The Book That Cannot Be Read – The Mysterious Voynich Manuscript


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National Geographic explores the mystery of the Voynich Manuscript – an ancient tome discovered by chance in 1912 by the book dealer Wilfrid Voynich. This documentary explores the great lengths that have gone into trying to decipher the manuscript, which was written in cipher during the 17th century.

The book itself has many illustrations of plants and seems to be a scientific study into herbology. However, further research has shown that certain illustrations can be made to ‘move’ by spinning the book around, thus giving researchers the impression that it could have been an attempt to record alchemical knowledge. This, along with the astronomical, cosmological and pharmaceutical images has led many to associate the text with many ancient European doctors who were famed throughout history to have worked ‘miracles’ with their potions.

Many codebreakers and cryptographers have tried to crack the ciphers used in the book, including those from WWI and WWII; however the Voynich manuscript still remains one of the most mysterious books of all time.

Is the Voynich manuscript real, or a hoax? I guess we won’t know for a long time yet!



Gollum Vs. Smeagol Rap Battle


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A new spin on Smeagol’s split-personality syndrome – and he wins hands down because he ‘drops the bass’. LMAO!

2012 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

19,000 people fit into the new Barclays Center to see Jay-Z perform. This blog was viewed about 79,000 times in 2012. If it were a concert at the Barclays Center, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Best Books of 2012 Round-Up


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It’s that time of year again when I do a little retrospective of best books. I’m quite surprised that I’ve been a little frugal with my 5/5 stars, but 2012 has certainly put me in touch with some awesome authors I have never heard of or read before. So, without further ado, here’s a taste of the best bits of how my reading year went.

Flowers for Algernon

By far the most heartbreaking and astonishing book I have come across during the year. It’s one hell of a story that really examines the fleeting nature of our lives, our achievements and our losses. Nothing prepares you for the amazement and devastation you will feel when Charlie Gordon, a simpleton with an IQ of 18 undergoes breakthrough brain surgery to increase his intelligence levels. His one goal in life is to be intelligent, yet when this wish is granted, he is unaware of the horrible revelations it brings with it. As the veil of dumb ignorance is slowly lifted, his perception of friends and family also change. On his journey of discovery he gets a taste of emotions and thoughts he never knew existed. ‘Flowers for Algernon‘ is a beautiful illustration of how bitter the fruit of knowledge really can be.


My first attempt at Eugenides was absolute bliss. ‘Middlesex’ explores themes of incest and family history through the eyes of Cal, a hermaphrodite. “I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day of January 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974. . . My birth certificate lists my name as Calliope Helen Stephanides. My most recent driver-s license…records my first name simply as Cal.” The opening paragraph on it’s own is electrifying enough. I couldn’t put it down and if you choose to read this, neither will you. Hilarious and tragic in equal amounts with just the right dose of literary intelligence to keep the literary critic in you smiling too.


My first attempt at Banana Yoshimoto also left me with warm, fuzzy feelings. Japanese fiction is so beautiful, and ‘Kitchen’ embodies faithful representations of human emotions with that trademark simplicity that Japanese writers seem to have a knack for. This book is like a celebration of death and life, and reminds us that we must cherish the people around us when we still have them. This book reads like a series of short stories. Here’s my review of it.

Hell Screen

Akutagawa, the father of modern Japanese literature, translated by Jay Rubin. What more could you want? This is a short, short read that packs one hell of a punch. Akutagawa brings out the delicious lacquerwork and intricate embellishment of Japanese folklore in this collection of sharp, disturbing tales about art and sacrifice. Read my review here.

A Room with a View

Romance novels, I do not like. However, I am willing to change that with a book like ‘A Room With A View’. Forster’s perspective of love is what really endeared this novel to me. It’s not lovey-dovey, wishy-wishy. Real love is messy, it’s more to do with gut feelings than rationality. It’s a tricky path to negotiate and our two lovers here certainly fall from grace more than once trying to find their way to one another. Read my review here.

That’s it folks! Those are my best pickings of 2012. What are yours?

Memorable Quote | ‘Fahrenheit 451’ by Ray Bradbury


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Do you know that books smell like nutmeg or some spice from a foreign land? I loved to smell them when I was a boy. Lord, there were a lot of lovely books once, before we let them go.

I love finding quotes like this. Bradbury has summed up beautifully that evasive smell of books that we all love so much. Anyone know of any parfumier’s who have succeeded in bottling it?

Books were only one type of receptacle where we stored a lot of things we were afraid we might forget. There is nothing magical in them at all. The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us.

Book Review | ‘The Woman in Black’ by Susan Hill


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The Woman in BlackThe Woman in Black by Susan Hill

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

“I have sat here at my desk, day after day, night after night, a blank sheet of paper before me, unable to lift my pen, trembling and weeping too.”

This was one of those books that had come to my attention thanks to the Hollywood remake. The visuals in the trailer were fabulously dark and grotesque and held a sort of promise of the type of Gothic we just don’t get to see nowadays. But that was the movie, and I so desperately wanted to see it that I had to first hunt down the book. Which, as you know, is just the weird order in which I do things.

I finally managed to get a copy and settled down to be scared out of my wits by this ‘Jane Austen-esque ghost story‘, but to my disappointment found it very dry in description and wanting in the scare department. Maybe I had far too high an expectation of what is in reality, just a mediocre chilling tale about a vengeful spirit who haunts a remote backwater village.

The basic outline of the story goes like this: The story begins with Arthur Kipps, who begins to write about his terrible, real-life encounter with a ghost during his early days as an up and coming solicitor. He recounts how a business trip sent him to the remote  and forbidden Eel Marsh House to attend the funeral of the late Alice Drablow and complete the menial task of putting her legal papers in order. However, when Kipps asks about the Drablow estate, no one wants to speak about it. A mysterious woman dressed in black with a decaying countenance also seems to haunt him wherever he goes.

When he asks to be taken across the Nine Lives Causeway to the estate, no one is willing to take him, except one man. There in all its wild beauty and agonising splendor he encounters Eel Marsh House, a solitary Gothic mansion, standing alone, proud and teeming with terrible secrets. As he spends his days and nights there, hears the awful bumping sounds from the locked nursery room and witnesses the ghostly screams of a drowned child on the gurgling causeway, he realises he must leave quickly, or risk going mad.

“Whatever was about, whoever I had seen, and heard rocking, and who had passed me by just now, whoever had opened the locked door was not ‘real’. No. But what was ‘real’? At that moment I began to doubt my own reality.”

This had the opportunity to become a great ghost story. It’s just I’m really upset that Susan Hill sinks into the comfort of Victorian descriptions which make it too stuffy and constricting. Language-wise some areas are far too overly done while other parts could have benefited from more visual description.

I loved the idea of an isolated house that stood almost like a lighthouse in the middle of the deadly causeway. The house itself is very scary and the descriptions of it will stay with me for a long time. I almost half wish it existed, like Manderley in ‘Rebecca’ or the mansion in Shirley Jackson‘s ‘The Haunting of Hill House‘. The sounds across the causeway, and the idea that the death of a child is resurrected and replayed there every night in the swirling mists is also very disconcerting.

What I really wanted was a spotlight on the woman in black herself. She takes a back seat when she really shouldn’t. Even the house eclipses her.

I had some discussions with other people and their experience of the book compared to the movie and theatre versions and all have said the same thing: the original story is quite bland. I am hoping to see the stage version of this with a class of mine and hope it’s as good as they say it is! But one thing is for sure, it will be vastly different from the book, because every stage and film production that has been made in the past has taken liberties with the story and changed it dramatically to make it better. More proof that Hill was being a bit economical with her story?

View all my reviews

Top Ten Most Hated Books


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Recently I stumbled across a comment made by a reader of mine (Caroline Tien) who expressed, quite eloquently, her complete and utter disappointment of Janet Fitch’s ‘White Oleander’ (click here for comment, and scroll to bottom).  Now I love honest reviews of books and find it really refreshing when someone has the guts to say otherwise. I myself being a reader that prides herself on reading what is GOOD, not what is in vogue value that immensely. However I often find some readers simply join the herd and say how damn interesting it was, when it damn well wasn’t (*cough* 50shades *cough*).

Anyway, Caroline made some really valid points which, even though I could see and feel as I was reading it at the time, didn’t really disturb me much. But it obviously had a huge negative impact on her. She explained how Fitch ruined the story with her obsessive use of metaphors and melodrama. Among other things she touched upon the completely unlikable characters that portrayed women as unstable  nympho types (feminists unite!).

I can’t discount any of the above. It does exist in Fitch’s writing, and in huge helpings, but I personally loved all the metaphors and melodrama. But it got me thinking upon the REASONS people may love one book and completely dislike another. Like most bloggers in the blogopshere, I have my little collection of titles I love to loathe, which I simply do not get (regardless of how many times I’ve sat and tried to read) or because something about the thing offends me be it literary boo-boos or otherwise.

One blogger posted about how renowned author’s also have similar problems with certain books. My favourite is Ian Rankin’s rant, as it really struck a chord:

Ian Rankin, novelist

I haven’t ever wanted to hurl it to the floor, but I’ve started Midnight’s Children several times and been unable to get past the first 10 pages. Not sure why; it’s been a few years since I gave it a go . . . maybe time to try again! I loved Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men, but was told by author friends that Blood Meridian is his masterpiece. I tried it and couldn’t get halfway through. Just didn’t find it interesting. Also couldn’t finish The Road. How can a book be harrowing and pedestrian at the same time? Enjoyed The Hobbit as a teenager; gave up on The Lord of the Rings after about 30 pages

It’s so good to know I’m not the only one who HATES McCarthy (he’s so DRY) and that I’m not alone in thinking how inaccessible ‘On The Road’ was. Maybe I need to do a bit of hillbillying around the USA to get what it’s all about. I’m from the UK, we don’t really have coming-of-age-bumpkining-around novels… I fear the subject is all too remote for us.

But the sad thing about it is this; I seriously DO want to get these novels. They’re big and beautiful and highly respected. Being the only one who doesn’t get it makes me feel slightly dumb.

So, here is my inspired response to Caroline’s comment and a list of my top ten most hated books in no particular order and why. Enjoy!

1. Lost Souls – Poppy Z. Brite
Lost Souls

Gratuitous violence, sex and gore; vampiric LGBT incest; characters who act without thinking; a plotless plot and eating of placenta’s… Lost Souls? I damn well think so! On the upside, there are oodles of Chartereuse drinking going on, which is about the only positive thing about this novel of vampire’s who have lived for so long that they don’t know what to do with themselves. If you have still NOT grown out of your teenage-ennui, then you might like this. Otherwise grown-ups stay well away!!

2. My Swordhand is Singing – Marcus Sedgwick
My Swordhand is Singing (My Swordhand is Singing, #1)

What could have been a good vampire novel that began to truly look around the geographical period of the times fell flat on its face with a very clichéd, stereotypical representation of the invading Turkish army. Why does this bother me? I’m sick and tired of writers representing my people as bloodthirsty barbarians who are a blight on the face of the earth. When are we ever going to see a good Turkish guy? Never it seems, because it’s just too easy (and safe) to call us the undesirable ‘other’. Do me a favour. Leave it. It’s been done to death, and I think people are getting the idea that it’s all bullshit anyway. Armies invade, they kill, they conquer. Everybody was doing it back in the day. Deal with it.

3. On Writing – Stephen King
On Writing

… we were prescribed this book as required reading for our creative writing classes. I bought it, read it, and was extremely ANGRY. It was a complete waste of money and time as it was King ranting on about the time when he wiped his arse with nettle leaves when he was a boy, with several chapters thrown in about his near-fatal car accident. Very little to do with actual CRAFT of writing itself. It’s all hot-air and pompous reminiscing guys. Only buy if you truly want to read it for THAT purpose. You have been warned.

4. Free Food for MillionairesMin Jin Lee
Free Food for Millionaires

Don’t be fooled by the gorgeous cover. It’s a complete shambles. I love Eastern writers and writing, yet this debut novel by Korean author Min Jin Lee left a lot to be desired. Full of over-achieving young Korean characters who have all the opportunities in the world but fritter their time away feeling lost and lonely in the family and sexual relationships. All make characters were portrayed as nasty, and female ones – well, I couldn’t identify with. Avoid like the plague.

5. Woman in Black – Susan Hill
The Woman in Black

Works terrible as a novel, but could see the brilliance of it on the stage! The only scary bit was the moments describing the knocking sound in the nursery. For a more superior experience try Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Haunting of Hill House‘.

6. The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
The Book Thief

Simply. Did. Not. Get. I dislike it when something as serious as WW2 is described in a trite, childish manner. This is the same reason why I didn’t enjoy ‘The Boy in Striped Pyjama’s’ so much either.

7. The Catcher in the Rye
The Catcher in the Rye

One I’m ashamed to say I didn’t get either. Holden Caulfield’s immature rants failed to find a place of recognition in me. I’ve never been as petulant as all that. I think I’m seeing a pattern in my most disliked books. Most are centered around teen angst!

8. The Unbearable Lightness of Being
The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Required reading for our creative writing class (again), and only because our lecturer at the time was such a bloody fan of Kundera. He waxed lyrical about him. I failed to see the greatness of his prose. Very inaccessible. I prefer Borges. Any day.

9. Lost World
Lost World

I disliked this novel so much. And made it very clear WHY. And have had a heated debate about the merits of Melo’s writing. You can read my thoughts about it in my review.

10. Spring Flowers, Spring Frost
Spring Flowers, Spring Frost

So bad that it has put me off reading Kadare for life. I really didn’t know where the story was going, and lack of structure really puts me off. Story-writing is an art of blending ideas, thoughts and language. If after reading halfway through it I still can’t find anything of merit, then I give up. I also suspect that it was victim of a very bad translation. Too bad.

So there it is, my embarrassing list of dead-end novels. But at least now I feel better in knowing that even well-known writers have the same difficulties.

Book Review | Botchan by Natsume Soseki


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BotchanBotchan by Natsume Sōseki

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Botchan‘ is an amusing account based on the ups and downs of the teaching profession which is closely related to Soseki’s own short-lived stint as a teacher in Matsuyama. It is one of the most widely read novels in Japan and I can see why; anyone who has ever been a student or a teacher can completely relate to the many naughty things teachers AND students get up to. Schools were and still are utterly insane environments, and will drive even the calmest person mad.

This is very much a summer read. It is mischievous and light-hearted with tones of Twain’s ‘Huckleberry Finn‘ running through it, as Botchan our slightly arrogant narrator, describes his early days as a juvenile delinquent and his karmic comeuppance as a pompous maths teacher. In the beginning Botchan comes across as a naughty kid who never really applies himself to his studies (unlike his brother) and is therefore always getting into all sorts of trouble. However, after his mother’s tragic death he learns to grow up pretty fast. His father and brother look upon him as a waste of space, yet Kiyo the family servant, treats him like a prince, always telling him how he will one day be a ‘great man’.

Never really having any real aims or goals, Botchan soon realises he must do something with his life. When his father dies and his brother sells the family house and moves away to set up his own business, Botchan decides to enroll himself in the Tokyo Academy of Physics, but even this is without any real enthusiasm. A few years later he is graduated and by chance offered the job of mathematics teacher in the backwater town of Matsuyama of all places.

On arrival he realises that Matsuyama is not as refined as Tokyo and it’s people (in his eyes) are equal to that of neanderthals. His observations of the townspeople, students and other professors of the faculty are hilarious as he gives his colleagues nicknames (he never refers to them by their real names anyway). The best thing about Botchan as a character is his inability to see his own shortcomings, yet he moans when bad things happen to him. His students torture him with names like ‘Red towel’ and tease him about his love of onsen’s and noodle bars.

Very soon he discovers that being a teacher means you cannot do whatever you want out of school hours. Living in such a small town means word gets around, and anyone who has ever taught will understand how your actions out of school could so easily be used against you. I found this to be a really faithful account of first-time teaching and how certain events still resonate today even though it was written back in 1906.

Highly recommended to all those entering the teaching profession for a bit of light entertainment. It will certainly take your mind away from all the lesson-planning and essay writing one needs to do during the ITT and NQT years!

View all my reviews

Top Ten Tuesday | Books That Make You Think ???


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Could it be? Could I be getting back into doing meme’s again? Not likely, but here’s another Top Ten Tuesday post hosted by The Broke and the Bookish with this week’s topic as ‘books that make you think’. And would you believe it those are my particular speciality. Here’s my list in no particular order:

Cover of "Lord of the Flies (Penguin Grea...








1. Lord of the Flies by William Golding – Not all that glitters is gold… This is a really powerful novel I revisited this year about the latent demon in us all. This is the ultimate story about how an island paradise could become hell as a bunch of harmless school children turn native in the true sense of the word. A good follow-up to this would be the more adult-themed ‘The Beach’ by Alex Garland which I also highly recommend.

Cover of "The Poisonwood Bible"

2. Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver – Another gripping novel about how social norms don’t stand a chance in the wilderness, where survival means to conform or else. Nathan Price, a preacher with a will of iron, uproots his family taking them deep into the Belgian Congo where his plans of educating the savages ends in disaster. Told through the eyes of his wife and daughters, it makes one think about how one man’s right can be another man’s wrong.

Holes (novel)

3. Holes by Louis Sachar – An absolute gem; Stanley Yelnats battle with his accumulative ‘bad karma’ is both inspirational, touching and funny all at the same time. After reading this you will DEFINITELY make sure you don’t have any unfinished business, as it might have a way of coming back.

An Inspector Calls

4. An Inspector Calls by J B Priestley – Not everything is as it seems in this detective  play. It explores the dangers of capitalism and raises interesting questions on the concept of ‘guilt’.

The Handmaid's Tale

5. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – Dystopian fiction that was so powerful I was actually haunted by it. It invaded my dreams at one point. I can’t imagine a society that would treat women as baby-making machines, but nothing is impossible…

English: "Venus in Furs" taken from ...

6. Venus in Furs by Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch – I call this the ‘thinking persons 50 Shades’, as I am convinced that this book is what EL James took her inspiration from, to the point of ‘plagiarism’, so don’t give me all that crap about it being a Twilight fanfic! *snorts* Anyway, here is something with more narrative meat as it explores themes of love, cruelty and both physical and mental slavery to the desires of the flesh.

Toni Morrison, on jacket of her Pulitzer Prize...

7. Beloved by Toni Morrison – To be able to peer into the depths of one mother’s murderous insanity and be able to call it fatal love… that is the high price Morrison asks of you in this novel. Can you do it?



8. Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges – Endlessly and deliriously looping pathways of questions without answers and answers to unknown questions. Borges plumbs the depths of your unconscious and offers it to you in beautifully executed prose. Less is more.

Cover of "The Cellist of Sarajevo"








9. The Cellist of Sarajevo – Novel about the terrible siege of Sarajevo. Told through the eyes of a handful of characters, it allows us to experience life lived in the  crosshairs of a sniper rifle. Powerful examples of humanity and the reason WHY people go to war.

107-365 170410 Ice-Nine





10. Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut – You never really knew it before, but after reading this you will certainly realise how our world could (for all we know) be run by absolute madmen.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg (touche to no.10), what’s your top ten ‘thinking’ novels?

Top Ten Tuesday | Book Confessions


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I’ve not written a meme for a LOOONG time, but I came across Shannon’s blog entry Top Ten Tuesday: Book Confessions and liked her responses so much I thought I’d join in. I do have my own queer reading habits that I’ve honed for years – but I think some of you will probably identify with the more common ones that we are all guilty of.

1. I am a consummate library goer – never was to begin with (always liked my books  clean with a sense that they were ‘mine’) but financial circumstances and an awareness for trees/paper have made me one. In fact, I’ve probably bought about 5 books in the last three years. All the rest I have taken out the library or scavenged off friends.

2. I am never without a book. I have them in my bag, on my phone, on my laptop. Everywhere. If I don’t have anything to read I start getting panic-attacks.

3. Sometimes I can get panic attacks/ dizzy spells in book stores just LOOKING at books. Despite being a book lover, I can’t spend more than 15 mins in a library. I start feeling sick. It is strictly ‘go in, give books back/ take books out, quick exit’ with me. It sucks!

4. I read in the toilet, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. So there.

5. I read three books at a time. In fact I usually end up walking away from the library with either 1, 3 or 5 novels. Lately I have realised this comes from my junior school days when I figured out that the only way to progress from the ‘brown’ sticker books to the yellow ones was to read through the entire collection. For those interested I never made it to the yellow section (that’s where the Enid Blyton books lived), but I did get my parents to buy them for me. That’s how readers are born.

6. I don’t use bookmarks. I dog-ear. A terrible habit caught by my mother, another consummate reader who likes to dog-ear from the middle of the page. THE MIDDLE.  Great, big diagonal creases that no amount of folding backwards can erase…

7. Lately I like to read in silence either in the early morning, or late at night. It’s my time to relax/ get ready for whatever is ahead of me.

8. My daily challenge, no matter how many books I have on the go is 50 pages a day. If I have 3 books, then I must read 150 pages. I often dog-ear my daily portions which means I know exactly how many days a book will take to finish.

9. If someone insists that a book is really good, I won’t read it. I am very suspicious of other people’s taste and rarely read what other’s recommend. It’s the only type of snobbery I have.

10. When I’m going through bad/ uncertain times I read to escape and relax. Some books are like my happy zone, I swing by and revisit certain scenes/ chapters to top up on positive thoughts. ‘Anne of Green Gables‘ has had many visits.

So, what are your reading quirks?