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Archive for the ‘Bookshelf’ Category

Rekindling an interest

For a long while I’d harboured the idea of acquiring an e-reader. I reasoned that I would be much more likely to read if I could take books with me in a format that would be more portable and also searchable. However, I could never quite bring myself to pull the trigger because, for many years now, I just haven’t had the compulsion to read books.

The last book I read was On The Road by Frank Skinner, over five years ago. Since then, my mother has bought me Michael J. Fox’s second autobiography (Always Looking Up) and, with grand intentions, I bought myself Richard Dawkins’ Greatest Show on Earth when it was released. I haven’t made it beyond a skim of the first chapter of either, despite the fact I do want to glean what lies between the hardback covers of each. I just haven’t been compelled enough to physically carry them with me on my daily commute when I would have the dead time to read them.

This perceived barrier to entry had also caused me to miss out on a number of technical books that I might otherwise have read and I had become acutely aware that, over the last few years, new techniques were passing me by. I used to jump at the chance of reading about some emerging practices in the Web development scene. If I look back ten to fifteen years on my Amazon order list it’s loaded with technical tomes.

But, somehow, I just got out of the habit of reading and I wasn’t sure that even if I took the plunge and bought an e-reader, I’d be able to sustain the urge to do so. After attending The Future of Web Design back in April I learned of several development books that I wanted to read and decided that I should at least give the e-reader route a try.

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The Long Way Round

I read Ewan McGregor & Charley Boorman’s tale of their motorcycle expedition Eastward from London to New York while we were on holiday recently, and found it to be an enthralling read.

The book begins with a short excerpt from much later in the journey, before delving into the background of the two actors, lending some insight as to how they ended up taking on the treacherous trip.

Throughout the story the viewpoint changes between Ewan and Charlie’s narration, giving a good insight into how each stage of the trip is affecting them personally. Maybe it’s due to me being closer in age to Ewan, but I found his chapters a bit more readable than Charlie’s at first, mostly due to Charlie being a bit of a sulk at times.

The book really shines when they’re out in the middle of nowhere, relying on the goodwill of strangers to put them up for the night, or to repair a part on one of the bikes. Some of the trip comes across as soul destroying from the futility of their efforts against the harsh terrain, but it’s these sections which are the waypoints of the journey, and it’s hard to put the book down until they’ve emerged relatively unscathed at the next scheduled stop.

I’ve always admired Ewan McGregor due to the way he’s forged his own path through his career, trying his hand at each facet of his chosen art, so it was good to learn more about the man through the course of the book. His worries and his weaknesses are almost refreshing to read, when compared to the polished image of most movie stars.

It’s this aspect of the book that keeps it enjoyable to the end, as even when the most physically demanding part of the journey is over with, the men still have the emotional turbulance to deal with due to the time spent away from their families.

It’s that aspect that the book communicates to a far greater extent than the tv series, which went more for the drama of the geographical journey than it did the resulting spiritual one. By the last page I felt as if I’d been on that journey with them at times, despite me sitting in the warm Mediterranean sun whilst I read.
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The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

The religious undertones of this book would normally have had me running for cover, but when Fliss‘ dad offered it to me for a read, I figured I should give it a go. I had a rough idea what it was about, due to the amount of hype the book had generated, and still found the winding plot quite compelling despite spoilers I’d stumbled across on the web.

However, as compelling as the story is, the characters are as stereotypical as they come, with your chiselled, handsome american hero, your beauty with a brain at his side, pompous police chief, and a pip-pip, jolly hockey sticks english aristocrat thrown in for good measure. Considering the amount of research that has gone into the rest of the book, the one dimensional character development is piss poor to say the least, and something that surprised me considering the media attention the book has enjoyed.

Brown seems to suffer from that 24 season one issue, whereby all the characters he wants you to think are bad, well, they’re portrayed as shifty and unscrupulous. And all the characters he wants you to think are the good guys, they come across as whiter than white. It fails miserably on all counts, as the lack of subtlety sets alarm bells ringing almost right away. It’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that the overly shifty, must-be-involved-with-the-bad-guys police chief is so obviously going to be clean as a whistle when it’s all said and done. The same and opposite is true of the too good to be true, overly helpful character, to the point where I ended up just coasting through the story wondering when the “good guy” was going to finally fuck them all over.

Still, maybe if you can spin a good yarn then it doesn’t really matter if all your characters are flat? And I do feel slightly harsh in pouring scorn on someone with immeasurably more writing talent than myself. I mean, the story contains some captivating, foreboding material that seems quite probable in some cases, keeping the intrigue and pulling you back for more.
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