Books 19-26 / 2016

[NB – apparently I can’t count, so I have two number 19s (see previous post)

19) Parade by Shuichi Yoshida. If you have ever wondered what it might be like to be a disillusioned, disaffected 20-something living in a flat share in Tokyo, with an increasing air of tension, menace and weirdness building, then this is for you. I really liked it (!) although it is fairly bleak and there are few shafts of light in the gloom. Probably why it felt like quite a real portrayal of an atomised, fragmented society. An unsettling 8/10.

20) Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (aka JK Rowling) – 20th book so far, and after the bleak, Japanese dystopia of the previous book, thought I”d give myself an easier ride with the JK Rowling it is OK to read as an adult. This is the 3rd Cormoran Strike book and it’s eminently readable and well-plotted (as you might expect), with little of the bagginess which (I’m told) happened with Harry Potter as the series went on. With multiple potential villains and engaging main characters, you could do a lot worse for commute / beach. 7/10

21) The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson. I’m a big fan of Jon Ronson’s books – particularly So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed which I highly recommend (all about social media & impact on people’s lives) – and read quite a few. This one is an interesting meander through how we judge ‘psychopathy’ (there’s a test with 20 areas) and how we judge people by their %age of ‘madness’ rather than their %age of ‘normality’. There’s lots of really interesting deep dives into the foundations of how we judge and categorise disorders, and the early days of research experiments (psychopaths nude and on LSD, anyone?); it doesn’t *quite* all hang together in a narrative sense, but there’s so much of interest that I didn’t really care. 8/10

22) & 23) Snowblind & Nightblind by Ragnar Jonasson. Thanks to David Floyd for the recommendation of these Icelandic police procedurals. Very readable (hence two in a week for once) & a nice sense of small town Icelandia. Snowblind is probably the superior of the two, with more depth to the characters and more threads to the plot, but both consistently entertaining with Ari Thor the young, slightly hotheaded policeman at their centre. Commuting fare and perfect for escapism from a heavy work week. 7/10 for Snowblind, 6/10 for Nightblind.

24) The Murder Room by PD James. Classic English detective stuff and James is the master of this, painting very real characters and complex relationships with a deft touch. Adam Dalgleish is a great central figure, and this feels as much a literary novel about class and money as a police procedural. The 500 pages went fairly fast! 7/10

25) Better – Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande. I’m a big fan of Gawande’s writing from a surgeon’s perspective. If you haven’t listened to his Reith lectures or read Being Mortal, do so now: both amazing. This is not as good, mostly because it has the feel of some magazine pieces looking for a theme (which the Acknowledgements confirm to be true), so it doesn’t really hang together. So although I learned a lot about US medical insurance (now out of date) & a fair bit on wartime medical practice, I’m not sure they belonged in the same book. Having said that, the last couple of chapters are worth the price and time alone – with great insight on how to improve performance and how to be a ‘positive deviant’ (no, not like that). 6/10

26) The Isle of Youth by Laura Van Den Berg. One of my favourites of the year so far. Katie bought this short story collection and it’s great. Concise, dark, funny, moving tales of teenage bank robbers, ailing relationships, dysfunctional families and Americana. Like a young, hip Lorrie Moore – which I consider the highest praise. Hugely enjoyable. 9/10

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