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.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Book 12 - Adam Spencer's Book of Numbers

Book - Adam Spencer's Book of Numbers
Author - Adam Spencer
Year - 2000
Genre - Maths
Pages - 214

It is a little bit of a guilty secret of mine that I actually quite enjoy maths.  Maybe I shouldn't, but I think that numbers can be quite fun.  So a book that takes all of the numbers from one to one hundred and tells us a little bit about them sounded fun.  Oh, how wrong I can be.  Spencer has made a list of the first hundred numbers and dedicates a page or two to each of them, giving us some mathematical insight into them, or some cultural insight, or just how they affect the modern world.  Well, that is what he claims he is doing.  Instead we get a bit of a mess.

First the mathematical facts.  Well quite frankly, most of them are dull.  A note at the beginning of each section telling us that it is a prime number or an abundant number is the sum of most of it.  We do get an explanation of the more obscure things which is nice, but very few of them hold much interest, and are not the kind of thing that you can go telling your friends as a nice bit of trivia.  There is one section that explains a pretty cool little unsolved maths problem (take any number, if it is even then halve it, if it is odd then times it by three and add one.  Do the same to your result and carry on.  You will always end up at 1.)  I had heard it before, but it is still a cool maths thing.  However, it takes up pretty much the entirety of 92.  It has no particular connection to 92, as it works for any number, but he had evidently run out of things to say by this point, so shoehorned it in somehow.

Although he probably needn't have bothered.  Most of the pop culture facts are rubbish.  A large amount of space in the book is taken up with TV programmes and how many episodes there were - not even in the whole series sometimes, as 90 shows us that this is the episode number of the first episode of the last series of MacGyver, although it continued for another seventeen shows, so is actually nothing to do with 90 then - or basic statements of fact - The Beach Boys had an album called 20/20 is a fact under 20, but not an interesting one by any stretch of the imagination.  I cannot imagine why anybody would think that these are actual interesting pieces of information.  Why not take a number such as 13 and explore the reasons behind why it is seen as an unlucky number.  That would actually be an interesting read instead of insipid pieces of non-trivia.

However, even dull trivia is preferable to incorrect trivia, and that is seen by the bucket load.  After a while I started looking for it and noting it for this blog (yes, I am that sad).  The one that annoyed me most was that the gang in Scooby Doo are called Scooby, Shaggy, Daphne, Velma and Alan.  I have Googled it (which Spencer seems to have used for most of this book, but evidently not this one) and I can see no reference to Alan having ever been a member of the gang, unless it is an alias of Fred.  Also included is 'If you leave a photocopier on 99 copies then it will genuinely piss of at least 1 person'.  This is a completely redundant statement!  Aside from the fact that it could say 58 or 104 or any other number - including 2, as it is frustrating as hell when it happens - so what?  It isn't actually a 'fact' and is not funny, and useless for a book like this.

Although while we are looking at nonsense that could be under any number let's include that under 65 we have that Jackie Chan has appeared in over 65 movies (so list that fact under the actual number of movies he has appeared in seeing as how the sole purpose of your soulless little book is to tell us something about the numbers rather than put in a statement including an arbitrary nod at any number you fancy) and the same goes for the inclusion of the 'fact' that sea lions may mate with more than 100 females.  Of course, they may not.  They may mate with less.  And we have already hedged our bets by announcing that it may be more.  So this should read 'Sealions, and some other animals mate with others from their species any number between none and hundreds of times.'  But then that wouldn't have been interesting.  Like this book.

Well, at least it provided a ranty blog, which hasn't happened for a while.  I wouldn't bother with this at all.  Unless you love awful things that are dreadful.  Then give it a whirl.

2/10 (there were very, very small glimpses of okay facts in it which along with it giving me a chance to write a blog of book-hating, gives it a couple of marks)

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Book 11 - 31 Songs

Book - 31 Songs
Author - Nick Hornby
Year - 2002
Genre - Music
Pages - 2004

I am a big fan of Nick Hornby.  I have read all of his novels, and I thought it would be a great idea to go through and read the non-fiction books that he has done.  I remember this book coming out many years ago, and thinking what a great idea for a book it was.  Hornby has taken thirty-one songs that he loves or has loved, and has written about the music, and why it matters to him.

I chose to go through this book with YouTube open, listening to each of the tracks as I read about them.  From this I heard some great new songs - Ian Drury and the Blockheads' Reasons To Be Cheerful Part Three is the first that springs to mind - and heard some songs I love that I haven't heard for a long time - Badly Drawn Boy and Ben Folds Five are two that I have listened to a lot in the past, but haven't heard for some time.  With so much music out there it is nice to be directed to some things that someone loves, and whilst this usually comes in the form of advice from friends, I have no objection to it being from a world famous author with a known love of music behind him.

The problem with the book itself, is that it tends towards being incredibly self indulgent.  Nick Hornby knows a lot about music.  He likes old rock music, but goes to great pains to show that he is not shallow - including songs such as Nelly Furtado's I'm Like A Bird - but unfortunately then spends a lot of time talking about 'proper music' and 'real musicians'.  Riffing on the splendour of a particular riff for two pages is massively unnecessary to probably anyone except for the artist he is reviewing themselves, and some of the entries become absolutely dull.

The bright spots come instead from the moments when he talks about his life, and in particular the entry that he writes about A Minor Incident by Badly Drawn Boy, which was written for the soundtrack to the film version of his book About A Boy, but Hornby finds when he listens to it, that it says everything that he has ever wanted to say about his autistic son Danny.  It is a genuine and open moment, and is actually very moving.  If there were more of these in the book, then it may have become a must read, as opposed to being more of a book that I am only particularly pleased to have read in order to complete my Nick Hornby collection.


Book 10 - Mr Toppit

Book - Mr Toppit
Author - Charles Elton
Year - 2009
Genre - Fiction
Pages - 343

I grabbed this one in a charity shop in Dartford because it had a pretty intriguing cover.  The dark tree-like swirls and the cut out front make it look like a good fantasy crossover.  Reading the blurb enhances this idea - the story is about the death of Arthur Hayman, writer of the children's books The Hayseed Chronicles, and how his family deals with the legacy left behind when his books become a Harry Potter-esque phenomenon, and the secrets hidden within them.

Unfortunately, the books are just a plot device, and not used in the way that I had hoped - to become part of the 'real world' of the story - and when that became clear to me, I was a little disappointed.  However,  I thought I would read on, as the books had already hooked me in with a good concept behind them of the lead character, Luke, who is written about in the stories, and now must live his life as 'the boy from the book'.

What started out as a good read though, went quickly downhill.  Moments of the book are massively unbelievable, virtually none of the characters are likable, some plot lines peter out into unsatisfactory resolutions, and nothing really feels like it has happened.  It is by no means an absolutely awful book - the tensions between the family are done wonderfully, and there are occasional moments of dialogue that are lovely - but after the first hundred or so pages, I started to feel that I would have been better off reading something else with my time, as I don't really think that this is the kind of book that is going to be something I am thinking about for long now.


Thursday, 23 February 2012

Book 9 - Making the Cat Laugh

Book - Making the Cat Laugh
Author - Lynne Truss
Year - 1995
Genre - Columns
Pages - 212

Well, this is about as not me as books get I suppose.  From it's pink cover, to its admission that it is a series of columns from publications such as Woman's Journal, to the fact that it is primarily a book written by a middle aged woman about her single life with her cats, there's not really a lot that would point it out as something that I would read.  So why do I have it?  Well, I had listed on my book swap website, Read It Swap It, a historical romance novel that I (literally) found.  A book about women swooning over Mr Forthington-Simwick as he dashingly entered the... room, is about the only thing that I can imagine is less like my kind of thing.

And I suppose that makes it a very good case for me to start entering the Historical Romance section of Waterstones (they have one of those, right?) as I actually really enjoyed this book.  Read in little bite size chunks over the past few months, Making the Cat Laugh is actually a pretty funny book.  Some of it is a little dated now, what with the columns coming from publications originally written seventeen years ago, and occasionally Truss is writing about things that I don't care too much about (what with not being a single, middle aged cat owner and all) , but there is a certain warmth and charm about everything that she writes which I massively took to.  Her article on how many books she owns and hasn't read because she is convinced that one day she will get around to it, struck a real chord with me, and I have really enjoyed dipping in and out of this one.

Column books make a great light read to nip in and out of like this, and I think I shall make an effort to ensure that I always have one on the go.  Once I have finished reading the saga of Mr Forthington-Simick of course.


Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Book 8 - Are You Dave Gorman?

Book - Are You Dave Gorman?
Authors - Dave Gorman and Danny Wallace
Year - 2000
Genre - Humour/Travel (in that weird way that books like this classify as travel - probably as a result of this particular book)
Pages - 384

Over the years, I have read just about all of the books that both Danny Wallace ad Dave Gorman have written, but until now, not this, the one that started it all out.  Danny and Dave have a drunken bet - can Dave meet 54 people with the same name as him - one for each of the cards in a pack, including jokers?  Well, they will certainly try, and this book follows the pair as they whizz around the world attempting to do just that.

The book is funny.  However, compared to some of the other books that the two have written individualy, I would say not as funny as it could be.  Both Gorman's Googlewhack Adventure and Wallace's Yes Man (which I personally believe could be the funniest book I have ever read) are funnier.  It is also crazily ridiculous, with moments that are so unbelievable, that were this not one of the very first books of it's genre to become massive, I am not so sure I would believe.  But at it's heart, it is a fun, slightly throwaway novel about a stupid thing that two men who should have known better decided to do.  And as such is great.

In a move that I haven't really seen with many books that are co-authored, the whole thing is written in a mix of bold type and normal type - bold for Gorman and normal for Wallace.  This is incredibly easily accessible, and really adds their own voices to the journey.  And that is about as much discourse as book as silly as this probably deserves.  Rest assured, if you are a fan of quest books such as this, or anything that equally silly Tony Hawk does (not the skateboarder), then this is as grand-daddy ish as they get in my eyes, so is worth grabbing if you haven't already.

I am currently struggling to read a lot at the moment - when this started out it was meant to prove that I had nothing better to do than read, but lately I have found that a lot of the time, actually, I do - so expect a few more books that probably wouldn't make the Booker shortlist in the next month or so.  Or expect nothing of the sort.  There seems to be little rhyme or reason to the order I pick books up in.  Which is fine by me.


Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Book 7 - Dear Olly

Book - Dear Olly
Author - Michael Morpurgo
Year - 2000
Genre - Children's
Pages - 128

I mentioned in my last entry how I work in a primary school.  One of the boons of working with younger children is that you are surrounded by their books, and once you become an adult, you can sometimes forget that some children's books are truly wonderful and deserve reading even once you grow up.  When I started this job, I quickly found an author I had never heard of called Michael Morpurgo.  Anyone reading this who has children of a primary age is probably shaking their head in disappointment that I had never heard of him, but many more are probably in the same boat - or at least would have been until the eruption of War Horse recently.  It turns out that he is one of the most prolific children's writers around, and has written a slew of wonderful stories for kids.

This just happened to be the one that I plucked out of our box set at work.  I had wanted to read War Horse, but one of our year threes had gotten there first, and I thought as the responsible adult, I should probably not kick up a fuss and let her read it (even if it will take her aaaaaaaages compared to me.  S'not fair.  Humph.) and so I grabbed the one next to it and gave it a shot.

Having just given such a glowing appraisal of his work, I should probably mention now that this is not the best example of what he has done before.  It tells the story of Olly, and how her brother Matt decides to move to Africa to help somewhat with the orphanages he has seen on television where children's lives have been torn apart by war, famine, and the use of landmines.  Her story and Matt's story are connected by the flight of an emigrating swallow.  It is a poignant read, and introduces some of the terrible consequences of war in a way that would be palatable to junior school children - which is of course its aim - however, it feels flimsy when compared to something such as Private Peaceful.  What Morpurgo does is clever, and is probably exactly right for the market he is targeting, but I try my best to judge these books by my own standards, and I was in complete honesty a little disappointed by this one.  Even for younger kids, there could have been just a bit more to it in order to really make it shine.  It won't of course put me off of reading any more Morpurgo, but I may try and stick at first to some of his more well known books.  When the girl in year three has finished with War Horse.