book reviews

Goodreads review: The Serpent and the Rainbow

The Serpent and the RainbowThe Serpent and the Rainbow by Wade Davis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Zombies! Death! Mystery! Haiti! THE UNKNOWABLE! All of these are perennially interesting to the whitest of the white – me, for example – and Davis’ book, a tale of the search for potions to make and unmake a zombie, is no exception. It’s interesting, but dryness (and occasional self-insertion) can make it tough going.

The cover of this edition is not a design which offers confidence in the book’s contents. It features a screaming Bill Pullman and a coffin, a tie-in with the frankly shithouse film of the same name. The film that’s loosely based on the source in the same way that I can loosely be called a virtuoso because I can play a three-chord banger as long as it doesn’t involve odd barre positions. (more…)

Goodreads review: Use Your Words: A Myth-Busting, No-Fear Approach to Writing

Use Your Words: A Myth-Busting, No-Fear Approach to WritingUse Your Words: A Myth-Busting, No-Fear Approach to Writing by Catherine Deveny
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Catherine Deveny is a writer, comic and general shit-stirrer. She’s a dyslexic atheist who sees CAPS LOCK as COCK SLAP and is by her own admission pretty lazy. She’s also authored a bunch of books, shows and columns, and manages to get shit done with alarming regularity. Use Your Words is an excellent distillation of her work ethic, and a rarity in the world of writing-help books: something that’s useful without being bone dry or coming across as some kind of pan-pipe backed recruitment ad for a writing cult. (more…)

Goodreads review: Frankenstein

FrankensteinFrankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s almost a fool’s errand to review Frankenstein. The book’s been so firmly ensconced in the literary canon for so long that it can’t be dislodged, and the story of its inception – spooky story competition with Byron, Percy Shelley, Polidori – is almost so doused in writerly name-dropping as to be something you couldn’t make up.

But hey, I’ve never shied away from a fool’s errand so away we go. (more…)

Goodreads review: Gardener to the King

Gardener to the KingGardener to the King by Frédéric Richaud
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In this brief work, Frédéric Richaud manages to encapsulate the world of the Sun King and the rising tide of discontent between the French classes by way of… gardening?

Versailles is the focal point of this work, an expression of Royal dominance over the land. There’s plenty of information about the place itself, and there’s a distinct feeling that the abode – we begin just prior to court moving there from the Louvre – is itself a character. It’s treated with as much authorial love as any of the major figures in the work. (more…)

Goodreads review: The Ladybird Book of the Zombie Apocalypse

The Ladybird Book of the Zombie ApocalypseThe Ladybird Book of the Zombie Apocalypse by Jason Hazeley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is going to be a short review, which is fitting as the book is short. An amuse l’œil, if you like.

It pretty much does what you’d expect from the title: it’s a pisstake of the Ladybird books, a series of books aimed at improving kids’ reading abilities. Widely used in the ’60s and ’70s, these books covered all sorts of topics and were illustrated in a very painterly manner. (more…)

Goodreads review: Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show BusinessAmusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business by Neil Postman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

People will come to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

Well, this is all a bit depressing.

I mean, we’re all fairly acutely aware of the way the internet makes us all a little stupider, right? There was a lot of hoo-ha about Nicholas Carr’s Atlantic article “Is Google Making Us Stoopid? but in this brief book, Postman makes the same claims about television, something which by now appears benign in comparison to the dizzying chasm of timesink that defines most of our modern lives.

And he did it in 1985.

And then Roger Waters wrote an album about it.

I know, right?

Right. (more…)

Goodreads review: The Golem and the Jinni

The Golem and the JinniThe Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You really don’t need to read this review. It’s probably better if you don’t. If you think you’re even slightly interested in this book based on the title – which let’s face it, tells you pretty much all you need to know -then go and read it.

I’m serious. If you’ve a passing interest, even, in golems, in jinns, in magic and myth, just go.

And people who bypass the book because they think it’s going to be all magickque and twee? Well, fuck ’em, because they’ll miss out. Because, yes, there is magic in here – and I’m someone who normally can’t handle dreamcatcher, velvet-pantsed horseshittery, which is odd given my intense interest in esoterica – but it’s not really what The Golem and the Jinni is about. (more…)

Goodreads review: George Washington Is Cash Money: A No-Bullshit Guide to the United Myths of America

George Washington Is Cash Money: A No-Bullshit Guide to the United Myths of AmericaGeorge Washington Is Cash Money: A No-Bullshit Guide to the United Myths of America by Cory O’Brien
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Look, this is a bit of a hard one for me to review. I’m not entirely sure why. I mean, I liked Cory O’Brien’s previous book about mythology, so it stands to reason that I would like this.

And I do, let’s not argue about that.

But it feels a bit weirder to be writing about actual people with the same pisstakery that’s perhaps reasonable for mythological figures. (more…)

Goodreads review: The Psychopath Test

The Psychopath TestThe Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jon Ronson, like Louis Theroux, is someone whose career is built on the examination of those who seem other, who seem oddly separate from our daily experience. The Psychopath Test, however, focuses on something we’re probably all familiar with, perhaps unwittingly: the psychopath. Because in every hundred people, one is a psychopath.

The writing works because it’s pretty breezy. We open with Ronson’s own feelings of panic and anxiety, coupled with a mystery: a curious book that’s been sent to various academics. He tries to figure who sent it, and why, and begins his journey into the world of psychopathy.

Throughout, the explorations are driven by a personal curiosity. It’s a fairly organic progression: stuff unfolds without a great degree of forethought, always with a tailing thought: am I a psychopath? (more…)

Goodreads review: Cured: The Tale of Two Imaginary Boys

Cured: The Tale of Two Imaginary BoysCured: The Tale of Two Imaginary Boys by Lol Tolhurst
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a book for Cure fans.

No, really. That’s who’s going to read it. I am not excepted from this number. I had watched the Story of Lol from afar, from his being jettisoned after Disintegration to his surprising (and a bit tearjerking) reappearance with the band for their Reflections gigs at the Sydney Opera House. I knew, more or less, the story of the band, but obviously the focus is generally on Robert Smith rather than ol’ Lol.

People outside the Cure’s fanbase most likely don’t know who Lol Tolhurst is, and are probably wondering why he’s got an abbreviation for a first name. (more…)