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  #701  
Old 18 March 2016, 04:17 PM
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I'm in the middle of a history of the house and its furnishings by Judith Flanders. One thing I was surprised to learn that the 'nuclear family' is a relatively recent (say 1700s-1800s) concept. Back in the 'good old days' servants and borders lived cheek by jowl with the homeowner(s).
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  #702  
Old 03 April 2016, 11:39 AM
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I finally finished A History of the Arab Peoples by Albert Hourani - hooray! That had been feeling like a bit of a blockage in the literary pipes. The final sections up to the 1980s, and the afterword about events between 1990 and 2012 by Malise Ruthven, were most interesting, as events between those years are really why I was reading the whole subject.

Also finished Storm of Steel, which was incredible - if it was fiction you'd tell him to tone it down a bit because nobody would believe some of it. Ernst Jünger seems to be almost immortal at times. But he has had enough critics over the years that if anything was untrue it would have been discredited long ago, and he does have all the medals to prove it...

So, new things!

King Rat by China Miéville. This was his first novel, and a great start, although not as good as some of his later stuff. It's a sort of Neverwhere-esque London-based take on the Pied Piper myth, with elements of American Gods too (Anansi is in it). I just looked up when it was published relative to some of Neil Gaiman's novels. It's a couple of years after Neverwhere, and Gaiman certainly got this genre going, but Miéville wrote this before Gaiman wrote American Gods so I don't think it's a one-way influence.

Alexei Sayle's memoirs, Stalin Ate My Homework and Thatcher Stole My Trousers. The first one is brilliant - Sayle had a very interesting childhood. His parents were communists in Liverpool and his father worked on the railways, so they got free rail travel all around Europe and had Party connections. They could go on holiday to Czechoslovakia and Hungary in the late 1950s and early 1960s, at the height of the Cold War, and get the full VIP treatment with limousines and factory tours and so on. He was quite a perceptive child and his observations are rather interesting... The second volume, to do with how he got into comedy, and the start of the Comedy Store, Comic Strip and The Young Ones, is less interesting in comparison. He could also have done with a bit of editing in the second one, to sort out his sentence structure and punctuation - I got a bit fed up with all the comma-splices and run-on sentences.

That might have been because I'd also just read Making a Point: The Pernickety Story of English Punctuation by David Crystal. I liked this, as Crystal's much more of a descriptive linguist than a lot of people who tend to write these books. He goes into the history of each punctuation mark and how its usage has changed, as well as the different styles of modern usage. He rarely says that a particular usage is wrong! The furthest he usually goes is to say that it would now be "almost universally considered an error," or some similar formulation. He's mostly into internal consistency.

And I read Chaucer's "Tale of Melibee" from The Canterbury Tales, which is the first I've picked that up in a while.

Currently half way through Daniel Deronda by George Eliot.
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  #703  
Old 03 April 2016, 01:11 PM
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I've read 2 good ones lately:

I finished Things to Make and Do in the Fourth Dimension: A Mathematician's Journey Through Narcissistic Numbers, Optimal Dating Algorithms, at Least Two Kinds of Infinity, and More by Matt Parker. link I have always loved books that make complex things simple to understand.

I am just about finished The Improbability Principle: Why Coincidences, Miracles, and Rare Events Happen Every Day by David J Hand. link Another outstanding read on a subject that terrified me in university.

I highly recommend both for those with a passing interest in mathematics.
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  #704  
Old 30 April 2016, 05:06 PM
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Now that I actually have something to read eBooks on the go, I picked up The Nixon Defense (Deluxe, Enhanced Edition) by John Dean.

I was 10 years old when the Watergate scandal broke, and while I've certainly learned more of it over the years, this book is the most in-depth version of events that I've read. The enhanced version is interesting because it details the Nixon tapes pertaining to Watergate that have been transcribed only recently (beginning in 2009), and many of the audio clips that are the basis of the chapters are included.

I'm roughly half-way through it, but thus far its been an interesting read, to say the least.

~Psihala
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  #705  
Old 01 May 2016, 02:20 AM
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I'm re-reading all the L. Frank Baum Oz books, since Barnes & Noble re-released them in five-per-volume reprints with the original illustrations. I loved these as a kid, and they still have a certain charm. One thing I found interesting is how often Baum managed to sneak in some soapboxing about progressive politics (particularly with regard to prisons and capitalist vs. socialist societies), while at the same time managing to preserve the predominant attitudes of the time regarding casual racism and imperialism.

Also, continuity is something that happens to other people.
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  #706  
Old 01 May 2016, 11:34 AM
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Finished Daniel Deronda, which is (among other things) about Jewishness and casual prejudice against jews - it's quite topical if you apply some of it to muslims nowadays. This was Eliot's last published book, following Middlemarch. There's a lot of really good stuff in it but the long Zionist speeches about how marvellous Jewish heritage was and how the Jewish people needed their own homeland in Israel from one character, who was meant to be some sort of paragon of virtue who was too good to live, were rather tedious to me. The main plot is good, though.

I read An Atlas of Countries That Don't Exist by Nick Middleton, which is a coffee-table book but it has lots of interesting little snippets of history. It's all about micro-nations and areas with a claim to independence that's not formally recognised and so on. The author points out in the introduction that he could have included England, Scotland and so on under the definitions he was using, but didn't!

Also read:

This Census Taker, a novella by China Miéville. I enjoyed it but I didn't think there was as much depth to it as is implied by its style.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. I loved this...! Merricat's a great narrator and I'm glad she got her happy ending. I'd not really heard of Shirley Jackson although I've heard of some of her other books (The Haunting of Hill House mostly). I will look for some others when my books-to-read pile has shrunk a bit.

What Life was Like at the Turn of the First Millennium: The Year 1000 by Robert Lacey and Danny Danziger. This was first published in 1999 in the run-up to the millennium. It's a light read and structured around a work calendar from the 11th Century, with a chapter for each month. Interesting and entertaining, but the millennial connection made it seem oddly dated, even though it was written and published less than 20 years ago.

At the moment I'm reading Jorge Luis Borges's collected fiction - much of which I've read before in Labyrinths, but that was a while ago and it's well worth re-reading. Because that's short stories and you really need to take the time to appreciate them, I'm reading other books between times and have just started Oryx & Crake by Margaret Atwood.
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  #707  
Old 01 May 2016, 12:19 PM
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We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. I loved this...! Merricat's a great narrator and I'm glad she got her happy ending. I'd not really heard of Shirley Jackson although I've heard of some of her other books (The Haunting of Hill House mostly).
"The Lottery" Shirley Jackson? Probably few Americans have read anything by her, except for "The Lottery", which many of us were required to read in grade school or high school. Here's the Wikipedia introductory paragraphs on the story:


Quote:
"The Lottery" is a short story by Shirley Jackson, written in the month of its first publication, in the June 26, 1948, issue of The New Yorker. The story describes a fictional small town which observes—as do many other communities, both large and small, throughout contemporary America—an annual ritual known as "the lottery." It has been described as "one of the most famous short stories in the history of American literature."

The initially negative response to the story surprised both Jackson and The New Yorker. Readers canceled subscriptions and sent hate mail throughout the summer. The Union of South Africa banned the story.
I'd mostly forgotten about her; I'll have to look her up in the library - I'm running out of reading material, again. Thanks for posting this!
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  #708  
Old 01 May 2016, 12:36 PM
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"The Lottery" Shirley Jackson? Probably few Americans have read anything by her, except for "The Lottery"...
My copy's got a sticker on the front that says "Waterstones Rediscovered Classics. The best books you've never read" so I guess not many people outside the USA have read it, either!
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  #709  
Old 01 May 2016, 03:17 PM
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"The Lottery" Shirley Jackson? Probably few Americans have read anything by her, except for "The Lottery", which many of us were required to read in grade school or high school. Here's the Wikipedia introductory paragraphs on the story:




I'd mostly forgotten about her; I'll have to look her up in the library - I'm running out of reading material, again. Thanks for posting this!
Another of her short stories that many people may be familiar with is "Charles", I remember reading that one in high school. Definitely more light hearted than "The Lottery" but, as is typical of Shirley Jackson, extremely well written and with a twist to the tale.

"Charles" is incorporated into her first semi-autobiographical book "Life Among the Savages". She wrote a sequel called "Raising Demons" and both of these are somewhat fictionalized stories of her life with her husband and children. Well worth a read if you enjoy books of that nature but not if you are expecting "The Haunting of Hill House"!
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  #710  
Old 02 June 2016, 09:37 AM
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Over the last month and a half I've read nine books from my to-read pile, and bought only seven new ones (I think), half of which were continuations of series for which I had earlier books anyway, so the pile is going in the right direction for once!

Not sure I have time to write this before I have to go to work, but still:

I finished Oryx and Crake, which is now my favourite of the Margaret Atwoods I've read. So I bought her two follow-ups, The Year of the Flood and MaddAddam. Oryx and Crake wasn't quite what I'd been expecting, but I don't think any of Atwood's books have been quite what I was expecting...

I read the first two books in Stephen King's Dark Tower series, The Gunslinger and The Drawing of the Three (and have now bought the third book, The Wastelands). I could see what people meant about the first book being a bit unrepresentative, as I've said elsewhere, but I think his rewritten version probably sorted out a lot of the issues with it. The series as a whole seems pretty good so far and I'm looking forward to the rest.

So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson. A very timely book, and I think it's one of his best. It's about people who've been mobbed on Twitter and so on over minor offences or misunderstandings, and ended up losing their jobs and suffering other completely disproportionate consequences. Also about why some people have these severe consequences but others don't, even under very similar situations. Ronson's finally got the hang of writing about sympathetic characters without making it look as though he's making fun of them, which helps.

The Road to Little Dribbling: More notes from a Small Island, by Bill Bryson. (I bought this recently but read it almost straight away so it didn't affect the to-read pile much...) Bryson's really turned into a bit of a grumpy old man lately. I know some people think he always was, but he spends half his time in this one moaning at low-level retail employees over company policies that they clearly have nothing to do with, are probably as aware as he is of their absurdity, and can't do anything about. He also seems to take offence if anybody isn't quite as friendly or smiley to him as he thinks they should be, even when they appear to have been otherwise pleasant and helpful. It's still generally entertaining, but I'm not sure I'd really like to bump into Bryson on his travels these days, especially if I was running a small business or working in the tourist industry...

Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes. I thought I'd better finally read something by a deconstructionist, rather than just reading about them, and Barthes seems one of the more reasonable ones to start with. This is about Barthes' opinions on photography. I still wasn't really sure what to make of it... once you've decoded the jargon, a lot of his observations seem quite commonplace, and based on making theoretical generalisations from one or two carefully-selected and subjective examples. Barthes himself happily admits all this at times, but I have the impression that his followers don't always get it...

Also there's a bit of intellectual snobbery in which he assumes that the photographers themselves can't possibly have noticed the details he notices or intended any of the effects he detects. (I wasn't sure how he could know the photographers' intentions, given the whole "death of the author" thing...) He's also unexpectedly (to me) against overly symbolic semiotic interpretations of things, and prefers to take pictures fairly literally.

It was quite enjoyable - especially when I read one chapter after three or four pints and suddenly found it profound and hilarious - but I am still perplexed about the huge influence this stuff apparently has.

I just finished Just My Type: a book about fonts by Simon Garfield. This was really interesting as well. Previously I'd had the impression Garfield was a bit of a jobbing author who wrote (usually well) about whatever he'd been commissioned to write, rather than about things he necessarily had expertise in himself. But he definitely has a personal passion for typefaces and a lot of knowledge, and he puts it across well.

Still reading Borges and have just started some obscure Dickens short stories.
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  #711  
Old 02 June 2016, 03:12 PM
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Almost done with The Great Mortality by John Kelly, about the 14th century plague. Next on the list is Eric Larson's book on the sinking of the Lusitania. If I can remember where I put it.

Another recently read book that was very good is The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean. It's about the periodical table and was fascinating.

An older book that I'd like to recommend again (I need to find someone else who's read it!) is The Airloom Gang by Mike Jay, which is about patient zero for being controlled by voices in one's head, James Tilly Matthews. The question is, was he persecuted because he was crazy, or was he crazy because he was being persecuted?

Seaboe
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  #712  
Old 03 June 2016, 02:03 AM
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So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson. A very timely book, and I think it's one of his best. It's about people who've been mobbed on Twitter and so on over minor offences or misunderstandings, and ended up losing their jobs and suffering other completely disproportionate consequences. Also about why some people have these severe consequences but others don't, even under very similar situations. Ronson's finally got the hang of writing about sympathetic characters without making it look as though he's making fun of them, which helps.
Yeah, I liked this one, though including Jonah Lehrer wasn't the best move. I get that we live in an age where a woman makes a tasteless joke on Twitter and gets lots of rape threats over it. Which is really horrible. But Lehrer was just terrible at his job, so his getting fired publicly for the thing he got famous for doesn't really seem so bad.

Quote:
The Road to Little Dribbling: More notes from a Small Island, by Bill Bryson. (I bought this recently but read it almost straight away so it didn't affect the to-read pile much...) Bryson's really turned into a bit of a grumpy old man lately. I know some people think he always was, but he spends half his time in this one moaning at low-level retail employees over company policies that they clearly have nothing to do with, are probably as aware as he is of their absurdity, and can't do anything about. He also seems to take offence if anybody isn't quite as friendly or smiley to him as he thinks they should be, even when they appear to have been otherwise pleasant and helpful. It's still generally entertaining, but I'm not sure I'd really like to bump into Bryson on his travels these days, especially if I was running a small business or working in the tourist industry...
Yeah this one annoyed me. I've only purchased a handful of things in British stores, but somehow I've done it every time without any sort of mishap. Bryson seems incapable of it without turning rude on any employee nearby, and thinking it's funny to tell us how much of a dick he was. And then walking out of the place so he can let us know in some overblown soliloquy, how England is terrible these days, but back in the 70s, when he got there, everything was great.
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Old 03 June 2016, 09:23 AM
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I had been going to quote a line of Bryson's that annoyed me, not because it's the worst example by any means, but because it's quite subtle but I think sums up his attitude well. He's trying to walk from Skegness to a holiday camp that was further away than he thought:

Quote:
I stopped a youth on a bike and asked him how far it was to Butlin's. 'Oh, miles,' he said, and kept going.
Maybe it doesn't look much on its own but together with how he's been treating people through the rest of the book, it stood out. It's the little "and kept going" jibe that gets me. The "youth" appears to have answered the question accurately and helpfully (Bryson eventually decides it's too far to walk that day) but that's not enough, and Bryson apparently expected the person whose business he's just interrupted to stand there deferentially until dismissed?
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Old 03 June 2016, 10:00 AM
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I didn't know that was a thing. "I stopped a taxi..." "I stopped a police officer..." and, apparently, "I stopped a youth on a bike..." Those youths. Stranger danger, youths!
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  #715  
Old 06 June 2016, 06:58 AM
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I finished The Well of Ascension, the second book in Brandon Sanderson's first Mistborn series. I figured I'd better make some progress in this series since he's almost done with the follow-on series. He released books 2 & 3 of that one within 6 months of each other, and these are doorstopper books. Anyways, I liked the book but think it had some classic middle book syndrome issues since it was very slow paced with occasional jags of action. I suppose it fits with the city under siege theme, but it's a big change from the first book in the series and, for that matter, his one-off book Elantris and the Reckoners series, all of which were very action-filled. I'll give him props for fair play with the reader since one of the plot points revolved around an old prophecy and the contradictions surrounding it. Sanderson pretty much tells the reader right out of the gate what the problem is, and he repeats it throughout the book. I remember thinking the phrasing was odd but then wrote it off as just a fancy figure of speech and not a real clue.

I've also started the most recent Joe Hill book, The Fireman. It's getting great reviews and I absolutely loved Hill's last book NOS4A2, so I'm hopeful this will be just as good. And, yes, the title is a nod to Bradbury's "The Fireman"/Fahrenheit 451. One of the characters with Dragonscale also has a cat named Truffaut, the director of the Fahrenheit 451 film adaptation.
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Old 06 June 2016, 03:01 PM
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A few weeks ago I came across one of those ubiquitous innerwebs lists, "50 Essential Science Fiction Books." Looking through it I realized that while I was familiar with nearly all of them, I had actually read only a small handful of them. I was especially deficient when it came to the very early ones.

Looking to remedy this, I have started with A Journey to the Centre of the Earth, and intend to work my way forward from there.

I'm about halfway through it now. It's quite enjoyable, but I find myself (and this is a deficiency with myself, not with the book) waiting for the story to start, missing the fact that the journey IS the story. I really need to work on that.
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Old 06 June 2016, 03:06 PM
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I'm reading Paul McCartney: the Life. I went to the bookstore for something else, saw this, thought "oh, this looks kind of interesting, but I probably wouldn't read it; I should check it out from the library." Then I realized I'd already spent 15 minutes standing there reading the introduction and acknowledgments, and decided to buy it.

I got so absorbed last night that I stayed up 2 hours later than I usually do.

Seaboe
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  #718  
Old 06 June 2016, 05:17 PM
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A few weeks ago I came across one of those ubiquitous innerwebs lists, "50 Essential Science Fiction Books." Looking through it I realized that while I was familiar with nearly all of them, I had actually read only a small handful of them. I was especially deficient when it came to the very early ones.
Which list is it? I suspect this one, due to the Journey to the Center of the Earth reference, as this list starts off with that book.

I was surprised to see that I have read 36 of them, although seven of those I read so long ago I cannot remember much about them - and, in fact, as I was a child, I probably didn't get everything I could from them. Time to re-read!
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Old 10 July 2016, 12:07 PM
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I almost forgot to write up my June books...

The Dickens stories I was reading are collected as George Silverman's Explanation by Alma Classics, and the volume also includes stories called "Hunted Down" and "Holiday Romance". All of them are quite unusual for Dickens - he seems to have experimented a bit more in short stories than in his novels. Hunted Down is a detective story which could have been influenced by Wilkie Collins, and Holiday Romance is the events of a summer, written from the perspectives of four different children in a group of friends who are making up their own narratives about pirates and romances and so on. It actually worked pretty well, without too much sentimentality, but it's very noticeable that the boys' fantasies are all actions and kidnappings whereas the girls' fantasies are all domestic household dramas. The title story in the collection was a bit depressing, with a clergyman having to make excuses for marrying two of his wards (to each other) when according to his position and the social positions of the couple, he really shouldn't have done. I wouldn't have made it the title story myself, except that of the three, it's the only actual title that works for a collection.

I read The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski (trans. Danusia Stok), the first of the Witcher novels that inspired the games. It's not bad - a light read, with some dry humour that just about translates. It's quite episodic, and each episode could easily be a mission in a game - although I've only played Witcher III, so I don't know if the earlier games used these exact plots. If you enjoyed the game(s) you'll probably enjoy it, as it gives more character background and so on, but although entertaining I've found it rather forgettable. I could easily read the others if there was nothing better around, but won't seek them out urgently.

Butcher's Crossing by John Williams (the author of Stoner, which was unexpectedly resurrected as a bestseller here a couple of years ago). This one is very different from Stoner, apart perhaps from the deceptively straightforward style of writing, and probably not as book-club friendly, but I thought it was even better.

It's set in the 1870s, about a young man who drops out of Harvard (before the start of the book) to move West for adventure, and who funds and joins a buffalo hunt with a man who claims to know the location of one of the last big, generally undiscovered herds. It's convincingly researched and affecting - again, I particularly like the way the characters are all heroic in their way, and very competent at what they do, but also deeply misguided. For the most part, they act in ways that make complete sense from their own narrow perspectives (albeit brought down by greed and obsession), but are collectively disastrous. It's good to find out that Williams is a great author even when writing such different books - this one is almost like what would have happened to Stoner if he'd not pursued an unenthusiastic academic career but tried to "fulfil his potential" instead. I've got one more book by Williams on my shelf, called Augustus, and that one's about the founding of the Roman Empire, so completely different again...

Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith. Holiday reading. Quite a scary psycho-thriller - she makes it easy to imagine being dragged into events like that. Charlie Bruno is good as somebody who's far stupider than he thinks he is.

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. Bought partly because of the great title - which is actually quite literal. It's science fiction, set on a freelance construction ship that makes wormhole tunnels for interstellar infrastructure. It's obviously quite heavily influenced by Firefly, in the sense that it's largely about the crew and their interactions and adventures on the way to this job. Kizzy, one of the mechanics, is basically Kaylee. For a while I was wishing that the book would get on with the plot a bit more quickly, but then realised that the long journey was an excuse to enable the actual plot, about the crew getting to know each other through various episodes along the way, and demonstrate how adorable and right-on they all are. It was still pretty good, though (if you can put up with all the adorable right-on-ness), and it's clearly set up to be the first of a series about the same characters, with the second out later this year. I'll probably get it.

I finished the volume of collected Jorge Luis Borges fictions (which have to be read slowly, like whisky). There's a lot more knife fighting than I remember from the Labyrinths collection... I thought the best stories that aren't also in Labyrinths were "The Aleph" and "The Book of Sand", but there's a lot in here that's worth reading even if you've read Labyrinths.

Since I've been on holiday and we're a couple of weeks into July, I've also read The Year of the Flood and MaddAddam, Margaret Atwood's follow-ups to Oryx & Crake. The Year of the Flood is different perspectives on the same events as Oryx & Crake, and converges with it at the end. MaddAddam is a sequel. They're also great - I think The Year of the Flood is the best of the three, except for a lack of Crakers. The Crakers are great, and there's a lot more of them in MaddAddam.

I'm currently reading The Book of English Magic by Philip Carr-Gomm & Richard Heygate. This is denser than it looks and I'm reading it slowly because it has the potential to be annoying - it's about actual magic and magical traditions. The authors have done a good job of writing from a historical perspective, and pointing out meditative and psychological and placebo (i.e. non-magical) interpretations for some practices, so that you can read about these things even if (like me) you don't believe a word of it. But even in those parts there's a fair amount of dubious science, and the book as a whole is also definitely aimed at people who take all the new-age stuff and alchemy and druidism and so on seriously. They've cunningly saved the most annoying parts for a series of interviews with practitioners, and those are the parts that make me want to throw it across the room and wonder how people can actually believe such nonsense.

Also reading A Notable Woman, published diaries of Jean Lucey Pratt, edited by Simon Garfield. This is the real name of the woman who was Maggie Joy Blunt in his collected extracts from the Mass Observation Project, and who wrote the biography of Margaret Woffington under the name Janet Camden Lucey. Apparently enough other people were interested in her as a writer that Garfield was able to agree with her family to edit and publish her diaries, which stretch from about 1930 to when she died in 1985. (She herself had intended them for publication at various times, so it would have been according to her wishes as well). I haven't got very far yet and I think it will be a slow burner, since it covers her whole life, and it's evident that many of her plans for her life didn't work out as she'd have liked...

Last edited by Richard W; 10 July 2016 at 12:15 PM.
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  #720  
Old 11 July 2016, 03:38 PM
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Let's see...

Finished the Paul McCartney book. The author makes me want to read his biography of John Lennon, which is saying something because I've never much liked what I'd read of the man.

Read Paper by Mark Kurlansky (sp? same guy who wrote Salt), Mutants by someone whose name I don't remember (Leroi?)), The Interminables by Paine Orwin and a few others I can't remember with enough precision to list.

Seaboe
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