Book review – Jaron Lanier – “Dawn of the New Everything: A Journey Through Virtual Reality” @ShinyNewBooks @RealJaronLainer @TheBodleyHead

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Dawn of the New Everything Jaron LainierI read this fascinating book around my recent Cornwall holiday (alas, the lovely hardback was too substantial to take down on the train) and was racing to get back to it on my return. It’s a personal history, musing and philosophical discourse (but readable and engaging) by a fascinating and well-known founding parent of Virtual Reality, and in the way of these things, I then found myself editing a reference to it in the bibliography of an academic thesis and talking with an air of knowledge about, “Well, of course, even a wire-grid world can be immersive and wonderful if only you get the tracking right and minimise delay” when talking about a friend’s recent VR experience here in my home city!

And, the author is prosopagnosiac, like me! There might have been a small whoop when I read that bit.

Thank you to Bodley Head for sending me a copy to review for Shiny New Books, and you can read my full review here.

New books in and reading progress #amreading @BloomsburyBooks

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Just a quick hello as nothing finished to review just yet, or on the horizon as promising to be finished!

I did finish Jaron Lanier’s “Dawn of the New Everything” which was a fascinating book on the development of Virtual Reality which I have read and submitted my review for Shiny New Books – I’ll let you know when that’s out. I had to have a hiatus on that one while on holiday last week as I took slimmer (or e-) books that could be left at the holiday cottage, but got it finished at the weekend.

Next up for review for Shiny is this lovely: a comprehensive review of  the lives of the suffragettes, of course published to coincide with the centenary of some women getting the vote for the first time. It’s a lovely substantial book I’m really going to enjoy getting into, although I was a bit flummoxed when SUCH a huge parcel arrived. Thank you Bloomsbury Books for that one!

I managed to only buy ONE book on holiday as I didn’t really go through the charity shops so much. But I couldn’t resist popping into lovely Newlyn Books, in Penzance (see a photo of the shop on my post from my visit in 2016), where I found this sweet copy of “Mrs Harris Goes to New York” by Paul Gallico. I loved “Mrs ‘Arris Goes to Paris” so this had to be snapped up.

Nothing has been requested from NetGalley recently – aren’t I good! I’m up to an 82% review rate again after my last review – phew!

I’m currently reading David Goldblatt’s “The Games” again (after a pause for Shiny-ness) and I’m getting up to the 60s now so almost to the ones I remember. Quite timely as the Winter Olympics start. I was reading Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Mineral” but the type is so small and my new glasses should come soon, so I’m putting that aside until I can see it. Next up will be Iris Murdoch’s “The Bell” for my #IMReadalong – I can’t wait to get that started, probably at the weekend.

Any booky news where you are?

Book review – Joanna Nadin “The Queen of Bloody Everything” #amreading #QueenOfBloodyEverything #NetGalley

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A novel I read on the way home from our recent holiday on my Kindle, and it was perfect for that. Thank you to Pan MacMillan for making it available via NetGalley and approving me to read it in return for an honest review. What a fabulous cover, by the way, which really takes in the 70s start of the book and partly hippie ethos.

Joanna Nadin – “The Queen of Bloody Everything”

(Downloaded 12 January 2018; published 08 February 2018)

Dido, originally unwanted daughter of the rackety, fascinating Edie, falls in love at first sight with the conspicuously normal family who live over the back fence of the house they move into upon a sudden and saving inheritance. Edie’s come from a mixed line of conventional and unconventional folk, and I loved that it was an eccentric aunt who lifted them just above the poverty line. While Dido is frantically learning how to fit in, Harry, the daughter of the house, is copying Edie and wanting a mum just like her – and indeed, pretty well the only mother-like action Edie takes relates to Harry and not Dido. Meanwhile unreachable Tom hovers in Dido’s mind as the perfect man who she’s determined but not quite brave enough to capture (and I read him as gay for a little while, actually).

I loved the set pieces in the novel and how they related to the times the characters go through – Dido is a couple of years older than me, so I can remember the events and feelings and things she experiences very well. The best set piece is when some of Edie’s London friends come to visit at a moment where all Dido wants to do is fit in with the Queen’s Silver Jubilee street party – but she’s by turns horrified and exhilarated when an out and proud lesbian and two black guys come striding through their very monocultural neighbourhood to claim her as their own. The reactions of the mothers and other children is so well done. I also love the character of Edie’s best friend, Toni, always there, even in her 60s with purple hair, a fabulous character.

Dido is written so well, her language changing as she grows up, which is very convincing (Nadin was previously a YA author and this shows in her confident command of the early and teenage years – I felt it became a little less inventive in Dido’s 20s, perhaps reading a bit too like novels like “One Day”). The drama and family happenings and character development are set cleverly against nationwide events in the 1970s to 200s, and life in Saffron Walden is contrasted with life in London – I loved the ideas of “going back” which came through here. It feels a little autobiographical, especially near the end, but the relationships are sharply drawn and believable as a novel, making a good, page-turning read.

I also loved the emphasis on reading subtly woven through the book, and the children’s book chapter headings. And when Dido comes to her turning point, she’s cheeringly buoyed by both her favourite female characters from classic literature and her mum’s no-bullshit attitude, to great effect.

A note on the title: I know quite a few readers don’t like swear words in books and might be put off by the title. There’s as much swearing in the book as you’d expect given the context and the title is drawn from a very believable event near the start of the book. I hope it doesn’t lose it readers as I’d be happy to recommend this book.

Book review – Veronica Chambers – “Kickboxing Geishas” plus a DNF #amreading #books

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My last two holiday reads in a bit of a catch-up: I’m horribly aware I did double posts over the last two days (Wednesday’s were at least on two different blogs) so I’m sorry if I’ve bombarded you and can promise you things will be back to normal from now! So here’s a book I enjoyed and one that came all the way over the sea to be skim read and left by the sea!

Veronica Chambers – “Kickboxing Geishas”

(22 July 2017, via BookCrossing, through Sian)

Published in 2007, so a little dated now, this book, subtitled “How Modern Japanese Women are Changing their Nation” takes an interesting look at various facets of Japanese women’s experience, whether of costume, travel and return, dating, work, entrepreneurship or traditional marriage, how these have perhaps changed and the women’s in-depth lived experiences. She travelled to Japan a number of times and subsumed herself into the culture with an anthropologist’s eye, having written other books on women’s experiences in the US: it was reasonably well put together but there were some odd orderings (words used a few chapters before they were explained; repetitions of explanations and comments) which made me think the book had perhaps been constructed out of a series of articles or even blog posts. This did dislocate the reading experience at times, but on the whole it was a good and engaging read.

It’s also fair-minded, and where the Japanese women seem to criticise Japanese men quite heavily for, in effect, not having moved with the times, and the author describes the common “Narita divorce” (a couple get back from honeymoon where the man couldn’t cope and the woman leaves him at the airport) and mature divorce (a salaryman retires and his wife gets sick of him), she does talk to men, too, and argues on their behalf.

The book talks of the Asian bubble and subsequent crash but of course doesn’t reach the most recent financial crisis, and it would be interesting to see how things have changed during and since that time – have conservatism and populism risen there, as they have elsewhere, for example?

Eileen Myles – “The Importance of being Iceland”

(04 November  2017, via BookCrossing, from Cari)

A book of essays on travel, mainly in Iceland, and art which was oddly written and I found unengaging – I skimmed for the bits about Iceland but didn’t read it properly. A shame, as Cari had sent it all the way from New York! It’s from the Semiotext(e) imprint of MIT so I fear maybe a little academic for me.


I’m currently reading “The Queen of Bloody Everything” by Joanna Nadin, a NetGalley book published on 8 February, a coming of age novel about a girl with a rather rackety mum being sucked into the orbit of a fascinating other family. There’s a dual time aspect in that the narrator seems to be telling it to her hospitalised mum, and it’s good and engaging so far. Plus the big book on Virtual Reality, of course! What are you up to with your early February reading?

Book review – Jenni Murray – “A History of Britain in 21 Women” #amreading #books

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I’ve wickedly promoted this one to the top of the pile because so many people seem to have read it recently, or rather so many people I know, because my friends’ Very Small Book Group read it for their January read. Heaven-Ali reviewed it the other week. So i grabbed it from my birthday pile to read OUT OF ORDER (shock). It was a January read for me, too, but scheduling has got a bit complicated!

Jenni Murray – “A History of Britain in 21 Women”

(21 January 2018, from Sian)

This is subtitled “A Personal Selection”, which of course neatly allows Murray to sidestep the inevitable criticism over who she chooses to include and who she leaves out of her 21 chapters; indeed, she does mention other options she had (Shirley Williams, Florence Nightingale) and explains why she didn’t choose them in some of the pieces. She also often mentions her personal connections to the women, from seeing the sculpture of Boadicea as a child to interviewing Nancy Astor, Barbara Castle and Margaret Thatcher; this and the fairly informal tone of the book do make it warm and approachable, as if she is indeed telling you about some favourite figures.

Unfortunately, the informal tone of the book is carried over into the feature which has shocked a few readers I know (and was literally underlined in this copy, which made me smile): Murray fairly often references works of fiction when telling the stories of her subjects – a novel I’ve never heard of about Boadicea, fairly famously, a Philippa Gregory novel in the chapter on Elizabeth I, and a drama documentary about Mrs Thatcher. This just seems odd to me, as there has been plenty of well-researched non-fiction written about these people. There are also no references or bibliography at all, but acknowledgements given to people who helped her keep the facts straight. But, after all, its a “personal selection”.

The Fanny Burney, again fairly notoriously, includes vivid primary source accounts of an operation, but this is well-signposted, with an exhortation to “[b]e brave and read on” (I didn’t). It is good in general and I learned about Mary Somerville (her of the college) and at last worked out that Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Millicent Garrett Fawcett were sisters, which had always somewhat eluded me. A decent introductory read, but further reading could easily have been enabled with better referencing.


Next up is a book called “Kickboxing Geishas” about women in modern Japan, which was passed to me with slightly mixed reviews …

State of the TBR – February 2018

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Oh, the terrible state of the TBR, post-Christmas and -birthday! In fact, it was worse than this, but I pulled a few books off it that were either BookCrossing registered or quick reads to take with me on a trip, so there is at least some wiggle room at the end … But The Pile has had to encroach onto husband Matthew’s shelf (shock, horror!).

I’m currently reading Veronica Chambers’ “Kickboxing Geishas: How Modern Japanese Women are Changing their Nation” and a book on at in Iceland, and you’ll see a review of Jenni Murray’s “A History of Britain in 21 Women” later today, otherwise I won’t get all my reviews in. I’m also getting on with Jaron Lanier’s “Dawn of the New Everything” for Shiny New Books (and I have a fab book on women’s suffrage activists to go for Shiny next; there’s a whole crop of these to celebrate the centenary of people like me being able to vote in the UK). Then coming up, I didn’t do a photo because it’s pretty well the same as last month, with seemingly just two books having left the shelf, so Bruce, Frazzled, The Hate U Give and the history of Rough Trade all jostling for attention. First to start after finishing any of the current ones will, however, be Iris Murdoch’s “The Bell”, this month’s #IMReadalong novel.

What are your February reading plans?

“The Sandcastle” round-up and “The Bell” preview #IMReadalong @IrisMurdoch

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Welcome to the new #IMReadalong update, where we’ll have a quick update on “The Sandcastle” and then move on to “The Bell”, which is probably my most-read Murdoch (which is yours? I’d love to know!).

“The Sandcastle”

I’ve had some good and interesting comments on my own review of this one (read it and the comments here). I know at least one person who is reading along plans to post a review soon, and as I’ve said, it’s absolutely fine to post reviews and comments after the month in question; it’s helpful if you can let me know about your own blog posts and Goodreads etc. reviews, either by posting a link in the comments on my review here or by linking to my review in yours.

Jo has posted an excellent long review on Goodreads (with any spoilers cleverly hidden) and Liz has also posted a review on Goodreads with interesting thoughts on the point of view. Buried in Print reviewed it along with “Under the Net” (read it here), with some great covers.

I’ll add more links if any come in in the meantime. If you have comments to make or links to blog posts to post, you can put them here or (better still) on the review. As well as my lovely first edition with this adorable back cover, I have three paperback copies of “The Sandcastle”, seen below. If you have any covers to share of these or any others of the novels, do pop them over via Twitter, Facebook or email (find contact details for email on the Contact Me page).

“The Bell”

The reason “The Bell” is my most-read Murdoch is because I did my research on Iris Murdoch and Book Groups on it. You can read about that project and see a copy of the book I wrote here.

I have three copies of this one: a sweet first edition, a 1980s Penguin from my first flush of Iris Murdoch reading and buying, and the pretty new Vintage paperback:

Here’s the spine of the hardback, featuring a rather excellent nun:

Fancy reading this one but not sure? Here’s the blurb from the first edition:

The blurb from my Penguin edition makes it sound weird, as if they’re in a set of tents instead of a perfectly normal building:

and the blurb from the new edition recycles that somewhat:

Is it actually thrilling? Hm, not sure. But it’s a good read and I hope a few of you are ready to carry on through the oeuvre with me. Are you up for it?


You will find a page listing all of these blog posts here, updated as I go along. Who’s starting “The Sandcastle” soon? Have you read it before?

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