Christopher Winter

Ride (read) or Die: 2023 Book Report (Part III)

Following on from last years experiment of attempting to read at least 10 pages of a book a day to increase my reading, I found it thoroughly enjoyable and wished to continue my reading journey in 2023. About halfway through last year, a friend of mine suggested to me that the 10 pages target could be detrimental to my overall reading, as it would encourage me to simply put the book down after just 10 pages (something I later realised it was doing). This year, I chose to do away with the 10 pages target and have decided to just make a pledge to read every day. In the first week of the year, I have already read considerably faster than last year, so I think perhaps my friend was on to something.

I also realised, reading back on last years review scores, that I was a very generous reviewer. I think this was because I did not have enough experience to know what made a book good or bad. I hope that my reviews can be more reflective of the overall reading experience this year.

Book 11: The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene

Read from: 28/10/2023 to 28/11/2023

Rating: 3/5

I had seen this book pushed quite heavily online before by certain influencers and I was always curious to see what it was about. Robert Greene appears to have written a considerable number of these types of books, so I was very intrigued to know what the fuss was. I thought the book was fine but definitely lacking in some areas.

The book is essentially a series of lessons regarding how to better navigate life in a more Machiavellian way to attain power. Some of the ideas put forward are genuinely very interesting, and it was nice to have certain topics explained a certain way. Other areas seemed a bit obvious and repetitive which was annoying whilst trying to get through the book.

A lot of Greene’s rules essentially boil down to ‘don’t tell other people what you are up to’, which I suppose is a pretty good rule to follow if you are hunting power. But there are only so many times you can hear that ‘rule’ phrased differently before you start getting bored.

Greene backs up his claims with a plethora of anecdotes which I mostly enjoyed. He fell into the same trap as before, however, in that a lot of the anecdotes start to blend into one after a while – especially after using the same anecdote repeatedly. If I never hear the name ‘Charles Talleyrand’ again it will still be too soon! I only become disillusioned with Greene’s anecdotes after he started discussing the English civil war – an area of his anecdotes I was much more versed in than revolutionary France or Renaissance Italy. He made some obvious oversimplifications which annoyed me and made me question the legitimacy of some of his other tales to back up his ideas. I don’t think that this invalidates what he was saying, I just wish he had left less up to speculation regarding whether or not he actually knew the history.

Overall, a good book which I would still recommend. His insight is useful, and this would be a pretty good primer for Machiavellian style thinking. I would say, however, that you should stick to the audiobook over the actual paperback – it will make it easier to digest.

Book 12: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Read from: 06/11/2023 to 09/11/2023

Rating: 5/5

I was strolling through Belfast on a trip there recently, when I picked up this book at a Waterstones for my flight home. Something short to keep me occupied and also increase my book tally on Goodreads before the end of the year. Sure enough, on my (very short) flight back to Newcastle the same day, I ploughed through about a third of it. I found it very difficult to put down and ignore, as I have my other books recently.

As the title suggests, the book tells the story of one day in the life of Ivan Denisovich – a prisoner at a Soviet Gulag in the early 1950s. It takes you through his agonising routine right from the moment he wakes up to when he finally goes to sleep again. It details the way in which he navigates the trials and tribulations of life in the Siberian gulag he is currently imprisoned in, and the many interactions he has with the other prisoners. The book is too short to summarise without spoiling the whole thing, so I won’t do that. I would highly recommend that you take the time to just read it instead.

There was something extremely biting about the way that this was written. The author, Solzhenitsyn, was a prisoner in a gulag for eight years, so he had a considerable amount of his own experience to draw from when writing this book. His main character, Ivan, is incredibly relatable and felt very human. Not necessarily a good or a bad person, just someone trying to survive and make the best out of a bad situation. Going so far as to describe his day as ‘a good one’ simply because he was able to get slightly more food after doing some favours for other inmates; routinely breaking minor rules to make his life easier, working cordially with his inmates, and doing everything possible to do as little work as possible for as much reward as he could.

Every aspect of the story felt very believable and not exaggerated; I never felt as though I was having the wool pulled over my eyes by what is, essentially, a piece of anti-communist propaganda. He describes the guards as harsh but lazy, the other inmates are not depicted as saints, but as a wide array of people with different motives and agendas – a very real and convincing story.

The book is very well written and was a genuinely fascinating insight into gulag life, an area which I have always been interested in but never researched much. It is a genuine ‘must-read’ for anyone interested in that aspect of Stalinist Russia and the early-cold-war Soviet system of punishment. It is also a delightfully short book and reads very easily. As I said before, I would thoroughly recommend reading this.

Book 13: Star by Yukio Mishima

Read from: 21/11/2023 to 22/11/2023

Rating: 5/5

I read two books by Yukio Mishima last year, and he is fast becoming one of my favourite authors. I was enticed to buy this book from the moment I saw it; a short story by Mishima is often a treat and I was not at all disappointed by this one.

The story revolves around the main character Rikio, a young Japanese actor in the prime of his career, and his ugly assistant and lover Kayo. The story revolves around his struggle with fame and the fleeting nature of his career; it also spends a fair amount of time touching on the absurdity of the film industry in Japan in the 1960s and 70’s (something which Mishima was personally accustomed to) and how Rikio navigates it as best as he can.

Due to the relatively short nature of the book, writing too long of a review would spoil it. However, I will say that I was absolutely entranced by Mishima’s style of writing and his amazing ability to describe some of the more vulgar elements of life (masturbation, sex, drug abuse, etc) in such a poetic and charming way. His powerful use of metaphor continues to amaze me with every book of his that I read. His characters feel painfully real, and his skill at describing scenes and people in such brevity are fantastic.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in getting into Mishima and Japanese fiction. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Book 14: The Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft

Read from: 23/11/2023 to 27/11/2023

Rating: 5/5

Much like many other ‘American Classics’, the Call of Cthulhu is one of those books which seems to have considerable prominence in online circles solely due to the fact that large amounts of American teenagers are forced to read it at High School. As I am not (and never have been) an American teenager, I have had very little exposure to Lovecraft’s short stories besides the occasional reference on television or through conversations with American’s online. I must say, however, I was thoroughly impressed by this book and Lovecraft’s writing style.

The book is written from the perspective of a young man going through the notes of his dead relative, a university professor who seems to have stumbled on some kind of conspiracy regarding an ancient god-like figure, Cthulu, who drives people to madness. The story details, from the authors point of view, how he came to discover his uncle’s notes and the journey he went on to validate their authenticity. At the start of the book, he is quite the cynical sceptic; by the end of his journey, he is a terrified believer who wishes that his works are never found and is constantly paranoid that he will be murdered for what he has uncovered – that Cthulu is indeed real and that his very brief appearance made many ‘sensitive young men’ (artists, architects etc) all around the world go mad.

I am not a fan of horror films; I find them quite unpleasant. However, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading horror. The writer has no opportunity to shoehorn in cheap ‘jump scares’ and low budget special effects. Horror fiction has to be well written and, instead of a brief thrill, creates a genuine sense of dread. I could feel my own arm hairs pricking up with goosebumps whilst reading it.

I genuinely really enjoyed this book, and will be reading more of HP Lovecraft’s works in the future. A good read and a good introduction to his style of writing and short stories.

Book 15: The Shadow Over Innsmouth by H.P. Lovecraft

Read from: 27/11/2023 to 29/12/2023

Rating: 5/5

This was my final book of 2023 and was purchased alongside ‘The Call of Cthulhu’. I would have finished it much quicker if it weren’t for the many various Christmas festivities that fall at this time of year which has significantly impeded my reading progress.

The book follows the story of a young student who is touring the old towns and villages of the New England coast during a gap year in his studies. During his travels, he comes across the town of Innsmouth whilst making his way to Arkham. The town is shunned by the locals of the surrounding villages and is falling into a very ruinous state. During his visit, he meets an old drunkard who explains to him that the town is infested with fish-people who worship ancient eldritch gods and sacrifice people to the sea.

Due to its short length, to say any more about the plot would spoil it. However, I found the story very gripping and exceedingly exciting. I felt genuinely frightened during much of the latter half of the book and thoroughly enjoyed the way the town and its people were portrayed. Lovecraft does an excellent job at thrilling the reader and the book is worthy of the praise it receives.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in classic American fiction or someone interested in the works of Lovecraft specially. However, I would say that it would probably be better to read ‘The Call of Cthulhu’ first, as this book is referenced quite heavily near the middle and end of Shadow over Innsmouth.

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Ride (read) or Die: 2023 Book Report (Part II)

Following on from last years experiment of attempting to read at least 10 pages of a book a day to increase my reading, I found it thoroughly enjoyable and wished to continue my reading journey in 2023. About halfway through last year, a friend of mine suggested to me that the 10 pages target could be detrimental to my overall reading, as it would encourage me to simply put the book down after just 10 pages (something I later realised it was doing). This year, I chose to do away with the 10 pages target and have decided to just make a pledge to read every day. In the first week of the year, I have already read considerably faster than last year, so I think perhaps my friend was on to something.

I also realised, reading back on last years review scores, that I was a very generous reviewer. I think this was because I did not have enough experience to know what made a book good or bad. I hope that my reviews can be more reflective of the overall reading experience this year.

Book 6: Memoirs of a Kamikaze by Kazuo Odachi

Read from: 20/02/2023 to 23/04/2023

Rating: 5/5

I only came upon this book by accident whilst watching a video essay about Kamikaze pilots during the second world war. It was used as source material for the video, and was referenced frequently throughout. The gripping title alone was enough to get me interested in the story, and at the time I was in a bit of a frenzy of purchasing Japanese authored books (this can be seen in the chunk of Japanese books I reviews last year). Certain to say, I was amazed at the quality of this book, and the incredibly interesting story that it told.

The book was written by Kazuo Odachi, a now 96-year-old former Japanese fighter pilot who, after almost 70 years of silence on the matter, decided to tell his story in becoming a Kamikaze. The book details his childhood, and how growing up in a rural area of Japan meant that his main amusement was laying in tall grasses watching pilots train at the local aerodrome. At this age he would also discover the Japanese martial art of Keno, something which he talks about at great length in the latter half of the book, and clearly has had a huge impact of him. When the war began, he was still only a boy, and so he was only able to join up quite close to the end of the war. A very gifted young man, he was selected to become a fighter pilot, and would spend considerably time in the pacific engaged in various fighting missions.

Kazuo explains how, as the war began to turn against Japan, he – along with many of his friends – were forced to volunteer to become kamikaze pilots. He explains in painful detail the events which unfolded around them, and how they were powerless to decline the request to engage in suicide missions. Much mystery surrounds the motivations of Kamnikaze pilots, but Kazuo repeatedly states that no one actually wanted to be made to do it, but felt that it was the right course of action to preserve Japan and keep the country safe. He reflects on this a lot in the later half of this book, and states repeatedly that he lives his life to the fullest in honour of the men who gave their lives before him. Flying 8 unsuccessful Kamikaze missions (more common then you would think), Kazuo also goes over how lucky he feels to be alive and how easily it could have been him dead instead.

The second half of the book covers his life post-war, his time as a policeman and dealing with Tokyo’s criminal gangs. He also talks in great depth of his love of Kendo, and how he still continues to practice the martial art, even in his advanced old age.

I really enjoyed this book, it gave a very insightful view into a point in history which is cloaked in misinformation and ignorance of understanding. Kazuo eloquently and expertly paints a vivid picture of his experiences, and does not shy away from his more controversial opinions on the events that unfolded in his time before, during, and after the war.

I would thoroughly recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of Japan, the second world war, and especially anyone who wishes to know more about the motivations and feelings of the young boys sent off to die in Kamikaze missions. I would posit that it is also helpful in understanding the mindset of those people who commit contemporary suicide attacks today. An excellent read!

Book 7: Macbeth by William Shakespeare

Read from: 23/04/2023 to 04/05/2023

Rating: 4/5

I found this book at the bottom of my brother’s old school bag whilst we were cleaning out the attic, safe to say it had been left there for quite a long time, probably around 5 years at this point. I am remarkably pleased that I came upon this old schoolroom copy because it came with a handy study/reading guide alongside it which added more historical and literary context to what was being said. I am glad for this because, as I am sure you can understand, a lot of what Shakespeare writes is not always easy to decipher given the differences between contemporary modern English and Tudor English – lots of ‘thys’, ‘thous’, and ‘thees’ can get a bit tedious after a while. If you’re going to try and read this, and you aren’t fluent in Tudor English, I would recommend finding a copy that comes with a study guide.

A thrilling tale with many twists and turns, Macbeth showcases Shakespeare’s ability to subvert the expectations of the reader (or viewer, as this is supposed to be a theatrical performance, not really a novel). The tale of Macbeth is based in medieval Scotland, and follows the titular Macbeth and his wife, as he navigates his options after being promised that he, but not his children, would become King of Scotland by three witches. Driven mad by their prediction, Macbeth’s attempts to secure Kingship and then ensure that his hypothetical children do proceed to be monarchs themselves, have tragic results. In a futile attempt to both secure and then change his own destiny, he betrays himself and everyone around him.

I wont spoil any major details of the story, at the very least because you were probably taught them at school at one point or another. I would instead like to talk briefly about the importance of this book for the English literary tradition and culture which it represents. Indeed, we often take for granted just how much of our contemporary understanding of ‘what makes a good plotline’ comes from Shakespeare and his influences at the time. The mans work stands high above contemporary work of its time, and it would be easy to forget just how ahead of his time he really was. His work stands as a testament to his genius, and to this day still casts a large shadow over what we consider a good or bad story. This is remarkably impressive for a man who lived a half a millennia ago.

Reading Macbeth, much like reading any of Shakespeare is a lot like learning Latin. You might not enjoy it; it’s very confusing; and a lot of the time you are left wondering what in the world anyone is talking about; but at the very least, it can give you a good and grounded understanding of the history of your own language, where certain tropes come from, and how you could use them yourself more often in your own speech.

Overall, I would recommend this book. I am disappointed that I never got to study it at school, and I am glad that I have been able to read it now instead.

Book 8: The History of the Spurn Point Lighthouses by G de Boer

Read from: 04/05/2023 to 18/05/2023

Rating: 4/5

I appreciate just how incredibly niche and uninteresting this book must seem to the average reader. I would argue that it is even less relevant than the ‘Trans-Siberian Rail Guide’ book which I read and reviewed last year (which was written to give directions to western travellers boarding the now obsolete Soviet railway system). However, as someone who actually lives very close to Spurn Point with a keen interest in lighthouses (yes, I am that boring) I found it quite an interesting read.

The book, as the title suggests, details the history of the various lighthouse projects which took place on the Spurn Point (for those who don’t know, this is a large sand bank at the mouth of the Humber estuary) from the early 1600’s to the 1960’s (when the book was written).

I completely understand why this seems uninteresting at first glance; but the book, almost accidentally, ends up discussing more about the complex social and legal situations in place in Britain in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries than it does about the lighthouses themselves.

The book details the true stories of the various warring factions in British maritime trade politics: the three Trinity House guilds (London, Hull, and Newcastle); sea captains; wealthy merchants; land developers; fleets of solicitors; ambitious venture capitalists; the fading aristocracy; parliamentary meddlers; and even the King of England (not to forget Cromwell of course). It provides a genuinely interesting insight into all of these interest groups and their constant struggle for control over the land and waterways of England, framed nicely around the construction of a highly controversial lighthouse in a rather uncontroversial part of Britain.

Perhaps you aren’t particularly interested in the history of lighthouses on Spurn Point, but if you would like to learn a little bit more about the seemingly ridiculous and overcomplicated nature of competing factions in Britain from the 1600s onwards, I would sincerely recommend this book. It’s short, it refuses to ramble on endlessly, and it has some genuinely amusing moments tucked away inside.

Book 9: Dune (Dune #1) by Frank Herbert

Read from: 18/05/2023 to 22/06/2023

Rating: 5/5

A couple of years ago my dad mentioned that he was really excited to see the new Dune film that was coming out… I was amazed by this statement – my father has never expressed any interest in any film made after 1990, and I was absolutely shocked to see him genuinely excited about a new film. After a bit of prodding, I discovered that the Dune series were his favourite books, and that he still had all his original copies stuffed away in the loft somewhere. Intrigued by this revelation, I watched the Dune film when it came out, and also thoroughly enjoyed it.

A few months later, after seeing how much I had enjoyed the film, I was bought a copy by a friend, and it had been sitting on the shelf at home ever since. I have an immediate disgust reaction to long books, they remind me too much of the musty yellow paged old tomes on my grandmas book case which I was forced to read as a child to ‘practice my grammar’. Perpetually worried that, once I started reading it, it would take me months to complete, I was overjoyed when I found myself unable to put the book down. It was a thoroughly brilliant read, and I cannot recommend it enough.

The book is set in the very distant future, where man has conquered much of the known universe, and a neo-feudal system has been established to govern it. Computers which mimic humans (referred to as ‘thinking machines’) have been completely abolished, and humanity relies heavily on a drug-like substance known as ‘spice melange’ to achieve a heightened state of clairvoyance to navigate the stars. Three main power structures exist in the setting: The Emperor (an all powerful ruler), The Lansraad (a group of all the noble houses), and The Spacing Guild (an organisation of space navigators). They control shares in the ‘CHOAM Company’ which is the main source of the ‘spice’ which can only be found on the desert planet Arrakis.

Duke Leto Atreides is forced by the emperor to govern Arrakis and take it out of the control of his bitter rival, Baron Harkonen. After arriving, it becomes clear that he has been put into a trap, and the forces of the Harkonens are very much still in place on the planet. Leto’s son, Paul, must work with the planet’s natives, the Fremen, to defeat the Harkonens and secure the future of his noble house.

I could write pages and pages more about this story, but I have no intention of spoiling the plot for you. This book is fantastic and had me totally gripped by it for the month I was reading it. It lives up to the hype and is absolutely fantastic, definitely one worth reading.

Book 10: How to be a Conservative by Sir Roger Scruton

Read from: 23/06/2023 to 31/12/2023

Rating: 3/5

If you truly enjoy political theory and are interested in learning about small-c conservatism, I would recommend the book. Scruton clearly and (somewhat) briefly lays out the case for it here. He uses it to discuss the truths in Socialism, Capitalism, and conservatism – which he seems to perceive as a middle ground between the two.

This book took me almost 6 months to read because large sections of it are painfully boring. I was devastated by how much of a slog fest this piece has been to get through. After finding myself unable to pick this book up, I let myself slide and just started reading the other books in my collection at the same time instead – something I have never done before.

I had the same reaction reading Marx and other political theory books last year and in the past. I just couldn’t bring myself to carry on. I find the subject extremely boring. I think my personal issue lies in the fact that these types of work are by no means fictitious but are also not truly non-fiction. Theory seems to lie in a cursed middle ground of quasi-non-fiction which I just don’t care for.

Some aspects of the book are genuinely very interesting – Scruton discusses his time in Communist Czechoslovakia before the collapse of the USSR dodging the StB secret police and giving lecturers to disenfranchised ‘pro-democracy’ students in attics; which was an insightful moment. He talks a lot about the importance of good aesthetics and beauty in public life, which was a refreshing chapter to read through. Unfortunately, the rest of the book comes across as a bit of a snooze-fest. He himself admits that it is difficult to make conservatism sexy, and this book is certainly a confirmation of that.

As stated at the beginning, I would recommend the book if you are genuinely passionate about political theory. Otherwise, it might be best to give it a miss. A friend of mine joked with my whilst I was reading it that “It’s a great book to quote from, not one to actually read”, and I think he is more or less correct about this.

This is the second installment in a three-part series. Follow The Mallard for part three!

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Ride (read) or Die: 2023 Book Report (Part I)

Following on from last year’s experiment of attempting to read at least 10 pages of a book a day to increase my reading, I found it thoroughly enjoyable and wished to continue my reading journey in 2023. About halfway through last year, a friend of mine suggested to me that the 10 pages target could be detrimental to my overall reading, as it would encourage me to simply put the book down after just 10 pages (something I later realised it was doing). This year, I chose to do away with the 10 pages target and have decided to just make a pledge to read every day. In the first week of the year, I have already read considerably faster than last year, so I think perhaps my friend was on to something.

I also realised, reading back on last years review scores, that I was a very generous reviewer. I think this was because I did not have enough experience to know what made a book good or bad. I hope that my reviews can be more reflective of the overall reading experience this year.

Book 1: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Read from: 01/01/2023 to 08/01/2023

Rating: 4/5

When I was about 12 years old, I read 1984. Perhaps a bit too young to fully grasp the meaning of the book, I was still obsessed by it. I fell in love the ‘alternative history’ genre, which is why I am so surprised that I did not read this book sooner. Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ gave me a great deal of nostalgia for my younger reading days. It brought back that same feeling of intrigue and dread which I had felt whilst reading Orwell’s work.

The book is set in the distant future, about 600 years after Henry Ford developed the assembly line and mass production. Ford is revered as a sort of semi-deity amongst the population, who regularly use his name instead of ‘God’. A society which praises stability and predictability above all else, no one knows of passion or love, no one is born naturally (instead being birthed through artificial methods), and a rigorous caste system is enforced by making some people stupid, and some people clever during the artificial birth process – alphas sit at the top, and epsilons at the very bottom. Children are ‘conditioned’ to be extremely comfortable with the roles they have been given in life, and to actively avoid intermingling and seeking activities the controllers of the world deem wrong. Sex is easily acquired, and children are encouraged to engage in ‘erotic activities’ with each other from a very early age. People live shorter but considerably happier lives with little to no unpleasant experiences, and regularly take ‘soma’, a near perfect drug with no hangover or negative side effects.

One of the main characters of the book, Bernard Marx, is a misfit. A designated Alpha, he is considerably shorter than his peers, and has been marked out because of this (as shortness is linked to being a member of a lower caste). He doesn’t understand why he is unhappy with the system around him, but he feels uneasy about it. For example, he has a strong attraction to another alpha, Lenina Crowne, but doesn’t understand why. He is skirting along the fringes of ideas like monogamy and chastity but can’t quite explain why he would want this.

Bernard takes Lenina to a ‘Savage Reserve’ (an area designated as not worth developing), and accidentally meets with a man called John who, through no fault of his own, has been stuck on this savage reservation, with the actual savages, since birth. Bernard takes the savage back to civilisation to attempt to learn more from him and his strange ideas about love, modesty, romance, and passion.

I really enjoyed the literary devices employed by Huxley in the book. His writing style is straight forward and relatively easy to follow. Sometimes it felt a bit too straight forward, however, with only one predictable twist and an ending which felt a bit flat and unexciting. Still, however, it was a pleasant read which conveyed the stories message (that a world free from want and sacrifice is not necessarily a good one) in a way that was subtle and very interesting. Overall, a book that I would thoroughly recommend.

Book 2: Storm of Steel by Ernst Junger

Read from: 08/01/2023 to 14/02/2023

Rating: 5/5

This book was given to me by a very good friend. He had, by some miracle, found this 1941 copy in a second-hand bookshop. Knowing that I was desperate to get my hands on an original translation copy of Storm of Steel before I had sullied myself by reading a more contemporary translation, he bought it for me to read.

What a superb book. What a fascinating read. Ernst Junger takes us on an incredible journey through his experiences in the first world war as a young officer in the German army with immense attention to detail and a spectacular writing ability. Alongside his more general accounts of the fighting, Ernst interweaves his own thoughts on the state of warfare, the reasoning behind conflict, and the virtue in soldiering. Ernst does not shy away from declaring that taking part in the first world war was one of the most foundational and important experiences of his life. He seems to have genuinely enjoyed his time as a soldier and was sincerely disappointed at Germany’s surrender. His rationale behind these beliefs are interesting, and he goes in to great detail to explain his personal philosophy around conflict, and why he believes that soldiering is inherently a good thing.

Not only does Ernst make haste to convince you of the benefits of being a soldier, but he also goes into detail to describe what makes a good person, or more specifically, a good man. Ernst talks a lot of honour, courage, and honesty in his writing. He speaks of his enemies, the English and French, in high esteem, and tells the reader that he tried to keep his own men in good standards. He discusses the importance of valour and of dying with courage (he himself never surrendered and was wounded multiple times). His philosophy on this is very interesting and has been a very jarring counter to the mainstream ‘war is bad’ angle that is taken by other accounts of World War One.

The general structure of the book is good. Ernst tries to remain as consistent as possible with his timing and pacing. However, due to the nature of a book about a war, it is not always possible to keep pacing at a consistent rate. This is understandable and does not detract from the book. Just be aware that there are moments when nothing is happening which are suddenly punctuated by moments in which everything seems to be happening.

I would thoroughly recommend this book to anyone interested in the first world war. It has been an exciting and amazing read which has proven to be a favourite of the year so far. Thank you again to my friend Andrew for buying it for me, I appreciate it very much.

Book 3: The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

Read from: 14/02/2023 to 19/02/2023

Rating: 3/5

I only know about this book from various niche references and jokes on twitter. I assume this is one of those books that is compulsory for American High School students to read (as they seem to be the type most frequently discussing it online and in the review sections). The concept of the story interested me – a man becoming a bug, how absurd? But I really had no bias going into this book. I normally understand at least a little bit about the books I am reading before I read them, but I had absolutely no clue what I was getting into when I read this.

Kafka is known for his absurdist and transformative pieces of work, and I can understand why this short story has become his most famous. The book focusses on the story of Gregor Samsa, a travelling salesman who wakes up one morning to discover he has transformed into a giant bug. You would assume at this point that more context would be given, but no. Kafka doesn’t supply us with anything else – only the knowledge that Gregor is now a bug and must live as a bug. Being the sole breadwinner for his parents and sister, his metamorphosis causes immediate problems for all of them, and forces his relatives to actually go out and find work in order to support themselves for a change. All while this is happening, Gregor is stuck at home and simply crawls around, as a bug would. Gregor becomes completely dehumanised whilst his family struggle and cope with their new situation, eventually not even being referred to as ‘Gregor’ but simply as a monster.

The book’s theme is heavily centred on the idea of dehumanisation and alienation. Gregor is beloved and revered by his parents and sister because he earns a very good salary and keeps them well. As soon as he is no longer able to do that (Kafka using the transformation into a bug as a metaphor for ‘becoming useless’) his family still care for him but grow to despise him as they are forced to take up all of the work that he once did to support them. His family, however, do become stronger without him. Suddenly forced into the ‘real world’ again matures them all. His father takes up a respectable job and literally becomes stronger and healthier. His sister matures and develops into a ‘full woman’, and his mother is able to cope with the grief and stress of life at home again in a less pathetic way. Overall, the experience is not entirely bad for the family. Kafka is using this to reflect how dependence can make a person weak, and having the rug finally pulled from under them can improve their lot.

The book is extremely short and can be read in a few hours if you were really desperate to finish it. Kafka is know for his novellas and short stories, and this is no exception. Overall I liked the book but I felt no great connection to it. It was ‘fine’. I often found myself bored by it and couldn’t be bothered to continue reading. Kafka’s writing style is not my favourite in this piece of work. Overall I would recommend it (especially if you want to get the kudos for reading a classic novella in a short amount of time), but I would say that you shouldn’t expect something breath-taking, its an alright book. I hope the next few short stories I read of his are a bit more engaging.

Book 4: In the Penal Colony by Franz Kafka

Read from: 19/02/2023 to 19/02/2023

Rating: 4/5

I only own this book because my copy of ‘The Metamorphosis’ came with it as well (along with ‘The Judgement). Kafka’s stories are very short, so it makes sense that they would bundle them all together like this, and I am glad that I can get a few different stories all together in one book.

This story is a very narrow one. A nameless visitor to a nameless penal colony is being shown around a piece of equipment by a nameless officer whilst a nameless soldier and a nameless condemned man watch on. The officer goes on to explain that this piece of equipment is a torture and execution device which was created by the penal colony’s previous commandant who is now dead. The officer laments the condition of the machine and says that executions have become very unpopular after the commandant’s death, and he is the sole advocate for it now (with promises that a silent majority still agrees with him).

The officer is desperately excited to explain how the machine works in excruciating detail. He is extremely persistent in explaining to the visitor why it is so important and why it is an effective method of punishment.

The overall meaning of this book is difficult to grasp specifically, but can be read in different ways. It can be potentially read as a critique of totalitarianism, with the officer taking the law into his own hands and becoming a tyrant. The book can also be read as an analogy to the Old and New Testament (the old commandant being an analogy for God in the Old Testament and the new commandant being an analogy for God in the New Testament). Another common reading of the book is that it is a critique of carrying out acts which no longer have meaning or relevance to the bitter end – few people like the machine, so why does the officer continue to use it?

This book is very short and can be comfortably read in a day. I preferred this book to The Metamorphosis. I am not sure why, I just felt more inclined to want to read it. The flow of the story is more readable, and I found the characters and their plots more engaging, hence the 4 out of 5 star rating instead of a 3. If you’re looking for a short classic, I would recommend it.

Book 5: The Judgement: A Story for F. by Franz Kafka

Read from: 19/02/2023 to 20/02/2023

Rating: 4/5

Much like the previous book, I only read this because it was at the back of my copy of ‘The Metamorphosis’. This is a very short story, the shortest of the three that I have read so far. Owing to that, please don’t expect a long review as there is not a great deal to talk about.

The book is very narrow and focusses on only two main characters, a son and his father. The son is in the process of inviting his friend, who lives in Russia, to attend his wedding. His father, who is clearly senile and afraid of being forgotten by his son, has a very strange reaction to this – initially claiming he doesn’t know the Russian friend, before finally admitting that he does know him and then claiming that he, in fact, is a far better friend to the Russian than his son is.

It is difficult for me to explain this book more fully without giving too much away, as it is such a short story. But I do find it very odd. Kafka’s style of writing and his general themes continue to boggle and confuse me, but I am glad for this – it is quite refreshing to read things which are so absurd and strange.

The more I read his work, the more I become interested in Kafka. When I first started reading him, I was quite put off. I found his style very rough and difficult to ease in to. But, after getting more acquainted with his work, I’m actually starting to enjoy the lunacy. I have a much better grasp on what ‘Kafkaesque’ means now, and I would be more than happy to read more of his work in the future.

Overall, a good book which can be read in less than an hour. If you were interested in getting into Kafka, this is a good one to start with given its shortness. After doing some research, I also discovered that Kafka himself thought that this was one of his best pieces of work – yet another reason to read this if you wanted to ‘get into’ Kafka.

This is the first installment in a three-part series. Follow The Mallard for part two!

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It’s Over/We’re Back or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Rollercoaster (Magazine Excerpt)

In short, the year started badly but was peppered with good moments. By mid-2022 it was going excellently, and I thought I was finally past the worst of what this year could throw at me. My hubris was rewarded with some of the worst few months of my life so far. I know that, in the grand scheme of things, I should be thankful for all that I have, and I certainly recognise that I have it much better than most people. It helps to remember that, but it doesn’t change how I felt and acted at the time.

I suppose that that is the nature of life and hindsight. At the time, these moments seemed to mean everything. They either crush your soul and spirit or bring you to the highest heights. I think that this sentiment is expressed quite well in the ‘it’s over/we’re back’ memes that have propagated themselves across my twitter timeline for the past few years. We outright refuse to recognise our own mundane victories and losses, and instead focus on the peaks and troughs – this is natural of course, we would go completely insane otherwise.

I don’t think it is bad to allow these experiences to hit you. Part of the human experience is to be hit by these ups and downs. It is the dwelling on these events that becomes a problem. Holding on to fading hurt and fleeting success instead of moving on in some sort of twisted nostalgia for our best and worst moments can lead us down a very dark and dangerous road. It makes us forget who we are and who we can be. Our lessons learnt, we should embrace the change and simply move on. It is in these moments that we grow and mature as people, and become a better version of ourselves.

For me personally, this year has been an absolute rollercoaster of highs and lows, and that has been very hard to deal with. Things seem to be better now, however, and I am filled with enthusiasm for what the new year can bring me. I think that 2023 will be an amazing time for personal growth and development. I still have a lot of weight to lose, but I am steadfast in my determination to see it through this year. Coming to terms with my situation and state of mind will not be easy, but life is not supposed to be easy. Nothing worth doing is easy.

This is an excerpt from “Provenance”. To continue reading, visit The Mallard’s Shopify.

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10 Pages Minimum: A 2022 Book Report

At the end of 2021, I challenged myself to read at least 10 pages of a book a day. I was initially shocked at how difficult I found it to just sit down quietly and read a book. However, within the first month, I found it easier and easier to sit quietly, and enjoy reading. Having been unable to read practically anything for pleasure in the past few years, I am glad that I was able to accomplish this. By the end of 2022, I was able to read 14 books, and I decided that it would be prudent to compile a list of them, and to give a brief review of each one. All of these reviews were written within a few days of finishing the book, so as to give my most accurate opinions of them. This article, therefore, has been a year in the making! I hope that I am able to persuade you to take up this challenge in 2023.

Upon reflection, it has become clear to me that my reviews at the start of the year are not as good as the ones nearer the end of the year. Please excuse me for this, I have had no experience in writing book reviews up until now; but I feel as though this exercise has given me good practice in the area.

Book 1: American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

Read from: 01/01/2022 to 14/01/2022

Rating: 5/5


When I saw this for sale in Waterstones, I chuckled to myself because I have seen the film so many times, and am very aware of all of the references and memes it has generated. I immediately bought it and I am extremely glad that I decided to make it my first read of 2022.

The book is an extremely well-written and unique dive into the horror nightmare land of Yuppie culture in the 1980s through the eyes of an unreliable narrator, Patrick Bateman.

For anyone who has seen and enjoyed the film, you will love this book. This novel fleshes out the character of Patrick Bateman and the accompanying cast and really helps to add the context and depth which would be impossible (or at least extremely difficult) to show on film.

The book is intentionally written in a repetitive and confusing style to try and put us in the head of Bateman, who lives a life surrounded by repetitive and confusing people constantly lost in meaningless conversations over what kinds of socks match with a certain tie, or who is calling up the newest celebrity-owned restaurant to make a reservation. As a reader, you may find this jarring at some points. But I beg you to be mindful of the point Ellis is trying to make. By about a third of the way through you will begin to appreciate the pages and pages of text covering the newest album from Huey Lewis and the News, and Patrick’s running commentary on what he, his girlfriend, his friends, and his victims are wearing.

Please be aware that if you have a vivid imagination, this book can be extremely difficult to read at some points due to the levels of violence and gore it portrays in excruciating detail. (I actually found myself feeling sick at some points, but this just lends more credit to the incredibly descriptive abilities of Bret Easton Ellis).

I thoroughly recommend this book, and I hope that you read it and enjoy it as much as I did.

Book 2: The Art of Rhetoric by Aristotle

Read from: 15/01/2022 to 13/02/2022

Rating: 4/5


I had never been very interested in philosophy, I had always found it unnecessary for myself to learn it. However, after a few debates and arguments with some of my friends who did enjoy learning philosophy, I decided that I would finally get around to reading some.

As I am interested in politics and public speaking, one of my friends recommended to me the Art of Rhetoric. I bought this book some time ago last year and had never read it, so I thought it would be best to start off my philosophical education with this book… that was a mistake.

I soon came to realise that, if you have never read any of Aristotle’s work, he can appear to be a confusing writer. He seems to love tangents and diversions and references to his own and other people’s work. Whilst it was certainly interesting to read about all of these tangents, it did make it quite difficult and confusing at some points to really understand his point or what he was talking about. One minute he would be talking about the different reasons people debate, and then he would suddenly be discussing the benefits of slave ownership.

Another issue I had while reading the book is that it introduces some new terms and words that I had never heard of before such as ‘Enthymemes’ etc. I had to spend considerable time actually learning what all of these specific terms meant before I could even understand what a large amount of the book was talking about, otherwise, I would have completely missed the context of entire chapters. That is not the fault of the book but a fault of mine (as mentioned earlier this was the first philosophical book I have ever read, and that was my mistake).

The book is actually split into three books (all relatively short). Without spoiling anything, The first two books give a lot of context to the third book which is where the actual ‘art of rhetoric’ is discussed at length. This made the first two books feel very slow compared to the third. It is also worth noting that the first two books are where most of the tangents can be found, whereas the third book seems laser-focused on the topic at hand.

Overall, I found the book very enjoyable. It pushed me to actually learn new concepts and terms I had never heard of before, and gave me new ways of looking at debate and argument as a practice. I would definitely recommend this book to people interested in improving their debate and public speaking skills, however, I would also warn you that, if you have never studied philosophy before, don’t be surprised if you have to re-read a few pages and do some research on some of the concepts Aristotle talks about.

Book 3: Trans-Siberian Rail Guide by Robert Strauss

Read from: 13/02/2022 to 19/02/2022

Rating: 4/5


I found this book completely by accident at the ‘Barter Books’ second-hand book shop in Alnwick. I saw the cover, saw the low price, took a guess at what it might be about, and decided that I had to have it! At first, I assumed that this would be a simple guide for tourists of the Trans Siberian railway, but as soon as I started reading it, I discovered that it was so much more than that. It is a charming collection of history, anecdotes, and stories about the Trans Siberian Railway; and an assortment of (now obsolete) information about the various ways one could successfully navigate the journey across the Soviet Union to China and Japan (or vice versa) via train in the late 1980s.

This is by no means a history book, however, it is a very dated guidebook that was written for an 80’s audience, and it contains an absolute heap of useless and obsolete information about how to behave properly around Soviet border agents, the addresses of various consulates and embassies for countries which no longer exist, and tips on where best to buy camera film and cheap Hi-Fi’s when lost in Beijing. I found that this added to the charm of the book, and made it more interesting to read about the lived experiences of those bold adventurers making their way across Communist Russia, Mongolia, and China.

What makes this book even more endearing is that, when it was written, the author put out an advert for readers of the Times newspaper to submit their own stories of their travels along the Trans Siberian to him. He features these stories throughout where relevant, which really adds to the human touch of the book.

The book is broken down into 5 parts. Some of these parts are more focussed on the history of the railway and various anecdotes and stories of travelers’ experiences over the last 100 years on it. Other parts of the book are more instructional and list embassies, hotels, hostels, useful numbers for Visa applications, etc. The author, Robert Strauss, does an excellent job of weaving these two very separate kinds of information together to make for a very delightful read.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of the Trans Siberian Railway, anyone who wants a brief flashback to the late 1980s, and anyone who is sad enough to spend their time reading pages and pages of completely useless and obsolete information about how to purchase train tickets from the Hungarian Socialist Republic (people like me).

Book 4: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Read from: 20/02/2022 to 08/04/2022

Rating: 4/5


This book was bought for me as a gift by my girlfriend after I had expressed some curiosity in it (it is her favourite book and I was interested to see why).

This book (sometimes referred to as ‘The Great Divider’) is a tricky one to get through at times, it brazenly challenges you to keep reading it, despite its cruel themes and evil characters. I found some parts of the book particularly difficult to stomach due to the horrible issues which it covers, but I did soldier on through it to the end. This is why it has taken me almost double the time to get through this book as it has to get through other books of a similar length.

The book tells the story of Humbert Humbert, a handsome young European academic who comes to America after the death of his first wife. The story is told in the past tense from his perspective as he desperately tries to convince the reader, using all of his intellectual charm and cultured European graces, that his attraction to young girls is completely fine, and that the rape of his landlady turned wife’s daughter, Lolita, is justified.

It is fair to say that the book is a heavy read, and forces you to stay on your toes in order to not sympathise with him. Humbert Humbert is the king of unreliable narration, and phrases the most disgusting events in ways that can become very palatable to the reader if not considered properly in context.

This is indeed the crux of the book’s appeal, it is astonishingly beautifully written, even if it leaves you feeling sick or sad afterward. The writing style of the author, Vladimir Nabokov, in this book is absolutely impeccable and suits the theme and character of Humbert Humber almost too perfectly. It made the characters feel so alive and real.

My main complaint about the book, and what is stopping it from receiving five stars in my opinion, is that some sections (specifically the road trips) seem unnecessarily drawn out and overcomplicated, whilst other parts (specifically the ending) seem too rushed and simple – it feels as though you waited through a huge build-up over hundreds of pages for an ending that is covered in less than 30! I understand that this is because the book is framed as a retelling of a story from one person’s blinkered perspective, but I would have enjoyed it a bit more if the book spent more time fleshing out other parts of the story, and perhaps cutting back on excessive detail in others. However, this issue did not kill to book for me and I did still find it very readable almost all of the time.

In conclusion, an absolutely fantastic read that I would definitely recommend to anyone bold enough to take on Nabokov’s challenge.

Book 5: Mine Were of Trouble by Peter Kemp

Read from: 08/04/2022 to 13/05/2022

Rating: 5/5


This book was completely unknown to me until I started being recommended it by various anonymous accounts on Twitter. My curiosity peaked after I had heard the general theme of it; and I must say, I am extremely glad that I took the decision to buy and read it.

This is arguably one of the most interesting, thrilling, and charming books I have ever read, and most certainly is a contender for my favourite of the year. The author, Peter Kemp, has a superb skill for structure, detail, and storytelling that makes it extremely difficult to put this book down. It gives you just enough detail to help you understand the situations he was in without being too heavy-handed and boring. At some moments, ‘Mine Were of Trouble’ reads almost like an adventure book; not because the events are so unbelievable, but because of the great lengths the author went to describe the acts of heroism and horror he saw in real life.

The book tells the true story of the experiences of Peter Kemp (the author), a 21-year-old English law student who was so moved by the stories coming to Britain of the horrors experienced by Catholic priests at the hands of the Republicans, that he decided to join the Carlists (a monarchist faction within the Nationalist army during the Spanish civil war). The book does not read like a diary, and instead is more of a lengthy account of his entire time before and during his service in the Spanish Nationalist military.

The true tales told by Kemp range from the humourous and charming to the horrendous and despicably ugly. At times during the book I was chuckling, and at other times I was almost crying. The book is not attempting to engender these emotions within you, it is simply telling you the story of Kemp’s fascinating journey through the civil war. It serves to remind us all that not all of war is horror; and not all of war is camaraderie, fun, and games.

This book has generated within me a great desire for travel and escapades. I would sincerely recommend this book to anyone interested in the history and politics of inter-war Europe and the Spanish civil war. I would also recommend this book to anyone interested in the concepts of masculinity, heroism, and the call to adventure. Whilst not saying it directly, Kemp touches on all of these topics in great detail. His time and actions in Spain reflect his values of faith, honour, courage, and compassion. This book has served as a great insight for me into all of these topics, and I am sure that it would do the same for you.

Book 6: Convenience Store Woman by Murata Sakaya

Read from: 13/05/2022 to 16/05/2022

Rating: 5/5


As I was strolling around the Waterstones near Monument Metro Station in Newcastle, my girlfriend and I came across a small ‘Japanese Literature’ section. I have never read any Japanese literature of any kind ever, so I was intrigued by it. I was curious to see what was on offer and, as I was looking at the table, I was passed a copy of this book ‘Convenience Store Woman’ by my girlfriend who said to me that she had really enjoyed reading it in the past. I took her advice and, as it was only £8.99, I decided to buy it. This was a very good decision, and I am very glad that I bought this book.

The book itself is very short at just 160 pages with barely more than 200 words a page on average, so you can get through this extremely quickly. I consider myself to be quite a slow reader and I managed to complete it in just 3 days! I found the book to be very difficult to put down, the pacing was just right and kept you hooked into the story all of the time. I didn’t feel as though the story dragged at any point, and the general theme was one which I found quite relatable.

The story itself centres around Miss Keiko Furukura, a 36 year old Japanese woman who has been working the same part time job at the same convenience store for the last 18 years. Whilst never stating it explicitly, it is obvious that Keiko has autism and struggles to understand the actions of the people in the world around her, except for when she is working in the store. Keiko’s whole life revolves around her job at the store and it seems as though, to her, it is the one thing that gives her a purpose. She sees no reason to keep herself healthy, except for the benefit of the running of the store; she sees no reason to take a shower and shave, except for the benefit of the running of the store etc. This all changes when a new employee, a man name Shiraha, enters the picture.

Both of these characters are outcasts who take a different approach to dealing with the similar situation that they find themselves in. Shiraha is a failure who cannot find a wife. He is angry at the world for forcing him to work and just wants to hide away and do nothing. Keiko, on the other hand, has no anger to the world and just cares about the running of the store. The author does an excellent job at contrasting their opinions and methods for dealing with their problems, and it proves to be an excellent commentary on the expectations that Japanese society places on men and women.

If you are looking for a light and quirky book, this is certainly one for you. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, and I was sad to have finished it so quickly. It has been a refreshing brake from the other books I have read so far, and I will certainly make an attempt to read more Japanese literature in the future as a result of it.

Book 7: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Read from: 16/05/2022 to 24/05/2022

Rating: 4/5


This particular book was of great importance to me because of how I came to have it. It was given to me as a gift by my English teacher back in 2016 just before I took my GCSEs. I had never read the book and we did not study it at school, I knew absolutely nothing of the plot and I used to ask her questions about it. Instead of giving the answer away, she bought me it as a present so I could come to the answer myself. Well, after almost six years of starting it, stopping it, and starting again, I finally got myself into gear and finished it. This was a great relief to me, as it means that I wont have to read the first chapter over and over again any more.

The book is relatively short but the pacing of the story can make it quite difficult to read at times. I found the start and end of the book to be very slow and drawn out whilst particular sections were very rushed. I’m sure that Fitzgerald was doing this for dramatic purposes, however I felt as though I should have been given more information at certain important moments. Fitzgerald is clearly a master of the English language and his usage of it in the book is interesting and unique. I found that some of the speech patterns in the book are very dated (this is the original unabridged version after all) which certainly gave it a 1920s feel. Whilst I had no problem with this, you do sometimes find yourself re-reading the same lines to make sure you understood what was being conveyed in this older style of writing. If you are not used to certain aspects of 1920s speech patters and history, try and buy a copy like mine which came with context explainers at the back. This helped me in my own understanding of what was going on in certain scenes.

The story is a somewhat reliable narration by Nick Carraway, a Midwesterner come to seek his fortune in New York City in the early 1920s. There he meets his neighbour Jay Gatsby, a mysterious and extremely wealthy man who, by complete chance, happens to be madly in love with Nick’s cousin Daisy, who lives just across the water from him. Daisy is married to the equally wealthy adulterer, Tom Buchanon. The story follows Nick as he is pulled further and further into a disgusting web of deceit, lies, and deception that surrounds Gatsby, Daisy, and Tom.

I found that the 2013 film adaptation of the book is fairly true to the source material, but it does skip over a large chunk of the relationship between Nick and Jordan Baker. The book does a better job of fleshing out the relationship between the two and it also does a much better job of making the characters less fantastical and more realistic. The film portrays Nick as a clueless do-gooder who just happened to be caught up in rich peoples cruelty whereas the book assures you that he knows what he’s getting himself in to.

In conclusion, a classic book which I would highly recommend. Not too long and certainly recommended if you have seen the film and wanted a bit more from the characters.

Book 8: Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

Read from: 24/05/2022 to 22/06/2022

Rating: 4/5


This is arguably the first book of the year that I have read that I went into with absolutely no idea of what to expect. I had never heard of Amor Towles or his works, and this book was more of an impulse purchase after a friend of mine saw it on sale for a ridiculously low price and recommended it to me. I am glad that he made such a frantic bid to get me to but it. I have also just noticed that this is the third book of the year that I have read to be based in New York City (with American Psycho and The Great Gatsby being the other two). I suppose, through the lens of these fictions, I have taken a journey of the history of New York from the 1920’s to the 1980’s.

This book follows the life of Katherine Kontent, a typist at a law firm, as she makes her way through the year of 1938 in New York City. The concept of time passing is a big factor in this novel, the book is structured heavily around the changing of the seasons and the progression of time. It is no surprise that the main story starts on New Years eve 1937 and ends on New Years eve 1938. She, along with her room-mate Eve, meet Tinker Gray, a very curious individual who they both take great interest in. Over the course of the year, this typist is pulled from the bottom of New York society to the top. She becomes close and personal friends with the wealthy and not-so-famous member of society who keep the machine of the city moving along. She seems to find herself both disgusted and fascinated by it, and keeps venturing into it for more.

This book had the ability to trigger a very strong emotional response from me. It reminds us (bluntly in some places and subtly in others) that time is indeed passing and slipping through our fingers, and that we are the total sum of all of our decisions and all the decisions of everyone around us. Fittingly, I found the ending of the book both beautiful and agonising; all of the separate story lines of the small array of characters that Katherine meats neatly come to their conclusions. It left me felt feeling so sad, and I am not entirely sure why this is. Perhaps it is because it reminds that, no matter how eccentric or interesting we try to be, we too are side characters in someone else’s story; and one day, our relationship with those people will end as well one way or another.

The book’s structure is well put together, and it is clear to me that Amor Towles has an incredible grasp on the English language. His writing style is very unique and enjoyable; however, the method he uses to represent conversations (long flows of text rather than broken up sentences with quotation marks) can be quite jarring at times and it sometimes became very difficult to tell who was talking to who. I would also argue that the pacing of the book was a bit strange. The story seemed to race at the start, then slow down toward the middle, and then jump to a breakneck pace at the end again.

In conclusion, this was definitely an enjoyable book and is one which I shall be recommending to others.

Book 9: The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

Read from: 23/06/2022 to 23/06/2022

Rating: 3/5


Due to the nature of this book and my political biases, I think it unfair to attempt to give this book a true ‘rating’, so I have opted to give it a 3 out of 5 – truly, the most neutral of ratings you can award a book (or anything for that matter).

I read this book many years ago when I was only a child, and so I saw that it was high time to read it again. Whilst I do not agree with Marx and Engels, I found the book to be very interesting and insightful into the initial aims of Communism.

I think today in the world of debate, we get very caught up in politicking, good and bad looks, and the humdrum of boring arguments. Sometimes we forget what certain people actually sincerely believe. It was quite refreshing to read straight from the source. I appreciate the fact that there have been many different iterations and interpretations of communism over the last hundred or so years, but it was nice to actually be able to get a grip of what the original idea of it actually was. As we live in the age of gutter politics, Marx is someone who has been warped and twisted beyond disbelief by people on both sides. Rereading this book reminded me that the chap, at the end of the day, was a philosopher trying to make sense of the modern industrial world and make predictions on the upcoming class struggles between proletariat and bourgeoisie.

Has this book changed my opinions on economic and social relations? No. I am just glad to have been given a fresh perspective on what communism is, and what Marx and Engels were trying to put forward. I am curious as to what they would think of the modern world if we could reach through history and bring them to now. I wonder if they would rejoice or shudder at the state of the modern communist movements. I wonder what they would say about the history of the last 100 years. I wonder how they would view the states of China, Cuba, and the like.

In terms of the books structure, it is incredibly short. You can read this in an afternoon if you really wanted to. I found the first half and the last tenth to be the most interesting, whereas the middle of the book was very slow.

In conclusion, it’s a short read and I would recommend it to anyone interested in learning about the communist movement. I would be interested in reading more of Marx’s material after this as I personally found it very interesting.

Book 10: Silence by Shusaka Endo

Read from: 24/06/2022 to 16/07/2022

Rating: 5/5


I picked up this book at the same time that I got ‘Convenience Store Woman’ from the Japanese section at Newcastle Waterstones. It is funny as I had not intended to get any books at all and wound up buying two. I have also now purchased this book again as a present for a few friends as it is relatively cheap and extremely worth a read. I loved this book and I am glad that I made the impulse purchase after admiring its cover in the Waterstones.

This book follows the journey of Father Rodrigues as he journeys to Japan in the 1640s with his friend Father Garupe to act as a missionary and to discover the fate of his former teacher, Father Ferreira who has been rumoured to have apostatized and to now be assisting the Japanese government in hunting down and persecuting Christians. The journey of Rodrigues is a sad and miserable one. He starts with, what he believes to be, complete faith in God and the Catholic church. This faith is tested repeatedly by the misery and suffering of himself and the Christians of Japan that he sees around him. He is constantly doing battle with the silence of God when he sees injustice and cruelty done upon himself and his fellow Christians.

The novel’s author, Shusaka Endo, was a Japanese Catholic, and I believe the book itself was an attempt by himself to understand his relationship with God and his Christian faith through the abstraction of historical story telling. I believe, therefore, that this book is a good way of understanding my own faith better and coming to terms with the reality of the world around me and my relationship with God. If you are a Christian as well, I would thoroughly recommend this book.

The book, at just 267 pages, is relatively short and I found it very readable. The author uses letters, diaries, and reports from different sources as a framing device for good chunks of the story which helps to break it up and adds a layer of depth to the various characters that are met along the way. The general arc of the story is good and has a sound progression. Do not go into this book looking for a happy ending, you will not find one. The story does not finish with some grand triumph for any character, it merely reflects on the situations that they find themselves in.

Overall, I would certainly recommend this book. It is a brilliant example of 20th century Japanese fiction and, more specifically, provides an excellent retrospective on the persecution of Japanese Christians in the early Edo period by a practicing Japanese Christian. It is a great shame that the film adaptation by Martin Scorsese (himself a great admirer of this book) was such a commercial flop.

I would like to take a moment, if I may, to reflect on the books I have read so far. It is now the 17th of July 2022 and so much has happened since I started this challenge. Russia invaded Ukraine, I turned twenty-two, Boris Johnson has resigned, I bought my first house, and now we are all suffering through an absurdly hot heatwave and sky-high energy and commodity prices. It has indeed been a strange year for me, Britain, and most of the world. My one constant, however, has been the reading I have been doing. As I mentioned at the start of this piece, I barely read at all in the last decade, and it has been thoroughly enjoyable to burn my way through so many of the books that have been sitting gathering dust in my room.

I did not think, when I set myself this challenge, that I would have already finished 10 books by the end of the year… let alone the middle of July. I am very proud of this achievement, and I am looking forward to carry on reading throughout the year and into the next (and so on and so forth). I have learned so much from these books, not just what they contain, but also the foundations of what makes good fictions and non-fictions so enticing. I also think that my reading comprehension and patience has increased dramatically, and my ability to review the books has improved too.

If you are still reading this behemoth of an article at this point, I hope that you have been finding it of some use or interest. I sincerely hope that it motivates you to pick up some of the books laying around at your house that you’ve been telling yourself you would actually read too.

Book 11: Patriotism by Yukio Mishima

Read from: 17/07/2022 to 17/07/2022

Rating: 5/5


This book was recommended to me by a friend. I did not intend to read it so quickly but it is an incredibly short book and is an extremely compelling read. It is also the second Japanese book I have read in a row. I am glad that I bought it and I hope that I can convince you to buy it too.

The book is set over a period of three days and follows the story of a Lieutenant in the Japanese Imperial Army, Shinji Takeyama, and his beautiful young wife, Reiko. Being instructed to command troops destined to fight the forces of rebellious officers (many of whom are his close friends), Shinji is faced with the impossible choice of loyalty to his friends, or loyalty to the Imperial Army and the Emperor of Japan. Shinji, instead, chooses to commit seppuku (ritualistic suicide) with his wife as his witness.

The book describes, in graphic detail, the couple’s last few hours together on the night that they will take their own lives. It explicitly takes the reader through the couple making love multiple times before then agonizingly describing every moment of Shinji and Reiko’s suicide. Reading this part of the book was genuinely difficult at some points due to the gruesome nature of Yukio’s writing style.

Achieving a ‘glorious death’ was something that the author was very focussed on in his own personal life, so it is easy to understand why he would write about ritualistic suicide so positively. After further investigation, I discovered that the rebellion in the book was a real event that took place known as the ‘Ni Ni Roku’ Incident. This incident, along with many other events in Japanese politics, would shape Yukio’s worldview and drive him further into his beliefs surrounding right wing politics and the future of the Japanese nation and people.

In terms of structure, the book is incredibly short and can be read easily in less than an hour. I would thoroughly recommend the book to anyone interested in Yukio Mishima, this is an excellent way to ingratiate yourself with his beautiful and graphic writing style, and a good way to get a glimpse at his views and beliefs.

Book 12: The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea by Yukio Mishima

Read from: 17/07/2022 to 13/08/2022

Rating: 4/5


This is the fourth Japanese-authored book I have read this year, the third in a row of Japanese books, and the second from the esteemed author Yukio Mishima. I heard about this book from various accounts on Twitter and have seen it recommended numerous times but I had absolutely no idea what it was about. I am still not entirely sure if I have fully understood the book, but I will do my best to review it here.

The book is set in Japan a few decades after the second world war, and follows the story of the child Noboru and his wealthy widowed mother Fusako. Noboru is part of a gang of self-proclaimed genius boys led by ‘the chief’ who have become radically angered and dissatisfied with the modern world and modern rules and morality. Noboru is obsessed with the sea and ships and, when he is taken by his mother to the docks to actually see some vessels, they meet the ship’s second mate, Ryuji.

Fusako and Ryuji are smitten with each other and they have sex soon after meeting, whilst Noboru watches on from a peephole he has discovered in between his wall and his mother’s. Initially, Noboru is very pleased with Ryuji. He likes the fact that he is connected to the sea and he sees him as perfect. However, after a series of faux-pas on the part of Ryuji, and Noboru’s excessively high standards and non-standard morality, he soon finds himself disgusted by Ryuji.

This book is strange. I very much enjoyed it, but sometimes it was difficult to get into. Yukio Mishima was exploring his own philosophies and ideas on modern morality through the character of an extremely intelligent child, however, sometimes this came across as very unbelievable and annoying. The only truly sympathetic character is Ryuji.

Mishima, of course, uses his masterful command of language and metaphor to create beautiful images in the reader’s mind, especially when discussing sex and violence. This is a theme seen throughout all of Mishima’s work.

In terms of structure, I found that the pacing of this book was actually very good. The book is split into two halves, ‘summer’ and ‘winter’, each having its own distinct tone. The book is quite short at just over 100 pages and was paced in such a way that it never felt too quiet or too busy throughout.

Overall, a good book that I enjoyed. I would recommend it to you if you were especially interested in understanding Mishima’s personal philosophies and worldview.

Book 13: The Obesity Code by Dr Jason Fung

Read from: 14/08/2022 to 25/08/2022

Rating: 4/5


As someone who has struggled with weight their entire life, this book was a real eye opener. This book was bought for me years ago by my dad, but I never once opened it. I did not know who Dr Jason Fung was, and I had no intention to read what I assumed was just another self help book. Fast forward to a few months ago when a friend of mine suggested buying this book (as it had really helped them with their weight). I realised that I already had it buried away on my book shelf, and I made it my aim to at least try and get through it. As soon as I saw the cover, I realised that this Jason Fung was the same Jason Fung whose YouTube videos I had been watching for the past few months. Given the high quality of his channel, I went in with high expectations, and I was not disappointed!

Firstly, this is not a self help book. Dr Fung uses this book to meticulously and thoroughly dismantle commonly held misconceptions about diet, exercise, and weight loss. His calm and methodical approach to explaining problems with the diet and pharmaceutical industry (especially in North America and Europe) is eye opening and fantastically interesting. I found myself unable to put this book down (hence why I was able to read it so quickly).

I wouldn’t be doing the book justice by trying to fully explain Fung’s take on weight loss, but the general lesson he teaches is that insulin and cortisol are the two hormones that contribute the most to weight gain and obesity; that the post-70s western diet and lifestyle has made us prone to insulin resistance and excess cortisol; and that the standard ‘eat less, move more’ advice so often given out by doctors and government health agencies is unhelpful for people truly trying to lose weight. Dr Fung’s solution to these problems is intermittent fasting, which he claims is beneficial for reducing insulin resistance and being the most effective tool for obese people to lose weight.

The vast majority of the book is spent focussing on his main hypothesis that insulin causes weight gain. He only goes into fasting in the final section. This is why I do not consider this to be a ‘self help’ book. He spends far more time helping the reader understand what the problem is then actually giving specific solutions for this to be thought of as ‘self help’. Whether that is a good or a bad thing is up to you, but personally, I liked it. The book didn’t feel preachy or like quackery.

My only complaint, and the reason I don’t think I can award 5 stars, is that Dr Fung spends a huge amount of time going over the same points again and again. I appreciate that he is attempting to drill an idea into the reader, but it can get quite monotonous after a while.

Since watching his YouTube videos last month and reading his book, I have lost roughly 12kg in weight (about 2 stone/28lbs). This is evidence enough for me that his methods work, and I am fervently carrying on with them. If you struggle with your weight or are just interested in a fresh take on why the world has an obesity problem, I would most certainly recommend this book and his YouTube channel.

Book 14: No Colours or Crest by Peter Kemp

Read from: 28/08/2022 to 31/12/2022

Rating: 5/5


This book took a much longer time to finish than normal due to personal issues and should not be taken as a slight on the piece of work. This book is the second of Peter Kemp’s three books detailing his activities before and during the second world war (see review number 5 for a cover of his first book ‘Mine Were of Trouble’).

We follow him on his journey after the Spanish civil war, joining the British army as a liaison officer and being sent into Albania to act as a representative of Britain and to gather information on partisan activities in the area. Being parachuted into the country, he is forced to deal with the complex political issues that drown the region in mistrust and curtail any effort to form a united front against the Italian and German occupying forces.

This first section of the book was very interesting to me, Enver Hoxha (the post war Communist dictator of Albania) is a character which I have known about for a very long time, but never seriously investigated and researched. In this book, Peter tells of his regular dealings with Hoxha, along with his other Communist, Monarchist, Republican, and Reactionary counterparts in their desperate bid to repel the invaders and attempt to seize legitimacy in forming a new government for Albania after the war has ended. Peter’s writings about these figures and his travels through Albania showcase the chaos and unpredictability of a small nation at war not only with an outside power, but also itself.

The second, much shorter, section at the end of the book tells of Peter’s brief time in Poland in 1945, and his capture and mistreatment by the Soviet Red Army, who viewed him as less of an ally than a potential enemy once the war was over.

The book is an excellent read for any history nerds interested in the niche fringes of the second world war, featuring a very unique insight and detailed description of war stories not often talked about in Western media. Kemp’s keen memory and light-hearted nature make for, not only a detailed read, but also an enjoyable one.

The pacing of the book can be a bit slow at times. I thought it was a shame that Kemp talked for so long about his time in Albania, but very little about his time in Poland. I appreciate that he was in Albania for much longer, but it would have been nice if he could have been a bit more detailed in his discussion on his time spent in Eastern Europe.

Peter has a distinctive writing style which became more and more obvious as I read through this piece, and I would struggle to define it. He writes memoirs like no other memoirs I have read.

Overall, an excellent read which I thoroughly enjoyed and would recommend. I will be reading and reviewing his third book ‘Alms for Oblivion’ later in 2023.

It is the 1st of January 2023 and I cannot believe how much my life has changed since my last writing on here on the 17th of July (just after review number 10) and over the year as a whole. I am now a settled homeowner on the other side of a breakup, I have spent time living in London to escape family drama, and I am 30kg lighter than when I started the year. The war in Ukraine still rages on, and inflation seems to have calmed down just a little bit. I have been totally blown away by the rate of change I have experienced this year, and I am reminded whilst writing this that one of the only constants I have had throughout 2022 was the challenge to myself to read more this year. I am extraordinarily proud of what I have accomplished, and I sincerely look forward to doing it again in 2023, I hope that next year I am able to read at least 20 books.

I hope that these reviews and remarks have given you some encouragement to take up reading this year, it really was one of the best decisions I made at the start of 2022, and I hope that you see fit to make it one of your own resolutions for 2023. 

Photo Credit.

Humber Bridge 2

When the Humber Bridge was completed in 1981, it was the longest single span suspension bridge in the world. 41 years later, it has been reduced to a mere 11th place. The current longest single span suspension bridge in the world, the Akashi Kaikyo bridge in Japan, stands a mere 500 metres longer. This is an unfathomable disgrace for the people of Great Britain and is, quite frankly, a national tragedy and embarrassment. To add to this disgrace, another bridge, the ‘Çanakkale 1915 Bridge’ will soon be completed in Turkey. It will kick the Akashi Kaikyo bridge from its number one spot, and move the Humber Bridge to a measly 12th place.

Therefore, for my submission to The Mallard’s project 22, I would like to make a simple but resoundingly important proposal: build a second Humber Bridge (Humber Bridge 2 some would say) and make it precisely one metre longer than the Çanakkale 1915 Bridge, therefore reclaiming Britain’s rightful place in the world as the country with the world’s longest single span suspension bridge.

This proposal is likely to ruffle some feathers internationally, and I imagine our friends in the East would be quick to try and build another, even longer single span suspension bridge somewhere else. The solution to this possible outrage is, of course, simple: Build a third Humber Bridge.

These proposed projects have a myriad of benefits that I am sure are obvious. I will however go over them in an attempt to convert the non-believers. Not only will these projects drastically increase the infrastructure of the East Riding of Yorkshire and Northern L*ncolnshire, they will also bring desperately needed construction work and employment to an otherwise overlooked region. The construction of perhaps five or six Humber Bridges over the next 50 years would create literally thousands of jobs for engineers, technicians, builders, and labourers.

Coming in with an estimated price tag at just over £2 billion each, I am sure you can see that these bridges would be an absolute steal for the price!

I know what you’re thinking ‘He can’t be serious! This is a joke right?’. No, I am being very serious. As the nation which invented the bridge, I think it is perfectly reasonable that Great Britain goes to great lengths to have the longest one in the world, the lack of one is wounding to our pride. If you do not support the construction of perhaps eight or nine more Humber Bridges in our lifetime, not only are you a coward, but I can only assume that you are also working in favour of foreign governments, which makes you a traitor, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit here and be lectured by some fifth columnist.

Photo Credit.

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