I’ve been passed a blogging baton. It used to be about music, then Matt Webb decided to let it evolve into a discussion about books. He passed it to Peter Lindberg and now it has come to rest in my ever expanding list of things to do.
I’m not usually a big fan of inter-blog questionnaires, but I think this one has the potential to be productive as well as introspective. I have to recognise the fact that my reading experience has been improved and expanded thanks to the last couple of years of readings web logs. I hope this will give some ideas to others.
The bulk of my reading gets done on public transport. This works well until circumstances conspire to force me into my car. The last couple of months has been like that and the nagging feeling that I’m falling behind has begun to return. Before sitting down to write this I started to do some mental calculation around the number of books I usually get through in a year against the average life expectancy of an Englishman in order to work out how many books I’ll get to read before I go to the great library in the sky. Mercifully, maths isn’t my strong point and I was able to apply the brakes before reaching a conclusion, having decided that the result would be far to depressing.
I very rarely buy contemporary books. The reason for this is a rather silly notion I have that makes me worry about the chronological order of literature. Standing in front of the shelves carrying the month’s top ten books, I begin to feel the weight of all the books I haven’t read yet stacked up behind me. Surely, to have any understanding of today’s literature one must have studied all the moments in history it has passed through to get here. Whilst I’m busy flirting with Yesterday, Today packs it bags and runs off with Tomorrow.
On the what’s-mine-is-yours-what’s-yours-is-mine principle of marriage, the house contains somewhere in the region of 500-600 books. Maybe two thirds of those are mine. Sarah and I have quite different tastes. She solely reads fiction. You probably would too if you were a doctor, escaping into fiction is a useful break from medicine. Unlike Mr. Webb, I can’t profess to having any form of rigourous system for the shelving of my books, although I tend to start with the ones that are my favourite on the shelf nearest the nearest chair. The results are fairly haphazard and it’s a common cause of argument/discussion in the Annable household, as Sarah likes to see them arranged more neatly – preferring form over usability. Which is rather fitting as if there were ever a theme for this blog, that would be it.
Other book related comments worth mentioning to any other guys who are entering a relationship with a doctor are; make sure any text books (particularly dermatology ones) are closed before you sit down to eat, and don’t worry, that magazine left open on the page about erectile disfunction is just a coincidence, not a hint.
Last book bought
It’s been a while. The last full book I bought was inspired by a flickr entry by Rodcorp – a used copy of Mental Maps by Peter Gould and Rodney White. I say ‘full’ copy because I also bought a couple of Pocket Penguin editions last week – H.G. Wells’ The Country of the Blind and Primo Levi’s Iron Potassium Nickel. You can’t go far wrong with Wells, and Levi (like his fellow Italian, Calvino) has a wonderful efficiency to his writing that leaves you feeling as if every sentence is honed to perfection. Every word counts.
Last book I read
As well as worrying unnecessarily about literary chronology, I have a terrible habit of starting other books before I’ve finished the last one so I need to answer this question in the plural. Books completed this week were:
- Field Event / Field Space by Kevin Rhowbothom (picked it up again after further thoughts regarding ‘loose design’ I mentioned in the last entry)
- Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs (attempted it as an undergraduate some years ago but wasn’t ready for it, worked better for me this time round)
- …and I’ve also been reading some great essays on globalism suggested to me by Anne Galloway after I quizzed her for ideas to kick start me with a concept for the moblog.co.uk exhibition I’ve been threatening to do for about a year – there are links on my wiki.
Other books currently on the go and dotted about my life are:
- in the living room: Ted Hughes’ Hawk in the Rain (discovered this in a great restaurant in York – first piece of poetry that ever literally took my breath away)
- in my car: Edwin Abbott’s Flatland (discovered following an entry by Peter)
- in my wife’s car: Goethe’s second part of Faust
- by my bed: Homer’s Iliad (remember what I was saying about chronology?), Cullen’s Townscape and a copy of Angela Hatherell’s dissertation Who do they think they are?
- in the bathroom: E.M.Forster’s Where Angels Fear to Tread (a bookcrossing find in the city)
I should point out, especially to the Forster estate, that their location it not a form of critique, merely luck of the draw.
5 books that mean a lot to me
Some of these have been covered here before, one of them ad nauseum. Interestingly (or perhaps naturally) there are some connections here between myself, Matt and Peter.
- Buddhism by Christmas Humphreys
- The Brothers Karamazov by Fyoder Doestoevsky
- The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
- If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino
- Architecture and Disjunction by Bernard Tschumi
There are connections between the books too. The book on Buddhism is actually one of several that I could mention on that topic. Another being Buddhism Without Beliefs by Stephen Batchelor. They are connected to Doestoevsky via a bus journey, a drunk woman, a fat bloke, some unruly kids and a £1 coin. A story for another entry perhaps.
Hitch Hiker’s, as any self respecting fan knows, is connected to everything.
If on a Winter’s Night was my first experience of Calvino. It couldn’t have come at a better time for me, in the midst of a tortuous search for some form of raison d’être during the beginning of my post-graduate studies. The following quote (which I also used in an essay at the time) sums it up:
How well I would write if I were not here! If between the white page and the writing of words and stories that take shape and disappear without anyone’s ever writing them there were not interposed that uncomfortable partition which is my person! Style, taste, individual philosophy, subjectivity, cultural background, real experience, psychology, talent, tricks of the trade: all the elements that make what I write recognizable as mine seem to me a cage that restricts my possibilities. If I were only a hand, a severed hand that grasps a pen and writes…
It helped me make sense of the other work I was reading and was one of the many devices I had to employ in order to decipher and understand Architecture and Disjunction.
Architecture is problem solving. Tschumi helped me understand the metaphysics of the problem(s).
I’m passing this on to…
I’ve lost track of where this has been so far, particularly as many people have already completed the musical version. There may be some overlaps, but I call upon: Dan Hill, Jack Mottram, Stuart Langridge, Matthew Revell and David Sucher.
Despite Stuart’s suggestion that I’ve lost any accumulated book review kudos by daring to be enthusiastic about The Da Vinci Code, I continue to maintain a book category. A while back I posted a list of books I was hoping to read this year. I appear to have wandered a little off course.