Review: Fear by Dirk Kurbjuweit

My rating: 4 out of 5

Dirk Kurbjuweit has written a well-crafted literary novel that bounces around the life of the semi-autobiographical character Randolf, his highly strung but intelligent and gorgeous wife Rebecca, and their two children. He follows their turmoil as Dieter Tiberius, the downstairs neighbour, becomes more and more sinister, appearing to threaten his wife and their children. He explores what it means to be suspected of a serious crime, of abusing your kids, how you doubt yourself and your wife, and how you overreact to compensate against those vile accusations.

This is one of those books where you’re told the ending at the beginning – the story then fills in the details that led to that conclusion. For me, I wanted to understand what made the protagonist, a self-declared middle class pacifist architect, take the action that he and his family did. Yes, I can appreciate you want to defend your property, and yes, who wouldn’t take huge steps to protect their loved ones, but, and this is a big but, other options are always available – even something as simple as moving house. Because the ending was so fatal, I wanted (needed) that build up to be so fraught, so despicable, that no other outcome would be possible.

I kept reading, hoping that some event would occur that would tie his hands and force him down that course of action but sadly, this wasn’t the case – I didn’t feel that Randolf could justify his deeds, regardless of the threat posed by Dieter, and that, for me, broke the magic of the book.

Still, this is well written, excellently translated, and thought provoking, so a solid 4/5.

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

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The Airbnb Story: How Three Guys Disrupted an Industry, Made Billions of Dollars … and Plenty of Enemies by Leigh Gallagher

My rating: 4 out of 5

I read business books and blogs, so was keen to read this one – to see what hurdles the three Airbnb founders encountered, how their product revolutionised the travel industry, and what impact their product has had on individuals and communities. Leigh Gallagher’s The Airbnb Story does address bits of the first two but it’s very much a company manual, even the criticism is framed positively. The three founders are impressive individuals and have taken huge steps to learn the necessary skills to promote and scale their business, this part of the book was well done and interesting, but their technology is causing huge upsets in communities already struggling with a lack of affordable housing and tourist invasions. Instead of having a balanced view on this and appreciating that those people being impacted do have rights too, Leigh pretty much says times-are-a-changin, so get onboard and stop your whinging.

Bits did drag, especially when listing the various hosts and what they do or did, but those sections are easily skimmable. On the whole, an interesting read.

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

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Review: The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield

My rating: 4 out of 5

I listen to a range of podcasts (personal development, many aimed at writing, and a few for business skills) and Steven Pressfield’s War of Art kept being mentioned as influential to the many creative and entrepreneurial guests. It’s easy to see why: it gives life and personality to concepts like procrastination and creative flair, and once fully formed, these can be banished or embraced depending on how you proceed with your habits and lifestyle.

I’ve come across Pressfield’s writing before, his writers help book “Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t.” The writing style is the same, short, punchy sentences, but I did prefer that other one. The War of Art started to lose me towards the end, but luckily it’s short, so I enjoyed most of it 🙂

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Review: Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor

My rating: 5 out of 5

Jon McGregor’s Reservoir 13 made the Man Booker 2017 long list, his second novel to be long listed (his If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things made the 2002 list) and it’s good candidate to take the prize. The story revolves around the disappearance of Rebecca Shaw, a teenager holidaying in the timeless unnamed village at the centre of this novel. Unlike every other novel with this plot-line, instead of focusing on the mystery of the disappearance, the whodunit/what-happened aspect, McGregor tackles the impact of that disappearance on the village and its residents.

Village life is repetitive: cows are milked, foxes mate, and villagers form committees. Nothing of any importance appears to happen, but people die, people have affairs, bad things come and go. Over the years, with a drum beat of regularity, events repeat; the only constant is the environment, the hills and buildings and the reservoirs, the places that hold the secret to Rebecca’s whereabouts.

This is captured superbly by the style of the book – paragraphs are long, dialogue is minimal, and the repetition shines a light on how little anything in the end really matters.

An excellent book, very worth of the Man Booker nomination.

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

See Goodreads review.

Review: The Golden House by Salman Rushdie

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

My rating: 5 out of 5

Salman Rushdie’s The Golden House was one of those treats where I started the book without knowing a thing about it. Immediately you know you’re in the safe hands of a storyteller, not just a plotter or a writer, but a craftsman who knows his story-telling trade. The story twists at the start while the characters settle down and the narrator (a neighbour to the Golden’s) is established, and then it jumps into a full blown inspection of identity. His suite of characters tackle all the main issues – loyalty (whether to the family or your nation), gender politics, political leaning, mental health, and so on, all addressed like a debate where different views are expressed (my favourite was the trans-billionaire opponent).

I’d be interested to know the genealogy of this parable since I suspect there’s a story in there too, maybe a frustration with recent elections. For example, towards the end of the book, Rushdie vents – “when your fellow Americans tell you that knowing things is elitist and they hate elites, and all you have ever had is your mind and you were brought up to believe in the loveliness of knowledge, not that knowledge-is-power nonsense but knowledge is beauty, and then all of that, education, art, music, film, becomes a reason for being loathed.”

I tend to review books as it helps the author – they get feedback, gain social media exposure, and hopefully as a result, gather more sales. I think Salmon Rushdie may have enough presence already that my little voice isn’t going to make a difference! Still, this review is my way of saying thanks, for an intelligent, remarkable book, that is going to set the benchmark for all future books that I read.

Review: No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need by Naomi Klein

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

My rating: 4 out of 5

I should be the ideal audience for Naomi Klein’s “No is Not Enough” – I’m very much a liberal, very much opposed to all the things Trump, and a strong believer in the positives of immigration. However, I did struggle with this book, and in the end found myself skimming pages towards the end.

Naomi Klein is incredibly articulate and very informed on all these topics, the book is clearly well researched. My problem is that it reads like a tedious activist’s manifesto. Her arguments, and I apologise for this, can be broken down to: unions good, business bad.

She bemoans Trump for negotiating a killer deal on a NYC hotel that he bought in the 70s, depriving NYC of $350 million dollars of future taxes, but doesn’t criticise those who made the sale. Trump is a business man, of course he wants the best deal he can, the problem here is not him, but the muppets who sold him the property on such a bad deal for the city and the state.

Likewise, I disagree with her support of Anticorporate street demonstrations, the ones to be expected now at all G8/G20/etc meetings. She writes about how the protesters receive unfair bad press, while acknowledging “yes, there had been battles with the police and broken store windows”, but there’s no criticism of this violent behaviour, of masked protesters vandalising property and terrifying residents, just disapproval that the press are hostile to the cause.

Similarly, she claims that the IMF’s goal was the “abject humiliation” of Greece in return for bailouts. This wasn’t the case, Greece was heavily over spending on public services while not collecting income through taxes and needed to reform. As an example, public servants could retire at 50; the IMF’s requests were only to put the country inline with other EU members. Without those reforms, Greece would be continually asking for further EU/IMF bailouts, which would be unfair on the other European tax payers who didn’t have such great terms themselves.

And finally, all good books should include all the information to paint a true picture, not just the facts that suit the author’s argument. This was done extremely well by Matthew D’Ancona’s in his recent Post-Truth. Naomi, as I said before, reads like an activist, strong-arming all her opinions as the only truth. While I deplore Trump, I can understand that he gained voters turned off by some of the liberal agenda – if you’re about to lose your job and your house, you don’t care what symbols are used on toilet doors, you don’t care about reparations for slavery that happened 300 years before you were born, you just want to see fixes for your problems, steps to improve your life. The argument in this book is that if you voted for Trump, you can’t see how the dots are connected like us smart liberals can, you can’t see that you’re being taken for a ride, like us smart liberals can.

I never write reviews this long, but this book frustrated me so much in that it missed such a wonderful opportunity. But all people who voted for Trump don’t walk around with their knuckles dragging on the floor, the average salary for a Trump voter was $60k (quoted on a recent Intelligence Squared podcast). And I do feel that this liberal we’re-smarter-than-you mantra does more harm than good, you don’t win an argument by telling the other side that they’re stupid. That’s one of the reasons why the UK voted to leave the EU.

Still, disagreeing with an author’s view is healthy, especially an author who I respect so much. So, 4 out of 5, a well-researched read, with some interesting points made.

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Review: The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

My rating: 5 out of 5

I first read Anita Shreve almost 20 years ago with A Pilot’s Wife, too long ago to remember the details, but not that long too forget that I enjoyed it. The Stars are Fire has similar themes: a family wrecked by an event, the wife emboldened while struggling through the aftermath. The writing is sparse, minimal sentences written in the present tense (seems to be the publishing trend this year), and emotionally detached prose.

Reading this kept making me think of Anne Tyler, another writer I hugely respect. Tyler is more subtle, no monumental inciting incident and more left unsaid, but both tackle disjointed families with compassion.

My only minor complaint is that the epilogue was too sugar-coated and was unnecessary, but an otherwise very enjoyable read.

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Review: The Silver Dish by Saul Bellow

My rating: 5 out of 5

Saul Bellow’s The Silver Dish has been on my to-read list for at least a year. Ethan Canin, a guest on Brian Koppelman’s The Moment podcast, praised it so heavily that it seemed rude not to give it a shot. It’s just a shame it took so long to get to the top of the list. This is story telling that demonstrates why Bellow won the Nobel Prize for Literature – expansive in theme and characterisation, quirky and nuanced, everything a short story needs!

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Review: A Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman and Jessica Cohen

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

My rating: 5 out of 5

It’s rare to find uniqueness in fiction, we’ve been making up stories for thousands of years after all, but David Grossman’s A horse Walks into a Bar squarely hits the mark. The story is framed around Dovaleh G’s stand-up routine in an industrial area of Israel, but as the night goes on, the comedy fades and the story of a parent’s funeral prevails. The narrator is an old friend of the comedian, one who was close, but who didn’t offer support when support was needed. The tale explores what it is to be bullied, how the mind creates tricks to avoid the pain, and how those decisions affect the rest of your life.

A brilliant book, and a worthy winner of the 2017 Man Booker International Prize.

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Violence: A Writer’s Guide Second Edition by Rory Miller

My rating: 5 out of 5

Rory Miller comes across as a good guy, but I wouldn’t want to bump into him a dark alley. Many of the examples in this writer’s guide come from his experiences; he’s been a prison guard, tactical police officer and a host of others, so he knows what he’s talking about. Folks in the UK have very little experience of guns, even the little details that Americans take for granted would be unknown to us, but Rory spans that knowledge divide excellently, for people of all experience levels.

The book does have a habit of repeating, sometimes within a few pages, so it could’ve done with a bit more editing, but the information is invaluable, and the writing engaging. An excellent writing resource.

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