Date Archives October 2011

“The Problems of Philosophy” by Bertrand Russell

This book is pitched just at the right level for me. I am interested in philosophy, but don’t have enough knowledge of it to be able to understand some of the more complex works. I tried Wittgenstein recently, for instance, and it didn’t take. But this short introduction to some of the basic problems of philosophy was very enjoyable. It’s almost 100 years old now, so probably the problems of philosophy are a little different today, but still I found the ideas in this book very thought-provoking. Russell’s writing is… Read More

The Secret Life of Pronouns, etc…

My Dad sent me an interesting article from New Scientist magazine recently called “The Secret Life of Pronouns”. It’s based on a book of the same name by James W. Pennebaker. Now the article was fascinating (I’ll get to it in a minute), but I just wanted to put in a quick plea first. Please, no more books called “The Secret Life of…” The most well-known is of course The Secret Life of Bees, but we’ve also had in recent years, among many others: The Secret Life of Lobsters The… Read More

Congratulations, Julian Barnes!

So he won his Booker after all, the man who’s been shortlisted three times but never won before, and who once famously referred to the prize as “posh bingo”. To be honest I’m a bit sick of the Booker by now – there seems to have been more publicity about it than usual, or maybe I’ve just been paying more attention than usual. But I’m very glad that Julian Barnes won the prize – well-deserved for an excellent novel, which I reviewed here. Update: I posted a new post giving… Read More

“C” by Tom McCarthy

Well, that was a bit different. Don’t come to this book expecting plot, character development or anything like that. The main character, Serge, is like a conduit for signals from the radio that his father is experimenting with when he’s born and that he himself develops a fascination with as he gets older. He’s not so much a character as a symbol of the effect of technology on the individual at the dawn of the radio age. The plot is episodic, and Serge cares so little about the outcome that… Read More

New Booker rival announced

I was interested to see today that a new Literature Prize is being established, possibly from next year, with the intention to rival the Man Booker Prize. I wasn’t aware of the controversy about the Booker apparently prioritising readability over artistic achievement. The two shortlisted books I’ve read so far have certainly had plenty of artistic achievement, and overall I think the Booker has done a good job over the years of selecting some of the best novels to read. I was also pleased to see that, on the longlist… Read More

“Half Blood Blues” by Esi Edugyan

This book has it all: a compelling story, a great setting (black jazz musicians in Nazi Germany and occupied Paris), lyrical prose that perfectly captures the voice of the bass-player narrator, Baltimore-born Sid Griffiths, while also weaving in elements of the music it describes. It has jealousy, betrayal, a nice twist in the ending, and yet… I liked the book a lot, but I didn’t love it. When I describe it I feel as if I should have loved it, been truly blown away by it, but I wasn’t. I… Read More

Guardian feature on independent bookshops

I’ve lamented the decline of independent bookshops on this site in the past, so was pleased to see a Guardian special section on independent bookshops last weekend. It’s available online – I was particularly interested in the listing of all the independent bookshops in London, but there are also similar articles for the other areas of the UK (follow the links at the side of the London one). I’ve been to many of them, but there are some new ones to me as well, like Magma and England’s Lane Books…. Read More

“The Flanders Road” by Claude Simon

Not an easy read, this. The style is experimental, with prose that mimics the way we think rather than the way we’d normally tell a story. So there’s a lot of jumping around from memory to memory by association rather than logic or chronology. The sentences are often long and winding, with digressions and then digressions within digressions, and often the narrator contradicts himself or changes his mind, or says there’s really no way to tell anyway, and just as often it’s not even clear who the narrator is or… Read More