2017

2017 is upon us…

This coming year I’m setting myself a series of challenges – some practical, some a bit more fun. I find that my interest in these challenges I set at the start of the year often fades around March time, so here’s to hoping that doesn’t happen again!

Within these challenges are to read more, write more, and blog at least once a week.

Being a spreadsheet user by profession, I’ve created one to track my progress, which I may post on here at milestones!

I guess this time of year is often a time of reflection…

2016 has been varied in many aspects, some good some bad. I began a new important relationship, I got a new job… but I also now have a strange level of anxiety attached to my use of time.

But that’s not the years fault – life is just like that: ups and downs.

I am not so sentimental around new years to be honest, I quite like the novelty of an opportunity to set challenges with a notable start and end date, but otherwise I have never been one to see much significance – resolutions, after all, can be set whenever. We should always be trying to improve ourselves.

Do you have any aims for the year ahead?

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The Colour of Magic – Terry Pratchett (Book Review)

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I bought this book about 2 years ago but never got around to reading it. I bought it after a talk with a friend of mine who has read everything Pratchett ever wrote. I recently gave it a read before starting a bigger book:

Rincewind, a wizard drop-out, becomes the unlikely guide to the Discworld’s first tourist: Twoflower. Travelling on the a Disc-shaped world, supported by 4 large elephants on the back of a giant turtle travelling through space, the characters get into a variety of situations, pursued by the overly-loyal Luggage.

To appreciate the book, a knowledge of fantasy is already required: over-the-top plots, very convenient timings, etc. as the whole book is written as a fantasy-satire. This is introduced early on when, in the case of an attempt to greet another person failing, it is said that the character realises he ‘fumbled the introduction’ – a reference to D&D.

The book follows to characters as the face a variety of challenges, mostly coming about by the eager Twoflowers want to explore and take pictures of the world.

The book is written in a very simple way but, and this was my misunderstanding, in a way which is appropriate for young children (teens perhaps, though). With references to ‘whoring’ and a fair bit of nudity aside, a lot of the humour would require a bit of explanation for children.

The book itself is light-hearted, however, and I enjoyed reading it. I’m likely to read others in the series in time, but not after a heavier read!

American Psycho – Bret Easton Ellis (Book Review)

After many recommendations and appearing on multiple lists of ‘books you should read’, I decided to give American Psycho a try:

Patrick Bateman is a young, wealthy American living in New York city. Constantly buying the newest and best things, and eating at the newest and best restaurants, from the outside he has a good life: influential friends, a beautiful girlfriend etc.

Hiding behind this mask however, is an insatiable urge to murder and maim other humans.

The writing style of the book will likely put many off from the start – sporadic interjections of seemingly unrelated topics, whole chapters on the character’s morning routine, other chapters being essentially essays on certain bands discography – but it all seems so intentional too. The narration fits the character perfectly in his attention to detail which is seemingly insignifficant.  Nearly every chapter begins with a description of what everyone was wearing (Armani suits, Hugo Boss ties) and what the topic was on the morning chat show.

Nevertheless, it is eery how familiar certain topics and conversations are when meeting with friends, and feels almost accusatory in our obsession with the superficial whilst ignoring more important matters.

The murders are described incredibly graphically, and for this reason I’d be hesitant to recommend the book to everyone. I’ve had friends who stopped reading at the first murder…

The book is very clever in it’s style and unique in narrative. The ending is ambiguous and leaves the reader guessing too.

The book itself seems to focus on the topic of these masks we wear in our culture to cover up what we actually are – we appear happy, successful, strong, complete; underneath is something quite different.

We all have a tendency to wear masks in our settings, but with enough time and pressure, the mask begins to slip, revealing what was hidden beneath.

Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami (Book Review)

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Being Murakami’s most popular book, and having enjoyed the others of his I have read, I decided Norwegian Wood should be a book I read before the end of the year:

Toru, a young university student in Tokyo, is living a fairly lonely life after the suicide of his best friend. His friend’s girlfriend, Naoko, whom Toru previously had nothing but mutual friend in common with each other, begins walking with Toru regularly, hardly talking.

Toru receives a letter from Naoko saying she is now in a sanitorium and is seemingly coming to terms with her trauma. Around htis itme, he also meets Midori, a ‘sexually liberated’ fellow student.

The story essentially follows the relationships between characters, rather than an overbearing plot throughout the book. It is more of a study of humans rather than events which happen to them. The event which triggers a reaction happens fairly early on – the suicide of Kizuki, the character’s mutual friend.

I got thinking about half way through that this book is for another time – I think it is likely better than how I was experiencing it… perhaps something which makes more sense when unsaid.

The book seems to have regular explicit scenes between Toru and pretty much every female character – which I found strange as Toru (though many characters seemed to disagree with me) seemed fairly average in just about all aspects.

Again, perhaps I’m simply too busy to put more energy into understanding the book.

Overall not the strongest of Murakami’s books I have read. I found it difficult to truly care about the characters, and wasn’t gripped by anything that made it hard to put down. I would regularly stop mid-way through chapters without much worry about what was to happen next.

I will try again in the future with this one though!

Update post #1

I’m currently struggling to complete any books, and as this blog has developed into somewhat of a book-focused one, I feel I must emphasise to myself and those who follow that I have not ceased to write.

I’m currently reading Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami, and have few others I want to get through… Work, life: it’s busy, I’m sure you can sympathise.

I hope you are all well.

Not busy at work,
Too busy outside of it:
Wouldn’t mind a swap.

I hit my Goodread’s reading target last month, and need to get back on the wagon with the pressured reading – especially due to the books I have to get though being generally rated highly…

I’m also doing a bit of writing too when I get chance – short stories if I can. I feel my novel ideas were not my style, weirdly:

Ideas don’t make poetry; you need to have words.” – Paraphrased quote I read in an interesting essay (may deserve a blog post).

More to follow, hopefully soon!

Patriotism – Yukio Mishima (Book Review)

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The image is explained by the fact the book has a white cover… oh well. This book was presented to me as an example of Japanese literature. Being described as ‘Nabokovian’ too, perhaps as a method of convincing me to try.

Shinji, a lieutenant in the Japanese army, arrives home to inform his wife that his friends have become mutineers. Due to his position in the army, he has been ordered to lead the attack against them.

Unwilling to slaughter his friends, Shinji decides that he must commit seppuku, and informing his wife of this, his wife decides to join him.

The book describes the last night the couple spend together before taking part in their mutually agreed upon ritual suicide.

The tension of the book was felt throughout, with the reader and characters being made fully aware of what was to come.

The whole feel of the short story is intense, and the attitude with which the characters face their death is with both bravery and sorrow.

The book is very well written for one so short. The writer manages to raise so many questions about the choices made by the characters. Their seemingly mundane activities before the event being doing with a gruesome level of normality. The act itself being described so graphically that you can almost feel it.

Being from a Western culture, the act of seppuku can often be quite staggering. When faced with the ‘honourable’ thing to do in battle, most Western armies agree to die by the hand of the enemy. In fact, deserting is a serious offence, and in the examples such as WW1, returning to safety meant returning to the gunfire of your previous allies.

In Japan, however, it seems more honourable to die by your own hands in the ritualistic way than to allow your enemies victory. It’s quite the opposite in terms of an ‘honourable death’ to what we expect, and so as a reflex the reaction is often one of disagreement: how can suicide be brave?

Yet strangely to myself, I felt that the way Shinji approached the event was certainly brave. The cold, sharp steel being just a fact to face up to. I don’t think I could do it… a slow and bloody death by a blade.

Overall the book was fantastic for it’s length. The author himself also dying by seppuku lends it a somewhat prophetic title and characteristic too.

Alex – Pierre Lemaitre (Book Review)

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This was one of the choices for this months book club. Being a crime book, and assured that it doesn’t rely on a twist ending, I thought to give it a go. I usually avoid crime novels due to cliches after all…

Alex, a young woman, finds herself kidnapped and hanging in a cage from an abandoned warehouse ceiling; the abductor saying he only wants to watch her die.

Verhoeven is assigned to the case and must track down a girl who seems to have no connections to anyone, and who seemingly moves about France a lot.

A fairly simple premise, but a quite complex story-line as it gets going.

The crime in the book is described quite graphically, which though it could have worked, felt somewhat forced in the writing. I got the impression that I was supposed to be more shocked than I actually was (perhaps I am desensitised, but who isn’t today?)

Alex was a very interesting character, and by far my favourite in the novel. For a victim, she had none of the cliches that are common in crime novels, and I for one certainly appreciated that.

Verhoeven, however, did carry some cliches. Widowed, angry etc. But perhaps if I read more of Lemaitre’s books, I’d grow to like him more (being a recurring character).

The story-line was complicated and the ending very clever. In fact, it dawned on me what had happened at exactly the same time it did another character, which I felt was novelty: the writer had managed to keep me in the dark as much as the characters, despite knowing all the clues.

Overall, certainly a unique crime book, and for lovers of the genre, one I would recommend. Perhaps I will develop a love for crime fiction eventually, but until then, books like this certainly make an argument in favour of the genre to me.