The Reading List

Review of Books: May

The King in Yellow, Robert W Chambers

Genre: Short stories/ Fantasy

Logline: Dark tales of the weird and supernatural, often centering around a play which, when read, drives people mad, published in 1895.

Robert Chambers is sighted as the oft overlooked predecessor and inspiration behind HP Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe. He published this delicious little book, but found romances more lucrative, and disappointed everyone by not pushing on with more weird tales, preferring to “sell out”. Yes, I did buy this book while watching the first series of True Detective, which if you’ve watched, you’ll know why (one of the best series I’ve watched lately, I loved it). I was really surprised that I hadn’t come across this book before, because I loved these kinds of stories when I was a child and a teenager and really, I still do. The ones in this book are viciously creepy, especially any of the ones with the titular play which drives people mad… Their madness is not hysterical, but mysterious and devastating, the stories run to interesting unpredictable conclusions, and the era in which they were written gives a heightened sense of reality and Gothic intrigue. I loved it. 

 

Perfect, Rachel Joyce

Genre: Family/Drama

Logline: After a driving accident involving a little girl, a boy and his friend manipulate his mother into befriending the “injured” girls mother. As the relationship developes with tragic consequences, the story of the boys later life is intertwined in alternating chapters. 

My God, this book was awful. Not even offensively awful, at least then I could entertain myself with being angry about it. It was just … dull and poorly written. The characters are really lifeless and poorly conceived, which I always find irritating. No one would behave like these people do. We are expected to believe that the mother hits a child with her car and doesn’t notice, and then that she befriends the mother of the child, who clearly has nefarious designs on the wealthy woman. It makes no sense. The father is controlling, which seems to foreshadow later events, but doesn’t. The adult that we follow in alternating chapters has a big identity reveal at the end… which you can guess in about the second chapter, and he is gifted by the authot with a mental illness, which apparently is the latest thing to put in your fiction if you want it to sell in Sainsburys. Basically, it’s all foreshadowing, but nothing happens. The friend of mine who bought this book couldn’t get through it, and I have an obsession with finishing things, which barely carried me through, and we are both strong readers. It’s crap. 

 

Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man, Fannie Flagg

Genre: Coming Of Age

Logline: This book follows the life of Daisy Fay, from her childhood growing up in her parents diner in a small town, through school, to her dreams of going to college. 

You know what you’re going to get with Fannie Flagg, and to be honest, she never disappoints. I think she’s probably not for everyone, in the sense that her books have an old fashioned sense of positivity that seems oddly out of place in the current social need for cynicism and drama, and she generally promotes a strong female protagonist in her books. And yet, that’s oddly what makes her books so readable. This one is no exception. It’s not Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, but if you liked that book, you’ll like this. By turns sad and hilarious, the characters draw you in. Daisy narrates the book, in a sort of diary format, and as she ages, her language smoothly becomes more sophisticated. She comes across as awkward and nice, and you really root for her to succeed. It’s a good book, I recommend it. 

 

The Secret Handshake, Voyage Media 

Genre: Non-Fiction/Film

Logline: An e-book about the way in which Hollywood works, and how to break into the industry there.

Oddly, for a non-fiction book about the industry, this is a really good read. I felt pretty inspired after reading it, and recommend it to anyone who has an interest in the field. It offers some very good insights and strategies, and tools of self promotion to help you if you do head over to Hollywood (or if you’re already operating there. But I think it’s a pretty good book for people working in the film industry as a whole. Get a copy of it if you can. 

 

The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters, Ed. Charlotte Mosley

Genre: Non-Fiction, Letters

Logline: This volume collects the letters sent between the six famous Mitford sisters through the course of their lives.

This book could be used as a bludgeon, if you need a blunt instrument to attack Professor Plum with in the Library. I think it’s thickness could be daunting to some readers, because carrying it with me in my bag nearly caused spinal injuries, though it does have pictures. Which would be a shame, because it’s a thoroughly enjoyable and Terribly British book that I immediately wanted to buy copies of to send to various members of my family, and a couple of close friends I write letters to. The sisters are all very different, a quick Google search will introduce you to them, if you’re looking for more detail, but they were/are very famous for writing books and various other scandals and tragedies, variously including personal knowledge of Hitler and JFK. You could read them for an insight into what it was like to live through unfolding history… But I think what’s wonderful is their humour, their closeness and the things that drive them apart, the way they tease each other, and also, watching how the passage of time and life grows and changes people. There is something really lovely about their relationship, it’s truly remarkable.  

 

Understand, Ted Chiang

Genre: Science Fiction

Logline: After being given a drug to counter-act brain damage, a man finds his intelligence increasing to unimaginable proportions. He then finds out that he’s not alone.

I heard about this novella through a screenwriting email when the film rights were bought and it’s currently being adapted into a film. I thought the premise looked really interesting, so I sought it out. It’s only short (obviously), but manages to capture concepts and carry a story in a way that really drew me in and suited itself perfectly to the concise format. I liked the way the increasing intelligence made the main character able to see connections and view the world in paradigms that are incomprehensible and yet we always understand what’s going on, and the story remains accessible. It has a nice narrative flow, leading to our protagonist away from his old life as he outgrows it, outwitting the government as they try to study him, to being confronted with another person who has also had this drug. It questions what we we would do with the power of greater understanding, how that might draw us away from society, and whether we would then care to retain a connection with it.   

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