I’ve kind of missed the boat on this series, it’s been
immensely popular, spawning seven books, three films, toys, games and various
other spin off thingamajigs. I have also broken my rule of only starting with
the first in a series, instead my introduction to the Wimpy Kid is the sixth
title in the series.
Obviously this is a book aimed at eight to ten year olds
and, as such, is unlikely to satisfy your literary cravings but you know what?
It’s really funny.
I read this in one go, (no mean feat, it’s quite short) and
I loved it. It’s a very funny book, written well, with a suitable amount of
jokes both for kids and adults. Children’s books that try to appeal to grown
ups always run the risk of not providing content for the true audience, the
children. Not so here, the jokes are for kids but with a wry nod towards
adults, more a smirk out of the corner of the mouth than an outright punchline.
Children will laugh at Greg’s virtual pet, and parents will emphasise with his
poor mum, constantly forking out cash for clothes for a dog that doesn’t exist.
The plot is light and delightfully all over the place. A
book about being trapped in a house during a snow storm could be clichéd but
it’s touched upon only very briefly towards the end with the majority of the
book reading more like a series of quick sketches, none of which are long
enough to outstay their welcome or too short to be entertaining.
I really enjoyed this book, to the point that I will be
actively ncouraging my girlfriend’s little sister (from whom I stole this copy)
to buy more of them so I can steal them away for myself.
Over the past couple of years I have been engaged in the
mammoth challenge of reading the entire Discworld Series in order. No easy task
for a series which currently sits at thirty seven titles (over forty if you
include the science books and other various titles).So far in my quest I have managed to get
through the first seven books in the series, the most recent of which is
Pyramids is quite a different book from the six previous.
For the most part the other titles have stayed located around the same general
area, the city of Ankh-Morpork
and the surrounding country, while the city does make an appearance the
majority of the novel is spent in on the other side of the disc in a dessert
culture named Djelebeybi.
Djelebeybi is the Discworld equivalent of ancient Egypt and we
are introduced to many amusing parodies on the Egyptian way of life (mummifying
kings inside giganticpyramids even
though building these monoliths is bankrupting the country) and an overall
mockery of the notion of pyramid power.
However, I don’t feel this book works as well as previous
instalments in the series, it’s still a very funny book but I didn’t get as
many belly laughs as I had reading the last book in the series (Wyrd Sisters).
The plot rambles a little and the book could stand to be slightly shorter
There are still a wealth of funny moments, the idea that
camels are great mathematicians but keep the knowledge secret so humans won’t
kill them to find how their brains work, just not a wealth on par with the
other books that came before it.
It’s hard really to recommend a Discworld book anyway, the
whole series should be viewed intact, taking a single bookout of the large body of work seems wrong
If you are reading the series asa whole, you’ll find this a weaker entry but
one that does a great job of expanding the disc and fleshing out a world that
so far we’ve seen quite little of.
Black Box is an
e-book only release from Jennifer Egan, the author of A Visit from the goon squad. It tells the story of an unnamed
female (possibly one of the characters from Goon Squad), a civilian, forced to
become a spy. Throughout the story we are given little to no information on her
I thoroughly enjoyed Egan’s A visit from the goon squad, a
rich blend of different characters and writing styles. And though many
chastised it as a short story collection masquerading as a novel I found the
book a wonderful, fresh piece of writing and consumed it over the course of two
or three days.
Black Box is her follow-up,
not a novel this time but a single stand alone short story available on
The book garnered attention due to its format. Looking at
your kindle screen the book appears as a collection of sentences, each one to
it’s own paragraph. In actual fact the book is a succession of Tweets,
published on the New Yorker’s twitter feed over the course of nine days earlier
It would be easy to write this Twitter-novel off as a
publicity stunt but Egan has defended it, saying that the tradition of using
real world mediums in writing is as old aswriting itself. This is indeed true, Dracula takes the form of Diary entries,
characters learning of other characters movements by reading each others
journals. We need to talk about Kevin
is written as a series of letters. Salmon
fishing in the Yemen,
a collection of leaked government documents, emails and magazine
interviews. The problem with slotting Twitter into this tradition however is
that twitter heavily dictates the story, allowing only 140 characters at a
Despite these constraints though, Egan manages to weave a
very well considered story. I found myself reading the book slowly, savouring
every sentence as there is so little text to devour. Some of these tweets ring
with true beauty though I must admit it does occasionally feel like you’re
reading a teenagers pretentious twitter feed.. After a while however I stopped
thinking of the story surrounding the story and was able to enjoy the book, not
as an exercise in a new medium but as a really great story on it’s own merits. Readers
who like a dense piece of writing will be left wanting here, little information
is given away, we never learn the characters name, never really discern her
location or ever fully understand what the mission she has been tasked with
actually is. Instead we are given snapshots of the story, brief windows or
dialogue or introspection.
I massively enjoyed this story and look forward to reading
Egan’s other works. Overall, though it’s obviously an experiment, Spartan and
you’ll finish it in one sitting, I heartily recommend you seek this one out.
"Also known as Journey to the West, Wu Ch'êng-ên's Monkey is one of the Four Great Classical Novels in Chinese literature, translated by Arthur Waley in Penguin Classics.
depicts the adventures of Prince Tripitaka, a young Buddhist priest on a
dangerous pilgrimage to India to retrieve sacred scriptures accompanied
by his three unruly disciples: the greedy pig creature Pipsy, the river
monster Sandy - and Monkey. Hatched from a stone egg and given the
secrets of heaven and earth, the irrepressible trickster Monkey can ride
on the clouds, become invisible and transform into other shapes -
skills that prove very useful when the four travellers come up against
the dragons, bandits, demons and evil wizards that threaten to prevent
them in their quest. Wu Ch'êng-ên wrote Monkey in the
mid-sixteenth century, adding his own distinctive style to an ancient
Chinese legend, and in so doing created a dazzling combination of
nonsense with profundity, slapstick comedy with spiritual wisdom".
My first experience of Journey to the west was the 1970’s TV
show monkey, a Japanese take on the tale starring Masaaki Saki in the titular
role. The show, when translated into English was done with a self aware, self
parodying style. It knew it was over the top kung fu nonsense and it was proud
The original novel from which it came however, is considered
one of the great classical novels of China and has survived since the 16th
The story is of Tripitaka, a young Buddhist priest charged
with travelling to India
to find scriptures of Buddhist teachings. Along the way he picks up three
disciples, Monkey, the ruler of the kingdom of the water curtain cave who was
imprisoned under a rock after causing trouble in heaven, Pigsy a pig demon who
has been kicked out of heaven and Sandy, a fish demon of similar predicament.
They are also joined by a dragon who turns into a horse.
The book ishighly
episodic, every chapter or so Tripitaka is captured by demons or the group meet
a stranger with some sort of demonic problem and it is up to monkey to save the
Occasionally these chapters feature human foes but more
often than not the fiend is some form of animal demon. Some of the chapters
featuring humans feel rather like episodes of propaganda, the chapter, for
example, where the four come upon a land ruled by a Taoist king who has made
slaves of the Buddhists. Tripitaka must then prove Buddhism’s superiority over
Taoism in a series of tests (all of which it is perhaps worth noting, monkey
The story dates from a time where written novels and the
rules of story telling were still somewhat in their infancy, therefore the
straight forward style of writing feels incredibly dated, there are none of the
flourishes of prose we expect of such novels and the characterisation is
occasionally laughable. During a scene were Monkey first learns to fly on the
clouds, the students ion his class show no real amazment at this impossible
skill, remarking only,
“Monkey is in luck, -
one way or another he will always be able to pick up a living”
The main problem with this book was the translation I picked
up. Arthur Waley’s interpretation (which features a name change from “Journey
to the west” to “Monkey, perhaps to associate itself more with the TV show) is
a drastically shortened version of the original tale. In fact the one hundred
chapters that make up the book are chopped down to thirty, excising over half
the story. This is done to cut down on the repetitious chapters in the middle
of the book but even the chapters that remain are heavily altered too, removing
much of the descriptive passages.
I was also disappointed to find Sandy, my favourite character from the TV
show, practically non-existent in this version, only occasionally piping up
with a sentence or two before falling silent for chapter upon chapter.
It is a wonderful story though, albeit one which feels a
little barebones in places. It has stood the test of time and while it is not
as famous as other classical works like the Iliad and odyssey, I would
recommend it. I would love to read it again in an unabridged form and may one
day return to review this book as it was meant to be read.