Saturday, 30 August 2014

#275 The Secret Garden (1911)

Author: G.K. Chesterton
Title: The Secret Garden
Genre: Short Story
Year: 1911
Pages: 20
Origin: read on the iPhone
Nod Rating: 3 nods out of 5

Until relatively recently, the Worm lived on a road named Chesterton Crescent. Other surrounding streets were named Carroll Road and Shakespeare Road, the reasoning here being of honouring writers (of no specific connection with the local area), and of the local city having run out of ideas for new street names.

No matter this, it remains a tribute to the writer G.K. Chesterton. A writer of which the Worm had little knowledge until deciding to read a piece of work in his honour. Not a long read, you understand, but rather a taster of his capability as a writer. Therefore, the rather useful app – Short Stories – came in handy by providing the Worm with The Secret Garden.

This short story is chiefly concerned with the character of Father Brown, a reoccurring person in a lot of Chesterton’s fiction. It is a murder mystery, displaying Chesterton’s ability in creating a well crafted story that did not fail to engage. Rather than discuss plot points, the Worm recommends the link below to be hurriedly clicked and the story consumed.

The Worm has decided on obtaining a few more reads of Chesterton’s hand. Not directly related to The Secret Garden, but more with Chesterton’s biography and great wealth of quotes. Many of these relate to religion and society, but the one that took the Worm’s fancy had a distinctly ordinary and humorous feel to it: ‘Let a man walk ten miles steadily on a hot summer’s day along a dusty English road, and he will soon discover why beer was invented.’ The Worm has since moved from Chesterton’s tribute of a street, but he is glad to have a reflected glory of association with the once world famous writer.

Read it here

Monday, 25 August 2014

#274 The Arabs: A History (2009)

Author: Eugene Rogan
Title: The Arabs: A History
Genre: History
Year: 2009
Pages: 650
Origin: bought from Waterstones many moons ago
Nod Rating: 4 nods out of 5

Book buyers will all know the problem which is encountered from time to time: the book sale. In this instance, the Worm snapped up Eugene Rogan’s history The Arabs whilst greedily engaging in a 3 for 2 offer in Waterstones. However, the book was placed on the “To Read” pile and was promptly forgotten about. Months passed by, soon becoming years, and Rogan’s history gathered dust and yellowed pages. That was until the Worm’s hand, like a beaming light of power, plucked it from the pile and dusted it off for a read.

The Arabs: A History is an ambitious study, charting Arab culture and society across the past five hundred years. It begins with the fighting Mamluks of the early sixteenth century before ending in the turmoil in the Middle East in the early twenty-first century. Heavy concentration is given to the past two hundred years, including the rule of Muhammad Ali in Egypt, and more notably in the twentieth century. This covers the hold over the people by foreign empires – the British and French – and their replacement by a new kind of world politics: the Cold War. The period 1950 to 1990 is given high priority, with Rogan describing and analysing the rise of Arab nationalism and the new importance of oil and how it has shaped their relations with the western world.

Such a task – of charting a history both rich and divisive – seems a tall one to accomplish. However, throughout the read Rogan is an able pair of hands, guiding the reader through the tough differences and the shocking lows. A key feature of the narrative is the meddling of foreign hands into the affairs of the Arabs, including the Ottoman Turks and the western powers. The foundation of the Israeli state, by the power of these western powers, has created a smouldering sore in the region for the past seventy years. The legacy of this is clearly seen today, with the region of the Middle East and northern Africa in turmoil.

More so than a history of any other peoples on this planet, no history of the Middle East can definitely end. The scant five years since the publishing of Rogan’s book have seen the Arab Spring and several revolutions, altering the balance within the region and putting into question the future ahead.

However, such events cannot dismiss the high standard of work: painstaking research and a wonderful ability to write engaging prose. All of which gains Rogan’s book a positive 4 nods. Its failing is in its balance of material; can any history be definitive by neglecting the previous century of history before the sixteenth century? The Worm believes the answer is a firm “no”. But he urges anyone with an interest in the Middle East to pick up a book and dive right in.

Read more here

Friday, 22 August 2014

#273 MaddAddam (2013)

Author: Margaret Atwood
Title: MaddAddam
Genre: Novel – Speculative Fiction
Year: 2013
Pages: 350
Origin: read on the Kindle
Nod Rating: 3 nods out of 5

MaddAddam is the third in the trilogy of novels from acclaimed and engaging writer Margret Atwood. The beginnings are found in the novel Oryx and Crake, later followed up in The Year of the Flood. Both novels have been reviewed in this blog and received different verdicts. Oryx and Crake received 4 nods and was catapulted into the Top Ten reads of the year list, whilst The Year of the Flood failed to recapture the mood and was awarded a lowly 2 nods. What nod rating, then, the final in the series?

The novel is more closely linked to The Year of the Flood than Oryx and Crake, but yet it resolves issues resulting from both books. However, rather than follow the story of Jimmy/Snowman, it is closely linked to characters created in The Year of the Flood. For fans of the initial novel – like the Worm – this is an unwelcome development. Less enthusiastic and well-rounded characters are charted, principally that of Toby and the background of Zeb. However, once Atwood has finished tying up loose ends, the second half of the novel picks up pace, before concluding in action packed frenzy.

Of particular interest is Atwood’s narrative voices, as experimented with in the previous novels. There is first person perspective, as well as third-person narrative. Furthermore, the Crakers also develop their own voice within the novel, particularly in Blackbeard’s narration of the climatic shoot-out that displays Atwood’s imagination. This ties in with the trilogy’s conclusion, with the Crakers finding their own, firm footing in the post-apocalyptic world.

From a story-line perspective the trilogy is unnecessary. Oryx and Crake works suitably as a standalone novel, and remains the strongest of the three novels; the questions that are posed at the end of the read may have had greater effect if left alone. However, Atwood shows confidence in returning to the world set up in Oryx and Crake, considerably expanding it in the two subsequent books. The resulting characters are not as well defined, but the land of the Crakers offers engaging subject material for any real fan of speculative fiction to thoroughly enjoy.

As such, the Worm gives MaddAddam a healthy 3 nods. Furthermore, the Worm provides The Year of the Flood an additional nod, now taking into account the fact that it was a stepping-stone in Atwood’s grander plan of the trilogy. Such an outlay of nods gives Margaret Atwood an overall total of 10 Worm nods, putting her into the Double-Digit Club. One for is for sure, it will not the final limit, with the Worm planning to read more Atwood novels in the not so distant future.

Click to read the Worm's reviews of  Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood. And read more about the MaddAddam trilogy here

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Film Adaptation News: The Sound and the Fury

As faithful followers of this blog should know by now, the Worm has an intense affection for the William Faulkner novel The Sound and the Fury. Not only did he review it some three book-reading seasons ago, and not only did it win the (slightly) prestigious Read of the Year award, but the Worm gave it the singular honour of being the only book reviewed twice on the pages of this very blog. Therefore, it has been with trepidation that the Worm has received the news of a modern day film adaptation of the book.

The person at the helm of this project is James Franco. Okay, not so alarming. But also appearing are Franco’s comedy-buddies: Seth Rogan and Danny McBride. Now the alarm bells ring. Pineapple Express 2? With news that both Rogan’s and McBride’s roles are “cameos” should soften the blow somewhat. However, there is the possible annoyance that one of the major roles is to be filled by Franco's younger, less-talented, more-annoying brother (watch one of the final painful episodes of Scrubs for evidence).

Of greater concern is Franco’s own role: that of Benji Compson. Any reader of the novel may have concocted an image of a larger male in the role. Whilst readers and fans of the novel will be aware that large chunks of the text is completely un-relatable to the movie screen, due to the vast time shifts within the heads of the central characters (particularly Benji and Quentin).

Is this Franco’s shot at Oscar fame, ala Forrest Gump – or, as is more likely, a bomb at the box-office? The Worm reserves his judgment until watching the movie. But he holds little hope for what has been proclaimed an un-filmable (in some cases, unreadable!) novel. Good luck, Franco. You’ll need it!

Read up on Franco's movie here

Read the Worm's previous reviews of this fantastic novel here and here

Thursday, 14 August 2014

#272 America, Empire of Liberty (2009)

Author: David Reynolds
Title: America, Empire of Liberty: A New History
Genre: History
Year: 2009
Pages: 600
Origin: a borrowed read
Nod Rating: 4 nods out of 5

David Reynolds has made an accomplished career as an historian of the English speaking world, principally in the relationship between England the United States of America. Therefore, it is suitable that his book on American history sold by the bucket-load and received wide critical acclaim.

America, Empire of Liberty is billed as ‘a new history’. Yes, every new history book is generally a new interpretation of the past (bar all of those terrible Kindle historical reads that seem to proliferate like a disease), and it is interesting to read Reynolds' narrative. He highlights three key themes that are continually referred to throughout the book: Empire, Liberty and Faith. Empire connects with the formation of America (from Britain’s own empire), its conquering of the American continent, the belief in Manifest Destiny and its flexing of muscles on the world stage. The second theme Liberty refers to America’s awakening in the revolution against Britain, its adherence to a constitution, and its beacon status to the rest of the democratic world (as well as the charge of hypocrisy thrown at its door in the past century). Faith – the least interesting of the three – charts the various religious groups and dimensions that flocked to America to escape persecution, before helping shape the American dimension to the present day.

In many ways the book treads familiar ground, examining key points in American history: yes, the revolution, the Civil War, American’s expansion in foreign policy, the civil rights movement, and the Cold War. But throughout all of this Reynolds poses contradictory views in his chapters, such as ‘Slave or Free?’, ‘War and Peace’, and ‘Pride and Prejudice’. Furthermore, it is of interest in the shaping of the American presence or character, defined by these external forces and polar opposites, seen no more clearly than in America’s challenge to Soviet Russia in the second half of the twentieth century.

Reynolds writes in a clear and entertaining manner, making this read – without a doubt – one of the Worm’s most pleasurable experiences within the History field during the past year. New ground is not chartered, but in terms of American history “new” cannot be found in such an overwhelming environment of historical research. New interpretations, however, are always welcome. As such, Reynolds gains 4 golden nods from the Worm.

Listen to the Radio 4 series here

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Tweets Ahoy!

The Four Eyed Book Worm has decided to take his partisan and belittling reviews across to the land of Twitter. Of course, this is not to say that he will be abandoning his much cherished blog, but rather that he wishes to promote the blog to others.

Therefore, a new Twitter home is available for anyone who wishes to see it: @foureydbookworm

Yes, an 'e' is missing, the Worm is very much aware! Furthermore, there is also an updated email address (available in the 'About the Worm' page).

The Worm wishes to see you bloggers on the other side!

Monday, 11 August 2014

#271 The End of History? (1989)

Author: Francis Fukuyama
Title: The End of History?
Genre: Essay
Year: 1989
Pages: 20
Origin: read on the Kindle
Nod Rating: 3 nods out of 5

‘IN WATCHING the flow of events over the past decade or so, it is hard to avoid the feeling that something very fundamental has happened in world history. The past year has seen a flood of articles commemorating the end of the Cold War, and the fact that "peace" seems to be breaking out in many regions of the world. Most of these analyses lack any larger conceptual framework for distinguishing between what is essential and what is contingent or accidental in world history, and are predictably superficial. If Mr. Gorbachev were ousted from the Kremlin or a new Ayatollah proclaimed the millennium from a desolate Middle Eastern capital, these same commentators would scramble to announce the rebirth of a new era of conflict.’

So writes Francis Fukuyama. As the Cold War came to an end the old certainties were being bulldozed down. A new world had come into being, with the former ideas – political and social – being swept away. These vast changes led Francis Fukuyama to pen an influential essay, The End of History?.

Fukuyama’s essential point is that with the collapse of the Soviet Union has come the overwhelming triumph of liberal ideals, principally from the western democracies (USA and western Europe). He argues that these ideals indicate an end point of humanity’s progress and evolution, from ancient civilisation, across the feudalism of medieval times, towards the capitalism employed today. As he states:

‘What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalisation of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.’

Gone, then, is communism, socialism and other theories. But, how well as Fukuyama’s essay held up over the past quarter of a century? Clearly, western liberal ideals remain dominant. Testament to this is the continuing superpower status of the United States of America, as well as the rapid growth of the European Union. But then again, cracks are apparent, particularly in the form of the current banking crisis. Furthermore, other ideals have taken a sharp focus, principally that of Islamic fundamentalism. Also, recent developments – such as the Russian seizure of Ukraninan land – flies in the face of the western democratic style. And this is without mentioning the new superpower, China, and how this will shape political relations in the decades ahead.

Of most striking note is the central belief that history never ends; history is spewed forth in a multitidue of events every single day. Fukuyama’s central argument that western liberal values indicate the end point of human development is a stunted one, especially when one considers the vast changes that have occurred in the last two hundreds alone, let alone the past thousand. The twenty-first century promises to bring more changes with it, especially within the sphere of technology. Political situations will continue to change and history will never end. But historical theories and statements – however odd and misguided (of which Fukuyama’s is not) – will continue to be spouted off by commentators and historians.

Read it here

Saturday, 9 August 2014

#270 The Honicknowle Book of the Dead (2009)

Author: Kenny Knight
Title: The Honicknowle Book of the Dead
Genre: Poetry
Year: 2009
Pages: 100
Origin: bought from the library for 50p
Nod Rating: 2 nods out of 5

The Worm first read about this intriguing book in a local paper a few years ago; the Worm was especially thankful for Kenny Knight referencing the interesting Lobsang Rampa. So, when a copy was stumbled on in a library book sale, fifty pence was eagerly parted with in order to obtain it. It held a particular fascination with the Worm due to the local dimension, especially with the area of Honicknowle residing within the Worm’s hometown.

Kenny Knight is a poet of talent, and for the first third of this book he held the Worm’s attentions. The local aspect was trumpeted up with the connection of memory, rock and roll and the monarchy; the childhood of the poet was brought to life in a surreal manner. However, when the collection of poems failed to expand from this premise it became a dull and incredibly self-involved read. The narrative kept repeating the same old themes and ideas, especially the referencing of The Honicknowle Book of the Dead time and again!

“Yes,” you may say, “of course poets are self-involved! That is the very nature of their work and it springs forward truth and honesty.” That may be true, but at least new ideas need to be explored. As it stands, The Honicknowle Book of the Dead may have served better as a longer, single poem. However, the Worm is still thankful for the poet bringing forth the history of Lobsang Rampa. If you do not know this person, please use Wikipedia immediately.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

#269 Preacher (1995-2000)

Author: Garth Ennis & Steve Dillon
Title: Preacher
Genre: Graphic Novel
Year: 1995-2000
Pages: 1,800 (in total)
Origin: read on the iPad
Nod Rating: 4 nods out of 5


Tulip: The way I hear it, there's two good places to look for God: in church, or at the bottom of a bottle.

Jesse: Maybe I'll go find a liquor store, then … 'cause lemme tell you, it sure as hell ain't church.

Since making waves in the 1990s, Preacher has gathered critical acclaim. The original run of Preacher spread across sixty-six issues released between 1995 and 2000. In recent years these issues have been published in nine collected books, of which the Worm read over a series of months. The reader follows Jesse Custer after he becomes possessed by a supernatural force that gives him with great powers, leading him to search for God in order to have a few questions answered. Throughout the run of issues Jesse Custer gets into a suitable set of adventures to thrill the everyman comic reader.

Undoubtedly, Ennis has created some fantastic characters. The main trio – Jesse, Tulip and Cassidy – loosely echo that golden triumvirate from Star Wars. Jesse is searching throughout the issues to find himself (as well as God), Tulip is an ex-hitman who has the effect of making all men drool after all, whilst Cassidy is an Irish vampire (what more is there to say!). Furthermore, villains include the undead cowboy Saint of Killers and the unfortunate and angered Herr Starr, whilst the famous Arseface makes consistent appearances throughout the run.

The storyline leans on the conspiracy theories of the Holy Grail (which provide some humorous villains), the legend of westerns, as well as religious theory. Ennis has created an interesting blend of action, humour and serious commentary in the form of this comic. However, it is unfortunate that the run seemed to lose momentum half-way through. Perhaps it moved beyond its initial remit and attempted to expand into areas into which it lacked the same high standard of the original stories. Of greater annoyance was Ennis’ intrusion – in the form of Jesse – to voice his concerns of the world. In the beginning these monologues were fresh, but by the end they became stale and tedious. Similarly, giving off wafts of staleness was the love affair between Jesse and Tulip. The storyline in which Jesse goes it alone and becomes a sheriff was a very welcome distraction.

The Worm “ummmed” and “aaahed” about the nod rating for Preacher. 3 nods would be more suitable in reflecting the second-half of the run. However, it made a fresh entrance into the comic-reading community and sustained interest over a period of years. For this reason, 4 nods are given. There has been a lot of talk of Preacher being converted into a TV show or movie series; the Worm is interested in seeing how this comic is adapted. But for those waiting, better to gain hold of the original books and get started right away.

Read about the writer Garth Ennis here

Thursday, 31 July 2014

#268 A Brief History of the English Reformation (2012)

Author: Derek Wilson
Title: A Brief History of the English Reformation
Genre: History
Year: 2012
Pages: 440
Origin: bought from the Works for £3.99
Nod Rating: 3 nods out of 5

This title is somewhat misleading. After all, what is “brief” in more than four-hundred pages of reading? Derek Wilson’s history of the English Reformation is incredibly detailed and well-researched, leaving the Worm satisfied of this choice of book from the discount store The Works.

However, the book does not fit the entirety of the English Reformation, tending to a particular focus on the Tudor monarchs of the sixteenth century. The Stuart monarchs and their equally immense problems (Civil War, religious upheaval, monarchs on the run!) are ignored, although Wilson addresses this issue in the book’s epilogue. Wilson’s key focus is in an attempt to show how England was transformed by the whims and tastes of the Tudor dynasty, by Henry VIII and his daughter by Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth.

The historian does an admirable job of putting in the essential events – along with analysis and historical assessment – alongside some interesting minor detail. He has a clear understanding of the major players and their motivations. A narrative is held onto, but it lacks greater depth. Yes, you declare aloud right now, but remember Mr. Worm, this is a “brief” history. Perhaps the remit was never there to dig deeper, but also recall yourselves that in four-hundred pages ample space was provided.

For anyone wanting to know more about the English Reformation in the Tudor period, Derek Wilson’s book is warmly recommended. Get down to the Works now, there might still be a cheap copy going!

Find out more about the historian here