Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Everything Picture #3 - Round Up

And as for everything non-Doctor Who...

First up, an exceptionally cheap acquisition, Phoenix's massively abridged 60 page extract from Jostein Gardner's Sophie's World, The Greek Philosophers. I could see how Gardner's book was a massive success from this, it's a concise and engaging run through an important section of Greek Philosophy and includes the Sophists, Socrates and Plato. It manages the difficult feat of informing and educating at the same time, the writing teaching without ever condescending. It's made me hanker for the unabridged version, which I'd guess is the point. And no I don't feel guilty about buying such a short book, on the same trip to Hay I picked up Proust's A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu. Yep, I admit it, I'm a literary ponce - what the hell, I never know when I might have a year or two spare!

Which makes for a contrived but neat segue on to Alain De Botton's How Proust Can Change Your Life. I hadn't read any of de Botton's output before, but followed him on Twitter. Like all thinkers he can be profound, but occasionally banal when striving for depth, but hey, that's what you get for trying for wisdom in 140 characters. He's much better at book length, where his ideas have room to breathe and roam unconfined. It's essentially a series of essays based around concepts from Proust's epic, demonstrating how each aspect shown can be used to improve your life. And while it's doing that it explains the point of what Proust was trying to achieve - no mean feat when he's doing it in over a thousand less pages of larger print. It's not as pretentious as I've made it sound there, rather it's a thought provoking read that threw my brain some interesting tangents. Again, it's something that's fascinating enough to make me want to read more by the author and Proust.

Giles Smith's Lost In Music is an object lesson that pop music is rarely as life changing as we'd like it. It intersperses Smith's youthful attempts to make it big musically with a series of reminiscences sparked by certain artists and/or records. As such it hits upon the point of music in exactly the way Nick Hornby's abysmal 31 Songs doesn't. Music tends to mark time and places for us (in much the same way Proust used sensory experiences such as the taste of a madelaine cake) - cultural markers of sound replacing tastes and sights in evoking memories. Hornby initially tried to separate music from experience but, as the essays in his book demonstrate, that rarely works. Smith's book is livelier, funnier and more enjoyable than that and is better on the essence of why we end up loving music, why we remember the good and bad times with a soundtrack. I find Smith smug in his normal newspaper columns but here he makes for an engaging narrator, hindsight grating him the wisdom to laugh at his daft mistakes and faults.

The Infernal Desire Machines of DOctor Hoffman is a thin looking book, but that's a massive deception. As I expected from Angela Carter, it's a wild and strange book, full of seensuous prose and concepts beyond the ken of almost every other writer. The first chapter is a mere 24 pages, but it packs more into those than other peic fantasies pack into ten volumes - it's the tale of an assault on the city, but it's equally an assault on the reader's imagination, asking them to engage with mad, wild and almost random ideas and happenings. It's unsurprisingly full of Carter's usual preoccupation with carnal desire and its consequences, broaching some areas still largely taboo. At times it's like running through mid-Wales - gruelling, but you'll be marvelling at the beauty around you.

Timeleon Vieta Come Home is Dan Rhodes' first novel, but sensibly as an experienced short story writer he ensures it comprises a patchwork of stories, the first a novella length story of a dog and his master and what happens when their life is disurbed by the arrival of 'the Bosnian'. The second half is a procession of short stories of the people Timeleon Vieta meets on his way home. It's touching and funny, and while 'the Bosnian' is an irredemable villain (particularly given the ending) the rest of the characters are vivid and engaging. Even Cockroft, who could've been deeply unlikeable in lesser hands is sympathetic and engaging. It's a beautiful, light read that brings rural Italy vividly to life. Oh, and I defy any dog owners not to shed a tear at the ending.

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