Categories
2012 Non Fiction

Consider the Fork by Bee Wilson

Consider the Fork: A History of Invention in the Kitchen

Five words from blurb: kitchen, history, invention, human, decisions

Consider the Fork: A History of Invention in the Kitchen is a light, but thoroughly researched look at the way kitchen utensils have changed over the centuries.  Taking one object at a time, Bee explains how it first came into use and how its shape and popularity have altered over the years. The book includes everything from the most modern methods of sous-vide cookery, to the ancient art of cooking over a fire; charting the way technology has changed our cookery.

The book is easy to read and packed with little facts that surprised me. I found myself telling friends numerous anecdotes from this book and although nothing in here is really useful, it is the sort of information that any kitchen enthusiast will enjoy.

In the early nineteenth century there was even a brief vogue among ‘fashionables’ for eating soup with a fork. It was soon condemned as ‘foolish’ and the spoon was restored.

The only problem was that there was no narrative drive. Once put down, I could easily forget about this book and had no special urge to pick it up again. It is perfect for dipping into over time, but I found it hard to read in the set three week library lending period (another user had reserved my copy so I had no option to renew it).

The chatty writing style meant this book was very accessible, but after a while I craved more depth. I would have liked some tips to improve my own kitchen skills, but this book was more of a social history. There’s nothing wrong with that –  I just prefer books with a greater technical content.

Recommended to anyone with a passion for cookery, especially if you enjoy a lighter writing style.

.

Categories
2000 - 2007 Books in Translation

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami

Hard-Boiled Wonderland And The End Of The World

Five words from the blurb: unicorn, librarians, descent, tradegy, detachment

Hard-Boiled Wonderland is my fifth Murakami (I’ve read Wild Sheep Chase, Norwegian Wood, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Kafka on the Shore) but although I loved the bizarre scenes, I think I understood this book less than any of the others I’ve read.

The book contained a dual narrative: one part set in an alternative version of modern Japan, the other in a mysterious walled city. These short, alternating chapters added pace and ensured the reader was never bored.

The plot revolved around unicorns; trying to avoid strange vicious creatures called INKlings; and bizarre experiments on the mind. I loved the first two aspects, but the third confused me. I also failed to understand the book’s concept. I think I’d benefit from reading a study guide, as far too much went over my head.

The writing style was simpler and less vibrant than the other Murakamis I’ve read and I initially struggled to connect with it. It took about 70 pages before I was gripped to the plot and there was one point, about 40 pages in, where I even considered abandoning it. Luckily I persevered and was rewarded with more of Murakami’s unique brand of weirdness.

“Your shadow is on the verge of death. A person has the right to see his own shadow under these circumstances. There are rules about this. The Town observes the passing of a shadow as a solemn event, and the Gatekeeper does not interfere.”

The joy of this book is the way it transports you out of your comfort zone. It is unpredictable, entertaining and completely bonkers, but I wish I there had been more adventure and less complex mind theory.

Recommended to those who are already Murakami fans, as I don’t think this is a good place to start.

.

Have you read this book?

Did you understand it?

Is it your favourite Murakami? 

To find more Japanese literature reviews head over to Tony’s January in Japan blog.

Categories
Discussions Other

Why I’m no longer a second-hand bookseller

The way it began

Seven years ago, whilst stuck at home on maternity leave, I began selling my old chemistry text books online. They sold surprisingly well, so, in an effort to create some space before the baby arrived, I moved onto my fiction collection. I soon realised that having bought the majority of my books in charity shops and at car boot sales I was able to read them and still make a profit selling them on. It wasn’t long before I was buying books specifically to sell and my business ‘Farm Lane Books’ was born.

books3

In the beginning I trawled charity shops, thrilled that my book browsing was now officially a legitimate business. I made a lot of mistakes, but also learnt about the value of books; quickly discovering what to look out for.

With the birth of my second child it became impossible to physically search for new stock so I moved to sourcing it online; specialising in tracking down copies of rare books in other countries.

I then began this book blog and discovered that there was a conflict of interest. Despite the fact I mainly dealt with rare, out-of-print titles, I still felt guilty for making money from the sale of books. I felt as though I was depriving authors and publishers of the money they deserved. In the beginning I used to post if I found anything interesting in a book (like the time I found £35 of old notes) but over the years I gradually stopped talking about my online business, thinking of it as a dirty little secret. Many of you probably didn’t even know that is what I did as a living.

Shutting Down

This week I turned my online shop off; mainly because selling books just doesn’t excite me anymore. I feel as though my learning curve has flattened out and I’ve become bored. I’m sad to say that I may have overdosed on books. My house is overrun with them and the acquisition of another one, no matter how rare or expensive, now fills me with dread. I need to get rid of them. It is time for me to move onto a new challenge! Don’t worry – I still love reading books. I’ll just be happier with a smaller, more manageable, TBR pile.

bbks2
A Rare Glimpse of my Stock

The Deadline

I’m having an extension built on my house in two month’s time. This means we’ll have to move out of our upstairs and live in just three rooms. The time has come for a major clear out! I have 7000 books to sort and remove from my house – I’ll let you know how I progress. Let me know if you have any ideas about the most profitable way to get rid of a large volume of valuable books.

Would you like to know the secrets?

Over the years I’ve acquired a lot of knowledge about the second-hand book market and it would be a shame for it all to go to waste. I’m currently writing a post about what I’ve learnt, but if you’ve got some specific questions, please ask!  

 

Categories
Uncategorized

The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones by Jack Wolf

The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones

Five words from the blurb: medicine, faeries, superstition, pain, darkness

I don’t normally mention debut novels that I fail to finish, but this one has played on my mind. Books that evoke a strong reaction are far better than boring ones, so please take my opinion as a positive and give it a try – I’d love to discuss it!

The first 75 pages of this book were fantastic. I was instantly drawn in to the story – it reminded me of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, but Raw Head was more gripping. The writing was wonderfully atmospheric and felt realistic for the time period.

‘A Gnome. How did he appear, this Gnome?’
‘Like the Tutor, but tiny. Highly entertaining.’
‘Verily, you were mistaken,’ Nathaniel said, idly ripping a Spray of Elderberries from the Hedge. ‘Because a Gnome is not at all amusing. Nor doth he resemble a shrunken Tutor. No, no, dear Tristan, the ordinary, every-daye, commonplace English Gnome is a tiny brown Creature with a Visage like a pickled Walnut, who, like all Faeries, hath very sharp Teeth. And an exceedingly foul Temper.’

So what went wrong?

About 75 pages in, the central character raped a woman. I’ve read lots of books containing rape scenes. I’ve even read some written from the perspective of the rapist. What I can’t understand is why this scene offended me so much – it wasn’t even particularly graphic. I continued reading the book and it quickly became clear that the central character enjoyed inflicting pain on others, particularly women. It almost seemed to glorify violence. I normally enjoy books that give an insight into the mind of others, no matter how evil they are (I even liked The Kindly Ones) so what I’ve been trying to work out is what line this book crossed? Was it simply that I wasn’t expecting it? Do I object to rape scenes in historical fiction? Did it just treat the subject in too light a manner? I can’t work it out! I hope that someone (who isn’t easily offended) will read this book and give me some insight.

I abandoned the book after about 150 pages as I couldn’t inflict another 400 pages of this violence on myself.  Perhaps everything is redeemed by the ending? If you’ve finished this book I’d love to know if a meaningful conclusion is reached.

Did not finish

Have you read this book?

What did you think of it?

I haven’t seen any blog reviews for this book yet, but the press appears to be very positive:

Those of strong stomach and vivid imagination will find glittering delights in here. Lloyd Shepherd in the Guardian

A startlingly, subversively original writer.  Gerard Woodward

Wolf is a superb storyteller who sucks the reader into his fascinating imagination. The Times

 

Categories
2012

Lamb by Bonnie Nadzam

Lamb

Five words from the blurb: kid, reckless, heart, beautifully, idea

Lamb is a fast paced, gripping book that questions whether or not it is OK for an adult man to have a friendship with a child. Lamb is fifty-four-years-old when he discovers a girl being bullied. He rescues her and then realises that she is a latch-key kid, ignored by her parents. Feeling sorry for her he takes the girl out for lunch, an act of kindness that sparks their friendship. Over the course of the book Lamb becomes more involved in her life, but at some point he crosses the moral line and his behavior becomes inappropriate. The big debate is which acts are acceptable and when does he go too far? I’m torn and hope to persuade some of my friends to read this book so that we can discuss the issues raised.

The writing style was informal and Lamb continually questioned whether or not he was doing the right thing:

And there was nothing wrong with that, was there? With a guy like him buying a kid like her a nice lunch, spoiling her a little? It was good for her. It was just a little tonic for his poisonous heart. Right? Why shouldn’t he have done that? It was good for them both. And so it was good for everybody – because that is how goodness works

The reader is left to come to their own conclusions, propelled through the story with an increasing sense of dread. I loved the way this book highlighted our society’s problem of assuming all men who want interactions with children are pedophiles. It is a difficult subject, but I thought Nadzam addressed it with a sensitivity that should be admired.

The only problem with the book is that the story is quite simple and I don’t think there is enough depth to sustain a re-read. Luckily the plot is not predictable and the ending is especially good.

Lamb is a compelling, thought provoking read that deserves to be a best seller. Recommended to fans of Room by Emma Donoghue

.

The thoughts of other bloggers:

It’s compulsive and urgent and compelling,  but it is also disconcerting and creepy. Reading Matters

Lyrical, brisk and evocative. Learn this Phrase

Lamb is not a horror novel; it is far more than that, for the terror is subtly created  in the reader’s mind rather than being explicit on the page. A Common Reader

 

Categories
2012

A Trick I Learned From Dead Men by Kitty Alderidge

A Trick I Learned from Dead Men

Five words from the blurb: funeral home, death, mother, deaf, brother

A Trick I Learned From Dead Men is a short, but interesting book about two brothers – one of whom works at a funeral parlour. The brothers are adjusting to life on their own after the sudden death of their mother. Ned is deaf and his brother, Lee, struggles to look after him once he begins an apprenticeship at the local funeral home. The book beautifully portrays the strained relationship between two brothers and gives some (often gruesome) insights into the procedures that corpses undergo before being buried.

The writing style was chatty, but compelling:

The only times things get hairy is when we’ve got a rush on. No one’s fault, but it can get a bit brisk. I only saw Derek lose his grip once, not the whole gentleman, just the top half. I don’t like it when clients get a knock, especially the head. You feel bad, but it can happen when there’s a rush on.

I read the entire thing in a couple of sittings, but, despite the depressing subject matter, I found that I wasn’t emotionally affected by the story. I think this was because I wasn’t allowed to get inside Lee’s head and his light-hearted banter detracted from the pain of his circumstance. The story was too simple to impress me and lacked the emotional power to move me.

It was an interesting diversion, but it failed to have any real impact on me. Recommended to anyone who’d like to know what really goes on in a funeral home.

.

The thoughts of other bloggers:

Kitty has taken a taboo subject and achieved that fine balance, writing engagingly and openly, and with great sensitivity and humour about something most of us just don’t like to think or talk about. Dovegreyreader

There are no real high points, the book sort of ambles along a well written and well plotted plateau. Dog Ear Discs

It’s an accomplished piece of writing. But now I have reached the end I feel that I have met a character, read a simple story, and I wish that there could have been just a little more. Fleur Fisher in her World