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Three more excellent reads for you to think about:

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail – Bill Bryson

More than anything in the world right now I want to go bushwalking. I have a fruity French dessert cooling on the bench; a cup of tea beside me; an awesome job and a shitload of books and knitting to play with, and I want to chuck it all in and go bushwalking. That’s what this book does (although I admit the urge is never far from the surface with me). I think this is one of Bryson’s best books. He combines his excellent sense of humour with involved research and human study. The relationship between him and his hiking companion, an old friend who, in intervening years has developed and recovered from alcoholism and gained a lot of weight, is really interesting and touching — the characterisation of his friend is fantastic. There’s introspection and analysis, as Bryson looks at why he — or indeed anybody — would find the hike so appealing and satisfying; and this is woven around a history of the trail, travel observations and commentary on the natural and man-made surroundings. It blends together really well.

Coraline – Neil Gaiman

What an awesome book. Short and juicy, with not one excess word or scene. It’s creepy, exciting and fun and it rocks. Coraline and her parents move into a new flat with a mysterious door that opens on to a brick wall. One night, Coraline hears the door swing open and discovers a passageway leading to a parallel world, where bizarre caricatures of her parents (and the other people in her world) live. They encourage her to stay, but she returns home: shortly after this, her parents disappear and Coraline has to go back through the door to rescue them. Totally cool and exciting.

American Pyscho – Bret Easton Ellis

I did a teensy bit of work experience in a bookshop in 2000, when American Pyscho was first blowing everybody’s mind, and it had to be shrink-wrapped on the shelf, lest some innocent browser missed the title, cover art, blurb and back-cover reviews and didn’t realise the book was moderately confrontational in its psychopathic violence and was accidentally traumatised while flicking through the pages. There are some startlingly violent chapters in here (pardon me while I clutch my pearls) and some pretty mean sex violence as well, but frankly, it works. The narrator is a classic rich yuppie riding the high that 80’s New York promised to that lot: I wasn’t there, so I can’t say for certainty it’s an accurate portrayal, but it feels very authentic. The obsessive fixation of the author with his daily routine, his clothes, his life, his coworkers’ and friends’ appearance; the details are overwhelming, suffocating. The lifestyle he leads feels hectic, desperate, shallow and occasionally terrifying. If I tried to live the way he does, well, I’d probably end up a bit odd too, but mine would manifest in obsessive cake stomping or something, not brutalising people. The question that hangs over you the whole time you read is “did he or didn’t he?” And there’s a lot to throw doubt on everything he claims to have done. Something I found really interesting is that I desperately wanted him to be an unreliable narrator. Even though I knew he was fictional, all his victims were fictional, I was already so emotionally attached that I really, really wanted him to be all fantasy. As a reader, that’s a testament to Ellis: he created characters so real and believable as to evoke understanding, if not outright sympathy, so that I wanted the horrific things to be fantasies. To summarise: violent, yes, but compelling, clever, interesting, and really thought-provoking. The themes of materialism and the lies of success really echoed and left me churning them over and over well after I finished. Pretty awesome.

Interesting (or not) (possibly not) (probably not) side note: the last Bill Bryson book I read was also about discovering America, small town America, called The Lost Continent. I read it immediately adjacent to Kerouac’s On the Road, which is also about discovering America; and as some sort of complement, read Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, an intensely English-flavoured book. This time around, I’m matching Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods with Bret Easton Ellis’ American Pyscho and contrasting it with Neil Gaiman’s Coraline. An interesting blend, fer sher.

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