Friday, 3 January 2014

Book Month: Review

A month ago I vowed to spend December reading as many books aspossible. I gave it my best shot, whilst also working on this blogging challenge

Given I was working on two projects, AND it was the run-up to Christmas, I didn't really have much time to make the progress I wanted to. The space I intended to make in my cupboards wasn't made. That said, I still saw the back of 5 books.

Cocaine Nights

JG Ballard's tale of a quintuple homicide on the Costa Del Sol was- when first published in 1996- “dazzlingly original', as the Independent called it. A club owner confesses to the crime, and the owner's brother flies out from the UK to untangle the mess. He's quickly embroiled in a world of deceit, leisure and violence. An interesting precursor to Fight Club in a way, the book shares the same nihilistic values as Chuck Palahniuk's shorter, more brutal novel.

I didn't find it as original as the Independent claimed it was. Ballard's influences seem to include Hitchcock: a scene involving a hand-glider was heavily reminiscent of the crop-dusting scene from North by North West.

Well worth a read.

Falling Man

Bill, an office worker stumbles out of the wreckage of the Twin Towers on 9/11. He's holding a briefcase given to him by a now-dead worker from a neighbouring office. He follows the address on the briefcase and starts an affair with the dead man's lover. As the weeks and years after 9/11 pass, we see their story juxtaposed with that of Hammad, one of the hijackers taking part in the attacks on 9/11 (this character appears to be fictional- there was no-one known to be involved with that name).

DeLillo frequently exercises a very skilful blending of hypothesis, fact and fiction with his novels, and Falling Man is no exception. With intuition you'll pick up that the novel follows a non-linear pattern- Hammad's story intersects with that of Bill's, starkly contrasting attitudes, time, motives and culture.

Contemporary yet classic DeLillo.

Cliff Notes on Shakespeare's Hamlet

Hamlet is regarded as being Shakespeare's finest play. As, like all of the bard's works, there are multiple layers, there is no point a bloke like me reading the original text. I just won't pick up on the sub-contexts unless someone explains it to me. So I kept my eyes peeled for guide notes.

These Cliff Notes were published in 1971 and have dated badly. The introduction is vague and discusses only the play's creation back in 1603. After that, the book dives into a description and analysis of the opening scene. There's no synopsis, no introduction to the characters, no glossary (something more necessary than ever when analysing something written in a 400-year-old language) and no analysis of the themes you'll find present along the way. The author also jumps to the conclusion that you understand Latin, making comparisons in a now untaught language. I finished the book feeling like I didn't really understand the play, meaning the book had failed in its very purpose. I looked the plot up on Wikipedia. It's a story you're most likely familiar with, even if you've never read Shakespeare. It's been lifted in more recent years by a famous film company.

Stick with York Notes, or even better, Letts.

York Notes: Notes on Julius Caesar

This is more like it. Longman York Press deliver a bite-sized, manageable account and investigation of many classic novels and plays. Julius Caesar is a fictionalised account of a historical Roman general and his downfall at the hands of conspirators, led by the plotting Cassius. York Notes author Sean Lucy describes Julius Caesar in several stages. After an introduction to Shakespeare and the way drama companies performed his plays, Lucy offers a 500-word summary of the play before investigating each scene one at a time. This includes synopsis of the scene, a “notes” section detailing the sub-contexts and elements you may have missed, and a detailed glossary featuring- on occasion- definitions of words that you thought you knew, as well as the obscurer terms. (Remember, words' definitions have changed often throughout the history of the English language.)

An interesting play of doubles: two sides in conflict, and two crescendos towards the end. The play also has two halves, separated by the title character's assassination.

A well-explained York analysis.

The Great Gatsby

Recently stocked in HMV due to the new DiCaprio / Maguire movie, F. Scott Fitzgerald's most famous novel details a world of 1920s decadence, of wealth, opulence and violence. Its story of a mysterious character and his extravagant parties- driven by Gatsby's desire for the narrator's girlfriend- is the original voice which has been echoed by the likes of Bret Easton Ellis and countless others detailing the lives of the young elite. Perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon.

I made December a “Book Month” for two reasons: Out of enjoyment, and to make space in my “to read” cupboard, a place for the books that I've habitually bought and not yet read. I enjoyed reading them all, but I didn't make a lot of space by what I read. A third benefit: December is an expensive month. To avoid spending more money, I figured I would keep myself away from temptation by burying my head in books. This didn't work: during Christmas shopping I found more books, and spent more money. Oh well!

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