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Rabbit at Rest (Penguin Modern Classics)
Rabbit at Rest (Penguin Modern Classics)
Price: £9.49

5.0 out of 5 stars Huge, fantastic, novel, 11 Feb. 2014
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Describing Rabbit's experiences of American life in the late 70's and early 80's, Updike treats us to a giant banquet of a book.(Actually a series of books: I read Rabbit is Rich and then this one, virtually together)
Hundreds of pages full of sumptuously meticulous observations which convey so vividly the hero's inner narrative - all the details that in normal life remain undisclosed. Men like Rabbit don't tend to share a lot of their intimate emotions, but, in this glorious novel, they are expertly articulated for our exquisite delight.

His irritations, insecurities, deceptions, doubts, preoccupations, perceptions, loves, lusts are all here. As are his likes & dislikes, threats to his ego & boosts to it, successes & failures, sources of pride & causes of worry, aspirations & disappointments, satisfactions & frustrations . Tensions, rivalries, habits, comforts. Secret longings, secret fears, secret memories. The subtle characteristics of his companions, the unique experiences their company brings. The environmental cues which surround him, some inspiring, some depressing, but most in between, mundane yet evocative.

Rabbit is certainly rich - his life, like all our lives, is chock full of poignant moments, nuances and insights that we never normally express. We rely on great authors like Updike to reassure us how rich indeed we all are.


Of Human Bondage
Of Human Bondage
Price: £3.45

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars OK, 11 Feb. 2014
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This review is from: Of Human Bondage (Kindle Edition)
Overall, I don't think I would recommend this book. I think it's probably outdated. A hundred years ago it may well have been quite moving to hear, through the main character's reflections, that embracing the meaninglessness of life is a valid philosophy; nowadays such an insight doesn't have nearly the same impact.

I found the writing quite rich and engaging, and was propelled through the book willingly enough. The story is, however, not very uplifting: someone loses his parents and is brought up without a great deal of love, emotional intelligence, or even particularly skilled guidance. This leaves him somewhat immature and dysfunctional, and consequently he makes rather stupid errors of judgement, and doesn't make the best use of his talents. An introspective individual, he becomes at any rate philosophical, and is able to deliver a perceptive narrative around his observations.

I'm sure it was a worthwhile work at the time, but my advice to a potential modern reader would, on balance, be to save yourself a few hours, and give it a miss.


A History Of The World In 10 1/2 Chapters
A History Of The World In 10 1/2 Chapters
Price: £4.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, 13 Nov. 2013
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This popular work is not a history, and is not in 10½ chapters. It is actually a whimsically titled pot-pourri of pieces - some fiction, some non fiction - vaguely linked, with a few recurring themes ( boats, woodworm (!), religion).

I liked:

2 very witty religious satires - one of the Noah myth, and one of medieval theological discourse, both written comically from the point of view of woodworm.
A fascinating slice of art history relating to Gericault's 'The Raft of the Medusa' (a depiction of an infamous 1816 French Naval disaster and scandal).
An interesting historical account of a 1930's Jewish refugee ship.

I was ultimately indifferent to:

7 short stories, that were very evocatively written, but which I didn't particularly see the point of.
An essay on love which, though eloquently phrased, I actually thought was pretty much drivel.

The pieces I enjoyed were all in the first half of the book. Had they not been, I think I would have given up part way through.


Changing Places
Changing Places
Price: £4.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Very funny, 13 Nov. 2013
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This review is from: Changing Places (Kindle Edition)
The story starts out as modestly paced, lightweight, and reasonably amusing. Growing steadily faster and funnier, it becomes a hilarious page-turning farce. On the way, there's a nice sprinkling of ironic commentary on the delusions and vanities of academic life, the sixties, and sexual relationships. Another hit from David Lodge.


Rabbit is Rich (Penguin Modern Classics)
Rabbit is Rich (Penguin Modern Classics)
by John Updike
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Huge, fantastic novel, 23 July 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Describing Rabbit's experiences of American life in the late 70's and early 80's, Updike treats us to a giant banquet of a book.(Actually a series of books: I read Rabbit is Rich and then this one, virtually together)
Hundreds of pages full of sumptuously meticulous observations which convey so vividly the hero's inner narrative - all the details that in normal life remain undisclosed. Men like Rabbit don't tend to share a lot of their intimate emotions, but, in this glorious novel, they are expertly articulated for our exquisite delight.

His irritations, insecurities, deceptions, doubts, preoccupations, perceptions, loves, lusts are all here. As are his likes & dislikes, threats to his ego & boosts to it, successes & failures, sources of pride & causes of worry, aspirations & disappointments, satisfactions & frustrations . Tensions, rivalries, habits, comforts. Secret longings, secret fears, secret memories. The subtle characteristics of his companions, the unique experiences their company brings. The environmental cues which surround him, some inspiring, some depressing, but most in between, mundane yet evocative.

Rabbit is certainly rich - his life, like all our lives, is chock full of poignant moments, nuances and insights that we never normally express. We rely on great authors like Updike to reassure us how rich indeed we all are.


Arguably
Arguably
by Christopher Hitchens
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.89

5.0 out of 5 stars Superb, 6 Dec. 2012
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This review is from: Arguably (Paperback)
Hitchens is hugely well-informed, tremendously eloquent, and argues devastating well. He is liberal (without a trace of wishy-washyness), and radical (without seeming extremist). Reading him feels authentic - considering his massive breadth of reading, he writes a good deal from experience.

In one particularly characteristic essay, he condemns the jihadist atrocities in postwar Iraq - urging us to recognise fundamentalist terrorism clearly for what it is, and not to interpret it as a somehow understandable response to the decision to oust Saddam. (His support of that decision is well known, and is reiterated here. Also, he asks, why is supposedly so difficult to believe that Saddam's WMD were hidden/sold/otherwise transferred ?)

Elsewhere in the volume he targets other established anti-liberal forces : The Ten Commandments (one-by-one); the wearing of burkas; capital punishment of psychiatrically disturbed children in the US. Reciprocally, one moving piece captures the hope felt in Afghanistan after the Taliban's 2004 defeat.

Also victim to the laser of his `arguing' falls anti-science quasi-spiritual mumbo-jumbo, in this case its unfortunate proponent being Prince Charles.

There are lighter, entertaining pieces too: slightly mischievous reflections on gender differences in sense of humour; and on the inexorably global adoption of the English vernacular f*** off.

I feel that he can occasionally overstrain an argument, and that he is sometimes over-critical, but I can forgive him both tendencies, in view of this wealth of frequently perceptive, often courageous, and sometimes quite brilliant observational writing.


Joy in the Morning: (Jeeves & Wooster)
Joy in the Morning: (Jeeves & Wooster)
by P.G. Wodehouse
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Superb escapist fun, 4 Dec. 2012
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Having first encountered Bertie Wooster many decades ago, I was intrigued to see whether revisiting him would feel dated. It was as hilarious as ever.

Firstly, we can tell that, whatever fate throws at Bertie, he'll come out more-or-less unscathed and smiling.

Secondly, it's all so charming. Blessed, of course, by his highly privileged lifestyle, Wooster nevetheless always retains an unduly cheerful and chipper demeanour: life remains slightly sweetened and rose-tinted, whatever the circumstances. Adventures come and go, but there's no REAL suffering or pain.

Finally, of course, what makes the whole reading experience special is Wodehouse's delightful verbal creativity.

All-in-all, highly enjoyable entertainment.


Genome: The Autobiography Of Species In 23 Chapters: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters
Genome: The Autobiography Of Species In 23 Chapters: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters
by Matt Ridley
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.68

5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating insight into genes and genetic engineering, 30 Oct. 2012
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This fascinating account of human inheritance has an elegant structure. Various genetic phenomena are discussed, each in one of 23 chapters: each one named (= numbered) after the chromosome pair which is most relevant to that particular subject. So we are guided through the genetics of intelligence, personality, immunity, and the gene-level basis of heart disease, cancers, Alzheimers, and other `partially inherited' diseases. Ridley, as ever, does his research thoroughly, and presents it with brilliant clarity. I found the account of apoptosis (cell suicide), effected by genes `for the good of the body', to be an informative evolutionary basis for better understanding cancer. In another chapter, he discusses the biological benefits of autonomy, comparing (admittedly generalising) the high status, in control, `high serotonin' state with the anxious, impulsive, atherosclerotic, suicidal, `low serotonin' scenario.

New snippets of the evolutionary story are revealed. Head-tail and back-front differentiation genes are very similar throughout the animal kingdom, implying a common ancestry. Infidelity is a highly prevalent behaviour in many species.Genes from different animals (including humans) are to a surprising extent actually interchangeable.

We glean further insights into the nurture/nature interplay. Environmental triggers can actually switch genes on and off; genes in turn can make us more or less sensitive to our environment. Ridley relates how, with age, as we often become increasingly able to select our own influences, the `genetic' proportion of our intelligence thus tends to increase. In another chapter again, he explores the construction of intricate `genetic geography' which reveal some racial `characteristics'.

Conundrums are explored: why do inherited diseases persist in the gene pool? Because gene mutations (changes in the base sequence) often have two separate effects, one beneficial and one harmful. What is the function of all the `junk' (seemingly useless) DNA? A lot of it is random, `phenotype-free' : `hitch-hiking' a ride from generation to generation, on the back of the genes that bother to make the survival machines(bodies)that serve to reproduce DNA so effectively.

What you learn depends on what you already knew; but there'll certainly be something for everyone here. I found most gripping the sections towards the end, as we become gradually more aware of the fantastic possibilities of genetic engineering. The account of the (gene-carrying) retrovirus therapy and other genetic `engineering' tricks was riveting. The principles of what had seemed a highly esoteric field became much clearer and more straightforward.

He extends his discussions into philosophical areas also. I discovered that many countries - including the US and the UK - took significant steps towards developing and supporting eugenic customs and laws in the 20's and 30's. In another section Ridley briefly discusses the relationship between behavioural genetics and the problem of free will - does chaos theory have a relevance here, explaining the smaller scale unpredictabilities in our decisions ?

Overall, this is a key modern topic to obtain some kind of grasp of, and Ridley's book must be as good a way as any of achieving that.


Globalization: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
Globalization: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
by Manfred Steger
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Overview, 29 Jun. 2012
Giving a useful academic overview of this much-used buzzword, Professor Steger reminds us that globalisation is an ancient , albeit accelerating, process, rather than anything new. Also that it is has many dimensions - economic, political, cultural, ideological. And many aspects - market liberalism, social justice, environmental issues, minority interests, niche cultures. So that it really consists of several simultaneous phenomena, all moving with an inertia that's probably unstoppable.

He does worry, though, about the continuous expansion of transnational corporations, many of whom of course are now of the same order of size as nation-sates,with whom they jostle for power. The ruthlessness of the market can thereby act as a threat to social justice intiatives, and has widened inequality on a global scale. (GDP growth seems to be the preserve of the wealthiest third of nations.) Will the various international bodies be effective in dealing with this threat, along with the world's environmental hazards, and ideological tensions ? As the globe spins faster and faster, can we stop it flying out of control?


The Uncommon Reader
The Uncommon Reader
by Alan Bennett
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Short and sweet, 29 Jun. 2012
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This review is from: The Uncommon Reader (Paperback)
A witty little story featuring the Queen developing an enthusiasm for literature. Entertaining throughout, nicely paced, and a great punchline.


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