Archives for posts with tag: book review

A novel by Ken Follett, sequel to “Pillars of the Earth”, set two-hundred years after.

This book was passed along to me by a friend who suggested I give it a read.

I have to admit that the event that happens early in the books pages, that serves to connect the four children who follow throughout their life-times – I kinda stopped caring about it by about half-way through the book. When I found out the secret, I was long past caring.

Beginning in 1327, the story follows four children through their life-times in the town of Knightsbridge. I didn’t read the first book, but this hardly matters – the two-hundred year gap between books pretty much means either book stands on its own or they perhaps are better considered companion books?

The characters, all the characters, were well-written and three-dimensional. The settings precise and it is clear that a lot of care and research went into this book and creating a very realistic account of the times and trials in the 14th century. Most notable is the attention to detail about architecture, arts, the wool-trade, the development of medical knowledge and feudal politics. I now know more about 14th architecture than I ever cared to know – I guess that means that my interests are pretty limited.

Alas! I will never be a true “Renaissance Man”.

Really.

What I like best about this book was the characters and how Follett was true to them. He captures, especially lovingly, the character of Caris, who as a young girl declares an impossible goal in 14th century England – to become a doctor.

The most surprising thing about this book was the amount of sex in it. I have nothing against a book having a lot of sex in it – you can see my review of “Fool: A Novel”, by Christopher Moore as proof (also as proof, readings of Nin, de Sade and Von Sacher Masoch etc),  it just got me off guard as I wasn’t expecting a book set in the 14th century to have this much sex in it.

On reflection, it makes perfect sense – people are pretty focused on sex and it is only our post-Victorian lives that lead us to think that, historically, people were not as interested in sex as we are now. Made me feel foolish and innocent.

Which was a bit of bonus, I guess.

I don’t meant to imply that sex was the main thing about this book, it was just very honest about being a motivator to what people did, how they acted and something that mattered to them.

One of the things that I liked best about this book was the amount of non-heterosexual characters and relationships and that they were dealt with in a practical, no-nonsense sort of way. In a novel of historical fiction, it was refreshing and honest and however else I felt about this book, I have a lot of respect for Follett for making sure to include these characters and relationships in his book – it felt like he was lending his voice to oft forgotten parts of history – some social justice to go with your fiction? Yes please.

Unfortunately for me, I read it after already slogging through another piece of historical commentary set in a later time and a riotous novel set pre-14th century, by the time I was halfway through this book, I kinda just wanted everyone to die of the plague.

I think this book deserved a better reader than I and I am sorry that I was not more appreciative. Complaining to my travel partner over breakfast while sipping a glass of champagne “I’m just hoping the plague will come along and wipe everyone out so I can get the next book!” is not the most intelligent nor sensitive comment a read can make.

It did make my travel companion laugh, so I guess that is all good.

I think I will try another Follett at some point. I’m done with the township of Kingsbridge so I will have to find out what else he has to offer.

 

Advertisements

A work of fan-fiction (in my opinion) by Christopher Moore, using the world of “King Lear” by William Shakespeare as original source material, kinda…

Most hilarious interpretation of King Lear. Ever. Me = laughing out loud from the author’s warning – when was the last time I read a book with an author’s warning? And in the warning that book included wanking? As I was reading beside my travel partner who was sunbathing and sleeping while I read, I tried my best to internalize my laughter – I’m positive that my hips have spread because of this.

This was my first foray into Moore and he did not disappoint. I’m not fussed that this book is, essentially, fan fiction, I read “Wicked” and it didn’t bother me then either, so there you go. I figure if people want to revisit and play around in someone else’s playground, more power to them – it only enforces the original source material as relevant.

Told from the point-of-view of King Lear’s Fool, this is a hilarious take on one of the Bard’s most famous tragedies. There is gratuitous sex, violence, murder, spanking, sex, wanking, swearing, comments about breasts, allusions to genitals, sex, making fun of people’s parentage and lots of sex. And a ghost.

I loved it.

Probably the truest version of what grabbed audiences at the Globe and kept them coming back for more Shakespeare. For me, Shakespeare wasn’t and isn’t about how deep and meaningful he could write (which, yes, he can and does) but is more about his clever way of telling a dirty joke, of timing laughs against tears and puns and poetry and keeping the audience interested.

Moore learned the lesson well – you want to make me cry, make me laugh first. If I howl with tears now, chances are I will howl with tears later.

This book was a screaming funny way to spend some time. If you need a good belly laugh, don’t mind laughing out loud as you read and aren’t bothering by sex, swearing and sex – this book is a must-read.

It also made me consider that if “King Lear” was taught with this book as a companion maybe more people would have a better appreciation and understanding of Shakespeare.

Something to think about.

Haha – WordPress thinks “wanking” is a spelling error! Get a BritSpeak dictionary WordPress!

 

A work of fiction by Emma Donoghue, winner of the 2010 Rogers’ Trust Award for Fiction, shortlisted for the 2010 Man Booker Prize and 2010 Governor General’s Award.

The awards surrounding this book were not the reason I wanted to read this book.

Driving home in October from Thanksgiving from Northern Ontario I was lucky enough to hear an interview with Emma Donoghue right after her win of the Rogers’ Trust Award. Her idea was startling, shocking and sad.

Donoghue writes the book from the point of view of six-year-old Jack. His voice is funny, fresh and filled with the concerns of a six-year-old’s frustrations, wants and needs. Slowly, the horror of Jack’s situation and that of his mother’s is revealed – his mother was abducted and kept prisoner in a one-room shed for seven years and raised Jack in this…room.

The journey is nerve-racking, a story of escape, learning how to live without walls, getting to know the people who love us – who are real and out there, waiting for our return to the real world.

Jack’s mum is a character to be admired – creating a whole world for Jack out of one room, surviving 7 years imprisonment, learning how to live again, reconnecting and helping a child do the same.

This book, also, reminds us that this is something that happens in our world – women are snatched away and kept away, alone in rooms, in garden sheds, in basements.

I loved this book. It made me sad.

Non-fiction book about neuroplasticity by Norma Doidge, MD – with help from friends.

Wow.

How could I not love this book – brings brain structure, function, neurochemistry and stories of real people together in one amazing and awe-inspiring read.

I loved that Doidge not only told the stories of the triumphs of people who have different “brain difficulties” (my phrasing, not his) but also very personal stories of some of the leading innovators and people working today in the field of brain plasticity – both types of stories are equally interesting, inspiring and heartbreaking, in turns.

Most unexpected thing about this book – Doidge offered the best insight and interpretation of Freud I’ve ever read. He neatly goes through Freud’s stages of development and explains how it is reasonable in a terms of neoplastic framework. I was stunned and impressed.

If you are interested in how the brain works, what is going on in current neuroscience, if you know someone who struggles with autism or has had a stroke or suffers from other neurological impairment or challenge or if you have a brain – this is a book for you.

I was worried when I picked up this book that I would be bored by the bits about brain structure – this is not something I was ever able to follow when the subject arose in psych classes – but Doidge manages to keep it interesting.

Yeah, this is one of those books that I suggest giving a read. It offered a lot of…hope.

A work of fiction by Leo Tolstoy

I don’t think I’m enough of a romantic to enjoy this novel. My favourite parts where when the novel delved into descriptions regarding the economy, politics and the feudal system in 19th century Russia.

The love story parts  – well, I just didn’t like them – probably because I just didn’t like most of the characters. I felt a lot of sympathy for them, trapped as they were in 19th century Russia and all the social duties, expectations etc that went along with that. I think, probably, at the time of publishing, this was a ground-breaking, culture changing artwork – I can see that. Unfortunately, for me, I exist in a post-published-Anna-Karenina-world and the novel is not a new form for me – it is a well-respected, well-established form that I admire and love.  Unfortunately, too, I have no passion for Russian history, so even the parts that I found interesting, were less interesting.

I wanted to read this book and love it, having read other novels that refer to it in grand, romantic terms, but I’m neither romantic nor Russian enough.

Sorry for the spoiler, which, you already know, from the midpoint of this book I just really, really wanted her to get on with it and throw herself under the train already. And when she finally did, I still had two more chapters to go!

Ack!

Sorry. I respect this book and I respect the author – I just didn’t like it.

 

On Evil by Terry Eagleton (dedicated to Henry Kissinger)

Reading a brief description of this book leads one to believe that it is a book that will convince someone that evil exists, philosophical speaking. I think this book is better described as “philosophy light”.

To Eagleton’s credit, he comes clean at the outset of the book – he is taking a Freudian view of evil, the human psyche and the world. He also will use different fictional characters to illustrate his points about evil.

First, someone must let Professor Eagleton know that there is a difference between moral cognition – that is the psychological description of moral thinking or how people do think and act – and moral theory – which is philosophy that prescribes how people should think and act.

Second, although it is acceptable to use fictional characters to describe certain qualities, states and give examples, this book is not literary criticism, in philosophy it is more acceptable to discuss other philosopher’s works about the same topic, to enter the discourse. I realize that the author is a Professor of Literature, but if you are going to write a book about evil in literature, then at least call it “On Evil: Looking at the Characterization of Evil Using some of Literatures’ Most Dastardly” – which is a pretty OK title, if I do say so myself.

Thirdly, aren’t we all so very over Freud? Seriously. This book is written in 2010 and we are still taking Freud seriously. Not even neo-Freudism, not Jung, not any one who came after, but Freud.

I must admit that I hate Freud. And when I read that he was taking a Freudian stance, I almost put the book down and ran away. I didn’t. I hate running and I’m loathe to not finish a book once I’ve started. Unless it is really, really amazing and finishing would kill me.

So.

Loads of sloppy imagery – spider web as an image of being fragile? No. Spider web as image of being connected (like a web, maybe?), cunning trap, example of animal engineering, strength (those threads are some of the strongest things on earth) – yes.

Sloppy reasoning – if you are only to prove your own theories using fictional characters, then don’t expect others to be rooted solely in the real world. If all you talk about are literary images then don’t hold different thinkers to different standards from your own.

I liked his examples of characters, the book was absolutely at its strongest when he was talking about characters and offered up his reading and where the evil in each character is shown and revealed. The similarities between the characters were truly interesting and compelling. I have no trouble with art doing what philosophy cannot, I have come to hope for it, as philosophy often fails us. I don’t have a problem turning to art when philosophy fails me and I have never met a philosopher who does.

Happy that I read this book – it made me feel outraged. I remain unconvinced that evil exists in the Thing-in-itself (das Ding an sich) way and that it is ever possible to understand actions, motivations, people without context – the context gives meaning to the action, there is no such thing as two actions being exactly the same, except when context is applied. Context is everything.

Does evil exist? Maybe, but this book will not convince you.

I want my money back ‘cuz the marketing said this book would make me convinced that evil exists and I remain unconvinced.

I probably shouldn’t have written in it.

 

“The Year of the Flood” by Margaret Atwood.

This book is considered the companion book to “Oryx and Crake” by the author.

I back up for a moment to say a few things about “Oryx and Crake” – I first read this book about six months after it was released and around the time it was released Atwood also had another book out at the same time “The Blind Assassin” and Atwood was frequently on our National Public Broadcaster, CBC, talking about one book or the other. One of her interviews featured a long talk about the research team she assembled to prepare to write “Oryx and Crake” . I read “Oryx and Crake” one week-end and after finishing it I didn’t sleep for three nights/days. When I finally got to sleep, I had nightmares for about a month. It wasn’t a scary book – it was terrifying, terrifying as many of the places the book goes, have their roots in real things that were either happening at the time or had happened in the few years previous to the book. This is real science fiction, this book is the first we see as Margaret Atwood: Prophet.

“The Year of the Flood” – this book could also be titled “The End of the Human Race – A Woman’s Perspective”.  Set in the same dark future as “Oryx and Crake”, the book traces the same series of events through the eyes of two different women, their years leading up to the “Flood”, how they survive and find each other.

Atwood builds on the world and lingo introduced and explained in “Oryx and Crake” and adds some new words to the lexicon. We learn the origins of MaddAddam and gain a different perspective on Snowman/Jimmy and Glenn/Crake.

This book is overlaid by an impending sense of doom – the reader knows what is about to happen. The new characters overlap with the older characters, so when offered different perspectives or insights we have a more fully flushed version of all characters, all happenings.

I really liked the look into the cult the two women spend years and how these teachings from the cult assist them in surviving “The Flood”.

Did this book need to be written? I don’t know. I don’t even know if I needed to read it, but it was like an access back to this world. Trying to piece together the complete story of our world leading up to this genetically engineered plague – “The Flood” – grabs hold of the heart and doesn’t let go.

Between the two books, “Oryx and Crake” is the stronger read, stronger story and more compellingly written. It is also more surprising and more emotionally challenging. “Oryx and Crake” is the “must read” of these two books, where “The Year of the Flood” is the book to read to learn more.

Interestingly, a friend of mine said this morning that she hated “Oryx and Crake” and is currently really disappointed in Atwood’s recent writing. She doesn’t like sci-fi and is really disappointed that Atwood is embracing this genre.

Me, I think sci-fi is allowing Atwood to fully bloom as not only an author, but also as one of our current-day, living, prophets. Sometimes I think we forget that this a woman who not only has written numerous works and won awards, but is also an inventor and respected commentator on current events.

Atwood pens these two books in classic sci-fi form they serve as warnings, they extend current trends to logically conclusions. They aren’t suggestions of how the world should go, they warn us of where our world is going. Danger – this way there be monsters.

 

“The Value of Nothing – Why Everything Costs So Much More Than We Think” by Raj Patel.

This book could also be called “Economics Light” or “Why The Economy is Great Big Scam”.

I don’t much about economics and economic theory, this book put many things into perspective, including why Ayn Rand is more of an influence than Adam Smith. Very interesting.

The author cites many recent books that can explain different economic happenings – the first few pages he cites “The Black Swan” three times, which I found a bit worrisome as “The Black Swan” is currently waiting in my next pile of books to read, so it was like I was reading them out-of-order.

I hate Ayn Rand, so that so many economists who now weld power are influenced by her is really interesting. The author gave a really lovely, simple view of many of the concepts that economists and bankers cite to explain things and the most revealing things was, of course, how many of them misunderstand the source material or don’t realize that it is meant as parable or warning.

I strongly recommend this book to people who don’t have a background in economics. It isn’t going to restore anyone’s faith in the economy, bankers, corporations, but it will explain a few things – like offer a very clear understanding of the financial sector and how the American financial sector was allowed to do some pretty insane and insensible things that lead to the meltdown.

Greed, obviously, was explored in some depth. As was happiness.

One of the economic theories I will be investigating further is Buddhist Economics.

A good read. I got a lot of strange looks when I explained I was reading a book about the economy, but I think that I live in this world and the economy is a large part of the world that I live in. The current circumstances resulted in my company putting in a two-year wage freeze, so I figure the least I could do is understand a bit of why this happened, what my role (if any) was in it and how it may happen again.

The author had a good style, not too flashy and interesting enough for a topic that many people may find boring.

A good started book if you want to know more about the economy, but need it filtered and put into more easily understood terms.

Very good read. I learned a lot.

Soul Music by Terry Pratchett

I shouldn’t really write a review of this book – I love Terry Pratchett and I love the DiscWorld series. So, I’m stupidly biased for this book.

This time “music with rocks in it” comes to DiscWorld. Death goes AWOL for a while and we get kilometre a minute jokes, puns and sly musical references.

Not as enjoyable or as clever as either novels featuring the Witches or The Watch, but a solid, enjoyable read.

Did I laugh out loud? Yes.

Would I read it again? Uh, no, some books once is good, it was a good once.

Should you read it? I don’t know. Do you like your fantasy with laughs and chuckles, physics references, philosophy references and loads of popcult references? If so, then maybe.

Is it a good intro into to the DiscWorld universe? Nope. If you are new to DiscWorld, try something that features either the Witches or The Watch – these characters are better developed and have odder adventures.

Again, one of the coolest things I like about this series is you can start anywhere. I started with Lords and Ladies a friend of mine started with one of The Watch books – both of us love the series and neither of the these books were the “first DiscWorld” novel. And there are some of them that just don’t really interest me at all.

Next time I travel I will pick another DiscWorld book. For sure.

I love reading this kind of book.

The charts and math slow me down a bit in parts, but otherwise a perfect read for a Sunday afternoon.

This book is a must read for anyone who is interested…ok, this book is a must read for everyone.  Who lives.

Seriously.

Two epidemiologists take the methods for tracking and analyzing epidemics and looking at 23 countries  and comparing how they do on the International Index of Health and Social Problems and crossing that with how equal the countries are. Across the board, those countries that are more equal have less health and social problems, those countries who are less equal have more health and social problems.

Whoa.

The data is nicely broken up with snippets of news stories, to better illustrate the social or health problem and the writing is very good – not dryly academic, but suffused with a passion.

The use of charts was excellent and very useful in terms of understanding the point and all the statistical data is given at in the reference pages at the end.

They really tied everything in too – psychological studies (Milgram’s compliance experiments) , sociologic theories (Durkheim and de Tocqueville) and, animal behaviour (chimpanzees and bonobos) and genetics (bonobos and humans)

Very nice.

My favourite part of the book was when they talked about how people living in the lower part in more unequal societies try to gain the physical trappings of the upper parts. This answered a long-standing curiosity about why people who don’t have a lot of income will spend their money on things they can’t afford rather than groceries or things of real value. It’s all status, baby: you can afford to skimp on groceries (‘cuz no one sees in your kitchen cupboards), but you need a cell phone ‘cuz important people have cells phones.

Interesting was also the part where they talk about how two very different kinds of self-esteem exist, the first kind being “real self-esteem” that contributes to being socially secure, making friends easily and relating to people and the other is “negative self-esteem” which is purely reactionary. So, you feel good about yourself, but it isn’t based on anything real and it actually makes you more of jerk – more racist, more violent and less able to make friends, it is a reaction to the rest of society putting you down.

Very interesting stuff.

I loved too, how non-partisan this book is – it would be so very easy to put forth a “better way” of government, but they suggest that achieving equality can take many roads.

I’m going to check out their website.

What I learned today: So much, so much.