Book Review – Dracula by Bram Stoker

2016-03-16 14.07.36I had been looking forward to reading Dracula by Bram Stoker. It is obviously a very famous story, and after my failed (so far; now on pause) attempt at Anna Karenina by Tolstoy, I was hoping that Dracula would provide some of the classical hooks with a little more oomph in the form of some quality horror. I have to say that I didn’t really get it! 

Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy the book. On its plus side the first parts as Harker travels to Dracula’s castle and all of the events that happen there was great. It is the remainder of the story (which equates to about 2/3 of the book) that is more of a problem. I have three main issues with the book.

Please note, this whole review has spoilers. I don’t usually do spoiler type reviews, but be warned!

1. Pace

One of the book’s strengths is its format. It is made up of various diary entries and logs of events and these add a realism to the work that I really liked. What I didn’t like was the fact that quite a few parts of the book that should have been urgent and full of excitement were actually crammed with people making sure that their diaries were up to date, or ordered correctly, or that everyone had read everyone else’s accounts or that Mina (see later) had diligently typed everything up. It must have been top of her list even once she became sure she was turning into the undead. Nothing fends off Dracula’s curse like a bit of light admin!

Its also worth mentioning that if I was going through what the group go through in the book, recording everything in my diary would be very low on my list. The book’s concentration on tasks that have no relevance to the main story is aggravating; even when  one character’s wife (Lucy) dies and we find out that there really are undead creatures in the world the fact isn’t driven home by the narrative.

This fascination with recording everything  greatly detracts from the well known, preserved drama of the Dracula story.

To further exacerbate the painful nature of the book’s pace, I come back to a part of the book where Lucy is being munched by Dracula every evening. Each morning Lucy appears to have magically lost blood, and each day the hardy menfolk fill her back up with blood transfusions from anyone who is available, then proceed to bungle the next night’s vigil. This became tedious for me. The book expected me to accept that mysterious things were afoot, but the reasoning for repeated failures was not compelling. It felt like padding.

My final example of the pace issue exposes a rather fundamental problem. There is a lot of buildup towards various events throughout the book which in themselves are fine, maybe a little lengthy, but fine. The problem is that the bang is not worth the wait. Its like queuing for a fireworks show that turns out to be 100 people all stood watching a sparkler. The Finale to the whole book is the best case in point. There is huge amounts of work put in to catching Dracula, then in a little more that a sentence, they cut off Dracula’s head, he disintegrates and that is that. Done deal, don’t know what all the fuss was about. Well, bloody hell. Brilliant. Thanks for that.

2. Dialogue, Grammar and Van Helsing

Van Helsing is one of the main characters in the book. He is not like any other depiction of the character I have seen in other versions or in related genre fiction that uses the name. The original is a great character. Older, wiser, not your stereotypical hero type. I actually like him for his originality when he first appeared. “Oh ho” thinks I, “here comes the action!” And so it does in the books own way (see problem number 1.) But Van Helsing changes over time. His speaking part builds over the course of the book. By the time we get the the long build up to the finale Van Helsing is talking a lot and the problem is, that the dialogue is shite.

Sorry to be so blunt, but I have no idea what Bram or Bram’s editor were thinking. I read a review that said Bram was trying to be funny; if he was, then he failed with me. Van Helsing is from Holland and his sentence structure is wrong. This could be accepted as an endearing quality, except it was not “the little grey cells” of Poirot, but a jumbled narrative that continually kicked you out of the story.

3. The last rant before the conclusion: gender equality!

The book portrays women in an odd way. I can accept that equality of the sexes was not in place (shame it’s still a thing at all!) when the book was written. There are references throughout of the divide that society imposed, yet that isn’t the final problem I want to highlight about the book. I am going to take umbridge at the book’s inconsistency. Mina Harker was involved in so much at the start of the book. She went out alone to a foreign country to find her husband, she nursed him, bought him back and strived to understand his situation. After that, she read and transposed his harrowing diary and subsequently everyone’s diaries. And even after that, she watched her friend be taken by Dracula. Suddenly, when co-incidentally, it would be useful if she remained part of the team and abreast of events, she is rleft out of the action as its “too dangerous” and is relegated to the typing pool because important man work is required! The menfolk dash about being manly and using dogs because they know about hunting and stuff while Mina is systematically and rather quietly munched every night.

And even after that, when the company finally do allow Mina to know everything again, the now munched by Dracula, has drunk his blood herself, might be turning into the undead… is going to be a secretary again!!

Pah.

Conclusion

I really can see where all of the fascination around Dracula came from, but I’m glad that it got adapted and updated. The original didn’t work for me. I got to the end, but it was a struggle. Watch the film instead.

Rating 6/10

Book Review – Lieutenant Hotshot by Julia North

Lieutenant HotshotLieutenant Hotshot is a Young Adult novel from first time author Julia North. When I ventured into the local bookshop and bought a copy, I had heard an excerpt of it in our book group and knew only a little of the story. I can not say that I expected what I read, but it is an amazingly good book. I originally planned to read it then pass it on to my 12 year old son. I will come back to that at the end…

Lieutenant Hotshot is about child soldiers in Uganda, but that doesn’t even start to convey the harsh, gory, grittiness of the novel. It contains violence that at times felt overdone, and language that further draws you to a place that you would probably rather not go. But this is the book’s strength; the picture it paints is hard to read and at the same time utterly compelling.

If I had been reading an adult horror book, then I would expect some of the scenes as an attempt to appal me because of the genre; something to excite the senses. Lieutenant Hotshot contains these same horrific scenes, yet it is a Young Adult novel! The book is not for the faint hearted, but it works perfectly for the simple reason that it is based wholly in fact. Adults and young adults combined will read this book and become consciously aware of what happens all too regularly somewhere on our planet.

People do terrible things to Modetse (the main character), he does terrible things to others, yet ultimately, the book is one filled with hope and love. Positive thoughts are strewn throughout the book and are all the more obvious when set against the horrors. To be dramatic, love and hate are rendered as close together as Yin and Yang; there is very little room for grey to separate the two extremes in this book.

The whole story is written in the first person and this is fundamentally important to it’s success. It is only as you take the journey with Modetse that you fully appreciate how the environment and the actions of others pulled him into a way of life that he didn’t understand. If there had been other perspectives, the spell would have broken and the reality of what was happening would have spoilt the story as soon as it was started.

As I read and experienced some of the harrowing scenes, I could see how something so counter intuitive is able to happen and how the whole awful wheel of manipulation works. There were even very well architected indications that some of the adults who were leading the soldiers had started out as child soldiers themselves and were still under the spell of their conditioning; so well converted that they could know the truth as an adult and still be able to believe themselves to be right. The blinkered way that an individual’s perception can can be warped reminded me of Lord of the Flies, but more extreme, in more depth and based on reality.

There is a quality to the book that I have wanted to capture for some time in my own writing. The articulation of the real world in a magical context. Not really ‘magical realism’, more the realisation that magic exists in our mind, in our intrinsic interpretation of the world (wow, deep man.) Lieutenant Hotshot is essentially a story of war. Not just the physical war that it directly describes, also a theological, nay, magical war for the ‘soul’ of Modetse and others like him. Julia has perfectly balanced the whole storyline of the book to convey both of these battles beautifully.

A final perfectly executed balancing act is that of religion in the book. The book portrays a strong understanding of the power or religion in a very specific way. You can see how Christianity is supremely effective in the battle against real evil in Uganda and I was minded to think how it’s use in that powerful way might have been a reason why the world’s major religions have spread so far and wide from their original countries.

As an agnostic I was concerned that Christianity may sit too heavily on this book. I was wrong. Julia writes in such a way, walking the tightrope perfectly to balance the anger, gore and belief of the first part of the book with love and a different belief at the end. I can imagine that some of the passages would have been extremely powerful if I was Christian, but I can still appreciate the drive and purpose of the mission and it’s positive effect, maybe more now! How else do you fight bad spirits but with good ones??

To start to bring a close to this review and my Yin Yang analogy a, I have created a list of some opposites that I noticed as I read. They are quite a powerful, thought provoking list in themselves. Hopefully they will give you an idea of the places the story goes without giving too much away, even, maybe whetting your appetite?

  • Bad spirits from the witch doctor – Good spirits and Jesus
  • Drinking blood of enemies – Drinking the blood of Christ
  • Cutting as a rite of passage – Baptism

So, there you go. As I said at the start, I found Lieutenant Hotshot to be an amazing and surprising read. Try it for yourself.

My final thought; will I let my 12 year old son read it?

Yes

There is definitely an emotional maturity required to read this book (child or adult!) My son has that, and he knows just about every swear word under the sun to boot. The evil that people do and the good that balances it? It is a reality that we all need to understand, accept and try to resolve. So yes, yes I will let him, if he wants to…

 

The Consumer Views of a 12 Year Old

What follows is a piece that my 12 year old son wrote when he got annoyed at people buying things for no reason. I suggested that he should write his thoughts down, and this is the product. Chips off blocks are not mentioned, but cheese definitely is!

————————————–

People consume. It’s only human, but we need to stop and think before we make the trip to the checkout. Do you really need the item you have picked up? Do you really need five of those cheese things your mate likes? If everyone were to think like this, the world would be much cleaner and it would help Global Warming. But, I am not going to write about Global Warming. Instead, I will write about consumerism and how you can prevent it. I have already asked some questions you may ask yourself, whether they apply to you or not I do not know.

There are many more cases of consumerism, not just when shopping but when clearing out your own home. This may include phrases like: ‘let’s keep it’ and ‘for the sake of it’. If you are sure you don’t need something, then throw it. Not literally, of course, depending what it is (who knows, you may like to take a nifty shot at your recycling bin!)
Anyway, the most common form of consumerism is the ‘LET’S BUY IT ALL’ malarkey. If you have cash burning a hole in your pocket then you may be able to buy what you like, but it doesn’t mean that you need to! You should get what you need and not just consume. If you have a sustainable amount of money the ‘Ooh there’s a deal’ dilemma may be more common.

Picture the scene: There is a 4 for £5.00 deal on processed cheese (why not!) and you have heard that your cousin likes the stuff, so you spend some money on him/her. Reasonable? When you get home you discover that you have bought the wrong cheese and are unable to get a refund. Now ask yourself, where does this unwanted cheese go? If you were in this situation what would you do?

A- Bin it, no one wants it.
B- Eat it yourself, waste not want not
C- Two words: Charity Shop.
D- Keep it, who knows when you might need it.

If you said A, you need to think more about your waste. Think of all the time and effort it took to inject perfectly good cheese with horrible chemicals and ship it all the way to you. If you said B, give yourself a pat on the back to wash all that rubbery goodness down. If you said C, you are on the right track but you may be overdoing it. Just a bit…

Option D is another type of consumerism entirely: the horder. As I mentioned earlier, briefly, another way to consume is to collect and to keep. This means that when you are having a clearout, you decide to keep a lot of the things that you really do not need and won’t give a monkeys if you never see again. BUT! This does not mean that you should bin it, you should take it to a charity shop or give it to a younger relative (unless it is cheese).

Consumerism happens everywhere. Just in the space of time that I have been writing this I have seen an act of consumerism. I am not going to explain it in detail but I will state that it involved a 10 year old and an Itsy Bitsy Spider CD. One last thing: don’t think I have anything against processed cheese, you can eat rubber if you like!

Book Review – Bleeker Hill by Russell Mardell

I’ve been itching to read this book since I got it back in the summer. I met Russell in a pub with some other writing types (you know who you are!) and was enthusiastically recommended his book by one of my friends. It was hurriedly procured from the local Waterstones and I quickly added it close to the top of my reading list. I’m sure I had a good excuse to buy it, but the date in August is not near any special dates like birthdays or fathers day? I think Bleeker Hill may have the dubious honour of being the first book that I have added to my list without excuse since I started the blog! (Good grief, that’s rule 10 broken for the first time!)

There have been quite a few distractions from reading over the last few months, most of which I have already mentioned. Not least, finally writing some fiction! I succeeded at NaNoWriMo and it felt great. The downside is that writing doesn’t let you get many books read! I also got a bit stuck with Anna Karenina; not as stuck as Vronsky, and in a totally different way, but stuck none the less. I am glad to say that I am now unstuck; in more ways than you can imagine dear reader, in more ways…

Bleeker Hill, the actual review

bleekerhillBleeker Hill’s main storyline builds wonderfully from the first pages of the prologue right through to the finale. The book takes you on a journey with a set of well realised characters into a vision of the future that is shrouded in confusion. The central character has been out of touch with the world for some time, and his lack of knowledge is followed through the book. This provides a back story that leaves you wanting to know more about what has happened, while giving enough to support the main story. I would love other books to be written in this world so that they can elaborate on it’s interesting version of the future…

All of the story arcs come together well to support the main event. At it’s heart, Bleeker Hill is a ghost story with realism to give it credence; a broken vision of the future.

Bleeker Hill bought various films and books to mind and I give some examples below. I need to be very clear that there is no relationship between the book and any of these references. I hold all in high regard and it is the feeling of the environments that Russell Mardell has built that evoked memories of the other stories for me. When I am talking about some of my favourite films and books, this can only be a great thing:-

The distopian future depicted in the story echoed “Children of Men” (the film) to me. Political parties struggling to keep order in the face of disaster. There is no dictatorship in place, but there are a lot of people trying to make sense of a broken society.

V for Vendetta also popped up in my mind. This time for the human experiments back story. There are again no real story parallels here. Bleeker Hill is the setting for experiments so much more profound than an attempt to create a super human. Trying to solve the human condition? Maybe.

Lastly, Woman in Black. Now, Bleeker Hill is not as jumpy as Woman in Black, but it definitely has the good old ghost story at it’s heart. If you were to take the Children of Men setting and play out a ghost story in it, then you would get somewhere close to Bleeker Hill.

To conclude, Bleeker Hill delivered exactly what I needed from this type of book. A well paced ghost story in a realistic and viable setting augmented with great characters.

Read it ASAP.

Rating: 9/10

 

 

Back on the reading list (ish)

bleekerhillI have had a very interesting last couple of months. I’ve just checked my Massive Book List and I started reading Anna Karenina (my current book) on the 11th August!!! I managed to get almost half way through it, but other events have overtaken me and I have decided to admit defeat, for now. I usually read and come back to books, so this is a pause for AK and not the end. Most of my spare time since august has been spent writing, sending stuff off to agents, doing nanowrimo successfully and going to writing club.

I am sat here on a Sunday afternoon with what is shaping up to be a nasty cold (man flu) and a wish to read something that is not Anna Karenina. I have had my eye on the next book in my list for a while, and although I want to finish AK, I need a break; even though I just had one! I’m starting Bleeker Hill by Russell Mardell this evening.

I still have lots of writing to do.

I still have lots of work to do.

I still have a cold and don’t want to use my brain. (Those two things are related for once!)

but here goes with Bleeker Hill...

 

 

My thoughts on writing in 2012. Still relevant?

Hi blog, very long time no see. That is because I have been writing an actual story! I have also been editing some stuff and reading a lot. I know I neglect you blog, but that’s just the way it is going to be. Please be appreciative of the words I send you…

This post is copied verbatim (poor grammar and all) from a doc I wrote in 2012. It is a point in time and I thought it would be good to share. It was nice to find this as from the point I wrote it, the cogs began to whir and I ultimately created this blog and am at the literary pinnacle of book 1 chapter 2!

Enjoy

P.S. there is rude swearing in the text below…

————————————————————-

By Pocobooc 26/11/12

so, lets stop fucking about. I have been “about to write” for years. I have mucked about with setup and thinking and planning and worrying (in the fidgety, picky way). I have taken too long to get to this point, and now I am holding back on the main event by stating how bad I was at getting there for so long…

I have a text editor (read web based cloud document editor that automatically saves my jibber) and not much else. I have specifically not written a title, formatted anything (including centering anything) I havent given this a title. Im just writing,,,

I am watching “on the road” on my smart TV. The film is digital and is sitting on a hard drive under my stairs that is connected to a Raspberry Pi that is running squeezebox which is a tiny linux distro. That is running a twonky server which is serving the film to my smart TV. Smart eh. And I like to think that im not a geek!!!

I am also quite proud of the fact that my media server uses about 15 watts. My amp uses more than that. When I go to bed and everything that can be off is off, our whole house pulls about 60 watts. In usual operation it pulls about 200

so where was I. Im watching on the road, and its based around beatnik writters and the main character started off with writters block, and its been nagging me that Ive not written anything based on sentences for a very long time. Ive written ideas. Ive written documents for work. dry documents that require long words and concentration, but they dont excite, they dont break out of anything. They tie down, they restrict and define and inform. Better than nothing, but only just!

I went to Alresford on Sunday. Becky wanted to look at some boots, but the shop was shut. We went to a lavender barn, etc etc etc AND we went to a second hand book shop AND I bought a hardback book with Kurt Cobain’s journals. And again, there is a person who can cut loose and just write. Might be shite, might not make sense, but its there. its not still in his fucking head incase its not organised right. Although on a side note, my head is still on my fucking shoulders and capable of thinking, but I consider that only some small advantage.

My new Monday 26th Nov 2012 resolution (one time availability I suppose)

I am going to actually create. Be it websites, stories, books, painting. anything. I am going to complete things even if the end up shite.
To close I need to say that this is a very positive aim. I am not generally scared of creating. This is not a problem like that. There are many reasons that I have not done this before. Perfection, OCD (not real) etc etc etc… … bored now. over and out

The Month of August – A roundup

Good morning (or generic time of day where you are) everyone. How the bloody hell are you? It’s been aaggeeesss since I last bothered to visit, and I’m going to tell you why. Things are gonna change round here (again) and that is for the better…

Let’s start this story from the last time I visited. My last post was the book review of Minority Report on the 24th July. It’s the 5th September today, so that is 6 weeks of total absence, basically the whole school summer holidays! I am really sorry I neglected you 😦 What follows is an update of what I have been doing and what I plan to do next…

Firstly, I have been reading a lot (Castle of Wizardry, Consider Phlebas, Eden & Gardening t Eden, Dead Air.) I haven’t reviewed any books, but I have rated them all in the book list in my book activity page. I have mentioned before that I really wanted to use this blog and my whole Post Consumer reading challenge as a way to ready more, write more and see where it takes me. Well, it doesn’t take me to being chained to writing book reviews and nothing else. I am therefore going to try to do a monthly round up of my book reading progress from now on.

I still want to use some of my time to write more diverse articles for this site. I really do still want to investigate consumerism and various other “stuff”. I want to understand, at least for myself, where my previous meager attempts at shrugging off consumerism have gone wrong and how I can rectify that.

My writing has taken a sharp upward turn this month, in volume if not quality! I have joined a writing group and this consists of a health mix of about an hours writing workshop each month, followed by at least 2 hours in a pub 🙂 This group has inspired me to finally dust off the book that was 0.000001% complete and get on with writing properly. I have now written about 2000 words in draft and the imaginative humours are up.

Lastly, I am trying to find ways to move further into the bookish world with a possible, maybe, option, vague plan, thought of doing this more as a job in the future. Writing books is obviously a route to do that, but it is apparent from the number of authors that I follow on Twitter that this is definitely not a street paved with gold or even copper for the vast majority. I am writing a book because I want to… So, maybe there are some articles in me? Maybe there is half a copy-editor in me (ewww) or maybe there is a blend of all 3, plus a few more, that could work? When I started this blog I was dipping a toe into the literary world. Over a year on, I am very glad I started this Journey and I guess my foot is submerged; still writing the blog, going to writing club, writing a book. Wow, this feels good.

Book Review – Minority Report by Philip. K. Dick

Hello WordPress, how the devil are you? I know, I know, it has been over a month since my last post! I have some catching up to do! I also don’t have a picture for you with this book. The downside of e-books. They usually don’t have good front covers and I can’t easily take photos of them. Soz. Anyway, on with the review.

After finishing Foundation and Empire, I dove straight back into sci-fi with Minority Report. It was very interesting to see the differences in style between the two books. Both Isaac Asimov and Philip K. Dick produce slick, readable texts. Both also competently create future worlds which are still believable many decades after they were written. The difference is maybe one of how grounded each view of the future is. As I mentioned when I reviewed Foundation and Empire, a tale set in the far far future is not going to be at much risk of dated ideas until we manage to jump in space ships and whiz off to the twirly ends of the galaxy. In Philip’s Minority Report the future was definitely closer. I got an interesting mixture of future and the ‘70s from the story, but somehow that worked extremely well. The machines that the pre-cogs were attached to saved information to tapes, the reports were delivered on cards. It was all quite colloquial. In my mind this should have spoilt the book. I should have read about cards and tapes and got upset that the future is not going to be like that, we are already past bits of card to report onto. BUT, Philip K. Dick created realism in his future worlds. They feel different, and they are futuristic and they work wonderfully well. We already know that the future is going to be much more real and, well, down to earth than sci-fi tells us. The reality of it will warp and change as the order of different breakthroughs change the way that we work ever closer to that comfy seat on the spaceship to Mars. An example to illustrate my point; you know when R2D2 projects Princess Leyla onto the table in Starwars? Well, once we eventually invent holographic video and updated Dusty Bins to project them, they will definitely be very hi resolution, not the grainy broken effort that we saw and accepted as cool and futuristic in the film.

I’m not going to go into the details of the Minority Report story as I try not to include spoilers, but there is a great synergy in the basis of the story and the book itself, so if you don’t want to know a bit of the plot, skip the rest of this paragraph. Under usual circumstances 3 reports are created by the future gazing pre-cogs. The minority report is the weakest of the 3, the one that does not fully agree. In this story the minority report is very significant; it was different because its prediction was based on the events created because a character reads the main report and the third report is the altered future state. This is an ingenious plot device that Philip masterfully plays out in the story. I realised that the whole story is in its self a Minority Report. It is a short story, therefore minor in stature compared to a full book. More significantly, the story builds on realisation after realisation of how events have occurred and the impact of the present on the future. The story gets to an point where the remainder of the book is obvious. There is no option, the outcome is inevitable and is a function of the events that led up to it. A sublime reflection of the process that the story describes.

I did only get the Philip K. Dick Kindle book to read Minority Report, so that is the only story I read. I can thoroughly recommend it (and I expect the other stories in the book are great too…)

Rating:8/10

Book Review – Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov

FoundationAndEmpire_CoverI am a little behind on my book reviews, but in relevance to this post, I have also had another epiphany: My blog posts can be rather too long! This means that they aren’t quite as consumable as I would like, and they take quite a long time to create to boot. I want more time to read, more time to write and more time to interact with Twitter and bloggers. Here, therefore is a short review of Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov.

This is the second Asimov book that I have read. Unsurprisingly the first was Foundation. I read it quite a while ago… On starting Foundation and Empire I was reminded of the wonderful quality of Isaac’s writing. There is a conversational tone to it, but it is not a conversational prose per-Se. Isaac manages to hit that illusive target of “just enough”. The reader is expected to understand the world in which the story is set. This lean, intelligent approach draws you in.

If that doesn’t float your intergalactic battleship, then the main story really should. I would suggest that this is a series of books that really does need to be read in sequence. The story is epic. A hugely expanded human population and a story line that interacts with it, all on a galactic scale. It quite literally tells the future story of a whole civilisation through the deeds of a few key people. Events move beautifully from the macro to the micro without skipping a beat. At the grander end of this scale, battle scenes and more importantly tactics feature quite a bit. In places I was reminded of Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, another fantastic book.

You can tell that this story is the Foundation (‘scuse the pun) of many other Sci-Fi books. All aspects of writing and story telling are bought together so well that it couldn’t help but influence a lot of stories that have arrived since. It astounds me that I can read a book about the future that was first published in 1952, yet there isn’t anything out of place, it’s still contemporary. The golden rule is; if you’re writing about the future, write about the far future. Hover boards in 2015 is just never going to happen… The only place that Foundation and Empire appeared dated was it’s references to smoking. You never know though, if we ever do actually crack the hover board, we may actually manage to create a way to smoke that doesn’t kill you??

Foundation and Empire delivers, exquisite Sci-Fi. I’ve got no more to say except, possibly, the Mule is one of my new favourite characters of all time! Appetite whetted? Go read it then 🙂

Rating: 9/10

Book Review – The Natural Navigator by Tristan Gooley

TheNaturalNavigatorI was given The Natural Navigator a year ago for my birthday and although it always looked like a good book, I had not opened it even once. That is my confession and the reason I am here writing my brainwaves down here!

I have a couple of other books that I would file in the same category as The Natural Navigator:- Never Eat Shredded Wheat by Christopher Somerville (Number 139) and The Cloudspotter’s Guide by Gavin Pretor-Pinney (Number 174) to name the two that come to mind. Incidentally, The Natural Navigator mentions Gavin’s Cloudspotter’s Guide so it will be fun to read that when the time comes. As I think more, I have also read Longitude by David Sobel which again is mentioned in TNN, and I have 1421 by Gavin Menzies (Number 57) which is not mentioned but is sort of related(ish); I have actually read over half of 1421, but as I didn’t finish, it is still on my list! I guess that’s 4 books which come to mind, but hey, who’s counting? Except of course me who introduced the counting thing to start with… [rolls eyes, awkward silence]

Of the (maybe) 4 books I own that talk about natural navigation in some way or other, The Natural Navigator is the one that I saw in a book shop around the time of my friend’s birthday after embarking on this blog. I had started to do a bit of list creation and noticed my copy hanging around; an idea struck me. I bought the book for my friend and gave it to him with a caveat. The gift came with a task; read the book, then do a practical! I have a set of books that are on a separate list called “read then do.” My commitment to books of this kind is captured in Rule Number 9. The Natural Navigator is one of these books that has snuck onto my main reading list. “What’s the Task?” I hear you ask. Well, my friend and I need to get lost, then navigation our way out of trouble. I will write a follow up post when we get the event planned, but to be honest if there is anything that is going to let me down it is my shockingly poor memory and it’s lacklustre ability to retain all of the cool stuff that Tristan Gooley’s book has given me.

The book itself is a wonderful way to gain a deeper understanding of the natural world. In the deep and varied way that Tristan introduces the concepts involved in natural navigation it is obvious that a very strong atunement with nature and it’s cycles is a core principal of the book. This fundamental appreciation of nature struck a chord with me. The need to have a holistic awareness of everything that can be used including not just the local nature, but the planet, the solar system and the rest of the visible galaxy was wonderful. With all that at our disposal you really do wonder why we bothered with anything more?

Tristan’s enthusiasm to find direction and location using the more obvious signs and confirm it via the use of the less obvious, more arcane knowledge is what brings the book to life and what will ultimately keep the skill of natural navigation alive. It also happens to be a very important lesson. Tristan states repeatedly that the navigator who complacently relies on one or two observations risks failure. But there is always more depth and more understanding to gain. Tristan shows that with so many double checks in place you can actually start to deduce new measures. At the end of the book, such is Tristan’s confidence of orientation that he adds a bird-poo compass to his arsenal. N.B. the bird-poo compass does not need to be carried in a pocket and to be honest, that is at least part of the point.

To further elaborate on the Raison d’être of the book, I loved the differentiation made between finding your way and knowing your way. A depth of understanding and a commitment to build the understanding of nature into your every day processes to such an extend that you know where you are and where you’re going at all times. The techniques described in the book will allow you to orientate yourself and find your way from natural cues, but, Tristan is so obviously trying to educating us in so much more. I know that I will forget a lot of what I have learnt, but I will retain enough and I have enough of a care for nature and how it works to re-visit this book in the future, if for no other reason than I am going to try to use it’s teachings in the mini-adventure I mentioned above.

The book is written in a nice succinct prose with enough descriptive content to make it enjoyable to read and there is a healthy undertone of comedic content. The clarity is almost a requirement as some of the concepts are quite hard to comprehend. When you have to take so many factors into consideration it can play havoc with those little grey cells. I continually imagined the navigators of history using these natural techniques, relying upon them when the users didn’t understand the solar system as we now do! I kept thinking of someone stood on the deck of a ship a long time ago trying to divine the correct course, and by some magic of logic and perseverance, succeeding!

It is scary to think that some fundamentals of our existence are no longer understood. We see so far because we are stood on the shoulders of giants… If we were to step (as we now do) off the giants shoulder onto higher ground and the giant walks off, then what? The Natural Navigator is a book that can act as the ladder in my simile, reconnecting us with the not just the ground, but with the natural navigation that is wondrously built into our planet and it’s surroundings.

Rating 8/10