Cairo Books Guide - Books reviews in Egypt

Cairo Books

Richard Templer: The Rules of Life
Published On: 11/11/2015

Self-help books aren't everybody's cup of tea. As much as many people resort to them for answers, many others continue to believe that self-help books generalise issues and provide generic answers and solutions that rarely resolve the challenges at hand. Unlike many other self-help reads, The Rules of Life, written by Richard Templar, is a book providing a handful of simple, uncomplicated real-life tips and principles to help you gain better insights about yourself and your surroundings. The book is part of a series called The Rules Series and despite its name, The Rules of Life is neither a rules book nor a revelation; it is what Templar calls a 'personal code' - a reminder pinpointing the things we often overlook in our lives. A self-confessed people watcher by nature, all of Templar's observations conclude that awareness is the key to a happier and a more fulfilled life and that those who are unaware of every thought they have and every move they make, are the ones who suffer the most in life. According to Templar, people who are self-aware to what is said and done are what he calls 'Rules Players'; the ones who always seem to know what is important and know how to deal with what's not. Rules Players are not only self-aware, but they're also the ones who defeat conventional thinking when dealing with life; the ones who admit their wrongs, the first ones to apologise and the ones who accept defeat and move beyond it. "A good Rules Player knows when they are beat," Templar says. Making conscious decisions about how we choose to react to our surroundings is what makes us Rules Players and according to Templar, a good Rules Player is the one who doesn't act on impulses, but thinks twice before reacting. Stress is inevitable in our daily lives; but that doesn't mean making it harder on ourselves, which is why Templar argues that every problem has a key that unlocks it and that we should be a part of the solution by thinking our challenges through, rather than stressing over them. Among the many things we love about this book is Templar's suggestion to evaluate how we feel towards someone or towards a certain situation and how we reacted; an approach to assess our level of awareness when we took the decision or action. Though a lot might say this book is stating the obvious, we do however believe that our desire for instruction manuals for living remains essential. The Rules of Life book widens the way we look at ourselves and others, as it introduces a new approach to overcome our daily hassles and a new perspective to deal with our challenges altogether. In one of his rules, Templar argues that being regretful after making a mistake is normal; but only rules players use regrets to make a difference, a positive one. "Rules Players don't dwell on the past," he says. Everyone makes mistakes; but what comes after the mistake is what separates Rules Players from the rest. Templar's rules are nothing more than observational notes; merely some day-to-day life lessons that he has gained the hard way; and even though he is not a professional life coach or a guru, his own real-life experiences have helped him compile a go-to self-help book for us to resort to, when all hell breaks loose. 

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An Interview with 'Barbatoze': Egyptian Comic-Book Artist & Writer Sherif Adel
Published On: 31/08/2015

Though there's still much debate on the subject, those familiar with the often addictive fantasy world of comic-books and graphic novels insist that the platform is a legit form of art and literature – and it's hard to disagree. Comic-books have been shown to be just as challenging, thought-provoking and powerful as any other medium. Fuelled by our own love for comic-books, we sought out witty Egyptian comic-book artist, Sherif Adel - A.K.A Ragol El Barbatoze – to talk comics in Egypt and his latest work, Foot 3alina Bokra - a series depicting a futuristic Egypt forming a top secret team to overcome a potential extra-terrestrial invasion – with hilarious results. As well as being a comic-book artist and writer, you're a practicing dentist, too – what prompted the career shift? It's not a career shift – it's both. I'm a dentist by trade and illustration is kind of a side job. I've always loved drawing and I had a bit of obsession with comics and video games growing up; an obsession that stayed with me until I began taking it seriously 4 years ago when I started the Barbatoze comics website. I like having two careers; it's kind of the best of both worlds, but if I ever felt that one path is better for me to follow, I wouldn't hesitate to do just that. Here's something we've been dying to ask – what in the world is a Barbatoze? It doesn't mean anything! Technically it's the name for a baby onesie. I chose it because it's intriguing. I wanted a name that would make people wonder, so that, ultimately, it would stick. We get the feeling that Barbatoze is almost alter ego of yours... Maybe. I'm always bored and I largely think everything is kind of dull; so yeah, his face perfectly captures my inner feelings most of the time. Going back to how it all started, one of the very first things you did was to create the Barbatoze Comics Website. How did it all come to be? When I first decided I wanted to take my love for drawing and comics to the next level, I didn't have any contacts in the field, nor an audience. With my simple knowledge of web design, I put together a blog to publish my work; I shared it on Facebook and Twitter to gain an audience and to receive feedback. It gave me the chance to improve and evolve as an artist, too. Then I entered comic competition, El Fan el Tase3 (The Ninth Art); I won with and my work was featured in a book called Enta 7or. Thankfully, I was able to make lots of contacts that later on helped me reach my initial goal to publish my own comic-book series. Your latest work, Foot 3alina Bokra, has been a hit thus far, largely for its characters – tell us more about them. There's Fahmy, the leader of the Foot 3alina Bokra team, Ram the martial arts expert, Sahar the computer science whiz, the commander in chief of the scientific secret service – which we can't disclose any more information about due to security reasons, of course – and Naguib; a genetically modified donkey and my personal favourite character. He's my favourite because he came into this world not by his own choice and, ever since then, he's been constantly wondering what he's doing in this strange world and I can definitely relate to that. It's a pretty abstract concept in the context of Egypt. What triggered the idea? At first, it was meant as a parody of the Egyptian sci-fi series, Malaf El Mostakbal, because I've been a huge fan since I was a child. I think you can see the influence in the comic-book itself – I slip a lot of references throughout the issues. But as the story evolved in my head, I began feeling it would undervalue the story if I went ahead and wrote it that way. With that in mind, it began to take a different shape. I wanted a sequenced story that flowed, with every issue picking up from where the previous one left off, leaving the audience wanting to find out what's next. After publication, I'm pretty much sticking to that vision. I already have the plot all figured out, so I'll just be adjusting and tweaking small parts as I go on, based on the feedback and response I get. The feedback has, thankfully, been mostly positive, although I've been sent several requests to increase the length of each book, which is something we're working on. Things are really going well – knock on wood – but that can't have always been the case. Did you face any Egypt-specific challenges in bringing your vision to light? The biggest challenge – which faces pretty much everyone in the field – was publishing. Most publishing houses I've dealt with in Egypt don't really 'get' comic-books; in their heads, they're more children's books. Most comic-book publications in Egypt are funded by companies like Garad Media, like I am. The second challenge was a personal one. I didn't have enough talent or practice in the beginning to produce something I was truly happy with. Before Foot 3alina Bokra, I had a project called Thawret El Zombies (Zombie Revolution), which didn't exactly turn out the way I wanted it, due to my inexperience, so I quickly discarded it. I do both the writing and the illustration on my own, so I wanted to be sure that I'd end up with something deemed worthy of all my efforts. Another challenge has been – and continues to be – the relatively low reach of the Egyptian comic-books market being limited to a small community. Not many have the taste for it, which is something I hope changes with the many projects that have been appearing, like Toktok. I really believe comic-books have the potential to grow and reach more people in Egypt. There's lots of little references, jokes and 'easter eggs' – do you have a favourite? My favourite is in the second issue; there was a large picture of the city and in the midst of all the hustle and bustle, there's a statue of a certain major-general and his celebrated kofta invention – that's definitely my favourite. In all seriousness, though, can Egypt cope with an alien invasion? Oh, we'll all be screwed – even more than we already are! We'd treat it with classic Egyptian humour, but, as a country, the response would be disastrous. Chaotic. We don't approach anything sensibly.That's not even in our dictionary. Actually, thinking about it, I think the invasion might be an upgrade. If you could bring any two Egyptian personalities (one male, one female) back to life, who would they be? Wow, that's a tough question. That's a really tough question, but I would have to say Ismail Yassin. He makes me instantly smile; I love the guy so much and there are films of his that I've watched endless times which still crack me up to this day. As for a female, it took me a lot of thought and consideration, but I can't find a better answer than Mervat Amin – even though she's still alive. Can we say the young version of Mervat? Specifically the Mister X one? Why? Because, simply, she's beautiful. As an Egyptian that has revelled in a niche field of art and literature, what advice would you give to other comic-book-artists-in-the-making? The best piece of advice I have for any career is do whatever it is you love; do what makes you feel happy and alive. If something actually gives you more energy and passion instead of draining it, never let it go, no matter how unsure or risky it seems in the beginning. That's what I tried to do and I'm thankful I did. Photos: Barbatoze/Sherif Adel

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Cairo Guide: Six Awesome Independent Bookshops in Cairo
Published On: 16/05/2015

As with any 'genre', let's say, of shopping in Cairo, buying books – be it for school, for pleasure or to satisfy that irrational love of new-book-smell – comes with its joys and its challenges. The bigger bookshop chains in Egypt do a stand-up job of catering to Cairene needs, but outside of the Diwans, the Alefs and the Shorouks of this world, there are other Cairo bookshops that do just as good a job, but with the extra little kick of having fostered a unique, independent and almost dissident existence, providing an escape for the city's bookworms, where one can find any number of advantages over the big chains – lower prices, obscurer or older titles and a refuge for studying and working being just a few. It's this indie spirit that makes these bookshops a must for any book lover. Al Kotob Khan Possibly the most well-known entry to this list, Maadi's Al Khotob Khan has a very loyal following; one that it has despite relocating to Degla from El Laselky Street. Al Kotob Khan is a firm favourite with Maadians not only their book purchasing needs, but also for hanging out, reading, or studying while having a snack. The shop also often hosts open discussions, readings and all manner of literature-geared event. The Bookspot Another entry from the pit of modern Egyptian suburbia that is Maadi, the Bookspot is a magical place where old books go to find new homes and new lives. The Bookspot offers all the latest books alongside used ones and those that find enjoyment in browsing, touching and inspecting will squeal in delight at the prospect of finding a rare classic or good-as-new university books. Legend has it that some may even have the old notes of and honour roll student – the jackpot. Sufi Bookstore A gem of a place in Zamalek, thanks primarily to its uniquely calming atmosphere, Sufi has is a delightful triple-whammy combination of a gift shop, a café and a bookshop. Previously a residential apartment, the shop is divided into room that are filled with seating areas and scattered with books. Have you ever been to someone's home and seen something that you've thought about stealing? It's sort of like that with books – but under no circumstance should you steal anything – book karma is bigger than us. Sufi also hosts occasional events, including live music performances. Maktoob Bookstore One of the newer bookshops on this list, Maktoob Bookstore in Zamalek is a library as much as it is a shop and offers book loans via memberships – a monthly fee of 180LE will afford you the luxury of borrowing ten books overall, two at a time. But Maktoob also functions as a used bookshop, with prices starting at a mindboggling 2.50LE – yes, 250LE. If you reach into the nearest furniture crevasse as you read this, you'll probably find the money for your next purchase there. You can also grab a cup of coffee and a nibble, but why would you when there are 2.50LE books around you? Get digging. Volume 1 Labelled as a 'heaven for arts and crafters' by a Cairo 360 review, Volume 1 has branches in Maadi – you guys have everything and it's not fair – and Mohandiseen. The shop excels in Arabic books, as well as arts and crafts supplies, and the selection of local, regional and international newspapers and magazines is, in no uncertain terms, exhilarating – yes, we get that excited about the written word, in all of its glorious forms. Don't judge. Meanwhile, arts and crafters certainly really will find everything and anything they need, though some prices are higher than usual. Adam Bookshop Do people in Maadi just read more? Here we have another bookshop in Maadi – in Maadi Grand Mall to be precise. Adam Bookshop is worth a mention for its particular value to students and anyone else on some sort of path of education; multilingual textbooks, guides and dictionaries are available. As with any good bookshops, the usual range of knickknacks and random titbits are just as deliciously pleasing, with meditation CDs, book related bric-a-brac and other novel items complimenting the shops through collection of modern and classic literature. Happy shopping! Then, happy reading!

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Gretchen McCullough: Shahrazad's Tooth
Published On: 24/11/2013

Born and raised in Texas, Gretchen McCullough's teaching career has taken her to Egypt, Turkey and Japan; currently, McCullough teaches writing in the Department of Rhetoric and Composition at the American University in Cairo. Released earlier this year, her latest publication is titled 'Shahrazad's Tooth'; a compilation of short stories revolving around a host of eccentric individuals and their experiences in Cairo. A large bulk of the stories are driven by the thoughts rummaging through the characters minds and, more often than not, they transpire to be both charming and relatable. 'Shahrazad's Tooth' has a colourful team of characters with strong presence, charisma and an air of familiarity. Digging deeper into their personal lives and problems, her writing style is distinct, bringing an American charm and non-linearity to her stories, which builds a pleasant intricacy. With many of the characters connected by a single building in Garden City, McCullough allots the main characters in her stories as small cameos in others, spreading the characters' presence and allowing for further development. In 'A Little Honey and a Little Sunlight', we are given insight into the raging nature of Professor Gary by his dying neighbour, Joe Pulaski - a poet - reminiscing his days spent living in Cairo. Many pages later in 'Pure Water', we find ourselves reading from the eyes of Dr Gary as he spends time with his bulky Greek friend, Kolombos, in a mental asylum before the uprising of January 25th. The title story, meanwhile, sees two main protagonists; journalist and teacher, Mary Beth Somers, and her dentist, Dr Samy. Far from sappy, the two fall into a love which avoids the overt romantic notions seen in cliched literature, despite ending on a melancholic note. Aside from the characters, Cairo as a city is portrayed as an integral player in the stories. On regular occasions, vivid descriptions of popular places in the city are given, such as El Horreya, Windsor Bar, the Gezirah Club and Koshari Abou Tarek. Having visited all these places ourselves, it's obvious that McCullough has immersed herself in the city, and amongst its people, well beyond the point of a touristic escapade. She's become a sort of semi-native, in touch with Cairene culture, but maintains enough outside insight to give a new perspective to those who've been living in the city for too long. With its mix of emotions and interesting character troupe, 'Shahrazad's Tooth' promises an entertaining, comforting read for both locals and foreigners alike.

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Cairo Guide: Eight Fantasy/Sci-Fi Reads for the Exasperated
Published On: 12/11/2013

Either by the cold hand of Hollywood or the colder truths of reality, there's no denying that the fantasy and science fiction genres are at the forefront of entertainment today. Many a contemporary author has tried to emulate the works of a certain J.R.R Tolkein, but failed to reproduce the intricacies and complexities of The Lord of the Rings. Subsequently, the literary market has become saturated with volumes upon volumes of predictable plots and one-dimensional characters. So, without further ado, here are the eight books that prove that one can delve in the realm of fantasy without suffering tawdry plot devices and nonsensical gimmicks. The Dark Tower Series by Stephen KingSpanning across eight novels, The Dark Tower presents a post-apocalyptic world where the last remaining 'gunslinger', Ronald Deschain, is on an epic quest to the nexus of the universe, the Dark Tower. Stephen King cites his inspirations as a mixture between Arthurian legends, The Lord of the Rings and Clint Eastwood's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. These influences are obvious throughout the books, right down to the concealed agenda of the gunslinger and the dark magic present in the world that King has created.The Wheel of Time series by Robert JordanComprised of 14 volumes, The Wheel of Time incorporates mythologies present in European and Asian culture, as well as drawing from a few spiritual beliefs found in Hinduism and Buddhism. The world represented in the series is one of immense detail and profound visualisations that encapsulate humanity in its simplest forms. The Wheel of Time starts with the creation of the wheel that governs time, and how 'the Dragon' was summoned to fight the evil released by members of the guild who control the spokes of the wheel.Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut Narrator, John, reflects back to a time when he had planned to write a novel about what famous Americans were doing on the day that the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. During his research for the book, John develops an interest in Felix Hoenikker; a scientist credited with the development of the bomb, and his children. A series of events involving a substance created by the late scientist, called ice-nine, ensues and John and Hoenikker's children travel to the fictional island, San Lorenzo. Here they find themselves caught up in the on-going struggle between the president of the island and the founder of Bokonon, a new religious movement.Sagas of Icelanders by Various Authors Fantasy isn't all about make-believe and clear definitions of good and evil; Sagas of Icelanders is a collection of stories passed down by the first settlers of Iceland, the Vikings. Also known as Family Sagas, the compilation discusses the lives of the families scattered throughout the country and contains every element required in a good story: lust, ambition, greed, death, honour, betrayal and bloody brawls. What makes these sagas so timeless are the characters; each person mentioned within the pages can be traced back to actual people who struggle with all the strengths and weaknesses of the human race. As is the case in most folklore, a lot of the stories are 'heightened' by old Norse religion, superstitions and magic.Iliad / Odyssey by Homer The Iliad and Odyssey are both epic poems; Iliad depicts the last days of the Trojan War and Odyssey tells the tale of Odysseus' ten year trip back home to Ithica. Although based on an actual historical conflict, in typical Grecian fashion, Homer dramatised the war by adding many elements of Greek mythology and incorporates all the essentials required for a truly exciting adventure. Hailed by scholars as the foundation of modern Western Canons, Homer's Iliad and Odyssey represent a moment in history that once honoured great achievements by even greater legends.Beowulf by Unknown Set in Scandinavia, Beowulf tells the story of a hero of the Geats, who later became king through his triumphs over the monster 'Grendel' and his mother. Beowulf then goes on to kill a dragon that once terrorized his realm and is mortally wounded in the process. The poem is a classic example of the storytelling style typical of Scandinavian lore, in which they glorify the deeds of a mighty man deemed worthy of recognition.The Divine Comedy by Dante The Divine Comedy is an Italian canto that is split up into three parts; Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. It tells the tale of Dante's journey through these three layers associated with the Catholic beliefs of the afterlife. Discussing the mortal affectations of sin, virtue, and theology, Dante also manages to incorporate some scientific themes of his time. What makes Dante's The Divine Comedy an essential read is the manner in which he addresses the fear and hope that constitute man's existence. He answers the immortal questions on man's mortal mind in a manner that promotes redemption within discovery.Awaj bin Anfaq by Zakariya Al-Qazwini Physician, astronomer, geographer and author; Zakariya Al-Qazwini's proto-science fiction novel tells of a being who travels to Earth from a distant planet. The extra-terrestrial man observes the human race, only to find himself confused by the inexplicable things that this seemingly intelligent species does. This 13th century book is a prime example of the origins of science fiction from minds that were well ahead of their times. Happy reading! 

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Amr Moneib: Requiem: Cloud of Thoughts That Rained Ink unto Paper
Published On: 22/10/2013

Dr Amr Moneib is an Egyptian obstetrician who has developed a writing hobby to express his keen concerns over Egyptian society and its everlasting challenges. Recently, he has become the sole author of 25 pieces compiled into a book titled Requiem: Cloud of Thoughts That Rained Ink unto Paper, self published through Amazon's Create Space. Written primarily in English, the book encompasses various genres such as non-fiction, short stories, fantasy and poetry. From his musings, it's evident Dr Moneib, a graduate of Ain-Shams University, has had enough experience in Egypt to address the difficulties faced by the Egyptian population. The first that thing that strikes the reader is the vivid clarity that English is not Dr Moneib's first language. Without the privilege of an editor, Requiem is filled with countless grammatical and spelling errors and sentences that at times make as much sense as Cairo's traffic. The end result is an unsophisticated batch of tepid clichés. Early in the book, he presents a story titled Requiem for Roqaya, sharing the fictional account of a young girl raised in an Egyptian village. While to an Egyptian the plot is average at best, the tale might sting a Western heart thanks to the depictions of female circumcision, forced marriages and abuse. What stands out most here is Moneib's inclusion and translation of Franco Arabic into English. For instance, in the scene where protagonist Roqaya is born, the doctor tells her mother "E7'rasy ya weleya we etnayely 3ala 3einek ewledy (Shut your f******g mouth and start pushing)", the mother in pain yells "7aram 3aleikom (F**k)" – both of which are translated as such for the benefit of the reader. Putting aside Moneib's translation antics, it's critical to observe that he has translated what is regular Arabic rudeness into extreme English vulgarity. This probably stems from the mainstream sensitivity of Egyptians when it comes to placing Arabic profanity in their media, albeit accepting English swearing. Moneib is a prominent example of this cultural manifestation since throughout his writings he has taken the artistic liberty of being exceedingly profane in English and yet, keeps his Arabic insults to a bare minimum. At other times Moneib's writing reads like a series of complaints from the voice of a misanthropic teenager. From The Pursuit of Sadness (no, it's not the sequel to the Will Smith blockbuster), Moneib writes, "I am not a happiness seeker. I fear happiness because I got to know how temporary it is. I learned nowadays that it is tied in the legs with sadness. So when you meet happiness, make a space to sister sadness around. She might be a little bit late. But she's coming." This is but one blip from the myriad of Dr Moneib's painstaking philosophies about the darkness of human nature and his own emotional sufferings. Venting his contempt, Moneib takes liberty to address the issue of religion in Egypt. Similar to many of the educated Egyptian populous, he is frustrated by the ever common use of religion by so called 'scholars' in exploiting the masses. Although this is a serious social issue that must be addressed for its lack of regulation and severe consequences, at times, Moneib can be held accountable for taking stereotypical notions too far. In Where the Sky is Paige (most likely, the intended word is beige) he claims, "I live in a country where hair is more important than life itself, people die to force women cover their hair, and to force men have scary beards." Indeed, there are countless examples of women being forced to wear the veil, but it is a wild assumption to claim that a man has died whilst forcing another man to grow his beard. Requiem is an example of the dark side of the self-publishing industry. While it may give a voice to well-versed writers striving to avoid corporate bureaucracy, the lack of standards also grants wannabe wordsmiths a chance to become published posers. Where in some instances, lesser skilled writing can be overlooked when a brilliant mind can be traced between the lines, in the case of Requiem, the whole thing is tasteless and indigestible; this 'book' is nothing more than cloudy thoughts wasting ink and paper.

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Susan Richards-Benson: Born of the Pyramids: Rocky's Story
Published On: 16/09/2013

Susan Richards-Benson spent 7 years living, working and volunteering in Egypt, during which time she had her eyes opened to the harsh reality of working animals in the country. Her passion for animal activism was ignited and Born of the Pyramids: Rocky's Story is Benson's expose of the suffering of Egyptian equines. Narrated through the eyes of a horse named Rocky, the story unfolds from his birth in stables close to the Great Pyramids of Giza, where he is raised to be a performer. Following an unfortunate mishap, Rocky is sold to a vegetable vendor who, unlike the stable owners, is less informed on caring for a horse. Forced into hard labour, Rocky is whisked into a life that finds him both over-worked and malnourished. Though the book seems haphazardly put together, the author succeeds in exposing the harsh realities faced by horses in Egypt. Through Rocky, she engages the reader in various scenarios of maltreatment, such as horses being forced to wear ill-fitting bridles and the painful ritual of having ginger placed under their tails. The latter is done in order to keep the horse's tail raised during performances. What's worse is that horses employed to drag carts around Cairo are often hammered with cheap, used horseshoes, fitted with rusty nails that lead to hoof infections. On the bright side, Richards-Benson also tells of recovery centres and feeding clinics that are dedicated to nursing working horses back to health. But more importantly, she's shown that like many issues in Egypt, the root of many problems lies in people's poor education rather than having cruel intentions. From a literary stance, the prose flows like the diary of a bright, primary school child – the vocabulary is simplistic, but at times expressive. Unfortunately, Benson fails to caress the reader with words, which is essential to a plot where pain is the central driving force. Born of the Pyramids reads as a list of events, enriched to highlight the presence of animal abuse in Egypt. There is no character development, and everyone in the book appears and vanishes, merely to facilitate events. Even the narrator is the same from the first page through to the final chapter and there's no character arc. Though it cannot be credited as a literary accomplishment, Born of the Pyramids does fill the reader with compassion in its stark portrayal of an issue that many are oblivious to. The author also donates a percentage of the book's proceeds to animal charities.

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Cairo Guide: Eight Essential Reads for the Jaded
Published On: 07/09/2013

So, you've finished the classics, spent months deciding on whether Camus or Tolstoy is the one with the deeper understanding of human nature, swallowed enough baroque descriptions and outdated colloquialisms from James Joyce and George Eliot to put you off the Isles altogether, and generally just want a book that provides that same powerful dialogue and engrossing storyline without the frill and banality of most modern publications? We've got eight. Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski A semi-autobiographical, coming-of-age novel about Henry Chinaski as he deals with the effects of growing up during the Great Depression with a physically abusive father, a victimised mother, misplaced rage, disfiguring acne and ambition greater than position. Written with vulgar slang and an acidic tongue, Bukowski's novel delivers a bracing alternative take on the typical, emotionally-driven protagonist and presents an honest and raw account of childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Junky by William S. Burroughs Junky is the by-product of Allen Ginsberg's persistence and Jack Kerouac's success. If not for those two elements, Burroughs would have never compiled this semi-autobiographical novel depicting the life of his alter-ego's (William Lee) involvement in the New York drug scene and his relationships with likeminded deviants. This book epitomises Burroughs' signature style of laconic dialogue and abrupt jumps into different timelines and settings, making it a perfect introductory platform to delve into his other, more chaotic works. After Dark by Haruki Murakami This metaphysical novella ignores the limitations of spatial boundaries to bring into focus one particular night in the life of two Japanese sisters, as each walks through a different plane of existence while struggling to discover the common link between them before one is lost forever. An unrivalled master of the abstract, Murakami's ability to validate dreams as logic and merge it seamlessly into a technological reality makes this book a colourfully phantasmal experience. Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts An epic autobiographical novel about the life and experiences of a wanted Australian convict who escapes to India in a desperate attempt to start anew as a free man – think the orphaned lovechild of Dostoevsky and Rudyard Kipling. Roberts is unmatched in his ability to dissect the natures of the places, streets and people he meets using only minute, outward descriptions that most authors fail to notice. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie A hilariously sardonic diary-styled novel about a boy growing up in an Indian Reservation and his desire to distance himself from a future of alcoholism and lassitude that plagues most Native American communities. Alexie finds humour in tragedy and highlights this beautifully by utilising the services of cartoonist, Ellen Forney, who drew crude caricatures to accompany the quirky, self-depreciative and, ultimately, relatable depiction of an awkward kid who didn't fit in. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote A journalistic masterpiece detailing the events of the murder of Herbert Clutter, his wife, and two of their four children by Richard Hickock and Perry Smith. An unbelievably well-researched and written documentation that left no stone unturned and no heart untouched. It is very rare that a book based on an historical event is told in such a way that it captures the humanity and essence of every character encountered within its pages. This element is what makes In Cold Blood the standalone of its genre as well as a novel worthy of the acclaim it received. Anthills of the Savannah by Chinua Achebe This politically-driven, satirical novel by Nigerian author, Chinua Achebe, is set in a fictitious African nation afflicted with the genuine traits usually associated with the third world: an informed military autocracy, pandering state officials, endangered journalists and a population that uses humour to cope. Achebe manages time and time again to incorporate the vibrancy and joviality within African societies and makes it known that Africa's strength lies within its people's ability to look at desperation and anguish in the face and smile. The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks Dr Oliver Sacks in a renowned neurologist and medical author who presents his most unusual cases in a style that appeals to both the specialist and the layman. As a compilation of such cases, The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat is a set of short stories about Sacks' personal and professional relationships with these truly unique patients. While this may seem like an odd choice to recommend, this book is an homage to the medical marvel that is the human brain and how even the smallest changes in its intricacies can cause such bizarre consequences. Happy reading!

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Neil Gaiman: The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Published On: 04/08/2013

A man goes back to the village in which he grew up in to attend a funeral. As he drives through the streets of the place he once called home, childhood memories come flooding back to him; he stops at an old farm where a friend of his used to live - a girl called Lettie Hempstock. They used to play together when he was about seven years old. Lettie is not home, but her mother invites him in and he visits the pond in the backyard. Lettie used to call it an ocean. Sitting by the water, he remembers the day his family's lodger stole his father's car and committed suicide in it; an event that somehow awoke ancient powers that would have better been left undisturbed. From that point onwards, things get progressively more bizarre in Neil Gaiman's latest novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane. As it turns out, Lettie was no ordinary girl and her family is pretty out of this world as well. Her mother can 'fold time' and make people forget things ever happened and her grandmother remembers being around for the Big Bang. Gaiman carefully sets his readers up for what is coming. When the narrating main character discovers an open wound in between his toes, kind of like a hole, the author explores it in a way that lets the reader sense the hole spells trouble - and indeed it does. There is one fairly big twist in the story – in relation to the aforementioned wound – and aside from that, Gaiman generally tends to give the reader a sense of foreboding. Nevertheless, he manages to keep his audience captivated throughout the novel. His storytelling is eloquent and descriptive enough to give a good impression of the story's setting, but also leaves sufficient room for the reader's own imagination, which – especially in fantasy – is a key factor of a well-written book. Because the two main characters are children, and the story has strong fantasy elements, The Ocean at the End of the Lane feels like reading a children's book at times. Curiously, we never learn the name of the little boy that narrates the story or the time it is set in. As a whole, the latest Gaiman is a thoroughly engaging read. This might well be one of those books that you can't put down until you've finished it. In any case, this book is worth reading twice, because certain things that are revealed in the beginning will get new meaning when you add specific knowledge you gain later in the story.

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Lily Koppel: Astronaut Wives Club
Published On: 28/07/2013

Behind every successful man stands a great woman – or so the saying goes. Too bad we rarely get to see or hear anything about those women. Lily Koppel's The Astronaut Wives Club aims to change that by telling the story of the wives of active NASA between 1959 and 1972. With all eyes on the man going into space, one can't help but wonder what it must be like for his significant other waiting for his safe return home. "If not for the wives." Koppel notes in the first chapter, "man might never have walked on the moon." While this statement is true, the writer still paints a pretty sad and one-dimensional portrait of the majority of these women. They come across as airheads; quibbling about smoking in cars, concerned with what colour lipstick to wear when photographed for the cover of Time magazine, and wondering whether or not they will get to meet Jacky Kennedy. The emphasis is on them being good housewives; setting everything aside in honour of their husband's career and working jobs to get him through university, whilst foregoing their own education. Whatever emotional insight one hopes to find in the lives of these women is limited to whatever they told the press at the time. Judging from the epilogue, Koppel interviewed many of them personally and must have accumulated a treasure trove of insightful quotes. Curiously, almost none of that material made it into the book. Without taking a feminist stance, this book is nothing short of ridiculous. It is understood that this is how women were viewed in 50s and 60s America, but that is no reason to keep that stereotype intact fifty years later. If the goal of this book is to make readers feel sorry for these 'astrowives', then that mission has been accomplished with honours. To be fair though, the astronauts themselves aren't portrayed too favourably either; they are mostly characterised as reprehensible men that cheat on their wives and compete with each other in testosterone-filled petty contests. Aside from the misogyny, the book has several other issues. Initially, there are seven astrowives, later followed by another nine, and then fourteen more, making it rather difficult to keep up with who is who. On top of that, Koppel is curiously brief about the most important one of them all – Neil Armstrong – and completely ignores his significant other. The first man on the moon is barely mentioned and his wife is not even named, even though the Apollo 11 mission is discussed in the book. To make it all that much stranger, Janet Armstrong does pop up in a few shots in the picture section of the book. There is a website to go with the book, www.astronautwivesclub.com, but unsurprisingly, it is also remarkably shallow, providing little-to-no extra information on either the book or its characters.

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