Category Archives: opinion

I give up!

I’ve agonised over this, but I’m just not enjoying this book!  So I’m giving up on it.  In my earlier life I would never have done this, I used to have to read a book to the end no matter what.  Now, for some reason, it seems unnecessary to put myself through something I’m just not enjoying (I’ve got the dentist and performance related pay for that kind of thing).

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How did I arrive at this decision?  It’s not a bad book, it’s a bit quirky and interesting.  It seems to be going somewhere in a meandering kind of way.  If I continued, and this is what kept me going this long, it might be a great book, but I don’t hold out much hope.  The final reason, and probably the single most common reason why I give up reading a book, is I just don’t like any of the characters.  Which is surprising, because I will quite happily read novels about murders and terrible acts by one person to another, but the author normally includes one person who you like, or have sympathy for, or identify with.  I wonder if you have to like at least one character in a book to enjoy it?  In this book I’m not sure I found the characters particularly believable and certainly not likeable.  I didn’t dislike them, I am just indifferent to them.   Or perhaps you don’t have to like them but you have to feel strongly about them, like or dislike, you want to see them win or lose, to get a reward or their comeuppance.

“So what?” I found myself thinking as I was trying to concentrate and failing.

I’d describe the book as Forest Gump meets Thelma and Louise meets The Old Devils.  That sounds quite interesting but  it’s told in a kind of Grimms Fairy Tale style.

Other books I can remember bailing out on for this reason are Before They Are HangedJoe Abercrombie, and Catch 22Joseph Heller.  Both are well regarded books, but not for me.  There are others, but I’ve forgotten them.

Catch-22

Catch-22 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cover of "Before They are Hanged (First L...

Cover of Before They are Hanged (First Law)

Anyway, I’m off now to read Gone GirlGillian Flynn, which I am assured is fantastic.  Not a BIB I’m afraid, I chose it.  But so far I seem to be enjoying BIBs more than my chosen books.

I’m also considering treating myself to the entire current list from Richard and Judy’s Book Club, as a Christmas present as I have found some fantastic books on there in the past, in preparation as BIBs I’m avoiding them in book shops!

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Does reading fiction make you a better person?

This is a "thought bubble". It is an...

This is a “thought bubble”. It is an illustration depicting thought. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I instinctively answer yes to this question and that got me thinking!  Do I have any basis for this view?

I thought it was obvious.  The biggy for me is

Empathy: if I think of how many people’s heads I’ve been in and how many eyes I’ve looked at the world through; that must mean I am more tolerant and empathic?

Knowledge:  I must have learnt some things from reading as long as the authors did their research properly and haven’t just made it up.  Even if they have, they must have got some of the experiential stuff right (what it feels like to gut a fish, riding a motor bike, first love etc).

Tolerance:  Seeing things from a wide range of viewpoints must make you tolerant.

But what about reading books that underline your prejudices and give justification to the unjustifiable.  I have read a few things that I fundamentally disagreed with but which because they are written down and well structured almost had me convinced.  Print carries weight.

I was prompted by an article on the BBC which stated that people who read books are better learners.  So I thought I’d have a quick look around at what evidence based findings were available.  Studies I could find focussed on measuring the impact of reading on intelligence and educational outcomes.  Tolerance and empathy are harder to measure.  It’s not like we have a world of history where all the percieved baddies are illiterate.  Far from it in fact.  It would appear that very few world leaders have had little education, irrespective of whether they were good or bad!

The study What Reading Does for the Mind showed two main findings of the benefits of reading in children.

  1. Early acquisition of reading opened doors to further learning (positive feedback and building the ability to think)
  2. All children benefit from reading, whatever their level of achievement.

This article The Powers of Reading is quite interesting, if a little politically motivated!

So, there’s a library of stuff out there, which lean towards the positive benefits on the individual but I would say a there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that it isn’t a guarantee that it will make you good.  (Good is a hard concept to tie down too).  I would like to think that I am far better for the books I’ve read and I think BIBs in particular must be even better for you, because you aren’t reinforcing your viewpoint with books you have chosen.

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared

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I’m 19% of the way through this book that I chose in complete awareness.

I chose it because I thought it sounded unusual, with my recent interest in older people, it’s certainly unique to find a main character who is a centenarian.  It was also a bestseller and I like the quirky cover.  The blurb seemed promising.

At this point however I am a bit indifferent to the book, I’d give it a rating of 50%.  The style of the narrative is a bit sing-song and as yet I am constantly asking myself “Why?”  I’m hoping that the author, Jonas Jonasson, has something up their sleeves.

This is the first book I’ve chosen and read since starting this blog, and having greatly enjoyed the BIBs, I don’t want to find out that my ability to choose a book is pants!

Looking this up on Amazon, I’m very intrigued by this book! 100 Facts about the 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared That Even the CIA Doesn’t Know – Christian Hacker.  Perhaps there is more to this book after all, or a new genre of pseudo conspiracy theory books about popular fiction a ploy to gain a wider audience.  What next?  Pride & Prejudice and the plot to Assassinate Kennedy, A Tale of Two Cities and the fall of the Berlin Wall, The Da Vinci Code and… oh no that is one isn’t it?  It’s a spoof about reviews of this book apparently, how disappointing.

I Am Pilgrim – completed.

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I’ve finished this excellent book.  I highly recommend it.  Either as a BIB or go and read all about it, but read it anyway.

I would have finished this sooner, but life got in the way.  I had hit my tipping point (about 80% of the way through) about a week ago, but there were things that needed doing and I just couldn’t get back to the book.  I knew that if I found some time it would have to be significant enough for me to finish it.  It was there in the back of my mind ticking away, building up my anticipation, and prolonging the agony and ecstacy of finishing a good book.

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Did it live up to all my expectations.  I would say yes mostly.  As you can see from the Bibliograph, it took a little dive at the end, but then it’s difficult to maintain a book this good.  In no way was the end disappointing, just not as great as the rest.  The story was so well thought out that most of the trail of breadcrumbs were gathered in, and even though the book is 700 dead tree pages long, it had the feel of a very well edited book.  Not much is wasted in there.

Interestingly I like the main character.  Which given surprises me as I haven’t normally found this kind of character sympathetic.  He has the feeling of being a whole person (even if not with your average life story).  His protagonist too (as I have mentioned before) has depth and I found myself having some sympathy with him too.

Where does this book belong in my top 10?  Definitely in there.  I’m not sure if I’m damning this book with this but..  I’d put it alongside and above “The Da Vinci Code”.  Definitely better because it’s more relevant.  It was very believable (mostly) and topical.  I’d almost be able to find a news story a day that was relevant to it.

You can also see from the bibliograph that my enjoyment of the book was high all the way through, and the pace of progress was pretty constant.  I think Terry Hayes will have a hard job coming up with a follow up to the same standard, but I for one am a convert and will eagerly await his next novel.  (I hope he’s going to write one, I’ll have to go and look him up now).

I almost missed my stop!

 

 

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It’s been a long time since I nearly missed my bus stop because of a book!  But it happened today with I Am Pilgrim.  And yesterday, on the way home, I got off a stop later because I had to know the outcome.  It was very exciting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I read on the bus, with my head down and being partially sighted I need to pay attention to what I’m reading.  You would think that this causes me to nearly miss my stop a lot.  However, I have learnt that I have a subconscious awareness of where I am on the journey.  I expect I am monitoring the turns subconscously and, when I look up I know where we are before I’ve seen.  It works very well.  Except on a few notable occassions where I have been so engrossed in my book that only a fortuitous glance, moments before the stop, has prevented me from missing it entirely.  I think if I did I’d just carry on reading and have a day out!

 

English: Agatha Christie Bus Tour bus (reg. AH...

English: Agatha Christie Bus Tour bus (reg. AHL 694), a 1947 Leyland Tiger PS1/1 single-decker with Barnaby bodywork. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

But this morning was one of those mornings.  This is a special book indeed.  It is very well paced, with the author dropping breadcrumbs, leaving you to gather them up at a satisfying pace.  None of your Agatha Christie “I want everyone in the library where I shall reveal the murderer” here, where all the breadcrumbs are gathered in an overwhelming handful.  If I had any criticism, and I think this is an anti-criticism (like “My only fault is I’m too hard working”) it would be that everything, although chaotic, is a bit too perfect.  Our hero’s hunches pay off.  But perhaps I’m being a bit harsh and just caught up in the story and not noticing the blind alleys he runs up.

 

 

 

The other great thing about this great book is that it’s long and well paced.  So you can keep reading in great swathes without worrying about running out of story.  Like your favourite biscuits coming in a big enough packet that you can’t eat them in one sitting.

So read it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Racist or just interested?

I’m going to break one of my rules now (I know!  They didn’t last long did they?) and talk a little about the BIB I’m reading.  So if you want to read I Am Pilgrim as a BIB (I would recommend it) read no further.

English: No racism Lietuvių: Ne rasizmui

English: No racism Lietuvių: Ne rasizmui (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cards on the table.  Talking about racism is hard.  We can’t understand it or our own attitudes better without talking about it, and saying things that make us uncomfortable.

I had a long conversation with a good friend at work about racism that he had experienced, and it was excruciating for me.  I think he found it equally difficult.  He’s Indian.  We’ve had lots of conversations about family, children and looking after your parents as they need you, and I think we’ve both enjoyed those conversations and learnt a lot from each other.  We didn’t shy away from differences in attitude acquired from our culturally different backgrouds, but these were obliquely approached.  This particular conversation was overtly about racism, no getting away from it.  I wanted to know so I could empathise and be more informed.  I was practically silent because I didn’t want to make any racist statement, give offence, make assumptions or upset him.  But in the end we came to the conclusion that in order to think about racism on a personal basis you can’t pussyfoot around.  You just have to say these things that make you uncomfortable like “Has anyone called you a paki?”, otherwise you’re in danger of trying to deal with the unpleasantness of being a human by ignoring it and hoping it will just go away.  We agreed that we’re all different and that the extent of differences had little to do with race, we could both find people from our home towns who were far different to us than we were to each other, and that differences between any two people were far fewer than the similarities.

So back to the book.  Similar to What do I know about anything?  Help me please! I would like to know what to think of this book.  This book is partly about a Muslim radical, and I would really like to get a view of a Muslim on it.  I’d like to know whether this book offers any insight into a Muslim world (it’s not all about muslim radicalism, parts are set in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Turkey), does it present a world that my colleagues at work and Muslims in my community would recognise.  Is this book offensive?  Is it patronising?  Is it worrying?  Does it make you mad?

But I’m uncomfortable about this.  Is that patronising?  Am I being racist?  I’ve talked about books with my friend before, but what would I say if I handed this book to him?

I tried to think about it the other way around.

I’ve read thousands of books set in a world I recognise with characters who have a similar cultural background and they’ve been serial killers, murderers, lovers, heroes, brave, arseholes, fun and average people.  If someone came up to me and said

“Read this book about a mass murderer, he’s from your religion, does this ring true?”

how would I feel?  It probably depends how they were portrayed, with sympathy or as an embodiment of evil.

I’m also visually impaired.  I initially thought I’d really like to read a book about a visually impaired character, but then, the one’s I’ve come across haven’t been serial killers or murderers (If you know of any visually impaired characters in books I’d love to know, don’t worry I’ve got Blind Pew from Treasure Island).  So again it depends how they are depicted.  I loved Rhubarb – Craig Silvey, which made me want to march up to a blind person and ask them whether this is what it’s like to be blind?  I thought the depiction in Rhubarb was very convincing.

So the character in I Am Pilgrim, the Saracen (which is probably offensive in itself), how is he depicted?  I haven’t read the whole book yet, but so far from my position of ignorance, his story seems to have been treated with some sympathy.  There are credible incidents that lead to his acts in the book and I am at some level convinced that he is a real character, not some archetypal baddie with only one dimension.

So what should I do?  I feel like I’m on thin ice with this?  I feel like I need to say something and then end it with “don’t take it that way” or “I don’t mean it like it just sounded”.  But I want to know, I want to get more out of this book than entertainment.  I want to understand more.  Discretion, on the other hand tells me to keep my mouth shut, sweep it under the carpet and try to remember it’s only a fiction book and not to read too much into it.

Friends gone to Iceland?

Gígjökull, an outlet glacier extending from Ey...

Gígjökull, an outlet glacier extending from Eyjafjallajökull, Iceland. Lónið is the lake visible in the foreground. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bjork (I just thought I’d get the obligatory mention out of the way in anything you read about Iceland. It was hard to find a picture without her in it!)

This is interesting Iceland: Where one in 10 people will publish a book on the BBC website.  What an amazing statistic,   I originally thought they’d all be reading each other’s, as naively I imagine everyone in Iceland knows each other (it practically says that in the article too so I am not alone in this).

So I thought if this ratio was applied to my friends how many books would I be obliged to read (being polite).  I think I’m pretty average so I discovered that there is a figure called Dunbar’s number which is the number of stable relationships the human brain can maintain, about 150.  So that would be 15 books.  (I don’t think I have anywhere near 150 stable relationships).

With all these books coming out of Iceland I wondered if I’d read any.  I did a search and found a whole genre I knew nothing about.   Icelandic Crime Fiction looks worth perusing.  I might have to acquire one and read it as a BIB.  Any recommendations welcome.   I think the nearest I got was Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow – Peter Hoeg.  Which was a book I can recommend and made me think I should find out some of his other works.  He’s Danish though I think.

Why Iceland though?  Is it really as cultural as it appears?  Does the seismic energy of the place infuse the inhabitants?  Mind you there’s a lot of murder and crime in the books, so what does that tell us?  I must admit to just really thinking there isn’t too much to do in Iceland when the winter sets in and the light levels are low so do they get depressed and plan how to kill each other?  I feel like I’ve trooped out a whole psychiatrist’s sessions worth prejudices and misconceptions there!

Is this a case of quantity not quality?  I think I’m going to have to find out.

Pilgrim171013I am Pilgrim is still continuing to knock my socks off as a BIB, I keep yoyo-ing around as to what I think the books is really about.  Still lots of questions, and the promise of answers.  I strongly recommend it.

 

Unleash your creativity?

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“Everybody has a secret world inside of them. I mean everybody. All of the people in the whole world, I mean everybody — no matter how dull and boring they are on the outside. Inside them they’ve all got unimaginable, magnificent, wonderful, stupid, amazing worlds… Not just one world. Hundreds of them. Thousands, maybe.”

Neil Gaiman, The Sandman, Vol. 5: A Game of You

In the spirit of the quote above (better than the old George Bernard Shaw quote about everyone having a novel inside them ) I came across this the other day

National Novel Writing Month – http://nanowrimo.org/

National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing on November 1. The goal is to write a 50,000-word (approximately 175-page) novel by 11:59:59 PM on November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

What a fantastic idea.  It’s run by a charity (The Office of Letters and Light http://www.lettersandlight.org/) which aims to unlock people’s creative potential – The Office of Letters and Light organizes events where children and adults find the inspiration, encouragement, and structure they need to achieve their creative potential.

They’ve had quite a lot of success, with loads of novels being published.  I wonder if I’ve read any or any have made it really big?  So far this year 52,697 authors have signed up.

I know from my own experience that creative acts bring me the most pleasure in life.

Compare this to the feeling I sometimes get in my work life where there are constant initiatives, rounds of annual appraisal with objectives, target setting and improvement plans which are supposed to make be better year on year, to develop my career. This approach is ultimately flawed.  We can’t all be ambitious, grappling for promotion and “success”.  There’s only so much room at the top.  I do, however, know that we can all always improve.

So what are we here for?  For some of us this is the a creative act; we can’t all be ambitious and strive for the “success” measured by wealth and status, but the act of knitting a jumper, resolving a dispute, painting a picture or writing a novel (creating order and beauty out of chaos) is life affirming, satisfying and I feel ultimately what we are here for, to create a bit of order and see others appreciate it.

It’s a shame this isn’t happening in the UK.  (Or perhaps it is).  I’d love to have a go, but at the moment…

I have an idea, I think I’d have to do quite a lot of research to make it worthwhile.  I think I’d need to take the month off work!  I’m not sure my family would cooperate with this either.  Maybe another year.  But creating ideas is still creating, so I’m enjoying contemplating it.

Pilgrim081013I am pilgrim – still delivering as an excellent BIB

I Am Pilgrim – Early thoughts as a BIB

So far I’ve been unable to do much of a book review about a BIB (Blissfully Ignorant Book) and keeping within The Rules, without robbing you of the chance of reading it Blissfully Ignorantly too.

However, with I Am Pilgrim – Terry Hayes I do have something I can say.

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As you can see I’ve been busy, for me anyway, reading.  This is a big book (700 paper pages apparently – I’m reading the e-book version).  I am thoroughly enjoying it.  Not just as a book, but as a BIB.

It starts well.  I thought I had it pegged, a good book of its genre.  But it quickly changed into something else.  I think that is the key to a good BIB; surprise,  changing genre, unexpectedly finding yourself in a situation alongside the characters and wondering how you’re going to get back.

Now 15% of the way through I’m not sure what I’m reading!  Brilliant! The author is laying out a series of questions like a trail of breadcrumbs for me, which I hope lead along a path where they are all answered or consumed!  The books I love best are like that as I’ve blogged about before.  There’s plenty of swapping between story lines, not sure how they are going to come together, but it looks pretty massive in scope from here.  Can the author pull it off I wonder?

I would probably have ignored this book in a bookshop as too serious.  I’m very glad I was recommended this book.  I wonder if the author will sustain my interest and recommendation as a BIB.  This is the first BIB since starting this blog that I would highly recommend.

Why not try it?  Read along with me.  But don’t look at reviews etc.  I can tell you that Amazon has lots of ratings and they’re all around 4-5 stars!

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Rethinking the bookshop online

Pageant of American Literature, Hawthorne study

Pageant of American Literature, Hawthorne study (Photo credit: CT State Library)

I greatly enjoy the contextual life blog.  I like the weekly roundup of links, which are serious, interesting, quirky, grammatical and topical.

In this weeks there was a link to the BookSmash Challenge.  This is

Use imagination and technology to build software that goes beyond the traditional ways we read and discover books

Interesting stuff there, it’s really worth looking at the entries and voting.  This is just the kind of thing we, as readers, need to be thinking about.

It struck a chord with me and the ethos of this blog.  It did get me really thinking about How do I not pick a book?, I wondered if that would make a good idea for a book browsers (or not).  “Book Look” has some features that are similar to my ethos, but doesn’t quite go far enough.

Perhaps a Blissfully Ignorant applicatioin could choose you random books against a profile (you’d need to be careful there) but I was thinking things like very broad categories in fiction, e.g. child/adult, new/old and possibly some more specific “absolutely nots” e.g. sci-fi, romance, historical fiction, violence (I quite like all of those btw).  Probably the most important part would be the aspect that would cover “recommendations”, as I feel this is the key to success with this technique of Blissfully Ignorant reading (so you’d use some algorithm on ratings/number of ratings.  For example, my new BIB has 4 1/2 stars from 211 reviews so that’s pretty convincingly good.

So a randomly selected good book would be chosen for you.

I should have entered!

So what do you think?  It’d make a great mobile app too.

By the way, I’ve cracked!  I’m still reading my non fiction book on body language but I had to get my fix of fiction.  I just don’t seem to be able sustain my interest in non-fiction.  I am interested but there’s always a bit that I want to skip and that make me feel uncomfortable.  I will finish the body language book.

I’ve started reading I Am Pilgrim – Terry Hayes, this was a recommendation from a friend.

I haven’t read much, but it dives straight in.  I’m pretty sure of the genre.  There’s some unusual quirks to it.  So it’s making a great first impression.

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