Last year's books

Thanks, all, for the music recommendations. Now, to books.

I confess that I’m still catching up on 2010 and enjoying Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free by Charles P. Pierce.

Of last year’s new releases, though (and that could be the paperback year, as I don’t really like cumbersome hardbacks very much), I particularly appreciated Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class by Owen Jones, even though I’d have preferred there to be another ‘s’ in the title in place of that ‘z’, an accurate account of middle-class prejudice in Britain; The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson (he who wrote The Men Who Stare at Goats), who identifies and interviews assorted psychopaths and questions the suitability of psychiatric labels; An Epic Swindle: 44 Months With a Pair of Cowboys by Brian Reade, the story of how two shameless opportunists nearly sent my beloved Liverpool Football Club into financial ruin (damn you, Tom Hicks and George Gillett); Atrocitology: Humanity’s 100 Deadliest Achievements by Matthew White, covering, in glorious chronological order, the one hundred worst things man has inflicted on his fellow man throughout history ranked by the number of deaths caused (No.1 is the Second World War); and The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, who chronicles the twelve months she spent following wise and often pretty annoying, let’s face it, advice in an attempt to be happier.

As someone who favours having two or three books on the go at the same time, competing with Charles P. Pierce for my attention at the moment is Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin, a biography of the great Victorian novelist; The Verdict: Did Labour Change Britain? by Polly Toynbee and David Walker (sorry, I’m too disgusted by Tony Blair’s unforgivable betrayal to comment, I can only shake my head very slowly); alongside the late Christopher Hitchens’ Arguably, a fine collection of more than 100 essays on a vast range of topics stretching from God, of course, to absolutely everything else, it would seem.

I still have to read In Defence of Dogs: Why Dogs Need Our Understanding by John Bradshaw; Here Comes Trouble: Stories From My Life by Michael Moore; At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson; and, although I rarely read fiction, Erik Larson’s In the Garden Of Beasts: Love, Terror and an American Family In Hitler’s Berlin.

I haven’t decided if I’ll be able to reach for Margaux Fragoso’s controversial Tiger, Tiger: A Memoir, her account of the 15 years she spent, from the age of seven, in an intimate relationship with a middle-aged man. It sounds too much like voyeurism of the most twisted kind and perhaps we mustn’t encourage the victim, or indeed the perverts who might genuinely enjoy her explicit descriptions, by reading. But I am intrigued by it. For many people, this will be too harrowing a topic to investigate and, by all accounts, is very much a case of Too Much Information. Some thoughts from those asked to review it, if you’re curious, here. Far easier to dismiss the paedophile as a sick monster nobody can relate to or begin to care for, though. Maybe we should read it to better understand both abuser and the abused. Then again…

As for something more palatable, the glossy ‘coffee table’ accompaniment to the Frozen Planet television series (by Alastair Fothergill and Vanessa Berlowitz) is majestic. For laughs, the expletive-ridden mock bedtime story from an exasperated parent, Go the Fuck to Sleep by Adam Mansbach (best narrated by Samuel L. Jackson) ought to make you chuckle whether you have children or not. (Hey, if you don’t, perhaps you’ll chuckle all the more out of wickedness at the plight of your weary friends.)

Your thoughts on any of this or these, as always, is most welcome. I’d also love to know what you intend to read in 2012.

The chatroom will be open from 3pm (UK) tomorrow, if you can make it.

Author: FEd

Features Editor of David Gilmour’s official blog, The Blog (‘Features’ previously being its rather naff title), affectionately – or lazily – shortened to ‘FEd’.

54 thoughts on “Last year's books”

  1. Oooo… books! I do enjoy reading books, only hardback by the way and I am light-years away from a “Kindle!?!”

    Last year I read several which include:

    Puppetmaster: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover
    LBJ: Architect of American Ambition
    The Girl Who… Stieg Larsson’s Trilogy
    The Coming Anarchy: Robert D. Kaplan
    Agent Zigzag: Ben Macintyre

    And probably my favourite:

    Operation Mincemeat: Ben Macintyre. A true story of how, during the second world war, the British used the dead body of a 34-year old Welsh man named Glyndwr Michael dressed as an officer and carrying papers which made the Germans believe the main landing on D-Day would be Sardinia, Greece and Corsica which is why they diverted Rommel and three Panzer divisions away from France.

    For 2012 I have already finished Area 51: An Uncensored History of America’s Top Secret Military Base by Annie Jacobsen. And It’s not about flying saucers and aliens! Well, maybe a few flying saucers…

    I look forward to many more suggestions from you for 2012.

    1. I heard about Glyndwr Michael recently. What a brilliant diversionary tactic, but how sad. Homeless and destitute, with no relatives, living in London after the death of his parents, he died from ingesting rat poison in a possible suicide attempt, I heard. A hero in death if not in life.

      Some still believe that the body used was actually that of John Melville, a sailor, who drowned when HMS Dasher sank in the Clyde in March 1943. This from the Western Mail.

      I’ll look out for that book and this documentary – thanks, Rudders.

  2. I’m afraid that what I read has very little relation to what year it might have been published in. I also confess that until recently I read far too little, and usually works of history to keep my hand in from an increasingly distant degree.

    I am currently following a Creative Writing course at the University of East Anglia (who pretty much invented the concept on these shores) however and have a pile of worthy reading to work through (in addition to course material which is currently poetry and I recommend you all to get hold of some good modern poetry by the way. Try Simon Armitage or Paul Muldoon. There are lots to be found on-line.)

    I currently have queued up for 2012 …. Thanks to Santa ….

    Beowulf – Seamus Heaney (trans)
    A Farewell to Arms – Hemmingway
    The Auschwitz Violin – Maria Angels Anglada
    The White Tiger – Aravinda Adiga
    Pigeon English – Stephen Kelman

    Having just polished off …

    What We Talk About When We Talk About Love – Raymond Carver (short stories)

    And when I have finished hacking my way through David Copperfield.

  3. Stupidity DOES seem to be a virtue here in America! From Sarah Palin to Donald Trump, vanity and ego are the things that people seem to idolize. Sad, ain’t it?

    The best book I’ve read this year is called “Let the Students Speak: A History of the Fight for Free Expression in American Schools.” It is a rich history that sadly documents the rise, and fall, of freedom of speech in the classroom. Freedom of speech is guaranteed in the First Amendment, but the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled in the past 35 years that this right does not extend to the classroom. As an educator, that disturbs me. We teach students about constitutional rights that do not exist for them. I’d like to post the Constitution in my classroom with a note across it saying, “Um, not here.”

  4. It is a fact that I did not read a book in 2011, a fact I hope to change in 2012.

    Happy Days,
    Simon J

  5. My Golden Crown goes to… A Dance With Dragons!

    Maybe not the best in the series, but a second readthrough, putting all expectations aside and reading it fresh, demonstrates that GRR Martin is a goddamn genius. We discover brave new lands; find old characters in limit situations; follow the footsteps of long-time-no-see characters in search of self-identity; meet new characters who have been long thought dead; fly with dragons.

  6. I have never been a big book reader. The one that always springs to mind is The Devil Rides Out, by Dennis Wheatley. Very scary stuff.

    Damian

  7. I have no patience to read… I wish I had, but it bores me rigid after a bit…

    The last book I bought was The Black Strat!! 😉

    1. … it’s exactly the opposite here: it bores me when I haven’t something to read. 😉

      To be honest: there are quite a few books that are boring (to me, I do not wish to generalise). I still give each author a chance and read the first 100 pages. If it’s still boring I’ll drop it, and try the next one. Life’s too short for bad books…

      Taki

  8. Totally of topic, which seems to be normal for me, but I read this on the About page.

    With apologies for possibly causing you a fleeting twinge of disappointment, FEd is just another fan of the music; nobody famous or even remotely interesting, surprisingly still employed by David all these years later to write stuff.

    I just think that is wonderful. Stop putting yourself down, you are interesting!!! 😛

    1. Also saw that Julie and ditto, FEd is interesting and in our household, is SUPER famous. 🙂

    2. The fact that FEd is still doing the Blog and, furthermore, that David still pays him to do so, continues to be a really good sign. David’s last message to us fans is also a good sign: that “I’m not finished yet.”

  9. After repeated, unsuccessful attempts to get something up on screen, here goes a small sampling of what was read this past year not necessarily OF the year:

    I tend to lean toward fiction (with the exception of work-related reading which is more didactic, cookbooks and some wonderful ‘coffee table books’). This last year saw me resurrecting a few classics so as to introduce my son to things that are sadly absent from his school curriculum and catching up on some I overlooked or was introduced to. We spent quite a bit of time with Edgar Allan Poe 🙂 (The Black Cat has become a favourite of my son’s).

    I couldn’t resist suspending my disbelief for a time to read the Stieg Larsson trilogy and really did enjoy the diversion. Finally finished reading This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin (I think I’ve been struggling through it for over a year and I am none the wiser!); went through the entire Garth Nix, Keys to the Kingdom series (always read what my son is reading); read Season of the Witch by Natasha Mostert; Polly Samson’s Perfect Lives arrived mid-year I think and I got my hands on Out of the Picture – both I thoroughly enjoyed (actually one of my favourite descriptions comes from Perfect Lives “ …cushions crackling with resentment, the rain beetling down the windows…”). I was captivated by Jeannette Walls’ biography Glass Castle and Patti Smith’s Just Kids (having started out in the design/fashion/public relations industry when first coming to New York City, much was familiar in Patti’s story having crossed paths with many of the people and visiting some of the ‘haunts’). Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson was just charming. A stand-out for me was The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – a minuscule slice of life during World War II in Germany as narrated by Death – I really was spirited away.

    Go the Fuck to Sleep is BRILLIANT. 🙂

  10. ‘Finding Harmony’ by Sally Hyder
    ‘The Dog Whisperer, The Compassionate, Non-violent Approach to Dog Training’ by Paul Owens & Norma Eckrote
    ‘Demons and Cocktails – My Life with the Stereophonics’ by Stuart Cable
    ‘The Good Cook’ by Simon Hopkinson

    I’m with Rudders on Kindles, they’re the work of the devil.

    1. I was quite tempted by the Kindle, I have to admit, but have had a change of heart.

      Haven’t read Demons and Cocktails yet. Any good?

    2. Yep, it’s worth a read and it’s an easy read, fitted my 20 minutes at a time while waiting to pick up the kids criteria nicely.

      He comes across as a loveable madman who pressed the self-destruct button at an early age. Some of the anecdotal stuff is very funny. Think it would be fair to say that he really didn’t take being sacked from The Stereophonics too well.

    3. I think a house without (actual physical paper) books would be a terrible place to live. Walk into someone’s house and don’t see a bookcase? Dunno how people could live that way.

      ash

    4. I think a house without (actual physical paper) books would be a terrible place to live.

      I love looking to see what people have got on their book shelves (nosey b*tch, I know).

    5. … I think there was an article that stated that quite a few people won’t use e-readers because they can’t show off their library. 😉

      Taki

  11. For 2012, I’m already well into a 2009 novel by Orhan Pamuk called The Museum of Innocence – not as smooth a read as I would’ve been led to believe it would be.

    I may tackle Tiger, Tiger … difficult subject matter but I’m curious.

    I’ve been asked to read Slave Species of god and Adam’s Calendar – both by Michael Tellinger, a South African author who happens to have a passion for music – a lot of very mixed reviews. And I think this may be the year that I introduce my son to one of my favourite one-act plays, The Night of January 16 by Ayn Rand – one of those “you either love or hate” authors. I’ve read it countless times over 37 years and am always surprised by my verdict!

    The year is young, there’s no set list of reading planned … it’ll be quite spontaneous, I imagine.

  12. Excuse me while I cry out in terror, MON DIEU, I’m going to be reading this so-called ‘book,’ until the end time!

    I’m STILL reading the biggest novel ever written. Deep into the 2nd book now, so by my reading standards, I’m committed to finishing it! One chapter of Marcel Proust’s “A la Recherche du Temps Perdu” is over 100 pages…I’m a thorough reader, which slows his sense of glacial time down twice as glacially for me! I’m deep into the thickets Proust’s 2nd masterwork, “Within A Budding Grove”!

    Briefly in 2010, I HAD to wrestle this behemoth down for some lighter reading. I read Robert Louis Stevenson’s marvellous “Treasure Island” for the first time, and “Kidnapped” for the 2nd time!

    I read “Moby Duck” (not Melville but still profound)… this year, and Michael Moore’s book is on my bookshelf as well, Fed! And “Syd Barret: A Most Irregular Head” is also on my reading list for this year!

    …if I ever finish Proust, that is…

    1. …if I ever finish Proust, that is…

      Perhaps lots of petites madeleines dipped in lime (linden?) blossom tea could be of some help? 😛

    2. I had an encounter this week with rosehip tea that I’ll never forget…so thank you for suggesting a truly Proustian remedy to my sheer terror, Michèle! After all, fear builds walls!

      The Kindle has indeed been suggested as a solution to my toting big heavy books around, but I’m still instinctively wary of it…even though my husband got one for Christmas (a reluctantly accepted family gift). We ARE very biased bibliophiles in the extreme over here. There is nothing better than the pages of a book, and a bookstore or a library to while away the hours!

  13. Hi all,

    I was quite surprised to realise that I only bought 3 printed books for me last year. No, I did not stop to read a book every week in average, but I started using Kindle. Although I love feeling paper with my fingers and admire well printed books, I was fed off carrying kilogramms of books in vacation or on business trips. So I thought to give this machine a try and here I am: a fan of it… There are, of course, still exceptions mainly art books, that can’t be reproduced on a machine. So from 40 books I bought for me, and the dozen my wife lent for me from the library, I enjoyed most:

    Sergio Aragones: Five Decades of His Finest Works (printed)
    David Gilmour: On an Island (TAB Guitar printed)
    Mark Twain: The Works of Mark Twain, 24 books in a single file
    Hackney, Ryan, Blackwell, Amy Hackney, Kimmer, Garland: 101 Things You Didn’t Know About Irish History: People, Places, Culture and Tradition of the Emerald Isle
    Rex Stout: The Black Mountain

    In 2012 I will re-read “The Devil’s Dictionary” by Ambrose Bierce, which I have printed in a shelf, and as file for Kindle (it one of those many, many books that you get for free there).

    Best regards

    Taki

    PS. Another major advantage of Kindle is, that you can read very easily lying in bed. 😉

    1. PS. Another major advantage of Kindle is, that you can read very easily lying in bed. 😉

      That’s a very good point, Taki. I’m still tempted.

  14. I love books, the library is my second home! The pleasure of finding a new book by a favourite author or a new author completely.

    The Book Thief was brilliant. Try also Guernica (sorry can’t remember the author); Winter in Madrid – CJ Sansom; any Carlos Ruiz Zafon including his books for teenagers; The Tom Rob Smith trilogy of life in Russia under Stalin and through the cold war; Robert Harris – The Fear Index, these are largely fiction but based on factual incidences…like Birdsong, the book was so very good I can’t see how it could have been filmed. With a really good book you can visualise the characters.

    And on the coffee table is the latest Floyd offering, Pink Floyd the Legend, where on the cover all four members are draped in pink!!! The pictures are nice though even if one or two of the captions are in the wrong place!!!!

    Enjoy books and enjoy reading…so many books, so little time!!!

    Best wishes
    Heather

  15. I got to this site because I googled to see if you had written an autobiography. You should!

    I went to a tribute concert last night, closest I’ve been, was good.

  16. Jus dashed through Pinter’s “The Birthday Party” … OK, it’s a play but I still had to read it …. all rather strange needless to say.

  17. Re: Kindle vs real books

    I couldn’t believe it when I read that the first ebook was created in 1971 (‘The United States Declaration of Independence’ – Project Gutenberg). The ebook is 41 years old!

    I still prefer paper books, there is something about holding a book, turning the pages that is really great, there’s nothing like the feel, smell of a real book. Also, paper books can make wonderful presents. And how about the inevitable job cuts in the traditional printing industry?

    But Amazon.com announced last year that its ebook sales exceeded all of its printed book sales. Maybe it’s time now to stop living in the past.

    Anyway, aren’t ebooks more eco friendly than paper books? I think the debate is still going on, but probably avid readers are making a green choice if they buy an ereader.

    I hope that printed books will continue to coexist with ebooks.

    1. I’ve been considering the ‘green’ argument surrounding Kindles, but what about when the Kindle breaks, as electronics invariably do? There’s no fix for a cracked screen, so you need a replacement, and a lot of parts therefore end up in landfill – presumably. Paper can be recycled with such ease.

      Then there’s the packaging… I’m assuming that Kindles come encased in polystyrene, which ends up in the bin. God, I hate that awful stuff. The instruction manual probably has an unnecessary staple or two punched through it and comes in a little plastic bag?

    2. … Amazon uses a paper box and no plastics except a sheet to cover the screen.

      Still, I can’t tell if transport and resources speak for books or ereaders. I’d bet on the ereaders, though…

      Taki

    3. I don’t have a Kindle but I do have the iReader and a Kindle app on my iPad … which kind of negates the enviro problem as I already have the iPad anyway .. if you see what I mean.

      One also has to remember that books are made of commercially produced paper and that you have to grow a tree before you can cut it down, so books actually mean more trees … granted such forests can be rather non-diverse habitats but I’m sure they do their best to quaff a little CO2.

      That said we (the wise and cultured OH is the book consumer) buy far more paper books … they’re just that bit handier and less faff and it’s also nice having books on shelves … what else one may ask are shelves for?

      The big win that e-readers score is their ability to carry more books that conceivably readable when travelling, making more room in the suitcase for dubious shirts and changes of underwear.

    4. As a footnote on an email received from a colleague a while back:

      “It’s O.K. to print this email. Paper is a biodegradable, renewable, sustainable product made from trees. Growing and harvesting trees provides jobs for millions of Americans. Working forests are good for the environment and provide clean air and water, wildlife habitat and carbon storage. Thanks to improved forest management, we have more trees in America today than we had 100 years ago. Paper is renewable, recyclable and sustainable.”

      Granted, the colleague works in the printing business so the ‘argument’ is quite subjective … as with all arguments a case can be made for or against for almost anything. I really thought it was rather clever, alternative rhetoric. Then comes the ink cartridge for the printer, the electricity usage, etc. 😉

      Reminds me of a recent conversation at the coffee machine the other day. I say: “How lovely that we have these ‘Columbian Fair Trade Select’ coffee capsules in the office. How many points do we get for being socially responsible? Considering that this special coffee is packaged in these awful k-cups which cannot be recycled and we have this mammoth coffee machine that uses sh*tloads of electricity and is operating 24/7.”

      Response: “We have to start somewhere. Why do you always have to be so cynical?” Guess I got told off!

    5. No, no polystyrene, the entire package contents, except a very small and thin piece of protective plastic, is 100% recyclable cardboard.

      And Amazon has put in place a recycling program for Kindle and Kindle batteries.

      Not that I am promoting/praising the Kindle, you know, I am not sure I would enjoy lying in bed with a piece of plastic. :)) (Sorry, Taki.)

  18. Sorry everyone, I’m a bit busy at present and don’t have much time for reading or writing to the blog. However, this should give you all a laugh.

    I got a book at Christmas by Brian Cox, The Quantum Universe: Everything That Can Happen Does Happen. I’ve been reading it the past few days. On page two I had to go find a dictionary, needed to look up words on the next two pages as well. I got to page 13 or 14 now, there is a little maths, my head exploded! :)) I was a little drunk at the time. 😉 I am determined to read the book though because I never did ‘get’ Quantum Physics and Brian Cox seems to explain everything else so well I thought I might cope with his book.

    ash (dunno how to do a bamboozled emoticon :)) )

    1. He’s a breath of fresh air, Professor Brian Cox (without the ‘professor’, I think of the actor), but my poor head can’t cope with physics. Stargazing Live was too much for me and I wasn’t drunk. Wonderful that someone youthful and energetic is making science accessible, though; I’d much rather see his smiley face and floppy hair on TV than most of the morons with nothing worthwhile to say. Maybe I’ll even learn something interesting and retain it for more than half an hour one of these days.

  19. Anyone who has not yet read The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien, you absolutely have to before the film comes out. Great though the Lord of the Rings films were, there were odd things I missed from the wonderful imagery conjured by Tolkein.

    ash

  20. You must read In Defence of Dogs. It’s refreshing to get away from all the dominance theory stuff. I think I mentioned the book in the chat room one day.

    I’ve just treated myself to the Michael Morpurgo 16 book box set. Having sobbed all the way through Born to Run I’m now preparing myself to sob all the way through War Horse!

    1. You certainly did mention In Defence of Dogs. You missed a live chat with the author because of it, for which I’ll always feel a tiny pang of guilt.

      I don’t think I’ll read or, worse still, watch, War Horse. Send thousands of young men to their deaths, by all means, but not a horse. I sniffed my way through Last Dog on the Hill‘s final chapter and epilogue last night. It was written by Steve Duno, if curious.

  21. In my mind, the internal dialogue between electronic readers and physical books is a bit of a battle and I find that, as with most everything, there needs to be balance since both have advantages and disadvantages. I did invest in a Nook (a Barnes and Noble branded reader) and uploaded (for just a couple of dollars) over 200 classics, the complete works of Edgar Allan Poe and a handful of other books for my son so that he could read in places where it’s not always convenient to lug volumes around. I find it particularly useful for his magazine subscriptions such as Popular Science and National Geographic. It’s a colour reader, brings the magazines to ‘life’ and he can zoom in on segments which he enjoys. Dog-eared pages are replaced with an electronic ‘bookmark’, underlining/highlighting is performed with a digital ‘tagging’ of key texts, words he doesn’t understand can be flagged for immediate definition/s which is quite handy. Personally I prefer having a bound volume in my hands but the Nook has many merits – playing chess on a long trans-Atlantic flight being one of them whilst listening to his favourite music.

    The recent announcement by Apple on electronic textbooks for use in education is both absolutely brilliant and terrifying. Interaction with ones science, mathematics and English books is just amazing but on the flip side of that, and likely very much ‘behind the scenes’, is a wee concern about content being manipulated … a 21st Century digital ‘book-burning’ if you will. I’m constantly reminding my son that Wikipedia is not the be-all and end-all for research material … “facts” have to be checked and rechecked and while we’re at it, checked again! 😉 Don’t intend for this to come off as conspiratorial but throughout history some of what we read has been manipulated, sanitized, mistranslated or otherwise altered and then espoused as gospel.

  22. Checked out the book “Idiot America”, started reading it not long ago. Therefore, haven’t gotten very far. So far so good. Thought I was alone in my thoughts. Very refreshing to see in print what I thought was the country going to the funny farm. What happened to Al Gore was very odd and I thought was illegal (they showed on CNN news boxes of votes for him in trunks of cars going to the swamp let alone the intimidation – ironic for a country that makes such a fuss about other countries being able to vote – how twisted).

  23. Unrelated to the current topic …

    I’m having a blues immersion of late and in keeping with FEd’s recent ‘Bright Lights’ tweet (isn’t Gary Clark Jr. just brilliant?), wanted to share a little something with everyone – this. 🙂

  24. I’m still trying to live up to “Before You Leap” by Kermit the Frog!!!!! But I do read Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” every October.

    1. Good on you Juve.

      Everyone should read “To Kill a Mockingbird” just as often as feasibly possible.

  25. Wanted to share a little something with the blog-loving, dog-loving readership:

    DOG AROUND THE BLOCK – E.B. White

    Dog around the block, sniff,
    Hydrant sniffing, corner, grating,
    Sniffing, always, starting forward,
    Backward, dragging, sniffing backward,
    Leash at taut, least at dangle,
    Leash in people’s feet entangle—
    Sniffing dog, apprised of smellings,
    Meeting enemies,
    Loving old acquaintances, sniff,
    Sniffing hydrant for reminders,
    Leg against the wall, raise,
    Leaving grating, corner greeting,
    Chance for meeting, sniff, meeting,
    Meeting, telling, news of smelling,
    Nose to tail, tail to nose,
    Rigid, careful, pose,
    Liking, partly liking, hating,
    Then another hydrant, grating,
    Leash at taut, leash at dangle,
    Tangle, sniff, untangle,
    Dog around the block, sniff.

  26. Hi Fed, recently we’ve read a lot of Lee Child novels. The character, Jack Reader is worth the read. Very entertaining reading indeed.

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