30/04/2020

Reading - April 2020

Guitar Zero by Gary Marcus (2012)
This positions itself as a look into how a previously unmusical 40-year-old manages to learn guitar, but actually it's more of a look into the science of learning and what it means to be "musical", with a little bit about why music exists anyway. If you came to this book expecting some enlightenment on how to get better, you would be disappointed - but you shouldn't be surprised. Marcus says he managed to become a competent amateur guitarist with about 18 months of perseverance and practice. The only big difference between him and other people of a similar age, I'd argue, is that he was in the fortunate position of being able to dedicate himself to guitar, at a time in life when most people have too many other commitments. And that's why it's difficult to learn new things once you're an adult.
The Frood: The Authorised and Very Official History of Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Jem Roberts (2014)
My copy of Neil Gaiman's superb Don't Panic is pretty old and, having seen this book mentioned in a Register article about HHGTTG 42nd anniversary, I thought I'd get up-to-date. It made me realise I'm not actually that much of a fan: I love the original radio series, but the TV series is just OK, I think the books are poor and obviously rushed (Dirk Gently is much better), the film is mildly diverting and I only managed half an episode of the new radio series. There's plenty of interesting facts here, in particular about more recent developments (primarily the film, of course, and radio series' 3, 4 & 5), but overall, it's more information than I really needed. It's not helped by the fact that it's written by the kind of fan who thinks that all the jokes get funnier if they are incessantly repeated; in tone, it reminds me of The Fast Show's Colin Hunt
The Guitar Magazine (May 2020 / Issue 380)
The Dueling Machine by Ben Bova (1969)
I first read this in my early teens, borrowed from either the school or public library. It left a huge impression and I re-read the same copy several times, but then not again for a couple of decades, since, as a minor and probably largely forgotten SF work, it wasn't available anywhere. Finally, about 10 years ago, I found a copy second-hand. It's a slight novel, really only a heavily expanded short story, with a dictatorial villain clearly modelled closed on Hitler. But it has a satisfying conclusion and a tiny little romance in it too. Still one of my favourite books and I read it in about two hours on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
Running Well by Sam Murphy & Sarah Connors (2008)
An excellent manual for running, which doesn't bother with too much of the motivational stuff (it assumes you want to run), but dives straight into pretty technical detail about running posture, technique and so on. It has useful sections on warm-ups, core exercises, and all different types of injuries and what to do about them. This is going to stay out for reference for some time, I think, now that I have (properly, this time, I hope) started running again.
Soul Music by Terry Pratchett (1994)
I find myself somewhat disappointed in this Discworld installment, despite the presence of many rock references that I could spot myself (including a long-running gag that culminates in a corker at the end). Normally Pratchett is a master at bringing threads together from previous books, but the central premise here, of music that cannot die, seems to come out of nowhere. Obviously everything comes to a climax and then magically resets itself thanks to Death's super-powers. I did like the character of Susan Death though.

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