The Bone Clocks (Audiobook)

Some books really seem to narrow the gap between short stories, novellas, and novels. Take George Saunders’ Tenth of December, the off-kilter dystopian world these short stories are set in give it a combined narrative that makes it seem very much in novel territory. And The Bone Clocks (like Cloud Atlas), is almost like a series of novellas with some character overlap. There is a thin line between the form of Tenth of December and The Bone Clocks. And as is often the case with short story books, I had very different reactions to each of these stories.

The first story in The Bone Clocks introduces us to Holly who is the common thread throughout all the stories. It’s a relatively straight-laced introduction that has much in common with Mitchell’s nostalgic eighties-twinged coming-of-age novel Black Swan Green, and I’m a total sucker for that whole that bag of tricks.

As Holly gets older, we’re introduced to new characters in her life. One section is about a posh con boy she has a fling with. Next we meet her husband, a war junky journalist. Ok – so far so good. And then not:

Next up is a very long section featuring an old whinge-bag novelist which I could not wait to end. It was only towards the end that I recognised the audiobook narrator of this section. I looked him up, and indeed, he narrated The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and To Say Nothing of the Dog. I pretty much hated both of those books. I find his style of narration incredibly irritating and it’s only in retrospect that I realise my great dislike of these books probably had more to do with the narrator than the writing, particularly as I so suddenly hated this chapter compared to the others. That’s interesting. I didn’t realise a narrator could sway a book that much. On top of that, this section has no great relevance to the overall story. It could be very easily skipped.

Ok annoying narrator out of the way. What’s next? Oh great. Full on, up-to-eleven, fantasy mode. Sigh. My eyes glaze over when I hear too many gobbledy-gook made-up words. And then made worse by borrowing from a new age supernatural world of woo that I can’t abide. Check out this guff: “Darnock shuts his eyes, opens his chakra eye and channels the ember red light of the shaded way at the throat of the holy of holies. The Blind Cathar is no longer dreaming.” This section was drenched in this psychobabble, and halfway through, I realised I hadn’t the slightest clue what was going on. And had to go back to the start and make an extra effort pay attention. And lost the will to live by the end of it.

Alas, I really enjoyed the final chapter, set in a post-apocalyptic rural Ireland. And no new age fantasy guff. So it was great to end on a good note, and as a whole, my overall experience was nudged into thinking this was a great 4-star read. There were a few VERY dodgy bits for me, but overall, Mitchell is still a very reliable read.

We are all completely beside ourselves (Audiobook)

I really enjoyed this. In fact 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. Karen Joy Fowler is a very smart writer. There is much discourse here on psychology and memory. And there are a lot of books in the last decade that deal with similar topics, but this one is wrapped around an interesting story with great characters also, and I just knew from the first page that I was in good hands, and me and Karen Joy Fowler were on the same page, and that’s the main thing.

5/5

Silas Marner – Audiobook & Kindle

I don’t have a good track record with ye old classics. I’ve found a lot of them quite dated, regardless of how ahead of their time some of them once we’re.  And others are just a bit too… stiff & stuffy for my liking. I just I connect with contemporary books more easily. Simple as that.  Hot off the press. That’s how I like it. But I thought I’d test the waters again and I ended up with Silas Marner as my test subject.

I found my enjoyment of it, and lack of, a bit of a roller coaster. I quite enjoyed the opening chapters and could really appreciate the fine writing. But then I hit a massive bump all of a sudden: there was a scene with a bar of old codgers talking a godawful load of codswallop, and I couldn’t wait for it to end. I found it really unpleasant to listen to. I thought I might have to abandon the book completely. I wasn’t quite sure if it was the actual dialog, or the narrator of the audiobook, but I switched from audio to Kindle and it was definitely a major improvement reading it myself,  I’ve never experienced that before.  And there wasn’t another such chunk of dense dialogue again.

Then I found there were definite peaks and troughs in the actual story. Not much different than a lot of books but overall it really added to my rollercoaster experience of this book. It went up and down through the range of star ratings from 1,  2, 3, 4. I settled on an overall 3 out 5 for Silas Marner.

A worthwhile exercise, and not a terrible experience overall. But I’m definitely happier with more contemporary work (though not necessarily a contemporary setting) and I don’t see any reason to break from that comfort zone again any time soon. Some people don’t read sci-fi or other genres. I don’t read old classics. So that’s that.

PS I’m glad I was steered away from Middlemarch,  which I nearly went for.  Although reputedly one of the greatest novels in the English language, it doesn’t seem like the ideal book to test the waters of the classics pool.

Joaquin Phoenix’s Forehead

OMG! I completely forgot about this childhood thing where I used to hang upside down and tell friends to look at my hair as if it’s a beard and my forehead as if it’s a mouth…. Doesn’t that look hilarious? And they’d go just give me this look as if *I* was the crazy one.

Now someone’s done it with Joaquin Phoenix’s Forehead. And it IS hilarious. So fuck all y’all. 

Memrise 100 Dublin Streets explainer

I created a course on Memrise called 100 Dublin streets. Here’s an explainer:

What’s Memrise?
A site that makes it very easy to memorize lists of items. It’s good for learning languages but also Trivia like learning all the capitals of the world.

How? 
It starts by showing you Flashcards

copestreet

 

And then what?
Then it will test you on what you’ve learned. More frequently at first. Then the tests go farther apart until the item is in your long term memory.

test

 

Big deal. Is that it? 

No. What memrise is really good at is that it provides an extra crutch to help memorise things which is great if you’ve a bad memory. It uses mnemonics  called “mems”.  You can add you own or use other people’s mems.

cope-mem

And why did you create a course for Dublin streets? 

Because I’ve a head like a sieve, and  I’m particularly bad at names of streets for some reason. And I was sick of forgetting the names of various streets. Now I know them all!

I see. Anything else?

There are 9 levels. It starts with the really easy streets that everyone knows, even me! just to get you warmed up, you can always ignore these, there is an ignore button. It starts getting a little bit more interesting by level 3.

level6

Give it a go. Memrise is free. And you can set up an account very quickly.

http://www.memrise.com/course/320722/100-dublin-streets

Women, Charles Bukowski (Audiobook)

buk

I think if I read this when I was much younger, I might have found it a bit rebellious and exciting. All the sex, drugs and… rock ‘n roll poetry. But I just found that one sexual encounter after another got a bit repetitive and sometimes boring. Yet there was something alluring about it also, and it dipped in and out of places that had a lot more depth than some old drunk fucking yet another notch on a bed post.

The protagonist, Henry Chinaski is a womanising drunk. I know I’m supposed be repelled by him, but he’s one of those enigmas; a character who is repulsive yet also possesses an odd magnetic charm. There’s a gritty honesty, an acerbic wit, and a couldn’t-give-a-fuck-what-anyone-else-thinks approach to life that I can’t help admiring and envying in people like this.

His attitude to women is also a bit of an enigma. I think it would be too easy to look at how Chinaski treats women, and dismiss him as a misogynist. And going by some reviews, many have. But that’s too black and white. How can you call someone a woman hater who also so clearly LOVES women emphatically. Good / bad. Black / white. Evil / goodness. It’s somewhere in that grey area that lie truly interesting characters. And I think that’s what makes Women an interesting read even if it did get quite repetitive in places.

As for the narrator. It was a perfect tone. This guy spends the whole book sounding hungover and grumpy. You can listen to a sample here.

3/5

Open, by Andre Agassi (Audiobook)

I heard a lot of good things about Open, Andre Agassi’s autobiography. And right from the opening pages I thought wow, this is great. Agassi is a really good writer, with interesting thoughts, and a fascinating life, which makes for a perfect autobiography; a fascinating insight into a someone’s life full of little nuggets of life lessons they’ve learned.

I have to admit, as someone with no interest in sport I did get a little bit bored with the tennis bits occasionally, and overall felt that it could have been shortened. Some of the tennis stuff got so repetitive, for me, that I didn’t even notice when I had accidentally skipped a huge chunk of the audiobook. I only noticed the great leap when he started talking about girlfriends again and he was suddenly with Stefi Graf, and not Brook Shields.

What also makes this a brilliantly essential autobiography are some startling revelations, not least of which, revealed from the very start, is that Agassi has despised tennis all his life and was driven to tennis stardom by a father who cared of nothing else but to have a tennis champ for a son.

4/5

Swimming home (on Kindle)

Is it a bear? is it a plane? No! It’s Kitty fucking Finch and she’s in your swimming pool.

The poet Joe Jacobs is relaxing in a villa in France with his family and friends, when a naked girl appears in their swimming pool. At first they wonder if it’s a bear. And this random ponderance turns out to be quite typical of this book, it’s enjoyably playful with some of the random lines the characters blurt out.

But no, it’s not a bear, Kitty Finch, is a mysterious nymph, alluring to all around her. She’s Joe Jacob’s biggest fan and she’s a bit mental. Yet Joe’s wife, Isobel still invites her to stay. The blue paper is lit, and BOOM, we’re off.

What follows is 4 days serving as 4 chapters, hinged around a poem called Swimming Home that Kitty Finch wants Joe to read and discuss. Kitty Finch seems to involve herself in all around her. What is Joe Jacobs to do with a frequently-naked, alluring nymph who his wife threw at him like a tempestuous serpent?

On the surface that’s it. But there is something lurking in the shadows on every page of this book. It’s not quite in-your-face surreal. But a more subtle surreality, that I quite enjoyed. Like when Isobel tries to help a blind woman find a doctors apartment, and the woman insists she’s brought her to the wrong place. It’s almost like a scene from Mulholland Drive, but not quite.

I also like how punchy the book is. Each scene is more like a snapshot from the holiday, rather than a detailed account. Levy doesn’t bother plugging the spaces between the snapshots with pages and pages of he did this, then he did that.

Is it a bear? is it a plane? No! It’s Kitty fucking Finch. Boom!

4/5

I can stop hating Apple so much

I’ve started noticing the appearance of some Android apps that I can’t install on my phone. It turns out that the OS on my phone won’t be getting any further updates. http://www.neowin.net/news/htc-officially-stops-one-s-updates-barely-a-year-after-launch

This has been driving me crazy with the iPad1 for a while now. Every second app won’t work on iPad1. Similar to my phone, the OS for iPad1 is also at a dead end. This made me hate Apple; the fact that such an expensive device can turn into a dinosaur in such a relatively short amount of time.

But now I’m glad that I can at least stop being angry about it, as it turns out, Android isn’t much better.

There is one big difference though. If you browse the play store on your phone, they only show you apps that you can install on your phone.

If you browse the App store on your iPad, they advertise all the Apps that you can’t install.

So it still does seem like Android want you to have an enjoyable experience with the device you have, whereas Apple want to nag you into upgrading to the latest device. So I can still hate Apple that little bit.

And of course overall, I still prefer Android OS overall. That apps can talk to each other better, that apps can take over the system for full control of your device, that you can completely customize your device, and install whatever keyboard you like etc. (I feel like a neanderthal typing one letter at a time on iDevices compared to Swype). Etc etc.

I just wish Android had the iPhone’s amazing fucking battery life.

But the bottom line is that I can stop wasting my time hating Apple so much. Expensive devices have a short shelf life. I need to get over that. Even if I can’t afford the upgrades.

My 10 favourite books of 2013

I’m not being too strict this year…  a couple of these were not published in 2013. Books 10 to 2, could easily be jumbled around in order, but number 1 slot was a clear winner this year.

  1.  TransAtlantic – McCann, Colum
  2.   The Quarry – Banks, Iain
  3.   Life After Life – Atkinson, Kate
  4.  Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar – Lustig, Robert H.
  5.   The Fault in Our Stars – Green, John
  6.   Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls – Sedaris, David
  7.   You’re Not Doing It Right: Tales of Marriage, Sex, Death, – Black, Ian
  8.   Lost At Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries – Ronson, Jon
  9.   Dark Places – Flynn, Gillian
  10. The Goldfinch – Tartt, Donna

I loved the Goldfinch. Easily get’s the number one slot.

Now and then, someone in work will ask me what I’m reading, and what’s it’s about. I’m often a bit stumped on how to answer that, as happened with the Goldfinch recently. I could say it’s about a guy who steals a painting after an explosion in an art gallery, and the consequences that followed. But of course the painting in The Goldfinch is a bit of a mcGuffin, and as with a lot of books like this, I found myself saying… Oh… god… what is it about… it’s about everything, love, loss, death, friendship, art, marriage, morals, parenting, growing, mental health, addiction, hedonism… life.Tartt, Euginedes, and Franzen really excel at taking a bunch of interesting and believable characters to tell a story that itself is just a backdrop to the broad canvas of life. Their novels are always an amazing experience to read. The books that come before and after always pale in comparison. And The Goldfinch is no different. A masterpiece.