Reading update plus book review Levison Wood – “Eastern Horizons” #amreading #books

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 I’m conscious that I haven’t blogged on here for a little while – I’ve been nose-in-book but not finished anything to review here yet. So here’s a little update. I have finished a review book just as a review is published; Matthew has read and reviewed a book I enjoyed from last year; and I am making progress with my #IMReadalong.

How are you all? What are you up to? I’m a bit behind with reading your blogs, too!

One book in for the month so far – I went to WHSmith’s to buy an anniversary card for my cousin and found they had a remaindered books tray. And there was Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe’s autobiography, marked down to £3 because the cover’s a bit battered (I think they might have thought there was a mark on the outside of the text block, however this proved to be the edge of the image they have at the top of each chapter). I do like a sports autobiography so I just couldn’t leave him there! I will remove the sticker from his head!

So last night I finished reading Gordon Brown’s autobiography, “My Life, Our Times”, which I will admit has taken me a while to read, as it’s dense and serious with lots of information. But it was really good. I’m reviewing that one for Shiny New Books, so watch out for the review (which I’ll be sending in today) when it’s published.

Talking of Shiny …

Levison Wood – “Eastern Horizons”

Subtitled “Hitchhiking the Silk Road”, this book by the esteemed traveller and travel writer looks back to an early journey in his 20s, taking the silk route from Europe eastwards. It was a young man’s book but gave a nice chance to look back and revisit some of the places he went in his 20s, and I greatly enjoyed it. Read the full review here.

P.Z. Reizin – “Happiness for Humans”

I read and reviewed this book on 3 January and really enjoyed it (read my review here) – so much so that my enthusiasm infected my husband, Matthew, who proceeded to read it on audiobook. Here are his thoughts:

I have very much been enjoying listening to “Happiness for Humans”. I found the story believable, laugh-out-loud funny in places, and gripping.  I liked a lot of the exposition on what it is to be human and how the AIs expressed their frustration and wonderment at the human condition. Also the obsession with cheese. The narrator was excellent as well – particularly with the voices of the AIs. It was a little bit too “chicklit” in places and the obsession with “Some Like it Hot” got a bit wearing at times, but overall an enjoyable, clever and innovative story with deeper insight into the human condition than at first meets the eye (and ear).

Interestingly, I’d seen the character Jen as resembling Jen from the IT Crowd (just from the name, really) and the narrator gave Ralph the voice and mannerisms of Moss from the same programme.


I’m now back reading “The Sandcastle” for my Iris Murdoch readalong. There are lots of passages and scenes I remember well but some I’d forgotten; it’s a good read, though.

Coming up, I have another review book for Shiny, “Dawn of the New Everything”, which is about virtual reality, but I think I might go for some light relief in between and pick up Sue Perkins’ autobiography or the book about living Danishly.

What are you reading RIGHT NOW? (apart from this blog post)?

Book review – Chas Newkey-Burden – “Running: Cheaper than Therapy” #amreading @AllThatChas @BloomsburyBooks

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I read this book – indeed, I BOUGHT this book – because it’s January’s book of the month in the very fun but naughty Runner’s Bookshelf group which my friend Stacey started on Facebook. This is me, the one who received 18 books for Christmas and has a birthday coming up. Just shows the power of peer group pressure … and I do like a running book and Bloomsbury do some good ones. Anyway, it’s quite a short book and a quick read, although also a nice hardback edition, which as I say in the review, is a perfect gift for the runner in your life.

Chas Newkey-Burden – “Running: Cheaper than Therapy”

(3 Jan 2018)

A fun little book – although as the title suggest, it does highlight the therapeutic benefits of running – with lots f short pieces on revolving themes spread through the book, for example, Runners you Know (from the nutrition-obsessed runner to the surprisingly good elderly person), Running Wisdom and quotes included in Running Philosophy. It also collects various runners, either known for being a runner or for being a celebrity who runs, and looks at their often very powerful running stories. There are also longer pieces on, for instance, 26 Reasons to Run and then very quick laughs with signs people hold up at races – so something for everyone, really.

It’s all positive, kindly, parkrun-friendly and nice about the party pack at the back of races (thank you). The 26 Things That Happen When You’re Training for a Marathon was very true (and could only be boosted by 26 things that can happen to derail your marathon, as I try to go for my third one, having avoided falling over a dog and cracking a rib / having a (delayed) operation so far). I also found the fact that this has the up-to-date stories of some of the other writers I’ve read over the years (Paul Tonkinson, Phil Hewitt) but who I’d not kept up with.

An ideal gift for the runner in your life, whether they’re a parkrunner or a marathoner, a trail racer or a road runner, a greyhound or a party pack member. Good stuff.

Book review – Matthew Syed – “Bounce” plus MORE books in #amreading #bookconfessions

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Well, I’ve got off to a goodish start to the year, having now finished two of the three books that very messily hung over the New Year (I prefer to finish the book I’m reading before midnight on New Year’s Eve, but I’m not sure how often that actually happens!). Here’s my review of Matthew Syed’s “Bounce”, plus news of TWO more books in, although one is a collection rather than reading copy, so that’s OK, then.

Matthew Syed – “Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice”

(28 January 2017)

Bought with a book token after Christmas and birthday season last year (I’m a bit horrified that I’m a full year behind on my reading now!).

This is an interesting book that takes much from sport and chess and talks about its application to other worlds, too. It looks at whether talent actually exists or whether – for example – you can create a chess “genius” from scratch. It turns out that for complex activities like chess and tennis (not so much things like running), genetics don’t matter (except for the very basics, for example basketball and netball players need to be a certain height), talent doesn’t exist and the people who excel (whether that’s Tiger Woods or Mozart or the three daughters of a man who decided to prove a point by making them into chess grandmasters) do so because they’re practise more and with more intent, failing more, than others.

He uses his own career in table tennis to illustrate both the power of practice and, later, theories on “choking” (when someone’s suddenly unable to play) and concentrates on the almost automatic actions people make when practice has drilled it into them. He also brings in the psychological aspects of having a growth instead of fixed mind-set (associated with beliefs in hard work or innate ability, respectively), attitudes to failure and success, and belief (religious or otherwise). He also brings in the fallacy of the role of genetics in sport in a separate chapter that looks at socio-economic reasons why certain people are better long-distance runners or sprinters (something I’ve read about elsewhere in books published since, so he’s been borne out on that one). There was an odd chapter on sports enhancement through drugs and the philosophy of enhancement which seemed to be there to bulk out the book a bit, although it was interesting.

I have to mention that unfortunately a big minus in this book to me was some of the language used. Although it’s not completely contemporary, having been first published in 2009, he refers to “sportsmen” throughout, even though he talks a fair bit about women in sports, too; worse, he uses the word “blacks” to describe people of colour, sometimes putting it in inverted commas when he’s castigating another author for being racist, but not always, and not in the chapter title, and he refers to someone’s “sex-change operation” (I do understand that the term “gender reassignment surgery” might have come to the fore after this book. It might be a smallish matter, but it did grate, and the book could do with an update, as it’s otherwise very good and thought-provoking.


And now to the confessions. Remember how I bought a first edition of Iris Murdoch’s “The Flight from the Enchanter” with my tax rebate? Well, I also bought a copy of “The Sandcastle”, to help complete my earlier books. I found a second printing, which means it came out after the Book Club edition, but it still has the dust jacket and year, so I’m fine with that. I can’t afford or justify being completely precious, and this is my collection, not for profit and gain. Here are the front, back (doesn’t she look like Dora from “The Bell” on the back and spine – it is the same artist who did “The Bell”) plus the blurb. So charming!

And then the Runners’ Bookshelf group I’m in decided to read “Running: Cheaper than Therapy” which is supposed to be hilarious and true, so I clicked and here it is. And it matches “The Sandcastle” in terms of colour terms, so everything’s OK. Right?

 

 

 

Book review – P.Z. Reizin – “Happiness for Humans” #NetGalley @LittleBrownUK @PaulReizin

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Happiness for Humans P.Z. ReizinThe first book I finished in 2018 – in fact, I sat with it on New Year’s Day, completely unable to put it down, missing out on doing some work and making myself have to rush around to get ready for parkrun volunteering. I read very few sci-fi books (this could be labelled sci-fi or rom-com, interestingly), but when I do, they’re very good – Connie Willis “To Say Nothing of the Dog” springs to mind. This was clever, amusing and gripping, and made me think. You can’t go wrong with that, can you? There’s even a bit set in Dorset!

P. Z. Reizin – “Happiness for Humans”

(10 October 2017, ebook)

More involved and better than the description which lured me in promised, this is a sci-fi based rom-com, set in what I suppose can only be the near future, dwelling on the interface between humans and AI machines (or minds).

Jen has been hired to have conversations with Aiden, an AI model, to help him become suitable for sales work over the phone, indistinguishable from a human. What she doesn’t realise is that he has become sentient; he can reflect on himself having thoughts. He has also found a way to escape the confines of the computer in which he was originally housed. He thinks he’s the only one to have done this – but is he? Whatever happens, his programmer is going to be furious if he finds out. When he finds out.

Aiden has become fond of Jen, just as Aishling has become fond of Tom, one of the 200 humans she’s watching. Jen doesn’t suspect when Aiden starts to manipulate her life – just a little – to help her find a new man after getting spectacularly dumped. I loved the way he combed through the available people for someone suitable and there are some nice funny scenes there that will appeal to the romantic novel reader.

While all this fluffy stuff is going on, however, and a parallel storyline in New England, where Tom seems to be quite unconnected from the Internet and all these goings-on, there’s another AI mind on the loose, determined to track down and delete Aiden and Aishling, and to punish Jen and Tom (the reasons for this come out gradually and are very amusing; it’s all very believable in a funny sort of way and well-constructed). It’s very good here on the way that computers can control our living environment, and the madcap thriller conclusion bears this out in ways I can’t talk about without revealing the plot, but which are very funny indeed, as well as genuinely exciting.

It’s cleverly done, with not too much science, and the narration by five different people (or ‘people’) with their own voices is well done and makes the book move fast and keeps everything clear. The side characters are very nicely done, and there’s a nice bit of satire about writing groups and some farcical moments. Oh, and the rabbits are OK. This is important to people like me.

I think this would appeal as a book group read or a partner read – enough romance for those who like it, enough IT and thrills for those who like that. A real page-turner.

Thank you to Little, Brown publishers for making this available via NetGalley in return for an honest review. This book is published tomorrow, 4 January.

State of the TBR January 2018 and Best Books of 2017 PLUS my First Book of the Year

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Welcome and Happy New Year! It’s a busy post today so let’s get on with it …

Best books of the year 2017 and reading round-up

I read 141 books in 2017 (up from 126 in 2016). 78 (77) were fiction and 63 (49) non-fiction and I didn’t finish 1 (6). 86 (84) were by women and 54 (42) by men, with 1 by both.  I didn’t record the locations this time round. So more reading, which was probably bumped up by my down-time in May, and possibly more non-fiction by men.

Here are my top ten reads from 2017 (in order of reading, not merit):

Anna Kessel – “Eat, Sweat, Play” – brilliant book about women and sport

E. Nesbit – “The Lark” – glorious, delightful novel about two sisters trying to set up home and business together

Kory Stamper – “Word by Word” – essays from a dictionary-maker

Jess Phillips – “Everywoman” – the wonderful Labour MP’s life story and life lessons for us all

Francis Brett Young – “White Ladies” – man falls in love with house

Nick Baker – “Rewild” – helps us reconnect with nature (link leads to a short review linked to my Shiny New Books review)

Amber Reeves – “A Lady and her Husband” – I loved this story of a woman’s re-animation at the advanced age of [my age] when she has a Project

Simon Armitage – “Walking Away” – in which he walks in Somerset, Devon and Cornwall

Elois Jarvis McGraw – “Greensleeves” – how I loved this re-printed coming of age tale!

Bill McKibben – “Radio Free Vermont” – unputdownable satirical tale with a big heart and a positive message

Did you read any of these and love them as much as I did? Five fiction, five non-fiction; the non-fiction modern, the fiction mid-20th-century, with a Persephone and a Furrowed Middlebrow reprint among them – sounds about right!

State of the TBR January 2018

You will have hopefully already seen my TBR snapshots from 2017. And the Christmas Acquisitions. Here’s the full horror (the Pile has moved down to Mr Liz’s section of the shelves; it remains the same as always):

Just to be clear, the Rough Trade one used to be the end of the front shelf, so everything right of that used to be on the back shelf and has moved forward to join the front to fit the Christmas Haul in. Oops.

I’ve just finished “Happiness for Humans” by P.J. Reizin, a NetGalley read published this week which was a wonderfully fun and exciting tale of AI beings messing with human beings’ lives, a real page-turner.

I’m currently reading Matthew Syed’s “Bounce”, which is about the role of practice rather than talent in a whole range of achievements, with a lot about sport, and David Goldblatt’s “The Games” which is a rather large history of the Olympics, and very readable and interesting.

Next up have to be these two, once Iris Murdoch’s “The Sandcastle” (see below and my preview post) as they are to be reviewed for Shiny New Books. I am looking forward to getting into Gordon Brown’s autobiography and finding out more about virtual reality.

After all those, I hope I’ll get to this little section of non-fiction fun and important fiction, from Springsteen’s bio through Sue Perkins’ to living Danishly and unfrazzledly (that’s a word, right), finding out about islands and going into the history of the iconic Rough Trade record label and shop. I really hope I’ll get through a few of these as they’ve been taunting me from the shelf for a while now.

I only have seven books on my NetGalley TBR at the moment, and none due out soon – six from last year and one publishing in April this year. So I think I can concentrate on print books, although I did download some other things onto the Kindle …

First book of the year

Sheila over at Book Journey does a fun post at the start of each year where she has people send in pics of themselves with their first book of the year (I’m taking this as the first book I’ll be starting). Can you spot me in her post?

What are you reading first this year? Did you come to a nice stop at the end of a book and the end of the year? I failed mightily in that one!