How Nietzsche Turned me into a Reader

Hey! Nietzsche!I’m not really interested in giving people a quick introduction; I tend to mix my personal life, humour, sarcasm and knowledge into my book reviews and blog posts. However I do want to kick off talking about the book that turned me into a reader.  It wasn’t until 2009 that I discovered the joys of books and reading and something inside me clicked and I wanted to consume every book I saw. This life changing event was all because of one book, an Australian non-fiction title called Hey! Nietzsche! Leave Them Kids Alone! by Craig Schuftan.

At the time I listened to a lot of music and would have cited AFI, My Chemical Romance, Weezer, and so on as some of my favourite bands. In face I was right into the music that was been played on Triple J. Craig Schuftan was a radio producer at Triple J at the time and there was a short show he made for the station called The Culture Club. In this show he would talk about the connection rock and roll has to art and literary worlds. Friedrich Nietzsche was claiming, “I am no man, I am dynamite” well before AC/DC’s song TNT.

That was a real revelation for me and I picked up Hey! Nietzsche! Leave Them Kids Alone! (subtitled; The Romantic Movement, Rock and Roll, and the End of Civilisation as We Know It) and began reading it. However it didn’t stop there; this book connected the so called ‘emo’ movement with The Romantic Movement, I never thought these bands would have anything in common with the greats like Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley or John Keats but I had to find out.

Hey! Nietzsche! Leave Them Kids Alone! by  Craig Schuftan ended up taking half a year to complete; not because I was a slow reader but I wanted to know more,and  I read poetry by Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley and John Keats, and researched online. I picked up books like Frankenstein (an obsession of mine), Dracula and Wuthering Heights just because they were mentioned. This was a weird turn in my life but my growing thirst for knowledge became an obsession with reading. I have now set a life goal to read everything on the 1001 Books you must read before you die list.

It is weird to think one book can have such a huge impact on my life but I credit Craig Schuftan (and my wife) for such a positive improvement in my life. I will eventually read Craig Schuftan’s books The Culture Club: Modern Art, Rock and Roll and other stuff your parents warned you about and Entertain Us!: The Rise and Fall of Alternative Rock in the Nineties but I’ve put them off because I suspect the same amount of research will be involved.

Has a book had such a positive impact in your life? I would love to know in the comments. Also are there any other books that explore the connections between art and literature with pop-culture?

Review – & Sons by David Gilbert

9780007552795I am a sucker for a great American novel, in particular ones set in college and this kind of fits into both those categories but with a twist. This was originally described to me as Wonderboys meets The Art of Fielding which isn’t necessarily true. Instead imagine a novel like Wonderboys or The Art of Fielding and then imagine what happens to the author and his family forty years later.

A.N. Dyer is the author of Ampersand, a seminal work of American literature set in a college in the 1950s. It was the defining book of his career and is still held in reverence forty years later. A.N. Dyer, Andrew, is now an old man. He has three sons, two with his wife and one from an affair that ended his marriage. Following the death of his oldest and closest friend Andrew, sensing his own imminent mortality, tries to repair his damaged relationship with his sons.

Gilbert treads a fine line throughout the book between satire and metafiction dipping in and out of each almost perfectly. He deftly blurs the lines between fact and fiction in his fictitious world. The way his dissects the publishing industry is wickedly brilliant but the core of the novel is the relationship between fathers and sons and the battles fought over legacy and individualism. The story is narrated by Philipp Topping, the son of Andrew’s recently deceased best friend, who I wouldn’t go as far to say is an unreliable narrator but he definitely has his own biases. The story does take a slightly odd turn but Gilbert keeps everything on the road.

A clever story of fathers and sons and a tragic exploration of the great American novel and it’s aftermath.

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This tapped into emotions no other book has done with me before.

9781408704950Review – The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Donna Tartt is a true enigma. She is a phenomenal bestseller with a cult following. There isn’t very much known about her but you wouldn’t call her a reclusive author either. The Goldfinch is her third novel in twenty years, a decade gap between each book. All of them worth the wait.

I can distinctly remember first discovering Donna Tartt. When I first started doing the buying 11 years ago there was a lot of fuss about a novel called The Little Friend because it was the author’s first book since The Secret History. I had no idea who the author was or why, after ten years, there was such excitement and anticipation for her second novel. My rep, who was selling the book in at the time, told me to read The Secret History. Which of course I did and was totally blown away.

It was unlike anything I had read before (or since). I am not big on classics, ancient or modern, but the world Tartt created in The Secret History sucked me straight in (just like the book’s protagonist Richard). She is one of the few writers whose writing is truly mesmerizing. I was straight on the bandwagon after that, dying for a copy of The Little Friend. Which I also loved.

A lot of Donna Tartt fans were disappointed with The Little Friend but I was not one of them. I think people were expecting another The Secret History which was always going to be impossible and Tartt gave us something completely different. The Little Friend is a bit of a modern-day To Kill A Mockingbird without the anchor of a parent and where the outside world is full of much more menace. 12-year-old Harriet, bright and bookish, believes she can solve the mysterious death of her younger brother 12 years ago. The death fractured her family and Harriet is determined to set things right. Again Tartt’s writing is captivating and I can still vividly remember a scene involving Harriet’s best friend Hely and some snakes. I later found out that Harriet was inspired by Mattie Ross in True Grit by Charles Portis, one of Donna Tartt’s favourite books growing up,which also has another unforgettable scene involving snakes.

In many ways The Goldfinch is a combination of elements of her first two novels but the only thing familiar is the once again mesmerizing writing that draws you into her world immediately. When I first started The Goldfinch it felt like I was holding my breath and when I came up for air the first thing I wanted to do was re-read The Secret History and The Little Friend. I’d forgotten the power of Tartt’s writing and wanted to re-immerse myself in as much of it as I could find. And then I plunged back into The Goldfinch.

The central character of the novel is Theo Decker and a painting called The Goldfinch. Through traumatic circumstances the painting comes into his possession and becomes a talisman throughout his life. I am not into art or paintings but Tartt has this ability to draw you into any subject, in very detailed and extraordinarily intriguing ways (including antique furniture and its restoration!). The book is almost 800 pages, every one of which is totally absorbing, compelling and majestic. Unlike Tartt’s previous two novels this story is also wide-ranging, from New York to Las Vegas and Amsterdam. The Secret History and The Little Friend were very localized stories where as The Goldfinch is much more spread out while still hauntingly focused. It is also very philosophical and tapped into emotions no other book has done with me before.

I hope we do not have to wait another ten years before getting to read Donna Tartt again but then again she can take as long as she wants. In the meantime I am going to revisit her first two books something I should have done before now but that’s the magic and the joy of great books. They are always there to be enjoyed again and again, even when you forget!

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A joy to read. Pure reading heaven. I miss it already!

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Review – The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

This was such a joy to read. It is pure reading heaven. It is richly detailed yet highly readable and features a large cast of characters who are each flawed in all the many ways people can be. It is also an intricate mystery, a puzzle that each character (and you the reader) are trying to get to the bottom of.

The Luminaries is a monster of a book. The size of the book may put you off but don’t be! I stupidly let this sit on my shelf for months. I didn’t want to commit to a book so big. However, literally after the first page, I was so glad that this was a huge book because I just wanted to read and read. You honestly don’t want this book to end. When I did finish I instantly began to miss it and all it’s characters.

Eleanor Catton loses you in the story and, like the characters of the novel, sucks you in to the puzzle. Catton’s style and talent defy her years. Each chapter begins with a brilliantly penned synopsis, which I must admit I’d read at the end of the previous chapter like a ‘next time on The Luminaries‘. These synopses brilliant capture the mood and tone of the story and are just one of many hooks.

The story is set in the New Zealand Goldfields and involves a murder, an attempted suicide, a missing man and a pile of gold whose ownership is far from clear. The mystery unfolds from the perspective of 13 men who are each involved in the story in different ways. Each of these men piece together their stories but the truth is hiding behind miscommunication, misinterpretation and each person’s own intentions and stake in the events.

The Luminaries is totally absorbing, utterly original and a must for The Booker Prize! I am going to have an absolute nightmare putting together my top 10 of the year now (a good nightmare). Eleanor Catton is such an amazing writer (I already have The Rehearsal sitting in my ‘to read’ pile). Even without The Booker this is a book that deserves to be read, enjoyed, celebrated and read again.

Buy the book here…