Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Don't eat this Book by Morgan Spurlock.

This is basically his film, Super Size Me in book form. The premise of the film is that he eats nothing but McDonalds for 30 days, three meals a day. There are other rules he sticks to, but I don't want to give spoilers for the film or the book.

I have mixed feelings about this book. I found the content informative, such as the appendix showing which brands are owned by big tobacco corporations (though I'm not sure how far this extends outside America- I'm in the UK), and details of marketing strategies used to ensure children like going to these places- and indeed, how these tactics have been going on since the 1950's. The book discusses America's relationship with food, and how this is spreading accross the globe, along with school meals, and how McDonald's was critiscised for not allowing overweight people in their adverts.

However, and it's a big however, I found Spurlock's tone arrogant and sometimes childish. Yes, this is a heavily researched book, citing sceintific journals etc, but referring to "UpChuck E. Cheese" and "McCrap" really does his argument no good- in fact, it lessens it in my mind. I liked the film, but feel the book could have been better. I'd say this was worth a read if you're interested, as a source for further information, but if you didn't like the film I don't think you'll like this book.
The Folklore of Discworld by Terry Practchett and Jacqueline Simpson

This wasn't a Pratchett book in the strictest sense, more that it used Discworld characters to expand on the theme of folklore. For example, the final chapter is regarding Death, and it discusses how we arrived at the "typical" portrayal of him as a skeleton upon a white horse (who sadly is only called Binky on the Disc, and not on Earth). Chapters cover the major mythological creatures found on both the Disc and Earth (vampires, werewolves, elves etc) discussing various legends found on Earth, and how they are portrayed on the Disc. It also covers Witchcraft, standing stones and so on.

I liked this book a lot. I found it very interesting, and I will be hunting down some of the books mentioned in the bibliography. I feel Simpson has had more of an input in the book than Pratchett, and I was also a little disappointed that there was no mention of the "Death is female" belief that many have been made aware of through reading Neil Gaiman's Sandman series. That aside, this was a very enjoyable read, and it was a much easier read than the other Discworld crossover I've attempted, which was The Science of Discworld. Then again, I'm not very scientific, so that probably just says something about me!
Going Postal by Terry Pratchett

Moist von Lipwig is a master criminal- adept in forgery, deception, fraud- and is a master of disguise. However, he's ended up in prison awaiting death, until the Patrician gives him an offer he can't refuse. Mainly because refusing the Patrician is very stupid. Moist is put in charge of Ankh-Morpork's failing post office, which has gone to rack and ruin since the advent of the Clacks towers (yup, them again). Surprisingly, he's very good at it, but by putting himself in direct competition with the Clacks he's also putting himself in grave danger...I absolutely loved this book! I think Moist is now up there with my favourite characters. I was surprised that this followed on so directly from Monstrous Regiment, given it has a different character base (especially the "stick it up your jumper" reference). The references to stamp collectors, post office clerks (my friend is one, and she found the book hilarious too!), and the fearlessness of posties (through Glom of Nit indeed!) are spot on. I think the next book featuring Moist, Making Money is definately on my to-read list.

One thing though- chapters? In a Discworld book? When did that happen?
Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett

Young Polly Oliver (yes, she knows the song) chops her hair off, dons a pair of trousers and attempts to learn how to swear, burp and fart in public without shame. Yes, that's right, she's enlisting in the (all-male) army, in a war over territory, and the Clacks towers. This is the end of the war though, and all that the recruiting party can muster is a vampire, a troll, an igor, someone who shouldn't be allowed near matches, and someone who talks incessantly to the semi-mythical "Duchess", who is the leader of the country they're from. Still, they're on the winning side- aren't they?

Again, this was Pratchett at his satirical best. I especially like the war reporters and the description of the cartoon in the paper. It sounded exactly like 18th and 19th century newspaper cartoons. The reference to war films is brilliant too- I've never seen the film in question (which I won't name for fear of it being a spoiler) but I don't think I'll be able to watch it now without laughing!
The Last Continent by Terry Pratchett.

This book follows the "adventures" (or rather "attempts to not get killed") of inept Wizzard Rincewind on the strange continent of Fourecks (XXXX), which bears a stiking resemblance to Australia. Linked into this is is the attempt by the wizards of the Unseen University to find Rincewind, as only he knows the librarian's real name, needed to cure him of of a form of flu that has him changing into random items (all with a tell-tale covering of red fur). In typical wizard style they do this by going about things completely the wrong way, and putting the whole continent into danger.

This was Pratchett on fine form. I don't normally like books where Rincewind is a main character, as I find him annoying, but I got into this one easily and it kept me hooked. It was also fun seeing how many Australian references Pratchett can shoehorn into one book. Still, no worries, eh? ;)
Hannibal Rising, by Thomas Harris.

This is a prequel to Red Dragon, and tells the story of the early life of Hannibal Lecter, and his life as Eastern European aristocracy before becoming the notorious serial killer, Hannibal the Cannibal. I picked this book up for £1 in the local charity shop, and I read it for the sake of completeness. I'd read a few bad reviews, and this is going to add to them. If I'm right, this was written in tandem with the film script? This book feels very rushed, and it doesn't add much to the back story that was given in Hannibal. With Hannibal I felt there were too many descriptive passages- with Hannibal Rising I felt the opposite. This was a quick book to read but I don't think I'll be reading it again. I'm not even sure this book was necessary. I think that as the backstory was excluded from the movie Hannibal this was done to accompany the inevitable "but whyyyy does he eat people?" movie explanation.

I might watch the film though...
The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath's semi-autobiographical novel.

Now, I had an idea of what to expect with this book, especially as it was published (initially under a pseudonym) a few weeks before Plath's suicide. The book is written from the perspective of Esther Greenwood, a promising scholarship student, and it begins with her spending time in New York on an all-expenses paid trip, working for a magazine. It is during this time that she starts to feel, initially, inadequate. This inadequacy spirals, and eventually Esther is being treated in various psychiatric wards and asylums. This was a bit painful to read in parts, and it could only have been written by someone who had experienced the same as Esther- her emotions are laid completely bare in parts. The description of shock treatment was especially harrowing.I'm glad I read this book though. I would advise a small amount of caution though, as it does deal with issues that could be distressing to the reader, especially if depression is something they've encountered.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick (which was later made into the film Blade Runner).

I can see why this book is considered a modern classic, and a seminal sci-fi work. Set in 1992 on an Earth decimated by nuclear war (World War Terminus), humans are encouraged to emigrate to colonies on other planets. One of their incentives is an android slave- completely lifelike. The problem is, some of these androids turn on their masters, which is where bounty hunter Rick Deckard steps in. His job is to "retire" the androids (or "andys"), but this is made difficult because they are so lifelike.I'd say this was a good comment on the nature of humanity, and it shows people questioning themselves. Androids can be given false memories of being born, and having a long life, so some characters begin to doubt themselves, and for some you're not sure unless you keep reading.Definately recommended! I'm going to have to watch Blade Runner at some point now, to see how well it translates to film.

NOTE: I looked this up on Amazon to double-check something, and apparently the version I read (SF Masterowrks) isn't the full text. Can anyone confirm this? Are all the books in the series edited like this? I'm asking because I read I am Legend last year in this series. If it's true I'm a bit disappointed, and will try and get the full versions.
Cleopatra's Needle - Two wheels by the water to Cairo by Anne Mustoe.

I picked this book up in my local charity shop, as the idea of someone cycling to Egypt sounded interesting, especially as I've traveled to Egypt myself. I'd never heard of the book or the author before, but I'm going to look out for her other books.This really was a fascinating book. Anne makes the trip from London, the site of one of Cleopatra's needles, and makes her way to Heliopolis, where it originally stood. This is done on Condor, her trusty orange bicycle. She aims to travel near water at all times, meaning she cycles along the Thames, the Seine, the Rhone and the Po. Unfortunately, this is undertaken at a time when Europe was beset by flooding. This, however was not the worst of what she had to face. She found herself in a Muslim country at the time of the September 11 attacks. After taking some time to assess the situation she continues- a welcome tourist for the hotels she stays in. The book is written in a chatty, lively style. It's slightly more formal than a Bill Bryson book, but don't let that put you off. There's a genuine warmth in this book, both for cycling and for the countries visited (well, most of them, some countries looked down on "a mere cyclist"). The book has a few appendices, including bike specifications, a time-line of Cleopatra's life, and a list of the French names for fish. This last appendix may seem strange, but the author found it useful in France and wanted to pass it on. There's also a mystery hidden in it, explained at the end. If you are interested in cycling, Egypt or travel I'd definitely recommend this book!
The Tale of Sinuhe and Other Ancient Egyptian Poems 1940-1640 BC.

I'm interested in Egyptology, and have heard of many of these stories before (such as The Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor). This isn't a book I'll be reading again soon, but it is interesting. I think I should have read it when I was at university (I studied Ancient History and Archaeology) to appreciate it more.What doesn't help is that many of the tales come from damaged papyrii, so you lose a lot of detail, and of course there are all the nuances lost in translation. However, if you're interested in Egyptology I'd suggest you pick this up as a bit of light reading, though it's not really a book you can read in long sessions.
It, by Stephen King.

Plot: In 1958, seven children are pulled together through either fate or circumstance, and fight the unspeakable evil that lurks in their town, an evil which takes children, including one of their brothers. Twenty-seven years later they are called back to the town to face the evil once again...

This was a ...chunky book to say the least (my paperback copy was over 1100 pages long). I did find at some points that the plot got a little bogged down in the detail (it worked sometimes for suspense, but not always). As the climax approached however, the plot swapped between past an present in a way that really moved the story along. From the King books I have read I would say this is pretty typical (although I haven't read any of his newer books), by that I mean it's psychological, with the occasional burst of gore. The idea of It preying on fears, and being tuned into those fears is a good one, and the notion of people choosing not to see what is happening under their noses is sadly something that happens in real life. I won't be reading the book again any time soon, but that's not saying it's bad. It was well written and did grip me. For those who have seen the TV movie they made in the 90's, I would suggest reading the book if you haven't already, as the ending of the movie is rushed. The book is better in that respect.

Can anyone explain the "floating" thing- is it to do with the dead? Also, why Bob Gray? It seems strange that It personified itself in such a way, I can understand the clown, which is both friendly and scary at the same time, but not why he chose that name.
I did some short reviews of books on another site, thought I would repost them here:

Cleopatra by Michael Grant

This is an historical biography of one of the most famous women of the ancient world. I would guess that when most people think of Cleopatra, images of a ruthless temptress come to mind, bolstered by sources such as Shakespeare and Roman propaganda. Michael Grant argues that Cleopatra was merely born ahead of her time, in an era where a woman was not able to rule alone, and in the case of the Ptolomies, had to be married to her brother.She was not innocent however, and had some of her own siblings put to death to further her ambitions. This happened in Rome too, but as is the case in history, the winner gets the best press. Grant uses a variety of sources to try and get to the truth behind the myth.I found this an enjoyable book, and very informative. I don't know how much more information has come to light since the book was published (1972), as I don't know a great deal about Ptolomaic Egypt. This book has inspired me to read more about the subject however.