Category Archives: books

I can’t believe that exists

Reading is one of the few pure joys left in the world.

Books don’t have ads in them. Books don’t have extra downloadable content after you’ve bought them. Books don’t stay in a state of disappointing ‘early access’. Books are good.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those ‘I love nothing more than the smell of a new book, the feeling of turning pages, the rush of knowing you’re getting to the end’ kind of people. Even though my life’s ambition is to one day be rich enough to own a failing bookshop, I read everything on my kindle these days. It’s just more convenient.

But here’s the important bit: I still read them. I’ll spend months ploughing through a good book. Which in the age of 90-minute movies and meant-to-be-binged Netflix shows is pretty nuts. That’s a lot of time and attention to dedicate to one form of entertainment. But I don’t mind at all. A good book is a slow burn, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

But what if you’re too important to have the time to read books? Introducing:

Billed as ‘the #1 book summary service for entrepreneurs, executives, and business coaches‘ the pitch is this: WE READ BOOKS SO YOU DON’T HAVE TO.

They basically produce short twelve minute summaries of the kind of books that people who describe themselves as ‘serial entrepreneur’ in their Twitter bio go crazy over. Books with titles like HOW TO SCALE YOUR BUSINESS BRAIN AND SUCEED WITHOUT TRYING or POWER HACKS TO SUPERCHARGE YOUR MINDSET. So it’s not fiction, or anything good, just typical executive trash. But it’s still annoying to me.

Here’s a gem from their FAQs:

What sort of equipment do I need for this?
All of our videos and workshops can be accessed on your tablet, laptop or smartphone, and can also be projected onto a boardroom wall.

Ahhhh yes. The way books were meant to be read. Little did Dickens know when he put pen to paper and inspired generations of writers in the English-speaking world, that one day we might be reading books “projected onto a boardroom wall”.

Sure, the sting is taken out of this by the fact that the books aren’t any good. If this was attempting to reduce classic literature down it’d be outright offensive. But I think there’s a couple of assumptions being made here that I find distasteful:

  1. That the benefit of a body of work is solely the top-level content, which can be extracted without anything being lost.
  2. That reading as an activity can be outsourced.
  3. That you can be too busy to just a read a book.

Keep books great. Read them! Support libraries! And for the love of God, don’t pay something else to read them for you.

The erotic adventures of Amazon ebooks (feat. Chuck Tingle)

So a while ago, I wrote about the ‘novels’ of Hunter Fox. Turns out, this was to be my most popular blog post.

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Yup, right up there above my Home Page. A lot of the views came from the /r/fantasy subreddit too. I can only hope they found what they were looking for.

But anyway, this was only the tip of the iceberg. There’s a whole awful rabbit hole of weird stuff out there. So let’s just get right to it.

Today, I’d like to focus on Chuck Tingler. That can’t be his real name. It’s probably not even one person. Follow him on Twitter here. Check out that bio:

Erotic author and Tae Kwon Do grandmaster. PhD from DeVry University in holistic massage. Inventor of the Tingler

Seems legit. His website also makes a pretty bold claim about himself:

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Now, I’m not saying that Chuck Tingle isn’t the greatest author of our generation. But I wouldn’t really expect the greatest author of our generation to come out with books such as these:

Yes. That last one is actually called Angry Man Pounded By The Fear Of His Latent Gayness Over A Dinosaur Transitioning Into A Unicorn. And to me that’s what makes Chuck Tingle unique. (Well, aside from everything about this). He’s kind of semi-aware of what’s going on and takes things further than you might expect. I guess the gay surreal erotica market is a competitive one, and being hyper weird is his USP – which is fair enough.

Some of his books references contemporary events such as these:

(that latter one came out during the events of #DressGate)

And things take a meta turn here, in which he’s seduced by his own book!

Like seriously, give this guy every prize going in literature. Man Booker Prize? Yup. Richard and Judy book club? Of course. The Nobel Prize for Literature? Absolutely. Hell, even throw in the Nobel Peace Prize while you’re at it. Chuck’s earned it.

Unfortunately I haven’t been brave enough to actually buy or read any of these ‘Tinglers’ – and besides, my Amazon recommendations are still recovering from the last time. But I get the idea that they’re more or less the same lines as the Hunter Fox novel I read.

The LookInside sample of Vampire Night Bus Pounds My Butt has this nugget:

“Who’s Vlad?”  I ask, playing along.
“Bus thirteen.”  The man replies, staring at me with a deep and feverish intensity.
“Vlad drives thirteen?”  I question.
“No, no.”  The man shakes his head.       “Vlad is bus thirteen.”

Not to criticise the writing too much, but it reads as it it was simply written all at once and then published, with no redrafting or editing stages in between. (Like this blog!)

You can also buy boxsets of Tingle’s books, such as Chuck’s Living Object Tinglers and Chuck Tingle Presents: Scary Stories To Tingle Your Butt (7 Tales of Gay Terror).

But what else is out there? Well, lots! If you follow the links through the Related Authors on Chuck’s page you end up finding all kinds of stuff. But it’s not always clear where the obviously-fake weird stuff ends and the genuine niche fetishy stuff begins.

One author I found, for example, Lacey Noonan had this to share:

Obviously I thought gronking was some weird made-up word. But it’s a reference to the New Englands Patriot Rob Gronkowski and his tendency to chuck a ball down hard after scoring whatever the American equivalent of a try is. So this is just like standard celebrity fantasy stuff I guess.

FUN FACT: The couple depicted on the cover for A Gronking To Remember there sued the author for using their image in such a weird way. Hahhaha. That actually happened.

You can however still buy the book, and A Gronking to Remember 2: Chad Goes Deep in the Neutral Zone – which also features said couple.

So that’s about all I’ve got. I strongly recommend making your way through this murky Amazon hole yourself. You’ll have a whale of a time.

(ps. A Whale of A Time is going to be my own debut novel in this category. Watch this space).

Further reading:

Review: Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury


This is a book about burning books. But maybe you know that already, because this book is like super famous. It’s on loads of lists of books and things, so I thought it was about time I got around to reading it.

It’s kind of a light sci-fi, in the dystopian theme. Chronologically, it could be set as little as like twenty years in the future. Much of the tech in it isn’t too far from what we have now, as it’s implemented in nice understated ways.

For instance, the main character’s wife is obsessed with this ‘parlour’ in her house where she watches literal wall-to-wall TV with characters who interact with her. She ends up spending all day in this room, neglecting reality. So basically video games and oculus rift and all that.

More interesting is the picture of society painted by Bradbury. It’s a dystopia though not so much in the Orwellian vein (though there is a bit of that). It’s more a cultural dystopia, where entertainment rules.

Many readers take Fahrenheit 451 to be a clearcut tale about the tyranny of censorship by the government. But I read it more as a moralistic vision of how we need to stop ourselves sleepwalking into a cultural vacuum. In Bradbury’s future, books are outlawed not so much because they are dangerous, but because they are boring. It’s a society where only the fast and easily understandable can be accepted, and books are evil because they can confuse the mind.

I really appreciated the nuance that Bradbury approached this topic with. And the sci-fi in it is nice and original – there’s a fascinating mechanical hound in it that really sticks in the memory.

My only gripe is that the book itself is rather short. There’s a great character we’re introduced to at the beginning that never gets followed up on. And the ending of the book isn’t really a satisfying conclusion to the story. But overall it was great and I really liked it!

Rating: 5/5

Review: Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

Ok, so what the hell did I just read?

I get that this is a post-modern classic, but it really didn’t work for me. It’s all over the place, and not in a good way.

For a start, the book has literally hundreds of characters. And it’s not always clear who they are or what they’re up to. And then they’ll disappear for hundreds of pages. (And I MEAN hundreds – this book is loooonnng!).

The way the story is told is also kind of a mess. You really have to piece together what the overall plot is. This works really well in some books (eg. Infinite Jest), but here it was just kind of annoying. LIke there’ll just be a whole chapter about something entirely irrelevant – a sentient lightbulb or something like that.

Maybe if the book was funnier this would work. Sure, there’s plenty of humour, but it’s pretty obtuse. Like the ‘hero’ of the book is this army guy called Slothrop – who runs all over Europe getting into adventures. At one point he’s dressed up as a pig, another time he’s a superhero called Rocketman.

I’m not saying it’s a terrible book by any means. It’s pretty highly acclaimed. I just think I didn’t get it.

Book review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo


So I read this book because it was free on my Kindle for some reason. Also I’d seen the Swedish original film and the US remake and thought they were pretty great.

The book itself is reminiscent of a Dan Brown novel. It’s a gripping thriller, a compelling page-turner, and all those other descriptions that sum it up as the perfect commuter book. It’s something you can enjoy for what it is in short doses, without having to worry about it being too much of a literary masterpiece.

Not that the plot’s overly simple though. The fact it’s based in Sweden instantly makes it that little bit less accessible. The bulk of the story is about the disappearance of a young girl in the past, but really revolving around a spiralling family of double-crossing industrialists. Keeping track of all the family members is quite a task, but having seen the film versions helped with this (I just thought ‘ah yes, that’s Stellan Skarsgård’s character…).

The sub-plot is also about a Swedish industrialist and his nefarious corporate dealings. I hope you like reading pages about holding accounts and sorting codes!

But yeah, I enjoyed the book for what it was worth – considering I paid nothing for it. I intend to go on and read the subsequent books in the series, but more for the sake completeness than anything else.

Rating: 4/5

Post-script: I just wanted to say that I think the central character of Mikael Blomkvist is super interesting. He’s like a nerdy James Bond. Which makes it no surprise that Daniel Craig played him in the US remake:

Sexy. Brooding. Mysterious. A great casting.

But who played our hero in the original Swedish film?

This guy.


What’s the deal with Hunter Fox novels?

It’s no secret that I fancy myself as something of a writer. As such, I’m always looking out for what’s happening on the literary scene.

I’m particularly interested in what’s going on in the world of publishing. I’m pretty certain that no publishing house would ever be interested in anything I would write. So my only hope really is the world of self-publishing.

The Kindle has revolutionised the literary world. It’s easier than ever to get into reading. But it’s also changed publishing too. Now pretty much anyone can just shovel content onto the Kindle store via Amazon. And suddenly… BOOM, you’re a published author.

There is no better example of this than Hunter Fox.

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Hunter Fox has a total of 63 published works on Amazon UK. For comparison, Shakespeare wrote around 40 plays, and Dickens wrote just under 20. The guy is prolific as hell.

However, as we waltz through his quote unquote bibliography, a remarkable trend emerges. Basically every book is the same. Here are some selected highlights:

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Erm, what? Common themes include:

  • Aliens (wtf is an alien hound btw?)
  • Mythological beasts
  • Robots
  • Being “turned” gay
  • Being “forced” gay
  • Being “punished”

Here’s a great one:

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 20.50.40


What. Is the Loch Ness Monster real now? Real and gay? And surely the fact that it’s going to be underwater is a given?

I get it, it’s a fantasy. But it’s super weird and random. At least with stuff like A Griffin Tore Me Up you can just be like “yeah ok I guess this is standard fare for weird fan-fiction fantasy.” But Nessie? I don’t understand how this happened.

In an effort to get to the bottom of things, I sacrificed my personal dignity (and personal recommendation engine) and rented out A Billionaire Dinosaur Forced Me Gay because I think it has the funniest title. Don’t worry, I’m renting it via a free trial of the Kindle Unlimited service, so it’s not costing me anything.

I shall now read this book. Until I get back, please enjoy the cover.

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Done! Ok that literally took five minutes to read. It is a very short novel.’s estimated reading time of 15 minutes was overly generous. The site also says that is has 3,500 words, making this “novel” about the same length as one of my longer short stories. Maybe I should publish mine.

What was the book about? Well, the title literally says it all. A guy gets a job working for a billionaire dinosaur (the book lampshades this saying that dinosaurs got rich on the stock market in the 80s??), who then homosexually assaults him. In graphic detail. The end.

Some choice quotes:

“My father never liked the dinosaurs ever since they began taking control of the world economy”

“I had never been with a male before, let alone a male dinosaur!”

The writing is all pretty terrible and horribly, horribly explicit. I’d recommend against reading this yourself even out of curiosity.

Interestingly, the book ends on a cliffhanger of sorts with the narrator promising vengeance on the billionaire dinosaur CEO. Part 2 of A Billionaire Dinosaur Forced Me Gay is available now apparently.

I wish I could un-read this book.

So what the hell is going on, exactly? Well, it seems that Fox has found himself a little niche market to dump content into. Cheap, easily reproducible stories involving gay fantasy that will each appeal to a minuscule, yet highly engaged audience. There’s that not that many people into dinosaur homosexual rape, but those that are, really are. And sure they might just pay the £2.11 for the privilege of reading this story. Repeat ad nauseam 63 times and you’ve got yourself a little money maker.

I guess I’m just annoyed I didn’t think of it first.

Review: Dave Gorman vs. the Rest of the World

More of the same from Gorman. Which is a shame really, because I really wanted something good.

In this book, Dave Gorman travels around the UK meeting people and playing games. It’s standard Gorman fare then, travel + people + some vague ‘aim.’ But it doesn’t hold up to the others in my opinion, and generally feels like an all-round more muted experience.

For a start, there’s no real challenge to speak of. The beauty of Googlewhack / AYDG? was that it was a race against time to find/do something. In this, Gorman just randomly meets up with people to play games with them. There’s a subplot about his upcoming marriage, but there’s no significant interplay between the two. There’s nothing at stake, and reading about someone just meeting people in pubs turns out to not be that interesting.

It’s also confined just to the UK, which is a shame given the globetrotting-ness of the previous outings. Reading about Sheffield train station doesn’t quite have the appeal as his roadtrip across America.

The games themselves are fine, and quite interesting – even when they are just Monopoly and Guess Who. The people are supposed to be the real focus I guess, and Dave’s compassion for the people he meets is plain to read. Even the weird ones.

In all then, this felt liked a dumbed down version of his other work. It almost read like a newspaper weekly column, as opposed to a proper book-adventure. It even felt shorter. I didn’t hate it though, just found it rather average.

Rating: 3/5

Review: Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

The best book I’ve read this year. And maybe ever.

The first thing to say about Infinite Jest is that it’s long. Like really long. It took me months to finish. Not only is it lengthy in the technical word count sense, but also time-consuming in the very way it’s written. Qua Proust, sentences go on and on and on, to absolute technical perfection (Wallace is the master of sub-clause), meandering and wandering off course and really requiring you to pay close attention until the very end.

It’s also written with a style I can best describe as deliberately hostile to the reader. Wallace uses the most esoteric words he can, or just plain makes them up. He doesn’t just use a good word to describe something, he’ll use the exactly right technical term for it. An example used throughout is that of the drugs the characters take throughout the book. Each time, a footnote directs you a full pharmaceutical description of the drug and it’s chemical composition. It’s utterly superfluous, but totally unique at the same time and I was pretty much blown away with this level of detail.

Oh, and those footnotes. There’s just under 400 in total. That’s a lot of flicking back and forth between the text (thankfully, my Kindle edition made that pretty simple), but again it really breaks up the reading experience and leaves you exhausted as you’re performing mental gymnastics trying to suspend your position in the prose to read a footnote, which may or may not have sub-footnotes of their own and could go on for as long as the chapter you were originally reading. But I’m stressing that this is all a good thing.

An example I loved was that of James O. Incandenza’s filmography. James O. Incandenza is the father of the Incandenza family, around whom 50% of the plot of the book revolves. He’s a film-maker (amongst other things) and Wallace at one point lists his entire filmography. Read it online here. Each film is listed with a synopsis of the plot, but also with details of how it was filmed, what kind of film was used, etc. Barely any of these tie back into the story ever again (though some do) and many are just jokes, but it really fleshes out the backstory (literally) and the book’s world more generally. It might be unnecessary, but then again so is the whole book in the first place.

So, what’s it actually about? The answer is complicated… It essentially all boils down to a deadly film (yeah..) created by the aforementioned James O Incandenza, and the struggle between the US government and Quebecois separatist militants (wheelchair-bound assassins, by the way) to gain control over it. But this is all going on in the background to other things. Along the way there’s drug overdoses, tennis tournaments, long philosophical exchanges on a rocky outcrop, and a weight-room guru who licks the sweat off people’s foreheads. It’s dealt with all in the most serious tones, with a blunt matter of factness that only exaggerates the comedy. Basically, it’s really really funny. (I was tempted to call it the ultimate farce, before realising those are basically literal synonyms for Infinite Jest).

I read one review on Goodreads that complained that Wallace’s prose comes across as though it was written by a depressed robot. And that’s not a bad comparison. But that’s also sort of the point. Central character Hal is a young man totally dead on the inside, devoid of feelings, and able to recall on demand the full dictionary definition of any word. He has a great relationship with his father, JOI, where the father believes Hal to be mute – leading to a great scene where JOI dresses up a psychologist to try and trick Hal into speaking, as Hal explains that JOI has clearly gone insane. It’s just really stupid, but kind of sad too.

Wallace was clearly a really smart guy. The detail and complexity of the book are amazing. He writes about themes such as addiction and depression with complete conviction (much from his own experience, as I understand it). The great irony of the book is that the Entertainment (the deadly film everyone is after) is really a metaphor for Infinite Jest itself, the suicide of its creator even mirrored in reality.

I wouldn’t recommend the book for everyone, though. It takes real commitment to make it past the couple of hundred pages before the parallel threads start to merge, and the tone of voice takes real getting used to. But once you’re in, you’re hooked. I’d love to read it again at some point, but not for a long time.

In the meantime, if you talk to me about it I’ll definitely have that conversation with you for at least an hour. It’s just really really good.

The Year of the David Foster Wallace Tribute

So at the moment I’m reading Infinite Jest. If you haven’t read it already, READ IT NOW. Like, STOP READING THIS AND GO READ INFINITE JEST.

Ok, now that it’s six months later, let’s talk.

September 12th will be the sixth anniversary of David Foster Wallace’s death. As a tribute, I’ve thought up a little writing exercise.

One of my favourite ideas in Infinite Jest is subsidized time. In short, the US tries to make up for a balance of payments deficit by allowing corporations to sponsor years. Yep, it’s incredibly genius and a great example of Wallace predicting a consumer-frenzied future. Really, it’s only a matter of time until this kind of thing starts happening for reals.

So with that in mind, let’s consider what some of those future years might be…

2014: Year of Wendy’s Right Price Right Size Menu
2015: Year of the John Lewis Christmas Ad
2016: Year of the iPhone 8
2017: Year of the 30-Day Spotify Premium Free Trial
2018: Year of the XFINITY Double Pay with X1
2019: Year of the Oreo
2020: Year of the Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate UPGRADE Limited Numbered Signature Edition
2021: Year of Shrek

I for one welcome our commericalised future.