* Superhero for Hire: Great idea; great book. A guy who works for a newspaper on the classified advertisements sets about checking up on the story behind some of the advertisements. Classics include the life-size Ronald McDonald and the afore-mentioned superhero for hire. The impact of the book is unexpected. Sure, some of them are bizzare and funny, but a lot of the stories are touching a tragic. I am sure if I knew my literature better, I could summon up some quote about the vast gamut of human experience being arrayed. But I can't. So, buy the book and see if you were as moved as I was.
* Where Did it All Go Right. Read a review of this and was keen to get it for myself. Story of a normal kid, growing up in a nice neighbourhood with great parents; written as a backlash against the tradition of authors blaming everything on their home environment. Interesting idea but the problem is that it comes across as self-indulgent as all the guy has to tell you about is himself. Fairly interesting for a few chapters, but drags as the book continues. By the end, you can see why no-one writes about there normal childhood. It is just too boring.
* Home Grown Democrat (Garrison Keillor). Dude, relax. Garrison Keillor is my all-time favourite author. "Leaving Home" is my all time favourite book of all time. So I read anything he writes. This book is written as a warning against unchecked Republicanism. Maybe it is impossible to be moderate about Bush's presidency, but I suspect Keillor has come down with a touch of the Michael-Moore's. There are some beautifully written passages in here that are well worth the read, but the views on Republicanism need to be tempered. Keillor attempts to caraciture but, to my ear, it comes across as ranting, so his politics are lost on me. Still, worth the read - a lot better than Faranheight 911.
* The Road to McCarthy (Pete McCarthy). Semi-Irish person goes on humorous jaunt around the planet. Similar vein to McCarthy's Bar so, if you liked that, you won't be disappointed. I you haven't read anything like it before, it is kind of like Bill Bryson for adults.
* The Runes of the Earth (Stephen Donaldson). I usually really like Donaldson's books. I think I have read everything he has written, so was keen to get into this. Well, either I have changed my tastes or his style has changed drastically, but I really laboured through this one. There is a good story in here somewhere, but his style is so verbose and contrived that you have to fight for it. I suspect that his publishers have forced him to wring an un-planned sequel out of the Thomas Covenant series and so this lumpy text was the end result.
* In the Company of Cheerful Ladies (Alexander Mc Call-Smith). If you have not read any of the "No 1 Ladies Detective Agency" novels, then do yourself a favour and start immediately. I don't think I can add anything that has not been said before about these books, but they are unique in the way they portray Africa. They show the humorous and gentle side that, those of us who live here, recognise immediately. This book is pretty much identical to those that have gone before. Great!
(* I have just (April 2005) returned from Cape Town-London-Glasgow-Belfast-London-Chicago-Portland-Chicago-London-Cape Town trip. Nothing like a hellish business trip to push up consumption of novels. I can't seem to read work related stuff on flights - maybe there isn't enough oxygen in the plane to get my brain up to speed. Or maybe I am lazy?)
Crap Towns: The 50 worst places to live in the UK. I am fairly disappointed by this as it was a great opportunity to really get into why a give place is so depressing, but they fluffed it. The book is simply a collection of emails by disgruntled residents accompanied by occasional defensive emails from MPs and local councillors. A lot of what is written about a given town is interchangable with any other town; so the book ends up as a commentary on UK society rather than giving great insight into urban decay.
1421: The Year China Discovered the World (Gavin Menzies): I saw a copy of a map in the parliament buildings at Cape Town drawn by Chinese cartographers clearly showing parts of the world which had been 'discovered' by Europeans. A little while ago I found this book explaining how the Chinese had actually discovered the entire world long before the Europeans got out of a bed. Written by an ex-submarine captain, it can be a bit naive in places, but his argument is compelling and seems to be as valid as anyone elses. If you are interested in cartography or history in the least, you should definitely read this - the description of Chinese society in the 15th century is sobering to anyone with any notion of European cultural sophistication.
Jerome K. Jerome: My Life and Times: I really liked Three Men in a Boat, which Jerome described as the first book of comic relief without any subject that needed relief. The book itself is fairly whimsical, so there is a lot of randomness, but there is also a lot of fascinating stuff in here. Jerome writes engagingly about the introduction of such things as: bicycles, motor cars, skiing and World War I. Also, his descriptions of 'rural' London are fascinating to anyone who has lived there.
The Busy, Busy World of Richard Scarry: Biography of a guy who writes childrens' books. I loved these as a kid and have started reading them to my daughter so I thought this would give some insight into why the world is populated with pigs who eat gherkins. There are one or two funny anecdotes in here but, overall, a real disappointment. The biography feels very sanitised. It reads like excerpts from his PA's diary (and then he did this and then he did that and then he...) No insight into why Lowly worm, why the chick thinks it is a dog etc. Missable
The Geology of Southern Africa: Living in Cape Town, it is hard to ignore nature. I have to confess that the whole biology and botany thing misses me entirely. The geology, however, I find amazing. So I got this to find out more about the mountains around here. Sadly there was about two paragraphs in total telling me that the mountains are caused by folding. And? So? It is kind of my fault that I am disappointed in the book. If I had thought about the rest of Southern Africa (diamonds, gold, gemstones, uranium, platinum etc. deposits) the Cape peninsula really doesn't rate in the wider scheme.
How the mind works (Steve Pinker): I love Pinker's writing style and this book seems to have just about everything that is currently known about cognitive psychology. This could be boring, but Pinker really strives to make the information relevant and weave a plausible story about evolutionary psychology around the whole thing. For me it clarified the history and current debate around connectionist models and the significance of neural networks in cog. psych. research - something you would never get from a computer science AI course.
Eats, Shoots and Leaves (Lynette Truss): I would imagine most of the English writing world has read this book by now. Good. Not brilliant. Good.
Complete Anthology of Robert Frost: I know it is not cool to like Frost, but I do. He is so miserable at times that he makes me glad to be alive. Something like "Stopping by woods" reads like a happy homily. Once you read what was happening in the guy's life at that time, it takes on a completely different meaning.
The Age of Kali (William Dalrymple): A really well written collection of essays on India. I have never had any desire to go to India; didn't understand why one would want to (can't be doing with sitars for a start). Anyway, this book has changed that perception derived from over-exposure to Oxfam posters and goes a long way to explaining why India is such a fascinating place. Well worth reading. (Still don't want to go, though).
Wild at Heart. Interesting look at why males in Western
society have been largely emmasculated or marginialised. Not so much of
an issue in South Africa (yet!) but a big deal in America. Especially
worrying is the way in which American child psychologists liberally hand
out drugs like Ritallin to boys who do not learn and behave the way girls
do. Are men obsolete?
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