Cecily's book reviews

In general I've written reviews of every book I've read since I joined GoodReads (RIP) in May 08, along with one or two I read prior to that. More recent reviews tend to be longer (sometimes a tad too long?). I always carry a book, though I don't get as much time as I'd like to get engrossed - life is busy, but in a good way. Too many of my favourite authors died without writing enough! Apart from reading, and writing about reading, I enjoy Scrabble, good restaurants, woodland, and attending the theatre.
What Pooh Might Have Said to Dante and Other Futile Speculations - Manny Rayner WHY?
I loved this witty, varied and challenging collection, as I knew I would, having read many of Manny's reviews and comments before. So why did I shell out money for a physical version?

Primarily it was because I have a visceral affection for the physical form of books, and, I suppose, for ownership of them. Having bought and read it, I found other advantages: I studied reviews I wouldn't otherwise have glanced at (especially of books I haven't read, some of which I may now read), without the distraction of seeing their star ratings, and I then went to the original on GR to view comments, so completing the slightly surreal circle.

There are enough GoodReads in-jokes to please those who spot them (not that I necessarily spotted them all), but they are not so numerous or noticeable as to be off-putting to those unfamiliar with GR, Manny or some of his GR friends.

Manny also tackles the "why?" question at the outset, in a Foreword explaining why he published it, and in a typically self-deprecating, Devil's Dictionary-style definition: "review, v.i. Demonstrate, through a short essay, appreciation for one's own wit."

It's tricky to review a review, let alone such a diverse collection of reviews. Whatever I write will suffer in comparison with the source, but I'll try to conjure a shadow of its flavour.

I guess Manny could be accused of over-analysing and of taking some lightweight books too seriously and heavy ones too flippantly. I think there is some truth in that, as long as you omit "over" and "too": the insights (and fun) derived from such an approach actually demonstrate the merits of it.

As you'll have gathered by now, this is a collection of Manny's reviews on GoodReads. They cover the range of his styles, including: pastiche, straight, one story in the style of another, hybrid/Celebrity Death Match, reading blog, experimental, and meta/GoodRead thingumywatchit. A few examples of what you will read:

* Contrasting the "appalling tragedy" of Andersen's "Little Mermaid" with the "relentlessly upbeat" Disney version, in a single review, using strikethough text to show where Disney differs.

* Why the success of "Harry Potter" was presaged by "Animal Farm".

* A review of Proust that is a full page, but a single - and unfinished - sentence.

* "Jemimia Puddleduck", rewritten as a French trash novel (not for the children).

* A happier version of Hamlet, for "Twilight" fans.

* A spokily plausibly way of combining "1984" and "Lolita".

* A pastiche of "Dorian Grey", with two characters planning a GR review, and so analysing the story, with one observing "The epigrams are the only serious part of the book. The rest is at best melodramatic nonsense."

* "The History Boys" having a lesson in which they're discussing the meaning of their own play.

* A fascinating review of "Finnegans Wake" where Manny demonstrates his professional knowledge of software for analysing grammar to generate, not a random sequence of words, but random "words". The result is nearly, but not quite, recognisable as language, and is oddly poetic. ("It calculates statistics for the frequencies of each letter condition on the three preceding ones.")

* The New Testament is reviewed in superficially flippant tones, but is thoughtful enough that it ought not to cause offence to those who bother to read it in its entirety and consider it properly. It starts, "A wonderfully ambitious science fiction novel; the author boldly attempts to imagine what it would be like to meet an emissary from an alien culture that was both technologically, and, more interestingly, morally, far superior to our own."

* The review of the Old Testament is more straightforward, but just as thought-provoking.

I think you need a passing familiarity with the books reviewed, but you don't need to have read them all to enjoy the book. The review of the French version of "How To Talk About Books You Haven't Read" explains it well (and has the best punch line, which you'll have to get the book to see): "There are plenty of books you haven't, literally, read, but which you know well enough to discuss sensibly. In the other direction, there are books where you painstakingly went cover to cover, yet understood nothing, because you weren't sufficiently attuned to their literary surroundings."

Finding this will make Christmas shopping for 2013 a little easier, as I know several people who would enjoy it (even though they're not on Good Reads), plus a second collection should be published before then, so I'll be able to give them in pairs.

After all the question sections, "Who?" is more or less required, so here's Manny's page: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1834894.Manny_Rayner, and here are his shelves: http://www.goodreads.com/review/list/1713956-manny

Lest all the above sound too laudatory, I do have a minor criticism: I think (almost) all non-fiction books should have an index, and although the review titles are listed in the table of contents, that doesn't include authors. It would be great if the second edition had an alphabetical index by title and author (and would thereby deserve the fifth star I was tempted to give).

A second collection is now available, If Research were Romance": http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/616889674

Currently reading

The Illustrated Gormenghast Trilogy
Sebastian Peake, China MiƩville, Mervyn Peake
Mervyn Peake