A round-up of the books that I read this month:-
(1) King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard
Classics / Adventure: "Three men trek to the remote African interior in search of a lost friend and reach, an unknown land cut off from the world, where terrible dangers threaten anyone who ventures near the spectacular diamond mines of King Solomon."
When reading any book from a bygone time (in this case the Victorian era), it's important to try and read it within the context of those times. If not, you're just setting yourself up to be infuriated and annoyed. King Solomon's Mines is one of those old adventure classics that's set in Africa, when it was seen as the cool thing for rich, white men to go off exploring (and stealing stuff from the natives to bring back home to show off to all your friends). It's of course, filled to the brim with imperialistic racism and awful trophy hunting, but the story itself wasn't bad if you understand it for what it was at the time.
There's a strong Indiana Jones vibe running throughout (it was one of the first adventure books to inspire many creative minds of later generations) which gives it an element of excitement and peril that's all too often lost in some of today's literature, and there were some particularly alluring scenes describing the grand and vast African landscape which I enjoyed. Some parts were tedious though I must admit, but I'm glad that I gave it a read. [3/5]
(2) The Centre Of Winter by Marya Hornbacher
Contemporary / Mental Illness: "A moving and passionate story of a death from despair, and a stricken family's passage through grief and what waits for them somewhere beyond the center of winter."
Having read Hornbacher's intimate memoir about her battle with Bulimia and mental illness, Wasted, some years ago, I've been meaning to pick up some of her fiction ever since. Her debut novel, The Centre Of Winter, came highly recommended to me by a friend and it didn't disappoint.
Narrated by three members of the same family, it takes in their different perspectives of coming to terms with the suicide of their patriarch, Arnold, and how his death has affected them individually and as a whole. The youngest daughter Kate wants to constantly be at her mother's side whilst questioning why her father did what he did, and her brother, Esau, is deeply troubled because he can see how the same demons of his own mental illness took the life of his father's, and he wonders if it's inevitable that he will suffer the same fate. The last narrative is written by Claire, the wife and mother, and hers is the most heart-breaking to read, yet she manages to see the light at the end of a very dark tunnel.
Despite the harrowing and depressing nature of the subject, Hornbacher has been able to tell a tale of family grief with love, hope and humour, yet never loses sight of the real issues that she wants her characters to explore and discuss. A beautifully written, original and thought-provoking story. [4/5]
(3) Think: A Compelling Introduction to Philosophy by Simon Blackburn
Non-Fiction / Philosophy: "What am I? What is consciousness? What is the difference between past and future? Does the world presuppose a creator? Do we always act out of self-interest? This is a book about the big questions in life."
Although it's titled as an 'introduction' to Philosophy, Simon Blackwell's widely acclaimed Think, is a deceptively mighty beast of a book, and it covers a huge amount of ground without dumbing anything down. So much so, that I wouldn't really recommend it as a general introduction if you're brand new to the subject, due to the amount of depth that it goes into right from the start.
Think is set out in chapters, each one covering a different 'big question' (such as Knowledge, God, Truth, Justice, Free Will etc), with Blackwell providing numerous analogies to ask more questions in order to try and figure out how to solve the big question. Each chapter and big question also includes plenty of examples of how philosophers have tried to answer them in the past, and Blackwell does an excellent job of relating these to present day situations to make them as comprehensible as possible. However, even though his tone is engaging throughout, it's still a very textbook style book to plough through, and it's something that I've been dipping in and out of for the past two months. Stick with it though because it's very interesting to read lots of different viewpoints on the same topic and compare them to what you already believe in or have learnt in the past.
Philosophy still sadly has a bad rep amongst many circles in society as being a 'nothing' subject to study, but in our present scenario of hyper-consumerism and worldwide uncertainty about our future, maybe it's time we all sat down and gave some thought to the big questions of life. [4/5]
(4) Junky by Willam S. Burroughs
Memoir / Addiction: "Burroughs' first novel, a largely autobiographical account of the constant cycle of drug dependency, cures and relapses, remains the most unflinching, unsentimental account of addiction ever written."
Published back in 1953, Burroughs' Junky memoir, is a revered contemporary classic today and is still the best book I've read on the subject of drug addiction to date. It's a true warts-and-all account of the grim and miserable reality of what it's like to be a junkie.
Junky spans the eight years or so of Burrough's life where he was a heroin addict (though the man himself does often hint that addiction tends to stay with you for life), and is mainly set in his old haunts around New York and New Orleans. If you've read Burrough's other books, you'll no doubt be familiar with his disjointed 'cut up' style of writing, and so you may or may not be pleasantly surprised to find that Junky reads like a 'normal' book with a proper structure and everything. I loved the gonzo-esque prose as Burroughs' vividly describes his demons, the people whom he encounters along the way, and his addiction in a dry, blunt and lucid way. I raced through the book in two days and was left bitterly wanting more. [4/5]
(5) Prom Nights From Hell by Various Authors
Short Stories / Young Adult: "Bad prom nights to a whole new level—a paranormally bad level."
I don't know why I picked this up from the library. I guess I was looking for something fun and trashy to read over the holidays, and whilst Prom Nights From Hell is definitely trashy, it was mostly boring YA romance stuff with some unimaginative paranormal elements thrown into the mix.
Comprising of five short stories from five bestselling YA authors, I was disappointed by the bland and dull storylines of all but one of them. Meg Cabot's contribution, The Exterminator's Daughter, was a predictable, but somewhat amusing teen yarn which stopped me from giving the book a lower rating, but you're really not missing anything if you decide to skip it altogether. [2/5]
What have you been reading lately?