Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne

Around the World in Eighty Days
Around the World in Eighty Days

Not the recent Jackie Chan and Steve Coogan film, the original Around the World in Eighty Days novel which I picked up in Sihanoukville. It’s a 2-book volume with Five Weeks in a Balloon also included, which I’m reading currently.

Now I’m not one to rail on about certain books, in particular anything that people call “classics”, but AtWiED is simply a joy to read. The language is very flowery in places, though that’s pretty usual for the period in which it was written, but the language used is simply fantastic.

The story’s a little weak, to be honest, though it does carry well. What is noticeable is that events which would take forty pages in a modern-day book are breezed past in two here. Verne’s way of writing is similar to a friend telling you a tale they witnessed, though where he doesn’t spare words are in the descriptive parts. And that’s where the best stuff is.

Obviously, the story is about a great journey and the means of traveling along that course – something I’m fortunate to be experiencing right now – but this book’s set well over 100 years ago and the methods of transportation are far behind what we have these days. Also, the ways of life, cultures and so forth are vastly different. Verne’s strength is a seemingly vast knowledge of what he’s writing about. Whether he traveled himself, or he just had access to a superb library I don’t know. But you just get the feeling he’s enthused about the places and peoples he writes about.

The chapters are short enough for you to sneak one in here and there so it’s a fairly quick read. Perhaps not one for people just learning English as the wordings are often very dated, though I can imagine children being enthralled up if the person reading it to them is emotive enough (and patient enough with the inevitable “what’s a….?” questions).

One thing I will say after reading it is “who the hell cast Coogan and Chan in a film version?” I can maybe, just, perhaps see Coogan in the Fogg role. But it still doesn’t seem right. Chan, however… well, he’s not actually even remotely passable as a Frenchman of the late 19th century, is he? He fits all the other characteristics for Passepartout, but is appearance doesn’t quite match up.

Definitely check this one out.

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Q Clearance – Peter Benchley

I only know Benchley from the likes of The Deep and Jaws, so expected a pretty taught and bloody thriller. Instead, Q Clearance is a light-hearted political farce and I thoroughly enjoyed my surprise.

It follows a scriptwriter in the White House who, pretty much by accident, gets noticed by the President… and the Russians. It’s difficult to say too much without revealing some of the plot. It is a little “by numbers” and the ending is a bit too swift, almost rushed, but other than that I found it a great books and very hard to put down.

The writing’s superb with at least a chuckle on most pages. I don’t know if there are any deliberate likenesses to any real-life characters in there, so I could be missing out on some satire.

I’m now not sure if I want to read his better-known works. After zipping through this in a couple of days because I enjoyed the humour I don’t know if I’ll enjoy something more “thriller-y” as much from the same author.

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Phantom Leader by Mark Berent

I picked Phantom Leader up, I think, in Myanmar. It was the only English-language book I could find in the hostel’s bookswap. After sitting down and getting through it, I’m glad I did.

Berent was a pilot in the Vietnam War so he certainly knows what he’s talking about, and it shows in the writing. Here and there, the narrative is put on pause as he details everything about an aircraft, a procedure or a point in history. I just let the cannon sizes and firing rates wash over me, but I’m sure those with more of an interest in the statistics will lap this lot up.

By his own admission at the beginning of the book, he has tinkered with history for the sake of the story too. Many of the major events in the novel happened, but not perhaps in the same order or within the same timescale. That’s the writer’s prerogative – after all, you can’t have the characters twiddling their thumbs because the next major event is six months down the line.

A handful of plots are interwoven, but not unbelievably so. One follows a black POW, another a decorated front line soldier, another a couple of fly-boys and also the situation back in the US in the White House. The overall impression is that Berent was and is fully in support of the troops out there, but highly critical of the administration and rules of engagement the forces were limited by. He certainly doesn’t make the Vietnamese come across as any better or worse than they have been made out to be elsewhere and he pulls no punches criticising either side.

There’s a small romantic interlude with one character that just doesn’t seem to come to anything, but I think there’s a sequel where a few statements made may become clearer. But the main thrust of the novel is the war, the tactics and so forth. There’s plenty fo blood and guts and some excellent action sequences that would look amazing if a film-maker could do them justice. The dialogue’s generally well-written too with only that romantic chapter being a little off-kilter, perhaps just old-fashioned.

I don’t know how heasy his books will be to find, but I’ll keep my peepers peeled for more of his other stuff. For those who like their war books fairly technical and quite bloody, this is a good read.

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And Another Thing…

Click to embiggen
Click to embiggen

And Another Thing… is the title of the sixth book of the now ridiculously-named Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy. And the first not to be written by original author Douglas Adams. There’s an excuse for this. The man himself is dead. Instead, children’s author Eoin Colfer has been chosen to continue the story arc and the book’s due to be published on the 12th October this year – 30 years after the publication of the first novel.

I have blogged about this before, but thanks to John Coxon of ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha, I can now present you with the cover art for the book which he managed to nab at a pre-launch party the other night. I’m also going to upload it to Wikipedia in a second…

The launch of the sixth book with be preceded by (yet another) edition of each of the earlier volumes. They’ll have an introduction by HHG-related persons and the first book will also come with some stickers. Good grief. If course, I’m already going to see if it’s available to pre-order on Amazon because I’m sad like that.

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The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D.Salinger

Salinger's landmark 1951 novel, The Catcher in...
Book cover

The Catcher in the Rye is, apparently, a classic of (American) English literature. It appears on reading lists in schools all over the world. Will someone please explain to me why?

The writing style is – I suppose – not too bad. It’s written very conversationally in the first person from the viewpoint of a young man who’s just been expelled from his umpteenth private school. He’s obviously short of a few brain cells as well, judging by his attitude to a lot of things.

Set in, I guess, the 1950’s means the language is a little archaic but I don’t mind that – I’m currently ploughing through more Conan Doyle and loving it. It’s the repetition, and the rambling nature of the prose that gets so tiring after a while. Oh, and the fact that bugger all really happens.

It’s “a day in the life” of someone I really don’t care about. I didn’t at the start, and I still don’t now I’m finished it. Had it been much bigger, it would have been discarded by the time I got past the mid-point.

Mind you, I guarantee my old English teacher likely got a hard-on reading it. But that guy was a ******* freak who seemed to love everything that you’re “supposed” to love – Shakespeare, Chaucer and the like.

If you want to read a classic, check out the Sherlock Holmes stories – although even they get a little tired after a while, around the time Doyle himself was writing them purely for cash. I’d only read this if I had to as part of an English course. And even then I’d shop around to see if there was another tutor with a different reading list.

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