Friday, 27 September 2013

recent reads

Oh Comely - the space issue

OH COMELY + SPACE STUFF  (+ wearing my awesome 'in the beginning' jumper by ArtDisco while I read it) = ASTRONOMICAL AMOUNTS OF JOY

Obviously any issue by Oh Comely is a winner but I'd been looking forward to issue 17 for a good couple of months :) As always there's lots of interesting little articles inside - my favourites being the interviews with the lady who helps to design spacesuits and the pope's astronomer. There's also a very though-provoking short piece about discovery and loneliness linked to the third member of the Apollo 11 crew who didn't land on the moon, as well as some excellent illustrations of the animals who made it into space and postcards from other worlds. Added bonus of a v.cute knitted WALL-E on the back. I do love Oh Comely.

The Hundred Year Old Man who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (2009)
If a person had lived for a hundred years, you'd imaging they'd have quite a few stories to tell and Allan Karlsson, the protagonist of Jonas Jonasson's novel, is no exception. The book follows the story of how, on his 100th birthday, Allan decides he's had enough of the old peoples' home and quite literally climbs out of the window to embark on a bizarre journey. Lead by coincidence after coincidence, he meets some other odd characters and causes rather a lot of trouble (including a number of deaths). Interspersed between Allan's progress in the present (2005) we're given a thorough breakdown of Allan's past - starting at his birth and ending with his arrival at the old people's home. It's a very amusing but dense read, SO much stuff happens in the backstory segments that it turns into a kind of trip through the major historical/political/cultural events to have happened on the planet over the last century, all told from the point of view of our fictional character, Allan. Some of the situations he finds himself in (in fact all the situations as a series of events) are completely insane, but this doesn't matter thanks to Allan's character. By not troubling himself with politics and religion he's able to focus on the things that do interest him - science and vodka. Indeed, these two interests pretty much shape his adventures as he breezes through his extraordinary life. Because the backstory stuff was so interesting, I lost a little bit of momentum when reading about his adventures in 2005. However, it all comes together at the end with a pleasing, and of course belief-suspending, conclusion. That phrase about "being in the right place at the right time" is certainly a big part of the book. Although, Allan's very casual attitude to things does get him into a lot of trouble at times, it also allows him to travel the globe and forge great friendships. It sort of made me think of my 'do more new' challenge in that it's usually a good idea to say 'yes' to stuff (unless, of course, Stalin is asking you to build him an atomic bomb) and to see where it takes you. Highly recommended!

Catching Fire (2009)
What can I say? I bloody love it. It's even better than the first Hunger Games instalment. The story picks up almost exactly where it left off and now that Katniss and Peeta have returned from the arena to embark on their victory tour, things are starting to get a little out of hand in the districts and there's a whiff of rebellion in the air... With an even longer build up to the Games in this book that the first, which is not necessarily a bad thing, suspense is your friend, the stage is perfectly set for the quarter quell. The concept behind the arena in this book is pretty horrendous but also v.clever and the big reveal at the end is ace. I basically consumed this book in record time and now I cannot wait for the film. As I've said before, yes it's not a piece of literature but it's a damn fine bit of escapism. If people read Marion Keyes seriously so I will read the Hunger Games saga, seriously. Now to get my mitts on the last book!

Mr Pye (1953)
Well known for his Gormenghast books, Mervyn Peake also wrote and illustrated a number of other books including the short novel about Mr Pye. Like Gormenghast the text is rather dense and very descriptive. It follows the story of Mr Pye, a v.kindly gentleman who arrives on the Isle of Sark with his mission to inspire and spread the love of God amongst the islanders. And this he does - carrying out good deeds and spreading his teaching. Then one day he finds two curious lumps, one on each of his shoulders, and they start to grow until he starts to sprout feathers... I don't really want to give much more of it away as it's only a short little read but excellent none the less. It almost feels like some sort of fable or cautionary tale, and raises thoughts about faith, good & evil and the struggle between them all.

Suicide (2008)
The last thing I read whilst on holiday. Not the most cheery subject you'd imagine but actually it's far from miserable. The book is addressed to "you", his fictional friend that committed suicide years earlier, and reads almost like a list of all the things the narrator remembers about "you". No insight into the reasons why "you" committed suicide are given and, apart from at the beginning and end, there's very little mention of the act. With no chapters or much structure to the memories/stories about "your life" that the narrator recalls, the book is very much like a stream of consciousness which, for me, was very refreshing as I rarely, if ever, read books like this. The last few pages of the novel are dedicated to a number of three line stanzas. There are some beautiful little sentences in the main text but the poems at the end are perfectly balanced, succinct, and rather haunting, thoughts. I actually read some of them out loud. Aside from being entitled 'Suicide' much noise was made about this book when it was first published due to the story of the author, Édouard Levé, who committed suicide not long after submitting the manuscript to his agent. I think this is one of those books which I would have loved to study and pick a part as it's interesting to read about all the links and differences between the author's novel and his own demise. I highly recommend giving it a read, it won't take long or leave you feeling empty.

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