31/08/2013

Reading - August 2013

A Point Of View by Clive James (2011)
This is a collection of 10-minute scripts written for Radio 4, rather wonderfully also available in their entirety, for free, in text on Clive James's web site and in audio through the BBC iPlayer. The book adds an introduction and a postscript to each piece, slightly undermining the author's statement in the introduction that his principal aim was concision. Nevertheless, each piece is a little nugget. Now that I have listened to a few, I prefer the written versions, because, such is the author's skill at compression, I can't comprehend the messages in real time. Or possibly I'm just too slow.
My Championship Year by Jenson Button (2009)
I was genuinely thrilled when Button won the F1 World Championship in 2009. I thought, and still think, that he is such a good driver and, more importantly, a well-rounded person. Despite presumably being rushed out very quickly after the season, the best to capitalise on it, the book is an interesting account of the races and shows little padding.
The Week (3 August 2013 / Issue 931)
The Mighty Quinns: Marcus, Ian & Declan by Kate Hoffmann (2006)
Three for the price of one!
Mojo Classic: The Greatest Album Covers Of All Time edited by Mark Blake (2007)
"Of All Time"? Really? It's a shame time didn't stop after 2007 then. Anyway, unnecessary hype aside, this is my third cover art compilation. Rather than concentrating on a "definitive" selection, this has a selection of albums from various genres, seemingly chosen for interest rather than artistic value. The usual suspects are present and correct, along with a number of more unusual choices. Overall, a bit of a cut and paste job, I suspect, and very uneven.
Doctors In The Wedding by Gina Wilkins (2012)
This very pink covered book is in Silhouette/M&B's "Cherish" series, which concentrates on the romance elements. This being a modern book, the heroine does sleep with the hero, but we only see as far as the disrobing. It doesn't stop it being a sweet, simple story. The hero is what is sometimes called a "beta" male; he's not a super macho, strong, silent type, but a more articulate and open man - and all the more believable and better for it, in my view.
The Week (10 August 2013 / Issue 932)
A complete come-down after the previous book's fluffiness, particularly one story which actually made me feel sick.
Horrible Histories: 20th Century by Terry Deary
I was told the other day that Terry Deary is unhappy about the mainstream success of the CBBC series Horrible Histories (although, that said, he has appeared in it occasionally). Apparently his intention was not to try and entertain kids but fundamentally to subvert and undermine the establishment by demonstrating to children the persistent failure of authority. Initially I had thought the books used a rather stereotyped notion of gross-out, "schoolboy" humour (although, to be fair, it may be clichéd but is clearly hugely popular). However, read in the light of his (allegedly) stated intention, his continual focus on the plight of the working class makes more sense. Subliminally, the books constantly hammer home the message: the ruling class is in it for itself. It's a very socialist worker position. The book itself? Meh. But I'm not a kid.
31 Songs by Nick Hornby (2003)
Oddly, despite agreeing with a number of Hornby's opinions on music (he doesn't get Dylan either, or bother listening to lyrics generally; he listens to "pop" pretty much exclusively and has a correspondingly broad definition of "pop"), I only actually like about half of his choices of song. Still, he is eloquent in defence of popular music and its rightful place in culture. A nice, short book - as long as needed to be. It's a shame that someone at the publishers felt the need to tack on a few random, irrelevant album reviews to make some sort of weight up.
The Best Of Frasier by Various Writers (1999)
Fifteen of the best scripts from the first six seasons of Frasier. Many, many laugh-out-loud moments, even on paper.
Religion For Atheists by Alain de Botton (2012)
I enjoy all of de Botton's books, but this is particularly good. He has articulated something I have always felt, but been unable to express properly; namely, that a disbelief in religion does not necessitate throwing all of its ideas away wholesale. If you accept that religion is a man-made institution, evolved over millennia, then it follows that many of its practices, rules and customs are in place for a purpose; and further, that in many respects they are in fact beneficial. Secular life provides many benefits but does not yet include replacements for many of these practices. He goes on to adapt ideas from religion to address the continuing human issues. Beautifully written, as always, and very thought-provoking.
The Week (17 August 2013 / Issue 933)
Guitarist (September 2013 / Issue 372)
Portsmouth Historic Dockyard Souvenir Guide (2010)
Brief but interesting history of the Royal Navy and of the three main ships at the Dockyard: the Mary Rose, the HMS Victory and the HMS Warrior 1860.
Bad Science by Ben Goldacre (2009)
Already a classic. The sheer idiocy and greed of people continues to flabbergast and bewilder me. If Goldacre's exasperation comes across as sarcasm sometimes, it is entirely apt.
The Week (24 August 2013 / Issue 934)
The Fender Book by Tony Bacon & Paul Day (1998)
Lush combination of trainspottery detail and guitar porn. The numerous, almost indistinguishable models of Stratocasters and Telecasters (plus a few others, including my favourite, the Starcaster) are detailed and illustrated beautifully, and the company history contains a number of interesting nuggets. I would have liked more detail on how the designs came about though; there is barely two paragraphs on the Strat's genesis, which, given how revolutionary it was, is surely doing it, and the people who worked on it, a disservice.
The Joy Of X by Steven Strogatz (2013)
An interesting but frustrating look into mathematics for non-mathematicians, essentially attempting to answer the question: "Maths. (Huh!) What is it good for?". Being based on a series of newspaper columns makes it annoyingly fragmented, and once it gets beyond junior school basics (for example, into basic calculus), it gets a bit hand-wavy about the specifics of the technique. To be fair, Strogatz does concentrate more on what maths actually is good for. (The answer is not "Absolutely nothing", by the way.)
Honeymoon With The Boss by Jessica Hart (2009)
Once you get past the preposterous initial premise (man gets jilted just before his wedding, decides to go on the honeymoon anyway and take his PA), this is a sweet romance (aren't they all?) with a very straightforward story. Disposable but nice anyway.
The Week (31 August 2013 / Issue 934)

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