Category Archives: Reviews

What I’ve been reading lately, part 7

[See also previous and subsequent posts in this series.]

I’m trying to move quickly to catch up with myself — I’m still a few months behind — so apologies if these books are not given as much coverage as they deserve.

Joni Mitchell: In Her Own Words — Malka Marom

A truly fascinating set of three (very long) interviews, conducted many years apart, with the most endlessly fascinating singer-songwriter of them all. (If you don’t accept my assessment, ask David Crosby.) Malka Marom was a folk singer herself, so has a good angle on the issues that Joni is dealing with — personal, musical and poetic. They’re some of the most revealing interviews I’ve ever read, not in terms of salacious details but of slowly and effectively opening up essence of a person, revealing what makes her tick.

And I’d have to say that Joni doesn’t come out of it all that well, in the end. It’s apparent in all three interviews that she’s quite a self-focussed person, and that tendency becomes stronger and darker across the three interviews. Towards the end we read

I’m reliving old injuries. I’m reliving them and I’m telling the person off that I didn’t tell off. I’m trying to expel anger. And it hangs in the air and I go, ‘What that very satisfactory, when you said that to them? No.’ And then I kind of do it again.

For such a free spirit, she seems to find it hard to let go of old hurts and resentments. It’s a shame; but, no doubt, a part of what made her such an absolutely superb artist. And she really does stand alone.

Marom’s book is well worth reading for anyone who loves Joni’s work. Continue reading

What I’ve been reading lately, part 6

[Previously: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5]

I’ve got a long way behind with these — I’m reading faster than I can blog — so I’ll try to move quickly and catch up with myself.

Off to be the Wizard — Scott Meyer

Debut novel from the creator of the wonderful Basic Instructions comic strip. I held off buying this for a long time on the grounds that being a clever cartoonist doesn’t necessarily mean you have the skills to be a novelist; but having seen a lot of positive reviews, I took the plunge when the e-book was heavily discounted. I’m glad I did, and now eagerly await a similar discount on the sequel. I don’t want to say too much about this for fear of spoilering, but I will say that the book launches on a fascinating science-fictional premise, and quickly takes a left-turn that took me by surprise. It’s not very literary, but it’s immensely engaging, which in my book counts for much more. Recommended. Continue reading

What I’ve been reading lately, part 5

[Previously: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4]

One Hundred and Forty Characters in Search of an Argument — Andrew Rilstone

Rilstone is one of my very favourite writers — his blog is packed with all sorts of fascinating meditations on politics, Doctor Who, religion, Marvel comics, and pretty much anything else you might think of. He has a habit of leaping bafflingly from subject to subject, then pulling back the curtain and showing you how they were connected all along. Very clever, very enjoyable.

This particular book is his most recent — and, to be honest, perhaps not a good entry-point unless you’re interested in British politics and culture. More broadly, Rilstone engages with the problem of arguing on the Internet, and determining who is and isn’t actually interested in arguing as opposed to preaching. But for newcomers to his work, I’d recommend starting instead with George and Joe and Jack and Bob (his book on Star Wars or Do Balrogs Have Wings? (on Tolkien and Lewis). Continue reading

Paul Actual McCartney

I’ve waited 30 years for this, but on Saturday 23rd, at the O2 Arena in London, I finally saw Paul McCartney live!

He’s 72 years old — he’ll be 73 in less than a month. Yet he played forty songs.

Continue reading

What I’ve been reading lately, part 4

[Previously: part 1, part 2, part 3]

Murder on the Orient Express — Agatha Christie

This one has quite a well-known twist, but happily I’d completely forgotten about it, so it wasn’t spoiled for me. And in fact, it works really well. I don’t want to say any more for fear of spoilers, but I’d definitely recommend this one. But not as a first Agatha Christie. Read a couple of more regular stories first (e.g. Styles, End House) to get into the idiom. Continue reading

What I’ve been reading lately, part 3

Peter Pan and Wendy — J. M. Barrie

I highly recommend this to anyone. Written in 1911, it’s now comfortably in the public domain, and you can pick up a free copy at Project Gutenberg. Like Mary Poppins, its a profound and touching book, best known from a Disney adaptation that systematically boiled all the charm and distinctiveness out of it. (I watched the movie after finishing the book, and found it enjoyable in its bland way, but completely unexceptional.)

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What I’ve been listening to in 2014

Here is my now-traditional top-ten list of the albums I’ve listened to the most in the previous calendar year. (See previous entries for 20132012, 20112010 and 2009.)

Minimoog_11414_05

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 two computers where I listen to most of my music. (So these counts don’t include listening in the car or on the iPod.) 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