Friday, 24 July 2009

A Very Persistent Illusion by L.C.Tyler

A Very Persistent Illusion is a hard book to define. It's a mystery story, but it was the philosophical aspects that led to me picking it up. I'm immediately drawn to anything with a slight philosophical slant so when I read that the central character in this book doubts reality, whether he really exists and if the people around him exist, it was almost guaranteed to appeal!

Chris Sorenson seems to have a good life. Good job, nice girlfriend (Virginia) and sexy sports car to travel about in. His only problem is that he doubts that any of this is real. At one point he compares himself to living in a virtual reality world where everyone and everything in the world is only there because he can see them. In fact, the nature of reality is explored in some detail with some chapters concerning the lives of the very philosophers who propounded ideas of the nature of reality, and whether anything actually exists if it is not perceived by anyone else.

But aside from the philosophical aspects, there is a plot running throughout this novel. Chris is unsure where his relationship with Virginia is going, and thinks it is a one sided relationship (more her side than his). But he still gets on well with her parents, an when her father dies suddenly, and her mother reveals a secret. Chris gets drawn into a mystery that forces him to confront his own past, as well as his present and his future.

Reality plays a large part in this book, in various guises. There is the previously mentioned philosophical ideas that are central to Chris' understanding (or lack of understanding) of himself. But Chis is also forced to confront the reality of his relationship with Virginia, which ends up being totally different to his assumptions, as well as the realities of his past which have so obviously shaped his outlook on life, and Virginia herself has her own realities to deal with which alter her perceptions of herself.

Now, having just read back what I've written, this sounds like a really heavy book, but it isn't at all. The mystery is appealing, and it's full of dark humour and even some laugh out loud moments. The Sorenson-Birtwhistle scale of girl rage for example, which is Chris and his mate's numerical scale to grade the intensity of rage in a woman, in minute increments. I haven't done this book justice, but I really enjoyed it.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Sweet Land Stories by E.L. Doctorow

First off, I'll just apologise for not being here very much over the last couple of weeks. I haven't been reading or blogging much because life got in the way. But, all being well, I'm back now. What I have read has had to be in short bursts, so it's been short stories and books with short chapters!

Sweet Land Stories is a collection of five short stories, all with very different themes, but all with a focus on character development, which is not something that can be easy to do in short stories, but is done very well here. They all deal with some fairly heavy issues and centre on completely different characters, some likeable, some dislikeable, but none of them seem to be in between. Definitely different ends of the spectrum.

I struggle to review short stories, so I'll just give a quick overview of each story and see where I go from there! The first story, was actually my least favourite and concerned a woman with numerous dead husbands (suspicious), moving her son around the country to escape suspicion, and find a new husband. She was a thoroughly unpleasant person and the story illustrates the lengths some people will go to to secure their financial security. There is then a story about a insane woman who steals a baby from a hospital and the journey her and her boyfriend go on to escape the police. I liked this one because it was both a physical journey and a personal one as the both come to realise the reality of their situation and their feelings for each other. Then we have two stories that seem to be commenting on the ways and reasons that people abuse power a influence, one telling the story of the disintegration of a religious commune/cult and one dealing with the aftermath of a child's body found at a presidential gathering and how political influence and impact comes above truth and integrity, whatever the cost to ordinary civilians. And my favourite was Jolene;A life, the story of a serially abused, thrice married young woman who has been through an awful life but still manages to have hope for the future.

In fact, I think it's that note of hope and redemption that is present in all the stories that is what I liked so much about them. I've only realised as I'm writing this that that was so central to the stories.They all placed their characters in some horrible situations but ended with a note of hope for the future, or with the characters coming to realise their actions are wrong, and at least making a start to putting it right. I also liked the fact that the stories were just snapshots of part of a life. They ended with hope, and also were not tied up. With each story I was left with an impression that life goes on, and the story continues.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Bookin Through Thursday-TBR

Do you keep all your unread books together, like books in a waiting room? Or are they scattered throughout your shelves, mingling like party-goers waiting for the host to come along?

This should be a short one. Generally my unread books are kept separate from the one's I've read. I have two bookcases in my living room and it used to be that one was for read books, and one for unread. But that changed as I got more and more books and now they are reserved purely for books I've read (and want to display)! My unread books are now kept in boxes in the bedroom, very roughly organised into the order I think I might like to read them, although this is obviously subject to change! And I have a pile of unread books by my bed, which are the ones I intend to read in the near future, but again, this doesn't always work out that way! And finally, there is always a large pile of library books waiting to be read, but they reside on a shelf in the hall, kept separate so they don't get lost in the endless boxes, and so that my memory will be jogged that they may need to be returned or renewed.

As usual, there is always an exception to the (very loose) rule, and that would be books in series, which would probably go on the shelves next to the ones from that series that I've already read.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

All Names Have Been Changed by Claire Kilroy

All Names Have Been Changed was recommended by my boss. I usually jump at the chance to read something recommended by a 'real life' person as I know so few readers that it's nice to read something I could then talk about with someone. And he's usually quite good with his recommendations but I think when I get to work tomorrow, we're going to be disagreeing on this one. It's not that I disliked it, but he raves about it, and I thought it was passable, an interesting read, but not brilliant.

Set in Ireland in the 1980's it's a pretty bleak setting with mass unemployment and drug addiction a theme, although not a central one. The book is based around a group of five creative writing students, supposedly under the tutelage of the famous novelist P.J. Glynn, who it is fairly obvious they idolise. Narrated by Declan, the only male in the group, it moves through a year in their lives, showing how their relationship with the writer affects each person's life and the lives of others around them. Glynn himself is an alcoholic (now if that counts as drug addiction then I suppose it is a central theme), and the group spend a lot of time drinking with him.

Declan is always slightly outside the group, and never seems to quite fit in, but this doesn't stop him being affected by Glynn, and the relationships that develop and then dissolve during the course of the year. I think one of my key problems with this book is that Declan is the only distinctive character. The four girls in the group all seem to merge into one. One was divorced,one was a goth who didn't really want her real self to be revealed, one was a sweet nice girl, and one was a battered wife but I constantly had problems remembering which was which. For a novel that was supposed to be all about interactions between characters, this as quite a problem!

I did however like the way that the characters lives seem to be mirroring the plots in Glynn's novels, even Glynn himself. As said at the start they all idolised him, and could quote story lines, publication dates an numerous other facts about his work. It is Declan that first realises this and Declan that finally changes the pattern when they go their separate ways at the end of the book.

All in all,their were some parts I liked and some parts I didn't, and I didn't think it was fantastic but it was interesting. And I think all the chapters were titles after Irish literature or music, but most of these passed me by. I didn't actually realise this might be the case until the chapter titled 'I don't like Mondays'. Obvious I know!

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Booking Through Thursday-

So here today I present to you an Unread Books Challenge. Give me the list or take a picture of all the books you have stacked on your bedside table, hidden under the bed or standing in your shelf – the books you have not read, but keep meaning to. The books that begin to weigh on your mind. The books that make you cover your ears in conversation and say, ‘No! Don’t give me another book to read! I can’t finish the ones I have!’ “

Honestly, I don't ever feel that about books! I don't think I'll ever have too many, read or unread. The only thing I wish is that I had more space to shelve them all nicely rather than have them piled up in various places or put in boxes under the bed or in cupboards (I am guilty of that).

There is no possible way I can list all my unread books here because (a) I'm at work and trying to do this in spare moments and that would just take too long, and (b), this post would go on forever and you'd all get very bored! But I'll just go with the ones that have been waiting a long while and for some reason I've just been putting off.

  • The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck (frightens me, but I WILL read this year)

  • Midnights Children, Salman Rushdie (same as above)

  • The Book Thief, Markus Zuzak (Too much hype, worried it won't live up to it)

  • Atonement, Ian McEwan (no discernible reason)

  • Sea of Poppies, Amitav Ghosh (just not sure about this)

  • Chocolat, Joanne Harris (no idea why I keep putting this off)

  • Brideshead Revisited ( I know nothing about it, but my mum says I should read it, even though she hates it)
For now that's all what I would consider to be my most pressing reads, and the ones that weigh on my mind that I haven't read. But that really is just the ones I can think of now. If I was to writ this tomorrow, or even in a few hours time it would probably be very different!

Until the last few days this post would also have included To Kill a Mockingbird, but I did eventually pick that up and am three quarters through it and loving it. I really do want to read all these books but for whatever reason I keep putting them off. Maybe I should just move them to the top of the pile and read them before I read anything else. But that's never going to happen, if only because I keep buying more books and my Library Pile is quite substantial at the moment and they need to be read too!

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Books, Books, Books!!!!!!!!!!!!

Too many books have come into my house this week. Especially since I haven't actually had time to read very much at all. With parents evenings, sports days, end of term plays and new school induction evenings (both children start new schools in September), I've been a bit busy. And that's all capped off by having to find time to make up all the hours at work I've had to miss to attend all this stuff! So my reading pace has slowed down, but that doesn't seem to have stopped the rate at which books are entering my house.............

From the library

And what I've bought

I really need to make a start on some of those library books otherwise they are going to end up going back unread, and I hate doing that! But some of the above are really tempting too! I have actually already opened the Roald Dahl short stories, and read a couple, but I think I'll just be dipping in and out of that anyway. They are very strange!

Monday, 6 July 2009

The Philosopher's Apprentice by James Morrow

The Philosopher's Apprentice was a random library selection, simply because it was on the returned books shelves at the library and the description appealed. The book starts with Mason Ambrose storming out of his PHD viva, where he is defending his thesis, Ethics from the Earth. Soon after this, as he is ruminating on where his life will take him next, he is approached to take on a job tutoring a seventeen year old girl in ethics as she has had an accident that has wiped out all traces of conscience and morality, and is running wild, with no ethics at all. This is plain to see as when he first meets Londa, she swears, storms about and nearly kills a fish by purposely removing it from it's pond and letting it flip about on the ground. She is also blessed with a photographic memory, so can read books in very short spaces of time and is constantly repeating facts gleaned from encyclopedias.

Mason and Londa embark on a whistle stop tour of the major philosophical schools of thought from Stoicism to Christianity, taking in Kant, Plato, Aristotle and Utilitarianism along the way, and using hypothetical moral dilemmas to illustrate the ideas. Londa seems to make good progress in developing a conscience to enable her to function in society. But suffice to say all is not it seems. When he is not tutoring Londa, Mason tours his surroundings and soon discovers that Londa is not the only child without a conscience on the island, and he is not the only tutor. How these children come into being, and their connection to each other is central to the rest of the story.

Mason completes his contract, moves back to Boston, gets married, opens a bookshop and avoids Londa at all costs. Londa gets an education, and founds a utilitarian type compound, providing refuge for women in trouble, taking in teenage pregnancies, abused women, and women who want abortions. Using her comprehensive grounding in philosophy she sets up a haven for troubled women, as well as using her considerable intelligence to develop cures for Cancer and smash sex slave networks.

This is when this book goes a bit strange. Facing opposition from highly Christian organisations, Mason gets drawn back into Londa's world, with her opponents using some very dubious methods, derived from the strange island of Londa's youth, to create an aggrieved army to crush Londa's compound. Londa at this point turns against the world and seems determined to create a better world, involving kidnapping and murder, all in the name of utilitarianism. It all ends with Mason facing one of the impossible moral dilemmas he used to teach Londa the basics of philosophy at the start except in a very real way, when neither decision is right.

This is definitely a book of two parts. The first part is quite light, and with it's emphasis on philosophy through the ages, remind me a bit of Sophie's World, but the second and third parts are much darker, and less realistic. With concepts of genetic engineering, Christian fundamentalism and the evils of capitalism it is almost certainly a comment on modern society. It's satire in a very in your face way, as it's all highly exaggerated and not altogether realistic. I did enjoy it though, and it was a good story, with a few 'oh my god' moments. I would say that you would probably need to have a slight interest in philosophy in the first place to enjoy this, and not be worried if things go a bit science fiction, because realism is not a strong point of this story.

Friday, 3 July 2009

The Invention of Everything Else by Samantha Hunt

I'm not sure what I want to say about this book. The Invention of Everything Else took me a long time to read because I kept picking up other things that seemed more interesting. I can't say I didn't like it because whilst I actually had in my hands I enjoyed it and wanted to keep reading it. But once I'd put it down, I didn't have the feeling of needing to pick it back up again and could quite happily leave it sat on the pile and read something else.

It's the story of Nikola Tesla, the little known but very influential inventor of radio as we know it and AC electricity. When we start this novel, he is an old man (86), living in a New York hotel and virtually destitute. We also meet Louisa, a chambermaid at the hotel, who stumbles into his room one day when she is assigned to a different floor, and who starts to read his journal, as snooping in hotel guests rooms is her custom. They develop a rapport through a love of pigeons, although Louisa's is a more conventional passion for homing pigeons, Tesla actually talks to his birds, and more strangely, believes that they talk back to him.

From this point the novel follows the lives of both Louisa and her father, and chronicles the life of Tesla through his journal, his conversations with his birds, a man called Sam (Sam Clemens, Mark Twain) and his dealings with Louisa. We learn about how he felt about his inventions, how he lost them to capitalism and about some of his more madcap ideas. Louisa's story is a more conventional one, more of a love story and her father's is one of love, loss and longing. Louisa has never known her mother, as she died in childbirth and when her father's old friend re-appears and claims to have built a time machine, her father jumps at the chance to go back and see his wife one last time. At the same time, Arthur appears in Louisa's life and claims to have been at school with her, even though she can't remember, and a passion between them develops quickly.

As far as plot summary, that's about as far as I can go without giving too much away. It's a story mainly about love, and time and memories. Although there is a time machine,the majority of the time travel is done through memories, both Tesla's and Louise's father's memories of their past lives. These people are all connected, through birds, love, loss and electricity. I did find it interesting, although the science went over my head a bit, as usual. In fact I think the whole book may have gone over my head a bit. I'm sure I missed something. I was really well written though, and I think in the end, it was the writing, rather than the story that kept me reading it, even if it was only in short bursts.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Booking Through Thursday-Celebrity

Do you read celebrity memoirs? Which ones have you read or do you want to read? Which nonexistent celebrity memoirs would you like to see?

There is a really simple answer to this. No, I don't really read celebrity memoirs. They don't really interest me very much. I only own one celebrity biography, and I've only read one, and they are not the same book! Somebody bought me Richard Hammond's On The Edge one Christmas (it's well known that I fancy him!), but although I flicked through this, obviously looking at the pictures, lol, I never actually read it cover to cover. The other one was Gordon Ramsey's Humble Pie. It was ok, fairly easy reading which was what I needed, but it didn't inspire me to read the next one he wrote. And I only read this because my sister had to go to hospital last year and I had to dash up the motorway to do some emergency babysitting. Once I knew she was ok, I was casting about for something to read, and aside from true crime, this was all I could find. I did try and find MY Artemis Fowl series which she's somehow managed to lose, but to no avail. It will always puzzle me how you manage to lose five books, but that's slightly off topic!

I don't think I'm really interested enough in celebrities of any kind to want to read what they write, so I can't think of any I'd like to read. I'd like to read something written by Nadia Comanci or Olga Korbutt but I don't think they count as celebrities. I spent a large part of my childhood and teenage years throwing myself around in a gym, although not as well as they did. But that's the point! I looked up to them, and if they've written memoirs I'd read them. They may have done, I've never really looked! But they'd probably be in Romanian/Russian or some similar language anyway!