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Posts Tagged ‘non-fiction’

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A renowned cyberpsychologist (no, I hadn’t heard of that job title either) discusses the impact of the cyberworld which we are all living in, our 24/7 connection to the internet, and the effect that it is having on a generation that are growing up with the internet as a huge part of their lives.

Admittedly, the subtitle of this book, A Pioneering Cyberpsychologist explains how human behaviour changes online – led me to expect something different. I thought it was going to be more about how perfectly decent and reasonable people often descend into bullying, unkind, trolling behaviour when hiding behind the anonymity of their keyboard. There is a chapter that deals with this, but generally speaking the book is more generalised, but still an interesting subject to discuss.

I wanted to read it because I do think this is an important and fascinating subject. Because I find it interesting and upsetting to walk into a restaurant and see a couple eating at the same table, but not really together because both of them have their eyes glued to their phones. Because it’s not unusual to see a group of young friends walking together, each looking at their own smartphone screens. Because there is now a whole wealth of knowledge at people’s fingertips, yet a lot of it is false or biased.

Unfortunately I also found this book to be incredibly biased. Yes, technology is isolating for some people, but there is so much good about it too. Dr Aiken says in the introduction that she wants to keep the book fairly science-light, which she does. This makes it easier to read in many respects, but also means that a lot of what she says comes over as purely her opinion with very little if anything to back it up. There’s a lot of “I would guess…” “It is my belief that…” “I believe…” etc. She does state a couple of times that there are a lot of positives about the internet, but doesn’t really acknowledge what they are, and focusses heavily on the negative.

Some of the subjects raised are vitally important – the aforementioned effect of bullying online, and how it is affecting mainly young people. There was one chapter about the effects of screens at close range to a child’s face and the effect it can have on that child’s vision. Cyberchondria – i.e., the obsessive checking of physical symptoms online and being convinced that you have the most serious disease imaginable. But none of these are new phenomenons. I remember the debates about whether it was right or just lazy to stick a child in front of the tv for very long. Bullying is unfortunately something that has been around as long as humans have, and hypochondria is a long recognised problem for many people – sure the internet has given people a new way to do all of these things, but it hasn’t caused the problems in the first place.

Although there is little anecdotal evidence to support what Dr Aiken says, she does occasionally come up with examples of what she is trying to say – usually tragic, anomalous stories (let’s face it, you can find one story to support almost anything you believe if you look hard enough).

I will say that Dr Aiken has an engaging and readable style and had the book been more balanced I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more. As it was, it comes across as more of a lost opportunity than anything else. An important subject, but a more open-minded discussion would have been nice.

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After hitch-hiking around Ireland with a fridge, enlisting the help of Norman Wisdom and Tim Rice to have a one hit wonder, playing the Moldovans at tennis and doing something with a piano in the Pyrenees (not sure what exactly as I haven’t read that particular book yet), Tony Hawks takes on his biggest challenge yet – moving with partner Fran from London, his home for 30 years, and buying a cottage in rural Devon. There, they have to get used to a change of scene, change of lifestyle and change of pace.

Tony and Fran embrace their new surroundings and new neighbours, and meet the challenges that are thrown at them with enthusiasm and gusto (if not always unqualified success). When they discover that Fran is pregnant, Tony realises that there is time for just one more challenge – cycling coast-to-coast with a micro pig named Titch.

I have always enjoyed Tony Hawks’ books and this one was no exception. At many times it is laugh-out-loud funny – and I do mean literally – laugh-out-loud. I found myself bursting into giggles on a number of occasions (the scene where Tony attends a Zumba class had me in stitches). He also adds in his own thoughts about the environment and man’s effect on it, and impending fatherhood. The book ends on a sweet note which I am reluctant to spoil for other readers, so I won’t!

Overall, if you have enjoyed Hawks’ other books, I am sure you will enjoy this one too. If you have never read him before, don’t delay any longer! This is extremely enjoyable, funny and heart-warming. Oh – and I adored the micro pig Titch!

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Just a short review for my final book of this year…it’s a look back at the crazy events of 2016, focussing a lot on two huge shock decisions – the Brexit Vote in the UK and the election of Donald Trump as the next President of the USA.

Read it and weep…and laugh! It’s very funny and very scathing – but it does take a chapter to remind us that there have been far worse years in the past, and some good things around the world did take place this year.

One word of warning – if you don’t like bad language, this is a book to avoid. It is peppered with swearing and lot of very inventive insults!

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In this enchanting true story, Tom Michell relates how in the 1970s, when he was in his early 20s and teaching in an Agentinian boys boarding school, he encountered a penguin who became his best friend. He saw the penguin on a beach covered in oil and near death as the result of a recent oil slick and on an impulse decided to rescue him and clean him up, with the intention of then releasing him back into the wild. However, the penguin refused to leave his side, and so after naming him Juan Salvador, Michell became the proud adopter (or adoptee?) of his new feathered friend.

Juan Salvador soon becomes a favourite among staff and students alike at the boarding school and brings a little magic into all of their lives. Through his and Tom Michell’s story, the reader also learns a little about the Argentinian political situation at the time, and how badly inflation was affecting the poorest in the country, and there is also some insight into life in the boarding school.

Mostly though, this is Juan Salvador’s story; it is he who is the true focus of the book, and what a delight he is. Michell describes the penguin’s own little personality and quirks and really brings him to life on the page.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book – it’s a quick read, both because it is only just over 200 pages, and also because I didn’t want to put it down. Highly recommended.

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Shakespeare and Me is a collection of essays by a variety of (mainly) writers, actors and directors, on what Shakespeare means to them and how he is still such a big part of modern culture. Throughout the essays, most of Shakespeare’s plays are mentioned, with many of the writers concentrating on just one.

As with all books featuring contributions by different people, some appealed more than others. My personal favourites were the three essays on Othello, and especially James Earl Jones’s ‘The Sun God’ (I was amused by the fact that he mentions actor Hugh Quarshie, and writes that he thinks Quarshie should play Othello – this essay was written prior to Quarshie’s performance as Othello at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre last year, which I was lucky enough to see). Eammon Walker – who himself played a fantastic Othello at the Globe Theatre – writes ‘Othello in Love’; and Barry John writes ‘Othello: A Play in Black and White’ which studied how the staging of a production of Othello started to draw parallels to the play itself.

I also enjoyed Re-revising Shakespeare by Jess Winfield of the Reduced Shakespeare Company; Shakespeare and Four-Colour Magic by Conor McCreery (where he discusses turning Shakespeare and his characters into comic book stars), and Ralph Fiennes’s ‘The Question of Coriolanus’.

If you have any interest in Shakespeare, I recommend this book.

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In this non-fiction book, sports journalist Anna Kessel investigates the role and treatment of women in (mainly) competitive sport. I’m going to be honest and say that this was not entirely what I expected; the sub-title ‘How Sport Can Change Our Lives’ led me to think that this would be a study of how sport or exercise can make us feel good, give us confidence and improve our health and fitness. As someone who partakes in a lot of high intensity, but non-competitive exercise, this really appealed to me.

However, the book is actually a feminist study of how women have been treated in the world of competitive and professional sport throughout history and right up until the present day. Despite being not what I thought it was going to be, for the most part this was an enjoyable and thought-provoking read. I liked that it talked about how exercise in general for women is generally only promoted in popular media in terms of how it can improve our looks and our sex lives. (I was looking at the cover of a so-called health magazine aimed at women recently, and almost every headline was talking about how to get sexy legs, or washboard abs, how to have better sex etc – instead of focussing on the health benefits. This is something that I feel particularly strongly about.) It also talked about the issues that girls suffer in PE at school – if you are not naturally athletic for instance, you are generally written off from day one. At least this is how it has been for many young girls, although I am certain it is the same for boys too.

The book is very clearly well researched, with interviews with several sporting personalities or women working in sport, and Kessel underlines some of the discrimination that women are subject to in sport – it amazes me that in 2007, there was such a huge furore about a woman commentating on Match of the Day! What century are we living in for goodness sake?!

However, a lot of the book focussed on aspects that didn’t interest me so much – obviously this is a very subjective opinion, but I have zero interest in football, whether it is played by men or women, and so I did struggle to keep my attention for the parts of the book dedicated to the passion of football fans.

I also would have liked more about exercise in general, not necessarily competitive or professional sport, and an exploration about how we should be exercising for health and well-being, rather than to get the perfect beach body, would have been very interesting.

Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in sport and/or feminism. I liked Kessel’s engaging and conversational writing style and will keep an eye open for more work by her in the future.

 

 

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The subtitle of this book is ‘The Story of the Movies and What They Did to Us’. And that sums up what the book is about. Rather than a history of Hollywood (which is what so many people think of when they think about cinema and film), this book discusses the first time that moving pictures were created, right up to the current day when we are all watching very different types of screens, films can be watched on phones, and people play video games for hours on end.

The basic structure of the book is that each chapter covers one – or a small number – of significant film makers, primarily directors, although Thomson also talks about writers, actors and producers. It’s less a chronological series of events, but more a picture of various people who helped create the movies as we know them today. Thomson covers a lot of French cinema for which he has an obvious passion, as well as American, and also touches on film-makers from other countries, as well as other entertainment mediums that we view on screen (video games, and of course television for example).

Did I enjoy it? Well, sad to say, not particularly. Getting through the book felt like a bit of a slog, although I did enjoy the last quarter considerably more than what came before it. But there’s no denying that it was extremely well researched and written with obvious passion for the subject and I truly feel that the reason I didn’t enjoy it is more down to me than down to the writing. The information given was very dense and there seemed to be so much to take in that I only felt like reading a little bit at a time.

If you are at all interested in the history of movies, I recommend this book, but if you are looking for a bit of light reading, be warned – it’s verbose and throws a lot of information at you!

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