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.

Saturday, 31 December 2011

Book 60 - Mother Courage and Her Children

Book - Mother Courage and Her Children
Author - Bertolt Brecht
Year - 1939
Genre - Play
Pages - 93

Finishing 2011 on a nice round number is my book number sixty - the play Mother Courage and Her Children by Bertolt Brecht.  Brecht is one of the biggest names in theatre, and anyone who has studied drama will be very aware of him and what he bought to the table in terms of advancing the form, but if I am completely honest, I have never read nor seen any of his plays.  Picking this up in a little bookshop in Suffolk, I thought it may be a chance to change that.

Mother Courage is an anti war play.  It follows the life of the eponymous character, a lady who makes her profit from the war.  However, it causes a series of massive personal losses to her, and all combines to portray a rather bleak idea of war.  This is of course, exactly what Brecht was aiming for in this piece, and no doubt when performed can be very effective.  I found that as a play to read however, a lot was lost.  I spent too much time at the beginning trying to remember who was who, and an unfair amount of time being confused that one of the characters is called Swiss Cheese - not really too hard to get your head around when his name is written alongside his lines all along, but something I struggled with nonetheless.

There is a big bit of me that realises that I am wrong here.  This play is widely regarded as one of the best and most important of the past one hundred years.  But this is my blog, and if I want to not enjoy a piece of classic theatre writing, then I will.


Thursday, 29 December 2011

Book 59 - Around the World in Eighty Days

Book - Around the World in Eighty Days
Author - Jules Verne
Year - 1873
Genre - Classic Adventure
Pages - 161

When people heard that I was reading the Jules Verne classic Around the World in Eighty Days I tended to hear repeated to me a little fact about the book - one which if I am honest, I didn't know at all at the time - which I suppose constitutes a little spoiler.  There is no instance throughout the book in which our protagonist, Mr Phileas Fogg, actually uses a hot air balloon.  The balloon depicted on the cover is the main conveyance in Verne's earlier book - which is also included in the volume I read - Five Weeks in a Balloon.  It is tidbits like this that make me realise that I need to read more classic books.

The story behind the book is pretty well known, at least in concept.  On a wager, the enigmatic Fogg attempts to travel around the world in only eighty days.  This book follows his attempts to do so.

The question of whether I enjoyed reading it or not is a much trickier one.  For the first fifty pages or so, I was loving it.  There are certain books of the era that this was written - King Solomon's Mines being the other that springs to mind - which have an exciting pace that is very similar to a lot of books that are written today.  This has that feel to it.  However, for whatever reason, I became really really bored with the book.  I don't know why, and would love to pinpoint it to some literary reason, but unfortunately can't.  I just got a bit bored.  This could be the book's fault, or it could be mine, but however it goes, it is not a great sign.  I actually left it for about a month and a half, but came back in the end, and whilst I am glad I did, because it isn't actually a bad book, I can't shake the fact that my interest dwindled so much at one point.

As a sub note, it is something that I really dislike in books of this era, that each chapter starts with a line which tells you what is going to happen in the chapter.  I really don't understand why they do it, as whilst it isn't the most spoilerish thing in the world, it certainly doesn't help at all.  I end up trying my very best to skip my eyes over the start of each chapter, and that is a silly way to read a book.  So this is my shout out to any nineteenth century authors currently reading this - stop it with the chapter summaries.  They are rubbish.


Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Book 58 - Julian: A Christmas Story

Book - Julian: A Christmas Story
Author - Robert Charles Wilson
Year - 2006
Genre - Science Fiction
Pages - 86

I like to read a good Christmas book around this time of the year, and so when browsing the shelves of one of our local charity shops, I spotted this book, I thought it may be a pretty sensible thing to grab and take a read of.  There's nothing like a nice Christmas book to get you in the Christmas spirit.

However, I soon realised that the title of this book was pretty misleading.  Set several hundred years into the future on an Earth that has come to it's knees due to an over reliance on natural fuels, and is now effectively run by the Church.  This is a novella that introduces us to the early years of a family member of the ruler of America - someone in what is pretty much a dictator's role.  The name derives from the fact that everything takes place during Christmas time, but there is not a lot of Chrissmassy moments to take away.

Not that this makes it a bad book - just a little bit disappointing for getting my hopes up and then dashing them so cruelly.  In fact, as a novella it does a lot to whet the appetite for a proper follow up - something that Wilson followed through with, and which I intend to get my hands on at some point in the near future.  A nice read, with some great ideas that deserve expanding upon.


Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Book 57 - Mauve

Book - Mauve
Author - Simon Garfield
Year - 2000
Genre - Science/Biography
Pages - 204

This is a book which tells of the life of Sir William Perkins - the man who invented mauve.  That is all I knew when I received the book to read.  I had recently read another book by Simon Garfield and decided that I quite fancied reading some more by him, so I did a bit of a search on what else he had written.  I had already read about the British wrestling scene, and could now add Radio 1 DJs, cocaine use in Thatcherite Britain, the construction of a Mini, stamp collecting, font types, and the discovery of mauve.  Quite the eclectic mix, but massively intriguing, so I jumped on to the ever brilliant Read It Swap It (which I promise I will one day get to writing about) and got myself a copy of this book - Mauve.

Now first things first, don't get the impression that because it took me three weeks to read this - an eternity by my standards, particularly for a book that clocks in at just over two hundred words - that this is a tough to read, really sciency book.  It is far from it.  I have just been incredibly busy for a while, and haven't squeezed in as much reading as I would usually like.  In fact, this is a wonderfully easy to read book when you consider its content - something that now, by paragraph three, I should probably tell you about.

In 1856, William Henry Perkins was working with coal tar byproducts trying to invent a synthetic quinine - the drug used to treat malaria.  He figured that with a synthetic cure, he could make the world a much better place.  However, by accident, he created a substance which dyed his coat purple.  He did some tests and discovered that he had successfully found a dye that would hold fast and in a vibrant colour that it had not been possible to dye before.  From there he decided to market it, and despite becoming a little bit of an academic pariah, he was very successful.  It is from his discovery, that much of today's chemistry comes, and quite poetically, his work has resulted in some of the most important medical advances in the world.

The joy of Garfield's writing, is that even if you have no prior knowledge of a field - and unsurprisingly in this case, I had none whatsoever - he manages to draw you in.  I can think of few subjects that on the outside appear more boring than the invention of the colour mauve, but he somehow makes it all seem interesting, without appearing to be a throwaway book with no actual information.  I am now very much looking forward to getting my hands on some of the other strange books that he has written.


Find Simon Garfield's website here