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The Last Two Days

16 October, 2011 Leave a comment

With the announcement of this year’s Man Booker Prize only two days away, I’m down to my last two books: Patrick McGuinness’s tale of the last days of Ceausescu’s Romania, The Last Hundred Days, and D. J. Taylor‘s period drama Derby Day. (See how the title of the post works on multiple levels!)  There’s a good chance I’ll have one of them finished before Tuesday evening and an outside chance that I’ll finish both of them.

But the important thing for now is that I completed the shortlist. Read more…

What the Book?!

6 September, 2011 1 comment
Man Booker Prize

Image via Wikipedia

Boy, was I wrong! But not as wrong as the Man Booker Prize judges. Here’s the shortlist they’ve just announced:

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman
Snowdrops by A.D. Miller

Read more…

My Stab at the Shortlist

6 September, 2011 Leave a comment

The Man Booker Prize shortlist will be announced later today. Here’s my guess as to which of the books will make it, based on what I’ve read so far.

The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
On Canaan’s Side by Sebastian Barry

I think the above three are virtually certain to make the shortlist. I’m considerably less confident about the rest, especially as I haven’t read them all.

But I’m going to go for:

Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch
The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers
The Last Hundred Days by Patrick McGuinness

Six of the Best

5 September, 2011 Leave a comment

I’m currently making good progress in my challenge to read the entire Man Booker Prize longlist. So far I have finished six of the thirteen books.

The Sisters Brothers by Canadian author Patrick deWitt,  is a western, darkly humorous in tone. The eponymous brothers are Charlie, who loves the violent life the brothers share as hired killers, and the narrator, Eli, who longs for a more peaceful existence. The novel follows what Eli hopes will be their last job. Often amusing, sometimes thrilling, occasionally moving, this is a solid novel and well worth a read.

Pigeon English is the tale of Harrison Opoku, an eleven-year-old Ghanaian boy, recently arrived in the UK, and his response to the violent murder of a boy from his school. Narrated by Harrison, its attempts to get inside the mind of a child didn’t quite work for me, the supporting characters sometimes seem stereotyped, while the parts narrated by a pigeon just came across as gimmicky. That said, it had its moments, and was ultimately quite touching, if a little depressing. A decent first-time novel, just not my thing. Read more…

A Gloriously Godless Weekend – Part 3

11 June, 2011 1 comment

(Part 1) (Part 2)

Saturday’s afternoon session began with a panel entitled “Women Atheist Activists” although it was unclear whether that was to be the subject of the discussion or simply a description of the panelists. It seemed to serve as both.

Paula Kirby spoke first and made it clear that she was an atheist activist but not particularly active in the area of women’s rights and had never really experienced or noticed any sexism in the movement, so wasn’t really sure why she was there. I have to admit to being a little unsure myself. Kirby has plenty to offer but seemed to be on this panel only because she was a woman, ironically an apparent example of the kind of sexism she hasn’t noticed.

Read more…

A Gloriously Godless Weekend – Part 2

10 June, 2011 3 comments

(Part 1)

Less than eight hours after getting to bed I was on my way back to the Alexander for Saturday’s session. Tired and mildly hung over, I was a little apprehensive about the length of the program. Even had my eyes been at their brightest and my tail at its bushiest, I would have been concerned that at some point in the day my brain would simply refuse to take in any more information. But I needn’t have worried. As packed as the day was, I never found myself losing interest. The talks were without exception informative and engrossing, and there was plenty of entertainment to be had outside. Read more…

A Gloriously Godless Weekend – Part 1

8 June, 2011 4 comments

Last weekend saw Dublin’s Alexander Hotel host the World Atheist Conference (or Convention, nobody seemed to be quite sure). Over 300 atheists – and a few theists –  from all over the world gathered to hear some of the world’s best-known atheists speak on subjects such as secular education, blasphemy laws, communicating atheism and the rise of Islamism, as well as to meet and discuss these and other topics with like-minded people. As a “militant” atheist (i.e one who goes to “Atheists in the pub” on a regular basis) living in Dublin, I bought my ticket early.

The weekend began – as all weekends should – on Thursday. “Atheists in the Church” was a pre-conference gathering held in a nicely ironic setting, a bar that used to be a church. As a fairly active member of Atheist Ireland I was invited to have dinner first with a few other AI members and some of the speakers.  I had a great chat with Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, and also met some of the other speakers including Rebecca Watson, Tom Melchiorre and Bobbie Kirkhart.

There was a good mix at the bar: regular AI members, people who’d travelled from far and wide and locals who couldn’t make the conference but wanted to be part of things anyway. I reluctantly but sensibly bowed out early enough to catch a bus home, as I expected the rest of the weekend to be hard on the wallet, not to mention the liver. Read more…

New Year’s Revolutions

4 January, 2011 1 comment

Ah, what better time to re-evaluate one’s life than when the year is brand spanking new and full of possibilities? Well, if you ask me, a few days later, as it’s probably counter-productive to attempt difficult lifestyle changes in the middle of a long weekend.

So now that the new year has properly started and normal service has been resumed, here are some of the things I intend to accomplish over the next twelve months:

(And yes, I mean revolutions. I’m not just resolving, I’m revolving. Or revolting.)

Read more…

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What a piece of work is a man

24 October, 2010 Leave a comment

Via a rather weak connection with one of the film’s producers, I came into possession of a free ticket for the première of Man Made Men, a low-budget Irish film. [This film had originally been shown at the Galway Film Festival in 2009 but had been significantly re-edited before its Dublin première in October 2010.]  It’s the brainchild of solicitor Alex Fegan who as well as writing, directing and producing is also credited with the cinematography and film editing. His co-producer Helen Sheridan wore most of the remaining hats.

The ambitious but rather muddled plot concerns what happens when a student with the unlikely name of Benjamin Ezekiel (Rory Doherty) creates some sort of artificial “life forms” with the intention of proving that God doesn’t exist. It’s never quite clear whether these life forms are supposed to be biological or virtual, although they seem to have a real physical presence inside a box. Despite the apparently impressive achievement of creating beings who live and reproduce, Ezekiel is unable to produce a convincing simulacrum of human society, and turns to the Bible as a guide. Read more…

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Gorillas, Girls, and Specious Nonsense

9 October, 2010 Leave a comment

This is my report on the launch of a creationist book The Origin of Specious Nonsense. It previously appeared on the Atheist Ireland website. In reproducing it here I have made some minor formatting changes, added a few links and corrected one typo but I have left the text unchanged (despite my awareness that it could use some polishing). I’ve kept the sub-headings that were added by an Atheist Ireland editor as I think they improve it, but the rest – including the photographs – is entirely my own work.

Author John J May flanked by Darwin, a gorilla and two female models in form-fitting t-shirts

John J. May and friends

I arrived a little late at the book launch of The Origin of Specious Nonsense to find the author John J. May, already in full swing, railing against the “offensive” letters from skeptics that had appeared in newspapers. He defended the right of the Minister for Science Conor Lenihan to launch his book which, he claimed, was to be done in a personal capacity and was not an endorsement of the contents of this book. He did not seem to understand why so many people were so vehemently opposed to this. The problem, of course, is that a government minister has a duty to consider whether something he does – even in a personal capacity – conflicts with his position. In this case, his apparent endorsement of an anti-scientific book was an issue of considerable concern and justified anger.

Read more…

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