A Short History of Nearly Everything – by Bill Bryson

14 06 2019

I remember wanting to read this book about 15 years ago, and have had this copy on my shelves for many years. Unfortunately, I’m a much slower reader when it comes to non-fiction, and the two months this took me to read has easily knocked my Goodreads target for the year out of the window, but I’m glad I finally read it!

The book takes you through a scientific history and breakdown of the world (no kings and queens in here), from the depths of space, down to what makes up an atom, from cloud formations to tectonic plates to neandertal man. But it’s all done in a chatty way that’s easy to follow 98% of the time – occasionally he lists a few too many long science-y words and I found myself drifting off, but you could generally skim through to the next paragraph in those situations.

A lot of it is told from the perspective of when each thing was discovered and it was fun to learn about the chemist who insisted on tasting every element he worked with (and so ended up dying pretty young), and the one who thought you could get gold from urine, just because of the colour! He also discusses how Pluto isn’t really like the rest of the planets, because of course, this was written while it still was a planet!

One thing that in a way I found kind of reassuring was the uncertainty of nearly everything in this book. Nearly every chapter or section finished with a statement about just how little we know about the area that had just been discussed – the best one was early on: “The upshot of all this is that we live in a universe whose age we can’t quite computer, surrounded by stars whose distances from us and each other we don’t altogether know, filled with matter we can’t identify, operating in conformance with physical laws whose properties we don’t truly understand.”

I’ll leave you with one of my favourite lines from the book:

“At an elemental level gravity is extraordinarily un-robust. Each time you pick up a book from a table or a coin from the floor you effortlessly overcome the gravitational exertion of an entire planet.”





Little Women – by Louisa May Alcott

22 04 2019

I read a copy of this as a child, but for my birthday last year was given this beautiful edition, part of the Penguin Clothbound Classics series. I’ve admired them for ages so was very glad for an edition of my own – just a shame that a little bit of handling has already faded the design a little!

A few weeks ago I rewatched the 2017 TV adaptation, and realised how different it was to the 1994 film adaptation which I’m so familiar with, so thought it was time for a reread, to see which was “right”.

Turns out the TV show was pretty close, and the film, which I probably watch about once a year, is completely out of order in the second half! (This doesn’t mean I love it any less though!)

Reading the book really was like a warm cuddle each time I opened it. The only reason it took so long to read is that it’s been a busy few weeks, and really it’s two books in one. In the USA the whole book is called Little Women, and all adaptations tend to cover the whole thing, but sometimes in the UK it’s split into two books, Little Women and Good Wives, but fortunately this lovely edition covered it all!

If you haven’t read this or seen any of the adaptations, please please do!





The Great Gatsby – by F Scott Fitzgerald

24 03 2019

After loving Rebecca, I felt more confident and so picked up another 20th Century Classic from my bookcase.

Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy this one so much – I persevered primarily because it was only 180 pages and wasn’t necessarily difficult to read, it just didn’t feel like anything was happening at all until about 40 pages from the end! Upon finishing my main feeling was just relief that I could tick it off and move onto something else.

It’s supposedly one of the greatest pieces of American Literature, but I just didn’t get it – not one for me!





Found Poetry – by Dave Gorman

9 03 2019

I’m a huge Dave Gorman fan, the man is stupidly clever and also hilarious, and a complete geek – a superb combination! The YouTube video I send people most in this world, is below:

As part of his old radio shows, and then more recently as part of his “Modern Life is Goodish” (of which you can watch the most recent four seasons here), he shares Found Poems. He describes them as comments he’s found when searching “the bottom half of the internet”. Each one is themed around a news story, and he collates sentences from comments sections from different news websites, and the results are pure gold. Each one he reads out to the backing music of Handel’s Saranbade.

This collection was put together in 2012 so there are a few around the Royal Wedding, but the absolute best has to be the horse meat scandal – his performance of it is below, and if you enjoy it, just search “Dave Gorman Found Poem” on YouTube and you’ll find further examples!





Rebecca – by Daphne du Maurier

9 03 2019

I had a couple of friends rave about this and thought I’d brave a “classic” if it came so highly recommended (at least it’s 20th century!). It took me a fair while to read the first chapter or two, but once the description stopped and the story started, it gripped me. The second half of the book I could hardly stop and put it down!

The book has a really interesting quirk in that you never find out the name of the main character who narrates the entire story, and while we know she is “young”, we never know just how young.

Our heroine meets a widower in the south of France and marries him, but when they arrive at his large Cornish estate, everything is still very much in the shadow of his first wife, Rebecca. I won’t give much more away, but it was much easier to read than expected and I really enjoyed it – as my friends who recommended it will verify as I frantically messaged them!





Wonder – by R J Palacio

4 02 2019

From the back cover of the book:

“My name is August.
I won’t describe what I look like.
Whatever you’re thinking,
it’s probably worse.”

August was born with a combination of genetic abnormalities which mean he has a face rather unlike other peoples. He’s 10 years old, and about to go to school for the first time having been home schooled so far. Not something that would be easy for any kid, let alone August. Obviously it’s a tough year, kids can be cruel, we know, and there is no exception here, but some kids can also be completely wonderful.

For the first chunk of the book, August is the narrator, sharing his story of that year, but as we go through, others including his sister and his friends get to share from their perspective, which is really important – they might overlap a little to explain how they got to a point, but then take you on further through events.

Much as there are some truly awful moments, this book is incredibly uplifting. I read the majority of the book in just two days – completely insane. Though I will say that the chapters are REALLY short, so often you do have half blank pages which I guess must have sped me up a bit, but truly I couldn’t put it down – I read for 90min straight this evening without falling asleep – unheard of!

And yes, I will be trying out the film soon!





The Tattooist of Auschwitz – by Heather Morris

31 01 2019

This book ticks a couple of my categories lately: books I see everywhere and so give in and buy, and books set in world war two!

The tattooist of Auschwitz is Lale (this is a true story, he really existed), a Slovakian Jew who ends up in Auschwitz and Birkenau as a prisoner. All the prisoners have jobs within the concentration camp and Lale manages to get a job tattooing all the prisoners numbers onto their arms as they arrive, a job that comes with a bit better treatment than the labouring that most do.

At its heart this book is a love story between him and a girl he meets as he tattoos her on her arrival, intertwined with the horror of life in a concentration camp. What really highlighted itself to me was just how trigger happy the guards were, the slightest thing and you could be shot dead – some even just while they popped to the loo in the middle of the night – horrifying.

One thing that really struck me with this book was only a tiny thing really, but I kept stumbling each time I picked it up to read some more and re-remembered that it’s all written in present tense – a little strange, but I got used to it by the second half!