what unfolds?

I really liked this and did a little cheer inside when I saw that this linked into the DarkTower universe (yay!) It was quite short and sweet, but that's okay, it was more of a novella than a novel. Makes me want to get back into the Dark Tower again. Maybe I will. Still haven't read The Wind Through the Keyhole.

Next: back to real books and time to finis How to Stay Sane by Philippa Perry.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012


So I've been um-ing and ah-ing for a while now about whether to get an iPad. I use them a lot in my day to day work life, but I had never really thought about using one in my spare time. However, it's become fairly obvious to me recently that if I want to do better at my job and have a better understanding in general then I really ought to get used to using the thing in my real life, too. I've had this iPad for about 3 hours now and so far so good!

One of the things that I have really resisted is reading on an e-reader/iPad, and my opinion hasn't really changed much so far. Nevertheless, I have bought a couple of short stories and magazines to try out on the iPad to see how I get along.

Deep down, I'm sure it won't be all that bad, but I'm still a firm believer that I will never truly be able to switch to e-books from paper books. I still love the physical object of books too much. To me, there is nothing quite like having a wander in my local bookshop and picking books up and choosing things in a whim based on my mood, or what looks good, or even what cover feels good in my hands. With e-books, I would lose all that. Where would the joy of browsing be? It's not anything to do with snobbery, for me it's more to do with imagination and the feeling I get when I sit with a book and pick it up, and turn the pages and crack the spine. That, for me, is such a huge part of the enjoyment. It's too impersonal otherwise. But still, I promise to give it a try.

98/111 - The Humorist by Russell Kane

This is yet another book I bought very recently. I bought this on a whim, pretty much, which is totally usual for me. But what was not so usual was the subject matter, as I am not really a massive comedy nut. Don't get me wrong, I love comedy and I love to laugh, but I don't actually tend to watch a lot of stand-up mostly because I tend to find it quite obnoxious. There are a certain few comics that I like, such as Stewart Lee, mostly of the grumpy old man variety. But I really hate people like Russell Brand and Michael McIntyre. Too chirpy and loud for my taste.

This novel is written by Russell Kane, who is a comedian, although I am not at all familiar with his comedy. The novel itself is about comedy and death and how laughing and jokes make us human. The novel opens on a scene where hundreds of people are lying dead, while Benjamin, a comedy critic, is the only one left alive. It soon becomes apparent that he is responsible for the deaths of the audience members after telling them the most deadly joke alive. The novel is about how he cms to learn this joke.

I liked Benjamin because he was an outcast, but he wasn't totally stony and cold, he is actually quite self-deprecating. He is born into a family where laughter is always dominant, however from the moment he is born, he can sense and deconstruct jokes, but he is nt affected by their humour. He is totally immune to laughter, and so is seen as an unnatural being and is eventually sent away to a special school where he learns to hone his talents. Eventually he gains employment as a the most hated comedy critic in England.

Eventually, he comes across a manuscript whic alludes to a formula for pure humour and Benjamin makes it his quest to master the formula at any cost.

This was quite an interesting book, and I really enjoy stories where there is a sort of 'imagine if we lived in a world where....' principle is in action. Imagine if a joke cold be so bad that it would kill you to hear it. It was also quite dark in a lot of places, and a little odd (Benjamin is in love with his cousin, for example) but I liked it. It was also quite interesting from a historical perspective, since I know nothing about the history of humour, and I'm impressed that Russell Kane has put so much research nd effort into creating this world.

Maybe I'll check out some of his stand-up after all.

Next: How to Stay Sane by Philippa Perry.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

97/111 - What I Do by Jon Ronson

I have enjoyed Jon Ronson's books so much that I finally bought the last one that I hadn't read to take on holiday with me to Barcelona. Again, it was hilarious. I can't believe I didn't know about him sooner, I enjoyed it so so much. I was reading by a swimming pool and giggling to myself madly.

It's quite similar in format to the last book in that the first half contains a series of Jon's columns outlining the blunders of his daily life. He is absolutely amazing at articulating that annoying and maddeningly neurotic little voice in your head that chatters non-stop. The voice that thinks things that you would never speak out loud to anyone. I really feel like the way he sees himself is quite similar to the way I see myself, I'm constantly looking back on incidents of my life and feeling like a fool, in a good-natured sort of way.

The second part of the book is a series of short essays/explorations of different institutions, some of which include the gameshow 'Deal or No Deal' and the superstitions that surround it. I also really enjoyed reading the chapter about the banking industry and they way they calculate who they will bombard with adverts for new credit cards. Very creepy and sinister stuff.

That's all for now. I really enjoyed reading this and it made me very happy. I hope he writes more books soon.

Next: The Humorist by Russell Kane

96/111 - Rip It Up by Richard Wiseman

I bought this book also very recently, as it was new and on offer, and I have wanted to read some of Richard Wiseman's stuff for a while now, but have never gotten around to buying any of it. I was also quite interested in some of the ideas that it explored.

This book is part self-help and part pop-psychology, and it was really interesting and also quite difficult for me to grasp because it turns quite a lot of ideas about our behaviour and the way we feel on its head. Ordinarily, most people will go about their lives thinking that the way they think influences the way they behave and the way they feel. For example, if you want to feel happy, think happy thoughts, imagine yourself as a happy person and visualise yourself as happy, and then it will follow that you become a happy person. However, what Richard Wiseman is suggesting is that the opposite is true. If you want to be a happy person, then behave like one. If you act happy, with a spring in your step, and smiling to yourself (even if you don't feel happy) then it will follow that you feel happy and become happy.

For me, this was quite difficult to get my head around because it seems quite unnatural and even a little false. I'm not sure that I could go around smiling even though I'm not happy in order to feel happy. However, the experiments that Richard Wiseman references all show that this can be acheived. He calls if the 'as if' principle. As in, if you behave 'as if' you're happy/confident/sexy/in love/powerful, THEN you will feel that way. So you have to ACT in that way. As an example, he says that if you want to feel more confident and powerful, then act as if you are already that way. Stand up straight, clench your fist for resolve, keep your chin up and look people directly in the eye. If you behave in this way (or in a way to would think a confident person behaves) you will then feel more confident as a result. He also uses the example of actors in films who have to act as though they are in love, and then end up getting together/having affairs in real life.

I found this idea really interesting, and in the book there is a series of exercises you can use to apply this principle to your own life. I'd like to try some of them to see if it does have an effect, because if so, then it's really fucking simple and you can create whatever personality/mood for yourself that you desire. However it also seems that it could be quite difficult. At one point, he talks about how we almost have two people within us. We have one which interprets the signs around us, and we have another person which makes up a narrative about those signs. For example, am I cold because I'm shivering, or am I shivering because I'm cold? It's really difficult to understand, however it's very tempting to take on board and try.

We'll see how it goes.

I found the historical parts more interesting than the self-help-y parts, mostly because I enjoyed reading about these ideas in practice and how they turned out for the people involved. Fascinating and confusing stuff.

Next: What I Do by Jon Ronson

95/111 - Them by Jon Ronson

I bought this recently because I've recently really been enjoying Jon Ronson's writing, and this was also delightful. The tagline of the book is 'adventures with extremists' and the premise of the book is Jon's investigation into a bunch of groups that are widely regarded as extremists of one form or another - right-wing nuts, religious extremists and followers of David Icke are among those featured in the book - all of whom believe that the world is controlled by a secret group of people who are in the background pulling all the strings.

For some of these groups, when they say 'the elite' what they really mean is 'Jews', and there is a lot of racism here, some of it coming from the mouths of people who don't consider themselves to be racist. Jon spends time with different members of these groups, sometimes getting along with them, and other times not - but all the while he tries to evaluate whether or not there is any truth to their claims. And in classic neurotic Jon Ronson style, he starts to wonder whether he is also becoming sucked into their world.

I really liked the chapters about Omar Bakri, the friendly terrorist who enlists Jon's help to help with his image, and Dr. Ian Paisley, a grumpy Presbyterian minister. However by far the creepiest part of the book was the overall theme of Jon trying to establish if there really is a 'new world' order' and actually coming fairly close to finding something.

He starts to find out more and more about a so-called 'Bilderberg Group', made up of influential people from across the world, which includes CEOs of large corporations and politicians and ex-world leaders. Supposedly, they get together each year in a different location across the globe, and make decisions about what course the world should take. In some form or another, all the people that Jon encounters throughout his journey believe that a group of this sort exists and is making decisions about the world that are detrimental to their particular cause. Jon goes to Portugal with a member of such a group who claims that there is a meeting about to take place in one of the hotels. I assumed that it would be some sort of flim-flam, and that Jon would end up sort of shrugging his shoulders, however to my surprise, people start showing up. Lots of people, of the very influential sort.

I really enjoyed this book, and I don't really know enough about the 'new world order' to judge whether such a thing exists. I certainly believe that there are certain institutions out there which are acting in their own interests, however on the whole I think most humans are too stupid and lazy to maintain a conspiracy on a global level. Who can find the time to cover up so many lies? However I hope it goes without saying that I definitely do not believe in a global conspiracy of Jews....

Next: Rip It Up by Richard Wiseman

Sunday, 1 July 2012

94/111 - The Guardians by Sarah Manguso

I bought this book yesterday and I have already finished it. It's only about 100 pages long, so it's not too drastic to have read the whole thing in one day, but this was easy.

I had read about this book on the Granta website, and I was expecting it to be in the fiction section for some reason. I spent ages in Waterstones looking for it in fiction, the new books, the hardbacks, with no luck. Then it occurred to me that it must be in the biography section, as the book seemed to be based on the author's life. It was there.

The book is about Sarah and her relationship with her friend Harris, and about the grieving process she goes through after he escapes from a locked mental health ward and throws himself in front of a train. She reflects back on the time they spent together as friends, on the year following his death and the year just before his death, as well as the first year of her marriage with her husband.

In pretty heavy contrast to Neverland, this is a book which used seemingly disparate passages and vignettes really well, and the result was moving and emotional. Very bare and sparse, and brave.

I guess I'm pretty fortunate at this stage in my life that no one really close to me has died, and definitely not under such tragic circumstances. For now, the most important people in my life are untouched by disease and disaster. All the same, I was stunned by the grief that she expresses in the loss of her friend. I was even jealous of it, a little. Is there anyone who would feel that way if I died? Do I have a link as strong as that with anyone on this earth?

Of course, the answer is yes, but the way she expresses it is so crisp and startling, like biting into a lemon. That sounds stupid but that's how it made me feel. I loved the way she talks about the hole left in her life, and her speculations of what he must have been thinking for during the last ten unaccounted-for hours of his life.

One of the things she touches on periodically throughout the book is the possibility that Harris was suffering from a side effect of some anti-psychotic medication which caused him to finally commit suicide. Akathisia is described as an unbearable restlessness and inner tension, described by some as a sort of inner torture resulting from the medication. One of the haunting images that she keeps going back to is this image of Harris being administered this medication in order to alleviate his psychosis and subsequently becoming overwhelmed by the need to move around, which caused him to elope from the hospital and walk around for ten hours until he can't bear it anymore, and he throws himself in front of a train.

Really haunting, and really enjoyable.

Next: Them by Jon Ronson

93/111 - Neverland by Simon Crump

This is another one of the books I started reading on holiday, however I hadn't really enjoyed it that much while I was out there so I decided I'd try to give it another go before giving up. I still didn't like it, and ultimately couldn't be bothered to finish it.

The book's tagline is 'the unreal Michael Jackson story', and so I had assumed it would be some sort of satirical take on his life, or maybe even at least have some sort of narrative structure. Unfortunately not. The book seems to consist of a patchwork of fragments, and I've no idea whether they are supposed to be linked in any way. Some of them do appear to be linked, for example a series of snippets between Michael Jackson and Uri Geller (who I take it were friends while MJ was still alive).

They weren't unenjoyable as such, there was just absolutely nothing which compelled me to carry on reading them. The book and the writing stirred up a sort of feeling in me which I can remember a little from reading something like Light Boxes by Shane Jones, or Sarah by JT Leroy. Only less good. This was fairly dull and didn't evoke any feeling in me whatsoever, and ultimately I gave up reading because if the author can't be bothered to engage me with the writing, then I can't be bothered to use my time reading it. Done!

I feel like recently I have been quite cavalier with books and I have given up on quite a few of them. Maybe I'm just not very good at picking out books at the moment?

Next: I'm putting aside J-Pod for the moment, as I've had enough of Douglas Coupland for the time being, and I'm going to read The Guardians by Sarah Manguso.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Interlude: A bunch of Feminist Magazines

I've always been pretty interested in Feminism, however I made it one of my resolutions to get more involved in it and continue learning more about it. So, I decided to subscribe to some feminist magazines to open up my horizons. I have since subscribed to Bust, Bitch and Ms. magazines.

I had saved up a bunch of issues to take with me on holiday to read by the pool, and they were pretty enjoyable.

Bitch - this was my favourite out of the magazines, not least because my friends were impressed by the boldness of the title. I even got some of the men reading it, although I'm not sure it was for the right reasons. I think they were a little surprised by the frankness of some of the articles, but it was all pretty good. I really enjoyed the design of the magazine, and I also really liked the range of the articles. Some of them were short and punchy, and there were also longer, more investigative pieces which were also really interesting, and a lot of them covered issues I'd never really thought about before. I'll definitely carry on with this one.

Bust - this was pretty feminist-y, but I guess this was the most mainstream of all the magazines. However, still really enjoyable and it's amazing how refreshing it is to read a magazine that doesn't have shitloads of dieting tips, or advice on how to 'please your man'.

Ms. - this was the most serious of the magazines, and I haven't quite finished reading all the articles yet. Again, it has some really interesting stuff in. However, this magazine is quarterly rather than monthly, and then by the time it actually reaches me from the US, a lot of the issues are things I've already read about. It is also aimed quite heavily at US readers and has a lot of local US issues. I haven't finished reading them yet, so I'll hold off on that conclusion for now.

It's a little sad that you have to go so far out of your way to find something inoffensive for women's magazines, but I'm glad that publications like this exist and I'm happy to subscribe to these so that I have something to read that isn't going to make me feel terrible about myself. I love when that happens.