What can one say about 'Hitchhiker's Guide' that hasn't already been said? "Hyperlarious", maybe? Read it and then almost immediately lent it to a fri...moreWhat can one say about 'Hitchhiker's Guide' that hasn't already been said? "Hyperlarious", maybe? Read it and then almost immediately lent it to a friend - who hasn't given it back... What more of a recommendation do you need?(less)
I didn't read any reviews until I was more than halfway through the book, so I knew by then that the event most of them here mention - the wager on th...moreI didn't read any reviews until I was more than halfway through the book, so I knew by then that the event most of them here mention - the wager on the glass church - is not at the centre of the story. If I had been reading Oscar & Lucinda waiting for that I most certainly would have been disappointed. I WAS disappointed when I saw that many (most) reviewers on Goodreads gave great reviews to the book... because I'm deeply ambivalent about Oscar & Lucinda, which I WANTED to like much more than I did.
I have really mixed feelings towards Peter Carey's. When I first started it, I professed loudly and clearly to everyone that would listen that I didn't enjoy the story, or connect with any of the characters or even like the way it was written. Yet, I didn't have any trouble finishing it - in fact, I found it incredibly easy, sometimes exquistely beautiful, to read.
The main problem was that I found that I didn't connect with the characters until three quarters into the book, by which point I was a bit exhausted from dragging myself through their lives without any real interest. This was especially the case at the beginning of the novel.
Another aspect that held me back was the story: The beginning is very slow, and felt like it focused on setting the child-Oscar and child-Lucinda very firmly in place and time and then throwing up events that would shape them into the adults they became. Throughout the story the chapters jump here and there to tangents in the story or minor characters. Every single character (and to me, they felt too much like characters in a book rather than real people), even some of the most marginal ones, has his or her own particular eccentricity or individual quirk that requires a backstory to explain how events in their history shaped them (which only served to distance me further from them). All these events from the beginning and the characters essentially shape the ending, and its very clever of Carey to tie everything in, but at the beginning I didn't care and by the end it all seemed too cleverly constructed to shape Oscar and Lucinda's characters in a certain way and lead them to that point.
In the end, I know what I didn't like about the novel, but I can't figure out what it is that I did like. I found it incredibly easy to read and beautifully, occasionally poetically worded - but at times that came with a sense of frustration too. At about the three quarter mark I found that I really did like and care about the characters - although that feeling came and went as the story progressed. So I'm still not sure... If nothing else, I found it nice to read something set in Australia (even if it was set in an Australia over 100 years in the past), which I rarely do these days.(less)
I think it's written as law somewhere that all women have to read this book at some point in their lives. So I did, purely to get it out of the way ea...moreI think it's written as law somewhere that all women have to read this book at some point in their lives. So I did, purely to get it out of the way early.
Fittingly, I finished the book on Valentines Day. It was all I did that Valentines Day, other than sit around an airport, waiting for my delayed flight on a budget airline (which I had purchase at a price that most people would struggle to budget for) to un-delay itself. I had taken it along as a read on the plane book on a recent weekend away, and as a take along while travelling book it functions pretty well: 1) It's light. 2) You can read it quickly. 3) You can put it down at almost any point without losing anything from the story. 4) you can easily finish it over the course of a busy weekend and return to loftier reading pursuits on your return home (too easy really, as I had to buy a newspaper after I'd finished the book just to make it through my time at the airport).
If I had tried to read it as anything else than a throw away plane read it would definitely have faults. But this book never claims to be more than it is, and it succeeds at what it is. So it's funny, even if sometimes the humour is in an uncomfortably self-concious chuckle because you can see too much of yourself being mocked. Bridget isn't meant to be taken seriously - she's a charicature, vapid and inane and although we can all empathise with her at certain moments (because there are things that are universally worried about/fixated on by the target audience of this book), she's not someone you feel you'd want to spend much time with... even with the not-very-challenging length this book it seems a bit too long towards the end.
So did I enjoy it? Well, yes, but it's not particularly lasting or memorable. To be honest, Bridget Jones' Diary provided approximately the same level of enjoyment as some of the more intelligent LOLcats. The difference is a LOLcat can haz cheezburger without pages of remorse and promises to make up for the calories by starving itself the next day.(less)
I'm not entirely sure why I started this, or how I finished it. I am, however, entirely sure I didn't enjoy it. No, not even in a so-trashy-it's-good-...moreI'm not entirely sure why I started this, or how I finished it. I am, however, entirely sure I didn't enjoy it. No, not even in a so-trashy-it's-good-way.
The story feels like it has more of a premise than a plot. Courtney Stone wakes up to find herself in another bedroom, another country, another century and another person's body... and is... mostly okay with that. So Courtney has become Jane Mansfield (an incredibly unimaginative name, that) and there's the initial thought that this isn't her bed or her curtains or her body, but other than that she doesn't really bat an eyelash other than to go on and on about how her new body is so thin and lovely.
This is a frustrating book because the main character is so... frustrating. I had more sympathy for the 'villain' of the book, Jane's mother - which I think is an indication of a poorly written novel. To give the Laurie Viera Rigler credit, she does know a lot about the time period in which the story is set (though she's not an expert) but she just hasn't extended that knowledge to her main character. Despite some initial excitement at the start of the novel, Courtney isn't even particularly curious about this time period that she's read so much about.
Courtney's supposed to be an obsessive reader of Austen novels and fan of the film adaptations, and even though she's now immersed in that same world, she remains remarkably insensitive to the time period she finds herself in. The main problem with making Courtney an Austen fan is that she keeps making mistakes, behaving and speaking in a way that is clearly at odds with the time period. This wouldn't be a big issue if she were unaware of the etiquette, but the author frequently goes to pains to stress what a huge Austen fan Courtney is by including references to Austen's novels.
The other problem is that there are no consequences to Courtney's breaches of etiquette - people act shocked for a second and all is forgotten - which seems unlikely in an age where a lot of importance was placed on manners - so there isn't a sense that she is learning anything or growing as a character. Although she occasionally worries about being responsible for Jane Mansfield's life and reputation, Courtney keeps on acting in the same ways. Making big glaring faux pas that even a person with no prior knowledge of the time period could able to avoid by observing the way people around them acted.
And here's the problem, Courtney cum Jane is not intelligent. She's incredibly, resolutely un-intelligent and none of her actions throughout the course of the novel display any sort of accidental wit or cleverness, or even a capacity to learn from her mistakes. Her a chance meeting with Jane Austen, which is silly to the extreme, is an example. Courtney, upon meeting her idol from hundreds of years in the past, can't think of anything more intelligent to talk about than movies that don't exist and that Jane Austen could have no knowledge of (at that point in the story I was just thankful that the author resisted the urge to make them the 19th century equivalent of BFFs). And she keeps on talking when Jane Austen asks Courtney to leave her alone and even after she realises for herself that Austen is scared.
It's not even as if Courtney is so determined to figure out how she went back in time and get back to the 21st century that she doesn't care who she offends or how. I could respect that. She doesn't really have a purpose, for the best part of the novel Courtney does nothing: she walks, she eats, she complains. That's it. Mostly, she's just really self-absorbed. She longs to go home to the 21st century more because she misses make up more than anything else. It's not the stuff of great writing, it's not even particularly interesting. But that's the extent of the story for the first half of the book -- oh, and there's also a love interest.
Which brings us to the ending.
It's clumsy, even if it is in the "happy" true-love-found style of closing you'd expect. I mean, Courtney has spent most of the book wishing for 21st century convenience and not fitting in to the 19th Century so it doesn't fit easily that she'd happily stay around in a time period she dislikes just for a man. Although, the long suffering love interest (bland to the point that I've immediately forgotten his name) is so wet that I'd say they deserve each other.
Of course, being a glutton for punishment, I went and read the sequel...(less)
Being an Australian, I probably come at this book with a different perspective than most. For starters, I can tell you the name of the current Prime M...moreBeing an Australian, I probably come at this book with a different perspective than most. For starters, I can tell you the name of the current Prime Minister as well as several of those preceeding her.
The book is written from two separate trips Bill Bryson made to mainland Australia. While nominally broad, it's essentially held together by a few points - Australia is large and mostly empty. It's not nearly as empty as it seems. No one outside of Australia really cares.
There are a couple of other themes that come out during the course of the book (so one doesn't assume Bryson's obsession with size is related to any insecurities on his part). One is that Bryson really does seem to like Australia and the people he meets here. The other is that he is terrified of the place. He is strangely obsessed with all the deadly animals that you can find in Australia. He writes like he has (reason to have) one eye constantly trained on his back just waiting for a crocodile or a poisonous snake to come creeping up and do him in. Yet, apart from one encounter with a jellyfish (no one comes close to getting hurt) Bryson doesn't actually see anything deadly and nothing happens. It's all sources he's read and the accounts of people he speaks to. It's rather boring actually.
He's also obsessed with Aborigines, and while he does actually see some (better than his record with deadly animals) he just watches from afar and recounts what he's found out from research. While it may serve to make Bryson's point about how people handle the issue of Indigenous people in Australia, it also demonstrates one of the flaws in his travel writing. While Bryson writes what is for the most part a good book, it's not really about travelling.
Down Under (sold as In a Sunburned Country in the US) is easy to read, wryly humourous and well researched. However, if it wasn't for the facts Bryson brings in from his research and the humour with which he treats his subject matter, it wouldn't make for interesting reading. He mostly drives everywhere, travels in an improvised manner, checks out a museum or otherwise spends his free time in bars having a beer or two (to be fair, so do Australians ) and writes about that. It doesn't seem like Bryson actually had much time on either journey. It's far from an in-depth account; he spends a day or two in a city, ventures to a couple of suburbs, and then makes big sweeping statements about the place and the people (Bryson is a big fan of sweeping statements) integrating whatever might be of interest from what he has read and researched. It's a bit of a disppointment that he didn't make it to Tasmania. If Australia is a forgotten continent, Tasmania is certainly the most often forgotten (or overlooked) part of it. And this made me wonder how much is really Bryson's own experiences in the places he visited and how much has been shaped to demonstrate what he has learnt through reading other resources? Still, it's a credit to him that he can make it interesting.
And it was an interesting book. Bryson is a good writer, he takes you along with him on his journey and keeps you entertained for what is quite a broad and lengthy book. I learnt things about Australian history that I didn't know (not saying much, Australians aren't hugely well informed on our nation's history) and was reminded of many more things I had forgotten. I laughed, at Bryson's depictions of Australians, at Bryson himself. And I recognised those parts of my own country that I love and those parts that I'm deeply ashamed of... so all in all, it's probably as good a reflection of Australia as you're going to get.
I felt more than a little bit weird reading a travelogue on Australia as an Australian while in Australia so, if nothing else, I can agree with Bryson that Australians are a very self-concious people...(less)
I read this before I gifted it to a friend (yes, how underhanded of me) and I was never once tempted to steal it for my own bookshelf. 'Roots of Desir...moreI read this before I gifted it to a friend (yes, how underhanded of me) and I was never once tempted to steal it for my own bookshelf. 'Roots of Desire' is mildly interesting at points but I found it hard to get through the rest of it. There seems to be only 3 topics to this book: 1) Red haired women are viewed as attractive, sexy, fiery and/or magical but red haired men are not; 2) Red hair was historically reviled and viewed with suspicion... Ok, there are really only 2 points and the rest is fleshed out with miscellaneous facts about the genetics of red hair and Marion Roach's personal memoirs as a redhead.
This isn't a problem in itself, but the habit of jumping back and forward between the science, myths, historical and cultural meanings and personal reflections of red hair without really concentrating on any one subject was tedious. It quickly became repetitive re-reading the same or similar points that Roach had introduced at the start of the book just to get to the new part of the discussion when it was reintroduced later in the book. Repitition also gives the impression that she didn't actually have a lot to say.
In the end, this book really seems to be a personal reflection on what red hair means to Marion Roach; how having red hair has shaped the way people have viewed her (she assumes) and her own identity; the visible connection that redhair gives her to her ancestors as well as total strangers; and what it means to her to be losing her "red" as her hair darkens with age. I think the book would have been more informative if it had been better focused and structured, and it would have been more interesting if Roach had just run with the 'Personal Memoirs of a Redhead'. But as an uneven mix of the two, it is let down on both fronts.(less)
Obviously I'm a glutton for punishment. Even though I was bored by the first book I still read this. Maybe because it required very little mental exer...moreObviously I'm a glutton for punishment. Even though I was bored by the first book I still read this. Maybe because it required very little mental exertion on my part to get through? Maybe I'm just a masochist?
The thing that annoyed me most about both books is that neither character seems hugely disturbed after finding themselves in completely different time periods and cultures. There's the obligatory "this must be a dream" and some idle curiosity following the realisation that it's not but nothing more. At least in the last book Courtney had some idea of what the 19th century would be like. In this, Jane can't possibly have known just how different the 21st century is to the time she came from - and yet she casually accepts the existence of cars, skyscrapers, computers and phones with nothing more than a moment of wide-eyed amazement. Moreover, neither woman really comes out as an individual, they more or less fit right into the life of the other - getting along with their friends just fine so that no one really notices a change, apart from a change in manners.
The explanation behind these two women swapping bodies across hundreds of years is still disappointingly vague, being left to some half-explained mystical magic mumbo jumbo.
I had my expectations set very low for this book... and I was right to do so.(less)
Despite the 'culture' in the subtitle, the book doesn't go into much detail. It provides a very detailed history of cigarette companies and manufactur...moreDespite the 'culture' in the subtitle, the book doesn't go into much detail. It provides a very detailed history of cigarette companies and manufacturing in Indonesia. Heavy on photos and illustrations, so it's easy to flick through the book (and probably indicative that it wasn't meant for a detailed reading). That said, mine was an academic interest and this book is probably meant for people with a general interest... or a serious kretek habit. This probably explains why the book ignores cancer and other health effects. (less)
Pretty sure I first read this as a teenager. It's been 10 years, I've reread it several times now and every single time I end up reading well into the...morePretty sure I first read this as a teenager. It's been 10 years, I've reread it several times now and every single time I end up reading well into the night and half of the early morning hours just because I don't want to put it down. Complex plot, scenes that seem important and are then forgotten, over-long expositions and description, cluttered with semi- and non-important characters, sprinkled with obvious, cliched moments and overused expressions. Yet I keep returning to it and enjoying it just as much as the first time. Guilty pleasure.(less)
Read the first book in this series as a young teenager, read this book on the verge of my early twenties. I want the 3rd book, which will more than li...moreRead the first book in this series as a young teenager, read this book on the verge of my early twenties. I want the 3rd book, which will more than likely never be written (it's been over a decade!) if only so that I can finish the series before I turn 30. I enjoyed the first book in this series far more than the second but, given that I'm the sort of person who hates starting and not finishing a book, I hate starting and not finishing a series. Seriously, even an epilogue...?(less)