Birthday Thoughts

Thinking about dreams, and how much, how long, to hold them. When is it persistence, and when stupidity? When is a person cheating themselves of real life trying to make a wish come true?

I have never satisfactorily answered these questions.

Review: All Quiet on the Western Front

"Everything must have been fraudulent and pointless if thousands of years of civilization weren't even able to prevent this river of blood ..."

Occasionally the 100th anniversary tries to convince us WWI had a point, as if we wouldn't remember children who died in vain. Erich Maria Remarque, a veteran, sets things straight. The war was stupid, to the point where dying became a constructive response.

"When they turned him over, you could see that he could not have suffered long -- his face wore an expression that was so composed that it looked as if he were almost happy that it had turned out that way."

Review: The World Until Yesterday

Best chapter - in which religion was divided into functions: diffusing anxiety, providing comfort about pain and death, providing a code of behaviour, facilitating political obedience, etc.

Extremism and irrationality made more sense when presented as refusal to live in the bleak light of secularism, which has no intention of supplying effective replacements.

Review: And The Mountains Echoed

Perfect book for the crazy, materialistic holiday season.

Remember "Love, Actually"? Not the Hugh Grant/Martine McCutcheon scenes, but Laura Linney caring for her mentally ill brother, Emma Thompson keeping it together for the children's sake. Family love, not always rewarding, but somehow fundamental.

Magnify that theme several times over, and you have Khaled Hosseini's novel. Antidote for Christmas Day domestic tension.

Review: The Wasp Factory

Health Warning: readers may find some scenes disturbing.

Would be interested to hear a transgender opinion about the book. If Iain Banks had got one back in 1984, would he have chosen the same ending?

Other than that, a brilliantly written first novel.

Review: The Book Thief

A collar grabbing, heart raking story, with sentences like nails through the truth.

About Nazi Germany - "It was a nation of farmed thoughts."
About mourners at a funeral - "enormous suitcases under the eyes"
About being enrolled in the Hitler Youth - "The first thing they did there was make sure your Heil Hitler was working properly."

It would break my pocket blogging principles to talk more, describe the incredible colours. You must read it so I don't need to.

Why Shen? Reason # 1

Because in any other subject area, it would be odd to credit our ancestors with complete or unquestionable superiority of knowledge. Yet this happens with God. God is already decided, defined. Otherwise, how could we debate the existence of?

Shen asks, 'what if our ancestors were wrong? What if we don't even know what we're talking about yet?'

P.S. Thanks everyone - we have reached the 1000th download of Book One.

Shen Book One - 999 Downloads

Well, you'd think it would boost confidence. 999 mouseclicking people, possible readers.

Nope. I just shake me head, and worry whether Book Two will be good enough for them. Can't let down that many kind eyes.

Review: Heartbreak

Internet says Craig Raine annoys some people by what he is -- ivory towered Oxford don, up where intellectual air is too rareified for the masses.

Thankfully I didn't know. After the first story, the book became weightless in my hand and my eyes saw straight through the pages. The characters shone. Eleanor Catton, get your heart lessons here.

Review: The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden

Jonas Jonasson's second book has more forward momentum than "The Hundred Year Old Man Who Jumped Out A Window". There are no pauses to tell the hero's life story. Nombeko is beginning her life, not ending it. And she comes to terms with far more setbacks, braves them, albeit in a comic way.

Jonasson may be a frustrated history teacher and inclined to moralising, but one forgives this in a person who amuses so well.