Revolution by Russell Brand

I listened to the audio book of this for the Huntington Beach Non Fiction Book Group. When I listen to audio books I am usually a bit distracted, talking to my dog and my child as I take them both for a walk in a morning. This book suited my listening ability, since it does not go in to a great deal of complicated detail, and there is quite a lot of repetition. If I had read the old-fashioned paper book then I may well have scanned through a lot of it, but I liked the audio book. Brand reads it, which added a lot to my enjoyment. He is a lot calmer reading this book than in his usual performances, and I liked the style. He made me laugh a lot and even think a little, too.

Now, on to the content. Brand puts himself and his intelligence down, but I think he must have either had some help with this, or he is actually brighter than he makes out. He references an awful lots of other people’s ideas, and includes far too many pithy quotes for my liking, but he delivers the ideas in a compelling and entertaining way.

In short, he suggests a revolution of our current broken political systems to bring in something truly democratic, and that we should all meditate and reflect on our spirituality a couple of times a day. Oh, if only we all had the spare time of a rich actor/comedian, I am sure that we all would. He does address the hypocrisy of a man in his comfortable financial position, brought about by being famous for nothing particularly useful to the human race, except entertaining us, calling for a revolution to bring about equality.

A how-to book it certainly is not. In fact he gives no suggestions on how we might bring this revolution about, and is also quite vague when discussing how the world might look once we are done. He has understood the basics of what is wrong with the system, and argues his points well (or at least uses other sources to argue his points). But there is really not very much of substance in terms of a way forward.

On the whole, I agree with his point that he could have just written “Booky Wook Three” and collected his cheque, and he chose not to, he chose to bring these ideas a little closer to the minds of the masses, and I think that is a good thing.

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Working Stiff by Judy Melinek and TJ Mitchell

working stiff

Well, I have not enjoyed a book as much as I enjoyed this one in a long time. But then, I have not read any non-fiction for a long time, so there might be a lesson in there. This was incredibly interesting from cover to cover. I read this for the Huntington Beach Non-Fiction Book Group. This woman’s job is completely awesome, absolutely fascinating, and there is not a chance in the world that I could ever do anything like this.

This is the story of Dr Judy Melinek’s two years of working as a forensic pathologist trainee in Manhattan. She cuts up dead people to work out how and why they died. She explains why she went in to this field, rather than any other sort of doctoring, and she gives us a little background on her upbringing and her home life. I would love to have dinner with her, she would have so many stories. Actually, not dinner, I have a weak stomach.

She tells at least one story about pretty much every way you can die, or at least the common ways in Manhattan (where I used to live). She had worked in this field in Los Angeles (close to where I live now) and she said that she had car crash victim after car crash victim, which you do not get much of in Manhattan, because the cars cannot get fast enough to kill people, unless the driver is drunk.

The book has stories of murders, accidents, suicides, medical procedures gone wrong, quite a few falls from high buildings (it is Manhattan, of course there are) and, towards the end, a long chapter on dealing with the bodies from the World Trade Center on September 11th 2001. I have not read anything so though-provoking for a while. I read a large portion of it out to my husband, when he was next to me as I read, and saved most of the rest of it up to tell him about when he was not next to me. I know I will be telling people stories from this one for a long time to come, and that is a sign of a good non-fiction book.

I did a lot of gasping in shock, swearing out loud and some weeping when reading this. She works on the bodies of people of all ages, and that 9/11 chapter is extremely upsetting. But still brilliant. There is a truly incredible bit about the worst way to die (in her opinion). It is astounding, but I think it might be an only-in-Manhattan possibility.

This is my top recommendation for this year; read it, it’s great. Definitely read it if you are thinking of committing suicide or murdering someone, it may make you rethink your methods. Definitely read it if you are eating a lot of fatty foods or drinking a lot of alcohol. But if you are a reader over lunchtimes don’t read it then, there is a lot of blood and gore and brains and odours and maggots and things.

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Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

I read this for a book group, otherwise I would not have picked it up. I was not particularly keen to read it, mainly because blockbuster novels are usually quite rubbish, what with the general public having such poor taste in everything, and I am not a huge fan of thrillers, so my hopes were not high. It was OK, though. It was a quick read, and there were bits I skimmed over, so it certainly could have stood being shorter than it’s 450 pages.

This is a story of a pair of quite awful people who are married to each other. Then the wife goes missing. You spend the first half of the book thinking that the husband is more awful than the wife. My main problem with the novel is that I already knew the big reveal halfway through. I am going to have to say what it is so look away now if you are one of the twelve people left in the world who have yet to read it: the wife fakes her own disappearance. So, it turns out that the wife is actually more awful than the husband. In fact, she is a psychotic, socio-pathic nut case, and he is just a cheating, selfish lazybones.

I was a bit bored in the first half, because I knew what game Flynn was playing with me, the reader, but the second half was more exciting and I did want to know how it turned out. The two main characters take turns in narrating each chapter, and Flynn is very skilled at ending them on a cliff hanger that makes you want to keep going. I do not really like or need this as a technique, I will keep reading a book until the end for the majority of the time. I will not be seeking out any more of Flynn’s novels but I would possibly happily read one if I ever fancy something easy and exciting. I will also be watching the movie, since the book was partially ruined for me by picturing Ben Affleck in the lead. So, this, along with my knowing the huge spoiler is the moral of this story; always read the novel before the movie is released.

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Fifty Shades of Grey by E L James

If you want a prediction on what will be popular then I would not suggest that you ask me. I always get it completely wrong. If I had read this back in 2011 when it was first released I would have said that there is no way at all that grown women will want to read this, maybe some dreamy, daft young girls, but not actual grown-ups who have had relationships and lived lives. Of course I would not have done that, because this sort of thing does not appeal to me at all, but let’s say, if it were for a book club, since that is why I have eventually read it. Anyway, it turns out that I know nothing about what the world likes because this novel and the other two in the trilogy have been hugely successful.

With that in mind, I will include spoilers, because I think I might be the last woman on the planet to read this. So, this is a classic tale of boy meets girl, girl and boy have lots of sex, boy turns out to have mental health issues, girl has self-esteem issues, so accepts abusive relationship for a little while, then she comes to her senses and dumps him. And that’s the end. I know there are two more books, but I choose to believe that they are about Anastasia’s new career, and perhaps her beginning a relationship with someone more appropriate who she is not scared of more than half the time.

I am truly baffled as to why this book has been so popular. Yes, there’s lot of sex, but our poor narrator does not even know if she likes it much of the time, and has a lot of annoying conversations with her “inner goddess” and even more very dull conversations with the hero, Christian Grey. I can appreciate the character of Christian, how someone could become like him, and the behaviour he displays. I understand their crazy, passionate relationship. I struggle to believe the character of Anastasia, though. She is an intelligent, physically attractive and personable 21-year-old virgin. She has barely even been kissed and had no boyfriends. There is nothing really wrong with this, I just do not believe the character, and I do not understand why she accepts the abuse from Christian. Yes, he is easy on the eye, but he might as well look like a troll if he will not let her look at him or touch him.

What a weird, and ultimately quite boring book. Nothing really happens beyond what I have described above. Apart from a lot of brand placement. Which is odd. The most interesting thing about it for me has been trying to work out what people like about it. It can’t just be the sex, you can get that in other books, or, I believe, the internet has some of it these days. It might the will-they-won’t-they get together storyline. It might be that some women like the idea of being pursued by an insanely jealous and threatening abusive pretty boy who can pilot a helicopter. I don’t know. I am genuinely looking forward to discussing this at book club, because I would love to hear what is appealing about it. There was so much fluff and pointless dialogue that my favourite thing about it was how quick it was to read.

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The Keepers of the House by Shirley Ann Grau

We read this for one of my book clubs for black history month. It seems an odd choice for this, because, though it is set in the American South, over several generations, but mostly in the 60s, and it deal with race, it is mostly narrated by white characters. We hear very little of the black characters’ points of view.

We begin with the character that is just about our protagonist, Abigail. She was our present-day narrator, when the book was published in 1965. Then we jump back in time a few generations, to her ancestor, who comes to the area and claims some land, builds a farm, and a farmhouse, has various problems with Indians. Then his offspring have more offspring, things happen, we spend quite a while with Abigail’s grandfather and mother, and then we get back to Abigail, still in the same house.

It is quite difficult to review any further without huge spoilers. It is enough to say that the theme of the novel is race relations in the South in the 60s, the inequalities in their values, and the hypocrisy of many white people, who lived with black people, but considered them inferior. The book is also about the terrifying threat of the mob and the general ignorance and unnecessary hatred of the general public.

There is nothing new in this novel for me, I have read novels about slavery and the issues it caused in race relations before. Although perhaps it was ground-breaking in it’s day. If anything, it serves to remind me that this country endured institutionalised racism in it’s political system in living memory, which always shocks and sickens me when I do think about it. It is a very sad story with a sad ending.

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Elizabeth of York – A Tudor Queen and Her World by Alison Weir

elizabeth of york alison weir

This is a biography of the wife of Henry VII, if it was not for her we would not have had everyone’s favourite medieval psychopath Henry VIII, or of course, the Church of England, or Elizabeth I. Actually, all of the British monarchs since Henry VIII until the present day are descended from Elizabeth of York, so this list could get very long and boring.

So, the bloodline of Elizabeth of York is very important, if you think the British monarchy is important. Even if you do not, then this is an interesting read. If you are completely new to this period in history then this book might be confusing, and you should probably go and read something by Philippa Gregory or do a little light Googling on the Plantagenets and the Tudors.

Elizabeth of York lived in interesting times indeed, she was a young girl during the usurpation of the throne by everyone’s favourite medieval hunchbacked child-murderer, Richard III. Nb: was he a child murderer? Spoiler: nobody knew for sure back then so it is highly unlikely that anyone ever will. He did do some nasty stuff to get where he was, though. Weir points out that Richard III probably suffered from scoliosis, which would explain why he was a thoroughly unpleasant person, so at least he has an excuse.

She listened while a lot of lies were slung around, and everyone’s lineage was questioned. Then she watched from the very near sidelines as Mrs Tudor worked hard to get her lad on the throne. Elizabeth had a better claim to the throne than Henry but of course there was no way that a woman could sit on the throne of England (not until her granddaughter very successfully disproved that one, at least).

Elizabeth possibly spent her life treading very carefully in a marriage that was probably pretty good for royal medieval standards (since her son had not yet destroyed all security for Queens just yet) but she was still married to a man who must have been checking over his shoulder all the time, on account of his claim to the throne being on very shaky ground.

Poor Elizabeth was pregnant an awful lot of the time, like many women of her period, but she seems to have got about England a bit, and influenced her husband rather a lot. I could not tell if she influenced her son too much, I do not think so, since he lived away from her for most of his life and she died was he was young.

Because of the period through which Elizabeth lived then this is a great book to give an introduction to the end of one dynasty and the beginning of another. If you are already quite curious about the whole War of the Roses fiasco and how the Welsh family of the Tudors managed to get themselves the English throne then this is a brilliant book. I am a fan, though, so I would not have expected any less from Weir.

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As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

I read this for a book club. Otherwise there was no way I would have finished this. That and it being only 147 pages long. This is the story of a dysfunctional American family sent at some time in the past, although I cannot really tell when, I am going to guess at a hundred years ago. Their mother dies and her five kids and husband take her body to the nearest town where it was her request to be buried. It is quite a difficult and eventful trip.

The story is narrated by all these people, and the various other major and minor characters that the family meet along the way. I see why he did this, and it is a good way of getting across the various parent-child and sibling relationships and how the mother’s death affects them all. But, it makes things quite confusing, because in 147 pages with over ten narrators we do not get to know any of them very well. Faulkner attempts to have his characters speak mostly in the vernacular, but he also tries to use his own picturesque and descriptive language which results in the whole thing sounding inauthentic and a bit silly, really.

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