31/07/2020

Reading - July 2020

Glued To The Box by Clive James (1983)
More TV reviews, this time from a period I can somewhat remember (1979-1982). As before, it's witty, learned and pithy - although the book's introduction has less pith than the columns, as it clocks in at about twenty-five pages. Some of the reviews could be from any time in the last forty years, as little has changed in some respects. He describes an episode of Panorama, in which the interviewer "strove heroically to pin the Leader of the Opposition down with specific questions, but it was like trying to drive a nail through a blob of mercury." If you didn't know otherwise, this could serve as a description of many such encounters with Jeremy Corbyn, rather than from an interview with Michael Foot, which is what it is.
I own this book, along with the two previous Clive James collections, in one volume, which cost me 70p from Oxfam and counts as one of the best value purchases I have ever made.
Watching The English by Kate Fox (2014)
There are two books I am constantly recommending to people. One is Adventures In The Screen Trade and the other is Watching The English. I picked this revised edition up in Cambridge while waiting for B, mainly because I seemed to have lost my original copy (my mum has it, I found out last week). It's still spot-on about English behaviour, of course, and very entertaining, but this time I found myself wishing it was slightly shorter and less repetitive. I also wish Fox wouldn't be so apologetic and self-deprecating; OK, I get it, those are defining English characteristics and it makes the point, but it seems out of place in a book, even though it wouldn't in conversation.
Guitar Magazine (August 2020 / Issue 383)
A Walk In The Woods by Bill Bryson (1997)
It's very unclear why Bryson suddenly decided to walk the Appalachian Trail; his previous travel doesn't really stretch to strenuous and it's a massive undertaking at over 2000 miles. However, the issues brought up are consistent with his concerns about environmental impact and so perhaps it was a way of highlighting these. It's amusing and light, as eminently readable as ever, and not too long (some of his later books could do with a bit more editing).
Don't Make Me Think (Revisited) by Steve Krug (2014)
B asked me a while back if I could recommend any good guides to user interface design. I in turn asked Tom, one of our designers at work, and he told me about this. It's not about UI design, it's about usability - possibly of more importance to someone who's more on the implementation side of things anyway. B bought it and lent it to me. It's great. It's nothing I haven't seen before - I remember reading all the Jakob Nielsen articles when I was first doing web sites back in the late 90s - but it's well-written and wonderfully concise. The focus on easy, informal usability testing is particularly important (Joel Spolsky said the same thing back in 2000). Basically, everyone should read it.
The Life And Times Of The Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson (2006)
A good writer can make just about anything entertaining, and so it is here. Bill Bryson's early life was unexceptional in most ways, but that doesn't matter because he can evoke the period so well. In this case it is Des Moines, Iowa in the fifties - classic small town US (although Des Moines was and is a city) - and Bryson portrays it with affection and nostalgia. It reminds me of Clive James' Unreliable Memoirs, another superb autobiography in which, on the face of it, little happens, but in fact is made involving by the sheer quality of the writing.

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