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

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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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Don’t Shoot the Dog!: The New Art of Teaching and Training by Karen Pryor

My review: 5 out of 5

Karen Pryor’s Don’t Shoot the Dog! is an interesting read for anyone, not just for dog owners, or dolphin owners, or the owners of children! Her background is in sea life training, and many of the anecdotes are based around those experiences, but a large part of the training philosophy also applies to human behaviour.

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Review: The Summer of Impossible Things

The Summer of Impossible Things
The Summer of Impossible Things by Rowan Coleman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

I did struggle to get into Rowan Coleman’s The Summer of Impossible Things. I love the time travelling concept; I’ve recently finished Matt Haig’s How to Stop Time, and I adore Audrey Niffenegger’s Time Traveller’s Wife. The problem here was with over-writing. All sentences are conjoined, three parts linked together, in every sentence. It’s fine occasionally, it helps link thoughts and moods, but it does grate eventually. Writing should be the vessel carrying the story, it should be invisible, the reader shouldn’t be aware of it. I might be being finicky, but I kept seeing it, and it was a distraction. See what I mean!?

Another issue I had was with the descriptions of the 70s. Matt Haig’s How to Stop Time, despite its faults, was phenomenal at transporting the reader through time. He took you there, not just in the little details like the sights and smells, but the minutiae of every day life. With the Summer of Impossible Things, if you opened a random page it would be hard to tell where you were in time.

That’s the criticisms out the way. The good news is that I liked it. Yep, it was predictable: the twists were more like gentle curves than right-angle bends, the characters were all too trusting, but it was sweet. And sweet love stories can’t be a bad thing.

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Review: Post-Truth: The New War on Truth and How to Fight Back

Post-Truth: The New War on Truth and How to Fight Back
Post-Truth: The New War on Truth and How to Fight Back by Matthew d’Ancona
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

Trump, for all his faults, is gold dust for the entertainment industry. He’s petrol on the flames of satire, and the butt of countless books and articles that discuss every aspect of his erratic behaviour, from his handshake, to his wife’s every flinch, and the subject of this book, the fact that his supporters don’t care that he and his cohorts blatantly lie at every opportunity.

The preface of Matthew D’Ancona’s Post-Truth sets the tone, patiently explaining the issues, then demanding a call to arms: “Are you content for the central values of the Enlightenment, of free societies and of democratic discourse, to be trashed by charlatans – or not? Are you on the pitch, or content to stay on the terrace?”

Post-Truth is more than simple populism, it’s the bending of facts then the repeated denial of wrongdoing. It’s no coincidence that sales of George Orwell’s 1984 leapt after Trump’s inauguration. And those who believe Post-Truth will end when he leaves office are, as D’Ancona said, “confusing the leaves of the weed with its roots”.

Post-Truth can be traced from the end World War Two, through the rise (and decline) of post-modernism’s cynicism, the invention of the internet, to the modern phenomenon of click-bait. This is an interesting read, expertly researched and impressively written. A must read.

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Review: Popular: The Power of Likability in a Status-Obsessed World

Popular: The Power of Likability in a Status-Obsessed World
Popular: The Power of Likability in a Status-Obsessed World by Mitch Prinstein
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

Mitch Prinstein’s Popular is an interesting read. It addresses all aspects of popularity – why it’s important, how it evolved, and where it can lead. I did enjoy it, and many of his conclusions are thought provoking, but at times it did feel like he was shoe-horning populism into unrelated areas. Many of the sections are driven by anecdotes, some he acknowledges are made up, and many of the others I would assume are too. My big complaint is that he starts by saying there’s five type of people (accepted, rejected, etc.), then this varies throughout the book depending on the area being discussed, and this can be affected by parents and friends. I couldn’t help thinking that some people are just unlikable – whether they’re just rude, selfish, or maybe bad hygiene, and they may deserve to be unpopular based upon their choices. Still, some interesting points, so a solid 4*.

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