What I've Been Reading Lately: January & February Books Roundup

Thursday 2 March 2017

How The Marquis Got His Coat Back by Neil Gaiman
I got off to a slow start with reading after the New Year as I had a million and one things to do for Uni, but I'm getting back to my regular pace now things have died down a bit. So here's what I've been reading throughout January and February.

How The Marquis Got His Coat Back by Neil Gaiman
Fantasy / Short Stories: "The coat. It was elegant. It was beautiful. It was so close that he could have reached out and touched it. And it was unquestionably his."

I read Gaiman's Neverwhere a few years ago and really enjoyed it, so when I came across this short story featuring the Marquis de Carabas (one of the many entertaining characters in Neverwhere), I had to read it. 

How The Marquis Got His Coat Back transports the reader back into the fantasy world of the London Below of Neverwhere and follows the Marquis as he tries to discover who has his magical coat and how to get it back. As it's a short story, it only clocks in at 58 pages so I won't say anything more about the plot to avoid spoiling the whole thing, but if you loved Neverwhere, this charming self-contained, spin-off story will no doubt delight Gaiman and fantasy fans alike. [4/5]
CND: Now More Than Ever by Kate Hudson
CND: Now More Than Ever by Kate Hudson
Non-fiction / Activism: "Published to mark the 60th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, CND - Now More Than Ever is a fascinating and timely look at an archetypal campaigning organisation."

CND have always been an organisation that I've had a massive amount of respect for, and I would have loved to have grown up in the '60s, just to experience those huge protest rallies full of like-minded people. The energy must have been truly electrifying. 

Now More Than Ever gives us a comprehensive history of CND; how it came to be from its humble beginnings to its transformation into one of the world's most recognisable anti-nuclear / peace movements with a huge international following. The book charts the many struggles and challenges along the way, as well as recognising the achievements and changes that CND played a part in. Some parts are a little tough to get through if you're not accustomed to certain legal processes, but for the majority, it's very accessible.

Many people nowadays think that nuclear war will never happen due to all of the world's superpowers possessing arsenals of nuclear weapons based on the popular 'mutual destruction' theory (which is debunked as a myth in the book due to advancements in long-range missile technology - all you need is to be the country with the best tech and you could strike your nukes first, obliterating your 'enemy' into pieces before they even have chance to retaliate). However, with ever-increasing hostility and tensions between world leaders and a lack of essential resources such as oil, food and water being forecast for the future, I still think the threat of nuclear war is a worrying one, especially with a certain reckless orange idiot manning the helm of the most powerful country in the world. Anything's possible and CND could easily see a major revival on the horizon. [4/5]
 Courtney Love by Poppy Z. Brite
Courtney Love by Poppy Z. Brite
Biography / Pop Culture: "A moving biography of the woman who is rock music's Madonna, the lead singer of cult rock band Hole."

Say what you want about Courtney Love, but she was one of the first female rock stars that I properly admired throughout my teenage years (I'm not old enough to have grown up with Stevie Nicks or she would have been plastered all over my bedroom walls instead), and I loved all the wild, crazy stories that were constantly in the music magazines about her life. I'd be lying if I said she wasn't an inspiration and of course, I was obsessed with all the bands involved in the grunge scene, even if I discovered them a good ten years later.

Only a few people could have written an official Courtney Love biography without wanting to rip up all the pages and repeatedly start again, but Poppy Z. Brite managed to do it and she's done it extremely well as the book covers all the major parts of Courtney's life, alongside the minor ones that add some extra depth and understanding into the psyche of the troubled rock star. Within the pages, you'll find the origins of Courtney's difficult childhood, details of her ambitions to be a musician, relationship problems, and of course her marriage to Kurt Cobain and the grief that she felt after his suicide. 

The book also reads as a 'Who's Who' of the 90s US grunge scene with the usual suspects such as Billy Corgan, Trent Reznor, Kathleen Hanna, Dave Grohl and Jennifer Finch popping up to name but a few. It's a fast-paced rollercoaster that's hugely entertaining with some very sad parts, but one that I hope will continue to have a happier ending. If you're a Courtney, Hole or 90s grunge fan, you'll no doubt want to read it if you haven't already. [4/5]
 The Private Memoirs Of A Justified Sinner by James Hogg
The Private Memoirs Of A Justified Sinner by James Hogg
Classics / Literature / Religion: "Set in early eighteenth-century Scotland, the novel recounts the corruption of a boy of strict Calvinist parentage by a mysterious stranger under whose influence he commits a series of murders." 

This archaic Gothic classic was chosen by my English Lit book group as the featured read this month, and it was a far more compelling option than the usual suspects that continually crop up within these reading circles.

Written in 1824, The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner is a dark and twisted tale of a young Calvinist man named Robert who has his mind manipulated by the Devil and goes on to kill his brother and mother. The underlying themes within the story warn of the dangers of religious fanaticism (something that we still can't seem to escape even now in 2017), and the sheer mania which takes hold of a person when they believe that murder can be 'justified' if it's for a religious reason.

It's a challenging read as it's split into two parts, each bearing no chapters to break up the dense prose, and I was very grateful for the glossary in this edition to translate the Scottish words which appear in some of the dialogue. It's certainly not the kind of book that you can read in an afternoon, but if you're interested in Gothic literature with a strong theme of religious crazy, then it's worth checking out. [3/5]
Doing The Business: Entrepreneurship, the Working Class, and Detectives in the East End of London by Dick Hobbs
Doing The Business: Entrepreneurship, the Working Class, and Detectives in the East End of London by Dick Hobbs
Non-Fiction / Criminology: "Doing the Business looks at the culture of London's East End and its relationship with the Criminal Investigation Department of the Metropolitan Police. The cultures of both the East End and the CID are examined in terms of their relationship with the marketplace and the emergent strategies of negotiation, trading, and, most importantly, entrepreneurship."

I don't often mention books that I've read for Uni on here, but I thought this one might be of interest to those studying subjects such as Sociology/Criminology etc, as I read it as part of a Criminology module that I did last month and found it quite interesting.

Hobbs' Doing The Business may come across as a little dated as it was published in the late 80s, but it covers a good level of the general history of the East End of London and goes into detail about how entrepreneurial criminals (such as the infamous Kray twins) operated during the 50s/60s/70s. It's also a useful read to get some background and understanding of the Police during that time, and the various operations that they undertook to try and tackle the growing crime and poverty levels within the East End. [3/5] 
Disco Biscuits compiled by Sarah Champion
Disco Biscuits compiled by Sarah Champion
Short Stories / Pop Culture: "Celebrating the 10th anniversary of the birth of Acid House, this anthology of new stories includes works by Alan Warner, Irvine Welsh and Jeff Noon."

I love reading short story anthologies because you can easily dip in and out of them as you please, and they're ideal for fitting in during breaks when you're doing dissertations. However, Disco Biscuits was a real mixed bag of a few hits and a lot of misses for me.

Compiled to capture the infamous late 80's rave culture of ecstasy and warehouse parties, Disco Biscuits brings together a whole host of contemporary authors and presents the reader with 19 short stories about hedonism, sex, drugs and lots of partying. Sounds great right? Sadly, only a handful of these stories jumped out at me, whilst the others seemed to be dull fillers, and many of the stories are very similar to each other which made things even more monotonous. More variety would have livened things up considerably, but I did enjoy the stories by Jeff Noon, Johnathan Brook, Irvine Welsh and Alex Garland. [2/5]

What have you been reading lately?
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