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Showing posts from 2013

Mindfulness - A Practical Guide To Finding Peace In A Frantic World by Mark Williams and Danny Penman

A book on mindfulness - now, this is a departure for me. I wasn't planning on reviewing this for a number of reasons, including but not exclusively because I've not finished the course of meditation it prescribes. I wasn't really planning on reading it either, but I did, also for reasons which I am not going to relate. Good stuff so far, eh?

For a few years my wife has been gently suggesting that I try meditative activities to temper my tendency towards displays of extremes of emotion. I have resisted thus far because the one time I did concede ground and attended a Buddhist centre to take part in a guided meditation session, when asked how it was afterwards by a kind and gentle soul, I told him it filled me with a rage so profound that I felt I should go and stand outside so as not to hurt anyone. I did also read a book by Karen Armstrong on compassion, which had a 12-step process (instant recoil) towards a more compassionate life. I was greatly tickled and, one might say,…

Freaks by Nik Perring and Caroline Smailes

This is not likely to be a useful or interesting review.
Sorry, that was a brutal beginning, so brutal in fact that I didn’t manage to get a customary disclaimer in first. It was total brutal.

Where was I? Oh yes, being boring and unhelpful. Well, it all stems from the fact that I read Freaks because it was free for Kindle and someone or other keeps talking about Caroline Smailes in such glowing terms that it’s hard to ignore. Also, DarrenCraske has been suitably up-bigged by Scott Pack of The Friday Project, via blogs, social media and give-aways that his formerly nose-turned-up-at works have inveigled their way into what I almost casually term my throw-away collection. It was inevitable in that respect I suppose. 
I don't know who Nik Perring is.
However, it was read over a particularly stressful Christmas period, and in snatches lasting only a few moments (not normally an issue for this book I suspect as it is basically X number of very tiny short stories, of the oft-labelled micr…

Conversations With Spirits by E.O. Higgins

As has become customary in reviews of note, I must once again lead with a disclaimer – this one born of my own stunted temporal sensitivity; for me, time in publishing terms stopped when I left the book trade, in 2011, and therefore when I make reference to things published recently, recently might encompass more time that one might reasonably expect. Therefore, when I say that recently there has been a mini-spate of publications wherein someone challenges Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to flaunt his misguided beliefs in the face of scientific inquiry, you might be surprised to know that this includes Hjortsberg’s diverting crime novel Nevermore, first published in 1995, as well as the whimsical Oscar Wilde mysteries by Giles Brandreth, Arthur & George by Julian Barnes, one of the Flashman novels from George MacDonald Fraser, and lots of lower level self-published drivel flotsamming about the waters of the Amazon.com.
Sadly for Mr Higgins, my favourite Sir Arthur is definitely Hjortsberg’s…

The Testimony by James Smythe

Trawling Twitter at dire o’clock in the afternoon desperately, quixotically, searching for meaning and /or distraction I found a tweet which told me that some author or other was giving his book away on the Kindle-ma-bob. Usually, these tweets are from nasty Americans who taunt the UK book-buying  and /or downloading public with novels that are not permitted to be sold to UK book-buyers and / or downloaders (and probably aren’t worth the reading in any case). This one seemed to be, genuinely, from a ‘real’ person (@BlueDoorBooks I think it was), with the backing of the publishing house, having been shared by them. What? I follow Harper Collins?! Why on earth… Oh yeah, to get free books.
So I downloaded it, via – shudder – Amazon Whispernet and there it was on my bottom-of-the-range Kindle, for which enhanced audio content is NOT AVAILABLE*. It begins well in the fractured, multi-narrative that has become a little bit popular in the wake of Lost, only in much shorter instalments. On mat…

Tales From Two Pockets by Karel Čapek

Here is a quick but predictable disclaimer before we begin – this is another book which guilt has led me to select to read over other more contemporary and “exciting” works, more recently purchased or enthused over. In addition, it wasn’t even the first Čapek book I picked up due to this niggling neglectfulness*. How does this fit with the coincidence-guided intertextual flow of text selection premise, the “cause and effect” effect? you might ask.

Shut up! I might say.
Equally predictably, next comes the contextual bit, where you get to see how well researched these reviews are and I get to feel smug that I actually cribbed it all from one online encyclopaedia or other. Čapek is a Czech writer of immense talent, one of two equally gifted brothers, writing in whatever country the Czech Republic used to be between 1900 and 1938 (Bohemia? Czechoslovakia?). Luckily for him, as a resident of the Nazi-annexed Sudetenland, he died of pneumonia before the naughty Gestapo, who I understand might…

The Quiddity of Will Self by Sam Mills

It’s hard to say, when asked as I was recently at a meeting of local writers (who you can follow on Twitter if you wish), who might be my favourite author. If you look at my book shelves, you might see groupings of books by modern authors such as (WARNING - gratuitous alphabetical roll-call):
Paul Auster, John Barth, Richard Brautigan, Thomas Bernhard, Jim Bob, T.C. Boyle, Karel Čapek, Jonathan Carroll, Stephen Donaldson, Glen Duncan, Tibor Fischer, Peter Høeg, Michel Houellebeq, Bohumil Hrabal, Ismail Kadare, Andrey Kurkov, John D McDonald, Harry Mullisch, Haruki Murakami, Cees Nooteboom, Victor Pelevin, Thomas Pynchon, Jon Ronson, and Kurt Vonnegut (my usual go-to favourite when I don’t have the energy to explain).
In addition, you might just spot every book ever published by one William Woodard "Will" Self (minus Sore Sites which mysteriously vanished while moving house a few years back). Whilst a fan, and also willing to admit experiencing an embarrassing and sometimes di…

The Twelve by Justin Cronin

Before I get sidetracked into the usual "books are only a device to talk at length about pseudo-intellectual concerns, make dull jokes and pass reference to the suffering of mild and trivial anxieties" side-show, I think I should start this review with an appropriate bang.

I hate Stephen King.

Now I don't know him personally (although his pictures creep me out) and I'm sure he's a nice chap and all that, but his books are formulaic, predictable and appeal to the lowest common denominator-type reader. Not that this is a bad thing (I'm sure James Patterson wouldn't be a multi-multi-millionaire if this were so) but it makes him completely uninteresting to me, because I'm more concerned with pseudo-intellectualism etc. and so on. Hate might seem too strong a word, but it really has gotten to the point where even the mention of his name makes my teeth grate (in keeping with the vague dental theme begun in a recent review I shall hereby disclose that I suffe…

Look at the Birdie by Kurt Vonnegut

When Kurt Vonnegut died in 2007 I was bereft; having nothing new by Kurt Vonnegut to read was something that I felt unprepared to face and I didn't know what to do about it. Possessed by my habitual fanaticism (tempered only by financial constraint and - now - issues of logistics) I had already scooped up as much of his work as I could find and had only one or two left to read. This included a first edition paperback of Between Time and Timbuktu, a made-for-TV film script published in 1972 based on several of Vonnegut's shorter pieces, and another first ed. hard back of Sun Moon Star, ostensibly a re-telling of the nativity story as inspired by the simple drawings of Ivan Chermayeff. Those I had yet to read were going to have to be strictly rationed, drip fed over the course of years so as not to drain the source dry prematurely. What would happen when all was read? 

It would now seem there are more posthumous collections of previously "unpublished" work than I could …

The Impossibly by Laird Hunt

The Percival Everett theme continues for the present. I'm so glad you're pleased to hear it! You may have read, buried deep in the bowels of another review, that I came across this book after searching the Kindle store for more by Everett. I shan't therefore bore you with a repeat, but will gently remind you that Everett provides the introduction to what is my own first taste of an author I could really get behind (in a William Shatner / Henry Rollins / Ben Folds musical production* sort-of sense). 

So what do we know about Laird Hunt (or @LairdHunt as the Twitterati would have it)? Answer - not much (that is not cribbed directly from his Wiki entry or his own website). It seems he used to work for the UN in a press-related capacity, occasionally contributes to McSweeney's (where did I read that? I can find no proof that this is true so if you prefer you may disregard) and has been a translator of things into languages other than that in which they were written. An essa…

Damned If I Do by Percival Everett

Where I should be recovering from a particularly nasty stomach bug, rather I appear to be on a Percival Everett trip today - first Strom, now Damned - but he really is that good. Good as in read-everything-he's-written-now good. Good as in I'm writing this on my iPad never more than two meters from the nearest toilet good. That's good. 

Damned If I Do is short stories, yes. That I have a curious relationship with short fiction is undisputed, but there are some like Breece D'J Pancake and Haruki Murakami that just have to be read, objections or no. Thankfully, it appears Everett has inherited some of their ability to write convincing, understated and ultimately addictive snippets of prose. And snippets they are. Somewhere I read once a quote from China Mielville where he says he just loves it when writers don't show the reader the monster in its entirety, that leaving something of the horror to the imagination of his audience adds a level of engagement and makes the …