jazzy_dave: (bookish)
Iain Banks "The Wasp Factory (Abacus)




Do not really know what to think of this book. It is very creative, but I somehow felt that it lacked something driving the story forward and I did not get drawn into the action, despite all the good things I have heard about it. Maybe another time.

Frank lives with his father on a small island in Scotland. He mounts animal skulls on poles, embeds wasps in candle wax, hunts rabbits with a flame thrower and keeps the skull of his enemy, Old Saul, in a bunker. The island is his domain and he rules it like a god. Now his brother, Eric, who sets dogs on fire, has escaped from his asylum and is on his way home.

Frank's a monster, a fledgling serial killer who capriciously decided on a different career track after his first three victims. His rituals and his ceremonies and his totemic objects make sense of the world and make sense of his own mind. His voice is sane, articulate, witty and intelligent. He uses it to describe his odd activities, makes them seem strange, unhealthy, perhaps, but essentially harmless. Then he seamlessly uses that same voice to describe catapulting small animals into river mud, the murder of his brother and two cousins or his attitude to women. One clings to the voice as a sign of potential redemption, but redemption is something you do, not something you are, and Frank is utterly aware of what he is and of what he has done. Or so he thinks.


The writing was very good, and the atmosphere was very engaging. I loved the way the suspense built as the story unfolded. I liked the descriptions of ceremony and obsession. It was intense at times and I found much of it to be disturbing. But the way the story fell apart at the end made it seem a little like a cheap slasher film. At first I was turned off by what I felt was shock tactics. Then I was convinced that it was justified, being part of a bigger meaning. By the end I'm not sure if it was just violence porn or not,much like I felt about "American Psycho".

I found the ending to be really unsatisfying. Mostly I thought "And?..." I understand what he was trying to do, and can somewhat appreciate it, but I would have liked it a lot more if it had been executed less clumsily. It almost felt like someone else had come in to finish the last part of the book and didn't really know how the story went. It's a weird combination of not tying up all the loose ends and over-explaining the thoughts and rationale of the main character that seemed out of step with the rest of the book.

So, in my final estimation, not a great read at all, and hence i will try and stick to his science fiction in the future.



jazzy_dave: (bookish)
Henry Jacoby - "House and Philosophy :Everybody Lies" (J.Wiley)




Students of philosophy and fans of House alike are sure to relish this analysis of the popular television series. While philosophy texts may leave readers cold, this book brings the work of Sartre, Nietzsche, and Socrates to life by applying them to America's crankiest doctor.

It is written at an introductory level for educated persons or undergraduates so you will not necessarily discover anything profound about philosophy but you will find an interesting application of philosophy about a hit TV show, in particular the acerbic, but in some ways lovable, Gregory House, M.D.
jazzy_dave: (bookish)
Paul Rees - "Robert Plant :A Life" (Harper Collins)




This is a pretty straightforward account of the life of Robert Plant, front man for Led Zeppelin and a solo artist in his own right.

The book begins with a bit of Robert's background, his parents, school, influences and his attitude during those days.

Robert's teen years, his discovery of Elvis and the blues, his first group, how he met Bonzo and the formation of Led Zeppelin.

Of course, the author takes us inside the group's rocky beginnings to the peak of their success as a band, to the incredible tragedies that struck one right after another.
Once the group disbanded, Plant found he had a whole second career as a solo artist. Then once more he found himself walking in the ever present shadow of Led Zeppelin. Sometimes, Robert gave in to the pressure and sometimes he ran away from many request and offers regarding a reformation of the group.

But, Robert seems capable of finding a niche for himself repeatedly. His work with Alison Kraus is especially impressive.

As for Robert's personal life, I admit I knew very little. Robert's personality, even as a boy, was filled with confidence, bordering on cocky. As he became successful in his career that part of him became even more pronounced.

Robert's love life has been a little complicated as well. Robert' escapades were typical of many rock stars, especially on tour, but when he was not touring, he seemed to have a good solid marriage. However, there were some rather strange happenings, even while he was married, that would raise eyebrows even today.

Robert still maintains a larger than life personality and may always carry with him a piece of his "Rock God" status. I think now he seems to have found some stability, both in his career and in his personal life.

This was an informative book and an introspective look into the private life of a rock star. I admire his ability to try new things and to make mistakes. His career after Led Zeppelin was up and down, but he has had much more longevity than many other musicians of that era. I think some of that success comes from a willingness to take risk, and some of it goes back to all that confidence.

A good read.
jazzy_dave: (bookish)
Helen Macdonald "H is For Hawk" (Penguin Books)





Helen Macdonald, a skilled falconer, is devastated by the sudden death of her father. To drown her grief, she decides to take on the challenging task of training a goshawk, a particularly difficult hawk to train. In doing so, she comes across her old copy of the book [The Goshawk] by T. H. White (who also wrote [The Sword in the Stone] and [The Once and Future King]) and while reading it discovers the flawed man who couldn't possibly be expected to train the goshawk he acquired because of the emotional scars that he's suffered since childhood. The book moves forward through these two threads: Helen's training of Mabel, her goshawk and T. H. White's story.

To say that Macdonald's writing is exquisite just doesn't do it justice. It's incredibly beautiful and goes a long way in expressing her difficulty in getting through the very dark days when nothing seems to be going right.

"There is a time in life when you expect the world to be always full of new things. And then comes a day when you realise that is not how it will be at all. You see that life will become a thing made of holes. Absences. Losses. Things that were there and are no longer. And you realise, too, that you have to grow around and between the gaps, though you can put your hand out to where things were and feel that tense, shining dullness of the space where the memories are." (Page 171)

Memoir, natural history, meditation on life and death and absolutely wonderful. Very highly recommended.
jazzy_dave: (bookish)
Karen Blixen "Out Of Africa" (Penguin Modern Classics)



I have mixed feelings about this author's memoir of her time on a coffee farm in the Ngong hills, Kenya in the early 1900's. A non-chronological telling of many tales from her time in Africa and finally about her bittersweet departure. Mostly beautifully wriiten, the prose is very evocative of the land, although at times trending toward mawkish and overly mystical.

It is written during the time of colonialism and Ms. Blixen is quite paternalistic toward 'the coloured races". While I have no doubt she loved and respected the Kenyan people - frankly, many of her comments were clearly racist by today's standards. I am also troubled by her attitude toward the animals. In one breath she lauds the majesty of the elephant, the giraffe, the lion. The next, seemingly without remorse, she shoots said lion, describes how it falls, skins it and then proceeds to toss back some wine and dates - supremely happy with life. Oh and by the way, this lovely skin will make a great cape for Lord Hoity-Toity. There are many such scenes that were almost unbearable for me to read.

Overall, this was a worthy read. I am left with some conflicting emotions about the author for sure. And I can't say I always found this an enjoyable or engaging read - but in the end quite powerful and sad.
jazzy_dave: (bookish)

Stephen Alford "The Watchers : A Secret History of the Reign of Elizabeth I" (Penguin)





An interesting and engrossing book detailing the activities of the network of spies and informers, the ‘Watchers’ of the title, set up and run by Walsingham, Essex, Burleigh and Robert Cecil to protect Elizabethan society from the catholic threat. Alford cleverly illustrates the perceived magnitude of the threat when he describes an imagined assassination attempt on Elizabeth by catholic agents and the ensuing chaos when she dies from her wounds.

Alford concentrates on the ordinary men in the network, the ones recruited and paid ad hoc – many ended up in debt - the double and, in one case, triple agents, collecting information and sending it back, by letter, to their masters. He details how letters were intercepted, decrypted, and sent on their way – a device used most famously to break the Babington Plot and to force the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots – how torture was used for force confessions, and how catholic spies were become double agents.

Its easy to draw parallels between those Watchers and the recent revelations of the lengths today’s Elizabethan watchers will go to in order to protect society and there are lessons here - the manipulations and use of entrapment in the Babington Plot is a good example - are a timely reminder that we should also consider just how far we want the state to go to preserve our way of life. Thought provoking.
jazzy_dave: (bookish)
Kurt Vonnegut "Slaughterhouse 5" (Vintage)




This is one of those books that everyone must read. I just regret that it took me so long, especially as it is an easy read and short. But in it simplicity, it is deep. On the top, it looks to be a science fiction novel about a man adrift in time - going back and forth in his timeline, experiencing each moment out of order with continuity. On the other hand, this could be a book about a man whose experiences with war made him so unhinged, that he's living in a world of his making. Either way you take it, or both ways, the story is profound.

In fact you could sum this up as the absurdity of war, the absurdity of the world and the people in it. Time travel and extraterrestrials have nothing on the absurdity of us.
jazzy_dave: (bookish)
Noam Chomsky "The Essential Chomsky" (The New Press)







"The Essential Chomsky" is a collection of 25 pieces of writing from Noam Chomsky which covers a critical review of "Verbal Behaviour" by B. F. Skinner published in 1959 in the journal "Language" to Chomsky's afterword from "Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy" from 2006. Chomsky is best known in two areas, one being his career as a linguist, and the other for his outspoken liberal views in which he holds the United States and the West to the same standard which others hold the rest of the world, and there are examples of both contained in this collection.

Chomsky's skillful dissecting of Skinner's work clearly demonstrates the way Chomsky's mind works as well as the thoroughness with which he examines every subject. It also is a good choice because one avoids any political bias when reading it. With his political pieces, of course such emotional attachments to one's position exist, and so it would be much more difficult to set a baseline with one of those pieces.

When looking at the political pieces, Chomsky uses the same logic and thorough examination tactics that he used in his review, and that he also brings to the other writings on linguistics, with varying levels of effectiveness. For example, his brief look at the war crimes committed by the Allies in World War II fails to work for me in some of key areas: he seems to ignore the fact that there are issues with almost all tactics used in war, and the inherent immorality of war; he fails to deal with the reality that
Germany and Japan were both trying to develop nuclear weapons and so there was a need to end the war before they were successful; he fails to deal with the reality that Japan was teaching their "civilians" to fight against the invaders, which then calls into question whether or not they would be considered "civilians" or "enemy combatants".

That being said, I believe he is right to discuss these issues, because tactics like firebombing, and using nuclear weapons should never go unquestioned, and while one may be able to justify some events, other events may be questionable. Dresden in particular is one event which has caused great debate over the years, and undoubtedly still will for some time to come.


Chomsky's more thorough look at Vietnam and events since then is far more devastating to the perception of the U.S. and the West than the discussion of World War II. Chomsky meticulously looks at the statements made by our leaders as to why we were involved in these conflicts, and systematically eliminates those which can be shown to be false, leaving behind a rather unappealing reality of what has motivated the U.S. government over the years. Of course, one has to read these sections carefully as well, but here Chomsky offers alternative behaviors which may have had a significant impact on the situation in the world today.

The linguistic sections are also quite good, but many of them are fairly advanced and in some cases require re-reading to fully comprehend the discussion. "Language and the Brain", for example, is a wonderful look at what is perhaps the most amazing function of the brain, i.e. the capacity to take a grammar and to utilize it unlimited ways to communicate with others. Even if you don't like Chomsky's very liberal views on politics, it is articles like this that make reading this book worthwhile.

Whether you are interested in his works on Linguistics, or those of a political nature, Chomsky is fairly consistent in providing a dispassionate discussion of the subject. Of course, his political views might irritate or even infuriate the reader at times, but he never relies on personal attacks or other cheap tactics and instead he stays focused on the subject under discussion. I have always enjoyed reading Chomsky, because he often challenges my views, and forces me to rethink my positions to make sure they have a solid rational foundation and are not built on emotion or personal biases.

This is a very good book, but of course as it provides a little bit on a large variety of subjects, it doesn't have the depth on any particular subject. Still, it does give the reader an indication of where to go for more with regards to the pieces provided, and then also includes a good bibliography of Chomsky's works.


jazzy_dave: (bookish)
Tracy Chevalier "At the Edge of the Orchard" (Penguin)



Not a great fan of historical novels but this is a good book and an easy fast read. Good historical fiction in general should be of fictional people doing real things in real places, with a few real people thrown into the mix in my pinion. This novel nails it in that sense.

Robert Goodenough is brought up, at least to age 9, in the Black Swamp area of Ohio. His family, from Connecticut, is trying to make a go of homesteading there in the 1830s. The need for 50 fruit trees to prove the claim is his father's biggest concern, as he loves the Golden Pippins his family originally brought from England.

At age 9 Robert unexpectedly strikes out on his own. He moves around, regularly changing jobs, and he finally ends up in California. There he meets William Lobb, and becomes a tree collector, shipping trees and seeds to England. William Lobb was real, tree and seed collecting was really a thing, the sequoia dance floor and bowling alley trees are now part of Calaveras Big Trees State Park, and the Black Swamp really was not a great place to homestead.

Not as good as "The Girl with The Pearl Earring" but one that will satisfy.
jazzy_dave: (bookish)
Stefan Zweig "Twenty-Four Hours in the Life of a Woman" (Pushkin Press)




This story within a story begins at a guesthouse on the French Riviera, where a scandal has just erupted: two of the guests, a seemingly respectable wife and mother and an attractive young stranger have fled together after speaking together for just a few hours.

There is a raging debate among the guests about the morality of the situation. Should the woman be seen as a pariah, or were her motives of the heart pardonable? In this early 20th century setting, most of the guests believe the woman has committed an unspeakable act, but the narrator, a single man, doesn't think so. Mrs C, a respectable, white-haired English woman in her 60's, after a brief exchange with him, decides she must come clean about her past and proceeds to tell him a story from her younger days, when, within a 24-hour period she let her carefully constructed world of proper widowhood fall to pieces for stranger with a death wish. She had met the stranger in question at a casino, where she spent the evening observing the hands of the players and was taken in by his in particular—the most expressive she'd ever seen. Fascinated, she watches the stranger lose a huge sum of money, then, when he gives every sign that he has decided to do away with himself, she comes to his rescue and falls into a vortex of passion for which her life as a proper English lady had not prepared her: "Perhaps only those who are strangers to passion know such sudden outbursts of emotion in their few passionate moments ... whole years fall from one's own breast with the fury of powers left unused." But can one really expect true love and dedication from an addict?

A succinct very short novel (around 100 pages) by Zweig filled to the brim with timeless human drama. Strongly recommended.
jazzy_dave: (bookish)

Ernesto Che Guevara "Bolivian Diary" (Pimlico)





This diary is both an important historical document and an insight into the mind of a twentieth century icon. After his failure in the Congo, Major Ernesto Guevara was determined to succeed in his native South America. He was doomed to failure from the start. His diary shows the terrible hardships endured by him and his revolutionaries. From illness and starvation, to the deaths of comrades and friends, Che's diary documents it all. A mixture of the emotional and the ordinary. Che Guevara was assassinated by the CIA backed Bolivian army; but his death was only the beginning of the legend.

A fascinating read for any budding revolutionary.

jazzy_dave: (bookish)
J.R.R Tolkein "The Monsters and the Critics:And Other Essays" (Harper Collins)




These lecture essays by Tolkien are thought-provoking and of the seven essays i found the ones on Beowulf the most fascinating,although the one on fairy stories is equally very informative.

Of Beowulf, it includes his very famous one, from which the title of this volume derives, and the one he wrote as an introduction to Clark Hall's translation. The first one is, of course, one of the first points of call for anyone studying Beowulf, and rightfully so. The volume also contains an essay on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, his famous essay 'On Fairy Stories', an essay on 'English and Welsh', an essay about the invention of languages, and his valedictory address, given when he left Oxford. All of them are well worth reading. They're not dry at all, but warm and passionate as Tolkien was warm and passionate, and of course, intelligent.
jazzy_dave: (bookish)
Geogres Perec "Life :A User's Manual" (Vintage)









This took me over a three month period wading through this six hundred page novel, but it was one where each chapter could stand alone as a vignette or slice of time.

The book imagines what it would be like if we could take the front wall off a Paris apartment building (No.11 in the fictitious Rue Simon-Crubellier) and look simultaneously into each of its rooms to see what people are doing. Each of the 99 chapters presents a snapshot of a room, describing it and the objects and people that happen to be in it at a little before eight in the evening on the 23rd of June 1975. In most chapters Perec takes one or more objects or people associated with the room, and tells us a story about them.

This approach takes a bit of getting used to. For a start, no time passes between the first and the last chapter. We jump arbitrarily from one room to another, according to a rule Perec has imposed on himself, but we could equally-well read the chapters in any order. Perec provides an index, diagram, chronology and table of contents that would allow the reader to map out any desired course through the book.

The stories are sometimes about major characters - the people who live in the building - but sometimes about apparently irrelevant things (the story illustrated by a painting hanging in the room; the plot of a novel; the text of a pamphlet...). Sometimes there is no story at all, just a collection of lists. We get five straight pages out of a hardware catalogue at one point; at another an itemised list of the food in the Altamonts' cellar. This is a wonderful book for someone like me, whose knowledge of French has its limitations: Perec draws vocabulary from every conceivable realm of life. We get detective stories and medieval romance; escapes from the harem and Kafkaesque struggles against bureaucracy; cooking recipes and bicycle racing...

Set against all this apparent randomness there are various unifying themes that run through the book. Puzzles (especially jigsaws) are particularly important: Perec is clearly fascinated by the way that they bring together concepts of order and randomness. Puzzles feature heavily in the story of the eccentric Bartlebooth, who has links to a number of the other residents and provides the book with the nearest thing it has toa conventional plot line. Recursion is another big theme - over and over again we find stories within a story, books within a book, or pictures within a picture.

This is a remarkable book, entertaining and very accessible despite its experimental nature and highly-constrained formal structure. It's quite fun to have some idea how Perec's "novel-writing machine" worked, but you certainly don't need to: the text is enough to keep you absorbed without any scaffolding.
jazzy_dave: (bookish)
Sue Woolfe "Leaning Towards Infinity" (The Women's Press)



This is a novel which takes on the topic of maths and mathematician. It is a wonderful and at times challenging novel of mothers, mother guilt, mothering, mathematics, obsession, thwarted genius, the indifference and chauvinism of conservative academia, the earnest hopes, and at times sexual envy of the overlooked daughter seeking her mother's approval. In essence ,a demanding, but very rewarding exploration of the destructiveness of unrecognised genius, through the lives of three generations of women. The mother is on the verge of discovering a new form of mathematics, but is driven mad by social isolation and betrayal. The narrator, her daughter, attempts to piece together her work. I was transfixed.
jazzy_dave: (bookish)
John Banville "Ancient Light" (Penguin)




The story is narrated by an elderly man who reflects back on his affair, as a teenager, with his best friend’s mother, and the far-reaching impact of this on his life. In the present day, Alex, a retired stage actor, has been asked to star in a movie. The novel moves between his recollections of the affair, and the present-day and his return to acting, with some interesting links between past and present.

It’s difficult to classify this novel; it’s not really a romance, or a mystery, or a drama; it’s somewhat slow going at first, and it’s neither plot-driven nor character-driven. Rather, it’s a subtle, beautifully written meditation on time and memory, and how the two interact.

There was something so human, flawed, and vulnerable about the narrator, that I developed a growing attachment to him that almost snuck up on me. Though a self-admitted unreliable narrator, the emotions in his story are real and deep, even if the facts aren’t always accurate. I found I missed him when the novel ended, as one would miss an old friend.

This is the first novel of John Banville’s that I’ve read, but it certainly won’t be the last if i come across him in the thrift stores and charity shops. His writing flows so lyrically, I believe he could describe paint drying and it would be fascinating. This was an unexpected gem that was well worth the slow start, and I look forward to reading much more of Banville’s work.
jazzy_dave: (bookish)

Kingsley Amis "One Fat Englishman" (Penguin)




This was quite unputadownable - read this fun little novella in just three sittings.

Roger Micheldene, an English publisher, is on the loose in the U.S. He spends an October week shuttling between New York and Budweiser College in Pennsylvania. This exercises all his British appetites...snobbery, gluttony, anger, sloth and lust.

But Amis roasts Americans as well and serves us familiar dishes, though in a piquant sauce: the precocious undergraduate author of a far-out novel, an earnest young priest, and an alcoholic literary agents nymphomaniacal wife.

They are all presented with glee and gusto and the keenest wit, but it is Roger Micheldene--at once a prototype of the insufferable Englishman and an individual with sufficient humour to win our sneaking sympathy--who dominates a supremely entertaining comedy of bad manners.


jazzy_dave: (bookish)
Helen Ellis "American Housewife" (Scribner)




This collection of 12 short stories is chock-full of quirky, creepy, clever women. I can't imagine someone not seeing themselves in at least one of these characters. I read several stories multiple times and plan on reading a few of my favourites again.I think the shortest stories are my favourites -- they pack a big punch in just a couple of pages (especially "Southern Lady Code", "What I Do All Day", and "Take It From Cats").

Some of these stories verge on the absurd and surreal, even through all the exaggerated scenarios, there is also an undeniable truth: I have experienced grocery aisle rage,- and “Hmmm” is most certainly Southern Lady Code for: I don’t agree with you but am polite enough not to rub your nose in your ignorance.


If you like wacky ,funny,and strange stories and if you are interested in the inner lives of women, I highly recommend this book.


jazzy_dave: (Default)
Simon Winchester "A Map That Changed the World: The Tale of William Smith and the Birth of a Science" (Penguin)





Here is a book that whilst its subject is science it covers a far wider ground than i had anticipated before reading it.
It's one of those classic 18th century tales where there's science, religion, class, prejudice money and, out of the mess and shambles comes something that is really mind blowing. William Smith produced the first geological survey of the UK. All by himself. And a small version is reproduced on the inside front cover and it's a real thing of beauty.

It's set during that great upheaval in science, when Britain finally moved from being a medieval belief led society to one that valued science, facts, precision, deduction and started wanting to ask questions of the natural world. this is one example. It was driven by his being involved in the coal mining industry, then in the routing and digging of a canal through Somerset. What he'd seen by the vertical descent into the ground of the mines was reinforced by what he'd seen in the cut made across miles of Somerset - the rocks beneath our feet are different, but predictably different in different places.

It's got it's fair share of trials and tribulations, and the class system comes in for a fair old (and entirely justified) bashing, but Smith doesn't always seem to be the most astute of individuals. Even so, it's nice to see that he did finally get the recognition he deserved in his lifetime - even if he seems to have been largely forgotten since. Simon Winchester does write a good story, as well as managing to get some facts to stick in your brain at the same time. I thought this was a good read.

jazzy_dave: (bookish)
Annie Darling "The Little Bookshop Of Lonely Hearts"  (Harper Collins)






This is one of those books my brother gave me in one of his clearance endeavours. He can do that again. Also, this is not the type of book i would  normally  not read,,as romance novels per se are not my forte,  despite it being about a bookshop called Bookends. Anyway, i took the plunge and emerged pleasantly surprised.

I have to be honest though, in the beginning I wasn't sure if I liked either Posy or Sebastian, she definitely didn't sound like the kind of person who should be left in charge of a bookshop never mind be bequeathed one and then be expected to make it flourish. And right from the very beginning I got the impression that Sebastian is supposed to be her love interest, but he was so rude that I honestly didn't think I could read this book if he was her love interest. Thankfully, as the story progressed we see a slightly softer side to Sebastian, he offers to help Posy and to begin with we don't understand the reasoning behind it but it all becomes clear.


I loved the banter back and fro between Posy and Sebastian, as well as all the other quirky characters such as Nina and Verity.

Bookends is the kind of place that I would love to work! A small business, where you can make close friends in work colleagues, while doing a job you feel passionate about!

And for each and every sad moment within this story, there were happy moments. Happy moments that made you smile without thinking about it. And you cant really ask for more than that.

A good easy to read novel.
jazzy_dave: (bookish)
Jack Kerouac "Heaven and Other Poems" (Grey Fox Press)




The poems in this volume includes a series of his blues poems - San Francisco Blues; MacDougal Street Blues; Orizaba Blues; Orlando Blues - and a letter on his theory of jazz poetry. It includes two short autobiographies and a series of letters between Kerouac and a publisher.

The latter gives real insight into his writing: "I would like everybody in the world to tell his full life confession and tell it HIS OWN WAY" from a letter; or his essentials for modern prose which includes "telling the true story of the world in interior monologue" and " remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition".

A couple of interesting quotes from "Heaven":

"The Church? Earth's dogmatic mistakes have nothing to do with Heaven"

"For we all go back where we came from, God's Lit Brain, his transcendent Eye of Wisdom / And there's your bloody circle called samsara by the ignorant Buddhists, who will still be funny Masters up there, bless em."

A short book but well worth having if you are a Kerouac fan.

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