The Marshmallow Test – Walter Mischel

For the unintiaiated, the “marshmallow test” was an experiment conducted with preschool children to establish what their ability to exercise self-control to wait for a larger reward was. In the original experiment, this was one marshmallow (or similar treat) as soon as they wanted, or double this if they waited until an adult returned to the room.

But crucially, the research underpinning The Marshmallow Test is that self-control at a very early age has a strong impact on outcomes throughout life. Those who can delay gratification for 20 minutes for a greater reward at a young age on average achieve better qualifications, save more for retirement and manage more stable relationships.

Mischel then sets out to understand what factors effect self control, from genes through stress levels in infancy, to factors under the control of adults. He tests public policies, parenting techniques and ways to control your thinking process to allow slower thinking to step into decision making. Thinking Fast and Slow was referenced, along with other research into how we control impulsive decision making and step back.

I found this an interesting read, and am glad I picked it up from the library.


Goodbye Christopher Robin – Ann Thwaite

I read Goodbye Christopher Robin travelling across France on a TGV, with my son next to me giggling uncontrollably as he listened to The House at Pooh Corner on audiobook. He is of course “Christopher Robin” age, happily and innocently talking to his soft toys.

I was surprised by how long it took in this book for a wedge to be driven between author and son, and how devoted the author was, despite his mistakes in sharing that. I can clearly see where all this sharing is going, even without the clear hint from the title. But it is a love story of a marriage and then the bonds between a father and son. How these bonds are severed leads to a heartbreaking conclusion.


Mort – Terry Pratchett

I have spent about 20 years telling people I don’t like Pratchett’s writing. Periodically I’d pick one up and give it a try, but it never quite chimed with me. Then a few people convinced me to give it another go, and I ran out of books with only my ereader on me, and spotted Mort (start of the death series) was immediately available.

For everyone who over the years has shook their heads at me not liking Pratchett, I apologise. Mort was unputdownably brilliant.

I now have Reaper Man on order at the library, only because I am too short on shelf space to buy every Discworld book right now (the long-planned library remodelling will be the subject of a later post).

I liked Mort as a character, but Death himself really was what dragged me in. His attitude to life, and kittens, along with the attempt to find an apprentice were all very compelling. The plot is perfectly paced, and the humour light.

Sadly the library auto-returned my copy before I wrote this post though, so I have lost my bookmarked quotes. I shall do better next time…


Norse Mythology – Neil Gaiman

Gaiman leads us on an adventure through Norse mythology, as we discover the complex network of relationships and characters that make up this mythology. As he states, it is a shame that many of the supposed tales have been lost through time, and Gaiman only works with those that remain.

The Norse myths to me do speak of a cold mountainous land. One where powers struggle against each other to gain an upper hand, and giants roam the lands beyond. But it is a fully-realised world, with details filled in to make compelling tales.

Gaiman celebrates Loki’s cunning, whilst slightly mocking Thor’s excessive use of strength. And they are all very fallible. In fact the fallibility of the gods is most of what the stories are about, combined with their willingness to sacrifice each other for personal gain, and inhuman speed, strength and stamina.


Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

Jane Eyre is a wonderful heroine – determined to win through in a situation and social system that doesn’t give her much of a chance. She finds her own way to escape her impoverished background, and shows real strength of character throughout.

However Rochester is so deeply flawed as a love interest that I find the ending hard to swallow. Is it not enough that Jane has achieved independent wealth and a family that love her? Why does she need to return to a man who would have made a good stepping-stone in learning who she is? An off-page incident in which he becomes dependent on her does not make compelling storytelling to me.

Of course this is probably a very modern perspective, in which moving on to a new man in your twenties is eminently possible, and Jane does very well at managing herself and not settling for an inferior option, or for a man who is in a strong position to exploit her. And she chooses for love rather than duty when it comes down to the final decision, a woman who knows what will fulfil her in the end. I just wish Rochester was a better human being.



BlueEyedBoy – Joanne Harris

I am more used to Harris’s magical realism, but this crime mystery novel is way outside this genre. I love the style it is told in: the protaganist’s blog posts and discussions in the comments. It reminds me of We Need to Talk About Kevin, a book which I didn’t keep, but found a good strong read.

The setting is of course as grim and gritty as is expected in this style of book, and in the absence of magic we instead have synaesthesia, because Harris can never have characters who are entirely normal human beings. As the characters are built, we get the feeling of the rug being shifted under us, with nothing ever quite fitting the picture I already had. But despite knowing a twist must be coming, the one taken was not what I expected.

A disturbing but satisfying read.


The Secret People – John Wyndham

The Secret People is a scifi classic with a setup reministent of Blyton (plus extramarital passion). We have a rich boy with a private jet who manages to crash it in the most inconvenient place possible. But then we take a swift turn into the underworld and discover “The Secret People”.

I loved the main concepts of this: environmental changes and evolution of races of peoples. It also considers zenophobia and true fears. Everything hangs together well on the two central characters and their investigation of this world. My only quibble is that the ending could have been improved above the current one!


The Clothing of Books – Jhumpa Lahiri

This is a lovely little essay I borrowed in ebook format from the library. It examines how little influence most authors have on their book jackets, and yet how much what is on the book jacket influences reader perceptions.

The opening is not on books but on real clothing, and how we choose it to present who we are to the world. She then explores her experience as a normal author, and how covers change between translations.  One little gem was how Virginia Wolfe’s first edition covers were designed by her sister following conversation between them.

I love this look at this aspect of perception of books, and the irony as I was reading this as an eBook, chosen based on the library service’s tagging of it, so with the cover having such little impact on my reading experience!


Daughter of Eden – Chris Beckett

The third, and feels like the final, book in Beckett’s Eden series. Daughter of Eden takes place so far into Eden’s future that the earlier characters have firmly passed into mythology. He also still has something to say about human nature,and our need to believe in something. Through the characters he introduces he frames religious wars as the ridiculous ideas that they are,

But no one else looked at it that way. How can you ask if the story is true or not, if you’re in the story yourself?

I find it interesting that for the last two books he has focussed on female characters, with the surrounding male characters being two-dimensional at best. The women avoid the nurturing trap as well, and instead are powerful characters who have ambitions and leadership skills, despite the way that the society created on Eden has limited them. And the importance of the relationships between those women is central to this world.

I liked how the story was brought full circle without taking the easy escape. Of course Earth would eventually return, but how that was resolved was imaginative.


My Man Jeeves – P. G. Wodehouse

I hadn’t actually read any Jeeves books before so felt I should give one a try. The stories are all pretty amusing, but after just one book I felt they were all very “samey”. Wodehouse has a plot and he’s sticking with it.

It is exactly the parody I was hoping for. Of course everyone knows who Jeeves is!

I’ll probably keep a Jeeves in reserve on my ereader for lazy evenings on the train when I don’t want to tackle a heavier book, and it was  lot of fun, but not something I need to read urgently.