Minority Report – Philip K. Dick

Minority Report

So, I was in Fopp, having a browse, and what happens? Oh, I buy 4 books. Well done. Still, they were cheap, I got 4 for £10, which is pretty impressive considering today I spent £18 on two books from Waterstones. Then again, I did have book tokens, so really it was £8…but you get the idea.

Minority Report, once again, have read the book, haven’t seen the film. For those that are unfamiliar with the plot (oh, only me prior to reading it?), the blurb from the book says

“The Department of Precrime has cut major crime by only 100% How? By looking into the future, arresting potential criminals, sentencing them and punishing them – before they actually commit the crime. No one doubts the efficiency and fairness of the system, until Precrime Commissioner John Anderton finds himself accused. If he is to remain free, he must go on the run as a convicted murderer…”

Uh, guys, I don’t know if you (or Spielberg) noticed, but that is an amazing story-line, and the book was amazing. Although Dick, has a total thing for breasts (which is true on many levels, but let’s not go there). The female characters are all a bit stunted and under-deformed, which I am going to forgive him for, if only because the book is really good. The plot was a bit hard to follow at times, which is due to Dick’s prose, and appears to be common in his other books/short stories (there are more Dick reviews to come. Dick. Need to stop typing Dick.), but it is done in such a way, that I feel stupid, as though I just can’t keep up with him. Which I probably couldn’t, but that is another conversation for another day. Still, I was about 40 pages into a 290 page book and I was thinking, “How is he going to stretch this out for another 250 pages? It seems to be coming to an end?” Then it did come to an end, and it turns out the edition I bought had numerous additional short stories for me to peruse. Total score. So these stories were are follows:

Imposter – I think I was drunk when I read this, I vaguely remember it, but can’t really provide a plot summary. I am going to pillage Google, back shortly. Shit, apparently this was first published in ‘Astounding’ magazine, June 1953. I would subscribe to that. Here is the summary from Wikipedia:

Spence Olham, a member of a team designing an offensive weapon to destroy invading aliens known as the Outspacers, is confronted by a colleague and accused by security officer Major Peters of being an android impostor designed to sabotage Earth’s defenses. 

There are definitely some common themes running through this…

Second Variety – Which is along roughly the same lines as Bladerunner – who is the robot and who isn’t? But in a creepy war zone environment

War Game – This is from the perspective of a group of approvers/merchandisers. Toys are provided to them from beings on another planet, and they have to assess whether the toys are fit for release in their world or not. There is one toy, where you put on an outfit (in this case, a cowboy outfit), and you start to see the world as the character you are dressed as. It is very virtual reality, and a pretty cool concept for the 1950’s. Anyway, I really enjoyed this short story, and it had a very good Roald Dahlesque twist at the end, (or were Dahl’s twists Dickesque? Lol. That works on many levels. Dick. Again, must stop typing it.)

What the Dead Men Say – This one was really weird, basically, once you die, you are put in a kind of stasis, which allows you to be brought back to a kind of half life on occasion, which lets you live on for even longer. The character who has died, is a Kingpin in this world, a kind of gangster of sorts, and when he dies, they try to revive him, only they can’t. Instead, a voice starts coming from outside the galaxy that sounds like him, and then they are trying to figure out where the voice is coming from, how this will impact an upcoming election, who his inheritance should go to… Yea, it was really weird, and I am still not sure I understood it. Enjoyable though. Although there was a bit about a woman – who I think was a receptionist – who had her breasts out and painted blue for some reason. That is either this story, or another one, or possibly both. Dick was definitely a breast man.

Oh, to Be a Blobel! – Right, so there was a war between humans and Blobels. As part of this, undercover agents were sent to the Blobel world disguised as a Blobel. Except, this required a complete genetic overhaul, and on their return, post-war, they were provided with the cure to turn them back into full human. Except, it didn’t really work, instead they are human half the time and Blobel the other half. It opens with the guy discussing his mental health because of this change, his inability to meet someone because of his condition, and eventually he is matched with a female Blobel, who was a spy on their side, who has the same problem. This also has quite the twist at the end, you kind of see it coming, but the story is so well played and structured, it really doesn’t matter.

The Electric Ant – This one is very Blade Runner (I know that the film was based on ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’, but the plot is quite different between the two), but ends up being really existential. It touches on what is consciousness, how it is formed, what is real, all through the eyes of a robotic man essentially.

Faith of Our Fathers – Similar to above, this is about the nature of reality, and the steps that Governments will take to ensure that we only see what they want us to see. It also considers the nature of bureaucracy, and what people will do to get the top – specifically in a civil service type setting. It involves drug taking (you don’t say!), and hallucinations. It seems to be a common theme in Dick’s books/stories.

We Can Remember it for You Wholesale – A quick comment on the capitalisation of certain words in the titles – I am following how they are presented in the book. I know they look weird. Sorry. OK, I can’t remember this one much either – let me skim read. Oh, yeah! This is the story that the film ‘Total Recall’ was based on. I think I have seen that film, but I don’t really remember it at all. So, there is a guy, who wants to live out his fantasy of being a secret agent that has gone to Mars, so he goes to a clinic which specialises in implanting these memories, so that he will think he has gone to Mars on a secret mission for the Government. But, while implanting the memories, the clinic realises that someone has already been in his brain to remove/replace memories, and they can tell it was a Government job, so they stop their work, decide not to tell him, and refund half the money back. The guy who wanted the implanted memories half remembers the mission, and goes back to get the rest of his money, and it all goes a bit metal from there. This story was so, so good. If you have seen the film you will know the plot, if you haven’t I don’t want to spoil the story for you, but you really should read it.

In fact, everyone should read more Philip K. Dick. Also, while examing the blurb on my book I found out that Colin Farrell was in the ‘Minority Report’ film. Therefore, I am going to need to watch this, he is my new man crush, even though I hate Tom Cruise. I also wasn’t that keen on Colin Farrell, until I listed to an interview with him on the ‘Nerdist’ podcast, and now I am totally in love with him. I don’t usually have a thing for accents, but on Farrell I really enjoy it. I also need to watch ‘The Lobster’, maybe I can pick up a cheap copy in Fopp and not buy more books…

Until next Sunday, when I will be writing about the book, ‘Love and Louis XIV: The Women in the Life of The Sun King’ by Antonia Fraser.

Amy

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Another hiatus brought to a close part 4

Ok, so this should definitely be the last one. Also, I realised while talking to my Mum the other day, that one of the books I read last year was recorded on Goodreads, but not included as part of my book total for that year. I am starting to think they are at it.

That book was

Remains

The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro – This was of course what the film staring Anthony Hopkins was based on – not that I have seen it. I really need to catch up with my film watching. It follows the life of a butler in an old school, upper class, British household, and is composed of him reflecting back on his life, and his choices while he takes a driving tour round England, on his way to see a former colleague. It provides an intimate portrait of his life, and his thought process in trying to justify his choices, his manner of living, and his employer’s manner of living, and the legacy that their employer has left behind. It was a slow and a sad book, which I really enjoyed, and the film has made it onto my ‘need to watch’ list. I loved ‘Never Let Me Go’, by Ishiguro, which I adored, and lent to someone and never got it back. Le sigh. I did enjoy the film of the same name, which for once, I have seen. This leads us neatly onto…

Giant

The Buried Giant – Kazuo Ishiguro – I really hated this book, it was a struggle to read, it was a slim book, but it took me ages to get through it. Which, is odd, given how much I enjoyed the above two books. In ‘The Buried Giant’, we follow a couple as they travel across their world, in search of their son who has left them. The world is a forgetful place, where people rapidly forget what has happened the day before, it is cruel, and scary, and filled with some fantasy elements. Throughout the narrative it weaves various stories and tales, including that of Camelot, and it was full of symbolism (which as usual, I probably didn’t recognise). I didn’t find the ending satisfying, and I struggled to find any particular meaning in the novel. It isn’t a book I would recommend, and it is currently sitting in a pile to be donated to the pile of books at my work.

Tawny

The Tawny Man Trilogy – Robin Hobb – As I enjoyed the Farseer trilogy, I was very pleased when I spotted this on sale in a charity shop, and I picked it up, along with a few other things. I then got really excited, as it is a first edition hardback, sad news is, it isn’t worth much. It picks up on the tale of Fitz after his adventures in the Farseer trilogy, and everything that made that so good, is continued in here. I have so far only read the first two books, and have not quite made it to the third. The reason for this, is that I kept on going into the Waterstones on my way home from work, and they have other books, but not the specific third one. I picked up a book, thinking it was the third one, and not only was it not, it also spoiled the ending of the Tawny Man trilogy for me. So I am frustrated at both myself, and Hobb’s naming conventions.

As a quick overview, the Fool comes to find Fitz, who is living in isolation which his adopted son. The Fool has been sent to recruit Fitz for a task (as his Catalyst), which is to ensure that the current Prince of the Kingdom weds the person to whom he has been betrothed. I feel as though these books move a bit slower than the Farseer trilogy, and that they have possibly been stretched too thin, but they examine political power plays and force you to take sides, and most of what happens in them, can also be applied to real world events, and force you to explore your thoughts and opinions on these. In this respect, they are enjoyable. If you enjoy Robin Hobbs then you will definitely enjoy these, but I would recommend you start with the Farseer trilogy, not only because I found them better and more enjoyable, but also so you have an awareness of the backstory going in.

Shrill

Shrill – Lindy West – As a card carrying feminist, I am a huge fan of Lindy West. I don’t remember how I came across her, whether it was through Jezebel, or the Guardian, or through the podcast that she did for ‘This American Life’, where she confronted her troll, regardless, she is amazing and fearless, and I bought this book on the day it was released in the UK.

And…I was maybe a bit disappointed? I enjoyed the book, and she is an excellent writer, but it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. It is autobiographical, and provides detail about being a shy, young woman, and then finding her voice and being able to express her opinions, loudly, clearly, and while dealing with vitriolic abuse online – the story about the troll is just awful. It also talks about finding acceptance with being fat – which is the word West prefers to use, rather than large, big etc. She talks about reclaiming it, about reclaiming herself, and is unapologetic for taking up space in a world where women are taught to be smaller, to be less than. A lot of the feminist ideas she speaks about I am familiar with, and I always love seeing these put in new contexts.

I don’t think the book was hilariously funny, but I do enjoy her crude turns of phrase. I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to hear her speak at the Glasgow Women’s Library (it was also my first visit, and it is amazing! I have been meaning to get back down when I get the chance), and in some ways it was better to hear her talk about the book, and talk about her experiences, and to hear her reading excerpts from it. It was a really good evening – I even got my book signed, and tried to have some chat with her, but I was just so awkward she kind of made a ‘let’s move this along here’, face at me. Gah. Still, it was signed, which is the important thing.

Perhaps my feelings on the book are because perhaps it wasn’t aimed at me. I am not fat, I probably don’t look like an outsider, I am not particularly vocal or loud, but I did relate to being shy and quiet, and not having a voice, and not being able to find that voice. It was a good book, and even though it wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, I would say a 3.5 out 5 rating from me.

Nod

Nod – Adrian Barnes – The premise of this, is that one night, no one can sleep, and then again the next night, they can’t sleep and so on, until the world descends into a sleepless madness, apart from for the few.

I had gone into the Waterstones near my work, looking for another book (actually the final book in the Tawny Man trilogy, which obviously they did not have), and picked this one up instead. The premise sounded interesting, and it had good reviews on the cover. Instead, I really disliked this book, it was a slog to get through, it was slow moving, and the protagonist was a total fucking dick, with absolutely no redeeming features. So I decided to google the author, and to see reviews. Yup, the guy has cancer, and so I felt like a dick for hating this book. I mean, what have I done? Have I had a book published? Do I get incredible numbers for my blog? Do I have more than 100 twitter followers? Have I got a stellar career? Well, no. So who am I to judge a guy, who is dying, and has actually made the effort to write a book, which he then got successfully published?

So, I held off on reviewing it, and looking at my Goodreads star review, I gave it a 3, it is not worth a three. It is a 2 at most, I just changed it. Now, however, I figure, it is better to be honest, and I did not enjoy this. I thought it was a good premise, poorly executed.

Brazil

Boys From Brazil – Ira Levin – I am sure everyone knows the premise of this, as once again there is a film based on it, which once again, I have not seen, but if not, it is as follows. It opens with a scene of German scientists in a restaurant, having dinner, and discussing plans that they are looking to execute, it is overheard by a wannabe Nazi hunter, who then calls a famous Nazi hunter to tell him what he has heard. The race is then on to figure out what their plans are, and what they are trying to achieve, before it is too late.

Note I did not spoil the plot for you, unlike one of my manager’s did for me. I was heading back to work one day for lunch, and ended up buying four books, and back in the office, the manager exclaims – “Have you never read that before? I am surprised.” Yea, OK, thanks, there are a lot of books in the world and I will probably die not having read all those that I want to read, so no.  I haven’t read it. What I actually said was probably something like “No, not yet, I am looking forward to it.”

Cue me, at home, unable to put it down, but I had to because life. The next day in work, “Oh, wow, I am really enjoying this book it is so good!” Cue manager, “Yea, well, there were a lot of theories about [redacted], so it makes sense that someone would turn it into a book.” I hadn’t reached that part yet, so whole story ruined. The worst bit? The twist was literally on the next page I read when I got home that night. So, great.

Anyway, the book is great, and I loved it, and I couldn’t figure out what was happening until my manager ruined it for me. I have also read ‘The Stepford Wives’, by Levin, and that is also wonderful. Would recommend.

OK, so that is it for today, and as of next week, we get back into single book review territory. Thanks for sticking with it!

Amy

Another hiatus brought to a close. Part 3

This may be the final instalment of this…Let’s see how we go. So, I got up to ‘Cloud Atlas’ by David Mitchell. The nest book I read was:

‘The Daylight Gate’ – Jeanette Winterson – I think this is the first Jeanette Winterson book I have read, I have read a few short stories, I think. Definitely at least one in ‘Gutter’ – which you should all subscribe too, because it is wonderful, which reminds me that I need to renew my subscription – , and I have been meaning to read ‘Oranges are not the only fruit’, forever, and I mean to get round to it at some point. But to this book, honestly, I was a bit disappointed in it.

It is loosely based around the Lancaster witch trials, but I think this was used more for inspiration, and the history in the story isn’t entirely accurate – but it is a fiction book, and that wasn’t really the point of the novel. It felt like a real slog to get through, and it is short, and the prose was beautiful, but I didn’t think the story was that great. This was reflected in other reviews that I read, and I can’t speak for the other reviewers, but I think there was just something that I didn’t ‘get’ about it. So, I am sure that if I had picked up on this, it would have been far more enjoyable. I will at some point get round to reading, ‘Oranges’, and I listened to an interview with her around the time she released ‘Why be happy, when you can be normal’, so that is also still on my reading list.

‘Station Eleven’ – Emily St John Mandel – This year, one of my resolutions is to only buy actual, physical books. Rediscovering book shops has been absolutely wonderful, and although it is easier, and cheaper to read books on my Kindle, the joy of having a physical book far outweighs that for me. So right now, I don’t know whether I will go back to my Kindle, but this was the first book I bought as part of my resolution. I hadn’t heard of it before, and I only picked it up as I saw that it had one the ‘Arthur C. Clarke’ award. (I was creeping around the sci-fi and fantasy section, which is where you will usually find me), plus I liked the cover (yes, I do judge books by their cover), and I am so pleased I picked it up.

It follows the story and interlocking lives of a number of characters, but primarily Kirsten, as she travels through the world, as part of an acting troupe, after the world has come to an end after an illness sweeps the world and wipes out most of the population. The way the stories interlock, and the way they are told, is engrossing. It was amazing, and after I read it, everyone I spoke to about it said they had read it, or were reading it, or that they intended reading it. I was behind the curve (as usual), but this comes highly recommended.

‘The Haunted Hotel’ – Wilkie Collins – This is a horror book, hence the title, and is a classic. Apparently. (Who decides these books are classics?) I believe it was written around the early 20th century, and I hated it. It was boring. It was a chore to read, and I was not one bit terrified. It tells a story of, murder, inheritance, and a supposedly haunted room at a hotel in Venice. The ending wasn’t even worth it. Just avoid. I really can’t find any more to say on it than this. On to the next!

‘Signal to Noise’ – Silvia Morena-Garcia – I picked this up because, once again, I liked the cover (sometimes it works!), and it was one of those books that had the title card underneath it with ‘Staff Recommended’, and a blurb about what the book was about. I read the blurb on the back of the book too, and it didn’t really seem like my thing, but once again, I liked the cover, and usually, the staff picks are really good, so I went against my instincts and picked it up. And, the book was OK. It was pretty middling. I enjoyed it, but I wouldn’t read it again, and it is in the pile of books to go down to the charity shop. It tells the story of a woman, who returns to her home town/city, after her father dies, and is left to clear up his flat, and when she is there, she remembers one particular summer of her childhood, where she and two childhood friends can use music to create magic. This is also tied into her relationship with her father, her friends, her family, her childhood and subsequent career decisions. It was enjoyable, and it is worth a read, but it wasn’t a standout book for me.

‘The Girl on the Train’ – Paula Hawkins – Yes, I am as prone as the rest of the world to reading the current ‘It’ book (shocking, I know). See also, The da vinci code (compulsive, but terrible), Fifty Shades of Gray, (terrible, terrible story and sex scenes), Twilight (loved it at the time, but after reading many detailed critiques, realised how wrong I was), Gone Girl (I really didn’t like the book, and then I went to see the film, and didn’t enjoy it either. Not sure what I was expecting?) and so on. I guessed the ending just before 50% of the way through, but I read it to the end because it was enjoyable. It was a good, light, easy read. I would never read it again, but I like that I have read it. I will probably see the film too, but mostly because I like Emily Blunt. (Also, you do you think that Ben Affleck was miscast in Gone Girl? I feel as though he would be better in ‘The Girl on the Train’, as Emily Blunt’s ex-partner).

First Law Trilogy – Joe Abercrombie. There are three books in this trilogy (no shit, Sherlock), so I am not going to bother reviewing all three individually. I enjoyed the books, I felt as though the second one was the best, however, the books, pacing wise were actually quite odd. Sometimes it felt as though nothing was happening, and that the pacing wasn’t quite right, but then I would realise 5 pages on that loads had happened in that time, and that Abercrombie was just setting things up in a really fascinating way. The books are set in a world where there are three main powers, the Union, the Gurkish Empire and the Northmen. Effectively the Union is fighting on two fronts, and the story follows a mismatched band as they try to navigate through these ways, each taking parts in different ways. The oddest thing is, most of the characters are total dicks, but you love them for it. You can understand their motivations and why they do what they do, and you sympathise with them.

I don’t think that the books are for everyone, as when I have discussed it with other people, with similar tastes to me, they have not enjoyed it. If you enjoy fantasy, I would suggest you read them, but only when you have a chunk of time to dedicate to them – they are massive books!

‘The Dinner’ – Herman Koch – I picked this up as my ex-partner’s Mum, got me one those ‘page a day’ calendars, and this was one of the books. It sounded interesting, as the premise is that the two sets of parents go to dinner to discuss how to deal with their two sons, who have broken some sort of law. It isn’t clear what this is until near the end of the book, when it all comes to the fore, but I was interested to read the build up to the big reveal. It is also a translated book, and generally, I have found, that books translated in English, are generally always amazing, so I had pretty high hopes. Only to have these horribly dashed.

The two couples are related, as the fathers in each couple are brothers. A lot of the book is spent exploring the hatred of one brother for another. The main protagonist, one of the brothers, is just awful. I could literally find no redeeming features to him, and reading his bile was just drudgery. A lot of the book seemed to focus on Dutch culture, among certain classes, as critique, which was interesting. But, it felt as though the book was not was I was expecting, and while this isn’t always a problem, it was in this case as I did not enjoy at all. Thanks page-a-day calendar.

‘A Little Life’ – Hanya Yanagihara – I have seen a number of reviews since I read this book, kind of slating it as misery porn, and as saying in some ways it is too idealised, but I absolutely loved it. I just could not put it down and ploughed through it. It is a huge book, but it was so engrossing, and I was incredibly attached to all the characters. It follows the lives of 4 boys from college through to adulthood, primarily focused round one main character, who has had a traumatic and debilitating past. It is set in New York, which sounds a bit cliche, but who am I to complain? (Oh wait…my above review, oh well!) It was wonderfully woven together, and I could hardly wait until I got the opportunity to read it all day. I read one review, where the reviewer said they never wanted it to end, and I kind of have to concur with that. I could have kept on reading it and never gotten bored. If you are looking for a long, engrossing read, whether for a holiday, long-haul flight, train journey, whatever. I would recommend you take this book. It may be bulky, but it well worth finding space for it.

OK, I am going to finish there, but unfortunately, it looks as though we are going to have a part four. My quick, fast-paced reviews seem to be getting longer, and longer. I must be getting back into the swing of things! Until next Sunday then…

 

Another hiatus brought to a close. Part 2

I hope everyone enjoyed last week’s post, (did you enjoy it? Did you get to the end? It is Ok if you didn’t…)

So let’s hop right back on it, short, sweet reviews!

‘The Long View’ – Elizabeth Jane Howard – I love Howard’s books, I especially enjoyed the Cazalet series, it ticked all the boxes for me. This book, I enjoyed, but it wasn’t an easy read. It tells the story of a couple from modern day, going back in time to when they first met. It was heart-breaking, and at times frustrating, but to go back to the beginning and find out why they made the decisions they did, it was an incredible way to tell a story. If you like Howard, this is definitely for you. If not, I would start with the Cazalet series first.

‘You’re Never Weird on the Internet, (Almost) – Felicia Day – Loved this book and couldn’t put it down, it was so funny and truthful, and I loved finding out more about one of my favourite people on the internet. If you are a fan, or even a casual observer of Day, you must read. I loved it, and will probably pick it up again in the future. It is a relatively slim volume, so doesn’t take long to read, and it is incredibly engaging.

‘A Natural History of Dragons’ – Marie Brennan – I adored this book, it was so good that I couldn’t put it down. I only bought it because Amazon kept on heavily suggesting it to me on my Amazon page, so I downloaded a sample, got sucked in really quickly and finished it in no time. I was on holiday in Marrakech at the time, and spent most of my time on the flight reading it, and when we weren’t out exploring, I sat on the roof terrace, drank beer and read this book some more. It is written from the perspective of an elderly, respected naturalist, whose research focus was dragons. It goes back to when she was young, and tells the story of how she came to be where she is, how studying dragons wasn’t considered a serious pursuit, never mind one for a woman, and how she overcame that and became a cultural icon of her time.

‘The Tropic of Serpents’ – Marie Brennan – Yes, there is a second one! It is part of a series. This one I did not enjoy quite as much, and did not get as sucked in, I found it a bit of a slog to get the end, but it was still enjoyable. However, I have not yet read the third book in this series, but it is on my to-read list. Whenever I get around to it. The list just keeps growing!

‘Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell’ – Susanna Clarke – Oh my God, I hated this, I hated every single moment I spent reading it. I read the whole thing, this was for a number of reasons. A few reviews said that the book takes a while to kick off, but once you are in the midst of it, it starts getting really good. This did not happen for me. Another reason was that it was set during the late 18th/early 19th century I think? This is my period, I love this period, but still no. Finally, the TV series was getting really good reviews, so I figured the book must be good. No. Did not enjoy at all, I only finished it, because by the time I realised that it wasn’t getting any better for me, I was more than half way through, and I was determined to get there. Definitely not for everyone, but it has a dedicated fan-base, so if you saw the TV series and enjoyed it, you will probably enjoy the book. I assume, I didn’t see the TV series.

‘Am I Normal Yet’ – Holly Bourne – I loved this, and it was a fantastic light read after the last book I had read (see above). It is about a girl with crippling OCD, and charts her life as she attempts to return to normality after a particularly difficult time. It was a great insightful look into teenage friendships, and, from things I have read, an accurate representation of OCD.

‘Anne of Green Gables’ to ‘House of Dreams’ – L.M. Montgomery – I re-read these books every so often, I find them really comforting, and it is always around autumn that I get this need to read them. I don’t know why. I am also desperate to visit Prince Edward Island so I can swan about and pretend to be Anne. Just adore these.

‘Farseer Trilogy’ – Robin Hobb – I am not going to do individual reviews for each of these, but overall I really enjoyed this series, although I think the second book in the trilogy is the best. The books follow the story of Fitz, a bastard of the reigning king, who then resigns due to his indiscretion. The story then tells of Fitz’s fate, and the actions he has to take to allow the Farseer crown to continue to reign, and prevent the world falling into anarchy. A classic fantasy read, beautiful writing, and if you enjoy this genre, you will definitely enjoy this.

‘A Portable Shelter’ – Kirsty Logan – I wrote a full review of this on Goodreads and here it is, slightly edited, below:
I don’t really feel this review does the book justice, and I imagine that in about an hour’s time I will realise what I should have said, but here it is.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I picked this up. I don’t normally read collections of short stories, but I am so pleased I gave this a go. It is beautifully written, and you get the impression that the author has spent huge amounts of time exploring and trying to find the wonderfully delicate phrasings and imagery present. 

The short stories are all linked together by a couple sharing their tales to an as yet unborn child, to try and teach it to be ready, to be prepared for the world waiting and lurking. The stories follow a theme from birth, through life, to death; and some of them have a sense of a story once known and then forgotten. 

I found myself lingering over certain sentences, certain truths, and I almost wish I had read it on my Kindle (although I love my beautifully illustrated hardback copy) so I could see who else had highlighted what. I really wanted to highlight and annotate the whole way through, to find all the layers of meaning. 

If you are the kind of person who enjoys the familiar with a twist, fairy tales with a dark underside, and carefully crafted writing I would thoroughly recommend this. 

‘The Bees’ – Laline Paull – Oh, I did not enjoy this. I picked it up as from the blurb it sounded really interesting, and it had so many good reviews, but honestly, I just found it disappointing. It follows the tale of a bee, and how it fits into the hive’s social structure. This bee, has particular talents, and as such, you get to see more of the hive and how it works, from the perspective of this bee. It had so much potential, but I just found it dull and uninspired. It did, however, encourage me to do more research on bees, hives, and how they work, so that is something at least.

‘My Real Children’ – Jo Walton – The structure of this story is similar to ‘Sliding Doors’, that is one life changed by one key decision, and then the stories tell both parts, and it is for you to decide which was you feel was the better and right path. I cried at the end. It was tragic, and sad, particularly when the woman was old and in a home, and couldn’t quite tell which life was real and which was imagined, or whether she was truly remembering both lives, or flicking between the two. I suspect it isn’t high literature, but I love books like this. I also enjoy Lionel Shriver’s, ‘The Post Birthday World’, which I don’t think got great reviews, but which I really enjoyed reading.

‘The Bone Clocks’ – David Mitchell – I loved this. I had read ‘Cloud Atlas’, and not really enjoyed it (and watched the film, and not really enjoyed it), so I had actually put off reading this book. However, Laurie Penny had read it and raved about it, and she is one of my heroes, so I figured it can’t be all bad. I was at my sister’s on Christmas Eve when I decided to download it, and ended up staying up until about 2am reading it, I got sucked in that quickly. Here is my review from Goodreads:

It is split into sections, told from different perspectives, linearly, over about a century. There are occasional references and discussions about earlier times, but these glide in, and in no way detracts from the main beef of the plot.
Briefly, the story opens with a teen called Holly, whose younger brother disappears, tying her into a larger story involving people who are reborn and those who essentially cannibalise the life source of others in maintain a kind of immortality. The plot makes it sound all high sci-fi when it isn’t. It’s about more than that, it is about people, real life, how we interact and view the world. It tells the individual stories of many people and show how they all form unexpected links, loyalties and understandings. It also shows us a potential future, partly dystopian in nature, but also something that could be quite real. 
It was a wonderful book, I did not want to put it down, which was unfortunate given all the celebrations I attended. It was bliss to get a couple of days where I could just demolish it. The prose was magnificent, and the structure was absolutely seamless. Dark humour, real lives, incredible insight. Definitely a must read

So, that is my final review for today, with part 3 to come next Sunday. Hopefully that will then be me up to date, and I can start back on the more detailed reviews of books I have been reading.

Amy

Another hiatus brought to a close…Part 1

The last 12 – 15 months have been pretty crazy and stressful, and I haven’t had the ability, or desire, to find time to dedicate to pursuits outside of work. However, fingers crossed, those times have hopefully come to a close.

I spent some time this week reviewing my Goodread stats, and I really have not been reading a lot. I don’t know if I have just not had the time, if I am just not enjoying what I am reading, or if it has been the result of a conscious choice to read more slowly, to try and take more in. (This may also be a side effect of the professional exams I have been taking – studying does not get any easier.) Regardless, here is a quick run down of every book I have read since last April, with short and sweet reviews.

‘Hyperion’ – Dan Simmons – I enjoyed this, it was a challenging read, but at the end of it, I did not have any desire to continue further with this series. I may revisit it at some point, but my to-read list is growing and growing, which is not aided by a manager at work continually passing me books.

‘Range of Ghosts’ – Elizabeth Bear – I did enjoy this, and it inspired me to do more research into the Mongols and the history surrounding this era. While the book is a fantasy, and uses the culture of the Mongols as a jumping off point, it is an engrossing read. I started to read the second book in this series and just couldn’t get into it. It is part way finished on my Kindle and I really hope to go back to it at some point, however, (see reason above)

‘Caspian Rain’ – Gina B Nahai – I have no idea how I came across this book, it just seemed to be on my Kindle. It was OK. Nothing to write home about, it is a story told from the perspective of a young girl whose mother is in an unhappy marriage, in difficult circumstances. The young girl doesn’t quite understand what is going on, and in the meantime is having problems of her own with school and her own life. Neither she, nor her mother, nor multiple doctors can diagnose the problem, which is finally revealed at the end.

‘The Shining Girls’ – Laura Beukes – I was so excited about reading this, and the reality was just a bit…disappointing. It is the story of a woman who narrowly being avoided being murdered by a serial killer. The serial killer specifically targets, ‘The Shining Girls’, and the book is propelled by trying to establish what makes these woman his targets, why he kills them when he does, and whether the protagonist can stop him. However, through into this some time travel, and it sounds amazing. Right? No. It was good, it kept me turning pages, but there was something lacking.

‘The House’ – A. O’Connor – Just no. This was so, so terrible. I can’t remember if I bought this, or I got it for free, but just, don’t waste your time on this. I did, so you didn’t have to. It is set in the Republic of Ireland during the financial boom, then bust, and tells the history of a house and its inhabitants through both modern day protagonists, who then try to solve the mystery of what happened in the past. It was dull, predictable, and has subsequent books. Don’t bother. Seriously.

‘The Sky is Everywhere’ – Jandy Nelson – When I was running through my list I was like, ‘I don’t even remember reading this. It must have been awful?’, but apparently not. I gave it 4 stars, and then it came back to me. It was really beautifully written, with stunning poetry throughout (which is saying something, as in general I am not a big fan of poetry, unless it is WW1 poetry, which reduces me to a sobbing mess on the floor…). It is the story of a girl who is trying to find herself in the world, after her older sister has died. I just loved it. If you like teen novels, you should go for this one.

‘A Wizard of Earthsea’ – Ursula K. Le Guin – What can I really add to this? A classic fantasy novel by the wonderful Ursula K. Le Guin. If you haven’t read it, you should. Need to read the rest of the books in this series…once I find time.

‘Vermilion – The Adventures of Lou Merriweather, Psychopomp’ – Molly Tanzer – Right, I absolutely loved this, but I described it to one of my friend’s and she said it sounded like the most trashy novel. She is wrong. Here is the description from Amazon:

“Gunslinging, chain smoking, Stetson-wearing Taoist psychopomp, Elouise “Lou” Merriwether might not be a normal 19-year-old, but she’s too busy keeping San Francisco safe from ghosts, shades, and geung si to care much about that. It’s an important job, though most folks consider it downright spooky. Some have even accused Lou of being more comfortable with the dead than the living, and, well… they’re not wrong”

Yea, if you don’t want to read that, there is something wrong with you.

‘Only Ever Yours’ – Louise O’Neill – This book was amazing, I literally could not put it down. This is set in a school where the girls have been from birth, and they are forced to compete to be the most beautiful, most perfect girl. The have no access to the outside world, and the prize at the end of their ‘schooling’ is that for their whole final year, they will compete to get the most eligible man. It is a brutal satire on the modern world, a fantastic dystopian, and you should totally read it.

‘Uprooted’ – Naomi Novik – I am going to preface this review with the fact that I loved the first few ‘Temeraire’ books, also by Novak, but this novel just didn’t hit the mark with me. It was both slow moving, and then too fast moving. The way the story was resolved felt lacking to me. The writing was beautiful, and the plot original, however, my I seem to very much be in the minority with my opinion on this. The protagonist lives in a village, near an enchanted forest. In the meantime, the ‘Dragon’, lives on the hill, in a castle of sorts, and he is effectively a type of Lord over the area, and there is a ‘Choosing’, after a set number of years, where he picks a girl from the area to come and live with him and work as a serving girl. These two plot lines then entangle to reveal a world that the protagonist never knew existed.

‘The Art of Asking’ – Amanda Palmer – This is effectively an autobiography of sorts by Amanda Palmer, and outlines how she came to realise the importance of asking for what you need in life. It was inspired by her TED talk of the same name. I really enjoyed it, and I wasn’t sure if I would, as I go through phases were I love Palmer, and then phases where she really irritates me, but it was a fantastic read, and even if you have only a passing interest in Palmer of the Dresden Dolls, I would recommend this.

‘The Martian’ – Andy Weir – I am assuming that most people know the plot of this by now, even if they haven’t seen the movie, but for the uninitiated, it is the story of an Astronaut who gets stranded on Mars and has to work out how to survive until NASA can reach him and take him home. It was funny, well written, well paced, and while there were a few sections that I skipped – mostly science type bits that I couldn’t really follow – it was a wonderful read, and I genuinely did not expect the ending.

‘Furiously Happy’ – Jenny Lawson – Jenny Lawson, also known as ‘The Bloggess’, is a fixture on the world wide web, known for her sense of humour, irreverent take on things, and her never ending arguments with her husband, Victor. I don’t know how I came across her, but I loved her first book, ‘Let’s Pretend This Never Happened’, which was hilarious and had me in stitches that I couldn’t quite explain to other people, so I was so excited to read this book. However, it was a bit of a let down for me, I didn’t feel it was as funny as the last one, or that it really added anything. Once again, I seem to be in the minority here, as it has wonderful reviews everywhere. It goes through Jenny’s history with depression and mental illness, physical illness, how she manages this and how she gets through life by focusing on being ‘Furiously Happy’. If you like her blog, you will probably like this. Unless you are me apparently.

Right, I am going to stop there. That takes me through about a third of the books I have read to date. If you made it this far – well done. Part 2 shall be posted next Sunday. Until then my comrades!

 

 

 

The Republic of Thieves – Scott Lynch

Apologies for the hiatus as always. Reason: I have been lazy (normal) and really not reading that much lately (very unusual). There are a few reasons for this; difficulties at work – I made a career move about a year ago, which has proved more challenging than anticipated – plus, I seem to be reading very slowly, this is very strange for me.

I was reading ‘Rogues’, the compendium edited by George R R Martin, and it was wonderful, and huge. I would thoroughly recommend reading this, I would do a specific review on it, however, my note taking during my readings has been non-existent. I have also been working my way through ‘The Complete Fiction of HP Lovecraft’, also, incredible.

What I have learned from the above is: Do not attempt to read two, huge, engaging, engrossing books at once, all that results is that I cannot seem to focus completely on either, and it slows down my reading rate to an incredibly depressing snails crawl. The other reason for the slowness, is that I am trying desperately to improve my writing, so I am attempting to learn from everything I read. I appear to be a slow learner.

Upon finishing ‘Rogues’, I tried reading several downloaded samples on my Kindle before downloading what it was I really wanted to read, ‘ The Republic of Thieves’. It is another phenomenal book, and upon finishing it, nearly cried upon discovering that ‘The Thorn of Emberlain’ isn’t out until the 17th of September. Now, I would love to do a really detailed review, however, as explained above my note taking has been non-existent. This is also the reason why I am not doing a plot summary. When I first started this blog I was not including a summary of the book in my reviews, this was stupid and is something I am looking to rectify. I have been doing this more recently, however these attempts have been dire, therefore, I am not going to do disservice to this book by butchering a plot summary. So there are a couple of general thoughts.

– I really, really loved learning more about the back-story of Sabetha and Locke. Particularly the fleshing out of Sabetha. It brought back, incredibly vividly, my own early forays into the world of romance, both successful and unsuccessful.

– It is of real credit to Lynch how expertly he explored Sabetha felt, what her motivations were, and in particular her frustrations at feeling neglected by the rest of the Gentlemen Bastards purely because of her gender.

– Learning more about Calo and Galdo, and the unique education all the Gentleman Bastards received. I know this has been explored previously, but apparently I just can’t get enough (cue Depeche Mode).

– The main, present day story line, as always, expertly crafted. I kind of love and loathe that feeling of just not being able to guess what will happen next, and best of all, I am never disappointed with what the answer actually is.

This book has also impressed on me the need to re-read ‘The Lies of Locke Lamora’, as I have forgotten so much, so I reread of all three will definitely be happening in early September. I used to reread books I loved all the time, but there is so much I want to read that I get a bit stressed going back over ground already covered. I need to change this.

Also, I ended up buying a copy of ‘Lies’ for my friend’s birthday, then I had a bit of a geek out with the, admittedly cute, member of staff at Waterstones (Sorry Boyf). I might have gotten a bit gushy, despite having gone in to buy a copy of ‘Woman on the Edge of Time’ for her. (Which they did not have in stock, and while they could have ordered one in for me, they advised that it is out of print? WTF? I adore this book, I cried at the end, which I don’t do often, and I gave my copy to someone else as a gift, so cue hyperventilation until I can get my hands on a new one)

Anyway, book was wonderful, you should all read it, well not just this one, all three books in the sequence as they stand so far. Plus, despite having all three on my Kindle, I really want print editions, in fact, I might buy those for my September re-reading.

Amy

The Beauty Myth – Naomi Wolf

As I promised last week here is my blogpost on the above. This entry is a review and some my own thoughts on arguments and feminism. If you are looking for a straight book review without the extra stuff, have a look on my Goodreads account where a shorter abbreviated version is available. In terms of marks, I really struggled to decide on a rating. I am going for a 3.5 out of 5 though.

This is a long one!

The book starts by outlining what the author means by the ‘Beauty Myth’ and outlines the historical context for this. She then breaks down the book into different sections such as ‘Beauty’, ‘Culture’, ‘Sex’, ‘Religion’ each of which is elaborated on and deconstructed before demonstrating how they are utilised to control women and maintain the status quo.

The arguments and facts that are presented to us are powerful and I found myself agreeing with about 50% of what she was saying, but throughout she seems to imply that there is a conscious and united effort to exploit women and maintain current power structures and this I would have to disagree with. I can see the links that are being made and how all that has come before has caused this modern day beauty myth, but I don’t think it is as conscious and purposeful as she is implying and this argument didn’t convince me.

My personal thoughts on the issue of feminism is that those in power. i.e. men have a vested interested in maintaining the status quo. Plus, I think so many of us accept what is fed to us by the media (me included) that the things women feel they have to do to maintain their appearance, to comply with social expectation isn’t questioned, that is just accepted as the way things are. While this book was written during the 3rd wave of feminism it is slightly out of date, but it makes some relevant and prescient arguments, and that we are now within the 4th wave of feminism which is questioning these assumptions and saying ‘this isn’t acceptable’ is fantastic and all those niggling feelings that so many of us have had, that we’ve ignored, now feel justified and real and we are able to give voice to the outrages that so many of us have experienced. I really admire women bringing this to the fore, it takes so much bravery, far more than I will ever have, yet I reap the benefits of their work.

The main issue is that so many of us buy into this beauty myth and in order for many of us to be taken seriously, to succeed, we have to play the game. If we stop for just one second we get abuse heaped on us. Bitch, witch, shrew, lesbian, aggressive etc. I do it, I play the game, I take part I judge women on these arbitrary rules, a fast judgement and opinion. I have to actively stop myself doing it and I am getting better, I catch myself at it and try to remember that everyone is fighting a hard battle.

The argument is also made that only in modern times has ‘the stronger that women grow, the more prestige, fame and money’ is accorded to the display professions. This I would disagree with, female actors for example still get paid less than their male counterparts, women who work at beauty counters will get paid less than comparable typical male jobs and even if women did get paid the same amount our outgoings are still higher than the typical male, which is also a point Wolf raises.

Wolf does present many truths, for example women feel compelled to keep consuming their advertisers products in pursuit of the total personal transformation in status that the consumer society offers men in the form of money. There is constant encouragement from all directions for women to constantly maintain an expected, society agreed level of appearance, and despite the fact women’s appearances are used against them, I am not sure whether this is always entirely conscious. As I said above I find myself doing it without even thinking how many more of us do that?

Employers have the right to set appearance standards and it is incredible that I never realised before how much more this impacts more on women than on men. I have previously just accepted this. For example when I am looking for work, if a company, (retail stores in particular) ask for a photo I would never consider applying. In fact, focus on appearance is why I feel I could never work in retail. I always feel that I would be rejected based on appearance.

Wolf’s examples of reasons why women have been dismissed in the past completely infuriated me, particularly the example where she details a case where a woman was dismissed due to refusal to submit to her employer sexually harassing her. The woman was required to wear a uniform of which a short skirt was required, but when she challenged the dismissal it was judged that because the skirt was so short it was deemed suggestive and therefore allowed their employer to sexually harass her. Talk about having your cake and eating it.

The point is also made about how women’s internal image of themselves feeds into the job market, how that in itself impacts women’s goals and ambitions, how it impacts whether the feel capable enough to be successful. I said above about how I would never apply for a post in retail due to my appearance, in the same way, because I feel I don’t fit the image of ‘Successful Business Woman’, I don’t feel as though I have the capability to be successful and this prevents me from putting myself forward or being assertive enough to get what I want. I am not blaming all of this on the beauty myth, but it certainly feeds into it.

I feel as though this ties into the point made about women’s representation in media, she refers to Tess of the D’Urbervilles. In this book things only happened to Tess because she was found beautiful, which in turn feeds into women’s perception of themselves. I.e. Interesting and good things only happen to women that are beautiful and unless I am seen to be beautiful then this will not be reflected in my life. One of the key strengths of this book is that she verbalises that which is internal and not acknowledged and not questioned, things that are simply accepted by so many people.

Part of this could be down to an argument that Wolf makes about how women’s culture is nearly all experienced though magazines. I remember as a teenager being grateful that I was female as I had these resources available to me to answer my questions and to guide me in a way that just wasn’t available to boys, but so much of this was focussed on appearance and appearing attractive to males and there were so few other ways that women’s culture could be experienced. So much media content is focussed in only appealing to men. Look at TV shows, movies, books and even then, anything that is considered a female interest or pursuit is considered lesser until a man takes it up. Granted, once again, the book is showing its age here, because of course, there was no internet at the time and when I was a teenager, as now, there are additional resources available online, however, so much of this is still focussed on our appearance and there still isn’t much available in the way of other media.

The implied assertion that so much of this is a an active attempt to ensure women don’t achieve equality is unfair, and I disagree with this, in my opinion I’d say it is more accurate that companies are utilising techniques that have worked in the past rather than saying “Let’s use the tenets of religion to sell more beauty products and make women miserable about themselves.”

Wolf makes a point about the use of religious phrases by beauty companies to encourage women to buy into the myth of ‘A new you’ which is promised by their products. However, I don’t believe that advertisers have actively said or thought ‘Let’s turn the use of our products into a religion/cult’, it would be far more likely that they have utilised those methods which have been found by religions to be effective.

She also outlines the fact that so many of the claims made by beauty companies are wholly unsupported, assertions for which they just have no evidence. We, of course, all know that many of these scientific sounding words used in advertising are total horseshit, but yet we continue to buy these products at great cost and in vast numbers. It did cause me to reconsider my use of moisturiser, I spend fortune on it, money that I really can’t afford, yet I continue to do so and have done for well over a decade now and I can’t see me giving it up. It is in my psyche now that I need to use it and if I don’t my skin feels dry and yes I could use a cheaper moisturiser that would probably do the same thing but I have, and will continue, to buy into the claims that the one I use is effective and is making a difference.

Taking it back to the religious subtext that Wolf asserts is used primarily to get us to buy these products is important in this context as it is used to justify so many things, not just subjugation of women, but also discrimination against homosexuals, justification of racism and it has a place within the argument, however, ‘The Beauty Myth’, exploration of the role of religion has a distinct Christian slant and I think it would have added to the strength of argument had she examined a number of religions.

In addition, I find it hard to believe advertisers have said “let’s sell these products by making it into a religion/cult” it’s far more likely that they have seen that this method works and utilised it. Sometimes I feel Wolf portrays everything as far more sinister than it actually is. People are making money, that is why they are doing this. Not purposeful subjugation of women, that’s just convenient for them.

She also makes a lot of assumptions and pulls conclusions from scenarios without explaining how she got there. For example she describes the female aesthetic of the ‘Punk’ era and ties it back to the fetishism of sexual assault ‘painting their lips bruise blue and ripped their clothing to suggest sexual battle’. Is that the reasoning behind this look, is that what caused it? She certainly says so, but what evidence is there to support this? This happened fairly frequently through my reading, I would find myself nodding along to something, but then she would pull a conclusion forward which would just baffle me.

Wolf also makes the point that equality would benefit everyone, regardless of what gender they identify as and this is true, it would benefit everyone. Very few, if any, people benefit from hyper masculinity or femininity, and more equality would certainly equal a better world for all. However, she seems to imply that all the world’s evils would simply disappear which is extremely unlikely.

Throughout Wolf is full of outrage which is understandable, but it becomes exhausting to read after a while this barrage of terrible news, indeed it almost numbs you to it, as by a certain point you wonder whether we should all just give up now.

The book is long, dense and quite difficult at times for a variety of reasons. It has taken me nearly 4 weeks to get through it which is a long time for me. There are really compelling points which have caused me to stop reading, consider these and the implications and feel able to draw something useful which I can apply to my life. However, she spends too long labouring on one point and extrapolates it until it has mutated into a horrible dystopian vision. You can understand why she does, it makes the horror much more real and causes outrage over how such a thing can happen. You can understand how it might happen, slowly, gradually like all other horrors that seem impossible in retrospect, however, I feel this expansion on many of the points detracts from the argument she is making at times. I feel that if she had taken the time to make arguments more concise, that if she had referenced her facts and figures more clearly the book would have been more compelling. It is a fantastic read, and it breaks down so many truths and questions things I would never even have considered questioning (also, it has convinced me never to get plastic surgery, the description and exploration of this is grotesque), and it is an important part of the feminist literary canon and I would recommend you read it. A lot of the book is drawn from personal experience and the problem with this and a lot of theories is that it comes from one interpretation of the issues, but of course, no theory is ever going to be perfect.

Within the conclusion she sums up all her points succinctly and offers practical advice on what steps we can all take to try and make the world more equal, so much of it is common sense that I found myself wondering why I didn’t do these things before. A lot of them I have been trying to apply to my life, but it can be quite difficult, but I enjoyed that at the end of the book she offers real, practical everyday solutions that we can all take part in to make things better for everyone.