Reading – Oct to Dec 2013

After a long time of not reading any books at all, I made a concerted effort to start reading again. And have turned back into the book hungry monster I used to be…

The Rapture of the Nerds – Cory Doctorow:

I normally love Cory. I.. I just couldn’t get through it. I found the writing slightly.. not quite lazy… but something. In crafting the new world, simple descriptions were given eg. the coast of France was described as being radioactive. In brackets.While I get the value and use of describing these changes casually… it just didn’t sit comfortably for me. First book I learned to put down.

Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury:

“It was a pleasure to burn”

Such a strong opening line, and a brilliant first couple of pages. But the promise of these weren’t fulfilled.

I had been waiting a long time to read the book, and was always careful not to hear any spoilers. However, I think this meant I expected too much from the book. It had always been mentioned by others in the same breath as Huxley’s Brave New World and 1984, both books I have lost myself in multiple times, and I just didn’t find it lived up to these.

While in awe of some of the scarily presentient ideas contained Fahrenheit 451 (with one scene reminding me strongly of Police, Camera, Action) I found both the book and Montag as a character too disjointed. I couldn’t connect with Montag (and I always get *far* too emotionally involved with lead characters), and found I cared little about what happened to anyone.

Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen – P. G Wodehouse:

Not my favourite of Wodehouse books – but I do enjoy any visit to the world of Wooster and Jeeves. There is a bittersweet irony as it is believed to be the last novel fully completed by Wodehouse before his death.

The Beautiful and Damned – F. Scott Fitzgerald:

I couldn’t get through the book. The story is slow, and while I don’t need to like the characters in my books,  I found Anthony and Gloria were neither interesting nor likeable. The blurb tells me that ‘their marriage is a passionate, theatrical performance’, but I found it excruiating, unhappy and I just wished for both the marriage and the book to end.

Pretty Girl in Crimson Rose – Sandy Balfour:

This was a delight to read. Delicate, enticing, the book pulled me to keep reading until I had pulled together an understanding of the authors life. While also exploring the fascinating issues of culture, national identify, politics and history, this autobiography is centered around cryptic cross words. While this may sound bizarre – it works. Really works. And even though I’ve never been the biggest fan of cross words, I have been left with a fresh appreciation for them.

And Then There Were None – Agatha Christie:

Agatha Christie books are something of a dirty secret for me – like having fallen into bed with an ex against all good judgement, they touch all the right spots, filling me with suspense, before culminating in a great climax, and then leave me feeling empty and hollow.

‘And Then There Were None’ is a masterful book by Christie, in which she lays out the premise early on, building up suspense (to almost breaking point by the end of the book), knowing what but not who. Without a Poirot or Marple like character, the reader is left not knowing who to trust – leaving you very disoriented, questioning the motives of all. I found it absorbing to read – but I won’t think much of it again.

Death Comes to Pemberley – P.D. James:

The first half of the book felt like a step into a world I thought I would never get chance to re-explore. Stepping back through the wardrobe to the world of Pemberley was bliss.

However, rapidly the focus moves away from Elizabeth. And good God, I found Darcy dull. I know the novel is set in a period of time of time in which the role of women was very different to now, however I had hoped that Elizabeth would have some part (indeed any part) in solving the murder mystery. She was the first woman I perceived as ‘strong’ in literature (in contrast to a number of strong girl characters I had ‘met’ in books) – so I was disappointed to see her take a back seat.

Following Darcy through a couple of hundred pages, was painful and tedious. I never understood my friends fascination with Mr Darcy, and now I do so even less. I found much of this rather dull, so skim-read the last 100 pages or so to find the resolution – only to find this rapidly taking place in the last 30. I really don’t think the pay off was worth it, and have no desire to hear from Mr Darcy for a long time.

I will certainly be reading the first half of the book again though. If nothing else, for this gem of a sentence:

“If this were fiction, could even the most brilliant novelist contrive to make credible so short a period in which pride had been subdued and prejudice overcome?”

The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath:

Simultaneously the best and worst book I could read at this time – I found an odd solace in the book, empathising with the suicidal depression, exploring mental illness through a piece of semi-autobiographical writing, which drips with cynicism and humour.

I found the ending somewhat disappointing in a way – it didn’t ring true with the same rawness that I had found in the rest of the book. Although perhaps that’s more of a reflection of me than the book?

Outsider – Albert Camus:

This was a re-read of a book I had read years ago. For some reason, I can’t remember anything about it.

The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul:

Yes I was high on codeine – no, I don’t think this in anyway changed my impression of this book. Mad in all the right ways, and leaving my giggling with glee. Handed to me by a friend, largely to stop me moaning about being a) in pain b) bored, I rushed through this in a single reading. As a big Douglas Adams fan, I only have two questions: 1. Why did it take me so long to find this book. 2. Why are aren’t there more in the Dirk Gently series?

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency – Douglas Adams:

No sooner had I finished the Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, then I ransacked my friends house hunting for this book. Sad I couldn’t find it though, so I bought it for my kindle app and read through this in a few hours (spread over two days). Very happy to have bought it in such a way – as it means I can dip in and out whenever I want. I know the characters now. It’s exactly
that type of book.

Hackers – Steven Levy:

If I never hear the phrase ‘The Hacker Ethic’ (caps not mine) again, I will die a happy woman.  I found the book semi-religious in the worship of ‘true hackers’ and ‘The Hacker Ethic.’ While I’m really interested to learn more about the time and places the author was writing about (accepting that he was writing about only a few locations – and was missing other developments in other place – which is a problem itself), the lack of critical comment really disappointed me.

Two examples stand out clearly. One is not questioning the idea that “it was only the rarest hack who called the ARPA funding ‘dirty money'”. There seems to be something interesting about use of defence money and development of technology – and it would have been nice for that idea or concept to be explored.

Secondly, and more problematically, the author fail to question assumptions regarding the lack of female hackers. The single paragraph exploring this culminates in two sentences that I hear even today as justification for fewer women being in tech:

“Even the substantial cultural bias against women getting into serious computer does not explain the utter lack of female hackers. Cultural things are strong, but not that strong” Gosper would later conclude, attributing the phenomenon to genetic, or “hardware” differences.”

Yet the book also contains a number of unnecessary anecdotes about men getting laid, or trying to get other men laid which add very little to the story – or needlessly sexualised similes:

“Even if the time-sharing system allowed the machine to respond to you in exactly the same way as it did in single user mode, you would just know that it wasn’t all yours. It would be like trying to make love to your wife, knowing she was simultaneously making love to six other people!”


Little Women – Louise May Alcott:

It’s a ‘classic’ that I missed out on when growing up. I do wonder what I would have thought of it had I read this when younger. It’s unlikely to make the list of books I recommend to my niece when she starts reading – as I found it a little preachy, Christian, and teaching us to learn to be good, well behaved and demure.

Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov:

I’ve long wanted to read this – and finally found a library copy – but sadly, my brain has been in too many dark places in recent months for this right now. The start was interesting, but I found myself holding back from all the characters in a way I’m not happy with. I’ll put this back on the shelf for the time being.

Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Omnibus – Arthur Conan Doyle:

I cannot say how much I loved this book. 5 stars.

Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control – Medea Benjamin:

If you are looking for a balanced book that  will give you the pros and cons of using drones in warfare – this isn’t it – written as it is by one of the co-founders of Code Pink. There were contradictions in the arguments at times ( a remote pilot you can kill without remorse and you aren’t as affected because you are not in a war zone, but also the stress and impact of killing people must be high on remote pilots). However, it is an interesting easy-to-read primer on a topic that can be difficult to get to grips with. It did jump occasionally jumps between use of drones in a civilian and war backdrop a little quickly – and this could be confusing (deliberately so?), and didn’t contain quite enough references for my tastes, but a good read nonetheless. As with any book written to further an agenda  – I will be checking what I learned from it against other resources.

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