Other Recommended books

My Favourite Reads in 2010

Earlier in the year I revealed my favourite books published in 2010, but what about all the ones older than that?

Narrowing down my favourite reads of the year to just ten books was very hard. I read a lot of wonderful books in 2010, but here are the ones at the very top of my list.

The Prestige – Christopher Priest

The Dark Side of Love – Rafik Schami


The Kindly Ones – Jonathan Littell

Cutting for Stone – Abraham Verghese

The Road – Cormac McCarthy

When I Was Five I Killed Myself – Howard Buten

The Siege – Helen Dunmore

The Day of the Triffids – John Wyndham

The Book of Negroes – Lawrence Hill

Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro

Are any of these your favourites too?

Thank you for following my blog in 2010 – I wouldn’t be here without you all. Let’s hope we can find many more great reads next year.

I hope that you have a wonderful 2011!

2000 - 2007 Memoirs Non Fiction

Born on a Blue Day – Daniel Tammet

Born on a Blue Day is the memoir of Daniel Tammet, a man who is probably unique in the world. Daniel not only has Savant Syndrome, a rare form of Asperger’s that produces amazing mental powers, but also synaesthesia, the ability to see numbers and words as specific colours and textures. This combination of conditions means that he is able to learn new languages in just a few weeks and they helped him to break a Guinness World Record by remembering Pi to 22,515 digits.

I found the whole book fascinating. Daniel explains exactly what he see and feels, giving the reader a good understanding of both Asperger’s and synaesthesia.

Thinking of calendars always makes me feel good, all those numbers and patterns in one place. Different days of the week elicit different colours and emotions in my head: Tuesdays are a warm colour while Thursdays are fuzzy.

It was particularly comforting for me to read about his early life, as my son (who has Asperger’s) exhibited many of the things he described (e.g. a constant need for rocking as in infant) which I haven’t seen in other books before.

After describing a difficult childhood, in which he felt isolated from his peers, Daniel describes how he found independence by taking a teaching job in Lithuania. He goes onto explain how he came to terms with his medical conditions and now helps scientists to try to understand differences in brain function.

I found the final section, in which he explains how he came to realise that he was gay and finally find love, particularly touching.

He isn’t the best writer in the world and his Asperger’s syndrome tends to mean he goes into unnecessary detail in some areas, but for the insight into this unique mind it is well worth putting up with less than perfect prose.

Recommended to everyone, but I think this is a ‘must read’ for anyone with an interest in Asperger’s or synaesthesia.

1960s Classics

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold – John Le Carré

I had never read a spy novel. I’d assumed they consisted of numerous chase scenes and gun fights –  just like the Bond films my husband loves but I find tedious and repetitive. I’m always willing to confront my prejudices so when Annabel selected The Spy Who Came in from the Cold as her book of the year I decided to give it a try. It was very different from my expectations, but I’m afraid I don’t think I’m a fan of spy stories.

I was immediately struck by the quality of the writing. For some reason I’d expected it to be fast paced and of an average writing quality, but I was wrong. The pace was actually quite slow and contained many descriptive passages. I really enjoyed reading the beginning of the book and getting to know Leamas, the disgraced agent asked to perform one last mission.

Unfortunately the book went downhill as it progressed. Too many characters were introduced and I struggled to follow who they were. I have since discovered that earlier books introduced many of these people and I think knowing their backgrounds would have been hugely beneficial to appreciating this book.

I also came to realise that real spying bares little resemblance to James Bond films. Real spying is quite dull – it involves a lot of time waiting and making complex negotiations with others. I became bored with the lack of action and increasingly reluctant to continue reading.

I thought the last chapter was fantastic, but I’m afraid it was too little too late.

Annabel’s review indicates that she is a big fan of spy novels: she has read many of Le Carré’s other books and has watched the film. I have a feeling that this all contributed to her increased enjoyment of the book as I’m sure it gets better the more you understand the motivations of the numerous characters. I’m pleased that I’ve read this modern classic, but I’m afraid I’m not going to be rushing to read more spy stories.


Happy Christmas!

I’m taking a short blogging break, to enjoy some time with my family.

I hope that you all have a wonderful Christmas!


Player One by Douglas Coupland

I loved Generation A so was excited about trying Douglas Coupland’s new book. Unfortunately it wasn’t in the same league, but it still had a lot to recommend itself.

Player One is set in an airport and tells the story of five people who become trapped in the cocktail lounge when high oil prices ground all planes and threaten to cause a global catastrophe.

The book started well. We were introduced to each of the characters and they were all entertaining individuals with unique personalities. I was especially pleased to see that one of the characters happened to have Aspergers and that her realistic presence helped the group on several occasions.

The plot was fast paced and readable and the writing was littered with thought-provoking remarks which added to my enjoyment of the book. 

“The thing about being poor is that it takes up all your time.”

Coincidences are, in fact, so rare that it’s almost as if the universe is engineered solely to keep them at bay.

Take my word for it, a day in which nothing bad happens is a miracle – it’s a day in which all the things that could have gone wrong failed to go wrong.

Unfortunately the frequency of this wisdom increased in the second half of the book until all plot became absorbed in an endless barrage of deep thoughts. I felt as though I was being ranted at and that the characters had been developed soley to deliver Coupland’s philosophical messages.

The story ended quite abruptly and I was frustrated by the lack of any real conclusions.

Newspapers have become quite excited by the dictionary-like appendix in which Coupland invents words to describe modern day situations. There was a lot of truth in these pages, but I thought the back of a novel was a strange place to put them – they deserve to be in a book of their own.

Androsolophila: The state of affairs in which a lonely man is romantically desirable while a lonely woman is not.

Overall, I recommend the first half of this book to anyone and the second half to those who love excesses of philosophy.

I read this with Judith from Leeswammes’ Blog. We had very a similar reaction to the book and I encourage you to read her Player One review.

2000 - 2007 Commonwealth Writer's Prize Other Prizes

The Harmony Silk Factory – Tash Aw


Winner of 2005 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize (South East Asia and South Pacific Region, Best First Book) and 2005 Whitbread First Novel Award  

The Harmony Silk Factory is set in Malaysia during the early 1940s – a period in which the Japanese began their invasion of the country. The book is divided into three parts, each telling the story of Johnny Lim, a textile merchant with a shady past, from a different perspective.

The book started off really well. The writing was fantastic and I was quickly drawn into the account of Johnny’s early life, as told by his son, Jasper.  Johnny was a fantastic character – I loved seeing the way he got out of various scrapes and rose to become one of the most important men in the area.

Some people are born with a streak of malice running through them. It poisons their blood for ever, swimming in their veins like a mysterious virus. It may lurk unnoticed for many years, surfacing only occasionally. Good times may temporarily suppress these instincts, and the person may even appear well intentioned and honest. Sooner or later, however, the cold hatred wins over. It is an incurable condition.

Unfortunately, the wonderful story telling came to an abrupt end as we reached part 2 (p120). The narrator switched to Snow (Johnny’s wife) and the prose took the form of a diary. The story of how Johnny and Snow came to marry was nowhere near as interesting as part 1 and the diary made the pace slower. Very little happened in this section and my mind wandered from the page at several points.

Part 3 was narrated by Englishman, Peter Wormwood, and repeated many of the events recounted earlier in the book, but from a slightly different perspective. I never warmed to Wormwood and found it a real chore to read most of this section. I recognise that the point is to show how people can view the same person in a different light, but it meant that I struggled to maintain an emotional connection throughout the narrative. I wish that the whole book had been written in the style of the first part and not tried to get too clever.

Overall there was a lot to enjoy in this book, but the frustrating final section left the book on a low note.

Have you read Tash Aw’s latest book, Map of the Invisible World?

Is is better than this one?