Michael Blastland & Andrew Dilnot: The Tiger that Isn’t – Seeing through a world of numbers

October 19th, 2007

It is so easy to lie with numbers – or not exactly lie, but give an impression that serves one aim or another. It’s quite an eye-opener to the reader; even if some ways are universally known, there always seems to be yet another way of using numbers or statistics to bluff people. Because pattern of stripes can be seen from the jungle, it doesn’t mean there necessarily is a tiger on the loose. The makers of BBC Radio series “More or Less” have produced a good, many times funny but also a very useful book on the jungle of numbers. It is recent, too, filled with examples from rather close past. Remembering them adds to the pleasurable reading experience.

Ann B. Ross: Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind

October 6th, 2007

A bit too sweet, a bit too light at times, pure entertainment, I admit. I admit Miss Julia has some growing up to when getting in terms of the inheritance, in more ways than one, his two-timing husband left her with, but not quite sufficiently. And it has its curious old-fashioned moments, caused by the main character, I guess that’s why some readers find her attractive, but not me. Too much sugar leaves a bad taste even in books, and while I laughed a few times, and became interested enough to finish the book – its ending was actually better than most of it – I can’t say I’m interested enough to continue the adventures of Miss Julia, she won the battles in one book, and that is enough for me.

David Mitchell: Black Swan Green

October 6th, 2007

This reader wondered a bit why would Jason, the narrator, wanted to look back and relive his months as a thirteen-year-old in a small village in the nineteen eighties. Especially with school and its bullies, his own family gradually breaking up, and stammering always somewhere near, almost having a life of its own. And being a poet on top of all that. Mitchell is a very good, fluent writer, his text a pleasure to read, and any hiccups on the way are ignored easily, although I suspect a few of his experiences are a bit closer to home to a male reader. “It’s not the end”, are the final words, yes, by the book’s end life is opening up for Jason, his stammering disappearing and new discoveries made. For example, with the the French book in his pocket, Le Grand Meaules.

John Fowles: The French Lieutenant’s Woman

September 20th, 2007

A real post.modern classic, with its essays on Victorian life, and alternative endings. I eagerly read it through the first time, and the rereading — for the book group — was certainly not wasted. Well-written, living characters, events interesting and those essays, they just give more life to the story. At least to this reader.

Kelly Link: Magic for Beginners

September 20th, 2007

Nine longish short stories, starting with the amazing Hugo-winner ‘The Faery Handbag’, filled with sense of wonder, or a sense of everyday life, slightly different. At least at the start. And filled with great characters, in cat skin or not, stuff sometimes nightmares are made of, sometimes not. A clichéd review, perhaps, but that these stories are not, definitely not. It’s almost inhuman how good Kelly Link really is.

Alain-Fournier: Le Grand Meaules

September 20th, 2007

A French classic, yes, but somehow it doesn’t seem to catch me, speak to me. Maybe because it’s been too long since I was a teenager. (This is supposed to be a growing up story.) Or maybe because the life these characters have doesn’t touch mine. Or I find their motivations too strange to me – the narrator Francois Seurel, or the Grand Meaules himself, who also narrates part of the story, or we read his diary, edited by Seurel – I seem to have no idea why they do what they do. But the novel’s time, the culture it’s situated in, the minor characters, they are well done, yes, and it is a pleasure to read the translation. I do wonder how the original language would affect me.

Enrique Vila-Matas: Bartleby & Co

September 20th, 2007

I would prefer not to forget Bartleby, that very curious character brought to us by Herman Melville, but I won’t be forgetting this book either. Marcelo, a Catalan clerk, who has managed to publish a book, has become a Bartleby, not able to write anything He sets out to find other Bartlebys, and reasons why they prefer not to write. And it’s an intriguing, interesting great story, pleasure to read – although as a reader of mostly Anglo-American fiction getting used to the Latin (Catalan in this case) mindset takes a bit time, but is worth it.

Fannie Flagg: Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven

September 20th, 2007

To put it simply, Fannie Flagg entertains me, makes me laugh. Aloud, too. And some days, we all need to laugh, need to be entertained. Her main character, Elner Shimfissle dies, and gets to heaven, but is returned, from the looks of it, to make some things right. And affects the whole community, of normal everyday life and real people, people, who think going to Dollywood is a special treat, hey, you can even get married there! Smile and warm feelings. Thanks, Ms Flagg.

Robert J. Sawyer: Rollback

September 20th, 2007

It is hard to entertain, and, at the same time, talk about things that matter. Like life .. and things like science, and have people in the text lead lives that sound possible, quite normal. Robert J. Sawyer manages to do that, to me at least. It’s refreshing to read a book, in which, in spite of science fictional setting, more than half the women suddenly don’t disappear from everyday life, and people have lives that sound like they are lived, say, now, like in this book. It’s possible, maybe, that aliens will contact us in a near future. It is also possible that some day, in some way, we manage to extend the life of humans considerably. What does it mean to us, if those two things happen? And what it would mean, if things don’t go quite as planned. Lots of cultural connections with people of my (and Sawyer’s) generation, lots of humour, lots of science, too. And a good read.

Alan Weisman: The World Without Us

September 20th, 2007

What if – human beings just (POOF!) disappeared tomorrow? What would happen to earth, how would the disappearance affects its flora and fauna, how long would it take all traces of humankind to disappear, too? Are there any lasting mementoes, until the sun becomes a bit bigger than now, that is. It may be that traces of laughter in the Lucy Show are the only lasting souvenirs (even the Voyagers have their life-time and will grumble in space), but before that becoming reality, Weisman has written a truly interesting and thought-provoking book, which shows lots of background reading and interviews with specialists. The only thing that was missing from this pleasurable brain-activating read, were the footnotes.