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 RĂªves. 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.