Friday, April 10, 2009

The Tiger That Isn't (Seeing Through a World of Numbers) by Michael Blastland & Andrew Dilnot

If you attempt to blank out the statistics that the media throw at us daily, you are not alone. Whether it is because you don't understand them, or because you don't trust them, this book will give you the critical skills to appraise them - and it does so in a completely accessible way, even for the non-Mathematician.

The tiger of the title is a reference to how when we see a pattern of stripes in the shadows, we panic and believe there is a tiger. The same thing happens when looking at statistical information.

Chapter by chapter the authors take example of how numbers get mangled and misunderstood and show you some simple questions to ask in order to see through the fog. Sometimes it is the desire for a great headline that makes a mockery of the facts. Sometimes it is a genuine error in compiling or interpreting the information. But once you have read this book, you are much less likely to be taken in.

I thoroughly recommend this book. Easy to read, easy to understand and a vital tool in our soundbite world.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Mistress of the Spices by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

A wild mixture of romance, magic and tragedy this book almost defies definition. Tilo's life has been one of change, and now she has vowed to help those who come to her by employing the aid of the different spices in her shop. But vows can be very hard to keep when you have your own needs and desires.

The immigrant experience in America is wonderful realised in this novel and juxtaposed to great effect with the idyll of Tilo's mystical island. The descriptions of people, places and perfumes give the reader a full sense of Tilo's world.

The book is one to savour and wonder over. Tilo's relationship with the people who come into her shop, her relationship with the new land in which she finds herself and her relationship with the spices themselves are powerful and beautiful.

Cracks by Sheila Kohler

This book is frequently compared to Lord of the Flies, but it is not about the breakdown of civilised behaviour outside of adult intervention. The adults in the novel are intrinsic to the events that unfold, events which have been covered over and only brought back into the light when the protaganists meet many years after they have taken place.

Obsession, jealousy and control feature throughout. The story describes a descent from polite convention to shocking betrayal and the reader is submerged in the claustraphobic atmosphere of a South African boarding school. The girls each have different reasons for needing to belongand the swimming team offers them that sense of self worth that they lack. It is this neediness that takes them all relentlessly to the catastrophe that will haunt their adult lives.

Atmospheric and engaging, Kohler's novel captures the desperation of puberty and the danger of suppressing your true self.

Waterlog by Roger Deakin

Subtitled "A swimmer's journey through Britain", this book charts the author's experiences swimming outdoors across the country. Not for Deakin the comforts of the municipal outdoor pool - he swims in untamed waters such as the River Avon, the Granta and Hell Gill. Foolhardy? Maybe. Brave? Perhaps.

Deakin's writing describes the fear and the exaltation of swimming outdoors. He describes the beauty of the natural world but also explains how once these were the only places to swim, and the modern culture of rosk-avoidance has robbed us all of these enriching experiences.

As a travelogue, as a nature guide, as a celelbration of the eccentric I heartily recommend this book. Roger Deakin's death in 2006 was a great loss.

The Drowned World by J G Ballard

In 1962 Ballard imagined a world in which global warming had destroyed civilisation in any recognisable form. The world is flooded, with fewer and fewer areas inhabitable. London is being looted and the last remaining scientists there are tormented with nightmares.

Ballard explores the psychological impact of the destroction of all vestiges of human existence by the heat and encroaching natural world, leading the reader to a dramatic and uncomfoartable finale.

The novel has been cristicised for lacking narrative drive. I feel this is an unwarranted criticism, made in ignorance. If you are looking for science fiction full of space battles and robots, then this is not for you. However, if you want a thoughtful and subtle work exploring the psychological effects of changes to the recognisable world, you will find few better examples.

Lunch by Karen Moline

This is definitely adult fiction, featuring the disturbing relationship between an artist and an actor, caught between passion and common sense. Their obsessive and, frankly, abusive relationship leads them both to the brink of destruction.

By turns erotic and unsettling, Karen Moline has created a book that is neither top shelf nor high literature, but exists in some category in between. It is likely to be a novel that divides opinion, as will the subject matter, dealing as it does with powerplay and control. As a titillating exploration of the dangers of desire it succeeds, although I fear ythe author intended more from it.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Circus Outing from Saronti - 10% off!

What a great idea! I've seen books that a personalise for a child before, but never one that includes the whole family!

With Saronti you can include up to 7 people, and each one is an integral part of the story. From lion taming to elephant riding, your family can have an amazing and very funny adventure.

I read it as a bedtime story to my 3 year old daughter, and she couldn't stop giggling. The illustrations are colourful and fun, and the rhyming text is genuinely funny and easy to read. (I found my 7 year old reading it to herself, curled in a chair).

Circus Outing is just one of a range of stories you can arrange to have personalised, including one to commemorate a child's time at Pre-School. Any one of them would make a treasured gift - for a child or their parents! And if you use the code SHOESINHERTS at the Saronti website, you will get 10% off!