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Brian's Book Log - Ongoing

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13 hours ago, Hayley said:

I think the biggest preconception I had before I read it was that it would be about Frankenstein making a monster, whereas that bit's actually over really fast and it's really about the consequences of making the monster. I was also surprised to find that it's actually more sad than scary, considering how it's usually portrayed.

 

I definitely felt the same about it being more sad than scary, it's a really well constructed analysis of part of being human.

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Yes I thought that too, it's very well written give Mary Shelley's age at the time, and very prescient.  I think it's partly Hollywood's fault that the monster has a scary image, yes he is scary but he's also tragic and she managed to make him sympathetic too.

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Irresistible by Adam Alter (3/5)

At work I mentor a few of our apprentices and one thing I have noticed over the years is how often they check their phones. The intersting thing about this phenomenom is that it isn't a habit restricted to only young people, in fact there are many people from my generation who do the same thing. This habit of constantly checking your phone is something I realised had become part of a few years ago and as a result over time I have gradually deleted all my social media accounts and turned off the 'push' function of my emails. The way modern media, social or otherwise, has seemingly become more and more addictive over the years is something that really interests me. This book was mentioned in Digital Minimalism, a book by Cal Newport that I read earlier this year so I bought a copy to see if it offered more insight.

 

Although it mentions social media, Irresistible focuses more on general screen based habits and how slowly they have changed in the era of smartphones and tablets. Alter explains why we tend to binge watch things on streaming services, how games can become addictive, how social media has us hooked, and what this is doing to society as a whole. The book is well written and has some interesting insights but I also found it be unfocused in places. He skirts over the biggest culprit for screen addiction, social media, and chooses to focus on some slightly more niche ones instead. He also spends a lot of time explaining how and why these habits are formed and how to break them, but then goes on to recommend gamifiying good habits using apps. I much prefer Newport's way of replacing screen habits with hobbies that are technology free. This is a good book but if you are interesting in social media addiction then Digital Minimalism is a much better read.

 

 

Up next, Silas Marner by George Eliot.

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Silas Marner by George Eliot (4/5)

My plans to read some of the bigger classics this year have rapidly disappeared but I have picked up a few of the smaller ones to keep me ticking along. I saw this in my local charity shop and it was the only thing I found that I fancied reading so I bought it. I knew nothing about the story or the author and embarrassingly I thought George Eliot was a man. Finding out that Eliot was a woman was a nice surprise as I have been trying to read more female writers this year. The story focuses on the life of Silas Marner who starts life in a Calvinist community but is soon expelled after being wrongly accused of theft. He moves to a new villiage and completely shuts himself off from the community resulting in the rest of the village treating him with a lot of suspicion. A disaster befalls him which brings him a bit closer to the village people and then something miraculous happens. (I'm trying to avoid major spoilers here)

 

I really enjoyed this one, it's what I would describe as a really good story. The characters are all surprisingly well formed given it's short length and despite finding the language a bit hard to get in with I had to keep picking it up to see what happens next. This would be a 5/5 book if it wasn't for the hard old fashioned language. It took a lot of concentration and I had to read it in many small doses instead of devouring it in one go.

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The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi (2/5)

I vaguely remember this being on TV in the early 90's, mainly because it had rude bits in it. I had no idea at the time that it was based on a book until I got a copy of the '1001 books to read before you die' and saw it listed in there. The story is based around Karim, a young British Asian growing up and coming of age in and around London. He also happens to be casually bisexual and trying to explore his sexuality while trying to find his place in the world (and the UK). I have read similar books before albeit not from a British Asian perspective, some I have liked and some I haven't. This unfortunately falls into the later category, my feeling towards it are similar to those I felt when I read The Catcher in the Rye. I don't think this is a bad book, I just think I am too old and didn't have the upbringing to identify with the characters. It was an easy enough read and I got through it in a day but it just didn't really work for me.

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On 17/10/2019 at 8:46 AM, Brian. said:

Silas Marner by George Eliot (4/5)

...I really enjoyed this one, it's what I would describe as a really good story. This would be a 5/5 book if it wasn't for the hard old fashioned language. It took a lot of concentration and I had to read it in many small doses instead of devouring it in one go.

 

That's something I got used to the more I read.  Indeed, I find nowadays that I actually prefer the older fashioned language, and the textural depth it brings to the narrative. If you enjoyed Eliot, and are still thinking about longer books, I can thoroughly recommend Middlemarch, one of the all-time great novels, and very much worth taking time over. I loved The Mill on the Floss too, but again, it needs time.

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I know what you mean about the textural depth, there seems to be a lot more substance to every sentance. I definitely plan to read Middlemarch soon as I'm not against working slowly through 'difficult' books as long as I like the author/book. I sometimes feel like a bit of a dullard at times when reading the classics but I think I am very slowly picking up underlying themes as the years progress. I find it also helps to read some summaries or analysis on certain classics once I have finished them.

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5 hours ago, Brian. said:

I sometimes feel like a bit of a dullard at times when reading the classics but I think I am very slowly picking up underlying themes as the years progress. I find it also helps to read some summaries or analysis on certain classics once I have finished them.

 

I feel that sometimes too, but I think it's important to remember that it was a distinctly different age, language was used very differently (as LP Hartley wrote: The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there), so it takes some getting used to, and the further back, the more time that takes (I still find a lot of books pre-Jane Austen hard to read). I do agree about reading some litcrit to follow up - I find I need it even more when tackling poetry, but it's definitely useful to try and understand some of the themes and issues that writers were trying to address.  However, I also find most of these classics simply make cracking good, immersive stories, with a huge amount of depth to them - they have to be after all, otherwise they wouldn't have lasted all this time - as long as one sits down with them and gives them time, not try to read in shorter bursts (our attention span is distinctly shorter nowadays!).  It's why I also have a particular fondness for modern day writers who adopt a similar style (I'm thinking immediately of books like The Essex Serpent).  Anyway, good luck with it. I've recently finished The Old Curiosity Shop, having not read any Victoriana for a while, and it felt quite a long, hard read, but I've come out of it definitely wanting more (even if it wasn't Dickens's best, at least IMO!).

Edited by willoyd

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Despite my best intentions I have managed to acquire some more books this month.

 

Lord of the Flies - William Golding

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man - James Joyce

Coming Up for Air - George Orwell

Meditations - Marcus Aurelius (The edition I already own is dreadful)

My Life in Football - Kevin Keegan

Ego is the Enemy - Ryan Holiday

Good Vibes, Good Life - Vex King

A Guide to the Good Life - William B. Irvine

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A few mini reviews for books I have finished this week.

 

Primal Endurance by Mark Sisson (2/5)

In 2016 I read one of Sisson's other books, The Primal Blueprint and I remember quite liking his back to basics approach. The book was focused on diet and simple exercise, preferably outside, a message that I think everyone could benefit from. This time Sisson concentrates on endurance exercise and takes aim at 'conventional' coaching in endurance sports. I didn't realise until I read this book that the author had been a decent long distance runner in his younger days. He says that he did loads of miles and was coached to train at a high intensity which caused him a lot of injuries. He says this is all wrong and that we should do the vast majority of our training at a low intensity and low heart rates. He argues this is sustainable and that it can actually help competitive endurance athletes breakthrough to higher speeds.

I don't really disagree with any of this but there is one thing Sisson doesn't mention which makes him a massive hypocrite in my eyes. He uses his health as an example of how well all this works and he certainly looks great for someone in their mid 60's. At no point does he inform the reader that he has been taking testosterone boosters for many years, I only discovered this by doing some additional reading. He justifies this by saying he has 'low' testosterone levels but I feel it is something he should have made clear from the very beginning. I also know that getting testosterone prescribed by doctors in certain countries is very easy and has been heavily abused by athletes in certain sports. I wouldn't be surprised if this was true in his case as well.

My final criticism is that there is a hell of a lot of repetition in the book which feels like an attempt to pad it out. It's not a bad book but its not entirely honest and should be a lot shorter.

 

1983 by Taylor Downing (4/5)

This is a non-fiction book about how close we came to a nuclear holocaust in 1983. It covers the political maneuverings on both the American and Soviet sides in the 80's and early 90's, and in particular the people who came to be the leaders. Typical of the time there were a lot of military exercises from both sides which were watched very closely by each other. During one these exercises code named Abel Archer, Soviet paranoia and Nato ignorance combined to bring us right to the edge of a nuclear strike. The Soviets were convinced that Nato was hiding their intention of a first strike attack under the guise of the training exercise. Nato ran their exercise willfully ignorant to how the Soviets may react to what could be seen as escalating provocation.

This is a really good book which covers all the main points in a good level of detail. Taylor has clearly done a lot of research and ties it all together well and at the same time made it really readable. In my opinion it's up there among the better books about the Cold War.

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Lord of the Flies by William Golding (3/5)

Another one that always appears on all the book lists and something I probably should have read a long time ago. This book tells the story of a bunch of adolescent boys who are stranded on an island following a plane crash. There are no adults and so a leader is quickly chosen and the adventure of survival begins. They loosely form into 2 groups, hunters and fire watchers, foreshadowing what will develop as time goes on. Inevitably there is a fracture in this society which soon develops in a huge rift as all morals go out the window. I read this book in no time at all and almost ended up reading well into the early hours despite having to be up at 4am this morning. However, I didn't love it. I can't put my finger on why but I was left feeling like I wanted more. The book raises a lot of interesting allegorical points but I wanted to know more about the boys and their respective backgrounds.

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I have quite a few mini reviews to catch up with.

 

Chickenhawk by Robert Mason (4/5)

It's funny how we remember certain quite small and seemingly unimportant things from our childhood days. For me one of these is seeing a copy of this book on my parent's bookcase. Like many people on this forum I read a lot as a child but I never really ventured to read many books that belonged to my parents. Despite this, the cover of Chickenhawk has always remained a strong memory, a memory which was awakened while browsing for new books to buy online. This book is written by a Vietnam war veteran detailing his time spent as a Huey pilot both in training and in country. I don't know why I never read this when I was younger as I now know I would have really enjoyed it. As the book progresses Mason goes from being an ambitous young man to someone who is left broken by what we now know as PTSD. This is a really good account for the realities of war and the damage it does to everyone involved in some way or another.

 

Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier (4/5)

I grabbed my Kindle on the way out the door without checking what I had on it the other day. As I needed a new book to read I had a quick flick through the contents of my Kindle and decided that I would read this book. I knew nothing about the book although I was aware that a movie had been made and I also knew it was named after a painting. The story revolves around the life of a young women (16) called Griet in Delft in the 1660's. After an illness her father is unable to work and the family is struggling financially so she takes work as a maid for a local family including a painter, Johannes Vermeer. During the course of her years with the family her relationship with Vermeer develops and starts to cause issues, eventually coming to a head.

This is quite a short book but one I really enjoyed reading. All of the intimacy is implied rather than direclty detailed and fits perfectly with the time when the book is set.

 

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata (2/5)

I bought this completely on a whim because the cover caught my eye and it sounded a bit quirky. The book tells the story of Kieko, a convenience store worker who has always felt out of place. She finds an odd peace with the routine of working in the store and has no plans to change anything about her life. Others see the store as a stepping stone in her life and eventually she notices that everyone thinks its time she 'grew up' and moved on with her life. I thought that being quirky and based in Japan would be right down my street but the book never really did it for me. It seems to get really positive reviews online and although I found it a quick easy read I was left feeling disappointed by it. I guess I'm not the right reader for this book.

 

12 Rules for Life by Jordan B. Peterson (2/5)

I have been trying to read more audiobooks and this was my free trial download on Audible. I became aware of Jordan Peterson a few years ago because of his appearances on the Joe Rogan podcast. At the time he was rallying against what he saw as politicial correctness in universities and he raised a few points which I found interesting. Fast forward a bit and for many he has become a beacon for the far right and angry young men. When I have heard him talk in the past I have always thought he has argued his case well even if I haven't agreed with his points. I had hoped this book would be more of the same as I think it's important to explore ideas contary to my own. I wouldn't go as far to say I hated this book but if it had been a physical book I don't think I would have finished it. Far too often he brings up bible archetype stories as evidence of his claims and after a while it gets very tiresome. I think the book is meant to be for 'everyday normal people' but seems to be a way for Peterson to prove how clever he is. I found it tedious and doesn't warrant the praise it gets in my opinion.

 

 

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2 reviews to catch up with.

 

Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham (5/5)

Like many people, I loved the recent HBO mini-series Chernobyl and also listened to the podcast that went along with it. In the podcast the producer and main writer were keen to point out where they changed history to make it work as a TV show and the reasons why they did this. I find everything nuclear fascinating and wanted to know more about the facts behind Chernobyl so bought Midnight in Chernobyl. This book is an exhaustive account of what happen before, during, and after the accident at Chernobyl. The author is a journalist and it really shows as the list of sources stretches across about 40 pages at the end of the book. It is very well written and despite the heft of the subject it is very readable and I managed to do extensive sessions without having to put it down.This is probably the best non-fiction book I have read this year.

 

The Falcon of Sparta by Conn Iggulden (3/5)

I've not read anything by Conn Iggulden prior to this and I thought a stand alone would be a good place to start instead of diving into one of the series he has written. The blurb on the back sounded quite promising and deal with a part of history I don't know well. I found the book pretty good and wasn't aware when I picked it up that it was based on actual events. My only major gripes with it are connected to each other. Firstly, a major plot point is revealed in the blurb and I don't think this should have been done as it spoiled what could have been a great end to the first act. Also an event at the end of act 2 is settled in a very unsatisfactory (in my opinion) way at the start of act 3. Given what we know about the characters up to this point I just don't believe they would have acted this way and I think this should have been handled differently.  Apart from those points it was an enjoyable read and I will read some more of Iggulden's work.

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Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain (3/5)

It would seem that unlike the vast majority of people I was relatively unmoved by the recent suicide of Anthony Bourdain. I don't say this to be contrary or to some across as heartless, any suicide is a sad affair. I had this emotion simply because I had never encountered his work despite him being a celebrity of sorts. I knew he had a TV show but never watched it and I was also aware he had written this book which was widely regarded as a good look into what goes on behind the scenes in restaurants, especially in New York.

 

I found the book to be an interesting and entertaining read with some revealing facts about the business which I did not know. I also learned that Bourdain was another one of these people who think that being good at his job makes it fine to be a bit of an asshole. This is really exposed towards the end of the book when he describes the working practices of a chef he really likes who is pretty much his polar opposite. He also leans towards justifying his substance abuse as a necessity of the industry instead of admitting that he ultimately had a problem. I don't think he was a bad person and this is a decent book but he is the exact sort of person I would not like to have to work with. 

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I actually was quite sad to hear about Anthony Bourdain's suicide because I used to watch his programme (I think it was called 'No Reservations') with my dad. It was a really long time ago so I can't recommend it, but I liked to see all the different places he went to. It sounds like the book kind of highlights why he was struggling so much behind the scenes. It can't have been a good atmosphere for him or anyone who worked with him. 

 

I'm glad to see you got a 5/5 book, it's been a while! :lol:. Midnight in Chernobyl does sound good. There is something fascinating (in an awful, quite terrifying way) about the impact of nuclear incidents. 

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