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Read a Book: Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart

14 Mar

Having consumed an awful lot of Sci Fi and / or Post-Apocalyptic books over the past year – Justin Cronin’s The Passage, John Birmingham’s Without Warning, Jonathan Lethem’s Chronic City etc etc – I had high expectations for this novel.



Super Sad True Love Story

Super Sad True Love Story



Not only was there the excellent write up in the New Yorker’s “20 Under 40” issue, but reviews in such highly regarded papers including the Washington Post and New York Times made Gary Shtyngart’s new novel out to be one of the greatest satirical, sci fi, dystopian novels of recent years.

A quick plot overview also makes this out to be a great read:

Set in a world sometime in the (not too distant) future, main man Lenny Abramov returns to New York City from a sojourn in Rome – back to his job (converting ‘High Net Worth Individuals’ to live forever) while perusing his love for the beautiful Eunice Park.

His is a world where everyone is connected via their äppäräti (like an iPad fueled with Facebook on steroids) and work for multi-merged companies like UnitedContinentalDeltamerica and ColgatePalmoliveYum!BrandsViacomCredit. China rules the world, the Yuan is the main currency and  1 Euro is worth $USD8.64.

Overlaying this is Lenny’s flailing attempts to love Eunice, have her love him back, while an impending crisis of astronomical proportions brews towards the inevitable end.

Like Brett Easton Ellis writing for Futurama, this is a fantastically over-the-top novel steeped with enough satirical commentary to salvage it from being a comic book sans the pictures.

One of the oddest, most uncomfortable love stories you’re likely to read, the main issue is that from about a third of the way through, the story get’s stuck in a loop that it struggles to get out of. Like the incesent news feeds on Twitter or Facebook, the noise of the novel is interesting (made up of Instant Messages, Diary Entries and Observations), however it doesn’t push along the plot.

Once escaping, the story gallops towards its exhilarating conclusion, though a good edit would have made this a more excellent rather than okay read.

Robot Rating: 6.5/10

Book #13#50bookchallenge






Read a Book: One Day by David Nicholls

8 Mar

I’m not usually one for ‘Rom-Com’ type books. Along with ‘Chik-Lit’ and anything to do with Harry Potter – I’m in high level avoidance.


One Day by David Nicholls

One Day by David Nicholls


However – as the person who lent me this one has never been wrong with her recommendations, and with a cover drenched in plaudits from the likes of Nick Hornby

Big, Absorbing, Smart, fantastically readable… brilliant on the details of the last decades of British cultural and political life” and  Marian Keyes

“Incredibly Moving”

I thought I’d give it a go.

Set up to tell the story of Dexter and Emma – starting with a drunken night together at the end of University on July 15 1988 – each chapter is one year later. Throughout the next twenty years we follow Dex and Em as they find love, loose it, struggle with jobs, life and more.

With such a simple formula, this When Harry Met Sally type story could have easily fallen in a heap of clichés, or recalled any movie with Sandra Bullock. Instead Nicholls skirts around the predictable, peppering only when necessary, the bulk of the book an often funny, sometimes painful but always enjoyable exploration of friendship set against the backdrop of British life. 

Robot Rating: 7.5/10

Book #12#50bookchallenge


Amazon Link

Book Depository Link

Heard about the #50bookchallenge? (Books 1-10)

5 Mar

Neither had I until I started getting tweeted to about joining in. A popular hashtag for those out there who are avid reader – the aim is to read 50 books over 12 months and tweet the book number and details once you’ve finished another tome.

Some recent examples include:

@FelixFelicisXX books #3finished… #50bookchallenge … so far this has been a fail

@loveisalwaysnew Now #reading @ashwinsanghi ‘Chankya Chant’, published by Westland publications #Book13 #50bookchallenge

and my own first post:
@chloerobot Finished The Lacuna No. 10 in the #50bookchallenge – contender for Top Read of 2011 – review here: #books…


Unlike the Project365 communities (where people take a photo a day over a year and blog their snaps) the 50BookChallenge seems to have far fewer involved.

Nonetheless – as a big reader and even bigger list maker – this appeals to me on so many levels.

So to start the list off – here are Books #1 – #10 I’ve read so far in 2011.

#1 After America – John Birmingham (Robot Rating 6.5/10)

#2 The Finkler Question – Howard Jacobson (Robot Rating 7/10)

#3 Life – Keith Richards (Robot Rating 7.5/10)

#4 Skippy Dies – Paul Murray (Robot Rating 8/10)

#5 No Time To Think – Howard Rosenburg & Charles S Feldman (Robot Rating 6.5/10)

#6 How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe – Charles Yu (Robot Rating 7/10)

#7 Chocolate Wars – Deborah Cadbury (Robot Rating 7/10)

#8 The Gone Away World – Nick Harkaway (Robot Rating 8.5/10)

#9 The Imperfectionists – Tom Rachman (Robot Rating 8/10)

#10 The Lancuna -Barbara Kingsolver (Robot Rating 9/10)


Now I’m addicted – so hoping that I can keep up the average of 4.16666 books a month needed to complete the #50bookchallenge.





Read a Book: A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

3 Mar

“Time’s a goon right? Isn’t that the expression?” Jules had drifted over from across the room. “I’ve never heard that… time is a goon?”

A Visit from the Goon Squad

A Visit from the Goon Squad

Apparently so. Which makes Time and the passing of it the very loose theme that loosely weaves this quirky, rock n roll laden book into coherency. Listed time and time again on numerous reviewers’ and authors Top Reads for 2010 (many of them found on the very necessary Book Site The Millions – like here and here ), usually incorporating the words; punk rock, drugs and rock and roll, 1970s music and washed up punk rockers – and the attraction was instant.

Unlike many books that try to set themselves against a backdrop of a nostalgic musical era, The Goon Squad was a compelling, quirky, sometimes uncomfortable read. Structured as a series of short stories, the central characters each have the voice of protagonist, as the story zig zags through time, the speaker’s identity not always immediately clear, clues as to the existence or age of children, state of marriage or mind the indicative clues.

At the centre of this time shifted story is Bennie Salazar, once a 1970s Punk Rocker, in the present, a washed up producer struggling on both the musical and matrimonial front. From there the stories spiral outwards, taking in Sasha – his kleptomaniac assistant, Scotty – the once musically talented, now virtually homeless trash collector, Dolly the tortured publicist, Kitty the B grade celebrity… and the list goes on.

As time lurches backwards and forwards, from the early hay days of playing punk rock and slam dancing, through turbulent twenties and thirties of broken love and friendships, drug and mental abuse through to the misery and acceptance of middle age, we follow and slowly warm to these broken characters as they fight off the tyranny of the inevitable Goon Squad that is time.

With an ending that will please any true music fan, this should get a look in for your top reads of 2011. And if you’re accused of being late to the party – just blame it on the Goon Squad.

“Time’s a Goon right? You gonna let that Goon push you around?” Scotty shook his head “The Goon won”

Robot Rating: 9/10 (and yet another contender for Top 5 Books of the Year)


Churnalism: Now on the Web

28 Feb

For those of you who have read Nick Davies brilliant – if not frightening book Flat Earth News – or for those who consume more than one news article a week – will be aware of the concept of Churnalism.

That is “a form of journalism in which press releases, wire stories and other forms of pre-packaged material are used to create articles in newspapers and other news media in order to meet increasing pressures of time and cost without undertaking further research or checking…”

As the amount of media on and offline continues to grow – and the reduction in ad revenue continues to drop (resulting in less journalists) – there’s no argument that this practice will continue to flourish.

To give some more transparency into this – the UK’s Media Standards Trust has just launched – which it describes as the “Churn Engine to distinguish journalism from churnalism”.

The concept is simple – paste in a selection of text from a news article and the site will determine how many other times this text has been reproduced in other publications (indicating a re-hashed press release).

Attempting to use this on our Aussie publications (so far) has put them in safe ground. None of the articles selected from the SMH,  or the Daily Telegraph suggested Churnalism at work. Whether this is because the Churnalism site is more UK centric, or our local journalists are more skilled at rehashing press releases (that the John Galliano story wasn’t a re-hashed press release surprises me) – I’m not sure.

However – looking at some of the suggested examples on the site, it’s clear that there is a lot of re-writing rather than investigating going on in our world’s media.

Surprised? Me neither.

** Find an example of an Australian publication that returns Churn – contact me or respond in the Comments Section **

Read a Book: The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

28 Feb
To be honest, I was a bit hesitant about taking on Barbara Kingsolver’s latest novel. Weighing in at over 600 pages, I had flashbacks to the late Nineties as a ploughed through her previous novel The Poisonwood Bible. While I remember enjoying the book – I did find it a test of endurance. 

Her latest novel also threw up early hurdles that I had to consider – mainly that I knew next to nothing about Mexico (where the first half of the novel is set) and even less about the artist Frida Kahlo and her husband Diego Rivera (who are pivotal characters throughout the novel).

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

Over the first 100 pages, I felt myself loosing the struggle to understand, as the various dated entries noted by a still to be identified narrator skips across a montage of Mexican happenings, and slowly we learn that we are following the novel’s central character Harrison Shephard and his man-hunting mother.

But then in an instant, as Shepherd meets Diego Rivera for the first time, and his relationship with him and Frida unfolds, The Lacuna quickly becomes an addictive, fascinating read – so much so that you’re more than happy to have hundreds of pages to get through.

Plot-wise, the novel follows Harrison Shepherd from 1929 to 1951 from his childhood in Mexico through to his adulthood in the US. The first half of the novel focuses on his time in the Kahlo / Rivera household, and his interactions with the exiled Communist Lev (Leon) Trotsky.

From there we head to the US as Shepherd embarks on a journey as a writer, set against an historical backdrop of WW2, McCarthyism and Communist Paranoia that gripped the US after the War.

While only the keenest of history and art buffs will recognise where fact ends and fiction begins, for the rest of us, even those with virtually no prior knowledge of the period or of the Mexican artists, this should be a fascinating, exhilarating while also an informative read.

Robot Rating: 9/10 (and contender for Top 5 Books of the Year)


Read a Book: The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

19 Feb

Ahhh the News. So controversial, so fascinating, so now. From the satiric novel Scoop by Evelyn Waugh, to Gonzo writings of Hunter S Thomspon, through to the numerous Murdoch inspired tales, the story of the people behind the stories has always provided for a good plot, mixed with some racy politics. Add to that the incessant chattering about the Death of the Newspaper and the Threat of the Internet on Journalism, and you’ve got a book waiting to happen.

The Imperfectionists

The Imperfectionists

For London journalist Tom Rachman, it’s these themes, combined with his own journalism background, that has lead to the creation of The Imperfectionists. Set in the newsroom of a small, flailing Italian Newspaper, and flitting between the past (from the 1950s) to the present (2007), the story builds on the standalone stories of each of the people that make up the newspaper.

It’s these characters that make the novel; from the fastidious copy editor, to the green young stringer, the loveless financial officer to the obsessive, slightly manic reader. As each story plays out themes of day to day human suffering (infidelity, broken friendships, lies and loss), the constant sub plot is the incessant demand for deadlines and headlines, and the pressure that falling readership and increasing online competition eventually has on the paper.

More gratifying than gritty or gripping, Rachman’s skills is balancing the stories of human foibles against a world where Saddam Hussein is on a rampage, unrest in Cairo, devastation in Rwanda, and where Britney has shaved her head. With a cracker of a revelation at the end of each chapter, the novel is a blend of newsroom satire and Roald Dahl’s Switch Bitch.

Robot Rating: 8/10