Time interacts with attention in funny ways

a tale for the time beingA Tale for the Time Being
by Ruth Ozeki

I bought this book because it had good reviews and is set in Tokyo – and what better way to prepare for a holiday? It’s a strange story, with unusual narrators and perspectives, and I really do feel that it gave me some insights into life in Tokyo.

The story opens with Naoko, a 16-year-old girl, who is sat in a Tokyo cafe directly addressing her reader. She says that she is a time being and that she plans to write for her reader the story of her 104-year-old great grandmother Jiko before she dies.

Nao is confrontational, sarcastic and has a very dark sense of humour. She texts stories to Jiko about dead prostitutes, which is especially odd because Jiko is a Buddhist nun, formerly a feminist anarchist novelist, now living in a temple in the mountains north of Tokyo.

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The Extraordinary Visual History of the Iconic Space Programme

ApolloJust a quick post to say that my review of Apollo by Zack Scott has been published over at Physics World. It’s a beautiful book about the Apollo space programme, largely made up of illustrations and infographics. To see what else I thought, pop on over to Physics World.

While you’re at it, check out Physics World‘s top 10 books of 2017, revealed today. They’re the top popular-science books that the editors felt would appeal to physicists. I’m keen to read several of them (and I’m not a physicist, even if I do work with a bunch of them!).

November 2017 reading round-up

book. daily illustration

Compiling this blog post I realise I’ve read a lot of comics this month. I have to some extent been saving my brain space for learning Japanese before the big trip to Tokyo, which is now three weeks away (eek!).

I am enjoying winter so far – perhaps because it’s been mostly dry. I love a cold, dry day. It’s lovely to be outside in it, but it’s even better to be indoors looking at it! And of course, the long dark nights are a great excuse for curling up on the sofa with a book or TV show.

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Recent reads in brief

Giant Days: Volume 4
written by John Allison, illustrated by Max Sarin

I love this series. Room-mates Susan, Daisy and Esther are still battling through their first year of university. This volume opens during the Easter holidays. Esther has decided to drop out, so Susan and Daisy travel to her hometown of Tackleford (the main setting of Allison’s ongoing web series Scary Go Round) to talk her out of it. Hijinks and bonding ensue.

This volume is preoccupied by romance: break-ups, the aftermath of break-ups, the hint of something new. There is a corresponding lack of the surreal weirdness that usually characterises Allison’s work, but the story and in particular the girls’ friendship are so sweet and wonderful that I love it just the same. It’s adorable and it makes me happy.

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Like a vision seen in a dream and scarce remembered

Castle Dor book coverCastle Dor
by Arthur Quiller-Couch and Daphne du Maurier

Well what a contrast to my previous read. After lingering for two weeks over The Evenings, I raced through Castle Dor in 24 hours. Was it a case of the right book at the right time, or is it just a cracking good read? It is Daphne, after all.

Except that it’s only sort-of Daphne. This book was started by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (better known to many by his pen name Q), who Daphne knew a little as her near-neighbour in Fowey, but he was much older than her, so it was his daughter Foy (named for their beloved home town) who became a close friend of Daphne’s. When Q died in 1944 he left behind one final unpublished work of fiction: the first half of a novel retelling the story of Tristan and Iseult, set in 19th-century Cornwall. Some 15 years later, his daughter Foy persuaded Daphne that she was the perfect person to finish the book.

Knowing that in advance, it is certainly possible to spot the signs that different hands start and end the novel. But it is skilfully done, with no obvious seam. (Apparently Q’s manuscript was left mid-chapter, even.) I can tell you that the opening chapters felt more flowery and more scholarly than any Daphne du Maurier book I’ve read (and I’ve read a lot of them now). And the closing chapters had a touch of the supernatural, even spiritualism, that felt very Daphne and certainly hadn’t been so prominent in the book. But the join between the two felt entirely gradual and invisible.

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I only wish that I could stir it up, fan the fires

The Evenings: a Winter’s Tale
by Gerard Reve
translated from Dutch by Sam Garrett

After the emotional onslaught that was A Little Life, a comedy first published in the 1940s seemed like the perfect next read. But perhaps this was exactly the wrong choice at that moment, because I did not enjoy this.

Set in Amsterdam in the last few weeks of the year (presumably 1947, when it was written) this is the story of Frits van Egters, a young office worker living with his parents, trying to stave off the boredom of the long winter evenings. He is irritable and melancholic, prone to dark, violent thoughts and fantasies.

Frits has plenty of friends to call on the time of, which is perhaps surprising considering how rudely he speaks to them, verging on bullying at times. But he is also something of an entertainer, talking a lot, telling tall tales, passing on gossip and encouraging others to do the same. He drinks, smokes, listens to music, goes to the cinema, but is always dissatisfied.

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The pressure to achieve happiness felt almost oppressive

A Little Life
by Hanya Yanagihara

This book has consumed my life for a month. It is often sad, upsetting, shocking even, but I still wanted to dive back in as soon as I could whenever life dragged me away from it.

This is a big book, and it takes a while for its main themes to become apparent. Although I knew quite a bit before I started reading, I’m going to avoid spoilers here.

We open with four men in New York, good friends since college, now in their late 20s and trying to put their stamp on the world. Willem is an actor, making most of his money waiting tables at a high-end restaurant. JB is an artist, trying to find his subject. Malcolm is an architect, working long hours, dreaming of the day when he will have his own projects. And Jude is a lawyer at the public prosecutor’s office, not really making enough money to live in Manhattan.

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