Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Travels Through Time, Post and Branding

I can't believe that we've already raced through into March! It seems only yesterday that I was writing up my End of Year post and thinking of my hopes for 2015.

Despite that feeling of time flying by, I've stuck to my three-per-month book goal, this time getting in a couple of non-fictions along with the usual fiction. 

Two of the books I read this month have been presents on consecutive Christmases. If you're wondering why I took so long to get around to reading them, it probably has to do with my ever-growing reading pile, and my insatiable book-buying habit ;)

So here's the result of this month's reading: eye-opening and serious, quirky and eccentric!

As usual I've rated them out of five according to overall enjoyment. 

No Logo - Naomi Klein (4/5)
This was in the recommended reading list in the back of Scarlett Thomas' PopCo, which I read last month.
It also happened to show up in a local charity shop, so naturally I handed over the bargain 50p to the cause of underprivileged people of the world, in exchange for this book...which is all about multinational brands, the terrible overseas sweatshops that supply their goods (at the cost of the lives, limbs, and human rights of its workers), and the activism that has tried to bring these matters to light. So basically, rich brands and the underprivileged.  

The book is very eye-opening, and to begin with I felt as though I should be taking notes! I think we're all aware that workers in foreign factories are poorly paid, and have to work in bad conditions, but through brand PR about codes of conduct and strict inspections (also touched upon in the book) we're easily persuaded that Things Are Okay Now.

As this book is fifteen years old, I'd be interested to know how - or if - the situations described within have changed.
Considering the collapse of Rana Plaza - an eight storey Bangladeshi building that housed a garment factory - in 2013, I'd assume the answer is that conditions haven't changed.
Considered to be the worst garment factory accident in history, the collapse killed 1,129 and injured over 2,500 workers. Some were still missing when the search was called off.
These workers were paid anything from 12-24 cents an hour, working 90-100 hours a week with only two days off each month.

Some of the companies whose clothes were being made at Rana Plaza were among the many who claimed to have codes of conduct for factory conditions and treatment of workers in the sub-contracted factories. Some made donations towards a trust fund following the disaster, but many didn't.

So I went a little off-tangent here. Returning to the subject of the book, I found it informative, and the contents somewhat shocking. I'd have given this a 5/5 but for the fact I found the font hard to read, and the book itself a little difficult to get into.

By the way, going by the current exchange rate, the 50p (£0.50) I paid for the book would have paid a 'young helper' at Rana Plaza for an entire 6.25 hours of work, a 'junior operator' for 3.4 hours, or a 'senior sewer' for 3.1 hours. Yet for me, it was a bit of pocket change. Really puts it into perspective, doesn't it?

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children - Ransom Riggs (4/5)
A novel that isn't all it appears at first glance. The blurb on the inside of the dust jacket only gives away the tiniest glimpse of the plot!

The story centres around Jacob, who spent his childhood being told stories by his grandfather, until he decided he didn't believe them anymore. But when tragedy strikes in the family, Jacob begins to believe there was more to his grandfather's stories than he thought: maybe the stories weren't just the ravings of a man gone mad from his experience of the war.
Sixteen and suffering from nightmares of that fateful day, Jacob realises that he needs to find out the truth. He leaves his native Florida for a small island off the coast of Wales, with the intention of finding the children's home where his grandfather grew up, and hopefully get some answers about what happened there.
But Jacob makes unexpected discoveries--some terrible, some astonishing, some that nobody would ever believe.
And so begins an even bigger adventure, filled with danger and things unknown, as Jacob tries to solve the mystery of his grandfather's past, and help newfound friends defend against a bigger evil than the nightmares Jacob faces each night.

I don't want to write too much about this book because I don't want to ruin the plot, but it does twist and turn incredibly, with new threads of plot popping up everywhere!
Part of the story focuses on old photographs; the book itself contains old-fashioned images that tie in with those described within the text, which I really liked.
The only thing I didn't like was that the novel finished with several loose ends. A little Googling told me that there is another book (with a third due for release this year). I found the second in Waterstone's, so it's now on my bookshelf! (Yes. More books...)

This book sits nicely on the line between young adult and adult fantasy fiction--I enjoyed it, and would have enjoyed it had I read it in my teens, too.

The Englishman who Posted Himself and Other Curious Objects - John Tingey (4/5)
I was given this book the Christmas before last, after seeing it in a shop window. It took me a while to start reading this (see previous mentions of having a book-buying habit) but this month, I decided enough was enough. I simply had to get through this one--I was too curious to let it sit there any longer!

This is a non-fiction about W.R. Bray, a gentlemen who, in 1898, purchased a copy of the Post Office Guide and began a lifelong hobby in testing the abilities of the postal service--and seeing how far he could push the rules. Through sending postcards he managed to amass a huge collection of postal stamps, and also build on another collection, that of autographs.
Bray didn't limit his postal adventures to postcards, either. He sent all manner of curios through the post, ranging from rabbit skulls to dog biscuits - and even himself - with the intention that it would all end up being delivered back to him, via the postal service.

The text of the book isn't particularly long - the book itself stands at a little over 170 pages - but the tales of Bray's exploits and experiments are very entertaining. The book is filled with full-colour images of some of Bray's postcards and letters, which really liven up the already fascinating text. These images really bring the tale of Bray's hobby to life. I loved seeing all the old postcards, and spent a fair amount of time squinting at the handwriting as I tried to decipher what was written (thankfully, in several cases a transcription was provided!)

This is a charming book about a truly inventive and eccentric English gentleman.
I found it easy to read, and am curious to know what the rest of Bray's collection would have looked like!

That's it for March's 'required reading'. Roll on April and the next set of books! 

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