Combined book review #4

I’ve been on a massive reading kick these past few weeks. I finished listening to the Harry Potter audio books at the end of fall break and found I needed a substitute. And I figured, if I can’t be read to, I’ll just do it myself. So now I’m reading on the train to and from work and in bed before I go to sleep. I easily clock in about 100 pages a day this way, sometimes even a bit more, meaning I finish about 1 – 2 books per week. This post still includes a few books I started over summer and hadn’t finished yet because I got sidetracked, but there’s also the first influx of back to back reading.

Arthur Conan Doyle – The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

The first book I finished was the first selection of Sherlock Holmes stories. In case you haven’t noticed, Sherlock is everywhere these past few years and one of my best friends is a huge fan of the stories themselves. After having seen 2 movies, all BBC series with the one and only Benedict Cumberbatch AND the US CBS series Elementary, I figured I should go back to the root of it all and pick up the original stores. I had read a hand full of them for a class in college, but never ventured into reading the complete collection.

I started with the first selection that was published over summer on my Kindle app. And I can’t get over how much I love these stories. They are cleverly written and are built on the atmosphere of Victorian London, which I love. The stories are set up in a similar way every time, so I find you can’t read them all in one go, but if you read like one a week, you can do just fine. They were first published in magazines in any case, so that’s the way most people would have read them in the late 1800s.

Sherlock is even better on the page then in any of the visual renditions I have seen in the past few years. He is witty, strange and extremely clever. He is also very selective in what he likes and does and the perspective of the not always elusive, even though he tries, Dr. John Watson, is what makes the stories work. Watson looks up to Sherlock but also serves as the only person willing to understand him. The writing itself is a bit wordy at times, but for a language geek like me, I really don’t mind. In fact, I love the little jokes and the clever way in which Conan Doyle uses language to make differences between characters, even when Sherlock plays them.

JK Rowling/ Stephen Fry – Harry Potter audio books

I love the Harry Potter series and read them almost every year at least once. When looking for something to read on my Interrail trip, I quickly decided that I wanted to reread them. Cramming all 7 books in my backpack however, was a no go. Then I found the audiobooks online and decided to load those onto my mp3 player and just listened to it. It ended up being the perfect companion on my trip and by the end I wasn’t even halfway through the series. I continued listening to it once I went back to work in August and I only finished it last October. In other words: it took me almost 4 months to listen to all 7 books.

There are two versions for the audio books: an American and a British one. I went with the latter because it’s read by Stephen Fry. I had heard he even won a price for his reading of the books, and so I was curious. It was my first audio book and apart from the fact that it was a laborious affair, I loved every minute of it. I’ve come to realize that the reader of an audio book will make or break how much you will enjoy the book based on how well they perform. Fry implements the tone and voices of the characters, which makes me sympathize with the characters more than I even do when I watch the movies.

Neil Gaiman – Fragile Things

I started Fragile Things over summer. I’m a bit vague on the details on the first half as I didn’t finish reading it until 2 weeks ago. In any case, this book is a collection of short stories, poems and other writings by Neil Gaiman. He got on my radar after I saw his commencement speech of some US university. I thought he was witty and showed an interesting point of view on academia. Then I found him and his wife (Amanda Palmer of Dresden Dolls fame) on Twitter and then I did some more research and found he had been quite prolific writing science fiction, graphic novels and gothic fiction.

And I love the latter genre: it’s one of my favorites. Then I realized I had this book, Fragile Things, sitting on my shelves and I had had it for a while. So earlier this year, I put it on my to read list and I decided to pick it up over summer. The stories and poetry are all quite… peculiar. Most of the time, the stories start out ordinary enough, but towards the end there is always some strange twist which turns the plot into something horrible, sinister, weird or extraordinary. From alien invasions, to vampires and flesh eating old ladies: each story gets twisted right when you least expect it. Another great added touch is the fact that Gaiman makes a lot of references to popular culture and English literature in these stories. From Beowulf and Sherlock Holmes to Close Encounters of the Third Kind: it’s all there.

My favorite stories were:

A study in emerald (Sherlock Holmes with monsters), Other People (or: how to become a demon), Harlequin Valentine, Feeders and Eaters, The Monarch of the Glen.

Stephen Fry – More Fool Me

When I was in London I found the 3rd installment of Stephen Fry’s autobiography at the airport for a sweet deal. So I picked it up. I already own and read the first two parts and I also enjoyed some of his fiction. So overall, I was quite excited when I found he had published something new. This autobiography takes off at the end of the second one: into the world and life of being famous, living the high life and his years of excess which included cocaine and lots of alcohol.

In other words: quite possibly the part of his life which most people will want to read about. Out of the three autobiographies he’s produced, I liked this one the least though. It’s a bit jumbled, especially the final part which is a transcription of some old journal entries. The purpose is to give insight into what his life and thoughts were like at this point in his life. Given that he was mostly working and getting high or drunk or both, the diary entries lack structure. And the fact that these are included as is, indicates to me at least that Mr. Fry may still feel a little bit confused about this time in his life.

In any case, this book is a good attempt at writing about success without coming off as a pompous arse while maintaining credibility. There is a fine line between those too and at times that line is navigated just fine, at other times it is not. However, it lacks the overview or distance if you’d like that could make this story more insightful and interesting. It might have been better if this would have been published a few years in the future.

Aifric Campbell – On the Floor

The final book I read was something I picked up on a whim at my local bookstore almost a year ago. I was drawn in by the premise of the book: a woman holding her own in a men’s world. Enter Geri: Irish match genius who ends up working at a large stock company in London City. She’s living the high life, but when her boyfriend Stephen breaks up with her, it’s not just her love life that is crumbling down. While on her downward spiral Geri remembers the good times, reflects on her past and tries to figure out how to take control of her life again.

This book is a quick and breezy read. The stock exchange parts can be a bit technical at times, but it’s a world so different to mine that I didn’t mind and most terms that you need in order to understand it, are explained in the books. On the whole, the story provides an interesting take on what it means to be a woman surrounded only by men and keeping up appearances. It also draws on how the choices we make in life, no matter how early on, influence our being and perception of ourselves. Not just by ourselves, but also by other people. And that we can break the cycle by making different choices and taking control again.

What books have you been reading?

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