Middlemarch

Hello Everyone and Welcome Back to The Boss Book Club!

Today we will be looking at the classic novel Middlemarch, originally published in 1871-2 by English novelist Mary Anne Evans, better known by her pseudonym George Eliot- a name she adopted at the commencement of her writing career.

I admit that, for whatever reason, I had up until this point avoided classic female writers. To my shame, I confess I’ve never read anything by the Bronte sisters, or Jane Austen, or anything in that field. Being a bit of a tomboy by nature, I thought I wouldn’t enjoy books with a romantic emphasis and find them “too girly.” I assumed Middlemarch would be all Lords and Ladies without much substance about the human condition.

I was very very wrong, and am glad that I got over my own prejudice to read Middlemarch.

Middlemarch is one of the most intelligently written novels I’ve ever read. It hides its deep and insightful look into the human condition under the broad heading of “a study of provincial life.” Middlemarch is the name of an English town, and the novel explores the lives of the families and couples that live there- it takes the reader into the intimate life of a number of central characters and details for us their ambitions, their beliefs and their hopes, then surely and relentlessly, shows us how luck, poor choices and life in general can get in the way of everyone’s best efforts. It shows us how people compromise, how people can improve themselves or become worse, and shows how big an impact marriage can play in a person’s life. Some characters serve as cautionary tales whilst others serve as inspiration. Every one of them is relatable in a deeply human way- the careers, technology and language may be different now, but you will see your neighbours and yourself in the characters in this book.

This book came at an opportune point in my life. I’ve been married less than a year, and this book gives you a lot to think about in terms of what makes a marriage successful, the sacrifices involved, and how one person’s choices, both their successes and their mistakes, can impact on the other half of the couple. The themes in the novel made me reflect on what I want to contribute to the marriage, and put my expectations from the commitment into a realistic perspective.

The themes in this book are universal, and Eliot’s insight into human nature is astounding. This book is as relevant now as it was over a hundred years ago, and I have no doubt, will be just as relevant in 100 years time.

This novel is not action packed as such- no bombs go off, no shots fired, but if you invest the time, slowly but surely, it will help you to understand yourself, and people in general, a lot better. This book is big, and whilst I believe anyone could read it and get something out of it, if you are married or are getting married soon, this book will serve to provide something extra- as marriage is one of it’s main subjects.

 

Thank you for joining us at The Boss Book Club!

 

Happy Reading Bosses!

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Over the Top and Back: The Tom Jones Autobiography

Hello Everyone and Welcome Back to The Boss Book Club!

I trust you have been enjoying your own reading adventures. This week I will be reviewing the one and only autobiography of the one and only Tom Jones. I received this book as a gift from my husband- we’re both big Tom Jones fans. We saw him perform live and he was fantastic, an incredible voice, and a warm and energetic entertainer that obviously loves what he does…

But what’s his book like?

This book ticks all the essential boxes for an autobiography- it gives a detailed account of his family and childhood life, and all the steps that lead to his successful career. It details the places he played, how he signed his first record deal, and the television and recording opportunities that put him at the top. The book goes into detail about his love of different music styles and the musicians that inspired him, as well as the diverse array of famous faces he’s rubbed shoulders with- including some special stories about his interactions with such people as Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and even the Queen. These stories are great and make you appreciate the hard work and determination that goes into building a career with no guarantees, and give you an insight into the glitz and glamour of being top of the charts.

Where this book differs is that Tom Jones also goes into a lot of detail about the downsides of his career. He talks a lot about some of the bad decisions he’s made, the regrets that he has about who he’s worked with, the places he stayed at too long, and the songs or performances he didn’t like. It’s hard to read these parts sometimes- he seems a bit too hard on himself. It reads  like he’s being defensive- particularly when he’s justifying to the reader why he chose to play Vegas for so many years rather than work hard on his recordings. He contradicts himself sometimes- on the one hand saying that Vegas was a great time and a steady paycheck, but at the same time lamenting that it gave him the label of a “Vegas Performer”, which he states he never thought fit what he did. It seems a bit condescending to try and distance yourself from a venue that has given you so much success, money and, well, employment, but then resent it and try and distance yourself from it at the same time. Tom spends a fair bit of time in this book trying to convince the reader he is a legitimate musician.

Tom, you don’t need to do that!

You don’t have a succesful career that spans sixty years without being a legitimate, dedicated, talented musician. And that’s the most frustrating bit in reading this book- he justifies where there is no need. You wouldn’t be reading this book unless you already know that Tom Jones is awesome!

 

All in all, this book is great for any Tom Jones (of course) or music fan. It will add value to your collection.

 

Thank you for joining us this week- please let us know if you’ve read any great autobiographies lately in the comments section.

 

Happy Reading Bosses!

 

American Gods

Hello Everyone and Welcome Back to The Boss Book Club!

Today we will be having a look at Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.

My husband is a big fan of the actor Ian McShane, and when he found out he’d been cast in a television series based on a novel, he went and bought the book for me to read. Since he bought the book I have seen Neil Gaiman everywhere, from other bloggers singing his praises, to a friend at work toting his collection of short stories. The British author is popular and, as I’ve found out, this is with good reason!

American Gods tells us the story of Shadow, a man recently released from prison who finds himself, after a sudden unexpected tragedy, on a trip home with nothing to look forward to. He then meets the mysterious and mischievous man who goes by the name of Mister Wednesday, who hires him to be his personal bodyguard.

And so begins a journey across America, a great big road trip. The only difference is, it’s to meet and greet the ancient Gods who have settled in America. It’s a mythical story which puts into modern times how old Gods would survive in modern USA. From driving taxis to working as prostitutes, the Gods that used to be so powerful have to scrape together a living, and Shadow is exposed to what life is like for these immortal creatures. There are also new Gods, Gods that people worship in this day and age- for example the God of technology- and there is a war brewing between the old and new, with potentially dangerous results.

You may think a book containing so many mythologies would be a difficult read, but it isn’t. The story is engaging and fast moving as Shadow moves with Mister Wednesday from town to town. Gaiman has obviously done a lot of research into the belief systems of a variety of cultures both within and outside of America, and he retells many old folktales in interesting ways. The main characters, Shadow and Mister Wednesday are both very likeable, and Mister Wednesday I’m sure, with his dry humour and shameless antics, will be a favourite character for many.

This novel provides food for thought in terms of what the modern person believes in, and what we think is important to us. It also will make you think about how our current beliefs fit within a history full of a huge variety of cultures, mythologies and stories to make sense of the world.

I found this novel to be engaging throughout, with a wide variety of fascinating, funny, bizarre and dark God characters to be met along the way. If you’ve got too much on your plate already, I’m sure the television series, due in 2017, will be great as the story would lend itself wonderfully to the screen.

I recommend this book for fans of American history, folklores and cultural legends, as well as those who like road trips and adventures. You will have a very enjoyable time.

 

Happy Reading Bosses!

 

A Wild Sheep Chase

Hello everyone and welcome back to The Boss Book Club!

 

Today marks the 5th and final day of the Five Day book review catch up. From here on in, book reviews will be posted weekly on a Sunday, as per the norm. We will be looking at Haruki Murakami’s A Wild Sheep Chase today.

 

I need to start off by saying that I read this book at the wrong time. This book is supposed to be the third part of a trilogy. Parts one and two are titled Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973, Murukami’s first two novels, only released in English for the first time last year. I thoroughly recommend reading the first two to start with, and then reading a Wild Sheep Chase straight afterwards to get the complete experience. I read this after reading some of Murukami’s later works (such as The Wind Up Bird Chronicle and Kafka on the Shore) and some months after reading the first two. It was therefore a bit difficult to get into the flow of this book, mainly because Murukami’s writing style has diversified and changed since these first three books so it felt like taking a step back into a different headspace, which was difficult.

 

Having said that, this book has done nothing to diminish my new found Murakami obsession, and this is another great story. In this story our protagonist, the same man from the first two novels, is working in his small advertising and publishing firm, he has a new girlfriend with strikingly beautiful ears, and is continuing about his life, doing not much in particular. He is then accosted by a mysterious man in a dark suit, and is given a month to find a sheep from a photograph with a star on its back, with dire consequences if he fails.

 

The story takes our man on a trip across Japan in search of the Sheep and his friend the Rat. J from the bar also gets a look in. This book marks the departure for Murakami from his completely realistic and naturalistic books in Wind and Pinball, to the slightly bizarre and absurd. This is the book that marks the shift in style for Murakami. If I had read this directly after the other two, then the all out bizarre surrealism of The Wind Up Bird Chronicle wouldn’t have been so shocking. Therefore, as I mentioned before, I think it’s important that you read his novels in order, and somewhat close together. You can then note the progression of the story, as well as Murukami’s journey as an author.

 

This book contains more humour than his other novels, and is cheeky and odd. I recommend saving the trilogy for a rainy day. Keep the coffee and cigarettes nearby, and cook yourself a nice meal afterwards (the protagonist always does a ton of cooking in each novel- it will make you want to eat something too!).

 

Thanks for joining us at The Boss Book Club and participating in the 5- day Blogging Catch Up Bonanza!

 

Regular blogging schedule resumes from next week so please join us next Sunday for a review of American Gods.

 

Happy Reading from The Boss Book Club!

Kafka on the Shore

Hello everyone and welcome back to The Boss Book Club!

 

Today marks Day Four of our Five Day Blogging Bonanza to mark the return of TBBC. Today we will be having a look at Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore. The novel by one of Japan’s greatest living authors was written in 2002.

 

This novel follows the story of a 15- year old boy named Kafka, who is running away from home. Mature beyond his years, Kafka trains himself physically and mentally to be strong enough to survive on his own, and sets out with no clear plan, travelling by bus across Japan. An avid reader, he comes across the Komura Memorial Library and makes friends with the enigmatic librarian Oshima and the beautiful Miss Saeki.

 

On the other side of things is an old man named Nakata. Due to a mysterious illness when he was younger he has a low IQ and therefore simple way of living, and he can talk to cats. He embarks on a journey, assisted by a trucker named Hoshino who he meets along the way. What exactly that journey is, not even they are certain of, but it includes finding an important stone, and sealing an entranceway.

 

The story of these characters intertwine in such a way that blurs the naturalistic, realistic elements of life: ie a boy running away from home and an old man making his way across the country, with the bizarre, surreal and dreamlike qualities- including accessing the other side- whether that’s the other side meaning death, an alternate world, or an alternate state of mind is up to the reader to decipher. This book journeys firmly into the weird, and contains one graphic, violent scene that made me feel a little ill to be honest. However, apart from this one scene, the book is nonviolent. Murakami always includes a lot of the everyday things in life- a lot of descriptions of cooking meals, doing laundry and attending day to day activities, and then before you know it there’s a violent, bizarre or sexually explicit scene put in there and then it’s straight back to ironing shirts again. You would think this would be jarring or uncomfortable to read, but Murukami’s writing is so well done, and the pacing so perfect, that it poses no problem.

 

Of all his books so far, this contains the most definite plot and story arc, and would serve as a great introduction to Murakami if you prefer a structured story. This book, as with all Murakami’s novels, lends itself to multiple re-readings, as its rich in symbolism and hidden meanings.

 

Murakami has become one of my favourite authors, and if you’re willing to walk on the weird side, you will find his novels a truly rewarding experience. I enjoyed this book so much that I read A Wild Sheep Chase (by the same author) immediately afterwards.

 

Please join us for the review of A Wild Sheep Chase tomorrow.

 

Thanks for joining us at The Boss Book Club!

 

 

 

 

 

Wyrd Sisters

Hello everyone and welcome back to the Boss Book Club!

 

Today we’re continuing on with the Terry Pratchett Discworld Series by jumping into one of the books from the Witches Collection: Wyrd Sisters.

 

Wyrd Sisters tells the tale of three witches: the strict and foreboding Granny Weatherwax, the fun drunkard and eccentric Nanny Ogg and the enthusiastic but inexperienced newcomer Magrat. When the King of the Kingdom is murdered and the baby prince thrust unexpectedly into their care, it is the job of the witches to find the prince a new home. Many years later, with the kingdom thrown into turmoil under the dictatorship of a madman (the replacement King, the poor bugger) and a psychopath (that would be the Queen- think Lady Macbeth on steroids), it again falls to the witches to reinstate the proper order of things and, hopefully, save the kingdom.

 

This book is filled with the wonderful sense of adventure and humour that is instilled in all of Terry Pratchett’s novels. This book sees a return of Granny Weatherwax, who featured in the previous witches novel, Equal Rites. Her no-nonsense, cut the rubbish attitude will remind you of that teacher you had in high school, but you can’t help but like her all the same. The comraderie and humour shared between the witches is the highlight of the story; they are all loveable in their own right and make for great leading characters.

 

As always there is an element of satire in the book as well- this time the world of the theatre gets a serve. There is a parody on the famous globe theatre, as well as the crafts of acting and scriptwriting getting some attention. If you are a person who has acted in a play before, or would like to, then you will find these parts of the book funny and endearing.

 

What I love about the Discworld Series is that you can easily digest one of these books over a lazy weekend, they are easy to read and you’re guaranteed a laugh no matter what age you are. Terry Pratchett’s writing style is warm and welcoming, like being read a bedtime story by an eccentric uncle. Enjoy!

 

Please join us tomorrow for a review of Huruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore.

Purity

Hello everyone and welcome back to The Boss Book Club!

 

This week, to celebrate the return from hiatus, we’re doing a book a day for five days (this is Day 2!). Today we’ll take a look at Jonathan Franzen’s novel, Purity.

 

This is the first book I’ve read by the modern American novelist and I was very impressed by the scope of this book. At the start of the drama is a woman named Pip Tyler, an individual who’s struggling with life due to a large University debt; a less than ideal living situation squatting with some housemates, a job she doesn’t enjoy and a friction filled relationship with her mother. There are certainly relatable moments for just about anyone in the opening chapter, however the novel rapidly expands and opens out to cover a large range of characters, and a broad array of themes.

 

This is as much a political thriller as it is a personal drama. The political side comes into play through the character of Andreas Wolfe, a Julian Assange type figure who was raised in Germany and is now leaking anything and everything political he can find on the internet. When Pip is hired by this man she is pulled into a world of journalism, of secrets, of information and intrigue.

 

Before this novel my knowledge of Berlin’s history was somewhat limited but through the character of Andreas, Franzen does an excellent job at painting a picture of what it was like to grow up in a very politically and socially unstable time. Also, Andreas’ character is very interesting psychologically, and if you enjoy your characters complex and working out why people think the way they do, you will find him incredibly fascinating.

 

On a smaller scale, this book is also about relationships, between parents and children, between husbands and wives, and between friends. It’s about what pulls people together and drives them apart. The book is written in third person viewpoint, but the chapters alternate focus between the characters, so each main character gets a chapter of their own. Franzen does an incredible job at putting together a story that includes the relatable, everyday relationship issues that we can all relate to, as well as tell a tale that’s big enough to cover themes about freedom, the right to information and….

 

Murder.

 

Yes, somebody gets killed but you’ll get no spoilers here!

 

All in all, this is an interesting book with a broad scope: personal drama, intrigue, politics, the information age, love, reunion, family and death all mix together to create a great story by Franzen.

 

Thank you for joining us on The Boss Book Club!

 

Please stop by tomorrow for a review of Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moby Dick

Hello Everyone!

Thanks for joining us today at The Boss Book Club!

The Boss Book Club has been in hiatus over the past few months, but a lot of reading has been done in that time. To celebrate the return, over the next five days will be five book reviews- to catch up on what we’ve missed!

Today, the classic American novel Moby Dick.

I’ve attempted to read Moby Dick approximately 4 times over the past five years, each time giving up after the first 50 pages, overwhelmed by the old-style language or the sheer size of the thing. This time I persisted and pushed on, and I’m very grateful I did.

If you’re yet to read the classic but have been tempted to, it’s certainly worth your time. Written by Herman Melville in 1851, the story gives you an immersive look at the life of a whaleman in the 1800s, where great ships would head out to find and slaughter the sperm whale in order to collect and harvest the oil- which was predominantly used to light lamps across the country.

The story is told in first person narrative by Ishmael, a somewhat experienced seaman (don’t you giggle) but a first time whaler. This book shows you the perils and dangers of whaling from his point of view, as well as captures the sense of excitement and comradery that goes along with voyages that could last years.

The other central character is that of Ahab, the ship’s captain, a psychologically tormented man, whose motives in the voyage are entirely centred around the capture of one particular whale- the legendary Moby Dick.

There are many reasons why this book has been given its rightful status as a classic. For me, it shows me everything there is to know about what the whaling life was like. Herman explains everything about the experience in amazing detail, from what the ships were like, to the customs and traditions shipmen had, to the type of equipment they used- even how they would rig and cut the whale. It shows me a life I would never have known about- being a landlubber myself. It does, however, go into lengthy details of what a whale looks like, which I’m sure in its time would have been wonderfully informative, but can be a little dry in the reading now.

The other thoroughly enjoyable element of this book is Ahab, the dark, brooding Captain, and the book explores many religious, philosophical and psychological themes regarding his and Ishmael’s journey as characters.

Many schools and Universities over the years have included this book on the read list as the book is rich in religious and social metaphors and analogies. It reflects the development of America and man’s relationship with himself and God. You can read as much or as little into this novel as you like and I’m sure repeat readings would offer something new each time.

On a final note, if like me you struggle somewhat to get through classic novels, I have a good tip. Each time you start a reading session, start with one chapter of a classic, followed by whatever other novel you like. I found this helped me focus on the chapter I was reading, and after you’re half way through you’ll find it much easier to plough through and finish it!

 

Happy Reading everyone, see you tomorrow for a review of Jonathan Franzen’s Purity.

 

 

 

The Wind- Up Bird Chronicle

Hello Everyone and welcome back to The Boss Book Club!

Today we will be looking at The Wind Up Bird Chronicle, the next book for review by Haruki Murakami. The book was initially published in three volumes in 1994 and 1995 in Japanese. The translation I read, printed by Vintage in 2003, also includes two chapters that were printed in 1995 and 1997 that were written as short stories, but fit within the novel.

I’ve read and reviewed a few books now by this thoughtful author, after being impressed with his laid back style of writing, so naturalistic that there was scarcely any plot, and so relaxing it was like taking an afternoon stroll with a friend.

This book is very, very different.

The story starts out plain enough, and  focuses around the main character, Toru Okada, who is currently unemployed, but happily so, and is spending his days completing the household chores whilst his wife goes to work. Then his wife goes missing. Don’t be fooled, this is not a straightforward missing person crime novel.

After his wife disappears Toru starts to try and find out where she is, and in the process encounters a variety of characters that tell him their stories, including a spiritual medium who is lost, a young girl skipping school who may or may not have good intentions, and an ex-military man who feels he cannot die.

This book is not written naturalistically. At all.  It is full of metaphor and symbolism. The chapters are many and divided into small sections that you have to piece together. In this book there are alternate dimensions, dark, surreal moments, and even a sex scene that occurs between two people that aren’t in the same room (yes, I know, I told you it was weird!)

All of these bizarre, interlinking stories and characters do come together in some way, and the ending pieces it together in a way that is thought provoking and satisfying. As strange as it is, this book was a very interesting read, and presents a mystery that is greatly enjoyable. All of the bizareness is cleverly interwoven with the mundane, and the everyday activities of life. Toru will take himself down into a water well to think for four hours (why? you’ll see..) but then afterwards does the grocery shopping. There is a strong spiritual element to this story.

This is a very well written book that, if you choose to delve into it, will have you thinking about the bigger questions in life, and the nature of light, darkness, good and evil. It is greatly enjoyable, as long as you expect it to be strange, and are willing to go along with the journey. It marks a definite shift in Haruki Murakami’s writing style that certainly has me interested in what comes next.

 

This book contains mature themes and is suitable for an adult audience.

 

Thanks for joining us and happy reading!

 

 

Still Foolin’ ‘Em: Where I’ve been, Where I’m going, and Where the hell are my keys?

Hello Everyone and Welcome Back to The Boss Book Club!

Today we will be looking at Billy Crystal’s autobiography called Still Foolin’ ‘Em.  It is a look at the life and career of one of American’s greatest comedians.

This book has a focus on ageing and growing old. Billy was 65 years old when he wrote this in 2013, and the book opens with a hilarious chapter that had me laughing out loud as he reflects on what being 65 looks like- and how terrifying that is!

The book follows a standard autobiography format- the chapters are separated by decade so Billy talks us through his 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s. These chapters are interspersed with small, funny chapters that work off the ‘growing old’ theme. These are comedic chapters that serve to provide some laughs in between the more ‘serious’ chapters where he talks about growing up, and his life in show business; they include such topics as: the five stages of forgetting things, sex when you’re old, and why you should take care of your teeth. These funny interludes were a delight to read every time.

The book has strong points and weak points. Firstly, the not so good. If you’re not a baseball fan, or don’t know much about the sport, then this book will have large, large sections that won’t appeal to you. Billy, as it turns out, is a big baseball fan, and he talks about his experiences with Mickey Mantle and his time spent with the Yankees a lot. And I mean that, it’s not just one chapter you can skim over, it’s interspersed throughout the entire thing. This may be a really strong point if you are a baseball fan- if you love Billy and Baseball- then definitely get this book, you will love it!

Secondly, this book is edited a little oddly at times. There are sections where he talks about his first daughter a lot, and you can tell he’s a very proud father to both of them, but his second daughter gets only briefly mentioned, and often in the context of other projects or stories. It reads a little bit strangely.

Lastly, and this isn’t necessarily a negative point but is something you should be aware of, the book is quite factual and detailed throughout- a serious account of his life, with funny chapters about ageing placed in between. Some people might expect a comedian’s autobiography to be funny throughout, but that ‘s not what Billy aims to do here. This book is better suited to big fans of his work; it doesn’t suit the casual reader. Some of the chapters about his growing up years read a little dry after the initial funny chapter.

Now, the good points, and there are plenty! Billy has many interesting stories that give people background info into the making of City Slickers, 61, Analyze This and When Harry Met Sally. He tells great stories about the Oscars, and living in New York. One of the most wonderful parts of this book is when Billy talks about his family. He grew up in a big showbiz family, with many musicians and talented artists. He really paints a picture of an amazing upbringing, full of music and laughter, which will make you smile by proxy. However…

I was very surprised to find myself in tears at the end of his book. A book about ageing has to mention death and dying in there somewhere, and whilst he discusses it throughout the book with laughter and jokes, the final chapters of the book talk about the losses of his loved ones, and the difficulty of having to say goodbye to all the wonderful people he introduced us to in the opening chapters. It makes for heartfelt reading which has a real emotional impact.

I would recommend this book for big Billy Crystal fans, fans of baseball, and it would make a great gift for anyone that’s hit the grand mark of 65 years of age or older, there’s a laugh or two to be had here.

 

Happy Reading and thanks for joining us at The Boss Book Club!