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