Dove

Thoughts: Annihilation, by Jeff Vandermeer

I go through phases of being a Goodreads stalker, seeing what my friends are reading, what their new friends are reading even, seeing what they thought of the books they’ve read (I don’t give my own ratings but naturally am perfectly happy to peruse other people’s) and how many books we have in common in our reading pasts and futures. So I’d seen Annihilation around before it was suggested for Casual Brunching Book Club (name not final) and I was glad to have an excuse to read it. It was generally well received and though I’d read the blurb I didn’t really have any idea what would happen, which is as it should be for a book like this. Which is also my way of saying this review will be full of spoilers so look away now.

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Hyperlocal Everyday Nature – Business Birding in Niederrad

I work in a big office building in Niederrad, the business district of Frankfurt. It’s not residential at all, and to many people it’s probably one of the most lifeless places in the city. Nothing opens on weekends. Before the morning commute, after the evening commute and between commutes you’ll hardly see a soul out walking. You notice every time you pass a dog walker or a mother with a pushchair because it’s so odd, and you’ve forgotten just how odd it is.

If thou gaze long into birds, birds will also gaze into thee.

But Niederrad has its upsides. The things that make it so devoid of people make it peaceful for the local wildlife. Big office buildings in Niederrad are surrounded with trees and gardens, spaces for its workers to look out on or wander through at set times of day to make the office job seem not that bad. For the vast majority of time, they’re empty of people.

Walking through Niederrad on the way to and from work are some of my favourite times of day, and not just because I’m not at work. Working in the same place and keeping roughly the same hours gives you a sort of temporal focus point from which you can watch the interplay between the seasons and the space.

Birds are by far the most common non-insect wildlife in Niederrad (anyone who’s ever foolishly tried to eat outdoors in glorious summer will know the necessity of the qualifier) and it’s through them that you can track most of the changes. The same species return at the same times every year. Some of them stay year-round, and you can start to recognise their songs. Even if they’re playing hard to get, it’s nice to know that the blue tits are awake or the chiffchaffs are close by.

So, what can a prospective nature watcher expect to see on a ten minute walk from Niederrad Station to the office?

Plenty.

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Thoughts: Foxcatcher: Foxcatcher: The True Story of My Brother’s Murder, John du Pont’s Madness, and the Quest for Olympic Gold, by Mark Schultz and David Thomas

Now that is a title.

I’m about six books behind in this because I’ve been been trying to get through some editing, so expect a regular drip of reviews for a while. I’m always a bit embarrassed to admit I’ve been prioritising my own writing over paying attention to other people’s books, because of course I’m just an unpublished hack on the internet, and all these books I’ve read, however dire I proclaim them to be, are Real Books, published by Real Publishers and sometimes hunted out of obscurity by Real Tastemakers. The drafts I ashamedly talk about working on are, to you, imaginary, abstract things which will never see the light of day, let alone be worthy of actual financial investment by a stranger. I’m keenly aware of this, and that’s why I’m often ashamed of talking about my writing here.

Except not this time.

Are you thinking of reading Foxcatcher? Don’t. Watch the film instead. If you’ve already seen the film, then congratulations! You have had the full Foxcatcher experience! Have a nice drink to celebrate.

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Thoughts: The Three-Body Problem, by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu

Spoilers spoilers spoilers! If you want to read this book, don’t read this post.

I’m skipping a book here (Jeff Vandermeer’s Annihilation) because I’m going to meet up with friends and discuss it at a later date, so forgive me.

I picked up The Three-Body Problem because Spuggy had already done so, and he recommended it, and my TBR will never be too long to accept a recommendation from people I love.

It’s… weird. A lot of it was probably lost on me, both scientifically and culturally. But I could not stop reading it. Spoilers spoilers spoilers.

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Thoughts: The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead

You know how sometimes the outside world seems to conspire to create these sort of teachable moments aimed solely at you? Where outside events are suddenly relevant to something private you’re doing or learning? Well, while I was reading The Underground Railroad, Kanye West said something almost comically ignorant about slavery.

Now, he’s absolutely not the first person to hold this sort of view – he would possibly be surprised at just how unoriginal this view is (and at the people who traditionally hold it) – but he’s in a unique position to have his words misused, and unfortunately will have to deal with that.

I wanted to wrap up this book and send it to him when I was finished, because if you really want to know how not-optional slavery was, you could do much worse than starting with The Underground Railroad.

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Thoughts: Station Eleven, by Emily St John Mandel

Another unlooked-for treasure, this was my treat after reading Covet. Station Eleven is beautiful, in the kind of painful way that only hack writers like me know: I wish I’d written this and now I can’t because it already exists in the world.

As usual, accept my heartfelt recommendation to read this book before reading my idiot thoughts on it. I’m not so worried about spoilers, but it is a great book.

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Thoughts: Covet, by J. R. Ward

This is the second of the books that Spuggy brought back from the free bookshelves, and somehow turned out to be even worse than Heart of the Dragon. I know. I hardly thought it possible myself.

Let’s dive in, shall we?

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Thoughts: Born Survivors, by Wendy Holden

I went through a sort of phase a couple of years ago where I must have felt like my TBR list wasn’t long enough, and I started asking people for recommendations. I was visiting Spuggy’s grandparents one Christmas or New Year, and I asked his grandma what she was reading on her Kindle – this book, of course – and it didn’t seem like the kind of book you say no to, so it went on the list. And see, I keep my promises, even if it takes me years.

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Thoughts: Paper Towns, by John Green

My sister was reading this when she came over to visit, and was kind enough to pass it on when she was done. The other John Green I’ve read are An Abundance of Katherines and The Fault in Our Stars, so I think I have a pretty reasonable grasp of his oeuvre, and for the most part I have to say I like it.

Sure, there’s the occasional mawkish moment (the Anne Frank house…) and sometimes the quirkiness is too quirky for its own good, but in general, yep, I like it. His writing is easy to read and comes with thoughtful questions beneath the stories. I know it’s fashionable to backlash against anything that’s been popular for too long (especially anything with a progressive or left-wing bent), and so I’ve seen Green castigated for being too successful in a female-dominated sector of publishing, among other things. On one hand, we need to get teenage boys into reading, but on the other, male YA authors aren’t allowed to do too well.

Another thing people say a lot is that teenagers don’t talk like John Green characters. Well, I hate to break it to you, guys, but we don’t talk like Buffy characters, and yet that dialogue is considered a high bar for anyone who wants to write wit.

Specific to Paper Towns, I’ve seen him accused to perpetuating the manic pixie dream girl trope, which is something like complaining that there’s sexism in The Handmaid’s Tale.

Of course it depicts a manic pixie dream girl. That’s what the book is about.

Let’s dive right in.

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Thoughts: How to be Both, by Ali Smith

This was originally not on my list but had been on my radar, and when a friend offered me a copy, I considered it a sign. Before continuing, I’ll explain the structure of the book a bit. How to be Both is essentially two novellas, connected enough to warrant the one book but separate enough that some books are printed with one story first and some the other. You won’t know which order you’re reading in until you start, and that will colour your reading. You can read it again in the opposite order, of course, but I think the first reading will already have shaped your perception of the book. To be both a person who read George’s story first and a person who read Francesco’s story first is one both we cannot be.

So that’s the first thing. I read George’s story first, which means that that’s the person I am, that’s the perspective from which I write this post. The second thing is that I’m going to be extravagantly spoilery, because to not spoil this book is not to be able to talk about it, and these posts are much more “spaces for me to talk about books I read” than they are “helpful recommendations for other people”.

You have been warned.

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