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Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Shadowman by Della Galton

Shadowman was my first ever Mills and Boon book. It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, and it certainly wasn't the worst book I have read, fiction of non-fiction, during my journey around Dorking Library so far.

I was surprised the book wasn't about romance at all really. I was expecting a boy meets girl, swept off her feet and sail off into the sunset sort of book, but it was none of that. It was a book about relationships, where a jealous former lover tries to get in between a husband and wife. Shadowman wasn't the most sophisticated story ever, but was easy enough to read and held my interest. Shadowman gets 4 out of 10.

That concludes Large Print and I now move back into the world of normal typefaces. My next book is from a completely unnamed bookcase in Dorking Library which just seems to contain historical novels, mainly by one author, so I picked one of them.

The Persian Boy is "one of the greatest historical novels ever written" according to Sarah Waters on the front cover. I have enjoyed Sarah Waters's books in the past so if she thinks that there is a chance I might agree!

Monday, November 30, 2015

Little Mercies by Heather Gudenkauf

I actually enjoyed a book for the first time in a long time after a few stinkers recently. Little Mercies was an enthralling novel exploring different aspects of child abuse.

For once I was interested in the characters and the plot. They seemed real people and an original storyline, not the wooden stereotypes conforming to a pre-determined script like so many books appear to me.

Heather Gudenkauf really loves children from the book you can just tell. She thinks all children are special and treasured, her love of them just drips from the pages. In fact Little Mercies was written with so much compassion, not just for the children but even the adults in the book. Even the minor characters well good.

The actual story was written from two perspectives, one of a child who has been abused in the past and becomes separated from her father. The second voice is of a social worker who was so absorbed in her job saving children that she endangered the life of her own child by accident. The two stories eventually merge as the plot unfolds. I award this book 8 out of 10.

Next I move on to the final bookcase in the Large Print section which was entirely populated with Mills and Boon books. I must confess I haven't read a Mills and Boon novel before. I must also confess that I am not particularly keen to do so, but in the interests of completing the project it is a necessary task I have to undertake, and I think I will have to read another as well much later on when I reach the romance section towards the end of my project.

I picked Shadowman pretty much at random I am have no way of knowing whether any of the Mills and Boon books is any better than another, because they all seem to have very similar storylines.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Money: The Unauthorised Biography by Felix Martin

Bookcase 55's offering Money: The Unauthorised Biography was I am afraid was another dud. It was one of those irritating books that starts of well then gets worse and worse.

As I said in my previous post this might have been a book I would have chosen, the subject matter was of interest to me and the general content looked quite promising. But after the first few chapters which talked about what money wasn't it just degenerated into meaningless babble.

Maybe the failing was mine and this book was beyond me, but it doesn't feel like it. It wasn't especially technical and the fact there isn't an index or meaningful contents page suggests this was just what it resembled, a big brain dump of gibberish. I award it 2 out of 10. The first chapter was OK!

Next I jump back to the "Enjoy!" section and return to bookcase 48 for my second official attempt at reading a book from this case. If I succeed then there will be nothing left in my wake and I will be able to continue just looking forwards.

I think Little Mercies is a thriller about a kidnapping. Hopefully it doesn't involve my pet hate of a deranged serial killer, I never really read the back of books to find out the plot beyond the most cursory scan, it ruins the story a lot of the time, so I am never 100% sure what I am getting into until I am a few pages into a book.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

My third attempt at reading Book 51 finally succeeded as I managed to plough through The Shining Girls but I didn't think much of it.

As everyone knows by now my pet hate in books is a serial killer/maverick detective novel which seem to be churned out in their droves and are all alike. This one took a while to evolve into a story but basically The Shining Girls is yet another book which conforms to this pattern of a madman driven to kill endless women being tracked down by a rookie reporter who was also one of his victims, but who managed to escape.

The only plot element which varies from the standard script is that this killer can travel in time, so selects his victims when they are young children and comes back to kill them once they are grown up. Consequently the book jumps around from decade to decade and it took me quite a while to actually get to grips with what was going on.

Suffice to say the maverick journalist gets in all sorts of trouble and breaks lots of rules but eventually tracks the killer down, despite his ability to travel in time. All very tedious and The Shining Girls only gets 3 out of 10.

Next I continue with the Large Print section, and a non-fiction book from bookcase 55.

Money is actually the first book I might actually pick to read for quite some time. I read a similar book The Secret Life of Money on bookcase 26. I was a bit disappointed by The Secret Life of Money because it was too incoherent with lots of unconnected essays. Hopefully Money will explain the nature of the beast a bit better to me.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Strictly Off the Record: On the Trail of World Records with Norris McWhirter by Anna Nicholas

Book 54. Strictly Off the Record was a look at the author's time working with Norris McWhirter on The Guinness Book of Records in the 1980's. As far as I can tell it was written several decades after the events described took place

That means every tale has been told and retold so how much they resemble the truth after three decades of oral tradition is debatable. Norris McWhirter is long dead of course so he can't argue with the contents. Irritatingly whole conversations are recreated verbatim in the book. Surely nobody can remember so many little details from so long ago?

I wouldn't mind but every story is pained in the same golden light. Not a bad thing is said of anyone, it was all such fun. I didn't even  find many of the stories especially funny. It was an irritating book amd gets 3 out of 10, which at easy is an improvement on the last couple.

I know return to bookcase 51 for my third attempt at completing a book.

The Shining Girls I am afraid is yet another spree killer thriller, my pet hate, though you do find the odd good one.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Mozart's Last Aria by Matt Rees

Book 53. Mozart's Last Aria was a dismal historical fiction mystery on a par with the last book I finished (another historical mystery, A Christmas Grace by Anne Perry) for awfulness. Some authors think just because they have studied a period of history in depth it entitles them to write a fiction book about it.

It doesn't matter what period a book is set in, if the characters are wooden and the plot feeble and hackneyed it's still a poor book even if you have the story stooped with historical facts. In Mozart's Last Aria every character apart from Mozart's sister, the narrator, I found indistinguishable, and gave up keeping track of who they all were. Mozart's sister, in a Miss Marple denouement, gets to the bottom of her brother's death after 300 pages of turgid prose. I've already forgotten which of the random cast did it! Mozart's Last Aria gets 2 out of 10.

Next up I continue with Large Print but I move into a bookshelf made up of non-fiction books, which I have to say I generally prefer, certainly over "light" fiction anyway. I have picked a biography, a section of the library I just passed though and generally enjoyed.

Strictly off the Record is about Norris McWhirter who I remember from the childhood show Record Breakers. His brother was killed by the IRA if I recall rightly.

I've not enjoyed the last few books so I feel I am due a good one. I still need to find books from bookcases 48 and 51 than I can manage to complete, I'll go back to those as soon as I can!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A Christmas Grace by Anne Perry

A Christmas Grace by Anne Perry was about as bad as it gets in a book, but I did finish it. It was a mediocre "mystery" set in the Nineteenth Century in Ireland.

Anne Perry used the age-old technique of sending a character to write an account in a community which has a dark secret and which everyone but her knows. Everyone evades telling questions and looks dodgy whenever they are asked anything about the past. Inevitably one day the narrator finds it all out and eventually gets to the bottom of it รก la Miss Marple.

It's not a patch on Agatha Christie though and amazingly Anne Perry looks to have written loads of books like this. There is obviously a market for such mysteries, even if they demand so little of the reader. Inevitably A Christmas Grace gets 1 out of 10. I don't think it even had a single good page!

Next up is another large print fiction book. This one is another historical novel set around Mozart's death. I love Mozart and have read a few books about him and his music over the years.

 I've even watched Amadeus back in the era when I watched the occasional film (I watch none at all these days and haven't seen one for years). I think I quite liked it I hope this is good too I am due a good book after the recent fare.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Another Rejection

After the Fall went the way of its predecessor on bookcase 51, Love You More. I did love it more as I did last about 40 pages (compared to two) but in the end I just found the style and content too irritating. It's a book that is aimed primarily at a female audience and I just couldn't face reading the whole book.

So bookcase 51 has gone the way of bookcase 49 - there are no books on either I want to read (they are both small bookcases with around 3 books on). I'm sure in the next year something will turn up on these bookcases and I will keep looking every time I go to the library.

In the meantime it's on to bookcase 52 which marks the start of a new section, Large Print. This particular bookcase seems to have a fairly unchallenging set of "light" reading so it was a bit of a challenge for me to find anything at all which I wanted to read.

In the end I picked A Christmas Grace by Anne Perry which looks to be some sort of historical mystery. I hope I manage to finish it!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Love You More Less Than Perfect

Love You More was terrible, I ditched it after less than two pages. I am afraid any book where a body is washed up on page 1 and some American agent starts investigating is simply not worth reading in my view (been done a million times), so I have selected another book - After the Fall - from bookcase 51 to try out.

In truth After the Fall doesn't look much better though as it says it will appeal to fans of Joanna Trollope and Jodi Picoult. I have tried books by both of those authors in the past and they've all quite quickly ended up on the reject pile (I am afraid I am rather fussy when it comes to fiction). One of the great things about libraries though is that you can give authors a go who you might otherwise not consider. I am forced to with my constraint to read one book from every bookcase which was partly the idea of doing so in the first place.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

Book 50, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a historical novel which is basically a love story of two twelve year olds who were separated by the war and ended up spending their whole adult lives apart.

We read so many books set in the familiar WW2 Europe of Germany/England/occupied France, this one is different (at least to this British reader) because it is set in Seattle on the Pacific West Coast of America. The two children who fall in love are of Chinese and Japanese origin, which is what separated them, because the Americans effectively imprisoned Japanese civilians during the war (at least that's what happened in the book).

So it's set in a fairly unfamiliar setting for me. The story itself is  bit drawn out. It reminds me a bit of The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, which is a story of a man looking back on an unrequited love earlier in his life. In Remains of the Day Stevens was held back by his own social inhibitions; in Hotel on the Corner it's more the cultural gap that divides the two lovers, and which they both come to accept.

I wouldn't say I greatly enjoyed this book. Very little happens really and I found it difficult to believe that someone aged 12 could fall so in love that he carried it with him for the rest of his life. The whole jazz scene in Seattle held no great interest for me and I award in 5 out of 10. I would says it's a better book than that mark though, I just didn't enjoy it, but it is a good story if you are into this type of book.

The next book will be the 50th book of the project, although it's the 51st bookcase, because I am yet to find anything worth reading on bookcase 48.

Love You More doesn't look great I have to say, but it's a very small case with only a few books, so there's no much choice. It looks another American spree killer-type book, which I have to admit I heartily loathe as a rule, but I will give it a go!

Friday, October 2, 2015

Lady of the Shades by Darren Shan

Book 49 Lady of the Shades is a deceptive book which constantly switches and evolves from one theme to another. It starts fairly innocuously with the story of a journeyman horror writer who embarks on an affair with the wife of a gangster, the eponymous Lady.

It's a fairly humdrum story for the first 50 pages or so then suddenly comes to live. It then switches between ghost story and thriller with a vast number of twists and turns. I don't normally guess the plot line at the heart of the mystery but for once I did, but even so it's a captivating story which shifts and turns in many different directions.

Regular readers of this blog will know I hate hackneyed storylines and this certainly isn't, so I applaud it as  a work which strives for originality. I award Lady of the Shades a respectable 7 out of 10.

My third attempt at a fiction book since my sojourn to non-fiction will be the 50th bookcase I have read a book from (although I am aware that bookcase 48 has yet to yield anything worth reading).

The 50th bookcase (and the 49th book) will be Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford. Apparently this is an international bestseller, although I have neither heard of it not the writer. All I know is it's a historical novel with some very complimentary quotes on the front cover. Let's see what it's like!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Amor Towles's Rules of Civillity Rejected!!

Amor Towles's Rules of Civillity was rubbish (far too much glamour, fashion and socialising for my liking!) so I have had to move on to the next shelf in the "Enjoy" section. There are only three different books on the very small bookcase where Rules of Civillity resides in the library, and the other two are both by authors I have read before. My rules do allow me to re-read writers if there is nothing else, but the other two authors I both loathe. I had to plough through a James Patterson book early in this project and I am not going to put myself through it again, and the other, Dick Francis, I thought was a hack when I was about fourteen, so there is no way I am going to enjoy his books now.

So on I move in the hope that something better will turn up on Bookcase 48. The next book from Bookcase 49 s a thriller called Lady of the Shades by Darren Shan. It's about a writer who falls in love with a gangster's wife (not a good move). At least the plot is not some hackneyed tale that has been told a thousand times before, so there's hope I might enjoy it.

It's good to be back reading fiction the problem is there is a sea of mediocrity with the odd jewel that keeps you coming back.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A Stolen Life Jaycee Dugard

Book 46 about Jaycee Dugard's incarceration for 18 years from when she was 10 is harrowing reading, and sadly not unique, being very similar to Natascha Kampusch's experience in Austria, amongst others.

Jaycee has been brave enough to write her memoirs herself. This gives A Stolen Life a personal touch which other books don't have but it does mean  only one side of the story is told. Her captor's tale is missing and her family's suffering likewise. The book is just about Jaycee. It's also interposed with accounts and commentary written after she was discovered. All in all I found it rather unbalanced, I'd rather it read as a chronological tale of her experiences instead of jumping between present and past. A professional writer might have done a better job, if I have to be critical.

The amazing thing about Jaycee's tale is how much under her captor's spell she was. It would have been so easy to escape after the first few years, but she never did. She doesn't really say why this is, she says she doesn't know. Again a bit of a perspective would help. I remember reading a book on Natascha Kampusch and there was a lot of talk of Stockholm syndrome with other examples and a bit of background.

Jaycee was captured she didn't do much for 18 years, largely because she couldn't. A lot of the years are filled with descriptions of pets that died and other fairly mundane details of what life she managed to eke out.

What does come through is how she survived. She adapted to her situation but she never allowed her captors to subdue her. Jaycee gained their confidence and never tried to escape, had she done so she'd probably have been killed. Eventually she was trusted, and her increased exposure meant the inevitable happened and she attracted attention. Amazingly she still had to be forced to tell the truth even after she was challenged about her identity.

I'd be interested to read a more rounded book about this case, but this one is a good start and I award it 6 out of 10.

Next up for book 47 (the final volume in the Biography section) is yet another book about an American software "guru". I have previously read books about Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs in this project, now it is the turn of Paul Allen. I don't necessarily read a lot of books like this, it's just the way things have panned out and I like to read biographies of people who have changed the world not minor film stars!

The difference between Paul Allen and the other is he was never the front man at Microsoft, that was down to Bill Gates (some of whose books I have also read). Allen I think was more of an ideas man, the brains behind the outfit. That's the sort of role I tend to play in organisations (albeit at a much lower profile!) so I'll be interested to pick up some things I can learn from Allen's career and what he did.

Idea Man: A Memoir by the co-Founder of Microsoft by Paul Allen

The first half of Paul Allen's book about the genesis of Microsoft was very interesting. As a software developer myself I could step into Paul's shoes and imagine very much how his teenage life was, for I spent many of my formative years writing code.

Sadly I never bumped into a Bill Gates but it's interesting to read how Paul's hobby transformed itself into being half of the largest company in the world, unlike my own which plodded along in a more pedestrian path! There's no doubt that Gates was the business brain and Paul was of more a technical guru, which is reflected in the title. That's more my role so I could identify with the situation he found himself in, a few years before I wrote my first software.

The second half of part 1 of the book roughly covers the process of disentangling himself from Microsoft after a health scare and developing his own life and interests. The depths of his involvement in other things is amazing. Most people would be happy to do one of the dozen or so things Paul Allen has get involved in since his early thirties. This varies from owning sports teams, space pioneering, genetic research as well as establishing numerous companies and museums. Then there's a long list of hobbies too! Even though he's had money it's all been put to good use. Compared to someone like Booby Fischer and even Marx to an extent (subjects of other biographies I have read) Paul Allen has packed so much more into his life.

In truth the first part of the book is very interesting. the second half less so. Much that Paul Allen has done, there's just a bit too much details really. He's obviously very proud of his achievements and rightly so, but they do become a bit tedious in places. Overall Idea Man gets 7 out of 10.

All in all Paul Allen is definitely my type of business man compared to Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos, who I have already encountered books on during this project. I'd have loved to have him as a boss, the other two I would hate!

Now finally after months of non-fiction and weeks of biography I return to fiction where I started. I have arrived at a curious section of the library with a set of shelves labelled "Enjoy", According to mention definition of a bookcase there are about seven very small bookcases in this area. There are numerous copies of all the books in this section, most of which are fairly light-looking bestsellers. There's not much choice on each bookcase but I am starting with a work by Amor Toyles

I think this book is a work of historical fiction set in USA of the 1930s. Let's hope it lives up to its area's name and I enjoy it! I love a great work of fiction but it's incredibly hard knowing from the cover whether it's going to be one or not - non-fiction is so much easier to assess on the book shelf.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Endgame: Bobby Fischer's Remarkable Rise and Fall-from America's Brightest Prodigy to the Edge of Madness by Frank Brady

Book 45 about Bobby Fischer I read more quickly than the last two biographies, but that's because it was shorter rather than better.

In fact it was quite a disappointing book because you get the feeling the author didn't know Bobby Fischer at all well. Nearly all the periods of his life which are covered to any degree are those for which Fischer was in the public eye. There are long periods when Fischer disappeared from the public daze and these are sketched over in the main in Endgame. The truth I suppose is that there is nobody who could produce such a book as Fischer was such a loner, so we have to make do with this which is mainly a biography about Fischer's chess games with the odd bit of personal stuff.

I have to say some books inspire you especially when they are about the lives of the greats but Bobby Fischer was a massive underachiever and he could have been a far greater individual than he was, in my view. The reason he wasn't "greater" is down to him. He was obviously suffering from mental illness and was paranoid about being persecuted to such a degree that it took over his life and stopped him playing chess. Although he was undoubtedly a genius lesser people have achieved more in life then he did. I award Endgame as a book 5 out of 10; I award Fischer as a person 2 out of 10, and 0 out of 10 for anything he did after the age of 30.

Next up for book 46 is a memoir about Incarceration.

Jaycee Dugard was taken aged 11 and kept away from her family in a similar case to Natascha Kampusch in Austria, whose book I have also read. I'd put this book in the True Crime section rather than Biography, but maybe when I've read it I'll see why it's been put in this category.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography by Walter Isaacson

It took me a few days less than three weeks to read the Book 44, the Steve Jobs biography, which continues my slow progress through this section of the library. Biographies are typically quite long books and most of them are not page turners that you can rattle through in a few days.

That doesn't mean to say I don't enjoy them though. I have got something from all the biographies I have read so far: Wainright, Marx and Jobs. Although I work in a similar industry to that of Jobs, he's the most different type of person to me than either of the other two, and therefore in many ways the most difficult to relate to. I am not and never would have been a high powered businessman, so in many ways I identify more with Marx and Wainwright's years of solitary industry than I do with Jobs's construction of a business empire.

Obviously though reading of the evolution of the several Apple devices which changed the world was personally interesting to me. I have never owned anything made by Apple, but I have used extensively some of the second wave of products that copy their ideas - Windows and Android largely. Jobs is a few years older than me but I can still understand the extent of what he achieved in the 1970s when he and Wozniak built the first apple machine in his dad's garage.

Interesting as this book is it's not really a full biography of Steve Jobs at all. It's much more a business biography. I know he spent most of his waking day at work but he still had a life outside the office and this is not the main focus of the book. It's very much a catalogue of the products and services which Steve Jobs developed rather than an account of his personal life. To some extent that's because it's a first biography which Jobs himself asked for, although refused to read. It would be interesting to read a more complete and independent biography that doesn't hold anything back.

I never met or even saw Jobs but I don't think I would have liked him as a boss, he's definitely not my type of employer. If I had to choose between him and Bill Gates as my boss (oh to have had that choice!) I would plump for Microsoft every day of the week. That's not to say though I am not in awe of what Jobs achieved - without even writing a line of code himself!

Next up for Book 45 is another biography, this one of Bobby Fisher the chess player.

As a (weak) Dorking Chess Club player myself I enjoy the game, and Fisher was one of the great characters in its history. He also lived in an interesting time during the Cold War when chess was a very competitive area between the two super powers. Reading about Fisher is going back to the "loners" like Marx and Wainright, rather than Alpha Males like Jobs.

Endgame is "only" 450 pages so it should be polished off in no time :>)

Monday, August 10, 2015

Love and Capital: Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of a Revolution Mary Gabriel

It took me three weeks to read the Karl and Jenny Marx biography, which means at this rate I'll still be working my way round the library in five year's time!

Holiday slowed me down a bit, but it's a very long book I embarked upon, 550 pages of small print in a physically large book, It's probably 800+ pages in a normal typeface. Plus the subject matter is not easy with a very long list of characters entwined in the story across a large part of Europe. Because Love and Capital is not just the biography of Marx and his wife, it's a biography of his whole clan, and there's over 100 pages after they both have died before the story finally comes to an end.

It's an enjoyable and meticulously researched book and you can tell that the author is as interested in Marx's daughters as she is in the man itself. All the family had so many tough experiences to go through it's hard to imagine over 100 years later how hard it was to live in the 19th century even for a middle class family like the Marx's. Marx lost four children and his first fourth grand children, which must have been very hard to take. He was almost permanently skint until the last few years of his life and his kids mainly continued the tradition of being flat broke!

What I really got from the book is what an underachiever Marx was. He may have changed the world but really he wrote so little completed material and you just wonder what more he could have accomplished given the resources and a more regimented life. He was incredibly lucky to have Engels there to finance him for most of his life and complete all his works after he had died.

When you compare Marx with Wainright who I read about two books back there a lot of similarities in that both of them didn't become well known until well into middle age. The difference was Wainright was much more focused and produced a massive oeuvre in the years left to him. Wainright paid the price of having almost no meaningful relationships whereas Marx founded a whole movement and had many contacts and friends. Swings and roundabouts!

Marx spent his life dedicated to the struggle of the proletariat but never worked himself for anyone in a "normal" job, not unlike most of our recent prime ministers. Marxism has ultimately been a failure wherever it has been tried out, but you could equally argue that capitalism has been a disaster as we stand on the precipice of the environmental meltdown of the world's burgeoning population. Marx though fought for the rights of the ordinary "man", and today's world is unrecognisable in Europe to what it was in his day. Employment laws, education, votes for everyone, and human rights have progressed enormously from the world of the latter half of the nineteenth century. A lot of that must go down to the movement he inspired.

For all his liberalism though Marx was still a Victorian and his views seem distinctly un liberal to today's mind set. He still treated his daughters like he owned them, refusing them permission to marry is one case.

All in all Love and Capital is a good book and I award it 8 out of 10. I miss the Marx's, they were my companions for three weeks of my life and even went on holiday with me!

Next up is an even longer book! Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography by Walter Isaacson is a book about one of the great figures of my lifetime.

I have read books about Bill Gates, the Google founders and the recent book I read in this project about Amazon's Jeff Bezos. Steve Jobs though is someone I have not read about before. Working in the same or similar industry to Jobs but about 15 years younger than him I have a great deal of common years with him, unlike Marx whose whole era was completely alien to me. Even though I have never bought anything made by Apple I'll be interested to read the story of his great inventions because I've spent much of my life using competitor products like Windows that were shaped by his own inventions.

Monday, July 20, 2015

I am still busy reading the Karl/Jerry Marx biography. However while I have been reading the book I have been busy doing the South Down's Way by bike with my friend Tim.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Lost At Sea by Jon Ronson

I feel like I should have heard of Jon Ronson before but I confess he's a new name to me. He's an investigative journalist mainly for the Guardian (a paper I buy sometimes) I think and he's written a few books. Lost At Sea is a collection of articles which have appeared in his name around 3-4 years ago.

There's no discernable order to the articles which is one of the alluring points of the book. The articles can literally be about anything, but nearly always are about unusual people and/or unusual situations. Some of the articles are excellent, a few are less good but there's not a bad article in the whole book. I award Lost At Sea 9 out of 10.

The title story is about a fairly normal person, who disappeared on a cruise voyage and the cruise-line have been very unhelpful at getting to the truth. Most of the articles though are about people who live bizarre lives like the real life super heroes on America, there are a couple of game show contestants who go to extreme lengths to get on shows and win them, and even a trip to Alaska to find the town where  it is always Christmas. Ronson in every case goes and talks to the people involved and sees for himself what the story is.

Ronson is a great writer and very funny on occasions - he's also very good at getting to the point without being boring. I'll definitely have to read some more of his stuff. Unfortunately my own rules forbid me to take anything else by him out should it crop on another bookcase! When I've finished this challenge he'll be high on my list to return to that's for sure.

Next up is book 43, which is the first full scale biography of a major historical figure, Karl Marx. I must admit to having a soft spot for the Nineteenth Century and have read a few biographies from this period especially of British people in the heyday of our nation.  Marx was German but he lived in London for a large part of his life and largely made his name here to the best of my recollection.

I'll be interested to read about Marx - and his wife who is also the subject of this book. I'm not especially interested in his politics, more about his life and that of his wife. Good biographies allow you to live the lives of others vicariously and you can learn things from them which you can apply to your own life. Two books ago I read another biography, about Alfred Wainright, and it helped to put parts of my own life into perspective. Alfred Wainright was a minor figure though in the grand scheme of things - Marx is one of the giants of the Nineteenth century and one of the most influential thinkers of all time.

It's a 700 page book so I may take a couple of weeks to read this one!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Wainwright: The Biography by Hunter Davies

I'd heard of Book 41's subject Alfred Wainwright of course, but have never read a word he's written or seen him on TV - to the best of my recollection. I suppose you wouldn't normally read a biography of someone you had such a tenuous knowledge of, but such is the nature of my library challenge that I am often plunged into the covers of books I would not normally open.

That said, I was glad I read Wainwright, who sounds like an enigmatic character. A man, who appeared gruff and taciturn on the surface, but underneath was a romantic. For a man who spent hours alone on the hills he had an amazing number of women friends, yet barely spoke to his wife, who he treated like a housekeeper!

Wainwright is the biographer's dream because he wasn't much of a speaker, yet was a prolific author of letters as well as over 50 books which he didn't start writing until well in his forties! He practically wrote everything down which happened to him. There must have been an enormous amount of material to read in order to write this book, which maintains interest throughout and is rarely boring.

I am an obsessive so I could identify with Wainwright who embarked on such a ludicrous challenge that few would have expected him to complete it - only an complete obsessive could do so! Writing his guide books entirely by hand was bizarre even in the 1950s, something that probably hadn't been done since the Middle Ages.

Yet to the people around him he paid little regard. His wives and son had to fit in around Wainright's life and he had very few friends who he spoke to. Nobody was allowed to walk with him, except on rare occasions, but if they did they weren't allowed to speak - even his second wife!

Although Wainwright is not a massive figure of the Twentieth Century, even in the UK, he's still an enjoyable character to read about and Hunter Davies is a very good author. I award Wainwright 8 out of 10.

Next up is book 42, which is another work from the biography section.

I think this book is not a true biography, more a kind of book about things Jon Rowson has come across during his time as a Guardian journalist. Let's find out.

Monday, June 29, 2015

I am still busy reading the Wainright book but at the weekend, vaguely inspired by AW I decided to walk to London!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

All About Coffee by William H. Ukers

Every dog has its day and all that but All About Coffee is long past its best before date. Had I realised that it was written in the 1920s I would never have bothered reading it.

Only gradually did I realise that then words of William H. Ukers were penned nearly 100 years ago: consequently nearly everything he had to say about the consumption of coffee was totally out of date, and the history of the drink is of course incomplete by several decades. The (American) author went all round the world seeing how people drank coffee at the time, when the world was a much less homogeneous place. He wrote off the UK in about two sentences, saying we were a nation of tea drinkers and probably always would be. That certainly is not the case any more - far more people drink coffee than tea these days it would seem to me.

I fail to see why this book was re-published more or less in full in 2012. I cannot possess who but a historian with a specialised interest could ever be interested in this book. I award it 2 out of 10.

All About Coffee concludes those cases I can read in the Food/Drink section for now. My journey around the perimeter of the library takes me next to biography - and soon I will be in sight of the door when I started! Biography is a hard section to choose from  because to immerse yourself in someone's life you really have to be interested in the person. I struggled to find a book on the first case and in the end picked a book about Alfred Wainright.

I don't know much about Wainright other than he wrote a famous book about walking which has spawned the Coast to Coast phenomenon in the UK. Given that I am embarked upon the Pennine Way at the moment, and completed the North Downs Way last year, it seems quite timely to dip into the life of another walker, even if I know little about Wainright.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Garden Design by David Stevens

Garden Design by David Stevens is a fairly simple book. It explains that every garden is different, but then goes on to describe different types of garden and has a few case studies thereof.

I read this book in virtually one sitting on a train back from Cumbria and can't say I learned a great deal from it other than to start with a plan and sketch what you would like the garden to look like. Then buy and position the stuff you need like plants and accessories and come up with a planting schedule. In truth it's not rocket science but it's more than I have managed to do in ten years of having a garden! I am afraid I have often bought random plants and placed them in random places (a rookie mistake apparently), and rarely been satisfied with the result.

I must admit I had virtually given up on the garden in the last couple of years because in part I never knew what I wanted to do with it, and just ended up frustrated and uninspired. Like many of the non-fiction works I have read though this book has got me thinking, it's been a catalyst to a change in my life, if not a massive direct work of inspiration. I only award it 5 out of 10 but we've been in our garden this weekend actually doing stuff and we're finally working on a plan for the garden more than ten years after moving in! The whole family are involved, and all as a result of reading an average book on a shelf in the library that I normally wouldn't give a glance. Slowly but surely this project is changing my life, and that in turn changes the lives of those around me.

In fact this last week I have been walking the Pennine Way and that all came about because two years ago I read a book from Dorking Library about Long Distance Paths (long before the current project began) and the first chapter was about the Pennine Way. That casual lend got me thinking about walking in Yorkshire and the result has been three trips up there with friends and gradually evolved into a project involving several people. Reading library books really does changes your life: go to the non-fiction shelves and nothing will ever be the same again!

Right onto Book 40, and I have moved on to Food and Drink. The book I chose was all about coffee. In fact that's the title of the book, by William H. Ukers.

I drink lots of coffee although I have struggled with too much caffeine at various times in my life and try to stick to decaffeinated drinks. However like a moth to a flame I keep coming back to caffeine, and I love the drink of coffee even if I sometimes curse it hours later for interrupting my sleep cycle. I really hope that this book doesn't get me drinking lots of caffeinated drinks because I know they're not good for me, but let's read it and see!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Nails, Noggins and Newels: An Alternative History of Every House by Bill Laws

Nails, Noggins and Newels was a tour round everyday objects in the house and their history - since of course nothing in the home fell from the sky - every object we use someone had to invent first.

The book starts with the front door and then systematically works it way round the house going through all the objects we take for granted such as stairs, tiles, letter boxes, carpets, telephones and cookers. It only seems to cover everyday objects and I don't remember reading about purely leisure items such as bookcases, pianos, televisions and games consoles!

It's all vaguely interesting and covers much of the same material as Bill Bryson's At Home, which is a lot more waffly and goes off on all sorts of entertaining detours as Bryson is prone to. Nails, Noggins and Newels is more prosaic, shorter and a bit more serious. It gets 5 out of 10: it's OK but not exactly a page turner!

Next up is the final Home/Garden/Pets book from bookcase 39. This case was full of books about decorating and gardening, both activities that I avoid at the moment: the first because it bores me, the second because I feel like I am going nowhere. Of the two possible subjects therefore it seemed gardening was the better option. But, rather than get a book about practical gardening, I have decided to put the spade away (not that I have touched it for months) and start at the very beginning and look at the design of the garden that I acquired a decade ago, and that hasn't changed much since under my stewardship.

Could reading Garden Design possibly change my own humble garden? Let's find out....

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Hedgehog in Your Garden by Doreen King

Book 38, Hedgehog in Your Garden by Doreen King, is a fairly comprehensive book for encouraging hedgehogs to come in your garden and eventually adopt them as a sort of wild pet.

In fact it goes a lot further than most people would ever dream I suspect, to the point of looking after hedgehogs, bringing them into the house and even keeping them in cages as a full time pet like a rabbit.

I think there's little chance of me ever doing any of those things, but there's a few things that I could begin to do to encourage them to use our garden, if they don't already. All in all Hedgehog in Your Garden scored 5 out of 10, there's nothing really wrong with up but for 99% of people all they need to read is the couple of pages that encourage them to come in the first place.

The next book, the 39th, is the penultimate book from Home/Garden/Pets section and it's about the home. It sounds a similar book to Bill Bryson's rather rambling work At Home which I read a couple of years ago.

There's so many different objects and tools around the house that there's almost an infinite stock of things to write about on this subject matter. Let's see how it compares to At Home.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Vet on Call: My First Year as an Out-of-Hours Vet by Marc Abraham

Book 36, Vet on Call: My First Year as an Out-of-Hours Vet, was a lighthearted book about Marc Abraham's first year of working nights and evenings as a vet in Brighton.

It's not a serious book at all, I am sure there are much weightier tombs than this about life as a veterinarian. In fact it's written more in the tone of s semi-autobiographical comedy romance set in a vet's surgery. It even has a cast of characters because the same people, even the animal and humans who use the vets, crop up throughout the book. There are probably only about a dozen serious animal casualties described in the 300+ pages.

How much of this book is true and how much is fictionalised is a moot point. If you've read A Million Little Pieces, a controversial "autobiography", packed with quire a few long tales, you might get a feel for what this book is like. It's vastly inferior to A Million Little Pieces however and I award Vet on Call 5 out of 10. I'd have preferred something a little more "serious" but there's no pleasing me because I describe "serious" books like Regent's Park and A History of St Martin's Dorking as boring as dull. I admit I am hard to please!

Next up for Book 37 is the third book in the Homes/Gardens/Pets section which is about hedgehogs, a sort of wild pet I suppose that the book is encouraging you to attract to your garden.

It's an old book from the dark and distant days of the 1990s when nobody had home computers, the library had date due back stamps (though they still do at the Performing Arts Library!) but hedgehogs and gardens haven't changed much, so I would imagine most of it will still be relevant in our ultra modern world. My garden is rather wild at the moment because I spend too long indoors and rarely set foot in it, there's probably not much more I could do to encourage hedgehogs but there's only one way to find out!

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Regent's Park: From Tudor Hunting Ground to the Present by Paul Rabbitts

Book 35, Regent's Park: From Tudor Hunting Ground to the Present, was a fairly dull book. It was like going back to the Local History section of the library, except that instead of reading about the area around Dorking I was reading about a park in London.

The problem is that I don't know Regent's Park very well (there are not many parts of London that I can say that I do). I have walked though it from the tube station to the zoo several times, but my focus has either been getting to the zoo or getting home from it. The book assumes a knowledge of Regent's Park that I don't have. It doesn't even have a modern map of Regent's Park, which is much bigger than I thought. I found it on Google Maps on my phone and had a look, that's the best I could do in the name of research.

Having said all that even if I knew every tree in Regent's Park on first name terms I don't think I would have found this book very interesting. I basically shouldn't be reading it, it's on a bookcase that I have to get through to complete my mission of reading a book from every case in Dorking library. I award Regent's Park 3 out of 10. I can't imagine who could possibly be interested in it to this level of detail.

I will however visit Regent's Park and look round it properly. Even though the book wasn't great it has sparked my interest in it a little, sufficient to actual head there and see it as a destination in it's own right rather than somewhere to walk thorough. Who knows what may materialise from this journey?!

A few books have not got great marks but have changed my life in small ways. I have the rudiments on coin collection thanks to Coin Collecting for Dummies and I am listening to music again thanks to The Ninth (Mozart's Complete Pianco Concertos as I read this). The books weren't great but they inspired me. That is the legacy of this project, to expand my life and interests by giving me ideas on what I want to do with my time. It's also the great thing about non-fiction - fiction is enjoyable but ultimately pointless. Non-fiction, being about the real world, can enrich me and my life in way that made up stories never will.

For book 36 I move on to a bookcase that is dominated by books about dogs, I am terrified of dogs so I see no point at all about reading a book about them. However a book about being a vet is the one that stood out.

I enjoyed All Creatures Great and Small as a TV series when I was young, but have never read any of the books. I have read books by doctors and surgeons they have been interesting because they are problem-solving sort of professions, not dissimilar  my own when I am often hunting down bugs in computer software. I couldn't be a vet because of my fear of dogs, but I like animals, and I can think of a lot of worse things to do. Let's find out!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Big Bangs: Five Musical Revolutions by Howard Goodall

Book 34, Big Bangs: Five Musical Revolutions, was a good book, much better than the last few I have read. Howard Goodall is a writer who can convey to an intelligent non-technical reader the point he is trying to make, another Bill Bryson to my mind the ultimate non-fiction writer.

I don't play an instrument and I can't read music, although I do have a very rudimentary knowledge of music notation. I do like listening to "classical" music though, and I have a good background in the history of music. This book suited me more or less perfectly. You don't need to know technical stuff like what a key is (although after reading Big Bangs I think I am closer to getting it than ever) but if you don't it doesn't detract from the book at all.

Nearly every one of his revolutions I could understand and identify with and in the main they were all well written. Music score, Opera, Equal Temperament and Recording were all very good and interesting chapters. The book was written in 2000 so came before the likes of the Ipod, which surely is another revolution to add to the list. I award Big Bangs 8 out of 10, and it completes the Music section.

For book 35 I move on to Pets, Homes and Gardens. The first book is about the ultimate garden, a park, Regent's Park in particular.

I have walked through Regent's Park on my way to London Zoo but I have never thought there was much to the place. The fact that a whole book has been written on the subject intrigues me. What can there possibly be to say? We'll find out...

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Surrey Performing Arts Library

What a magnificent facility the Performing Arts Library is! I went there today for the first time in years and it is an Aladdin's Cave!

There are vast quantities of scores which mean nothing to me as a non-musician, but what I care about is the sheer number of audio CDs. I picked up a copy of Missa Solemnis, a work I probably have on cassette somewhere (recorded in my student days).

Listening to a work by every major composer from this library is a sort of parallel project to my own. I don't intend to do it but someone else might take up the challenge?!

The incredible thing is a lot of people in Surrey probably do not realise this library even exists. Although there is a small fee to take out a CD it's a fraction of the cover price, and those Wagner box sets do not come cheap!!

There's also a listening area for you to sample the CDs before you commit to hiring them for a week.

So although the Beethoven book I read was poor, it has sparked a re-interest in music. I like Beethoven's piano music best. His symphonies were one of the first classical CDs (or even records in some cases) I ever listened to, but some of his other pieces I now prefer. Missa Solemnis is a bit of a challenge to my non-musician's ear, I never really enjoyed it in my student days.

Although I sometimes claim to know every major bit of classical music it's probably not true -it's a huge exaggeration! I just have heard every (well most) major bit of classical music that Nottingham Library happened to possess in 1988-1989, there are probably huge gaps. I'll have to make my trips to the Performing Arta Library more regularly to fill them in and revisit the stuff that has laid dormant in my head for 25 years.