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A Blogging Good Read - March

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Evening everyone! It's time for the monthly Blogging Good Read post and joining me this month are Elise from Foof & Faff and Katy from Katyboo1's Weblog.

So, without further ado, let's dive into the first book that we read. It was my choice, Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes:

This was mentioned to me a couple of years ago by loads of different people when I was searching round for book recommendations.  The first time I read it I got about 30 pages in and was ready to throw it across the room but then it quickly started to change and so did my perception of it.  To explain: it's written from the point of view of Charlie, a man with a very, very low IQ who takes part in a scientific experiement to improve his intelligence and records his progress in a journal.  The early part of the book is therefore full of phonetic spelling and bad grammar.  As these things drive me mad, you can probably understand why I got so cross with it at first.

I urge everyone to persevere through the initial stages. Charlie rapidly becomes more intelligent (to the point of having a genius level IQ) and this is explored in a subtle and captivating way, both through his writing and the reactions of people around him. You can't escape the awful sense that the experiment is doomed to failure at some stage, yet you don't want to stop reading because no matter how horrible the fate, you need to know what happens.  Charlie is treated as just as much of a test animal as Algernon the mouse and you get so angry on his behalf. It's a wonderful book: short, intelligent and deeply moving.

Did Elise enjoy it?

I'd heard of this book but always lumped it in with 'Classics', which I don't tend to be a huge fan of...  I'm glad Alex suggested it then, because it was a really interesting story.  Told from the perspective of Charlie, a mentally challenged man who gradually becomes super smart after an experiment on his brain, it follows his frustrations and confusion towards the world both before and after he changes.  The operation was tested on a mouse (Algernon) before Charlie, so I knew from the title it wasn't going to have a happy ending, but it was really compelling to read about Charlie's reactions to the things most people take for granted.  I'd definitely recommend it - when I found it in the science fiction section of the library my heart sank a bit, but if anything it's more about human nature and whether it's better to be ignorant and happy or informed and conflicted.

How about Katy?

Generally I steer clear of science fiction as a genre. I am totally turned off by the common understanding of it, i.e. books set in space and all about the future, where we wear shiny, metal suits and eat pills. This book however, is far from that, and I surprised myself by devouring it in an afternoon. Brilliantly written as a series of reports by Charlie, a retarded young man who is given the 'gift' of genius after having been selected to take part in an experiment to alter his brain, it is a deeply affecting book. The joy, and sorrow of the book is taking the journey with Charlie through the narrative and anything you try to say about it kind of takes away from that journey and also doesn't do it justice. It is not a sentimental book. At times I found myself quite angry and particularly ambivalent towards the character of Charlie, which is one of the book's greatest strengths. It seems such a simple book but it is incredibly complex both in what it says and the way it says it, and I have found myself returning to it in my thoughts time and time again. As with Beloved, I think it would be on my list of books everyone should read.

Katy's choice was Beloved by Toni Morrison:

I read and reread this book a lot in my early twenties, originally for a university degree and then just because I loved it. I haven't read it for about twenty years and I wasn't sure if I'd still feel the same way about it. I have to say I still think it is a work of genius. Morison has such a way with words and her descriptions are so evocative, but I didn't love it like I used to. I'm still fascinated by her depiction of the world of slavery. Nothing I had read had really brought it to life for me before then. I love the fact that she explores the slavery of our minds as well as our bodies and the emotional damage that a person carries with them that can stop them moving forward with their future. It is such a powerful novel, and if I had to choose a list of books everyone should read, this would be on it.

I didn't enjoy it.  Sorry Katy!  I really struggled to even get beyond the first few chapters.  I fully appreciate what Toni Morrison was trying to achieve here but I can do without umpteen mentions of bestiality in the first 50 pages! I plodded through the rest of the book solely because I had to but I didn't enjoy any of it. It was really draining to read, rather than enjoyable. I appreciate that a book about slavery is never going to be particularly happy but this was overwhelmingly grim.  The scope of the book is admirable and her writing is really beautiful and powerful - I'm sure she thoroughly deserves her Nobel Prize - but her books just aren't for me. 

What did Elise think?

I knew from the start this book and I weren't going to get along...  From what I gathered, the story was meant to be about a former slave women (Sethe) haunted by the ghost of her dead daughter Beloved, who comes back to life and ends up living with her under the assumption she's a runaway.  I found the narrative really hard to follow - the story kept going back and forth without warning into the past of Sethe and every other character, which made it hard to follow what was actually happening in the present.  Also the writing seemed difficult to understand at points, so every character seemed to have odd personalities and motivations, but it could just be because I didn't really know what was going on...  I made it about three quarters through and stopped, because I figured it didn't make much difference to me how it ended if I couldn't work out what was going on!  Sorry, hopefully someone else enjoyed it more!

Elise's choice of book was Yes Man by Danny Wallace:

As with a lot of books I read, I picked this up because I knew there was a movie version I wanted to see.  However, the only similarity between the two is the idea behind it - what happens when one man starts saying 'yes' to every suggestion and request that comes his way?  For Danny Wallace, the thing that made this idea click was a man he met on the bus who told him to 'say yes more'.  So he did.  His whole style of writing is hilarious - I can't read any of his books in public!  Plus it was interesting to see how much can change just by saying yes instead of no to a suggestion, which would often lead to another opportunity, whether it was going to a party four hours away or flying to Barcelona to meet a fellow Yes Man.  And the ending gets me every time - the mark of a good story I think!

Did Katy find it funny?

I read this book years ago, when it first came out. I picked it up because I had enjoyed 'Are You Dave Gorman?' and Danny Wallace figured in it, so I suspected it might be fun. I think it's the best way to describe it really. It is one of those genre of books where a silly man takes an idea and pushes it to the absolute limit of what can be done with it, mainly to achieve maximum silliness from it. Wallace is a likeable man, the premise of the book is not too awful and my recollection is that the book was amusing all the way through and very, very funny in places. I seem to recall an incident with a portrait of a dog in Holland that made me laugh a lot.

I was clearly in a bad mood when it came to reading this month because I didn't enjoy this one either! Oh dear. The problem with books of this sort is that they completely stand and fall on how likeable and amusing you find the author and I don't think Danny Wallace is funny.  There were some incidents in this book that made me smile but they were outnumbered by deeply stupid things or bits that dragged on and on and on Case in point: the email scam. I thought he was just being monumentally stupid at first but then I looked at the publication date of the book and realised I should probably give him the benefit of the doubt. Either way, it didn't make me laugh.  The central premise - saying yes to everything - is a great one and I liked the parts where he talked about how it actually enhanced his life but I don't think it's a very good book.

Thank you very much to Katy and Elise for taking part this month - especially as Katy has moved house and then been dying with flu! I'm sorry I didn't like your choices very much.

I'll be back next month with two different bloggers and we'll be reading Nella Last's War: the Second World War diaries of Housewife 49, Devil's Cub by Georgette Heyer and Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan.


  1. I've been meaning to read Flowers for Algernon, my friend at work recommended it! I'm glad it's so good and interesting! By the way if I wanted to take part in this feature of yours one day would that be possible? :) xx

  2. I love the sound of Flowers for Algernon - I agree with what Katy says about the SF genre - I always *think* I don't like it, but I do (Margaret Atwood's books in particular), we need to remember that it's not just about little green men from Mars!

    As for Yes Man, I read this a couple of years ago and although I like the idea behind it, I just don't think I like Danny Wallace very much. Much preferred the similar Round Ireland with a Fridge for example, as I found it funny and warmed to the author. Re. the email scam though Alex, I thought the point was that he knew it was a scam but he wasn't allowed to just say no to stuff, hence the to-ing and fro-ing? The exchanges soon became wearing though I know!

    Look forward to seeing what you make of Housewife, 49 next month xx

  3. I'm sorry I picked a book neither of you liked. That's quite an achievement :) It was interesting to read three such totally different choices I think. I enjoyed Flowers for Algernon best, and yes, I love Margaret Atwood's stuff too, particularly The Handmaid's Tale, and I've just started getting into John Wyndham, who I didn't think I would like either. Next months choices look great. I do love this part of your blog. x

  4. I love Flowers for Algernon, my boyfriend is into SF and I have read quite a lot which I really enjoyed!

    Maria xxx

  5. I've read all of these, though Flower for Algernon was a long time ago, I think I'd like to reread it. I remember struggling with Beloved too, and the Danny one was amusing enough in that daft lad-bad-idea kind of genre. I do miss his breakfast show on XFM.


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