After about fifty pages of reading, and in the spirit of magical realism, I couldn't help keep thinking of 'The Emperor's New Clothes'. I found myself...moreAfter about fifty pages of reading, and in the spirit of magical realism, I couldn't help keep thinking of 'The Emperor's New Clothes'. I found myself continually thinking that soon, very soon, things would pick up and I would start to feel I was getting something out of reading this book. Rather sadly, on page 150, I reminded myself there are dozens of books I have waiting for me on my bookshelves, and not enough time to read them all; I must spend the rest of my reading life as wisely as possible. So, I can't add myself to Salman Rushdie, Bill Clinton, The New York Times, The Sunday Telegraph, Darryl Hannah (?!), Emma Thompson, The TES, The Guardian, etc,etc, who all apparently believe the book has something special to add to literature or life; or even more for Emma Thompson who apparently stated: 'the book sort of saved my life.' The New York Times believes that the book 'should be required reading for the entire human race'; strong words indeed.
Well, this time in the spirit of 'being different', I thought the book was a real dirge.
It tells the story of several generations of the Buendia family and the town of Macondo, starting with the founding father Jose Arcadio Buendia and his wife Ursula, and proceeding down through the subsequent six generations expressed through their lives, loves, and relationships, and the effect of external events such as civil war. There will be more external events affecting the family after page 150, but I have little reason to believe that there will be much change in the general method of literary delivery; that is, a general telling of the story of the Buendia family.
The problem for me is that I couldn't find the least interest in any of the characters apart perhaps for a faint liking for Colonel Aureliano Buendia who developed a rather anarchic approach to life, something I can relate to. It was just a pity he had a paedophilic liking for his eventual child wife. In fact, incestuous and paedophilic behaviour looms quite large amongst the various characters. Another problem was that I felt that, on the whole, the characters had little overall substance. There was little in their described behaviour that gave any insight into them as real people. They were like cardboard cutouts on the stage of Macondo, coming and going and doing, as life and time rolled on, with no real stamp of personality in their actions.
If I were a student of literature, I would want to find out what Marquez was trying to achieve with his book. I would have a burning need to know. For a book to have been so well received, by so many, it must be achieving something; no, it must be achieving a lot. No doubt there are interviews in which he explains his literary intentions. I am left wondering how well those match the perceptions of the numerous enchanted readers.
But for me, it is time to leave the lives of the Buendias behind at the third generation, and move on with my own and more interesting life.(less)
I spotted this book in 'The Works' and it looked as if it might have promise. Having quickly flicked through it I put it back on the rack. I am always...moreI spotted this book in 'The Works' and it looked as if it might have promise. Having quickly flicked through it I put it back on the rack. I am always looking for books that might give some ideas for the classroom, but was a little reluctant to buy yet another 'popular' maths book that failed to deliver; so many of them are yet another tour through numbers et al, from the Babylonians to Hilbert's Hotel, trying desperately to convince the reader that it is all so interesting and fun ...yawn, zzzzzzzzzzz. Why so many of these 'popular' maths books manage to make the subject so incredibly boring is beyond me; what is the point of boring the very audience one has decided to inspire? But when I returned to 'The Works' the next time I walked past (and unable to resist the magnetic pull of a bookshop)I had another browse. The endorsement by Alex Bellos, author of the captivating "Alex's Adventures in Wonderland" clinched it for me; if it was anywhere near as good, it was going to be worth the few discounted pounds that 'The Works' were asking. It was worth a punt.
And it turned out to be good; very, very good. I really recommend it to anyone with an interest in mathematics. It's knowledgeable and fun. Yes, it does talk about the Babylonians and Hilbert's Hotel, but I suppose in a book subtitled 'A guided tour of mathematics from one to infinity', they were bound to crop up! But where this book really wins is that it doesn't try to cover everything and succeed in actually covering very little.
Steven Strogatz is the Schurman Professor of applied mathematics at Cornell University, and (according to the blurb) is one of the world's mostly highly cited mathematicians. This could be a guarantee of uninspired writing BUT it certainly isn't in this case. Strogatz's writing is lucid and an absolute joy to read.
The book is divided into six sections: Numbers, Relationships, Shapes, Change, Data and Frontiers, and is a fun-filled romp through selected aspects of each.
There are two great strengths to the book which make it really stand out as a resource book for secondary mathematics educators. Firstly, what he writes about is connected to the real world by numerous concrete examples, and secondly, there are no less than 45 final pages of expansions, references and web links, plus an index (hurrah!). In fact, I found these last 45 pages some of the best in the book! For example, in the text it's mentioned that 'Every year about a million American students take calculus'... this is where most books would leave it. Not Strogatz. Quite rightly, he references this, and we can then go and read "The crisis of calculus" if we wish. But it isn't just simple references that make the last 45 pages a joy; for example we have a fascinating expansion on 'the solid common to two identical cylinders' - the Steinmetz solid, and also learn that the Romans and Normans were familiar with it in the design of intersecting vaults... and we are referred to various internet links to take things further if we're interested. From a teaching point of view, these last 45 pages are an absolute goldmine. For those of you who haven't come across it before, and I certainly hadn't, do have a quick listen to the recorded conversation between a George Vaccaro and customer services at Verizon (Google/Youtube it!). If ever there was an argument for making sure that everyone understands basic arithmetic, this is it!!
And Google 'pagerank'? Thought you knew what 'page' stands for? If you thought web'page', you're very wrong.
This book is a superb introduction to statistics. All the key topics are covered in a way that make understanding straightforward. Dr Lakin obviously...moreThis book is a superb introduction to statistics. All the key topics are covered in a way that make understanding straightforward. Dr Lakin obviously enjoys both his subject and imparting knowledge in a clear and lucid manner. Each section is not overly long and covers all the basics. The book is ideal for the university student starting a course in the biological or geographical sciences who needs to get to grips with statistics quickly. It could equally well sit on the bookshelf of a mathematics A-level student who wants something to pull their dry A-level stats course into the real world. Sensible examples are used and one is left feeling, 'Yes, I can see where this might be applied, and better still, I can see how I might actually apply this'.
Each topic is accompanied by generalised study tips which might be seen as somewhat out of place, but given the likely audience of the book, I think they do add value. The book is beautifully laid out and has a binding and feel that makes it a joy to read. There are a few exercises to try for each topic introduced, but these do not overwhelm things.
Appendices include statistical tables, a glossary and useful Excel commands (for statistics).
There are a few errors, two that I spotted in formulae in the main explanatory text, which is a pity. But it's clear they are errors of proofing. Given the number of errors that normally appear in mathematics textbooks, the few I spotted here really isn't too bad!
Overall? For a refresher on the subject for someone a bit rusty, for undergraduate biologists and geographers who need to get to grips with statistics quickly and painlessly and have a simple reference, and for A-level students who want to put a bit of substance onto their statistics courses, this book is highly recommended. (less)
A clever idea: the creation of a totalitarian world through the medium of the internet; the ability of total knowledge to be seductive in its appeal t...moreA clever idea: the creation of a totalitarian world through the medium of the internet; the ability of total knowledge to be seductive in its appeal to the apparently rational, whilst creating a world in which none of us would really like to live.
Unfortunately, Eggers loses his way in several places and the book becomes preposterous in an increasing number of places. Without giving anything away, Mae's relationship with Kalder and the pursuit of Mercer spring to mind; and if the book was put up for The Bad Sex in Fiction Award, The Circle would win it hands down! But Egger can write (if one forgives the unfortunate use of 'gotten' in several places in the first fifth of the book, strangely not used again thereafter)and his style is remarkably fluent and easy to read; the pages just fly by. So, not a bad read for a beach holiday but, for me, that is about it.(less)
Anyone who likes intelligent, well-written, fiction will love this book. It is difficult to add anything to the comment by The New York Times: 'Stoner...moreAnyone who likes intelligent, well-written, fiction will love this book. It is difficult to add anything to the comment by The New York Times: 'Stoner is a perfect novel, so well told and beautifully written, so deeply moving, that it takes your breath away'.
And the writing is beautiful. It reminded me of the writing of Daphne du Maurier; the prose is similarly crisp, precise and downright delicious. If a sentence takes fifty words, or more, perfectly punctuated, then it takes fifty words. If a sentence takes three words, that is what it takes. What a delight to read a book that wasn't written in the modern style of tabloid length sentences of no more than ten words throughout. And dialogue is just brilliant. This is writing at its best.
It is a simple tale of an ordinary man who lives an ordinary life. But all lives, on examination, mirror in some way our own, and can grip in the way that our own lives grip us. That is the power of the story and it does grip. In the same way that we would like to know what is to become of us, we want to know what becomes of Stoner. We become totally involved with his progress through life.
I haven't read any of the other reviews of this book yet but I'm sure there are many that will contain a synopsis of the story (there is no plot to talk of). So, I will just finish with one, rather lovely, passage from the book:
'In his forty-third year William Stoner learned what others, much younger, had learned before him: that the person one loves at first is not the person one loves at last, and that love is not an end but a process through which one person attempts to know another.' (less)
It confronts the issue of euthanasia in a sympathetic and empathetic way that leaves one considering one...moreThis is an unusual and rather wonderful book.
It confronts the issue of euthanasia in a sympathetic and empathetic way that leaves one considering one's own position on the matter, challenging any preconceived notions of reason and outcome. However, someone approaching the book with a religious preconception of what is 'right' and what is 'wrong', ie what someone has convinced them is right or wrong, is likely to dislike the book unless they have an unusually open mind.
Narrated through the eyes of a seventeen year old living in Somerset, the story is a delightful, quirky and often amusing journey through a few years in the childhood of Alex Woods, from being struck by a meteorite, through his friendship with a Mr Peterson, to arriving at Dover and the discovery of marijuana in the glove compartment of his car.
The narrative style rings true, as do all the events and emotional states the narrator details. Description is excellent; you could see everything very clearly. This quality of descriptive writing meant there was never any time that you felt disengaged from the book. The story flows on with pace; I found it a real page turner.
It's an unusual book in that it's a very light read, but with depths that would usually be more appropriate in a weightier tome. Gavin Extence pulls it off. Recommended.
I read The Time Traveller's Wife some years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. So, when I came across her second novel in my mother's kitchen on a recent...moreI read The Time Traveller's Wife some years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. So, when I came across her second novel in my mother's kitchen on a recent visit, I thought I would borrow it and immerse myself in some fiction. Due to work pressures I haven't been able to read as much fiction as I would like over the last few years.
I was keen to get my mother's opinion on the book first, although her tastes can be very different from mine. 'Odd' was the first word she used, and the rest of her opinion was somewhat muted. Well, The Time Traveller's Wife was 'odd' and that didn't detract from it; in fact, I thought it was extremely clever, intelligent, and well crafted.
But.... Her Fearful Symmetry just isn't any of those. The Time Traveller's Wife is science fiction, Her Fearful Symmetry is a ghost story. For a book in either of these genres to succeed they have to be believable. Clearly one has to suspend disbelief as regards overall circumstance, but characters have to act out their parts within that circumstance in a believable way: the way you and I, or someone we can imagine, might act them out. Unfortunately, the characters in the book very definitely don't act out their parts believably. In the words of my mother: 'all the characters are just weird'. I agree with her. One weird character is acceptable, two perhaps, but all of them is just unbelievable. Once the characters and their actions are unbelievable, it becomes impossible to suspend disbelief. The story just becomes preposterous.
And is it just me, or are very short sentences in novels becoming more common? I can't recall sentence length irritating me in The Time Traveller's Wife, so I think that Audrey Niffenegger made a decision to use a lot of very short sentences in her second novel. I imagine she was asked to do so by her publisher to help appeal to a wide audience; I can't imagine she did this of her own accord - after all she uses the semi-colon (hurrah!). This was a pity because it made me feel I was reading a book written by a Sun journalist.(The Sun is an English tabloid newspaper).
So, sadly, just one star for Audrey Niffenegger's second novel. If you enjoyed The Time Traveller's Wife, I suspect you won't enjoy this.(less)
This is a wonderful book. Richard Elwes writes fluently about a subject for which he is clearly passionate. The book cover is a little sensationalist...moreThis is a wonderful book. Richard Elwes writes fluently about a subject for which he is clearly passionate. The book cover is a little sensationalist which is a pity; the book is really a whistle-stop tour through many of the most fascinating areas of mathematics, both traditional and modern, outlined in a very clear manner.
Where the book lacks depth(due to inherent complexity of a particular topic), it nonetheless leaves one feeling one has grasped the basics.
When you've finished this book, you will have had a good introduction to the broad sweep of mathematics and have been introduced to many notable mathematicians and their contributions, from Hippasus, through Euler and Hilbert, to Nash.
A wonderful journey through the post-invasion insanity. We have all heard how the Coalition was unprepared for what to do 'after', but this book bring...moreA wonderful journey through the post-invasion insanity. We have all heard how the Coalition was unprepared for what to do 'after', but this book brings into stark relief just how unprepared the beauracrats were, and then how they unrealistically tried to manage the post conflict disaster. As somone who flew almost daily into Iraq in the 2003/04 period covered by the book, and who therefore has a more than passing interest in the subject matter, I found this book an illuminating read. I am sure it will become an essential reference for future historians. However, the casual reader, enticed by the rebranding of the title to 'Green Zone' and a cover featuring Matt Damon looking suitably tough together with Hollywood credits relating to an only vaguely related (ie same country) film adaptation, is likely to be disappointed. This is a history, not an adventure yarn. (less)
This is an unusual, extraordinarily beautiful and thought provoking novel. It is unpredictable in its narrative and, although not a comfortable read,...moreThis is an unusual, extraordinarily beautiful and thought provoking novel. It is unpredictable in its narrative and, although not a comfortable read, impresses with its observations of human nature and character.
The story is essentially that of the villagers, and one in particular, from one village on the island of Bougainville during the 1990s civil war. Neither the island nor the war is imaginary and I strongly advise the reader to do some basic internet research to help set the scene. Otherwise one might be a little puzzled by the reference to 'redskins' for example.
Told through the eyes of Matilda, a teenage villager, we are reminded that although life is essentially beautiful, and people can care deeply for each other, life can also be unforgiving and brutal.
Mister Pip was shortlisted for the 2007 Man Booker Prize and was, in my opinion, a worthy contender. Well worth reading.(less)