Raw Spirit: In Search of the Perfect Dram

By Iain Banks

Rating: 4 stars

Let me say at the outset that I know nothing about whisky, and, indeed, am teetotal. However, this book, ostensibly about that liquor, is not really anything of the sort. Banks is invited to travel his native Scotland “in search of the perfect dram”. And so we set off, touring distilleries, with lengthy detours to discuss Great Wee Roads (GWRs) and his passion for cars and driving, generally; anecdotes from his past (including the infamous urban climbing at the Brighton WorldCon, which I had always thought took place in Glasgow); ramblings about the second Gulf War; and a general enthusiasm for Scotland.

This is probably the closest that Banks ever came to writing his memoires or to autobiography, and it’s a pleasure to read. I didn’t know Banks, but I met him a few times, and had the pleasure of buying him a drink at a wee con once. The book reads exactly as I remember him talking. Excited, enthusiastic and full of joie de vivre. I’m still astonished and shocked that a man so full of life died so suddenly when so (comparatively) young.

So don’t read this as a guide to whisky. Read it for a mighty enthusiasm about it, and enjoy the ride around Scotland in the company of some of Bankie’s pals, in his fun cars as you’re laughing down a GWR somewhere in the Highlands.

Book details

ISBN: 9780099460275
Publisher: Arrow
Year of publication: 2003

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

By Neil Gaiman

Rating: 4 stars

Despite being told through the eyes of a child, this is very much not a children’s book, with a lot of quite dark imagery and musings on life, death and childhood terror. The central theme, as Gaiman discusses in an interview at the end of the book, is to do with childhood powerlessness. Our nameless protagonist’s world changes when their lodger steals their car, drives it to the end of the lane and commits suicide in it. This leads to him meeting Lettie Hempstock and her family, and gets involved with creatures and forces from beyond the boundaries of creation. But also leads to him getting involved in things he doesn’t and can’t understand or control. Whether it’s his father’s anger or a creature that wants to tear him from reality, it’s about the power of adults over children.

It’s not a long book, but it has some complexity and will benefit from rereading. But for the moment, it’s given me a lot to think about. Gaiman’s on good form with this one.

Book details

ISBN: 9781472200341
Publisher: Headline Review (Hachette)
Year of publication: 2013

The Stories of Ray Bradbury

By Ray Bradbury

Rating: 5 stars

I’m not really sure how to even start with a review of this book, with its table of contents stretching to three pages. And even taking three months to read it was too short a time. Bradbury shorts need to be read slowly and savoured. I binged a bit here.

There are Martian stories in this collection, there are Mexican stories, Irish stories, stories about the supernatural Family and the joys of childhood. There are the famous stories (A Sound of Thunder, The Fog Horn etc) and so many more.

There are creepy stories of childhood and children (exemplified by The Small Assassin) and stories of the joys. Stories of happy marriage and stories showing it falling apart in slow motion. Every aspect of human life is examined by Bradbury in this collection and turned into a gem. Some stories are better than others (I really didn’t like Interval in Sunlight very much, for example) but taken as a whole, there’s no denying the power of Bradbury’s work.

Learn from my example, though, and don’t read more than a couple of stories a week, for maximum effect.

Book details

ISBN: 9781841593265
Publisher: Everyman
Year of publication: 1980

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