Friday, 20 January 2012

Recent books for pleasure (redux)

Okay, okay, so I've not been that good at keeping you up to date about my 'leisure reading'. It's important to do this, I find, when you read books for work every day. If you don't then read for pleasure, the words all kind of merge together on the page. Something different but allied is always best, to keep you awake but away from tomes about governance, national identity, 'Britishness' and complexity (not necessarily in that order)!

Anyway, so this is what I've read with profit this last quarter:

Simon Winchester, Atlantic: A Vast Ocean of a Million Stories (2010) (and above). This was great. I've not always enjoyed Winchester's work before, finding the combination of a micro-study with macro-reflections tiring to read. But this is excellent - personal, reflective, vigorous and varied in its story telling. A bit of an unexpected treat.

Ryszard Kapuscinski, Travels with Herodotus (2007). This is lovely too, full of vignettes about the post-war world by the greatest of all travel writers. I found the Herodotus trope a bit contrived and I lost the thread sometimes, but you know what? I think that was my fault.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable (2007). There are some great stories here - counter-intuitive examples about how we don't think unlikely things can happen. Almost impossible things go on, of course, all the time. But how do we spot them? Taleb isn't as clear about this, but I suppose that would be the real trick.

Kate Atkinson, Started Early, Took My Dog (2010). This is more like it. I loved this, like I loved all the other 'Jackson Brodie' novels. Now there was less Brodie in this one, and more retired-policewoman-and-enigmatic-non-talking-girl. It was still a lovely piece of story telling that managed to be warm and sinister at the same time. Quite a feat.

Howard Jacobson, The Finkler Question (2010). Elderly North London Jewish guys ruminate about life, love, politics and betrayal. I think I missed some of the references, and I got the distinct impression that this book wasn't aimed at me, but it was still elegiac, moving and clever.

Michael Moorcock, The Coming of the Terraphiles (2010). A bit of a guilty pleasure this one, and a present. But Doctor Who? Cricket? Inter-galactic pirates? Aristocratic inter-stellar tourists? Lovely. A bit of crazy New SF comes to Doctor Who - better on the ideas front than the writing, but you can't have everything.

Alwyn Turner, The Man Who Invented the Daleks: The Strange Worlds of Terry Nation (2011). Also excellent, though better for context than in getting inside Nation's head... not only Doctor Who, but The Avengers, Survivors and Blake's Seven covered, and none the worse for it. Now turning my mind to 'A History of the Future in Twentieth Century' Britain, Nation's professional (though not personal) pessimism about that future will be a key strand.

So there we have it - some work themes interspaced with some fun. Ideal.

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