Monthly Archives: January 2017

Book review: The Metamorphosis – Franz Kafka



My first Kafka! Catching up with some classics I’ve never got around to reading.

Gregor wakes up one morning and finds he is a giant beetle. He doesn’t seem all that concerned. He’s quite bothered by the fact that he may have to miss work. He’s supporting his family, you see.

They discover him and FREAK OUT! as you probably would. They sort of try and look after him. but he’s just a massive inconvenience for them all.

Then he dies and solves a problem for the family. Phew!

Is he literally a beetle? Has he just had a mental breakdown? It doesn’t matter all that much. What matters is he’s been transformed from useful, money providing family member into a repulsive dependent. How his family treat him, their attitude to him, is what it’s all about.

Here’s a very short synopsis of a very short novella:


Book Review: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – Betty Smith


A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is the story of Francie Nolan, a poor 11 year old girl, and her family. During the course of the book she becomes 17 and you will probably age about the same amount as Francie does, because this book is so very long.

Reading this book, I felt like I have been to Brooklyn in the 1900s. I feel like I’ve smelt the air, seen the streets and can recreate it in my mind. The truth is, I’ve never even been to modern day Brooklyn. The descriptions in this book are beautiful and vivid.

Francie has a desperately poor upbringing. Her mother is caring, strong willed and quite harsh with her in an effort to prepare her for a hard life, though she tries with all her might to make a better life for her kids. Her father is likeable, but an alcoholic who has always struggled with providing for his family. She has a younger brother and an extended family, with two aunts taking significant roles in Francie’s life.

Francie is a bright girl who struggles to make friends. She loves reading and is determined to get herself educated so she has a chance of escaping the awful poverty she’s grown up with.  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn gets a bit sentimental at times, but it’s a lovely story of a young girl growing up and dealing with the shit life throws at you. The parts where she starts to see the shabbiness of her surrounding with more grown up eyes, and starts to see how other people see her shambles of a father are heartbreaking. This picture of family life is worth the investment of time and is an easy read.

I enjoyed this glimpse of Francie’s life. but I really wish it was 200 pages shorter!



Book review: Me Talk Pretty One Day – David Sedaris

I first heard David Sedaris a few years ago, by accident, when one of his Radio 4 readings was on as I was decorating. It was so funny, I loved it and started listening to more as they were broadcast.

I went to see a show he did a couple of years ago, but I haven’t ever got round to reading any of his books. The show was great. My husband came along and I’m not sure he knew what to make of it! I think he thought it might be stand up comedy…

It was too good an opportunity when my turn to choose my book club’s book coincided with the start of 2017, and a Sedaris book is on my reading list challenge. Excellent! So Me Talk Pretty One Day it is.


I really enjoyed this collection of stories. There are two parts to the book. The first covers his upbringing and time spent in Chicago and New York. The second part his move to France. The one about him learning to speak French can now be credited with containing the only sentence in a book that has made me cry with laughter. I’m not going to tell you what it was though. You need to read it and find your own.

I read this entire book with Sedaris’ voice in my head and I’m not sure if that is key to finding it so funny. I think when my book club meet I’ll find out (Really hope they like it).

Some of the best bits of these stories are the descriptions of people that you just know are things you might think, but wouldn’t dare say. I’m deliberately not going into any details about the stories because I don’t want to ruin them for anyone who might give the book a go. I am definitely going to read some more of his books that I have had lined up in my to read pile for a while. Reading something genuinely hilarious is sometimes just what you need (especially when real, life shitty things happen) and you can escape, and laugh, and get away from it all for a little while.

This is still my favourite David Sedaris related story.



Book review: The Catcher in the Rye – J. D. Salinger



I had heard that this was a book best read when you are yourself an angsty teenager. I am very far removed from my teenage years, but I remember quite clearly how I felt back then, so thought it might just be a book I could get along with. It has felt like a glaring hole in my book back catalogue, especially considering many people had read it at school (I got Silas Marner – George Eliot. From this I learnt what a cataleptic fit is). I like teenage rebellion (don’t tell my students or my children!) and sticking two fingers up at authority figures, society and the world.


Yet I really did not enjoy this book. I found Holden Caulfield annoying (as does almost everyone he interacts with in the book – he’s frequently being told to be quiet, which is actually pretty funny). Maybe it’s because I’ve been teaching for ten years and I can picture the many Holden Caulfield’s who’ve frustratingly refused to produce work when they are more than capable of doing well. Maybe because my personal form of teenage rebellion was to dress in an unusual way and listen to hardcore punk rock while simultaneously doing well at school, college and university. Holden’s rebellion is to annoy people, do badly at school, cry quite a lot and go within walking distance of his parents house for a few days. I’m just not very excited by this, Holden!

It’s been suggested that this is a book that male readers identify with more than female ones. A cursory look at the ratings given by my goodreads friends suggests this isn’t true. I don’t think it’s that simple to say I didn’t like it because I’m not a man. I have read every single Sharpe books fgs and simply find the simplification tired and an oversimplification.

The great thing about this book is it’s quite short (just under 200 pages) and I can tick off one of my reading list book challenge books. I’m also now ahead on my target to read a book a week this year. Hoorah!

Book Review: The Secret History – Donna Tartt


The Secret History is tale of rich, self absorbed, college kids rampaging through life doing as they please and being utterly unphased by anything. Really anything. But it’s good, I promise! It’s long – nearly 700 pages, but it doesn’t seem that long when you’re reading it. I don’t think I’ve ever been able to say that about a long book before.

The characters are all unsympathetic and unlikable, and yet you are drawn in. There are latin and ancient greek phrases all over it too, and I needed a dictionary for more words than I’m comfortable admitting to. One wasn’t even in my pocket Oxford English dictionary. This review’s not going so well… What I mean to say is I LOVED THIS BOOK!

It follows the college life of an unfocused student whose only aim seems to be to get as far away from his dire family as possible. He finds himself at a college and drawn to a strange, mysterious group of rich kids. They are the only students of the college Greek professor. He manages to infiltrate the group by persuading the professor to take him on.

For most of the book he is the outsider slowly getting drawn into events. He is not rich, doesn’t have a privileged life, and seems to have little in common with the group. I don’t want to say anymore and ruin the story if you’ve not read it yet.

It is well worth the time taken to read this book. Which you may have already done as it’s 24 years old! I read a fairly old and battered copy that was handed to me by a friend. He said I would like it and I really did. I would love to get more book recommendations like this.  🙂



Book Review: Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates

If you’re going to read this book I suggest leaving your defensiveness at home and then listening carefully to what Ta-Nehisi Coates has to say. This an exploration of what it’s like to be a black man in the USA. It weaves in more recent events with the historical foundations of the USA.


Written as a letter to his 15 year old son, the focus of the book is the killing of Coates’ friend, Prince Jones. I realise this book wasn’t written for me. But I agree it’s a book that everyone could, and should, have a better understanding of.

There are resonances with descriptions of having a black body and knowing it can be taken away at any time, with the feeling of having a female body in a patriarchal world. It’s not the same but it meant I have empathy with some of the described ideas and feelings. There are criticisms of this book not addressing the experience of black women, but it is father writing to his son, so this is not wholly unsurprising.

This book is raw and thought provoking and helps give some understanding of the racial tension that is still bubbling over in the USA. It’s poetically written and only 160 pages.