29 August, 2013

How to be Happy?

Eric Weiner

Stephanie gave me this for Christmas, saying it was quite interesting ~ and the reason that she shows her location on Facebook as Iceland. Weiner claims to be a largely unhappy person, so considers himself perfect for conducting an investigation into happiness, specifically how the country one inhabits affects one's happiness. I suppose i like the idea; the writing was a little cuter than i care for usually; not enough to put me off reading the book, but perhaps enough to slow me down before picking up another by Weiner. The actual research ~ the book itself is largely anecdotal ~ is interesting, fascinating, one might almost say, as one's location and culture do seem to have some effect on happiness. In particular, monocultural places seem to be happier than multicultural, which is information that large swathes of the liberal West would do well to know and appreciate. Still, some of the responsibility must lie with the individual person, and Weiner seems to accept this, embrace it even, as he finds that his happiness level doesn't seem to change much no matter where he is nor how his circumstances vary.

18 August, 2013

Five books; two reviews

Roger Zelazny

I stayed with Chen and Tony for the weekend, and while she was showing me her books Chen and i talked a bit about this series, how i encouraged her to start it one time when she was bored, how i had read it with Kathy White back in the summer of 1980 on the Oyster River farm, how it is so good and easy to read. I remembered the opening lines of Nine Princes, or thought i did, and opened it to take a look, and i was hooked, again.

It is surely a sign of a classic that i can remember the first time i read this series, the events surrounding that reading, when and where i bought the books, as well as the appearance of the first ones i read and the set i bought ~ which is, sadly, a part of the huge collection we have “temporarily” left in the US ~ and at least one other time i read the whole thing. I have, on at least one occasion, gone on to reading more, beyond the original five, which Zelazny added some years later, but did not find them of the same compelling quality; i know, for example, that i have read more, but i don't remember how many, nor am i certain where i got them, nor when (those two are close to the same, libraries depending on geography and personal history for me), nor anything about them other than a certain disappointment. That lack of compulsion, the relative loss of memory about the sequels, tends to show me that the subsequent books are of a lower quality; understandable, as the originals are so high, but disappointing nonetheless.

So, looking at the opening lines, as i say, i was immediately drawn in, as i suspected, if i am honest, i would be. The books read so quickly that i really had no difficulty in racing through them, finishing three of the five in the fortyeight hours or so i was in Cardiff. As well as the conversations, the walk to the city, the music we listened to, the films we watched. What is it, then, which makes these so easy to read? Part of it has to be the plot, which is fairly simple, but quite compelling; who doesn't understand family strife, the desire to change situation or circumstances, and the struggle to better ourselves? Another part is clearly the language; Zelazny is not prone to complex grammar or sentences, nor is his vocabulary awkward or specialised, which makes the whole easy going. The characters, too, are a part of the attraction, as it is possible to see truth in all of them, their interactions, their different facets. Overall, whatever the reasons, this is a series i love, and it was delightful to be able to renew acquaintanceship with it again.

Roger Zelazny

Visiting Chenowyth again, so reading more of her collection of Zelazny's Amber Chronicles, finishing them, in fact, and liking them in just the same measure and way as i have previously. I have always found certain portions of the novels a bit too florid, confusing, ultimately pointless, for my taste. Zelazny has Corwin, his narrator give several descriptions of what he calls hell-rides, and he describes Chaos on one or two occasions as well; to my mind they are unnecessary and distracting ~ to be perfectly honest, i often skip them altogether, leaving me a slight feeling of guilt ~ and more about showing that Zelazny is more than just a story-teller, that he can write exciting prose too. There are more of these passages in the final book, The Courts of Chaos, than in any of the others, and ~ coincidence? probably not ~ it is the weakest book. Not actually weak, though; the whole pentology is excellent, despite one or two untied loose ends which are probably because the whole is so complex that there simply would have been too much to pull everything together and answer every single question properly. Or maybe Zelazny just missed some. I just wish that the later books lived up to these five.

10 August, 2013


Aimee Bender

Judging by the picture on the front cover (a young girl holding some lemons) and Jodi Picoult's name endorsing it, i assumed when Abi lent it to me that this was going to be a (female oriented) juvenile such as she and Bailey used to read. Now, having finished, i'm not sure. Not sure at all, in fact, what category or genre it might fit into: There are elements of that juvenile (the protagonist/narrator is female and, for a large portion of the book, prepubescent or adolescent), to be sure; there are also pointers towards the adult (not least the themes of broken people and relationships); not only that, but also a strong current of the surreal which doesn't really aid in genre-assignment but certainly adds to the interest of the book. 

The first element of surrealism encountered is the ability of the narrator to taste the emotions of a cook in their products. Actually, it might be fairer to say, the inability of her not to taste their truest emotions and desires in anything they make. As interesting as this sounds, it is for her the most awful ability, as she does not have a happy home life and, in particular, her mother (chief cook) is lonely and sad to begin with, then guilty over an affair later. There are other surreal elements, not least the knack that her brother has of completely disappearing, at first for a few minutes while babysitting, later for days or weeks at a time. 

I'm glad i have read it, mostly for the oddity; the portrayal of characters is good, particularly the relationship, such as it is, between the narrator and her brother's best friend, which is perhaps the realest portion of the book.