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Vincennes Review of Books 2015 [01 Jan 2016|02:18pm]
2015 marks ten years of my recording the books I read as I read them. I've got a list for 2004, but up until September it was a list that I'd written from memory, rather than as each book was finished. Ten years later, the highlights of my reading year were:

  • A substantial number of books by women

  • Samuel Richardson's Clarissa

  • Brian Eno's A Year With Swollen Appendices


Also in this review:

  • Rereadings

  • Misc notes on books read

  • Aims for 2016

Notes on the project

First, though, some notes on the Vincennes Review Of Books project overall, which is relevant to this decade's anniversary. 2005 was my first full year of work at a job which was an hour and a half away from my house, and I read indiscriminately and with little joy. One of my main memories of that year was standing on the platform of West Norwood station in February, realising that I'd finished the A Horseman Riding By trilogy and nine other books already, and there were ten months left in the year, and that I'd not particularly enjoyed the last two, oh well, let's find another book. It was 2006 when I snapped out of this, with the stated intent to read less, but better - which has remained the project for the last nine years. If I record what I read, I'm going to optimise to something, and there is a superstitious part of me that believes that optimising to raw numbers really is going to push me back into staring at the railway tracks at East Croydon in the rain, wondering why I even bother with that year's equivalent of David Mitchell's Ghostwritten. If you have ever wondered why I write these posts every year, this is why; to make sure it isn't 2005 again.

General Overview

With all that said! Let's have a look at some numbers, to which I do not optimise.



You will note that my reading has bounced back from the dip inflicted by online wedding communities. In case you wonder whether or how much I miss reading online wedding communities, the answer is yes, and quite a lot, but all things move towards their ends and I also read some really great books this year. A strikingly high proportion of these, 45%, were non-fiction:



The number of fiction books I read did not increase at all, but I read seven more non-fiction books. As usual, I'm not sure what drove this. The websites that I read tend to feature non-fiction more heavily than fiction, which will certainly play a part.

The graph with which I am happiest, though, is this one:





This is only the second year in which more than half of the books I have read have been by female authors. Last year I checked to see if I have any kind of excuse for this [reduction] in 2012, the year after I’d made a concerted effort to read more female authors, and this year I remembered what that excuse was. It is that in the midst of that concerted effort, there is a voice dinning in the back of my mind, saying something to the effect that "as soon as this is not a project i am going to reread Lucky Jim at least five times". If I want this ratio to hold a little steadier next year, I'll need to remember this tendency. This talk of women also brings us quite neatly onto my next big project, reading more classic literature!

Reading more classic literature

Part of my stated intent for this year was "re read all of Jane Austen" as part of my "read more classics by women" project. I didn't do that. I didn't even come close. What I did do, however, was reread Pride And Prejudice, and what an absolute delight of a book it is. I had forgotten quite how wonderful it is on the sentence level - almost every one is a little treat all on its own. "Elizabeth tried to unite civility and truth in a few short sentences". How often we find ourselves reaching for both civility and truth!

This happens particularly often at work, which brings me to something else I enjoyed a lot this year; imagining that I worked with the characters in classic novels. Pride And Prejudice itself had some excellent archetypes, although The Well Of Loneliness had some quite rich pickings as well. The Mill On The Floss was too upsetting to imagine working with these people. It is also very easy to forget what a great author George Eliot is. Everything flows beautifully, she is so witty, and the whole plot is like watching a vase fall off a shelf in slow motion; something awful is just about to happen, unless something worse is just about to happen. I thoroughly recommend it.

Certainly the longest classic I read this year was Samuel Richardson's Clarissa, which gets a section all of its own.

Clarissa

When I started reading planning to read Clarissa at the start of the year, I had this idea that I could read it at the weekends, in order to avoid taking this huge tome on the tube. I had everything planned out in advance and it involved reading 150 pages per month, aiming for 50 pages per weekend on the remote offchance I did not manage this every single weekend.



Here is what I found out:

  1. This is an incredibly joyless way to try to read a book that is not the Bible

  2. I don't really read a lot, if at all, on Saturdays.

This endeavour ended with my taking this massive book on the tube in September, by which point I was about 600 pages behind my plan. I carried it in a separate bag, and stuck together with sellotape the pages that inevitable came adrift. This was very heavy and inconvenient as a physical experience but as a reading experience was fun and immediate and a lot nicer than having it be a bit of grim duty at the weekend.

I had already been warned about Clarissa herself as "a bit whiney", an accusation that her own family throw at her with increasing frequency in the first 500 or so pages. (This is very unfair; Clarissa is enormously hard done by) It was also no surprise to find that many of Lovelace's letters boiled down to "I love her, she is an angel, no other woman could satisfy me now or ever again I'M GOING TO RUIN HER LIFE FOREVER WATCH ME JUST WATCH ME". What I had no inkling of was what a disingenuous nightmare Clarissa's main correspondent, Anna Howe, was going to be. At least half of her letters run along the lines of "I love you, you are so beautiful, you are too good for this world, you are tanking this, I mean you are really doing an incredibly poor job of managing this situation, tell me everything."

I started to properly read Clarissa at around the same time we started to play a lot of chess - this proved to be a useful metaphor for the beautifully set up situations Richardson creates, where Clarissa is swarmed on all sides by people who wish her harm - then as soon as Lovelace makes his move it turns out not to be the move that means she can never move again but instead opens the board out and creates an entirely new set of power lines in Clarissa's favour. It is an incredible thing to watch.

Clarissa was both more horrifying and more enjoyable than I expected, although it is obviously so much of a commitment that it's hard to recommend it directly.

Brian Eno's Diary

I've had Brian Eno's A Year: With Swollen Appendices for some time now, and on about the 5th of January this year realised that - as this is his diary of 1995 - I would be reading along with his 20 years ago. It was also, when he wrote it, 20 years after Another Green World, my favourite album of his, so it exists as a nice mid point between then and now. The experience of reading along with someone's year, day by day, was lovely; he gets just as defeated and cross with his work and himself as I do, frets probably more than I do about wasting time, and still produces a lot of interesting work (it is not like anyone is going to ask me to present the Turner Prize, and I spent no time at all making bottoms bigger in Photoshop this year).

As might be expected, there is a lot about age; Eno notes that Elvis would have been 60 in January 1995, complains about being 47, and notes that Bono described himself as "halfway through a good life". Naturally the last of these sent me straight to the Wikipedia entry for Bono, where I found - not as comfortingly as I had hoped - that he is 22 years my senior. All of the bits about Bono were infuriating. Brian Eno likes and respects him so much and every word about what a heck of a guy Bono is made me crosser at the very fact of him.

Brian's daughters, however, never failed to delight:

Rereads

This year - as so many years - I reread Ted Heller's Slab Rat. Before I go any further into this, it's worth looking at a graph of books I have reread more than once since 2004:





If you don't fancy gazing too long at this, it tells you that I've reread Slab Rat - an out of print novel about a barely fictionalised Condé Nast - more times than I've reread Lolita, enduring classic of Western literature. The reason why I love reading Slab Rat so much - the reason why I read it more than I read books that are by any measure better - is because it is one of the few books about work; not just set in a workplace, but its actual topic is work and climbing a corporate ladder.

It is strange that there are not a lot more books about work. It's as though all of our books about romantic relationships have the love and excitement and misery of building a relationship with someone a little out of focus in favour of some really elaborate descriptions of meals. It's even worse than that analogy suggests, because elaborate meals are far more likely to be an aspect of your romantic relationship than romantic love is to be part of your work life! Work is also love and excitement and misery and building something that feels real, and surely deserves its own genre.

Slab Rat is one of those few books I have read that treats work as something that is serious and important in its own right and not a framing device for a plot about something other than work. I am aware that Ted Heller did not intend it as a manual for living but I have, by now, read it so many times that the characters feel like archetypes to me. Is this new colleague Mark Larkin? Am I Mark Larkin? Am I Tom Land? Will I ever be Martyn Stokes? It is delightful and awful and laxly punctuated, and I really hope you read it too.

Misc notes, in twos


  1. I read two books by members of Cambridge's HPS faculty; Helen MacDonald's H Is For Hawk and Patricia Fara's Science: A 4000 Year History. They both noted that Goebbels was big into his forest preservation in the course of these books, which caused me to imagine the awkwardness that would ensue if you were the latest member of the HPS faculty and announced that your weekend activity was a nice walk in a forest. These are both wonderful books, particularly H Is For Hawk which was a look at grief so raw and so articulate I can't imagine what it would be like to be the person who wrote such a book

  2. I read and enjoyed two books by Indian-America actors who had appeared on a Greg Daniels show - Aziz Ansari of Parks & Recreation's Modern Romance and Mindy Kaling of The Office's Why Not Me. I like Mindy Kaling so much, and I enjoy her books so much, and I will read anything she cares to publish for the foreseeable future.

  3. I read two books containing both a joke about the Vatican wanting a nuclear bomb, and mentioning an outboard motor as a competition prize. These were The Wapshot Scandal (published in 1964) and A Confederacy Of Dunces (written in 1963) - so maybe there was something about 1963 and these things. I enjoy this all the more for the impossibility of either author having read the other's book. On which note - have you emotionally invested in the Wapshots yet? They are excellent.


Aims for 2016

These aims are based on things I enjoyed doing last year. Let me know if you want to join me in any of these - I always love having reading friends - and as usual I'll be reading the Bible again and would love to have you on that journey too. Let me know if you're interested in any or all of these and I will organise!

  1. Read some capital-C Classics - currently aiming for the Illiad, the Odyssey and the Aeneid, as well as some misc Greek histories that I have from university. I'm particularly excited for this because a lot of books got easier to read once I was more familiar with the Bible, so perhaps a similar thing will happen with the Classics.

  2. Read Pepys' diary for 1660! I loved living a year along with Brian Eno and Pepys was an obvious place to go once I started thinking "what other diaries can I read?". I will similarly be doing an entry per day, and have just checked and 1660 was also a leap year! This is brilliant.


Previous years: 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2007, 2006
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Vincennes Review Of Books 2014 [01 Jan 2015|01:31pm]
2014 was a year in which I read fewer books than normal, but was really happy with what I did read. The big projects I completed this year were:

  • Reread the Bible

  • Reread In Search Of Lost Time in the latest full translation

  • Finish reading all of Iris Murdoch's novels


ALSO IN THIS REVIEW:

  • Misc notes on other books read in 2014

  • Aims for 2015


General Overview


Firstly, though, here is the graph of books read this year, with a new colour palette for a new decade of the Vincennes Review Of Books:



You will note that this is a drop in the number of books read, despite the fact that there have been no changes in the time I took to get to work and despite my smug banging on about how every two minutes of my communte is a book read in the year. The explanation for this shift is extremely simple. For about six months of 2014, I would spend the train from London Bridge to home reading the posts on an online wedding community. This was highly soothing and enjoyable and cost me about 20 books over the course of the year.


Non-fiction suffered more than fiction as a result of this shift:





- but overall, the trend towards non-fiction continues, making up over a third of my reading last year. Again, non-fiction was strongly influenced by getting married. On which note! if you are planning a wedding, you are no doubt familiar with both Offbeat Bride and A Practical Wedding, and you might be wondering which if either of the books are worth reading. I can wholeheartedly recommend the A Practical Wedding book, and would actively not recommend the Offbeat Bride book, which was often meanspirited. Also - it is easy to forget that "offbeat" does not mean "easy", and at times means "intensely stressful".


One happy trend to which these books did contribute was an increase in the proportion of books by women that I read:


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The extent to which the default male:female ratio (for me at least) is 80:20 continues to amaze me. I've just checked to see if I have any kind of excuse for this in 2012, the year after I'd made a concerted effor to read more female authors. I do not. Nevertheless, I will continue to make said efforts in 2015, skewing the "classics" project towards women (George Eliot, Jane Austen and Elizabeth Gaskell are all in the plan)

Rereading The Bible


Last year, I read the Bible (on YouVersion, i.e. on my telephone) using Professor Horner's Bible Reading System. This year, I used a more generic plan (The Bible In A Year) and it really served to highlight how excellent the Prof. Horner reading plan is. I went into this in a bit of detail last year, and would like to take more time on it this year as well, in case you remain unconvinced.


Each day in the plan will take you through ten chapters from ten different areas of the Bible, and you progress through each of those areas in order. To make this easier to understand (I hope) I have created a visualisation of how this works. The counts on the X axis represent days of the plan. Each new level of transparency represents a different book - so you can see from the top row that every day you will read a chapter of one of the four Gospels, and from the bottom row that every day you'll read a chapter from the book of Acts:




Let's have a look at how this breaks down in practise, with a slice of five days chosen at near-random:




What I really valued about this was how it combined the pleasure of reading with the pleasure of rereading - so you be read some parts of the Bible for the second, third, or nth time, while you were reading other parts for the first time. Just beautiful - you get a real sense of it as a book that has grown, and grown around a tradition, as well as clearer sense of what those traditions meant and mean. I'll be following this plan again in 2015, and as ever, if you would like to join it would be great to have you along.

Rereading In Search Of Lost Time in the latest translation


I last read this massive work in 2006, which was also the first year I produced a the Vincennes Review of Books. This time around, I enjoyed it a lot more, due to a combination of factors summarised below.
20062014
Reading for the first timeReading for the second time
Moncrieff/Kilmartin translation; fancied up prosePrendergast edited translated; more faithful to the original
Read mostly on trains between Redhill and Tulse HillRead mostly in Mauritius
Communting to and from a job I hatedOn vaction from job I did not hate
Not on honeymoonOn honeymoon



The project of the new translation was to be somewhat close to reading Proust in the French. Apparently the Moncrieff/Kilmartin translation does a lot of flowering-up of Proust's words - whilst his sentences are complicated, the language which he uses is not. This could have been another factor in my enjoyment of reading it, but the main factor is the pure joy of rereading something of this size. It's a similar satisfaction to that of visiting a large city a second time - neither being entirely sure nor entirely unsure where the next turn is going to take you, and feeling enormously pleased to find yourself where you think you should be.


I also greatly enjoyed reading each of the different translator's introductions, particularly that of James Grieve (In The Shadow Of Young Girls In Flower) who made it quite clear that he wouldn't consider his life worth living if he couldn't establish chronology better than this jumped up little shut-in.

Finish reading all of Iris Murdoch's novels


This is a project which I started, without really knowing it, when at 15 I read The Flight From The Enchanter. The first Iris Murdoch I attempted to read (still at 15) was The Time Of The Angels - which in the end, was the last novel of hers I will read for the first time. I don't know if I would have continued with this project if I had not swapped out The Time Of The Angels in 1997. It is particularly nasty.


In any case, this is what one of my bookshelves look like now I have and have read all 26:





These are also in order of publication. There is an unbroken run of wonderful, wonderful books between Bruno's Dream and The Sea, The Sea, so if you are thinking of embarking on Iris Murdoch (you don't have to read them all and I have anti-recommendations too) I'd recommend anything from that middle section. The Bell is also excellent, and much more in fitting with the mid-period novels than the earlier ones.

Misc notes on other books read in 2014


My two favourite new reads from this year are Ruth Ozeki's Tale For The Time Being and Siri Hustvedt's The Blazing World. I will never tire of reading Siri Hustvedt describe art, she is wonderful. Both of these books are beautiful and unhappy and kind and I unreservedly recommend them both.


I also read Primo Levi's The Periodic Table, the first of his books that I've read. I keep meaning to read If Not Now, When? but, much to my chagrin, never get around to it.

Aims for 2015


My main aim for 2015 is to return to my roots as a 14-18 year old try hard, i.e., read a lot of the classics. There are some specific and vague aims folded into this:

  • Read Gogol's Dead Souls, inexplicably missed when I was in my Russian novels try-hard phase

  • Read Samuel Richardson's Clarissa. Feel free to discourage me from this, ask me what I intend to achieve by it, etc.

  • Read more of the classics by women; specifically read Mill On The Floss and reread all of Jane Austen, more vaguely read more Elizabeth Gaskell and others (recommendations welcome)


Previous years: 2013, 2012,2011, 2010, 2009, 2007, 2006
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Vincennes Review Of Books 2013 [08 Jan 2014|11:03pm]
This is too late in the year to be doing my review of books, but it's been a fantastic year of reading and I want to get at least a precis down somewhere.

Firstly, totals and an important realisation about the relationship between my commute and work. I read 62 books this year, one more than last year, and this was driven by new books - I did two rereads this year (and neither were The Great Gatsby) and six in the one prior. The commute/work realisation is that the number of books I read in a year is very consistently equal to the number of minutes in my morning commute. It takes about an hour to get to Camden in the mornings, so I'll read about sixty books a year. When I worked in Shoreditch and walked up from Bank, my commute was about thirty minutes and I read about as many books.

My big (very big) project from this year was to read the Bible. If you are, for any reason at all, considering doing this, I cannot recommend it highly enough. I used the YouVersion app, and specifically this plan - which is a lot of reading (10 chapters a day) but the way it's structered keeps you seeing new connections in things you've read before. One thing that delighted me (which you don't get from the readings that you hear in church or see on posters) is the extent to which the single most important unit of the relationship in the Bible is friendship - I, like everyone else, am very used to media that prioritises romantic love, which barely gets a look in in this enormous and varied book. At the ends of the Epistles, where Paul and others write things that feel almost unnervingly modern; however formal the language of the King James Version sounds now, the clarity of the sentiment is still there. "Send my love." "I left my coat at our mutual friend's house, can you fetch it for me next time you're there." "I'm going to be in town for a couple of days, have a bed ready for me." "I miss you." Beautiful.

The other big reading project was New Yorktumn which, unsurprisingly, was spending the autumn reading books about New York. This project spanned most of the 20th century (from Manhattan Transfer to The Flamethrowers) and included two nonfiction books (this Andy Warhol bio and the Maxwell Perkins letters, of which more later) but through all of these books there was a sense of a city breathing people in and out again - the people changed (within books as well as between them), but the streets didn't.

Maxwell Perkins, though, wrote the best guide to managing difficult people I've read all year. I was a few months into managing someone in New York when I read this interesting collection of letters between Perkins and Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, whose work he was editing, and it was inspirational to see how he managed these undeniably difficult people from a distance. One thing that particularly struck me was how he gave feedback - always asking what the intended audience would think, always asking what they should notice first. I can confirm that this tactic works almost a century on, when you want someone to change a particularly oblique graph in a PowerPoint deck.

You may remember the Iris Murdoch runrate, in which I estimated that I would have read all of her books by 2016/7. I am delighted to announce that I am on track for finishing ahead of target on this, and thanks to an Iris Murdoch reading club with a longsuffering Saxey, I have only ONE of her (Murdoch's) books left to read! I also got a study of her work for Christmas. I hope a chapter is devoted to how and why all her books have the same plot.

My aim for this year is to read the new (now new-ish) translation of Proust - Cis alerted me to the world and works of Lydia Davis, and I'm really excited to see what she (Davis) does with Swann's Way/The Way By Swann's.

Previous years: 2012,2011, 2010, 2009, 2007, 2006
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Vincennes Review of Books 2012 [02 Jan 2013|01:17pm]


This is the most books I've read in a single year since 2006. The fact that it rained all the time, so I was not cutting my commute short in order to walk, is the main driver of this trend.



For the first time since 2008, the amount of fiction I have read has declined year on year. This is the first time since records began that this has not been accompanied by an overall decline in the number of books read. I'm not sure I can pinpoint any single important factor in this; I read some really easy non-fiction books, such as Tina Fey's autobiography and Caitlin Moran's book, but there was no real theme to this year's non-fiction.


Last year's big project was Godel, Escher, Bach, which was enormously hard work for the same reason it was a joy to read. It's great fun, but also exhausting, to spend time with someone who thinks that in order to really talk about something you need to make sure your audience knows enough about all of science and art and music and human history. The book itself started as a letter, then he realised it was maybe a pamphlet, then a book, then he added the Escher stuff towards the end, so scope creep is in itself a part of the project. I was glad I read this at the start of the year, as it gave me a lot to think about in the rest of my reading – If On A Winter's Night A Traveller was particularly nice to read after GEB.


The two best authors I read last year have been Alan Warner and George Saunders. What these two have in common, and there's not a lot, is a sense of non-place; conference halls, airports, service stations, waiting.


I've read Morven Callar by Warner, but it stuck with me a lot less than The Sopranos and The Stars In The Bright Sky. These two lovely and spiky books are about a group of girl friends from a small town in Scotland, in their fifth year of school in The Sopranos and three years later in The Stars In The Bright Sky. They're both beautiful portraits of group dynamics and boredom and friendship. I was also naturally predisposed to like the Scottishisms, of which there were many.


George Saunders writes short stories about hopelessness in America that fall somewhere on the spectrum between “bittersweet” and “desperately sad”. Most of these stories are also extremely funny, and in their own way gentle and kind; you don't feel like he's giving his characters hard lives, because you really believe in the external forces that are making their lives hard. I started with Pastoralia, and I'd recommend that you start there too.


The first book I read was Craig Taylor's Londoners, a brilliant book of interviews about London. There was very little authorial voice – just people talking about their lives in London and their experience of living there has been. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who likes London, mundanity or both.


The last book I read this year was The Bridges Of Madison County. I've not been this disappointed by a cultural artefact since Titanic! I was expecting this to be an extremely moving love story that I would be emotionally affected by against the wishes of my better self. It was a lot more… just like a bored housewife having an affair with a guy who talks in paragraphs about being one of the “last cowboys”. Maybe it's that I don't “get” the cowboy trope, maybe it's that I don't believe in love at first sight, but my better self triumphed throughout my reading of this book.


Two books that I did not expect to be massively depressing, but they both were, were Seeing Things by Oliver Postgate and One Day. They both played on the theme that getting old – or even a bit older – is really horrible, and you're not necessarily going to be happy with the choices you've made or the way the world at large turned out. I was probably expecting both books to be cosier than they were, so the not at all happy ending of both of them was like a punch in the gut I hadn't braced for.


Other things; I read two books last year in which someone left their mother after their father's death, and returned two days later to find that she had committed suicide. One of these books was fiction, the other non-fiction, and the former was written first so it's close to impossible that one influenced the other.


I also read two biographies of authors, I Am Alive And You Are Dead about Philip K Dick (he had five wives! he wrote fourteen books in six years!) and the other was Some Sort Of Epic Grandeur, Matthew Bruccoli's highly detailed bio of F Scott Fitzgerald. I enjoyed both of them, especially the one about Dick as I knew a lot less about his life than I do about Fitzgerald's.


Last year's aims were:


Join the library! This is not a direct reading aim but I read so well when I was last a member of a library


I did this! I've not got anything out of the library yet, however. I may start tomorrow.


Read Gödel, Escher, Bach and King, Queen, Knave, the latter on Alex’s recommendation


I did both of these. King, Queen, Knave is indeed great, although I also read The Gift by Nabokov and did not get on with it at all


Look Homeward, Angel – I got some Maxwell Perkins letters for Christmas, know basically nothing of Thomas Wolfe, and think I’d get more out of them if I knew more than nothing.


I read the Wolfe but not the Perkins letters! I'll do that this year.


This year I have one aim, and it is to read the entire Bible. In January last year I had the idle thought that there's probably an app that helps you read the entire Bible in a year, then that evening went to a family do where my dad started a conversation with “Look at this great app, I'm reading the entire Bible in a year”. So I took that as a sign that I should do that this year. I'm using this plan. If you would like to join me in this for any reason, I'd be totally delighted – it's a big project and I would enjoy undertaking it with friends.


Previous years: 2011, 2010, 2009, 2007, 2006

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Vincennes Review of Books 2011 [01 Jan 2012|06:09pm]
At the end of January of last year, I noticed that to date I'd only read books by women, and decided to make a project of books by women for the rest of the year.

This turned out to be a good decision, for two reasons - firstly, I'd never really thought about how few books by women I read (proportionally), and secondly, it meant that I read Jane Jacobs' The Death And Life Of Great American Cities, which I had been putting off for some years.

This set the scene for this project in a satisfying way, as a lot of the non-fiction I read by women was about the division between public and private space - the legal distinctions in Anna Minton's Ground Control, and contrast between personal invisibility and a total lack of privacy in Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel And Dimed. I recommend both of these books very highly, incidentally - the Ehrenreich in particular resonates with the current political and economic situation. By contrast Bait And Switch, her book on jobhunting in the corporate world, felt somewhat hasty and conclusionless.

The best book I read this year - Marshall Berman's All That Is Solid Melts Into Air - is also the best book I've read in the last five years, easily one of my favourite books of all time. It's a beautiful look at modernism through some specific and highly diverse lenses; it makes an abstract concept feel like personally lived history. I can't recommend it highly enough.

On the topic of the personal and the universal, Daniel Miller's The Comfort Of Things is also great, although I know that I am late to this party. It's a series of essays (not quite sure this is the word - they are more like interviews or case studies) in which people who live on a road in South London talk about the things that they own. It's very affecting, not least for the feeling of having been invited into these people's lives - I feel like I would know any of their houses if I went into them.

Incidentally, I read The Comfort Of Things after Patrick Hamilton's The Siege Of Pleasure and before Joanna Trollope's The Best Of Friends. This was not intentional but the formal similarity of the titles together pleased me.

Last year I set myself the aim to try again with Ivy Compton-Burnett, and she is a woman, so I did that, and did not enjoy it. I read Pastors and Masters, and everyone in it is not only horrible but also annoying; I just can't get on with the way she puts words together.

Aims for next year are:
- Join the library! This is not a direct reading aim but I read so well when I was last a member of a library
- Read Gödel, Escher, Bach and King, Queen, Knave, the latter on alexmacpherson's recommendation. If you know of a third good book with a title taking the Noun, Other Noun, Third Noun form, that will also go on the list
- Look Homeward, Angel - I got some Maxwell Perkins letters for Christmas, know basically nothing of Thomas Wolfe, and think I'd get more out of them if I knew more than nothing.

One last graph, just for comparison with previous years:

...one more re-read than 2010. All rereads other than The Sea, The Sea were F Scott Fitzgerald novels, it is Nabokov's turn again this year.

Previous years: 2010, 2009, 2007, 2006 - and cross-posted to my proper blog.
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Vincennes Review of Books 2010 [01 Jan 2011|03:14pm]
Last year, my aim was really to read more books - I had been disappointed by how relatively little I'd read in 2009, and wanted to get my book larnin' game back on.



I did this! Last year, one useful thing that I did was to track books read against commute time (I did not put this graph on the internet as it was not pretty enough). Fairly unsurprisingly, when I was commutng two and a half hours a day, I read significantly more and - since my commute was not going to change - something else had to. This thing was that I stopped putting my book in my bag in the morning, and instead held onto it on the walk down the the train station. Turns out that many mornings I couldn't be bothered to take a book out of my rucksack, which is shockingly lazy now that I write it down.

Obviously this wasn't the only thing I did to increase the number of books I read; I also read some really really short books. Examples of the works of deathless art I have ploughed my way through this year include a novella by the guy who writes Hipster Runoff, Paul Rand's Conversations With Students and an unauthorized Justin Bieber biography. Speaking of the Paul Rand, though, I can heartily recommend it if you feel like there is not enough smugness in your life currently! I can also recommend the Justin Bieber biography if you enjoyed the wikipedia entry on Atlanta, GA, but feel like it would be even better if it were printed in a book.

Another thing that I changed about the way I read was to read only non-fiction at home (although I dropped this in order to read Infinite Jest, of which more later), which definitely ramped the amount of non-fiction that I read -

- although there was no consistent theme to the non-fiction, so this year it would be good to read more around a specific topic.

Part of my non-fiction reading, and a bit that I particularly enjoyed, was reading my friend's PhD theses. I read slemslempike's thesis on FUN and slightlyfoxed's thesis on coming out stories. (Disclaimer! Apparently "that's not my thesis, that's my monograph." But it seems tidier to group them together and it was a thesis at one point). Whilst I didn't know enough to get the most out of either of these, they both introduced me to entire disciplines that I had not known of before - which I did not expect to happen, and which will make for interesting future reading.

I also read some long books! Specifically 2666 and Infinite Jest. 2666 continues to haunt me - of all the books I've read this year it is possibly the one that I think about most. On the topic of Infinite Jest - noone told me it was funny! It's very funny and a much easier read than I was expecting. Although I was pretty shellshocked by the fact that it finished... when it finished. It's possible that by that stage I couldn't really envision a time when I wasn't reading it, since it took about a month. Anyway, if you've not read it and sort of want to but aren't sure, it's excellent and you definitely should.

Aims for next year! I am going to accept that I'm probably not going to re-read Anna Karenina, but rolling over the "read more Patrick Hamilton" aim that I did not meet in 2010.
- Give Ivy Compton-Burnett another shot, it's possible that I've matured since I decided (in 2004) I couldn't get into her
- Foucault's Pendulum - this feels like a book I should already have read! Also I enjoyed The Name Of The Rose (although I enjoyed it five years ago)
- Some of slemslempike's girlhood studies and related books

Previous years here, by the way - 2009, 2007, 2006.
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[11 May 2010|12:00pm]
My Business Cards
My business cards
View my page on Moo

Business cards by MOO.COM



Once more with the testing!

CURRENT NEWS : the new Laura Marling album is smashing. I finished the Iris Murdoch letters this morning. At the end, she handles being dumped with remarkable grace, despite having been petulant and insecure more or less throughout - at one point calling her then fiancé "Pigdog" because she had not received a letter from him in some weeks. He was in Slovakia. It was nineteen fortysix.
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happy working life dudes [04 Jan 2010|10:36am]
Hey everyone! I'm back at work! I'm doing testing! It's really cold in the office and my ability to do the things I have become used to doing and enjoying in the last two weeks is really restricted!


Business cards by MOO.COM

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Vincennes Review of Books 2009 [03 Jan 2010|04:41pm]
I read a total of 36 books this year - 32 new, 4 re-reads - which is slightly disappointing. For those of you who think that this is not a bad total, here is a graph to illustrate why I am slightly disappointed. New books are pink, re-reads are blue.



This year, I re-read The Great Gatsby, Lolita, and Wonder Boys, which are the books I would describe as my three favourite books ever. And The Complete Yes Minister, not in my top fifty but always fun.

Last year started with one young adult book - Twilight, a plague and a pox on society and all it touches - and ended with another - Holes, which is essentially My First Prayer For Owen Meany and which I enjoyed a great deal. (Technically, the last book I read in 2009 was Freakonomics, so imagine that I am talking, here, about the last book with content that I read last year)

2009 was the first year since 2005 that I have read three Iris Murdoch books in a single year. This is a lot of Iris Murdoch books. The last one I read, The Unicorn, felt sort of monged off, which might be an unfair judgement based on the fact that I was pretty in tune, by that stage, with how the plot was likely to unfold. This means that I have now read exactly half of the novels she has written, so let's take a look at the Iris Murdoch runrate to see when I am likely to have finished reading the complete works.



You will note that doing this before I am 30 will involve reading five of her books this year, working up to six next year, and then one before my birthday in 2012. There is no way I am going to do this. It would be a fairly miserable exercise. 2016/17, based on current averages, seems reasonable.

I finally read Metamorphoses, and do not know why I delayed that so long - it is terrific fun, way easier than I thought it would be, and made me want to read more Ovid. On the other end of the spectrum, I did not expect to like The Devil Wears Prada as much as I did, although that was me literally judging a book by its cover - I love books that are set in offices and moderately well written, and this is both of those.

By contrast, I expected to love Possession, and it ended up being a bit of a slog - I think the turning point was when it is noted that the "bad" character's numberplate was [something] 666 (why not just give him horns as well, AS Byatt) and it ended very, very abruptly given the 475 pages of what was, basically, just buildup.

Also worth noting is Nabokov's Laugher In The Dark, which works superbly as a precursor to Lolita - if you have not read the latter, read it and then read Laugher In The Dark, if you have, re-read it and then read Laugher In The Dark (I can lend either or both, obviously). It's a lot like reading the story of a minor character in Lolita, specifically the prostitute with whom Humbert sleeps at the start of the book - Margot's story in Laugher In The Dark could easily have been Monique's backstory in Lolita. It's good in its own right (Nabokov didn't think so, but ignore him), although more interesting as part of the canon that also includes Pale Fire and Pnin.

To read this year -
i) 2666 - I enjoyed The Savage Detectives a great deal! I am told this is better!
ii) Moby Dick - because I haven't read it before. awesomewells and slightlyfoxed - both of whom have read it - screwed up their faces like socks when I stated my intention to read this, but I own it now and should not wuss out.
iii) More Patrick Hamilton, Hangover Square was great.
iv) More Lee Child, I've let that slip recently and could, actually, read all the Jack Reacher books before I'm 30 if I want to.
v) Also, sort of want to reread Anna Karenina, it is lovely and it's ages since I last read it.
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more testing testing [09 Dec 2009|02:11pm]

created at MOO.COM



This is should be a static badge with pictures of not my real business cards on it.
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testing a thing again [09 Dec 2009|02:10pm]

created at MOO.COM



Today, posting on my livejournal is work! This is should be a flash badge with picture of my business cards (NOT MY REAL BUSINESS CARDS) on it.
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these are my cards as embedded flash [11 Nov 2009|10:42am]


Again, not my real cards.

EDIT : TESTING NOTHING TO SEE HERE
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these are my cards as a static badge [11 Nov 2009|10:40am]


NB : not really my cards for work, we have designers here and everything.

EDIT : TESTING NOTHING TO SEE HERE
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who does not drink beer [19 Aug 2009|09:25am]
I am trying to collate all the songs which contain a reference to the kind of girlfriend you can get when you are famous (Spotify playlist). This is currently only three, what others are there? So far they are falling into two broad subcategories :

i) girls you can pull when you are not famous are a bit horrible
ii) girls you can pull when you are famous are a bit horrible

Do share your thoughts on this, whether here or via last.fm. This might also be a golden opportunity for you to break out the "unexamined assumption" tag!
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shawty five of those calls was to me [31 May 2009|09:09am]
It has recently become clear to me that not everyone in the world - not even everyone on my friends list - has seen autotune the news. If this is you, watch autotune the news!
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Cooking | Pasta & Sausages [16 Apr 2009|12:33pm]
Special request cooking! Sort of. This is for choctaw_ridge, with whom I had a chat about how to cook pasta, and infov0re who has more than once sworn that he cannot cook this without me. Thanks to an iPhone and / or flickr, this need no longer be the case!

Anyway, this is a pasta and sausages thing, and it is a highly comforting meal, not least because it makes the pasta always come out right. I have also got a kettle since the last time I did one of these, which has made cooking (also drinking coffee, not pictured) appreciably easier.
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Cooking | Fish Jambalaya [24 Mar 2009|10:04am]

Now cut them up
Originally uploaded by Alexandra Mitchell
On Sunday night, I did my first bit of proper cooking in my new flat! I made a fish jambalaya, and the results, as well as fairly extensive instructions on how to get there, are on Flickr. It was pretty great.

I also realised that this is the first time I've done any significant cooking on my own, and that documenting it - despite the fact that this actually delays the cooking more - helps to mitigate this, because it still feels like sharing the process. I still can't cook for fewer than two though, so the kitchen is going to be leftovers city from now on...

Anyway, I hope you enjoy these; I don't do anything more sophisticated than combining readily available ingredients in a big pot, but no-one combines readily available ingredients in a big pot in quite the same way, so I like knowing how other people do this (and assume many on my friends list do also). More to come, no doubt.
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Attn. meat fans [15 Jun 2008|11:12pm]
My brother makes an awesome cassoulet with cheap ingredients, so while he was in London at the weekend I oppressed him into making this. (actually, he volunteered). In order to remember how to make this, and to absolve myself from any kind of 'helping' responsibilities I took photos at every step of the process and put them on Flickr -

Cassoulet - a set.

If you like cassoulet, proteinous dinners in general and / or saving money, it is worth a look.
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Grauniad soulmates ad, or, if only I were single [06 Jan 2008|09:53pm]
"Dirty fingered skip rummager, 30s, seeks hairy legged F who smells of dog. Must have crass SOH & bumbling social graces. Must enjoy paragliding, scale military figurines & weeping uncontrollably into their own sleeves. Ipswich."
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Work(ish) blog [03 Jan 2008|02:35pm]
I've been keeping a marketing / branding blog for a few months now at bettercourse.org. I tend to use it for the more abstract things I think about at work that don't necessarily have a place in emails about meetings...
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