PAUL SMITH – Twitchhiker: How One Man Travelled the World by Twitter

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31 Jul 10

I actually bought this (in a 3 for 2) and am quite disappointed that I did so – I was going to offer it on a BookCrossing bookring after I’d read it, but actually I can’t recommend it so I’m just going to release it.

It’s a topic I should like – travelling the world using only Twitter to source only free lodgings and travel, but I really didn’t take to the author at all.  Even though he explained the reasons for some of his behaviour, and there were some amusing scenes and interesting people depicted, it just seemed really trite and shallow, with nothing much learned except that people are generally nice, and you miss your family when you’re away from them.

I don’t know if it being my last read of 2010 made it even more disappointing; I certainly didn’t need to wait till the end of the year to construct my top ten!

GRAHAM McCANN – Fawlty Towers

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Acquired via BookCrossing 10 Jul 2010 – donation

A book about Fawlty Towers and its cast and characters. Enjoyable and interesting, except for a chapter of speculation as to the characters’ backgrounds, which did have some back up in the episodes but managed to translate Basil from upper to lower-middle class so maybe an afterthought in the writing. Episode guides etc for those who would like them.

CORDELIA FINE – Delusions of Gender

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From library

Fine’s actual hypothesis is that gender behaviour is learned rather than "hard wired" and that, even if someone tries to raise their child gender-neutrally, there is always socialisation happening and "leaks" of implicit beliefs around gender, often differing remarkably from explicit stated beliefs, will get through.  This is fine, and interesting, and there are some good examples from the literature about how children construct the world along gender related lines.  Unfortunately, she spends a great deal of the book working hard at debunking the proponents of "hard wired" gender differences, their (admittedly flawed) experiments and, in particular, those who use neuroimaging in too ham-fisted a way to be of use or scientifically viable.  This makes it all a bit too combative, and risks us missing the interesting final chapters, in which she explains her own ideas and viewpoints. 

Unfortunately, I also took exception to Fine’s rather clumsy attempts at humour and closeness to the reader – rather than making this popular science and attractive, I found it irritating, uneccessary and that it undermined the serious intent of the text. I’ve been annoyed by this propensity in other texts recently too (eg The Tower Menagerie) and resent being talked down to.

So, an interesting idea which is very plausible but could have been perhaps more usefully presented in an academic text, a TV programme or an article.  In trying to fight her battles and being all things to all people, the central interest has, perhaps, been too diluted.

I did find out exactly how fMRI works, though!

ROBERT REID – Year One: An Intimate Look Inside Harvard Business School

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Acquired via BookCrossing 10 Jul 2010 – donation from Moseley Lions at Mozfest

I like books about business and thought this would be interesting.. and it was. It’s set in 1994 so obviously a bit out of date, but I bet the courses are quite similar.  It’s fascinating to read exactly what people go through to get an MBA – so competitive once you’re already there and the worst bit was the struggle to get a summer job sorted out, with rounds and rounds of interviews. Interesting stuff!

Book reviews

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Dear friends,

I’m just reviewing my activities as I look onward to 2011; I’ve already dropped responsibility for one BookCrossing Zone and am handing over another to colleagues soon, and I’m looking at other things that take up time (I’ve dropped a day at the day job to use for Libro but it’s not going to be enough to ensure I have all my evenings free again…)

So, with my book reviews, I write them on here, and link to them via twitter and facebook, and I also write them with a pen, in a journal. I don’t want to stop the paper journal.

To help me decide whether to continue with this book review blog (and sorry if you’ve seen me ask this on fb/twitter too!) please let me know if

a) you read my reviews
b) you enjoy reading them
c) you get something out of them (recommendations, wish list, something to avoid, etc)

I just want to know if doing this online has any value outside myself.

I do know some of you comment on my reviews, and this isn’t a request for validation or touting for compliments – I just want to know.

Thank you!

ALEXA THOMSON – Antarctica on a Plate

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Acquired via BookCrossing 31 Jul 2010 – from donation by the Moseley Lions

I do like a polar book, and I like biography, so this book was naturally picked up.  And it was, indeed, both informative and enjoyable.  Alexa decides to give up her career in Australia and, on the strength of having been camp cook at a summer camp a few years previously, applies for a job as cook to a commercial operation handling air freight and passenger services to part of the Antarctic.  She’s really good on the emotional and practical issues of living on the ice – from pure terror in an ice storm through the minutiae of the core team’s reactions to one another, to the joy of running across the snow or visiting other camps.  It was good to have an epilogue to update us on what happened next.  Very interesting read – could have done with more photos apart from the ones on the cover.

KATE CHOPIN – The Awakening


Acquired via BookCrossing 16 Jul 2010 – donation to OBCZ from ex-library stock

A classic of feminist writing which was decried in its late 19th-century day and only rediscovered in the 1960s, this is the story of a woman who finds family life too constricting; she engages in a series of flirtations and gradually prises herself out of the claustrophobic mould in which she has found herself, to seek emotional, financial and sexual freedom.  But will she have to pay too high a price…?  This is a very atmospheric book; the sea plays a huge role and life on the summer resort is evoked beautifully.  The language is a little indirect but never confusing, and it’s an interesting and thought-provoking read.

MARY GERVAISE – Ponies and Holidays

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12 Sep 2010 – Any Amount of Books, Charing Cross Road

This one is a bit of a miss-sell as it isn’t so much about ponies as about a group of friends on holiday together at Georgie’s house. Patience and Susan are very different, there’s a difficult cousin and lots of brothers and THEN mum and dad go away, a cat disappears and the gypsies are implicated.  And there’s more too.  A trifle hectic but a jolly enough read.  Not a true pony book, though.

EVA IBBOTSON – The Morning Gift

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Acquired via BookCrossing Nov 2010 – from donation bag

Another easy read; just what I needed this week!  Ruth has to try to escape from Vienna as the Nazis close in.  She’s not fully Jewish, but it’s enough to make her family leave and for her to get stuck.  An old friend comes to the rescue, but when they’re in England, a series of misunderstandings leads them to deny their feelings for one another… and even when they accept them, mishaps ensue all over the place.  There are delightfully vile secondary characters and a good feeling for the lives of refugees in N London, although it’s a bit sentimental. There’s a jolly good aunt and a hilarious dog, too.

These aren’t great literature but they’re enjoyable in a Kate Morton kind of way, and just what one needs sometimes!

JUDITH TARR – Writing Horses: The Fine Art of Getting it Right

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02 Dec 2010 – LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme

This has the distinction of being the first e-book I’ve ever read! I read it on Matthew’s old e-book reader, although I could have chosen to read a pdf version on my PC too, which would have allowed me to click on all the useful links as I read it, rather than going through them for the sake of research afterwards!

The book itself is a guide to horses and horsemanship for the writer who wishes to use horses (real or fabulous) in their work.  As it puts the references to writing in lightly, it would also serve as a useful introduction to horses in general. I know a fair bit about horses and riding (although I haven’t ridden for years) and I found the information familiar but still useful and interesting (I did learn how to harness a foal, which was useful! and the descriptions of horse colours were spot on and marvellous – I used the bay/chestnut differentiation only this afternoon while watching some showjumping on the TV with Matthew!).  The tone was friendly and supportive, but knowledgeable, with plenty of examples from Tarr’s own experiences with her much-loved animals.  Good illustrations, which showed up fine on the e-reader and looked lovely on the PC, and the excellent aforementioned links, appropriate in content and volume, made this a useful, interesting and engaging read, which I imagine the expert and non-expert, writer and non-writer could all get a lot out of.

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