Sunday 18 October 2015

While I've Been Away, Part I

You may have noticed that there’s been rather a long silence since my last post. Other commitments sadly got in the way and although I kept intending to post it never quite became reality. Before (hopefully!) getting back to my more regular posts I thought I’d write a few short words on some of the things I’ve been reading in the meantime. My memory not being perfect and my notes sadly having been lost short words they must be, but I’ve read some great books that it would seem a shame not to share.

Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace – This behemoth took me something like three months to plough through. It’s a complicated set of stories based variously around a Tennis Academy, a drug and alcohol recovery house, and a group of wheelchair assassins. It’s not until quite near the end that the links between the different narratives begin to become apparent. Some tough subjects are touched upon – addiction, domestic abuse, suicide, and difficult family relationships and the traces they leave. This may not be the easiest book to get through, and the infamous endnotes are certainly something, but it was absolutely worth the effort. Quite honestly I felt like I was being given an insight in to the mind of a genius.

The Engagements, J. Courtney Sullivan – Five stories spanning the past 80 years linked together by an engagement ring. From Frances Gerety, the woman who coined the phrase ‘a diamond is forever’ finding her place in a man’s world through to 2012 and a woman who mirrors Gerety’s refusal to conform to gender stereotypes. The book deals with the nature of love and marriage, no romantic delusions present, but also covers some critical social history. Although I’m not a massive fan of the neat linking up of the different narratives, this is an engaging, thoughtful read.

The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood – A dystopian novel set in a time where the role of women is carefully controlled. The handmaids are kept for reproductive purposes, their old names forgotten, new names assigned to them indicating which man they are currently in dominion to. The flashbacks to the protagonist’s previous life gives an unsettling sense of the helplessness of her situation, of how easily freedom can be snatched away. A genuinely disturbing novel, well deserving of its place on most ‘must-read’ book lists.

Reasons to Stay Alive, Matt Haig – I’m a big fan of Matt Haig. I loved The Humans and have read a lot of the articles and blog posts he’s written. I even went to a talk he did about this book. I think this may have been part of the problem – by the time I actually read the book it didn’t feel like there was all that much that was new in it. In saying this, if you haven’t followed Haig quite as avidly but are interested in depression then this is a great read. It’s honest and funny and in explaining his techniques for coping with depression he gives some sound advice.

How to Build a Girl, Caitlin Moran – A coming of age novel focusing on a teenaged girl trying to lift her family out of poverty one music review at a time. It’s amusing enough and she learns some important lessons along the way, ones that some women far more advanced in years would benefit from remembering. At times I found her oblivious self-centredness a tad exaggerated and mildly irritating. An easy read that is ultimately heartfelt and hopeful and will provide a few hours of light entertainment.