For Esme – with love and squalor

This was a bit of a different one – a collection of short stories by J.D Salinger of ‘Catcher in the Rye’ fame. 

In general, I liked it. I would highlight three of the stories, the rest being perhaps a bit odd, a bit rubbish, or a bit over my head maybe. 

The three of note were, For Esme – with Love and Squalor, (the ‘title track’ and genuinely quite moving), The Laughing Man, (a whacky story within a story that also has a poingent twist at the end) and Teddy (about a child genius who gets all philosophical while on a boat.)

You could polish it off in an afternoon if you wanted to check it out. 

The Chestnut Man

This was meant to be another quick and easy filler and again, it fulfilled that perfectly. And then some. I haven’t seen ‘The Killing’ but it’s apparently by the same guy that did that. Suffice to say, I might give it a watch as this book was awesome. It was a classic two-page-a-chapter thriller. Loved it. Although perhaps a little predictable (Ok massively predictable), that did not detract at all from the overall experience. Roller coaster ride from start to finish and genuinely chilling. Probably another one for the poolside. 

Blood and Sugar

This book is as topical as it gets being based around the slave trade in 18th Century London. That certainly was not planned but nevertheless provided an interesting context to everything going on at the moment in the real world.

That aside, this was meant to be a quick easy read after a long non-fiction. That it was, but it was also excellent. A real murder mystery and brilliantly written and imagined. I would thoroughly recommend it – perfect for the sunlounger by the pool as they say, although there’ll be little of that this summer I suspect. 

The History of the Twentieth Century

This door stopper took me a while but was a real pleasure to read. I have not read a Martin Gilbert one before and was impressed with the way he writes. Very easy to read. More to the point, the content was really useful. Although I have covered much of the content before, it gave great context to stuff I have heard or read about in isolation before. It was a bit like fitting the puzzle blocks into the correctly shaped holes in some cases. 

What struck me most was how full of conflict the twentieth century was (the two world wars aside) and how similar the issues we face now are to a hundred years ago. We really do learn nothing do we. As interesting as it was depressing.  

The Body

Now I don’t want to sound bitter at all, but this was the book I had planned to write. Fortunately I got wind of it before planning got out of hand, but still…

Fair play though, Bill Bryson is a master at this sort of thing, and for someone not primarily medical it is a huge achievement. He has essentially taught himself a large proportion of medicine! This is a superbly written and researched book and I love all of the anecdotes and tidbits. Indeed his previous books had been an influence on my own writing in this respect. 

Despite the fact that it has diverted my future writing projects, I don’t mind. I’m glad he wrote it. I’m not bitter. Probably it is something everyone should read. I would even say it should be on the curriculum at schools. 

The Deep

This was written by one of the scientific advisers on the TV series Blue Planet. Alex Rogers is an esteemed marine biologist and, although he’s not the best writer out there, this is an engaging and interesting book. If I’m honest, some of the descriptive passages of the underwater reefs in extreme detail did get a little bit tedious, but when he starts talking about the environmental aspects, he really hits home. This is an important book and towards the end, he gets into the real nitty gritty. 

The impact we are having on the oceans is shocking, something only surpassed with our complicit lack of action. The conclusion is sensible and important and gives the reader a list of things they can do to help change things. Ultimately only time will tell if this is enough. 

Kings of the Yukon

This is a beautifully descriptive account of one man’s journey from source to mouth of the Yukon river. Aside from being an inspiring adventure travel book, it is also gives a good account of the salmon industry, giving wider perspective on the environmental issues as well. 

Would recommend. 

Middle England

This was another that I bought on a whim. The first third reads a bit like a cheesey Radio 4 afternoon play (not that I listen to those but it’s how I imagine them to be). 

However, as it goes on, it actually becomes a genuinely thought provoking and therapeutic piece of writing. It is nothing we haven’t already heard but putting brexit and its build-up into the context of people’s lives gives the whole sorry state of affairs a bit of flesh. 

It doesn’t hold any answers necessarily but it is certainly an interesting read. Like many similar documentations however, the people that really need to read this sort of thing probably won’t. 

Early Riser

I had bought this book a while ago on a whim and it had been gathering dust on my shelf as I was concerned that, from its zany blurb, I would not like it. It was the sort of book I thought I would just get out of the way and move on. 

Turns out, it is actually one of my favourite books of the last few years. Seriously, it’s awesome. The plot is tight and keeps you guessing all the way through. Yes it’s zany and mad but that doesn’t matter because the alternate world is so imaginative and Fforde seems to have painted it just right somehow.

For me, it’s as if it all just aligned perfectly. A bit like a more sophisticated, adult oriented Roald Dahl book. Funny. Clever. Cool. 

Expedition

This documents expeditions to places people have never ventured before and I got this while attending a live talk from the man himself. Loved it! The kid in me sometimes wishes I’d gone down the same path as him. The TV shows that the book is based on really inspired me and I would love to get some expeditions under my belt. Life’s too short!

The book itself is well written, impressive considering it was done on the hoof while on location and in between various trips.