31/12/2011

Books 2011


December
Five Minute Bread by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François
Bread by by Eric Treuille and Ursula Ferrigno (2007)
All Fun And Games Until Someone Loses An Eye by Christopher Brookmyre (2005)
It's A P.C. World by Edward Stourton (2008)
A Short History Of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (2003)
Danny, The Champion Of The World by Roald Dahl (1974)
Make Room For Daddy by Andrea Edwards (1990)

November
The Big Four (audio book) by Agatha Christie (1927)
Past Mortem (audio book) by Ben Elton (2004)
Bread (River Cottage Handbook No. 3) by Daniel Stevens (2008)
The New Family Bread Book by Ursula Ferrigno (2007)
The Bread Book by Sarah Lewis (2003)

October
31 Dream Street (audio book) by Lisa Jewell (2007)
Frankie Says Relapse! by Siobhan Curham (2004)
The Scene Stealers by Siobhan Curham (2004)
The Day Of The Jackal by Frederick Forsyth (1971)
Watching The English by Kate Fox (2004)

September
Liar's Poker by Michael Lewis (1989)
Just My Type: A Book About Fonts by Simon Garfield (2010)

June
The Body In The Library by Agatha Christie (1942)

May
One Hit Wonderland by Tony Hawks ()
The Casebook Of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle (1927)
His Last Bow by Arthur Conan Doyle (1917)
Yes We Have No by Nik Cohn (1999)
The Return Of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle (1902)
The Memoirs Of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle (1894)
The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle (1892)
The Haçienda by Peter Hook (2009)

April
On Royalty by Jeremy Paxman (2009)
Miss Marple: The Complete Short Stories by Agatha Christie
The To-Do List by Mike Gayle (2007)
Killing Bono by Neil McCormick (2010) (previously published as I Was Bono's Doppelgänger, 2004)
How Not To Grow Up by Richard Herring (2010)
Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire by J.K. Rowling (2000)
The Surgeon's Proposal by Lillian Darcy (2003)
Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling (1999)

March
One Red Paperclip: How An Ordinary Man Achieved His Dreams With The Help Of A Simple Office Supply by Kyle MacDonald ()
The Outback Doctor by Lucy Clarke ()
Runaway Cowboy by Judy Christenberry ()
From The First Kiss by Jessica Bird (2006)
E Squared by Matt Beaumont (2009)
Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets by J.K. Rowling (1998)
The Borrowed Ring by Gina Wilkins (2005)
Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling (1997)
Murder On The Links by Agatha Christie (1928)
The Stainless Steel Rat Wants You by Harry Harrison (1978)
The Stainless Steel Rat Saves The World by Harry Harrison (1972)

February
The Stainless Steel Rat's Revenge by Harry Harrison (1970)
Letters From London 1990 - 1995 by Julian Barnes (1995)
The Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison (1961)
Acting Up by Melissa Nathan (2008)
Before She Met Me by Julian Barnes (1982)
The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis (1952)
Foundation And Empire by Isaac Asimov (1952)
Foundation by Isaac Asimov (1951)

January
Panic Nation by Stanley Feldman & Vincent Marks ()
Rock On: How I Tried To Stop Caring About Music And Learned To Love Corporate Rock by Dan Kennedy (2008)
Past Mortem by Ben Elton (2004)
The Road To Gandolfo by Robert Ludlum (writing as Michael Shepherd) (1975)
Don't You Know Who I Am? by Piers Morgan (2007)
How I Escaped My  Certain Fate: The Life And Deaths Of A Stand-Up Comedian by Stuart Lee (2010)
The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot (2000)
Attack Of The Unsinkable Rubber Ducks by Christopher Brookmyre (2007)

16/12/2011

This Is Fats

Fats Domino
1956



I'm not quite sure why this is included in the list of must-listen albums from the fifties.  To me, it sounds like fairly pedestrian, easy-going boogie-woogie.  "Blueberry Hill" is a classic tune, of course, and "Blue Monday" is nicely muscular.  But the rest is medium-paced R&B (in the fifties sense of rhythm and blues) without, to me, much to distinguish one track from another.

I guess it had more impact at the time.  Fats Domino had loads of hit singles and the breakthrough of a black man, playing very identifably black music, was an important one.  The fact that the music sounds so familiar is perhaps a measure of its influence.

If I'm in the mood for something very specifically like this, then this is probably as good as it gets.  But I can't see it being a mood I'm in often.

11/12/2011

In Celebration Of Dead Trees

I saw a post at the Big Green Bookshop (via my friend Paul), which I thought was a nice idea.  Take a photo of one of your bookshelves and write a short paragraph about the book, what it means to you and how it came to be there.

I have lots of books but most of them are now in the loft because we don't have the space to have them all out on bookshelves.  Every few months I take a box out of the loft and swap the books I have out on a shelf for some that I haven't looked at for a few years.  Although I'd rather have all my books out, this system works quite well because it's a bit like having new stuff and I like re-reading books anyway.

Here's what my shelf contains at the moment.  (In fact, it holds another row of books behind those in the photograph, but I'll only mention the ones you can see.)


1. Making The World Work Better by Kevin Maney, Steve Hamm & Jeffrey O'Brien (2011)
I'm a little annoyed to have this hagiography of IBM be my first book on this shelf.  It was the only one here that I didn't select myself; all IBMers got one as part of the company's centennial celebration, whether or not they wanted it.  It's also the only book here I haven't read.  I tried, but it's not very interesting.  Could I return it and just have the money please?

2. The Dilbert Future by Scott Adams (1997)
I bought this from a charity shop a few weeks ago, although I'd read it before.  It's mostly light and amusing, but right at the end, Scott Adams takes a break from his usual sarcasm and offers a genuine suggestion for bettering yourself, called "Affirmations".  From what I can tell, it's a kind of new-age, NLP type thinking.  I generally hold such beliefs in contempt, but I do have to admit to trying affirmations once, a long time ago, and they kind of worked.  I couldn't remember what Adams had said about them, so I got the book to remind myself.

3. River Cottage Handbook No. 3: Bread by Daniel Stevens (2008)
I started making bread a few years ago when I bought a breadmaker, and although it was OK, the results never really impressed me much.  So about six months ago, for some reason, I decided to make it completely by hand.  And as far as I'm concerned, if you want to do something properly then you need a book about it.  I borrowed several from the library and most of them were just compendiums of one page recipes, with a little fluff at the beginning about how to knead the dough.  This is different: it goes into deep detail about each step of making the bread.  I love this kind of detail.  I've enjoyed making the bread too and now I make about two loaves a week.  I'll be buying a copy of this if no-one gets it for me for Christmas (hint hint).

4. The Oxford Concise English Dictionary (1982)
In my third year of secondary school (what is now year 8, I think), we were told we had to have a dictionary.  This is what I got.  The custom binding is by me, age 13.  It's now being used by my eldest son, occasionally, which is why it's out.

5. The Penguin Dictionary Of Quotations edited by J.M. Cohen (1975)
On the other hand, I'm not quite sure why this is out on the shelf, since I never use it.  Actually, I think it originally belonged to my parents.  It's fascinating to dip into it though.  And I've always been intruiged by the way it's indexed and catalogued.  That must have taken a lot of work.  And now you can do it so easily on a computer.  This is a bit of a relic, really.

6. The Princess Diaries: Take Two by Meg Cabot (2001)
7. The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot (2000)
I bought these from the library for 10p each because K (who was 6 at the time) was enjoying the films.  I quickly realised that they weren't suitable for her just yet.  On the other hand, my wife enjoyed them very much and worked her way through the whole series.  Just to be sure.  Anyway, they're being saved for when K is a bit older.

8. New Toddler Taming by Dr. Christopher Green (2001)
Babies don't come with manuals, but of course that makes the aftermarket particularly, uh, fertile.  I think we started with Babygruppenführer Gina Ford, on the advice of my sister, but we didn't really get on with it (and don't get me started about how rubbish it is if you have more than one kid).  So we looked around and found Christopher Green.  He's done three books: this one, Babies and Beyond Toddlerdom.  They're all filled with eminently sensible, down-to-earth advice rather than unachievable timetables and we still use them (except the one about babies, obviously).

9. You Never Give Me Your Money by Peter Doggett (2010)
I bought this book on the recommendation of David Hepworth (via The Word magazine, to which I subscribe).  It's a history of The Beatles, after The Beatles, specifically focussing (I think) on their business affairs.  I've just started reading it, so I can't offer much opinion on it.

10. Clive James On Television by Clive James (1991)
This reminds me of a girl I knew when I was 18.  She was several years older than me; she may have had designs on my person but I was utterly clueless with girls at that age.  She lent me Visions Before Midnight, the first of the three books collected in this omnibus edition.  They contain the TV review columns he wrote for The Observer during the seventies.  I can just about remember some of the later programmes he discusses.  This doesn't stop the reviews being learned, relevant and very, very entertaining.  What he's got to say about the Olympic coverage and (in particular) commentary of 1972 is still true today.  Highly recommended.  (Ruth, I still have your book, btw ...)

11. ABBA: The Name Of The Game by Andrew Oldham, Tony Calder & Colin Irwin
I've loved ABBA since I was six.  My Dad was doing some work at EMI and brought me the first Greatest Hits collection and Arrival.  So this book, which starts with the premise that Benny and Bjorn were two of the finest songwriters - ever! - is obviously right up my street.  It's a very entertaining read too, but for all the humour and obsession with Agnetha's bottom, it has serious points to make about their achievements and history.  Of course, if you're one of those people still in denial about ABBA's place in music history, this may pass you by.  We'll see who's proved right in thirty years time, mark my words.

12. The Kingdom By The Sea by Paul Theroux (1983)
During 1999 and 2000, I spent about 11 months working in Edinburgh.  This was long enough to make friends in the city, but I still ended up alone a lot.  I spent much of that time in bookshops, of which there were many.  I quickly ran out of titles I definitely wanted to read and started taking chances on books that sounded vaguely familiar.  This was one of them.  It's a classic travel book, but I have never managed to finish it.  I can admire its qualities while still finding it a bit of grind.  I'm not sure why.

13. Watching The English by Kate Fox (2004)
This is one of my favourite books.  Unfortunately, repeated reads, while very enjoyable, have resulted in me completely forgetting how I discovered it.  It's like listening to your favourite song again and again; eventually, any memories it had for you are drowned in micro-memories of the other times you listened to it and eventually it reduces any meaning it once had to almost zero.  Nevertheless, I would highly recommend this entertaining study of English manners and habits - in fact, I have recommended it, many times.

14. 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die edited by Robert Dimery (2008)
Bought as part of my grand project to listen to more music.

15. Alice's Adventures In Wonderland & Through The Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll (1865 & 1871)
This book accompanied C & me on our holiday to Florida way back in 2000.  I remember reading it while sitting by the pool at the Holiday Inn on Key Largo.  The juxtaposition of location and story was a little jarring and lent a certain sense of surrealism to the holiday.  It's out on shelf now because the kids are enjoying the Disney film, and K likes the ballet that was on telly a while back.  She doesn't seem to like the book though.

16. Friends Like These by Danny Wallace (2008)
I like Danny Wallace - or, at least, I like the persona in his books, where he has a kind of wide-eyed naivety and innocence.  It may be close to his real personality, of course, or not - who can tell?  But the books are jolly good fun.  He's another author I discovered while I was working in Edinburgh.

17. Good Wood: Joints by Albert Jackson & David Day (1995)
18. Good Wood: Basic Woodworking by Albert Jackson & David Day (2001)
One of my long term ambitions is to make an electric guitar.  As I said before, my instinctive approach is to buy a book about it.  In this case, I already have books about making guitars, but I need basic woodworking skills before I can do that.  So even though I'm several years away from being able to start my project, I'm starting to collect the books.  I might even do a course.  These books were excellent value secondhand.

19. Complete Prints 1962 - 2010 by Bridget Riley (2010)
I first saw Bridget Riley's wonderful patterns at an exhibition at The Barbican in the early nineties and I was immediately smitten.  Since then I've wanted to have some in the house, but I'm hampered by two things: firstly, finding large prints of her work is quite hard; and secondly, C won't have it, because she's not that keen and thinks it wouldn't really work on our walls.  So it's lovely of her to have bought this for my birthday.  The book contains copies of her prints, so it's not the big famous pictures, but it's very interesting nonetheless.

20. Words and Phrase Origins by Robert Hendrickson (2008)
This is another birthday present from C - and, unfortunately, another book that has been somewhat superseded by the internet.  It's much more convenient to refer to than a computer though, but it is rather heavy!


The people who wrote that original post are absolutely correct.  You couldn't write a post like this about your Kindle.

05/12/2011

Johnny Burnette & The Rock 'n' Roll Trio

Johnny Burnette & The Rock 'n' Roll Trio
1956

Contrary to my preconceived notions before I started on this project, music in the fifties was pretty sophisticated.  The arranging and recording skill behind acts such as Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald, or the sheer theoretical knowledge required to properly understand (let alone play) post-bop jazz like Miles Davis's The Birth Of The Cool or Charles Mingus's Ah Um must have been pretty daunting to anyone wanting to join in.  So the rawness of early rock 'n' roll like Johnny Burnette must have sounded as jarring and alien at the time as the punk rock of twenty years later.

Listening to it now, it sounds primitive.  The instrumentation is basic, just a couple of guitars, a double bass and a couple of drums.  The singing, in particular, is untrained, raucous and direct.  But it has an energy and urgency that is missing from the cool, restrained and (above all) professional music coming from the established artists of the time.

Maybe the iconic figure of rock 'n' roll is Elvis Presley (who also released his debut in 1956) but this album is clearly one of the formative roots of rockabilly (they even have a song called "Rock Billy Boogie").  I found it of more than just historical interest; it's very immediate and some of the guitar sounds are really grungy.  Good stuff.

16/10/2011

The Day Of The Jackal

Frederick Forsyth
1971

Obviously a classic.  And according to an article in this month's Word magazine, Forsyth just sat down and wrote it, at 30 pages a day or something.  I'm sure it wasn't that easy, because the amount of detail in the book is astonishing.  Of course, as a journalist he gathered info all the time, but surely it took some research?

Anyway, it's a good read - not too long, a satisfying plot of sufficient complexity and an aura of reality so convincing that apparently many people have to be reminded that it is, in fact, fiction.

I have little interest in history and, generally, almost none in that of countries other than my own.  In this I judge myself similar to most people.  In some respects, the book's greatest achievement may be to be of interest to people like me despite being about another country.

03/10/2011

Julie Is Her Name

Julie London
1955

This is even more minimal than Black Coffee - just Julie, a guitarist (the legendary Barney Kessel) and a bassist (Ray Leatherwood). The tempo is equally downbeat, but for some reason this doesn't sound as smoky and late-night sultry as Peggy Lee's album.  It's still beautifully evocative of its era though, with a lovely romantic feel - like the aural equivalent of a soft focus lens.

The first song is the classic "Cry Me A River", which would justify the purchase of this album alone.  The rest of the songs are mostly standards, and my favourites are "It Never Entered My Mind" and "I'm In The Mood For Love".  The occasional forays into more up-tempo numbers are less convincing, because they highlight Julie's limited range and power as a singer.

Overall, I found this to be a bit backgroundy-muzak, which is a shame in some respects because it is worth listening to carefully.

This came on a CD with Julie Is Her Name Vol II (1958), an album in exactly the same style and equally pleasant.

Watching The English

Kate Fox
2004

I like recommending books to people and there are two that I think I have suggested to people more than any others.  The first is William Goldman's Adventures In The Screen Trade, and I'm now on my third copy because the previous two haven't been returned.

The second is this.  Subtitled "The Hidden Rules Of English Behaviour", it covers the oddities, idiosyncrasies and eccentricities of English behaviour from the point of view of a professional anthropologist.  In this it differs from previous, well-known analyses of the English character by such luminaries as Jeremy Paxman (The English), Bill Bryson (Notes From A Small Island) and Jilly Cooper (Class).  Entertaining as these all are, they all struggle to escape the cliches; and intelligent and insightful as the authors are, they are not looking for the same things as an anthropologist.

This becomes clear when Kate Fox examines some of the most often cited aspects of the English character.  For example, most people comment on the politeness so common in England - all the pleases and thank-yous, the after-yous, and so on - but she identifies it as arising from a deep-seated unease about how to interact with people.  She calls this a "social dis-ease" (ho ho) and points out that the flip side of it is a tendency to go too far the other way in certain situations and become loud and obnoxious.

Despite being a serious book of anthropology, this is nevertheless a highly entertaining book that not only identifies the rules of behaviour (e.g. the "hidden queue" at a pub bar) but does a good job of putting it into a context.  If in some places it resembles observation-based comedy ("have you ever noticed how everyone does this ...?" type routines), it's because it's based on the same sort of material.  And to be fair Kate Fox acknowledges this herself.  But she goes further by analysing the reasons behind it.

24/09/2011

Liar's Poker

Michael Lewis
1989


Last week a video was doing the rounds on Facebook and twitter of a trader who flabbergasted the BBC interviewers by claiming to be looking forward to the oncoming recession because he was going to make loads of money from it.

He was subsequently revealed to be a fake and general attention seeker but one of the reasons he caused such widespread outrage was that he sounded so convincing.  How?  Well, I don't know, but I'm betting he's read Liar's Poker.

Many of the characters in the book are exactly like him - single minded, amoral (note: not immoral) and utterly unconcerned with the possible side-effects or wider issues caused by their behaviour.  They do what they are paid to do because they get a kick out of it and because they are paid very well.

Lewis's book dates from 1989 and so doesn't cover anything to do with our more recent mess but the basic causes are clearly the same.  He saw the change, roughly from the late 70s to the mid 80s,  from when traders were well paid to when they were obscenely well paid - and became one of them.  He discusses the reasons in a light, non-technical way (although some of the financial details still made my head hurt) and gives a good and entertaining overview of the way things have become - and, no doubt, still are in many respects.

I've never really looked into the financial culture, beyond a basic knowledge that some chancers get very lucky, but I have to say that the scale and effects of their activities really shocked me.  That's probably naive of me.  It's still depressing though.

Anyway, the book is a classic (it says so on the cover) and well worth reading.

23/09/2011

Black Coffee

Peggy Lee
1953 / 1956

Late-night torch singing par excellence.

My knowledge of the Great American Songbook is limited to exposure to it via Fred 'n Ginger films and the Red Hot + Blue compilation - something I hope to rectify via my immersion in fifties music.  A number of them feature here, from the Gershwins, Cole Porter and Rodgers & Hart.  The instrumentation is sparse, limited mostly to piano, double bass and drums, and puts Lee's breathy, vibrato-laden voice centre stage.

My favourite is "My Heart Belongs To Daddy", an up-tempo swing through the classic Porter innuendo-fest.  Somehow it has a dark edge to it (and not, I think, the kind of edge that a 21st century sensibility would attribute to it).

Most of the rest of the album is very relaxed and slower in feel, apart from a decent version of "I've Got You Under My Skin" (which, while good, can't match Sinatra's ... but then, whose can?).  I also rather like the sultry "Gee Baby, Ain't I Good To You?".  I didn't know anything about Peggy Lee before this, but this will get more plays in my house.  And the edition I bought came with the album Dream Street as well.  Which is nice.

Great mood music, and something out of the ordinary from my point of view.  To be tested at our next dinner party!

20/09/2011

Just My Type

A Book About Fonts
Simon Garfield
2010

A very interesting, layman's guide to the arcane and sometimes insanely detailed world of the typeface.

Despite the fact that we see many different fonts every day, and are affected by them, I suspect that most people know next to nothing about them.  For example, did you know that, for a "t" to look correct, it has to actually lean slightly to the right (or was it left)?  Or that the dot over the letter "i" is slightly to the left of the letter itself?  The minuscule changes and differences between fonts are all but invisible to me, but to aficionados they are glaring.

I can kind of understand this.  One of my passions is electric guitars and I can tell the difference between any two models very easily.  Most people can't - and, again, despite the electric guitar's centrality in modern music.  You have to be utterly immersed in something to see the details, but you don't need to be to appreciate the final effect.

Garfield covers the history of fonts and typefaces (no, I'm afraid I can't remember the difference) without making the book seem like a history lesson, and discusses many of the individual fonts in detail.  The first chapter covers why Comic Sans is so reviled, and later we find out why Arial provokes so much controversy (it's a near-copy of Helvetica, apparently).

The only thing I didn't like - and this occurred on one of the first pages, which nearly put me off - was when discussing the first computer to offer a range of fonts to users.  It was the original Apple Macintosh - and according to the book, it was "designed by Steve Jobs".  Jobs was certainly influential on its design but to credit him only is poor research.

09/09/2011

The Voice Of Frank Sinatra

Frank Sinatra
1946

The first concept album? Certainly the only album I own that was originally released as a literal album - a collection of four 78 rpm records (with one song on each side of a disc).

Two things struck me about this album. Firstly, I was surprised to find that Sinatra - who I think of as a fat old man singing slightly flat - was recording as early as 1946. Seeing him as a much younger man in the pictures on this album is jarring. Secondly, it includes a version of "Try A Little Tenderness", a song that, in my ignorance, I assumed was first sung by Otis Redding. So I'm learning interesting things already.

To say that the music sounds dated is to miss the point. It was recorded sixty-five years ago. Those thin, scratchy strings were recorded with state-of-the-art technology. What hasn't dated is Sinatra's voice. Lighter and higher than it became later, it's still marvellously controlled and already has that distinctive ability to come in just under the note.

The songs are all very down-tempo romantic ballads. "Someone To Watch Over Me" is a beautiful song, sung beautifully. The aforementioned "Try A Little Tenderness" sounds strange as a traditional ballad - probably as odd as Otis Redding's version sounded to those who knew this version. Taken all together - and particularly with the ten bonus tracks supplementing the eight that made up the original album - it's a bit too cloying for me. Taken individually, the performances are all very good.

08/09/2011

The Fifties In Music

I was having lunch with my friend Brian a couple of months ago when he asked me for some recommendations of what to listen to. He'd - finally - given up on Q magazine and the relentless attempt to keep up with whatever hip 'n' happenin' new music being dictated by increasingly desperate major music companies, and wondered what classics he might have been missing from the past.

I had plenty to say, of course, and I recommended a number of albums. But the main thing I suggested was that he get hold of one or two of these "list" books. Whatever your views on such things, the one thing they do is serve as an excellent starting point for discovering music. Personally, I rather like these books, and I think the reason why was summarised very well in an amusing online review of The Mojo Collection:
Books like the Mojo Collection have a curious effect; one is simultaneously consoled and rebuked by the lists themselves. As surely as one pats oneself on the back with one's left hand for possessing the most excellent bodaciousness of mind to be the owner of an original, pre-'Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll' copy of New Boots & Panties (and Out of the Blue) one's right hand wields the whip in readiness for the flagellation necessitated by one's failure to have got round to picking up that beautifully re-mastered version of Pacific Ocean Blue.
The conversation remained with me and I dug out my own copy of The Mojo Collection (ed. Jim Irvin, 1998) and also happened to find 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die (ed. Robert Dimery, 2005) in the library. Looking through them, I realised that my own knowledge was fairly spotty, particularly pre-1970. Maybe my own musical knowledge needed a little updating.

I'm not the first to think so, either. The 1001 Albums book has inspired a number of blogs from people attempting to obey the title and listen to everything - in order. Some of these are still going (the second one has finished and moved onto The Mojo Collection) and some gave up. But the attempt is worthwhile if you end up listening to new music.
So - pausing only to order 1001 Albums from Amazon - I decided to start myself. I'm not *quite* so anal that I insist on listening to one album per day in strict order (neither am I self-disciplined enough to only listen to one album a day). Neither am I married to the idea of doing only one book. Nevertheless, one has to start somewhere and limit scope somehow. I decided to stick with the two books I had and start with the fifties - an under-represented decade in my collection.

Here is the combined list of albums from the fifties from the two books, in chronological order (and alphabetically by artist within the year).

  1. Frank Sinatra: The Voice Of Frank Sinatra (1946) M
  2. Peggy Lee: Black Coffee (1953) M
  3. Julie London: Julie Is Her Name (1955) M
  4. Frank Sinatra: In the Wee Small Hours (1955) A
  5. Johnny Burnette & The Rock 'n' Roll Trio: Johnny Burnette & The Rock 'n Roll Trio (1956) M
  6. Fats Domino: This is Fats (1956) A
  7. Duke Ellington: Duke Ellington At Newport 1956 (1956) A
  8. Ella Fitzgerald: Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Cole Porter Songbook (1956) M
  9. The Louvin Brothers: Tragic Songs of Life (1956) A
  10. The Four Freshmen: Four Freshmen And Five Trombones (1956) M
  11. Elvis Presley: Elvis Presley (1956) A
  12. Louis Prima: The Wildest! (1956) A
  13. Frank Sinatra: Songs For Swinging Lovers (1956) A
  14. Mose Allison: Back Country Suite (1957) M
  15. Count Basie Orchestra: The Atomic Mr Basie (1957) A
  16. Nat King Cole: Love Is The Thing (1957) M
  17. The Crickets: The "Chirping" Crickets (1957) A
  18. Little Richard: Here’s Little Richard (1957) A
  19. Miles Davis: Birth Of The Cool (1957) A
  20. Machito: Kenya (1957) A
  21. Thelonious Monk: Brilliant Corners (1957) A
  22. Sabú: Palo Congo (1957) A
  23. Jack Elliott: Jack Takes the Floor (1958) A
  24. Billie Holiday: Lady In Satin (1958) A
  25. Mahalia Jackson: Newport 1958 (1958) M
  26. Tito Puente & His Orchestra: Dance Mania Vol. 1 (1958) A
  27. Nina Simone: Jazz As Played In An Exclusive Side Street Club (1958) M
  28. Frank Sinatra: Come Fly With Me (1958) M
  29. Frank Sinatra: Sings For Only The Lonely (1958) M
  30. Sarah Vaughan: At Mister Kelly’s (1958) A
  31. Dave Brubeck: Time Out (1959) A
  32. Ray Charles: The Genius Of Ray Charles (1959) A
  33. Miles Davis: Kind Of Blue (1959) A
  34. Ella Fitzgerald: Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Gershwin Song Book (1959) A
  35. Charles Mingus: Ah Um (1959) M
  36. Marty Robbins: Gunfighter Ballads And Trail Songs (1959) A
(Key: M = Mojo CollectionA = 1001 Albums)

I've got all of these now (oh yes, no mere listening for me, only owning will do). I already owned a few before starting this venture (the Miles Davis albums); doubtless I could have found all online somewhere (and in a couple of cases of severe unavailability, I had to resort to this) but I wanted to own them. And, to be honest, it's £170 well spent. Nothing cost more than a tenner and average cost was about £6. And much of the music is wonderful.

What have I learned? The music that has aged most is the rock 'n' roll, which now sounds primitive, dated and thin (although this wasn't helped by the fact that the version of This Is Fats that I got was mastered at the wrong speed! How is this possible?). The "standards" stand up very well. The Sinatra albums on this list are the bedrock of his reputation and, having only been familiar with the bloated old codger singing "My Way", I was very pleasantly surprised. And my favourite album is from a genre I would have bet actual real money on not liking - country (or, more probably, western, given the subject matter). It's the Marty Robbins album and it's very catchy and sounds excellent.

More investigation into related music can be found at this wonderfully statistical site that aggregates all the list books into a set of "best" albums per year, genre etc.

02/05/2011

"The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes" (1892)

by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

When I'm ill I don't really want to be challenged or stimulated. I'd rather have something familiar or at least predictable. So during my latest cold I pulled the Sherlock Holmes books off the shelf. In fact, this is all five books of short stories in one large volume, so it wasn't a great choice - reading such a heavy book in bed probably wasn't ideal for someone feeling weakened anyway!

Still, the stories are always enjoyable and met my needs perfectly well. Given how old they are the stories are remarkably undated.

19/01/2011

The Road To Gandolfo

Robert Ludlum
1975

Originally published under a pseudonym, The Road To Gandolfo is unusual for Ludlum in that it's a comedy novel.  And, as such, I find it much more appealing that his serious thrillers, and it's the book of his that I've re-read the most times.

The plot concerns an epic con undertaken by an ex-Army General.  It's not particularly intricate but there's lots of entertaining detail.  And it's not too heavyweight, either - unlike such back-breakers like the Jason Bourne novels.

All in all, one of his lesser known books but worth finding.

15/01/2011

Don't You Know Who I Am?

Piers Morgan
(2007)

Pretty much everything I know about Piers Morgan repels me. Obviously, as an ex-editor of the News Of The World, he is already highly morally suspect (and, let's be honest, that would have been true even without the phone hacking revelations this year) and any reading of his activities, both as a newspaper editor and as a TV celebrity, does little to dispel this.

Given all this, I'm not sure why I bothered with the book.  It was cheap - about a quid at Oxfam - and I was curious.

It's a diary of his life and covers the period in his life between getting sacked as editor of The Daily Mirror and being appointed as a judge on America's Got Talent.  The same period also roughly - and presumably coincidentally - covers the time between separating from his first wife and starting a relationship with the woman who became his second.

The theme of the book is celebrity.  Morgan, casting around for a way of earning a living, decides that he would like to become a celebrity and work in television.  The book discusses the ways he attempts this.  This includes a flop current affairs programme, Morgan and Platell (which was modelled on those tiresome US-style programmes that pits opposing views).  I was surprised to read that Morgan was supposed to be the left-wing viewpoint in this setup.

Despite all of this, the book is an entertaining read.  Piers Morgan is clearly not a stupid man and neither is he devoid of self-knowledge.  What he chooses to do with that intelligence and self-awareness is a bit depressing but amusing to read about.

14/01/2011

"How I Escaped My Certain Fate"

The Life And Deaths Of A Stand-Up Comedian by Stuart Lee

It seems like all comedians produce books now - I guess it's just another aspect of the revenue stream for them. I haven't read any because I'm not that interested in them as people and I don't really find many of them truly funny - at least, not the famous ones.

Stuart Lee doesn't find many of them funny either, although he is happy to admit that he used to find them funny before they became famous. One of the threads running through the book is about the unrecognised trailblazers who have fearlessly broken comedic ground in dives around the country. He thinks Johnny Vegas is a genius, for example; not for his television appearances but his live performances.

Anyway, what we have here is not a life history of Stuart Lee, although it does cover some of his recent past. At its core it is three of his recent shows/routines, transcribed and heavily annotated, and interspersed with lengthy and entertaining essays about what he was trying to do, the points he was trying to make and what effect he was trying to achieve.

The book starts with him attempting to reinvent his stage persona after he realised that he had become predictable (and also after he discovered that Ricky Gervais had essentially appropriated it for his own stage persona). He discusses the way comedy works - or how his comedy works - and goes back to some of his inspirations and heroes. It then covers the next several years of routines, visits to the Edinburgh fringe and his attempts to get something on telly (not his favourite medium, clearly, but one that pays a lot more than touring).

I haven't seen Stuart Lee live but a quick search on YouTube gives us plenty to look at (e.g. excerpts from his show "41st Best Standup", one of the routines in the book), and it hardly needs mentioning that the routines are a lot funnier to watch than written down on paper, but they're still pretty good to read.

He also discusses in detailed footnotes why he does something. Here he does a bit about Richard Littlejohn chiseling words on a gravestone; he does the sound effect of the chiseling by knocking the microphone on the stand. In the book he mentions that he would entertain himself by seeing how long he could draw out the sound effect without losing the crowd.

The book is a very interesting read from the perspective of the craft of comedy, and not just a funny book - even if it is a way of making more money from existing material. Although there's so much more in this book than the routines, so that's probably a little unfair. Recommended, and I'll take the time to look for more of his stuff.

04/01/2011

"The Princess Diaries"

by Meg Cabot

For a six-year-old girl, anything with the word "princess" in the title is like a magnet. K loves all the Disney princesses - Aurora, Ariel, Belle and so on - and she has the dresses to prove it (all gratefully received donations; do you know how much those things cost?) But this is a Disney princess she's not going to meet for a little while, I think.

I first came across the film rather than the book and to be honest it initially struck me as another routine Pygmalion story (see also: "She's All That" etc etc) in which a previously unremarkable girl turns out to be beautiful. The hook here, of course, is that the normal teenage girl is, like, a real princess!

Anyway, the film is actually rather sweet; Julie Andrews is marvellous, obviously, and Anne Hathaway is very cute (and even here, clearly on her way to becoming the Major Babe she is now). So when I came across the book and its sequel (The Princess Diaries: Take Two) for sale for 10p each in the library, I thought they'd be an excellent present for K. I'll just have a quick read first ...

And, it has to be said, the books are pretty good - but not something I'd give to a six-year-old. The diarist - Mia - is fourteen and concerned about teenage things. Reasonably real teenage things, like worrying about her period and when is she going to get breasts and whether her (single) mum is going to sleep with her new boyfriend, who just happens to be Mia's algebra teacher.

It's light reading, enjoyable and well suited to teens and slightly younger - but not a six-year-old. I'll hang on to the books for when K is a little older.

02/01/2011

"Attack Of The Unsinkable Rubber Ducks"

by Christopher Brookmyre

Another entertaining satire from my favourite author - ever!  This time the targets are quacks, pseudo-scientists and "alternative" medicalists.  It's a bit like a fictional version of Ben Goldacre's Bad Science column (and highly recommended book), although the bibliography lists older books in the same vein, particularly James "The Amazing" Randi's exposés of quackery and fraudsters (here's an excellent talk at TED 2007) and Michael Shermer's Why People Believe Weird Things.

The book stars Jack Parlabane again, is set in Scotland again and features a psychic involved in setting up a chair at a Scottish university to study the paranormal and supernatural. In the course of the story, Brookmyre reveals many of the techniques used by such charlatans. But that doesn't take away from the plot of the story as a thriller, complete - of course - with a number of deaths. Although, to be fair, fewer than usual in a Brookmyre novel. All as tightly plotted and tautly narrated as ever.

The unsinkable ducks, by the way, is Randi's term for the irrational beliefs and their pedlars that survive in our supposedly scientific society.