August 2020: Reading Round-up (Lockdown Edition 3)

Books I've read (or finished reading) in July and August 2020.
Books Finished in July and August 2020.

The latest one sentence summaries of the 11 books I’ve finished reading between the last round up in June 2020 and the end of August 2020.

Non-fiction

John Maher “MoonLighting: Night Photography in the Outer Hebrides”: Not many words, but lots of fantastic night images by erstwhile Buzzcocks drummer, John Maher, all shot on his home island of Lewis/Harris. (More details about the work can be found at http://www.theflyingmonk.co.uk)

Will Birch “Cruel to Be Kind: The Life & Music of Nick Lowe”: Really good biography of singer/songwriter/producer Lowe which provides a detailed portrayal of his career, particularly his peak years (around the time of Stiff Records), but running right through to the present day.

Akala “Natives: Race & Class in the Ruins of Empire”: This book was recommended by Loyle Carner, and it’s an excellent read: well-researched, and well-written; in one or two places things are a little bit more nuanced than portrayed, but this is a great place to start if you want to understand more about British (and American) history than is taught in the schools.

Carlo Petrini “Slow Food Nation: Why Our Food Should Be Good, Clean and Fair”: I went back to re-read this, and it’s probably even more pertinent today than it was when it first came out (in Italian) in 2005: much of the content ties in with climate change issues (food miles, monocultures, soil erosion etc.) as Petrini makes a compelling case for a new multidisciplinary science of gastronomy.

Mary Robinson “Climate Justice” A Man-made Problem With a Feminist Solution”: Highly readable (and relatable) collection of stories of people living on the front line of the effects of climate change, and the ingenious solutions they are developing for the problems it poses them.

Kathleen Jamie “Surfacing”: A fabulous collection of pieces about some of Jamie’s interactions with the natural world from Alaska to Tibet; the piece about Quinhagak in Alaska is particularly outstanding, and just makes you want to pack your bags and head there to see it for yourself.

Chris Frantz “Remain in Love”: If you’re a fan of Talking Heads, you’ll particularly enjoy this, as Frantz delves into the details of how the band came together, grew up in the time of punk/new wave, and subsequently split apart, together with his other work with wife Tina (Weymouth) in the Tom Tom Club and record production.

Fiction

Harry Brett “Time To Win”: Dodgy goings-on in Great Yarmouth as a local businessman with fingers in many pies, not all of them legal, dies in suspicious circumstances, and his wife picks up the reins of his empire; the first in what looks like being a very good three-book series.

Geraldine Quigley “Music Love Drugs War”: A beautifully crafted exploration of the problems associated with the change from adolescence into adulthood in Derry during “The Troubles”, and how these play out among family and friends.

Daniel Defoe “A Journal of The Plague Year”: A fictional account of events in 1665 in and around London; with a strong factual base it has become highly relevant again with so many obvious parallels with 2020’s Coronavirus Pandemic.

Washington Irving “Tales of the Alhambra”: This classic book, which has been on my shelf for a long while, is partly a graphical depiction of Irving’s time in Granada, and partly a collection of fascinating stories and legends associated with the infamous Alhambra palace.

June 2020: Reading Round-up (Lockdown Edition 2)

June 2020: Reading Round-up (Lockdown Edition 2)

Books I've read (or finished reading) in May and June 2020.
Books finished in May and June 2020.

The latest one sentence summaries of the books I’ve read between the last round up in April 2020 and the end of June 2020.

Non-fiction

Mariana Mazzucato “The Value of Everything: Making and Taking in the Global Economy”: Excellent book that takes to task economics as a subject (for getting disconnected from the notion of value), and big businesses that have become financialised, focusing on short term returns for their shareholders (and themselves), rather than (re-)investing, while also offering a solution to the identified problems.

Muriel Gray “The First Fifty: Munro-Bagging Without a Beard”: I remember enjoying Gray’s television series about climbing Munros from many years ago, and while the text does now seem a little dated (1991), it still has its moments.

David Attenborough “Adventures of a Young Naturalist”: The early career of the UK’s favourite naturalist covers his expeditions for the Zoo Quest series, but does raise the moral dilemma about whether the animals should have been left to thrive in the wild, or captured and put into captivity (not always for conservation purposes).

Olafur Eliasson “In Real Life”: The fascinating book that accompanies 2019’s exhibition at Tate Modern comprises several interviews by Eliasson with experts and practitioners from a wide range of backgrounds; he manages to bring them all together in a coherent way that informs his practice as an architect and designer. (Note: this is the book without a spine in the image, which is how it was published, for some reason!)

Robert Elwall “Evocations of Place: The Photography of Edwin Smith”: Smith was a fantastic photographer, and this book provides plenty of insights into his career and his methods, with a wide selection of photographs that illustrate why he was (and still is) held in such high regard.

Angus Peter Campbell, Shona Grant and Lesley Hardy “Oighreachd ar Sinnsearan (Catching the Spirit of South Uist and Eriskay)”;
Shona Grant and Lesley Hardy “Dualchas àraid agus prìseil (A Unique and Precious Culture)”: Two beautifully curated companion volumes of the photographs of Dr Kenneth Robertson, who lived and worked in South Uist and Eriskay for many years, evocatively capturing the spirit of the place and the people in the 1950s and 60s.

Adam Sobsey “Chrissie Hynde: A Musical Biography”: An unofficial biography which never quite makes up its mind about what it really wants to be, and ends up falling short on all levels as a result.

Fiction

Louise Welsh “No Dominion”: The final part of the excellent Plague Times trilogy, published in 2017, unwittingly (and scarily) predicts some of the situations we have seen arise during the time of Coronavirus.

Ali Smith “Spring”: The third part of Smith’s seasons series is another keenly observed critique of modern life in the UK, this time focusing on the immigration system and the way that detainees are so badly treated.

Giacomo Leopardi “Moral Fables Followed by Thoughts” (Translated by J.G. Nichols): Leopardi, who is regarded as one of Italy’s finest poets, was a true polymath (poetry, philosophy, philology and more), and this interesting volume combines his Moral Fables with his Thoughts, many of which will still resonate with people today, even though he died in the early 19th century shortly before his 39th birthday.

Poetry

W.B. Yeats “The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats”: A marathon, not a sprint, which reflects Yeats’ prodigious poetry output, covering a very wide range of topics, and illustrating his mastery of pretty much any, and every style of writing verse.

April 2020: Reading Round-up (Lockdown Edition)

April 2020: Reading Round-up (Lockdown Edition)

Books I've read (or finished reading) in March and April 2020.
Books finished in March and April 2020.

The latest one sentence summaries of the books I’ve read between the last round up in February 2020 and the end of April 2020.

Non-fiction

Shoshana Zuboff “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism”: A very good investigation into, and explanation of how companies like Facebook and Google (and many others) are now tracking everything you do, and using that information to make money; it is very long, though.

Matt Haig “Notes on a Nervous Planet”: Given the current lockdown conditions, there has never been a better time to read Notes on a Nervous Planet which offers observations, tips and lessons for dealing with the modern world where we spend so much (read too much) time online.

Robert Bilott “Exposure”: Brilliant book of the film Dark Waters, based on the case against Dupont who knowingly poisoned the local waters in West Virginia, which highlights how hard it is to get justice when you’re up against the resources of a multi-national company that is hand in glove with the government and its agencies.

Carlo Rovelli “The Order of Time”: If you think you understand what time is, this book may change your mind, introducing a contemporary view of time that tackles issues arising from quantum theory and gravitational waves, all presented in a readable manner.

Tim Parks “Italian Neighbours”: There are few people who have captured the contemporary nature of Italy and the Italians as well as Tim Parks, whose writing manages to be amusing, insightful and engaging.

Fiction

Hania Allen “The Family Business”: The latest in the Polish Detective series, in which DI Dania Gorska investigates a cold case that intersects with a live case, centring on one Dundee family, in particular.

Elizabeth Taylor “The Soul of Kindness”: Fantastic, easy to read book that captures the social mores of life in the 20th century in the UK, in the same way that Jane Austen did in her time.

Albert Camus “The Plague”: Although it was written as an allegory (with Fascism being The Plague), this excellent book has taken on a more literal meaning in recent years, first with SARS, and then again with the Coronavirus pandemic: scarily prescient in many places.

“Early Irish Myths and Sagas”: I read this to help understand some of WB Yeats’ poetry (an ongoing task), and it’s fascinating to learn some of the folklore of Ireland, in addition to gaining an understanding of how the legends have developed over time, and discover something more of the history of Ireland too.

Poetry

Karen Solie “The Caiplie Caves”: This brilliant award-winning volume is part history, part philosophy, part contemporary, and all poetry; I read it in sections at Caiplie Caves on the Fife Coast during my daily exercise walks!

February 2020: Reading Round-up

February 2020: Reading Round-up

Books I've read (or finished reading) in January and February 2020.
Books finished in January and February 2020.

The latest one sentence summaries of the books I’ve read between the last round up in December 2019 and the end of February 2020.

Non-fiction

Booker T. Jones “Time is Tight: My Life, Note By Note”: The life and times of the legendary multi-talented Booker T., running from pre-Stax to the current day, all arranged by theme, rather than in a linear time-line.

Michael Caine “Blowing the Bloody Doors Off and Other Lessons in Life”: Caine reflects on the many things he’s learned over his life and career and passes them on, in an autobiographical way.

Jan Morris “In My Mind’s Eye”: Arguably Britain’s best travel writer turns her hand to keeping a diary for half a year, laying out her thoughts, sometimes big, sometimes small, but always engaging.

Vivien Goldman “Revenge of the She-Punks”: Insightful exploration of how women in (rock) music across the globe have been addressing some of the world’s problems from a feminist perspective, with illustrative playlists for each chapter, although the conclusion could have been much stronger.

Richard Fortey “The Earth: An Intimate History”: A fascinating history of planet earth, with a focus on plate tectonics to explain how the continents and mountains ended up where they (currently) are; could have done with a few more diagrams to illustrate some of his descriptions.

Simon Yates “Against the Wall”: The man who cut the rope on Joe Simpson in “Touching The Void” heads to Patagonia to tackle a new route up the east face of the Central Tower of Paine, and comes away having learned several personal lessons about life.

Fiction

Jonathan Coe “Middle England”: Brilliant book that perfectly captures the zeitgeist of post-referendum Britain in a way that is both humorous and deeply insightful.

Peter Robinson “Careless Love”: The latest book in the DCI Banks series: this time Banks (and Annie) attempt to unravel the mystery surrounding the deaths of three people all dressed to the nines yet found in separate remote locations within a short space of time.

Vladimir Nabokov “Lolita”: Nabokov’s classic tale about Humbert Humbert—recently departed—and his fantasies about nymphets and how, through a strange series of coincidences, he ends up realising them with his stepdaughter Dolores (aka Lolita), before things go awry.

Ann Cleeves “Wild Fire”: The final book in the Shetland series: detective Jimmy Perez tries to find the killers of a live-in nanny and an island gossip, with the usual twists and turns that come from living in a small island community.