Gruffsdad’s Rather Small Reading Challenge 2017

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That is Roddy Doyle and he is one of my favourite authors. Like many people, I first heard of him back in 1991 when the film of The Commitments came out – I read the book which I loved and then read the other two books in the Barrytown Trilogy. I also saw and loved the film adaptations of those two books too not least because The Snapper introduced me to Lick the Tins’ version of Can’t Help Falling in Love.*

Anyway I’ve read a lot of his books but I haven’t read all of them and then this evening I read that he has a new book out later on the year so I thought what better time to set myself the minisucle reading challenge of reading those Roddy Doyle books that I haven’t read for a variety of reason e.g. my copy of The Woman Who Walked Into Doors got destroyed by a leaking sink, I’m not that big a fan of jazz so Oh, Play That Thing! never really appealed to me etc, etc…

So yes once I’ve finished the book I’m on at the moment – the latest Stav Sherez book – you should give him a go as he’s rather bloody good – then I will begin working my way through the unread titles of the Doyle oeuvre and give my views on each of the ones I’ve put off reading until now.

My Kindle has been loaded up with the books and first up will be the aforementioned The Woman Who Walked Into Doors – my review will be up next week – I swear it’s true!!!

In the meantime you should all go and read or watch The Commitments,The Snapper and The Van – you won’t regret it.

In my challenge I will be reading the following titles:

The Woman Who Walked into Doors (1996)
Paula Spencer (2006)

Oh, Play That Thing! (2004)
The Dead Republic (2010)

Rory and Ita (2002)

The Deportees and Other Stories (2007)
Bullfighting (2011)

Two Pints (2012) and Two More Pints (2014)

I hope you’ve all been well – it’s been a long time since I blogged – I’m so rubbish and I’m sorry.

* Never seen Some Kind of Wonderful – sorry.

Book Review: Liz Moore – The Unseen World

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Everybody has a secret – mine is that I scoffed a Twirl before 8:30 this morning and it was bloody lovely.

Anyway, in what literally nobody is calling ‘Gruffsdad’s long awaited return to blogging and book reviews’ I am going to tell you all about Liz Moore’s The Unseen World.

I loved this book.

Ever since I became a father I basically cry at anything, Long Lost Family on ITV every week, Wales doing well in the Euros recently and A Rainy Night in Soho by The Pogues – anything and everything can set me off with the exception of books. Books can make me excited, angry, laugh etc, etc but I can’t say that I’ve ever read a book and found myself with tears running down my face. Only last night that’s exactly what happened as I reached the end of The Unseen World.

Ada Sibelius is the young daughter of David a professor in Boston who specialises in the development of artificial intelligence. Ada was born to a surrogate and is home schooled by David and spends her time almost entirely with her father and his colleagues at the university where he works. One evening during the traditional meal to welcome the new post grads to the university David forgets the answer to riddle that he asks the new students each year and this is the precursor to David’s illness which develops as the book progresses. As David’s succumbs to his illness secrets about him are revealed and Ada resolves to find out the truth about her father and this search for answers forms the backbone of The Unseen World.

Did I say that I loved this book? I really did, it’s not just a weepy story about a kid finding herself by finding out the truth about her life – it’s way more than that. It’s a desperate account about the effects of Alzheimer’s on a person and the people they love, it’s about a young child having the world she knows and loves being torn away from her and about how resilient kids can be when inside they are being destroyed by the events raging on uncontrollably around them. It’s about love, teenage life, the horrors of school and it’s also about the 1980s and how computer technology began to take over all of our lives.

Then as the book reaches the final stages Moore ruminations about what might happen with artificial intelligence in the decades ahead and I found this section fascinating. Predictions about the future can come back to bite authors on the bum but this was different and strangely moving. I know that Spielberg’s A.I. is loved and loathed in equal measure – I loved it – and without giving anything away there were sections in the section of the book in which I was reminded of it – whichever way you feel about the film then please don’t let this put you off! Can machines develop human emotions and what are the implications of that? Moore doesn’t have the answers but those passages and her views on this will stay with me for a long time to come.

The Unseen World leaps from decade to decade, past and present and we see people grow, we see them make mistakes and we see them die. Much to my surprise I found it all incredibly moving and it was during one of sections set in the past that I found myself wiping tears from my eyes as everything suddenly made sense and the reasons for the behaviours exhibited by one of the characters in the book finally became clear and it was genuinely heart-breaking.

I felt relief albeit tinged with sadness – life isn’t all about happy endings, sometimes things go wrong and they stay wrong and we come to terms with that, learn from it and move on with our lives.

I’m sorry to resort to cliché here but I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It is book crammed full of warmth, sadness and surprises and I’ll say it again – I really loved it.

Okay that’s my return to book reviewing – a little bit rusty but hopefully you’ve enjoyed and I really, really hope that some of you might be tempted to go and read the book because it really is fab.

Thanks for reading this and thanks to Christian for telling me I should blog again – he still owes me three pints of Coke Zero for last weekend though.*

Have a good weekend everybody!!!

* My Amazon wishlist is still available

Gruffsdad’s reading all 10 of Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole books challenge (which I completed back in February – sorry)

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I have completed my Harry Hole challenge! It took me three weeks and 5 days to read all ten books in the series having read them all (and re-read one of them) I can safely say that I enjoyed it thoroughly. As I finished The Phantom and began to read Police (For now the final book in the series) I got so excited that I had reached this point and much as I wanted to read it so I could get back to the pile of other books that I have to read I didn’t want it to end. 

I’ve read in reviews that some people feel that Nesbø could do with a better editor but I never felt that re: the actual stories. Despite the length nothing seemed superfluous, the twists when they came felt rational and each book made me want to read the next one, I took a break three books in which was a mistake as when I was reading a book by a different author all I wanted to do was get back to seeing what Harry Hole was doing. I enjoyed getting to know Hole and the people around him, characters came and went and occasionally there was some frustration that maybe Nesbø didn’t quite know what to do with the interesting people he had introduced to the books, he kills them off, gives them interesting back stories but then they might not feature much (if) at all in the next book and if they do then it’s almost a cameo appearance during which their back story is repeated again before they disappear into the background again. 

Hole himself is damaged but principled even if the thought of an alcoholic drug taking cop doesn’t quite fit the profile of a principled policeman. He has a few close friends, a woman who he truly loves and a chronic drink problem. He’s only tolerated because he is so good at his job – as he says in The Leopard all he wants to do is capture murderers, he doesn’t care about the politics inherent in the Police or climbing his way up the greasy pole and it’s this fundamental stubbornness that leads to his battles with the authorities, witnesses and the press. I liked him but at the same time God, he was a frustrating man. 

Hole’s alcoholism is graphically written about and maybe this is one of the strongest aspects of the books. Nesbo writes unflinchingly about Hole and his drinking, the benders, the abstinence, the collapse back into drinking, the reactions of his friends and colleagues – it’s all there in some detail and I found it fascinating. Never once does Hole want sympathy for who he is, he is accepting of his alcoholism, it isn’t pleasant but it isn’t voyeuristic, it’s just honest and at times I found myself getting angry with Hole when yet again he reached for the bottle. Alcoholism is a disease but that doesn’t stop you getting angry with those who suffer with it cf George Best who at times has been eulogised but at other times in his life sympathy with his plight was in short supply. 

The only times I felt my incredulity button being pressed was perhaps with the amount of times that Hole was allowed to resign and then re-join the Police, the amount of leeway he was given throughout the series at times amazed me but the story arcs, the development of Hole and those around him was expertly done and when starting the tenth book it did feel like everything was coming together but there was also the feeling that things wouldn’t go smoothly and the reality is that I didn’t want them to! 

I’m am really glad that I waited to read the books from the beginning (with the exception of The Snowman which I read 4 years ago due to my incompetence) – I read a review on Goodreads which said that English language publishers had ruined the series by not publishing them in order, you don’t need this to happen to you now. All ten are out in English and I’d a) recommend the series and b) insist that if you do that you read them in order.

The not so social network

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I left Facebook this week. I’ve done it before and then come back on a couple of days later and in my worst example of a lack of will power last time I left Facebook I came back on just one day later but this time I know it’s for real or at the very least for a month as that’s the target I’ve set myself to show I can do it. 

“But why Ant?” I can hear you all asking well I shall now try and explain. I’ve spent way too much time on the place and over the last few months have managed to get into arguments on there about things as varied as the MMR vaccine – I think it’s safe, a friend didn’t and we had Facebook words, there was the whole Swansea City thing that happened last week and finally at the weekend I got into a serious debate with a good friend about The X Factor – neither of us are fans but I can see the why the show is popular and successful and I don’t necessarily think that it nor Simon Cowell are instruments of evil. 

Anyway the two of us were having this Facebook conversation when it suddenly struck me – along with a not very complimentary comment from my wife about it – what the hell was I doing at 11 o’clock on a Sunday evening having this discussion about The X Factor?!?! I thought about all the other things I’d wasted my time typing about and had got involved with on Facebook and realised that I just wasn’t enjoying myself on there anymore, the adverts for crap games, the requests from people to join these crap games, jokes getting recycled over and over again, jokes nicked from other places without people giving credit for them (For me that’s the cardinal Facebook and Twitter sin), repeated friendship requests from people who didn’t like me at school nor me them. I would be reading a book when suddenly the compulsion came to put the book down and just see what’s happening on Facebook and so on and so on. 

Basically I fell out of love with the place. 

The difficult thing is that over the years I’ve put so much of my life on there; photos, messages, friends but does that matter? Will my life grind to a halt if I’m not on Facebook? I still have Twitter, Instagram and the emails and phone numbers of all the people that I need to be in touch with so I’m going to see how I go with not being on it. I’m not conceited enough to think that right now as you read this there are people scratching their heads and saying to their life partner “I don’t understand it, where the hell has Ant gone? He was on Facebook on Sunday but he’s gone now, make no mistake, it’s a bit of a mystery.” 

I think I’ll be fine, the first day of my Facebook cold turkey was odd – not having the app on my phone looked okay, reading a story on a website and not clicking the share button was just weird though, reading a joke on Twitter and only retweeting it to my Twitter feed was tad bit unusual but I read so much more of the book that I’m currently reading*, I watched University Challenge and concentrated all the way through, I didn’t get cross with my sons when they came downstairs after their bedtime to hassle me as I wasn’t in the middle of a Facebook conversation about nothing that had inextricably become vitally important to me. Three days down, twenty seven more to go until the end of September – I can do this. 

I still like Twitter – lots of jokes, chatting with my favourite authors and tittle tattle keep me happy and my experience of Instagram is that it’s full of lovely people taking pictures that are beautiful, funny, pointless, worthy and that feeds my passion for photography but the truth is that Facebook just doesn’t do it for me at the moment and so after six years on there I have taken my leave from the place. 

* Denise Mina’s The Red Road – she’s very good, you should read her books.

Why I love reading.

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I learnt to read as a young boy sitting on my Grandpa’s lap as he read the Daily Telegraph’s sports pages out loud to me. My parents took The Guardian perhaps as a balance to both sets of grandparents reading The Daily Telegraph and the end result of having newspapers in every family home that I lived in or visited was that I could read by the time I started school and my passion for books and reading has never really left me.

The first things I can remember reading were I guess the usual things for a child of the seventies – Ant and Bee, Topsy and Tim and a wide selection of Ladybird books covering subjects such as Captain Cook right through to a 50 page explanation of how a computer works which apparently is a very valuable book these days.

 Early on in my childhood I discovered Roald Dahl and he became a large part of my reading life but it wasn’t the usual Dahl books that I really loved, not for me Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, or Fantastic Mr Fox. No, the one that hooked me and intrigues me to this day is Danny the Champion of the World.

 For me it’s unlike any other Dahl children’s book, it doesn’t have the signature comedic darkness that he is known and loved for, this one is dark in a realistic style and there are there are proper consequences to foolish or bad actions. There is a sense of sadness throughout the book that doesn’t really happen in his other works with the possible exception of my other favourite Dahl work, The Witches. From recollection the book doesn’t even really have a overly happy ending, just a resolution and the feeling that things will be okay but they won’t really get any better than this – there’s no chocolate factory to be had by Danny or his father.

 These days I read a lot, I need to read and my day doesn’t feel right if I haven’t read, even if it’s just one chapter of my book on the go. I like literary fiction, a bit of modern history and books about music but what I really love is a good crime thriller. I’ll be frank, sometimes there are times when I’ll read a rubbish one too just to get my fix of sadistic murders in various locations around the world – America, England, lots of Scottish crime writers seem to be on my Kindle and then of course there is the monster that is Scandinavian crime fiction but last week something really big happened to me and my reading.

 I was reading the first book by Icelandic writer Yrsa Sigurdardottir called Last Rituals and it had been on my ‘to read’ list for a while and I thought that the time had come to make a start on it. I’d read good reviews online about the book and the Goodreads feedback was okay and for goodness sake it was a Scandinavian writer so obviously it was going to be great, she is “the next Stieg Larrson”, “as good as Jo Nesbo” and it had a great arty cover promising sacrificial murder, mysterious Icelandic magic and sex – it couldn’t fail!!!

 Well to be honest I hated it. I struggled to care about anything in the book, the storyline, the characters the relationships between the characters were all generic, boring, interchangeable and frankly dull. There was no humour, I basically came to dread picking the thing up and carrying on so I did the thing that I very rarely do with a book – I gave up reading the thing.

I didn’t take this decision lightly, I weighed up on the options, did I need to know “whodunit”? Would my life always have that nagging doubt in it without knowing? What if the book got picked up as a TV series by Icelandic state television and then got shown on BBC 4 on a Saturday night and became the next big thing and I felt obliged to go along with the praise even letting friends and colleagues know that “Well of course I read her stuff a couple of years ago”? Could I cope with this? I even discussed the potential dumping of the book and the ramifications of doing this with my wife:

Her: “You’re not enjoying it?”

Me: “No.”

Her: “Well read something else, it doesn’t matter.”

So I did, I stopped reading it and picked up a book by Adrian McKinty called Dead I May Well Be which had me laughing and caring about the characters straight away. I’m thinking about that book right now as I type this. Last night I was up late reading to the end of a chapter and then had to carry on until the end of the next one too as I literally could not sleep until I knew what was going to happen to the narrator of the story in that particular section of the story. How he was going to get out of the situation that he was in? What was he going to do if what he was planning came off? When things happened to him and his friends I got so excited, I read too quickly and had to go back and re-read sections just to make sure that I’d got all the information on the page into my head and when I reached the end of that extra chapter I still wanted to carry on reading but I needed sleep and so fell asleep thinking about what I’d just read and how the book was going to develop when I carried on reading it during my lunch hour the next day.

That’s what a good book does for me, it consumes me, enters my waking hours, makes me sit on a chair or lie in bed for hours until I’ve finished it and makes me forget everything else that’s going on in the my life.

 That’s why I love reading.