Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Albert Jack's Ten-Minute Mysteries

If you're looking for a quick, no-brainer read, this could be the book for you. Here we have author Albert Jack, using his detective skills, digging up the truth behind some of the world's mysteries. So what can you find buried in these pages? You'd learn about The Bermuda Triangle, Agatha Christie's mystery, crop circles, the famous fairies found in the garden, and Lady Fatima to name a few. Some of them I enjoyed, some I didn't. Oh and by the way, don't expect all the 'whys' to be answered.

Albert Jack is a writer and researcher. His first book Red Herrings and White Elephants, which explored the origins of well known phrases in the English language, sold more than 250,000 copies.

Best to read it when: you know you'll be in busy places/waiting for a friend.
Verdict: 2.5/5
Price: RM20 (Bought it at the Pearson and Penguin Warehouse Sales)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Reading your way out of depression

Read this from guardian.co.uk which I thought was rather interesting :)

I suspect you need a very individual prescription, but I know that Saul Bellow helped lead me out of a very dark time...

This week I was saddened to read Marian Keyes's announcement that she is taking a sabbatical from writing because of crippling depression, while on Radio 4's Front Row Joyce Carol Oates admitted that she currently has no plans to write a new novel as, since the death of her husband in 2008, she lacks "the psychological strength or concentration" required.

This reminded me of the old joke about a famous clown who, suffering from depression, visits the doctor. The doctor doesn't recognise the celebrity without his make-up and says the best thing he can prescribe is a visit to the circus to watch the famous clown at work. Physician heal thyself, indeed.

For, while I don't believe that literature alone can cure depression (the importance of therapy, counselling, medication, lifestyle choices and so on should not be underestimated) I do believe that literature can help one deal with this debilitating illness. At the very least, after a period when even the idea of reading seems an alien concept, to find oneself reading – and enjoying – a book again can come as an immense relief: an indication that one is beginning to emerge from beneath a dark cloud that at one time seemed endless.

When I was going through a particularly tough time, the book that helped me was Saul Bellow's Herzog. I'm no psychologist, and everyone's reading experience is unique, so all I'm going to try to do here is explain what it was about my reading of Herzog that I found so beneficial.
To start with, I didn't plan on reading the novel (at the time I couldn't read anything) but one day I found myself plucking it – as if at random – off my shelf and from the opening lines ("If I am out of my mind, it's all right with me, thought Moses Herzog") I was utterly absorbed.

This was a book I had read and reread over the years, but suddenly felt as if I was reading for the very first time. Obviously, the subject matter now had special significance, Herzog basically being about a man going through, and coming to terms with, a mental breakdown. But the novel is far from a depressing read. In fact, it is fantastically uplifting, such is Bellow's skill at rendering a potentially bleak topic in such a poignant and gently humorous way – as neatly captured in that great opening line (which for great opening lines is up there with clocks striking thirteen and stately plump Buck Mulligans descending stairwells, in my opinion.)

Just as important as the subject matter though, was the role played by Bellow's prose. It is so precise, so carefully constructed, with not a badly chosen word or comma out of place, that it demands your full attention and focuses your mind so that you are forced to concentrate completely on the novel (one cannot speed-read Herzog. Or at least I cannot). Nor is Herzog a book that can easily be put down and then picked up a week later from where you left off. You have to stick with it in order to stay on top of its non-linear narrative structure, large cast of characters and frequent forays into philosophical theorising.

And so I was able momentarily to forget my own problems and lose myself completely in the richly detailed and beautifully rendered world of the novel. I cannot describe the feeling of calm-amid-the-chaos that this generated better than Bellow himself in this sublime passage describing the demolition of a building in the middle of New York: "At the corner he paused to watch the work of a wrecking crew. The great metal ball swung at walls, passed through brick, and entered the rooms, the lazy weight browsing on kitchens and parlours. Everything it touched wavered and burst, spilled down."

This passage also illustrates another aspect of Bellow's genius (not a word to be flung around lightly): by finding poetry in the everyday and mundane, Bellow makes you view the world through new eyes, and in doing so rediscover your own place in it, thereby helping you make your first tentative steps towards rehabilitation.

It could be that I was ready to start reading again, and had I not plucked Herzog from the shelf I would have had a similar experience reading something else. But I doubt that Patrick Hamilton's Hangover Square would have had quite the same effect and I am great believer in the subconscious mind directing us towards books, films, pieces of music, and most importantly people, that turn out to be exactly what we need at the time.

link here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2010/jan/18/reading-depression
image from: http://blog.kobek.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/herzog-1.jpg

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The book pirates of Peru: Boon or Bane?

Book piracy exists all over Latin America and the developing world, but any editor with regional experience will tell you that Peru’s problem is both profound and unique. The combined economic impact of the informal publishing industry is roughly equal to that of their legitimate counterparts. Pirated books printed in Lima are shipped all over the country, and have been seen in Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile, and as far away as Argentina. Here, an authorised edition of a Charlaine Harris novel on sale in Lima bookstore underscores the gravity of the situation. The red sticker reads “Buy Original”. Most new books printed in Peru carry similar appeals.

Please read more here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/gallery/2010/jan/18/book-pirates-peru?picture=358180760

Friday, January 15, 2010

Among Thieves by David Hosp

This story is based on the largest art theft in history where an estimated value of $300 million were stolen from a museum in Boston in 1990. Till today, this case remains unsolved.

In this book, it starts with Devon Malley being imprisoned after getting caught from stealing at a woman's boutique. So he hires lawyer Scott Finn and his team, Koz and Lissa, to fight for his case. But we'll soon discover that Devon is part of a really big heist i.e. the art theft.

In a nutshell, I found all the characters too weak. Thank goodness the plot was good enough to make me turn the pages! Honestly, I much prefer Brown's Fat Tuesday to this.

Verdict? 2.5/5
Price? Hmmm must go search for my price list. Again! :(


Thursday, January 7, 2010

Amsterdam by Ian McEwan

Three men are involved in the life of a much-adored photographer, Molly Lane. Two of them, who are long time friends, meet at her cremation - Clive Linley, a famous composer and Vernon Halliday, an editor of a struggling newspaper. The third is Julian Garmony, a government official who is in line to be the Prime Minister of Great Britain.

Vernon Halliday is determined to expose some information that would tarnish the image of Garmony in order to save his position in the company, while Clive, who loves his work and is dying to create a masterpiece, ignores the helpless cries of a rape victim.

This book is very much about ethics and righteousness. Put yourself in Vernon's position, would you or would you not have exposed Garmony's secret even if it means destroying the trust of a good friend? Would you or would you not have helped a rape victim when you're in a midst of arriving at a climax of your composition (that would give you one great masterpiece), something you know you'd miss, if you don't seize the moment?

Overall, it wasn't what I'd expect out of McEwan, after reading his 'On Chesil Beach'. I was really expecting something more engaging, judging from the fact that he is so well known for his other works such as Atonement and The Innocent.

Verdict? 2/5 stars. (Wonder how this won him The Booker Prize Award in 1998....hmm....)

Price: Oops...I lost the price list :( soweee...Shd be around 30 odd Ringgit...

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Amazon e-book sales overtake print for first time

Online retailer may be on target for sales of 500,000 Kindle e-readers over Christmas

Spare a thought for the humble hardback this Christmas. It seems the traditional giftwrapped tome is being trumped by downloads, after Amazon customers bought more e-books than printed books for the first time on Christmas Day.

As people rushed to fill their freshly unwrapped e-readers – one of the top-selling gadgets this festive season – the online retailer said sales at its electronic book store quickly overtook orders for physical books. Its own e-reader, the Kindle, is now the most popular gift in Amazon's history.

Amazon's shares rose sharply today after it updated investors on a strong Christmas performance. On its peak day, 14 December, the retailer said customers ordered more than 9.5m items worldwide, the equivalent of a record-breaking 110 items a second.

The Seattle-based company's top sellers in its home market included Apple's iPod touch, Scrabble Slam Cards, Nintendo's Wii Fit Plus with balance board, the latest Harry Potter DVD, Sarah Palin's book Going Rogue and Susan Boyle's album, I Dreamed a Dream.

Although Amazon has repeatedly trumpeted "record-breaking" Kindle sales, it has refused to say exactly how many have been sold since the 2007 launch.

Sandeep Aggarwal, an analyst with Collins Stewart in New York who has tracked the Kindle's performance, believes that across both models – the paperback-sized Kindle 2 and larger DX – Amazon may be on target to have sold a little over 500,000 units by the end of the year.

Nor does it divulge data about the Kindle-compatible books it sells from a Kindle Store that now includes more than 390,000 titles.

After first taking off in the US, e-readers are becoming increasingly popular in the UK and the Kindle went on sale in Britain in mid-October. The department store chain John Lewis highlighted the popularity of e-readers this Christmas, reporting a jump in sales of Sony's eBook readers.

British publishers have also been exploring the market for electronic versions of books in the hope of enjoying strong sales when e-book stores and reading devices achieve critical mass in the coming years.

The Harry Potter publisher Bloomsbury made the 2009 Wisden Cricketers' Almanack available as an e-book for the first time this year, while Penguin has been selling a range of its classics in electronic form with extra features such as contemporary recipes.


Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

It's about Despereaux, who is a reaaaaally tiny mouse with unusually big ears. He knows how to read, loves music and is in love with a princess (totally out of character for a mouse!). One day, he breaks one of the sacred, not-to-be-broken rules of conduct for being a mouse. He speaks to a human. And so, he is sent to the dark, dingy, dungeon of the castle.

In this dungeon, there lives a rat community, and we're introduced to two of them, Chiaroscuro and Botticelli who know nothing but treachery, deceipt, and revenge, and will do anything to get what they want. So would Miggery Sow, a poor deaf serving girl who wants to be a princess. All of them are brought together for one reason: to get what they want. The question is, how?

Reading this story makes me feel like I'm reading one of Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, which is good :) The Tale of Despereaux is a really charming story that will keep anyone hooked right from the start. Oh moms, you might want to read this to your child instead. The rats might freak 'em out. Pretty crooked, evil ones, this bunch...

Verdict: 4 / 5 stars :) (Xuan, you'll like this one! ;))
Good for: a weekend read (You can complete it in a day or two)
Price: Unknown (forgot where I placed the price list... sorry....)

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Chimney Sweeper's Boy by Barbara Vine

Gerald Candless, a famous author, has just died of a sudden heart attack and is survived by his wife, Ursula, and his two daughters, Sarah and Hope, whom he loved dearly. After his death, Sarah embarks on a memoir of her father, only to end up finding out her dad's true identity, which isn't Gerald Candless. She assigns a college student, Jason Thague, to help her out with her research. The entire story revolves around digging up her dad's roots and why he changed his identity.

I was really expecting something more out of this book since it was categorised a 'thriller'. But I found it too draggy. It could have been better if shortened. Hmm...tell you what. Just turn to the final chapter of the book and you'll find out why Gerald Candles (real name John Ryan) changed his name and identity. See what I mean? :)

Verdict? 1.5/5 stars

Price: RM15 (Bought it at the Penguin & Pearson book sales. Sorry Xuan, really don't know the real price :( )


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