Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Truthers by Geoffrey Girard


"The vastness of the internet allows people - no matter what their views - to crawl into the world's smallest teapot of those exact same views. Visiting only the websites and people that agree completely with your take, everyone spouting the same stuff."
I really don't know what to make of this book. I picked it up because the premise was interesting, but halfway through it felt like it was pro-conspiracy theorist. Then the second half had logic and it felt like the conspiracy-part was going to be proven wrong but the ending was (spoiler alert!) sort of conspiracy theory-ish, although the conspiracy was (SPOILER ALERT) not about 911.

Let me start from the beginning. Katie's father is taken away after he made threats about Dick Cheney. When she goes to visit him in a mental hospital, he reveals the 'truth' that she is actually the lone survivor of 9/11, and that 9/11 was perpetuated by the American government so it could go to war. In order to prove that her father is sane (because apparently if she can prove that sane people can be truthers it means her father is sane), Katie starts to investigate his claims. And probably because it would make the book very short to just investigate and dismiss the claims, the reader is immediately informed that there is, in fact, a shadowy group of people following her, which lends credence to her father's claims. 

I suppose that the good thing about the book is that it really goes into the conspiracy theorist culture. Katie falls for it (despite what she says by the time that the book hits the halfway mark, it's clear that she either believes it or she's very close to believing in it) and it shows that the internet age hasn't reduced information. If anything, it's spread it. 

That said, it felt like the book was pro-conspiracy theorist/truther for most of the book. In fact, I deeply considered stopping the book because it didn't feel unbiased (I know that the author tried to be objective but at that point I just wasn't feeling it). If Max (the guy that helps Katie out - obviously you know where this is going) didn't start speaking up and countering all her 'facts' with logic, I probably would have just stopped reading. 

Max, by the way, is my favourite character. He and Katie are the only two that felt real to me (I know she has friends but they didn't make much of an impression) and his level-headedness was what saved the book for me. It's a pity that his relationship with Katie was extremely predictable, although on the bright side, it wasn't insta-love.

On a completely random note, Max also speaks one line of really awkward Chinese. Luckily, they never claimed that he was fluent but just seeing it made me pause for a second. 

As for the ending, I found it a little confusing. I think I've gotten it, but I was really confused at first. Which, come to think of it, probably mirrors what Katie felt. All in all, this is a confusing book to rate. I obviously liked it enough that I finished it (and I find that I'm giving up on books more easily nowadays - perhaps I'm finally becoming more ruthless/protective of my reading time?) but it did give me a lot of sighing and 'why on earth are you buying into that' moments while I was reading it. 

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

Lost Classics edited by Michael Ondaatje, Michael Redhill, Esta Spalding, Linda Spalding

This book sounded interesting and I figured that I was either going to give up within 50 pages, or I'd love it so the most I'd waste is a little bit of time. Books about books tend to be polarising like that. Luckily for me, this book was under "love it" for me.

Lost Classics contains 74 recommendations from various authors (I've heard of two of them, have read maybe one). All the books recommended here are somehow lost, and some of them are just books that the authors met and was unable to read on their reading journey.

What I enjoyed about this book was the sheer variety of books that were recommended. Not every book appealed to me but plenty of them did and now I have a list of books that I'd want to read but probably won't get the chance to. And just so I've written them down somewhere, the books are:

- Too Late to Turn Back by Barbara Greene

- Codex Seraphinianus by Luigi Serafoni

- Glimpses of World History by Jawaharla Nehru

- Classics Revisited by Kenneth Rexroth

- The Five Nations by Rudyard Kipling

- Bernadette, French Girl's Annual

- Beyond the Pawpaw Trees by Palmer Brown

- Address Unknown by Kressmann Taylor (sounds like a really powerful short story set in Nazi Germany)

- The Gate of Horn by G. R. Levy

- The Mouse and His Child by Russell Hoban (it sounds like a lost fairytale which is amazing)

- The Peterkin Papers by Lucretia P. Hale

- The Ten Thousand Things by Maria Dermout (apparently this book is set in Indonesia)

- Jigsaw by Sybille Bedford (sounds like a great autobiography)

The problem with having all these books on my TBR list is that they're lost. I hope that with the advent of the ebook, most of these books will once again be available to the general public. After all, one of the advantages of ebooks is that you don't have to print hundreds of books at a time, which means that you can have books available for the proverbial "long tail."

Fingers crossed.

P.s. Anyone have their own lost book? I have quite a couple but I'm working on getting a copy of them. It's a good thing that the internet exists because I doubt I'd find the books in Singapore or Japan (and anyway I need the internet to find their titles).

Some of my "lost classics"

- The Girl With the Green Ear by Margaret Mahy: It took me forever to find this book (which was really lovely and I reviewed it here), but it was totally worth it. It makes me want to go and find more of my personal "lost classics".

- The Year of Miss Agnes: I do not remember much about the book, except that it was about a wonderful teacher and I read it while on vacation or just before a vacation (to Genting - anyone used to go there all the time too?) and I don't know, it just stuck with me. Can't even describe why. And I remember the smell of fish.

- True Blue: Read with The Year of Miss Agnes and I went back to MG and snuck into the library to search for this.

- The Search for the Lost Keystone: Actually found this in Singapore, so yay! But I loved the description of the house in this book and that stuck with me for a long time. I also forgot the title but remembered it had the word "stone" in it and eventually found it. Rereading it was pure joy.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Girl with the Green Ear by Margaret Mahy

I was intending to ration these stories and read them slowly, but I read the first one, realised that I remembered it, read the second one, awoke another memory, and then ended up finishing the book in one sitting. And you know what? This was a fantastic trip down memory lane that scratched a book itch that I've been having for years.

The Girl with the Green Ear was one of the books that I somehow had and then lost when we moved houses. But one of the stories (Thunderstorms and Rainbows) stayed with me and I so badly wanted to read it again. I couldn't remember the title for a few years and would intermittently be seized with the urge to google for it. Eventually, I found the book.

To be honest, I was afraid that I remembered the wrong book. But luckily I didn't. Thunderstorms and Rainbows is about the town of Trickle, where it always rains. As you can imagine, this is not good for the tourism industry and the townspeople got so sick of all the complaining that they made it illegal to say "Goodness, it does rain here, doesn't it?"

One day, a rare visitor comes and says the forbidden words. So obviously Policewoman Geraldine has to arrest him. But then she finds out that this visitor likes the rain.

Thunderstorms and Rainbows is a charming little story that very clearly illustrates how changing your perspective on something can bring about huge changes.

Other stories, which are all equally delightful, include:

- the titular The Girl with the Green Ear, about a musician's daughter who leaves home to find a very special calling

- Don't Cut the Lawn, a tale about how it's ok to let lawns grow wild

- The Good Wizard of the Forest, a story about a wicked but lonely wizard with amazing baking skills (this was really poignant and I was a bit surprised at how much I felt for the wizard)

And a few more. About half the stories were like old friends while I realised I'd completely forgotten about the other half, but I enjoyed reading them all.

If you know a child who likes nature and/or reading, you might want to get this for them (if you can get your hands on a copy). Or perhaps get this for yourself, because you're never too old for a good story.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Man From the Train by Bill James

I requested this from NetGalley because I find true crime fascinating and I read that the author is a baseball statistician so I was hoping that this is a book that uses data to solve the crime. Unfortunately, while the cases are extremely tragic and told in a fascinating way, the book suffers from a lack of focus.

So from around 1900 to 1912, a series of murders started to take place near railway lines. All of them were senseless, cruel murders which had a few points in common - such as an axe being a weapon, no robbery, no warning, and a few more. The authors are convinced that this is the work of one man, something that the press only seemed to realise a few years after the murders start (and by then a few people had been convicted for the murders).

While I do agree that the there was probably a serial on the loose, I'm not really satisfied with the arguments made. There are sentences like "No source says so, but the Meadows family had to have hunting dogs; I just can't see a family like this not having hunting dogs" (used when hypothesising how the crime might have taken place) which are quite scary because I would not want anyone to assume things that cannot be proven as fact.

Plus I was expecting a more mathematical look at the crime and the closest that the book came to maths was to ask how many murders would one expect there to be with the characteristics of the crime and say "the mathematical answer is 0."

I don't know if I'm remembering my stats wrong but while the answer may by very close to zero, I wouldn't have expected an answer like this. I did expect the author to calculate the probability of such a case happening and then derive the number of murders so a flat out "answer is 0" with no working made me disappointed.

Narrative-wise, the book basically goes through all related crimes and only discusses the probable murder at the end. This is probably a personal preference but I wish only the relevant cases were discussed. There are a lot of murders as it is, and to read something horrific and then see something along the lines of "but we don't think this was part of the serial killing" feels like there wasn't much thought into what should have ended up in the book.

As for the murderer, he seems to have been identified with a gut feeling because all I saw was an account of his 'first case' which was like all the others. Not much else was presented to show how he was linked to the murders, although the authors did theorise that he's behind a gruesome killing in Kaifeck a few years later.

This book also has one of the strongest authorial voices that I've read and I suppose it's so that we end up believing what the author believes. I suppose whether you like or dislike the book will also depend a lot on whether you like the authorial voice and how heavy it was. Personally, I'm not a fan of the puns and the digressions but it didn't make me want to stop reading the book.

Basically, this book introduced me to this horrific crime that I never knew existed. I do agree with the authors that this was the work of a serial killer, but I'm not a fan of how the case was made and I'm not entirely convinced that the man that they fingered is the real culprit (although he did commit a terrible murder too). It's too bad that the book didn't use much maths to make a case - that would have been interesting.

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review.