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.