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Cath in London

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The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists (Oxford World's Classics)
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists (Oxford World's Classics)
by Robert Tressell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.49

1 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Is it a novel or is it a manifesto?, 23 Jun. 2011
To be honest, I was relieved and pretty happy when I got to the end of this book.

As the sleeve description goes, it is indeed `about exploitative employment when the only safety nets are charity, workhouse and grave.' Set in a small town in Edwardian times, the book follows the lives of a group of workmen sweating and struggling to scrape together a miserable existence, and the book is a good historic reference to life in those times and as such it is understandable why it is considered a classic. Some of the characters are loveable, some admirable and some are downright despicable. Small anecdotes provide insight into the desperation men are driven to when the need is to survive in challenging times, while the lives of the main characters draw us deeper into the struggles facing poor working class families yet leave us with a sense of optimism about the human spirit.

But Tressell's book is too much a treatise on Socialism, and at times page upon page - even whole chapters - comes across as yet another lecture in favour of the Socialist state as the single solution to the world's problems, presented in very simplistic terms where rich, Christian and Capitalist equals bad and stupid, and only atheist and Socialist equals good and clever. Without these verbose and dogmatic sections the book would have been a far easier, more enjoyable and less boring read. But that's just my Capitalist opinion.

The Snapper
The Snapper
by Roddy Doyle
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Roddy Doyle fans won't be disappointed, 6 Feb. 2011
This review is from: The Snapper (Paperback)
Fans of Roddy Doyle won't be disappointed by The Snapper. With this book, he manages to create an air of suspense that grips the reader from the first couple of pages, and keeps you hooked with a household of lovable rogues and strong women characters until the very end.

The Snapper is a tale of an Irish family and community told in the context of Sharon Rabitte's unplanned pregnancy by a man she refuses to name. It is largely told through witty and sensitive dialogue, and follows the Rabbitte family's coming to terms with this fairly scandalous event, especially her `da', Jimmy Snr. and her mother Veronica.

This is one of his earlier works, written before Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha and a Star Called Henry, and while this is apparent primarily in the fact that this story is not nearly as ambitious as his latter works, it is still rip roaringly funny. It is also an easier read. I would recommend reading Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha first, and if you enjoy that you will probably enjoy this too.

Born to Run: The Hidden Tribe, the Ultra-Runners, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen
Born to Run: The Hidden Tribe, the Ultra-Runners, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen
by Christopher McDougall
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Like a great run, will leave you both breathless and exhilarated, 2 Feb. 2011
Wow. Wow. Wow. This is the most inspiring book I've read in a long time. It's also uniquely inspiring in that it's not about what other people have done, but about awakening you to what you are able to do. What your body is meant to do. Whether you've run ultra marathons, or just longed to be able to run around the block, you'll get a great deal of inspiration out of this book.

Born to Run is anything but a dry discussion about running, thanks to McDougall's experience as a war correspondent, his enquiring mind, his never-say-die approach to getting to the bottom of things and of course, his love of running. What we have instead is a fast paced, action packed story that is part narrative, part biology and anthropology lesson, part revelatory and part motivational seminar. Like a brilliant run, it will leave you both breathless and exhilarated.

"Know why people run marathons?... Because running is rooted in our collective imagination, and our imagination is rooted in running. Language, art, science, space shuttles, Starry Night, intravascular surgery; they all had their roots in our ability to run. Running was the superpower that made us human - which means it's a superpower all humans possess."

For me the best part was how it explained and put into words so much of what running means to me. How running just feels right, how it feels meditative, how I feel closer to myself when I am on a long run. Any runner will probably agree that they feel more grounded when they're running regularly, more in touch with their natural selves. And this book lays bear all the historical and anatomical reasons why an activity that is considered - by those who don't know any better - to be something that requires `endurance' `discipline' and even `pain/suffering/agony' can in actual fact deliver a pleasure that one can get addicted to.

I would recommend you follow it up with Haruki Murakami's `What I Talk About When I Talk About Running' if you want a different yet equally inspiring take on running. It's the poet / artist's version of running and goes further at putting into words all the things I love about running.

One word of warning is that this is one of those books that will keep you up reading way beyond your bed time - so try to read it when you have time to get fully absorbed by it.

The Birthday Boys
The Birthday Boys
by Beryl Bainbridge
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful!, 16 Jan. 2011
This review is from: The Birthday Boys (Paperback)
"Living ashore hits men differently. Some shuffle back into it like they've found an old pair of slippers and others can't walk easy, no matter how they're shod."

The Birthday Boys is a fictionalised account of Scott's doomed expedition to the South Pole, delivering at once a refresher course in historical events as well as a gifted writer's interpretation of those men's character and the dialogue that may have taken place.

In the opening chapters the story richly recreates the attitudes of early 1900's society, a society that celebrated, supported, sponsored and revered exploration, adventure and discovery. As the story develops, it is the harsh conditions and the challenges facing the expedition that are just as richly recreated, but in Bainbridge's typical style of word economy.

Each chapter is narrated by a different character on the expedition, painting a vivid picture of their own disposition and motivations for setting off on the trip as well as the harsh reality they faced as they struggled to be the first to reach the South Pole and then return alive. The book is a wonderful exploration of old fashioned virtues and manners, of courage and character under fire, a bold and startling picture of the challenges faced by those intrepid men. It's also a rich insight into Robert Falcon Scott, the leader of the expedition. Described in the book thus:

"He's absolutely sound as regards what's right, but he lacks conviction. He simply isn't stupid enough to be convinced his is the only way. In these circumstances, it's a dangerous trait."

we are exposed to his strengths, weaknesses and the tragic choices he made that lead to the expedition's success but also failure and ultimate tragedy.

This would make a good read for men who love adventure, even of the vicarious and arm chair sort, for people who love history and books that revisit historical events, and also for readers who enjoy a good character examination. It's only 181 pages long - typical Bainbridge - which makes it concise enough to keep most people engaged. But it's not a light read and it's not laugh-a-minute so it's not for everyone.

Juliet, Naked
Juliet, Naked
by Nick Hornby
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An angst-free examination of the human condition, 16 Jan. 2011
This review is from: Juliet, Naked (Paperback)
Ah Nick Horby, one of my favourite writers. I recall a newspaper review describing Juliet Naked as 'vintage Hornby' and I have to agree.

In this story he creates a slightly wacky, but not entirely unbelievable, situation from which to explore the comedy, the mundanety and the sadness of a run-of-the-mill life half lived as unrealised dreams coincide with the realisation that time might just be running out.

This is a great light-hearted read but could also stimulate melancholy in any middle-aged, dissatisfied people wondering where and how it all went wrong and if there's any way to fix it. I wouldn't buy it for women who are suddenly regretting not having children, or people not escaping their unsatisfying relationships. But for anyone who enjoys a quirky read that is also a wonderful, angst-free examination of the human condition, complete with wonderful observations and insights, it's a must. Great holiday read and book for the commute.

The Pregnant Widow
The Pregnant Widow
by Martin Amis
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, smart, perceptive, funny writing, 16 Jan. 2011
This review is from: The Pregnant Widow (Hardcover)
The Pregnant Widow is a story about twenty year old Keith Nearing and his preoccupation with sex in a time where morals are loosening and young women are trying to define their own sexual boundaries. We follow his experiences while holidaying in an Italian castle with his girlfriend Lily, her friend Shehzerade and some other characters and how this period influences the rest of his life.

This book, as one review said, is indeed `uncompromisingly ambitious'. It is, however, not a story you engage with instantly. In fact I found the first 150 pages quite hard to get through, which is in contrast to the hugely compelling story that is Money, the only other book of Amis's I've read, which I couldn't put down, and which was the reason I was so excited to read The Pregnant Widow. But by the end you see why one reviewer has said of Amis `No one better understands the cosmic joke that it is humanity. Nor is anyone as funny at telling it.'

Don't read this book for the plot or the suspense or the storyline, but for the joy of reading such beautiful, smart, perceptive, sensitive and funny writing. Don't take it on a beach holiday, savour it on a weekend when you have nothing else to do but read. Don't buy it for lovers of Dan Brown novels, but give it to your friends that love a good turn of phrase and insightful, original writing. But if you've never read Martin Amis before, I would recommend you start with Money.

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