Out of the Ordinary - Jon Ronson (2006)
Jon Ronson’s subjects have included people who believe that goats can be killed by the power of a really hard stare, and people who believe that the world is ruled by twelve-foot lizard-men. In Out of the Ordinary, a collection of his journalism from the Guardian, he turns his attention to irrational beliefs much closer to home, investigating the ways in which we sometimes manage to convince ourselves that all manner of lunacy makes perfect sense — mainstream, domestic, ordinary insanity. Whether he finds himself promising his son that he will be at his side for ever, dressed in a Santa costume, or trying to understand why hundreds of apparently normal people would suddenly start speaking in tongues in a Scout hut in Kidderminster, he demonstrates repeatedly how we all succumb to deeply irrational beliefs that grow to inform our everyday existence. Out of the Ordinary is Jon Ronson at his inimitable best: hilarious, thought-provoking and with an unerring eye for human frailty — not least his own.
I’ve never really given non-fiction a fair go. As a child I wanted to escape into worlds as far from my own as possible so as you can imagine I was a big fan of J R R Tolkein, J K Rowling, CS Lewis, Tamora Pierce etc. As I got older I made the effort to expand my reading habits, trying hard to read as widely as I could. Unfortunately, I never included non-fiction in this as I was under the large misconception that the fact that it’s true must mean it was boring - like a history text book or something - unable to tell a compelling story. I was so wrong and there was nobody better to teach me how wrong I was than Jon Ronson.
I happened to see him advertising his newest book, Lost at Sea, on The Daily Show and while Jon Stewart’s recommendation would have been enough, the stories he talked about in the interview made me desperate for more. I wasn’t able to get my hands on a copy of Lost at Sea but I did pick up Out of the Ordinary at my local library and fell in love with his self-deprecating, witty voice.
The second half, which includes stories of an organ donating cult, pedophile Jonathan King and Stanley Kubrick’s archive, definitely outshines the first half but even the stories of Ronson’s experiences with his son’s private school stuck with me and made me rethink some of my day-to-day interactions.
Ronson’s ability to look at all sides of the story, especially with King’s trial, impressed me. I’m excited to hunt down his other books.
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman - Lawrence Sterne (1767)
Laurence Sterne’s great masterpiece of bawdy humour and rich satire defies any attempt to categorize it. Part novel, part digression, its gloriously disordered narrative interweaves the birth and life of the unfortunate “hero” Tristram Shandy, the eccentric philosophy of his father Walter, the amours and military obsessions of Uncle Toby, and a host of other characters, including Dr. Slop, Corporal Trim and the parson Yorick. A joyful celebration of the endless possibilities of the art of fiction, Tristram Shandy is also a wry demonstration of its limitations.
I really wanted to like this book and I understood what it was trying to do and there were moments where I laughed, but mostly I was relieved to finish it and I think in a month or two I’ll have forgotten most of it. Unfortunately, the problem with this kind of parody is that it falls into the traps of that which it’s poking fun at and while in theory it’s funny to have a novel that takes forever to begin and keeps going on pointless tangents, it is another thing to actually sit through it. A shaggy dog tale ultimately leaves the audience unsatisfied and that’s the taste I was left with in my mouth, frustration and dissatisfaction and that’s not how I like to feel upon finishing such a long novel.
World’s Collider - ed. Richard Salter (2012)
The Collision is the worst disaster in human history. So far…
In the near future, an experiment at the Large Hadron Collider causes an enormous explosion, known as the Collision. The blast flattens a huge chunk of central Europe and punches a massive hole in the Earth’s surface. Over the next decade, unspeakable horrors pour from the rift: vicious creatures with a taste for human flesh, a terrible scream that drives all who hear it insane, a phantom entity that feeds on fear and paranoia, and a nightmare train from the pits of hell, to name but a few. This onslaught of terror causes the collapse of civilization and threatens to wipe humanity from the planet.
One of my friends, Paul Pearson contributed a story ’Doors’ (p.157) and I have to admit that I bought the book solely to support him, but by god I was glad I did. I don’t know whether it is unique but I certainly hadn’t seen anything like it before: eighteen original stories by writers all across the world edited together to become part of a common narrative. It may be its many voices that keeps it fresh and thrilling but the real marvel is how it doesn’t feel even slightly disjointed. Putting aside Paul’s story ‘Doors’ because I have a clear bias there, my favourite of the anthology would have to go to the ‘KEEP CALM and CARRY ON’ stories (there are 4 parts) for their different use of structure but I especially loved the creepy atmosphere David N Smith and Violet Addison built in ‘KEEP CALM and CARRY ON: Part 2’. I bought this book for my friend but it was well worth the buy and I recommend it because it’s freaking awesome.
The Animal Lover’s Book of Beastly Murder - Patricia Highsmith (1975)
Stories from The Animal-Lover’s Book of Beastly Murder portray, with incisive humor, the murderously competitive desires of our most trusted companions. In this satirical reprise of Kafka, cats, dogs, and the occasional cockroach are no longer benign elements of a happy home but actually have the power to destroy it.
I really want to read more Patricia Highsmith but I think this was probably the wrong book to start with. For starters, cruelty against animals really upsets me and even though they get their revenge, it left me feeling pretty down about humanity. The other big problem is that the stories follow the same basic structure - animal enjoys presence of nice human, something happens to nice human and a horrible human is introduced, the animal is abused in some way and kills horrible human, often violently. Maybe it just caught me in the wrong mood, maybe it suffered coming after such a great anthology as World’s Collider, but I will definitely give Highsmith another shot.
Number of Books Left I Own but Still Have to Read: 190
Books I Bought Since Last Time: The Amber Amulet - Craig Silvey, Prepare the Cabin for Landing - Alan Wearne (one of my uni lecturers!), Orange is the New Black - Piper Kerman and Ocean at the End of the Lane - Neil Gaiman. Also recovered The Night Watch - Sarah Waters, The Butcher Boy - Patrick McCabe, New York Trilogy - Paul Auster, Saturday - Ian McEwan, Language of Fiction - David Lodge and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man - James Joycefrom London — I bought them all in 2010 while studying in Lancaster (Nrth England) and when I was unable to take them with me (due to airplane weight requirements) I left them with a friend. On my recent trip though I was blessed with a fairly empty suitcase and was able to pick them up!!
Until next time,
Slightly Bibliophilic xx