Category Archives: Reviews

What I’ve been reading lately, part 45

Lead — John Greenway, Andy Blacknell and Andy Coombe

This the densest and most economical business leadership I have come across. It’s a genre I am not particularly drawn to, and which is ripe for parody, but I read it because I know two of the authors. And I have to admit, I ended up finding it really helpful. That’s because, while most business books have One Big Idea, this one settles down (after an opening going over vision, values and goals) into an efficient format of four-or-five page chapters, each summarising the big insight from another book. So there are brief chapters on thing like the Four Stages of Competence and the Eisenhower Matrix, which give you the core of each of them without requiring you to plough through a whole book. Recommended.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

What I’ve been listening to in 2021

Here is a YouTube playlist of my now-traditional top-ten list of the albums I’ve listened to the most in the previous calendar year. (See this list of previous entries.)

I listen much more to whole albums than to individual tracks, so each year I pick the ten albums that I listened to the most (not counting compilations), as recorded on the laptop and the desktop box where I listen to most of my music. (So these counts don’t include listening in the car or the kitchen, or on my phone.) I limit the selection to no more than one album per artist, and skip albums that have featured in previous years. Then from each of those ten objectively selected albums, I subjectively pick one song that I feel is representative.

#10=. Dire Straits — 1985 — Brothers in Arms (3 listens)

The year is around 1989. My friend Andy Charles and I are big fans of Dire Straits’ Love Over Gold. I ask to borrow his CD of Brothers in Arms, but he is reluctant. “It’s always the same”, he says: “You lend something to someone, and you never get it back”. But I persuade him I will return it, and he lends me the CD.

Continue reading

Spoileriffic thoughts on Wandavision

I got a recommendation from a friend to watch the first three episodes of Wandavision in a block. That suggestion was solid. It’s slllooowww to get going, especially, if you’re not bathed in American sitcom culture. Fiona and I watched the first episode together and didn’t get much out of it. We started the second, and she bailed before we reached the opening credits, feeling it was more of the same. As a matter of pacing, I think they needed to bring the red helicopter into the first episode, so there’s something there other than a 1950s sitcom of the kind that 2020s TV has left far behind for a reason.

In fact, I wonder whether the best way to watch this show isn’t just to skip episode 1 completely.

Continue reading

What I’ve been reading lately, part 41

Emma — Jane Austen

I usually think of this as my second favourite Austen (after Pride and Prejudice, naturally), but on my re-read of all six, I found to my surprise that I didn’t enjoy it as much as I had Sense and Sensibility. Perhaps it’s partly because I had overdosed on screen adaptations recently: the Kate Beckinsale and Gwynneth Paltrow versions from 1996, the 2020 film with Anya Taylor-Joy, and the 2009 Romola Garai TV series. I really enjoyed all of them, but I guess having seen four rather different perspectives on the novel, the novel itself didn’t really have much more to show me.

Continue reading

What I’ve been listening to in 2020

Rather belatedly … Here is a YouTube playlist of my now-traditional top-ten list of the albums I’ve listened to the most in the previous calendar year. (See this list of previous entries.)

I listen much more to whole albums than to individual tracks, so each year I pick the ten albums that I listened to the most (not counting compilations), as recorded on the laptop where I listen to most of my music. (So these counts don’t include listening in the car or the kitchen, or on my phone.) I limit the selection to no more than one album per artist, and skip albums that have featured in previous years. Then from each of those ten objectively selected albums, I subjectively pick one song that I feel is representative.

Continue reading

What I’ve been reading lately, part 40

If I Never Met You — Mhairi McFarlane

This is is my fourth McFarlane book. (Previously: You Had Me At Hello, It’s Not Me, It’s You, Here’s Looking at You). She continues to impress and delight, although I do have to admit that by this point the plots are slightly starting to blend into each other a bit. Continue reading

Hulks (five different ones). Part 5: the MCU

Well, I blinked, and the best part of two years passed since the fourth and penultimate part in my series about The Incredible Hulk. (See also part 1, part 2 and part 3).

For this concluding post I’m finally talking about the MCU proper, in which the Hulk is played by Mark Ruffalo starting with Avengers (2012), as distinct from the 2008 movie The Incredible Hulk which is nominally part of the MCU but tonally and narratively quite different from the rest of it. I’m talking about this guy:

He has brief irrelevant cameos in post-credits scenes in Iron Man 3 and Captain Marvel, which we will ignore, but is a major character in five films: Avengers, Age of Ultron, Ragnarok, Infinity War and Endgame.

Continue reading