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.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Book 21 - I Used to Know That

Book - I Used to Know That
Author - Caroline Taggart
Year - 2008
Genre - Facts
Pages - 190

I have referenced this many times over the past couple of years, but I am a big fan of fact books.  I love little tidbits of trivia, and occasionally - just occasionally - I may be known to bring them out in conversation with my friends.  This particular fact book comes with a little bit of a twist however, namely that instead of giving you brand new nuggets of information, it takes a look back to your school days and the kind of information that you probably knew well enough then, but would forget as time goes on.

The problem with this, is that most of these subjects at school I hated.  Maths is dull.  Science is boring.  Why would you revisit them?  Don't get me wrong, I know I am a geek, and actually find these subjects pretty interesting, and read about them in my spare time, but it is the revisiting of basics such as long division and a definition of osmosis that makes them dull.  Popular science books manage to get across difficult ideas such as relativity and particle physics in an accessible way, so regressing back to the basics that I couldn't be bothered to remember anyway was not particularly exciting.

The whole book picks up about two thirds of the way in, when we get a run down of the history of all of the Presidents of the USA, and most of the British Prime Ministers - not something I particularly learnt in school, but pretty interesting.  Then we get some geography notes - I am a bit of a geography geek as well I am afraid - and some 'Miscellanious' such as art and music.  This bit boosts the book immensely, and added a couple of points on to my score, but only allow that for yourself if you are a history/geography buff, because otherwise, this stocking filler isn't really worth reading - it would be better to leave it in the stocking.


Thursday, 26 April 2012

Book 20 - Prince of Thorns

Book - Prince of Thorns
Author - Mark Lawrence
Year - 2011
Genre - Fantasy
Pages - 373
Bought for me by Robert Hyde

Prince of Thorns is quite unlike any other fantasy book that I have ever read for one reason.  It isn't very different in its theme - boy tries to fulfil his destiny to become king - or in its presentation - he faces various battles along the way, and is set tasks that he must complete.  It even follows the fantasy standard of having a map at the beginning - a sign that always shows you what kind of a book you are holding.  The big difference is quite simply that every single character in the book - including the titular protagonist - is entirely unlikable.

He is truly horrid.  He does awful things, and does not regret them for a minute.  He is surrounded by murderers and rapists, and doesn't care.  He doesn't like any of them, but that is only because he doesn't like anyone, not because of their choice of what they get up to in their spare time.  It also isn't a case of the book simply following the bad guy either.  The people he opposes are just as dreadful as he is, and it leaves you rooting for the lead simply because you think you probably ought to, and there are no viable alternatives, not because of any fondness for anything he ever says, does or thinks.

Not that this is a criticism in itself.  There is no need for any book to have likable characters in order to make it any good, and it is a brave choice that Lawrence has made to try and write something from this viewpoint.  It is relatively successful as well.  The book is quite the page turner, and I swallowed it up in only a couple of days.  Rob, who bought it for me for my birthday, loved it, and I imagine that there are a great number of people out there would think the same.  I didn't love it quite that much, but I did enjoy it.  Any book that holds your interest solidly is worth something, and as Lawrence has proposed that he write a trilogy based around the world, I think I would take the time to read the follow ups should they be published.

As a final note, I spotted the price tag on this book as being £14.99.  It is a hardcover admittedly, but this still seems a very high price for a book, especially a book by a first time author.  Maybe shopping in charity shops and swapping on RISI has clouded my judgement, but with this following on from the £25 price tag on A Dance With Dragons when it arrived last year, it seems an indication that full price books will not be the way forward from now on.


Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Book 19.5 - Are You My Mummy?

Book - Are You My Mummy?
Author - Little Bunny
Year - Unknown
Pages - 14
Genre - Detective
Lent to me by Maddie Francis

For a book to become truly great literature, it must in some way connect with its audience.  All of the greatest books manage this on some level - whether it be Catcher In The Rye, Harry Potter or any other great novel.  This is the first way that Mr Bunny goes wrong in this, his debut novel.

The basic premise is thus - a young rabbit approaches several different animals and asks them if they are its Mummy.  After having been rebuffed, the rabbit then approaches another animal and the cycle continues until - spoiler alert - his Mummy is located.  Even leaving aside the monotony of the many similar meetings, which it should be noted does not make for a suspenseful novel, the book finds a failing in that the lead character is quite obviously incredibly stupid.

On his journey, the rabbit encounters animals such as a cat, and a cow.  In turn he asks each of them if they are indeed his Mummy.  Now, it is difficult to understand how our protagonist can fail to understand that not only are these beasts unlikely to be his Mummy, but furthermore, as a separate species, are entirely unlikely to even be related to him.  This raises some uncomfortable questions, such as the possibility that he has never met his Mummy and is working through some abandonment issues.  The other possibility is that Mr Bunny is using his main character's questions to explore the idea of what a Mummy is.  Is he saying that in some ways, a cat could be your Mummy?

Unfortunately, I found little of literary merit to this book.  Its prime redeeming feature seems to be that the rabbit has a furry tummy which is touchable on each page.  Whilst I must admit to spending several minutes doing so before reading on, I don't know if this is true justification for the inclusion of this into our world of reading.  Maddie will have to up her level if she intends to recommend me anything else, although I have high hopes for the copy of Each Peach Pear Plum that she has lent me.


Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Book 19 - Metamorphosis

Book - Metamorphosis
Author - Steven Berkoff (based on the Franz Kafka book)
Year - 1969
Genre - Play
Pages - 51

Last week, I performed in DAODS production of Crazy For You - and very well it went too.  What was particularly nice, is that on the final night of the production, a group of friends of mine from my university days came to see the show.  Some of them I hadn't seen for seven years, and it was wonderful to see them all, and in anticipation of their arrival, I decided to reread one of the plays that I worked on with many of them - Stephen Berkoff's Metamorphosis.

The original Kafka book is generally regarded as one of the most important books of the twentieth century.  Gregor Samsa works hard to keep his family clothed and fed, but one morning everything changes when he awakes to find himself transformed into a giant beetle.  The play covers how this affects the family, and is - in all honesty - a pretty grimly dark piece.

Even rereading the play, the scope for what you can do with a production such as this is impressive.  You are given the central idea of a beetle living with the family, and this gives all kinds of possibilities for physical theatre to rear its head.  There are flashbacks that flow straight into the dialogue, and the whole thing has a very grotesque feel to it - a quality that we wholeheartedly anchored in our production.  I have never enjoyed being in a production quite as much as this one, and urge you to try and see it performed - I have done so twice since I was in it and enjoyed it each time.


Thursday, 12 April 2012

Book 18 - The Tipping Point

Book - The Tipping Point
Author - Malcolm Gladwell
Year - 2000
Genre - Social/Non-Fiction
Pages - 272
Bought for me by Bob and the Wench

It's brilliant when you start to read a book that if about a topic that you know absolutely nothing about, and then it turns out to be massively interesting.  Not only is that how I felt whilst reading Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point, but I imagine it is how hundreds of thousands of other people have felt as they have been reading it.  Hands up out there, how many of you right now would say that you have a massive interest in epidemics, and how a fad or craze goes from being a small thing practiced by a few people, into a national, or even international, thing.  I should imagine that very few of you readers out there (which admittedly number ever so slightly under the hundreds of thousands that Gladwell commands) have lifted a hand right now, unless you are indulging in the British epidemic of tea-drinking.  Well, I wasn't one of those before, but now I am.

Whether Gladwell is telling you about how Sesame Street became the number one televisual educational tool, or how Hush Puppies regrew into a fashion force due to the efforts of a couple of dozen hipsters in New York, it is incredibly interesting.  He has a way of writing that means that you feel you understand things that should probably be flying over your head.  When he introduces terms such as the three types of people involved in spreading word about something - Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen - he doesn't do so and expect you to know what he is talking about.  He explains things thoroughly.  No story is lingered on too long, meaning that you never get bored.  Everything flows together so that you get the whole picture.  It is a complete book, and leaves you feeling cleverer than you did when you started reading.  Which is good enough for me.

Bob read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell during his challenge, and he and the Wench also bought me another of his books - What The Dog Saw - last year, and having read The Tipping Point I shall make sure that I read them both.