The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat

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The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat is such an eye catching title. As soon as I heard it a few years ago, it placed itself firmly on my ‘To read’ list. I finally got around to reading Oliver Sack’s famous book this year and I have to say, I’m a little disappointed. What I expected to be a mesmerising series of neurological illnesses and explanations turned into basic reflections of the author that were void of either information or sense of importance. There were a few sections, however, that were surprisingly poignant. Many of us believe that just because someone is different, they have a deficit and this one trait consumes their entire being. Slowly and peacefully, he encourages to question this notion, which is the one thing that saves this book.

Overall, the book is rather dry. We read about people with autistic savants, major memory issues (such as Korsakov), proprioception problems and agnosia. It’s funny but the main issue I have with the book is that the way these concepts were presented. They were either too dull or too brief for me, but I ended up not really understanding them. The only thing I remember is that when in doubt, it’s an issue with the temporal lobe. As I struggled with understanding these concepts, it made me question whether the target audience were professions (in which case the information was too brief and superficial) or the average Joe like me (in which case there was not enough). Even though the focus was on how it affected the people, losing a strong understanding of what they are going through lessens the impact.

There is a sense of realism with the patients, but there was also something a little off. The relationship between them and Oliver Sacks was a bit stinted. Even in instances where they communicated such as with the twins, I felt like he was trying too much for the sake of his reputation instead of being genuine. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact reason for this, but something just felt a little clinical throughout the story (which is off for a clinical tales, right?). Perhaps it was the dialogue that was included which didn’t seem natural. It felt like they were saying what Sacks wanted them to say instead of what they really said. Most of the styles of speech were similar to one another, which shouldn’t happen as the individuals were so different.

The way the individuals are presented, however, is nice. Sacks emphasises the point that just because their brain may not function the same way as you or me, it doesn’t mean that they are defected. He even explicitly defends this belief, which is important for many of us to hear every once in a while. This becomes a focus in a chapter discussing how people start hearing music and it can even be a good thing. Honestly, the section about an Irish woman was the most touching part and if anything, I recommend you read that essay. This theme does occur in many other essays, but the one with the music highlights it perfectly.

Even though I don’t love this book or even like it that much, I really do appreciate it. It brings a sense of humanity to what many people may consider problems. I might not have a better understanding of some of the disabilities than when I started, but I’m sure others will get more out of the book depending on their current knowledge. However, some sections are a bit dry, so focus on reading essays instead of the book. Even if you just read two or three parts of the book, it can lead to a better understanding of the individuals who have a neurological issue. 6.8/10

Question: What is the best the best book you have read that explains certain disabilities?

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What a Twist


 Do you know what is a delightful and quick book?  Room 46 by Helen McKenna. This story follows young Grace as she volunteers at Rosehill Nursing Home. There she reads short stories to resident Edith and along the way, Grace learns that things are not always what they seem at first glance. Parts of it touched me personally, and I feel like many people can relate to aspects of the book.

There were many characters in the book, but the focus was on Grace and Edith. I related to Grace a lot. This could be because of excellent writing or my own experiences makes me think the writing is excellent. Her backstory was a little disappointing though, but I liked her overall. Edith, on the other hand, remains a mystery for most of the book. This works if you think of her as a character representing an idea instead of just a character. If the book were any longer, this might become annoying, but from what I read, it worked perfectly. A few other characters were included, which felt a little awkward. They should have been used more to justify their existance. I still found the characters relatable and I’m sure you will connect to at least one of them.

Not a lot happens in this book. You can basically sum it up by, ‘a girl reads short stories to a woman in a nursing home as she tries to sort her life out’. It is one of those stories that explores people’s lives and how one individual can make a difference. Don’t read this story if you’re a plot oriented person as you would be very disappointed. However, if you like character oriented stories and having your asumptions be proven wrong, give the book a go. 

The focus of the short stories is that things are not always as they seem, and this obviously comes across in the actual plot. For me, there are three main plot twists that have encouraged different responses. One was predictable, one was an actual shock that made me feel stupid for not realising it earlier, and the final one annoyed me. Having this range of responses was suprisingly enjoyable for me. It made the book feel fresh and my emotions constantly changed. There are a few more ‘plot twists’ that feel like they are only there to emphasise a point or to fill out space. They either should have been developed more so that I cared about the outcome or exluded. It did slow down the pace, however, as it was distracting to the main story.

The writing itself was decent. It wasn’t overly flowery, but there were a few touching scenes. One section even got a tear out of me, but that is because it resonates with some of my personal fears. If you don’t relate to any aspects of the book, I can see it coming off as a bit bland. Basically, it is not the most mesmorising book in the world, but it presents the characters and situations well. Basically, it’s not the worst story in the world.

This is not a book that will change the world, but it is one that can make you stop and concider different facets of life. Even though I did not like the ending, I feel like it was one other people would need. I will give it 7/10.
Question: when was the last time you read about a character that you relate to?

Murder and Poems and Porn. Oh My.

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I don’t remember the last time I read an lgbtqa+ erotica murder mystery poetic book. For this reason, I can’t deny that Dorothy Porter’s The Monkey Mask is slightly original. Apart from the interesting style, most the story is predictable and even a little awkward. Watch the self-confessed ‘dyke’ Jill Fitzpatrick investigate the murder of uni student Mickey Noris and fall into a sexual relationship with Mickey’s teacher Diana.

Jill Fitzpatrick, even though she’s a bit stereotypical, is very cool. She’s a tough woman who is open with her sexuality and I found myself rooting for her. Even though there were a few questionable moments, I found myself making an excuse for her. If you don’t see my reasoning behind the excuse, it’s find. Maybe it’s just because I enjoyed the irony of a poetic first person book done via a character who hates poetry. I’m not saying that Jill is the most complex and realistic character in the world. Hell, I can even see the argument of her being a lazy stereotypical lesbian. I just know that I liked her.

The other characters weren’t as developed as they should be. It’s the curse of writing it through poetry. We get to know a bit about Mickey through her poetry. I even tried to write a section of a poem up for you, but I’m too prudish. Diana is… also stereotypical. She is the kind of bisexual that people in the 90s would write. There needed to be more heart for me to care about her. I can’t even remember the names of the other characters, which goes to show how forgettable there are. There just needed to be less porn and more character development.

A focus of The Monkey’s Mask is sex, and it is so hard to get that right. Most of the times, authors include awkward lines that take you out of the experience. This is what happened multiple times throughout book. Yes, quite a few were good, even intentionally a little bit devoid of emotion, but there are the occasional sentences that destroys any emotion other than humour. I remember one line talking about teeth gnashing together as they make out.  The annoying part is that other bits were so good. If they had just gotten rid of the few awkward lines, it would have been a lot better.

The mystery isn’t that much of a mystery. It’s established early on who the most likely suspect is and of course, it was right. This would be linked with the title and it goes into an idea, but I always think the story should come first. If it’s a murder mystery, it should be a little bit more mysterious. The other suspects did not feel like they were actual suspects as there was only superficial evidence. Maybe if there was something more substantial on them, it would take a bit more of a mystery.

Now for the actual poetry. I’m not a buff in that area, but I found it ok. There was not a lot of depth to the poems, but it sort of works with the story. When some writers go into a lot of detail and emotion throughout the poems, it’s hard to keep track of what is actually going on. However, because of this I only experienced one or two ‘wow’ moments after reading a poem. There just had to be a few more to make the book stand out.

This book started out as an interesting read but once the action started, it maintained itself until the end with no changes or development. I will give it 5.2/10.

 

Question: What was the last poem you read?

For the Love of Books

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Do you know someone who thinks they are better than others because of the sophisticated books they read? Do you know people who shame you for your favourite book? If you roll your eyes at these people, Christopher Morley’s The Haunted Bookshop is not for you. Read Roger Mifflin boast about his beloved profession as a second-hand bookstore and how books are the meaning of life. Oh yeah, and there’s a mystery behind a copy of Thomas Carlyle’s Oliver Cromwell.

I want to start with the most infuriating part of the book. It was an homage to books for a majority of the story and while I understand the sentiment, I hate it when authors do this. If we are reading books, we like books. That or we are forced to read the book and your snobbish attitude isn’t helping anyone. Yes, the book was published in 1919 and things would have been different to what they are now, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying. The only way to make the story a little bit more tolerable is if I view it in a way that probably wasn’t intentioned. Roger Mifflin, as pleasant as he is, has become so besotted by books that it has blinded him from the main plot of the story. Even though he values reading and is a nice enough character, he shows that the obsession with books can impact negatively on real life. Honestly, this is much more interesting than, ‘books are amazing and if you don’t read books, you’re not smart’.

Even though the main characters were nice, they were just that… nice. Roger Mifflin became a one-dimensional character and Mrs Mifflin as well as Titania – a young student who had to be saved through the power of Dickens – were placid extras. Even though it did give a scene later on more power, it wasn’t worth it. Only Aubrey Gilbert had a life outside of books, which led to the actual plot. On an unrelated note, what is it with classic writers having male characters want to beat the girls they find attractive? It is a really strange trend that people have, and it makes the relationship more uncomfortable than it already was.

The actual plot is rather interesting. It would have been so much better if this was the focus and the love of books was just a background theme. A particular book goes missing, only for the name to be brought up by multiple people. Roger Mifflin is too busy obsessing over other books to put much thought into it (at least they stole a book worth stealing after all), but Aubrey is determined to figure out what is going on. I have to respect the plan of the antagonists, which kind of saves the book a little.

I might be a little bit bias, but basing a book on how amazing books are doesn’t work for me anymore. It feels like it’s pandering to the audience and removes the likability of the characters. It distracts me from the plot, which was actually pretty good, and made the story feel a lot slower simply because I didn’t like what they were saying. I will give this 5.5/10. If you really love books, I think you will appreciate it more than I.

 

 

Questions: What is your opinion on books constantly declaring how great books are?

Another Celebration of Women

Women are incredible. You can have a ‘Top 1,000’ influential women’ and not be anywhere close to including all of them. Pier9′s <i>Women who Changed the World: Fifty Inspirational Women Who Shaped HIstory </i>is one of the myriad of books encourages awareness of brilliant women. Even though I was questioning a few of the inclusions in this book, it was still a solid foundation for readers. If you have limited knowledge on people like Rosa Parks and Marie Curie, this is a great book for you.

The range of women is reasonable. This comes in the form of women of colour such as Mary Seacole and Benazir Bhutto, but also in their occupations. Politicians, fashion designers, entertainers, activists, scientists and athletes are included with equal respect so I’m sure you will find a few that you find interesting.

The layout was formulaic, which can be boring for many people, but I enjoyed it. It made each reading feel like a ritual and if I didn’t care about the individual, I knew which parts to skip. Even if you didn’t want the three page explanation, a simple glance at the introduction page will give you a solid understanding of the woman.

As each woman is given three pages (timeline included), you won’t get as much information as you would of you read a biography. However, a lot of their life is introduced. Sometimes the negative aspects are included, which is very important as it makes the book feel like more than just a shrine to the women.

As there are so many great women in history, the way the book was presented was informative but predictable. However, they were smart by admitting the issue at the introduction where they stated ‘we hope the choices made by our researches will prompt thought and discussion’. So, who do you think is constantly snubbed from influential women lists

Score: 7.3/10

I think I need a cure now.

As the final book in the Maze Runner series (prequels excluded), there was a lot riding on The Death Cure. The ending looked bleak and there were so many questions that needed to be answered. Unfortunately, what we got was a cop out ending that leaves more questions and multiple issues feeling unresolved. In fact, I have figured out what bugs me about the story; it’s such a dude book.
What is a dude book you may ask? It’s a story saturated ion action and violence, thus losing the impact. We’re not given any time to breath before the next fight, which is the conveniently solved. This was really frustrating in the end because a huge fight scene would have been so good if it hadn’t been ruined by the consistent ‘near death’ tone. Even the way the short chapters ended on suspenseful notes made the whole thing monotonous.
The characters were rather superficial. They usually had the same motives and were tough. If there was one or more sweet of fun character to juxtapose the darkness, it would have been lighter and more readable. I even think that there was not much character growth, which shows how violence was the focus of the story. Thomas, for example, was a generic hero character that just made him bland. It’s just the fantasy for dudes without any complex thought.

I really want to complain about the ending, but I can’t do that without spooking any of it. Basically, I can see what he wanted but it just made the plot feel pointless and I can think of multiple issues with what happened.
Read this book if you like action and an attempt of discussing utalitarianism. I can sort of see the appeal, but there are too many issues for me to properly enjoy it. 5.1/10.
Discussion: can you think of any other examples of dude books?

Hello, people. With the year coming to an end, I had to reflect over what I have accomplished and this is one of my main concerns. I rarely finished a book and actually got around to writing a review. This saddens me. However, there’s no point wallowing in the past. My New Year’s Resolution is simple: Read one hundred books and write one hundred reviews. If I succeed, I will buy myself a bookcase (which I have been needing for a while) and if I fail, I will sell most of my books. Wish me luck, guys.

Everything You Know is a Lie

There’s only one thing better than learning something new – learning something that you thought you knew is absolute bollocks. The hit TV show QI has been blowing the minds of their viewers for over a decade, so naturally a gimmicky book had to be created. Thus The Book of General Ignorance by John Lloyd and John Mitchinson was born. Unfortunately, it’s better as a standalone piece than a book connected to a TV show.

The amount of “mind-blowing facts” depends on your knowledge. There were a few facts I already knew (some from watching the TV show), and others I never even heard of so the big reveal of the truth meant little to me. I still recommend you read the book because you’re probably going to learn at least one thing.

I have read a few arguments stating that some QI facts are wrong, and they probably are, so I would have liked a reference list at the end of the book. It does mention the ‘elves’ who do the research, but that isn’t the same as acknowledging where they got the information from.

One of the best aspects of this book is the transitions. It doesn’t separate topics into sections, nor does it jump from one fact to another. Instead, it uses a component of one answer as a the topic subject of the next question. This makes it flow really well, but the rare incident where they don’t do it is obviously disjointed.

Another disjointed part of the book is when they include quotes from the TV show. Some may have been funny, but overall they didn’t work for me. Some didn’t work because they seemed irrelevant, while others didn’t work because it’s not the same as hearing it from the guests. It’s also an issue because I don’t know to whom it is targeted. Fans of the show would already know the joke and I really can’t see it appealing to those who aren’t fans (mainly because they didn’t even include the surnames of the guests). It didn’t destroy the book, but nor did it contribute anything.

Overall, it’s a really pleasant book. Your outlook on reality will be tested and you have to think for yourself. I’m giving it 7.2/10.

Discussion: What is the strangest fact you know?

Shall I compare thee to other books I read?

Mickey

Love has to be one of the most influential emotion; especially when it comes to poetry. Classic Love Poems edited by Max Morris is just one of the many books dedicated to this topic. By embracing poets from Richard Monckton Milnes to William Wordsworth, he created a really cute book with pretty illustrations.

The poetry was either hit or miss with me. Some of them left me smiling, and the others left me turning the page with no idea of what I just read. My favourites have to be the ones dedicated to a certain individual (at least, I assume they are) such as Robert Burn’s I Love My Jean. However, the overall tone was too lovey dovey for my liking. There should have been more intense and even depressing love poems so we can have a larger variety and would even help with the order.

Morris used the classic alphabetical order of the authors and while I have no issue with this, there are a few other structural issues. The main one is that he included passages from books or plays, such as one from Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac. Knowing that there is a whole story surrounding the poem prevents me from enjoying what has been presented to me. I just need to know the context. Another minor issue is that Morris didn’t title some of the poems properly. For example, every poem by Shakespeare was simply called Sonnet. This confused me because he numbered Elizabeth Barret Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese. Why were some poems titled properly while others weren’t?

There’s not much to say about the illustrations except that they were pretty. I would have appreciated a little more depth or variety, but then it wouldn’t have gone with the idealistic tone of the book. Overall, it was a fine job.

This is a great book if you’re looking for romantic (and sometimes corny) poems. Unfortunately, that’s not for me so I’m going to have 5.6/10.

Discussion:

Let’s do something different. Create your own love poem and submit it in the comment section.

Your Skirt’s Too Short

Illustration by Kartazina Babis

Hopefully you know that sexism still exists in western societies. If not, or you want to learn more about the topic, Emily Maguire’s Your Skirt’s Too Short is a great inclusive book to assist you in your journey. Maguire uses standard creative non-fiction techniques to explain issues such as work, porn, appearances, how sexism affects men and many more.

When it comes to these kind of books, half the enjoyment comes out of it challenging your views of the world. Unfortunately it didn’t, but that didn’t mean I learned something interesting. I still cannot believe that a Laser Vaginal Rejuvenation Institute exists and that some people found the models in Total Girl sexual. Actually, here’s a warning; you might hate society a little bit more once you finish the book.

One of the best parts of the book is that it is inclusive. She includes LGBTQA+ individuals and a Muslim woman while making arguments. It’s still not perfect as she includes the word ‘cripple’ when making a joke and doesn’t really mention how feminism history is different to different races. The worst example, however, is one that I might be looking too deep into. In one chapter, she uses the subheading ‘First they came for the homosexuals’ and ‘Then they came for me’, which appears to be a reference to the Martin Niemöller quote. I may understand why she did it, but comparing our treatment towards the homosexuals today to the treatment of Jewish (or even homosexual) population in WWII Germany makes me uncomfortable. Apart from these small issues, knowing that she has at least attempted to include different kind of people makes her a lot better than other ‘White Feminists’.

Her voice does come through, which is great. She talks about her own experiences and mentions multiple times that everyone makes mistakes and should be accountable to them – even herself. She has a great way of putting herself into the text, but makes sure it isn’t all about her. However, it does become slightly monotonous towards the end. Maybe if she was slightly more passionate in certain areas, her otherwise pensive tone would be stronger and it would make the read more enjoyable.

The book is targeted towards High School students, and this makes me uncomfortable in certain areas. I have to imagine myself as an awkward teenager and some sections of the book would disturb me (mainly the discussion of the vulva). Then again, it depends on the teenager. For example, if a teen is really into porn, they should read the chapter ‘Pornstars and the Women Who Love them’. Male teenagers should also read ‘Boy Trouble’ to prevent from from becoming Meninists. If you are a teenager, it’s up to you as to whether or not you’re ready to deal with some graphic details.

Despite the minor issues, it’s still a decent read and is one of the best explanations of feminism I have read. I’m giving it 8.7/10.

Question: What is the most sexists encounter you have experienced?