Cecilia Ahern – Lyrebird

Popular Romantic Fiction really isn’t my thing. But this was one of the options in my online book club, and I thought I’d give Cecilia Ahern the benefit of the doubt. It can be refreshing to read a genre you wouldn’t normally read now and then. Also there are so few Irish Audiobooks, I’ve only listened to about 4 including this.

Plot: a documentary crew stumble upon a young woman with a unique talent for mimicry; Think Little Voice possessed by Michael Winslow and you have it.

This started off really well. I was quite surprised. Really well written realistic interesting characters. I was hooked from the start and enjoyed every bit of it. And then it all went wrong. The plot took a turn that I found as cheap and tacky as the TV show that got involved. I just didn’t enjoy this turn of events and hoped it would be short lived. But it stayed with it for the rest of the plot. I didn’t buy this at all. None of the characters would have gone along with this, and it really felt like a cheap and tacky plot diversion to prolong the oldest romance trope in the book: “Will they won’t they?”. What a disappointment to such a great start. It could have been so much better. Also I couldn’t help thinking I was reading a potential screenplay for a hollywood romance.

I never hated it. I never wanted to abandon it. And I never got bored. And I liked most of the characters. But I found this whole section of the book, which was the majority of the plot, very disappointing which only confirmed the suspicion that popular romance doesn’t have much to offer me. Particularly if tacky cliched plot devices are the best they have to offer.

23 Quick book reviews from the first half of 2016

I’m getting lazier and lazier with book reviews these days and find it easier to do a  bunch together. Here’s a quick review of 23 books.

Lucia – Hixon, Andy

One of the first books in my ongoing collection of non-superhero type graphic novels. I love the art, it’s a very unique style, and the overall vibe is somewhere between League of Gentlemen and the darker side of Little Britain. I love the dark graphic humour in this and though I finished it in one go, I flick through it occasionally.

The Arrival – Tan, Shaun

One of the kids got this from Santa. But I loved it. It’s a graphic novel about the alienation of emigration, and has no words, it doesn’t get more graphic novel than this. A lot of the images are obscure and open to interpretation. So it’s a very unique experience and Shaun Tan’s art is stunning.

The Bees – Paull, Laline

I found it hard to relate to this, despite that fact that it is obviously very little to do with bees and much more about our own society, class, religion,  racism, and politics. Though I found the male bees, and their pathetic maleness massively entertaining whenever they appeared: “Kneel down before me and lick my crotch!”

Tender – McKeon, Belinda

Heady college days. Two friends, Catherine and James. James is vibrant and energetic. Catherine is whiney and clingy. These characters border very close to being very irritating but McKeon, a master in exploring the subtleties of human interaction, pulls back just enough to let you care about them.

A Man Called Ove – Backman, Fredrik

This is a bit overhyped at the moment. Everyone is raving about it. I quite enjoyed it though I found it too farcical to be as moving as a lot of people found it and I have definitely had my fill of grumpy old men stories.

The Grownup Flynn, Gillian

Unfortunately Gillian Flynn seems to go gradually downhill with every release. Sharp Objects (amazing), Dark Places (great), Gone Girl (good), and now The Grownup  (disappointingly mediocre and totally forgettable). Though it’s just a short story so the jury is still out. I hope she get’s back on track with her next novel.

My Struggle: Book 2: A Man in Love – Knausgård, Karl Ove

Book 1? I thought it was ok. Bit overhyped and I was just feeling my way around. Book 2? Ok I get it. I’m hooked. Dissecting the minutiae of human interactions and painful smalltalk between parents at children’s birthday parties. Yes. I’m on. Bring on the whole series.

Mortality – Hitchens, Christopher

Short book about Hitch discovering he has the Big C and how he deals with it leading up to his death. Sad and Poignant but dignified and staunch to the end.

Bird Box – Malerman, Josh

I really like books like this sometimes. They’re like B-Movies: Take a simple idea and run with it. In Bird Box people have started to go Berserk when they see *something*. The world quickly escalates to apocalypse. This is the story of one woman trying to survive with two children who have only known this world through a blindfold. Fun.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind – Harari, Yuval Noah

Essential non-fiction exploring many theories about why we are the way we are, where we’ve come from and how we got here. It contains lots of common sense where you find yourself nodding and thinking you knew that already. But also plenty of unique ideas also. One of the major themes is the idea that sapiens are different to other animals mostly because of myths that we’ve all agreed to believe in, such as the concept of money.

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed – Ronson, Jon

I’m yet to be let down by a Jon Ronson book. I always find them really entertaining. Here he delves into the lives of those who have been publicly shamed and those who have done the shaming, not just dedicated trolls but regular Internet peeps too.

Undermajordomo Minor – deWitt, Patrick

Again someone who really gets that books need to be entertaining. I’m yet to meet someone who hasn’t loved The Sisters Brothers. Under Major Domo is probably not quite as good but it’s not too far off either.

Killing and Dying: Stories – Tomine, Adrian

Another addition to my collection of “Graphic novels that aren’t superhero books”. This one is lots of short stories about modern life, nicely illustrated. I really liked it. And such a quick read, I will surely read again.

On the Move: A Life – Sacks, Oliver

Autobiography of a fascinating neuroscientist, who most people know at this stage – right? If not for his great series of books such as “The man who mistook his wife for a hat”, then at least you’ll know Awakenings, the Robin William’s movie which is based partly on how Sacks treated comatose patients in a hospital and briefly brought them to life.

The Road to Little Dribbling: More Notes from a Small Island – Bryson, Bill

There’s a theme here today in several books: I rate entertainment among all else in books and Bryson is always entertaining, and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny. It’s 20 years since Notes from a small Island and he’s back touring the UK again. A running theme through this book is a massive appreciation for the countryside and railing against the idiots who see no value in maintaining a countryside and want to build everywhere. I second this emotion.

A Decent Ride – Irvine Welsh

Juice Terry Jones. A total shagmeister. Drives a taxi. Shags everything in sight. He’s almost too much to bear but he’s contrasted by the story of a sweet simple radge called Jonty. Welsh breaks every taboo in this book. The Guardian wrote it off as Poor writing and penis jokes. In lesser hands, I’d agree but no one can write this kind of stuff like Welsh, and I thoroughly enjoyed every bit of this.

The Virgin Suicides – Eugenides, Jeffrey

I’ve been a big Eugenides fan since Middlesex, but somehow never got around to his better known debut. I can now say I’ve loved every one of his books.

Vertigo – Walsh, Joanna

A new book of semi-maybe-related short stories with glowing critical reviews but I found it a bit too obscure. Some stories worked better than others but I almost abandoned it before realising I was closer to the end than I had thought.

The Buried Giant – Ishiguro, Kazuo

Not sure what I was expecting here. I really enjoyed Never Let Me Go. But this was completely different: wizards and knights and all that nonsense, and a story that just plodded along without anything entertaining happening. I lost the will to live after a while and completely abandoned it. I was already someone who didn’t read fantasy (any more). This has surely sealed the deal.

Landmarks – Macfarlane, Robert

There has emerged a non-fiction genre, and a broader movement that I’m really into at the moment. It’s hard to pigeonhole but in a nutshell it’s nature and life, the great outdoors, and how it connects to the soul, and my own childhood spent between the beach and the woods, but mostly the woods. I’ve even started a nature and Life Goodreads list. I adored H is for Hawk which completely nails this whole nature and life shebang. Landmarks is about the language of the landscape and contains lists of long forgotten words from the natural world. It’s a lovely book in itself, and also explores many other great books in this field, which I really look forward to reading.

How to be Both – Smith, Ali

This is a novelty book in that there are two stories; one with a character set from ye oldie times ago, and one story set in present day. Some of these books were published with one story coming first, and vice versa in other print editions. The two stories have some overlap. In theory I love this novelty, but think I would have enjoyed it more had there been bit more forward and back between chapters. Unsurprisingly for me, I preferred the modern day story, and by the end of the book with the ye oldie day character, I had lost some interest.

Everything is Teeth – Evie Wild & And Summer

A graphic novel memoir of Evie Wild’s childhood, during which she was obsessed with Sharks, her brother was bullied and the family spent hot summers in Australia and it’s shark infested waters. Opened packaging and immediately read from start to finish in one setting with 7-year-old daughter. We both loved it.

Animal: The Autobiography of a Female Body – Pascoe, Sara

Sara Pascoe popped up on so many podcasts that I listen to: No such thing as a Fish, Distraction Pieces, and Adam Buxton. I like her schtick. She’s got an encyclopaedic knowledge from reading a gazillion books and kicks ass when she’s on QI. And she’s also funny. So I’m a recent fan. Animal is a mixture of personal memoir and how natural selection has formed the sexual body and mind. Despite some occasional dumbing down (she wanted this to be readable for confused school girls, ok fine), the occasional bad joke which *good* comedians can’t seem to resist in debut books “let’s call him Colin, because that’s his name” and occasionally assuming the audience is female, this was an interesting and enjoyable read.

A year in books 2015

That was a great year for books. I’ve just finished my Goodreads challenge of reading 50 books in 2015. First time doing a challenge. It kept me on my toes. And I got to read a lot of amazing books:

goodreads50

20 Female writers.  30 Male. ( I’m surprised it has ended as more male but that’s just how the cookie crumbled this year…. I think anyone who chooses books based on the sex of the author needs to wake the fuck up.)

10 Irish writers.

6 Short stories.

29 Novels.

11 non fiction.

23 Audiobooks, 22 Kindle (I think. looking at some covers, I just can’t quite remember )

2 on paper. Both Graphic;  pretty much the only paper I read these days.

Once again, some of the more interesting books are Narrative non-fiction, and sit somewhere between novels and non-fiction: H is for Hawk. My Age of Anxiety, My Struggle, The Guest Cat, and 10% Happier.

According to Goodreads, the most popular book I read this year was  “All the Light We Cannot See” which was one of the most disappointing reads of the year for me. It just didn’t work for me. “Narrow Road to the deep North” was a close second.

Top ten books

A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing
It’s the prose (too broken to conform to English standards) that transforms this book from standard Irish misery porn to a raw outburst of thorny emotion.

10% Happier
Dan Harris cuts through a lot of new age bullshit in a search of some self-help that genuinely works, and lands on the increasingly popular: mindfullness. I’m in.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage
Haruki Murakami delivers once again. A story that somehow brings to life the kind of flittering sub conscious thoughts and feelings that lurk in the back of your mind. This novel explores some typical Murakami themes; but in essence I think it’s mostly about guilt, sexual fantasies, and that space in between fantasy, reality, inner thoughts, and outer realities, ahem.

Spoiled Brats / Daft Wee Stories
A tie for these two books of short stories. Every top ten deserves a spot for some of the more light-hearted reads and both of these were great fun.

Asking for it
The cover and title put me off this book for a while, it seemed like a different kind of book to me. But I kept hearing it was great, and it was.  I found it very brave and clever in so many subtle ways, like having a character who could have been made more sympathetic in many places, but wasn’t. Which made her all the more real. And the point is none of that matters; rape is rape. Behaviour is irrelevant. Sex without consent is rape. End of. There are no fucking blurred lines.

Into That Forest
A unique story about two girls raised by Tasmanian tigers. Works great in audio; the narration is fantastic: an intriguing old lady telling you a story by a fire.

Spill Simmer Falter Wither
Another book where I almost didn’t. I worried that a book about a lonely man and his dog would be way too twee, but it never was. The fine writing was anything but twee.

Purity: A Novel
This is a funny one. It’s as solid Franzen as ever. A solid five stars. I can’t fault the rich fabric of the story or the wonderfully believable characters you always get with Franzen. Yet he seems to have lost a sense of fun that he had with The Corrections. But I still enjoyed every minute of it. There’s a great Mark Twain quote that came to mind while reading this: “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.” i.e. Novelists often have to hold back on some of the weirdness because they can’t get away with it as easily as they could if they were writing non-fiction but in Purity, I think Franzen got the balance just right.

The Glorious Heresies
Another novel with a great story and believably flawed and nuanced characters. But this time we’re closer to home in the arse end of Cork.

A little Life
Isn’t that title a great joke? There’s nothing little about this book. Anyway, Hanya Yanagihara is right up there with my favourite gang of great contemporary American novelists now; Franzen, Eugenides, and Tartt. It starts off about five friends, but it’s really about one, a tortured mind, body and soul called Jude St.Francis. The writing is so good, you just know you’re in very fine hands from the very start. I thought it might be over hyped but it’s as good as everyone is saying it is.

H is for Hawk
I just loved this book. I think it just about pipped it as book of the year for me. It’s about grief. It’s about a Hawk. It’s about trying to replace grief with a Hawk. In parts it’s also an autobiography of another Hawker. It’s about mental health. It’s about connecting with another soul. It’s about life. It’s about everything in between. Written with such charm, intrigue, and intelligence.  I’ve very fond memories from the summer, sitting in Stephen’s green with this book at lunchtime, and such fine company it was.

p.s. There’s 12 books in my top ten. Bite me!

Two shit books

With most books that I don’t enjoy, I can still appreciate the writing or see why other people might enjoy them – and just think this isn’t for me for one reason or another. But now and then a book will come along that I just think is utter shit and that’s that. I’ve had two this year:

Fat Chance – Nick Spalding
This was a daily deal on audible.com and I think I had heard of it before. So I nabbed it. It’s basically “Carry On Fatty”. Let’s all laugh at fat people. That’s it. And it’s just not that funny. The writing is fairly mediocre, the similes are just non-stop “as busy as a midget in quicksand” or similar, every few pages. Groan. So far, so bad, but then it gets worse. There’s an undercurrent of casual racism, sexism and homophobia. I thought maybe I’m missing the joke, maybe Nick Spalding is actually a fat gay asian woman. That might put a different slant on things. But no, sure enough he’s a slim, straight, white man. He’s alright Jack. I thought it might somehow redeem itself, and slowly switch things around but it just kept getting worse.

“What self-respecting straight man would ever consider going on a diet?”. That’s the line where I thought “What self-respecting reader would finish reading this piece of shit”? Not me.

Jeffrey Archer – Twelve Red Herrings
I really had no idea what kind of books Archer wrote. All I knew was that he was a very well known English writer. I was on my Kindle one night, browsing the store and this was in the Editor’s Choice section. Editor’s Choice my hole. This has to be some kind of auto-generated list. There’s not a chance someone read this and actually thought it deserved a place in an Editor’s Picks list. The writing was so bad, the characters so one-dimensional, the plots so basic, the twists so predictable, and the cliches so ever present. At one stage I actually thought it was some kind of pastiche of bad writing. But no – I eventually realised, he must be one of those awful writers that sells a shitload of books because he hits that lowest common denominator mark right on the nose.

– –

Note. Both of these get *almost* 4 stars on Goodreads. Nearly everything on Goodreads levels out at almost 4 stars. To get any decent indicator from these star systems, you’d really want to strip out the first three stars and then recalculate.

For example, a shit book might level out at 3.2 overall and a great book might level out 3.9 but these look very similar on Goodreads, almost 4 stars. The real rating is that one is a “.2” and the other is a “.9”. Forget about the 3 at the start.

I’d love if someone programmed a browser plugin to strip out the first 3 stars and the 5th star and give it a newly weighted rating. That’d be much more indicative of the quality.

June / July Reads

My Struggle, Book 1 – Knausgård, Karl Ove
Everyone is talking about these books lately, so I found My Struggle to be enjoyable but slightly overhyped.  I wasn’t sure what to make of it at times; it’s so incredibly pretentious in parts that it’s hard to know if he’s taking himself (too) seriously or not, though I think there’s a hint of knowing self-mocking here and there (I also suspect the audiobook narrator made him sound a bit more earnest than intended). And yet there’s also something endearing about the pretentiousness. And there’s so much open bare-faced honesty about family life, often described in minutiae, that it’s hard not to relate. At one point I wasn’t sure if I was going to continue with the series, but I was won over by the end and am looking forward to the next one (particularly after hearing the teaser about the hardships of children’s birthday parties and family vacations!)

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage – Murakami, Haruki
Murakami is currently my go-to author. I know I’m going to be in good hands and he never disappoints. I love the semi dream-like worlds he creates, with stories that somehow bring to life the kind of flittering sub conscious thoughts and feelings that lurk in the back of your mind. This novel explores some typical Murakami themes; but in essence I think it’s mostly about guilt, sexual fantasies, and that space in between fantasy, reality, inner thoughts, and outer realities. (Says the guy rolling his eyes  about pretentiousness in previous review).

The Testament of Mary – Colm Toibin
I’ve been meaning to read Toibin for a while. He always seems to be on my horizon (in book podcasts etc) and I also happen to pass by him at lunchtime on Baggot street quite often. I really enjoyed this short story giving a very alternative reality of the life of Jesus. He’s a great writer. Devout Christians must hate it. A few full length Toibins are now on my t0-read list.

The Garden of Evening Mists – Twan Tan Eng
I always find Booker nominations a bit hit and miss, and the slightly disappointing ones always seem to have the same themes: foreign country in troubled times [check], war [check], political strife [check], redemption [check]). This is no different, and again  doesn’t quite meet the Booker hype. The story is pretty much Karate Kid with Mr Miyagi teaching gardening instead of Karate. (With some extra war, political strife and redemption thrown in).

The Last Girlfriend on Earth – Rich, Simon
More hilarious short stories with whacky scenarios. The title story is about a disease that kills everyone on earth except one woman, and her boyfriend who starts to get totes jealous as everyone from Bill Gates to the US president tries to hit on her. Not quite as good as Spoilt Brats but still good fun.

Mindfulness – Hasson, Gill
I’ve been hearing a lot about mindfulness lately and my interest has been piqued, so when this popped up as a daily deal for Kindle, I grabbed it. It’s ok as a basic introduction, but it’s pretty much in the self-help-by-numbers format featuring hypothetical situations and hypothetical people, which is the kind of thing that I hate in books like this. But I suppose it was fine for 99 cents.

10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works – Dan Harris
I heard this guy being interviewed on Sean Moncrieff’s show and liked the sound of this book. The promise of just “10% happier” already tells you it’s not your typical self-help type book. It’s a new kind of hybrid that I’ve noticed lately: a mixture of memoir and self help (real experiences: no bullshit hypothetical people). Dan Harris is a cheesy american news reporter, but he’s a bit like Saul Goodman – cheap and cheesy but you can’t help liking him. Dan had a panic attack on a live news broadcast (see video at top of post), mostly as a result of caning class A’s when he wasn’t reporting. After the panic attack, he realised he needed to change his life and went on a kind of quest. What’s great about this book is that he’s a total cynic about anything spiritual or hippyish. He’s very sceptical about mediation and all it’s variations, so I found his whole journey much more convincing. And have indeed been convinced of the merits of Mindfulness which I am now practising daily with the help of an app called headspace.

Ommmmmmmmmmmmm.

A few book reviews

After Dark – Haruki Murakami (Kindle)

A short book that’s much more about mood than narrative. It’s like Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks brought to life. Mari goes from cafe to cafe, visits a Japanese Love Hotel, and meets various characters, during one long night. While in the background there’s a Sleeping Beauty thing going on with her sister (Eri) who inhabits a cathartic dream state. She is visited by a dark character who’s present both in the real world and the dreamworld. The stories of these characters never fully resolve, they just play their part in conjuring up this metaphysical nocturnal mood. After Dark is somewhere between a long poem and a short novella.

– 3.5 stars

The Glorious Heresies – Lisa Mcinerney (Kindle)

I had this on pre-order for months and I was really looking forward to it. It was well worth the eager awaiting. It’s set in the arse end of a Cork City which the Celtic Tiger shat all over before it scarpered. Though it starts with a murder, it’s no whodunnit. What’s it’s really about is how the characters deal with the small and large ways the murder impacts their lives. And that’s the strength of this book; they’re rich, believably flawed characters.

There’s Ryan who’s a smart kid but a bit of a dosser. His coming-of-age is the anchor of the story. His dad Tony, is a bit of a waster; he loves his kids but makes no real effort to be a good father. Jimmy, a proper gangster has his thumb firmly over everyone else, and then there’s his mother Maureen who pops in and out of the story. She’s a great character; a little bit mad, but world-wise and full of charming self-made superstition, the best kind. There’s also a nosy neighbour with a penchant for teenage boys. And a girl stuck in a loop of self-medication to get through one more bout of prostitution which she needs to continue to pay for the habit she’s got through self-medication.

Every character in this book could have been very cliched in lesser hands. But these are as close to the real deal as you get in fiction. Though some people do very bad things, there’s no inherently good guys or bad guys.  It’s really about a bunch of people trying to figure who they are and what they need to do to survive, and the effects those decisions have on all those around them.

– 5 stars

Into that Forest – Louis Nowra (Audiobook)

Two young girls  spend four years in the wild after being adopted by two Tasmanian Tigers. That’s all you need to know really. It’s a great read, and works really well on audio because it’s pretty much an old lady sitting by a fire telling you the story of her life. A fascinating story, well told.

– 5 stars

Spoiled Brats: Stories – Simon Rich (Kindle)

When we go camping, I love sitting out by the fire at night. A few Saturdays ago, I decided I didn’t need to go on holiday to do this. I went out the back, fired up the fire pit, cracked open a four-pack, and read Spoilt Brats under the stars. As sad as it might sound, sitting on my own reading a book on a Saturday night was one of the best Saturday nights I’ve had in ages. This book of short stories about various spoilt brats had me laughing into the fire all night. The standout story is about Rip who falls into a vat of brine in 1915, is preserved for 100 years, then after being rescued and revived, stays with his great-great-grandson and tries to make sense of a world populated by hipsters. Really good fun.

– 5 stars

Irvine Welsh – The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins (Audiobook)

I read this straight after “All the Light We Cannot See” which wasn’t my kind of thing. So my initial reaction to this was “YES! back in familiar, reliable hands”. Lucy Brennan is a super-fit, super-healthy, female trainer who’s a real bad ass. Lena Sorenson, is an overweight, artist lacking in self-esteem and confidence. I could be wrong but I’m assuming Welsh has moved to LA, got a personal trainer, and got into a real health buzz. This book is one massive rant against obese americans and their lifestyle. It’s not completely without sympathy for their plight though, the body-obsessed certainly get stick as well. But the tirade is mostly in one-direction. Lucy Brennan is a great character with some great lines but her schtick does start to wear a bit thin after a while.

There’s one other issue. The audiobook really falls down in a way that often happens with multiple-narrator audiobooks. It’s convoluted to explain though: When the Lena Sorenson narrator/actress is telling her own story, she sounds like a strong modern woman. But when the Lucy Brennan Narrator/actress is para-phrasing Lena’s character, she makes her sound like a pathetic whiney girl. I don’t know how this happens so often with audiobooks. It’s like the two narrators recorded their parts in complete isolation without any director / producer / whatever guiding them into any kind of consistency.

Overall good fun. But probably better as a non-audio read.

 

The Dinner – Herman Koch (Audiobook)

This is my second Herman Koch book. And I think it’s fair to say you don’t quite enjoy Herman Koch as much as you endure them. His books always seem to feature despicable, yet darkly comic characters.  I’ve seen this book recommended several times for fans of dark novels. And I thought it was going to be super dark… I was actually expecting some dinner guests to be the final course of the meal! But it’s not that kind of story at all. The meal is secondary to a story that unfolds while two couples have their meal. (Although a genuinely interesting read, there’s one major flaw in the book though. It makes no sense why a highly public politician would arrange to meet his brother and sister-in-law to discuss a dark secret, in a restaurant instead of one of their homes.)

– three stars

 

Narrow Road to the Deep North – Richard Flanagan (Audiobook)

2015 Booker winner about Dorrigo Evans, an Australian Doctor who survives a Japanese Slave Labour camp in 1943.

This is a very long meandering book that takes a very long time to get going and tried my patience several times – but never quite tried it enough to make me consider abandoning. I think the story is at its strongest and most straight-forward when you’re with the Australian prisoners of war going through their daily toils. But for more of the book, we’re with the protagonist in modern times, but in a lot of parts, you’re not quite sure where and when you are – and I found a lot of it quite wishy-washy and vague.

– 3 stars

A girl is a half formed thing

I remember going through a stage of reading book after book and wondering why every single novelist writes in the exact same style. Now and then you might find someone with a slight lilt to their style (Kevin Barry springs to mind). But rare to find a book written in a uniquely distinctive style.

And then comes along Eimear McBride. Brave enough to throw sentence structure out the window completely. Because sometimes, perfectly formed plain english just isn’t enough to express the head banging frustrations of life. How can you truly express the internal monologue of a troubled girl, with such plain language as regular English? And while I understand that most writers set themselves the challenge of working within those refrains, in some contexts, it’s so much more effective to run. Riot with fragmented. Sentences that don’t even

Actually this story might even be mundanely typical without the powerfully effect style of the writing. As it’s such typically Irish writing: religious mothers, sleazy uncles, prayers, catholic guilt, funerals.

Even though some parts were hard to follow, others were wonderfully concise and poetic.

Mad lust of it you get for computer games go blip across a screen”

“Fuck me softly fuck me quick is all the same once done to me. And washing in their rusted baths and flushing brown with limescale loos amid the digs of four a.m. before I put my knickers on.”

“Sister be a brother sister fixer of her woes”

“Doesn’t it look like a when we were little day?”

As much as I was wowed by the her style and overall impact of how the story was told, I’d be lying to whack five stars on it as it is a bit of work to read and truth be told, I yearned for the end to come more quickly. But I’m still thinking about it a week later.

Books of the year 2014

Confirmed: When I stick to themes that I already know like I’m usually happy: New, fresh, contemporary, darkly comic, dysfunctional, character-based.

Reconfirmed: When I try books everyone raves about, which I’ve a gut feeling aren’t for me I’m nearly always disappointed: Mostly old classics & historical novels.

Biggest reading discovery this year: The realisation that “Literary Fiction” is totally my bag. I’d always associated the phrase with dusty old classics that I don’t generally get on with but have only come to learn that it encompasses the kind of contemporary life affirming novelists that I love: Franzen, Tartt, Eugenides etc.

Anyway here’s my top ten of the year. 1-9 aren’t in any particular order, but again this year I’ve a clear winner for number 1 spot.

10. Swimming Home – Deborah Levy (Kindle)
Is it a bear? is it a plane? No! It’s Kitty fucking Finch and she’s in your swimming pool.
Blog post

9. 11/22/63 – Stephen King (Audiobook)
I abandoned King for years and just came back to him this year. He can still spin a damn good yarn.
Goodreads

8. Under the Skin – Michel Faber (Audiobook)
Fascinating movie and book. Both well worth experiencing for different reasons. I’ll be reading more Faber this year.
Blog post

7. The Things They Carried – Tim O’Brien (Audiobook)
The writing was so sharp, and dripping with a life experience that few of us could imagine, and even fewer of us could so expertly depict.
Blog post

6. Gulp – Mary Roach (Audiobook)
Mary Roach is such an entertaining writer she could write about your digestive tract and it’d still be amazing. Which is what she did.
Goodreads

5. The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion (Kindle)
I just stumbled across one day and bought it on a whim, I had no idea it was one of those mega famous books. Good fun. I genuinely laughed out loud a few times.
Goodreads

4. Sharp objects – Gillian Flynn (Kindle)
Much better, darker, and less cartoony than Gone Girl.
Goodreads

3. The Guts – Roddy Doyle (Audiobook)
Gimmicky yet still brilliant sequel to The Commitments.
Goodreads

2. We are all completely beside ourselves – Karen Joy Fowler (Audiobook)
I always seem to enjoy books that feature quirky families. And it doesn’t get much quirkier than a girl who grows up with a chimpanzee for a sister.
Blog post

1. The Gargoyle – Andrew Davidson (Audiobook)
It’s hard not to hear about a good movie. But I’m often amazed at the volume of amazing books that you never hear anything about and are so easy to miss. The premise of The Gargoyle is based around an old trope; is a character insane or has she actually {insert-impossible-fantastical-truth}. But that doesn’t take away from how great this book is. I was hooked from the start: a porn-star crashes his car during an hallucinatory drink and drugs binge then get’s horribly burned alive in his car, which is described in great detail, and that’s just the first page. What follows is a delicately written portrayal of a relationship between a man coming to terms with severe burn injuries and an unhinged woman obsessed with carving Gargoyles who tells him stories about their supposed relationships during their past lives.
Amazon

My year with a Fitbit Flex

What’s a Fitbit Flex?

A fancy pedometer, that you wear permanently, which counts your steps, and syncs with apps to show you nice visual stats, and gives you a surprisingly rewarding 5 lights when you reach your target.

Is that it?

You can use it to track sleep. But this is done manually and more often than not, you’ll forget, and eventually not bother at all. You can also use the app to manually track food and water intake but I grew tired of that very quickly.

So what’s it good for?

It really encourages you to walk more. 10,000 steps a day is the default setting on the Fitbit (about 5 miles). Wearing a Fitbit also switches your brain into seeing any potential walk as a good thing rather than a drag. Now, I’ll happily walk the dog, go to the shops, take a stairs instead of a lift, or walk to a shop on the other side of town during lunch.

How was the honeymoon period?

Typically, I got a bit obsessive about reaching my daily target, which sometimes involved nonsense like walking around a coffee table last thing at night until my wrist lit up. Or going for a quick walk around the block before going to bed. Or walking from room to room and up and down the stairs.

And after that?

If you engage with other Fitbit users, or sites, you’ll notice lots of encouragement to increase your daily goal after you’ve got used to the Fitbit. 12,500 steps a day or 15,000 steps a day, or even 20,000 steps a day. I spent a few months on 15,000 (I think, maybe less). And this is where it became a real pain. It involved a quick walk before work, then walking for the entirety of lunch, and then another big walk in the evening. The whole day revolved around walking. I spent a whole summer walking during lunch instead of reading in a sunny summer park, or sitting by a canal reading, which I adore doing during the summer. (I listen to Audiobooks while I walk of course, but I still love actually reading).

ALSO – I noticed zero benefit. I stopped running for a good few months (after a couple of accidents) but continued all this walking and I really noticed that I started feeling like shit again, always very lethargic, fatigued, and low on energy, which is how I feel when I don’t exercise regularly. And walking all day did nothing for me compared to running. So my verdict, at least for me personally, is that anything above the 10k steps is really not worth it. I’m gone back to the default 10,000 steps a day. And that’s easy enough to reach without letting it completely take over my day. And lunch is now more reasonably divided into eating/reading/walking.

Verdict

So, a year later, I still like my Fitbit Flex, but it’s more of a gentle reminder to make sure I get a minimum of exercise every day, especially at weekends. Anything more than that can feck right off. The honeymoon period is well and truly over.

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Update: September 2015. I went through a period of not bothering with it much. And not wearing it some days. But I’ve been having a lot of trouble with restless legs syndrome recently. So I’ve been making an effort again to do a bare minimum of 10,000 steps a day… but I don’t obsess over it.

Under The Skin

The Book

I’ve been meaning to write this review for a while but the book is a Kindle Daily Deal today. So get it while it’s cheap.

The Movie

I think sometimes, that people look in the wrong places for Art. Film was snubbed for years as a lower art form, and even now, I still think it’s overlooked to some degree. It doesn’t get spoken of in the same terms as Hirst, Koons, Basquiat, Gormley, etc yet I think Under The Skin is the most amazing work of art I’ve witnessed in years. Some of the scenes are absolutely breathtaking, though quite eerie, and it really does get under your skin. Admittedly the plot wavered in places but it was still a stunning piece of work overall that left me thinking about it for days, and I can’t wait to watch it again.

The Audiobook

I never read a book if I’ve already seen the movie but I didn’t even know the book existed beforehand, and I was so intrigued by the movie that I wanted to know more, even though I loved the ambiguity of the movie. It turns out that the book is very different in detail and plot and stands on its own completely. They are almost different episodes of the same basic premise. And the book really struck me as an allegory for the carnivore/vegetarian debate. Considering it is in effect about meat, the title, perfectly works on many levels.

And while the movie has some of the most visually striking images I’ve seen in years, the audiobook contains some of the most haunting sounds I’ve heard in an audiobook.

Highly recommended. Watch it. Listen to it. Read it.

Under the Skin