Thoughts: Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters, by Chesley B. Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow

This is the last non-fiction for a while – 2016 Sneak was really full of Based on True Story films – and it was a nice one to end on. Sullenberger is the pilot who landed that plane in the Hudson, if you will recall. If you’re like me, you may not have immediately appreciated how impressive this was!

The film was a little ehhh – you could tell it was reaching for drama, and the ratcheting up of tension in the post-ditching inquiry scenes might be seen by some as distasteful (I don’t doubt they’re stressful but in the end they do good work and must be thorough) – and I wasn’t expecting much from the book, but it was a pleasant surprise.

Snip for length.

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Thoughts: The Infiltrator, by Robert Mazur

Another book I saw the film of, but I think we’re still in 2016 here so I don’t remember much about the details… I remember finding the film pretty interesting as far as Sneak-films-based-on-true-stories go, and that’s about all that remains.

I know the war on drugs is very unfashionable at the moment, but this is a far cry from sending someone to prison for fifty years for smoking a joint. I also don’t know enough about the US to know if undercover customs agents are part of the general police problem over there, so all I can do is apologise if so, but at the same time I think Mazur is the kind of person I’d want to be bringing financial criminals to account.

You know what though? I really enjoyed this one.

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Thoughts: Shoeless Joe, by W. P. Kinsella

Before we start, no, I have not seen Field of Dreams, so you won’t find anything out about how similar or different it is to the book.

Secondly I don’t know if the classic spoiler warning counts here? Field of Dreams was popular I guess? And it’s quite old? Eh, who knows. Use your best judgement.

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Thoughts: Time of the Octopus, by Anatoly Kucherena, translated by John Farndon with Akbota Sultanbekova and Olga Nakston

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.

– The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger

Never have I wanted a book to be narrated by Holden Caulfield more than this one.

If you’ve been in pretty much any chat with me or follow me on social media then you may have worked out that this book is objectively terrible.

Really, it isn’t just my opinion that it’s the worst book I’ve read since Foxcatcher, or the most frustrating translation since Basti. It really is those things in reality.

Snip for length, we’re not bothering about spoilers here, you probably shouldn’t read this book!

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Thoughts: Eva, by Peter Dickinson

I think I have a reading problem.

Anyway. This was sort of unintended – I’d meant to read a Dickinson a while ago after I heard he died, but I couldn’t find the book that was on my to-read list. Later, in a secondhand bookshop, I saw Eva and bought it, forgot to put it on my to-read list, and went on. The other day I was doing some tidying and came across it, and as I’d just finished The Snowden Files I thought it would serve nicely as a fluffy palate cleanser before I dived back into the murky world of depressing international politics.

It was… not fluffy. One day I’ll learn this about kids’ books.

It was so good.

The back copy of this book is intentionally very vague to avoid a major early event/twist, so if you want to read about animal rights, environmentalism, scientific morality and the nature of the self, I will lend this book to you. Don’t spoiler yourself.

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Thoughts: The Snowden Files, by Luke Harding

Before you raise your eyebrows, I didn’t think I’d be writing this so soon! The ebook I was reading on my Kindle said I was 59% through, and then I turned the page and it was immediately 100% and I was at the acknowledgements! My Kindle is a few years old by now (and well-used) so maybe it’s just getting a bit elderly? Maybe there’s a weird issue with the ebook? Or maybe some government doesn’t want us to read something??? I have no idea!

Let me be honest, I’m a little wary of the non-fiction books that inspire Sneak films, as a lot of them seem to be hobby projects or a bit mediocrely written (or terribly written) and you know, the world seems pretty terrible right now so I wasn’t really in the mood for depressing non-fiction about how everything we do is pointless and nothing helps.

My goodness, was this a book about how everything is terrible in ways that we didn’t even know it was terrible. But I was totally hooked all the way through!

Cut for length, obviously we are not being spoilered for the largest news and cultural event of 2013.

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Thoughts: Die Analphabetin Die Rechnen Konnte, by Jonas Jonasson and translated by Wibke Kuhn

You might think I’ve been reading faster than the human eye can possibly read, but actually this one has been in the works for months – we’ve been reading it bit by bit during and between German classes, and we have finally prevailed!

One day I will read a German book that hasn’t been translated from another language. But not any time soon – next on the German class list is Jonas Jonasson’s first book, Der Hundertj√§hrige, der aus dem Fenster stieg und verschwand. You might know it better as The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared.

You might know this book as The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden. (The German title translates to “The Illiterate [Girl] Who Could Calculate”, or maybe a snappier way to say it would be “The Illiterate Who Was Numerate”? I digress.) Will try not to be too spoilery.

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Thoughts: Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, by T. S. Eliot

This isn’t going to be long or deep, but hey, I read it, so why not?

After seeing the amazing Cats film over Christmas, we wandered into a secondhand bookshop in Manchester, where by serendipity was waiting for us a copy of the very poems that were responsible for what we had just seen! So we bought it. And then we watched the recording of the Cats stage show that was on Youtube for a weekend as a lockdown morale booster. So I finally read it!

They are pretty much just poems about cats! They’re quite silly superficially but make use of various clever rhyming schemes and rhythm patterns and clearly an affectionate familiarity with cats, and contain a lot of period detail – they were written to entertain Eliot’s nieces and are thus intended to be relatable, and yes, I do feel ridiculous talking like this about a book of cat poems.

The biggest surprise was I think just how much the Cats musical (and therefore film) is just literally a book of poems set to music and beautiful choreography. I especially wonder what it’s like to read the poems before having heard the songs, especially, because my inner voice kept on reverting to song as I read. And I think the music enhances the poems! Try to read The Rum Tum Tugger or The Old Gumbie Cat without the music. I mean… can you?

In a way it makes me admire Andrew Lloyd Webber more, imagining him reading these poems and thinking “Yes, I shall make the most successful musical in the world,” and… making that happen. I read an article about the film which posited that Eliot may have been happy with the batshittery of the film he’d inspired, and I hope that’s the case. (If you are interested in the history of Cats please watch this video, no I don’t care that it’s long, you have the time now.)

Coming fresh from the Tarzans the little mentions of “heathen Chinese” and foreign dogs/cats did raise those little red flags for me. I know it’s meant to be fun and a clever little riff on Pekingese dogs and Siamese cats but I’m not sure I can be like “oh, well, racism is OK as long as it’s fun racism for children based on the British Empire” so. Uh. Yeah.

Conclusion: The Naming of Cats is a top-tier poem and better than we all deserve.

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Thoughts: Tarzan the Terrible, by Edgar Rice Burroughs

The last Tarzan (in the anthology on my Kindle)! Yes! I have survived!

And you know what? This was probably the one I got along the most with. Skimming Goodreads reviews, people have wildly differing opinions of all the Tarzans, which I find pretty interesting. Usually in a series you have books that everyone agrees are great, books that everyone agrees are the weakest, etc, but Tarzan is totally a mixed bag, it seems.

Spoilers and general ramble below the cut.

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Thoughts: This Is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal el-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

Truly, this is the briefest palate-cleanser between Tarzans.

Partly because this book is a novella, but also because it’s of that kind of particularly swallowable book. Lately I feel like I talk about swallowing books whole or inhaling them a lot, and I’m annoyed I’ve diluted the language so much because I really did with this one. Curse, you, past!Danni, you didn’t know what was in store.

Probably not hugely spoilery (and probably not long) but still, I recommend reading this one before looking at reviews of it.

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