I love books that expand your worldview, either by challenging it or revealing a way of looking at things that you never would have before. Life of Pi...moreI love books that expand your worldview, either by challenging it or revealing a way of looking at things that you never would have before. Life of Pi did that for me. On the one hand it challenged my own views about faith and religion through its protagonist's immeasurable capacity to believe in life and god and indeed his multi-religous philosophy. Also, I tend to be quite critical about zoos and Pi's thoughts on animals in zoos as opposed to the wild were really intriguing and made me look at the whole thing from a completely different angle. I find it amusing that religion and zoos - two things I've been skeptical about are both addressed in this book with fantastic sentences like this: “I know zoos are no longer in people's good graces. Religion faces the same problem. Certain illusions about freedom plague them both.” Talk about genius right?! (less)
The Blind Assassin isn't some quaint novel. It's a sweeping saga that pans generations and yet manages to be personal, insightful and deeply relevant....moreThe Blind Assassin isn't some quaint novel. It's a sweeping saga that pans generations and yet manages to be personal, insightful and deeply relevant. I love the short novellas and if I could build a temple to the aesthetic value that brevity brings, I would; but there must be something said about the big books; the books that come with a spine 600 to 700 pages thick in font size 10 or 11. When these big books aren't just big for big's sake, when every word, every fullstop exists for a purpose they become more than just good stories told well. The Blind Assassin is such a book. It's about story-telling it self; its art, its motives and its outcome. I loved the narratives within narratives element and what I loved more was that it wasn't just a stylistic device, it was purposeful.
Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking confirms and surprises you about the way our mind works when it comes to making choices/decisions in the...moreBlink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking confirms and surprises you about the way our mind works when it comes to making choices/decisions in the blink of a moment. Malcolm Gladwell reveals with research and case studies how 'thin slicing' (a phrase used to describe the way in which our minds form impressions/decisions in a matter of seconds) can be both a good and bad thing. He uses case studies from a variety of life situations and people, from cops at gunpoint with a suspect, to the famous Coke-Pepsi blind taste test, the music industry, a tennis match, and even an Orchestra audition. Gladwell gets at the heart of why some people can get it so right when it comes to making certain decisions in a split second while in some cases having all the information about a situation or person isn't necessarily going to arm you with a better decision-making ability. On the flip side Gladwell also uses some fantastic examples of where choices based on first impressions or in split seconds have gone seriously wrong.
I quite enjoyed this book, and can't really find anything specific to criticize it with. It was written accessibly, convincingly and I reckon I will venture to read more of Gladwell's work in the future. Blink has some fascinating revelations but it also re-frames the obvious. On the whole it's all intriguing stuff and its content will no doubt make for an interesting conversation starter, at the very least.
The first time I tried reading this book I read a few pages and found it to be such drivel that I left it, never to return. But you know how they say,...moreThe first time I tried reading this book I read a few pages and found it to be such drivel that I left it, never to return. But you know how they say, 'being at the right place at the right time'? Well, in the same vein I'd say I was in the right mood at the right time for The Alchemist when I felt like going back to it recently. I won't go much in to personal circumstances but suffice to say that I was in this vulnerable place where nothing fills that void quite like a diet of Oprah and Chicken Soup for the Soul. The only reason I managed to keep flipping through the pages of The Alchemist was this need and the fact that it's a short and easy read; other than that on the whole this parable of a young shepherd boy who crosses oceans and desserts in search of his "Personal Legend" isn't my usual cup of literary tea.
Here's the thing. I'm on the fence about how I feel about this book so this review is going to be a bit short and perhaps even a little confused. Even...moreHere's the thing. I'm on the fence about how I feel about this book so this review is going to be a bit short and perhaps even a little confused. Even the Dogs is a book about junkies and the harsh realities of their life. The story opens with a very CSI kind of crime scene where the dead body of a man is found in his flat. Cause of death is unknown but as the story progresses we come to learn that he has a history of substance abuse, mostly alcohol. As the novel progresses we come to learn more about him, his death and his acquaintances, most of whom are homeless drug addicts who were given shelter in his flat in exchange for them going and getting him his food and drink. The narrative shifts between making the reader a distant observer and at other times it breaks into a stream of consciousness of one of the characters. It's almost as if McGregor wants us to look at this from two points of view: as outsiders and also very much from the perspective of an addict. The prose is very jagged and experimental. He opts not to use punctuation at all and sentences tend to be left hanging, even without a full stop or ellipses (Lynn Truss might be inclined to write a petition!). However, this is mostly when the narrative is from the stream of consciousness of one of the addicts, which makes sense. But on the whole all this doesn't make for easy reading but at its best moments the effect is profound. At its worst, some might find it pretentious.
But Even the Dogs is an important story and it gives perspective of a community that is very much a part of a City's underbelly, straddling its margins. It does all this without judgement nor justification. It is dark, it is depressing, it is graphic and it most definitely isn't a book you want to start your morning commute with, which I sort of did because I mostly read while commuting. In retrospect, one of the important things the book did for me is make me realize how on a fundamental level we're all living like junkies. Chasing one high after another and doing a lot of waiting in between. Whether that high is a job, a lover or the next must-have thing. So while it's a book I'm glad to have gotten through, I'm also glad I did pick up. Perhaps had I been in a different frame of mind, read it in a different time and place I would have felt its effect far more.
The book's narrator, Tony Webster is a divorcee in his sixties who has led, by all means a very ordinary life. As with any one who has seen the last o...moreThe book's narrator, Tony Webster is a divorcee in his sixties who has led, by all means a very ordinary life. As with any one who has seen the last of their youth, Tony recalls it with a particular nostalgia and self-deception, especially of a woman that came in to his life back then and a school friend he both admired and envied. But this is no Coming Up for Air kind of literary trip down memory lane with an ageing, existential man, although Tony Webster most definitely is ageing, and if not existential, philosophical. But at the heart of this memoir is a "mystery" that holds it all together and drives the narrative forward.
The book is in two parts: the first part could very well stand on its own as an excellent coming of age short story about a group of young school boys; but it is in the second part, when Tony discovers that he has been passed down the diary of his former school friend, the recollections of his past has a purpose beyond nostalgia. I loved the way in which Tony goes from being a self-assured youth to a self-deceptive and even self-doubtful man, as perhaps we all do within the course of our own lives. He also reminds us on several occasions that this story is narrative in retrospect and the book on the whole explores what this means, in terms of memory, and its subjectivity. Ultimately it's a story about history, and the ambiguity of it, even when this history is your very own.
There's a lot to be savoured in The Sense of an Ending, with many sentences and passages I know I will re-visit. I remember a quote by C.S. Lewis that went, "we read to know we're not alone"--in the sense that we read to find empathy, companionship, thoughts that echo our own but only with far more wit and poetry. That's when a book becomes more than just a jolly good read. This was such a book.
Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman is another book that was shortlisted for the Booker this year and one I didn't particularly take to. Set in contempor...morePigeon English by Stephen Kelman is another book that was shortlisted for the Booker this year and one I didn't particularly take to. Set in contemporary urban London, it is the story of Harrison Opuku, a 12 year old migrant boy from Ghana who lives in a council housing estate. Harrison is all wide-eyed wonder at a lot of what happens around him and at the same time somewhat aware of the violent neighbourhood he is in, made all the more evident when a teenage boy in his school is murdered. The book deals with the issue of knife crime and teenage violence, and also touches on the general migrant experience.
Why I didn't like the book had a lot to do with the narrative. As the narrator, Harrison failed to win me over. Doing first person child narratives is never an easy task and for Kelman there was also the added burden of it being a migrant child. It just wasn't convincing and most of the time I found it irritating. For one thing I just didn't see how he could be so completely in wonder of certain things and then in-tune and street-smart about others. I also a found this whole thing of seeing adult issues through an innocent childish perspective a bit overdone already, and what could've been fresh is if the perspective came from a less innocent child, like one of "the other" child characters. I found the portrayals of these characters a lot more succesful and convincing. The child-speak meets street-speak was also a test of my patience especially when it's an entire book of that. In Room the child-speak narrative worked beautifully and convincingly; it also would've meant a very different story had it been from another voice and perspective. I'm not sure Pigeon English would have lost out had Harrison not been the narrator.
And then there's the pigeon. I assume it has a symbolic function, perhaps to do with migration but other than that I just didn't see its point. And when it starts to talk... Lord, the less said about it, the better!
There were some nice moments but on the whole Pigeon English has sadly been a disappointment. (less)
It was one of the more unusual reads of the year for me but definitely memorable! Kaufman's narrative is funny, clever and fantastical. The illustrati...more It was one of the more unusual reads of the year for me but definitely memorable! Kaufman's narrative is funny, clever and fantastical. The illustrations (by Tom Percival) that pepper the pages are as intriguing as the tale itself. I was trying to think of what I can compare it to but I really can't think of any. In the midst of all the weirdness, ultimately it is about the fighting spirit of people in the face of tough times and all the little things that ultimately do matter. The ending was unexpectedly heartwarming. It's a book that reminds us a story can be effectively fantastic without having vampires and wizards and talking lions in them (although I love all those things myself, except the vampires!) All in all, a delightful read.
The book starts off with a cracker of a first line: '"The idea really came to me the day I got my new false teeth." The narrative is witty and though...more The book starts off with a cracker of a first line: '"The idea really came to me the day I got my new false teeth." The narrative is witty and thought-provoking but steeped in sentimentality, which in hindsight makes perfect sense. Only that, it didn't make for easy reading. So initially the pace of the novel in the first half is rather slow and I struggled quite a bit, especially through his recollections of fishing. Boy, did he wax lyrically for chapters on end about fishing! It was only by the second half of the novel, once we got past all that childhood nostalgia, that I began to feel like he had something more to say about life and the state of the world. Where 1984 and Animal Farm were political, Coming Up for Air is more philosophical, almost to the point of existential and I quite enjoyed that about it. Even where it is talking about war and politics I found that it does so with a philosophical underpinning. The writing of course is brilliant and there were points in the novel, where I had to resist the temptation to spam everyone's twitter feeds quoting entire paragraphs off the book.
One of the things that the narrative does and does effectively is evoke a sense of permanent loss and inevitably about life. It's the stuff of pessimism but to me, it is also the stuff of reality. The narrator's thoughts about the war and what it does to society, and in particular the politics of it all are relevant even today.
The end was rather extraordinary in its ordinariness and abruptness. In fact I actually flipped the page hoping to see another paragraph or two! On the whole, perhaps not one of his most page-turning works but rewarding no less.
The tongue-in-cheek, witty narrative makes this an amusing read no matter what your age. It calls itself nursery rhyme noir but I'd say it's less noir...moreThe tongue-in-cheek, witty narrative makes this an amusing read no matter what your age. It calls itself nursery rhyme noir but I'd say it's less noir and more comedy. It's a bit predictable at times but on the whole definitely not a bad way to spend an hour or two. Read full review here: http://mydillydallying.blogspot.com/2...(less)