Saturday, 28 June 2008

Review: Prismatic by Edwina Grey

I quite enjoyed Prismatic - it's an interesting book from a number of different viewpoints. Firstly there's the 'author', Edwina Grey, who is actually three different authors (David Carroll, Kyla Ward and Evan Paliatseas), who each wrote one of three narratives which have been braided together to form the whole. The narratives each take place in Sydney, but in a different time, in 1789 with the first settlers, in 1919 after the first great War and during an influenza pandemic, and finally 'Now'. In each time a disease, 'Prism' which causes carriers to see prisms of light, be prone to extremes of anger and violence and, er, eating brains. While Prism was contained in the earlier periods, it poses much more of a threat in modern Sydney - not only because of its larger population and the ability to travel almost anywhere in hours - but also because of a (ancient??) evil who is trying to use Prism for their own advantage. Each section of the story was well written and I really enjoyed the historical aspects of the 1798 and 1919 sections. I'm not sure how much Prism is supposed to echo zombism, though it certainly did for me. Jacqueline, protagonist of 'Now' and I guess the overall hero of the tale is not a stereotypical one. Covered in tatts, peircings and self doubt, she fumbles to the final ending, which did actually surprise me, although looking back it wasn't *that* an original twist. While the action did seem a little random at time, particular in the 'now', overall I felt the story did well in striving for something original and readable.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Review: The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards

I read 'The Memory Keeper's Daughter' for my bookclub. I found it a real chore - it's the first of our book club books to make me feel this way. 'The Memory Keeper's Daughter' is a twist on the age old 'twins separated at birth'. In this case an unexpected blizzard forces a doctor, David Henry, to deliver his wife's twins. The first twin, a boy named Paul, is fine. However, the second, a girl called Phoebe, has Down's syndrome. In 1964, Down's syndrome was an early death sentence and so David tells his wife that Phoebe has died to spare her inevitable heartache. Caroline Gill, a nurse and the only other witness to the birth, is persuaded to take Phoebe to a home, but instead takes Phoebe and raises her as her own. From this the book continues in duel narrative, David and Norah Henry with Paul, and Caroline with Phoebe.

This book shouldn't have been as tedious as I found it. It spans from 1964 to 1989, explores women's lib, and rights for disabled children. It show brief interludes of each family's life over the 25 year period, demonstrating pivotal moments in each. I think one of the main problems I had with this book, though, was how it is told. Because it is just that - *told*, not shown. There is reams of description and very little dialogue. I found the narrative deathly slow and lifeless. Much of the book relies on probing psychological effect of Phoebe's 'death' on the Henry's marriage and family life, but all these characters felt wooden to me and I just didn't care. Perhaps even worse, characters think the same thoughts over and over, particularly Norah Henry as she ruminates over her lost daughter. Perhaps this is realistic, but it didn't make for an interesting book. In summary: great cover, a good title (although the way Edward's shoehorned the title's meaning into the book was pretty eyerolling - ambiguity would have been better), *terrible* story!!!

Review: The Last Days by Scott Westerfeld

'The Last Days' is a follow up to Westerfeld's earlier book 'Peeps', which posits vampirism as an infection with an insidious parasite that makes victims stronger, gives them excellent night vision and smell, an almost debilitating libido, but also an anathema to everything they once loved. 'The Last Days' is very different to 'Peeps', however. While Peeps was really about exploring the idea of parasitism (with real life scientific excerpts in between chapters), 'The Last Days' is really about music and the formation of a band. A band that just happens to form at the same time as the apocalypse that was looming in the final chapters of 'Peeps'.

Moz and Zahler have been jamming for 6 years, but their rock star dreams only start to become real when Moz meets Pearl while rescuing a 1975 Strat with gold pickups (that's a guitar, dudes) that some Peep-infected woman is throwing out her window (the anathema, dude). Pearl is a music whiz and highly organised. She rejigs Moz and Zahler's winding rifs and, after recruiting drummer Alana Ray and singer Minerva, the band is on it's way to fame. But what if the world ends before they can make it big???

I'd heard that 'The Last Days' wasn't as good as 'Peeps'. However, I think I actually enjoyed 'The Last Days' more than 'Peeps', which is saying something because I did really like Peeps. Perhaps it was that I was expecting it to be bad and was pleasantly surprised that it wasn't. However, I also really liked the fact that, in this apocalyptic book, the main characters are only peripherally aware of what is going on. (Of course, once a giant worm thing erupts in their first gig, it becomes hard to ignore). Normality has a strong pull and it was great to see an apocalypse written about this way.

While the main characters from Peeps do make an entrance in the book, the story is told by Moz, Pearl. Zahler Minerva and Alana Ray in alternating chapters. I really enjoyed the changing point of views, and oddly enough, I found the book to be a bit 'younger' than 'Peeps'. The characters are younger (though only marginally - by a couple of years) and there's less of an emphasis on the sexual transmission of the parasites. Perhaps the band is a bit more naive, a bit less serious, as relfected by their relative lack of interest in the apocalypse.

Once again, Westerfeld has shown and understanding of the young people's language, a feat he pulled off so excellently the 'Uglies trilogy'. In this case, random words had a random 'f' in front of them: fool, fexcellent - totally fawesome! Finally I *loved* the fact that each chapter is named after a real band. I didn't notice until I got to Westerfeld's explanation at the end, but it was cool to look through and see who I could identify after the fact.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Review: Rynosseros by Terry Dowling and Blue Tyson by Terry Dowling

This is probably a controversial statement, but Tom 'Blue' Tyson really reminds me of James Bond. Sure, he's not quite as big a womaniser (although he certainly has some affinity with the ladies). But otherwise - he's a bit of a loner, in charge of his own destiny, and in many of the tales he's solving a mystery or a problem just like Bond would be.

'Rynosseros' and 'Blue Tyson' are the first two of four collections of linked short stories, all describing a dry and altered future Australia, with an interesting mixture of aborigianl and arabic (??) cultures. As a concept I really liked the linkages, as the collection kept a cohesion otherwise lacking in some collections. Each story remains individual, but there are is also a definite narrative running through the books. Terry Dowling experiments plays with several different styles. Stories are in both first person and third. Tom Tyson features heavily in most, but in a few he is barely mentioned. Setting so many stories in the same shared universe has other advantages. Dowling has the luxury of revealing his Australia slowly, with deepening commentary about the society and Tom Tyson's past. Definitely enjoyed these books and would like to read the remaining two, "Twilight Beach", and "Rynemonn".

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Review: Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

This is the fourth bookclub book I've read this year and I really enjoyed it. I've not read any Steinbeck before but, from what I knew of 'Of Mice and Men' and 'The Grapes of Wrath', I had always considered him a 'depressing' writer. 'Cannery Row' is not depressing, rather it is whimsical and charming - despite being set during the Great Depression. There's not so much of a story line in 'Cannery Row' (though there is a climax at the end), instead each (short) chapter describes a scene or character from Cannery Row, a strip of land in Monterrey California near a sardine factory.

I got the feeling that much of this book is based on people Steinbeck knew - the characters were described very affectionately, even when they weren't perhaps the most like able of people on the surface. One of the most interesting characters was 'Doc' a marine biologist who runs a business supplying biological specimens. It was great to read of pre-war science in such an unexpected venue. Apparently 'Doc' was based on Steinbeck's real life friend Ed Ricketts, real-life marine biologist and philospher. I was fascinated by the detail of biology and the sea that Steinbeck is able to provide, although also slightly alarmed at how Doc plundered the sea for specimens. Would that happen these days? I doubt it.

Anyway, the major 'storyline' of the piece involves the antics of 'Mack and the boys' who want to give Doc a party in appreciation of his help. Their plans initially have disasterous results and it's a tribute to Steinbeck's writing that I was genuinely concerned that their second attempt would end similarly. Fortunately the book ends on a contented note, with the second-to-last chapter describing the life history of a 'well grown gopher' being one of my favorites. I'd definitely be up for reading the sequel 'Sweet Thursday' (and also some of Steinbeck's more depressing reads too) and I'd love to read more about Ed Ricketts too.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Review: How to Achieve True Greatness by Baldesar Castiglione

How to Achieve True Greatness This is the ninth book I (randomly) picked to read out of the Penguin Great Ideas Series. It's number 29 in the list and part of series two (the blue series).

To be honest, I found 'How to Achieve True Greatness' a bit hum drum. Firstly, I was expecting to find out how to achieve true greatness, and I totally didn't!!! I didn't even find out how to achieve normal greatness (though by the looks of it, I'd have no trouble doing that with google :-)

HtATG actually reminded me quite a bit of 'The Symposium' by Plato (which I did enjoy). In 'The Symposium' a group of (noble?) men discuss love, each making speeches describing and praising it. HtATG describes a gathering of noble men with the Duchess Elisabetta Gonganza and their dialogues describing the perfect Courtier. The perfect courtier, it turns out, must be many things - cultured, well written, of noble birth. Oddly enough, though, the dialogue also descends into love by the end, with discussions of whether older men have the right to love as younger men do and the consequences of it. (I did wonder if they'd possibly divereged from the topic somewhat).

To be fair, HtATG suffers from the same editing that has affected a number of books in the Great Ideas series. HtATC is not a book in itself, but instead is cut down from Castiglione's book 'The Book of the Courtier' (Il Cortegiano). I suspected this fairly early on because the book is littered with

[. . .]

This presumably indicated that text has been cut. I think this really contributed to the lack of direction in the book and the difficulty I had in remembering who was talking about what. Further still, where the original comprises 4 'books', this only takes excerpts of the first two, which probably augments the rather aimless conclusion this book also suffers from.

HtATG also suffers from one of the least impressive covers in the Penguin Great Ideas series too. For one thing the text on the cover is most definitely not centred (even more so than it appears in the scanned image). Perhaps this off-centered-ness is indicative of Italian Renaissance literature. I suspect, however, that coming late in the second series, Penguin may have been running out of ideas...


Review: The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

The Communist Manifesto This is the eighth book I (randomly) picked to read out of the Penguin Great Ideas Series. It's number 13 in the list and part of series one (the red series).

I felt a bit daring reading 'The Communist Manifesto'. I was reading it on the train at one point and someone asked me if I was one!! I'm not, but I did actually enjoy the book. Firstly, even though it is about 160 years old, the society described was recognisable (unlike, for example, the society described in The Social Contract). Perhaps it was because this book was written after the industrial revolution, which was obviously a period that radically changed things. Much of the writing seems very reasonable and logical, but I always had the idea in the back in my mind that, however well communism might work in an ideal society, humans are just not ideal. I think the developments in communism since this was written demonstrate this.

The manifesto itself is pretty short, just over 50 pages, with the rest of the book devoted to prefaces from editions and then another essay by Karl Marx. The prefaces were actually really great, spanning from 1872 to 1893 (after Marx's death), and covering editions printed in England, Germany, Poland, Russia, Italy, France and more. They essentially provided a commentary of how communism evolved over those years. It was particularly interesting to read prefaces commenting on the changes in Russia. Engels and Marx were really hopeful that events in Russia would provide momentum for communism to spread across Europe. With hindsight we know this didn't happen - and also know that communism did not even persist in the USSR.

I have to say, though, I really should have left it at that. After the manifesto and the prefaces comes 'The Eighteenth Brumiare of Louis Bonaparte', an essay by Karl Marx. I read this the whole way through - to took *aaages* - far longer than reading the rest and to this day I have no idea of what it's about. Ok, I know it's about France and it has stuff about peasants and the aristocracy and Louis Bonaparte (who, if I'd read this wiki page first, I'd know was Napoleon I's uncle). I'll leave it at that...

Review: Spashdance Silver by Tansy Rayner Roberts

There's no getting over the fact that 'Splashdance Silver' is very reminiscent of the work of Terry Pratchett. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, Pratchett writes very entertaining work and 'Splashdance Silver' is also very entertaining. There's a lot going on, however - possibly one story line too many (thought I wouldn't like to be the one that decided which storyline 'walked the plank'[1]). Kassa Daggersharp has to decide whether she becomes a pirate like her recently deceased father or a witch like her (less recently deceased) mother. She goes in search of her parent's treasure accompanied by her cousin Daggar (who needs the money) and tracked by various foes (who also need the money), accidentally sets off a major magic crisis, and then still finds time to take on the new Lady Emperor and two potential love interests.

There's a lot of detail in the book, which is great for world building, and character development. But I actually found that many of the character's motivation muddied by a complicated back story (although it did makes Reed Cooper more interesting, particularly towards the end). I also felt the storyline lost momentum after Kassa (mostly) dealt with the 'glimmer'. This felt like the climax of the novel, when instead it continues on for some time afterwards. There's a lot of good jokes in the book, but there's also some pretty bad ones too...

There is a sequel to 'Splashdance Silver', 'Liquid Gold' and I'm interested to see where the characters end up in that tale. 'Splashdance Silver' is well written and very easy to keep engaged with. However, I think Pratchett does do it better...

[1] This is pirate humor, as appropriate for the book!!

Review: The Symposium by Plato

The Symposium This is the seventh book I (randomly) picked to read out of the Penguin Great Ideas Series. It's number 23 in the list and part of series one (the blue series).

If it wasn't for the slight mysogeny and rampant sexism in this book, I would absolutely love Plato's 'Symposium'. As it is, I can only love it with reservations (though it is pretty awesome).

The Symposium is a philosophical dialogue written by Plato sometime after 385 BC. It is a discussion on the nature of love, taking the form of a series of speeches, both satirical and serious, given by a group of men at a symposium or drinking party at the house of the tragedian Agathon at Athens.

It stars Socrates, Plato's teacher, which is interesting in itself, because, while Socrates was a real person, we only really know of him through the writings of others. It wasn't something that I'd really thought about before, until reading this wikipedia entry, where Socrates is refereed to as a character. 'But he's real!', I cried, 'Wasn't he??'. It threw me for a second, but it served a good reminder that, while Plato remains largely hidden in the text, he *is* present because he wrote it (I'm sure others didn't need this reminder).

Also included in the back is The Allegory of the Cave, which describes Socrates view of reality as we know it (shadows) and *true* reality, made of real forms. I'd actually heard of this allegory before, thanks to Sophie's World (which was my first and possibly *only* foray into philosophy), so it was good to reread relatively familiar concepts in a different context. (Although I do think many much of modern science dilutes the effect of Socrate's theory).

But why did I love 'Symposium' so much?? Well, it's all about love isn't it - and not just love - platonic love between men and their boyfriends. It's all rather sweet. Rather than a non-sexual affectionate relationship, *real* platonic love is chaste only because sexual energy has been transmogrified! Oh my! As I mentioned before, women get a pretty short shrift in these discussions, particularly in a description of humans when they were male, female or androgynous and all 'whole'. However, it was also great to hear descriptions of Socrates' life - wrestling, going to the gym and having fervent admirers such as Alcibiades. Sure, I'd seen the fun-loving representation of Socrates in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, but I didn't ever take it seriously...

Anyway, I'm interested in reading more of Plato's Dialogues - perhaps not for the philosphical arguments, but to learn more about Ancient Greek life.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Review: The Pleasure of Hating by William Hazlitt

The Pleasure of Hating This is the sixth book I (randomly) picked to read out of the Penguin Great Ideas Series. It's number 12 in the list and part of series one (the red series).

Like most (all?) of the 'Great Ideas', I had no idea what 'The Pleasure of Hating' was about before I started it. So I was somewhat surprised to start reading the first chapter/essay ('The Fight') to find it very much in the same tone as Jerome K. Jerome's 'Three Men in a Boat', which is fiction!! It isn't, apparently, but is instead Hazlitt's account of a fight in December 1821, between William Neate and Thomas Hickman, The Gasman (and his travel there and back). While I assumed (given the nature of the book) it wasn't fiction, and I could definitely read it as a piece of satire, it is also (apparently) a commentary on journalism (as laid out in this rather interesting post on the Penguin Classics blog), something I have to admit that I *didn't* pick up at the time.

The other essays in this volume are a little more conventionally written, and all beautifully so. The second, 'The Indian Jugglers', was probably my favourite because of the way Hazlitt slyly weaves in the real topic of the essay - the differences between cleverness and genius - into an introduction that seems to follow on in tone from 'The Fight'. I loved the way how Hazlitt touched so many different topics in this essay, finishing with the (rather charming) obituary of one John Cavanagh, a famous fives hands-player.

'On Reason and Imagination' was another favorite, arguing (rather interestingly) that:

Logic should enrich and invigorate its decisions by the use of imagination

I am a scientist and so reason generally holds sway with me. The idea that 'imagination' should play a part in decision making seemed rather novel, however when I then thought about decisions made using logic alone, but with insufficient data or too narrow a view (and there are numerous historical examples), then it seemed to make sense. Perhaps we are seeing the injection of some 'imaginations' in studies with more holistic multi-disciplinary approach, incorporating social and physical sciences. I also liked this essay because Jean-Jacques Rousseau's 'The Social Contract' was given as an example of an argument based on cold, hard reason (which I could appreciate having read it very recently because of the Great Ideas books!!), which Hazlitt argued was not appropriate for arguments based on human nature.

I have to admit that 'What is the People?' left me indifferent. However, 'On the Spirit of the Monarchy' was notable because of Hazlitt's fairly scathing attack on the monarchy (not that I disagreed). I also loved the quote at the start (not Hazlitt's) equating poets with Tories and mathematicians with Whigs, and then also to 'that wise, plodding, unpoetical people, the Dutch'. How droll! Hazlitt argues that man's craving for the Monarchy is the search for 'The One'. I have no idea whether 'The One' had the same romantic connotations as it does now, but I do wonder if mankind's 'craving' has now been transplanted to more common people - the winners of reality TV shows such as Big Brother or Pop Idol.

The collection ends with the title essay 'The Pleasure of Hating', in which Hazlitt's description of hate ranges from beautiful descriptions of his involuntary feelings towards a spider on the floor to discussions of why humans must fight and hate. I could agree with many of the statements Hazlitt makes in this essay and - all in all, I am very impressed with the collection. I'd be interested in reading more of Hazlitt's essays, although I think the work that most interests me may be 'The Spirit of the Age', a collection of portraits of his contemporaries, including Lamb, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Lord Byron, Jeremy Bentham, and Sir Walter Scott.

(As always, there's more on Hazlitt over at Wikipedia)

Review: The Art of War by Sun-tzu

The Art of War This is the fifth book I (randomly) picked to read out of the Penguin Great Ideas Series. It's number 22 in the list and part of series two (the blue series).

For me, 'The Art of War' came at a good time. After the dense, heavy reading of 'The Social Contract', The Art of War seemed beautifully sparse.

"OMG! It's a friggin poem!!' was my immediate reaction when I first flicked through the book. It's not a poem, but the text is arranged in very short paragraphs along the left hand side of the page. There's a lot of white space which give the text a lovely sculptural feeling, which is also reflected in the layout of the cover. From a practical point of view, laying out the text in this way has made 'The Art of War' a 'slim' book, rather than the ultra-skinny book it would have been otherwise, but the layout also suits the text, and I guess was probably ultimately a product of the original way in which the text was laid out on bamboo strips (see here). I'd be interested to know whether this layout was a design choice by Penguin, or if all editions of' The Art of War' are laid out like this by default.

As to the words themselves, I found this treatise on military strategy oddly charming. It's an interesting mixture of very practical advice (for example, it discusses the amount of money you need to run an army, describes different types of terrain) and more philosophical thoughts (know your enemy and know yourself). I can't quite see how it is applied to modern business and managerial strategy, but it wasn't really looking at if from that point of view so probably missed it. I suspect that 'The Art of War' may be a book I revisit later on to spend more time thinking about the text a bit more fully, now that I have a general idea of what it is about.

The book is laid out in thirteen different sections/chapters, and comparison of the chapters titles in the book to those mentioned in the wiki page show that this translation by John Minford is relatively new. Indeed further googling shows that John Minford's translation was first published by Viking in 2002 and included both the unadorned text, plus further commentary. I think that in this case further commentary would be very valuable in gaining the most out of the text (and, actually, I think this may well turn out to be true for many of the 'Great Ideas').

Monday, 31 March 2008

Review: War Crimes by Peter Carey

This is the second Peter Carey collection I've read (lent to me kindly by my friend B). I have one more (The Tax Inspector) up my sleeve. I wasn't as wowed by this one as I was by the first (A Fat Man in History, see here ) and upon review of that, er, review, I think it's the book's fault rather than mine. (By which I mean that I just preferred 'A Fat Man...', rather than me projecting too high an expectation on 'War Crimes'). Don't get me wrong, these stories are all well executed - beautifully executed. The whole time I was reading, I was always comfortable in the work, and not aware that I was reading (which is always a good sign). However, that extra factor of *ZOMG* WOW!!! was (on average) just not there.

According to the back blurb (which I read after finishing the book), these stories are all about power. Some of the are obviously so - particularly 'The Uses of Williamson's Wood' (which I quite liked), and 'Kristu-Du (which I liked less). My favorite story was probably "Do You Love Me?" and the rather sordid 'The Journey of a Lifetime' was also pretty memeorablee (And, yes, these are both about power too).

One odd thing I noticed with a lot of these stories, which I didn't notice with 'A Fat Man...' was the fact that most of them are split into numbered chapters (or scenes, perhaps, they're rather too small to be chapters). I'm not sure why Carey repeated this particular style so often. It didn't grate, but it was noticeable and I guess did disappoint me a little.

Finally I note that, again, this collection is old (not older than me this time, but almost) and yet none of the stories seem dated. That's pretty impressive in itself.

Review: The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau

The Social ContractThis is the fourth book I (randomly) picked to read out of the Penguin Great Ideas Series. It's number 8 in the list and part of series one (the red series).

This book took a loooong time to read. Weeks and weeks! In comparison to other 'great ideas' it is relatively long - 167 pages, when most seem to be closer to 100. However, the length of time it took probably has less to do with the number of pages, rather than the depth of arguments and ideas presented here.

After looking at his wikipedia page, Jean-Jacques Rousseau seems to have been some literary, philosophical, musical, political genius (darn him). The first thing that struck me about 'The Social Contract' was the absolute logical rigour that Rousseau applies to all his arguments. They're razor sharp and the scientist in me loved this, even though it did make the text very dense (I'm sure I've not taken away half the information that I could have). Rousseau builds his arguments from first principles, which means that unlike some of the previous (and abridged) 'great ideas' the reader can appreciate all of Rousseau's arguments. Rousseau argues that for any form of governance, 'the people' must form together and agree to a binding social contract, which essentially strips them of all private will, so that only the greater public will remains. He then discusses the flaws which make such governance difficult (impossible??), such as the fact that the 'private will' of those in power will inevitably conflict with their 'public will'. He describes numerous forms and sizes of government, the role of religion (there isn't one), as well as the mechanics of legislative and administrative power.

This was the first book I felt I *had* to bookmark pages so that I could come back to sections later for the review. Because of the way Rousseau builds up his arguments, he came up with a number of points that I'd not considered or though of before:
  • the right of life and death in the social contract - 'whoever wishes to preserve their life at the expense of others must give his life for them when necessary'
  • the idea that there is only one good government for each state, and that different governments may suit different people and even different climates!
  • good laws lead men to make better ones; bad laws lead to worse
  • laws constantly gain strength in any well constituted state, if laws becom weaker this shows there is no longer any legislative power and the state is dead

And my favorite line, which made me think of many recent governments:

'Usurpers always choose troubled times to enact, in the atmosphere of general panic, laws which the public would never adopt when passions were cool'

I don't agree with all these ideas, but they did make me think. Ultimately I think many of Rousseau's arguments are outdated now. People, particularly in the western world, probably like their 'private self' too much to sublimate themselves totally to a greater public good, as Rousseau requires. Monarchy seems to be taken as a fundamental component in government in 'The Social Contract', and this is less so now. Finally, Rousseau's ideas of economic are very outdated - his economies are based almost entirely on agriculture and crops, with no thought of the technology and 'value adding' (tourism! entertainment! IT!) by which many nations make substantial portions of wealth now. I did not find it the 'blue print for political terror' as it was once considered.

Still, the books *was* written in 1762 and, despite the effort it required, I loved the absolute rational approach Rousseau takes to his work (William Hazlitt makes mention of this in 'The Pleasure of Hating', but more on that later). Overall it was a really interesting book to read.

Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling

I am completely sold on the Harry Potter phenomenon. Not enough (it has to be said) to be lining up on the day of release to buy my copy of 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows', although this is mostly because *my* copies of books 1 to 6 are paperback and I don't want to spoil the set with a hardback! I have only read this final chapter through the generosity of one of my work colleagues, who has lent me her hardback copy, as I wait for the paperback to come out (probably later this year).

It would have been nice to have worked up to reading 'The Deathly Hallows' by reading the first 6 books again. It's been over a year since I read 'The Half-blood Prince' for the first and only time and I don't have as good recollection of that volume as I do of books 1 to 5 (which I have read multiple times). Instead, I inhaled 'The Deathly Hallows' during a time of extreme busy-ness, my little luxury in the middle of the night (and it only took one).

I came to the book unspoilt to the final outcome and was glad to be so (and therefore will try not spoil others). Ultimately I was very happy with the outcome of the book. The narrative is quite surprising, completely missing the school-bound structure of the previous books, with the children's arrival at Hogwarts, Christmas break, exams etc. It's a very dark book, although to be honest I still found Harry's interactions with Dolores Umbridge in book 5 to be the darkest of all J. K. Rowling's writing. Still, people die. Good people die, and unfairly too. From that respect Rowling pulls very few punches and no character can be considered 'safe' from harm. Happily, 'The Deathly Hallows' does not suffer from the bloat of book five (and to a lesser extent books 4 and 6) and I think every one of my favorite minor characters makes an appearance for one final goodbye. In particular, I was so happy to read Neville's role in the final battle.

My opinion of the final epilogue appears to be similar to that of others - that it was largely unnecessary and not a little irritating. However, it did allow platform 9 and 3/4 to be visited one final time. I am unlikely to continue the Harry Potter story by reading fan fiction, etc, and so for me it is all finally over. However, I look forward to rereading the series as a whole (once I get my own copy of book 7!) and, of course, the final two movies.

Finally, I cannot recommend Tansy Rayner Roberts summary of 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows', printed over at ASiF!, highly enough. Tansy *did* read 'The Deathly Hallows' within hours of its release and reviewed it within a day. Not wanting to be spoiled, I'd waited to read her summary until I'd read the final book. The wait was worth it.

Revew: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

So many people had said to me OMG! The Kite Runner is *fantastic*! You have to read it! that - I have to say - when I finally came to it, I was a bit non-plussed. Don't get me wrong, this has a *fantastic* description of Afganistan - both before the Taliban and then after. The conditions post-Taliban are shocking (particularly in the orphanage), as is the portrayal of the effect of the regime on children. However, I didn't actually think the story was that well written. The writing is pretty simple, easy to read. However, my main annoyance was with the storyline, with the way in which it was almost *forced* to come full circle, when a few straggling threads would have been fine. There are a lot of coincidences at the end (reappearance of an early enemy, Hassan's son Sohrab following through on a threat his father made, Amir's facial disfigurement) which just irritated me. However, having said that, I *didn't* see the major 'twist' coming until a few lines beforehand so in that respect the storyline did a good job :-)

The characterisation of Amir and Hassan was interesting. Amir, the narrator, is not particularly likeable, although becomes more so during the course of the novel (as I assume he's meant to become). Hassan in a lot of ways remains a bit superficial - we know him as Amir sees him, but not perhaps as he actually was.

Soon after reading the book, I went and saw the movie, which I think did a good job of depicting the novel. All in all, I'd recommend both, although I won't be saying OMG! The Kite Runner is *fantastic*! You have to read it!, I'll just be saying it's ok :-)

Review: The Encyclopedia of Fonts by Gwyn Headley

This is the second art/design/whatever book I've read this year (which makes me about a month - or one book - behind atm...) It *could* have taken me 30 minutes if I'd only read the introduction (which is pretty short). However, *I* was going to do this properly!

And *properly* meant that I pored through every one of the 453 pages of fonts (2000 plus examples!) on and off over a period of several weeks. How many fonts of that do I remember? Eh - not many, but I'm not sure that's the point (though I'm not sure... :-)

I'm fascinated by the way the Headley has separated the fonts - not always obviously so I'm interested in finding out more about the classifications he (and others) use. In most cases the fonts are displayed using a 'font sample' (e.g. 'The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog' but more interesting...), but every now and then Headley has gives description of the font - what the name means or something about the designer. And *every* now and then he makes a somewhat bitchy comment about the font (which was rather fun :-)

*LOTS* of fonts look the same as each other, and it was good to see development over time. Most of the 'common' fonts have been around a long time (perhaps it's a copyright thing??). I'm not sure what I'll do with the book now. I don't think it'll make picking fonts any easier, particularly when this is only a small selection of what's available! In fact, my head hurts (but I still like fonts :-)

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Review: Red Spikes by Margo Lanagan

'Red Spikes', Margo Lanagan's third collection, has the dubious honour of leaving me almost entirely cold. While I can appreciate that all the stories are well written, none of them really stand out for me as I review the table of contents for this post.

As I feel obliged to mention some of them:

'A Good Heart' stands out as being (I think) particularly well written for such a mundane storyline.

'Daughter of the Clay', a human girl and a clay girl who are born into each other's world swap places (giant simplification here). Some interesting ideas about belonging, until it dissolves in rambling clay talk.

'Forever Upward' describes a mother's desperate attempts to persuade the gods (in this case giant white floating organisms) to spare her sons from forced inscription into the Church, and her daughter's realisation that she has a connection to those Gods that her mother will never understand. It's actually not bad but it does feel like the beginning of a much longer story and in that respect is unsatisfying.

Possibly the only emotional connection I felt with the book was at the start of 'A Feather in the Breast of God' (the story I found... odd), where Lanagan dedicates this story to her departed budgies - amongst them Roy and HG! My favorite bit of the book was Lanagan's acknowlegements, which explained some of the inspiration behind her tales. To be completely fair, I read 'Red Spikes' in interstitial moments between being very busy and very tired and so perhaps it didn't get the attention it deserved. However, neither did the book demand that attention, and so I'm not sure it did deserve it after all...

Review: White Time by Margo Lanagan

'White Time' is Australian writer Margo Lanagan's first collection of short stories. The writing in the collection is solid enough, but after reading her second (Black Juice) and third (Red Spikes) collections, 'White Time' definitely feels like a first collection. I think the stories in the volume are... less sophisticated perhaps, maybe younger, maybe a bit less other-worldy. I'll think about it more :-) The book is marketed at (if not entirely for) the YA audience and this comes over quite strongly, particularly those stories with a teen protagonist (which is six out of ten: White Time, Tell and Kiss, The Night Lily, The Boy Who Didn't Yearn, Welcome Blue, Wealth). Interestingly my three favorite stories probably all come out of this group:

'Tell and Kiss' would be a fairly straightforward teen romance, but for the fact that in this world it is not excess calories that make a person get fat, but instead when when worries or concerns become a 'weight' on your mind. Some nice forboding in this, as a boy with a previous weight problem begins to slip again.

'White Time' is one of the more science fiction-based stories (which apparently appeal to me more than Lanagan's more fantastical works) about Sheneel (bogan name!!) undertakes work experience at the White time Laboratories, where entities stuck in time are redirected.

'Wealth', possibly the longest story in the collection, has perhaps for me the most interesting themes of all the stories and explores wealth, status and rebellion in world operating on a caste system where people are separated into Ord and Leet (presumably based on l33t, etc).

Although I have said that this first collection is less sophisticated than her latter collections, I do think I preferred the stories in the book to others. I'm not sure what that says about *me* :-) All in all, a good read, but it didn't inspire me as perhaps collections by other writers have.

(And the ant story really didn't do it for me).

Review: Eichmann and the Holocaust by Hannah Arendt

Eichmann and the Holocaust
This is the third book I (randomly) picked to read out of the Penguin Great Ideas Series. It's number 40 in the list (the last one!!) and part of series two (the blue series).

Hannah Arendt was a German (and Jewish) political theorist (not philospher), who fled both Germany and then France before travelling to the United States during World War II. Like both of the 'great ideas' I had read before this, 'Eichmann and the Holocaust' is not an original work in itself. Instead it provides excerpts of Arendt's commentary on Nazi Adolph Eichmann's trial, first printed in the New Yorker and then published as Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1963.

For me the book suffered from a lack of context. Arendt is reporting on current events and she assumes her reader is familiar with the Eichmann trial and also the actions Eichmann carried out as part of the Final Solution. Whether this would be less of a problem in Eichmann in Jerusalem is hard to tell, but either way it's this is hardly Arendt's fault. Instead blame should probably be laid at Penguin's feet for the way it has packaged the book - or at mine for being not well-enough informed...

Still, there is much of interest in this book. Arendt's arguments are razor sharp and her description of Eichamnn as an arrogant but thick-headed dolt, and his embodiment of the 'banality of evil' is very thought provoking. Perhaps even more thought provoking, however, was her criticisms of prominent members of the Jewish community, who also cooperated with Nazi Germany and justified sacrificing 'less worthy Jews' as a means of saving others (when in fact very few Jews were saved by their actions in comparison to the thousands who died) . Arendt also criticises Israel for holding the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem, argued that holding the trial in a more impartial state would have led more credence to the final judgement.

Despite her criticims, Arendt concludes her book:

'And just as you supported and carried out a policy of not wanting to share the earth with the Jewish people and the people of a number of other nations - as though you and your superiors had any right to determine who should and who should not inhabit the world - we find that no one, that is, no member of the human race, can be expected to want to share the earth with you. This is the reason, and the only reason, you must hang.'

Perhaps the best part of this book is the final postcript, in which Arendt answers criticisms leveled at Eichmann in Jerusalem, particularly for her attitudes towards Israel and those Jews who colluded with the Nazis. Because it was written 'after the fact', Arendt's summary of what she has previously written is clearer and more consise than the previous excerpts and I was very glad it was included in the book.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Review: Peeps by Scott Westerfeld

As a vampire novel, I guess Scott Westerfeld's 'Peeps' would normally be classed as fantasy. However, Westerfeld has turned the idea on its head and given vampirism a proper scientific explanation - so I guess this book is actually science fiction. Hooray!!

Cal is a 19 year old virgin from Texas, who moves to New York and finds his life radically changed after a one night stand with a woman he meets in a bar (the product of far too many banana cocktails). Not only does he finds himself sans virginity, he's also gained something too - infection with an insidious parasite that makes him stronger, gives him excellent night vision and smell, and an almost debilitating libido. Fortunately he's only a carrier of the parasite and doesn't suffer from other side effects of the parasite - an anathema to everything you once loved, an affinity with rats, and a liking for human flesh. Unfortunately he has unknowningly infected several girlfriends, who are not so lucky and have become full blown parasite-positives (peeps for short). After being identified and recruited by the Nigh Watch (an ancient Buffy-like Watcher's Council that controls the vamp population) it's up to him to track his ex's down and bring them in for the cure. Cal still has questions about the woman who first infected him, however. Who was she and how can he track her down? Most importantly, why did she not just kill him?

Narrated by Cal, this book is fast paced and really captures the teen voice (something Westerfeld also did well in the Uglies Trilogy). Interspersed between the actual story chapters are alternate chapters detailing the life history all sorts of icky real-life parasites. By including these factual chapters, Westerfeld builds up all sorts of evidence supporting his theory. It's mind-blowing stuff and it feels like that the ordering and exposition in these factual chapters was just as important as the character and story development in the fiction. I did feel that Peeps had a better scientific grounding than the Uglies Trilogy, where lots is talked about recycling, energy efficiency, and *hoverboards* but most details are unsatisfactorily hazy.

In a world where even the author admits there are a no shortage of vampire novels, Westerfeld's take on vampyrism is both fresh and appealing, as are his characters. My only criticism is that Peeps feels like it's the first in a sequel, when apparently it's a stand alone novel[1]. The whole novel is a slow build up, as Cal finds out more about the origins and history of the Peeps, and of the ancient evil that the Peeps must ready themselves to fight. However, the book is devoid of a real climax; Cal does fight the evil, but it is not vanquished. The novel ends with only a few of it threads tied satisfactorily and the characters (and this reader) waiting for the 'real show' to begin.

I would class this as an 'older' young adult book. The protagonists are all 19-plus and therefore only borderline teenagers. There are fairly frequent references to sex and some of the parasites are quite confronting too. I think it has great potential as an allegory (or mebbe it's more of a literal warning) on the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases, as Westerfeld manages to explore the consequences of STD transmission without any preaching. Bottom line, though, it's a just really fun read.

[1] Actually there is a sequel, 'The Last Days', but I'm not sure it's a sequel sequel, or more a novel set in the same universe. I'll let you know :-)

Friday, 15 February 2008

Review: Mucha by Renate Ulmer

I'm supposed to be reading 12 'art' (design/whatever) books this year - one a month - and this is the first! (A bit behind schedule given it's February, but never mind). I bought this book in Prague, Alfons Mucha's final home. I had probably seen Mucha art before I went to Prague[1], but it wasn't until I visted the Mucha Museum that I fully appreciated his skill and the effect his art nouveau designs had on popular culture in the late 19th century. Since leaving Prague (in November 2006), I'd flipped through the images in the book, but never read the accompanying text. Until now...

There's not a *heap* of text accompanying this images - it's more a brief summary than a full analysis of Mucha's work. However it gave extra context to the images in the book and also reminded me of some facts that I'd forgotten. The art nouveau movement was actually much earlier than I remembered, for example (1890s to the early 1900s). All seven of the ground breaking posters that Mucha drew for Sarah Bernhard are present in the book, as well as a good selection of the 'quartet' panneaux decoratifs he designed (e.g. Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter). One of the really interesting aspects of Mucha's work is its often commercial nature - he designed commercials for cigarettes and bicycles and everything else. Reading this also reminded me of Charles Rennie Macintosh (a contemporary of Mucha's, though I have no idea if they were aware of each other) in terms of his commitment to total design, rather thna just art/illustration. Particularly, the fact that Mucha designed jewelry and fitted out Georges Fouquet's Parisian jewelry store mimicked Machintosh's works in Glasgow very closely.

Relatively little is said about Mucha's final (?) work, the Slav Epic. Perhaps this is because this work is less popular than his design work, perhaps it was just considered less influential. It wasn't until I'd read the book that I realised that this was a Taschen book, my very first. It's a beautifully presented book - good quality images on good quality paper. What I'd really love to own, however, is a copy of Mucha's Documents decoratifs (1902), a loose-leaf collection of decorative arts. A few copies of pencil sketches are reproduced in ths book and they are stunning, demonstrating just how accomplished an artist Mucha was. I have faint hopes that if I search on Amazon that it will pop up as a recent reprint, but in reality I suspect that getting hold of a copy would be a very very expensive exercise...

[1]Actually I definitely had - there was a piece in the lounge room of the house I was living in!

Review: Shade's Children by Garth Nix

Shade's Children is young adult novel, written by Garth Nix and with a science fiction twist. Set in an alternate reality, evil Overlords have ruled the city (the world?) for fifteen years since a catastrophic 'Change' caused everyone over the age of fourteen to simply disappear. (Kind of like 'Children of Men", but the opposite). The Overlords use the city to play full-scale war games, gaining and losing territory in an apparently never-ending game. The remaining children have been rounded up and placed in prison-like dorms to await their fourteenth birthday, when they will be taken to the Meat Factory and changed into the cyborg creatures that act as servants and army to the Overlords.

The 'Change', however, has also affected some of the children, giving some talents that enable them to escape from the dorms. Shade's Children have found shelter in a beached submarine with the only 'adult' to have survived the 'Change' - the uploaded consciousness of a human scientist, now known called Shade. Fifteen year-old Gold-Eye is saved from the Overlord's cyborgs by a team of Shade's Children. He decides to join them and is soon sent off on his first mission with the team that saved him. Shade begins to send them on increasingly dangerous missions to retrieve data from his old university labs and the lair of one of the Overlords. As Shade learns more, he is able to construct metal 'deceptor' crowns that very conveniently render the team invisible to their hunters, but also fail (or threaten to fail) whenever Nix needs to produce dramatic tension. The climax of the novel sees the children set out to destroy the device that Shade has learnt controls the 'Change', hopefully bringing reality back to normal.

Nix has written the novel in a sort of split narrative; chapters of Gold-Eye's story are interspersed with short snippets of additional information in the form of video interviews, lists of data, and Shade's internal monologue where he questions his humanity. While I enjoyed this aspect of the writing, I found other parts less satisfying. Gold-Eye's speech, for example,affected by years of living along, is disjointed and jarring and did not mesh with his apparently smooth and 'normal' thought processes. While I can understand what Nix is trying to convey, I found it Gold-Eye's speech distracting.

While Nix has created a novel and interesting world, ultimately I found the Shade's Children too slight to be satisfying. The reasons behind the Overlord's territorial battles are never explained and we never find out where they have come from. Although a happy future is foretold, the reader never learns if the 'Change' is completely reversed or not. The city in which the battle takes place is faceless (to me at least), and I felt to a certain extent that the 'damaged' characters were sacrificed at the end in order to produce the promise of a happy 'Hollywood' ending. Shade's Children is one of Nix's earlier works - written after 'Sabriel', but before the two later books in 'The Old Kingdom' series. It certainly reminded me much more of 'Sabriel' in terms of character development and depth. The good news is, of course, that this book was written eleven or more years ago and, assuming Nix's later books develop more along the line of 'Lirael' and Abhorsen', then there's plenty more good Nix reading to be had.

Review: The Inner Life by Thomas a Kempis

The Inner Life
This is the second book I (randomly) picked to read out of the Penguin Great Ideas Series. It's number 4 in the list and part of series one (the red series).

Thomas a Kempis and I were never going to see completely eye to eye. He was a deeply religious Renaissance Catholic monk and I am... not. Ultimately I found Kempis' exhortations to renounce all worldly life for quiet religious devotion irrelevant and repetitive. (Particularly the repetitve). This is perhaps uncharitable; apparently 'The Inner Life' is actually an excerpt of Kempis' more well-known text 'The Imitation of Christ" (see reviews at Amazon for more info). Perhaps the whole book would be more satisfying - it was never meant to be a literary masterpiece, but a text to offer religious instruction to monks. However, I'm not religious, not looking to devote my life to Christ, and therefore not going to read the extended version.

In its favour, some of Kempis' views (that we should not worry about gossip, arguments, and what other people say about you or what they do) do have an appealing zen-like quality and are probably an ideal that is worth aiming for. Like Marco Polo before it, this has been disappointing as it is not a complete book in itself. I'm hoping that my next (random) choice will be a full text and a great idea.

Review: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

This is the first or final (depending on which way you look at it!) book on the list of 1001 Books to Read Before You Die. I've had discussions with a friend about these more recent books on the list - how can a book that was only out for 6 months or less before publication of '1001 Books' make the list? How can anyone have enough perspective on how well it will last - how significant it will be in the future?

Ishiguro does have a very good record 1001-Bookwise, with five books on the list (none of which I'd read), and I guess we could always wait for the second edition to see if 'Never Let Me Go' stands the test of time :-) Or, I guess, you can just read the book and decide for yourself. This is what I did, and I heartily agree with it's inclusion on the list. Told by Kathy H., 'Never Let Me Go' is a deeply personal tale that also, eventually and inevitably, has huge social and political implications. It's beautifully told and it'll make you think.

It's very hard to describe what happens in this book in a way that won't spoil the story. Even knowing that the story could be spoilt is more than I knew going in. All I had done was briefly skim the back blurb and got 'a group of students growing up', 'contemporary England', and maybe 'idyllic Hailsham School'. What I missed, however, was 'darkly-skewed'. Ishiguro has written an excellent first person narrative. Kathy sees her life as normal and so she narrates it as such. However, as we hear tales of her school life and friendships in slow and absorbing detail, it becomes apparent that all is not as we would expect. Apparently innocuous words begin to take on a sinister feel, as the context in which they are used makes us realise they have other meanings in Kathy's world. These 'flashes' of discord enticed me, drew me in and made me want to know what was on earth going on. However Ishiguro narrates this story so slowly and skillfully - so true to Kathy - that it is only, finally, at the end that the reader can finally appreciate the world into which Kathy and her friends have been born (if even then). I couldn't help but think of the huge implications of the world in which Kathy lives, should it ever occur in real life.

I'm going to keep this book for a while and then read it again to see how I feel about it on a second reading. I won't be so caught up with finding out what's happening, and perhaps then, I'll be able to just experience the emotion of the story. I suspect I'll cry...

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Penguin Great Ideas Series

Throughout history, some books have changed the world. They have transformed the way we see ourselves - and each other. They have inspired debate, dissent, war and revolution. They have enlightened, outraged, provoked and comforted. They have enriched lives - and destroyed them. Now Penguin brings you the works of the great thinkers, pioneers, radicals and visionaries whose ideas shook civilization, and helped make us who we are.

When Penguin released their Great Ideas Series, I have to admit that I bought the books for their covers. I did always mean to read them too, however, and so in 2008 (and 2009) I'm going to read two 'great ideas' a month for 20 months. I'll be picking them at random and will blog a review of each as I go along. Click on a link below to see which ones I've reviewed so far...

    Series 1 (Red)
  1. Seneca - On the Shortness of Life
  2. Marcus Aurelius - Meditations
  3. St Augustine - Confessions of a Sinner
  4. Thomas a Kempis - The Inner Life
  5. Niccolo Machiavelli - The Prince
  6. Michel de Montaigne - On Friendship
  7. Jonathan Swift - A Tale of a Tub
  8. Jean-Jacques Rousseau - The Social Contract
  9. Edward Gibbon - The Christians and the Fall of Rome
  10. Thomas Paine - Common Sense
  11. Mary Wollstonecraft - A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
  12. William Hazlitt - On the Pleasure of Hating
  13. Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels - The Communist Manifesto
  14. Arthur Schopenhauer - On the Suffering of the World
  15. John Ruskin - On Art and Life
  16. Charles Darwin - On Natural Selection
  17. Friedrich Nietzsche - Why I Am So Wise
  18. Virginia Woolf - A Room of One's Own
  19. Sigmund Freud - Civilization and its Discontents
  20. George Orwell - Why I Write

    Series 2 (Blue)
  21. Confucius - The First Ten Books
  22. Sun-tzu - The Art of War
  23. Plato - The Symposium
  24. Lucretius - Sensation and Sex
  25. Cicero - An Attack on an Enemy of Freedom
  26. The Revelation of St. John the Divine and The Book of Job
  27. Marco Polo - Travels in the land of Kubilai Khan
  28. Christine de Pizan - The City of Ladies
  29. Baldesar Castiglione - How to Achieve True Greatness
  30. Francis Bacon - Of Empire
  31. Thomas Hobbes - Of Man
  32. Sir Thomas Browne - Urne-Burial
  33. Voltaire - Miracles and Idolatry
  34. David Hume - On Suicide
  35. Carl Clausewitz - On the Nature of War
  36. Soren Kierkegaard - Fear and Trembling
  37. Henry David Thoreau - Where I Lived, and What I Lived For
  38. Thorstein Veblen - Conspicuous Consumption
  39. Albert Camus - The Myth of Sisyphus
  40. Hannah Arendt - Eichmann and the Holocaust

Review: Travels in the Land of Kubilai Khan by Marco Polo

Travels in the Land of Kubilai KhanThis is the first book I (randomly) picked to read out of the Penguin Great Ideas Series. It's number 27 in the list and part of series two (the blue series).

My first thought when reading this book was that it's not really an idea as such, it's a description. My second thought was that it would've been nice to have some background to give the book context. My third thought was 'Duh! You have the internet and google skillz. Go find the background for yourself!'

Which I did :-)

Marco Polo, a Venetian, traveled to China in 1271 and returned back to Venice in 1291. I have vague recollections of reading a book about him, which argued that he never actually got as far as China when I was traveling to China myself in 1999 (a long time ago now :-). This is a relatively recent argument, based on omissions in Polo's description and the fact that there are no records of him serving Kublai Khan. However, I can appreciate why even the first readers of the book describes it as being filled with 'a million lies'. Polo's descriptions are extraordinary. Kublai Khan, who is by now relatively old (60-ish) lives a life of hunting and feasts, wives and concubines. Khan has hundreds of thousands of soldiers, four wives, a rotating roster of concubines, ten thousand hounds and a palace that can be taken down and constructed at will. I found it hard to believe he got any work done! Despite claims of falsehood, Polo's book was still remarkably influential, and widely popular hundreds of years before the advent of modern printing.

This book does not tell the whole of Polo's travels in China (Cathay). As far as I can tell, it is in fact book two of four. Despite my skepticism of the veracity of the contents, I do love the way that it's written. It's a very chatty style with lots of 'Oh!! I must tell you about...' and 'I almost forgot to mention...', which perhaps ties in with the fact that Marco Polo didn't actually write the book himself, but instead dictated it to Rustichello da Pisa (while Polo was in prison). While I don't feel that this 'great idea' has particularly changed or influenced me, I can appreciate that much of it's impact is probably lost after 700-odd years. Still, it was a enjoyable read and an easy introduction to the series.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

2008 Booklist

What I'm reading in 2008:
  1. Power without Glory, Frank Hardy (a slog)
  2. The Hound of the Baskervilles, Arthur Conan Doyle (not a slog!)
  3. War of the Worlds, H. G. Wells (wow)
  4. The Ground Beneath Her Feet, Salman Rushdie (self indulgent, but I still liked it :-) )
  5. Travels in the Land of Kublai Khan, Marco Polo (opulent)
  6. To Say Nothing of the Dog, Connie Willis (love, Love, LOVE)
  7. The Bodysurfers, Robert Drew (languid)
  8. Adrian Mole: The Wilderness Years, Sue Townsend (flaccid)
  9. Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro (*wonderful*)
  10. The Inner Life, Thomas a Kempis (religious)
  11. Shade's Children, Garth Nix (slight)
  12. Mucha, Renate Ulmer (decorative)
  13. Peeps, Scott Westerfeld (fun!)
  14. Amy's Children, Olga Masters (bemusing)
  15. Eichman and the Holocaust, Hanna Arendt (thought provoking)
  16. Undead and Unemployed, Mary Janice Davidson (light but satisfying)
  17. White Time, Margo Lanagan (ok, but she's no Peter Carey)
  18. Black Juice, Margo Lanagan (not fussed about this one)
  19. Red Spikes, Margo Lanagan (*really* not fussed about this one)
  20. Adrian Mole: The Cappuccino Years, Sue Townsend (a great end to the bookbag)
  21. Odd One Out, Monica McInerney (bleh)
  22. The Encyclopedia of Fonts, Gwyn Headley (somewhat overwhelming, fontwise)
  23. The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini (not as good as I'd been lead to believe)
  24. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J. K. Rowling (completion)
  25. The Social Contract, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (bookmarkable)
  26. War Crimes, Peter Carey (not as stunning as 'The Fat Man in History')
  27. The Art of War, Sun-tzu (poetry)
  28. The Pleasure of Hating, William Hazlitt (instructive)
  29. Survivor, Chuck Palahniuk (fun, but derivative)
  30. The Symposium, Plato (adorable!)
  31. Urn Burial, Kerry Greenwood (also fun, but not Agatha Christie)
  32. Splashdance Silver, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Pratchettesque)
  33. The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (logical!)
  34. Cannery Row, John Steinbeck (charming!)
  35. Extras, Scott Westerfeld (notasgoodasthetrilogy)
  36. How to Achieve Greatness, Baldesar Castliglione (like the Symposium, but not as good)
  37. Rynosseros, Terry Dowling (enjoyable linked shorts)
  38. Tithe, Holly Black (haphazard)
  39. Blue Tyson, Terry Dowling (more good Dowling)
  40. The Memory Keeper's Daughter, Kim Edwards (the cover was better than the insides...)
  41. The Last Days, Scott Westerfeld (fawesome!)
  42. 2012, edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Ben Payne (solid)
  43. tiny deaths, Robert Shearmen(excellent)
  44. Prismatic, Edwina Grey (interesting)
  45. Wicked, Gregory Maguire (tedious)
  46. Stories of Your Life and Others, Ted Chiang (very good, but didn't meet (very) high expectations)
  47. Moon Palace, Paul Auster (short, but lengthy)
  48. The Other Boleyn Girl, Phillipa Gregory (historically edifying)
  49. Until I Find You, John Irving (satisfying)
  50. Cenotaxis, Sean Williams (non-plussing)
  51. Hal Spacejock: No Free Lunch, Simon Haynes (unexpectedly amusing)
  52. SG1: The Barque of Heaven, Suzanne Wood (slashy!!)
  53. Wintersmith, Terry Pratchett (fun, but not groundbreaking)
  54. All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque (war. what is it good for?)
  55. Stardust, Neil Gaiman (*not* as good as the movie)
  56. The Six Sacred Stones, Matthew Reilly(as expected)
  57. SG1: Do No Harm, Karen Miller (a bit weird to read when sick myself, but otherwise good)
  58. His Illegal Self, Peter Carey (dreamy)
  59. The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera (oblique)
  60. Amberlight, Sylvia Kelso (uninspiring)
  61. Death by Water, Kerry Greenwood (better than the first I read)
  62. Siddhartha, Herman Hesse (Om)
  63. The Catarbie Conspiracy, Sabrina DeSouza(naive)
  64. Astropolis: Earth Ascendant, Sean Williams (space opera-ry goodness)
  65. Incandescence, Greg Egan (hard science)
  66. Daughters of Moab, Neil Gaiman (apocolyptic australiana)
  67. The Economy of Light, Jack Dann (interesting mishmash)
  68. Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman (nice use of London)
  69. Time Machines Reparied While-U-Wait, K. A. Bedford (time travelling mystery)
  70. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, Sean Williams (a different kind of space opera)
  71. Without Warning, John Birmingham (depressing)
  72. Chao Space, Marianne de Pierres (aimless until the end)
  73. Jack Maggs, Peter Carey (excellent, plus subtext!! or mebbe I mean metatext)
  74. Time for the Stars, Robert Heinlein (twin paradox!!)
  75. The Dispossessed, Ursula K. Le Guin (zomg. excellent.)
  76. The Riddle and the Knight, Giles Milton (illuminating)
  77. The Music of Chance, Paul Auster (compelling)
  78. Daughters of Earth, Justin Larbalestier (ed.) (excellent)