Tuesday, August 7, 2012
52 Books in 52 Weeks: July
When Elephants Weep - Jeffrey Masson
Daughter of the Forest - Juliet Marillier
The Invention of Everything Else - Samantha Hunt
Before I Go to Sleep - S J Watson
Breakfast with Buddha - Roland Merullo
So I'm just going to skip right over the fact that I only posted two blogs last month and sail on into August with great expectations...
While I haven't done a lot of blogging I've been ticking off books at a decent pace. On the whole this has been a great month for books. The only real exception was When Elephants Weep. I confess I only read three quarters of this book but I'm chalking it up as a read because if you read the first chapter you pretty much know how the rest of the book is going to unfold. The premise of the book is that scientists refuse to acknowledge that animals feel emotions because it can't scientifically be proven. The rest of the book goes on to give examples of animal behaviour that could be construed as anger/love/hate/compassion/fear etc. It stresses that scientists should have the courage to explore animal emotions, even if scientific proof is hard to measure. One of the main imperatives cited for this it that refusing to assign emotions to animals makes it easier to mistreat them. If an animal doesn't suffer depression, it's probably ok to lock it in a tiny cage, deprive it of light and any sensory contact isn't it? One of the most depressing things about this book (and a key factor in why I stopped reading) is that it contains example after example of scientific inhumanity towards animals. Testing cosmetics etc on animals is barbaric but the behavioural testing is perhaps even worse. On the whole I respect what this book set out to do, but I think it would have been best presented as a short scientific paper with key points and strong examples.
I'm a long time fan of Juliet Marillier, and she knows that when I say I curse her throughout my reading of each book, I mean it in the nicest possible way. I always lose a lot of sleep reading Juliet's books as I promise myself that I will only read one more chapter and then at 3am collapse in fried brain exhaustion. Writers are often encouraged to not only read, but read out of their normal genre. For me, Juliet's novels were very much a break from my comfort zone. I've never been a big fan of historical fantasy but this series (this is my second reading) hooked me in with it's beautifully drawn characters and clever handling of fantasy elements. While her Bridei series remains my favourite, the Sevenwaters series, of which Daughter of the Forest is the first, is a wonderful collection of books to curl up with.
In the ongoing spirit of reading outside genre, The Invention of Everything Else, a fictional rendering of the later years of Nikola Tesla's life, was also a change of pace for me. I confess that I knew very little about Tesla until I read The Onion's somewhat manic manifesto on the man. (After such a glowing endorsement, how could you not be a fan?) Hunt's rendering doesn't provide any significant insights beyond what you would have learned from The Onion (and I have to say I actually found The Onion's rant useful in terms of understanding what was going on), but it is a sympathetic portrayal of a man who is often missing from the history books. This is a good read.
If you've seen the film Memento, then Before I Go to Sleep will feel like familiar ground. This is the story of a woman who, as a result of a head injury, suffers a form of amnesia that causes her memory to be erased each night when she goes to sleep. She thus wakes each morning not knowing who she is or recognising anything or anyone. In Memento, the central character holds onto scraps of memory by tattooing information on his body, in this book memories are captured in a journal. The unfolding recollection of events leading up to the accident that caused the amnesia is well told and with suitable suspense. The ending is a surprise, which is always nice. While I would never skip to the end to find out what happens, I have a tendency to skim through the last couple of chapters in order to get to the good stuff, so I'm sure I miss salient details, but this is a very satisfying read. If you haven't seen Memento, it would be an even more rewarding read for having a [seemingly] unique premise. (And if you haven't seen Memento you should!)
Breakfast with Buddha has been on my Amazon wishlist for a while. As is so often the case with books like this, I suspect it was just waiting for the right moment. It is not a unique concept - middle aged (well off/successful) man goes on a road trip with an unlikely companion (Russian guru) and undergoes a transformative spiritual journey. What makes this book endearing is that the characters are so well drawn. The guru in particular is a very quirky, entertaining character, who takes delight in all that goes on around him - whether that's meditation or mini golf. What makes the other character - Otto - so accessible is his mainstream rejection of the guru's message. Otto is well off, happily married and successful. To an extent I feel that society views the search for spiritual awareness by people like Otto as a fad, or a somewhat supercilious hobby. This book tackles that perception and presents some nice perspectives. It's also worth reading if only for a very neat interpretation of the concept of karma.
All in all, a good month.
photo credit: freedigitalphotos.net