Tuesday, 8 December 2009

I See Rude People: One woman's battle to beat some manners into impolite society by Amy Alkon - Book 77, 2009

Title: I See Rude People: One woman's battle to beat some manners into impolite society by Amy Alkon
Genre: Etiquette, stress management, modern society
Rating: 7.5/10
Comments: I bought this book on impulse after reading Amy's column The sky's the limit when flying with feral children which perfectly encapsulated my horror at a case where an airline that had booted off a mother and child who had screamed so loudly that safety announcements couldn't be heard ended up capitulating to and compensating the parent who could not control their little darling.

Amy is smart and funny and has some great anecdotes about the lengths she goes to to protect her own personal space from rude, selfish, thoughtless people, indifferent bureaucracy and businesses and criminals unfortunate enough to rob her. The book is extremely easy to read and much of it is laugh out loud.

There is no doubt, however, that she can be a pain in the arse, obsessive to the point of ridiculous and she sometimes ends up venting her frustrations on the under-resourced employee who has little control over their employer's policies, procedures and priorities. In these cases I found myself losing sympathy for her, even though she was right to be angry and upset about a situation. It is very likely, however, that this is a cultural cultural clash - as an Australian I am often astounded by the self-centred perspective of many Americans, even those who are well-aware they are not the centre of everyone else's universe. Just like toddlers they need to be taught to consider how their behaviour impacts on others around them.

The Ganymede Takeover by Philip K Dick and Ray Nelson - Book 76, 2009

Title: The Ganymede Takeover by Philip K Dick and Ray Nelson
Genre: Sci-Fi
Rating: 7.5/10
Comments: An alien race is trying to take over earth but this isn't the human race's biggest problem. The leader of the strongest human dissident group has got his hands on a hell weapon, guaranteed to wipe out all sentient life - alien and human. Meanwhile a small town megalomaniac is attempting to use the conflict to establish himself as supreme ruler on earth, using technology designed by a psychotic psychologist to create nightmare images and phantom fighters who remain even after the machinery is switched off.

Fans of Philip Dick will recognise his familiar themes that question what is reality, the motives of therapists, simulators that are indistinguishable from humans and excessive drug use. While the book gives the impression of being dashed off while Dick was on an LSD trip and published before the editor could do his/her job properly, devotees of Dick's unique perspective will not be disappointed.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger - Book 75, 2009

Title: Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
Genre: Novel/Supernatural
Rating: 9/10
Comments: Following up the runaway success of The Time Traveller's Wife was always going to be difficult as Niffenegger had set a very high bar for herself.  But I predict that Her Fearful Symmetry will in its own right become a favourite of book discussion groups around the world due to its exploration of the complex relationships shared by siblings, parents and children, aunts and nieces and themes of obsession and identity.

All the central characters in the book are women - the men, while interesting in themselves, are subject to the desires and actions of the women in their lives.  The story focuses on 21-year-old identical twins Julia and Valentino who inherit a London flat from their Aunt Elspeth, the estranged identical twin sister of their mother, Edie.  Julia and Valentino, symmetrical identical twins (literally mirror images of one-another)  have always done everything together and even dressed identically.  But in London Valentino develops a growing urge to live a life independent of her sister.

Valentino falls in love with Robert, her Aunt Elspeth's younger lover, who is still devastated by Elspeth's death. Robert lives in the same building as them and is writing a PhD treatise on Highgate Cemetery, located across the road. Robert's loyalties to Elspeth and Valentino are torn, especially when he becomes aware that Elspeth's ghost is still living in the twin's flat.

Julia meanwhile strikes up an odd friendship with an obsessive compulsive neighbour whose obsessions, rituals and inability to leave his flat have driven his wife away.

The book is very well written and there are enough twists and turns to keep the reader interested.  While not a classical "happily ever after" ending, there is a certain justice in each woman's fate.