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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.