Though my readings habits cover a variety of genres of fiction, I've never really spent a lot of time reading non-fiction. I hope to delve more into h...moreThough my readings habits cover a variety of genres of fiction, I've never really spent a lot of time reading non-fiction. I hope to delve more into historical non-fiction in future, as it comes closest to telling a story with a beginning, middle and end. This slim book by Bill Bryson is no exception. I was fascinated throughout my reading experience, which lasted only a few days, to my chagrin.
I'd never read Bryson before, but he'd been recommended to me by many friends who knew of my reading sensibilities. They cited his humor, his knack for storytelling, and the abundance of interesting facts he peppers his books with. I must say I agree with all of the above. Though this book didn't provide any laugh-out-loud moments, there were plenty of instances where Bryson's dry wit shows through.
As for the subject matter of the book, Shakespeare's life is notoriously unknown and his biographies often hinge on conjecture and guesswork. Bryson works through some of the common myths and falsehoods of Shakespeare's life and creates a more or less complete narrative. Throughout, he gives fascinating asides about the geography of London, outbreaks of the plague, and scathing comments about nobility and royalty.
I particularly enjoyed the sections where Bryson discusses Shakespeare's linguistic contribution to English. It is mindboggling to think of the hundreds of words and phrases he either invented or recorded. It was easy to read that Bryson too was fascinated by this and everything in the book. In the end, that enthusiasm was what made the book truly great to read.(less)
Recently I made a resolution to read more non-fiction books so that I could expand my horizons and also add context to the fiction novels I so love to...moreRecently I made a resolution to read more non-fiction books so that I could expand my horizons and also add context to the fiction novels I so love to read. This was one of my first choices, and it was, unfortunately, a bad one.
The story that the book tells is intriguing enough. A family in Victorian England goes to sleep one night and wakes to find one of its youngest members, a boy named Saville Kent, brutally stolen from his crib and murdered. Suspicion immediately falls upon everyone from complete strangers to members of the Kent household. Jonathan Whicher, a rising star in the burgeoning London police force (a precursor to Scotland Yard) is sent to find the culprit. Over the course of his investigation, he finds evidence has been tampered with, servants have been silenced, and the family has closed ranks. His greatest suspicions lie with Constance and William, the children of Mr. Kent's first wife. In the end, he stakes his job and reputation on his findings, and becomes vilified when the public takes Constance's side and finds her innocent.
I found it nearly impossible to finish this book, and I only pushed through to the end to find out what happened to the Kent family and Whicher, which I could have honestly just read about on Wikipedia with more comprehension and less wasted time. I think Kate Summerscale's writing style was very dry and unappealing. Her style of jumping around in the narrative and going on tangents about Dickens and the formation of Scotland Yard made the story very muddled and confusing. Her greatest problem was failing to make any of the characters real for the reader. In essence she wrote a dry, boring report about the murders, and delved little into the psychology or emotions of the family involved. I had no sense of Whicher as a real person, and none of the action in this book has stayed with me. (less)
If only the world could be like the tv show QI, where one would be more appreciated for being "quite interesting," rather than for simply right. I hav...moreIf only the world could be like the tv show QI, where one would be more appreciated for being "quite interesting," rather than for simply right. I have laughed and learned with Stephen Fry and Alan Davies for eight series of QI and jumped at the chance to read this book by QI producer John Lloyd.
While the facts in the book were indeed interesting, they lacked something without the characteristic quips and jokes of Fry and the rest of the panel. The edition I read had some memorable quotes from the show mixed in, but I would have preferred some more humor in the content of the info blocks. In addition, it seemed that many of the facts had been culled from the show itself, so I didn't really learn anything particularly new.
All in all though, this was an enjoyable and fast read, though not on par with the truly hilarious tv show. (less)
For about two years I lived in Shenzhen, a new city in the south of China, just across the Pearl River Delta from Hong Kong. Just 40 years ago, Shenzh...moreFor about two years I lived in Shenzhen, a new city in the south of China, just across the Pearl River Delta from Hong Kong. Just 40 years ago, Shenzhen was a mere collection of fishing villages. Now, after the Chinese government designated it a Special Economic Zone, it became a thriving metropolis full of business and industry. It was soon home to some of the largest factories in the world such as Foxconn, where they make Apple products, and a shoe factory the size of a small village. These enormous factories are located in a district slightly north of Shenzhen called Dongguan, and they are filled with migrant workers from all over China. This excellent book tells their stories.
Leslie Chang spent several years amongst the migrant girls of the factories, and became quite close friends with a few of them. She tells how they live in small dormitories, often six or eight to a room, and send as much money as they can to their families in the countryside. During the Chinese New Year holidays, they travel back to their hometowns in droves. They are smart, funny, and frequently work to better themselves, usually by learning English and computer skills.
I admired Chang's focus on the women who work in the factories, rather than on the sometimes-questionable business practices of the bosses. She does touch on it though, and I was fascinated by her account of kickbacks, schmoozing and boozing parties, and the usual practice of bringing business associates to enormous brothels where they can have their pick of girls.
This book both portrayed Shenzhen as I knew it and delved into its underbelly. I personally never got a chance to meet any real life factory girls, but having read this book, I realize that it was a missed opportunity.(less)