Read Harder Challenge 2017

rhc_cover_pinterestI’ve decided to take part in the Book Riot reading challenge this year. I came to it rather late but I’d already finished several books that met various challenges so it’s achievable I think.

For the rest, I’ve been scouring my bookshelves and Kindle lists for items to fit the bill. I love that it’s encouraging me to read things which have been literally gathering dust until now. I’ve looked out books which have been languishing, for years in many cases, and added them to the ‘Book Riot Challenge pile’.

However, this is my personal reading and I have my own reasons for taking the challenge. Therefore, I may not stick stringently to the requirements in every case. For example, my pick for the ‘Central or South America’ challenge is likely to be a book about the Caribbean by a Cuban author – but it looks interesting and it’s already in my possession (also, there was some debate on the challenge forum about whether the Caribbean was or was not part of ‘Central America’. I have chosen to embrace that grey area). And, of course, there’s always going to be a Scottish slant to my choices whenever possible.

For those remaining challenges my current bookstock just can’t meet I’ll be utilising local libraries and the Scottish branch of Better World Books. A few of the challenges have me seeking books I wouldn’t normally consider reading at all – which is, of course, the whole point… But enough writing, I have reading to do! I just finished “an all-ages comic” so I’m off to pick my next read now. Which one to choose? Maybe that Caribbean one?… Or a banned book? So many choices!

FYI, here’s my list so far:

  1. Read a debut novelThe Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
  2. Read an all-ages comicLobey’s the Wee Boy!: Collected Lobey Dosser by Bud Neill
  3. Read a book that is set within 100 miles of your locationSaltire Invasion by John Ferguson
  4. Read a travel memoir – The Desert and the Sown: Travels in Palestine and Syria by Gertrude Bell
  5. Read a book you’ve read before – The Rowan by Anne McCaffrey
  6. Read a book that is set more than 5000 miles from your locationA Splendid Isolation: Lessons of Happiness from the Kingdom of Bhutan by Madeline Drexler
  7. Read a fantasy novel – The Obsidian Throne by James Oswald
  8. Read a superhero comic with a female leadThe Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer by Sydney Padua
  9. Read a book in which a character of color goes on a spiritual journey –Warrior of Peace: The Life of the Buddha by Jinananda
  10. Read a collection of stories by a woman – Gossip from the Forest by Sara Maitland
  11. Read a book wherein all point-of-view characters are people of color – Little Green by Walter Mosley
  12. Read a book about booksThe Gifts of Reading by Robert Macfarlane
  13. Read a book published by a micropressThe Birlinn of Clanranald by Alasdair Mac Mhaighstir Alasdair (Alexander MacDonald), translated by Alan Riach, (published by Kettillonia)

The Handmaid’s Tale (TV series) – (not quite) midseason review

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Last night I caught up with the new Hulu series The Handmaid’s Tale via wonderful All4. They’ve so far only broadcast 4 out of 10 episodes so I’m not even mid season yet. However, I already feel this may be another of those rare “the film is better than the book” scenarios!

To me “June” in the series seems so much stronger and more real than the nameless character in the book. I never truly cared what happen to the book woman but June has spirit and is silently fighting to retain her personality as well as her life. The fact that book woman never named herself, even in her own mind, was big points against her. She already seemed broken by the system. June is sweary and disrespectful (in her head). She appears to submit but we know what’s really going on in there. Also, Elisabeth Moss does a fantastic job of conveying June’s emotions. Especially the barely controlled panic in her eyes during the most difficult situations. You can see her running through scenarios in her mind as she weighs up possibilities and struggles to give the ‘right’ answer, the one that will keep her safe and alive.

A tiny highlight of episode 1 for me was the brief, blink and you’ll miss it, cameo by author Margaret Atwood! She swoops in at one point to clout Offred round the ear – both hilarious and terrifying. Fun as that was, episode 3 has been the real standout so far. Through flashbacks we see the insidious steps that were taken to remove women’s rights and independence. The necessary precursors to their eventual enslavement. Jeezo! This seems just a blink away from the world as it is today. It was horrifying.

As a 10 part series this production has the time to remain true to Atwood’s original book – no need for swingeing cuts to your favourite plot points. However, writer Bruce Miller has also managed to add to the tale: rounding characters, showing backstory. Most excitingly, The Handmaid’s Tale is frighteningly relevant to our current circumstances.

Nolite te bastardes carborundorum bitches!

Book review – Gossip from the Forest by Sara Maitland

 

Gossip from the Forest: The Tangled Roots of Our Forests and Fairytales
by Sara Maitland
Published November 2012 by Granta Books
ISBN: 9781847084293

This started well, with the above – wonderfully feminist – definition of the word ‘gossip’. However, it quickly turned into an interesting but very confused book.

On one hand it’s a social history of England’s woodlands, examining how people have lived in and used the forests over the last thousand years or so. It’s also a fascinating breakdown of Germanic fairytales, their history and development. The author suggests that fairytales and forests are inextricably linked – an argument I find quite convincing. However, the problem for me is that Maitland spends her time frolicking round English woods (and a couple of Scottish ones) when the forests of the fairytales are in central Europe. The really nice premise of this book is spoiled for me by this odd geographic choice. I wanted to learn about the fairytales in the Germanic woodlands – their origin and real-world context.

A major bugbear for me was the author’s choice to visit a few Scottish woodlands… while still discussing english history! As well as just being insulting, those later forays into Scottish trees felt rushed, half-hearted and poorly written in comparison to earlier chapters. An attempt to pad out the book and nothing more.

The author’s re-tellings of several fairytales are excellent. If she had chosen to write two books, one about english woodland history and another about fairytales, I’m sure they would have made two very good works. Squashed together they seem disjointed, confused and un-natural.

Book Review: Want You Gone by Chris Brookmyre

Want You Gone (Jack Parlabane #8)
Chris Brookmyre

Published February 2nd 2017 by Little, Brown and Company
ISBN: 9781408707173

“Chris” Brookmyre writes straight, solid crime fiction. I do miss the joyful anarchy of “Christopher” Brookmyre (and I dearly hope he comes back one day) but these books are certainly a thrilling read. A majo31356782r feature of this one for me was, in amongst enjoying a right rollocking read, I learned a whole lot of terrifying new stuff about hackers and data security. Top tip: TRUST NO-ONE! Ever.

I loved the few wee links to Brookmyre’s other works that show Jack Parlabane inhabits the same world. DI Catherine McLeod is mentioned in passing but my favourite was a cameo from All Fun and Games until Somebody Loses an Eye, one of my top 3 Brookmyre books.

Jack is something of a long-suffering character and I’m starting to imagine him as one, gigantic bruise (inside and out). Come on Chris, give the guy a happy ending! Just once. The trials of Mr Parlabane aside, this is an extremely well written, pacy thrill-ride from start to finish. Highly recommended.

Little Free Libraries – urban decoration for affluent areas?

Here’s an interesting looking study published by the Journal of Radical Librarianship. I tend to have no time for librarians who, in relation to LFLs, whine “They’re not really libraries. They’re just book swaps!”. That, to me, is semantics.

Books is books.

However, this article makes the point that these small book collections don’t appear in neighbourhoods where they could be of most value. In Toronto at least, they tend to be confined to more affluent areas. This is understandable in a way since the structures sold by the company Little Free Libraries are not cheap. People in poorer areas are likely less able to afford them and those who can may be unwilling to set them up too far away from their own homes.

c47d00fa20e2947527a90061eb42398bI don’t really have much knowledge on this topic but during my recent trip to the US (Florida and New Orleans) I saw several little neighbourhood book swaps and they appeared to be situated in all kinds of areas. What’s true of Toronto may not be universally constant.

However, I’ve only glanced at this piece so far and may have more to say once I’ve read it in detail. I’m just posting it for interest right now. Please share your own thoughts in the comments below.

Little Free Libraries®: Interrogating the impact of the branded book exchange
Schmidt and Hale
Journal of Radical Librarianship, Vol. 3 (2017) pp.14–41. Published 19 April 2017
ABSTRACT: In this article, we critique the phenomenon of Little Free Libraries® (LFL®), the non-profit organization dedicated to sharing books with one’s neighbours. Through our engagement with the discourses, narratives and geographies of the LFL® movement, we argue that the organization represents the corporatization of literary philanthropy, and is an active participant in the civic crowdfunding activities of the non-profit industrial complex. The visible positioning of these book exchanges, particularly on private property in gentrified urban landscapes, offers a materialization of these neoliberal politics at street level. Drawing primarily upon one of the author’s experiences as an LFL® steward, as well as critical discourse and GIS analysis, we offer constructive critiques of the organization and their mission, and suggest that the principles of community-led library practice can be more effectively employed to harness the enthusiasm of these self-described “literacy warriors”.
Keywords: Little Free Libraries, critical geography, landscape theory, non-profit industrial complex, philanthropy, civic crowdfunding, public libraries

 

Book review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

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Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Published: February 2017 by Bloomsbury Publishing
ISBN: 9781408886816

Gaiman uses simple language to tell these stories but they are deeply compelling and evocative nonetheless. Old as these tales are – and well known to me – his simple, elegant words paint new and vivid pictures in my mind. Thor with his red beard and comic stupidity; beautiful, haughty Freya… and Loki – who “makes the world more interesting but less safe”.

There’s a lot of humour and lightheartedness in these myths but the whole mood is somewhat darkened by Gaiman’s prophecy of Ragnarok:

“This will be the age of cruel winds, the age of people who become as wolves, who prey upon each other, who are no better than wild beasts. Twilight will come to the world, and the places where the humans live will fall into ruins, flaming briefly, then crashing down and crumbling into ash and devastation”

I found this passage eerily familiar. Are we now living through the end times? Is Ragnarok almost upon us?…

I devoured this book like a wolf devouring the moon. Neil Gaiman’s reputation as a Bard of Epic Standing is now assured in my opinion. Highly recommended.

Book review: Little Green by Walter Mosley

Little Green (Easy Rawlins #12)
by Walter Mosley
2013

18682512I haven’t read an Easy Rawlins novel in a long while, so this could be the norm and I’ve just forgotten, but I was really struck by just how much colour features in this story. Everything from the title to the clothes, cars, and buildings is painted in rainbow shades.

Most striking though is the colour descriptions as applied to people. At first, perhaps as a white European, I found this kind of shocking. Once I got used to it though it became wonderful to me. I felt I could see characters so much more vividly in my mind.

This is nice, solid detective fiction but the real joy is in the language… and the colour.