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Posts Tagged ‘non-fiction’

Journalist Marianne Power decides to get her life in order with the use of self-help books. She plans to read one self-help book a month and follow their suggestions for the whole of that month to see what, if anything, actually works.

I expected a light-hearted tongue-in-cheek look at the huge self-help market, and although the book started off that way, it soon became apparent that this experiment was causing more problems than solutions for Marianne, and in fact there were some upsetting moments. It was a fascinating read, and definitely helped sort the wheat from the chaff – there are a LOT of people out there making a lot of money out of other people’s desire to improve or change their life, and some of them just made me really angry as they are so obviously taking advantage of their readers. Tony Robbins for example, who promises to change your life at one of his events – where the cheapest tickets are £500!! And ‘The Secret’ by Rhonda Byrne, which tells you that if you want something to happen, you just have to imagine that it has. Send yourself a fake cheque for a lot of money, and actual money will be bestowed! Yes, seriously.

Marianne Power is an engaging and likeable narrator, and this book certainly provided a lot of food for thought. I recommend it to all.

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In February 2013, journalist Del Quentin Wilbur spent a month with the Homicide Squad in Prince George’s County, which borders Washington DC. PG County (as it is referred to in the book) is in a fairly deprived area with a high crime rate, especially gun crime.

Wilbur gives details of the cases that the detectives investigate during the month of February, with maybe extra focus on the particularly heinous and apparently unmotivated murder of a young female in her own home.

I loved this book. The descriptions of the crime scenes, and how they affected the detectives was so well described, and more than just giving details of the work that these incredible people do, it also demonstrated how it affected them personally. I did feel that it must have clearly been influenced by David Simon’s ‘Homicide: Life on the Street’ (which for my money is one of the best non-fiction books ever written), and indeed, Wilbur does reference this book and explains that he wanted to see how the job of homicide detective had changed since Homicide was written in the late 80s.

This book made me thankful that I live in a country where gun crime is not prevalent – in PG County it’s basically part of life, and many innocent people get caught up in it – and made me wonder what it must be like to live your life constantly in fear.

Anyway, my review cannot do this book justice, but I do highly recommend it, especially for fans of true crime. There is no sensationalism here, just an interesting narrative of the facts, showing how the detectives go about their jobs, while trying to keep their own lives and minds intact.

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I’ve been a fan of Dave Gorman for a long time – his tv shows and stage shows (I’m lucky enough to have been him live) are always witty and entertaining, and his books are always a good source of amusement. In this book, he basically travels around England playing games with strangers. He plays traditional games such as Cluedo, Ping Pong, Darts and Poker, and some other games which were – to me at least – unknown, such as Khett, Kubb, Smite and erm…Rod Hull’s Emu Game (I know who Rod Hull and Emu are obviously. I did not know that there was such a game. And neither did Dave!)

Gorman is an affable and engaging narrator and while the book is not constantly hilarious, it is amusing and made me laugh out loud on a number of occasions. There is at least one episode which took both myself and Dave Gorman himself by complete surprise, and when you’ve finished the book I am sure you will know which one I mean.

Overall, a lovely read which I would definitely recommend. Also, I now would love to find a local Smite team to join!

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In a nutshell: Journalist A J Jacobs decides that it’s time to get healthy, but rather than gong down the more conventional route of eating better and moving more, he decides to focus on a different part or area of the body each month and investigate how to make that particular part the healthiest it can be. This involves learning about lots of differing and (often contrasting) health theories and experiments/studies, and speaking to several experts. There’s a fair amount of quackery going on, but Jacobs takes note of everything he hears, and is prepared to give anything a try.

It’s definitely entertaining and often amusing. For my money, it was not “riotous, madcap” as one review on the cover put it, and it did not make me “laugh my ass off,” as claimed by another review. But it was engaging and easy to read – it explored the science and thinking behind the studies and claims, but did not get too bogged down in technicalities. Jacobs is clearly a huge worrier and he knows it – something that I identify strongly with – and catastrophises a lot, always imagining the worst case scenario (again – this was hugely relatable to me). He’s very engaging and very likeable, which heightened my enjoyment.

One thing to note is that Jacobs lives in New York and this book is very American leaning. Not a problem for me, but some of the things that he tries might not be so accessible to people who don’t live in such a metropolis where everything conceivable relating to health is pretty much on the doorstep!

It’s not a healthy living book, and certainly not to be taken as guidance, as he himself makes clear.

Im summary, if you are looking for a hilarious madcap adventure, then I would not say that this is it. But it was an enjoyable and if you like (mostly) light-hearted non-fiction, then you might well enjoy this.

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First, a couple of points to be aware of regarding this book: (1) You do not need to be a fan of Jimmy Carr to appreciate and enjoy it. That said, I am a Jimmy Carr fan – in fact he is probably my favourite comedian – but even if I had never heard of him, I would have really liked this. (2) This is not a joke book. It’s a book *about* jokes. There is a joke (typically a snappy one-liner) at the foot of every page, and at the end of each chapter there are about four pages of jokes related to the subject of that chapter, but essentially this is a book about the history of jokes, the purpose they serve, the way they evolve, and the value of jokes in various cultures and across generations.

It’s a fascinating read, told in an engaging style by Carr and Greeves, and each chapter held my interest. They manage to keep the tone light but also really informative, and cover such subjects as why clowns are scary, and how different cultures have mythical japesters, some of whom are not only funny but also fairly sinister. The politics of joking is covered, and also a chapter on where (and if) humour should draw a line. Are there for example, some subjects which it is never safe to joke about?

I found this thoroughly absorbing and very well written. Hats off to both authors for a terrific read.

 

 

 

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Here’s a basic rule of thumb – if Mark Kermode writes something, I’ll read it. I’ve read – and loved – his three previous books, and therefore looked forward to reading this one. It’s co-authored with Simon Mayo, who is his co-host on Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review (broadcast on BBC Radio 5 on Friday afternoons).

Happily I was not disappointed, but for anyone else who has read Kermode’s previous works, it may be worth noting that this is much more of a dip-in-and-out type book, if you wish it to be. That’s not a criticism – I enjoyed it a lot and would definitely recommend it.

The premise behind the book is that movies are able to cure many of life’s ailments and dilemmas. (Obviously, they are not suggesting that you eschew proper medicine!!) So there are movies to pick you up when you’re down, movies to help you decide whether you want to have children or not, and movies to bring down an excitable mood. They also look at movies which in themselves could do with some ‘medical’ attention – for example, those which would have benefitted from being shorter in running time.

There are several chapters, each with an essay discussing the subject of that particular one, which delves into the histories of some films, and tells some interesting and amusing anecdotes. There are interludes where the ‘doctors’ are in their surgery attending to a patient, and usually end up prescribing an appropriate movie. There are also lists of films for every topic. Be prepared for your watchlist to grow!

If you like movies, this one is definitely worth a read. You can do what I did and read it straight through, but as I alluded to earlier, you can also dip into this book between other books.

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Bad Feminist is a collection of essays by American writer Roxanne Gay, all of which are more or less related to feminism. It is split into sections and I would say my favourite section was where she discusses various films from the point of view of a black woman. I love it when someone makes me look at something from an entirely different angle. An example is her anger about the film The Help, based on Kathryn Stockett’s book. I also enjoyed the part about crime and racial stereotypes.

I read it over a period of more than two years because I would read an essay or two between other books. However, I read the last quarter of the book in a couple of days and I actually found it more enjoyable than just dipping in or out.

The last essay, where she talks about being a bad feminist – essentially she, like pretty much all of us, is a mass of contradictions – resonated the most, because it’s a struggle that a lot of us can identify with, to a greater or lesser degree.

Overall, this was an interesting and enjoyable read. I would like to try more works by Roxanne Gay.

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Quickie review: This is a collection of David Mitchell’s** columns in The Observer newspaper from around 2009 – 2013. He has put them into chapters loosely based on particular themes, and a lot of the columns have introductory paragraphs. It can feel quite strange reading about events that were present day news stories at the time but are now almost a decade on.

As with all collections, some of the pieces resonate more than others, but all are infused with Mitchell’s wit, and I did find myself hearing his voice narrate them in my head. In short, if you like his comedy on shows such as Would I Lie To You?, QI, etc., you will probably enjoy this book.

It’s probably more of one to dip in and out of (which is how I read it – a column here and there between full length novels), rather than reading it straight through from beginning to end, but either way, there is plenty here to enjoy.

 

**Note: this is the British comedian David Mitchell, not the author of such works as Cloud Atlas and The Bone Clocks. It would have been a very different book if that were the case!

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David Dow is a death penalty lawyer in Texas – this must be one of the hardest jobs to do, *especially* in Texas. He believes that the death penalty is always wrong and fights to save his clients’ lives, while acknowledging that the vast majority of them are guilty of their crimes. He freely admits that he doesn’t like a lot of his clients but he is compelled to do what he believes is right.

This book however, while discussing other death penalty cases, focuses mainly on the case of Henry Quaker, a man who is convicted of murdering his wife and children – and who was almost certainly innocent of the crime. In discussing the various measures that David and his team take to try and save Quaker’s life, some deeply uncomfortable truth about the justice system are revealed. Quaker was a poor black man with a deeply incompetent trial lawyer. Despite there being another very viable suspect, and several reasons why Quaker almost certainly did not commit the crime, the lawyer failed to disclose any of this at the trial. Indeed, the book talks about public defender lawyers who literally go to sleep in the middle of trial.

I am completely against the death penalty in any and all circumstances, so I was also predisposed to be drawn into this book (I can’t say I enjoyed it, and it’s not a book that is really meant to be enjoyed, but it needs to be read). However, whatever anyone’s views, the truths about the ‘justice’ system revealed here should make anyone feel uncomfortable about the death penalty. I felt angry and frustrated learning about how bureaucracy and red tape, the laziness of judges, the incompetence of lawyers all have more to do with someone’s fate than the evidence for or against them.

The author also talks about his home life with his wife and young son. He has a lovely family and he acknowledges this. But there is no doubt that the job he does would have an effect on anybody, and he includes snapshots of their lives to illustrate this.

I recommend this book very highly. It is not always an easy read, but it is as compelling as any novel and the lessons contained within need to be heard.

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In this short book, renowned psychologist Susie Orbach discusses how our bodies have become a commodity, something to be altered by surgery, weight loss, make up, etc. Social media has reinforced ideas of the perfect body, and anyone who doesn’t have one (i.e., most of us) is made to feel that it is our fault and that we need to change it to be accepted. Our body is no longer somewhere to live from, but a commodity to prove our worth in the world. In Scandinavia, women who think they are too tall are having their femur broken and reset to make them shorter; in China, people who think they are too short can have a metal rod inserted to make them taller; women are having plastic surgery to shrink their waist and enlarge their breasts, while men are having surgery to increase the length and girth of their penis. Something has gone very askew in the way we view our own bodies.

Orbach also examines extreme cases such as Andrew, a physically healthy man who felt that he could only be happy if he had his legs amputated, and she looks at the psychology behind such stories.

It’s a short book at 145 pages and is something of an introduction to the ideas contained within, rather than a full scale investigation, but it makes for fascinating reading, talking about how the dieting industry is based on failure and plays on people’s insecurities. This is a book to make you think, it’s a book to make you angry, and it’s a book that everyone should read. Fascinating and highly recommended.

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