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ghandibob (Swansea)
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The Art of Fielding
The Art of Fielding
by Chad Harbach
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 11.55

5.0 out of 5 stars I think about this book a lot. I really, really loved it., 14 Feb 2014
This review is from: The Art of Fielding (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
An admission and an approval: I read this book at least a year ago, before I had read many press reviews; before I read the Vanity Fair article recounting the long road Chad Harbach travelled in writing the novel; before I knew if there would be a backlash, or even any lash at all; before it became a 'talked about' novel.

But don't think this is some stake in the ground. Some attempt to claim a better, lonelier knowledge of the book. Some 'understanding'. No. This is merely to say I think about these characters, these incidents, at least once every week, and have done since I read about them.

I remember (and I'm refusing to internet-enquire any of this, including the spelling) Affenlight walking across the campus grounds. I picture him with a gown that follows obediently, like a water dog. I remember Owen's glasses, Owen's face, Owen. I remember Mike Schwarz and Henry, obviously. I remember the details of their training: the running up stadium steps, the lifting of weighs in a basement room; I remember Henry climbing a tree so easily because he has become conductor of his elegant body through years of sweat and sick and toil. I hear the sound of a baseball hammering into a leather glove. I feel the rush of Henry's arm as he releases the ball to first base, beating the runner by three steps. Which is to say: evocative.

My memories of the book are my biases. I like baseball. I watch baseball. I've played sport and trained for it too. But I also love reading. And I'm a fan of modern American novels. So The Art of Fielding is almost algorithmically designed to entertain me.

But that said, shouldn't it mean something that I think about it still? It counts as a recommendation, no? I do like books whose characters hang around: for different reasons, Mae (also, Bailey) in Dave Eggers's The Circle, which I'm reading at the moment, are bugging me in a good way; I've lost their names, but things the characters do in Jeffrey Eugenides's The Marriage Plot stick with me too. These three, I realise, are campus novels, and big enough you have time to tuck their people into your memories, safely under your folds. And whether you like sports or not, I think it's worth watching Henry strive to get better at something he already does well. Be that life or baseball.


Ultimate Ears MetroFi 220 Earphones
Ultimate Ears MetroFi 220 Earphones

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars OK I think, but it's a very personal opinion, 22 April 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I have a feeling that any review of in-ear headphones at the lower end of the price bracket is always going to come down hugely to how well your choice of bud size from those provided measures up to your ear canal. I have not found, and I have tried many, that there is much difference between different manufacturers' offerings. At the expensive end, I've noticed the quality of Etymotic's ear buds, but for under 40 these seems to measure up pretty well. When I got the right size in my ear the seal was good and so was the sound. Unfortunately, as I use these for running, or shove them in my pocket when I pop into a shop, durability is an issue. I lost one of the rubber covers within 3 weeks. Sennheiser ones like these Sennheiser CX 300-II Precision Noise-Isolating Ear-Canal Phones - Black (Eco Packaging) have been with me for years now, in tact and without such an obvious noise when my shirt rubs against the lead as with the Ultimate Ears. So, in truth, it's going to be hard to say how you'll find these, but if you want earphones that will need to withstand some miscare, and your ears are my size, you may want to look elsewhere.


Burley Cross Postbox Theft
Burley Cross Postbox Theft
by Nicola Barker
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lots of good bits, but I'm not sure they quite add up, 22 April 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I do not relish being critical, especially not of Nicola Barker, the author of Darkmans which I really enjoyed. She writes about an odd and dull and interesting Britain, ripe for quiet comedy, social satire and everyday surrealism. It is a great, and a distinctive topic and it made Darkmans a great British book and showed Barker's talent for strange, engaging comic writing. All of which makes Burley Cross Postbox Theft, for me, a disappointment.

There is a difficulty with an epistolary novel of this kind. The book shows the lives of a community through the letters written on a certain day, and while each one has individual merit it is difficult to get a feel for the story in these discrete episodes. Though relationships emerge (and there are plenty of good lines and good concepts) it is difficult fully to engage in the characters' lives. Though different entirely in their own ways, reading any of the Adrian Mole books, or the wonderful 84 Charing Cross Road (Virago modern classics) draws you instantly into the world of a few empathetic, forever memorable, people. Barker's new book necessarily cannot do this, and by page 100 I was beginning to lose interest in yet another new story, even though there was plenty of merit in the ones that went before.


Assorted Fire Events: Stories
Assorted Fire Events: Stories
by David Means
Edition: Paperback
Price: 8.02

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Really good collection, 21 Jan 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I hadn't read any David Means before picking this up, and in turn this is a re-released collection, originally published in the early 90s, though it stands up nicely in the mode of the modern short story. The title of the collection sums up the stories well: these are assorted events. One sees a man, desolate without his wife, walking shirtless down a rail line only to meet young men with bad intent, another recounts who was to blame, and who avoided it, when a girl disappears in the garden of her parents cheaply built, subsiding new house plot. Both are extraordinary events told very calmly; each is underpinned by intricate details of feelings and of facts, all of which are at once everyday and highly wrought. Means is a writer of great skill, as other reviewer here have noted, though I would disagree with their conclusions. It is a good, not a bad, thing to be a skillful writer. Means's stories have this technique to back them up, but they also have surprise and dread and a heroic, indeed almost mythological, phrasing in an ordinary, benighted world. Not perhaps laugh-a-minute, but an ice cold example of what good short story writing can be, and it is absolutely no surprise to me that Jonathan Franzen (The Corrections) has blurbed the book kindly. If you like his writing, I think it's fair to say you'll enjoy this excellent set of tall yet short tales.


This Is How
This Is How
by M. J. Hyland
Edition: Paperback
Price: 10.50

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Utterly constricting, spellbinding and horribly believable, 21 Jan 2010
This review is from: This Is How (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I can barely remember reading a book that so strongly grabbed me and refused to let go. That's not to say I enjoyed every moment of reading it; I was impressed by every second of it, but that's different. This novel, telling you the intimate story of a young man, moved away from home into a seaside boarding house in an indeterminate though presumably 60s or 70s era, details incredibly convincingly the time, the society and the emotions surrounding a perfectly ordinary few days followed by perfectly awful event and its aftermath. Without wishing to give anything away an event happens a third of the way through the book, one that the sense of foreboding Hyland so powerfully suggests during the quiet, gradual beginning, and the rest of the book allows us to follow the aftermath, completely different in tone, no less suffocating and horrendously brilliant. At times it reads like non-fiction, so true does Hyland's writing seem. She seems to get right into the centre of her characters, all of whom are different to everyone you've ever met (yet without being gaudy) but motivated by emotions and thoughts that we can all feel deep within us. This is How is an amazing achievement, by a brilliant writer, with a main character whose unease in the world chimes perfectly with the unease the story leaves you with. You really should read it.


Nazi Literature in the Americas
Nazi Literature in the Americas
by Roberto Bolano
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Surely a must, only for Bolano fanatics, 21 Jan 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
So far as it is possible to pick a whole type of literature and say you like it, I have always been a fan of "The Latin American novel". I hardly know what to say about this, however, given that it is the first Bolano I have read. Nazi Literature in the Americas, however, seems like a bad place to start. Far better, looking at the reviews, to begin with The Savage Detectives or 2666, both of which have had extraordinary critical ratings. But Nazi Literature does not sweep you into a different world, one tinged by violence, perhaps, and by magic. It is a series of profiles of fictional South American writers, all of whom have brushes with actual Nazi figures or else affinities with their driving philosophical beliefs. And, from what I've read about the book, this works as satire of a type of literature, of thinking, that developed in South America shortly after the Second World War. And there are nice touches, amusing bits and pieces, but as someone from outside that world, that language and that literary tradition, I can't help thinking I'm not getting the best of it. It was, in fact, a bit of a struggle, though there was enough good writing that I will pick up some of his other books and give them a go. I have loved books by Carlos Fuentes, Marquez, even the English versions by De Bernieres (Senor Vivo and the Coca Lord) and Nicolas Shakespeare (The Vision of Elena Silves), so I'm hoping that the critics are right and he is a genius, even if this book fails to confirm that fact to me.


Wolf Hall
Wolf Hall
by Hilary Mantel
Edition: Hardcover

7 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Can't think of a better British book I've read in the past few years., 7 Dec 2009
This review is from: Wolf Hall (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
It's going to be very difficult to review Wolf Hall without sounding like a gushing fanboy lunatic, someone with no cultural radar and who "just loves everything", or one of Hilary Mantel's close friends. None of which I hope is true in the first two cases and sadly is not in the third.

But, to the book. It is fabulous. Honestly, genuinely wonderful. From the first page, which you see through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell, I was absorbed in the story. Cromwell is not someone I knew about, and I had really never felt the need to learn much about the Tudor period, having not engaged with it at school and there being so many other things to learn about since. However, on the basis of Mantel's Booker Prize-winning novel, I have already bought two David Starkey books about the young Henry and his wives, and have wishlisted (not a pleasant phrase, I know) a new biography of Cromwell himself. I felt so immediately immersed in the world of Henry's court - the houses, the streets, the river, the Tower - that I was instantly itching to know more.

I think, on reflection, the success of Wolf Hall is down to a mastery of character. I loved Mantel's previous book (Beyond Black) which is so very different in subject matter, but that too seemed so alive because the characters, for the duration I was reading the book, were absolutely vivid, absolutely real. She is such a skilled writer, so technically adept, and yet it's a terrifically readable book. Despite its potentially intimidating length the story flew by for me, and I was constantly trying to find spare minutes to read more. You can't help but marvel at Cromwell, but the portraits of Thomas More, Henry and Anne Boleyn are so successful you feel you truly know them. It's a novelistic trick, but a powerful, unique and addictive one. I can hardly imagine these people as historical figures any more; they live and breathe in their accessible complexity. And it's not only the major characters: Cromwell's collection of children, wards and workers are just as vital and you root for these self-made ordinary people in a world of gentleman and grandees.

I just cannot find a flaw in the book, and wait desperately, like a princess in a tower, for a follow up, one that will complete the story of the incredible Cromwell by the just as incredible Mantel.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 26, 2009 11:19 PM GMT


Nobody Move
Nobody Move
by Denis Johnson
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable, afternoon read, 6 Dec 2009
This review is from: Nobody Move (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
It's pretty good, this. The dialogue is sharp and the characters seem familiar enough to make the book work as a slim genre crime novel, but there is a sense of originality too, which stops it seeming stale and suffocating. Having been a big Chandler fan for a long time, I can appreciate the attempt to get crisp, witty writing into this sort of story...the caper has been told a thousand times in numberless crime fiction, so to make it better you need to write it better: coming up with a unique story is so very rare as to unachievable.

But, anyway, I read this on a wet afternoon a fortnight ago, and already I can't remember too much about it. The ending struck me as odd...enough that I wondered genuinely if there had been a error in the binding, and that the final 16 or 32 pages were missing. That said, I enjoyed the experience, and the characters were strong enough to resonate even now, when the plot has fallen from my memory. So while I wouldn't recommend you go out and get this as a priority, if you've got a few hours quiet hours spare you could do worse than get Nobody Move to keep you company.


Standard Operating Procedure: A War Story
Standard Operating Procedure: A War Story
by Errol Morris
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 11.49

5.0 out of 5 stars It feels terrible to be so enthusiastic about such subject matter, 24 Nov 2009
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The war in Iraq and its endless tessellation of subaltern topics is a subject freighted with anger, dogma and conjecture. It would be easy to assume that indignation, fire, bile and unshakable self-surety are the only modes of discussion available, whether they be for or against. So it comes as a great relief to read Gourevitch's rendering of the interviews film-maker Errol Morris recorded with participants at Abu Ghraib prison, perhaps most widely known for the photographs of posed, hooded, humiliated detainees foregrounded by a happily be-thumbed, smiling female soldier.

Standard Operating Procedure is in some ways a modest, a humble recounting of the events behind those photographs, without ever focussing myopically, even gothically on them, as another writer might. It is certainly interesting to know how American servicemen and women came to take holiday snaps of naked, stacked detainees, but it is much better to know how this came about from a more structural, longer lens viewpoint. This is what we get here, with Gourevitch following the invasion from the start, and the building of the prisons that were not immediately available to house the countless arrested. He shows, evenly, that not all intent was bad, that people were just as likely to do good and intend good, but he also shows how the administration of events let people down. The things needed to make the mass incarceration of a culturally different population - in their country - possible (a terribly difficult task at any rate), were not provided; there was a deficit of leadership at key levels; and, yes, individual soldiers, though whatever intoxicating combination of power, powerlessness, fatigue, insanity, peer pressure and bullying made terrible, pathetic choices.

In a way, of course, there is nothing happy to be gained from reading this book, it does not necessarily help to have some of your worst prejudices against other people confirmed, but it is important perhaps to get a clear, sober reminder of how normal people can make unbelievable decisions so you don't come close to making them yourself (even if that does sound glib), and it certainly touches upon happiness when you read a book so brilliant in its execution that you can forget for a moment the firestorm of hectoring opinion that engulfs and sometimes destroys our important issues of public debate.


Italian: Beginner (Collins Language Revolution) (Book with 2CDs)
Italian: Beginner (Collins Language Revolution) (Book with 2CDs)
by Tony Buzan
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars Is it just me?, 28 Aug 2009
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
It's really hard to review a language learning device if you're not learning very much of the language. What if you just aren't very good at languages...it seems a bit harsh to criticise the product when you're not devoting enough time to it and your brain won't take in the information. That said, I've been toying with Italian for a couple of years off (very) and on (barely), and bought various learning tools over that span, none of which have really worked for me. The, more expensive, Rosetta Stone programme has for me worked better, though that falls down when it comes to vocab (I know the Italian for garden rake and can say that the old woman is on the yellow house, but not ask, basically, anyone a sensible question). The vocab in Busan's book is more appropriate, but again it's the idea of having a conversation that seems so far away. I get the idea of mind maps, that allow you to navigate your memory of words (i.e. Italian vocab), but it just doesn't seem to click for me. When I first opened the book that comes with the CDs my heart sank. Its colourful and child-like design made me think of primary school which is fine for remembering lists of things, but not for actually speaking a language. There's nothing organic here, and maybe there never could be. Certainly, the memory techniques he teaches will help some people remember things, but if you've got a decent enough memory for facts in the first place, I think there are better language learning courses out there. And, in all honesty, they probably involve going out and talking to people, not waiting for something to come through the front door and fix your inadequacies.


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