Thursday, April 28, 2005

21: Simon vs. Simon in the search for popular history

Simon Garfield is trying to muscle in Simon Winchester's turf, is he? Simon against Simon? Well, not really. Simon Winchester is more your natural phenomena end of market, while Garfield, with his previous book about the first death on the trains, and now this book about aniline dyes and chemical discoveries, is more of your industrial revolution type.

The thing I liked most about this book, apart from its high I Never Knew That factor, is that it doesn't really have a thesis. It just tells you about the guy who invented mauve, and how important mauve was. And then it tells you about the process he used, and how that process was used to do other really cool stuff. And some other stuff to do with TB, the Nazis, fabric dying, the First World War, and so on. It's well written, the people it features are a pretty engaging bunch, and he doesn't try to shoehorn in a thesis like it's some kind of school project. Unlike some other Simons I could mention.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

20: a third of the year gone and only 20 books read

Alexandra Fuller's Scribbling the Cat has all the hallmarks of the second of a two-book deal. The subject is similar, but not identical to the original book that made her name. She appears to have cast about for a suitable subject, and when he comes along, she jumps on him with the force of a hurricane and takes advantage of the fact that he is in love with her to get him to let her write about him. Yes, they are taking advantage of each other. He uses her to boast to, to confess to, to draw some kind of normality from, and she uses him to get her book done. It's not a particularly interesting or enlightening read, and I don't recommend it.
Original comments
The target is fifty, isn't it, so you're well on the way. Anything more than a book a week is a respectable rate.
Posted by Ray (38) on Apr. 23 2005, at 5:34 PM
I was hoping for more like 75 this year.

Why are you number 38?
Posted by perfectlycromulent on Apr. 23 2005, at 8:59 PM
I'm bragging.
But the point really isn't the raw numbers, is it? Its about how you spend your time - if you're watching less telly, but you're not reading as much as you'd like because you also have to walk dogs now, you're still coming out ahead, right?
Posted by Ray on Apr. 23 2005, at 10:33 PM

19: Books: a drink's too wet without one

Percy and Queenie don't like Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit Down. Queenie objects strongly to the fact that Nicey's wife is referred to as Wifey, while Percy dislikes their twee Englishness and their insistence on treating everything English as better than everything foreign. When the website was the only thing anyone could come up with to counter Percy and Queenie's accusation that the Internet was nothing but an American colony in cyberspace, Queenie and Percy became quite irate. And to a large extent they were right. Perhaps I should have mentioned the BBC websites instead.

For all that the book of Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit Down has its flaws (not the least of which is that its hardback form requires two hands to hold it, making it a less than ideal book for browsing while you're having said ncot and a sd), it does contain some interesting facts about tea and biscuits and hydrogenated fats and shortening and where biscuits have gone to that we all remembered from when we were young. On the whole, though, its faults outweigh its virtues, really. A small point for some, but for me it's annoying to see them talk about Kimberleys as a peculiarly Irish biscuit which can't be bought anywhere else, while failing to include them in the section on foreign biscuits, because after all, Ireland's not really foreign, is it?

There are some lovely turns of phrase in the book, and an obvious and genuine affection for the national pastime of sitting around drinking tea and eating biscuits. It's a social option that seems to have gone out the window among my peers in the last ten years or so. Time was, when we were poorer, that it was perfectly acceptable to drop round your mate's flat during the day on a Saturday with a packet of chocolate HobNobs and expect to get through a couple of pots of tea before heading home. Now everyone feels they have to either provide lashings of alcohol (which is a pain for me because I'm always driving) or they have to make dinner, which is a pain for them because it involves a lot of work. The best thing about this book is that it reminds you that there are simple and relatively inexpensive pleasures in the world. Shame that this book isn't really one of them.
Posted Apr. 23 2005, at 3:51 PM
Comments (4)
You do realise (the book refers to it quite a bit) that Wifey is Irish and Nicey was raised in Wales? Twee Englishness? I think not..

Percy and Queenie hang their head in shame. They were more going on the annoying Life in the Day article they read in the Observer about Nicey and Wifey than any in depth analysis of the website. Although they had clicked on the website. It must be said thought, that they don't like Badly Drawn Boy either - the musical equivalent of A Nice Sit Down.
Posted by on Apr. 28 2005, at 4:11 PM
Ah, you need a Scottish friend. We have a Scottish friend who scruples not at dropping round and drinking his way through a pot or two of tea, biscuits and all.
Posted by Myles on May. 26 2005, at 12:01 PM
I think I need to live less than 30 miles away from all my friends. Or get to know my neighbours better.
Posted by perfectlycromulent on May. 26 2005, at 9:42 PM

Monday, April 18, 2005

Foster homed

So Tonka, or Pooka as her new family is calling her, has gone to her new home. They have three kids who seem to really like her, and it was quite funny to get a worried phonecall from the mother of the house saying "I don't get it, we gave her some of our lasagne and the kids have been giving her biscuits and now she won't eat her food." Well, duh.

She was a lovely dog, but not the dog for us. The search for Milo's pal continues.
Original comments
any chance that the dog was rescued from the dodder, its just that she looks a lot like mine
Posted by on Apr. 20 2005, at 12:02 PM

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

18: The Wild Ones

For some reason the title of this book always reminds me of that Suede song.

Anyway, normally I'm not much of a one for memoirs unless the person in question has been in black and white Hollywood films. Then I'm all in favour. But I had heard good things about this book, and couldn't believe that a book so attractive and so well-known had been culled from the bookshop without anyone wanting to buy it. "I bet if I stuck a recommended sticker on that, it would sell" I said to myself. But of course, to recommend it I have to read it first.

Turns out to be a good book. And Alexandra Fuller seems like a very interesting person who has lived an interesting life during dangerous times in volatile countries. And it's good to hear someone describe the day-to-day lives of the white people who wanted to keep Rhodesia white.

Of course there are imperfections and things to dislike. Her adjective-or-adverb-creating hyphenations do get on my nerves after a bit. Just say you were bored! You don't have to say you were leg-swinging bored! And of course there is something deeply unpleasant about the whole idea of calling indigenous people muntus and constantly complaining about them being lazy (this is Fuller's mother, not Fuller herself).

But really the excepts and buts and howevers are pretty small beer in the face of the total package. The books does a fine job of describing both the everyday and the extraordinary in the lives of Fuller's family, and I do heartily recommend it.

Original comments

Never heard of it myself. Is it a recent book? Did Fuller become famous for something else?
Posted by Ray on Apr. 12 2005, at 11:21 AM
It's fairly recent. As far as I know she hasn't become famous for anything else. I'm buggered if I know where I heard of the book. It could well have been on ILB.
Posted by perfectlycromulent on Apr. 12 2005, at 11:43 AM

Sunday, April 10, 2005

17: Dug by little moles

Normally I am suspicious of adults who read children's books. No, that's not right. It's more that a lot of people I don't really like have tended to drone on and on at me in the past about how great the Lemony Snicket books are, and how much they're looking forward to the new Harry Potter, and how I had a deprived childhood because I never read any Diana Wynne Jones and the contempt I feel for these people sticks to the books and so I can't read them.

Maybe it's a money thing. A lot of my issues are a money thing.

Anyway, Holes by Louis Sachar is not one of those books that privileged kids read. It's not about other worlds, although it has a strong magical realist spine, and it's not about fighting mysterious and powerful enemies heroically, although there are enemies to be fought.

The writing is the kind I love nowadays. It gets the job done, moves the story along, gives you a clear picture of who's doing what and what's happening while leaving you to fill in some of the visual details yourself.

The story concerns Stanley Yelnats, a boy who is in the wrong place at the wrong time and consequently gets sent to Camp Green Lake, which is nothing like a proper camp, has no lake, and is not green. He is told that he has to dig a hole every day, five foot wide by five foot deep and that this will build his character.

And of course it does build his character. The book is all about pecking orders, fate, curses, symbolism, onions, love, making friends, solving mysteries, and it all only takes a couple of hours to read. I liked Stanley enormously. He's neither innocent nor overly cynical - not Oliver or the Dodger - but somewhere in between.

This book is on the Junior Cert English curriculum, and I think that's a good thing. It's the kind of book that, if you like it, can open a whole world of similar but more complicated books to you. It's got a little bit of Marquez in it as well as some Steinbeck and could easily lead you away from children's books altogether without you even realising you're going.

Original Comments

Great book. Sam and I read it on Eoin's recommendation, given that he ignored us for about a day while we were visiting so he could read the book. Well it was probably closer to one evening in Sally's living room, but you know what I mean.

I don't have any problem with reading kid's books. Sturgeon's Law applies and there's as much crap there proportionately as with other lit. Kids' books are just cheaper to buy.
Posted by Myles on Apr. 14 2005, at 9:48 AM
Funny how everyone seems to have taken my remarks about people who read children's books so much to heart. As is always the way with these things, I suspect the people I was actually talking about will take no offence at all.
Posted by perfectlycromulent on Apr. 14 2005, at 9:16 PM

Best Stoner TV ever!

Yesterday Keith and I came across How It's Made on Discovery. It's the greatest stoner telly I've ever seen, and I wasn't even stoned. Each programme is half an hour long, during which time they tell you how four things are made. Yesterday we learned how honey, fibre optic cabling, pasta, and pills are made. If we'd kept watching, we would have found out how to make classical guitars, glass eyes, flat screen televisions and plasters (or something like that).

The fact that it's incredibly cheaply made only adds to its appeal. The production of the object is presented in clear, no nonsense Playschool style steps which lulls you into thinking that making fibre optic cables is no more complicated than making honey. Of course, on mature reflection, making honey might involve getting stung now and again, but making fibre optic cables appears to involve working with highly volatile acids at incredibly high temperatures and then stretching the resulting goo out over a large area and probably being poisoned by fumes. I know which I'd rather.

There is no presenter, so your channel can provide the voiceover in the language of your choice. We were watching the Nice English version. The script says things like "pasta is one of the world's most popular foods, but do you know how it's made?" and "everyone has adhesive bandages on hand for the small accidents of life. But do you know how they're made?" It must be a nightmare to write these little intros for each segment when all you really want to do is say "plasters! They're great!" and get on with it.

The music is great too. It reminded Keith of the videos he had to watch while doing dive training, and it does have the air about it of music that was inserted to cover up the hiss of cheap recording facilities, or to give bored corporate trainees something to laugh about. At least in Playschool they usually had the real sounds of the factory playing. I think. Didn't they?

HEALTH WARNING: Trish and Keith, who are not health experts, recommend this programme as SAFE to watch while stoned. However, we deem it UNSAFE for viewing under the influence of anything particularly heavy or hallucinogenic. You never know when you might settle down to watch some big sheets of pasta dry, and the next thing you're looking at someone painting blood vessels on a glass eye and you can't look at your spaghetti the same way again.

Original comments:
This is my idea of perfect, brain dead, TV. Barbara doesn't mind it either, unlike nearly everything else on the Hilter channel.
Posted by Caelen on Apr. 20 2005, at 10:12 AM
How it's made ROCKS! The only thing better than 'How it's Made' is the reality show 'The Ultimate Fighter'.
Posted by FatStevieB on May. 07 2005, at 3:48 PM

Saturday, April 02, 2005



Albert was out, Tonka was in. She arrived last night and I had to call Ed to come up with a name. "She's a fat corgi" I said. Tonka it is then.

She gets on well with Milo and seems pretty contented so far. Good stuff.

Fastest foster ever

Albert arrrived with us lateish on Thursday night. We were told that he was good with other dogs. Other dogs turned out not to include Milo. He went for him as soon as he came into the house and spent the rest of the evening trying to dominate everyone around him.

He was gone the very next day.