Thursday, October 05, 2006

Short Book Shorts

Haven't given you the benefit of my dubious judgement on books for a while. That doesn't mean I haven't been reading, mind you. The trains are still late, slow, and busy. Here, then, is a quick review of my most recent reads:

Holidays on Ice, by David Sedaris: Generally, I like Sedaris's stuff (God knows I've bought enough of them) but this slight book of just six articles felt like he was reaching. Okay, they're all around the theme of holidays, so I guess the book is cobbled together, meaning works of varying quality, but I can't help wondering if this book was brought out just to milk the cash cow a little bit more. That said, the piece in which he reviews school nativity plays in the style of the NYT drama critic is very funny indeed.

The Magic Christian, by Terry Southern: Every now and then I check my Amazon wish list to see if any of the books on it have dropped in price to under a quid. This had, so I bought it. Now I know why it was so cheap.

The movie is much better. As is Southern's book Blue Movie, which I had read before this one. Will I read any more? Hmm.

Where Did It All Go Right?: Growing Up Normal in the 70s, by Andrew Collins: I liked Collins's book about his college years, Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now, because he arrived in London only a couple of years after me, so I recognized the zeitgeist. This book deals with his childhood in Northampton in the 70s. As such, it consists mostly of namedropping TV shows, sweets, comics, and toys from that era. In addition, a good proportion of the book is composed of extracts from his diaries as a teenager. I could have written that. I mean, literally, genuinely, I could have written it. If only I could have found idiots to publish it and pay me too.

Class, by Stephen Edgell: I studied Class, Status, Veblen and Bourdieu under Stephen Edgell at Salford, so I'd always promised myself I'd buy this one day; I had to wait 14 years before it became affordable. Despite being one of those Routledge Key Concepts books, it's a proper sociological text, in that it examines problems in operationalizing terms, conducting research into class and status and so on. Not as outdated as one might expect.

Merleau-Ponty: A Guide for the Perplexed, by Eric Matthews: Even though I read The Phenomenology of Perception years ago, I flatter myself by saying I got a good deal out of it, but I read this for more autobiographical information than to confirm my suspicions aboiut what I'd read before. It's increasingly clear to me that Merleau-Ponty is a better philosopher than Sartre in the same way that Camus is a better existentialist. But then, how does one define better? I just mean, I guess, that I empathize with them rather more on account of their arguments. Seeing through their eyes makes more sense to me than seeing the world through Sartre's (cue bad taste joke about Sartre's eyes).

Psychogeography, by Merlin Coverley: One of those Pocket Essentials books, giving an outline of the history of the term, including its precursors. Bored the shit out of me, yet many of the recommended Web sites at the back of the book are also to be found on our blogroll. What does that say about us?

The Pope's Children, by David McWilliams: Interesting pop sociology about demographic and cultural changes in Ireland over the last 20 or so years. Contains some surprising statistical information in its early pages then deteriorates into one of those cutesy roman a clef-type comments on contemporary society, reminiscent of The Sloane Ranger Handbook. How McWilliams stretched this idea out into 300-plus pages is beyond me. All the good stuff can be found in the early chapters.

I Only Say This Because I Love You, by Deborah Tannen: I've become addicted to sociolinguist Deborah Tannen's books. Even though they tend to overlap, each one covering some ground that features in one of the others, I defy you not to find yourself somewhere in her pages. Conversations between partners, mothers and daughters, men and women, brothers and sisters, they're all here. Informative and amusing.

The Politics of Illusion, by Henry Patterson: Traces the history of the republican movement's attempts to reconcile nationalism and socialism and explains not only why they failed but why such a reconciliation is in any practical sense impossible. A rather dry and worthy read but enlightening nonetheless.

Why Smart People Can Be So Stupid, edited by Robert J. Sternberg: Could it be because intelligence isn't the same as wisdom or experience? (cf: Emotional Intelligence, by Daniel Goleman) That's pretty much the conclusion arrived at in the articles by eminent psychologists collected here. Well, blow me.

Of course, Flaubert said it so much better in Bouvard and Pecuchet.

Bouvard and Pecuchet, by Gustave Flaubert: Two clerks come into an inheritance and decide to spend it on educating themselves about the world. Manage to blunder their way through their fortune, failing to recognize the importance of "organic" knowledge, or, if you will, knowledge of the world acquired through praxis. I immediately thought of the wonderful sculptures of racehorses made in his retirement by my father, who has spent his entire working life as a factory toolmaker. He was able to turn the garage at home into a foundry when he retired, and his phenomenal ability to turn three-dimensional casts and moulds over in his mind then make them real was a skill only available to someone who'd undergone years of hard graft doing the same sort of thing in the workplace with car parts and gas cookers.

At one point in the book, Bouvard and Pecuchet are attempting to cultivate an orchard, while referring to the best available books on the subject. Failing miserably, they lament that there appear to be different rules for each individual tree. Just so. Only experience can teach you what they are.

Running with Scissors, by Augusten Burroughs: Funny, but with a touch of the poor man's David Sedaris about it. About to be made into a movie, I believe. A tad excessive in kind of a James Frey way. I say that without wanting to cast aspersions on its accuracy, of course. Judge for yourself.

There now, that's a dozen to keep you going. And there'll be more, if Iarnrod Eireann doesn't get its act together, I warn you.


Twenty Major said...

Yes, but what did you think of the latest Marian Keyes?

Unknown said...

please mind your language. There's ladies who visit this blog. "operationalizing" is a word I don't ever, ever want to read or hear again.
twenty major,
the latest Marian Keyes wasn't that good. Although we were all waiting for the story of Anna, she really has dug too deep and there is nothing more to be extracted from the Walsh sisters. Even though I will read the book she will inevitably write about Helen Walsh.
Still, Rachel's Holiday is a very very good book. I just finished re-reading it, and it provided much enjoyment and a few very deep insights.
She is one of the good ones. The only good one, probably. It's people like Patricia Scanlan and Freya North and (sometimes) Adele Parks that give Chick Lit a bad name.

John said...

I notice no mention of Cecelia, Stef. Is she beyond the Pale?

(Paging the Swearing Lady! Swearing Lady, come in please.)

Sweary said...

Now look here.

I come here to be pointed towards wonderful literary diversions, not to be egged into some sort of Cecilia rampage, that brainless fluffy cunt.

Not that that's a word for ladies either. Soz.

You did ask for it, John!

Unknown said...

I notice no mention of Cecelia, Stef. Is she beyond the Pale?
Indeed John, indeed.
I am a Lady Of Standard.

John said...

Heh heh. Thank you, Swearing Lady. What else would I expect.


What's a lady of standard such as yourself doing on a blog like this?

Unknown said...

I'm keeping it real, John ;-)

J.J said...

I was annoyed I didn't get in first with the Andrew Collins book too. Even though he and I played in the exact same streets and parks I was STILL bored by it - and he made a bloody fortune from it - huh.

John said...

Hi J.J.

To add insult to injury, he names one chapter "Cobblers" then spends it explaining why he never supported Northampton.

Sell-out bastard.

J.J said...

You won't be surprised to hear that that wound me RIGHT up!