Monthly Archives: August 2022

What I’ve been reading lately, part 44

Made in America — Bill Bryson

The USA-specific counterpart to Bryson’s celebration of the English language, Mother Tongue, it’s about twice as long as the original volume because it also contains an episodic and selective history of the USA, viewed from a linguistic perspective.

To my mind, this makes it even more fascinating than Mother Tongue, because it ticks an important box for me: I am not very interested in history per se, but I am very much interested in the history of things: history of music, history of science, history of football, what have you. And what really fascinates me is seeing how these various History Of X‘s intersect. For example, Harry Govier Seeley published his classic paper “On the classification of the fossil animals commonly named Dinosauria” in the same year as the Football League was created, Edison’s phonograph was first demonstrated in London, and Erik Satie’s Gymnopedie was published — 1888. Bryson is really good at tying together such disparate threads, and what emerges is a kind of synthesized picture of a nation through nearly 400 years. Continue reading

What I’ve been reading lately, part 43

The Constant Rabbit — Jasper Fforde

This is a novel that tries to get to grips with how things would actually work if there were anthropomorphic rabbits of the kind that turn up in fiction from Alice in Wonderland to Bugs Bunny. Rabbits are human-sized, walk upright and talk, and have a distinctive culture. They live uneasily alongside humans, using some of the same facilities but often pushed to the fringes of society, with obvious parallels to apartheid South Africa or some parts of the Deep South of the USA in the 1950s.

It’s an interesting setup, but Fforde doesn’t seem to know quite what he wants to do with it, so we end up with a plot that is half a story of Forbidden Love between man and rabbit, and half 1984-style surveillance dystopia. In the end it all rather comes crashing down. I feel like this could have been much better if the ideas has been left to brew for another six months before the actual writing began.

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What I’ve been reading lately, part 42

Career of Evil — Robert Galbraith

A re-read of the first Galbraith that I read. Rowling (for it is she) remains as compellingly readable as always. Definitely worth reading. My original comments stand.

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Watercolour painting: Nature in Art

Back in the 1990s Fiona and I used to do a little bit of watercolour painting, despite not really having any idea what I was doing. Over the last few months, inspired by the not-actually-that-good Channel 5 TV show Watercolour Challenge, we’ve started to dabble again. This Saturday, we painted Nature in Art: a Georgian mansion just north of Gloucester that’s been converted into an art museum.

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Mitcheldean Festival 2022: the Taylor Family set

Six years ago, I wrote “I do like Adele’s version of Make You Feel My Love, and of all the Dylan songs I know it’s the one I am least unlikely to do myself. Probably not coincidentally, it’s one of his more harmonically richest songs.”

A couple of weeks ago, this prediction came true, in the first set I’ve done since before the start of the pandemic. As The Taylor Family (shades of the Von Trapps), we played in Mitcheldean Festival’s showcase concert on Saturday 16th July — my wife Fiona on flute, our youngest son Jonno on cello, me on guitar, and all of us on vocals.

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