An Inspector Calls by JB Priestly
A well-to-do family in the days leading up to World War I are enjoying a few drinks when a mysterious police inspector interrupts them to question them all about the suicide of a working-class woman who intersected with their lives in ways none of them could imagine.
This is not at all subtle in its message. The (admittedly quite inoffensive) message of don’t-be-a-dick-at-people is rammed down the reader’s throat unapologetically, but the whole thing takes less than an hour to read, so it doesn’t stick around long enough to get on ones nerves.
Spares, by Michael Marshall Smith
Jack Randell is on the run with a group of Spares – human clones created so that the rich can have replacement parts for when they hedonism themselves into serious accidents.
I first heard about this story years ago, when rigorously critiquing the move The Island with a friend of mine. The core concept is similar enough that the book’s author and the movie’s producers racked up a small amount of court time discussing a few issues. Which is sort of odd, as the Spares, except for providing the story with a title, are pretty much just a McGuffin to kick Randell into a bunch of weird situations, almost none of which actually involve the clones.
This book may not have as many bizarre ideas as Smith’s Only Forward, but it comes close. It creates a twisted world that only borders on being comprehensible, and once again the main character is horribly relatable.
This isn’t exactly what is advertised by the title, but is probably the most fun you’ll have reading this month, so you should acquire a copy.
Runaways vol 3 by Brian K Vaughn
The continuation of the story of the children of a cabal of villains, running from their parents and trying to find their way in the world.
A worthy story that is no worse than either of the first volumes. A quick but pleasing read.
Billy T by Matt Elliot
The first in-depth biography of New Zealand’s most beloved comedian.
Honestly, I didn’t love this. I’m as big a fan of Billy T James as anyone of my generation (or the generation immediately preceding mine, who liked him a lot more than many of my contemporaries) so it was nice to read about his life in more detail than has previously been covered. That having been said, the book was simply not written well. Elliot falls into the trap that I hate so much of meaningless digressions. It is hard to argue that giving paragraphs of information about the lives of the people who consented to be interviewed provides necessary context for the story of James. (As an aside regarding the interviewees, I was a bit leery from the outset when the introduction was used not only to thank those who had provided support, but also to passive – and not so passive – aggressively insult people – by name – who didn’t want to be involved in the writing of the book.) And Elliot may have a past as a historian of comedy, but that is no reason to dedicate paragraph after paragraph to detailing the lives and acts of comedians who were stylistically a little bit like Billy T James but in all other ways unconnected. It’s simply not relevant. Of course, worse than that is when the academic in him takes over, and he minutely deconstructs why James’ jokes were funny. Given that he also openly admits that Billy T’s jokes were often corny and out-of-date, funny more due to the delivery than anything else, this sort of point-by-point sociological breakdown is as irrelevant as it is annoying.
Telling Tales by Melissa Katsoulis
Stories of famous literary hoaxes and the perpetrators thereof, from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion to Mark Twin’s overtly fictional newspaper columns to James Frey and JT Leroy.
If you like stories, you’ll like this. Pithy but interesting chronicles of fakers and how and why they did what they did. The most interesting thing was how forgiving the author was of these hoaxers. Many of them were clearly raised wrong and had deep-seated psychological reasons for doing what they did, but Katsoulis goes out of her way to find reasons that most of them might have just needed a hug. Which is sweet, really, and certainly less tiresome than if she had spent page after page pillorying them.
I am a genius of unspeakable evil and I want to be your class president by Josh Lieb
Oliver Watson is a genius with a world-spanning secret empire based on his playing the stock-market and inventing science-fiction-esque technologies. He is also twelve years old and pretends to be borderline retarded in order to hide his secret until he is of legal age to actually lay claim to all the things he does.
The idea of this one wasn’t exactly new. Hell, if you’ve seen any given episode of Dexter’s Laboratory then you know exactly what this book is about. That having been said, this book made me laugh many times while reading it. It’s predictable and uncomplicated, but it’s also funny and engaging, and well worth the price of admission.
Second Opinion by Theodore Dalrymple
Dalyrimple is a doctor who divides his time between a hospital on one of the lower socio-economic rungs of British society and a prison. He is also an inveterately grumpy old man who firmly believes that eyebrow piercings are a sign that fighting in World War Two was a waste of time because Albion is irrevocably doomed and being dragged to hell by anyone under the age of sixty.
Normally I have a very low tolerance for the spittle-flecked ranting of people who bemoan the passing of the Good Old Days™ simply because, if you actually read the history books, said good old days were usually filled with crotchety social commentators vociferously complaining that things were better fifty years ago. Three things save Dalrymple from this sort of condemnation:
1) The man is a gifted writer. His prose never descends out of the readable, but is powerful and entertaining.
2) He’s mostly right when he says that people are scum and that the education system and modern government are failing people.
3) The fact that he has dedicated his life to helping these people means he gets a free pass to insult them. I remember back when Tardblog was still operational, and there was a bunch of hate mail along the lines of “how dare you call these precious children of God retards?” As was pointed out on the blog: the author spent all of her day wiping their drool (and other far, far less pleasant secretions), hugging them when they were upset, and otherwise trying to teach them how to survive in a world that wasn’t built for them. And she did so of her own volition. You didn’t. Which meant that she got to call them whatever she wanted to, and you got to shut up. (I’m paraphrasing here – I think the blog was actually far more polite than I’m being.) Dalrymple may hastle his patients, and blame them for the downfall of society, but he didn’t have to work in that neighbourhood, or the prison next to it. He does, which give him the right to mouth-off as much as he likes.