2006: The Best of the Books

Past years’ best-of lists show my reading pendulum swinging from non-fiction to fiction and back again. This year was squarely at the non-fiction end, with most of it in academic journal form, but I did manage to read a reasonable bunch of books for enjoyment—although most of those have also been non-fiction. Just yesterday, for example, I finished Joanna Blythman’s Shopped: The Shocking Power of British Supermarkets, a companion piece to Felicity Lawrence’s Not on the Label that reminded me just how grim the UK’s retail landscape has become. This year I’ve also caught up on Levitt & Dubner’s Freakonomics and Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, two books that bloggers have gone on about ad nauseam, possibly because their short stand-alone chapters with no particular theme suit bloggers’ fractured attention spans. None of them made the list, though. Here’s what has.

Read More · 30 December 2006

Looking in the Wrong Place

Because of my interest in comedy and cartooning I always check out the Humour shelves in a bookstore, just to see what new gems might be lurking amongst the dozens of gimmick books. You know the kind—those throwaways designed to be purchased as gifts but never actually read. I’ve come up with a few ideas for them myself over the years, only to have them rejected by publishers and then appear in uncannily similar form in the shops a year or two later. But am I bitter? Nooooo. I’m just saving up these experiences for my Little Bitty Book of Bitter Rejections. (It’s been done, actually, and more than once. When it comes to gimmicky books there are few original ideas, which is the more likely reason my proposals never got anywhere.)

Read More · 27 July 2006

Buncha Links

Various links to suit today’s links-hungry lifestyle.

Read More · 17 July 2006 ·

Dyer For People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Read It

I’ve just finished one of those books one reads from time to time that says, “Yes, this is how it’s done—write one like this, you lazy bastard”: Geoff Dyer’s Yoga For People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It. I’d recommend it to anyone (especially anyone over the age of thirty), even if it does make my own bits and pieces seem futile. For some of the ideas in my off-stage, will-he-ever-finish-it travel book, Dyer comes perilously close to stealing my thunder, taking it down to Thor’s House of Thunder Repairs, and re-conditioning it as extra-decibel, off-the-Richter-scale thunder that makes my original thunder sound like an underpowered sneeze. Fortunately he and I haven’t been to exactly the same places; unfortunately (for me as writer, but fortunately for me as reader), Dyer captures some of the universals of travel and early middle-age so well that it seems redundant to write on the same themes. He’s that good.

Read More · 12 June 2006

The Group Mind

Now and then I get an email out of the blue that reminds me that I wrote a book about tradition. Most recently it was someone doing a final project on the subject, asking for my feelings on the question “Will our family traditions affect the morals of teens as they become older or do these traditions get forgotten?”

Read More · 11 June 2006

My New Filing Technique is Unstoppable

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been boring anyone within earshot about the latest Book That’s Changed My Life. It’s hardly a book for the ages—no Moby Dick or Middlemarch—but it’s exactly the one I needed to read: Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen.

Read More · 5 April 2006 ·

Holy Blood, Holy Architecture

It seems that every time you open the paper at the moment there’s another story about the Dan Brown court case, asking whether he infringed copyright by ripping off the plot for The Da Vinci Code from the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail. And every time I see it, all I can think is, “Of course he didn’t. What kind of bizarro legal world is this?”

Read More · 21 March 2006 ·

If you like the sound of People Who Don’t Know They’re Dead: How They Attach Themselves To Unsuspecting Bystanders and What To Do About It, wait ’til you read the past winners of the Bookseller/Diagram Prize for the Oddest Title of the Year. Bombproof Your Horse, anyone?

15 March 2006

The Man Brooker

Let’s face it, you’re a massive hypocrite. You sit there at your la-di-da dinner parties sipping Tempranillo and pointing out that you don’t own a television, and as soon as the guests have gone you whip out the laptop and gorge yourself on half a box-set of Curb Your Enthusiasm or Six Feet Under. No TV? All you’ve done is boil it down to a syrup of video sweetness, minus the hours and hours of bum-wincingly tedious drivel that selfless critics like Charlie Brooker sit through so that they can warn you, in sarcastic rant-filled form, what to avoid. Forget hypocrite—you’re a super-hypocrite, a hyper-hypocrite: you should be chased around a hippodrome by a horde of hypnotised hippos.

Read More · 12 March 2006

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←Books in 2005