Thursday, 28 January 2016

Up From Slavery, by Booker T Washington

4 stars

This book made me feel like a bit of an asshole.I'm a frequent whiner, my favourite topics usually being how other people are annoying and not getting enough reading time. Booker T. Washington, despite having much more justified complaints than mine, was most definitely not a whiner.

Born into slavery - exactly when he doesn't know - following its abolition, and despite a lack of any money and sometimes even a roof over his head, Washington would not only pursue the education he fiercely wanted but would go on to become an educator himself, as well as something of a celebrity.

Starting with a handful of ramshackle buildings and a small pool of students, Washington built what would become the Tuskegee Institute with his bare hands (literally, alongside those of his students as part of his philosophy that each student should learn a practical trade alongside their other studies) and, in part due to these Herculean efforts, he would also go on to become a much sought after public speaker. On the strength of the addresses reproduced here, it's easy to see why.

An incredibly driven man who apparently didn't take a vacation in 18 years of running the Institute, both this book and his addresses also displayed an astonishing lack of bitterness or resentment towards the people and society that had kept his race in bondage for so long. Where I'd have been ranting non-stop about how hateful everybody was, Washington spoke of hope, and reconciliation instead of repercussions. 

A fantastic example of grace and strength, Booker T Washington has ensured that, at least, for the next week, I won't whine just because the lady in the canteen made me wait five minutes before giving me my sandwich. I may even be inspired to make my own sandwiches. 

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Bones of the Hills, by Conn Iggulden

3 stars

The last part of Genghis' story, I'm kind of glad that he died when he did as I'd continued to find this series a wee bit samey. So many sieges, so many arrows, and so many massacres meant that regardless of who was on the receiving end, I'd started to feel that I'd read it all before.

In this, Genghis continues to kick the shit out of any nation that so much as looks at him funny, while still finding time to be a dick to his kids. He also meets a new enemy that might just be as formidable as he is, while also realising that simply leaving a place once you've annihilated it doesn't mean it stays annihilated, and that he might just have to fight them again on his next trip through. Sadly, there's no time for a second beating before karma stabs him right in the gut. It couldn't have happened to a nicer bloke.

I see now that this isn't actually a trilogy and that the story continues - this time presumably with Genghis' grandson, Kublai, in the lead. I'm not going to be rushing out to read it, as I imagine that it's just more of the same, only with Genghis' name tippexed out and Kublai's name scribbled in the margin.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

2015's most and least loved

2015 was probably my least prolific reading year ever. It turns out that having to work hard for long hours while also trying to sell a flat and buy a house and just generally being tired all the damn time can do a bit of a number on your reading life. I plan to rectify this in 2016.

Looking back over my ratings for the year, I was either feeling not my usual, grumpy self or I read a surprisingly high number of great books this year (I think it might have something to do with being less click-happy during free romance and supernatural ebook offers). As I love a good list, here's my top ten loved and...not so much:

1. Just Kids - Patti Smith
2. Galapagos - Kurt Vonnegut
3. The Tell-Tale Heart - Edgar Allan Poe
4. Helter Skelter - Vincent Bugliosi
5. In The Kingdom of Ice - Hampton Sides
6. The Final Empire (Mistborn #1) - Brandon Sanderson
7. Rasputin - Edvard Radzinsky
8. The Fortune of War - Patrick O'Brian
9. Prince Lestat - Anne Rice
10. The Name of the Wind - Patrick Rothfuss

Not so much:
1. The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart - Jesse Bullington (did not finish after nearly vomiting in one squelchy part too many, and sent it to someone else)
2. Drowning Mermaids - Nadia Scrieva
3. Secret Lives - Gabriella Poole 
4. Graveyard Shift - Angela Roquet
5. Rogue's Honor - Brenda Hiatt
6. Ivanhoe - Sir Walter Scott
7. Goblin Market - Christina Rosetti
8. Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishigiro
9. The Big Sleep - Raymond Chandler
10. The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England - Ian Mortimer

How about you? What were your picks of 2015?