“The Rosie Project” by Graeme Simsion

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What’s it about?

Don Tillman is a Professor of Genetics living in Melbourne, he finds most social situations awkward and has never been on a second date. Pushing 40, he knows that statistically there should be someone out there for him and so he embarks on “The Wife Project”, a lengthy and comprehensive questionnaire aimed at finding the perfect match. Much amusement ensues and the naivety in which Don views the world makes for a very charming and quirky adventure.

Worth reading because:

It is a genuinely heart-warming and funny book. I can’t believe it took me so long to get around to reading it. Don is one of the most offbeat and original characters I have ever read and you will not be able to put this book down. It’s silly, light, fun and a wonderful means of escapism.

Any other books by this author worth reading?

Graeme Simsion has since written a sequel to this book called The Rosie Effect, it has good reviews but I am in two minds about reading it, I don’t want to spoil the gem that is the original, but it would be the perfect book to devour for my next long haul flight. Have you read the sequel? If so, let me know what you thought of it.

Choice Cuts:

Fault! Asperger’s isn’t a fault. It’s a variant. It’s potentially a major advantage. Asperger’s syndrome is associated with organization, focus, innovative thinking, and rational detachment.

I could not see the speedometer, and was not accustomed to travelling in an open vehicle, but I estimated that we were consistently exceeding the speed limit. Discordant sound, wind, risk of death—I tried to assume the mental state that I used at the dentist.

So, to add to a momentous day, I corrected a misconception that my family had held for at least fifteen years and came out to them as straight.

Delicious.

Did you enjoy The Rosie Project as much as I did?

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“The Orphan Master’s Son” by Adam Johnson

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What’s it about?

Heartbreaking, beautifully crafted and surprisingly funny, this novel tells the story of everyman Pak Jun Do’s life in North Korea. Split into two parts, the first section focuses on Jun Do’s formative years and is an adventure through the underclass of North Korea. The novel begins with Jun Do’s story as an orphan and follows him through various adventures as he fails upwards from one career to the next, from military training and fighting in dark combat tunnels, to undercover missions to kidnap Japanese beachgoers and translating intercepted radio transmissions aboard a fishing vessel. The book certainly takes a few bizarre turns but it is never short of entertaining. The second part focuses in on the capital Pyongyang with the life of our protagonist taking an interesting twist, he gets up close with North Korea’s only actress, the military elite and even Dear Leader himself.

Worth reading because:

A crazy mix of a dystopian future, coming of age drama, eclectic thriller and undying love story, this original novel is told partly (and amusingly) through the loud speakers of the North Korean regime and it was the 2013 Pulitzer Prize winner for Fiction. It’s an absolute page-turner and at 464 pages is no slim feat, but I barely noticed all those pages racing by as I devoured it word by delicious word.

Any other books by this author worth reading?

I haven’t read any other books by Adam Johnson but for those fascinated by North Korea and perhaps wanting to sift through what is and isn’t fictionalised in The Orphan Master’s Son, The Guardian suggests a few non-fiction works such as The Aquariums of Pyongyang, about a nine-year-old boy sent to a camp or Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick which tells the stories of six residents of Chongjin, I’ll be reading the latter very soon.

Choice Cuts:

When the dogs returned, the Senator gave them treats from his pocket, and Jun Do understood that in communism, you’d threaten a dog into compliance, while in capitalism, obedience is obtained through bribes.

The loudspeakers called the famine an Arduous March, but that voice was piped in from Pyongyang. Jun Do had never heard anyone in Chongjin call it that. What was happening to them didn’t need a name-it was everything, every fingernail you chewed and swallowed, every lift of an eyelid, every trip to the latrine where you tried to shit out wads of balled sawdust.

Real stories like this, human ones, could get you sent to prison, and it didn’t matter what they were about. It didn’t matter if the story was about an old woman or a squid attack—if it diverted emotion from the Dear Leader, it was dangerous.

Delicious.

What did you think of The Orphan Master’s Son?

“Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe

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When I chose to read this book I knew nothing about it and had never heard of it. I found it one day when browsing through The Book Cover Archive and loved the artwork above and the title which is taken from a Yeats poem, so I  judged this book by it’s cover and decided to read it. Subsequently, blind reading like this has become one of my favourite ways to read a book, I rarely read the blubs first or know much about them, I love just diving into a big black and white, text filled hole and allowing the author to surprise and transport me. This can be a fairly safe bet when reading a classic or something from a top 100 list but a bit scary when reading a new author or the latest publisher push, so my hot tip is to download the free sample to your Kindle, you get about 30 minutes worth of reading of the book, then you can choose whether to purchase it and continue reading or just delete it if it’s not enticing you.

What’s it about?

This is a novel about the collision between colonialism, christianity and traditional cultures. It is set in the late nineteenth century in a fictional village in Nigeria, and follows the life of Okonkwo, a well-respected member of his clan. It describes his family, customs, society and history culminating in the inevitable influence of the British Colonialists and their Christian Missionaries.

Worth reading because:

It’s an absolute classic of fiction for both African and 20th Century literature and it is one of the first novels about Nigeria written by a Nigerian to recieve worldwide critical acclaim. It’s interesting and sad and lovely and thought provoking. You’ll eat it up because it’s an easy read and you’ll feel something in the process. It’s the kind of book that once you finish reading, you’ll be calling your friends to tell them to read it.

Any other books by this author worth reading?

I read this many years ago and so I am ashamed to say that I haven’t read anything else by Chinua Achebe yet, but there is a sequel to Things Fall Apart called No Longer At Ease, so I plan to sink my teeth into that soon and then follow on with many of his other fiction and non-fiction works.

Choice Cuts:

The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.

 If you don’t like my story,write your own

It always surprised him when he thought of it later that he did not sink under the load of despair.

Delicious.

Did you enjoy reading Things Fall Apart?

“A Confederacy of Dunces” by John Kennedy Toole

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

This was my favourite book for a very long time, and it still ranks right at the top. I read it nearly ten years ago and I still find myself quoting from it in conversations, although no one knows what I’m on about…

What’s it about?

Meet the Ignatius J. Reilly, a 30 year old medieval scholar who still lives with his mother in New Orleans. He is obsesed by his contemptuous views of taste and decency and although he percieves he has a worldly outlook, he has never even left his home town. The novel centers around his quest for a job and the various adventures he has once employed.

Worth reading because:

It’s an eccentric, funny and memorable adventure featuring one of the best written characters of all time. The lanuage is just delicious and in writing about it now I think I’ll have to schedule it in for a re-read very soon. It also won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1981. A highly recommended read,  you’ll be quoting it for the rest of your life.

Any other books by this author worth reading?

Sadly no,  John Kennedy Toole comitted suicide in 1969 and never saw this masterpiece published.

Choice Cuts:

… I avoid that bleak first hour of the working day during which my still sluggish senses and body make ever chore a penance. I find that in arriving later, the work which I do perform is of a much higher quality.

‘Canned food is a perversion,’ Ignatius said. ‘I suspect that it is ultimately very damaging to the soul’

A firm rule must be imposed upon our nation before it destroys itself. The United States needs some theology and geometry, some taste and decency. I suspect that we are teetering on the edge of the abyss.

Delicious.

Have you read A Confederace of Dunces? Do you like it as much as I do?

“The Talented Mr Ripley” by Patricia Highsmith

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Another very recent read, I haven’t seen the film so I can’t compare them but this was a real delight. I think I’ll have to watch the film now too.

What’s it about?

Tom Ripley is leading a strained existence in New York. Sick of his friends and bored of the city, he has a lucky break when the father of an acquaintance offers to send him to Italy, in an attempt to persuade their son to come home to America. Once in Italy though, Tom’s jealousies and paranoia get the better of him and the tension begins to  build.

Worth reading because:

It held me from the beginning, I was so engrossed in this book every morning on the Tube that I had to be careful not to miss my stop. Perfect! I totally believed the era I was transported to and descriptions of places I was reading about, they oozed a liquid decadence, drip, drip, drip and I felt jealous of their lives, just like Tom. Although I’m not certain the characters felt like real people, they were definitely interesting ones. It’s a great thriller and I think it achieves the same effect as American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis but without the intensity.

Any other books by this author worth reading?

After finishing this book I read the sequel Ripley Underground straight away as I wasn’t ready to part with the world Patricia had created yet. It wasn’t quite as good but still a decent book. I will probably read others in the series later on, they would make good plane reads. I’d also like to try some of her other stories like Strangers On a Train which was made into a Hitchcock film.

Choice Cuts:

Why should Dickie want to come back to subways and taxis and starched collars and a nine-to- five job?

Tom envied him with a heartbreaking surge of envy and self-pity.

He loved possessions, not masses of them, but a select few that he did not part with. They gave a man self-respect. Not ostentation but quality, and the love that cherished the quality. Possessions reminded him that he existed, and made him enjoy his existence.

They were not friends. They didn’t know each other. It struck Tom like a horrible truth, true for all time, true for the people he had known in the past and for those he would know in the future:

Delicious.

What did you think of The Talented Mr Ripley?

“The Spare Room” by Helen Garner

The spare room by Helen Garner

I thought for a while about la premiere post and what book I should do first. In a list of many greats, which is the greatest? Does this first post mean that it is the book I deem most worth reading and recommend above all others? To avoid that particular conundrum, I decided to report on a little gem that I read yesterday in one sitting, it is still fresh in my mind, is definitely worth reading and entirely recommendable. So onto today’s dish.

What’s it about?

A woman who has a terminally ill friend visit her for three weeks while she seeks an alternative medical treatment. Sounds dry, and I usually avoid books on such sad and realistic subject matter but this was a treat. Cue a tense period filled with love, life , rage and tolerance (or lack there of).

Worth reading because:

It’s a page turner, I read it yesterday while sick in bed and it only took about 3 hours. The characters feel real and the story feels almost biographical, which is probably because the author based it upon her real life experiences. It is sweet and funny and sad and it made me feel something. I like the author’s Australianness and her unabashed use of local references in Melbourne and Sydney.

Other books by this author worth reading?

The only other Helen Garner that I have read is Monkey Grip, which was ok. I haven’t read Joe Cinque’s Consolation but I have heard good things and it’s on my rather long “want to read” list.

Choice Cuts:

The station was a seven minute walk from my house, twenty if you had cancer.

Death will not be denied. To try is grandiose. It drives madness into the soul. It leaches out virtue. It injects poison into friendship, and makes a mockery of love.

… if I did not get Nicola out of my house tomorrow I would slide into a lime-pit of rage that would scorch the flesh off me, leaving nothing but a strew of pale bones on a landscape of sand.

Delicious.

Have you read The Spare Room by Helen Garner? If so, what did you think?