I think this is a "you had to be there" book because reading it for the first time in 2021 is very, very jarring.
Patrick Freyne is a funny guy and he's a really great writer but I could only take this book in small doses. Everyone has friends who only talk in non-stop banter and that's pretty much what this entire book felt like. Every sentence is sculpted to be exactly as funny and clever as the previous one and, I dunno, that sounds like it should be a good thing but the non-stop patter of it was just exhausting. Like being assaulted by bon mots. There are a couple of chapters in here that felt honest and sincere and those were really lovely, but some of the rest felt like a real stretch.
A disclaimer: I’m writing this not because I’m proud of the feelings and thoughts I had but because the first step in interrogating why I felt these things is by addressing them.
Early on in this book, Manchan Magan (who I knew nothing about) announces that he's descended from The O'Rahilly. Like he's establishing his bona fides in writing a book about the Irish language and how it affects the Irish psyche. And then he goes on to mention it again and again. And this was the point at which the book sort of lost me. It didn't feel like it was a fun, standalone little book any more. Because one thing the book didn't address about the Irish psyche is our tendency towards begrudgery. And the more I read of the book, I just kept thinking: would this book have been written if this man wasn't an O'Rahilly? I'm not saying he's not a good writer (he's a perfectly fine writer), but certainly I think that his name probably helped grease some wheels and open some doors. Doors that perhaps wouldn't have opened so easily for a better writer without the same connections.
Ireland has a deep culture of nepotism and it genuinely makes me very uneasy to see so few family names at the top of the list of quote-unquote "important people" in Ireland (e.g. ex-director of RTE television, Helen O'Rahilly, related to The O'Rahilly "by cousins", but you get my point).
Anyway, if I'd never found this out about this book or if it had been announced much later, I'm sure I would have felt a lot different about it. But as it is, it left a rotten aftertaste in my mouth.
(PS the weekend after I originally wrote this, Eve Hewson (daughter of Bono) was on the front cover of the Sunday Independent Magazine because she's starring in a new Netflix TV show. Make of that what you want.)
When I was in my 20s, I had a healthy social life AND social anxiety which is a hell of a cocktail. Every night I'd come home full of beer and emotions and I'd have real difficulty in shutting my brain off so I could go to sleep. Nothing worked. I'd just lie in my bed going over everything I'd said or did trying to think about things I could have said or did differently. For hours. And then I bought a DVD box set of The Prisoner. I'd put on an episode and it would pummel my brain into submission. Everything about it is so strange and confusing that my mind would give up trying to figure out what was happening and just shut down after 10 minutes.
Piranesi brought back this feeling so hard. I don't just mean thematically (although there are plenty of similarities between the book and The Prisoner -- similarities I'm sure someone with a medium dot com account and an inability to let a take go un-taken will happily point out). I really struggled with the opening of this book because every night I would feel my mind saying "fuuuuucccck this book I can't figure out what's going on" and shutting down. Every single time. It wasn't until page 100 or so where something finally clicked for me and the story started to make sense. After that, it was delightful.
A perfect autumn story.
This is basically just a collection of inspirational quotes around the subject of just getting shit done even though life is hard and society is a total garbage fire.
And that's exactly what I needed right now. A lovely little hug for the soul.
This is my first Clive Cussler book (although I've loved the films of Sahara and Raise the Titanic). And all throughout, I kept thinking: is this what it's like to read a Chuck Tingle book? Like, every time Dirk Pitt arrived on the page, Cussler would go into such intense details about his rugged good looks, his cold, opal eyes, and his masculine prowess that I actually started to feel uncomfortable. Do you need me to leave the room, Clive?
Also, we can add this to the list of books that use black coffee as a shorthand for telling us how incredibly manly the hero is.
This is the first design book to ever make me laugh out loud.
28 years after reading the first volume, I’m finally finished the series. That’s a personal record.
The author has a beautiful way with words and at some points, the language was so wonderfully modern, all wry and sardonic and self-aware. But the plotting was awful, with a dozen or so characters not so much introduced but rather vomited onto the page over a couple of paragraphs so I spent half the book going "now which one is this?" For example, there are two characters, a Mr and a Mrs Wilde, and yet while the two are in conversation, the author would refer to one of them as "Wilde", as in "Wilde said...".
This was my first Inspector Alleyn book, but based on this outing, I don't know if I'll make the effort with the rest.
Throughout the book, I felt like the author was showing a certain amount of sympathy for the alt-right. It unironically did that thing of describing people like Richard Spencer as being the "dapper" face of fascism. Okay, I thought, maybe I'm just imagining things. It's a good overview of what's happened in the last few years and certainly gives a great insight into a lot of the nastier subcultures.
But then you reach the conclusion and realise -- holy shit, my feeling was totally correct and this lady is fully sympathetic to people like Milo and Richard Spencer. Or maybe she's so completely disappointed with the left, it just seems that way. But she talks about how the left is either incapable of arguing with Milo or chooses not to because they come from the "intellectually shut-down world of Tumblr". But then in the next sentence, talks about David French criticizing Milo and being "attacked by ... the alt-right attack dogs". She talks about Stavvers and how "the embarrassing and toxic online politics represented by this version of the left, which has been so destructive and inhumane, has made the left a laughing stock for a whole new generation", but (and I'm in serious danger of whataboutism here) doesn't address how the similarly destructive and inhumane behaviour of the alt-right hasn't made them a laughing stock?
Like I said, it's a pretty good overview of where we're at, culturally, and how we got here. I just completely disagree with her conclusions.
Bedtime is for two things:
If this sounds like your idea of a good evening then, boy, is this the book for you.
Lincoln in the Bardo a beautiful book. It's witty and unexpected and there are passages (whole characters, actually) that absolutely took my breath away. Each character had their own story, their own voice, and the moment when they form a connection (staying vague because of spoilers), I was reading through floods of tears. At the same time, it took me almost a month to finish because it's also one of the most difficult things I've read (for reasons, see above), so I would approach it every night and ask myself was I mentally ready -- was I emotionally ready -- for this book tonight? Most nights, the answer was 'no'. But when I was ready, I was consuming the book in huge gulps, because it was all so lovely.
If you've ever seen Alex Cox's Moviedrome introductions, you'll know he's an intelligent, erudite speaker with a passion for films and this really comes across in this book. Occasionally, you (the reader) are prompted to put the book down and watch a specific film or a specific part of a film. Other similar books would just assume you're already familiar with the early works of Abbas Kiarostami and if not well see you in the chapter where we talk about Star Wars I guess. Being told what to look at and why means the whole thing feels less like a lecture and more like a conversation.
Like Show Your Work, Steal Like an Artist is a lovely, super-short collection of aphorisms and quotes about creativity and inspiration that never quite crosses the line of 'cloying'. Some great practical advice. I can see myself hitting this up for a quick dose of inspiration when I'm feeling creatively flat.
Austin Kleon does a pretty great job of straddling the line between anecdotal motivational bullshit and practical advice for people who are nervous about letting their work be seen by the wider world. It's inspirational in all the right ways.
Usually, when I'm writing a review of a book or a film, I try to be a bit lenient and say "well, this person wrote a book and I haven't, so they're clearly doing something better than me!" Except I can't feel this way about this book. I'd be ashamed to put my name to this thing.
The story is about a bunch of one-dimensional stand-ins for various aspects of teenage lives. There's the clever, bookish one. There's the violent misanthrope. There's the boring generic one. And they all go around Dublin, doing drugs and being surly. The few female characters are just as one-dimensional as the male characters - they're there to have sex with and to make the boys feel bad.
The entire book is dreadfully dull and badly written. And then suddenly, it takes a last-act swing into American Psycho territory. Like the author read over his manuscript up until that point and said "fuuuuuuck, nothing actually happens in this book!" and tried to make up for it with a completely unbelievable 'shock' conclusion.
This book was all over the Irish/Sunday Times a couple of weeks ago, and having now finished it, I'm feeling a definite case of the emperor's new clothes here. God-awful. Avoid.
This is a short but lovely story of a relationship, a child and a marriage, as told by that girl on Livejournal you had a massive crush on when you were 17.
"The Road", if that book was written be someone who had no idea what made "The Road" so great.
Despite a great premise, this whole book feels awkward and undercommitted. Emma Donoghue’s Room and Will Self’s The Book of Dave had the courage to fully commit to telling their stories in a broken English style, but this applied it so inconsistently as to make it jarring as fuck. And then the whole thing abruptly ends just as soon as it starts to get interesting. I had to check to see if my Kindle edition was missing a final couple of chapters (it’s not). In media res is a great place to start a story. Unfortunately for Dark Eden, it’s not such a great place to finish.
This has been on my "currently reading" list since December 2012. I've given up and restarted it on and off since then. It was such a struggle to get through. I think the problem is that it irritates the same parts of my brain as The Big Bang Theory - it's supposed to appeal to nerds like me, but it's such a shitshow that I find myself getting annoyed. In place of any character development or story, we're treated to a never-ending string of "like that thing in $nerd_reference". Right up until the last chapter. "It was a hedge maze. With the same layout as the one in Labyrinth". This is cheap, lazy writing at its worst. Dan Brown, all is forgiven.
A great introduction to zen concepts from a western point of view. Archery is just used as the jumping off point - one of the things I love about this book is how its lessons can be applied to pretty much any physical endeavour.
A mixed bag of previously-published Jon Ronson articles and short stories. He's a charming writer with a distinct voice, but the overall quality of this collection was pretty uneven.
This would probably be amazing if you were a 15 year old girl in 1973. As a 34 year old man in 2013, it's total gash.
The problem with alternate reality stories -- especially ones that try to 'mirror' reality -- is that it can be too easy to get 'cute' with your ideas. The Mirage is a solid example of this. An abundance of tricksy bullshit almost derails what is otherwise a terrific central idea.
An unusual, zippy detective story written with a light touch. Ordinarily, it would be enough for me to give it four stars. But this is Warren Ellis we're talking about. I'm not reading it for a "light touch". I want something with his fingerprints all over it. Good, but not as good as I'd hoped it would be.
Occasionally falls victim to the common science fiction problem of writing every character with the same voice, since they're all just empty vessels for the author to express the BIG GRAND IDEAS and THEMES they're OH SO PROUD of. Despite this minor problem (and really, when it's so common as to almost be a genre trope, it is really a 'problem'?), Spin is a really interesting book and, more importantly, one that remains interesting throughout.
On the one hand, this book is a huge disappointment. Publishers are clearly scraping the bottom of the barrel when it comes to David Foster Wallace. They know that certain people (like me) will buy pretty much anything with his name on it, so they're searching for anything that could possibly be slapped between two covers and called a 'book'. So now we've got Both Flesh and Not which includes publicly-accessible pieces he wrote for newspapers and magazines, as well as weak 500-word nothing-pieces like "Just Asking". These aren't his best works and, what's more, every essay in this collection represents a step closer to the moment when there is no more DFW left to publish in book form.
But on the other hand, even the worst DFW is better than almost all of the rest of the shit on my bookshelf. So there's that.
Slow to start, and ends with a bit of a fizzle rather than a pop. But in between? Beauty.
Have you ever read a Cory Doctorow book and thought "I like the way this guy is all enthusiastic about technology and how it's changing our lives in a million tiny ways, but holy fuck, I wish he wrote more interesting stories"? Then Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is for you! I finished it in two sittings. The last time I did that with a book, it was Phillip Pullman's The Northern Lights. Can't recommend this enough.
Is this some experiment in allowing a first-time writer to publish a book without ever sending it through the traditional editing process? A blisteringly entertaining opening gives way to a glacial middle third, and then the book just fizzles to a close without any sense of any sort of through-line or cohesion. I guess the through-line and cohesion would appear if you read the follow-up, but honestly, after slogging my way through this, I don't think I'll return for seconds, thanks.
Jenny Lawson is a funny lady. She's just my kind of sassy, neurotic and rude. When this book works, it's because she's writing with her own voice, the same voice you hear on her blog. When this book doesn't work -- which is, unfortunately, most of the time -- it's because someone took that same voice and tried to hit it with the literary stick. What you get is a dull hybrid that falls too flat to be any way engaging. It's a shame. Although I'd say this is almost certainly first-time jitters and her next book will be something special.
Entirely flat and forgettable. A huge shame, because it's a waste of a great premise.
The literary equivalent of a 'found footage' horror film (like The Blair Witch project or Cannibal Holocaust), House of Leaves is spooky and inventive and probably my favourite book I've read all year. Its experiments in formalism are clever and complement the story perfectly, helping you engage with the story in a unique way.
I can't recommend it enough. Just terrific.
Poorly researched and poorly written. A sprawling mess of a book.
First time reading a Clive Cussler book and it was unspeakably awful. Full of passages like "'Buon giorno,' she said. 'Signor Capriani?' 'Si.' 'Parla inglese?' Cipriani smiled broadly. 'I speak English, yes. But your Italian is very good.'"
As faddish throwaway young-adult fiction goes, this was surprisingly robust. Yes, it borrows very heavily from Battle Royale, but once it gets going, it's genuinely very entertaining and a nice little palate-cleanser. Looking forward to the two sequels now.
There's a lot to dislike about this book. The unnecessary, unbelievable characters, muddying everything up. The last-minute flurry of exposition. Not to mention Mosse's irritating narrative tics (how many characters can we reasonably believe can/should be knocked out over the course of a 600-something page novel? Do French people actually say everything twice, once in French and again in English?). Certainly, it's more literary than Dan Brown, but this sometimes works against the novel. Mosse is clearly aiming for a fast-paced thriller at certain points, but then gets bogged down in description, parading the amount of research she clearly did. On the one hand, I really do feel like this would have been a better, more exciting book if she'd toned down the literary aspirations. On the other hand, it's perfectly satisfactory holiday reading.
Terrific story, second only to G.K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday in the scope and viciousness of its satire. I loved the pace and dynamism of the writing, and I really do think that it's time for a resurgence in these kinds of - as Christopher Hitchens calls them - 'whiskey novels'. Post-colonial, but still very British, stiff upper lip kinds of stories. They're right up my alley. But, my goodness, Greene was never a great comedy writer. The self-consciously 'funny' lines were just painful to read.
The real horror in this book is the abuse of clauses. Each paragraph is turned into a twisting, winding pile of word-molasses which, for me, killed any sort of atmosphere and tension the author had intended to create. A real shame.
Terrific, technical overview of the inner workings of a Steven Spielberg movie. Worth it for the chapter on Poltergeist alone.
It's a tough sell. The author has to make his book accessible enough for non-gamers, but still interesting enough for gamers of all levels. As a result, this book veers erratically between a genuinely entertaining 'experiential' account of the author's video gaming habits, and a boring, dime-a-dozen primer on video games. For example, the blow-by-blow recounting of the opening minutes of Resident Evil might be interesting to someone who has never played the game before, but as someone who has played that game (and especially that section of that game) more times than he cares to admit, I found that there were very few actual insights in this chapter.
I recently listened to an interview with the author on the Brainy Gamer podcast. The pre-defined audience of this podcast allowed him to go into a lot of detail regarding his thoughts on the relationship between cocaine and GTA IV, and I was left wondering why he couldn't have included these thoughts in the actual book he was promoting? It would have made the book a lot more enjoyable.
In the end, I feel as if the author failed to show us 'why video games matter', but rather told us why video games matter to him - and even then only weakly. For a more engaging and coherent argument on why video games matter, check out [book:Everything Bad is Good for You].