And onwards with the bookshelf. Here’s part two of the books I’ve read so far this year. This one mainly rounds up my (very brief) phase of being into Rich Hall’s books, but makes up with a few new all-time favourites on my shelf. Which, by the way, is absolutely bursting at the seams and needs to be extended very soon. I’m sure the Boyfriend will be delighted, seeing as he’s already had so much fun designing and building the original bookshelf…
by Rich Hall | Amazon (UK)
A collection of short stories from one of the funniest comedians around. From a dude in Montana who makes his money hoovering prairie dogs out of the ground, to a teenage girl who invites hundreds of thousands of MySpace friends to her house party, to the author of a business book entitled Highly Successful Secrets to Standing on a Corner Holding Up a Golf Sale Sign, this book is full of fantastically messed-up characters. And behind each story – most of which, admittedly, are a bit off weird – you discover the very touching truth of human encounters. And that’s what makes Rich Hall so good and so funny.
Pens: 4 out of 5
The Adrian Mole Diaries – The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4; The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole; True Confessions Of Adrian Albert Mole; Adrian Mole: The Wilderness Years; Adrian Mole: The Cappuccino Years
by Susan Townsend | Amazon (UK)
What can I say! Adrian Mole has been one of Britain’s favourite literary characters for decades, and finally I am one of his many fans. Sue Townsend is a complete genius, and not just because of her uncanny ability to get into the head of a teenage boy. It’s Adrian Mole’s entire world – from the early 80s West Midlands small-town life to the 90s Soho food renaissance – that makes these books such an unbelievably delightful read. To me, a German with a not very solid basis in British history who has spent the last four years trying to figure out this country, the Mole Diaries have been a most enjoyable lesson in recent cultural history. And I also very much wish I’d known Adrian Mole when I was a teenager, because it would have made being a teenager infinitely more bearable. I cannot tell you how much I love these books.
Pens: 5 out of 5, plus a whole pack of new pens on top
Rules of Civility
by Amor Towles | Amazon (UK)
It’s one of those books that are a bit slow to get off the ground, and then completely knock you out. Amor Towles’ debut has a storyline that emerges gradually and almost takes a backseat throughout the book, letting the real centrepiece of the novel, New York City in the late 1930s, dazzle you with its glorious beauty. I’m a sucker for NYC, and for American literature centered around the history of the city, and this book was complete fangirl candy. Although I had doubts at first, it got to me when Edith Wharton (who wrote my all-time favourite New-York-based book, The House of Mirth) gets a cameo appearing in the window of her house (Been there, taken the photo. Of her house that is, not Edith Wharton.) Rules of Civility is wonderful ride through a city filled with people chasing their dreams, and at its heart is a strong and independent young woman who refuses to let lost love keep her from taking a chance at the good life. Inspiring.
Pens: 5 out of 5
Rich Hall’s Vanishing America
by Rich Hall
This rather slim book comes along as a snapshot of a road trip among the backstreets of the US, showing the kinds of people and lives that you guess – as the title suggests – won’t be around for much longer. If only, oh if only it was a full book instead of a sketchy draft. Every chapter of the journey shows a piece of American life you want to dive into and know more about, but with an average three pages dedicated to each chapter, the whole experience remains frustratingly superficial. I’m not even sure it it’s not all made up. Maybe it’s all part of Rich Halls genius method to get to you with completely made-up tall tales. Either way, this one doesn’t quite do it – there’s just not enough substance.
Pens: 2 out of 5
Self Help for the Bleak
by Rich Hall
And this is where it started to go downhill for me with Rich Hall’s books. I know there’s a good comedic concept somewhere behind this mock-self help book. It’s just not very well executed. The content is very obviously too over-the-top to be mistaken for the real thing, but the sarcasm in this is just too middle-of-the-road, and not enough to make it a good mockery. It’s not even very funny, just a bit bland and very, very long-winded the more you wait around for an actual funny bit. I didn’t, and terminated the experiment after two thirds.
Pens: 1 out of 5
by George Orwell | Amazon (UK)
I’d stayed well clear of this book up until this year even though it was at the top of every reading list throughout my senior school and university years, knowing it would be heavy-going and a bit depressing. And, having finally put myself through it, I can only say it is very heavy-going and a good deal depressing. However, a very necessary book – now probably as much as it was then. So, even though it was a pain to read and I really had to force myself through , and it put me in an absolutely rotten mood for days, I’ll have to admit it’s a must-read.
Pens: 4 out of 5
by Rich Hall | Amazon (UK)
I really liked Rich Hall’s books when I read the first few. But I have to say, after a while they all become a bit same-old, same-old. I mean, fair enough for a comedian to recycle his jokes on stage. But for a writer-comedian to recycle his stories from book to book and even in his stand-up shows just seems a bit, well, lazy. A character’s trait from book A becomes another character’s story from book B and gets picked up in a similar story for the live gig. Then the same character crops up as a hardly altered protagonist of a short story in book C, and if you happen to watch a recording of a stand-up show from a good few years ago, you’ll find that he already told the exact story back then. I’m sure Things Snowball has its good sides, but after reading much Rich Hall in a very short time I just lost my patience with the recycling and got a bit bored. To be fair, I should probably give this one another chance in a year or so, because I really enjoyed his short story style in general.
Pens: 2 out of 5 (for now)
by Neil Gaiman | Amazon (UK)
My first Gaiman, Neverwhere didn’t really live up to the expectations I’d had after reading his Pratchett-collaboration Good Omens and having him recommended by pretty much everyone I know. Visually, the book is just stunning- which doesn’t come as a surprise as it was a TV script before it became a novel. But, maybe for the same reason, it is considerably lacking substance. Although the world of London Below, a darkly beautiful parallel-world to the real city, is alive with visuals and magic, the characters remain fairly flat; and don’t even bother looking for a plot as there is none to speak of, really. This book has left me disappointed and frustrated. I so much wanted to love it, but aside from offering me a view into an intriguing mirror-image of the city in which I have made my home, it left me thoroughly untouched.
Pens: 2 out of 5
Hitchhiker’s Guide Trilogy – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, and Life, the Universe and Everything
by Douglas Adams | Amazon (UK)
Aaaaah, genius! I’m not really into sci-fi at all, so I had stayed well clear of The Hitchhiker’s Guide – until The Boyfriend told me that it was basically Pratchett in outer space. And he was right. The imagination, the mentalness, the adventure… it’s fantastically fantastic in every way. If I try to say more about it, my head will explode and you will all be crushed by the hailstorm of superlatives bursting out of it. So let’s leave it at THIS IS ONE OF THE MOST AWESOME STORIES EVER TOLD! And if you haven’t read it yet, DO IT NOW!
Pens: 5 out of 5, times infinity