Notes from extinction (pickwick) wrote,
Notes from extinction

Monthly book round-up - January (9 books)

(Pictures are links to Amazon; I don't know if anyone's boycotting them because of the most recent kerfuffle - I'm not, because it seems like bog-standard two capitalist companies fighting over money.)

What We Believe But Cannot Prove, ed John Brockman

Every year the Edge Foundation asks leading scientists and thinkers a question, and this is a collection of essays answering the question from 2005, What Do You Believe But Cannot Prove? It's a fascinating read, with contributions from Susan Blackmore, Bruce Sterling, Philip Zimbardo, Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, and a host of others with less of a public profile (or just in areas I'm less familiar with). Given that the question was an open one, it's interesting that a large chunk of the essays deal with one of the current "hard problems" in science, which is being studied in many disciplines - the nature of consciousness. I got this book in a three-pack along with What's Your Dangerous Idea? and What Are You Optimistic About? and I'll read them soon. This year's question is How Is The Internet Changing The Way You Think, and I'm thoroughly looking forward to those essays.

Think On My Words - Exploring Shakespeare's Language by David Crystal

Great book exploring how Shakespeare used language - not a glossary of obscure terms, but an accessibly written breakdown of why Shakespeare is seen as "difficult", what categories of "difficult" words you'll find in the plays, how his language changed over time and between genres, and how Shakespeare's word choice, grammar, punctuation, word invention and most of all word play made him our most enduring writer.

So You Think You're Clever by John Farndon

This book collects 75 of the most interesting or bizarre questions from Oxford and Cambridge admissions interviews and answers them. The answers can be wide-ranging or specific, serious or somewhat flippant, and are usually worth a read - but the real fun of the book is in disagreeing with either the conclusions or the way the question was approached, and working out how you'd have answered.

Enchanted Glass by Diana Wynne Jones

I think this might be my favourite of the recent DWJ children's books - while I liked The Pinhoe Egg and Conrad's Fate, I loved this. The characters were more likeable and more real (especially the gardener and his Vegetables Of Passive Aggressive Annoyance) and I found myself wanting to know more about the backstory and how the world works. Although I find that three weeks later, I can't think of that much to say about it, and can only remember two of the characters' names.

Filthy English by Peter Silverton

Another language book doing what it says on the tin - the subtitle is "The How, Why, When And What Of Everyday Swearing". It's based in British English, but looks at swearing around the world. There's a chapter for each of the most used words, and chapters on generalities like sexual swearing, religious swearing, racial insults, homophobic insults and so on. Every chapter covers the history of words, some of the variations and similarities in different countries, how the word is used and how offensive it's seen as, how it's changed historically, and how it's used or censored in the media. Like Crystal's book it's not at all dry: it's a good read if you're interested in language at all, and probably an interesting way of learning some of the concepts that are relevant to language study as a whole.

Notes From An Exhibition by Patrick Gale

Non-genre fiction! Patrick Gale was highly recommended in one of my communities, and rightly so. He writes easily and straightforwardly but with great depth, and his communication of place and character and mood is amazing. This is the intricately structured tale of an artistic and a family life, and how the two interact. When I finished it, I wanted to start again - because of how it's structured, I think it'll reward re-reading, which is always a plus. I'll be picking up more of his books.

Shades Of Grey by Jasper Fforde

I didn't much like the previous non-Thursday-Next Jasper books, so it actually took me a good week or two after this came out to buy it, but I though it was much better. Fforde's original characters in this one have much more depth (I always found even Thursday a bit flat, though I loved the world) and the world-building is fascinating. The concept is that we're some time in the future, and after Something Happened, we ended up with a controlling, almost fascistic society with a caste system defined by which colour you can see and how intensely you can see it. You get a lot of tantalising hints about how it works, but at the same time there's a strong plot running through the book. It's heavily influenced by 1984 and post-apocalyptic stories, tempered by Fforde's trademark whimsy and odd trains of thought. Looking forward to the sequel.

The Psychology of Harry Potter, ed Neil Mulholland PhD

One of my secret-ish vices over the last few years has been the academic study of pop culture. (It's why I have "tv as text" as one of my interests.) I've got loads of books on Buffy and Angel, several on Battlestar and Firefly, Veronica Mars and Narnia and Diana Wynne Jones, but this is the first Harry Potter one I've picked up. It's pretty good, actually - some interesting essays, some that made me roll my eyes, some that made me want to engage in a proper discussion about the subject. There are the usual conflicts, as well - the books starts with two essays with diametrically opposing views of the approach to and standard of teaching at Hogwards, specifically whether curiosity is rewarded. It's a niche book, I guess, but if you're in that niche it's worth a read.

Skin Trade by Laurell K Hamilton

Yeah, it's my vampire porn series...except this book, book 17 in the series, has gone back to its roots a bit. Anita is on a murder investigation in Vegas, and very few of the usual characters are about. There's action and plot and gore and weretigers and slightly facile philosophy (and this book seems particularly authoritarian, possibly just because of its cop-focus), but there's no sex scenes until about 5/6 of the way through, and it's a pretty hefty book. A definite improvement, even if Anita is still developing Extra Speshull Powers.

I thoroughly enjoyed all the books I read this month, hurray! Read fewer than normal, I think, but five were non-fiction, which always takes me longer, and there were no re-reads.
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