The Story of Music

This is a fair old undertaking, so it’s impressive that this book is not as long as one might think. However, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t manage to cram in a lot of interesting stuff. Shore is eloquent and learned in what he writes. There is an enormous breadth of material referenced by him in an assured display of knowledge of his trade. 

From my perspective, I found it enlightening in terms of the evolution seen by music. The enormous shifts within the early twentieth Century in particular in a way that things just made that little bit more sense afterwards. A bit like having looked at one’s location on a map and seeing it’s position in the context of everything else around. For anyone interested in music, this is a good shout. 

 

Try This At Home

I’ve not really listened to Frank Turner much. I’m aware of one or two of his more popular songs but I was going into this relatively blind, mainly as a curiosity from a songwriting angle (In the middle of my own music project at the moment so this was good background reading). Frank Turner is actually quite an accomplished writer. He makes a lot of sense in places and this honest account is quite biographical but also gives a lot of insight into his own songwriting techniques. I don’t really listen to lyrics but, with his work being lyric-centric, I did appreciate a lot of his, each chapter beginning with the lyrics to a particular song. 

For any music fan, this is a really decent read. 

A Fatal Crossing

Bought on a whim in an airport. Already had more books on me that I would read but I couldn’t resist this one. Perfect by-the-pool reading. Perhaps better for an autumn evening but nevertheless I thoroughly enjoyed this – what was essentially an intelligent, concisely written detective novel. The classic closed environment whodunnit, especially if maritime in nature is too much for me to resist. Refreshingly the story does not disappoint towards the end. Annoying that this guy is a decade younger than me and can produce something so accomplished as this! He’ll go far I suspect. 

The Power of Geography

Loved the first instalment. Loved this. More of the same incisive and intelligent analysis of our current geopolitical situation. Allows one the luxury of broadening their horizons in what has become a far too insular and inward looking world. Clever bloke. 

When We Cease to Understand the World

A nice short book so I picked it up as it wouldn’t be too much of an issue if it were a slog and also it has been endorsed by William Boyd which must be a plus. I do also note that Philip Pullman has stuck his oar in too and I have mentioned before how misled I’ve been from one of his endorsements. Happily, this book was brilliant and, as they say, is quite unlike any other I’ve read. Part history of science, part fiction, it takes one on a journey through various voyages of scientific discovery. Mathematics, Chemistry and physics all get his attention and ironically it gave me, if anything, a litter more understanding of the world. Recommended. 

Cryptonomicon

This is a door-stopper of a speculative fiction novel. I have mixed feelings about it. The two time frames, one during WW2 and one in the late 90s, were well imagined and quite cool. It is set around factual events but has a couple of random additions which I didn’t feel were necessary – the invention of two fake countries for example. The characters were well written and fleshed out well. One character seemed quite mysterious and although on the face of it presented quite a big plot hole, upon reflection I quite like this aspect. I particularly liked the mirroring of certain themes between the two time frames. 

The plot was good and centred on code breaking giving rise to modern computers and crypto currency. It does not seem to have been edited in any way however. Perhaps it is a testament to his writing that I didn’t struggle to get through it – it just took a long time because it’s so long – but I think it could have been easily trimmed to a sixth or seventh of its length without losing anything. Indeed this would have made it a bit easier to follow in places. I suspect his style is to write in a bit of a vague fashion with an underlying assumption the reader will infer what a character is doing or something that has happened off page without writing it. While it is his style, the book could have been more successful if he had written it in a more conventional way I think. He probably doesn’t care about that though.  

The spine of a cracker is there, it was just fleshed out to the nth degree, sometimes with rambling extraneous info and at other times random cryptography sections that would be better off in a text book. Overall, packed full of interest and action. A real epic.  

A Good Man in Africa

Back to my favourite author as I continue to ration his books so I don’t go through them all at once. This was his first novel and is quite the lesson in authorship. It is, as he has continued to demonstrate throughout all the other books pf his I’ve read, superbly measured – every word in every sentence counts, there is not one sentence out of line. This book creates a marvellous picture of the setting and of the main character. His flaws are excellently observed and his escapades hilariously told. A fantastic book.  

Kolymsky Heights

This was described by Philip Pullman as the best thriller he’s ever read. That should have made me wary as I think Pullman himself is massively overrated (I found the Northern Lights stuff a bit tedious and boring). This was the epitomy of tedious and boring. There was really nothing thrilling about this book. The intricate detail to which the writer goes into is unnecessary and makes for a snails pace throughout. Despite the detail he goes into, it is also incredibly vague. At the centre of it, the story is weird and the only saving grace is the bit at the end (I won’t tell you) although that is nowhere near enough to justify reading this book. Pullman is mistaken I think. This was a proper slog and far too long. Avoid.  

Project Hail Mary

This one was recommended to me as a good poolside read. This is a cool, science centred novel – one for the geeks but accessible to others too. It’s by the same guy that wrote the Martian, starring Matt Damon. I suspect this one would also make a good film. Pure sci fi, set in space, plausible but fantastical nonetheless and pleasingly meticulous. Enjoyable read, even if it does perhaps go on a bit (probably being slightly harsh there).