Monday, 30 July 2012

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - Ken Kesey

I'm sure you've heard of this book. If you haven't, you've probably heard of the 1975 movie with Jack Nicholson. It won all the Academy Awards that year and very rightfully so. It's a very good movie, funny and moving and an interesting look at the problems within the psychiatric systems of the early 1960s. What you may not realize is that this amazing movie is based on an equally good book.

In 1960s Oregon (around The Dalles), a man named Randle Patrick McMurphy finds himself sentenced to a mental hospital. He's not that upset about it, though, because he came from jail on assault and battery charges and figures that it will be much nicer spending his sentence in the relative comforts of the psychiatric hospital rather than prison. He comes on to the ward and meets a lot of interesting characters: Harding, a smart man who's probably just repressed, Billy Bibbit, who has a childish charm, a stutter and mother issues, Cheswick, a loud mouth with a good heart but no followthrough, Chief Bromden, a tall half-Native American man who pretends to be deaf and mute, along with many others. None of them seem that bad to McMurphy and he begins pal-ing around with them.

What McMurphy didn't expect, however, was Nurse Ratched. Nurse Ratched rules the ward with an iron fist, using subtle shaming techniques and enforcement of rules to take almost all personal liberty and just plain old will to live out of the patients. She is not happy to find the rebellious and impulsive McMurphy on her ward and the two spend most of the novel butting heads, Ratched trying to keep control and McMurphy trying to buck the rules for himself and the other patients.

The story is mostly the same in the movie as it is in the book. All the same events happen, if in a bit of a different order. However, one very interesting difference between the film and the novel is that the novel's narrator is Chief Bromden. Instead of having an omniscient or limited third person narrator, everything is told through Chief Bromden's point of view. Although he's an important character in the film, this puts him in a much more prominent place for the novel. The reader learns more about him and his past and there's a lot more depth as a result. The Chief, having been thought of as deaf and dumb for so many years, has the advantage that everyone speaks normally around him, unafraid that he'll be able to repeat anything he hears. As such, he's a great narrator for the piece.

The only real problem I had with the book was the style it was written in. Chief Bromden's a good man but he's also been in a mental ward for almost twenty years when the novel begins. He also hasn't spoken for years. As such, he's speech patterns and ways of narrating are twisting, turning thoughts jumbled with half crazy ideas and observations that have to be taken with a dozen grains of salt. Although it's an interesting and very affecting style, it's also hard to decipher at times. There would be moments when I would read a whole page and then realize I had no idea what was going on. It takes a good deal of focus to keep up with the novel at times. It's worth it but it is hard work.

The story itself is completely immersing. Each of the characters are both easy to like and then completely foreign as their own mental powers overcome them. I'm also always a sucker for the kind of stories where the villain of the piece is a character that has power of authority over the main characters. I am absolutely terrified of movies where the 'bad guys' are the police or the government. Knowing that Nurse Ratched not only has the power to get them committed indefinitely but also can send them out for electroshock therapy and operations is terrifying. Having that kind of power over another human being is scary enough but in the hands of Nurse Ratched? *shiver*

Perhaps the most important thing about the whole story, and what makes it so powerful, is that it's based on Ken Kesey's own experiences working as an orderly in a mental hospital in California in the 1960s. Although the characters are not based on real people, obviously, all the experiences and ideas of the novel are grounded in truth and observation. This is what Kesey experienced and he felt so strongly about it, a classic was born. 

The movie is amazing and I highly recommend you take some time to watch it if you haven't seen it. The novel is very good as well. I think I prefer the film but the book is definitely worth a read, especially if you like the Chief. It's a powerful story that will stick with you long after it's over.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Attachments - Rainbow Rowell

I know the saying goes that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. Well, sometimes you can and in this case, the cover told me that this was exactly the book I was in the mood for. It just looked like a clever, silly romantic comedy and I was in the mood for something light. Also, it was on the 'buy one, get one half off' table at Waterstones and who can resist that?

Attachments tells the story of Lincoln, an IT guy for a local newspaper. The year is 1999 and the internet is still a somewhat new idea. Lincoln's job is to watch for red flagged emails sent on the company server and make sure that the people involved get a reprimand. It's a graveyard shift and it's mind-numbingly boring but the pay's good and Lincoln honestly doesn't know what else to do with himself.

Although Lincoln hates his job, there is one perk: he gets to read the emails of two best friends, Jennifer and Beth. Although he started reading their emails because they were red flagged, he just couldn't find it in him to give them a warning because they just seemed so fun and nice. And so, without realizing it, Lincoln becomes the third, silent person in this friendship. And although Lincoln would love to meet them and actually become real friends, what do you do when you know everything about a person but have never actually met them?

Attachments is a good read, mostly because it doesn't fall into the standard romantic comedy trope. It has all the hallmarks, rest assured. It has a man pining after a woman who barely knows him. It has a woman who is still with a hack of a boyfriend although she knows it's not going anywhere. And it has genuinely funny moments where you can't help giggling as you turn the page.

However, there is a lot more to the book than just people falling in love in a quirky way. All three of the main characters, Jennifer, Beth and Lincoln, have reached some sort of dead end in their life at the point the book begins. Lincoln is stuck in this horrible job but doesn't have the energy or inclination to look for something different. Beth has been going out with the same man since she was twenty and doesn't know if anything is ever going to change between them. Jennifer's husband wants to start a family and Jennifer honestly never wanted kids. As the story plays out, each have to deal with the fact that their life has stalled and find a way to move on.

Jennifer and Beth may be important characters but the real star of this story is Lincoln. The whole thing is from his point of view and you only hear from Jennifer or Beth through their emails to each other (or when they interact with Lincoln.) As such, you really form an, excuse the wordplay, attachment for the guy. He's never had a real force driving him towards anything and he just sort of drifts through life. And as you learn more about him, seeing how his first love broke his heart and how he has hidden himself in academia, you just want to root for him more. He's a very lovable lead. 

Rowell also has a real talent for writing dialogue. Her style is quirky and fun but most of all, the emails between Jennifer and Beth read just like emails between real life best friends. Although you know nothing about them that you don't read from their emails, they are completely fleshed out characters with strengths and weaknesses, good and bad qualities. They sound like real people. It's very endearing.

Attachments is a lovely book and more than just a simple romantic comedy. It's fun and light but has a few important ideas. It's also a very quick read (I read it in an evening.) I very much recommend it.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons

Do you ever have those books that you know you should read because you'd really like them but you just never seem to get around to them? That's how I've always felt about Cold Comfort Farm. I would pass it in Waterstones almost every time I went, look down at it, think 'I should read that' and then move on to something else. It wasn't that I didn't want to read it; it was just that I'm easily distracted.

Last week, aware that I would need somethings to read on the train to Stratford (the reason I didn't update on Thursday), I decided to get some books out of my university library to read. Things that I wouldn't necessarily buy but that would be in the English department. As I wandered the shelves, looking for things that weren't super heavy but weren't critical reading essay collections either, I ended up with a stack that included Cold Comfort Farm. Since it was the thinest of the pile, I decided to start with that one. It was a good choice.

Cold Comfort Farm tells the story of Flora Poste, a young girl around nineteen or twenty who finds herself orphaned by parents that she really didn't know well in the first place. Not very distressed, she stays with her friend in town and writes to a bunch of relatives, trying to find someone who will take her in. Although everyone graciously offers, Flora decides to take up her cousin Judith's letter, thinking that living on a farm in Sussex will be quite an adventure. 

Of course, Cold Comfort is not at all what Flora expects and at the same time, is exactly what she thought. Her cousin Judith keeps apologizing about a wrong her husband did Flora's father but won't speak on what it is, Amos is a fiery preacher who enjoys telling the congregation that they're all sinners, Seth is a womanizer who secretly loves the talkies, Reuben just really wants to run the farm and Elfine spends all day running through the meadows and hills to the beat of her own drummer.

As this book is a parody of the rural farm novels that were popular at the time it was written (1932), this is a very funny book. Even if you're not familiar with the idea of the stock farm novel (and it's completely understandable if you aren't), it's still plenty funny on its own. Watching Flora dealing quite admirably with these ridiculous characters is always entertaining. Plus, Gibbons's hilarious and quite timely writing style really adds to the story. There's just something about the way people wrote in the thirties that pulls you right into the time period and that's very present in this novel, despite it being set in the "near future." You can hear that early twentieth century sensibility coming through the minute Flora sets eyes on Elfine dancing about like a sprite and remarks that she really should try blue because light green is nice but doesn't go well with Elfine's coloring. 

Cold Comfort Farm is a very enjoyable and quick read. It isn't deep or dark or probing but it's fun and light and sure to put a smile on your face. I dare you not to enjoy it.

P.S. It also has a lovely movie adaptation that was made in 1995 starring Kate Beckinsale, Ian McKellan, Stephen Fry and (my favorite) Rupert Penry-Jones as the young Dick Hawk-Monitor. I whole-heartedly endorse it.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Fifty Shades of Grey - EL James

I have a good number of things to say about this book and not a single one of them is positive. If you are one of those people that really love this, I would recommend not reading this review. Oh, and for the first time on my blog, I believe I may have to rate this review R. How awkward.

There are three of us on my MA course that want to get into publishing. Because of this, we can't really ignore any major trends in the book industry. And so, against our better judgements, we all decided to read Fifty Shades of Grey, if only so we could have our own opinion on the novel. It is good to have read something so that people can't accuse you of just parroting things or the famous "You can't say that; you haven't even read it!"

I guess we'll get this plot nonsense over and done with first. I'm not really sure it had one, to be honest. Our heroine, the annoyingly named Anastasia Steele (yeah), is a college senior and English major at a WSU satellite in Vancouver, WA. When her roommate and best friend, who is also conveniently the editor of the school newspaper, falls sick, she sends Ana to Seattle to interview the CEO of a major corporation and WSU school sponsor, Christian Grey. 

Ana manages to muck it up but somehow still enchants the man, who ends up following her to Portland where she has a part time job in a hardware shop. After a few dates and some confusing feeling sessions, the two seem like they're going to end up together. Oh, but there's this little problem with his BDSM habits…

I honestly don't even know where to start with this one. Every single thing about it is just horrible. I would like to say, though, that I have nothing against BDSM. It's not my bag but people have to right to do what they want. It is not that that I have a problem with. It's everything else.

Let's start out with the characters, I guess. Ana (I refuse to type Anastasia one more time) actually seems like an alright person. That's why I'm having trouble fathoming her obsession with Christian. Over and over again, she thinks about how this is really uncomfortable and wrong and creepy. But does she follow her gut? No. She runs into the arms of a man who has more issues than The Daily Mail. The best part is that I genuinely think that if she saw a friend exhibiting the same behavior, she would counsel them to stay away from the man because he clearly wasn't good for her. And yet she cannot take her own advice.

A lot of the reasoning about Ana comes out of the fact that she is an innocent virgin who's never had a relationship before. I know these people exist but it seems a bit too la-di-da for the situation. Not to mention, we are told on countless occasions that the reason Ana has always been single is by her own choice. Men have been interested in her before but she's never had any feelings for them in return. If the case was that no one had ever showed her attention and now here was a man telling her she was beautiful, that would be more understandable. But to know that she has always had that confirmation but somehow has all this self doubt and worry and neediness with this super creeper man is just confusing. 

Christian, on the other hand, is a whole other kettle of fish. He has so many, many issues. And yes, I get it, people have baggage that they take into a relationship but he doesn't just have one suitcase, he has a planeful. He is moody and strange and at one point full on tells Ana that he wants to hurt her. Okay, I get that he is gorgeous and rich but I'm pretty sure those are not the only two things that make a boyfriend. 

What makes me so angry about this set up, though, is that it is just so disempowering to women. Here is this woman who is completely aware that she is compromising herself and her feelings for a man but does it anyway. And why? Because she thinks she can fix him. She thinks that she is the one that can "pull him out of the dark." But you don't go into a relationship in order to fix someone. At one point, Ana is angry and yells "You need to sort your shit out, Grey!" Exactly! That is not her problem to solve. You need to be content with yourself if you want to be able to be with another person. Christian Grey has to sort out his own issues before he can be in a relationship with anyone. 

Obligatory "This is Twilight fan fiction" comment here. 

To move on, I would just like to know exactly how much research EL James did before she wrote this. EL James, as you may know, is British. This book is set in the Pacific Northwest, where I was born and raised. However, this book is littered with Englishisms and things that pull you out of the novel. I-5 is always called Interstate 5. Yes, that is its name but I have never heard anyone say anything other than I-5 in my life. WSU is a large school, yes, I suppose. However, UW is much larger and much better regarded. Not to mention that Ana goes to a satellite school in Vancouver. Howevermuch I know this is a tad unfair, satellite schools have a bit of a stigma. As does living in Vancouver, which is basically a tax haven. Live in Vancouver for the cheap estate tax, shop in Portland for a lack of sales tax. No 18 year old is going to willingly move to Vancouver. And why didn't she just go to WSU in Seattle in the first place? I'm sure they have a much better program. If they're trying to make her seem clever, it's not working.

Beyond those little regionalisms, there were a lot of Englishisms that threw me off track as well. On her last final in college, she sat an exam. English majors in America almost never have in class exams, except perhaps your freshman year. After that, it's almost completely essays. If you're ahead of the game, you spend finals week just in the library or turning things in. You would never have a class exam. At one point, Ana uses the phrase 'Consumerism gone mad.' The "____ gone mad" phrase is something I had never heard until I moved to England. It's quite common here but never heard across the ocean. Little things that just kept popping up but drove me up a wall every time.

Other wall drivers? The writing style. I could hardly keep reading at points! Ana is constantly shocked, usually with an accompanying italicized "Holy [crap, cow, shit, etc..]" as if she were auditioning to play the next Robin. People's jaws drop to the floor all the time to the point that I thought they might be boa constrictors. Towards the end, I felt like if I heard a comment about Ana's inner goddess again, I'd have to smack something. Phrases and ideas are used over and over again and it becomes annoying. Sadly, when James tries to say something original, it comes out strange and forced, ala "that was as true as cotton candy was nutritious." What? That's just painful.

This book honestly read as if, with a bit of tweaking, it could be a horror novel. I mean, it's borderline domestic violence. Grey is terrifyingly controlling, getting angry if she sees friends and buying the seat next to her on the airplane so that no one will sit next to and talk to her. I'm sorry but that's just horrible. At one point, she accuses him of using sex as a weapon and he agrees. And then they drop it. What?! This is so horrible unhealthy! Not to mention that Grey has issues with molestation that he seems completely fine with, even staying friends with the molester. And gets angry at Ana when she calls her a molester. Which she is. 

I don't know. I honestly cannot stand this book and it was painful reading it. It makes me sad that this passes for literature these days. I will not be picking up the sequels. If this kind of thing floats your boat, that's fine. I just hope that if you ever get into the kind of relationship portrayed in this book, you seriously take care of yourself. Grey is not a perfect hero and this relationship is not healthy.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

A Feast for Crows - George R.R. Martin

As much as I hate this disclaimer, I have to say it again: I will be discussing the fourth book of the Song of Fire and Ice series in this review. As events in this book are most likely three seasons of the television show away, I would recommend avoiding this review if you're not too keen on knowing things. I do my best to avoid spoilers but it's really quite hard.

Okay, now that that's over and done with, let's get on with A Feast for Crows!

The fourth book in the series, A Feast for Crows mainly deals with the aftermath of all the events from A Storm of Swords. After all the battles and the killing and the kidnapping and all of that, it seems hard to forget that life simply goes on. But this book had to deal with a lot of betrayal and wariness and, to be honest, just simple hurt feelings and did so in an interesting way. 

One thing that I really liked about the book was the way Martin played around with character names. In this part of the story, several characters are currently pretending to be different people and as such, have taken up new names. To emphasize this, and perhaps to play with our heads a bit, Martin switches between referring to them as their real name and their new name, in both narration bits and chapter headings. The first time you see the chapter heading change, it really reflects a change in the ideas and personality of the character. It's a very powerful move. I especially like how he flits between names in the narration, giving you an idea on which aspect of the character is reacting to events and what it means to them. It's a very interesting and useful narrative device.

This book is also interesting because it only focuses on half of our cast of characters. According to a note in the back of the book, this book was getting out of hand and Martin decided to focus book four on the characters in and around King's Landing and save book five for everyone else that didn't get a turn in this one. This is very interesting because it creates questions and suspense without actually having to resolve them. There are mentions of characters and acts without us actually knowing if they're true or not. Is Davos okay? Where the heck is Tyrion? You spend the entire book wondering but you never actually know and I really, actually, like that. Plus, Dance of Dragons is out so you know that at least you'll find out soon. The only downside to this part is that all the characters that ended in cliffhangers in this book probably won't really be around in the next book. And that's a little disheartening.

One thing I have to say that I didn't like about this novel, and only this one has had this problem in my opinion, was the gratuitous sex scenes. Now, I know that Game of Thrones has a lot of sex. It does and we deal with it. However, for most of the scenes, I've understood the purpose behind them. Either it was to further the plot or to add to character development. Also, usually the scenes aren't very long or are only referenced if not told which adds to them being able to be put out of your minds. There was one sex scene in this book, however, that made me completely uncomfortable. It was a completely random, out of nowhere, lesbian scene between two characters, one new and one previously very straight. Now, I have no problem with lesbian sex, don't get me wrong, but what made me uncomfortable was the fact that all I could see while I was reading it was George R.R. Martin's face. I don't mean to be rude but when there is a random lesbian sex scene written by an older man, I feel a little dirty reading it. Although I think I know what point he was trying to make with it, it really didn't pan out and didn't read like a woman trying to become more like a man but more like an older man with a lesbian fantasy. I don't know Martin and I don't know anything about his habits but it was just very uncomfortable. That's all.

I constantly find it amazing how Martin is able to completely change and manipulate characters so that your feelings are always on the line. I have a friend who's currently reading Clash of Kings and he kept sending me texts reacting to it last night, my favorite being "I'm on a roller coaster of emotion here!" That is how it feels, though. And also, the way he makes the characters grow and change really impresses me, too. One of my favorite characters was one I seriously disliked in the first two books. In fact, when I was talking to friends that were on books one and two, respectively and told them he was one of my favorites, they were aghast and one said "Ugh, I just want him to die already!" Which I can see from where they are in the books. And one of the characters that I thought would always be a favorite, or at least hard to dislike, completely changed my opinion of her in the last forty pages of book four. And yet, looking back, I can see where it is all coming from. It is honestly very impressive the power he has with molding characters.

I did not think Feast for Crows was as powerful as Storm of Swords but it also had less intense moments to deal with. Its intrigues were smaller but just as powerful. The way our characters ended up, especially Cersei, was really well thought out and gives a lot of room for play in future books. All I can say is that I'm excited for Dance of Dragons.

Monday, 9 July 2012

I Kill Giants - Joe Kelly and J.M. Ken Niimura

I haven't managed to read anything new since last week so I'm going to revisit a book I read about a year ago that I think is one of the best graphic novels I've ever read. It's called I Kill Giants and you should really check it out.

It's the story of a young girl named Barbara Thorsen. She is, of course, a giant killer. She has made it her duty to keep her town safe from giants. And she is very good at it.

She inhabits a world where she's just a bit different. She takes to wearing rabbit ears and is always a bit out of step with the rest of the student population at her school. But she's very self confident and assured, a really lovable and tough character.

What you come to find while you're reading, however, is that Barbara's giants aren't quite what she says they are. And there are some things that Barbara fears, despite her protestations. As the narrative unravels, you witness a coming of age tale really unlike any other. And you may just tear up a bit.

I loved I Kill Giants. It was leant to me in my early days of comic reading by my friend Tally and I ate it up in one night. It's engrossing in a way that not many stories are. It pulls you in and makes you question what you're reading, just as you're cheering Barbara on.

That's the real charm of the novel: it is nothing of what you think it is. I didn't start to realize the real story until I was a good halfway through it and once you see what is really going on, it hits you like an emotional dumbbell to the stomach. What seemed like a fun, if silly, little tale becomes so much more, a story of a young girl coming to an understanding with something she doesn't want to have to deal with. Something that no one really wants to deal with. It's hard and it's painful and it hurts and it's true. I dare you to not tear up while you're reading it. I may have sobbed. You know, just a little.

The characters are all well thought out and created. Barbara, of course, is a favorite but everyone else is just as developed. From her family to the kids at school, each character brings something to the story that needs to be there. It's a well formed narrative that has no excess or waste. The only issue I have with the supporting cast is a stylistic one. The principal is also drawn with fantastical cartoonishness that is only usually seen on Barbara. I wish the illustrator would have left Barbara as the only character that seemed somewhat magical as fits in with her depiction and her view of the world at large. But that's a minor thing.

Although the title is "I Kill Giants," I want to point out that this is not a fantasy book. It has elements of the fantastical but on the whole, it is very much set in the real world as becomes more apparent as time passes. This is a story of a young girl coping with the world around. It might seem a bit magical at first but all things pass.

I cannot recommend this book enough. If you like graphic novels and you haven't picked this up before, you need to do it. If you've always been curious about comics, this is a great first read. It has emotion, depth, silliness and strong characters. I really hope that you can check it out and love it as much as I do.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Austen's Heroes Series - Amanda Grange

If you're friends with me on Goodreads or Facebook, I think you've noticed that I've had a bit of an Amanda Grange binge this weekend, reading four of her six Austen's Heroes books in about four days. The books, retellings of the works of Jane Austen from the hero's point of view, are a quick and extremely fun read for someone currently working on her dissertation.

Depending on which edition of the book you find, each novel is only about 200-300 pages, all in diary format. I admit, I have a bit of a soft spot for diary format books. Not only are they always a much quicker read than their normal prose brothers, but they also give the character voice more depth and power because, essentially, you're reading the character's diary. It gives you insights into what they're thinking and the kind of things that one would only write assuming no one else is going to read it. It's a very personal read and very engaging.

The other delightful thing about these books is that, quite frankly, Amanda Grange is a lovely writer. Although no Jane Austen (but who is?), she writes these books as if you were sitting in the front room, doing your needlework and watching the proceedings. She slips into the Regency Period like she has experience in it (and for all we know, Grange might have a time machine). The books are meticulously researched and very well thought out. They are no disappointment to any Jane Austen fan.

My favorite part of the books, however, is that she doesn't limit herself to what is in the Austen original. Austen was writing from the woman's point of view and includes what's important for us to know about her. Well, Grange is writing about the men so she includes what's important for us to know about them. Her Persuasion rewrite, Captain Wentworth's Diary, begins eight years before the actual novel, exploring what happened in Anne and Fredrick's initial flirtation. The Northanger Abbey sister book, Henry Tilney's Diary, begins with his mother's death when he was sixteen, a scene that will become important later. Not only that, but it continues past the point of the original book, showing what hardships Catherine and Henry have to go through in order to get his father to accept them. It even explores just why his brother is the way he is.

And that's what's so great about these books. They not only retell the story with a different main character but they also get to tie up loose ends and character motivations that weren't explored in Austen's original. I consider the backstory about Henry Tilney's older brother basically canon because it explains so much about why he behaves in the book how he does. Colonel Brandon's Diary, the Sense and Sensibility accompaniment, pretty much changed my view of the book. We get a look into what Colonel Brandon's past was in the original novel but it's all in flashback. Here, it is presented with every twist and tragic turn. I even teared up at some parts. And now I know, although I used to consider Brandon a nice but ultimately boring hero, that he deserves his happiness at the end of the book. It honestly made me like Sense and Sensibility more. Before I only liked Elinor's story but now I can appreciate Marianne's more.

These books are like candy for an Austen fan. They're very sweet and you'll go through them quickly. If you're having a bad day or just need a pick me up, they're a perfect go to. I cannot recommend them highly enough.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Stiff - Mary Roach

A few months ago, I read Spook by Mary Roach and fell in love with it. Her writing style and humor combined with nonfiction made her an easy and fun read. Although I knew a lot of what she talked about in Spook already, I couldn't wait to read more by her as I was sure I would enjoy it just as much.

Stiff is kind of the opposite of Spook. It takes a look at the various ways in which cadavers are used. From anatomy class to burial, from test dummies to medicine (ack!) there are dozens more ways than you ever expected to deal with dead bodies.

Some bits are extremely interesting. I especially liked a chapter on how one could use the injuries on passengers from airplane crashes to detect just how and why the airplane malfunctioned. Other chapters on the history of bodysnatching and rumors of Chinese cannibal restaurants were just as fascinating, if not just fun.

Although I never think of myself as squeamish, a few bits did make me a little rough around the edges. Chapters on how cadavers are used to test car crashes did make me a little uncomfortable. However, I blame most of my nauseousness for reading that chapter on a hot, crowded subway train.

The best part of the novel is just the fact that Mary Roach is just so gosh darn personable. She writes in first person, as befits an ex-travel writer, and brings you right there into the experience with her. Not only that, but she shows that she's the kind of person that you'd want to be doing these kinds of things with. She infects you with her good humor and honest reactions to everything. Just reading a few paragraphs of her book and you'd know you'd want to be her friend.

Stiff is a bit of a hard read sometimes. Although the material is presented in an engaging and interesting manner, there's just no getting over that it's a book about dead bodies. However, it's definitely worth a read if you get the chance. I would recommend Spook over Stiff but I just happen to like the subject matter in Spook better. If you have a strong stomach and a keen interest, then this is a book for you.