Category: Books


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Ursula K. Le Guin (1929 – 2018)

I still find myself wanting to read as much as possible as a way of making sense of the world and my own place within it.

I aim to increase the number of blog posts on what I’m reading. These will probably serve more as a reminder to myself rather than offering any particularly profound insights, but who knows. In any event, writing is the best way of organizing thoughts. Making these public gives an added incentive not to be flippant, sloppy, unkind or lazy.

The simple pleasure of making new discoveries and revisiting old favorites is an end in itself. The joys are an antidote to the cynical business-minded world in which, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, consumers are conditioned to know the price of everything but the value of nothing.

To confirm this, I was happy to stumble upon something Ursula K Le Guin said in a speech at the National Book Awards in 2014 : “Books aren’t just commodities; the profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable – but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words”.

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The Gallows Pole by Benjamin Myers (Bluemoose, 2017)

Why I read this book

gallowsFirst and foremost I fell in love with the cover art. I know, I know ….you should never judge a book in these terms but it does make a difference.

A naff cover can be off-putting. I cool cover means you can look fashionable when reading in public, something that is not possible with a Kindle.

I liked the image to Gallows Pole because it looks like a subversive Penguin Modern Classic.  It made me think of Weird British folk art; the kind of deranged visions that feed into Wyrd folk music and the cult movie classic, The Wicker Man. Could, I wondered, Benjamin Myer’s writing conjure up the same mood?

What’s it about? (Without spoilers)
The novel is inspired by real events in and around the Upper Calder Valley, West Yorkshire in the late 18th Century. It centres on the Craig Vale Coiners, a motley assembly of struggling land workers led by ‘King’ David Hartley. The gang forge coins in an attempt to get rich and challenge the oppressive capitalist system that keeps them poor and powerless. Hartley is an anti-hero prone to “delusions of grandeur, extreme hallucinations featuring stag-headed men and supreme acts of cruelty and violence”. Continue reading

snpIn a conversation with Indian author Arundhatl Roy at this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival, it was refreshing to hear Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon presenting herself as a proud bookworm and promoting the general benefits of reading.

She said: “I have a theory that if more political leaders read more literature, the world wouldn’t be in quite the state it’s in right now”. I couldn’t agree more.

Trump is obviously the most extreme example of the catastrophic effects of un-learning. It is depressing to observe how his supporters continue to lap up his incoherent torrent of hate speech and pig ignorance rather than seeing it for what it is: a blatant abuse and misuse of power. Continue reading

EARTH ABIDES by George R.Stewart (1949)

earthIsherwood Williams (Ish) is not much of mixer which is just as well because most of humanity has just been wiped out by a deadly virus.

You might imagine this means the horror of piles of corpses lying everywhere but the dead bodies have either all been buried or we assume that all the victims gathered together in medical centers to tidily expire en-masse.

When we meet Ish, he is laid up in his remote mountain cabin after a snake bite. This poison seems to be the reason he is immune to the pandemic.

When he recovers he finds that civilization as he knows is has disappeared.  Being a pragmatic and practically-minded kind of guy he resolves to cope with the great disaster methodically and logically. He gets a truck, food supplies, weapons and a dog. His trusty hammer becomes both a life saver and a symbol of his enduring strength. Continue reading

Why We Sleep: the New Science of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker(Penguin Books, 2018)

9780141983769-itThis might just be the perfect book for the bedside table if the contents were not so damned scary.

The list of what lack of sleep causes is vast and should be a concern for those who, up to now, have regarded the daily hours of shut-eye as a waste of time.

The facts and discoveries from decades of scientific research prove that sleeping makes you healthier, wealthier and wiser. It can also make you more attractive and slimmer.

“Sleep fixes what is upset by wake” states Walker. As director of University College Berkeley’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab, the results of his long research carry a genuine authority. The title of the book is not framed as a question (Why do we sleep?) since the science gives us the answers. Ignore the findings at your peril. Continue reading

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