Thursday, 4 May 2017

The Lost Island of Columbus, by Keith A. Pickering

Keith A. Pickering's book, The Lost Island of Columbus, is the story of how he solved the mystery of where Christopher Columbus first made landfall on October 12th, 1492. Given the importance of this date in world history, one would think the answer to the question would be easy, but evidently it took a hell of a lot of work to figure it out.

Pickering uses a wide range of scientific methods to uncover the truth, and in doing so he thoroughly covers the history of the Landfall Debate, which has gone on for well over a century. His arguments for Guanahaní as the site of Columbus' first encounter with the New World are highly convincing.

Unfortunately, although his work is impressive, the book is not hugely readable. It is certainly hard to argue with Pickering, but one can easily get lost in the tidal wave of figures thrown at one. At times there are so many references to maps and tables that appear later in the book that it really is hard to enjoy. Then again, his aim with this book seems to be to put any other landfall theory to the death, and so he is eager to use all the available information to put his own theory beyond doubt.

Also a bit off-putting is the extent to which the author seems determined to assert himself as the champion of a centuries-long game, and his competitors as pathetic losers. While Pickering's investigation is impressive, his attitude his hardly humble. 

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Fargo Rock City, by Chuck Klosterman

Fargo Rock City: A Heavy Metal Odyssey in Rural North Dakota is not what I was expecting it to be. I thought this was going to be more of a memoir, as the title misleadingly suggests. Certainly, each chapter title takes us year by year through the life of a young metalhead from the sticks, but beyond that there's not much memoir there. Sometimes we get a story from his own life, but more often this book is a series of essays on metal.

There are essays on music videos, essays on sexism, essays on why Appetite for Destruction is the best album of all time, and more. At times it all gets a bit tedious, even for a metal fan like myself. However, the author is hilarious and peppers every chapter/essay with numerous witty observations and brilliant one liners. I laughed so much while reading this book that even the less interesting parts were thoroughly enjoyable. 

Thursday, 13 April 2017

My Secret History, by Paul Theroux

I found a paperback copy of this book recently and, after having read The Mosquito Coast a few years ago and greatly enjoyed it, I decided to delve into this mammoth work.

At first, I thought it was an autobiography of sorts. From what little I knew about Theroux's work, it all seemed to match up. However, right at the start of My Secret History he takes pains to state that although certain similarities might seem to exist, it's purely a work of fiction. As an author of work of fiction that most readers assumed was autobiographical, I know his pain and will thus take him at his word that this is all made up.

Yet it is deliberately autobiographical-seeming. The novel tells the life of Andre Parent - a writer, would you believe - as he goes through various stages of his life, from boyhood to manhood. Like an autobiography, it is not neat and convenient, with all ends tied up. It is messy and real. Everything about it is entirely believable.

The book is broken into six chapters over the protagonist's life. They jump about a lot in terms of place as Parent moves from America to Africa to England to India, bouncing back and forth in pursuit of something. It is usually women he is after. From an early age, he has an irrepressible appetite for sex. At times he seems morally virtuous like some sort of hero, and elsewhere he utterly reprehensible. He is at times an unreliable narrator, but always an enjoyable one. 

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

New Reviews Coming Soon

I haven't posted in reviews here in a while because since returning from holiday in Sri Lanka back in January, I've been busy with work. Most of the books I've read have been directly related to work instead of pleasure, and so I haven't reviewed them here. However, as I get more free time I have been reading a bit more and will post some reviews soon.

Friday, 24 February 2017

One Sip at a Time, by Keith Van Sickle

One Sip at a Time is the story of an American couple falling in love with France. It tells the story of their ups and downs as they live on and off in this unique and beautiful part of the world, and attempt - with the usual hiccups, of course - to learn the language.

It is told with a gentle humor, poking fun at the French as well as the American expats themselves. On every page, there is humor of the sort one is accustomed to from reading Bill Bryson or Stephen Clarke.

My criticism, however, would be that the book is told in a large number of vignettes in a chronological order, with some of them just being too short or seemingly just thrown into the mix. I would have preferred a more cohesive narrative, as the author's humor and the story of this couple trying to fit in is really engaging.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Islands in the Stream, by Ernest Hemingway

Islands in the Stream is classic Hemingway - you have your stoic male protagonist, your disarmingly simple prose, your adventure... and even some Nazi-hunting to boot.

The novel is divided into three parts, tackling three periods in the protagonist's life. It is jarring in how it throws tragedy suddenly into the mix, but that's a pretty good representation of life. Thomas Hudson seems very similar to Hemingway, and is probably heavily based upon him, with a bit of his friends thrown into the mix.

This is short, readable novel - probably Hemingway's best posthumously published work. Only in a few places does it feel less than complete. 

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Sarah, by J.T. Leroy

This short novel is written in such an engaging, witty prose that it is a pleasure to read, in spite of its horrific subject matter.

Sarah follows a young boy  through several years of prostitution and substance abuse as he waits to hear from his mother, Sarah - an abusive, drug-addicted prostitute.

The boy, calling himself Sarah, flees their pimp, but soon finds himself working for another, posing as an angel-faced little girl for paedophile clients.

Obviously, the story is harrowing, but it is nonetheless gripping. J.T. Leroy writes with an unbelievable talent for viewing the world through the eyes of child, and is astute at capturing the language and landscape of the American South.