It always amuses me to see the surprise reaction when I mention that I enjoy reading.
"What? You Read? Books? You mean programming books, right? No?"
Personally, I find that there's a simple joy from curling up on the sofa with a good read and so am always on the lookout for recommendations on books to read. However, as someone reminded me recently, you have to give to receive and so, here's a list of the books I've read so far in 2007.
It was probably the gorgeous looking cover that first grabbed my attention, and the idea of Death as the companionable narrator that helped pull me in but it was the charming and lyrical writing that really won me over. The Book Thief recounts the story of Liesel, a 9 year old girl growing up in the midst of a world war. Struggling to survive the darkness of Nazi Germany, she's comforted by being taught both words and kindness by her foster father. Indeed, it's a love of words which not only leads her to become the eponymous book thief but also indirectly leads her to the humanity that lies behind a war-torn nation. Playful at times (especially, Death's narration), tragic in others but always moving. A lovely and recommended read.
Where The Book Thief takes a complex setting and retells it with innocence and gentle simplicity, The Secret History is almost the opposite; taking the setting of an arts college, Donna Tartt explores how obsession and emotion intertwine and culminate in a modern Greek tragedy. Narrated in the first person and in hindsight, it tells the story of how a student finds himself accepted in a group of reclusive Classics students, an act which begins with acceptance and friendship before the inevitable tragedy of human emotion leads to an accidental murder and the eventual emotional breakdown of the group. Whilst the complex but well-written story is lovely to read, it does over-steep itself in melodrama at times; nonetheless, it's an beguiling and suspenseful read.
This probably doesn't quite qualify as a book but I love Calvin and Hobbes too much to care:) If you haven't read Calvin and Hobbes, then you owe it to yourself to take a look. And if you do, then you probably don't need me telling you twice…
When a father takes his son to a library of rare books and gives him the choice of any book, it leads a young boy into a tale of intrigue, murder and doomed love. After Daniel Sempere chooses a book by an unknown and supposedly unrenowned author, he finds him the centre of attention by a mysterious stranger and the tragic circumstances behind the author of the "Shadow of the Wind".
Whilst a fairly enjoyable read, the Shadow of the Wind reminds me of a Dan Brown novel, not only in the way it fashions murky intrigue but also in it's single-faceted characterisations. However, in the same way that The Da Vinci Code didn't overly suffer from the weak writing, the (writing) flaws aren't necessarily fatal for Carlos Ruiz Zafon novel. It's a pleasurable enough read but more one to borrow than to buy.
I loved Neil Gaiman's American Gods, and whilst Anansi Boys is less epic and more comical, it's an equally delightful read. The main protagonist is Fat Charlie, an ordinary guy with an ordinary life who has finds his life suddenly become more than ordinary when his dad, the trickster Anansi, dies. Gaiman's dark humour shines through in what is a modern fairy tale of family love and self-acceptance. Anansi Boys does take a while to get going but it soon becomes a page-turner.
Being british, I have to confess that Baseball is both a sport which strikes little interest in me. However, I was a fan of Lewis' Liar's Poker and the favourable writeups of Money Ball across the web were enough to convince me to give this a go. Telling the story of how the Oakland Athletics, a poor underdog in the moneyrich world of Baseball, and how their canny manager exploited the Baseball market bias and weaknesses in drafting players to beat teams with many times the bankroll. As with Liar's Poker, it's Lewis' engaging writing that help make Moneyball a good read even for non-baseball fans.
I like trivia and I like collecting trivia which is why, back when I did Physics in college, the back pages were the main reason for me reading the New Scientist. If you've read any of the New Scientist "Last Word" books before, you'll know what to expect. Everyday questions are answered for the layman. You'll either find it a pointless read or, if you're like me, a fun way to wile away the time.
I decided to pick this up after I saw both my sister and a friend reading this. Empress Orchid is the story of the mother of China's Last Emperor and her struggles in the court of Imperial China. Whilst I enjoy books set around historical eras, I found myself struggling as Orchid did with her endeavours in the forbidden palace. The narrow confines of the experience, the one-dimensional characters and the difficulty in empathising with any of the protagonists meant that I can't really say that I enjoyed the read. It does pick up slightly towards the end of the novel, but it's still not a book that I would personally recommend. That said, my sister enjoyed it so YMMV.
Jared's previous book (Guns, germs and steel) was a brilliant look into some possible explanations for the rise of Western Civilisation. Exploring Easter Island, Viking Greenland and the Maya, Jared takes a brave stab at the other side of the coin by attempting to look into possible reasons why certain societies fall and perish. However, whilst Guns, Germs and Steel managed to succeed with well thought out reasoning backed by case study, Collapse is less successful. In examining specific circumstances and societies, it does a decent enough job but it's in trying to extrapolate and weave these explanations where it falls short. Whether it's due to the small sample set or the narrative, the analysis feels neither substantive nor authoritative to be truly convincing. Collapse is a well written read which works best as a collection of lessons and case-studies into failed societies; however, it perhaps would have been better if it constrained it's ambitions a bit more.
Over to you
Looking back, that does seem to have been a relatively busy couple of months of reading 1. Whilst I'm generally a fast reader, even when I was young2, this was more due to having obtained a few books courtesy of Christmas, being without home internet access for most of this year and having a lazy new year:)
However, you can never have too many books to read so going back to the reason for this post; what books are you reading and what books would you recommend?
- It's actually a bit worse than even the above list suggests as there's a few books I left out because they were part of a series or because I haven't finished them ("The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana" which I don't like so far and thus, probably won't finish and "Never Let Me Go" which I do and probably will). Now, if only bookstores ran loyalty card schemes… [back]
- As an amusing aside, I remember a time during Infants or maybe Junior school when we had reading periods. I'd finished reading the book that I was given and got up to ask the teacher if I could have another one. The teacher, looking at her watch and the rest of the class still making their way through their books, didn't believe I could have finished and proceeded to quiz me all about the book. Despite answering all her questions correctly, I don't think she was entirely convinced on that occasion though she did give me another book to read [back]