25 February 2014

Baked History: The Terracotta Army, A Review

The Terracotta Army: China's First Emperor and the Birth of a Nation by John Man (pp 380, Bantam 2008)

John Man records a journey to modern Asia, explores a historical-site-cum-tourist-attraction, and adventures through China's history to educate readers in customs, glories, and warring machinations. The topic demands a varied content. Man devises a structure to meet that need. This elevates what could have been a dry chronicle to a distilled and fruitful presentation.

22 February 2014

Post Office: A Review

Post Office by Charles Bukowski (Niall Griffiths introduction, pp 160, Virgin Books 2009)

Charles Bukowski's work is semi-autobiographical. He writes about Henry “Hank” Chinaski, who relives Bukowski’s experiences. His style is raw, crisp, and realist, which ensures it does not matter if some scenes are fabricated.

This review examines Bukowski’s style and the observations he makes through Hank’s perspective. While I try to avoid spoilers, I quote and discuss the protagonist’s behaviour.

19 February 2014

I Am Number Four: Reviewed for the Critics

I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore (pp 400, Penguin 2011)

Controversy surrounds this book. 'Pittacus Lore' is the named author but is a pseudonym for a quasi-collaboration between Jobie Hughes, a writer, and James Frey, a writer-publisher-cum-marketing-department-superhero. Frey is accused of exploitative contracting (though his products, nevertheless, sell). To discredit the work on that basis discredits the author. To criticise I Am Number Four due to what Frey may or may not have done is misguided. Notwithstanding much of the internet criticism against Frey is speculative, question-begging, and ill-informed heroism, even if Frey’s critics were more rigorous, Frey’s reputation is not at stake. That is, the book is Hughes’ work and it is Hughes’ skill that should be scrutinised--not the publisher.

15 February 2014

Six Influential Non-Fiction Books

Recently I have used Goodreads to organise my reading habits. I browsed the site and found a list of Most Influential Books, which users can add to. The listopia criteria are quite personal: select ‘[b]ooks that have most opened your mind to new ideas or ways of thinking’. I explained there, and copy here, why and how each addition influenced me. In no particular order, the following lists six books that I can identify as having shaped and informed my thinking.

12 February 2014

The Haunted Craft

Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud (pp 464, Doubleday 2013)*

There is so much in this novel to acclaim. Several devices Stroud uses deserve exposition. This review aims to satisfy both.

8 February 2014

Words for Writing: Indeed

In the right circumstances, 'indeed' can change a text's pace because it indicates the forthcoming prose's format and content. This short post explores those circumstances and possibilities.

5 February 2014

Political Silliness Exposed

Last week I wrote that it is silly to debate the UK's position in the European legal infrastructure in political party-driven terms--whether as a member of the European Union or a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR/ECtHR/Strasbourg). In this post I begin with a quote from Lon Fuller's Anatomy of the Law to explain the cause of that silliness.

1 February 2014

Law's Spooky Narrative

He always received his guests in the same living room where I'd had my interview, probably because its friendly sofas and displays of oriental ghost-catchers provided an appropriate atmosphere for discussions that bridged the banal and the strange. (Jonathan Stroud, The Screaming Staircase (Doubleday 2013) p 117)

Law students are guests until fully initiated. Realistically, this might not occur--at least in student-perceptions--until after graduation with the ancillary recognition of ability. University can intimidate. The jargon, detail, pressure, the intelligence of peers and teachers, the imposing fa├žades and absence of a single, accessible, approachable person who represents the university. Just like the manufactured aura in the quote above, narrative might help law students relax in law school's alien, stressful environment.