Oh, that Rod Begbie! Distracting me so! (Tries to hide gleeful hand-rubbing.) This is one of those pass-it-on blog memes, I’m afraid, and it’s all about books.
Total number of books I’ve owned: It’s a bit offputting that it starts with the question people are least likely to be able to answer, especially the kind of people who are surprised to discover clothes they didn’t know they had in their own laundry. (This morning.) So I’ll just say lots and lots and lots.
Last book I bought: Jon Ronson’s The Men Who Stare At Goats. I’ve long loved his writing for The Guardian and his previous book, Them: Adventures With Extremists. His is a world full of fascinating shlemiels into which he happily lumps himself. His (rarely-updated) blog is here.
Last book I read: Currently in the middle of the above. Since I don’t currently have a long commute (which I wouldn’t be able to read on anyway, since I drive) and I don’t read much in the evenings either, my reading is sadly limited to weekends and toilet breaks. It’s fairly easy to keep track of what I’ve been reading by just looking at the continually-growing pile of books on the cistern. This weekend I also made a brief start on Jared Diamond’s Collapse but didn’t get very far.
Last book I finished: Moore & Cambell’s From Hell. Yes, it really has taken me this long to get around to it. Like any other Alan Moore work it must now be read again, and again, and again, discovering amazing new things every time.
Five books that mean a lot to me:
- Anyone who’s asked me for a book recommendation in the last five years has usually received the same first suggestion: Carter Beats The Devil. It’s not earth-shattering, it won’t change your life, it’s just bloody excellent fun – so excellent that I’ve been eagerly telling everyone. I read this at roughly the same time as Kavalier & Clay and while they’re obviously comparable in a lot of ways and both wonderful, Carter narrowly edged it for me.
- I’ve mentioned Andrew Mueller before, but his Rock And Hard Places – a collection of his wonderfully acerbic/enthusiastic music and travel writing – is probably the book I’ve revisited more often than any other in this list. Tragically, it’s now out of print, but Amazon still have some. Even better, the majority of the book is online for free at his site. To start with try his adventures on the Cresta Run, then China Drum’s tour of Bosnia. Unfortunately my favourite of the lot, his hysterical account of the apocalypse that was Woodstock II, is not currently online.
- Inviting Disaster: Lessons From The Edge Of Technology is probably the best book I read last year, and I’ve been meaning to review it properly for a long time. Until I get around to it, be assured that it’s superb, revelatory, and remarkably gripping for a set of tales told so calmly. Chiles just lets the stories unfold, neither skimping on detail nor overloading you, to show how and why technology fails. The situations themselves range all over, from famous tragedies (Challenger, Bhopal, Titanic, R101, Chernobyl) to famous screw-ups (Hubble’s mirror, Three Mile Island) taking in lesser-known-but-still-horrific accidents and a bunch of near-misses on the way.
- I realise that I’ve been overdoing the Douglas Adams references around here recently (and I’m not done with them yet), but how could I not include him? I was initially tempted to go with Last Chance To See, which is probably the most consistently-well-written of all his works, but the book that had the biggest effect on me is easily Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, a book so utterly rammed with fantastic ideas that it took my teenage mind about four attempts to fit them all in.
While throwing ideas down I was thinking about the old joke about comparing people’s lists of books that they think changed their lives (“Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, “The Dice Man”, etc.) with the lists of books that actually changed their lives (The Highway Code, the UCAS Institution Guide, etc.).
But then I got more interested in creating a list of five books that were most important to my twelve-year-old self:
- The Hitch Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy Radio Scripts
- The Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison
- Chocolate: The Consuming Passion by Sandra Boynton
- The Puzzle Mountain by Gyles Brandreth
- This thing.
The baton is hereby passed to:
- La amiga, Bob
- El barbudo, Santiago
- La mujer del cristal quebrado, She
- El hombre del cubo que falta, Dan
- El hombre que fue traicionado por una manzana, Ian
- El Tim, Tim