Game of thrones books:
A Clash of Kings,
A Storm of Swords 1,
A Storm of Swords 2,
by George R. R. Martin
The game of thrones series has already gone a long way to becoming a classic in it’s genre. Martin weaves a masterful plot with many different story lines and characters running in parallel and crossing at points. What stands out differently to the TV show is how each chapter is written from a different character’s point of view, and Martin’s unbelievable ability to write from inside the head of different characters, be they Male, Female, tough warrior, brute, sensitive academic, war strategist, adult or child. The books are long, but a surprisingly quick and enthralling read. At times Martin has pushed the plot too far with too many twists, turns, and deaths, that it grows a little tiresome. There is a great deal of gore and trauma, killing off fantastic characters which have taken a long time to build, and each time making it more difficult to introduce a new one. However the grittiness of the series has come to characterise it, and the presence it has in popular culture makes it enjoyable to discuss with friends, especially if you have read ahead and know twists in the plot which they don’t!
Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography by Benjamin Franklin. Well known as a historical figure, Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography is the first self help book of it’s type. Not intended ever for release and not properly edited, Franklin’s diplomatic, polite, indirect way of writing can really be a push and grind to read, sometimes needing to be scanned over more than once to follow the narrative. However, those that do bother to stick with it will be rewarded, as Franklin reveals his struggles when he was younger, some of his techniques for handling people and making friends, and his program for self improvement. Definitely not worth wasting your time and money on this if you prefer to read for pleasure, and sometimes stop reading a book if you become disinterested, but worth it if you have the energy, and are prepared to perservere.
The Man in the Shed by Lloyd Jones. This is a collection of short stories, some great, some bad. Lloyd Jones has a simple way of writing about things as they are, that provokes thought and reflection. It feels like it has not been written as a complete book of short stories, but a collection of short stories that Jones had lying around and unfortunately, some are 100% filler. There is no cohesion between the short stories in terms of what audience they have been written for. But it is made up for by flashes of brilliance, and the first few stories, especially The Man in the Shed, are very interesting.
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell Recommended This is a great book full of insight. Malcolm Gladwell dispells the the myth that the astronomically successful get there purely based upon talent alone. His case studies show that past a good level of ability and intelligence, most reach the top through hard work, support from those around them and good timing, that puts them in a position where they have got far more experience than their peers or age group. Gladwell uses a number of famous examples, including The Beatles, Bill Gates and himself. Not to be taken as a self help book, Outliers is a entertainingly written study of success which you will find hard to put down.
Contrasting political texts One Liberty and The Prince:
When constructing a well rounded argument, it makes sense to read the text which supports your beliefs, and that which doesn’t. Thus if you find your argument to have holes in it, you can adapt it to make it stronger, or if your argument is strong and cohesive you can develop rounded answers to the common argument against it, which brings us to the following two texts, which will appeal to two completely opposite ideologies.
On Liberty by John Stuart Mill Must Read – In this extended essay about liberty, J.S. Mill defines Liberty to be: The freedom to do as you want as long as it does not harm others. He then goes on to discuss the benefits of this, and uses examples of where it can work and where it may be misinterpeted. The book is broken down into 4 main areas: The liberty of thought and discussion, On individuality, On the limits to the authority of society over the individual, and Applications, which breaks down the applications of his liberal theory to Society, education, marriage, and more. This is the defining text on liberty and provides compelling arguments against racism, sexism and homophobia, and for freedom of press.
The Prince by Niccolo Macchiavelli – First printed in 1953 by political theorist Niccolo Macchiavelli, the prince is essentially a command and conquer handbook, showing the techniques and workings of dictators. The main problem with the book is it essentially only benefits the dictator in charge and if a ruler was to apply the rules, they would shape a people heavily reliant on the ruler, who would switch to another ruler out of fear if conquested upon, and would not grow and develop as happy self reliant people.
Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka – Metamorphosis tells the story of George, from a first person perspective, who wakes up one day to find himself having half turned into an insect. Unable to walk and talk with his family, George is trapped in his own body, and after having been the sole bread winner for his family, is surprisingly ill treated and uncared for by them, as his condition gradually deteriorates. Metamorphosis is a stark and hard hitting insight into the mind of somebody suffering from a degenerative disease such as a stroke, and a reminder to develop compassionate relationships with friends and family, empathise and spend time with those who are ill, enjoy life and look after your personal health before it is too late.
7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey – This is a great self help book, containing 7 character traits to adopt to become more effective and have a happier work and personal life. Covey also reminds us to have a balanced life and not become too focused around one area, such as work, home, children or marriage. At times the writing seems a little Americanised with it’s use of acronyms, similes and metaphors, however overall this is a very useful book written with honest intentions, and you are bound to see some improvement in your workplace or hobbies if you try and adopt the habits presented.
Treating Arthritis The Drug-Free Way by Margaret Hills – Margaret Hills recommends an acid free diet to overcome arthritis. She advocates the regular consumption of cider vinegar, molasses sugar and avoiding citrus fruits, to rid the body of Arthritis causing acids. The book contains recipes, diet recommendations and a break down of the different natural supplements available. Although at times a little heavy on recommending her clinic for treatment, this is a unique but sensible full body approach to treating arthritis.
Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth Recommended – For anybody who is interested in the English language this is a somewhat cheeky, thigh slapping look at techniques used to turn out memorable phrases. Forsyth uses a number of our most commonly used phrases such as ‘To be or not to be’, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen and ‘Please please me’, drawing out why they are memorable and how other such phrases can be made memorable using the same techniques. Just as enjoyable poking in and out of as it is reading cover to cover, this is a must have for anybody who takes joy in reading.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee Must read – For those that have not read this, this is truly a ground breaking piece of literature, dealing with issues of racism, compassion and morality, told from a child’s light hearted and innocent perspective. The child’s father is a local lawyer tasked with defending a black man who has been wrongly accused of a crime, and covers a number of events in which the main character, Scout, learns empathy, compassion and morals, from her father. Scout documents the reactions of the people of the small racially segregated town to her family, knowing that her father is defending a black man against a white prosecution and jury and talks about being brought up by a single parent. The father, Atticus Finch is now strong moral model for lawyers, and the events are loosely based around some of the experiences the author, Harper Lee, had as a child.
100 Year Old Man by Jonas Jonasson – A light hearted tale about a centenarian (called Alan) who decides to go on an adventure on the night of his 100th birthday. As Alan’s adventure unfolds he gathers friends and followers, and the story dips into his past life and all the famous figures he has met and worked with. Agnostic, and with no political preference, Alan enjoys blowing things up, and doesn’t have a care in the world. Hilariously funny, ‘The 100 Year Old Man’ is destined to be a legendary tale of folk lore for many years to come.
Why I Write (Penguin Great Ideas) by George Orwell – Interesting small collection of essays by George Orwell. Includes the essay ‘Why I Write’ in which Orwell details why and how he became a writer, and offers some writing tips.
Rat Burger by David Walliams – The screamingly funny satire in David Walliams’ children books is very reminiscent of Roald Dhal. Suitable for both children and adults alike.
A Novel In a Year: A Novelist’s Guide to Being a Novelist by Louise Doughty – Louise Doughty’s guidebook to writing a novel follows a one-chapter-and-exercise-per-week format. Full of good advice, inspiration and motivation for being a writer, this book gave us some of the ideas for our ‘Exercises to Improve Your Creative Writing’ series.
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressel Must Read – Thought to be the first novel written by a working class person in Britain, RTPs is amusing, touching story in parts, and provides a compelling argument for more fair wealth distribution in Britain. Following a group of tradesman in a medium sized working town in England, the book describes the struggles that are created for those at the bottom of the chain of command, the constant squeezing of margins, longer working hours and strict work rules, and how the economic policy of the government makes it difficult for those at the top to drive anything else in order to survive. The book also describes in cast iron authentic detail the mindset of the workers that prevents change, ie the belief that there is no alternative, the group mentality that those challenging current systems and beliefs are deranged and mentally ill, and the Christian values that causes them to under value and humble themselves into delivering back breaking work to generate profit for those at the top. Towards the end of the book a ‘better’ alternative system is presented in the form of socialism. Certain mechanisms are used to influence the reader into being a champion of the working class, including depicting the bosses and ‘Capitalist’ figures to be uncompassionate, selfish, ugly and evil, and the working class to be, innocent, friendly, humble, and badly exploited, which to a certain extent seems true. This is well worth reading for anybody interested in politics and economics, regardless of political preference, and provides good insight into the struggles of the British working class at the turn of the century.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – Some how the way Gatsby is written has the indefinable quality in that one gets a feeling of glitz and glamour, from fairly concise, compacted, non-descriptive writing. The love story, set around the rich elite community in Long Island, follows the unveiling of the mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby, in his quest to gain love by chasing his former lover Daisy Buchanan, who is now married to a new partner. Many champion it as a classic because of the compassion they feel for Gatsby and they will and want for him to achieve happiness, followed by tragedy. However the novel portrayed the seemingly gracious, clean, loving and charming elite to be just as conflicted as any other human beings, if not more, in what is essentially a two dimensional and non insightful story.
Lord of The Rings Book: The Two Towers by J. R. R. Tolkien – Now a giant of popular culture, Tolkien’s legendary trilogy has gone on to become films, figurines and just about any merchandise you can think of. What may strike one when revisiting the books, is the outstanding quality of the writing. Tolkien describes scenes using adjectives in a way that paint a rich pictures full of romanticism, without it becoming cumbersome, and his description of Ents here will surely leave you in awe of his masterful imagination, from their way of describing mountains in a ‘non-hasty’ way to the description of their colossal strength tearing up of rocks as one does a piece of bread. Strongly lacking in female characters, however full of important lessons about leadership, evil and morality, The Lord of The Rings is just as enjoyable now as it has ever been.
Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk – Fight Club is a psychedelic thriller, in which the main character who suffers from insomnia, looks for some way to make himself feel alive, and withdraw himself from his overly materialistic life. He starts to attend support groups for various illnesses, and eventually events happen which lead him to start fight clubs, and his life escalates from there. The story persuades us to examine how materialistic our life is, how often we test ourselves physically, and what makes us really feel alive. For any fans of the film, Fight Club is a well communicated and fast paced, digestible book, which has enough extra material not included in the film to make it worthwhile for you to read it, from a explanation about the background of big bob and why he developed man breasts, to a better explanation of the ending.
Martin Eden by Jack London Must read – As one of his less well celebrated works, Martin Eden is a true Rolls Royce of a novel from one of the world’s best writers. The story follows a young man in love with someone from a noble background, who pursues a writing career in order to try to prove himself worthy of her marriage. Often confronted with good options other than writing, Eden becomes somewhat anti-establishment, and becomes determined to pursue his career as a writer, whilst he develops stronger and stronger views and dislike for his partner Ruth’s family and mainstream academia. Martin, eventually alienating himself from anyone but a select number of friends, is then left by Ruth who has become disenchanted with Martin’s strive to sacrifice everything for what has so far been an unsuccessful writing career, often forcing himself to live for long stretches in poverty, and pushing himself to near starvation. Shortly after Martin becomes astronomically successful, so finds himself surrounded by new friends, and Ruth returns to him. The fact that these people are drawn to his success pushes him to withdraw even further, give all his money to his friends from poor backgrounds, become depressed, and eventually commit suicide. Martin Eden is an interesting look at why we strive to pursue our dreams, the sacrifice we may have to make to get there, if it’s all worth it, and the lessons we learn along the way. Truly exquisitely written, London’s hard hitting style is compacted as always, never using three words where one word will do. There are many different levels of interest to this novel, from psychology, to relationships to career, all written with gritty, raw, honest realism, making this very much a must read.
The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling – Kipling’s iconic book about the jungle is a set of short stories set around the jungle boy Mowgli. Light hearted and child friendly but a realistic view of nature, this is a fun, easy read which you can dip in and out of.
Brown Wolf & Other Stories by Jack London – A collection of short stories by Jack London. Some great, and others average. Many about nature, and Darwinism, and best told round a camp fire, in the middle of a forest. Available for free, and well worth a download.
SPANISH. An Easy Way to Learn – This is an Okay start for somebody looking to learn Spanish. It goes into different forms of the verb ser (to be), and broadly covers some holiday Spanish, only listing commonly used verbs and nouns right at the end. This will provide some useful reminders to those already learning, but not great as a starting text, or as a comprehensive guide of the basics.
Last Year’s Biggest Must Read and an Under Celebrated Masterpiece:
Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada – During most of his life Hans Fallada struggled with depression and alcoholism. Having survived Nazi Germany living in Berlin, Hans Fallada dropped into isolation and mental illness. Looking to help him, Fallada’s friend, dropped off a Nazi police file containing the details of a Case against Otto and Elise Hampel, a elderly couple who led a peaceful and unsuccessful resistance regime against the Nazi’s, by posting postcards with anti-Nazi messages on them in apartment blocks around Berlin. Inspired by this story, Fallada spent 28 days working solidly day and night to produce a novel, based around this case. Alone in Berlin, also published as Never Die Alone, was the novel he produced. Alone in Berlin is the story of Nazi Germany from the perspective of an everyday man who was opposed and sickened by the regime. Rather die than live in a world occupied by bullies and the greedy, Otto and his wife stage resistance against the regime. The couple manage against all odds to live happily and die honourably in a world where many believe there is no hope left. The pinnacle of Fallada’s talents, Alone in Berlin is a true masterpiece from a troubled genius who was one of Germany’s greatest writers.
To be sent my copy of ‘Alone in Berlin’ in the post please comment saying which your favourite book you read last year was. First to comment gets it!