Tag Archives: 2 stars

Book: The Power of Infographics

The Power of Infographics

A book on how to make simple infographics about boring things
200 pages, ★★

The Power of Infographics is a comprehensive guide on how to turn drab topics like sales and organisation charts into unintentional office comedy. None of this book was intended to be funny—no, it was intended to be useful, but I find the charts in this book are so pointless that they belong with doodles and LOLcats, not in an ‘art’ book.

Here’s one of those pointless charts.

The Power of Infographics
What’s the point of this chart?

This book is written for people with no time to read. All the usual nuances of a corporate book are in here, including short chapters, bullet-lists, repetitive catchphrases (memes) and boring case-studies about how people increased their sales blah blah blah.

Some of the graphics are quite good, which is my rationale for giving it two stars. But the whole book is full of graphics on corporate networking, sales figures, and social media statistics. So very, very dull. Read Information is Beautiful instead. ★★

Book: The Night Guest

The Night Guest Book Cover

Originally posted on Dark Matter Fanzine

Extremely dark and bitchy.
256 pages, ★★

The Night Guest is the story of a 75-year-old widow who has a government carer arrive unexpectedly to take full-time care of her. The widow sadly declines into dementia throughout the novel and becomes increasingly dependent on her carer. However, not everything is as it seems. As you progress through this book, you’ll find yourself asking yourself what’s real and what’s not: is Freda (the carer) really a government worker? Does Ruth (the widow) really have dementia? Is Freda taking advantage of Ruth?

The ending, which I won’t reveal here, is darker than anyone but the author could have imagined. Not only is it dark, but its characters are bitchy and unpleasant and I didn’t learn anything positive from this book. I didn’t even enjoy it. Some reviewers have commended the author for creating these nasty characters and the book’s unpredictable plot in a debut novel, but personally, I think the author’s crossed a line of “negativity” and this book doesn’t deserve any credit.

There are no men in this book (not in major roles, anyway), which instantly throws its character cast off balance. What bothers me more is that nothing positive happens in this book from start to finish. The Night Guest is a gloomy, uninspiring novel with a small number of silently vindictive female characters and absolutely no point to it. I learned nothing, I didn’t enjoy it, and I would have stopped reading after 80 pages if I weren’t obliged to review it.

The “suspense” that some newspaper reviews have written about is actually just “boredom”. The “darkness” is actually “bitchiness” and the “horror” is more sickening than frightening. The relationships between all the characters are covertly abusive and become more so as you read on. This novel has no likeable characters.

So who might enjoy this book? People who enjoy horror movies, possibly? Fortunately, I’m not one of those people, so I can only give it two stars. ★★

Book: Do/ Improvise

Do Improvise 

Yawn. At least it doesn’t cost any money (it’s free on Readmill)
144 pages, ★★

I love Readmill. It’s an iPad app for social reading. In this free iPad app, you can download free (or cheap) books and make highlights, page-marks and annotations with your fingers just the same as in iBooks and many other popular reading apps. In Readmill, however, your comments are shared with all the other people reading that book—and you can see everyone else’s comments, too. You can start a global discussion between strangers from any sentence on any page!

Not only is it interesting to see other peoples reactions to certain part so of the book that you found interesting, but it also gives all readers a crowd-sourced, pre-highlighted, pre-annotated version of the book available from the moment you open the first page! Social reading apps like Readmill could provide the social aspect that textbooks currently lack, and that students are craving (sometimes unknowingly) in today’s classrooms.

I am also glad that I teach. Reading this book aimed at corporate office-workers reminded me of the team-building exercises and networking opportunities that, for the most part, comprise the biggest highlights of those ‘corporate’ office jobs. The most useful of those in this book, and the most applicable to my career as a teacher, was called “Yes, and…”. It’s a variation of “Today, I went to the store and bought…” and the author touts it as a way of training your audience’s listening skills.

Games like these are fun, memorable ice-breakers but they honestly don’t teach anything. Education is far ahead of the corporate world with its modern, interactive teaching practices and we could actually teach the corporate world a thing or two. PEEL is just one example (although I wish it were free to access).

So I won’t be reading these free corporate books on Readmill any longer. Reading them is a waste of time, and reading education books and articles is a much better use of my time. That’s all I learned from Do Improvise: don’t read irrelevant books. ★★

Side note: while the book was awful, a workshop based on this book might actually be fun to attend (should I ever have the time…)

Book: How to Spend $50 Billion to Make the World a Better Place

How to Spend $50 Billion to Make the World a Better Place

Aimed at politicians. So dull. No story. 
208 pages, ★★

When I choose a terrible book worthy of only one or two stars in a review, I’m actually saying more about my inability to choose good books that I am about the books themselves. This made me wonder: is reading ‘bad’ books a waste of time?

There is a limit to how many books we can read in a lifetime:

If we read one book every day (upper estimate), between the ages of 6 and 100 (again, upper estimates), then there’s only time to read 34,310 books in a lifetime.

There exist over 7 million books written in English. Assuming that 7% of them are in genres that interest us at some point in our lives, and that only 7% of those are of excellent quality, that leaves 7,000,000 ✕ 0.07 ✕ 0.07 = 34,300 five-star books in the world that interest me.

So there are 34,300 five-star books out there that interest me, and I have time (upper estimate) to read 34,310 books in a lifetime. Conclusion: we don’t have time to waste reading books we don’t like!

I loved Lomborg’s Cool It!, and I love watching his talks on the internet, but this book, How to Spend $50 Billion, certainly isn’t aimed at me. It’s aimed at politicians who have $50 billion of government funds at their discretion and who also need some guidance from authors as to how to spend it. That’s a minuscule audience. Most of the rest of us would be quite happy just reading the conclusion, which is only a Google search away. Don’t waste your time reading the rest. ★★

Book: Questioning Collapse

Macanany Yoffee Questioning Collapse

Grandiose, obsessive, delusional criticisms of Jared Diamond.
390 pages, ★★

Questioning Collapse is a direct rebuttal to Jared Diamond’s epic anthropological book titled Collapse (I reviewed that book here). In the preface, Questioning Collapse aims to improve on Collapse by being optimistic and easy-to-read, while at the same time retaining academic credibility. It also claims to correct some of Jared Diamond’s professional “mistakes”.

Unfortunately, Questioning Collapse didn’t need to be written. Collapse was a rare display of academic content written in very readable prose, and absolutely no improvement was needed. Jared Diamond also made it explicitly clear when he was making speculations, and there was therefore no need to “correct his mistakes”! These authors tried too hard to overstep the legendary Jared Diamond and failed.

Questioning Collapse is an edited book (i.e. each auth). Like most edited books, the chapters don’t quite fit together. There’s no consistency from beginning to end and the different authors sometimes repeat each other unnecessarily. Questioning Collapse isn’t even a pleasure to read. Despite its wanting to be ‘optimistic’, it spends more time deriding Jared Diamond than building on Collapse.

I’d like to see this book re-written in a positive tone and re-titled, “Collapse: a follow-up study” or “Collapse: recent developments”.

What bothers me most is that the authors of Questioning Collapse put lengthy, illustrated biographies in highlighted boxes at the end of each chapter. Why? It seems that this book isn’t about improving on Collapse at all—it was just a platform for a dozen or so scientists less successful than Jared Diamond to try and boost their careers. ★★

Book: Surviving and Succeeding in Difficult Classrooms

Surviving and Succeeding in Difficult Classrooms

Tells incompetent teachers in dire classroom settings to “hang in there”.
160 pages, ★★

I’m so happy I’m not in a position where I need this book.

Paul Blum’s hard-hitting, “blunt, truthful account” of the UK’s most troubled schools delves into territory I didn’t know was allowed in the field of education. Contrary to the other books and articles I’ve been reading, he calls students “nutters” and “angels” on page 15. Even more extreme, on page 27, he says, “the really crazy ones will climb out of windows [to avoid detention]”.

He describes some atrocious situations: students who tell teachers to “fuck off”, parents who can’t afford phones, families who live in “poverty and squalor”, and classes with unexplained 20% absence rates. Gangs enter the school premises to attack a student towards the end of this book, and he advises his readers that “the police are probably required immediately”.

Surviving and Succeeding in Difficult Classrooms is more of a rant than a book. It alarms you to the most extreme scenarios that some teachers dig themselves into, and makes you wonder how they got there. Even though the book blames school chaos on poverty alone, I’m young and optimistic enough to believe that teachers can do something more than tolerate it, or just “hang in there”, as this book tells them to do. I think we can sabotage the fizzy drinks machine, make students more physically active during class, study pop music in English class and make everything active and relevant. We can give kids the respect they don’t get at home—even when they tell us to “fuck off”.

My favourite quote is on page 75, The Don’t’s:

10. Don’t waste too much time preparing copious written lesson plans.

There’s not much I agree with in this book, but on that line, I agree 100%.

The cover really doesn’t match the writing style. On the outside, this book is a $36.00 work of academic literature. On the inside, however, it’s a colloquial, 2-for-$5 self-help book that fails to motivate… and there are no references.

The author might like you to give this book to any teachers you know who are struggling in terrible schools. However, by offering no solutions to turn these schools around, the author’s effectively telling his readers to give up hope. If this book resonates with you, then it’s time to consider a career change. ★★

Book: Whole Brain Teaching for Challenging Kids

Whole Brain Teaching for Challenging Kids

Akin to a fad diet… proceed with caution!
279 pages, ★★

Whole Brain Teaching (WBT) is a happy, militaristic style of teaching that claims to grip all your students’ attention all the time. Here’s a really cute kindergarten class using WBT successfully.

This free book introduces the basics of WBT, which can be summarised in 7 “Big Rules” (all 7 of these were in the video).

  1. Class-Yes: when the teacher says, “Class”, the students respond, “Yes”;
  2. Teach-Okay: when the teacher says, “Teach”, the students respond, “Okay”, and proceed to teach each other in pairs;
  3. 5 Classroom Rules: my favourite rule is #5: “Keep your dear teacher happy”;
  4. Scoreboard: ‘Smilies’ (+1) and ‘Frownies’ (-1)  are awarded at the teacher’s discretion and recorded on the whiteboard. Net scores translate into minutes of recess, or minutes of music, at the end of each class. (I am highly reluctant to use this.)
  5. Hands & Eyes: students respond, “Hands & Eyes” and listen attentively to an important point;
  6. Switch: Used in combination with “Teach-Okay”, students will change their pair-partners upon this command;
  7. Mirror: mimic the teacher’s actions and words exactly.

Personally, I would only be comfortable using the first three of these rules in my classes.

Like me, you probably found the first video very cute. Secondary-school teachers will be thrilled to know that it’s possible to train older students in this way, too—although I don’t recommend it.

While I appreciate some of the basic ideas (such as “Class-Yes” and “Teach-Okay”), I found more and more “gimmicks” as I read on. By the middle of this book, WBT had become over-complicated and patronising. For example:

  • Students are given stars and colours, just like on eBay;
  • Students are given coloured cards with different meanings in class;
  • Scoreboards become increasingly complex to the point of absurdity.

WBT used to be called “Power Teaching” until a few years ago. The rebranding included questionable links to neuroscience. This book and its associated materials are littered with pictures of brains and tenuous talk of “mirror neurons”. This probably boosts the scheme’s popularity among laypeople, but repels the scientifically-literate with disgust.

I have three main problems with WBT. First, the references to neuroscience are almost all bunk. Second, the branding is too strong for my liking. If I were to teach like this, I’d no longer be Mr. Kennedy; I’d become a mass-produced WBT teacher. Teachers are not machines—they cannot be copied and replicated to the letter—and no teacher should try to adopt all the techniques of another person. (Any classroom successes would be accredited to the “miraculous” WBT program, while any failures would be attributed to myself.) Third, if I were to follow WBT to the letter, including all these ridiculous rules, I think my class of secondary students would grow weary and give up completely in my class. Coloured cards and eBay stars patronise adolescents, whose main objective is to appear as adult as possible. Students need to feel respected and cared for—and I think that telling secondary-level kids that “you’re a green star level 6 on the third scoreboard now—give me a ‘yaaaay!'”would turn them away.

I’m critical of WBT because I’m a secondary school teacher. It might work well in primary schools, but I’ll likely never get a chance to try it out. I will, however, steal one or two ideas from this book for secondary level if I need to—notably peer-teaching, micro-lecturing and ways of grabbing the class’ attention.

Even though I’ll probably never use WBT, this book was worth reading. It taught me three things:

  1. Classrooms are diverse.
  2. Steal good ideas from lots of people but never take too many ideas from one person (such as the inventor of WBT).
  3. Be your own brand. Don’t copy someone else’s techniques wholeheartedly—it won’t work because you have a different personality, and are teaching different students in a different social setting. What works for them might not work for you—innovate by finding your own way. Copy ideas but not whole personalities. Ultimately, be yourself.

★★

Book: Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Uncle Tom's Cabin

Incredibly influential, sadly inaccessible.
411 pages, ★★

How dare I give just two stars to a classic?

Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a novel about slaves in 19th century America. I’ve summarised the story into a character map below.

Uncle Tom's Cabin Character Map

Uncle Tom’s Cabin was written for white people. I say this because it doesn’t dwell on the struggles, the emotional turmoil, the fear and loathing of whites that slaves faced; nor does it stir up revolution. Rather, it tells a realistic, emotionally-restrained story of two Christian slaves who stay unwaveringly loyal despite extreme social injustice.

While the book itself has no political ideology, it was one of the most politically influential books in American history; and possibly of all time. It spread rapidly—one in six adult Americans owned a copy—and was the best-selling novel in American history at the time. Uncle Tom’s Cabin stimulated the growing impetus to abolish slavery to such an extent that 50 years later, author Harriet Beecher Stowe’s bust was placed alongside that of Washington, Franklin and Lincoln in New York’s Hall of Fame for Great Americans. Even President Abraham Lincoln made references to “that lady” who “started the great Civil War”. Many writers argue that this novel played a significant role in the abolition of slavery in America.

Most interesting is that according to a poll conducted in 1946, the majority of Negroes surveyed by Negro Digest considered Uncle Tom’s Cabin “anti-Negro” since it “presented the black in a submissive, docile, cringing role, portraying him as less than a man”. While their description is definitely true, it seems ironic that the American black population would grow to resent the book that had quite possibly set them free.

In conclusion, this is a fascinating book, and is one that everyone interested in history should know about. So why only two stars? It’s told in such dated English that I struggled to enjoy it. Read literary criticisms instead. ★★

Book: Everything is Illuminated

Everything is Illuminated
Everything is Illuminated

Inaccessible.
276 pages, ★★

Somewhere, buried deep beneath layers of Jewish humour and outrageous English, this book contains a novel about one man’s personal quest to solve a Holocaust mystery. The story is so hidden, though, so completely suffocated with humour (to the point where it stops being funny), that it would takes at least a couple of readings to fully appreciate the plot.

The protagonist (who shares the same name as the author) goes to the Ukraine in search of the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis. The story is told from a variety of perspectives, with large parts told in the form of letters in hilariously broken English from the protagonist’s Ukrainian translator, Alex.

Anyone as clueless about Jewish humour as I am would probably be able to tell you that while most of this book appears to be funny, they can’t actually identify where the punchlines are. That’s how I feel. The deeper Holocaust narrative is inaccessible to me because it’s been concealed so heavily by slapstick wordplay. The film looks much clearer, though:

Everything is not Illuminated by this book. I’m a little disappointed with its lack of clarity. While some people can understandably give this 4 or 5 stars, I can only give it two. ★★

Book: Integrating Differentiated Instruction & Understanding by Design

I once went to a Cambridge lecture where an adorable character spoke about the differences between ‘biochemical physics’, ‘physical biochemistry’ and ‘biophysical chemistry’ (or something like that). This book does the same thing—it re-packages existing theories in grandiose nomenclature. The result is confusing and pointless.

Integrating Differentiated Instruction and Understanding by Design
Clash.

Re-hash of everything we’ve learned in teacher training so far.
200 pages, ★★

I’m being overly critical of this book because it’s not on my university reading list.

This book integrates two existing educational models: Differentiated Instruction (DI) and Understanding by Design (UdB). Both are referred to by acronyms throughout.

Basically:

  • DI = foreground, teaching, corollaries, schools, students;
  • UbD = background, curriculum, axioms, content, learning.

(Confused? Me too. If you were to read the endless pages that describe where DI stops and where UbD begins, you’d be even more confused.)

Aside from complicated jargon, this book contains nothing new! The “6 Facets of Understanding” are just a reinvention of Bloom’s taxonomy. The “GRASPS Frame” for creating assessments is just a rehash of PEEL practices that are relevant to testing (get the students involved, get them to own the test, create the test, give them choices, etc.) Everything about DI and UbD was explained clearer and earlier by other people!

This book focusses so much on the uniqueness of DI and UbD that it frequently descends into senselessness. Here’s an excerpt:

Corollaries to Axiom 6

• A routine part of collaboration in academically diverse classrooms should occur between teachers and specialists who have expert knowledge about student needs and instructional approaches most likely to respond to those needs.

Why not just say, “teachers should seek advice from superiors when needed”? Big words don’t make you clever. All this book taught me is that several educational reform movements are all moving in the same direction. That, at least, is worth knowing. ★★

Book: Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman

I’ve bitten into my university reading list before the classes even begin. My reviews will be totally honest—so if a book doesn’t make any sense to me, then that’s exactly what I’ll write. Before I start reviewing university books, though, here’s one piece of fiction:

Blind Willow Sleeping Woman

Disappointing writer’s scrapbook.
pages, ★★

I can’t relate to the good reviews of this book. These 24 surreal short stories are mostly negative, bleak, largely pointless and totally lack a common theme.

Whether taken individually, or taken as a whole, these 24 stories have no typical ‘story’ structure to them. Murakami’s novels (see my review of 1Q84) are so well-written that I had high hopes for his story collections, too. Unfortunately, I have been disappointed with all of them. ★★

Book: The God Delusion

The God Delusion
Thanks to thewrittenwordreviews for scanning the cover.

Pedantic, borderline sadism. Hatred and mockery of faith.
406 pages, 

Richard Dawkins is the world’s most outspoken atheist. He crusades against organised religion and anyone who holds faith in phenomena that haven’t yet been proven by a double-blind scientific trial. In his books and feisty speeches, Richard Dawkins persuades the religious public to renounce their beliefs and adopt a stubborn, intolerant, militant mixture of atheism and science—let’s call it Dawkinism—instead.

His first argument is that God doesn’t exist. On page 35, he describes Catholicism as “shamelessly invented… tasteless, kitsch… airy nonchalance”. The rest of the book is peppered with anti-religious mockery, and trivia, which he sometimes turns into evidence (e.g. Joseph’s family tree). One of his arguments backfires on page 173, and he makes arguments on pages 83 and 119 that blatantly contradict each other. His crusade is far from flawless.

His second argument is that a world without religion would be a better one, claiming that religion was the sole cause of atrocities such as “9/11, 7/7, the Crusades, witch hunts, the Gunpowder Plot… …Northern Ireland’s troubles and those swindling television evangelists”. This more worrying argument is flawed for two reasons.

First, he overlooks the swathes of good that religion has done for society in terms of creating cultural traditions and amalgamating civilisations. Instead, he only talks about when religion goes wrong. Second, he assumes that science is inherently ‘good’ (or is at least ‘better’ than religion), when this is probably not true. Science brought us the atomic bomb, climate change, and even some genocides were ‘justified’ by science. The 9/11 attacks were no more of a reason to give up on religion than the atomic bomb was a reason to give up on science. As Deng Xiaoping said:

“If you close the window, you get no fresh air, and also no flies. But if you open the window fresh air comes in and also some flies”. — Deng Xiaoping

Neither science nor religion are perfect, but both have their place in society. They explain different phenomena and we need both.

The God Delusion would be a noble goal if Dawkinism actually offered any reasonable alternatives to the moral, spiritual, and metaphysical and questions answered by religion. But it does not. The scientific method, by definition, is useless at answering spiritual questions because, by definition, nothing purely spiritual can ever be directly observed! By never being able to answer spiritual questions, Dawkinism aims to demolish more than it builds, and is thus doomed to fail as a philosophy. (See my review of On Revolution).

I think that science and religion answer different questions entirely, and are more complementary than contradictory. Here’s a snippet from my conversation with Anthony Hewish back in 2009, when he showed me his Nobel Prize for Physics:

Me: What do you think about the existence of God?

Hewish: I think it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that God exists. I’ve been a Christian all my life. Arguments from authors such as Richard Dawkins I find shallow and trivial. Tension arises from religion’s historical background that leads us to all sorts of assumptions and theories. I agree with John Polkinghorne that you need both science and religion if you’re going to make sense of life as a whole.

Interestingly, the Dalai Lama agrees with both Anthony Hewish and John Polkinghorne on this matter.

But even if Dawkins were right, and there is no God, what benefit would that bring to the world? Disproving the beliefs of billions of people would do no good at all. If Dawkins had good intentions, then he would not want to be right, and would promptly give up his fight.

Above all, The God Delusion reminded me that no matter the magnitude of historical atrocities justified in the name of religion, atheistic extremism can be just as militant, stubborn and ugly as religious extremism. Just look at Dawkins. If atheists reject this book in disgust, and become more tolerant of religion as a result, then I’ll consider The God Delusion to be a success. There is no other way that this book could make any meaningful contribution to humanity.

Fortunately, Buddhism and Confucianism are spared from Dawkins’ wrath, for, according to Dawkins, they are “not religions at all but ethical systems or philosophies of life” (page 37-38). That phrase earned this book an extra star. You’re better off reading articles about Dawkins than the books that Dawkins wrote himself. Just try to avoid the firing line of his sadistic, atheistic crusade. ★

Book: White Teeth

White Teeth by Zadie Smith
penguin.com.au

Aimless, sexless, pointless. Why the hype?
541 pages, ★★

White Teeth isn’t funny. What the reviews call “wit” is actually snide and banal comments from silly characters. To understand this book’s “relentlessly funny, clever” jokes requires a familiarity with London’s ethnic stereotypes, which I lack. Other “humour” is directed at ethnic accents—comedy which might work well in a pantomime, but falls flat in a written novel.

The only sex in White Teeth is when two morons have sex on a prayer mat. I found this neither humorous nor inventive—not shocking, not sexy, not even important. It was just dull.

By page 330, I already cared about none of the characters. There was no longer an obvious protagonist, nor any continuity to the plot. Admittedly, I started to skim-read.

This book screams, “LONDON!”. You’re inundated with British brands and euphemisms throughout. It focusses on London’s ethnic diversity, particularly the lives of immigrants from the Indian subcontinent and their descendants. But rather than gaining the readers’ respect, these characters seem to be treated as the subject of slapstick humour. The author depicts them as silly.

I’ve been trying to categorise books recently, and have determined that White Teeth lies somewhere between The Casual Vacancy (four stars) and The Time Traveller’s Wife (two stars)White Teeth, however, lacks the complex, twisted ending of The Vasual Vacancy, and lacks the character development (and sex) found in The Time Traveller’s Wife.

All I learned from White Teeth is that I don’t like books about daily British life. I like more exotic fiction. Please give me more of Haruki Murakami books. ★★

Book: The Book Nobody Read

Star-ratings reflect nothing but the reviewer’s ability to choose suitable books. Sometimes, genuinely good books (like David Copperfield or Liquid Gold) get one- or two-star reviews on this blog simply because I was reading them at the wrong time, in the wrong mood, or lacking the required background knowledge. How else could To Kill A Mockingbird and This is Not My Hat both get a four-star rating? Only in my eyes.

Recently, I’ve been returning from the library with some terrible book selections that I’ve been reluctant to review until now.

So forgive me for being harsh. I’ll keep this quick.

The Book Nobody Read
This is The Book Nobody Read

Ivory tower-dwellers might call this a thriller.
306 pages, ★★

“The Book Nobody Read? That book sounds so bad that I have to read it!”

That was my regrettable train of thought in the library. I have a juvenile tendency to contradict warning signs, not to mention a particular weakness for cacti labelled “do not touch”. This book wasn’t painful, but reading it was a waste of my time. Two stars from me.

The Book Nobody Read starts as a true crime thriller. The Second Edition of De Revolutionibus (that’s another book that nobody read) has been stolen and a judge is trying to determine whether this crime constitutes a misdemeanour or a felony.

The thrill stops there. This book then turns into the chronicles of an academic’s pursuit of Copernicus, of his character (“did he like wine or beer?”) and of his rival theorists (Kepler’s adorable spirograph-style solar system, called a Lenten Pretzel, for example). Aside from the giddying pictures, my interest quickly evaporated.

What did I learn? I learned that Copernicus was involved in the coining of the word ‘butter’. And I learned never to waste my time reading unsuitable books. ★★

Book: After the Quake

After the Quake
Available in a multitude of covers

Disappointingly disconnected, slightly bizarre short stories.
147 pages, ★★

In 1995, an earthquake in a prosperous Japanese city left only spiritual rubble. This story documents people’s reactions immediately following the quake. One woman leaves her husband, and one man accepts a mysterious delivery job. Most of the characters have either lost something, or are looking for something, in the vaguest sense.

Aside from that, unless I go into some philosophical over-think, the characters in these short stories have nothing in common. They also never meet each other. The final story then becomes surreal when it introduces a giant frog character, which unlike the fantasy elements of 1Q84, is neither spiritual nor meaningful.

After the Quake feels like a work-in-progress, a rough sketch, an EP. I am still confident that Murakami’s best works are yet to be found, and I’ll keep looking. ★★

Book: Two Steps Forward

Two Steps Forward
Never judge a book by its cover—especially this one.

Bland, disorganised pregnancy rant with negative spin.
190 pages,

The English is atrocious in places. Take this sentence, for example, on page 10: “You’ve never seen inside the house and it’s really something.” I wouldn’t even let my middle-school students leave that sentence uncorrected.

The next sentence lacks a verb, and the sentence after that ends with “and a spiral staircase your childhood self would have died for.” Making such careless exaggerations seems inappropriate for a book that also focusses on the sufferings of failed pregnancy. (Yes, that’s weird.) Author: be careful what you say.

This book’s cover is misleading. The cover promised prose that was “sharp” and “ravishingly metaphorical”, when it was actually “sloppy” and “strangely obsessed”. From the outside, this book looks like a collection of upbeat short stories, but inside, you’ll find one badly-written, bland story peppered with graphic descriptions of failed pregnancy and problems during childbirth throughout. Bizarre.

All the “ravishing metaphors” allude to pregnancy, all of them are negative, and almost all of them are too graphic to write on this blog. One character is eating breakfast and has some jam on his face, which, according to this author, resembles “an embryo in a womb” (the tamest of this book’s metaphors). Why that metaphor, in particular? I don’t know whether this is for art’s sake or for shock value, but either way, I find it unsettling and confusing.

Neither cover nor blurb reveal the true nature of this book. They mislead the reader entirely.

This book is short and badly-written; basically unfinished. The cover is irrelevant and the metaphors are unhealthy. Don’t read it. ★