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Freewheeling Andy

Andy's Blook bog (started 2006)

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Well, here goes.

 

I'm not really sure it'll count as a blog, as such, just notes on what I'm reading, and when I'm reading it.

 

2006 started with me in the middle of two books.

 

Well, I was right near the end of John Lanchester's Fragrant Harbour. It's a book I've fallen in love with. One of those big epic books, spanning decades, with different intertwined lives (except not that epic in length).

 

I loved Lanchester's first book, The Debt To Pleasure, but was very disappointed by his second, Mr Phillips. I wouldn't even have bought this had I not found it in the second hand stacks under Waterloo Bridge.

 

It's not, exacly, a return to form. It's a very different book to the previous two - more of a traditional novel. It's about Hong Kong "Heung Gong, Fragrant Harbour. Chinese Joke." Says one character. Not a subject that ever particularly interested me before, but he brings it to life, across the last 60 years.

 

Anyway, I finished this whilst on a rattly and tedious train from Nottingham back south and had that "why couldn't it go on longer" feeling, and then moved on to the other book I'm in the middle of for the rest of that boring ride...

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Second book of the moment (and now the only book I'm reading) is Martha Gellhorn's "Travels with myself and another: 5 Journeys from hell" and is beautifully written, and utterly engrossing. It's very funny. You don't feel too sympathetic for her, either, because she doesn't play it that way. A very good thing, too. Travel books which have a "woe is me" element are annoying. Here she knows she's getting herself in a mess, and happily admits her flaws and faults.

 

Her opinions are sometimes wrong, and the language definitely comes from an earlier era. Particularly with the section I'm on at the moment where she's travelling in Africa, in the 1960s (in Cameroon right now). Although even with this she admits her ignorance - a joy I've only ever found one other travel writer admitting, Eric Newby in his wonderful and deranged A Short Walk In The Hindu Kush (more Newby to come before long on this blog, I suspect).

 

Anyway, I shall go home, and if I don't spend all evening eating I'll no doubt meander through some more of Martha's book.

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Well, here goes.

 

I'm not really sure it'll count as a blog, as such, just notes on what I'm reading, and when I'm reading it.

 

 

Which is fine. I just think it's interesting to look back over your year.. plus it'll help you with the 2006 Book Club Awards! :Tantrum:

 

Btw, was 'Blook bog' deliberate?! :D

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Well, here goes.

 

I'm not really sure it'll count as a blog, as such, just notes on what I'm reading, and when I'm reading it.

 

 

Which is fine. I just think it's interesting to look back over your year.. plus it'll help you with the 2006 Book Club Awards! :Tantrum:

 

Btw, was 'Blook bog' deliberate?! :D

 

Definitely dlebirate

 

I was realise I was doing this Blog thing basically in the "current reading" section, and thought I'd isolate it.

 

Although I'm not sure anyone will be that interested in my readings, but it'll be good for me to think about the books I'm reading a bit more.

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I suppose, being a blog, I should update this when I can, rather than when I'm just finishing/starting a book. Give a sort of running commentary on observations.

 

Actually, most of my reading since the last entry has been in Alan Davidson's Oxford Companion to Food (starting with the entry about Saanen cheese, the world's oldest cheese - sometimes up to 200 years old) and then some of the cheese entries in McGee's encylopedia of food.

 

The Martha Gellhorn remains fascinating and horrible in equal measure - although the journeys are never complete horrors as she always seems to meet nice people. But her views on Africa from the mid 20th century, when travelling through countries which were still part of empire, are sometimes shockingly outdated, and sometimes remarkably prescient and cogent. The most shocking thing is the way she talks of the blacks doing this, and the blacks doing that, and the whites behaving differently. She's generally nicer about the Africans than the French, but the turn of phrase seems startling to the modern ear.

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It was excellent. A friend was over from Switzerland, and we went for a couple of beers; then for a curry (I'm now completely convinced by the theory that you should drink gewurztraminer wine with a curry, after the second success in a fortnight); then to watch the skaters at Somerset House whilst drinking a glass of champagne. All on her expense account. :D

 

I don't think much reading will be added to the reading blog today/tomorrow, as I've suddenly had some urgent work come in, and I've spent the last four hours at the climbing wall being inept and falling off and clumsy and am now completely shattered and still have to cycle home from the office.

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Well, another day when I've read nothing. But then, I've been doing stuff, so I have an excuse. Had a hangover and tidied the flat in the morning. Went to watch a miserable defeat (how often does that happen?) in the afternoon, and I've just rolled home from eating couscous and then watching King Kong (which is a particularly silly film).

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I've had a slack few days (too much work and booze), but what I've read of the Gellhorn remains excellent. She's utterly eviscerating the chaos in Cameroon, and now she's arrived in Fort Lamy in Chad where her hatred for the place is almost comical. It sounds grim.

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I finally got to the end of "Travels". It really is an excellent book, but as with so many non-fiction books the lack of narrative flow means what I end up taking much longer over reading it. There's a load of insight about travelling in it, though. Insight about Africa, and about Soviet Russia, too. But the views at the end of how some travel journeys seem utterly tedious to her (I'm very sympathetic to her views on cuise ships and Vienna and Venice), and that the real horror trips have boredom at their heart.

 

Now I need to decide what's next from the pile. It all looks a bit serious.

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Ah. I've just started Babylon by Victor Pelevin. So far, about 20 or 25 pages in, I'm utterly beguiled by it. It's brilliant. Utterly brilliant. If it continues to be as good then I'll be all over every part of the internet telling the world how astonishingly brilliant Victor Pelevin is.

 

Huge big-ups to whoever recommended it. I'm happy as happy can be.

 

It's so fun, so cynical, so entertaining. The various bits of blurb are really unhelpful "A psychedelic Nabokov..."; "A Zen Buddhist Will Self..."; "The 21st Century's Bulgakov relishing the chaos and absurdity of modern russia..."; "often compared to Philip K Dick..."

 

So there you go. He's like 4 completely different authors, only different and more modern. Helpful, eh?

 

What do I care. So far it's just wonderful.

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I'm still loving Babylon, but I'm more convinced than ever that it wouldn't be for everyone. Quite a lot of the weirdness seems to be drugs fuelled with a fantastic mad trip on agaric mushrooms described as a way of triggering creative processes; and so on.

 

The book is an excellent satire on advertising, and in particular advertising in post-Soviet Russia where there are no products to advertise against. It's generally very marvellous, to my tastes.

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The more I read, the more brilliant it is. Currently in the middle of an essay written by Che Guevara through the medium of a Ouija board on the subject of a zen understanding of how the viewer of a television stops really being a subject in the subject-object dualism and instead becomes a virtual subject who is being zapped by the television itself.

 

Utterly deranged and utterly brilliant. The world is going to have to work hard to come up with better stuff for me this year.

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I finished Babylon on the plane yesterday. It's completely and utterly bonkers. More bonkers than I could have conceivably imagined even though it was pretty bonkers all the way through. Um... don't know what to say about it, really, because any book where you discover the entire Russian government is computer generated as a method of marketing, and they all got erased, is just start raving bonkers.

 

I think the phrase "The hell of the eternal football championship" is the one that will live with me longest.

 

I'm starting on some cosmology now, instead - How The Universe Got Its Spots by Janna Levin.

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Well, back to this - I've finished reading How The Universe Got Its Spots. A great read, covering some really hard physics - but starting from close to scratch so you get the history of physics thought along with tricky maths and then to the concept of the strange topologies of space. But being written as a series of letters it touches repeatedly on the personal and the personal life. Some of the Amazon reviews thought this was a bad thing - but I think it lightened the impact of the tricky physics. Others thought it was meaningless to have the personal in there because of the way the personal life seemed to have no direct relation to the physics.

 

I actually think this is good, because it leaves two parallel threads telling two important stories. The first about cosmology and topology. The second saying that even the hardcore scientist is not some mysterious freak living a soulless life, but actually lives a (fairly) normal life doing normal things, and no matter how much people often want to describe the glorious confluences between peoples' lives and research, the reality is that it doesn't actually work that way, any more than me going out on a date or going to the pub has any major impact on my work.

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I've started Ryszard Kapuscinski's The Soccer War. He's a legendary Polish foreign correspondent, and he covered all of the massive changes of the 60s. This is a shortish book, and covers his time observing something silly like 30 revolutions over 10 or 15 years. So far, so good. He sees loads and writes in a lovely, light, interesting style.

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The Kapuscinski is just brilliant. Wonderful, brilliant, astonsihing, insightful and shocking reportage. I've just finished the piece where he's in Congo when the President is killed and everyone goes on a rampage killing all the whites in the city, then they escape by pure chance, end up in Burundi and put in prison as suspected allies of the Congolese (who were going to kill them), and again escape by pure chance the day they were going to be shot. Gobsmacked.

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Since I last wrote on this I have at least read The Age Of Kali, by William Dalrymple. It's a lovely book of essays about his 10 years in India from 1990 to 2000 (give or take). Sometimes there's perhaps too much obsession about details of temples, and or architecture (which I've spotted in his writing before, and which probably ties to the person he's most closely following in terms of obsessions, Robert Byron), but when he gets the human stories, or the big political stories, his writing is fantastic.

 

I'm now reading Jared Diamond's Collapse, which is quite dark, really. It's an assessment of how a variety of different societies and civilisations have collapsed, whether it's due to environmental change, or due to trading failures, or whatever. fascinating and dark. So far I've only read the chapters on Montana and Easter Island, and started on the one on Pitcairn and Henderson.

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Oof! Finally finished Collapse. Heavy, heavy going when I've not had that much time. And excellent book, enlightening. But dark and full of info and 550 pages of highly packed words. I'll do a review in a bit, I think.

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