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.