Which Came First?

The first task Martin addressed every morning was to take yesterday’s clothes out of the washing machine and put them into the tumble dryer. Then he stuffed his bedclothes into the washing machine, had a shower, brushed his teeth and got dressed into his warm cosy clothes straight out of the tumble dryer. Next, he ate an egg; soft boiled and scooped out of his favourite egg cup with his favourite spoon. This morning his egg was blue. After mealtime, he would clean up after himself, put his bedclothes into the tumble dryer and go about the rest of his routine.

His large room had four corners like most rooms. One corner contained a bed, a wardrobe, and a bedside cabinet with an alarm clock. Another corner contained a kitchenette, across from which stood a corner shower, a toilet and a sink. The living area was in the fourth corner, which consisted of a small table and chair. On the table lay Martin’s diary and pencil. He went to the living room and sat down to write in his diary;

“Today was a blue day. I washed yesterday’s red clothes, dried my blue clothes, had a shower, got dressed in my blue clothes, ate my blue egg, cleaned the kitchen, dried my bedclothes and washed the bathroom. It was a good day. Now I need to make my bed. Otherwise, where will I sleep!? Ha ha! Goodnight diary.” 

The next morning, Martin had his shower, washed his blue clothes, dried his red clothes and then got dressed. As always, two eggs sat on the kitchen floor, one blue, one red. He boiled the red egg, ate it, did his daily routine, then sat down to write in his diary; 

“Today was a red day. I washed yesterday’s blue clothes, dried my red clothes, had a shower, got dressed in my red clothes, ate my red egg, cleaned the kitchen, dried my bedclothes and washed the bathroom. It was a good day. Now I need to make my bed. Otherwise, where will I sleep!? Ha ha! Goodnight diary.” 

For as long as Martin could remember, this was how his day went. Apart from the alternately coloured days, the only deviation in his routine was how long it took him to fall asleep. It was usually only a minute or so but sometimes it took as long as five minutes. During this period, he would make a point of expressing gratitude for the choices his life provided, imagining how dull his existence would be if he had to eat the same coloured egg and wear the same coloured clothes every day. After Martin was settled into bed, he could never manage to stay awake longer than five minutes, which is a good thing as his alarm clock was set to go off two hours later. So he fell asleep counting his blessings, which didn’t take very long. 

Two hours later, his alarm clock dutifully alarmed. He did his laundry and went to the kitchen. As always there was a blue egg and a red egg sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor. Yesterday was a red day so today he picked up the blue egg and put it in the pot of water. He was already tired and ready for bed after mealtime, so he wiped the egg from his mouth, did the rest of his laundry and cleaning and then wrote in his diary. This time he wrote: 

“Today was a blue day. I washed yesterday’s red clothes, dried my blue clothes, had a shower, got dressed in my blue clothes, ate my blue egg, cleaned the kitchen, dried my bedclothes, and washed the bathroom. It was a good day. Now I need to make my bed. Otherwise, where will I sleep!? Ha ha! Goodnight diary.” 

One morning Martin felt different. He didn’t know why. He felt adventurous and reckless. It was a feeling he just couldn’t shake. He had an itch to do something unique. He went through his morning ritual on auto-pilot wondering what he could do differently without even realizing he was doing everything the same. And then he had a crazy idea. He realized the best way for him to do something different was to do something the same. He had the blue egg yesterday, and today by golly he was going to have the blue egg again! Insane. His heart started pumping wildly at the mere thought of it and he wasn’t sure if he would have the nerve. Alas, when it came to it, it was too terrifying and he didn’t follow through. But he thought about it for days. In bed every night, it was all he thought about for the whole five minutes. And then one morning he finally found a seed of courage. He quickly put on his red clothes from the tumble dryer, went to the kitchen and picked up the blue egg! As soon as he felt that cold dimpled texture in the palm of his hand, he realized there was no going back. He had a blue egg yesterday and a blue egg he would have today! He was really going to do this.

He ate that egg. 

He was disappointed. It was fun to eat a blue egg for two days in a row. It really was. But the actual act of consumption was not as exciting as the days of anticipation that came before. He even felt a pang of guilt. He sighed and went on to his usual chores, but as he approached his desk, he felt a thrill of excitement in his belly once more, as he wasn’t sure how to report this crazy day. In the end, he wrote;
     

“Today was a blue day and a red day! I got dressed in my red clothes, ate my blue egg, cleaned the kitchen, dried my bedclothes and washed the bathroom. It was a great day! Now I need to make my bed. Otherwise, where will I sleep!? Ha ha! Goodnight diary.” 

But that night in bed, he started worrying about the consequences of his actions, and for the first time in his life, he was still wide awake after a whole five minutes. His bedclothes grew warm and uncomfortable. Then ten minutes passed and he still could not sleep. He got worried about not being able to sleep and then it felt even harder to fall asleep. He started to get extremely anxious and regretted being so stupid and reckless during the day. 

Then he heard a noise from the far corner. It seemed to come from the kitchen. It was a low but sharp noise above the dim hum of the utility machines, and in the glow of their blue and red lights, he could see the remaining egg still in the middle of the kitchen floor as it was every night. Then the egg began to move. In fits and starts, it began to shake and vibrate. Then it cracked. A liquid yolk did not spill from the crack. Instead, a small yellow monster poked its head out then fully emerged and started making horrific squeaking sounds. Martin froze in terror and watched as this monster grew and grew while changing colour from yellow to red. It finally seemed to reach its full size, then looked down, spotted the fragments of eggshell and started pecking. It broke all the tiny curves of shell into edible fragments then consumed every last piece. After a few minutes, a red egg suddenly emerged from the rear of the creature, which seemed to shock this beast more than it shocked Martin. It jerked its head back, slowly looked down at the egg, and when it rested its eyes on the delivery, those eyes doubled in size and it died of fright at the sight of the egg. An instant death. 

Although Martin was still in shock himself, he was relieved to see the creature expire. Then after a few seconds of laying still on the floor, it started to shrivel up and get smaller. To follow this strange transformational act, it started to compact itself and ultimately became quite solid-looking. For the finale, it turned blue while forming the shape of a perfect egg until it sat there right beside the red egg. Just like the two eggs he awoke to every morning. The instant it had fully solidified, Martin’s alarm clock dutifully alarmed and that’s when he snapped out of his shock and that’s when he finally began to cry. 

January 2020 reads

Tales from Outer Suburbia

  • Written by: Shaun Tan
  • Format: Graphic short stories, Hardback

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I just love Shaun Tan books. Here we have more beautifully illustrated short stories with a touch of the surreal and abstract. I loved the story about xmas-like traditions, where people had begun to hang decorations on their roof satellites, alongside their most prized possession, whereupon a giant reindeer would come along during the night and take away the possession (if it smelled like a loved object) leaving the owner with a bittersweet detachment from material possession.

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Oh My God, What a Complete Aisling

  • Written by: Emer McLysaght, Sarah Breen
  • Format: Audiobook

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I don’t usually enjoy popular light reads but now and then I fancy something easy, and also occasionally find my curiosity piqued by the book of the moment, and everybody on the planet seems to love OMGWACA. To begin with, it was exactly what I expected: really on point with the Irish Cultural references which resulted in a few funny scenes. And I can see why some people would find it hilarious. But no LOLS from me. I just found it mildly amusing.

There’s not so much a plot as there is one thing after another. Aishling at a wedding, Aishling crying about her boyfriend John, Aishling on holiday, Aishling crying about John, Aishling moving to Dublin, Aishling crying about John, Aishling on another holiday, Aishling crying about John, ad infinitum.

About halfway through the book, here’s the vibe I got: Are you ever in an office canteen and there are a few people gossiping in hushed tones about some drama, and you just want to get your cup of tea and GTF out of there because you haven’t the slightest interest in that banal shite? Well that’s the vibe. I just couldn’t give a shit about Aishling’s banal dramas. There was zero depth (token tragedy doesn’t count), and no real plot, just one canteen drama after another.

And while the observant humour is mildly amusing, “Its funny cos it’s true!” stopped being funny about 10 years ago. Without a unique and wise world view, or some extra edge, observational comedy just isn’t funny enough on it’s own any more. Obviously plenty of people disagree but I can’t help thinking this is the literary equivalent of Mrs Brown’s Boys: if you like your comedy layed on thick, you’ll wet your pants. Mine are still dry though.

Overall I found it to be the light amusing read I expected but it was a one-trick-pony that got exceedingly more tedious the longer one-thing-after-another went on for.

Well – that all came out far more scathing than I expected. I hate looking like a book snob. But I’ve not much interest in being dishonest either.

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Orange: The Complete Collection, Volume 1

  • Written & illustrated by: Ichigo Takano
  • Format: Graphic novel

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This was my first Manga book. It has rave reviews but I think that’s from a young audience because the content is very YA. It’s a sweet enough story about a girl who receives a letter from her future self. But I was never fully invested. I found myself impatiently flicking through the pages and was looking forward to the end when I read the most disappointing three little words I’ve ever read in a book: “To be continued”. Argh! Not sure how I quite missed the relevance of “Volume 1” I think I was thrown by the “Complete collection”.

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Trick Mirror

  • Written by: Jia Tolentino
  • Format: Kindle

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Jia Tolentino is a very sharp insightful writer, which is instantly revealed in the first essay about the excitement of growing up with the early days of the Internet and watching it transmogrify into what we have today and all the baggage it has picked up along the way.

“Like many among us, I have become acutely conscious of the way my brain degrades when I strap it in to receive the full barrage of the internet—these unlimited channels, all constantly reloading with new information: births, deaths, boasts, bombings, jokes, job announcements, ads, warnings, complaints, confessions, and political disasters blitzing our frayed neurons in huge waves of information that pummel us and then are instantly replaced. This is an awful way to live, and it is wearing us down quickly.”


“The internet is governed by incentives that make it impossible to be a full person while interacting with it. In the future, we will inevitably be cheapened. Less and less of us will be left, not just as individuals but also as community members, as a collective of people facing various catastrophes.”

This set high expectations for me, but I didn’t quite engage as much with the subsequent essays even though the writing was at the same high bar, though the essay on the kind of Ecstasy promised by religion or chemicals was quite good too.

Most of the others, had a feminist slant. Well I mean, how can any book of essays by any female writer in the current genderpolitical climate not be set against a backdrop of feminist issues? Topics include the depiction of Heroines in fiction, the idea of the “troublesome woman” in celebrity culture, and a fantastic piece on the rise of the scammer.

Some essays sit somewhere between think-pieces and investigative journalism, particularly the piece about the university that gleams with a veneer of utopia while trying to conceal an underbelly of frat-boy gang-rape culture. The book finishes in a flourish on the subject of weddings, revealing that a lot of strongly held “old traditions” are relatively new, while also pondering the bum deal marriage can be for women. Here is another great line:

“The paradox at the heart of the wedding comes from the two versions of a woman that it conjures. There’s the glorified bride, looming large and resplendent and almost monstrously powerful, and there’s her nullified twin and opposite, the woman who vanishes underneath the name change and the veil. These two selves are opposites, bound together by male power.”

That almost seems like the definition of a trick mirror.

This book is supposed to have a theme of self-delusion. And some essays do. But it doesn’t quite hang together as a whole in the same way other essay books have done for me. It read to me as more of a greatest hits compilation than a proper album. But that doesn’t take away too much from the overall experience. Still a fine read

Goodreads

My favourite books of 2019

2018

I got lazy last year and didn’t do an end of year post even though I read (or listened to) lots of amazing books, so here’s a very quick overview: The Mindbody Prescription and The Great Pain Deception were absolutely life changing (see last post).

Donal Ryan’s From a Low and Quiet Sea was a stunning novel. Otherwise in fiction I loved The Milkman and the marmite book of the year: Normal People. I read lots of fascinating and amazingly entertaining non-fiction as well: Delusions of Gender, Smoke gets in your eyes, The Octopus, the Sea, and the deep Origins of consciousness, and the fascinating Why We Sleep.

In memoir, I loved The Trauma Cleaner, I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death, Not My Father’s Son, and of course the glorious Notes to Self.


2019

I’ve read 52 books a year for 5 years now and here are my favourites from this year. I haven’t numbered the books this time. The list may be in some slight order but not really, whatever, who cares, here are twenty great books, a mixed bag:

  • 5 Novels
  • 5 Non fiction
  • 3 memoirs
  • 2 Graphic novels
  • 2 Graphic book of short stories
  • 1 regular book of short stories
  • 1 Books of essays
  • 1 autofiction

Tatty

  • Written by: Christine Dwyer Hickey
  • Format: Kindle

Tatty by Christine Dwyer Hickey

Tatty is the nickname of a young Irish girl whose eyes we view the world through. She’s daddy’s little girl. But definitely not mammy’s. Her parents are flawed and her home life is turbulent. Her world is full of arguing parents, alcoholism, mental health issues and too many siblings. No one parent is fully blamed. And I liked the nuance. The child’s perspective is sweet and funny in its innocence, and sometimes heartbreaking but never twee. And the view of the turbulent world never approaches the realms of misery lit either. This kind of story can easily go too far into many eye-rolling territories but Tatty never did. More than anything it depicts Tatty’s family in the 70s and 80s as an almost typical, rather than unique, poor Irish family whose parents should have drank less and probably procreated less too. 

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Figuring

  • Written by: Maria Popova
  • Format: Audiobook, Non-fiction
  • Narrated by: Natascha McElhone

Figuring cover art

From the same author as the much loved Brainpicking’s Web site, Figuring is a serial biography of several women who pushed, and pushed against, the boundaries of science, literature, poetry, philosophy, women’s rights, gender, sexuality and environmentalism. Each biography would have been long enough to stand alone as a complete historical biography, yet the stories overlap and intertwine to become something broader. The writing is exquisite sentence by sentence, the opening paragraph a thing of wonder. I wasn’t fully won over by the sum of its parts. but it’s still a very worthwhile read. Figuring is essentially one very long love letter to these trailblazing (s)heroes who have a special place in Popova’s heart.

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A History of Loneliness

  • Written by: John Boyne
  • Format: Kindle, Novel 

A History of Loneliness by John Boyne

John Boyne seems to get into the odd ruckus on Twitter but there’s no denying his great writing. I’ve only read two so far and they’ve both been thoroughly entertaining. He has a great knack for seamlessy flipping between the serious and the hilarious. This is the story of the vile evil acts of the Catholic Church; my words not his, as this story is told through the eyes of one minor priest which adds a little bit of balance. I’d just as happily read a book that completely tears this institution to shreds but it’s an interesting insight to see a priest struggle with his conscience as he realizes what he has really signed up to.  

Currently going cheap on Kindle.

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Surprisingly Down to Earth, and Very Funny: My Autobiography

  • Written by: Limmy
  • Format: Audiobook, Memoir
  • Narrated by: Limmy

Surprisingly Down to Earth, and Very Funny. cover art

I’ve been a big fan of Limmy since his website popped up in 2006 with lots of great Flash games and videos. I saw his first live show in Edinburgh, and was at his first book launch, and have  enjoyed pretty much everything he’s done including his two short story collections. Thinking back on all those moments made this audiobook all the more special and enjoyable. I couldn’t put it down. Limmy has such a unique way of looking at the world and talking about his experiences. He’s not afraid to tell you about all the times he was a complete shitebag, or all the times he seriously contemplated suicide, and lots more really intimate details in between all the amazing moments in the career of someone who started making funny stuff on his homepage and ended up making funny stuff for his own BBC tv show, writing several books and being an all-around hilarious fucking legend.  

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Night Boat to Tangier

  • Written by: Kevin Barry
  • Format: Kindle

We all know Kevin Barry is a great writer and he writes great characters. These two gangsters are two of his best. They’re waiting (for Godot) to see if they can spot an absconded daughter who may be passing through this port in Tangier while reflecting on their own colourful lives.

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Daisy Jones & The Six

  • Written by: 
  • Format: Taylor Jenkins Reid
  • Narrated by: Sara Arrington, Jennifer Beals, Arthur Bishop, Fred Berman, Benjamin Bratt, Jonathan Davis, Ari Fliakos, Holter Graham, Judy Greer, January Lavoy, Robinne Lee, Peter Larkin, Henry Leyva, P.J. Ochlan, Robert Petkoff

Daisy Jones and the Six cover art

Here’s the pitch: The memoir of a band told through talking-head style interviews with all the band members. That’s it. And it works great on audio. Daisy Jones and the Six are a fictitious Fleetwood Mac style band but it’s written and performed so well, that at times I thought I was listening to a podcast interview of real musicians from a real band. 

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Problems

  • Written by: Jade Sharma
  • Format: Kindle, Fiction

Problems is about Maya, who most people will tell you is a drug addict. But she’s addicted to a lot of things: drugs, sex, love, men, sugar, drama, fucking shit up.

This is a brief snapshot of Maya’s life. She’s just about clinging to normal straight life when we meet her. She’s got a husband, a job, and a heroin habit that’s almost manageable. She’s at a crossroads. Or is it a T junction? Things could go either way. Will she go to heaven or hell? She actually goes to purgatory briefly by spending Thanksgiving with her Christian goody-two-shoe In-Laws for an extended scene (there are no chapters). We’re almost in romcom territory here before getting back to dark reality.

And although dark, Problems is also hilarious in places and thoroughly entertaining. It reminded me of Dept. of Speculation; if you were to start highlighting stand out bits, you’d just highlight the whole book.

Sadly Jade Sharma died this year. This is her only book.

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Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

  • Written by: Mary Roach
  • Format: Kindle, Non-fiction

Stiff by Mary Roach

I’ve said it before and I’ll try not say it again; Mary Roach and Bill Bryson are two people who write about interesting topics while never forgetting to be highly entertaining at the same time. (I have written entertaining many times in this list, it’s a key factor for me). I think Mary Roach could write about watching grass grow and still make it fascinating and hilarious. And when the topic is about dead bodies, humour surely helps, even though the darkly comic image of cadaver crash-test dummies almost writes itself. Like everything else in this book, the grim reality of that practice would be pure horror without a bit of gallows humour for distraction.

And after reading the chapter about converting your body to compost and using it to grow a tree, I think that’s the way to go for me! There’s only one place, so far, in Ireland that facilitate this: https://www.greengraveyard.com/

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My Struggle, Book 5

  • Written by: Karl Ove Knausgaard, Don Bartlett – translator
  • Format: Audiobook, autofiction
  • Narrated by: Edoardo Ballerini

My Struggle, Book 5 cover art

I’ve written about this amazing epic autofiction series before. I only have one more to go. I’ve been stretching it out and very much looking forward to book 6. Book 5 is mostly about his time in the writing academy alongside his usual teen-like struggles with life. 

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Driving Short Distances

  • Written & Illustrated by: Joff Winterhart
  • Format: Hardback, Graphic Novel

Lovely book about a college drop out who starts working with an older relative as they drive around various industrial estates and offices. A story of an odd  couple and their colliding worlds and their not-quite maybe-a-little bonding experience.

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Constellations

  • Written by: Sinéad Gleeson
  • Format: Hardback, Essays & Poems

Notes to Self. There I said it. Wotcha gonna do about it? It’s very hard not to compare these two books of essays from contemporary Irish female writers writing about women’s bodies, grief, pain and all the sticky bits in between. But they are only similar at a high level, it’s like comparing two novels by two irish women. So of course these two books are very different in detail but both deserving the title of one of the books of their respective years. 

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Beastie Boys Book

  • Written by: Michael Diamond, Adam Horovitz
  • Format: Audiobook
  • Narrated by: Steve Buscemi, Ada Calhoun, Bobby Cannavale, Exene Cervenka, Roy Choi, Jarvis Cocker, Elvis Costello, Chuck D, Nadia Dajani, Michael Diamond, Snoop Dogg, Will Ferrell, Crosby Fitzgerald, Randy Gardner, Kim Gordon, Josh Hamilton, Adam Horovitz, LL Cool J, Spike Jonze, Pat Kiernan, Talib Kweli, Dave Macklovitch, Rachel Maddow, Tim Meadows, Bette Midler, Mix Master Mike, NAS, Yoshimi O, Rosie Perez, Amy Poehler, Kelly Reichardt, John C. Reilly, Ian Rogers, Maya Rudolph, Rev Run, Luc Sante, Kate Schellenbach, MC Serch, Chloe Sevigny, Jon Stewart, Ben Stiller, Wanda Sykes, Jeff Tweedy and Philippe Zdar.

Beastie Boys Book cover art

This audiobook is amazingly good fun, with an insanely long cast of celebrities narrating what are mostly first-person anecdotes, which is an amusing combination; I burst out laughing when the very recognisable Steve Buscemi reminisced: “I joined the Beastie Boys in 1983”.

Most of the anecdotes, are either pretty funny, or musically interesting, and there are frequent tributes to the much loved Adam Yauch. In fact, flip that, a lot of the book seems like a swan song to Yauch, interspersed with a lot of amusing anecdotes from the other two.

It’s a chunky listen. It took me a month to get through. The sheer number of times an amazing track gets a name check will make you stop every few minutes to ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-check it out. So while the running time is nearly 11 hours, you should triple that if you’re going to check out half the music that gets a holler. There’s a Spotify playlist featuring 525 tracks mentioned weighing in at a hefty 37 hours and 18 minutes.  The audiobook is a real treat overall. Enjoy.

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Sabrina, Beverly

  • Written by: Nick Drnasno
  • Format: Hardback, Graphic Novel

Sabrina by Nick Drnaso

Beverly by Nick Drnaso

Two graphic books here by the same author. 

Sabrina is a graphic novel about the depressed boyfriend of a missing woman, who is staying with an old school friend during our very present times of fact, fiction, truth, lies, and conspiracy theories.

Although I’ve read a good few graphic novels in the last two years, what really struck me about Nick Drnaso’s books is how much he can convey with a simple image, particularly some of the images without text. Your mind tends to fill in the blanks; what a character might be feeling, or thinking, or even doing. It really makes the graphic novel a completely separate entity from books, audiobooks, or movies. It can play with the concept of show-don’t-tell on a different level.

Beverly is more of a collection of darkly comic short stories but the characters are all from the same town and sometimes connected. 

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I’m a Joke and So Are You: A Comedian’s Take on What Makes Us Human

  • Written by: Robin Ince
  • Format: Kindle, Non-fiction

I'm a Joke and So Are You: Reflections on Humour and Humanity by [Ince, Robin]

Fantastic read exploring the human condition through the experiences of what makes a comedian a comedian. I love books like this where the author takes a relatively trivial subject and immerses themselves completely and explores the vast depths of humanity while trying to connect all the dots and answer some of the bigger questions. Who am I? What am I? Why am I? I loved this book. 

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Tales from the Inner City

  • Written and painted by: Shaun Tan 
  • Format: hardback, graphic short stories

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Shaun Tan books are something else. I don’t mean that figuratively, they are something other than books. The actual artefact of Tales From The Inner City is a book sure, a book with added illustrations – but it could just as easily be the other way around. It could also work as a large-scale exhibition of his paintings with some added text beside them on the wall. His surreal but wholly accessible paintings are quite stunning, and his surreal short stories are also things of wonder. They both compliment each other perfectly. And to have them tamed into this neat little entity called a book is a beautiful thing, it really is something else.

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21 Lessons for the 21st Century

  • Written by: Yuval Noah Harari
  • Format: Audiobook
  • Narrated by: Derek Perkins

21 Lessons for the 21st Century cover art

Fascinating. Insightful. Scintillating. Terrifying. Important. Fiercely intelligent. Prescient guru fare.

(Though I suspect that a noticeably missing summary at the end of each lesson tells us this book was never conceived to be 21 discrete lessons in and that the title was most likely an afterthought. Still fantastic book though)

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Room to Dream

  • Written by: David Lynch and Kristine McKenna 
  • Format: Audiobook & Unscripted commentary
  • David Lynch and Kristine McKenna 

Room to Dream cover art

It’s a weird kind of audiobook and I don’t mean Lynchean weird. Parts of Lynch’s life are written and narrated by the journalist Kristine McKenna, and then Lynch himself intermittently talks about the same period from his perspective. The McKenna parts sound oddly reminiscent of a voiceover from a cheap daytime TV biography – but at least they’re based on written material. Whereas Lynch’s parts are clearly ad libbed; reminiscing off the top of his head.

Now I’m very fussy about the definition of an Audiobook. I don’t know why I care but I do. Audiobooks are based on the written material of books. If it’s not based on written material it’s not an audiobook. Simple. It always gets my goat when someone asks for audiobook recommendations and people suggest West Cork, or similar. West Cork is a fantastic podcast. But it’s not an audiobook. Likewise for years Ricky Gervais was number one in the audiobook charts in iTunes. It wasn’t remotely anything to do with a book. I don’t know why this winds me up but it does.

Alas, at least half of Room to Dream is based on written material. So it passes. But it not only passes, I would say that Lynch’s ad hoc contributions are far more entertaining than the written material. ( Though I am confused about the whole process of writing the book – did the audiobook come first and then someone wrote down Lynch’s dialogue?).

Anyway…

Once I got past my various reservations, I just couldn’t get enough of this book. I just love listening to someone being so passionate about creativity, and Lynch is clearly a creative genius. And a creative addict. He just spends all his time creating. When he’s not directing, he’s creating most of the props for his sets. And when he’s not making movies or tv shows, he’s creating art of one kind or another. And I loved the stories about how his creativity manifested in various movie scenes.

I loved it. But totes jels. I would love to jack in the day job and just spend all day living the art life; creating art and music (again).

I also spent that whole month or so catching up on some of his work that I had not previously got around to watching. So it was a fantastically entertaining Lynch month overall.

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Boulevard Wren and Other Stories

  • Written by: Blindboy Boatclub
  • Format: Hardback

According to modern sleep experts, our minds process our thoughts while we sleep, converting short-term memories into long-term memories, and processing our fears, anxieties, worries and other emotions from the day, essentially providing free therapy while we sleep. This mostly happens unconsciously, with occasional leaks into our consciousness which manifest as dreams.

I think Blindboy taps into the same experience, by absorbing our fears and anxieties at a cultural level and expressing them in surreal dreamlike fantasies which process those emotions in a way that regular straight fiction can’t quite express. Just like June Caldwell’s abstruse rage and Eimear McBride’s spiky irregular language expresses life’s anger and frustrations in a way that standard prose can’t quite touch, Blindboy’s imagination performs dream therapy on our existential angst, our environmental worries, and our everyday anxieties: like the OCD teenage boy who worries that his ardent chicken-choking is causing catastrophes, or the pensioners who become hypnotized by a dead dog and a bucket of maggots, or the artist so bereft by comparisons to her social media peers that she conjures up Donald Duck as an Airbnb landlord in an unconscious effort to create her best work.

I don’t want to give the impression that these are all fantasy dream stories. A good few are straight stories (like the beautifully touching “Gruyère in the Desmond” about a group of middle-aged men who meet in the pub to drink beer, eat cheese and inadvertently save each other from depression and suicide), but even the more fantastical stories are all cemented in realism and then nudged towards the edges of surrealism, but I think they all tap into the same unconscious ennui that our minds do when we sleep.

Collective Jungian Dream Therapy© aside, these are just great stories. When I was reading “Below in Joey Ramone”, about four isolated brothers who have formed a punk cargo-cult tribe with their own language and rituals, I was thinking “Fuck me, this is deadly”. I didn’t care how it ended or what happened on the next page. I was just loving every bit of the story as I read it. That’s a sign of great story-telling, and so rare. It reminded me of the best book ever: The Wasp Factory

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Lost Connections

  • Written by: Johann Hari
  • Format: kindle

Mental health pre-amble

Before I get to the book, divulge me in some thoughts on mental health that have been on my mind this year. In the last couple of years my mental health has wavered a few times, never veering into serious mental illness, just something I needed to keep an eye on, and work on. I saw a therapist, I meditated daily, and practiced mindfulness in other forms. I journalled. I tried to get out into nature more. I got out for a long walk every day. I read various self-help books and did lots of running. All this stuff really helped.  

But I’ve noticed the occasional backlash on social media against some of these methods in the last year or so. There are a few different camps:

  1. Mentally well people who think it’s all a load of nonsense but don’t realise what a PRIVILEGE it is to be in a position to mock these mental health tools. 
  2. There’s a difference between people who use these tools to look after their mental health and people who have a diagnosed mental illness and need medication. Some of these people seem to have little time for non-medicinal mental health practices. But they seem to think this gives them license to slag off other mental health tools, despite their proven efficacy.    
  3. Lastly is the more valid gang of people who slag of the money-making corporate wellness industry. And sure, there is plenty of reason to be cynical here. But some of these people seem to rub their hands in glee when they come across any negative research about meditation or mindfulness, and the snide comments that accompany these comments often show their true colours as being really just a subset of the problematic first two gangs. 

I try  not to be an offended humourless git. But this gets my goat. I mostly keep it to myself. But I’m going to call this one more time. And then I’m going to stay Schtum on the subject once and for all: If you take glee in slagging off mindfulness, meditation, journalling etc, maybe have another think about the millions of people this shit genuinely helps from going over the edge, and have a think about your own privilege or slippy edge of superiority. 

There. Off my chest. Won’t mention it again.

The Book (Well, sorry, a bit more preamble that’s more related to the book)

I grew up with a mother diagnosed as manic depressive / bipolar who was basically a medication guinea-pig and also had electroshock therapy, and in her the only result I saw was a growing deterioration in brain function, though I still grew up arguing that depression is simply a chemical imbalance, nothing else. Then I had a severe anxiety disorder in my twenties. And my daughter has Selective Mutism / general anxiety. 

For a good few years now I’ve long had the gnawing feeling my daughter and many like her, an exponential number of young people with mental health problems, are more a product of a society that has lost the power of community and local family, and playing outdoors, and nature.

The Book (Definitely the book now)

I no way does Hari does want to banish the idea that for some people there can be a specific medical issue with their brain that needs to be fixed with medication. But – he argues that brain malfunction is just one of many factors of mental health issues or mental ilness. One of 9 causes. 

The problem is that because mental health medication is an €89 billion industry, the chemical solution is way overhyped and has dominated and quashed all other factors and solutions. Hari presents a longer list of factors that he’s come across in his research while talking to doctors, experts, researchers and patients:

Some credible scientists argue they [antidepressants] give some temporary relief to a minority of users, and that shouldn’t be dismissed. The false story is the claim that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain and that the primary solution for most people is a chemical antidepressant.

Hari discusses nine disconnections in this book:
1. Disconnection from meaningful work
2. Disconnection from other people
3. Disconnection from meaningful values
4. Disconnection from childhood trauma
5. Disconnection from status and respect
6. Disconnection from the natural world
7. Disconnection from a hopeful or secure future
8. And 9. Real role of genes and brain changes

There is much more research out there to show that modern society, traumas and general life struggles contribute much more to our mental state. And although medication might help a small percentage, most research indicates that it is short term, or doesn’t work at all, or it doesn’t work as well as a lot of non-medication-based approaches. This is actually long-known by most experts. But it’s hard for them to get heard.

The World Health Organization—the leading medical body in the world—summarized the evidence well in 2011 when they explained: “Mental health is produced socially: the presence or absence of mental health is above all a social indicator and therefore requires social, as well as individual, solutions.”

There are many reasons why a pill has become the easiest way to patch up mental health issues. But in most cases, it’s just a patch. On the whole modern society is much more imbalanced than our brains. We’re not designed to work 40 hour weeks in sometimes politically toxic environments, with shrinking communities, distant families, and spending more time looking at a screen than in nature or with friends, while continually being bombarded with bad news.   

Hari is careful to back up every chapter with peer-researched papers and interviews with plenty of mental health experts and patients.

I’m not sure I’ve done the book much justice here but he presents a very strong case for looking at all areas of our life and fixing those connections at a personal level, and hopefully at a social level. 

It’s a fascinating read. And thoroughly enjoyable too. Highly recommended. I think it’s the best book I’ve read on mental health. And my book of the year.

Get it

I want to re-iterate that for a lot people medication, is the best solution, and no one is trying to banish that idea. The issue is that it’s certainly not the best solution for everyone.


“A little more conversation, a little less action”

Two of the best movies I’ve seen this year were coincidentally “dramaheist” movies. But as these things tend to go, that may be more zeitgeist than coincidence. I loved American Animals earlier in the year; a student art-heist movie, which brought some fresh blood to the true crime genre by frequently cutting away to talking-head documentary scenes of the true-life subjects.

Last night I saw Widows. The premise is about a bunch of women recently widowed by a robbery-gone-wrong involving their criminal husbands, which forces them into a situation where they have to contemplate taking on a heist themselves. Now imagine this was made by the creators of The Wire; characters you actually care about playing this out as a proper gritty drama. It’s not by David Simon but with Steve McQueen and Gillian Flynn at the helm, the calibre isn’t far off.

Back to American Animals. There’s one scene in where they completely take the piss of an Ocean’s Eleven-style heist; stylishly choreographed action sequences, perfectly synced to phat beatz and shit punchlines. But it’s a brief fantasy scene before reality kicks back in and we see what it might actually be like for regular people to attempt a crime like this.

This scene reads like the funeral of shallow Hollywood cheesefests; all style and no content-that-anyone-actually-cares about, and the birth of an era where even action heist movies are played out with authentic drama and real bite. It’s also a final nail in the coffin of men-led action-movie yawn-a-thon. The actors playing the widows outshine the husbands so much that it’s actually laughable. It may even be deliberate. It’s like the men are in a different movie, chewing the scenery, awful accents, and stuck in a time warp of crap action movies, leaving the finer acting to the leading ladies. More of this please. All of this.

The Glistening

My name is Cathy Grogan; not a typical vampire name but I try to blend in. Tryzkandelle ile Zlatok is the name I was born with. I’ve had many names since. But Cathy Grogan is the name I’ve chosen for this stage in my life. A life in which I’ve continually had to adapt to survive. I’ve had to learn new languages. I’ve had to teach myself to speak with perfect accents. I’ve had to accustom myself to many dress codes and fashions. That’s the easy stuff.

But here’s what I want to share with you; one of the greatest secrets about being a vampire is that vampire laws mutate. They’re not even laws. They have more in common with an obsessive-compulsive disorder than they do with laws of vampiric nature. Sure; we need to drink human blood to survive. That fact of life never changes. It’s the societal laws that change. At one stage we couldn’t enter a home without being invited. This was more reflective of a time when it would be unthinkable for a regular person to enter a home without being invited. This is a custom we fixated upon for some time and culturally passed on through the generations. We could, of course, enter a home without being invited but the stress and agitation this caused, would permeate every cell in our body. The stress was so extreme that the physical response would go way beyond a fast heartbeat and shortness of breath. Every cell in our body would agitate, an internal sensation which, in levels of discomfort, far exceeds physical pain. This stress would manifest itself physically in myriad ways including the seepage of blood from our eye sockets. As society changed, so did our attachment to this one rule. It took many generations to change but eventually, it ebbed away like a slowly receding echo. The closest vampire law to this in modern times is that it’s practically impossible for a vampire to visit a house unannounced, without first calling ahead, or sending a text. Such as it is that vampire laws are closely linked to societal norms.

Of course, we have many other laws that don’t closely relate to typical human social norms. It’s hard to know how these came to be; Vampires cannot drive a car unless they are in a country whose motorists drive on the left-hand side of the road and we cannot sleep unless we have seen three magpies the previous day (without actively seeking them out). It’s hard to communicate that these ever-evolving rules are neither superstitions nor OCD tics. Nor are they tacit laws. With vampires, these traits evolve and devolve like an antibiotic resistance to bacteria. They become embedded in our DNA and we have no control over their development or cessation. They start as a social meme and then become embedded in our physiology. Ok, some of them start with regular superstitions or OCD traits, or social codes, but once vampires get infected, these become hardcoded, and as discussed can sometimes have very real physiological effects.

The worst example of this is in modern years is something we call The Glistening; the autonomic extension of our fangs. We once had complete control over extending our blood-sucking teeth. We could extend and retract them at will. But now they can only extend if a human gives us a particular request. A vocal request that has a physical response. This request is to smile. When we are sequestered to smile by a human, we cannot refuse, but the unfortunate side effect is that our smile bears our teeth, and then our fangs extend against our will. This is a very modern anomaly. It became imbibed in our DNA at an alarmingly rapid rate; just under a decade. Just as we cannot seek out magpies, we cannot trick people into telling us to smile. In fact, it is very hard to Glisten under any circumstances other than walking down a street, and a complete stranger giving us this instruction without the slightest hint of invitation on our part.

This is perilous to our breed. If a stranger does not tell us to smile, we don’t Glisten. If we don’t Glisten, we cannot feed. If we cannot feed, we die. Male vampires are a dying breed. There aren’t many of us left. The continuation of our race depends on a particular type of man, himself a dying breed; one who is attached to stereotypical notions of his gender. These men are becoming harder and harder to resist. For example, I only need to feed every 4 or 5 days. I fed yesterday but just couldn’t help myself today. I was running late for a movie that I really wanted to see and I was becoming quite agitated. I was going past a block of shops which had a bus stop right in front of the shops. It’s an awkward manifestation of bad planning. The people waiting at the bus stop inadvertently block the path. There was a sole man at the bus stop doing just this; somehow blocking the whole path just by himself. He saw me coming and made no effort to let me pass. Then as I tried to get by, stressed and agitated, he said: “Fuck’s sake love, a smile wouldn’t kill you! G’wan gimme a smile”.

I did as requested. I showed him my teeth, and then my beautiful glorious special teeth, my shards of sustenance. The last smile he would ever see made his own own smile disappear so quickly, it was like it never existed. In a blink, I had him dragged behind the shops, and though I wasn’t even hungry, within minutes I had completely drained his body of blood. Like my old friend Zlotan used to say in his later years “Never pass a toilet without using it, and never ever waste a Glistening”.

So gentlemen, never change. Please. Keep telling us to smile.

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.

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.