Books I read in 2012 – an amateur’s review

US Congress has just kicked the fiscal can down the road. Global debt worries are abated. Well for now anyway.

Instead of obsessively reading reports from the USofA – or in reality in addition to reading reports from the USofA – I decided to make better use of my time and write a review of some of books I read this year. I am, which will likely become painfully obviously, no book critic; so do take all this with a grain (or mountain) of salt.

1 – Game of Thrones by George RR Martin. This is the first book in a series of fantasy novels called the Song of Fire and Ice. I am actually really surprised I read it as I am not usually a big consumer of Sci-Fi/Fantasy stuff. It often just annoys me. Admittedly I do like Fantasy more than Sci-Fi – I thought The Hobbit was great – but I do especially dislike most Sci-Fi films, where we have learned that in the future (or the alien-encountering present) we will all have great bodies and run around on cat walks with drippy exposed wires everywhere. It’s also the preponderance of pods. Why are there always pods? Aliens stored in pods. People captured and stored in pods. We don’t seem to have moved on since 1979 and Alien (which I actually rather do like). But I digress…

1 – Game of Thrones by George RR Martin – 6 outta 10.

game of thrones

It was pretty good. GRR Martin has clearly read something of English history and incorporated it into a fantasy-like world – complete with lords, ladies, nasty court advisors and a particularly endearing dwarf. He also includes children and the voices of children which I believe give the book something extra-special and intriguing. There are some downsides. It is a bit simplistic/paint-by-numbers where you can mostly predict the next move, that and there are a super-abundance of characters which don’t add a whole lot to the plot just more people kicking around. I have read a few of the subsequent books and GRR’s world starts to get irritatingly complex. This is a definite downside, but over-all it is a decent, mindless escapist book.

2 – Terrestrial Energy by William Tucker – 8 outta 10.

Terrestrial Energy

This is a book about why we need to fund/use/understand nuclear energy as the best green alternative to fossil fuels out there. If you have a knee-jerk *hate* of nuclear energy, this is the book for you. It is very clear and filled with facts and statistics about nuclear energy and why it is useful. It even has an interview with Alvin M. Weinberg – granddaddy of nuclear technology. The downsides are that it has a bit of ‘conspiracy theorist’ tone – such as I have been saying this for years and no one is listening, but it does get to the point and is relatively clear. Tucker also takes a good swipe at that Flat, Hot and Crowded guy Thomas Friedman – which is amusing and well-deserved in my opinion.

3 – How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran – 9 outta 10

How to be a Woman

This book is great. It made me laugh. It is brave. It’s about Caitlin herself and feminism. She has taken stories of her life, which she writes in a humorous, yet thoughtful way and weaves those experiences in with her philosophy of feminism, this is particularly well done. The only thing I didn’t particularly like was the preponderance of sentences in capital letters, but this is a pretty minor point. If nothing else, you have to respect a woman who describes Jordan aka Katie Price as having less warmth than a ‘monitor lizard’.

4 – The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern – 4 outta 10

The Night Circus

Starts off with so much promise and excitement and then just gets silly. It is about magic and love, the magic of love and a circus. The mental images it brings forth are impressive, but I kind of get the feeling Erin copied a bit from Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel. I wouldn’t buy it, but if you are bored maybe pick it up at Oxfam in a year.

5 – Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James – -2 outta 10

50 Shades of Crap

Yes I really did read this book. And yes that is a -2 not a 2. I was too embarrassed to buy it in a shop so I bought it on Kindle. Why? I was intrigued by what the big best-selling deal was. I still don’t get it. Other than maybe there was world-wide intrigue at attempting to read the most un-erotic ‘erotic’ book ever. I am glad it has made billions world-wide happy, sort of. It is not only badly written, it is hideously hideously misogynist. It’s 1000 times worse than the really crappy ‘romances’ me and my friends used to sneak from our Mom’s when we were 13 – but at least with those written in early 80’s there was some sort of ‘liberated woman’ aspect. Fifty Shades of Grey, after you get through the terminally dull sex scenes, is mostly all about ‘the right woman can change a man’s true nature’ and ‘all I want to do is please my man’ and ‘it’s OK if a man is stalky and jealous as long as he is cute’. Do yourself a favour, don’t read it – I have wasted my time doing it for you.

6 – Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier – 9 outta 10

Thirteen Moons

This is one of the best books I read this year. It is about a man who *grew up* during the time of the Andrew Jackson (it starts in the 1820s) and lived on the ‘frontier’ or what is now known as the Tennessee/North Carolina border. It is stupendously well written and pulled me in in the first paragraph. It has been criticised for being written mostly for effects rather than content and for being a bit ostentatious, but I heartily disagree. It contains a quality which I quite like with improbable situations neatly rendered probable in the story-telling. Maybe not for everyone but I liked it.

7 – The Culture Industry by Theodor Adorno.

The Culture Industry

I just started this and so can’t give it a rating. I am half way through and have realized I might be a while. Fortunately there are things like Google these days to help me decipher things like this:

Heidegger accorded a special place of honour to curiosity as an invariant feature in the ‘fallenness’ of human existence, as a fundamental existential-ontological ‘constitution’ within the ‘ontological tendency of everydayness’

I am above my head drowning in jargon I don’t know. It’s also based on Marxist thought – which I don’t know almost anything about either. So I will spare you my autodidactic take on this branch of German philosophy. At least until perhaps next year when I have high hopes I may have worked out what that sentence actually means.

About Sylvia McLain

Girl, Interrupting aka Dr. Sylvia McLain used to be an academic, but now is trying to figure out what's next. She is also a proto-science writer, armchair philosopher, amateur plumber and wanna-be film-critic. You can follow her on Twitter @DrSylviaMcLain and Instagram @sylviaellenmclain
This entry was posted in Book review 2012 and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Books I read in 2012 – an amateur’s review

  1. cromercrox says:

    I wish I could remember the books I’ve read this year. This is a mark of my deteriorating cognitive functions rather than indicative of the number of books. I might nick your nice blog idea though.

  2. rpg says:

    Fantastic work, Sylvia. Maybe not for everyone but I liked it.

  3. cromercrox says:

    On Fifty Shades. Mrs Gee bought it out of curiosity. She thought the writing was OK but the sex scenes a complete turn-off. I dipped in to see. The writing (to me) seemed clunky and wooden, and the sex scenes embarrassingly bad. I mean, truly awful. They made the mistake of trying at the same time to be very explicit and yet somehow prissy, as if the author wanted to get steamy but was afraid to do it justice. Now, I know a thing or two about writing sex scenes (there are quite a few in The Sigil) and the trick is to find that very fine line between self-conscious on the one hand and pornographic on the other. It’s very, very difficult. I am ill-equipped to comment on the misogyny (the book was written by a woman, is to some extent a wish-fulfilment fantasy, and was lapped up by a certain kind of middle-aged playground Mum) but from what I gather, the writing simply isn’t up to expressing the helplessness and terror that a woman might feel were she in the same position as the protagonist.

    • I kinda think misogenist may not be the right word but couldn’t think of another –
      maybe bullshit you think when are 15 and female – and a very bad message to send to women…. and the 50s trope of what it means to be a woman …
      the woman said she ‘wrote it for herself’ I wish she had kept it to herself – 😉 so people like me and Mrs Gee wouldn’t have been tempted by sheer curiosity!

      • cromercrox says:

        I believe that 50 Shades began as slash fiction based on Twilight. This might explain a great deal.

        • that’s what I heard, too – the characters were originally called Edward and Bella, but she changed a few things around in order to publish it. I’d already heard bad things about the book, but the Twilight link strengthened my resolve not to buy it! I enjoy a “so-bad-it’s-good” movie from time to time, but that does NOT translate into the world of literature…

  4. Chrystal says:

    I completely agree with your take on Game of Thrones. I read it last week. I am about a third of the way through The Night Circus. I recommend Gone Girl if you are looking for a quick read that is engaging and makes you think about human relationships. Happy New Year!

  5. PODS!

    (sorry, I just wanted to say it. It sounds funny if you say it more than a few times.)

Comments are closed.