The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck

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I had been listening to Bruce Springsteen’s Ghost of Tom Joad album for years when I started this novel. I had no idea that Tom Joad was a character from this book! Seriously. 

The book has one of the most memorable opening chapters I’ve ever read. I read it at work during a break and then walked to an appointment with headphones on listening to Springsteen. It was a spiritual moment. 

There’s something about Steinbeck’s prose that moves me as nobody else has. It’s not something I can put my finger on or pin down, but it’s there, almost like it’s the closest thing to pure art that I’ve ever encountered. Perhaps it just resonates with my soul. That’s not meant so sound cliched or pretentious, it’s the straight up, God’s honest truth. It’s like these words on the page can help me to feel better. 

Pandaemonium, Christopher Brookmyre

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This was recommended to my by a friend. It follows a bunch of school kids from Scotland and much of the dialogue is in the Scots dialect. For me this made it enjoyable and must have been fun for the author. 

The story starts out quite strongly, with some philosophical discussion of parallel universes but, as it progresses, it turns into a gore fest and is ultimately rather disappointing. The character development was handled very well, including the romantic interests and there was some interesting discussion not only of parallel universes but also of religion and relationships. 

I’ll give it a three. 

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami

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I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It follows the story of Mr Okada, a seemingly ordinary fellow at the outset but his life becomes weirder and weirder as the story progresses. My favourite chunks were the stories of Lt Mamiya. It’s kind of built up of different people’s stories, all of which affect the protagonist and leads to his becoming much more self aware.

It’s a somewhat quirky tale that is quite unlike anything I’ve ever read before. It grabbed a hold of my attention like a thief in the park and kept a hold of it until the end of the story. I normally read fantasy or sci-fi so this is a bit of a step outside the box for me and one that I’m very glad I took. I’m recommending this to pretty much everyone I know and for good reason.

Thanks to Steve Betz for the recommendation!

Under the Dome, Stephen King

Just finished the audio book of Stephen King’s latest novel. It was very enjoyable, but I feel empty afterwards. Good entertainment but does not feed the soul. A throw-away page-turner.

The concept was very clever and the characters were wonderful and deep, as Stephen King’s characters always are. That’s what kept me going I think.

If you’ve enjoyed other Stephen King novels, chances are you’ll enjoy this.

A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving

I’ve enjoyed John Irving’s books for years now and this one just came out on Audible. It came at a perfect time for me. I kept it until we went our holidays to Tenerife in November and I started listening to it as I lay in the sun by the pool.

The book is the tale of Owen Meany narrated by his best friend, John Wheelwright. Owen is small and has a strange voice. It’s really the tale of why he is small and why he has a strange voice, but it’s so much more than that. The book moved me in a way that no other book ever has. I’m at a point in my life where my faith in God is developing and this book fits right into that. Owen believes in God and has a lot to say on the subject of religion.

One of John Irving’s strong points is his character development. In all the books of his that I have read, I’ve found his characters to be fully 3-dimensional and believable. All are flawed, just as I am, and it makes the characters easy to relate to. I’m not sure whether I’m getting that across very well, but for those who’ve read Garp or a Widow for a Year, you’ll know what I mean.

If only Audible would do more John Irving books. I’d be on them like a shot!

The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexander Dumas

My good friend Arjun recommended to me The Count of Monte Cristo. I listened to the version read by Richard Matthews, a British reader and he read it very well indeed. Of course the book was originally written in French and I know not who did the translation that I read, but it was as if the book were written in English. One choice they made that, to my mind was the right choice, was to keep names and titles in the French, for example the Procureur du Roi, monsieur de Procureur, and so on, rather than the Royal Prosecutor. Knowing a little French, I had no trouble with this, but I wonder how it would have read to someone with no knowledge of French? It reminds me of my reading A Clockwork Orange and being a Russian speaker; my experience of that novel was not the same as it would be for non Russian speakers. Anyway, enough of that. On the book. Arjun is of the opinion that it is the best book he’s ever read. I wouldn’t go quite that far, but it was very, very good. It’s the first and only Dumas novel I’ve read, and may in fact be the first French literary novel I’ve read. The tale is a simple tale of revenge for a wrongful imprisonment. The Count himself becomes almost God-like in stature; he seems to be omnipotent and able to influence people to do his will. In fact, that aspect seems a little unbelievable, sort of like Jason Bourne of 18th century France, but with Jason Bourne you know you’re reading make believe as it’s so far fetched. The Count seems much more credible than Jason, but he loses some of that credibility as his powers and knowledge increase. How, for example, could he possibly learn to speak so many languages like a native in so short a time? Language is something that I know something about and I know how far-fetched that really is. But, once disbelief is suspended, the novel becomes great. At some 30-odd hours, you would think it would be a little dull in parts, and to be honest it is, but at the same time it is easy to listen to. I was a little worried at the morality of the Count and his taking revenge with such little humility and sympathy, but the ending assuaged that fear of mine and he redeemed himself admirably. I think I can say that without a spoiler alert. All in all, I’m very glad that I read this book and I would heartily recommend it. I give it four.

Raw Spirit: In Search of the Perfect Dram, Iain Banks

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I used to enjoy whisky. I also enjoy Iain Banks’s novels. So it made sense to read a book about whisky by Iain Banks. Ironically, I picked this book up from the boxes of books stored in the church hall where we have our Wednesday AA meetings. I put 50p in the honesty box.

The book is very readable. Iain travels around Scotland visiting distilleries and buying up hunners of bottles. One might say that it’s a self-indulgent book by a writer with too much money and who likes nothing more than to talk about his cars and motorcycles and throws money away on expensive wine and restaurants. And that isn’t entirely wrong either, but for all that it is still strangely compelling and enjoyable. He shares a lot of anecdotes about his life, many of which are rather amusing, such as his enjoyment of urban climbing. And although he talks a lot about his expensive cars, it’s clearly more than just self-indulgent prattle; this is a man who knows and loves the automobile and his enthusiasm is infectious. He also knows Scotland very well and it’s fun to read his descriptions of the various roads across the country.

Overall this is a great book. I enjoyed it a lot more than i thought I would. I’d give it a four.

Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely

Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions
I literally just finished this yesterday. It came recommended by a good friend of mine.

 

It’s all about how we are all not only irrational, but predictably so. A good example is seen in his example of the advert for a subscription to the Economist. The web-only subscription is $59, the print-only subscription is $125 and the print AND web subscription is $125. Most of his students picked the print and web subscription. But when the print-only subscription was removed, most students went for the web only. Nobody in either case picked the print-only subscription.

He explains that none of this has anything to do with rationality, but that the print-only subscription is placed deliberately as a decoy.

He looks at why we behave irrationaly when offered anything free, why a cheap asprin doesn’t cure a headache quite so well as an expensive one, and so on. It was an enjoyable read, however I did find it to be a little repetitive and over long.

 

The Stand, Stephen King

I used to enjoy reading Stephen King a lot. I find his tales to be gripping and well written. I chose this book for my review of personal reading that formed part of my higher English exam. The theme was conflict. That was in 1991.

I just listened to it again and enjoyed it once more. It’s quite an appropriate tale for the current swine flu climate actually! It follows a bunch of survivors of a superflu virus, devised by the US Government, that wipes out the large majority of the US population (no other part of the world ever gets mentioned, a shortcoming of the book in my opinion; it could at least have been glossed over). The survivors split into two groups, the first gathering around Mother Abigail, the goody, and the Dark Man, the baddy. So you see the margin for conflict?

Of course the goodies win, but it’s SK’s style and skill at character building and dialogue that makes the book worth reading. He’s an astute observer of the human psyche and the characters are easy to relate to, even if they are all from a completely different culture to my own.

Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula Le Guin

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I need to catch up on my books on Vox. I read this a while back but never got around to posting about it. Matter of fact I don’t recall that much about it. It follows the tale of a kid who becomes a wizard and goes to wizard school and unleashes an evil spirit and then has to beat said evil spirit.

To be honest, I didn’t enjoy it that much at all. I probably would have enjoyed it when I was in my teens, but it was just a bit too formulaic and shallow for me. Perhaps it gets better as the series progresses. I don’t really care though; book one didn’t grab me enough to want to carry on.