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.

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.

December 2019: Reading Round-up

Books I've read (or finished reading) in November and December 2019.
The books I’ve been reading in the last two months.

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

Non-fiction

bauhaus-archive berlin & magdalene droste “bauhuas”: An excellent updated comprehensive insight into the workings of the Bauhaus from its opening in 1919 to its closure in 1933, that is jam-packed with photographs of the people and their creations.

Fiona MacCarthy “Walter Gropius: Visionary Founder of the Bauhaus”: MacCarthy, one of Britain’s best biographers, explores the fascinating life and times of Gropius before, during and after the Bauhaus, at great length.

Bernard Cribbins “Bernard Who?”: Written in an easy to read, conversational style, this is a hugely enjoyable compilation of anecdotes, rather than a “conventional” autobiography, and has lots of “Well, I never knew that!” moments.

Steve Brusatte “The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs”: The dinosaurs never really died out–birds are the ancestors of dinosaurs–and Brusatte presents an insightful exploration of how the dinosaurs came and ultimately went, based on the most recent scientific evidence.

John Blashford-Snell “Something Lost Behind the Ranges”: Brilliant autobiographical book covering the life and times of intrepid explorer Colonel John Blashford-Snell, the founder of Operation Drake, Operation Raleigh, and the Scientific Exploration Society; strap in for a rollercoaster ride that is way more exciting than anything Indiana Jones ever did!

Ron Ferguson “Black Diamonds and the Blue Brazil”: Acknowledged by many as a classic (a recently updated edition is available), Ferguson offers something like a social history of Cowdenbeath, the (former) mining town, and the football club, with all the inherent highs and lows.

Jeff Connor “A Season with Britain’s Worst Football Team”: Connor presents an outsider’s view of a season with East Stirlingshire FC, although many of the episodes could be applied to several clubs in the lower leagues in Scottish football.

Fiction

D.H. Lawrence “Lady Chatterley’s Lover”: Yes, the infamous one, revisited before embarking on the historical novel about the real Lady Chatterley (see below).

Annabel Abbs “Frieda: The Original Lady Chatterley”: Very well-researched piece of historical fiction that offers lots of interesting observations into the life and times of the woman who provided the character for the real Lady Chatterley.

Halldor Laxness “Independent People”: Classic tale of life as a rural Icelander–translated from the Icelandic by J.A. Thompson from Berwick-on-Tweed–as the main protagonist (Bjartur of Summerhouses) struggles to make his own way through life and all the trials and tribulations it hurls at him.

Andrea Camilleri “The Overnight Kidnapper”: Another fantastic tale of Inspector Salvo Montalbano (and his band of merry men) this time battling to solve the case of a series of short term kidnappings in which there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme of reason to connect the crimes… or is there?

Poetry

Simon Armitage “The Unaccompanied”: 2017s brilliant collection by the inimitable new Poet Laureate, dealing with the issues of a world that is probably in even more turmoil now than it was just a couple of years ago.

October 2019: Reading Round-up

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

Non-fiction

David Ross “George & Robert Stephenson: A Passion for Success”: The story of the Father of the railways and his son is a very interesting look at the development of the railways in the early 19th century, although it would have benefited from some heavier editing, and fewer critical comments about other biographers’ reviews of the Stephensons.

Charles Shaar Murray “Crosstown Traffic: Jimi Hendrix and Post-War Pop”: An interesting, atypical biography that looks at Hendrix’s life through the impact he had elsewhere in music.

Gavin Pretor-Pinney “The Wavewatcher’s Companion”: Fascinating exploration of everything you ever wanted to know about waves of all different types, shapes and sizes.

Thomas Levenson “The Hunt for Vulcan”: Very readable tale of how there was once a planet called Vulcan, until Einstein came along and managed to explain why it didn’t exist.

Adam Smith “Wealth of Nations”: Long, but well worth reading; Smith wouldn’t recognise the bastardised phenomenon they call “capitalism” these days.

Ed Vulliamy “When Words Fail”: Excellent autobiographical book that tries to capture the relationship between music and war (and peace) from the some time war correspondent and music critic, with a very useful bibiography and discography.

Fiction

Mel Sherratt “Hush Hush”: Very good crime thriller in which DS Grace Allendale returns to her home town of Stoke and comes up against her criminal family when investigating a series of brutal murders.

Madame de Staël “Corinne, or Italy”: Fabulous novel that is all about (the fragility of) love: between two people; of people; of culture; and of places–Italy in particular.

Hania Allen “Clearing The Dark”: Another fine tale in which Polish Detective Dania Gorska tackles more of the criminal fraternity in and around Dundee, written by my neighbour!

Poetry

Raymond Antrobus “The Perseverance”: Latest set of fabulous, soul-searching poems from the brilliant D/deaf poet, Raymond Antrobus.

August 2019: Reading Round-Up

August 2019: Reading Round-Up

The latest one sentence summaries of the 11 books I’ve read between the last round up in June and the end of August 2019.

Non-fiction

Joe Boyd “White Bicycles: Making Music in the 1960s”: Terrific account of the music industry at a time of great upheaval when folk and rock collided, including working with the likes of Nick Drake, and Sandy Denny.

Sue Nelson “Wally Funk’s Race for Space”: The story of the force of nature that is Wally Funk, part of the Mercury 13 female astronauts programme that was cancelled, and trailblazer for women in aviation.

Ben Ratliff “Every Song Ever: Twenty Ways to Listen to Music Now”: Interesting notion, but too pretentious by far, relying on way too many musical examples for illustration that won’t feature in most people’s music collections.

Helen Jukes “A Honeybee Heart Has Five Openings”: Brilliant book about how an interest turns into a near obsession, it works both as a sort of introduction to how to get started in bee keeping as well as personal tale of self-discovery.

Mary Beard “Women & Power”: The excellent Mary Beard’s two London Review of Books lectures on feminism, using the classics to illustrate the length of history of the problem, and pondering on the need to redefine what we mean by “power” in order to solve it.

Peig Sayers “An Old Woman’s Reflections”: A wonderful collection of oral tales and reminiscences from Big Peig, one of the last people to live on the island of Great Blasket off the coast of County Kerry.

Fiction

Jon McGregor “Reservoir 13”: A near stream of consciousness diary-style account of life in a village in the years following the unexplained disappearance of a young girl.

Jorge Luis Borges “Fictions”: The cleverly written, classic set of short stories which often appear to be more than fiction.

Andrea Camilleri “The Pyramid of Mud”: In the 22nd Montalbano book, which is just as good as all of the rest of them, corruption in the construction industry forms the canvas for the inspector’s investigations.

Max Brooks “World War Z”: You want zombies, this book has the them, a fictional reportage of what happened during and after the world waged war on the undead.

Poetry

Jalal-Din Rumi “Selected Poems of Rumi”: An interesting, short, curated volume of some of the works of the legendary Sufi mystic Rumi.

June 2019: Reading Round-Up

June 2019: Reading Round-Up

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

Non-fiction

Amy Liptrot “The Outrun”: Excellent autobiographical book about coping with alcoholism while living in London, and family mental health issues, with more than a little help from a return to the the wild and wondrously beautiful surroundings of Orkney.

Patti Smith “Devotion”: An easy-to-read short triptych of a book, part autobiographical/diary, part novel, part analytical (on how she writes).

Richard Holmes “This Long Pursuit”: Britain’s greatest living biographer reflects on a career as a Romantic biographer using a wide-ranging selection of biographical chapters ranging from Mary Wollstonecraft to William Blake.

Naomi Klein “This Changes Everything”: Very detailed analysis of climate change issues, highlighting how things have gone wrong, but retaining an optimistic note.

John Thackra “How to Thrive in the Next Economy”: A journey through many of the issues we need to confront to cope with the effects of climate change, and how people are dealing with things in a bottom-up way.

Extinction Rebellion “This is not a Drill”: The Extinction Rebellion handbook is an excellent series of short essays (including one by Caroline Lucas) that tell you everything you need to know about who they are, what they do, and how you can get involved.

Fiction

Jo Nesbo “The Snowman”: First Nesbo I’ve read: it has one too many plot twists to be perfect, meaning it’s about 100+ pages too long to be an excellent book.

M.R. James “Ghost Stories of an Antiquary”: A fine collection of short ghost stories from the master.

Italo Calvino “Our Ancestors”: A trilogy of the master storyteller’s best shorter works, with lots of highs, lows, and intrigue.

Kate Macarenhas “The Psychology of Time Travel”: An interesting read, which has several clever and unexpected twists, with the events laid out in a non-linear timeline: a sort of Sci-Fi whodunnit.

Poetry

Lemn Sissay “Gold from the Stone”: A compendium of the inspirational man’s poetry, including some of his newer works.

William Blake “Songs of Innocence and Experience”: A very nice almost pocket-sized edition of two of Blake’s calssic works, with facsimile reproductions of his engravings.

April 2019: Reading Round-up

April 2019: Reading Round-up

Books That I've Read in the Last Few Weeks

A one sentence summary of the books I’ve been reading over the last few weeks.

Non-fiction

Mark Miodownik “Stuff Matters: The Strange Stories of the Marvellous Materials that Shape Our Man-made World”: A fascinating analysis of the materials that appear in a photograph of everyday life (the author drinking coffee in his roof garden).

Thom Eagle “First Catch: Study of a Spring Meal”: A cookery book based around a single menu, First Catch will change the way you think about cooking.

Andrea Wulf “The Invention of Nature: The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt, The Lost Hero of Science”: Excellent biography of the genius who highlighted the links between humans and the natural world, and flagged up how deforestation was linked to climate change in 1800.

Gaia Vince “Adventures in the Anthropocene: A Journey to the Heart of the Planet We Made”: A brilliant eye-opening exploration of the issues facing the planet as a whole (water supply, food production, electricity, climate change and so on) covering how they are linked and what we can do about it.

Fiction

Olivia Lang “Crudo”: A few hectic weeks in the life of fictional author, Kathy Acker, trying to deal with the problems of surviving in a post-EU referendum, Trumpian world.

Kurt Vonnegut “Cat’s Cradle”: Vonnegut’s eerie, satirical picture of a dysfunctional world is as relevant today as it ever has been.

Philip Hensher (Ed.) “The Penguin Book of the Contemporary British Short Story”: Proof that the short story is alive and kicking in Britain, including works from Ali Smith, A.L. Kennedy, Irvine Welsh, Rose Tremain and many more.

Hannah Rothschild “The Improbability of Love”: An intriguing fictional biography of the life of an artwork (which gives the book its title) presented as a detective story which slowly reveals its chequered past.

Films, Books and Music Round-up – 2018 (Q1)

A round up of some of the films, books and music that I’ve (mostly) enjoyed so far this year.

Films

Darkest Hour: Oscar winning performance by Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in a film focusing on his early days as Prime Minister during WWII.

Early Man: Latest Ardman stop motion animation based around when the Stone Age met the Bronze Age. Lots of gags for adults as well as kids.

Makala: Great documentary following a charcoal burner in Democratic Republic of Congo as he hussles to make a better life for his wife and children.

Sweet Country: Very good, hard-hitting (in all respects) Australian western, exploring racism in the Western Territory. Based on true events.

You Were Never Really Here: Joaquin Phoenix gives a great performance as a war veteran who routinely uses violence to rescue young girls from prostitution. Then he finds himself caught up in something much deeper than he thought. Another great film from Lynn Ramsay.

Books (Fiction)

Ascension by Gregory Dowling: Very good murder mystery with a good helping of political intrigue. Set in Venice in the mid 18th century.

Die of Shame by Mark Billingham: Excellent crime thriller in which the action centres around a self-help group of addicts. Decidedly different, and a real page turner.

Distress Signals by Catherine Ryan Howard: Crime thriller set around a cruise shipping company. Critically acclaimed, but some of the plotlines are rather preposterous.

The Beautiful Dead by Belinda Bauer: Very good crime thriller. A crime reporter who is very closely tracking a serial killer explores the lengths she would go to in order to get a scoop as their lives become intertwined..

Books (Non-fiction)

Wild Tales by Graham Nash: Biographies are normally narcissistic, but this one takes the biscuit. The first part is interesting (about his early career including the Hollies), but then the book mostly drones on about the dysfunctional nature of Crosby, Stills and Nash (and Young), and drugs, covering ground that he’s been documented before elsewhere.

Born To Run by Bruce Springsteen: Frank appraisal of the life and times of Springsteen and some of the people of America that often get overlooked. Even if you don’t like Springsteen’s music, it’s worth reading.

Music

Whyte Horses “Empty Words”: The mighty psych-poppers are back. Their first album was very good indeed, and this one is even better. Dom Thomas is a genius!

Hookworms “Microshift”: Hookworms add a dance spin to their previously raucous sound. Shades of LCD Soundsystem, in places, only much better.

Hollie Cook “Vessel of Love”: New label, but same old Hollie Cook, sounding better than ever as she works her way through 10 original reggae songs, all neatly produced by Youth (of Killing Joke fame).

Johann Johannsson “Englaborn and Variations”: A fitting epitaph to the sublime Johannsson’s life. Includes a re-mastering of debut album “Englaborn” and several variations of some tracks, either by Johannsson himself, or by others, such as A Winged Victory For The Sullen.

Nils Frahm “All Melody”: Frahm celebrates his new studio in Berlin with a blend of the classical and the modern, going for a bigger more expansive sound than usual. He also captures some of the sounds of the new studio along the way.

Loma “Loma”: Quite a low-key album (no pun intended), with shades of Low and even a bit of Clinic. This one’s a real grower that rewards repeated plays.

Field Music “Open Here”: If Talking Heads had been British, this is what they would have sounded like. This time around the brothers Brewis are trying to make sense of the Britain we now live in, in their own inimitable pop/funk style.