Archive for the Books Category

The Audacity of Hype

Posted in Books, Politics with tags on 30/05/2010 by ThreeDice

Just finished this one. Light satire from the man who bought us In The Loop: Armando Iannucci. It’s a collection of various newspaper columns that have appeared in the Telegraph or the Observer between 2002 and 2008. Which means that it’s really easy to put down and pick up again if you’re busy. It’s scathing and it takes no prisoners. Film, Art, TV, Politics, Religion, War, it’s totally topical and poetic in it’s criticisms.

Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

Posted in Books with tags on 23/02/2010 by ThreeDice

I recently became a member of a book club. It’s super geeky and I love every minute of it. The first book we’ve read together is Brave New World  by Aldous Huxley. It’s an incredibly thought provoking novel set in a dystopian future where human beings are bred rather than born, and are conditioned to their environment so that society can function without any socially undesirable elements. 

Two central themes made me think about modern society. Firstly, the conditioning and embryonic modification of human beings made me think of the way we condition animals for human consumption. We already condition several species of animals to better suit our tastes, we store veal in cages so that they can’t move for their entire lives until they are slaughtered and prepared for human consumption. What kind of a life is that? We breed chickens fed on growth hormones so that they grow to a succulent size before we electrocute them and vacuum seal them for consumption. This is, I believe, one of the central points Huxley wants us to step back and consider.

I also want to briefly comment on the end of the book, so if you haven’t completed it yet, please consider this a spoiler warning. Towards the end, there is a discussion between the controller and John the savage. In this conversation, John is revealed to be a hypocryte for considering that a socially conditioned society is somehow bad. This is a perfectly circular and thought provoking way to finish this book. I oppose the kind of human conditioning that the dystopia of Brave New World envisages, but, at the same time, I cannot help but feel that the reason I think this way is because I myself have been conditioned to think that freedom of expression and marriage are good, and that totalitarian control and substance abuse is bad.

It’s worth taking a minute to reconsider this.

If you’ve never read Brave New World before, the whole thing is available to read online here. It should definitely be on your bucket list.

Bill Bryson – Shakespeare

Posted in Books on 12/01/2010 by ThreeDice

I know, I know; yet another post about a book I read this summer. Well, I’m on a role. And I’ll make it quick, I promise.

I can’t imagine I would ever pick up a Shakespeare biography if it wasn’t written by Bill Bryson. The funny thing about him is that he has such a colourful vocabulary, and such a poetic, yet, strangely scientific manner about his writing that it makes you think that he would be the most amazing storyteller. And he is. On paper. To here him speak though, is another thing all together. The man is dry. Not a lot else I can say really. Dry in the way that an English professor might make a joke about the differences between object complements and direct objects.

Observe:

~My mother made me a neurotic.
~Great! If I buy her the wool, will she make me one,too?

Bada-bing!

How about this one:

~Call me a cab.
~Ok, you’re a cab.

Are you on the floor yet? Try to get yourself under control, or I won’t be responsible.

~Make me a milkshake.
~ZAP! You’re a milkshake.

Ok, I’m sorry, that went on longer than it had to. Flash back to 7th period on a Friday afternoon. They we’re always such long weeks.

I digress though. If you’re sort of into Shakespeare, or feel you want to be, at least Bill Bryson presents the information* in a nice way.

Oh, and there’s also an illustrated version available, if you’re that way inclined.

In case you’ve read through all that and still don’t know exactly what type of humour you’re in for, I have accompanied this post about Bill Bryson’s Shakespeare with a picture of him holding a globe. 

 

*There isn’t actually all that much information about William Shakespeare which means that a)the book is not very long, and b) most of it is based on conjecture. It’s like a choose you’re own ending! Now that’s got to be good.

Everything that Rises Must Converge – Flannery O’Conner

Posted in Books on 11/01/2010 by ThreeDice

Flannery O’Connor was working on Everything that Rises Must Converge at the time of her death in 1964. It was published post-humously in 1965.

I must admit, I only read this collection of short stories because it featured in the TV series Lost, see:

Jacob reads it when he’s waiting for Locke to come crashing out of that window.

Basically these stories revolve around a few common themes: race, religion, false pride, intergenerational conflict and so on.

Most of her characters are bitter and to say there is always an element of the macabre in her work is an understatement. More like violence and gore of the most startling and unsuspecting designation. Which is, I suppose, why the writers of Lost chose to insert it so strategic a place in the series’ narrative.

It’s an interesting read for people who are interested in social justice and in US history. By no means though is it an easy going summer time-waster. It’s heavy going, but rewarding.

Meltdown – Ben Elton

Posted in Books on 10/01/2010 by ThreeDice

The very first Ben Elton book I ever picked up was Dead Famous. I was a teenager, it was about the Big Brother TV show, and it was better than Harry Potter, which, at the time, was my only other source of literary nourishment. When I finished it, I did a background check on the author and found Elton to be the mastermind behind Blackadder  and The Thin Blue Line. All of a sudden, the entire novel hit me again on a whole new level.

Since then I have read all of Ben Elton’s books as though the protagonist was played by Rowan Atkinson.

Meltdown is Elton’s take on the events surrounding the 2008 Global Financial Crisis and bases its plot around those responsible for it. No one is spared from his attacks; futures traders, bankers and investment strategists as well as New Labour politicians make up the gang of friends whose fortunes are pulverised by the forces of the deregulated capitalist economy and who find themselves having to reassess the values and believes that have led to their desolate situations. It’s packed with political satire and makes for an easy-going summertime read, but its message is one to be taken seriously. If at least one person changes the way the think about market regulators and political economies as a result of reading this book, then I will be a very happy fellow.

High Fidelity

Posted in Books on 07/11/2009 by ThreeDice

Yesterday I finished reading Nick Hornby’s novel High Fidelity. I’d seen the film several times before. And I even bought the soundtrack. Which is why I thought the next logical progression would be to read the book.

I bought the popular penguins edition. I love these popular penguin books. It says on the back of them that the guy who founded penguin books, Allen Lane, wanted a cheap book to read on the train. Preferably one that wasn’t shit, and that didn’t cost more than a packet of cigarettes. Flash forward to the 21st Century, and and edition in the popular penguins series will still set you back no more than a packet of fags.

But back to the story. I never realised, though probably should have suspected, that the novel is actually set in the UK. This had absolutely no impact on me as I read it though, as I still saw John Cusack as Rob, Jack Black as Barry, and Championship Vinyl as a dingy record store in Chicago.

Adapting a novel for the screen must be a pretty hard job, you would have to decide what to keep and what to throw out, what would work and what wouldn’t. All the awkward soliloquies that make the book so interesting were converted for the screen as to camera pieces. And they really worked that way. My hat goes off.

Anyway, the book’s well worth a read even if you’ve never heard of the film (shame on you).  

Slaughterhouse Five

Posted in Books with tags on 21/10/2009 by ThreeDice

vonnegut Tonight I finished a novel by Kurt Vonnegut called Slaughterhouse Five. It was published in 1969 and is a semiautobiographical recollection of the bombing of Dresden by Allied planes spewing jellied gasoline that had been lit on fire. The is happened as a result of World War Two.

Kurt Vonnegut is my favourite author. Here is a list of books by him that I have:

Player Piano (1952)
Cat’s Cradle (1963)
God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater; or, Pearls before Swine (1965)
Slaughterhouse-Five; or, The Children’s Crusade (1969)
Breakfast of Champions; or, Goodbye Blue Monday (1973)
Bluebeard (1987)
Hocus Pocus (1990)
Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction (1999)
A Man Without a Country (2005)
Armageddon in Retrospect (2008, posthumous)

Usually, people are introduced to Vonnegut through Slaughterhouse Five, which is taught in some high schools and in most tertiary English Literature courses. But not me. I read nine others first. Beginning with my favourite: Breakfast of Champions. Which I have read three times already. And am considering reading again this weekend.

Vonnegut is classified by most people as a science fiction writer, but his stories are so much more than that. They are often poignant social commentaries which brutally denounce those in power who by some unusual coincidence, always seem to make foolish decisions. Kurt Vonnegut is more than 50% responsible for my global worldview. Everyone should read at least one of his books before they die. Reading a Vonnegut novel should be on every bucket list of every Westerner.

Kurt is dead now. He died (according to wikipedia) of a fall at his New York apartment resulting in irreversible brain injuries. So it goes. 

I would imagine his epitaph would read:

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