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2009 Non Fiction Recommended books

The Noonday Demon: An Anatomy of Depression by Andrew Solomon

The Noonday Demon

Five words from the blurb: depression, research, history, society, recovery

Earlier this year I read Far From the Tree, an outstanding book that made me look at the world in a new light. Keen to repeat the experience I found Andrew Solomon’s earlier book, The Noonday Demon, and am pleased to report that it is equally insightful.

The Noonday Demon is a thorough examination of depression. Taking different areas in turn it looks at everything from the politics surrounding mental health; through medications used to treat the condition; to reasons the human brain might have evolved to include depression. Throughout the book there are personal stories that bring the subject to life, giving the reader a deep empathy for those who are suffering.

This isn’t a book for those with depression, although they’ll probably benefit from reading it, but as 25% of the population suffer from mental health problems this book is relevant to our whole society. It raises many issues, some of which are controversial, but all are discussed in an intelligent and thought provoking way. Everyone will be able to relate to the deep sadness brought on by grief and this book explains why some people will have to endure this experience for other, sometimes unknown, reasons. 

In Far From the Tree Solomon showed that disability and difference can be viewed in a positive light. In The Noonday Demon he shows how depression can also be viewed in the same way. Those who come out of a depressive episode have more empathy for others and a greater ability to find pleasure in the simple things in life. 

On the happy day when we lose depression, we will lose a great deal with it. If the earth could feed itself and us without rain, and if we conquered the weather and declared permanent sun, would we not miss grey days and summer storms? As the sun seems brighter and more clear when it comes on a rare day of English summer after ten months of dismal skies than it can ever seem in the tropics, so recent happiness feels enormous and embracing and beyond anything I have ever imagined.

The author shared his personal experiences and this insight added a painful authenticity to the text. I found the section in which the author talked about the assisted suicide of his terminally ill mother particularly striking. 

If you have never tried it yourself or helped someone else through it, you cannot begin to imagine how difficult it is to kill yourself. If death were a passive thing, which occurred to those who couldn’t be bothered to resist it, and if life were an active thing, which continued only by virtue of a daily commitment to it, then the world’s problem would be depopulation and not overpopulation.

My only minor quibble is that the statistics tended to focus on the US. The plight of the poor without medical insurance was heartbreaking to read, but I would like to know the limitations of the UK system and how other countries cope. I also found the chapter on medications a bit boring. I’m sure it will be of great use to those on these drugs, but I found the detail of doses and side effects hard to get through.

Overall this is a masterpiece of research. It made me look at mental health in a new light and I highly recommend it to everyone.

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Other Uncategorized

Three Quick Reviews

The Round House 

The Round House by Louise Erdrich

Five words from the blurb: victim, attack, Native American, legal, justice

I’d been wanting to try Louise Erdrich for a long time and the reviews for The Round House were so good that I was persuaded to buy a copy the moment it was released in the UK.  The book follows a Native American woman who is raped on a North Dakotan reservation. It shows how her loving family look after her and try to get justice for the crime. The story shows the investigation and reveals the differences between tribal law and the US legal system.

It was good, solid story telling and it was interesting to learn more about Native Americans, but I occasionally felt that it was contrived and too many legal facts were crammed in. Having things narrated by the thirteen-year-old boy worked really well most of the time, but his innocence gave the book less emotional power than if it had been narrated by the women herself.

Overall this was a great read, but it didn’t quite live up to the enormous hype that preceded it.

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The Hive

The Hive by Gill Hornby

Five words from the blurb: parents, school, betrayal, community, power

The Hive appealed to me the moment I heard about it. The book is set in a small primary school and looks at the dynamics between the mothers who drop their children off there each day. I’ve seen how interesting the interactions between parents can be and so looked forward to trying this one.

Unfortunately The Hive was too light for me. The characters were one-dimensional and gossiped with a bitchiness I found intolerable. If you enjoy fast paced chick lit then you’ll probably love this one, but it didn’t have the depth or insight I was hoping for.

DNF

Up High in the Trees

Up High in the Trees by Kiara Brinkman

Five words from the blurb: Asperger’s, extraordinary, boy, family, turmoil

Up High in the Trees is written from the point of view of an 8-year-old boy with autism as he learns to cope with his mother’s death. The book accurately portrayed autism, but something else wasn’t quite right. It lacked that special spark and I failed to be interested in what he was saying. It swung from being boring to being overly sentimental. I only finished it because I have a special interest in books with autistic characters. I think it would be more suited to a younger audience.

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Have you read any of these books?

What did you think of them?

Categories
1960s Books in Translation

The Wall by Marlen Haushofer

 The Wall Translated from the German by Shaun Whiteside

Five words from the blurb: woman, solitude, survival, dystopian, parable

The Wall was originally written in 1968 and is hailed as a feminist classic. I’m a big fan of dystopian fiction so I accepted a review copy, keen to see an Austrian take on this genre.

The Wall begins with a woman waking up to discover that she is surrounded by a giant transparent wall. Her relatives have disappeared and she can see many dead animals on the other side of the wall. She assumes she is the last human alive and sets about trying to survive. As time passes she plants crops and becomes a great hunter; becoming at ease with life by herself.

Unfortunately I had a few problems with the writing style. The first was that it all felt very distant. Everything was observed in such a cold way that I failed to develop any empathy with the woman. She is unnamed throughout and this didn’t help the bonding process.

She knew a great deal about many things, and nothing at all about many others; all in all her mind was governed by terrible disorder, a reflection of the society in which she lived, which was just as ignorant and put upon as herself. But I should like to grant her one thing: she always had a dim sense of discomfort, and knew that all this was far from enough.

The second was that the scientist in me questioned the entire back story. Why was there a wall and who put it there? Why did the women assume everyone in the world was dead? Why didn’t she try to escape?  There was no evidence to back up any of her assumptions and she never questioned the reasons behind her captivity. If someone suddenly trapped me in a giant glass box I would be very upset and be asking a lot of questions. Yes, I’d still get on with things and survive in the same way she did, but I wouldn’t be so emotionless. There were many more elements of the story that didn’t quite add up, especially towards the end, but I’ll leave you to discover those yourself. The feminist aspects of the book also irritated me and I found her hatred of men difficult to understand. 

I can see why this is considered a classic in Austria and the fact it annoyed me so much proves it has power over the reader. Recommended to feminists who enjoy a colder writing style.

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The thoughts of other bloggers

 ….one of the most profound reading experiences I’ve ever had. Beauty is a Sleeping Cat

…a wonderful, profoundly moving novel…Crafty Green Poet

I’m sure, men don’t like this novel. Film, Book Tips and Buch Tipps

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Other

The Best Books of 2013…so far

2013 has been a disappointing year for fiction, but there are a few gems out there.

Here are my favourite books of the year so far:

My Notorious Life by Madame X

The best 2013 release I’ve read is My Notorious Life by Kate Manning. It is an atmospheric book set in 19th century New York. It deals with the controversial subject of abortion in a sensitive and thought-provoking way and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys intelligent story-telling.

 

 

The SonThe Son by Michel Rostain isn’t an easy read as it is about a man who loses his teenage son to meningitis. The realistic nature of the text makes this book heart-breaking in places, but it is also full of hope. I’ve never read another book that makes me understand the emotions of another human so completely and so this more than makes up for the pain induced by reading it.

 

Magda

Magda by Meike Ziervogel gives a short, but powerful insight into the reason Magda Goebbels chose to murder her own children. It isn’t a happy read, but I love books that pack an emotional punch in this way.

 

 

 

The First Book of Calamity Leek

The First Book of Calamity Leek by Paula Lichtarowicz is the most original book I’ve read this year. It is set in a large house where a group of girls are imprisoned. It isn’t perfect, but I loved the mystery and the way the girls built up their own language/society. Recommended to anyone looking for something a bit different. .

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Far From The Tree: A Dozen Kinds of Love

The only 2013 release I’ve awarded 5 stars to is Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon. This non-fiction book will make you look at disability, parenting and society in a whole new light. The world would be a better place if everyone read it.

 

 

Have you read any of these books?

Which 2013 releases have you most enjoyed?

 

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Other

2013: A Disappointing Year for Fiction?

In June I always start to compile a list of my favourite books of the year so far, but this time I’m struggling to come up with enough to make a list worth-while. So far I haven’t rated a single 2013 fiction release with 5 stars and the 4.5 star books are few and far between. There are lots of entertaining reads, but nothing seems to be pushing the boundaries. I haven’t read anything that has the potential to become a classic and I’ll remember very few a decade from now.

At this time of year I’m normally buried under a pile of books that might make the Booker longlist, but apart from All That Is by James Salter (which doesn’t really appeal to me anyway) the candidates are thin on the ground.  Where are all the outstanding books?

Things were better last year….

2012 was a fantastic year for fiction and by the half-way point I’d read a wonderful range of outstanding books. The good thing is that many of these are now being released in paperback, so you can now experience these amazing books more easily/cheaply than last year.

I especially recommend these four:

HeftTell the Wolves I'm HomeThe Street SweeperHHhH

I don’t have enough books to justify a full list, but tomorrow I’ll celebrate the books that have managed to capture my attention this year.

Have you noticed a similar downturn in the quality of new releases this year?

Categories
2008 Books in Translation Novella

The Blue Fox by Sjón

The Blue Fox Translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb 

Five words from the blurb: Iceland, priest, Down’s Syndrome, landscape, fate

The Blue Fox is a confusing little book. It only really makes sense once you’ve finished it and have had plenty of time to reflect on the beautiful, but often strange passages.

The book is set in Iceland and begins with a captivating series of scenes in which Skugga-Baldur, the local priest, heads out in freezing conditions to try to capture a rare blue fox. This story is woven with several others, including that of a girl with Down’s syndrome and a ship wreck, but to say much more would spoil the mystery.

The writing in this book is fantastic. Much of it feels like a giant poem, especially the hunt scenes in which individual lines are given their own page. But, even when entire pages are given over to text the writing still sings with its vivid descriptions and almost mythical atmosphere.

In the halls of heaven it was now dark enough for the Aurora Borealis sisters to begin their lively dance of the veils. With an enchanted play of colours they flitted light and quick about the great stage of the heavens, in fluttering gold dresses, their tumbling pearl necklaces scattering here and there in their wild caperings.

The only downside is that its fragmented nature meant I couldn’t bond with any of the characters, but despite this problem the wonderful descriptions of the landscape and the glimpses into Icelandic culture meant that this book was well-worth reading.

Recommended to those who enjoy beautiful writing and are willing to work hard to piece together a fragmented story.

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Those who’ve already read the book might be interested in this animation of it as I found it gave me even more food for thought:

 

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The thoughts of other bloggers:

...a rather exquisite, highly nuanced novella… Reading Matters

 haunting and mesmeric and so different from anything else I’ve read. Stuck in a Book

…bold, memorable and wholly its own. Just William’s Luck