Thursday, December 22, 2011

Books of 2011

One of the greatest parts of my life here in Poland is, funnily enough, not owning a car. It allows me, a relatively slow reader, the chance to read books on my lifetime of travel on public transport. If I am not checking out the grannies and all their shenanigans, the girls in heels or the old men talking to themselves, I am reading. The times I have to stand really makes me feel a little anxious. Not because I am lazy and want to sit, but because it normally means it is super busy and I can't read. Plus, it makes the trips seem a lot longer. This time last year I had knocked off 32 books, where as now it is a lowly 18. The difference this year is that I have chosen to read a lot larger books. It fills up the bookshelf quicker and makes me look like some kind of intellect! Haha. Once, due to my love of hard covered books, I was asked if I was reading the bible on the tram! How funny. I do like fiction based loosely on facts though, so you never know.

Front cover
Oscar and Lucinda - Peter Carey  (544 pages) 
Well this was a slow long and relatively painful book. If it wasn't an Australian author, I would certainly have given up early on this one. The last 50 pages really started to get interesting, but that was too little to late to save it. I wonder what the movie will be like as it was reviewed well in Australia when released. 5/10

Front Cover

Ghost Ships: A Surrealist Love Triangle - Robert McNab  (276 pages) 
Ok, to be honest, I had no idea what this book was about when I picked it up off the shelf of our bookcase. I jumped on the Metro and opened it to find that it is more a text book based on some of the origins on Surrealism and in specifics Max Ernst and Paul Eluard. The Ghost Ships title refers to how travel to Indochina was a recurrent theme to them and a huge influence on their lives especially creatively speaking. It kind of confirms to me that travel helps you be creative. The book was really interesting but as "a read" it was probably not awesome. 6.5/10

Front cover of the UK edition
Down Under - Bill Bryson (400 pages) 
I started this book a couple of years ago and never got it. I just couldn't enjoy his style, but I never really knew why. I think I find him annoying because at times I see his sense of humour similar to mine, so I guess I see why some people find me very unfunny. I think maybe we are both very humourous people yet we are unable to convey this on paper, maybe we are all about sign language and body humour. That said it was nice to learn more about Australia and the places I could still go to.Still I didn't enjoy the book that much.Maybe better for non-natives. 6.5/10

Front Cover bilingual edition
Spacerownik. Warszawa śladami PRL-u (Book Of Walks - Landmarks of People's Poland in Warsaw) - Jerzy S. Majewski   (255 pages) 
This is a really lovely book about Warsaw. It doesn't glorify the Socialism era but it does go some way to explaining about the world that has been inherited by the Varsavian peoples since those days. It tells of the house, the estates, the cultural and public buildings. It explains the ideas and the concepts of why this was done and what the real goal was. It certainly opened my eyes to what is around me on a daily basis. It really was interesting. 8/10 

Australian edition front cover.

Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes - Elizabeth Bard  (320 pages) 
This was a book left over by my sister when she visited for the wedding. I picked it up as I was looking for something light. This was certainly that. It is a nice enough book as it has recipes, and as a person from another country living in Europe you see some similarities between my life and hers. I guess it ended up being a little light on and some of the recipes were to say a little simplistic, like Port Melon: get a melon, take out the seeds, and pour in port.... OK, great. So as a nice piece of fluff with some nice food talk then this is it. My sister finished it in a day, I finished it in less than a week of commuting. Decent 6/10

From the telegraph review
A Country in the Moon - Michael Moran   (368 pages) 
Well I was really looking forward to this after there were some really big reviews here in Poland about this book, you can also check The Telegraph for a review, too. However, if you were to exclude quotes from Norman Davies and his impeccable research and the Chopin/classical music fawning, there really is little to this book. As Michael is an Australian living in Warsaw, I was hoping for some wonderful insight. What I ended up with was a historical book and very little insight as to how Warsaw/Poland was in the 90's and early 00's. Quite sad really. But if you know nothing of Polish history then this is a decent read it kind of highlights Davies work, if you don't have the drive to push through his detailed writings.  5/10

Dust cover
Articles of Faith - Russell Brand      (208 pages) 
It is a collection of articles by Mr. Brand from his days with the Guardian. To be honest, if we hadn't of bought this book second hand and very cheaply there would have been little chance I would read it. It is one for people who are English football fans or actually tragics would be a better word. Brand is a long suffering West Ham and England fan and he talks about this regularly along with alluding to his life outside of the world of following football. It is EXTREMELY light in reading and to be honest, it took me two days of public transport to finish and I am a slow reader. Kind of gives you an idea of the content. Full of some fun drawings but also horrific photos of the horseheaded Brand, it can be embarrassing to read on public transport with his big ego extending off the pages with photos of him pretending to be contemplative or thoughtful. Whilst he gives many literary and society references and at times uses eloquent language, he really is a tool. That said I enjoy reading about Football so he passes, but just barely 5/10

Dust cover
Thames: Sacred River - Peter Ackroyd    (608 pages) 
Quite clearly Ackroyd is totally in love with London and uses the Thames to assist him in his justification. I have lived and worked in a couple of places on the Thames and also enjoyed driving or jogging up the valley when I lived in these locations. First things first, this book is 608 pages long, for me this might as well be the Bible. Combine this with my love of hardcover books means that I was lugging around about a kilo of book to and from work for the few weeks it took me to read it. I am sure Harry Potter fans would mock me for even stating this, but to me it contributes to the feel of the book. The book is heavy with facts, stats, quotes and random musing/observations. It was certainly interesting for me especially as I was able associate many of the places I had visited especially in my time living in Thatcham. I did enjoy it, but he was a little disjointed as you could tell he wanted to put in as much information as possible but it didn't quite flow for this reason. I would have loved more tales of the 18-20th centuries but alas this wasn't so dominant. Still it was a decent read. 6.5/10

Fry cover
The Fry Chronicles - Stephen Fry    (448 pages) 
While Stephen is someone I knew but didn't know much about, I have always enjoyed his elegant manner. You may know him from TV shows like QI, Blackadder or A Bit of Fry and Laurie. He is certainly a talented man, and where as someone like Russell Brand will try to be verbose and impress you with his diverse and deep language skills, and fails, Mr Fry does it with ease. Using wit, a little pomp, and great humility. I was extremely surprised at how much I enjoyed this book and so I will now need to search out his earlier biography, his fiction works while I eagerly await his next installment into his life as this one leaves us at the age of 30, there is still no doubt plenty more interesting tales to hear. 8.5/10

Life cover
Life - Keith Richards       (624 pages)
Well, Keify, I am impressed. Impressed that you remember anything at all about his life as you appear to be pretty happily wasted most all the time.
You can see even though the editing that he has a brain that isn't quite what you would term "normal" or "functional". Without doubt he has a talent for music and has a huge passion for it, but he will surprise you when you read it. For a boy who was booted out of school, addicted to most anything he could find, he still recalls things with precise detail. Possibly more precise detail than is believable. He contradicts himself constantly, this could be in relation to women, band members, or drugs. Take your pick. It's not that his life wasn't/isn't interesting, as it is, it is just that he struggles to communicate even with the help of James Fox to try and make it readable. It really isn't in the end. He sometimes goes into things in such minute detail that it is frustrating and at other times when you want to hear more he passes over it. I think the best term for this book would be "missed opportunity". Unless you are a massive Stones fan or a junkie.  4/10

Paperback Front cover
The Liar - Stephen Fry      (400 pages)
Very funny to read this after reading the Fry Chronicles as you can see so much about him in the story. He even uses a quote from one of his earliest plays in the book which made me giggle knowing where it started its life. Overall a nice read, it won't change your life but it will keep you busy with some giggles, some grimacing and some insight into the private boys colleges of England! Decent enough 6.5/10

Dust Cover
Wolfram the Boy Who Went to War - Giles Milton    (352 pages) 
This was a great book about the life of someone in Germany during the Nazi regime. It talked of how it was being a young man who was an extremely talented artistically and how his life was impacted and he didn't always understand. It was another book by my favourite author Giles Milton, who is just really good at researching and asking the right questions. A great read for anyone who has an interest in art, war, history or just really interesting family struggles. 8.5/10

Dust Cover
Sweet Life in Paris - David Lebovitz    (304 pages)
This book is another story of an American moving to Paris and realising that it isn't the same as America. Well, surprise, surprise, surprise. It is very much in a similar mode to E.Bard I read previously. "I can't believe the French do it THAT way" etc. It is also interspersed with recipes, some fantastic sounding. and others purely for the American market an example is "Pita Toasts" Cut pita bread into triangles, brush with oil sprinkle with salt and bake until crispy. That takes up a page. Please excuse my French here, as I do not swear often, but Fuck Me. That is NOT a recipe, that is merely a way to heat something that is already made. He does give us some better insight than Mrs Bard does but he is a chef and so he should give us more information and experience. The fact that he makes something that could be so fantastic so simply shockingly hideously devoid of excitement kills me. Unfortunately I gave Bard 6/10 so I must give him the same. 6/10

Dust Cover
What You See is What you Get - Alan Sugar   (609 pages) 
Well, to be honest, I didn't know much about Alan Sugar. I knew he owned Amstrad, I knew he was on the Apprentice and I knew he was a very wealthy man. I thought it could be an interesting read to see the how, where, why etc. I can't really sum up the 600 pages easily apart from the fact that it was actually a really fabulous read. I am still trying to figure out why I enjoyed it so much...... It is full of stories, tales, problems, solutions and failures. I think I like that he is rather blunt and straight forward, but isn't trying to be obnoxious about it. I think for anyone interested in early technology and the development of the industry then this is a good read for you. It also incorporates his time at Tottenham which I enjoyed as well, basically it talked about entreprenuership, football, early computers and travel. Lots of things I like. 8/10


Paperback Front Cover.
The History of Australia - Manning Clark (640 pages) 
Well I am guessing the title kind of gives away the plot. I have always wanted to read it and here in Poland I actually found a copy in the American Bookstore of all locations. It was, alas, only a paperback and now a little tattered after all the daily transits that it made being so long and also being a rather factual book at times it was really heavy going at 6 in the morning. But, I got there and enjoyed most of it. It was a really interesting read and probably best for people who have a little base knowledge of Australia and its current and past situations. 7/10


Dust cover sleeve
Proust's Overcoat - Lorenza Foschini (160 pages) 
A rather short little book after some rather lengthy ones. It was very simple and to be honest was read in easily under a week as the book size is really small. I have not been familiar at all with Proust's work and so had only an interest in what the book would actually be about. But being about a collector of his things and the extremes that the collector went to to get them really was a bore. 4/10


 Dust Cover
The Travels of Marco Polo The Venetian - Marco Polo (Peter Harris and W. Marsden) (421 pages)
So it is "the" travel journal of Marco Polo. I have been interested in explorers for a while now working through them in various forms, so I thought I should go to the master of all explorers and read this. The book is indeed very interesting, but as it is a diary of some inconsistency it does lack a little punch at times. I would say, if you have the patience you will enjoy it, and make sure to read it going through the appendix references all the time it makes it more logical and relevant to today's geography. 5/10

Dust Cover
Red Plenty - Francis Spufford (448 pages)
An interesting book, walking through the life of people that eventually connect through different lives and situations. I thought it was going to be more factual. It is based on fact, but it is not exactly what I had expected. That said it was a nice read, pleasant and easy to get through. If you are into Russia after WWII then it is for you. 6.5/10



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