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review 2018-03-18 05:12
The Uncommon Reader
The Uncommon Reader - Alan Bennett

A short novella on the joys, growth and enlightenment reading can bring, even to the most enlightened, at any time in life.  It's also an accurate portrayal of the consuming obsession reading can become (truth, as we all well know).  


Layered atop this testimony of the power of the word is another accurate portrayal of the divide that exists between those who read and those that don't.  Those who don't read should be forced to read this book, so that they know just how stupid they are relative to those that do.  When empathy for others and a focus on inner reflection over sartorial splendour are confused with senility and deterioration ... well at least senility is honourable; nothing honourable about ignorance.  But boy, do the readers get their revenge at the end - few books I've read ended with a better closing line.


My only complaint about this wonderful, brilliant little book is the author's conclusion that the natural outgrowth of reading must be to write.  This conceit leaves a rather large ding in my enjoyment of the book.  So is his assertion that to merely read is to be merely a spectator.  Both are flagrantly wrong, although how an author could naturally fall into such a self-supporting perspective is obvious.  Most readers will read their entire lives without every having a moment's urge to write, and I'd bet quite a few, like myself, often read and then go out and do.  I mean, I can't be the only person who's propped a book about knot tying in the crook of a tree, simultaneously reading about how to tie a knot, while actually trying to tie said knot, am I?


If you share either of my complaints, don't let it stop you from reading this book given the opportunity.  It's worth the small aggravations and disagreements to experience this charming, thoughtful and beautifully written novella.  


One final note:  Being Queen would suck.  There are not enough books and private libraries in all the holdings of the British monarchy that would make referring always to oneself in the neutral third person worth it.  If one had to constantly refer to oneself as one, one would send oneself's own head to the chopping block.  Ho-ly hell.

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review 2018-03-14 06:41
Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness
Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness - Peter Godfrey-Smith
Other Minds - Peter Godfrey-Smith

I don't know quite how to rate this one, so I went for 4 stars.  This is likely to be more a collection of disparate thoughts rather than a cohesive review of any kind.


Most people are not going to find Other Minds a 'popular' science book.  It's not dry, but it is dense.  The author merges what is currently known in evolutionary science with philosophy, and has written what is largely a thought experiment on the concept of consciousness and it's origins, and not just for the octopus; this covers all life.  Octopuses get more page time than other creatures, but still only make up about ... 40%, maybe 50%?  Not quite what I was expecting, but I was willing to go with it.


I listened to the audiobook, although I have the hardcover as well.  The narrator, Peter Noble, does an excellent job with the narration; his voice is crisp and clear and he reads it as though he has a thorough grasp of the material. 


But ... I don't know if it was me or if the title of the book was too open to interpretation, but I did not realise how deeply philosophical the material was - this made the audiobook very challenging for me; I'm not a fan of other people's thought experiments in general, so I really struggled with a wandering mind as I listened to this book.  I understood the general concepts he covered, but whole sections of the narration would just wash right over me before I'd realise my consciousness checked out.  


Conclusion: I'd have been better off reading the physical edition, I think.  It's a very well written book, but it's heavy material for someone like me, for whom listening requires a conscience effort.  I'll likely re-read my hardcover sometime soon, so I can determine how much I missed, and give my mind a chance to reinforce some of the points I found most interesting.

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review 2018-03-11 09:37
To Kill a Mockingbird
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

Yes, I've finally read it.  I'd managed to not read TKAM for decades because there was never a copy at hand and frankly, I was never interested enough to make any effort to acquire one.  Until, as some of you know, I was at a library book sale last year and made an impulsive grab of a copy for $1, which turned out to be one of those 1-in-1000 freak instances of a first edition sliding under the radar.  It's a well loved first edition, but even so, it's worth considerably more than $1.


Now, I have a rule: I don't keep books in my library I don't intend to read.  So, when I told my husband about my unbelievably lucky find his response was SELL IT.  SELL IT NOW!  But I didn't want to sell it, which meant I had to read it.  And here we are. 


I'm not going to waste anybody's time by trying to review To Kill a Mockingbird on the coattails of the millions of others who've read and reviewed it over the years.  I will just say this:  it was good.  Of course it was good.  But after all the hype surrounding this book I was surprised by the following:  it's a much slower-paced book than I expected; years go by in this book.  The brief bursts of humor: Scout's dry delivery made me chuckle a few times.  And finally, this book isn't just about one plot; there are two stories running parallel, and though they intertwine at the end, they are distinct.  There were a few other things - not really surprises, just very salient points and choices Lee makes that I found interesting and filed away for future conversations with friends.


I enjoyed this book enormously and I'm glad I read it.  Do I think it's one of the be-all-end-all books I've ever read?  No, sorry.  But I can't think of any reason on Earth I'd ever actively steer anyone away from reading it.  I can't think of anyone or any circumstance which I'd be saying "eh, maybe this one wouldn't be for you".  I think it's for everyone and since we've yet to learn the lessons it teaches, it's a book that should be read again and again.


This book applies to so. many. cards. for the Kill Your Darlings game, and I have no idea yet what I'll use it for.  

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review 2018-03-09 10:33
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine - Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant thinks she is completely fine, only she is not.  This book explores why Eleanor is this way and how she grows as a person.  This is a nicely written book with a decent plot and character development.  The book reminds me of Michelle Magorian's Good Night Mr. Tom.

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review 2018-02-27 02:02
The Virago Book Of Women Gardeners
The Virago Book Of Women Gardeners - Deborah Kellaway

This started out as a 5 star read for me, but as with any anthology, some of the writing bogged me down, made my eyes glaze, and skimming was taking place.  Especially those excepts that ran more like garden inventories; I loved reading about new plants, but there are only so many latin botanical names one can read in a row before it all starts looking like Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet...


Most of it was great though, if you're a gardener.  It's a collection of excerpts, essays, diary entries, even a little poetry here and there, written by women known for their mad gardening skills and wickedly green thumbs throughout history.  It's all non-fiction, and the book bursts with suggestions for plants; mostly oriented to the UK, with a little USA thrown in.  I did a LOT of googling while I read, and most of the plants that caught my eye are available in some form or another here in Australia, the country with draconian import laws, so despite the bias in the book, there should be something for every gardener here.


Also, the cover is gorgeous.

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