I seem to have a rather mixed response to the author David Mitchell (not to be confused with the comedian David Mitchell who is brilliant). Ghostwritten is the fourth of his books that I’ve read now. Of the previous titles I’ve read, I was underwhelmed and disappointed by Cloud Atlas, I really liked The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet but it did take me awhile to get into it, while number9dream was a challenge to read but overall I thought it was good. Despite the fact that I hadn’t completely loved any of his other books, I still wanted to read more, and I decided to read this one, his first novel.
Ghostwritten is described as ‘a novel in nine parts’. Each chapter follows a different character, and so at times it is almost like reading a short story collection, except that the chapters and characters are subtly linked. For example the character in the first chapter makes a phone call, and in the second chapter the character receives the phone call. In one chapter the main character saves a women from being run over, and in turn she is the main character of the next chapter. There are also minor characters mentioned who crop up again in Mitchell’s later novels. So all of the chapters are interconnected, as well as being thematically linked.
I really liked the book, in fact I think it’s my favourite of his that I’ve read so far. Some of the chapters/characters/stories were more interesting than others but overall they were all really good, and I loved the way that they were all linked together and all the little connections to figure out between them. It’s really well written, interesting and thought-provoking, and I really liked it (perhaps more than I was expecting to).
Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls is the newest book of humorous autobiographical essays from David Sedaris. I am a big fan of David Sedaris, I have read all of his other books and I generally love them, they are wonderfully funny and I always enjoy reading them. I also saw him a few years ago now at the book festival here in Edinburgh and he was a really entertaining speaker too. So I was of course really excited to read his new book, and I was not at all disappointed with it. If you’re familiar with Sedaris’ style and humour then you know exactly what to expect. It’s a mixture of reminiscences about his childhood and early adult life, mixed with more recent anecdotes about his life at present. There are also a few short fictional pieces scattered throughout the book as well. For fans of Sedaris it is nothing new, but then that is not a complaint, because it is entirely what I wanted from his new book. It’s funny and interesting and enjoyable reading. I’d really recommend all of his books, and this one is a good addition to the collection.
This week’s book club book was A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I read it on the Kindle because it is old enough to be out of copyright and available for free. For my review I’m not going to bother finding an image of the cover to post because it seems like every single different cover this book has had is equally ridiculous. Take a look at this Google image search and see what I mean. I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by it’s cover but I have to confess that I was a bit put off, and my opinion of the book never recovered from that. It’s an incredibly dated book full of sexist and racist overtones. The main character is a ridiculously over the top hero. Plot wise it’s a pulp science fiction adventure story, and while I suppose it was entertaining at times I was mostly left rolling my eyes at it. The book is considered a classic of the science fiction genre, but that does not necessarily make it a good book. I really disliked the book, but a few of the other people at the book club had much more positive reactions to it, so I’m not sure if it is just a matter of taste that I can’t bring myself to enjoy this sort of thing but other people could appreciate it more. Anyway sorry for the short and not particularly detailed review, but I’m really busy at the moment and there is not much else I can think of to say for this book.
I have a document where I keep track of all the books I’ve read each year. I just noticed that I’d made a typo with The Princess Bride. Somehow I think The Princess Brie would be a very different book. Never go in against a Sicilian when cheese is on the line!
I was a big fan of the television show Jeeves & Wooster when I was younger, and a few years ago I eventually got around to reading one of the original books by PG Wodehouse. I really enjoyed that one and meant to read more, but got caught up with reading other things. Until recently that is, when I had a sudden craving for more and read Carry On, Jeeves by PG Wodehouse. It’s a collection of short stories featuring the hapless Bertie Wooster, and his clever valet Jeeves who can be relied on to get Bertie and his friends out of all sorts of trouble. The stories are great, and Wodehouse is a terrifically funny writer with such a brilliant unique style. Really there is nothing else like him, at least as far as I know. Featuring rich, aristocratic young men from the 1920s, it’s nothing like real life, but that makes it perfect for light-hearted escapism. Nothing terrible happens in these books and Jeeves has it all sorted out by the end of the story. The stories are funny, the characters are wonderful and I find it all just impossible to dislike. I’ll definitely be reading more of the Jeeves books in the future, I am sure they will be something I can turn to when I want something reliably funny and light. They may not be to everyone’s taste but I’d definitely recommend giving it a try if you want to read a comedy classic.
I recently finished reading The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson. It’s a bit different from the sort of thing I usually read, but I do occasionally like to expand my horizons. I’d seen this one in the book shop and been amused by the title and the premise of the book. Then when I looked up some reviews on Amazon I noticed that at the time the Kindle edition was only £0.20. Well I figured that for 20p I could take a chance on a book that had good reviews and intrigued me. And I’m really glad I did, because I loved the book.
Allan Karlsson is the titular centenarian, and on the day of his 100th birthday he climbs out of the window of his room at the home for old people where he lives, to escape his birthday party. On the run, he makes an impulsive decision to steal a suitcase at the bus station, and this leads to him being pursued by both the police and a gang of Swedish criminals. He makes his way across the country, acquiring new friends and leaving a trail of bodies behind him after a few unfortunate incidents. Interspersed with the current events are chapters which tell the story of Allan’s long life, from his childhood onwards, which makes it clear that this sort of adventure is nothing out of the ordinary for Allan.
It’s a fantastic story, and I was utterly captivated by it. The plot is brilliant, and the writing is great too, I loved the style of it. The characters are also excellent, Allan especially but also the various other characters he encounters (including a few historical figures in his past). It’s a thoroughly entertaining and funny book, a perfect enjoyable and light hearted read. I was taken by surprise by how much I enjoyed it, but I really loved it and I would unreservedly recommend it.
I loved the whole labyrinth thing through John Green’s Looking for Alaska. This is a great illustration of a great quote from the book.
Last week I read Looking for Alaska by John Green. It was his first novel, but it is actually the last of his that I had left to read, having worked my way through his other books over the past year or so. The book is about Miles, a 16 year old who is going away to boarding school for the first time. There he becomes friends with his room mate who is a prankster called the Colonel, and falls for a girl called Alaska. But when she dies he becomes obsessed with understanding her life and what happened to her. I liked the book for the most part but there were aspects of it that I disliked too.
The positives - it was a compelling read, I finished it in one sitting. It combines humour with emotional depth and some interesting observations about relationships, life and death, serious topics like that. I liked the main character Miles too, although he wasn’t all that different from the male protagonists in some of John Green’s other novels. I also liked the way that the chapters were structured, first counting down to an unspecified event, and then counting the days since the event. It added a tension and a good sense of timing to the book.
The main downside is the issue that I seem to have with a lot of YA books which is that I just can’t relate to the characters. It’s not even that I’m too old now, just that my own teenage years were nothing like what is depicted in these sorts of books. But maybe that’s why I like reading them too. Anyway, I did find all of the characters a bit trying at times, they all have their flaws, but that’s not a bad thing either to have imperfect characters.
Overall I liked the book, but not as much as some of John Green’s other books. Now that I’ve read them all I think my favourites are The Fault in Our Stars and An Abundance of Katherines. Then would be Paper Towns. This is actually probably my least favourite, along with Will Grayson, Will Grayson (which wasn’t bad, just not spectacular). But as I said, I enjoyed the book and I’d recommend it to people who like John Green and this sort of YA.
Another book I read recently is The Postman by David Brin. The book was recommended to me by one of the people at my book group who is a big fan of all of Brin’s various novels. Apparently it was also adapted into a really terrible movie some time ago, but fortunately I had never seen it. The book is a post-apocalyptic science fiction novel set some time after a vaguely explained catastrophe that had led to the downfall of civilisation. I used to read quite a lot of post-apocalyptic SF, and occasionally I still do, so while I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, I was cautiously optimistic.
As I said, it is a post-apocalyptic novel, set is the remains of the United States, where a solitary drifter is making his way west. After he is attacked and all of his supplies stolen, he comes across an abandoned postal van with a body inside. He takes the uniform of the dead postman, and some of the letters he was carrying. As he continues to travel west he starts to create the story of himself as a real postman, a representative of a new government seeking to re-establish civilisation. He passes through various small towns that have survived and they come to believe that he really is a postman, putting him in a position of authority to help build a new society and face down the threat of savage factions which still seek to fight.
I mostly enjoyed the book, it was a good read that held my interest and I got through it quite quickly. But it did have a few flaws. Firstly, written in 1985, it felt a bit dated in places. The book had the civilisation collapsing in the early 21st century. That’s not a big problem, I’ve read other older SF books that have the same issue where their future is now our past, and it’s easy to overlook in some cases. But this one seemed to have a clearly dated 80s vision of the future and technology and even the characters, I thought. The characters themselves were another issue, I just didn’t much care for the main character. He’s a well developed and well written character certainly, but I found him to be increasingly annoying as the book went on. But there is no rule that says you have the like the character to like the book, so again it’s not a major fault.
The main problem with the book though was that it was originally published as two separate novellas and then combined, and you can really tell. I loved the first section of the book, and alone it would have received high praise from me, but the second half really brings it down. The insightful, philosophical approach of the first half gives way to more action driven sequences than aren’t really as well done, along with less developed characters, and increasingly repetitive musings from the main character.
Overall there are some positives, I enjoyed reading the book and I thought it raised some interesting questions about society and civilisation and the individual’s role in that. But while there were a lot of good elements, it just didn’t come together overall and it definitely started to lose it in the second half. I’ve certainly read better post-apocalyptic SF than this one. However I enjoyed it enough that I am interested in checking out some of David Brin’s other novels, especially his space opera books, so I will look into that in the future.
This is awesome, a book mark that actually marks your exact spot. I generally try to read until section breaks or the end of the chapter, but this could really come in handy.
As Granta recently put out their list of best young novelists, the Guardian decided to put together a similar list of authors in the science fiction and fantasy genres. It looks like a good list, certainly I am a big fan of Joe Abercrombie and China Mieville, who both appear. There are also a lot of authors who have been on my radar recently, so this may prove to be a good source of recommendations for my to-read list.
The Princess Bride by William Goldman is the book that the brilliant cult classic movie is based on. I’m not sure how many people are actually aware that the film is an adaptation of a book, certainly when this was picked for my book club this week, a few people were surprised. I’ve read the book a few times before, but I was happy to read it again for the book club because it is a great book. However as much as I enjoy it, I am sure that part of that is because I absolutely adore the film, and in fact this is one of those rare books where I think that the movie is actually better. That may be because I saw the film first and it is one of my favourites, and it is so ingrained in my mind that the book can’t help but suffer a little in comparison. Nonetheless it is still enjoyable to read the book too. When I last read it a few years ago I wrote this review, and I largely have to agree with what I said then. I don’t want to repeat myself, so just go and read that review for a bit more detail! So to sum up, it is a great, fun book to read, and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who has seen the movie. But I do prefer the film, and even though I saw it last only a few months ago, I’m now itching to rewatch it again.