Tuesday, February 22, 2011

What I'm reading, 21/02/2011 and what are YOU reading?

*Note: In hastily grabbing photos of book covers for this post, I stupidly forgot which URLs they came from and since anyone book cover may have a bajillion pictures online, I cannae find which ones they are.  For this, I'm horribly sorry, but none of them were taken by me at all.

Since I got into school, I've been trying to go into reading overdrive.  What is frowned upon in the working world as possibly frivolous and taking time away from work or reading *important* things like the newspapers and official documents is lauded and rewarded here.  ("Lauded and rewarded"!  Try saying that five times fast.)

I already do a fair amount of reading from the syllabus, so in my spare time, I try for a bigger range of books that still capture my interest.  It's not exactly a very intellectual list, indeed, my reading tastes tend to hover in the Young Adult category and I suspect they will for a long time yet.  Who cares?! 

I just thought I'd introduce (or talk about, if you already knew them) three books I'm reading now or have recently finished.  And in the spirit of exchange, I would ask:

Do you guys have any books at all that you would like to recommend? 

I am open to trying almost anything!  Anyroad:

1)  Confessions of a Conjuror, Derren Brown (just finished)

I have recently become obsessed with Derren Brown (if you don't share this proclivity, feel free to scroll away right now).  I think a lot of my love for him lies in the fact that I am uber interested in psychology and anything that has to do with debunking woo and/or the making of "fake" woo (does that sentence make any sense at all?).

So Derren's methods of cold-reading, supposed mind-reading, hypnosis and so on are deeply, deeply interesting to me in how they are possibly done and what this says about human psychology.  He is one performer who has perfected his technique to a fascinating degree and his performances never fail to thrill me.  (That he is rather good-looking doesn't hurt.)

Another huge chunk of my love for him is something completely different: apart from being hugely talented, he is hugely funny.  I am a sucker for funny.  I will go all lengths for funny (ask the D).  And when I read Derren's first book, Tricks of the Mind, purely in a testing the water kind of way, I discovered that not only is he extremely intelligent, but he has an engaging sense of humour which waves pretty close to my length.

Confessions is no different.  It isn't about how he does what he does (you're better off reading Tricks for that and see if you don't come away amazed and jumping to try "hypnosis") but more like little anecdotes about his life and his observations of people.  The latter is completely fascinating.  As someone who people watches obsessively and tries very hard to understand what makes them tick, I found myself nodding in agreement and wonder with several of his observations including things like extremely detailed accounts of how people behave in lifts, how people behave with strangers, how people are enamoured with what comes off their bodies.  And I feel there's no surprise that he's so good at what he does, he has to know human reaction and thinking pretty well to do it.

The book is written in a meandering, stream of consciousness way which can be quite heavy, so if you're not a Derren fan and you don't care to know how he thinks, don't read it.  I, conversely, was quite excited by his accounts of lots of different kinds of human behaviour in instances in his life where he observed himself performing said idiosyncracies and the book just made me aware of a whole microcosm of the thoughts and semiotics we employ. 

Derren seems to know what his fans want more of and has set out to provide us with just that.

2) The White Queen, Philippa Gregory (about 78% in)

I watched The Other Boleyn girl with a friend or summat (Diothman, was it you??) a little while ago and I wasn't particularly swayed by the story or the execution (of the story, not Anne Boleyn) but on a youtube recommendation, I decided to pick up The White Queen.

This book gives me mixed feelings.  To start with, the writing style is not the best - I could do without a lot of the repetitions and reiterations, such as the oft repeated fact that the King's brother George is a turncoat, a phrase which must've appeared 30 times by now.  The story is also occasionally plodding and meandering and you feel like one war blends into another with the descriptions and thoughts of each feeling quite similar. 

That said, I should now probably tell you about the story.  It's a historical novel in 15th century England which follows a woman called Elizabeth Grey whose family once supported the Lancastrian side in the War of the Roses (if you don't know what that is, don't worry, I didn't either).  She is seen by the York King Edward (this is after the Lancestrian King Henry is toppled) and it's basically about their marriage, their rise to power and the ensuing fight for them to keep the throne.

Despite all this book's faults, one thing it had going for it is that the history of England is absolutely enthralling.  There's so much plotting and intrigue and murdering and drama that you can't help but wonder if it's all made up.  I'd always wanted to know more about Inklund (seeing as I'm now here) and this book made understanding the War of the Roses a piece of cake.  Probably not entirely accurate, but in essence, there.

One of it's main faults is that I don't quite care for the heroine, Elizabeth, in fact, she is quite nasty and I find myself hoping she'll be quickly done away with and I feel the same about many of the characters.  What keeps me turning the page is wanting desperately to know how it all ends because the story takes so many twists and turns. 

I'm not done with it yet, so the best may be yet to come (grammar, grammar) but for now, my summary is: if you want a book with characters that you are going to love and care for and beautiful literature, this isn't it.  If you want an easy-reading historical novel with plenty of spice and intrigue and you're really interested to understand the War of the Roses, then dig right in!

3) Stories, edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio (about 50% in as it's a whacking great book)

I am a short story lover.  Particularly, I am a weird short story lover.  I love, love, love Roald Dahl's short stories.  I cannot imagine how a writer has so much skill that he can write an entire story that keeps you on tenterhooks the whole time and then introduce the most major plot element in the FREAKIN' LAST LINE that turns the story a whole different way and that you never ever saw coming (SEE The Way Up To Heaven in Kiss Kiss).  (I enjoy Jeffrey Archer's short stories for the same-ish reason but to a lesser extent.)

Kim Spyke recommended this and when I heard that Neil Gaiman (of Coraline and Neverwhere genius) and Al Sarrantonio had teamed up to put together an Anthology of short stories that seemed to include weird fiction in one way or another, I jumped at it.  Nothing is more satisfying than a beautifully crafted, often horrifying and titillating work of fiction that you can read in one sitting and that stays with you.  And this book promises over 20 such pieces.

Well, okay.  Let's say that about half of them (so far) really are that good.  In my opinion, there are some that have good ideas in theory but are not terribly well written (Wildfire in Manhattan), some that are completely forgettable (Juvenal Nyx) and some which just confound me as to why they are there because... they don't seem like complete stories and you're kind of left asking: what's the point (Goblin Lake)?   (I should point out at this juncture that opinions will likely vary widely on this and you may love the stories I didn't and vice versa, so you should really give them all a chance because my thoughts are obviously not definitive.)

The book is well worth it, though, just for the stories that work.  Gaiman's own piece The Truth Is A Cave In Black Mountains is quite wonderful and chilling, written in his typical old-fashioned story-telling style.  Joyce Carol Oates, whom I have never read, turns out this marvellous piece - "Fossil Figures" about two not-quite-normal brothers.  There's one by Jodi Picoult called "Weights and Measures" which I found absolutely heart-breaking.  I read it to Anjuly and Shriya when we were stranded in Paris and they agreed.  And the opener, Roddy Doyle's intriguing "Blood" is enough to make you want to keep going through the rest of the stories.  (Also "The Stars Are Falling" is rather wonderful.)

All in, I think the magic of a book like this is you can pick it up when you want, stop when you want and skip around as you want for each little piece and wading through all the ones you don't like will inevitably lead you to some that you do and that will stay with you - as shivery, creepy little short stories are wont to do - for a long, long time.  

If you're still with me, please tell me, because I'm always looking out for more: What are you guys reading right now and/or do you have any reading recommendations?

I'm thinking of going next for The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund De Waal... I'll let you know!


Adam said...

I do enjoy a well written novel; but can't get my hands off of different fashion magazines...what do I do?!

beckles said...

I'm not much of a reader, as you know...but I feel it a burning necessity to mention two books that I would read more than just once (that's huge...cause it means it's as addictive as the dictionary and Google put together but better).

First would be Kirsten Cashore's Graceling. Don't be fooled by the swashbuckling seduction of fast-paced adventure, this book is at heart a love story. But if you ever wanted to know how your main character can suck your audience into a story, hook, line and sinker, Cashore will show you how in the most effortless way possible.

Second, Andrej Sapkowski's The Last Wish (the English translation). There is no real over-arcing story to this one but snippets of life as a genetically-mutated assassin/monster-slayer is far beyond interesting. Dialogue and action-sequences ruled almighty in this book (the situations he finds himself in are also rather out-of-this-world). (Also there are sequels to this book, which I am hunting down...)

The book I am currently getting into is Eon: Dragoneye Reborn. I opened the cover last night...I'll get a little further tonight, I'm sure. I'll let you know how it goes.

yiqin; said...

I havent read any books for so long.


I'm not English or American but I'm trying this new thing lately: reading english novels. I've read Confessions of a shopaholic lately (never seen the movie) and now I'm reading Sorrows of an American by Siri Hustvedt. And I like it this far :)

Shoe said...

@ Adam - Hahaha nothing wrong with that at all, I think fashion magazines are wonderful, particularly those which focus on fashion and none of that melodramatic bullshit!

@ Beck - DOOD those recommendations sound great! Thank you so much! I am particularly excited about the second one as the first one sounds like great fantasy but I am not really one for love stories per se. I'm more interested in other parts of people's lives.

But The Last Wish sounds amazing, I am totally going to get it, as believe it or not, it's available on Kindle!

First, I have to finish David Sedaris' Me Talk Pretty One Day, which I am halfway through, and China Mieville's Kraken, which the author has just signed for me! WHEE!!

Thank you for the recommendations, and also, how can you say you're not much of a reader? You're more of a reader than loads of people I know.

Shoe said...

@ Mixxed Culture - Thank you so much for your comment! I've read three books in the Shopaholic series and I really love it! It's totally easy to relate to Becky, isn't it? I really laughed out loud at some points, like the bit where she imagined herself winning the lottery and so on.

Sorrows of an American sounds really interesting, I might try that one soon!

Larissa said...

hey i'm blogstalking you!
did you make it through kraken? i need motivation to keep going....

beckles said...

LOL. I get you. I too cringe at the idea of a soppy love story but Graceling is not like that. It's hard to explain...it's a love story when you whittle down to it's essence but it's not written like one. If you felt LOTR was a gay love fest, then this book is not for you either...if you didn't, then this book is worth a read.

Also, Eon is turning out to be quite interesting. It's not a visual book by any way, shape or form but it's creating remarkable images with minimalistic effort. It's interesting and lets the imagination run wild. It would probably make an awesome film.

Shoe said...

@ Larissa - Hey! Are you the Larissa I know? (I think I only know one!) Yeah I'm still reading it, about one third in and I'm enjoying it, but I could be biased because I'm kind of obsessed with squids! :P

@ Beckles - HAHAHAH oh dear, unfortunately I did feel LOTR was a gay love fest! But I should try Graceling, I keep hearing things about it, not just from you.

What's Eon about??

Larissa said...

yes, i think it's me you're thinking of. hmm conceptually that was a tricky sentence... i know right, giant squid, what's not to like? but it's so....big.... sigh. i'm just going to have to persevere...

Shoe said...

Hahaha so we know each other through the same dodgy guy?

It's funny I would not have imagined you as someone who liked big squids! But yeah I'm on Chapter 34 now... and it's not going too badly! Once you get in to the story it's pretty good :)

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