So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

so you've been publicly shamed jon ronson

I have read a few books by Jon Ronson and I always find them fascinating. I do wonder how he comes up with this stuff. And how does he know what will sell? OK, we have all wondered if we are a psychopath or not (haven’t we? no?) but most of us have managed to avoid doing something a) daft enough and b) public enough that the whole world suddenly knows who we are and thinks we are an idiot.

That is what the book is about. Ronson interviews several people who have had the misfortune to put their foot in their mouth, or tell a lie, or to make a joke in poor taste, or something else that we are all capable of doing, and many of us do quite frequently. But these people have done it publicly (or on social media, which is the same thing if not worse), then the slightly stupid and thoughtless thing has got shared and spread (usually by social media, maybe by old-fashioned media) until it explodes and that person becomes a household name for a week or so for all the wrong reasons.

Ronson tells a few stories as examples of when this has happened, examines quite what motivates us humans to publicly shame another human, and discusses the ways that public shame has affected these unlucky ones. It is quite shocking how just one joke in poor taste really can affect your entire life. He also looks at ways that we can deal with this public humiliation should we ever be in this position. This was a very quick, interesting and thought-provoking read.

Posted in book review, books, non-fiction | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

This is a post-apocalyptic novel without zombies. We begin in the normal world (well, sort of, Canada) and then everyone gets a terrible strain of flu except a lucky few who manage to hide away.

The book flashes forward and back between the post-apocalyptic world (well, America) and the world we all live in right now. The idea of this is to link some of the survivors with a famous actor who died on the night that the pandemic arrived in Toronto, where the story begins. Much of the post-apocalyptic story centres around a travelling group of actors and musicians, whose motto is “survival is insufficient” (taken from Star Trek, of all things). I suppose the author is trying to show the importance of art in our lives, and how humans will always need culture and entertainment and beauty. There might also be something in there about the culture of celebrity, with the (rather dull and a bit too long) flashbacks to the famous actor and his family.

I enjoyed the portrait of the post-apocalyptic world. There were people who travelled, and people who stayed in one place. Over the twenty years after the flu a little civilisation evolved, with settlements developing certain things that we associate with the civilised world. I did not really see a great need for such detail on the flashbacks and the “Station Eleven” in question, I would have preferred more pages to be set after the apocalypse.

Posted in book review, books, fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

This is sci-fi novel set in a dystopian future. It might be a young adult novel, since the characters are mostly high school to college age, but there are so many references to 80s popular culture that us older folk are likely to enjoy it, too.

Actually, I think this story has something for everyone. Steven Spielberg might think so too, because he has signed up to direct the movie adaptation. I could not help imagining the movie as I read the book, and I think that will be quite spectacular, too.

Our hero, Wade, is you typical poor kid who has a passion, works hard, takes risks, gets lucky and does well. He lives in 2044, and, like many people in the grim future, spends most of his time in a virtual reality. The inventor of this virtual world was a teen during the 80s, so coded lots of cool 80s stuff in to this virtual world. Before he dies he hides a virtual easter egg in the virtual world and leaves a clue for all the nerds to start searching, the finder of the easter egg gets to inherit his squillions and the right to be in charge of the virtual world he created. So, all these young futuristic kids have to obsess over the same 80s movies, music and videogames that he did during his youth. There is also a huge, evil corporation who is also after the easter egg, with a plan to ruin the virtual world for everyone.

There is lots of action and fights and videogames, and plenty of music, film and TV references. It is gripping and exciting and totally unlike any other novel.

Posted in book review, books, fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Miniaturist by Jesse Burton

This is a very interesting historical fiction novel set in Golden Age Amsterdam, which taught me lots of things and made me think a lot about what the city would have been like then. The story itself, though, was not particularly gripping, and a little bit implausible in my opinion.

Our protagonist, Nella, comes to Amsterdam from the countryside to marry a man she barely knows. He is a successful merchant with a live-in nosey maid, black servant and grumpy sister. The title is a reference to the miniaturist that Nella uses to furnish a dolls house that her husband buys for her as a wedding gift. I did not see great value or interest in this part of the plot, and there was some supernatural stuff going on there that was never really explained. The implausibility of the plot is the closeness that Nella feels to this household after just a few short months.

The storyline is full of twists and turns that teach us lots about this unique city at this time, which I very much enjoyed. I struggled to believe the characters, though, and so could not quite get too excited by the story itself.

Posted in book review, books, fiction, historical fiction | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey

This is a zombie novel. I do love a post-apocalyptic futuristic story but I am usually fairly indifferent to zombies. I would say that this is different because the writer goes some way to explaining what has caused the zombification of the world’s population, and, towards the end of the book, making a prediction on the state of the planet going forwards.

I read it because I heard about the film adaptation being made of the novel, with a similar but somehow kind of missing the point name, She Who Brings Gifts. The protagonist in this novel is interested in Greek myths, and Pandora was a girl with all the gifts, even though they may not have turned out to be the kind of gifts you might want. Our young hero and protagonist, Melanie, also has many (some dubious) gifts.

So, in a not-too-distant futuristic England, humanity has been infected by a fungus that turns us into zombies. They are the running kind, not the slow, trudging not-very-scary kind that we usually see on TV. There are a few humans left, in secure military bases, and some children that appear to be part zombie (or “hungry” as they are called in the book) and part human, because they can communicate, reason and learn. But they can’t be trusted not to bite a human if one gets too close. The humans are doing what we often think is quite reasonable to do to other species; keeping them in cages and doing tests on them.

It would be a spoiler to go any further in any great detail. As with all good stories, there is conflict, a few zombie chases, lots of killings, close calls, exciting scenes, blood, guts, gore and quite a lot of fungus. And lots of science bits for those who like them. I highly recommend the novel and I cannot wait to see the film (not least because part of it is filmed in my hometown).

Posted in book review, books, fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bad Pharma by Ben Goldacre

This is a grim read. Goldacre makes it as readable and fun as he possibly can but this the point he is making is that the whole system of medicine is a big con, and based on lies. He argues that the pharmaceutical industry have been producing distorted and unrepresentative data on their products since forever. He says that doctors have no real possibility of being able to properly prescribe a drug because they have no idea what works and what does not. Also, there will never ever be a way of telling what drugs work until the pharmaceutical industry admit their lies, throw everything away, and start all over again from scratch.

Yes, it’s grim. It is worth a read, though, and Goldacre gives the reader permission to skim through some of it, which is good, because, unless you love to discuss the minutiae of clinical trials, you will have to. I am by no means a scientist but I am a lover of correct, clear and useful data and Goldacre makes some great suggestions about how trial results could be presented in a clear, helpful and honest way.

Goldacre also makes suggestions about what we, the person on the street, or patient in the hospital, might do to help the situation, but we are a very long way from having the power to make any dent at all in the side of the massively powerful pharmaceutical companies. Still, worth a read if you enjoy getting annoyed about things you can do nothing about, and if you want to be at least a little bit informed about what you might be putting in to your body.

Posted in book review, books, non-fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

This is a young adult novel that I read for the banned books themed book club that I attend. It is set in the Spokane Indian reservation in Washington, and it has apparently been banned from many schools in surrounding areas. It deals with such heavy and controversial subjects as poverty, alcoholism, bullying, race, friendship, love, family, and basketball. Presumably there are a lot of parents in the Pacific Northwest who would prefer that their children did not read about these issues, which seems a shame to me, since many children must be exposed to many of those things at some point, except only the unlucky few have to deal with poverty, alcoholism and high school sports.

Out protagonist, Junior, has some physical problems, but he is very intelligent and makes the difficult decision to go to school off his reservation. As a non-American, this book was very educational to me about rural American life, and Indian reservation life. I learned a lot and it made me think a lot. I am thirty-seven years old. There was some very upsetting stuff in this book, mostly around alcoholism, family, and ultimately, race. I would expect that only a thoughtful and maturn young adult would enjoy this, but that is no reason to have it banned from schools.

Junior is an incredibly strong and likeable kid. I think the book is semi-autobiographical, so not “absolutely true” and the Indian in question is not, in my opinion, at all “part-time.” To my mind he is certainly a full-time Indian and his race is in his thoughts all the time. To me, that is a big theme of the book. There are lots of very sad parts in this book, but it is ultimately uplifting, at least for our protagonist, and I think it would be very valuable for the average young adult American to read to help them to empathise with the Indians who are not as fortunate or as ballsy as Junior.

Posted in book review, books, fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment