Sunday, 31 October 2010

update October 2010

# of books read in October:6
Cumulative total: 46

1. The Blessing (Nancy Mitford)
2. The Plato Papers (Peter Ackroyd)
3. The Hours (Michael Cunningham)
4. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows)
5. Love in a Cold Climate (Nancy Mitford)
6. En passant (Raymond Queneau)
7. The Story of God (Robert Winston)
8. Ye Gods! Travels in Greece (Jill Dudley)
9. The Man in the High Castle (Philip K Dick)
10. La Chine Classique (Ivan P Kamenarovic)
11. White Teeth (Zadie Smith)
12. The House in Norham Gardens (Penelope Lively)
13. Special Topics in Calamity Physics (Marisha Pessl)
14. Sarah's Key (Tatiana de Rosnay)
15. Rebuilding Coventry (Sue Townsend)
16. On Chesil Beach (Ian McEwan)
17. The Undomestic Goddess (Sophie Kinsella)
18. French Kissing (Catherine Sanderson)
19. Icons of England (various authors; edited by Bill Bryson)
20. Shirley (Charlotte Brontë)
21. Women's Hour Short Stories
22. Catch-22 (Joseph Heller)
23. Juliet, Naked (Nick Hornby)
24. Reviving Ophelia (Mary Pipher)
25. Nightingale Wood (Stella Gibbons)
26. The Orange Girl (Jostein Gaarder)
27. Me Talk Pretty One Day (David Sedaris)
28. Gemma and Sisters (Noel Streatfeild)
29. See Under: Love (David Grossman)
30. Swann's Way (Marcel Proust)
31. Le roi des fougères (Jean Anglade)
32. The Decameron (Giovanni Boccaccio)
33. The Glass Room (Simon Mawer)
34. Middlesex (Jeffrey Eugenides)
35. Missykad, or Britannic Raj Through The Turnstiles (Malcolm Henry James)
36. Where We Going, Daddy?: Life With Two Sons Unlike Any Other (Jean-Louis Fournier)
37. First Grey, Then White, Then Blue (Margriet de Moor)
38. The Dead School (Patrick McCabe)
39. The Picture of Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde)
40. My Favourite Wife (Tony Parsons)
41. How to be Alone (Jonathan Franzen)
42. Eclipse (John Banville) - review forthcoming
43. Dancing Shoes (Noel Streatfeild)
44. Petite Anglaise (Catherine Sanderson)
45. Within A Budding Grove (Marcel Proust) 
46. Puligny-Montrachet (Simon Loftus)

Sunday, 3 October 2010

How To Be Alone (Jonathan Franzen)

--The blurb--
"Here, in fifteen essays, are fifteen fresh answers to the question of how to be alone in a noisy and distracting mass culture. Franzen shows the wry distrust of the claims of technology and psychology, the love-hate relationship with consumerism, and the subversive belief in the tragic shape of the individual life."

--The review--
As a result of having studied Classics at university, the words of wisdom of Plato et al naturally line my bookshelves. In approaching the monolithic Jonathan Franzen's collection of essays, one has the same feeling of receiving wisdom: ancient, revered, but still relevant to today type wisdom.

Franzen initially hooks the 'average' reader with a sentimental but well-written and compelling essay chronicling a new approach to death and dying in the face of the demise of his father. This, however, does not set the tone for the rest of the essay collection: if sentimental writing is not your cup of tea, there are still plenty of reasons to keep reading. As well as a highly polticised essay that distinguishes between personal privacy and data protection, and an analysis of the Chicago postal system, we are treated to a whistle-stop tour via a job in Franzen's previous life for a small local exports company and a treatment of why cities still exist. As a result, the entire collection is a highly original trip through different perspectives on the notion of being alone. We are taken through the theme in ways that we would not expect, and this includes arguably the most unsavoury essay in the collection, which deals with the subject of being anti-smoking. At the beginning of the essay, as a non-smoking (and indeed anti-smoking) reader, it is easy to agree with Franzen's damning of the activity; it is therefore with dismay that we find out that he is in fact a smoker himself. While the essay proceeds in as cogent and sophisticated a manner as ever, it is somehow tainted after that with the vague hypocrisy of its author.

However, this is not enough to ruin enjoyment of the collection entirely. As previously hinted at, Franzen is an extremely skilled writer, at least in the field of non-fiction: he is lucid and erudite without alienating readers. There is truly something in this collection for everyone, and in creatively approaching the notion of what it means to be alone in our increasingly busy world, Franzen will have you asking yourself whether you are a Contract or Status reader and questioning the invasiveness of television. 

The vast majority of the essays were written in the mid 1990s, with a few broaching the late 1990s and early 2000s (the collection having been published in 2002). This means that some of the essays are now over fifteen years old, and that some addenda or revisions by the author as we set sail on a new decade may make equally intriguing reading. Providing valuable brain fodder for our lives, the collection easily bears multiple readings, and could arguably take the status of a modern philosophy manual for the days of these lives where it is so difficult to be alone. Although known chiefly for his fiction, Franzen's non-fiction is just as precious to the twenty-first century's hearts and minds - if not more so.

Other works by Jonathan Franzen
The Twenty-Seventh City (1988)
Strong Motion (1992)
The Corrections (2001)
The Discomfort Zone (2006; memoir)
Freedom (2010)

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Bookworm News (October 2010)

Could ebooks save education?
Digital publishing specialist The Digital Publisher thinks so. With funding cuts looming for UK universities and schools alike, this could be a cutting edge way to use money more prudently and enrich the learning experience by embedding other media such as video and audio in the texts. The company's latest white paper, Advancing Education Through Digital Editions, also points out that ebooks can be changed and updated at a fraction of what this costs for normal books. In other news, students who are just off to university can kickstart their own personal ebook revolution today by downloading a free freshers' guide, What next?: making smarter graduate career choices, created by Additional guides are also planned, including using social media to further your career and how to make the most of your gap year.

Fit a little learning into your day wherever you are on your favoured device with iMinds. Founded in 2009, iMinds produces short-form digital content across non-fiction categories, but to mark its anniversary has also released Know What?, a compilation of its 100 bestselling titles. Eight-minute education snippets make this work even for those who are pushed for time, and cover everything from Music to Business. Accessible via, they remind us of education guru Dylan William's precept that "smart is not something you is something you get".

Ramion competition: meet the author
On October 1st, Ramion launched its 14th story in the collection of children's stories aimed at children aged 7-8. To celebrate, it also has launched a competition so that children can win all 14 books especially dedicated to them. To enter, click on the link, listen to the author read an extract from the newly launched book, answer the question, and set sail on a reading journey for life.

Treasure chest
With Children's Book Week approaching (October 4-10), can help children to read a wider variety of books than ever with its unique book rental service. A monthly membership fee results in books tailored to the child's needs being delivered to their home and allows access to an arguably greater range of books than are available in schools and in local libraries. Children are also equipped with reward charts, downloadable certificates, and the ability to upload book reviews to the Reading Chest website in order to help them not only start reading but continue reading too. And best of all, new customers joining before the end of October get £5 off their first month's membership with the discount code BOOKWEEK. So open the chest - and see what treasure lies within.