‘Think’ Book Review Winner!
The results are in for the March edition of our Love2Read Book Review Competition, and the winner is Tobi Raj. Tobi has won a Love2Read pack for writing an outstanding review on a book with the theme of ‘Think’. We must also mention that there were two highly commended entries for March, by Jacinta Bender and Amanda Quinn. These thought-provoking reviews will follow Tobi’s review, below. Congratulations to all three!
Book Review of Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal
Think! Jeanette Winterson makes you think! Her latest book, the fabulously titled “Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal” (Happy/Normal) – fabulous because she chooses the pursuit of happiness over the pursuit of normalcy, despite the many, many obstacles in her way – is a thinking book, written by a deep thinker about deep thinking things.
Jeanette Winterson is best known and variously lauded/derided for her fiction. She wrote the contemporary classic Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, published to much acclaim in her mid-twenties, a semi-autobiographical novel that earned Winterson further acclaim when it was adapted into the BBC mini-series of the same name. Her youth, sexuality, prickly precociousness (it does seem precocious to write so dazzlingly so young!) and the sheer audacity of the story of Oranges marked her – I was going to write ‘marked her for great things’, but it seems more apt to write simply that it marked her.
Having read and loved Oranges when it was first published, and having read and not loved a couple of her novels since, I approached Happy/Normal with some trepidation. At its bare-bones, Happy/Normal is the story of how Winterson was adopted at six weeks by the austere, severe, Evangelical zealot Mrs Winterson and her husband. It is a journey through the horrors of her childhood, yet it refrains from being maudlin or self-pitying. The book chronicles Winterson’s escape from the parental home, and eventual undertaking to find her birth mother, via a startlingly honest account of her own experience of madness. It is not a memoir in the sense of being the story of her entire life; Winterson unapologetically skips twenty-five years, although she does flag the time-jump so as to not confuse the reader.
Nor is Happy/Normal a straightforward adoption story, however bizarre and compelling that story may be (and it is, heartbreakingly so). Instead, the story works as a framework upon which Winterson hangs explorations of ideas, themes that often recur in her fiction – notions of time, in particular ideas of fluidity of time (linear time, memories, the ponderous, looming End Time of her adoptive mother), notions of identity, love, abandonment, madness, the healing power of creativity (and reading).
In addition to exploring ‘big’ themes, Happy/Normal conjures for the reader a picture of Northern England circa 1960, and provides a short, informative history of the working class of the industrial city of Manchester and its surrounds. Winterson captures with a simple beauty the experience of what it meant to be poor at that time –details of meals scrounged and bitter winters endured, without seeming maudlin or self-pitying (testimony to Winterson’s self-confessed love of life, her own warming optimism. Unlike Mrs Winterson, who is miserably solitary, loathes her own self, own body, own family, life).
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal is one of those books that I, at least, rarely encounter: a book that actively exercises the mind, as well as being a cracking, can’t-put-it-down read. And if nothing else (and there is so much else) Winterson should be applauded for championing the institution of the public library!
- Tobi Raj, winner of the March Love2Read Book Review Competition
Book Review of Freakonomics
If you’ve ever dismissed the world of economics as a dull, dry place filled with heartless number crunchers, Freakonomics, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner (HarperCollins Publishers, 2005) will make you think again. Levitt is a US economist and Dubner is a journalist. Their partnership makes for a stimulating, quirky and entertaining read. But be warned, you’ll find little traditional economic theory in their book.
Instead, they use economic tools to explore many issues not often associated with finance and economics. The authors leave traditional and sometimes confounding economic jargon and theory, and even the Global Financial Crisis behind, and explore topics more commonly found in books on behavioural studies and pop psychology. Theirs is a fascinating world in which they attempt to explain everything from the motivations of schoolteachers who encourage their students to cheat in tests, to what constitutes effective parenting. The concept of incentives and how they affect our actions is a key part of their theories, as is questioning the “conventional wisdom” on any given issue.
Levitt – who describes himself as a “rogue” economist – and Dubner take the reader on a journey that can be disconcerting and disturbing. The book’s most controversial theory links a fall in the crime rate in the US since the early 1990s to abortion being legalised nationwide in 1973. Put simply, they believe many of the criminals who would have been in their “prime” to commit crimes in the 1990s, were never born due to abortion being legalised by the US Supreme Court.
Levitt and Dubner admit their theory may lead to “revulsion” for some readers, regardless of your feelings about abortion. Undoubtedly it has caused anyone who’s read the book to at least ponder the argument and its implications. To their credit, the authors have included responses from critics who have found flaws with the argument.
They explain their theories with dry humour and insight. You may not agree with all of their conclusions but their approach will move you to consider their arguments. The book rambles around many subjects, with seemingly little to tie the topics together, but rather than this being a weakness, it makes it all the more enjoyable.
They explore many subjects that touch on everday life and society, including buying and selling a home, the link between money and political campaigns and the lies that internet daters tell in order to attract a potential partner.
This reader has a shaky grasp on statistics, and while Freakonomics does use tables and numerical data to explain and support the writers’ theories, most were within reach of even a numerically-challenged person. Those that were beyond me, I glossed over, but found the essence of the arguments still made sense.
Freakonomics will make you think. Not only that, it may make you scratch your head and think differently about some aspects of our world.
- Jacinta Bender
Book Review of Where am I wearing- A Global Tour to the Countries, Factories and People that Make Our Clothes
Timmerman, journalist turned journalist /activist, wakes up one day and ponders: where have these clothes come from? Who made these clothes?
Which sets him on a journey to find out, literally going to the countries and factories where the clothing he is wearing is made. The working conditions vary somewhat from country to country but all in all things don’t look so great to say the least.
What makes it most interesting is that he meets with the people he puts a name a face a story to the people who make our clothes, and what they have sacrificed to work in these factories.
It doesn’t simply look at the appalling pay conditions and working hours it looks at the bigger picture of developing countries whole way of life and the fact that making cheap stuff for us has in many ways become a backbone of survival worryingly so.
So Much is being lost on multiple levels; it shows it’s not a simple black and white issue the whole ball game needs to change, Capitalism and corporations are set up on self interest, on profit not on fairness.
Corporations have created multibillion dollar brands in many cases that brand is just that a brand a corporation that pays factories that pay workers to make the brands stuff more often than not in developing countries. The brand isn’t skilled in making clothing or shoes, it is skilled at promoting it’s product to make large profits for it’s share holders.
Timmerman points out almost half of the worlds shoes are made in china, at one point he visits a factory to find out what it’s like at the factory that makes his Teva sandals, he finds that the people work up to 100 hours a week, have very low living conditions and in many cases not only are they paid poorly they are not paid their over time, that’s right they are expected to make the stuff for free!
As consumers we want to know where our food is grown, how it is produced, what’s in it.
The same applies to clothing and “stuff” we have a right to know where our clothing is made, where the materials are sourced to make the product, what the working conditions are like, How the making of that product leaves the people, animals and the environment, so we can make an informed choice.
Suggesting this reading may sound like a dark topic but within the book there is hope, hearing the stories of the people who make the clothing is deeply humbling, they are living lives we could hardly imagine, yet within this we hear of hope of friendships and dreams they have for the future.
Acknowledging the reality of the consuming world is liberating, big business may have set people up to look like mindless consumers who go from one shopping experience to the next.
But I think the majority of people do care about human rights, fair treatment of animals, the environment and ethics more broadly at least I’m hopeful that we are.
We need intelligent media and business to inform the public, to be transparent and play fair.
We ourselves can participate in change through asking questions, not buying stuff we don’t need and re thinking before we jump on in, buying second hand or swapping, looking for alternatives, supporting individuals and businesses that are trading fairly that are considering the broader ethics of business, opening conversations on the topic educating ourselves.
Most of us have walked past a rack at a mega stall and thought how can they sell those tops for $5? Well this is how they pay next to nothing and take a whole lot.
*Where am I Wearing -By Kelsey Timmerman is available to borrow at Blue Mountains City Library.
- Amanda Quinn
Want to enter April’s Book Review Competition? Send your 400 – 600 word review of a fiction or non-fiction book, with the theme of ‘Feel’, to email address: firstname.lastname@example.org . Alternatively, you can hand it in on paper at your local Blue Mountains Library branch (along with your name, phone number and library borrower number). April entries are due by Friday the 27th April.
General Terms & Conditions
1. The entrant must be a current patron of the Blue Mountains Library, and over 16 years of age.
2. Entry is free of charge.
3. Entries must be the original work of the entrant.
4. Patrons may enter the competition multiple times per month.
5. Only entries received by the due date will be accepted.
Posted on April 3, 2012, in Book Review, Competitions, Love2Read, National Year of Reading, Non-fiction and tagged Book Review, book review competition, Love2Read, national year of reading 2012. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off.