Tagged: book review

As You Like It

as you like itAs You Like It by Shakespeare, 4/5

Low on plot but high on charm.

[Why I read it: I’m on long-term mission to read all of Shakespeare’s works.]



infrastructureInfrastructure: A Field Guide to the Industrial Landscape by Brian Hayes, 5/5

I haven’t experienced many books that I would call “life-changing,” but this astounding work is certainly one of the few.  Inexplicably, Hayes is able to take a topic that seems, at best, slightly off-putting, and turn it into 500 pages of some of the most engrossing reading material I have ever encountered.  Covering everything from power plants to mining, his addictive prose entices the reader from fact to fact until it is difficult to even imagine a mindset in which a laden telephone pole does not seem a thing of beauty and a steel mill a thing of wonder.  What could have been the world’s most boring textbook seems instead a labour of love and curiosity, radiating passion and good humour while communicating a staggering amount of information about the inner (and outer) workings of industry.  Even the numerous photos (taken by the author) are noteworthy for their high quality and artistic composition.

So why did I find this book to be life-changing?  In part, because it made me realise that there is no topic either dry or boring, but writing makes it so.  This opens up worlds – no longer do I need worry about finding interesting topics, I only need to find interesting authors.  Secondly, this book opened my eyes to the appeal of industrial structures and the beauty of their functionality.  What was once unsightly (or at least, unseen), such as cell towers, water treatment plants, power substations, overpasses, etc. has a new fascination for me.

It’s certainly not like me to drool praise so lavishly, but there is no denying that Infrastructure transcends my measly five-point rating system and, if there was a higher score than “perfect,”  would surely deserve it.

[Why I read it: it caught my eye as I wandered through the library.]

Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick

selected stories of Philip K DickSelected Stories of Philip K. Dick, 5/5

When I found out that the movies Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, Paycheck, Next, and The Adjustment Bureau were all based on the writings of one man, I was metaphorically gobsmacked.  When I reached the final line of the first short story in this collection, Beyond Lies the Wub, I was literally gobsmacked.  These twisty, dystopian sci-fi plots are like nothing else I’ve encountered in literature.  Dick is a genre-definer with an unorthodox mind and I am definitely going to read more of his work.

N.B. Most of these stories are completely clean.  The only ones I wouldn’t feel comfortable recommending to young people are “A Game of Unchance,” “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale,” “Faith of our Fathers,” and “A Little Something for Us Tempunauts.”

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

unlikely pilgrimageThe Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry: A Novel by Rachel Joyce, 3/5

At the beginning of this book, Harold Fry is exactly the kind of old person I am terrified of becoming: boring and bored, belittled by his spouse, a stranger in his own house, living a life utterly without purpose and meaning.  Fortunately for the reader, this all begins to change when Harold walks off one day to mail a letter to a dying friend, and just keeps walking.

I like the premise of this book, though the outworking of it seemed somewhat contrived and even gimmicky at times.  Perhaps it was just the mood I was in (feeling overdosed with modern literature, which has never been my favourite genre), or perhaps it was the fact that this is the second “first novel” by a new author that I’ve read this month, but I sensed a self-consciousness and bleakness about the writing style which did not appeal to me.  While it was not an unpleasant experience to read, this book did not find a home in my head and I shall probably forget all about it in about a month.

The Tempest

The Tempest by William Shakespeare, 3/5the tempest

This seemed much shorter, shallower and preachier than the other Shakespeare plays I’ve read and I didn’t feel much of a connection with any of the characters.  Given the straightforwardness of the plot, I could see this making a much better theater experience than a reading one.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore: A Novel

mr penumbraMr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore: A Novel by Robin Sloan, 4/5

This book is like a cookiecutter shark: it’s exciting, difficult to put down once picked up and it glows in the dark (thus automatically raising its score by an entire point).  The story is suspenseful, creative and entertaining, but the plot curve is weighted heavily towards the beginning, building tension up to an inevitably unsatisfying climax that takes place a mere 10 pages from the end of the book.  No one had to tell me that this is Sloan’s first novel, but fortunately, its weaknesses seem to stem more from a lack of experience than a lack of skill.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore is noteworthy for being the most “modern” in tone of any novel I have ever read.  For example, one of the characters works at Google and a fictionalised version of the company plays a huge role in the story.  Topics that I am unfamiliar coming across in works of fiction, such as e-book piracy, computer programming and role-playing games, surprised me at every turn.  There was even a reference to the webcomic xkcd.

Overall, Sloan does a great job of creating a believably current alternate reality but I suspect this book will not age gracefully.  Who knows, though, perhaps I am wrong and in twenty years time it will have gained an added aura of nostalgia.

Runner’s World Complete Book of Running

runner's worldRunner’s World Complete Book of Running: Everything You Need to Know to Run for Fun, Fitness, and Competition by Amby Burfoot, 4/5

This is an encouraging book, with lots of advice for beginning to intermediate runners (like myself) – basically, anyone who hasn’t yet settled on a rigorous training program.  Several concise, entertaining articles are provided on the following topics:
1. Beginning Running
2. Nutrition
3. Injury Prevention
4. Women’s Running
5. Building Strength, Endurance, and Speed
6. The Mental Side of Running
7. Cross-training
8. The Marathon.

One of the main themes of the book is training smart as opposed to just training hard.  The authors point out that, in conjunction with a good training program, lowering weekly mileage can actually be beneficial to performance.  There is also a lot of emphasis on taking an appropriate number of rest/recovery days.  These ideas and the training concept of “Yasso 800s” (which I am looking forward to trying out soon) are the most important things I got from this book.

I would suggest reading the newest version, since several aspects of this 1997 version feel a bit outdated.

Mystic River

Mystic River by Dennis Lehane, 3/5mystic river

I hope Clint Eastwood is considered a “great mind,” because I only found out that he directed a film based on this book after reading it and thinking That felt exactly like a crime/drama/thriller movie starring Sean Penn (ok, maybe not that specific).   It is very well written and dramatic, but I would have enjoyed it more if it wasn’t so R-rated.  On thinking it over, I guess I have different (more sensitive) standards for books than for movies, which is a new and interesting realisation.

Cloud Atlas

cloud atlas

The book, not the movie.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, 2/5

After the disappointing discovery that this David Mitchell is the “wrong” David Mitchell and the marginal experience of reading his first book, Ghostwritten, I had not planned to read anything else by him.  However, I changed my mind when my old hold on Cloud Atlas finally came in at the library and I realised how many people were lined up, waiting to read it after me.

First, the positive: I love the opening sentence – “Beyond the Indian hamlet, upon a forlorn strand, I happened on a trail of recent footprints.”  Stylistically, Mitchell’s writing has matured, with a more unique voice and a very chewy vocabulary.  There are even a couple brilliantly poetic/philosophic sentences.

Unfortunately, the book’s framework relies on the same plot gimmicks as Ghostwritten, making Mitchell seem like the sort of diminutive equine that is only capable of one trick.  Instead of the added depth and skill of execution that I expected from a more experienced Mitchell, Cloud Atlas seemed to compound the faults of Ghostwritten.  The connections between the stories are laboured and glaring, the plot seemed ultimately pointless, the characters/scenarios preachy and the vignettes cliched.

The Hobbit

The Hobbit or There and Back Again by J.R.R. Tolkien, 5/5the hobbit 1966 edit

I made the mistake of re-re-re-re-reading this book right before I went to see the new movie version.  It’s a sad commentary on the film that I spent a good portion of the movie review praising the book and bemoaning the filmic misadventure that masquerades under its name.  Since I am lazy and thinking any more about how awesome this book is will just make me sad, I’ve excerpted the relevant part from my movie review below.

The Hobbit may be a slim book, a classic adventure tale for children, but it is written skillfully, with wit and humour, character development, a sense of the epic and a mythological backbone that makes it not inconsistent with its titanic offspring, The Lord of the Rings.