Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

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Read 17/05/2017-18/05/2017

Rating: 4 stars

This is a very funny book, chaotically and terrifyingly so. I don’t need to tell you what it’s about. You already know what it’s about.

I’ve had my copy for about ten years. It was given to me by a chaotic and terrifying writer that I once knew. I think he was attempting to channel Hunter S Thompson. Sometimes that’s all you can do when you live in darkest South Wales.

I’ve been saving it up for a moment such as the one that hit me this week. I’m calling it existential nihilism, even though that gives more weight to my ‘so what?’ than it deserves. Continue reading

Hidden Figures

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Read 07/04/2017-10/04/2017

Rating: 4 stars

What I wanted was for them to have the grand, sweeping narrative that they deserved, the kind of American history that belongs to the Wright Brothers and the astronauts, to Alexander Hamilton and Martin Luther King Jr. Not told as a separate history, but as a part of the story we all know. Not at the margins, but at the very center, the protagonists of the drama. And not just because they are black, or because they are women, but because they are part of the American epic.

So says Margot Lee Shetterly in the prologue to her history of the black female mathematicians working at NASA from the 1940s onwards. Shetterly grew up in Hampton, Virginia. Her father was an engineer at Langley, working for NASA. She grew up among the women who worked alongside her father as human computers. Until a chance remark made by her father on a visit Shetterly made with her husband in 2010, she had no idea about the pioneering work these black women carried out, or about just how many black women worked at NASA. And so began her research into the subject. Continue reading

We Should All Be Feminists

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Read 26/02/2017

Rating: 4 stars

This is an essay in book form, a modified version of a TED talk given by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in 2012. It’s less than 50 pages long, but it packs a punch.

The event at which Adichie was speaking in 2012 aimed to challenge and inspire Africans and friends of Africa to think differently. In Nigerian culture, Adichie’s culture, being a strong independent woman is frowned upon. In her talk, Adichie identifies the different ways in which women are kept down in Nigerian society. I recognised some of those ways in my own culture, despite the fact that women were supposedly emancipated a century ago in Britain. Continue reading

On Flirtation

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Read 08/02/2017-13/02/2017

Rating: 2 stars

I’ve had Adam Phillips’ book, On Flirtation, on my bookshelf for more than ten years. I bought it on the recommendation of someone highly inappropriate with whom I was flirting, at a time when someone else was flirting with me and I was flirting with the idea of being a more hedonistic person than had previously been the case.

I enjoy flirting. I like that feeling of uncertainty, the thrill of what might happen, whether it’s stepping too close to the edge of something safely dangerous, or making eyes at someone attractively unattainable. I like the sense that I could become someone different by flirting with possibility, but not having to commit to it. I also like that it ends as soon as it becomes boring, or as soon as something more important takes up your attention.

I started reading On Flirtation for The Reader’s Room Winter Challenge. I was looking forward to it. I expected it to be a book about what flirtation is, why we do it, what its hidden meaning and purpose might be. The opening sentences of the first two paragraphs confirmed what I think about flirting.

The fact that people tend to flirt only with serious things – madness, disaster, other people – and the fact that flirting is a pleasure, makes it a relationship, a way of doing things, worth considering.

Exploiting the ambiguity of promises – the difference, say, between someone being promising and someone making a promise – flirtation has always been the saboteur of a cherished vocabulary of commitment.

Sadly, it didn’t turn out to be a treatise on flirtation. It was more of an exploration of and challenge to psychoanalytic dogma. Not the book I wanted at all. I’d go as far as saying the blurb on the back cover was misleading. Continue reading

The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry

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Read 03/02/2017-08/02/2017

Rating: 3 stars

I like Jon Ronson. I find his journalism slightly whimsical, even though it deals with serious subjects. He’s like Louis Theroux in that respect.

The Psychopath Test starts off funny. Ronson has a wry, self-deprecating, slightly neurotic delivery that brings out a need to laugh at some of the weird things he encounters in the pursuit of his research. It feels incongruous to laugh at times, but it’s human nature to use humour to deal with the strange and perplexing. Continue reading

Howards End is on the Landing

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Read 28/01/2017-30/01/2017

Rating: 3 stars

My husband bought me this memoir about reading for Christmas. I haven’t yet read any of Susan Hill’s novels, so I had no expectations. At the start of the book, Hill is looking for a book on her many bookshelves. As she tracks it down, she discovers that she has possibly 200 books that she hasn’t read. She also rediscovers books that she’d like to re-read. She decides to spend a year not buying new books and repossessing the books she already owns. Continue reading

Gumption

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Read 20/01/2017-24/01/2017

Rating: 4 stars

Watch out, because this is a long one. Gumption has fed my brain and I’ve had lots of thoughts as a result. I’ll start with this one: O, Nick Offerman, how I love your drollness.

There are so many great things in this book. I didn’t agree with all of Offerman’s opinions, but I agreed with and enjoyed the majority. He talks sense but he doesn’t preach. He entertains but he doesn’t diminish the seriousness of what he’s saying.

Offerman appears in one of my favourite TV shows of recent years, Parks and Recreation. He plays Ron Swanson, a small c conservative man with a deep love for the outdoors, manual labour and meat. He’s everything I shouldn’t love, but he’s a joy.

Offerman shares many of Ron’s characteristics, except he is more free in the expression of his sense of humour and far less conservative. In this book, Offerman takes a look at the lives of significant figures in American culture and explains why they mean what they do to him. It covers politics, art, slow living, responsibility to the planet, to animals and to other human beings, and provides insights into Offerman’s own philosophy of life. It’s both interesting and funny. Continue reading