Smoke & Mirrors – Neil Gaiman


Neil Gaiman is a messy-haired white male author trapped in the body of an identical white male author with perhaps even less-tidy hair. His books and comics have won many awards. He thanks you for your offer of a comb but does not believe it would do any good. Despite being English, he lives more in America than he does anywhere else in the world, and is currently somewhere in his mid-forties. He wrote this book especially for you.

The book in one sentence: A collection of bizarre short stories, ranging from the macabre to the erotic.

Who would you recommend it to: Neil Gaiman fans.

OK bits: The Wedding Present, Chivalry, Nicholas was…, The Price, The Goldfish Pool & Other Stories, Changes, Looking for the Girl

Boring bits: Troll Bridge, Don’t Ask Jack, The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch, Shoggoth’s Old Peculiar, Only the End of the World Again

Random review quote:

“You long for writers like Neil Gaiman: his vision is so personal and idiosyncratic. And unexpected…” — Chris Carter (creator of The X-files series?)

Verdict: When I read the first story The Wedding Present, I thought he’s like Roald Dahl. The more I read, the more distinctive Gaiman’s stories are from Dahl’s. That said, give me Dahl over Gaiman any day; I just don’t quite get his stories sometimes.


There’s No Toilet Paper… on the Road Less Traveled


The book in one sentence: An anthology of humourous travel stories by various authors.

Who would you recommend it to: People who like travel stories.

OK anecdotes: Nudity is a State of Mind (Alan Zweibel), Jugo Especial (Lara Naaman), Dragging the Family to the Magic Kingdom (Caryl Rivers), The Great Goat Race (Peter Mayle), The Duck of Peace (Carl Franz), It’s Monday…So This Must Be My Tax Write-Off in London (Dave Barry)

Boring tales: A Simian in the Cinema (Nigel Barley), Shipping Out (David Foster Wallace), Out of Teheran (John Krich), A Holy Holiday in Hell (P. J. O’Rourke)

The only review quote:

“Anyone who plans to travel should read this book. And then stay home.” — Dave Barry

Verdict: By nature, I don’t like reading anthologies, so my reading pace was slower than usual and the book’s borrowing period is only for 2 weeks. Of the 28 stories there, I only managed to finish 14. Some stories are really funny, and some aren’t; the book caters to all levels of humour, that’s for sure.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell – Susanna Clarke


Susanna Clarke lives in Cambridge. This is her first novel.

Note: Shortlisted for the Whitbread First Novel Award and Guardian First Book Award

The book in one sentence: Extremely long-winded and dull book about some two magicians.

Who would you recommend it to: Fantasy readers who aren’t put off by a 900-page slow-action book.

OK bits: I don’t know. I stopped before the 100-page mark. Well, okay, the bit where Mr Norrell shows his magic to the magicians in the church was not so bad.

Boring bits: The rest of what I’ve read.

Random review quote:

“Unquestionably the finest English novel of the fantastic written in the last seventy years. It’s funny, moving, scary, otherworldly, practical and magical, a journey through light and shadow – a delight to read” — Neil Gaiman

Verdict: One man’s meat, another man’s poison. This is my arsenic, obviously.

Unfinished Books

1 Vernon God Little, DBC Pierre
2 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, JK Rowling
3 Ulysses, James Joyce
4 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis De Bernieres
5 Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell
6 The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie
7 The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
8 War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
9 The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
10 Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky

These are apparently the books most unfinished by people, according to a Teletext survey conducted in the UK on 4000 people. Harry Potter? One of the easiest books to devour! The Alchemist? It’s so thin, the language is so simple! God of Small Things?

Ah, that I can understand. I forced myself to, and I absolutely regretted it.

Moral of the story: read only if it pleases you, because leisure reading is supposed to be fun. You can read for knowledge enrichment, but only if it pleases you or if you’re willing to suffer for knowledge!

A Fête Worse Than Death – Iain Aitch

a fete worse than death

Born in Margate, Iain Aitch spent his formative years holidaying in near-identical seaside resorts around the English coast. Emerging relatively unscathed he has gone on to write for the Guardian, London Evening Standard, Independent on Sunday and Bizarre magazine. Somewhere between the seaside and the Sunday papers he also found time to invent World Phone in Sick Day and waste several years perfecting his card-playing skills while working in a dole office. He lives in London.

The book in one sentence: As its subtitle: A Journey Through an English Summer.

Who would you recommend it to: Pure Anglophiles. Note the exclusion of adjectives like ‘mild’, or ‘occasional.’

OK bits: Chapters 1 [Bruised shins, webbed hands and tangled toes], 2 [Stones, cold, sober], 5 [A fête worse than death]

Boring bits: Chapters 3 [Trains, planes and the special bus], 4 [Slurping with the enemy], 6 [Where th’offence is, let the great axe fall], 7 [Flying men and flying bricks]

The only review quote:

”[A] hilarious Bill-Bryson-meets- Hunter-S-Thompson travelogue” – Guardian

Verdict: The book is so true to the English spirit, dry humour and wit oozing off every other sentence. Unfortunately I just couldn’t like it – I think it’s too witty for me, believe it or not. I did learnt how kooky the English can be; knowledge, no matter how general, can be nothing but good, innit? Sadly, the effort to finish this was too monumental, I gave up after trying to read it for almost a month.