‘Karlology,’ Karl Pilkington
‘Dr.Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation,’ Olivia Judson
‘Great Britons: the great debate‘ (in association with the National Portrait Gallery)
‘Seven Ages of Britain,’ David Dimbleby
‘Chronicles,’ Bob Dylan
‘The Political Animal,’ Jeremy Paxman
‘Born Liars,’ Ian Leslie
‘I Was A Rat!‘ Philip Pullman
‘The Complete Fables,’ Aesop
‘Horrible Histories: the Vile Victorians,’ Terry Deary
‘Small Man in a Book,’ Rob Brydon
‘Shakespeare on Toast,’ Ben Crystal
‘The Shadow of the Sun,’ Ryszard Kapuscinski
‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime,’ Mark Haddon
‘Beyond Black,’ Hilary Mantel
‘The English,’ Jeremy Paxton
‘Hokkaido Highway Blues,’ Will Ferguson
‘The Unfortunates,’ B.S.Johnson
‘Einstein’s Riddle,’ Jeremy Stangroom
‘Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction,’ Sue Townsend
‘Mocking Jay,’ Suzanne Collins
‘Catching Fire,’ Suzanne Collins
‘Telling Stories,’ Tim Burgess
‘Just’ 23 books bought this month.
This month saw a dramatic drop in book purchases, for a number of simple reasons: mainly, I began work for the first time in a while, meaning there was not only less time for reading but also less time for buying books. This could have been balanced by the fact that I have moved into a new apartment in West London and therefore have a whole new zone of second-hand and charity bookshops to investigate, which I did one afternoon a few weeks ago leading to a fair few of the books on the list, but I was strangely subdued on that trip. Knowing that I still have half a dozen London books to get through, and two dozen fun books on my new shelf, I was less tempted by borderline books and stuck more or less strictly to the ‘Top 10’ rule.
I have got through five of the books already, (along with several from past months, of course: five books in a month would probably mean I was in a coma for some reason), the most enjoyable being the work-related ‘Great Britons,’ a beautiful over-sized collection of the top 10 Brits of all time, as voted for by the UK public earlier in the century. Each of them, from Queen Liz to King-Killer Cromwell, from Brunel to The Bard, is presented historically and personally and illustrated, (literally), by portraits and objects mainly from the National Portrait Gallery in London, in association with whom both the book and the vote itself was produced.
I then moved on to finally reading a book by a friend of mine, (it’s fun to know real-life authors!), ‘Shakespeare on Toast‘ by my ginger buddy and expert on all things Williamy, Ben Crystal. It was a great read, an afternoon’s romp through the little things which you need to know to make Shakespeare so much easier to get into, reminiscent of the great Stephen Fry’s books on making poetry and classical music more accessible. I highly recommend this to anyone with any interest in Elizabethan theatre, and not because I’m getting a commission from Ben or anything, either.
The one which was most fun to come by was the autobiography of the lead singer of one of my favourite bands from my teenage years, Tim Burgess of The Charlatans. Together with a fellow indie-girl, I went along to St. James’s Church on Piccadilly in central London for a combination live acoustic set and book reading, complete with free signed copy. The setting was incredible, (the only Church in London built by the ubiquitous Sir Christopher Wren from scratch, according to something I read this morning!), and from the drug-addled stories told that evening, the book should be fun too.
Others I am looking forward to cracking the spine on, (just an expression, I hate cracking spines, preferring to keep my books in as pristine condition as possible…plus one of them doesn’t even have a spine!), are the two ‘Hunger Games‘ books, (as soon as I find the first in the trilogy second-hand somewhere!), and the B.S.Johnson ‘book’ ‘The Unfortunates,’ an experimental work which comes in a box and whose chapters, loose leaves of paper, can be rearranged and read in any order. Nice.
Aside from a couple from a couple of the history books, I was also excited to read the first volume of Bob Dylan’s much-vaunted autobiography, ‘Chronicles.’ It couldn’t have had much of a better write up on its back cover, (‘Books of the Year’ from thirteen different newspapers and magazines), but I found myself not enjoying it as much as I’d hoped, finding it neither straightforwardly interesting nor, strangely, as lyrically composed as I expected from one of my all-time favourite lyricists. Maybe if I knew the period and the New York ‘scene’ better, if I were 54 instead of 34, I would have gotten more out of it, but as it was I took away just these two quotes:
“He asked me what I had sacrificed to pursue my dreams. He said the worth of things can’t be measured by what they cost but by what they cost you to get it…”
“[My father] was pragmatic, and always had a word of cryptic advice. “Remember, Robert, in life anything can happen. Even if you don’t have all the things you want, be grateful for the things you don’t have that you don’t want…”
I also tucked straight into ‘Born Liars,’ one of the pyschology/neuroscience/philosophy school of books which I love so much and had first seen advertised at Alain de Botton‘s excellent School of Life. The basic premise, that lying is actually not only evolutionarily necessary but in many ways good for mankind, was fascinating and the book was excellent, full of a range of historical stories and an in-depth consideration of lying’s role in society. As well as reminding me of both the excellent Malcolm Gladwell books and one of my favourite TV shows of a few years ago, Tim Roth’s ‘Lie to Me,’ reading this book also reminded me how the more I read, the more interconnected life becomes, as the author name-checks not only Bob Dylan’s stream-of-conscious lyric writing, but also the Essays of Montaigne, a book on whom I’d also only just finished.
Favourite passages? How about this one, on the origins of the lie-detector in the early 1920’s:
“Most of the crimes were petty, and some were domestic, like the marital dispute of which Larson noted ‘Mrs Simons accused of masturbation by her husband’…”
Or the one which discusses the reality of Dr.Strangelove’s ‘alien hand’ syndrome:
“The alien hand might pick up a ringing phone but then refuse to pass it to the other hand, or grab a shirt picked out by the other hand and place it firmly back on the rack. It often seems to be on a mission to disrupt the person’s conscious intentions, dumping a glass of water into a bowl of cereal, unbuttoning a shirt that the right hand is in the process of buttoning, removing a cigarette the person has placed in his mouth with his right hand…In several cases, the alien hand has reached for its owner’s neck and tried to strangle him…”
With hands like these, who needs enemies? And here is Leslie on our brilliantly illogical ‘exaggerated sense of control’:
“We’re prone to imagine that through our physical dexterity we can affect things we patently can’t – when rolling the dice in a game of craps, people throw harder when they want high numbers and softer for low numbers…”
And finally, and somewhat depressingly, there is a chapter on our ability to lie to ourselves and how it actually helps us in life. Those who go through life with blind optimism apparently live healthier and longer lives, whereas in contrast:
“There is a group of people with no positive illusions, who get closer to the truth about themselves, who have a more realistic perception of their abilities, of how the future will pan out and of the amount of control they have over things…
Pyschiatrists call them clinically depressed.
In various studies, depressed people have been shown to have a firmer grip on reality than most…”
So keep on smiling, everyone, because everything is going to be just fine!
(And if you believe that, apparently, it probably will be!)