The Things They Carried

The Things They Carried (Audiobook)
Written by Tim Obrien

Usually after a few pages, or at least a chapter of a book, I know whether I’m going to like, love, or hate a book. In my experience it’s all down to the author’s voice, not the actual plot. So if it’s not working for you in the first chapter, that’s not going to change by the time you get to the end. That’s why I no longer persevere with a book that isn’t working for me. Life’s too short. And finding out what happens at the end rarely balances out the torturous perseverance.

With this book however my initial perception was turned on its head. After the first chapter, I thought it was going to be an average Vietnam war novel. I didn’t think I was going to enjoy it at all.

And then suddenly the story stops and the author starts talking about writing, and story-telling, and truth, and real truth, and story truth, and memory, and and rose-tinted glasses. And suddenly we’re in the territory of metafiction and narrative non-fiction. Which is when I really perked up. This was suddenly an altogether different book. 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.

Where it falls down slightly is that there is a lot of overlap between the stories, and it becomes more and more obvious that this is not a book but series of previously written essays. A collection of brilliant essays, but still, a bit of editing could have possibly reduced the overlap and repetition.

On the audio end of things, it’s narrated by none other than Bryan Cranston. And if you think it couldn’t get any better than that, there’s a bonus chapter where the author revisits Vietnam with his daughter years later, and he narrates that chapter himself which is dripping with that old soul life experience. And it’s a perfect finish to a great audiobook

The Things They Carried (Flamingo)

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!


Audiobook: The View on the Way Down

The View on the way down is about depression and suicide. And more than that it is the effects of depression and suicide on a family. For subject matter that some would consider taboo, it read to me as a very everyday story. Which is as it should be because depression and suicide are all around us. There is nothing sensational or melodramatic in this book. This is a regular family dealing with that “permanent solution to a temporary problem”. I think Rebecca Wait got the pitch just right. She knows her subject matter, but doesn’t showboat it. She doesn’t dwell on the details of the illness, but instead shows us the devastating results to all that surround it.

I noticed an interesting trait that all the characters had. At various points in the book the all had to mentally force themselves to say or do something that they weren’t comfortable doing. This was written as if it is something that we all have to do every day. Which made me think this was an everyday occurrence for Rebecca Wait, and that she was no stranger to mental health. Though I think the whole book is testament to that. You just could not write a book like this through research alone.

The plot is kept interesting by flicking between various characters perspectives; sister, brother, girlfriend, father, mother. It becomes subtly compelling to find out what will become of each of them.

On a lighter note, whenever I saw this book cover, I wondered why on earth did they have an upside-down flying witch on the cover? It was only when I saw a bigger version that I realized it was a girl on a swing.


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.

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.

Audiobook review: Eleanor and Park

I’m slightly inspired by the new look of my blog to try and start posting regularly again. Even if it’s just reviews of Audiobooks. And even if just very quick thoughts – rather than full blown reviews.

I can’t remember where I got this one recommendation from – I seem to end up reading more than my fair share of teenage love stories sometimes. I’m not exactly the target market.

Boy meets girl. They fall in love. There’s not a hell of a lot more to it. Ok there’s bullying, an evil stepdad, and a lot of good music references. That’s pretty much it.

It’s pretty good for what it is. I imagine a lot of teens would love it. I thought it was fine. Enough with the teeny stuff for now though.

Notes on the audio:
Both actors were fine. But as often the case, when the male actor was speaking as the female character, it was awful. He made her sound whiny and unlikeable. Eleanor didn’t sound like that at all when the female actor was doing her bits.

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.

The Blathering

I wrote this at the start of the year for a Kindle Book of short stories based around The Gathering that someone was organizing – but it never happened…

Update: it did happen: But mine was not included… reason: because children might read it! Um ok, why didn’t you goddamn say so in the first place.

– – – – – – –

The Blathering

Redser’s gaze was so absorbed in the red ripples of the sky reflected across the blue ripples of the water that he almost didn’t notice the wet nose busily sniffing his arse.

“Jesus! What the fuck have you been eating?”

“Yer Ma”.

“You wish. She hated gingers.”

“How many times do I have to tell you. Red Setters are red. NOT ginger. The name’s Redser, remember?”

“Yeah right, as if a human would be stupid enough to call a Red Setter Redser. What did they actually call you?”

“Redser! Sure didn’t they call you Blackie!?”

“Not the same thing and you know it. C’mon Red. You can tell me. What they really call you? Been asking you for years now.”

“Not a chance.”

“I bet it’s something to do with that white spot on your forehead.”

“Drop it, Blackie”.

“Very strange for a Red Setter to have a white spot on his forehead.”

“So you keep telling me.”

Blackie sits beside Redser and joins his gaze across the sea. “What a perfect moment this would be if it wasn’t polluted by that fucking stench. Seriously Red. You should see a vet about that, that’s some serious stinkage. Tell me, what fine establishments have you been dining at recently to pollute your intestine so?”

“Oh yeah, that is worth telling actually. I was hanging around the back of Jo’s this morning. I was only there five minutes, when some young lad backs out the door with a bucketful of fried eggs. FUCKING JACKPOT. You know I love the oul eggs!”

“They don’t love you, Red. Seriously. They’re trying to send you a message. Arse to Brain – stop eating eggs… What the hell were eggs doing in a bucket anyway? Does not compute Lord Vader. I mean, why would they fry a load of eggs and then chuck them out in a bucket?”

“Got me, Black. One of life’s mysteries. Anyway, where’ve you been?”

Blackie looks a bit sheepish. “Nowhere. Here and there. Nuthin. No one.”

“You’ve been hanging around the park waiting for that poodle again, haven’t you?”

“No sireee, Bob. Not me. Nope. No way”

“You’ve no fucking chance, Blackie. You’d want to snap out of that. You’ll be in the pound in no time. Seriously.”

Blackie just stares out to sea, looking a bit miffed. He’s determined not to respond but doesn’t last five seconds. “She’s gagging for it Red, I’m telling you, she’s all fur and no fucking Snickers. Get that one into a bush for two minutes and she’d be howling like a she-wolf. She’d never look at another poodle. Once you’ve had Blackie there’s no going backy!”

“You wish. Just don’t do anything stupid. Not too many of us Paddies around here these days. I mean what’s the chances of any other dog fluking it over to here like we did? I’m telling ye. I’d go insane if I had to talk to these yankie doodle poochies all day. I mean they’re alright and all but you need to talk to one of your own now and then or you’d go fucking mad.”

“Awww, poor Redser, doesn’t want to be all alone and the big bad west. That reminds me. Did you hear about that thing where they’re trying to get everyone to go back home?”

“Yeah. The Gathering, will you ask me big dangly bollox!?”



“Bollock. The noun one would apply to the dangly vestibule of creatures bestowed in single testicularity.”

“Fuck you and your two tiny chewing gum balls”.

“Two heads are better than one. No interest then?”

“In The Slathering Blathering? Christ no. Seems like a load of nonsense.”

“I think it sounds good. It’d be like one big long Paddy’s Day.”

“Oh Jesus Fucking Christ. As if that’s a good thing.”

“Yeah but imagine what the atmosphere would be like with lots of people going home for the first time in years.”

“We ain’t people, Blackie, and you know better than anyone I can never ever go back there. Even if this was a fucking Disney Movie and we could stowaway in a serious of hilarious events. I can’t go back there. Ever.”

“I know, I know.  But it’s a pity – I think it’d be great crack.”

“Yeah you’re right. I can imagine how great a distraction it’d be from the shit storm of a mess that country is in. How clever of them.”

“You is one cynical old dawg, Red.”

“You have to be cynical about everything that lot do, Blackie. You know I’d sooner eat a conspiracy theorist than listen to one spouting their garbage, but you have to question every idea that comes from that lot. Everything. When it comes to the Irish government, I’m definitely more of a Mulder than a Scully. The truth is out there!”

Redser has been toying with an injured fly for the last two minutes and decides to put it out of its misery. It tastes like shit but he likes the crunchy texture, and the little pop it makes as it bursts onto his tongue.

“Maybe I’m just being nostalgic” says Blackie. “But I’d sure love to get back home for something like that.”

“Christ, Blackie. It’s a marketing team’s wank fest. I mean there’s nothing I like more than licking up a puddle of spilt Guinness. But see that Arthur’s Day? Get it well the fuck away from me. That’s the biggest trick the devil ever pulled right there. Another event for the Irish to go out and get pissed for a whole day. Paddy’s Day. Arthur’s Day and now the fucking Gathering. Would you ask my big shiny bollock!”

“So you’re immune to all marketing ploys then, is that it, Redser?”

“No one’s immune to marketing. I’ve neither purse nor pocket, yet the claws of marketing scratch me every day. More than these fucking fleas. Doesn’t mean I can’t do my best to avoid shit-fests like this though.”

At the mere mention of fleas, both Blackie and Redser have to pause the conversation, throw their legs akimbo, and start a three minute scratch-fest.

Blackie continues, his voice shaking as he’s still going hell for leather behind his ear “I dunno, Red. I’m sure you’re right. Maybe it was conceived as a distraction but I still bet it’d be an amazing atmosphere…. Oh shit, here’s Vinnie.”

“Vinnie’s alright. I thought you liked Vinnie too?”

“He was alright before he came out and turned into the biggest queen in town. I don’t get it. Everyone knew he was the gayest dog around. And everyone was fine with it. But then he makes the big announcement, as if he needed to tell anyone, and suddenly he’s camp as Christmas. I’ve never heard anyone trying so hard to lisp while they bark! I mean, that dog used to have the best taste in music around. The conversations we used to have about glitchy German House, and all of a sudden he’s obsessed with Kylie Minogue. The whole thing’s ridiculous. I know plenty of gay dogs who are, you know, normal, and plenty who were always, you know, a bit camp. All well and good. But this complete transplant is nuts. What the fuck is that all about!? Fake as fuck.

Vinnie – “Hey ladies! Mwah. Mwah.”

Redser – “Hey Vinnie.”

Vinnie – “What you two luvvies looking so serious about?”

Redser – “Blackie was just saying how much he loves your recent zest for life. Saying you’ve got a great spring in your step for a big butch Saint Bernard.”

Blackie – “Never mind him, Vinnie. We were talking about  The Gathering. Redser here is being as cynical as ever.”

Vinnie – “Oh that, yeah. Sounds great to me. Party party party!”

Redser – “Oh Christ. Don’t you start.”

Vinnie – “Would you not love to go back to Ireland for that Redser? I’m sure you’ve got plenty of puppies back there, ha!”

“NO I FUCKING DON’T!” Redser growls, and then snaps at Vinnie, catching his ear, and drawing a bit of blood.

Vinnie is so shocked that he doesn’t fight back. Just says “What the actual fuck!?”

Redser looks a bit embarrassed and just turns tail and runs off.

Vinnie – “WHAT. THE. FUCK!?”

Blackie – “Sheeeeeite! Not your fault Vinnie. I should have known better to keep going on about Ireland. But, you know, it’s been donkey’s years now.”

“What the fuck is going on, Blackie!?”

“You don’t know why we left?”

“I sure as hell don’t.”

“Ah. Ok. Right. Well. Where do I start?”

Blackie looks out across the sea again as he casts his mind back.

“Right. So. There’s this beach back home. It’s a bit like this beach here. But it’s got lots of sand dunes. And lots of sand. Duh! And lot’s of marshland full of birds too. It’s a great spot. There’s always loads of dogs there. We used to go down there all the time. Even family dogs used to have a bit more freedom back then. But this one time, we were messing down at the water. Running in and out. And we spot this bag in the water. We both make a dart for it at the same time. But Redser gets there first. He picks it up in his teeth ready to shake it from side to side. Trying to soak me like. But he sees it too late. Shakes it anyway. Three dead puppies spill out.

“Oh my fucking god.”

“Three dead red setters. One with a little white spot on its forehead.”

“Oh christ. Fucking hell. Poor Redser. What fucking animals people can be.”

“He wanted to kill the murdering bastards. I don’t know how I stopped him. But I did. I made him stay at the beach. We slept in a fisherman’s boat that night. At least we thought that’s what it was before all the drug smugglers climbed in the next morning! We couldn’t believe it! Thought that shit only happened in movies but sure enough, four lads… that looked as normal as anything jumped in… but they were definitely bringing drugs across the water. And… well… I think you know the rest of our travels. Finally ended up here. And we’ve been here ever since.”

“Jesus, yeah. But I’d no idea about the start!”.

“I should have known better than going on about the fucking Gathering.”

The two dogs sat for a moment and gazed once more across the red rippled sky. In the distance, Blackie could just about hear a sound that he thought he recognized as Redser’s howls but it might just have been the wind.

Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease

As you can see from the title,
Fat Chance
is about Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease.

This book gets 5 stars from me, not because it I loved reading it so much, some of it was a bit of a chore. But it’s one of those books you wish everyone would read, or that it was on the school curriculum, as the knowledge within is so important and so beneficial to everyone’s health. (And if everyone read it, it might stop other people feeding your children sugar every chance they get).

I don’t hold much truck with news headlines that say this food or that food, is bad for you, or good for you one month, and vice versa the next month. I prefer to get my facts from books based on hard science, and years of research. And that’s what Fat Chance is.

In no particular order, here are just some of facts that I have learned or had confirmed by this book:

– Sugar is a poison. It’s not the type of poison that will kill you straight away. It’s worse than that. It will slowly eat away at your health, greatly increase your chance of cardiovascular disease, and ultimately decrease your life span.

– Fruit is good for you. But only as nature intended. Peel an orange, eat it, great. But even juicing it changes everything by eliminating the fibre. Then you’re just drinking sugar water, no better than a can of coke or sugared drink! Even smoothies shred the fibre too much.

– (Natural) Juice has 5.8 teaspoons of sugar per cup. Soda has 5.4

– “Real food doesn’t have or need a Nutrition Facts label. The more labels you read, the more garbage you’re buying”

– Stepping on a scale measures 4 types of weight: 1. bone, 2.Muscle 3.Subcutaneous fat (big ass, fat thighs etc) and 4.Visceral fat. Subcutaneous fat isn’t bad for your health, but Visceral fat is, this is fat around your belly and inside your organs. That’s the fat you need to lose. (If your focus is on health rather then vanity)

– Obese people should not be judged. Thinking of them as lazy over eaters is a grossly incorrect generalization. There is a vast range of health issues that makes it impossible for some people to lose weight without medical intervention specific to their body. And a vast range of societal and environmental problems that might have put them there in the first place.

– The single best thing you can do to keep healthy, is a regular routine of cardiovascular workouts. Running, cycling, swimming etc. (Note: for health & well being, not looking good).

– The only guarantee you can have that you are eating unsugared / unprocessed foods, is when you are eating food that didn’t come with a label. Real food: meat, fruit, veg.

– A calorie is NOT a calorie. This is a highly propogated myth. Some calories are not burned off as easily as others. The type of caloric intake varies greatly.

– “All successful diets share three precepts: low sugar, high fiber, and fat and carbohydrate together in the presence of an offsetting amount of fibre. Anything after that is window dressing”

– “First step in eliminating your sugar consumption is to start eliminating all sugared beverages. We were designed to eat our calories not drink them”

– Make dessert a once-weekly treat at the weekends. For you and your kids.

I’ve had a lifetime of over indulging in sugar and sugared foods. And I’ve also mostly had a sedentary life with little sports activity. And have always been *lucky* to have a metabolism that resulted in me never really getting fat. But I’m starting to almost consider that not so lucky, because I’m pretty sure that abuse has manifested itself in many other ways. Constant stomach aches and digestive problems, major fatigue issues etc, I’ve a long list of symptoms I won’ bore you with. Maybe if I had got fat, I would have cut down on sugar intake a lot sooner, and I might be healthier now.

Having said that, I’ve vastly cut out sugar recently and started exercising, and I’m definitely noticing the health benefits. And this book really drove all that home. If I could go back in time and warn my younger self about one drug to watch out for it wouldn’t be tobacco, alcohol, class A drugs or recreational drugs. It’d be sugar. It’s the one addictive, and slowly damaging drug that no one seriously talks to you about. Hopefully that will start to change.

The author’s hour and a half long presentation, which has had almost 4 million views on youtube in the header

Top 10 books of 2012

My top 10 books of the year. All audiobooks except for the Psychopath test. (Wow there’s not much between this post and last years top ten, I might just turn this into a book blog and be done with it)

10Into the Darkest Corner I still want to find a thriller that genuinely thrills me but in general I find them really disappointing, clichéd, full of plot holes, and the biggest flaw in any genre for me: inauthentic. But this was definitely one of the better ones. Authethentic, plausible, and neither cliched nor disappointing.

9. Heft Arthur opp; an obese reclusive professor. Kel Keller: a promising baseball star. And Kel’s mother Charlene; the link between the two men. A small story, finely handled.

8. The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry I’m still baffled by the clumsy start to this book but otherwise a fascinating dissection of what it really means to be a psychopath.

7. The Family Fang considering I’m a sucker for darkly comic dysfunctional families, how’s this for dysfunctional: “Child A” Annie and “Child B” Buster, serve as little more than the main props in their parent’s performance art. Unsurprisingly they have issues by the time they get to adulthood.

6. The Marriage Plot – A bit like One Day, except not shit. Actually it’s nothing like one day except that it pivots around a relationship. Recommended for fans of Franzen. They are quite similar.

5. Tell the Wolves I’m Home The thing about this book is that it’d be a great YA book. Though if it was marketed that way I never would have read it. The Hunger Games was a fun romp – but it had me rolling my eyes in lots of places where it was really dumbed down nonsense. If that’s YA I’m out. Tell the Wolves is mostly about a teenager struggling with loss, love and grief as well as the usual teenage stuff. But unlike The Hunger Games, it’s Rock Solid. No eye rolling.

4. 1Q84 – I’ve had a curious relationship with Murakami books, I wasn’t crazy about the first one but there’s something about his stories that just lure you back for more, and I’ve enjoyed each one more than the previous. But I also think 1Q84 is his most accomplished work, there’s a crazy logic in the alternate universe of 1Q84. It’s bit of a marmite book though, some people seem to hate it. I loved it.

3. People Who Eat Darkness: The Fate of Lucie Blackman True crime doesn’t get much better than this. There are so many fascinating strands to this story; the hostess culture in Japan, the exploration of how grieving parents are expected to act in the eye of the public, and of course the main crime itself involving the disappearance of Lucie Blackman

2. Skagboys  Brilliant. As good as Trainspotting, if not better. No one does it better with this kind of stuff. It was like being back with a bunch of old friends. Even scumbags like Begbie… The problem is, he’s a mate n aw. What kin ye dae?

1. Where’d You Go, Bernadette  Comedy is a funny thing(!) I usually find any books that are written for the comedy section anything but funny. I really didn’t like the comedy-book-of-the-moment “The 100 year old man who climbed out of the window”. But Where’d You Go, Bernadette was for me genuine laugh out loud funny as fuck.

I wish more books were like this. No long drawn out back story, or plodding character development. Just bam! Straight into it. A few pages in and there’s a whole world of hilarious stuff going on. This is one big passive aggressive note against the type of people who might write passive aggressive notes. Great fun, if a little far fetched in places, but it’s almost in sitcom territory, so we can give it some comedic licence. Highly recommended.

Honourable mention as I just finished it yesterday.

The Yellow Birds

Yellow birds is an American soldier’s semi-autobiographical experience of the Iraq war. That conjures up a book that generally I would have little interest in but this boy sure can write. You can easily see why he’s being compared to the likes of Cormac McCarthy:

“Clouds spread out over the Atlantic like soiled linens on an unmade bed. I knew, watching them, that if any given moment a measurement could be made it would show how tentative was my mind’s mastery over my heart. Such small arrangements make a life, and though it’s hard to get close to saying what the heart is, it must at least be that which rushes to spill out of the parentheses which were the beginning and the end of my war: the old life disappearing into the dust … ”

It’s in equal parts about the death of a friend and the death of his own youth, both killed in a senseless war. Brilliantly written.