when the professor got stuck in the snow – dan rhodes

When The Professor Got Stuck In The Snow

‘Smee’ (not his given name) is the male secretary to Professor Richard Dawkins. There are many aspects to his role – not just organising the Professor’s life, including his many public engagements, but various forms of guerilla marketing promoting the hunmanist movement in general, and specifically Dawkins himself both online and in ‘real’ life – even in pubs and wandering round towns starting Chinese whispers.

The Professor is out of touch with humanity, has no social abilities, is pompous, arrogant and self-satisfied, but after a heart-breaking split from his wife, this job seems to be just the kind of focus that Smee needs.

As Smee and the Professor are on their way to a talk at the Women’s Institute in the quaint English village of Upper Bottom, bad weather hits, and they are forced to hole up at the rectory.

I adore Dan Rhodes. Anthropology and Little Hands Clapping are a couple of the quirkiest, funny and surreal books I’ve ever read. And I DO love a bit of surreal.

Taken at face value, WTPGSITS isn’t at all ‘surreal’. It is however, very quirky and extremely funny.  It’s a pretty short read, and to be quite honest is just daft. From people being pleased that the Prof was ‘finally out of his wheelchair’ to jokes about the ridge between Front Bottom and Back Bottom and a quick battle with Mr Tumble, it was silly and childish throughout.

And just this childishness is what made it so funny. I felt quite light and gleeful whilst reading it. There was no ‘side’ to the story either – although the Prof was completely detached and self-righteous as a character, there was something still quite appealing about him. His naivete about his fellow humans made him come across as a big kid himself. The characters that he encountered that argued his argument of there being no God were all very accepting and intelligent.

I loved that as a reader, I didn’t feel that I had to pick a side and stick to it – it didn’t make any difference what my belief was.

I know that it sounds as if this whole book was about making Richard Dawkins look bad, but honestly, it wasn’t – and I’m afraid you’d have to read the book to understand. No spoilers here 😉

However, I bought this on Amazon at the weekend, and had absolutely NO idea that it was planned to be ‘removed from sale’ by the author and publisher on Wednesday (21st May 2014). It had been on sale for 12 weeks by then, and they have been conducting an ‘experiment’. You can read more about that on Dan Rhodes’ website here.

I thoroughly recommend it as an irreverent, light, no-brain-required read when it is republished. Cast all doubts to the wind, let yourself go, and giggle at the sheer silliness!

american gods – neil gaiman

American Gods

Ever since I have been with The Man, he has been trying to get me to read American Gods, but I have steadfastedly refused (I like finding little ways to annoy him).  Daft I guess, as Good Omens is one of my favourite books of all time, and I have read Neverwhere about 10 times over the years!

This year so the tenth anniversary of American Gods first being published, and we were also looking for a book to reading August for the E17 Book Club, so I thought I would suggest it as it has had such fantastic reviews all over the place – including a massive 4.05/5 on Goodreads (from more than 58k ratings) and inclusion in World Book Night’s Top 100 Most Popular Books.  The rest of the group agreed!

The story starts with Shadow, a convict who is just being released from prison.  All he wants to do is return to his beautiful wife Laura, and get on with carving a better life for them.  However, soon after receiving some disturbing news about Laura, his life seems to take a turn for the more surreal.

He meets Mr Wednesday, who could be a God (if he is to be believed) and is offered a job with some rather strange stipulations.  Feeling that he has nothing to lose, Shadow agrees to the terms of the verbal contract and begins a road trip across America with the enigmatic Wednesday, meeting his ever stranger cohorts on their way, coupled with the intensifying feeling that something bigger than all of them is really going down!

If the book had been about 150 pages shorter, I could have very easily said “I LOVED IT!” – end of story!  But I can actually say that I really enjoyed it.  Shadow was a fantastic character – I really felt for him, and he was extremely easy to like – and when you like a character (especially if they are the protagonist), it makes you buy into the story that much more.  Wednesday was also a fantastic character – extremely visual.

Gaiman is a real story-teller, you get lost in his descriptions and ideas.  You just have to let yourself be taken along by him to where he wants you to be!  There were so many strands to the narrative, so many little incidents that seemed unimportant at the time, and then later became key or even vice versa – whole beautifully written mini stories that were almost seperate from the main text, and were never again referred to within it!

However, there seemed to be a crucial incident about 3/4 of the way into the book that lost a lot of us in the group.  We almost all lost interest at that point, and some found it rather gruelling to get to the end after it.

But don’t let this put you off of reading it, it is a truly magical story, and certainly makes you think about religion, contemporary worship (ie, are we all praying at the altar of consumerism and media?) and the morals of mankind.  Well, it made ME think anyway.

I think we should go back to the old ways, make a few sacrifices. Build more beautiful temples. Have more swordfights. Regain some magic and mystery.

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