Sunday, 29 December 2013

171/111 - It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

This is one of the books I received for my birthday yesterday, and since I've been hungover in my flat all day today, I decided to crack this open to read and I blasted through it. It's been on my amazon wishlist now for a couple of years, but I never got around to buying it because I don't buy much from there and this is an American book, so none of the bookshops I go to really carry it. The reason I asked for it for my birthday is that the author died a couple of weeks ago after committing suicide, and I knew his book was about some time he had spent in a psychiatric hospital during his twenties.

Supposedly the book is 85% based on Ned's real life experiences, with some changes to the characters' names and his own age too, I guess. He was in his twenties when he admitted himself voluntarily to a psychiatric ward after thinking of committing suicide, and was there for around a week. In the book, Craig (who is the narrator) goes through so etching very similar, however is is still a teenager rather than in his twenties.

The first half of the book covers Craig's life and how he is having difficulty coping with the rat race he sees himself in. He's constantly pushing himself to work harder and harder, desperate to get into a 'good' school, get 'good' grades, go to a 'good' college and get a 'good' job. Nothing he ever does is good enough, and he puts himself under an enormous amount of strain to fulfil on things he's not even really sure he wants. Hm, sounds familiar....

Eventually the strain catches up with him and he becomes depressed and suicidal and admits himself to hospital. In the hospital he meets a bunch of people and seems to get some perspective on his life, and also meets a girl who is going through something similar and they seem to connect. At the end, he leaves the hospital intact and hopeful for the future after re-discovering his love of art.

I liked this overall, there were some funny and quite touching parts. There were quite a few bits which I thought were superfluous to the flow of the story, there was a lot of dialogue that I skipped over because it wasn't really adding anything to the story and wasn't particularly good either. I also didn't like Craig's inner 'soldier' personality, I would have left that out because it didn't really seem necessary to make him more interesting or relatable. I liked it overall and I just wanted to read it after hearing that the author had died recently, which probably makes me some kind of a morbid bitch, but I just thought it was interesting, as well as pretty sad that the illness took over in the end.

I guess it was kind of surprising to reflect on his suicide after reading the book, as there were so many moments where Craig is contemplating it but ultimately decides to get help instead of carrying it out, but after decades of being unwell it probably grinds you down.

Christmas and Birthday

It's been Christmas recently and it was also my birthday yesterday, and of course most of what I asked for was bookish in nature. From my boyfriend I received a really cool pillow for my iPad which I have also been using to prop up books. I hadn't realised how hefty an iPad or a book could be on my poor delicate female wrists, so I'm pleased with the addition to my reading equipment.

I will probably be reading a lot of the books I received over the next few weeks, very exciting. Thank god for Amazon wishlists!

170/111 - Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

This is a review I actually forgot to write earlier this year, as I. Never finished the book. I remember receiving a proof copy of Swamplandia! when I interned at Vintage books, so I've had it for almost three years now, but the copy wasn't very well bound so I eventually bought an actual copy of the book. I thought that it was the binding of the proof copy which was making it difficult for me to read the book, so I expected to get along a lot better with the 'real' copy of the book, however on reflection, I suspect it may have been the content rather than the binding of the book.

This makes me want to talk about a couple of things: first of all, am I sometimes justified in judging a book by its cover or overall physical quality; and secondly, what do I do when I really want to like a book, and everything points towards the probability that I will like it, but that I just don't like it much?

The first one is a little easier to dissect for me, as I do see books as lovely objects, and so a nice-looking book for me makes the content seem more desirable, which is perhaps a little shallow but with all the books I read, I really want to enjoy the entire experience, and the aesthetics of the book also contribute to this. I haven't ever really given much thought to book design or book production, although there are lots of publishing houses out there that do, and as a consumer of books I benefit from the care and attention they put into the designs of their books. Because this is important to me, I dislike buying books that feel cheap, have overly shiny books covers, cheap or thin paper with a tiny typeface which makes it a struggle to read, etc etc. so when I first didn't really get on with Swamplandia! I thought it might be because of the quality of the proof copy over the finished copy. The finished copy was much better in terms of quality of paper, typeface, cover design, but I still found it really difficult to connect with the story.

Which I guess brings me onto my next point - I really wanted to like this book. The premise sounded fantastic, and Karen Russell is a young female author whose work I generally tend to enjoy, so everything suggested that I would like this. I've experienced something similar with a couple of other books this year too, that I felt slightly disappointed by even though by all accounts they should have been right up my street. The ones I didn't finish I haven't written about here, because I think like with Swamplandia!, I fully intend to give them another go, perhaps when I'm in a different frame of mind. When I first started this blog I had decided that my methods of selection for what I would read next would be totally random depending on what I picked out, however I've moved away from that, and I'm not sure it's really the best way to select reading material. I love the idea of randomly selecting what I'm going to be reading and having my eyes opened, or getting some unexpected perspective on something, but in reality it doesn't really work for me.

Friday, 27 December 2013

169/111 - The Owl Killers by Karen Maitland

This book was assigned to me by my book club, which I'm quite pleased by as I would probably never normally read a book like this as I'm not really into historical fiction of any sort, but it's good not to pigeonhole myself I guess. I was also pretty intimidated by the size of this book - on my iPhone this was over 2000 pages long, which was pretty hefty. Since it was something I don't normally read, I put off starting it for ages and ages as there was other stuff I needed to do which seemed more important than committing to 2000 pages of something that I might not enjoy. Then I remembered that I would be letting downy fellow book club-ees if I didn't read this in time, so I knuckled down and got to the task.

I ended up really enjoying the book. It's set in the Middle Ages of England, in a desolate village called Ulewic. It follows the narrative voices of several different characters; a small girl, a priest, a teenage girl who has been cast out by her father, and the head of a new beguinage. What on earth is a beguinage? Glad you asked. It turns out that these are sort of similar to nunneries, in that they are communes of women of a religious nature, however the women do not take vows and are free to come and go as they please, although they do have rules and duties to abide by while they are there. There are loads of these in Belgium, and they tried to start some up in England with little success, as they were seen as witches or defying the Church in some way.

The story is about how this order of powerful men known as the Owl Masters try to take control of the village through fear, and how the different groups of people try to stand up to them in different ways. I really liked the story and it kept my interest up the whole way through, and I think the fact that it had so much historical information in it meant that I was also doing some learning without really realising (sneaky books!) which was really cool.

A couple of bits I didn't like so much were the narratives of Beatrice and Father Ulfrid. I found both of them to be so unreasonable and blind as to be unbelieveable. Beatrice has a grudge against Osmanna because she kills her unborn child, and she resents this deeply because she's unable to have children of her own, however I found the level of hatred a little pantomime-ish. Same with Father Ulfrid, who is so weak and spineless, and also spiteful. I found both of these characters to be as little two-dimensional and not very interesting to read. However the others made up for it, I think.

I was also confused by some of the names, as there was a male character called Hilary, which is semi-normal but there was also a female character called Andrew, which was odd but made me laugh. I also really enjoyed the fact that all the women in the beguinage were called Martha, which reminded me of The Handmaid's Tale and made me feel super clever.

I'm kind of curious as to what it would be like to live in a place like this - not in the time, obviously, I like my creature comforts like central heating and modern medicine, but I mean more like giving up your life to go and live as part of a religious order and doing nothing but praying and fulfilling your duties. I imagine that it might be quite relaxing for a bit but that it might become dull eventually, just like most things. In my naïveté I imagine myself sitting around reading books for a lot of the time and then maybe doing some sweeping and tending some goats. It's probably not much like that.

So in all, I enjoyed this a lot. Perhaps I'll have to give historical novels more of a chance in future, and as I'd really like to read some Hilary Mantel, that could work out quite well for me.

168/111 - Pyongyang by Guy Delisle

I actually bought this as a Christmas present this year for a couple of people as it looked really interesting so I sneaked a look at it earlier this afternoon. It's an autobiographical graphic novel told by Guy, who is an animator who goes to work in Pyongyang for a few months, and he talks about his experiences living in this slightly mysterious city.

I've had a few conversations about North Korea with people recently and so thought this might be a good introduction to the subject as I know very little about it, save for what I've seen in Team America World Police, which probably isn't all that accurate. In other pop culture references, I also really enjoyed the chapter on North Korea in World War Z where it talks about the North Korean people gradually disappearing into the tunnels under the cities, and the narrator of the chapter wonders whether one day a tunnel to their underground city might burst open and millions of undead will come flooding out. Spooky.

Anyway, Guy talks about some of the different aspects of day to day life living as a foreigner in North Korea, for example that the hotel lights are only lit on his floor, as this is where all the foreigners are staying, whilst the rest of the floors are dark. He talks about how the people are constantly preparing for a war that might break out at any second, and that any day now they hope that they might be reunited with South Korea. He has a guide with him at all times and exploring in areas without his guide is frowned upon. He doesn't ever encounter any really threatening situation or anything really chilling, it's more just the gradual daily things which are so insidious.

I just can't comprehend it, and yet I suppose I have a similarly skewed perspective of the world having grown up in Western Europe, so how would I ever know I'm not the one being brainwashed like the North Korean people? I'm pretty sure there must be some things that I just take in without question, but how is it possible to exist totally outside your culture or outside history?

167/111 - Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

I've known for ages that this book was coming out and I was a big fan of the blog. I decided to download it and read it recently has I has sort of missed the release date, but really wanted to read the book.

I don't really know what to say about this other than that I loved it. There was some content from the blog and a whole bunch of new content, and it was all great and I stormed through it in a couple of days. It was pretty unusual compared to most of the books I read as there were loads of illustrations throughout the book, just like the blog, and they really add to the hilarity of all the situations.

There was so much more I wanted to write about this that's sort of slipped away from me because I read it quite a while ago now, damn. I really love the way she writes, her voice, her sense of humour, her illustration, it's all great. The honesty is also really touching in the parts where she reveals details of her personal life. All great, and look forward to reading more.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Some thoughts for December 2013

It's coming close to the end of 2013 and there are some things playing on my mind that I feel like exploring a little bit here.

First of all, I will have been keeping this blog and this record for three years come January, which is a pretty big deal I guess. I initially started out this project as a way of documenting what I read, as I read so much that I found I had a tendency to forget what I felt about certain books after I read them. In my time working for bookshops and publishers I had also acquired a growing number of books and I guess I wanted some way of cataloguing what I owned and what I was reading, etc.

While I was still involved in the book industry, there was more of a drive to this, I guess, in that I was keeping up more with book-related news, and it was using social media to make connections with people I found interesting or just to see what was going on.

Which I guess leads me on to 'secondly', which is that I'm not really sure what the purpose of this blog is anymore. I'm fairly certain I don't have any readers, so who is my audience and who am I writing for? Myself? I feel like my voice (whatever that is) has a slight self-consciousness to it in that I know that people can read this, but I'm not really expecting them to. As a result I think a lot of my writing on here has become sloppy and not particularly passionate. My 'reviews' tend to focus on whether or not I enjoyed a book, rather than looking at it critically in any way, or thinking about it deeply. And that's fine! To a certain extent. However it's also becoming apparent to me that it's not particularly satisfying, either. So I guess I need to make a decision with this. I need to either close up shop and make this private if no one is ever going to see it and it's just a record for myself, or I need to re-commit and throw myself into it again, put some thought into the words I'm stringing together and put myself out there. To what end? I'm not really sure.

What I am sure of is that I love reading. I love being transported into another world, I love seeing things from someone else's point of view, I love learning, I love becoming invested in the stories and the characters, I love the loyalties to my various favourite authors who I can rely on to provide this transportation to their world.

I haven't read nearly as many books this year as I did in 2011 and 2012, which makes me kind of sad, because books are my thing and if I'm not passionate about them then I'm not really passionate about anything, and I'm just not really doing much with myself, I guess.

I don't know what I want to do with myself in the future of my life - whether I want a career, or whether I want to settle down, or whether I want to travel, but I know that I pretty much need books to be a part of it in some way.

I think that's as good a place as any to start making a commitment from.

166/111 - The Round House by Louise Erdrich

I've been wanting to read this book ever since it won the National Book Awards in the US last year. I've never really read anything in this genre before - I guess I would count this as slightly historical being set in the 80s :) and set in Native American culture, which I also know nothing about.

The only other book I have read which was also set in Native American culture was a book I found at a book exchange at a hotel in Mexico. The book was a cheap romance novel called Bold Wolf and it had a really salacious cover. I think I may have even torn the cover off an kept it after ditching the book because it was so camp. Bold Wolf was about a young lady whose name I forget who has a forbidden love affair with a young Native American man called Bold Wolf. There's plenty of bodice ripping and sauciness throughout however it was also pretty racially insensitive, I remember thinking at the time. It passed some of the hours on a long bus journey, so I guess it wasn't all bad.

Anyway, I'm not here to talk about Bold Wolf, I'm here to talk about The Round House.

This obviously has a very different feel to it. It's the story told from the point of view of a teenage boy called Joe who lives on a reservation with his family. One day his mother is brutally attacked, which damages her mentally as well as physically. Joe becomes consumed with finding out who attacked his mother as well as grappling with different relationships with members of his family. I really liked Joe as a narrator and I loved the way this book showed the different family and community groups so richly. Some of the stories and characters were hilarious, and others, like Linda's, were pretty tragic. But all of them were really interesting, and so I wasn't just reading a story about this particular incident and Joe's struggle with it, but I was also getting a bit of a history and anthropology lesson at the same time, in a very entertaining way.

Louise Erdrich appears to have won several awards for her writing, and yet I had never come across her before hearing about this novel last year, which is strange I guess. Maybe she's more popular in the US, but in the UK I had never come across her before. I would definitely read more of her work, a lot of which is set against the backdrop of Native American culture. According to Wikipedia, she is also part Native American which is great because I guess it means she can write from experience to a certain extent. I don't know if I would class that as something essential to the writing but I think it certainly helps. This was really interesting as it's a culture and a history I know nothing about, so I enjoyed what I learned.

Friday, 6 December 2013

165/111 - Joyland by Stephen King

Of course I was going to end up reading this at some point! I've actually had this for a few months but had been saving it for my holiday that I am currently on. I really like reading Stephen King in large chunks because I find myself getting so caught up in the story. Reading it in dribs and drabs of ten pages here and there is really unsatisfying for me, so I wanted a good chunk of time where I could just read this uninterrupted.

It's part of the Hard Case Crime series, like The Colorado Kid, so I think I hesitated a little reading this because I'm not a huge crime nut, but when I read this it didn't really fall into the category of crime as I see it in my mind. I guess it was more of a mystery, which is fine as that's probably an off-shoot that comfortably fits into this genre.

It's set in the 70s and told from the point of view of an older Devin Jones who is remembering the year after his first year of college where he went to work in a theme park called Joyland. He moves for the summer to work at the park, makes new friends, gets his heart broken and tries to solve the mystery of who killed Linda Grey on the haunted house ride. Throughout the course of this he learns a lot of stuff about life, which sounds really cheesy but I'm too lazy to articulate it any better at the moment.

I really enjoyed this, as I almost always do with Stephen King books, and I don't think there's really any need for me to elaborate on that any more than I already have. It kept me enthralled with a good story and compelling characters that made me want to read and read and not stop, and that's pretty much all I ask for in a book.

164/111 - Naomi's Room by Jonathan Aycliffe

I downloaded this book onto my iPad to read on holiday in Cornwall. I was hoping for a nice scary read while in a cottage somewhere so I could sort of snuggle up under a blanket while being creeped out. I think I first read about it online somewhere.

The story is told from the point of view of Charles, who is an old man I think, who is writing down an account of the haunting of his house by his daughter Naomi. He describes his perfect life with his wife Laura and their adorable daughter Naomi, and how one day on a shopping trip in London, Naomi is abducted. Several days later, her mutilated body turns up and Charles and Laura are totally grief-stricken. There are no leads in the murder, however after several weeks, they start to experience some ghostly happenings in the house, and it becomes clear that Naomi is haunting the house.

Then there are some twists - the police detective who is investigating the murder also turns up dead at the site where Naomi's body was found, and then Charles starts getting involved with a journalist who claims to have photos of the house with the ghost of Naomi in them. They start to investigate and sort of start to get to the route of things. Turns out, there is an evil presence in the house from the previous occupant, who was a doctor who went mad and killed his family. He is also haunting the house along with the ghosts of his dead wife and daughters. Then the journalist turns up dead. Then, for some reason, Charles becomes possessed by the ghost of the dead doctor and rapes his wife and sister and murders his niece and then buries their bodies behind a wall in the attic.


I was really enjoying the book up until this weird plot twist, which to me seemed totally bizarre and came out of nowhere. It was really creepy and atmospheric. I don't know what I was expecting - maybe for them to put their daughter to rest, or get rid of the evil spirit or something, but to just end up casually becoming possessed by him seemed really silly.

Good first half, lame second half.

163/11 - Intercourse by Andrea Dworkin

I first came across Andrea Dworkin when I was a sixth-form student at Kendrick. I studied Sociology as one of my A-levels, which was offered by a teacher called Dr Swale. I don't know which subject she was a doctor in, however I remember finding her to be quite odd when I was a teenager, but looking back now, seeing her as someone who 'marched to the beat of her own drum', as the cliche goes. A pretty inadequate phrase, but it will do for now I suppose. She was odd, but very measured and definitely knew what she was talking about. Very quiet and thoughtful woman.

One of the topics we covered in this class was Feminists theory and history, which I suppose was what really started to speak my interest in that area. Dr Swale mentioned these writers like Andrea Dworkin and Susan Brownmiller and Catherine McKinnon who had very radical views on what it meant to be female in the world we inhabit, and different ideas on how to radically change society for everyone in it. As a teenager, I suppose I was pretty intrigued by some of the more 'salacious' areas of their writings, such as that 'all sex is rape', and that 'all men benefit from rape', which are two ideas that have really stuck with me, although I didn't have any deeper understanding beyond those headlines.

The next time I came across Andrea Dworkin was when I was working for Waterstones, and we had a copy of her biography in stock, which was going on sale as it was end-of-line, or something like that. I didn't buy it at the time.

This time round, I have come across her work again through some recommendations through radical feminist blogs who have again put forward the ideas that men and women cannot have sex without it being exploitative to women, and that all sex is rape, and one of the comments from an author who was getting into a debate with a commenter was, first, go and read Intercourse, and then come back to me and we can continue with this discussion.

Although this comment wasn't aimed at me, I noticed a link for the PDF of the text and decided to download one of the books and try to give it a read, so as to better understand this position. As of writing this post, I am about a third of the way through Intercourse and I'm finding it to be quite a tough read. It reminds me a little of some of the Judith Butler texts I tried to read at Uni without much luck, as I found them to be too dense for me and I didn't connect with them much. I'm also finding this of Intercourse, and I'm not sure I'll be able to finish the book, which is guess is why I'm writing this post at the moment, as a sort of internal debate about whether I should continue with it. I want to understand the ideas put forward, but I'm just not sure that I do, which is a little off-putting. I'm not against working hard at a read, however I'm not sure that I'm getting it, which is pretty frustrating.

I think I might park this for now and read something simpler and work my way up to this kind of heavy theory, as I'm finding it a bit inaccessible. Not a comment on the content, more just that I'm not able to really take it in as it's so far removed from what I know, so I'm not really able to make a good judgement on whether I agree with any of the ideas yet. This kind of heavy theory feels like it requires translation from English into...layman's English?


I've decided not to finish this book for now. It's just too incomprehensible for me. I don't understand it and I think that there's an arguments to be made for texts being too inaccessible which is itself a form of privilege. I've got fairly good grades at school and I've got a university education, and I can't understand this book. There are also going to be many others who can't, which makes me question who this book (and others like it) is actually written for? For other academics? For other radical feminists? If its aim is to educate then it seems to fail at that somewhat because of the language and phrasing of ideas that are just too obscure. Perhaps this is the wrong text to have picked up for now, maybe something simpler to start with.

162/111 - Driven by James Sallis

I read this quite a while ago now so I don't have much to say about it as I've forgotten pretty much everything. I had no idea that James Sallis has written a sequel to Drive, or that it was called Driven, however I really enjoyed Drive so decided to buy this to read.

I didn't enjoy this as much as I enjoyed Drive, I felt like for a lot of the book I was sort of waiting for it to get started, and it never really felt like it got off the ground. In this book, it's six years later and Driver has his own life now, only suddenly one day someone starts trying to kill him again, so he has to go back underground and become his old self. He spends loads of the book moving from place to place, doing up old cars and killing people that are out to get him. The other characters are all pretty much interchangeable and not particularly interesting. The main thing driving the plot (so sorry for the pun) is Driver trying to discover who is out to kill him.

You may remember the character Blanche from the book/film who has a very minor role and ends up getting killed during a heist that goes a bit wrong. It turns out that her father is pretty sore about the whole thing, and thinks that Driver is the one that killed her. He has basically no evidence to prove this, so decides to send goon after goon to try and kill Driver. I think at the end they have a conversation where Driver says something like, "Dude, I didn't kill your daughter" and the father says "Okay, cool" and then everything is fine . I'm not sure, I can't really remember.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

161/111 - Worst. Person. Ever. by Douglas Coupland

I love Douglas Coupland. I find his books to be both hilarious, terrifying and thought-provoking. They are a perfect balance of absurd and existentialist and philosophical and dark. Love them.

This book follows the unfortunately-named Raymond Gunt, who is a B-unit cameraman. He is hired by Fiona, his ex-wife, to film a survivalist reality show populated by fuckable young people on an island somewhere in the Pacific. With Neal, his formerly homeless new assistant, he heads off and experiences a series of events, each more unfortunate than the last, somehow managing to cause a man's death, ending up hospitalised multiple times, and being accused of starting a nuclear war.

I really enjoyed this, and it reminded me of Filth (which I have seen recently, but haven't read the book yet) and also The Death of Bunny Munro a little, too. I felt terribly sorry for poor Raymond, and at times I wished he could have some better luck, as he was always just missing out on some sweet deal that Neal manages to muscle in on, or always walking into some unfortunate trap that someone has planned for him.

It's probably not my favourite Douglas Coupland, I think The Gum Thief still has that title, but I'd like to re-read some of his other books again, and I'd definitely like to give Generation X another try, as I didn't get on with it the first time round. I liked this a lot, though.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

160/111 - Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

So I know exactly why I bought this book, and when, and why I read it. Sadly it took me longer to read than I wanted to as I was a bit ill from work and didn't want to read it until I was feeling better, and this week I've taken some annual leave so I totally smashed it yesterday, even though I have been dipping in and out for a couple of weeks now. I was a bit nervous about reading this as I was worried that I wouldn't like it as much as The Shining, or some of Stephen King's other books, however I'm happy to report that I enjoyed it very much.

This story picks up about 20 years in the future, and Danny is now Dan. He has grown up but a lot of the troubles that followed him when he was a child have still pursued him as an adult. He is alone, and pretty down-and-out, having followed in the footsteps of his alcoholic father, and he's done some pretty terrible things. He spends his time drifting from town to town and working menial jobs until he inevitably gets fired and has to move on.

Danny eventually gets to a new town and feels the presence of his old friend Tony, which he takes as a sign to stay. He sobers up and gets a job as Doctor Sleep in a home for the elderly, and his nickname comes from the fact that he is able to help the dying over to the other side when they are close to the end.

He begins to receive strange messages from a little girl who we come to know as Abra, who has a similar ability to Danny's, albeit much more powerful, and she is being hunted by a group called the True Knot, who are a group of sort-of vampires who feed on the children with abilities like Danny's and Abra's.

I really, really enjoyed this book. There were lots of things that frightened me about it, but not in the same way that The Shining did - I was afraid that Stephen King was going to kill Danny or Abra. I was scared that Dick and Wendy wouldn't have a part to play (and on those counts my fears were justified) and I guess that was about it. It was really tense at a lot of points, and I loved the feeling of it all washing over me as a good story should do. There was even a moment near the end which made me tear up, where Danny briefly glimpses the ghost of his father on the old site of the Overlook hotel, and the love they have for each other, which is clear from The Shining, came back to me immediately and really moved me.

I don't really want to make and judgements on which one I prefer or which is better, as this is my first reading of the book and it was my first re-reading of The Shining, so I think I'll reserve that for a couple of years time when I'll inevitably re-visit them both. So I guess for the time being that's really all I want to say. I enjoyed reading it, sat on my sofa on my week off, with nothing else to distract me, which is exactly the way I wanted to enjoy it.

Can't wait for the next one!

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

159/111 - The Colorado Kid by Stephen King

This is yet another book I have read on my iPhone recently. I guess I'm making a bit of a habit out of it while I'm at work in breaks etc, as it's so accessible in my pocket and/or handbag.

This is a story within a story - a young woman taking part in an internship at a small-town newspaper in Maine is told the story of the Colorado Kid by the two elderly founders of the newspaper one afternoon. The Colorado Kid is the nickname of the unknown man who was found dead on the beach of the island 20-something years ago. The two old-timers sit her down and slowly reveal the details of the story for which there is no real resolution. This story is about small towns and local people and I guess the nature of odd things that happen sometimes and how we aren't always able to resolve them.

I really enjoyed this book. I found myself really caught up in the mystery myself, which I guess is the point. I noticed that this was also published under Hard Case Crime, which is what Joyland has been published under (I haven't read this yet, but I'm now looking forward to it). Really good.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

158/111 - Mile 81 by Stephen King

This is going to be a quick one - I downloaded this onto my iPad when I first got it as there were a bunch of stories by authors that I liked that were only available on e-readers for some promotional reason, I guess. So I downloaded them and then sort of forgot about them. Since I've been reading more on my iPhone recently, I decided to dig some of these out of my library and give them a read, and this was one of them.

This is really a short story rather than a book, about a rest area known as Mile 81, which is abandoned. It follows the perspectives of a few people who happen to stop there in an afternoon, and their encounters with an abandoned car which appears to be eating people who go near it. I enjoyed it, as I usually enjoy Stephen King's short stories, so I was pleased to have read it. He seems to write a lot about cars, or refers to them a lot in his stories, I guess it's sort of an Americana thing; big cars, the open road, etc.

That's all I have to say, really. I enjoyed it. I'd like to revisit some more of his short stories as I always love reading them, but there's so much else to read!

157/111 - Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller

I bought this book just before the new Stephen King novel came out as I was interested in it. It always seems to have gotten a lot of attention and it was always in book displays when I was working at Waterstones, but for whatever reason I had never read it, so I downloaded a copy to read on my iPhone while I waited for the new book to come out. It just so happened that I didn't finish it before the new book came out, so there was an overlap of half an evening or something like that.

Most people will probably know the story of this as it's pretty well-know, but just to re-cap, Sheba is a new pottery teacher at a secondary school in London, who ends up having an affair with a 15-year-old pupil. The novel is narrated by Barbara, another teacher, after the affair has ended. Sheba has been caught and is in quite a bit of trouble, and Barbara is the only person she has standing by her side. Barbara starts writing an account of the incidents and their relationship just to have a record of it, which is how we find out the story and how we get an insight into their relationship. We soon find out that Barbara is an unreliable narrator (classic!) and that her version of events is quite polluted by the fact that she is pretty much barking mad. As it turns out, Barbara is pretty much obsessed with Sheba, in a vaguely romantic way, but it's not altogether explicit what she thinks is really going on in their relationship.

I really enjoyed this, I liked the way the story unfolded and I loved reading it through Barbara's eyes. None of the characters were particularly likeable, which wasn't a problem because they were all very interesting in their own horrible ways. I got really irritated that Sheba was such a fool and that she couldn't see through Barbara's manipulation and that she was such a wet blanket of a person, I guess.

A couple of days after finishing the book, I also rented the film on iTunes to watch for a couple of pounds, which was great. I really enjoyed the movie, especially Judi Dench playing Barbara as you don't really see her playing villains much, although she can be very hard-nosed I guess. Cate Blanchett played Sheba, and she was also very good at playing this slightly flighty woman who manages to delude herself that having an affair with a pupil is somehow okay. It plays out a little differently to the book and the ending seems to be more hopeful in the film, but I didn't really mind that much.

I'm not sure I get the obsession with the teen boy thing. This is the third book I've read in a little while where an older woman sort of falls for a teenage boy, which is certainly not my cup of tea, and I remember them being pretty ghastly overall. Definitely not for me.

Monday, 23 September 2013

156/111 - Orange is the New Black by Piper Kernan

This is another book I decided to read on my iPhone and iPad. I have heard about this as a TV show through Netflix, although I haven't seen any yet, so I thought I'd give the sample a go. I soon found out that this is based on a true story, which I guess was pretty obvious to most people, however I was a bit surprised as I couldn't immediately tell by the style of the writing that it was non-fiction. That's not a criticism, I mean more that it was really east to become absorbed without there being lots of facts thrown in my face.

This is the story of Piper who, after graduating from university, wants some fun and action in her life, and so becomes involved with Nora who is working for an international drug smuggler. Piper is sort of on the outside of this to begin with, but quickly starts to get her hands dirty with smuggling money across borders. She gives it all up, straightens herself out, gets a job and a steady partner and then about ten years later, the police come knocking at her door. Busted!

The next portion of the book covers her time in a women's prison, her adjustment to it, her friendships with the women there and her eventual release. I was surprised by how pleasant the system sounded, in that there was a real sense of love and camaraderie between Piper and the women she shared her life with for a year. I don't mean that in a flippant way, it sounds pretty fucking awful in a lot of ways - the humiliation, the lack of prospects, the lack of freedom, the admin, etc - but I guess I didn't expect there to be as much love or humour, which was lovely. There was also almost no lesbianism, and from what I've heard about the TV show, they really play on this angle, which I'm not really sure is necessary as the book has so much in there already.

Next: I've started to read Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller before Doctor Sleep comes out tomorrow, so I'll have to rush to finish it.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

155/111 - The Vanishers by Heidi Julavits

This is another book that I read exclusively on my phone. I don't like having lunch in my office so I tend to go out for it when I can, and if I forget to bring a book with me, I've taken to starting to read book samples on my iPhone and then purchasing the book shortly after I finish the sample, which tends to be rather bad for my bank balance.

The main reason I read this is that it was supposed to be an intriguing story on mothers and daughters, and having had problems with my own mother in the past, I thought this would be right up my street.

It's set in an unusual world where paranormal psychology and psychics really do exist, and Julia, the main character, is an initiate at The Workshop. She works as a stenographer for the world-famous Madam Ackermann, and after a faux pas at a party, Julia becomes terribly ill and must leave The Workshop. She then ends up on a quest to regain her health and her powers, and gets involved in some shady dealings with people who are on the hunt for Dominique Varga, a pornographic film-maker who may or may not be dead, and all the while Julia is sort of looking for her mother, too.

It was weird, it was interesting, it was funny. I really liked it. And I would now love to read a publication called Mundane Egg.

154/111 - The Shining by Stephen King

I read this for the very reason that Doctor Sleep is out next Tuesday, and I'm super excited. It's probably been about ten years since I read The Shining, so I was also pretty excited about re-reading this, as I had forgotten a lot of it.

I'm not going to go into the story or anything here because surely everyone knows the story of The Shining. I had, however, forgotten a lot about what happens in the book because it's pretty different from the film. There is way more backstory on the Torrance family, Jack's relationship with his father and his internal struggles with his temper and alcoholism. There are also lots of iconic moments in the film that don't feature in the book, for example the blood flowing out of the elevator doors, the copy of Jack's script which says nothing but, "all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" over and over again, and of course the classic scene with the axe and the bathroom where he screams, "here's Johnny!"

Stephen King hated the film, he thought Jack Nicholson hammed it up too much and that Shelly Duvall was insulting to women in how passive she was, and I understand both of those. Similarly, the film misses out lots of great stuff from the book, like the parallels with the huge pressure boiler that Jack has to keep an eye on, the sordid history of the hotel and the inner life of Dick Halloran who features much more prominently.

I was still surprised by how creepy I found it when reading it alone at night, and I'm looking forward to getting some chills from Doctor Sleep next week.

Monday, 9 September 2013

153/111 - The Average American Marriage by Chad Kultgen

Okay, okay, I caved and downloaded this onto my iPad and spent half the night reading most of it and then most of my day dipping into it and then finishing it off this afternoon after work. I just wanted something quick thread and I was on my own in the flat last night and was too frightened to start reading The Shining.

I blasted through this, probably because it's one of the shortest ones but also probably because it's a nice smooth easy read. Goes down really well. I mean the style is easy, not necessarily the content.

This book picks off where The Average American Male leaves off, but several years into the future, where he is now married and has two children with his girlfriend from the first book. I keep on saying 'he' because I can't remember the name of the male narrator, and I can't remember if he reveals his name or not, interesting... Anyway, the narrator is thoroughly dissatisfied with married life and begins to have an affair with an intern at his work which leads to the breakdown of his marriage.

I enjoyed this quite a bit and found it pretty funny. I'm not disturbed by the graphic nature of the writing, I guess after reading all of these books I'm a bit desensitised to it, but I imagine that that's how a lot of guys see women, hence the title. I love the way he gets across the feeling of the breakdown of the relationship and I imagine that it must be so so common to find yourself in that situation, not just a man whose wife won't sleep with him anymore, but you must also gets loads of miserable women who aren't interested and only focus on their children. As a side note, I would hate to find myself in this situation, and I can only imagine that surely the best course of action would be to amicably end the relationship, or agree to turn a blind eye while each person seeks fulfilment elsewhere, if you insist on staying together for the sake of your family.

I found it to be a pretty bleak and depressing satire, and a really compelling read.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

152/111 - The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I bought this book almost two years ago to the day. I bought it at Gatwick airport on my way to a holiday in France with Luke, and I remember being excited to but it because it had just come out and because I was at an airport I was able to get it in a large format paperback instead of a hardback, so that was a novelty. I had heard things about it and I remember being interested in it as the author wrote it, or started writing it, during NaNoWriMo and that now it has obviously been published by a major publishing house.

The reason I've read it is that it's the book I selected for my book club with my friends last time they were at my flat. I had loads of recommendations, however they wanted us to read something that none of us had read before, so I showed a few different ones to people and we decided on this, and we will be discussing it later this month when we all meet up again. The last book we had at book club was The Blind Assassin, which I didn't enjoy reading all that much.

This book was okay. I downloaded a copy onto my iPhone as well so that I could read bits on my lunch break without having to lug the book round with me, which was nice. I was always quite surprised by how much I had progressed in the physical copy of the book when I went back to it, which for me adds to the feeling that you should be able to have a physical copy and an e-book license for the books you buy. If they're doing this with CDs and DVDs nowadays, why not with books?

Anyway, onto the actual book. It's set in a world where magic is real, and you have two old dude magicians who have been challenging each other over the decades. In this instance, they must each train up a student so that they can do battle in a public arena, which takes place in this circus, called Le Cirque des Rêves. I really enjoyed the first half of the book, kind of getting them to the point where they were ready to do battle, however I felt that the second half dragged on quite a bit. This was partly to do with the overly flowery description of all the circus acts and tents and oh my goodness, how sumptuous and magical it all is, which became a little tiresome eventually. Obviously the two students, Celia and Marco end up falling in love, which puts a dent in the plans of their instructors.

I really enjoyed the story, however I didn't feel particularly close to any of the characters, and wasn't really invested in the love story element because I didn't care enough about the characters. They were a bit hollow, and I understood their motivations and their back stories, but for some reason I didn't care about them enough. I think I part because they all took themselves rather too seriously, and there wasn't much lightness or levity or anything.

So, this was fairly good and certainly entertaining, but not as amazing as I'd hoped.

Next, I really think I need to re-read The Shining, as Doctor Sleep is coming out in about two weeks, which I'm definitely going to want to buy and read immediately. Pretty exciting stuff.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

151/111 - Men, Women and Children by Chad Kultgen

I downloaded this yesterday onto my iPad and have been dipping in and out of it pretty regularly since then, and finished it this afternoon. I'm probably not going to write a great deal about this book as my feelings towards it are pretty similar to my feelings for The Lie.

The book follows the lives of a series of characters who are all interconnected - most seem to be parents of eighth grade pupils at a middle school somewhere in the US. The book shifts from different perspectives throughout the school year from character to character, and it largely seems to cover the various sex lives of each person, whether it's a couple who have been married for 20 years or whether it's two of the kids getting to know each other for the first time.

The book ended very suddenly and pretty bleakly, with one of the main characters attempting suicide and another couple of kids having sex for the first time even though they aren't ready for it. I did enjoy it but it didn't blow me away, and I think what I enjoyed most was the sort of fly on the wall element where you're looking into people's lives and areas they don't discuss very much, and knowing that we all think things like this all the time but it's not really acceptable to admit it.

One of the parts I enjoyed most was the existential crisis that Time starts to have. He starts to look at life in perspective with the universe, and dealing with the fact that nothing really matters, and we are all here for a tiny tiny speck of time. Everything we do and say and leave will unravel eventually and only very few of us will be remembered. It's this realisation that leads him to become very detached from his life, and eventually decide that it doesn't matter if he tries to kill himself. I find a lot of comfort in the knowledge that nothing matters. It's very hard to actually live that sometimes, but it's true.

Next: I need to read The Night Circus by Erin Mortgensen as it's been picked for my next book club at the end of the month, and I don't want to have to rush it like I did with The Blind Assassin. I'm also going to have to read The Shining again this month as Doctor Sleep, the sequel, is coming out too. So excited.

Saturday, 31 August 2013

150/111 - The Lie by Chad Kultgen

The reason I bought this book is that was bored at work one day. When I go out for breaks and go for lunch, I always have my iPhone with me, even if I don't always have a book with me. I had downloaded a few samples of books onto my iPhone in the last few months, and when I was out one day on a break and I was bored, I decided to start reading one of the book samples on my iPhone. I chose this book because I felt fairly confident that it would be funny, as I have read one of his books before.

I started out by reading the sample on my iPhone and then thinking, I would like to read the rest of this. However after having a look on the Waterstones website and Amazon and finding out that it would take several days to arrive I decided to purchase it on my iPhone right then and there and give it a go. I asked a couple of people at work whether they though it would be a good idea for me to try and read a book on my iPhone and the answer was pretty much a 'no' from everyone. But as it turned out, I didn't find the experience to be all that bad. It was great for nipping out for a quick break, I could just slip my phone out of my handbag and give it a quick read, although the temptation to spend longer on my breaks was pretty string, especially if I was at a good bit, however I liked the fact that it kept me able to read in any given minute I might have available.

Overall, it was a pretty good experience, and I think I would do it again, however I still think that I would have chosen the paper copy of the book had it been available to me on the day.

I really enjoyed the book itself, and I was debating over whether to go for The Lie or Men, Women and Children, which I'm probably going to read next, but I did enjoy this. It follows the story of Kyle, Heather and Brett who are three students about to go to university. Kyle and Brett are best friends, with Kyle being the nerd and Brett being incredibly rich. Heather is the girl that Kyle falls in love with and who Brett despises (as he does with all women) and the book is broadly about the ideas of truth and love and the paths we have set out for our lives.

I really enjoyed the various voices of the characters, and Heather's was especially funny, although she is a horrible person. She is so utterly wrapped up in what people think of her, looking good to all her sorority sisters, making sure that she doesn't show any real emotion or feeling, and she is incredibly materialistic. I wasn't quite sure what to make of Brett's voice in that obviously he is incredibly misogynistic, and the way in which he views and uses women is pretty disturbing, and the voice felt quite similar to the narrator in Average American Male.

The ending of the book was a little bleak, which I'm fine with as that sort of wrapped it up really nicely, and I guess my only criticism of the reading experience is that when reading it on a device, I obviously could see my page number county getting towards the end, but I didn't really feel like I was reaching the end in the same way I would if I was reading a paper book, which I didn't really like as much.

149/111 - Lolito by Ben Brooks

I bought this recently as an impulse because I read and loved Grow Up by the same author, and I had had no idea that he had another book coming out! So I bought it and started reading it the next day.

The story is about a British teenager called Etgar who is sort of lonely and isolated and be discovers that his girlfriend Alice has been unfaithful to him. He starts using online chat rooms and he gets to talking to an older woman named Macy, and they start a sort of online romance. The rest of the book covers Etgar getting drunk and high in various ways, and generally being very heartbroken over Alice and nervous about the prospect of meeting Macy.

I quite liked this overall, but I'm not sure I liked it as much as Grow Up. I felt it was a bit more difficult to get close to and like Etgar, although I definitely felt sorry for him, sure. Part of it was that there were a lot of references to certain areas of pop culture, like TV shows and films and YouTube that I didn't really connect with - not that I didn't understand what they were, just that they didn't really speak to anything for me in a particular way.

I lent my copy of Grow Up to my youngest brother recently, and as coincidence goes, he texted me to ask if I had anything similar the day after I bought Lolito, which is a happy coincidence, so I told him that I would be able to lend him this once I was finished with it.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

148/111 - Write by Guardian Books

I bought this book recently along with a notebook for some writing and I thought this might be a good starting point.

It has a bunch of different essays by different writers and is all about their journeys and how they got started with writing. I particularly enjoyed the essays by Margaret Atwood, Douglas Coupland, Neil Gaiman and Hilary Mantel. Actually Hilary Mantel's were my favourite however I've never read any of her books as I'm not a fan of historical fiction and their size also intimidates me a lot.

I really enjoyed her essay around loving your stationery and how she could spend all day browsing through stationery catalogues. Very funny.

I'm not going to go into too much detail on the rest of this as it's late and m very tired, however I'll definitely get back to writing proper things again soon.

147/111 - Stephen King: Uncollected, Unpublished by Rocky Wood

I was in a meeting after work a little while ago and sort of voted and decided that I fancied reading a quick something by Stephen King. I was idly scrolling through iBooks on my iPhone and I discovered what I thought was an unpublished collection of Stephen King's stories!

I paid for it and downloaded it immediately with the intention of getting started when I got home from work, and started reading through the introduction that night. I could see that the page punt was well over 1000 pages, which was pretty exciting to me. But alas, it wasn't to be.

It turned out that what I had purchased was actually a book about Stephen King's uncollected and unpublished works. Not a collection of these works, but a book about these works. I was really gutted.

Don't get me wrong, the book is impressive in its scope and research, and the author really really knows his stuff, however I obviously misunderstood what the book was actually about, so I didn't finish it. I may end up finishing one day when I'm in the mood for something more academic, but at the time I was looking for some story.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

146/111 - Tampa by Alissa Nutting

This is the first full book I've read on my iPad, however the only reason I read it on the iPad and not in a book is because this isn't due out in paper format until next month. Next month?? That's how they're going to get me - make me wait for the paper copies of the books so I'll have to read more ebooks. Lame!

Anyway, I read about this book on Flavorwire and I just had to read it as soon as I heard about it. It's about a woman named Celeste who is a paedophile who specifically has a preference for 14-year-old boys. She begins working as a high school teacher in order to get closer to the teenage boys and eventually begins a relationship with Jack.

This book was incredibly gripping. So so gripping. Because it's horrifying. The author has done such a good job of creating a convincing paedophile that a lot of it was incredibly creepy and uncomfortable to read. However it's really quite conflicting because in the story, although Celeste eventually destroys the boys she has relationships with, they love it and are consenting parties in the relationship.

Celeste is a monster and she was such good fun to read - she is shallow and calculating, perfectly manipulates her husband Ford and evades his touch wherever possible only staying with him for his family's money and to maintain the facade of being a good wife and teacher.

The really uncomfortable parts weren't so much the sexual parts, but more the grooming. The way she picks out the boys and manipulates them. The way she watches them and calculates her every move. It was really easy to imagine the tables being turned and it being a male teacher and female pupils. I guess it would have turned out a little differently in the beginning, in that a female pupil would probably be more likely to say no at first. However Celeste being a young, attractive woman makes this disturbing in a different way, as it's as though no one really wants to punish her, like in that South Park episode where Ike has an affair with his female teacher, and when the police find out, all they can say is "niiiiiccccceeee'...

Really really good reading.

145/111 - Confessions of a Sociopath by M.E. Thomas

I bought this on the recommendation of Bust magazine after reading a short review when I was on holiday. I'm quite interested in the mind and mental conditions so I thought I'd give this a try and see what the author has to say.

This is an anonymous autobiography written by a woman who runs a blog called sociopath world. From what I gather, she started this blog off as a way to connect to other sociopaths and find out more about herself, and the book is an extension of that I guess. She talks about different areas of her life, her diagnosis, her childhood etc, and I was hoping that this might actually be quite interesting.

Unfortunately I didn't enjoy it much. I found it to be fairly average writing, and it reads like a stream of consciousness and doesn't seem to be that strongly structured. I read one review which asked is it any surprise that a book written by a supposed sociopath lacks depth or emotion? Hilarious!

I was left feeling unconvinced of the authenticity of this account - there were many times when the author held back regarding events which would have somehow proven the sociopathic aspects of her personality, which was irritating. Lots of annoyingly coy references to things she may or may not have done. She uses the guise of protecting her family in order to keep their reputation safe, however I was left feeling really unsatisfied.

I could write more about this, but I'm done. Totally bored.

144/111 - N0S-4R2 by Joe Hill

I should have written this entry ages ago! Especially since I was so excited t get the book. It came out very shortly after I read Joe Hill's book of short stories. It just so happened that Joe Hill was scheduled to be at my old branch of Waterstones signing his new book on the day of its release, so below are some grainy photos of the day!

I asked for a photo and I got one, hee hee! He was really friendly and happy for us to have a picture taken. Pretty starstruck, which is why I have a huge grin on my face.

My copy of the book

My signed copy!

I was really surprised to see lots of people ahead of me in the queue with a big stack of books and who didn't want dedications. It was pretty obvious from this that they were getting the books signed to sell on eBay or something like that.

Anyway, onto the book.

I read this several weeks ago now but I've been on holiday a couple of times since so I don't remember everything I wanted to write, but I really enjoyed this. It was a massive, massive book, which was really exciting when I picked it up, but lugging it around in my bag soon tired me out! It was really gripping and really enjoyable. Can't wait for the next one.

Monday, 27 May 2013

143/111 - Requiem by Lauren Oliver

I bought this very recently and decided to read this in the car once more as its an easy read. I had also already read the first two books in this trilogy, so I thought I'd be able to pick up where I left off. However, I did find that the first two books had left so little impression on me that it was a little tough to square up who all the characters were and the journeys they'd been on.

It seems like there's also a crazy trend in YA fiction at the moment for two-guys-and-a-girl scenarios (or maybe it's always been that way - I'm not heavily into YA books) and I find them kind of irritating. Very melodramatic.

I was also kind of unsatisfied by the ending of the series - I'm going to ruin this for you if you haven't read it, so look away now. When they finally infiltrate the city and start tearing down the walls, I was expecting there to be some sort of transitioning period where all the citizens begin to realise how wrong and prejudiced they have been, and maybe they will all decide to reverse the Cure or something. Nope. Instead the book ends with them tearing down the walls and that's it. Which I guess is sort of a hopeful ending, but I found it to be sort of a cop-out. We don't even really know who Lena chose as her super awesome boyfriend in the end! Annoying.

I enjoyed this book for what it was, which was a great distraction from a boring car journey. I also enjoyed it because I got to impress my little brother, which I rarely do, by reading the whole thing in one sitting, as it was a nice, easy read.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

142/111 - 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill

This is another book I've had for ages. I think I probably bought this around the same time I read Horns, as I enjoyed it very much. I had a long car journey this weekend so I thought I'd take this along as I find it hard to read long stretches in the car as I get sick and this is a book of short stories. Also, next week Joe Hill will be doing a book signing at the Waterstones i used to work in, which I'm hoping to go to, so I thought I'd get ready. However, I found that I didn't get sick at all this time, so read the whole thing. Score!

I really really enjoyed this collection, it was great. Every story was so weird and wonderful and creepy, exactly what it was supposed to be. I liked the story about the editor of a horror collection who gets caught up in his won horror story, I liked the story about the boy who wakes up to find he's become an insect, I loved the story about the inflatable boy, and the ghost forest, and I also loved the last story about the boy who builds a cardboard fort that takes you places. Just amazing, pretty much all of them.

One of the things that I though was done really well in this collection was the stories told from points of view of narrators who are imperfect in some way - either unhappy, or down and out, or downright unlikeable. Just ordinary people experiencing slightly odd things. Anyway, his new book is out next week and I'm looking forward to it.

141/111 - The Thing About Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead by David Shields

I can't remember why I bought this book, however I think it might have been because I read the preview on iBooks, and found it quite interesting. It's book seems to be part biography and part biology of the human body, and I found it to be both uplifting and depressing.

I found it uplifting because there were many moments of lightness and lots of really interesting facts. It covers lots of different stages of human development, from fertilisation and implantation, to puberty, to death, all interspersed with personal anecdata. However, the depressing part was how he catalogues all the points at which humans reach their prime, and it's clear that according to the science, I'm pretty much past my prime now. I'm starting to lose brain cells, my fertility is going down, I'll start shrinking and losing water and my metabolism will slow down, and basically I'm already on a march to death and never even realised that I had reached that point yet! What a shame that I never realised my power as a younger woman!

That's all from this, I can't remember too much else specifically that I enjoyed, but overall this was good.

140/111 - The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

I've had this book for so so long, I can't even remember when I bought it or why (although it was probably because I was really into Margaret Atwood or whatever). The reason I decided to read this is that every few months I meet up with a bunch of old school friends, and this time around, one of them suggested that we do a little book club format, so that every few months when we meet up we have something new to talk about. Someone suggested The Blind Assassin, and so we were on our way!

I didn't start reading this until quite late, and since I have been pretty ill with a cold the last couple of weeks, I didn't actually get to finish it in time for the book club, but never mind.

I did not enjoy this at all. There were definitely parts which were note resting and I really wanted to like it as I like Margaret Atwood, however it was such a slog. It was very clever - a story within a story within a story - and it won the Booker prize in the year it was released. But I didn't care about any of the characters really. I was already 300 pages in before it had even moved past the main character's childhood!

There was one part that really struck me, which was quite near the beginning, when the narrator is looking back at her life, and she's getting something out of her fridge late at night:

"Standing there with the jar in one hand and my finger in my mouth, I has the feeling that someone was about to walk into the room - some other woman, the unseen, valid owner - and ask me what the hell I was doing in her kitchen. I've had it before, the sense that even in the course of my most legitimate and daily actions - peeling a banana, brushing my teeth - I am trespassing."

I really empathised with this idea of feeling like you're trespassing in your own life, and I often catch myself feeling like I don't deserve to be in the position I'm in at my job, for example, and that I'm going to get caught. Or I'll catch myself being inauthentic with my friends, thinking, I better keep this up or they're going to see me for who I really am. I guess I've never imagined another woman coming to find me and kick me out of my own life, but I get where she's coming from.

That's it, really, for me that was the most interesting part. From talking about this with the others I've come to the conclusion that I love Margaret Atwood's sci-fi, like The Handmaid's Tale, Oryx and Crake etc, but I don't like her 'realist' novels all that much. Luckily she writes awesome sci-fi, so I'll just keep reading that.

139/111 - Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

First of all, I'm amazed that my iPad's autocorrect has the name 'Palahniuk' in its library - wonders will never cease! I've read this before, however I decided to re-read this again recently after attending a course called The Landmark Forum a few weeks ago. When I was reading about the course, I discovered that he had also attended the course and it was partly responsible for his decision to become a writer, and, there is also a healthy amount of satire directed towards the course in the book.

The first time I read Fight Club was after I'd seen the film, and I remember preferring the film to the book on that occasion. It is a great film. This time around, I think I enjoyed the book a lot more. Everyone knows what Fight Club is about, so I'm not going to go into too much detail here, but I really enjoyed this book, and it's probably one that I'll re-read every few years.

I've got some more Chuck Palahniuk stuff to read that I'm not sure I'll enjoy quite as much as everything else seems to be sitting in the shadow of Fight Club.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

138/111 - Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops by Jen Campbell

I've seen this book around last year, and recently its sequel has been released, so I downloaded them both to read for a bit of a chuckle. I enjoyed both very much indeed, although it might have been nice to have the book framed around some discussions of what's going on for bookshops at the moment and how they plan on surviving, but I suppose that's a discussion for another time.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

137/111 - The Intrusion by Ken Macleod

I bought this book on a whim because I thought the premise sounded interesting - it's set in the near future where pregnant women can take a pill which will automatically fix any genetic mutations. Hope decides that she doesn't want to do this.

This book had so much potential to be good but in the end I found it to be really poorly written. I didn't give a shit about any of the characters, the dystopian, totalitarian part of the book was weak and diluted, even though there were some good references. A lot of the antagonistic characters were total cliches. Just didn't like it. Interesting idea, poor execution.

Friday, 29 March 2013

136/111 - The Dinner by Herman Koch

I only bought this book quite recently, partly because I liked the idea behind the story, but also because I really liked the American cover. The UK one isn't as striking, though.

It's book was really compelling and strangely enjoyable even though it was a little nuts in places. It opens with Paul's thoughts (he is the narrator for the entire thing) as he prepares to go to a fancy restaurant with his wife for dinner. They are meeting another couple there, and shortly after that it's revealed to be Paul's brother. He isn't looking forward to this meal as they will have to get onto the subject of their sons, and what they have done. What's more, Paul's brother Serge is a pompous politician who he pretty much can't stand.

The story jumps between the meal going on at that moment and moments from the past, and gets increasingly disturbing as the story progresses. As it turns out, Paul's and Serge's sons have been responsible for something terrible, which I won't reveal here because it's a pretty major twist. They have also been caught on CCTV, and so the purpose of the dinner is to discuss how to handle this. As the discussion progresses, and Paul continues to give flashbacks into his life, you very quickly start to get the sense that he is pretty unhinged. He loses his job, and shows violent tendencies to a string of strangers over the course of his son's childhood. I think unhinged is the word that describes him best.

It's also pretty darkly funny, throughout, such as all the moments with the head waiter. At this fancy restaurant, the head waiter meticulously points out everything on everyone's plates, and Paul is irritated by how close his fingers come to touching the food, The ending is also great, very surprising actions from Paul's wife, Claire. I liked it a lot.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

135/111 - Quiet by Susan Cain

I bought this book on my way to France last My from the airport, and I've been pretty excited about reading it ever since, however have only just gotten round to it.

It's a book about introversion as a personality trait, and how it's a trait which tends to be undervalued or seen as inferior to extroversion, even though it doesn't always pay to be an extrovert.

I really enjoyed this because I identify myself as an introvert and I wanted to see what Susan had to say on the matter. Before I started this, my understanding of an introvert is someone who likes to spend more time alone than with other people, someone who finds being around other people quite draining and looks forward to rest and recuperation from social situations. Someone who is more comfortable in small intimate groups of people, and doesn't necessarily enjoy interacting with large groups of people they don't know. At least, these are traits I identify in myself.

I was really interested to read about all this, and more. I also found that I really related to the parts about being able to mimic extrovert traits, such as making connections to people and public speaking. I can do both of these things well, however I don't particularly like either of them. It can be you because I work in sales, so I'm expected to talk to people pretty much all day long, however I find it incredibly draining. The organisation I work for also has a deep-rooted culture of extroversion (partly because its an American company I guess) and so to a certain extent, people who are self-promoters and loud progress further than I will, because it's not really my style to do so.

I find when I get home from work, the very last thing I want to do is more socialising, and I hate house parties and meeting new people in big groups (totally fine in small groups of 2-3). My idea of a nice holiday is going away somewhere and not having to see anyone or do anything at all, which I have done in the past for myself, and found it immensely refreshing. As a result, I find myself exhausted by my job during the week as I don't really want to have to do any more talking or being with people unless I have to. With my loved ones and friends, I'm happy to spend the time and the energy with them, and I get a great deal out of our relationships, however I think they'd be surprised by just how much contentment I get from spending time on my own.

A theme which Susan touches on quite often is how introversion as an integral part of your character can make you feel inferior. There are definitely times when being introverted makes me feel weak, like when I'm meeting new people and don't talk much, it's not because I don't have anything to say, it's more that I'm evaluating things more, or being more sensitive to the situation, or nerves are getting the better of me. It can also feel lonely at times, because while I have plenty of high quality friendships, I don't have a huge group of friends, and I don't make friends easily because it takes me a long time to get to know someone. I guess it's probably not all that cool for someone of my age to admit that I can't really be bothered with most people, or that I fear they would probably say the same of me. I'm not saying that to put myself down, it's just an observation.

Overall, I'd say I'm fairly happy with being an introvert, because I have enough skill to pretend otherwise when it matters, however what this book did really highlight for me was that this is something that I may have to keep an eye on so that I don't burn out, and that possibly a career that involves me talking to people every day might not be the best one for me.

134/111 - All My Friends Are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman

I first read this book several years ago, and after recently lending it to my little brother (who wants to study English Lit for A-level) I decided to read it again.

It's 101 pages and it can be read in about 45 minutes, but if you read it I would encourage you to savour it, as it's very funny and sweet. It follows the story of Tom, who marries a superhero names The Perfectionist. On their wedding day, her ex-boyfriend, The Hypnotist, convinces her that she can no longer see Tom, and he becomes invisible to her. The rest of the book is centred around his desperation to get her to see him again, and is interspersed with stories of how they met and how they came to fall in love. You also find out that Tom is a 'normal' among his group of friends, the rest of which are superheroes with varying powers, most of them slightly absurd and funny.

Very sweet little book.

133/111 - Wonder by R.J. Palacio

I bought this book very recently because I was intrigued by the cover. It's struck me that recently I have bought a lot of books with a light blue cover, some sort of trend I guess?

This is a medium-length book but it's once more a young adult book, so very easy to read. I started this at about 8pm one night and by 11pm I was finished with it, so a very quick and compelling read, so much so that I finished it in one sitting, which feels very satisfying.

This book is about a young boy called Auggie (short for August) who has some kind of genetic disorder which has caused his face to be quite radically deformed. He's around eight years old and up until this point he's been home-schooled, however his parents want him to try to go to real s hook so that he can get used to the real world a little more, and so this book is about his journey through his first year of middle school.

It's told mostly from Auggie's point of view, however every so often another character gives another perspective for a coupled chapters before jumping back to Auggie. I really enjoyed this and I started to feel quite protective over Auggie as other kids make comments behind his back and he has to try to pretend he can't see people recoiling from his face. There were some moments in there that were a bit cheesy, too, but overall I really liked it.

On the back of the book I saw it compared to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, which I have read but it didn't really make as much of an impact on me, to be honest.

Something I've noticed about my reading habits recently - I seem to be picking from books that I can read quickly, in one day if possible, as I feel like I'm falling behind. I have so many books, and so many more I want to read, that I think I'm losing a bit of my focus and choosing to read books that are short to read rather than ones which will be just as good, but maybe take me longer? I do find it very satisfying to finish a book, however I don't want that to be the only thing that drives me.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

132/111 - Mud: Stories of Sex and Love by Michele Roberts

I bought this book a little while ago from Foyles as I was in the mood for reading some women's short fiction. I don't have a great deal to say about it. There were some stories that I quite liked, like the story of the woman who moves to France with her vegetarian husband who refuses to learn to speak French and then turns up dead. I found it quite darkly funny.

However for the most part I found a lot of these to be quite bleak, which is something I find quite a lot with short fiction. I feel like sometimes the story is there to make a sad point and then end. Not sure I always get the most out of them. I don't know if that makes a lot of sense.

Monday, 18 March 2013

131/111 - The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

I bought this book a little while ago when it was still in hardback, and I have to admit that I was most interested by all the rave reviews I heard about it. Knowing that it was a young adult novel put me off a bit, but mostly because I don't usually find them meaty enough in terms of how sordid or gritty they are. Sure, this is about a girl who has cancer, which is pretty gritty I guess, however she is also very pure and thinks she isn't pretty and OMG how could this cute guy ever like little old me? That's something I really dislike about female characters in young adult fiction. The overly modest personalities, always putting themselves down. Yuck.

Don't get me wrong, I liked the book a lot and I was gripped and pretty much read the entire thing in one sitting, however I did feel very much like the characters were one-dimensional, and if there was mother dimension to someone, it felt very artificial.

Lovely and sad all round, and quite sweet in places.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

130/111 - The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

I started reading this after downloading the sample on my iPad and going from there. I initially thought that this might annoy me as it's written in a very simplistic style, but I actually ended up quite liking it and it worked pretty well in the end.

This is the story of Pat, who has recently been released from a manual health institution and he's become obsessed with improving himself so that he can once more become worthy of his wife Nikki's love. He spends his days working out, running and thinking about Nikki. He is soon introduced to Tiffany, who is the sister of his sister-in-law or something similar, and they end up having an odd sort of friendship where she goes out on runs with him following about 15 paces behind but rarely speaking to him.

In the end it turns out that she's been scouting him to take part in a Dance Away Depression contest that she's been entering for the last couple of years, under the guise that she will help him to make contact with Nikki once more. As it turns out, Tiffany is also pretty screwed up and has spent some time in hospital and is only pretending to be Nikki. All along you get the feeling that Pat has deliberately been suppressing the memory of how his relationship with Nikki really ended, and the outcome isn't that surprising when you find out what it is.

I liked this, overall. Quirky and very human, and although the characters are sometimes frustrating I ended up rooting for them. I know they've also recently made this into a film, so I'd be interested to see what it's like.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

129/111 - How Should A Person Be? by Sheila Heti

I bought this book very recently also, mostly based on reviews that I had read talking about how awesome it is. It's supposed to be quirky and cool and touching and funny. I've just finished reading 70 out of 290 pages and I feel like the book hasn't even really started yet and I'm not sure what I'm waiting for.

I feel like there is some American fiction that I just don't get. I don't know if it's a cultural thing, or if sometimes it comes across like the book is trying too hard to be something in particular, or too conceptual, or something, but that something really turns me off.

I really wanted to like this as there were loads of pull quotes from people like Miranda July and Margaret Atwood, who I really like, but after 70 pages, I couldn't make it work.

I was sadly bored by this, so I'll be returning it as I only bought it earlier this week.

Friday, 1 March 2013

128/111 - The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz

I bought this book on a whim recently when I was in Waterstones as it was snickered up as the BBC book at bedtime, and seemed like it MIT be interesting and thoughtful.

It's a series of vignettes told by a psychoanalyst based on time with his real life patients. The anecdotes are divided into sections like 'love' and 'lies' and usually include some revelation that Stephen and/or the patient come to during their treatment together.

I found this book really interesting partly because I find the idea of psychoanalysis very odd. If you are undergoing psychoanalysis, you see the analyst several times a week (maybe even every day) and it's the sort of therapy where you sit and talk at the analyst and they don't really respond or offer much to you. Stephen mentions in a couple of places where sessions take place where the patient may say nothing for the entire session. Just silence. Or where the patient might fall asleep. Very odd. However I did find the idea that the therapist is just there to pretty much absorb whatever their patient offers very interesting. Like it's their job to be as non-reactive as possible.

He also occasionally used examples of insight from situations in his own life, which I liked. I really enjoyed his voice, very calming, and in parts very moving.

127/111 - Marbles by Ellen Forney

I heard about this book quite a while ago as I think it won some award or was on some best seller list for a long time. It's a graphic memoir of the author's struggle with getting to grips with her manic depression. It describes her initial diagnosis whilst experiencing a period of mania, and her inevitable descent into depression. She spends years experimenting with medications and lifestyle choices in order to enable her to lead a happy a and productive life.

Couldn't believe how long it took her to get to a point where she was okay.

I quite enjoyed this, I read it all in one sitting even though it's quite long. Don't have a great deal more to say about this, other than it was enjoyable.