Reading - May 2021

Guitar Magazine (June 2021 / Issue 393)
Another month, another Les Paul on the cover - the most accurate ever, apparently! Again. While I can see the appeal of a nicely aged guitar, paying over £6,000 for something that's been artfully beaten up, which you will then be too scared to touch, has a certain irony. Elsewhere, the Macmull Stinger looks rather nice and Benson make a germanium fuzz with it's own built-in temperature regulator. Whatever next?
The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis (2017)
I picked this just because it's by Michael Lewis, not because I was interested in the subject - not that it was at all clear what the subject was. I think it's a bit of a miss, unfortunately. Lewis often includes the stories of the people behind the events he is explaining but here he has reversed that and chosen to put the relationship between two men - Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman - at the centre. As a result, discussion about what they actually did is a bit more vague, and I'm left with the impression that if you cut out all the biographical details (which are not really necessary in order to understand their work), you wouldn't be left with much of a book - and neither their lives or their friendship are so interesting that it's worthwhile. Michael Lewis writes superbly but this was harder going than his other books.
David & Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell (2013)
Malcolm Gladwell is another author whose books I will pick up when I find them, just because of how well he writes. Here, he uses examples from different fields to show that what accepted wisdom deems to be disadvantageous - be it dyslexia, larger class sizes or more lenient crime laws - is not necessarily so. Full of fun facts to quote at people as well as some thought-provoking ideas, this is a really interesting book which, despite tailing off a little inconclusively (it could have done with an epilogue of sorts) is well worth reading. (also, coincidentally, Amos Tversky is mentioned in a footnote!)
Jingo by Terry Pratchett (1997)
Maybe it's because I read this at bedtimes - which means a few pages per night and stopping in rather random places - but this feels a bit disjointed and kind of Discworld-by-numbers. Corporal Carrot (still one of my favourite characters) is increasingly used as almost a super-hero, albeit one whose super power is irresistible niceness and reasonableness - but still, a bit deus ex machina. Obviously the book is about nationalism - jingoism, duh - and the stupidity thereof, and makes a decent job of satirising it, although it's all a bit fish-in-a-barrel taking the piss out of nationalism anyway.
One Day by David Nicholls (2009)
I've owned this for probably ten years but never felt like taking the plunge. Then the other day I saw it on the shelf, decided to finally try it, and two days later I'd finished it, devouring it in huge chunks in a way I haven't with a book for a while. Kind of appropriate if you know the story, which is moving, affecting and quietly dramatic (at least until the last bit which turns a bit melodramatic). That said, it irks me slightly that underneath the superb writing, the astute observations and the compelling structure, the story is actually just pure Mills & Boon: Dexter is an self-involved idiot, eventually saved by the love of Emma, who is too good for him but loves him anyway and always has. But I still couldn't read it quick enough, and then immediately went and bought the film too.
Gangsta Granny by David Walliams (2011)
The success of David Walliams perplexes me: after making the most egregiously unfunny sketch show ever, he moved onto children's books, which are deeply unappealing mixtures of pastiche and cliché that nevertheless seem well on their way to making him the successor to Roald Dahl and some sort of national treasure. Gangsta Granny is a good example. No cliché about old people is left unexhumed and given one last outing: apparently they fart all the time (aren't farts funny kids!) and smell of cabbage (yuck, cabbage!), but it turns out they're actually real people too (who knew?). The writing is a blunt instrument, with none of Dahl's flair or originality, and just a crass approximation of his legendary grotesquery. The only saving grace is that the story is original and engaging. (I should admit that although I'm familiar with many of Walliams' books, this is the first I've read all the way through, in this case to Z over the course of a couple of weeks. And he enjoys it, as indeed he does all of these books. Oh well.)
The Rough Guide To The Titanic by Greg Ward (2012)
I'm not sure why I keep coming back to this, but I've read it about five times now, which is a bit over-the-top, even for me. In Southampton today we saw the MV Brittania, which is huge, and it's sobering to think that over 100 years ago, the Titanic was not far off this size - about 80% of the length and half the width.

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