…because they’ve been in my drafts for ages. Most of them deserve their own posts, but at this rate they’re never going to be posted if I try to find time to do that, so they’ll just have to share. Read more
Is it just me, or are books about scientifically gifted people who are emotionally somewhat inept and incapable of understanding societal norms a bit of a fad at the moment?
If so, then it’s a fad I wholeheartedly support. I’ve read several books in recent years where I’ve related strongly to the protagonist for this reason: The Humans by Matt Haig, The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion. x+y, a film I watched which had a similar theme.
I’ve never really been into reading biographies. With the exception of pretty much anything about the life of Kierkegaard, I generally stay away from true stories and read either academic non-fiction, or novels.
But this year quite a lot of biographical accounts have ended up on my reading list, and several of them were amazing enough that I decided to do a whole new Reflections post for them.
I’m defining ‘biography’ quite loosely here, to mean anything where the author draws on personal experience (either their own or someone else’s) to discuss the central premise of the book.
1:What is your favorite book? Just one?! Bastard. I refuse to follow your rules. Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, because it was my teenage bible. Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco, because he’s an amazing writer and I swear he’s read every book in the world. Twice. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, because it’s funny and moving and wonderful. And The Humans by Matt Haig, because it describes how I see the world.
2:What was the last book you read? The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman.
3:What is the worst book you’ve ever read? Love That Dog by Sharon Creech.
4:Top 7 book characters. Stargirl from Stargirl, Lisbeth Salander from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series, Kinsey Millhone from Sue Grafton’s alphabet series, John Rebus from Ian Rankin’s books, Don Tillman from The Rosie Project, Catherine Cordell from The Surgeon by Tess Gerritsen, Dumbledore from Harry Potter.
5:What is your favorite genre? Crime fiction.
6:Book you cried the hardest reading? I read The Love Verb by Jane Green at a point that was very poignant, so it broke me a bit. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes was also pretty heart-rending.
7:Book you laughed the hardest reading? The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, because Don Tillman sums up my world view so very perfectly.
8:Which book character(s) do you most relate to? See above! Don Tillmann, Andrew Martin from The Humans, Lisbeth Salander from TGWTDT, Stargirl.
9:Favorite author(s)? Umberto Eco, Hermann Hesse. I also can’t resist new releases from Ian Rankin, Karen Rose, Tess Gerritsen, and Jane Green.
10:Do you judge books by their covers? Yes.
11:What is your favorite quote from a book? Again, fuck you with your ‘just one’.
“Anonymity in the world of men is better than fame in heaven, for what’s heaven? What’s earth? All in the mind.” – On The Road, Jack Kerouac
“…he was a night prowler. The morning was a bad time of day for him. He feared it and it never brought him any good. On no morning of his life has he ever been in good spirits nor done any good before midday, nor devised any pleasure for himself or others. By degrees during the afternoon he warmed and became alive, and only towards evening, on his good days, was he productive, active and, sometimes, aglow with joy… There was never a man with a deeper and more passionate craving for independence than he. In his youth when he was poor and had difficulty in earning his bread, he preferred to go hungry and in torn clothes only to preserve a tiny bit of independence.” – Steppenwolf, Hermann Hesse
“I now saw that I had, strangely, taken both Bardia’s explanation and the Fox’s (each while it lasted) for certain truth. Yet one must be false. And I could not find out which, for each was well rooted in its own soil… But I could not find out whether the doctrines of Glome or the wisdom of Greece were right. I was the child of Glome and the pupil of the Fox; I saw that for years my life had been lived in two halves, never fitted together.” – Til We Have Faces, C.S. Lewis
“”So much focus on the egg – it is life, it is food, it is answer to a hundred riddles – but look at its shell. The secrets are writ on its walls. Secrets lie in the entrails of things, in the dregs.” – Tithe, Holly Black
12:Which book do you recommend to friends and family most? The Rosie Project. Anything by Eco.
13:Which book is so special to you that you don’t share it with others? Stargirl.
14:Do you have any signed books? Yes, one signed by Tess Gerritsen (The Silent Girl), which my friend gave me, and a copy of The Rosie Project that’s been double-signed by Graeme Simsion.
15:Have you met any authors? Graeme Simsion.
16:Buy books new, used, or go to the library? All of the above! Most often, I buy them used, though.
17:Where is your favorite place to read? I’ve been known to read pretty much everywhere, but there’s nothing quite like my favourite two places: in a bubbly bath surrounded by candles, or finishing a book in bed late at night by lamplight.
18:Prefer books set in the past or the future? Future.
19:What 5 elements would your ideal book have? A strong protagonist who does what they think is right despite putting themselves in jeopardy; a lack of romance/sex; a touch of humour; a really strong friendship; a realistic ending.
20:Do you ever hope to publish your own book? Yes.
21:Prefer stand alone or series? Don’t mind.
22:Do you mark/highlight/dog ear your books or keep them in perfect condition? I used to be a perfectionist about this, but I have been known to turn down a page corner when there’s something I really want to be able to return to.
23:Hardbacks or paperbacks? Paperbacks, they’re easier to transport and they’re less heavy to hold up in the bath.
24:Do you watch any booktubers? No.
25:Have you read The Hunger Games? Yes
26:Do you like twist endings? Yes
27:Do you reread books? Only the most special ones.
28:E-readers or physical copies of books? Physical copies. I just can’t bring myself to try ebooks.
29:A book that makes you feel comforted? The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot. It was one of my favourite books as a child and reading it feels like hot chocolate and fireplaces.
30:Would you rather read any ending that makes you feel happy or sad? I tend to like endings that are realistic, and often that doesn’t mean things working out perfectly.
31:Favorite villain in a book? The surgeon from The Surgeon by Tess Gerritsen.
32:Do you like to write reviews when you finish a book? Yes, if it’s good.
33:Do you experience “book hangovers”? Oh hell yes.
34:Favorite book cover(s)? Stargirl.
I don’t buy very many books, because I normally receive free review copies in the mail, but when I read the blurb of The Humans whilst waiting for a train, I knew I had to buy it.
After an ‘incident’ one wet Friday night where he is found waking naked through the streets of Cambridge, Professor Andrew Martin is not feeling quite himself. Food sickens him. Clothes confuse him. Even his loving wife and teenage son are repulsive to him. He feels lost amongst a crazy alien species and hates everyone on the planet. Everyone, that is, except Newton, and he’s a dog.
Who is he really? And what could make someone change their mind about the human race?
I showed this blurb to my friends when we went for dinner, and they unanimously agreed that it Professor Martin’s view of the world sounded just like my own.
When I first started reading it, however, I nearly gave up within the initial couple of pages. There’s a pretty ridiuclous storyline woven into the novel – its central one, in fact. But it’s worth sticking with it. I only did because I was stuck on a train for two hours anyway, and it beat staring at the black walls of the tunnels.
It’s worth reading because the book isn’t really about the storyline. Or at least, that’s how it seemed to me. It’s about what it’s like to feel somehow ‘other’, like you don’t fit in and you can’t understand the confusing actions of the people around you. It’s similar to books like The Rosie Project or The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, in that people who see the world as a strange and confusing place filled with people who have too many emotions, and who live their own internally structured lives rather than doing what everyone else is doing, will understand Andrew Martin’s views.
Some of my favourite quotes below (no spoilers, but skip to the final paragraph if you’d rather not have any previews).
Humans, as a rule, don’t like mad people unless they are good at painting, and only then once they are dead. But the definition of mad, on Earth, seems to be very unclear and inconsistent. What is perfectly sane in one era turns out to be insane in another. The earliest humans walked around naked with no problem. Certain humans, in humid rainforests mainly, still do so. So, we must conclude that madness is sometimes a question of time, and sometimes of postcode.
Basically, the key rule is, if you want to appear sane on Earth, you have to be in the right place, wearing the right clothes, saying the right things, and only stepping on the right kind of grass.
The news was prioritised in a way I could not understand. For instance, there was nothing on new mathematical observations or still undiscovered polygons, but quite a bit about politics, which was essentially all about war and money. Indeed, war and money seemed to be so popular on the news it should more accurately be described as The War and Money Show.
Civilised life, you know, is based on a huge number of illusions in which we all collaborate willingly. The trouble is we forget after a while that they are illusions and we are deeply shocked when reality is torn down around us. – J.G. Ballard
So, there you have it. The Humans is the best book I have read since The Rosie Project last year, and I’m fairly sure it’ll be my Book of the Year 2014. I recommend that you buy a copy and read it, especially if you have ever felt as if the world around you is strange and alien.