Monday, 11 March 2013

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time - Mark Haddon

I first read this book at the age of eleven after my older brother recommended it to me. His not being an avid reader led me to believe that there was something special about this book. I was not wrong. The book follows 15 year old Christopher Boone who describes himself as a "mathematician with behavioural difficulties". With Christopher's interesting view of the world propelling the plot forwards, I instantly fell in love with this book.
Upon discovering the body of Wellington, his neighbour's dog, Christopher takes on the challenge of unearthing the killer, not knowing where his new endeavor will lead him. Christopher's world is soon turned upside down when he discovers hidden secrets of much more importance than the identity of the dog killer. The reader is sucked in to Christopher's world, wanting to befriend him, to help him through this time of discovery in some way.
The teenage protagonist's attempts to relate everything in the world around him to maths made this book an instant favourite for both my brother and I, being the "maths heads" of the family. This book has stayed with me for years and is still being read all the time, impossible to put down once it has been picked up.

Un Lun Dun by China Mieville

Un Lun Dun by China Mieville

I was given this book by an old  friend who liked it and thought I would enjoy it too. I really liked it and have read it at least four times. It is about UnLondon, an alternate realm where all the discarded items of London go. Two girls from London, Zanna and Deeba  stumble upon this world and find out Zanna is part of a prophecy to save Unlondon from the Smog `, a cloud of chemical gases trying to burn Unlondon to feed himself . Zanna gets injured and has to be brought back to London and has her memory wiped but Deeba remembers and goes back to try help her new friends save Unlondon from the Smog.
This book has really interesting characters. The author makes  characters out of inanimate objects like Curdle the milk carton and gives them a real personality that makes you think they are human. This book made me want to become a costume designer because of the description of one of the characters, Obaday Fing, a tailor who makes clothes out of book pages and has a pin cushion for a head.The book is black and cream and has very lovely illustrations by the author on the cover and in the book.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

'Jane Eyre'- Charlotte Bronte

I first came across the story of 'Jane Eyre' when my teacher in fourth class played us an abridged version of the audio book. The characters and the story stuck in the mind, and when I was in first year I finally read the book. 

It tells the story of its title character's life. This begins with her bleak childhood, spent unwanted in the house of her cruel aunt and cousins, and then mistreated in the grim Lowood school. It's only when Jane moves onto her life as a governess at Thornfield Hall, working for the handsome, mysterious Mr Rochester, that she begins to live a happy life. The book continues to reveal the ups and downs of Jane's turbulent life,  and looking back, it's no wonder it  became my favourite book.

It was the first classic novel I'd ever read. In primary school, I read  a lot of fantasy books; any books set in the 'real world' that I read were probably by Jacqueline Wilson or Cathy Cassidy. This was different. The characters were real, flawed people. The plot was intricate, dark and intriguing, and contained pretty complex themes of morality, feminism, religion, and love. These being subjects that hadn't really come up in the books I was used to at that point.
Jane changes and develops so much throughout the book, and even though I wouldn't say that I necessarily related to her as a character, she always felt real.

When I told my mum I was reading 'Jane Eyre', she went through her bookshelf until she found a small brown hardback book, with golden gilt borders around the cover, and extremely thin, translucent pages.
Her dad (who, although I unfortunately never met, I know was never seen without a book in his hand) had owned this book, and when my mum moved from Limerick up to Dublin at the age of 17, she asked if she could take it with her, and she's had it since then. Or at least up until it was passed onto me a few years ago.
This copy is now almost always found on my bedside table, and if I ever can't find anything to read, it's always 'Jane Eyre' I turn to.

The Mortal Instruments: The City of Bones

A book that I love is 'The Mortal Instruments: The City of Bones' written by Cassandra Clare this book is the first book in a very popular series and has always stood out to me for many reasons. One the amazing characters, two the story and three the stormy night when I first came across it. I was at my sister's friend's house for a sort of family friends get together thing, I was thoroughly bored and had being my very sociable self had no interest in speaking to anyone. I picked up the book sitting on her bedside table, the cover intriguing me; an image of a young male with 'markings' covering his body and beams of light coming from his body. The book also had a review from Stephanie Meyer on the inside which interested me.

I began to read it and I had read about four chapters of the book and was really enjoying learning about the supernatural world, Clary Fray had stumbled upon. All of a sudden the lights flashed really bright and the power cut, no electricity, no light, no reading. But I struggled on, reading using the light of my phone but in the end I reluctantly put the book down to gave my straining eyes a break and joined in with everyone else.

After all that happened that night the book was far from my mind until two or three weeks later when my sister's friend had finished with the book and was getting rid of it. She had read the book and didn't enjoy it but when I remembered it I gleefully took it from her and began to read. I finished the book within the day. I discovered there was a second and third book written and there was rumours of there being a fourth book nothing had been confirmed at that point. I squealed with delight, thrilled I did not have to say goodbye to the characters already. Immediately went and bought them. The anticipation too much to bear.

Three years later, another four books written on the world of shadowhunters and demons (totalling 7!!), a movie coming out later this year, another book out later this month (!!), I have lent and recommended this book countless times and it is without a doubt my favourite book. I have returned numerous times to this book only to be enthralled each and every time by the shadowhunters in their constant quest to defeat evil and protect the mundanes but each time I do return, I remember that very eventful stormy night when I first came across it.

A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning

When I was five years old, my Mom bought a book for me and my brother, Alex. We were on holidays at the time, staying in a small, cosy lodging near the sea side. My brother and I shared a room, and one night my Mom, after a short bout of shopping, arrived home with a present for us, something to quell the boredom that a seaside holiday in Ireland can bring to two young, fidgety children: a book. Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning, to be exact.

I don't know how much of that is true. I have a an awful memory. I may have made half of that up, conjuring up a romantic image from tattered patches of my childhood. One way or another, we somehow acquired Snicket's book, the first in a series of thirteen that would follow me through out my youth until I was eleven.

Now, being five years old at the time, my reading abilities were a tad sub-par for the task of reading such a book. Luckily, my Dad happily stepped in to read to us, my brother and I, a chapter a night before bed. This nightly ritual would carry on into my life, even when I was old enough to eagerly devour the books myself, because my Dad didn't just read to us. He would narrate Snicket's tale with extraordinary ease, his voice flowing over each sentence, each word, each full stop like they were criss-crossing streets and he had walked them countless times. Never stuttering, never quavering.

That's probably not true as well. I'm probably romanticising these memories, looking back at them with misty, nostalgic filters.

First inspiration from the Last Ship Home

 In a time when I could count the years of my life on my hands my brother and I received a book called The Last Ship Home by Rodney Matthews. It was a fantasy art book containing paintings that he had done from literature and from his own imagination. It was a simple book; square in shape and significantly larger than an A4 page. It had a most spectacular cover of a ship floating through the sky towards a cliff-side village and then a corresponding one on the back cover of the same ship drifting away from the village resulting in the decay of the landscape.

My brother and I spent many hours as children exploring each of the pictures, inspecting every detail with curiosity by tracing outlines with small fingers. I recall at one stage we would take it out every night to look at the pictures, flicking through each page and excitedly pointing to a character exclaiming “He’s my favourite!”  (But of course he would always get the best guy)

I remember my brother reading me the titles of each of the works before I even knew how to read, titles such as “An Unlikely Hero”, “Rivendell – The Last Homely House”, “The Martians” and “Alice and the Caterpillar” – depictions of scenes from The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The War of the Worlds and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – all books that I would then read in the years to come.

For me Last Ship Home planted the seed of curiosity that would germinate and flourish into a part-time hobby and full-time interest in books and art. Even now, a decade later, do I open the book to look at a specific picture and find myself once again pouring over each page with new found wonder and inspiration.

Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Seuss: A nostalgic response by Daniel M.B

It was a bleak winters evening back in 1998, I had recently discovered Pokemon so my eyes were
glued to the television enthralled by ash ketchums ambition and determination to “catch them all”.
I even enjoyed the card game although I had no idea how to play and was completely illiterate. They
were aesthetically pleasing and that was enough to keep my interest. There was a sudden clinging of
keys at the door and in walked my Dad holding eight bags of groceries, his face was going red from
the weight and a vein popped in his temple. He dropped the bags with a huge sigh of relief, kneeled
beside me and simultaneously patted my head. “Now my bonny lad, will you be a good boy and
bring in the last little bag in the boot” he said. I willingly obeyed and toddled out to the car, picked
up the plastic bag. Under the plastic bag was a multi-coloured book cover entitled “Green Eggs and
Ham”, my eyes gleamed in awe of the colours, you could say I was somewhat of a child-magpie
when it came to objects that shone. I brought the book in, delighted with my recent discovery and
gave it to my mam asking her to read it to me. My mam read me the book several times, over and
over, night after night until I started finishing her sentences when it came to my favourite parts. I will
never forget reading all 70 pages by myself in my living room (granted some of it was memorised not
read...) feeling as accomplished as ever. It was the first book that I had ever read and for that reason
holds huge sentimental value for me. I do like “Green Eggs and Ham” Dan I am.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, by John le Carré.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is, as Terry Pratchett might put it, 'a mystery inside a riddle, wrapped in an enigma'. In fact, the author's name is not John le Carré, as the cover may have you believe, but is in fact David John Moore Cornwell. He took the name 'John le Carré' when he was working with the British intelligence agencies MI5 and MI6. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (lack of punctuation intentional) is a story about a man, George Smiley, who has retired from the British secret service, so we can see the experience le Carré brings to the table.

It is this authenticity that makes the novel for me. Everything in the novel feels real, from the rather grey London atmosphere the author conjures, to nail-biting tension that so electrifies the book's plot. The book is not filled with action, this story is not akin to the action-packed world of espionage that Ian Fleming wove so famously for James Bond to rampage across. Tinker Tailor Solider Spy is a sombre and nervy affair.

The reader is thrust into a world where nobody is to be fully trusted, given that most of the characters spy on others for money, armed with nothing but an insight into the truly brilliant mind of the protagonist, George Smiley, as he pieces together a mystery and tries to uncover a mole in the secret service even after he's been cut off from it. Though it doesn't involve a detective, aside from a few bit characters, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy boasts as good a 'whodunnit' as any book out there.

The great thing about the book is the sense that the reader gets of the planning that le Carré put into the book. Everything is thought out and everything the characters do is rational and fitting with their personalities, and this only contributes to paranoia imbued within the book. In short, Tinker Tailor Soldier is a compelling and tense thriller that had me at the edge of my seat throughout.

The Diary of a Young Girl

One of my absolute favourite books from my childhood is The Diary of a Young Girl, it is the book of Anne Frank's diary. I remember there was a small picture book in our library at primary school, it was about the Second World War and inside, it mentioned Anne Frank. There were a few pictures of her with her mother and father and her sister Margot, as well as a tiny paragraph explaining her story. I became fascinated with these pictures, I love anything old, especially pictures, these reminded me of some we have at home of my Grandmother and her sisters, I used to look at that picture book nearly everyday, I wanted to know Anne's story. I think I was about eight years old when I first came across the picture book and from then on I pestered my parents to get me her diary. They kept saying I was too young, that I'd read it when I was a little bit older, but I was very persistent with my pleading until finally I got it for Christmas that year. The cover of my copy was bright pink, with a plaid design, just like Anne Frank's real diary. There were extra pictures inside, as well as extra facts about her family and friends.

I think I read the whole book in two days. Once I started reading it, I was hooked! It was so incredibly personal that I felt like I really knew Anne Frank. Because I was so young, I had no idea what her story would be like, my parents had told me about the Holocaust from a young age but I hadn't really understood it completely until I read her diary. I really didn't understand why her story just, ended. I remember running to my Dad, telling him that the story was really bad because it just ended with no warning. My Dad then had to explain to me what happened to Anne, her family and friends and millions of other completely innocent people. I was absolutely devastated when I found out what happened to Anne, Margot, their parents, Peter, his parents and all of their friends.

This stands out as being one of my favourite books of all time because I became so attached to it so quickly. I felt like I was friends with Anne, I wanted to attend her birthday party, to meet her friends and family, even to hide with her just so she wouldn't feel so alone. This book affected me hugely, as it did to the other millions of people who have read it. I know I will treasure this book forever.

The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger

The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger

Before I read it, the title of this book had always loomed imposingly in the distance. It was one of the greats, one of those intimidating books whose name is permanently etched into your brain, it was Pride and Prejudice, it was Great Expectations, it was War and Peace - it was 'classic fiction' in the most terrifying sense of the word. I expected it to be dense, and wordy; I expected it to be a book that meant something and knew it. This couldn't have been further from the truth.

In The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger takes the reader on a journey through New York through the eyes of the teenage protagonist, Holden Caulfield. And through this somewhat eventful city jaunt, we catch a glimpse into the mind of one of the most angst-ridden, self-destructive protagonists known to literature. Obsessed and terrified by the thought of change, when confronted with adulthood, he declares it phony, unimportant, distancing himself from the changing sands of time and wishing he could simply stop the clock, and stand still. Ultimately, it's the novel's central theme of craving inertia which drives it, and gives it meaning.

But what draws you in, what forces you to continue, is Salinger’s excellent narration. He commands Caulfield’s voice masterfully, and wholly inhabits his mind, effortlessly conjuring the character, making it seem as if he is speaking directly to you, his words echoing endlessly in your mind. Salinger and Caulfield are both storytellers at their heart; their burning passion to make you empathise with them is what motivates them, and what makes their stories so engaging. He lightly sprinkles the text with colloquialisms and slang - Catcher isn't a book which views highly of itself. For much of it, it's as if Salinger has simply made a carbon copy of his mind onto the page. Caulfield isn't afraid to aggrandise himself, he doesn't shy away from making himself seem faultless. And this lets us understand his character that much better - he isn't an all-knowing, all-encompassing narrator. We're not meant to believe his every word and look up to him as a role model. We're supposed to dislike Holden, we're supposed to view his actions critically and judge him for them.

The Catcher in the Rye is a story that doesn't place itself above the reader. It's a story that doesn't try to teach you a moral, it's a story which doesn't take itself as anything more. In writing it, J.D. Salinger wrote a masterpiece which, while amongst the classics in its quality, surpasses them in its relatability.

Champagne Moijto

Champagne Moijto

Whilst relaxing one day during my summer holiday in France. I cleverely feel asleep beside the pool in 38 degree heat. I knew this because afterwards I realised even my iphone could not handle the temperature and it had decided to shutdown and even melt, leaving me on my lonesome without entertainment.

My mother forced me to become reclusive and decided to lock me up in the appartment for two days, attacking me with aftersun and all and all sorts of stinging creams. During this time I rummaged through all sorts of dusty bookshelves and found what looked like a semi modern book. I started reading it with bad intentions as I presumed that if it was a book of my uncles, it would probably bore me to death.

It managed to surprise me as I was transported back to the the South Side of Dublin within only a few pages. I instantly recognised the common south side lingo and I found it hilarious because Kelly dramatises it to a whole new level. The use of landmarks and places which I know well made the book even better, as I could really relate to the outrageous things he was saying! I thought it was extremely funny how he still relies on his parents for money because it seems that he cannot do anything but play rugby and he can't even make a career out of it. This book is excellent because it shows this boy who has been spoiled his whole life and he has to learn to fend for himself all of a sudden. The diary like tone of this book allows the reader an insight into Kelly's thoughts whether or not they are good or bad.

I comfortably finished the book within the two days. Who needs an iphone when you find such a good book? :)

What is Mathematics? By Richard Courant

What is Mathematics?
By Richard Courant

This book was recommended to me by my maths teacher. It sets out to teach the reader the basics of mathematics much more advanced than what is taught in secondary school, but without assuming anything of the reader other than a bit of mathematical curiosity. It begins with a discussion of the fundamental concept of number, before moving on to set theory, geometry, topology and an interesting exposition of the calculus, where the Fundamental Theorem of the Calculus is shown to be intuitive and obvious before being proven.
It is relatively unique in that it presents an interesting, stimulating overview of the areas of modern mathematics in a rigorous way, yet avoids unnecessarily technical language. The author, Courant, keeps in mind at all times that he is not writing a textbook, but a “taster” of what advanced mathematics is. Exercises are dispersed throughout the book, and intended to be for the reader’s enjoyment rather than simply for “practise”. It is not essential that the reader complete them, and may in fact be well advised to attempt them only upon a second reading of the book as some are rather difficult.
Importantly, although the book is aimed mainly at non-mathematicians, it does not compromise on the abstract beauty of pure mathematics by emphasising application.
The author’s extensive coverage of Euclidean geometry, an area often forgotten in undergraduate courses, as well the enthusiasm that emanates from his effervescent use of language will make this a refreshing read for someone who already has a strong background in mathematics.

Fairy Tales

When I was little my mum gave me her old fairy tale book. It had been her mum's too. My granny wanted to pass it down through our family through the girl's side. She used to read me a different story from this book every night before I went to bed like her mum used to do for her. She wants to make it a tradition. I have really fond memories of this. Now when I look at this book it reminds me of my childhood and when she used to read to me. The book is really big with a green cloth cover with all the writing in gold thread. All of the stories are decorated with extravagant and colourful pictures. At the back pages of the book there are pictures that my mum drew in the book when she was little about princes and princesses making her own stories. My favourite story in the book is The Shoemaker and the Elves. I liked this one the most because my mum used to design and make clothes and after reading this to me she would describe all of the things she used to make and tell me funny stories about her job. I can't wait to do the same for my own daughter someday.

Friday, 1 March 2013

My Favourite Book - On The Road, by Jack Kerouac

On The Road, by Jack Kerouac, had a profound effect on me when I first read it. I was twelve years old at the time. I had heard exceedingly positive things about the book. It was seen as a hugely important piece of American literature.

The book amazed me. It's tale of young man leaving home to a world of possibilities and opportunities was wonderful. His journey felt important, the characters eccentric, yet totally believable. This is thanks, in part, to the book being based on Kerouac’s life. These events actually occurred. The book is an accurate picture of life in the 50’s as the beat generation was born and fell in love with sex and drugs and jazz.

The book reads like an exploration of newfound freedom, a trip through a new world recovering from a time of great hardship.

At its core, On The Road is a poignant coming-of-age tale. It’s gritty, honest and utterly engrossing. This is why it has stood the test of time as my favourite book.