Category Archives: Book Reviews

Listening to – The Bible: A Biography

Recently I’ve discovered the non-fiction author Karen Armstrong, via her short book A Brief History of Myth. I found the book fascinating and brilliantly well written. Armstrong is currently in the news for her book The Case for God, which has been vying for position in the bestseller lists with Richard Dawkins The God Delusion (read a great article putting both authors head-to-head here) I’m yet to read the Case for God, but this week I am going to read The Bible: A Biography in audiobook version from Audible. This book looks at the complex history of the bible as a book, a subject that as a writer I find fascinating. I’m going to post some notes on the book when I’m finished. If anyone out there would like to read or listen along and join in with some discussion of the book then please do.

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In and Out

On my last trip to San Francisco I discovered In’n’Out burgers. If you don’t live in California, In’n’Out might need some explanation. Imagine the greasiest possible burger, accompanied with the worlds most artificial cheese, wrapped in a bun that almost resembles bread and chips that no one believes are even related to a potato. And there you have an In’n’Out burger and fries. It is by every objective standard barely even a foodstuff. And yet, what have I been hungry for every minute of my flight accrosd the Atlantic. Yup…you guessed it.

I’m reading David Mitchell’s first novel Ghostwritten on the flight. I’ve had this novel sitting on my shelf for about a decade, since exchanging it with a friend for a dog eared copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. No offence to Robert Pirsig but I think I got the better of the deal, even if it has taken ten years to discover.

Ghostwritten is really a short story collection, not a novel, however much the publisher and critics claim otherwise. It reads as though Mitchell wrote a short novella in each of his favourite genres and then jammed them all in one book. There is a definite literary sensibility to the writing. DM is all about the interior life of his characters, and he manages the impressive task of writing nine stories in 1st person which can be read back to back without all the characters collapsing into a mellange of the authors own voice. But the lit technique is matched with the kind of ingenuity, pace and plotting more familiar in good genre fiction. I think what shines through Ghostwritten is that DM loves stories, loves books and fiction and loves writing. You really get the sense that he is playing in the book, introducing voices simply because he can, telling stories just for the joy of telling them. I think thats what makes the writing so compelling.

Stopped reading for a while to look out of the window at the Canada wilderness going past. The world is a big place, much of it is cold and forbidding. I’m glad to be headed to the Bay Area, and can already tase that burger.

Surprise Translation

I was nicely surprised to wake up this morning to find a wonderful translation of Im Abendrot in my inbox. I have posted before about this poem by Joseph von Eichendorff, which I discovered via the music of Richard Strauss. Teh generous spirited Richard Gardner found my ear;y post and has furnished me with a brand new translation all his own, which sticks rigourously to the structure and rhythm of the orignal. I love this translation…it may even be my favourite. Continue reading Surprise Translation

Aber Reads

The locals call Aberystwyth, the almost capital of Wales, simply Aber. It makes sense, its a mouthfull of constanants.

Its an odd almost capital. Twelve thousands residents, seven thousands students. Some tourists and caravan parks. More than a few hippies and a sprinkling of writers, if you can seperate the two. I like it. I want to move.

My second trip to Aber and I wanted to get some reading done. Its a town that suits fantasy. High cliffs. Long grey beaches. Sea gulls the size of labradors. I took some books with me but was also lured in by the Waterstones 3 for 2. A mistake.

The Merlin Codex is one of those sophisticated fantasy novels I’ve been meaning to read. I keep picking it up off the book shelf the putting it back. I’ve read the prologue six or seven times so this week I read the rest. Its very evocative. Intense prose. Packed with dark imigiary. But where are the characters? Merlin, Jason, Medea and other figures from the Greek / Celtic mythic melange author Robert Holdstock mixes are there, but in name only. Perhaps its the fantasy iotself that overweighs the chracters, but facinating as the book was I couldn’t really get absorbed into it. Maybe it was just me.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss wasn’t me. This book seems to fulfill all the worst accusations levelled at fantasy blockbusters. Perhaps that isn’t entirely fair. Rothfuss is trying to write the kid of gritty, low fantasy that George R R Martin has popularised. Writers like Steven Erikson, Joe Abercrombie, Scott Lynch and many more have followed down this path, none very successfully IMHO. These books are very, very ambitious. Dozens of lead characters with hundreds more in support. Numerous intertwining plotlines. Massive themes unfolding accross a vast imagined world. It takes a massive amounts of skill and craft to write this kind of books, and with the exception of Martin, few of the writers attempting it are good enough. The Name of the Wind typifies this for me. It has grand ambition but the basics of good storytelling and character bulding are’t there.Thats a great disappointment because I really want a book to get lost in, but The Name of the Winde surely is not it.

My Clarion reading continued with Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman and Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link. Interesting to read these two short story collections intertwined with each other. there are a lot of commonalities. Gaiman’s writing is more diverse, whilst links has the edge in intensity. I could sit and read the Gaiman collection straight through, but Link’s is more a thing to read over time.  I also read through some more James Patrick Kelly, which reminded me that I wat to catch up with some more hard-SF. Its two weeks to Clarion now. I’m excited in ways I can’t express.

The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, May 2008

The May 2008 issue of the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction kicks off with a hint of horror provided by Albert E. Cowdrey’s “Thrilling Wonder Stories.” Knowledgeable science fiction readers might recognise the title as a reference to a real (and recently relaunched) pulp magazine, and the story is set in the era of American history these magazines have come to symbolise.

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