Having just missed one hundred books in the first year of The Book Challenge, in 2010, I made the full tonne. Still reading, but without the challenge, take a look at the reviews for the books that I have read this year.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Book 34 - Breakfast at Tiffany's

Book - Breakfast at Tiffany's
Author - Truman Capote
Year - 1958
Genre - Fiction

One of the problems with The Book Challenge is that through necessity you rattle through an incredible number of books in a short period of time, meaning that every few days or so you have to bridge that slightly awkward gap of beginning a new book.  That strange feeling whereby you don't yet know the characters or the world that the novel is set in.  You don't understand the quirks of the writer, and don't yet know if this will be a story that is your cup of tea.  In my 'to be read' pile, I currently have around ten books that I have opened, read the first five or six pages, and then decided I couldn't get into at that time, so they have gone back on the pile for another day.

It is therefore wonderful to start a book such as Breakfast at Tiffany's which hooks you immidantly.  If just by the sheer force of writing, I found myself fully entranced by this book by the time I reached page two.  And from there on it continues to be a massively charming book, with amazing characters.

Descriptions of the characters, such as the 'Amazon' Mag Wildwood,  and the 'oversized baby' Rusty Trawler are fantastic, but it is the awesome force of the iconic Holly Golightly which not only makes this book the triumph it is, but also turns it from a potentially pretty standard New York novel to a true character piece.

From the visual description of her, through to the subtle nuances of her speech, the reader gets a real sense of what it is like to be around Holly.  She is a whirlwind of enigma, who everyone falls in love with as soon as they meet her, and it is not hard to understand why just reading along.

Capote was apparently very unhappy with the film version of Breakfast at Tiffany's saying that it was far too tamed down in comparisson to the book.  To my shame, I haven't seen the film, but it made an icon of Audrey Hepburn.  If it is half as good as the book, then it is certainly worth a look.  In the meantime - find this book and read it.

9/10

Monday, 17 May 2010

Book 33 - Pygmalion

Book - Pygmalion
Author - George Bernard Shaw
Year - 1916
Genre - Play

This is the first time this year that I have read a play in this challenge (yes, I have read the Rent script several thousand times, but after the first time it ceases to count) and I made it one with a connection to what I am doing.  Pygmalion is the play on which DAODS next musical My Fair Lady is based, and I thought this would be a perfect bit of background reading - and seeing as how I spotted it in a charity shop on the afternoon of the first rehearsal day, it seemed too good an opportunity to miss.

And I am really glad I did.  The impression I have from skimming the first few pages of the My Fair Lady script is that it is massively similar to the play it is based on - even down to large sections of the script being exactly the same.  The Shaw play is excellent, so this is definitely a great thing.

The characters of Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins are now massively famous, and rightly so.  Eliza is a strong willed woman being written in a time where women were denied a massive role in society.  Shaw has obvious feminist leanings throughout the play, and Eliza's interaction with the equally strong minded and socially inept Higgins is wonderful - particularly in their set piece at the end of the play.

But even beyond that, the characters of Pickering and, particularly, Alfred Doolittle are brilliant, and each page makes you see each side of the coin between Higgins and Eliza.  It's a wonderful play that despite being nearly one hundred years old still remains relevant and enjoyable.  Apparently My Fair Lady made more money for the Shaw estate than everything else he did put together, so Pygmalion will always live on, but it is definitely worth more people reading the play aside from just knowing musical it became.

As a small aside, it is interesting to note that the part that I have been given in My Fair Lady goes under a different name in Pygmalion.  Whereas my character will be called Zoltan Karpathy, the original work calls him Nepommuck.  And the character himself likes to be known as 'Hairy Faced Dick'.  So typecast.

8/10

If you fancy seeing me in the show, then please visit either DAODS website or the Orchard Theatre website.

And completely unrelated, the show I am directing, Rent, starts next week, 25th to 29th March.  Come and see it because it is blooming brilliant!  Tickets on 020 8300 8148.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Book 32 - The Hell of it All

Book - The Hell of it All
Author - Charlie Brooker
Year - 2009
Genre - Article Compilation
Leant to me by Bob of Bob's Blog

Anyone who is paying attention at all - so mainly me - may have noticed that I have not updatedfor nearly a fortnight now.  Well, I have a show coming up again, one that I am directing this time (Rent, 25th-29th May, Heathfields Hall, 020 8300 8148) and as such have been even more busy than usual.  Add to that the fact that the book I have been reading is not by any means a page turner and you may see the reasons for me falling a little behind.

This is not to say that this is a bad book - far from it - but more a reflection on what it takes to read certain types of book.  In terms of number of pages The Hell of it All comes in massivley short of the last Harry Potter book I read - approximately 400 pages to 700 - but for all the wit and insight in the world, it is harder to get lost in a series of articles about vastly varying topics.

Bringing it back to the actual content of the book, despite - and maybe a little because of - the varying topics, Charlie Brooker has put together one of the most entertaining non-fiction books I have read in a long time.  Flitting between subjects such as politics, rapping, depression, Big Brother and Coolio, Brooker has something interesting to say on every one of them.  As I find myself doing now that I am writing this blog, I was keeping a mental record of some of the funnier lines to jot down here, but such is the regularity of laugh out loud funny moment, that I completely lost track.

I have always liked Charlie Brooker.  Despite being a grumpy old sod, he gives out a certain likability which makes you feel as though you know him personally, and now having read this book, I like him even more.  Yet another good reccomendation by my counterpart Bob.

8/10

Read Bob's review of this book here.
Read Charlie Booker's Guardian column here.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Book 31 - The Book of Big Excuses

Book - The Book of Big Excuses
Author - Tracey Turner
Year - 2008
Genre - Toilet Book
Bought for me by John Gompers

When you can't wait to get to the end of a book just so that you can write a review pointing out what a pile of crap it is, you know that you are not reading a modern classic.  It genuinely angered me that there is a marking on the back of this book suggesting that people part with £6.99 of their hard earned cash just in order to buy the most hastily put together piece of nonsense around.

So why does this book deserve such scathing comments from me?  Well, the first thing is the content.  As the title may suggest, it is a book documenting a series of different excuses for all kinds of things - driving ticket excuses, sporting errors etc.  The first section deals with lateness.  Now I have read a great deal of these types of 'toilet book' which contain snippets of mildly interesting information, and they vary greatly in quality, but at least most of the time I can see how they could be interesting.  This book misses the boat by listing excuses such as 'For three years running, an office worker was late on the Monday morning after the change to summer daylight saving time' and 'On only her fourth day at work, one woman was an hour and a half late because, she claimed, she couldn't find the building.'  Not only are these massively dull bits of information to hear, but they could have happened to anybody!  The author has not taken the time to find out genuine things that have actually happened, but instead has just put together something vaguely plausible and passed it off as a true story.  I'm not saying wither of these things have never happened, but why should I believe in them based on the fact that 'a woman' is the source of this fact.  Admittedly, the book improves in this sense, and starts naming where some things happened, and in some cases - notably the sport section - who it actually happened to, but to start off with a chapter that assumes such stupidity and ease of entertainment of its reader is quite frankly dreadful.

The second thing is the design.  I could have knocked this book up in about an hour on Microsoft Word Processor (for any of you who don't use this programme, it is the world's best advert for shelling the money out on Word).  A sprawling lump of badly spaced out sections, with little hand bullet points, and a quick change into itallics when there is a list that has been stolen from the internet does not make for a professional looking book, and instead struck me as a rush job simply put together as an excuse to pinch money off of people looking to buy a gift for a friend.

There are plenty of books out there of this genre that are genuinely good reads, and I love finding a gem amoungst them.  I suppose in a peverse way, the anticipation of venting my annoyance at this book means that it isn't completely without merit, but a gem it certainly isn't.  If there is any one book on my list that you don't read this year, make it this one.

1/10

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Book 30 - Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief

Book - Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief
Author - Rick Riordan
Year - 2005
Genre - Fantasy
Recommended by one of our Year 6's, Elise.

From the structure of the title, to the label saying 'Now A Major Film' to the blurb describing how a twelve year old boy suddenly discovers that he has magical powers, this book screams out Harry Potter rip off.  The aforementioned Major Film was even directed by Harry Potter director Chris Columbus.  I have no particular problem with a rip off of a book that I like, except for the fact that they are very rarely anywhere near as good as the books they try to emulate.  However, I had been told it was good, and Asda were selling it pretty cheap, so as an impulse buy I grabbed it.  And in complete honesty, I don't know how quickly I would have started it, but due to the previous night's excesses, I felt too ill yesterday to get out of my chair and find a different book, so I grabbed the one closest to where I was sitting and tried to read my hangover away.

And I am very glad that I did.  On paper this could be a bad Potter emulation, but in actual fact it is a rather clever premise of its own.  Percy Jackson has spent his life with strange things happening to him, but it is not untill he is twelve years old that he discovers that this is due to him being the son of a Greek god.  As imortals, they never died, but continued to live in society, and on Mount Olympus, which has been relocated to New York.

The weaving together of Greek tales and the modern world is brilliant.  All of the ancient characters are given a slightly modern spin, and everything is made quite believable.  The interaction between the characters is lovely, and far better than many young adult fantasy books I have read.  Despite being nearly 400 pages, I managed to absorb this in a day as whenever I put the book down, I wanted to pick it up again and read it some more.

The biggest annoying point of the whole book is the chapter titles.  Each chapter starts with a title which pretty much tells you what is going to happen in each section.  As soon as I noticed this, it began to annoy me to the extent where I would cover it up as soon as I had turned the page.  A small point maybe, but one that annoyed me enough to put here.

Just to completely dispel the link between Harry Potter and Percy Jackson as well, the orginal draft of this book was finished in 1994, so whilst similarities will always be abound, it has always been a story in its own right.

8/10

You can find website for the author, Rick Riordan, here.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Book 29 - Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Book - Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Author - JK Rowling
Year - 2003
Genre - Fantasy

The fifth Harry Potter book was also the first that I went to get at midnight on the day that it came out.  It might sound sad, but even at nineteen years old, I was massively excited.  Now all of the books are out, it saddens me that we will probably never experience such a phenomenon in literature that could persuade hundreds of people to be queueing up outside a shop at an ungodly hour just to be able to buy a book as soon as it comes out.

Weighed up against the excitement of getting the new book before everyone else, was the little problem of the book itself.  Order of the Phoenix is the longest, and unfortunately worst, of the series.  To be fair, this is based on the rather high standards of the series, so it is not in itself a bad book, but it just doesn't live up to expectations.  When this happens in a series, the books sometimes feel much better in a reread, but alas, I felt that it came off a little worse.

One big problem is relating to the death in the book.  I won't spoil the identity on the offchance that you haven't read the series, but before publication there was a lot made in the media by Rowling of how one of the major characters would be dying, and it was on this basis that many ploughed through the book to find out who it would be.  With so much interest, there are dozens of red herrings that crop up throughout.  Just when you think one of your favourites has hit the dust, they turn out to be okay, and you are left waiting.  I remember this being quite exciting when I first read it - it could have been anyone - but upon rereading once you know who it will be, it seems very tired to be hoaxing again and again.

Then once the death arrives, it is rubbish.  Both the first time and this time, I remember rereading the page to see if that was it, if the much publisised death had just happened.  It comes out of nowhere, and then occurs without really saying what happened.  Hopefully those who have read it will agree, but it doesn't really make it very clear that anyone has died at all, and on the back of all of the close calls earlier in the book is very disappointing.

Add to that the fact that this book sees the birth of Emo Potter - Harry's irritating alter ego who spends most of the book moaning and whining and being massively unreasonable to his friends who are just trying to help him - and it is easy to see why it is seen as a low point in the series.  However, it is impossible to deny that it is still an incredibly enjoyable book, and despite my moaning here, a book that I know in a few years time, I will pick up and enjoy again.

8/10