Books for March & April 2017

Enjoying reasonably meaty books and trying to get through one a week is a little conflicted. Homo Deus is a brilliantly puzzling book. It needs some time to play with. Some time to decide which bits are nonsense and which bits are likely.

Anyway. To the list.

10 Known and Strange Things, Teju Cole
A collection of essays. Darts around quite a lot. Sync’d nicely with train journey sized reading blocks.

11 Embassytown, China Miéville
Space games. Probably a better book that Railsea, but I enjoyed Railsea more.

12 The Looking Glass War, John le Carré
Wow this is depressing. People!

13 We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson
Disgracefully I only read this because it was on a list of short books that are any good. Rattled through this quickly – great book. I should likely read something a bit more fun though.

14 Against Everything, Mark Grief
Another essay collection. I found the tone a little grating, although plenty to think about. Much preferred the voice in Known and Strange Things.

15 The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes
The ending could have been a little more distantly handled I think. Felt a little spelled out. I don’t know. Delightful book though.

16 Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, Yuval Noah Harari
I’ve spoken about and recommended this book more than anything since Sapiens (and probably SPQR) last year. It didn’t go where I thought it would. It’s probably a third longer than it needs to be.

17 Ghachar Ghochar,  Vivek Shanbhag
Short but awesome. Translated novels kind of amaze me anyway. Read this.

18 A Sticky Note Guide to Life, Chaz Hutton
The internet is wonderful. A book by this guy.

19 Pragmatic Thinking and Learning: Refactor Your Wetware, Andy Hunt
My first re-read of the whole bookaweek thing. I think it’s maybe five years since I read this. Surprising how much that was surprising the first time round is just ‘the natural order of things’ this time round.

January & February 2017 Books

Blogging the books I’ve read is a little odd. But I’ve started now so I’m going to keep it up. Habit > Logic and all than. Blogging like it’s 2001 again. I write these down so I’ll remember them, I think. Prettier list with covers and such on goodreads.

1 Human Acts, Kang Han
A far less depressing ending than I was expecting. Reasonably sure it needs a re-read.

2 Small Data, Martin Lindstrom
Interesting stories about weedling insights out of fridge magnet placement, unused toy arrangements and where we look in lifts. Continue reading “January & February 2017 Books”

Books 2016

A year ago I decided to try and read a book a week in 2017. I failed. I only read 47 and a half. I’m reasonably sure that if I’d skipped Midnight’s Children or SPQR I’d have made the 52.

Since the last books post

44 Do Not Say We Have Nothing Madeleine Thien
Remarkable book. You should read it. I love a bit of historical fact in a story, especially when I know so little of the history. Just brutal at times. Also, sometimes history repeats itself.

45 After the Quake Murakami, Haruki
I think short story Murakami is maybe my favourite Murakami.

46 The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World Andrea Wulf
This was just a delight to read. Started it in August I think, and picked it up from time to time for a chapter or two of olde adventures. The refs and footnotes are almost half the book.

47 Strange Weather in Tokyo Hiromi Kawakami
Trying to fill in the gaps in the profile of my books I thought a love story was in order. The food all sounds delicious.

47.5 Human Acts Kang Han
This is the half. I got half way through and just couldn’t pick it up again over Xmas. I’ll finish it in January. Similar student uprising territory to book 44 – only with absolutely no relief from the horror. Slightly jars with the endless sounds of Mariah, Ninjago and Junk Art in the background over the festive season.

Some numbers

Just over 17,000 pages total. Male/female author ratio was ~2:1. Roughly one in four books were translated into English. Just over 2:1 ratio of fiction:non. 5 Booker winners, 9 of the 2016 Booker long list. All but 13 books were written in the past 3 years, and only 2 before I was born. The exact opposite of my musical taste. Unsurprisingly the ISBNs broadly obeyed Benford’s law apart from 9.

The fiction ratio is the biggest shift. I’ve been reading almost all non fiction – so tackling a few stories has been fun.

Obviously a bunch of the best of the year aren’t in the photo – because I passed them on at some point. I don’t think I’ll pick a top three or anything you can find the full list on goodreads with handy amazon links etc… and all the books posts from the year.

Not sure if I’ll make the 52 in 2017. I might try making a better goodreads instead.

Books October & November

The challenge within the challenge. Trying to read 52 books in a year is proving to be a toughie. I’m not including Harry Potter or Ug, I’m not including work books, I’m not including kindle singles. Just ‘proper’ books.

No challenge is complete without interim goals though – I decided to tackle the Booker long list. Genius idea! So this is the most Bookerish update by far.

The Sellout, which won the prize, was my last book from the previous update. I loved it, I even said I hoped it would win. Aren’t I clever.

Since then:

35 The Many Wyl Menmuir
This reminded me of Magnus Mills (read this if you haven’t). Entirely matter of fact descriptions of a slightly skew-whiff world. I was surprised this didn’t make the shortlist. I liked it.

36 Eileen Ottessa Moshfegh
Thoroughly unpleasant stuff happening. One of those ‘very good, but hard to enjoy’ books.

37 His Bloody Project Graeme Macrae Burnet
This is great. Being Scottish it’s been all over the Waterstones I walk past every day for months. Puts the idyllic crofters life in a slightly different light.

38 The North Water Ian McGuire
Whale fishing. The death throws of an industry in the northern seas, demise of which was caused by a new source of energy becoming commercially advantageous, making those brave men who go to sea redundant and in need of a new life… Hmm… Also brutal. Four books on a trot making it clear that the world is a dark, dark place.

39 All That Man Is David Szalay
Not sure about this one. I like a short story. This was basically the same short story repeated a bunch of times. The stories all mash into one after a few weeks, which I’m sure is intentional, but feels like a fail, which likely makes it very clever.

40 Hot Milk Deborah Levy
I mostly read on the train. This is, I think, the book with the most ‘girly’ cover that I’ve read so far. I’m sure the jellyfish are symbolic. Of what I’m in the dark. IQ>EQ and all that.


41 Whiskey Tango Foxtrot David Shafer
As a break from the Booker list, and because the prize was announced which took the fun out of the race a little, I pulled a techno thriller out of the stack. A break from the death and doom to read a fictionalised account of how Google and the NSA ownz us. Just as Trump wins and Theresa May starts logging my visits to goodreads and amazon in case I’m a threat to society.

42 My Name Is Lucy Barton Elizabeth Strout
Back to the Booker list, and another one I thought should have been shortlisted. More weird families stuff. Lovely writing, I’d have got through 80 books by now if they all flowed so nicely. Nearly missed my stop.

43 We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves Karen Joy Fowler
I won’t say anything about this one. If you know, you know. If you don’t you should read it. Alexei Sayle mentioned this on Book Shambles while I was reading it. Which was spooky. Don’t panic. I don’t listen to podcasts while I read.

44 Do Not Say We Have Nothing Madeleine Thien
I’m in the middle of this one at the moment. It’s the last of the Booker shortlist ones. Enjoying it so far. It’s fun when they jump around in time a bit, and I don’t know nearly enough about Chinese history.

So by the end of Do Not Say I’ll have got through all 6 of the Booker short list, and 9 of the 13 long list books for 2016. I kind of picked the winner too.

It’s nearly Mythmas and I have 8 more books to get through. The race is on.

Books catch up

Wow the past couple of months have flown by. When I say ‘couple’, I mean five. The last book I mentioned in my book a week 2016 attempt was A God in Ruins back in March. I’ve run through another stack since then. Train based commute FTW.

Let’s catch up.


20 The Myth of Sisyphus Camus, Albert
OK, so reading books just because you enjoy saying Sisyphus isn’t always a great idea. Not a book to read when work is ultra busy.

21 The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Wayfarers, #1) Chambers, Becky
Sci-fi nonsense is awesome.

22 A Very Expensive Poison Harding, Luke
Still hiding in a cupboard. Terrifying truth.

23 What a Carve Up! Coe, Jonathan
Tried to read this about 10 years ago. Never got very far. Loved it this time round.

24 HHhH Binet, Laurent
What a great book – the only time the whole ‘writers struggle’ stuff hasn’t ruined a book for me.

25 SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome Beard, Mary
Probably the most I’ve enjoyed a history book.

26 The Son Nesbø, Jo
Bought this and the next one after reading a Scandi-crime article. Enjoyable nonsense.

27 Last Rituals (Þóra Guðmundsdóttir, #1) Sigurðardóttir, Yrsa
This was actually pretty good. Weird names though.

28 Midnight’s Children Rushdie, Salman
As good as it’s meant to be. Longest sentences ever.

29 The Vegetarian Han, Kang
Starts off nice and light and funny, just incredibly desolate by the end. Read most of it in the cafe at Loch Morlich while the boys were sailing. Which was nice.

30 Seven Brief Lessons on Physics Rovelli, Carlo
Brilliantly accessible hurrah for science. Like an abbreviated Brian Cox.

31 A Very British Coup Mullin, Chris
Like a reverse What a Carve Up. Brexit and Corbyn…

32 Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future Mason, Paul
This is either insanely optimistic, or we are doomed, or we are lied to, or all three.

33 An Artist of the Floating World Ishiguro, Kazuo
Self image vs the world and all that.

34 The Sellout Beatty, Paul
The Booker prize long list buying spree kicks off with this one. I hope it wins.

So – 18 books to get through between now and Hogmanay. Which is 134 days away. 7.4 days per book. Easy! …

*okay Google – list of short but good books*

Book a week – March

No real purpose to the list this month. Largely just random grabs from a stack of stuff I’ve thrown into the Amazon basket over the last few weeks based on various lists of things to read / prize shortlists etc… in an attempt to broaden out the kind of thing I’m reading.

13 Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (304 pages) Didn’t enjoy this as much as Dance Dance Dance, but still a delightful way to spend some train journeys. I love the way Murakami describes boring everyday stuff.

14 Vernon God Little (288 pages) Excellent wee book largely constructed of delightful sentences. Read over three days following Super Tuesday where Hillary and Trump look to be stealing a march, and a week after watching Making a Murderer. ‘Murica. Sigh. Another mention of six fingered people. Probably my favourite so far. Second Booker winner on the list. Need to order a few more.

15 A Brief History of Time (256 pages) I’ve never read this before. Oddly. I can argue about emissions from Black Holes, visualisations of four dimensional space, and your general General Relativity with the best of the armchair physicists – but avoided this previously for some reason. Probably a snobbish rejection of overly popular pop-sci. I’m an idiot. The transition at page 23 from Newtonian to Relativistic is brutal. I can see why people stopped at that end of the book. I wish I’d done more maths. I can’t help wondering what shape physics would be in today if it wasn’t for the Pope and his ilk.

16 The Bone Clocks (640 pages) I think this is the first spooky nonsense book so far. Unless you count Murakami dream stuff as spooky. Which I don’t think I do (thereby no doubt demonstrating that I missed the point of the book entirely). I’d have preferred this without the Dungeons and Dragons nonsense. Felt a little bit like an episode of Yu Gi Oh in the third quarter – a bit of a slog. Ended well though, with some This Changes Everything scenario stuff. I preferred the resurrections of Harry August.

17 Trigger Warning (352 pages) Talking of spooky nonsense! Short story books can be incredibly frustrating to read on the train. Getting half way through a chapter is one thing – being three pages from the end of a story is quite another. Some utter nonsense in here. I don’t understand the dr who stuff. Fun though.

18 Good Ideas (368 pages) I’m always being asked how things are made, how they work, why something is, etc… by the wee lads . This is still a good reminder that even boring stuff is endlessly fascinating if you just dig in a bit deeper. Also some nice ideas outside of my usual science / maths / logic zone. Well worth a read if you have little people. While reading this the wee lad asked “Dad. What’s the opposite of medium?”, Discussion ended at head scratching about wether infinity was actually on the number line or not. I resisted showing him this.

19 A God in Ruins (542 pages) This was the only book I already had in the stack that featured in the Baileys long list announced this month. Deliberately bought this because it’s not the kind of thing I’d usually read. A lot of the books so far have done the time jumpy thing to some extent – with things happening out of sequence. You read about the death and then the life – that kind of thing. It feels like this jumps around mid sentence sometimes as recollection and reality get mashed up. My simple brain had to skip back and fore a few times to make sure I wasn’t slipping into that auto pilot where your eyes are reading but your brain is running through a todo list. I’m cheating slightly including this one – I finished it on April 1st.

7 books ( 5 fiction, 2 non-fiction )
2750 pages

Book a week – February

Okay so January was non-fiction heavy. Let’s make February a bit more fictiony. Picking books to read is hard when you’re out of the habit. I realised that in addition to being non-fiction heavy, January had been a month of books written by chaps. So I decided to fix that. I just bought a bunch of prize-winners making sure a decent number were written by ladies.

7 Station Eleven (384 pages) Rattled through this one. Fun to read after Sapiens. Sapiens covered the end of some humans, and the rise of some others. This covers the near death of those heroes of Sapiens, and presents further evidence that religion is largely a negative force in the world. More imagined futures. I should really read King Lear.

8 The Narrow Road to the Deep North (464 pages) A Booker winner. Fancy! I haven’t knowingly read a Booker winner before. I read Life of pi, but didn’t realise it was a booker winner when I read it. I just thought it was a book. I got entirely overwhelmed by something in the first quarter hinting at things to come – felt like the book had eight endings in succession. Which is a good thing. You should read this. It’s early, but this might be the best one on this list. I need to grab some more bookers.

9 The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August (448 pages) I do enjoy a bit of time travel paradox. I also enjoy a bit of science and a bit of soviet otherness. Enjoyable. Better than back to the future.

10 This Changes Everything (575 pages) Ouch. Hard read. Sorry kids. We ruined it and we knew, but we didn’t bother to fix it. Found this hard – and took breaks to read other books along the way. Not because it’s a hard read as such – I mean it’s LONG, but it’s fascinating throughout. Hard because I read all about Rio in the Guardian way back in the day and assumed that paying my green party subs, turning off lights, and not using standby on the telly would be enough to fix things. I was an idiot, and so was everyone else.

11 Reasons to Stay Alive (272 pages) Everyone should read this. It’s a tiny book. Go on. You’ll maybe cut a few people a little more slack from time to time. Which might help them. Why wouldn’t you want to help people?

12 Slaughterhouse 5 (192 pages) Back to fiction. I’m not entirely sure why – but I loved this. To bits.

6 books ( 4 fiction, 2 non-fiction )
2335 pages

Book a week – January

I always start the year with some free time, and I always get some books at Christmas. So I always read a couple, go back to work, and then read the rest in summer. Not this year! This year I decided to actually read with some effort. Dedicate train time to reading. Find some more interesting books. Actually read some fiction. A book a week.

1 Norwegian Wood Cutting etc… (192 pages) Much better than it looks – and it looks lovely. It will make you want to buy a little woodland though – so be warned. Slight cheat as read between giftmas and new year but hey. It’s on the list.

2 Moriarty (400 pages) I loved Sherlock Holmes books when I was younger, only grabbed this as part of a 3 for a tenner offer – didn’t expect much – but it was good. I guessed the plot on page 40ish but hey. It was fun. Read like a Sherlock Holmes book that I hadn’t read. Did what it said on the tin.

3 I Am Pilgrim (912 pages) Awesome. Haven’t read a proper thriller in years. Page turner etc… Eyeballs though. Grim. Was worried getting through almost 1000 pages would take months. Took a week.

4 The Man Who Made Things etc…  (100/240 pages) Read 100 pages of the 240 and got a little bored. Partly because I’ve read a lot about wood already. Partly because it should really be titled “the self congratulatory man who watched other far more interesting people make things out of trees but casts himself as hero for finding them and giving them a part of the very special tree that he was also very clever to find” – I’d have loved to read “the man who largely kept quiet while allowing the interesting craftspeople speak about what they do”.

5 So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed (320 pages) I always read Jon Ronson books in a terrible Jon Ronson impersonation voice in my head. This slows you down. Still enjoyed it though. Especially worth reading if you’re a judgemental twitterer. Change your ways!

6 Sapiens (512 pages) Tremendous book. Lovely stuff about pre-history, and a straight(ish) line through to the future. Plenty stuff I didn’t know. Less preachy than a lot of pop-sci. The importance of stories in the development of people is utterly convincing and quite pleasing. Certainly contextualises … well… almost everything. From Polar Bears to the indyref vote to buying shoes. Left me similarly enthused about humans as I was after reading Ug – Boy Genius of the Stoneage. Both books are pretty much about how important it is to imagine the future.

5.5 books ( 2 fiction, 3.5 non-fiction )
2468 pages