The sound of 26 books closing

Meta: April 21 2012 // 26 books // Comment

[Cross-posted from 26books.com.]

It’s more than six years since I began blogging about the books I’ve read. In 2006 I set myself the modest challenge of reading 26 books – around one every two weeks. A few friends were enthusiastic about the idea and, at the beginning of 2007, 26 Books became a site of its own, with several bloggers.

Since then hundreds of books have been reviewed on this site. And now it’s time to stop. The domain 26books.com expires at the beginning of May and I’ve decided that I won’t renew it. In about 10 days time the will disappear.

I’ve enjoyed writing these reviews and I would love to carry on. One of the best things about it is being able to go back and see what I wrote about something that I read years ago. I’ll miss that. These days I don’t have time to write reviews that I value and I don’t see any point in writing these posts if I can’t do it properly.

My posts have been moved to this blog – at least until I decide what to do with this blog. I’m thinking of closing it but at least for the moment I plan to carry on summarising my reading here.

Thanks to our small band of readers for visiting over the years. And thanks to all of those who have contributed to the site: James Higgs, Ian Douglas, Zoe Whitley, Ann Tozer, Ceri Radford, Cathy Tozer, Kerry Moore, Sara Ashton, Sara Williams and finally Anjali Ramachandran, who has joined just in time for the website to close.

For the next few days you will find lots of good books here. Take a look while you can.

Popfession

Meta: January 31 2012 // music // Comment

If you haven’t been following Popfessions, the Tumblr that collects tales of unfortunate musical crushes, then you should immediately go and read them. I wrote one I couple of weeks ago, which I’ll preserve here in full:

I fell in with a bad crowd at school. It was a way to survive the new and scary reality of secondary school, where the teachers were constantly telling us how grown up we were. I didn’t feel grown up at all.

My new friends got me into all kinds of trouble by sharing their taste in music. One of them played me Phil Collins albums. He was a dumpy, bald man who said hilarious things like “Hello, I must be going”. Phil Collins, that is, not my friend.

Another one introduced me to The Christians and The Pasadenas. Even so, we are still friends.

Then there was Debbie Gibson. My friends told me about the songs but the infatuation began when I saw her on a magazine cover. I was 13 and at an all-boys school. Teenage girls were mysterious and intimidating but Debbie didn’t seem so threatening.

She looked cool, stylish and pretty but normal too. I wanted to know more about her but the magazine was called Just Seventeen and I really had no idea whether I would have to prove my age if I wanted to buy a copy.

I got her debut album, Out Of The Blue, on vinyl and listened to it over and over. Debbie brought despatches from the front line. Girls wanted to fall in love. They got heartbroken. They liked hats. This stuff was gold.

And she was talented. She wrote her own songs and she could sing and play piano at the same time. Not like Debbie’s big rival, Tiffany. Bloody Tiffany, prancing around shopping centres with her cover of ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’.

Like the teenage affairs that Debbie chronicled so faithfully, my crush was brief. The second album came out when I was 14. It was called Electric Youth, which sounded like a try-hard social club for young Christians.

The songs didn’t speak to me anymore. There was ‘Lost In Your Eyes’, in which Debbie channelled Yoda, asking: “Is this love that I am in?” And there was ‘We Could Be Together’, which saw Debbie trashing decades of feminism to declare: “If you said jump I’d say how high/ If you said run, I’d run and fly.”

Forget female empowerment – I wasn’t sure I was ready for that kind of responsibility.

Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson

Meta: January 22 2012 // Female authors + Fiction // Comment

High school kids Jude and Teddy spend their time in their small Vermont town hanging out, stealing and getting high. On New Year’s Eve 1987, the pair pass out in the snow after a night of drugs, drink and parties. Teddy never wakes up.

Shortly before his death Teddy lost his virginity to Eliza, who was visiting for the night from New York, where her mother is dating Jude’s father. Eliza also gave Teddy cocaine, which may have been the key ingredient in the mixture of substances that killed him. All of this happens in the opening of Henderson’s novel, which deals with the fall-out from Teddy’s death.

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26 Books 2011: Round-up

Meta: January 21 2012 // 26 books 2011 // Comment

Last year was my sixth year of 26 books. I read 43 books in all – including one that I read twice. That’s the most I’ve read since I started doing this.

My favourites were The Deptford Trilogy by Robertson Davies, The Real Life of Sebastian Knight by Vladimir Nabokov and The Counterlife by Philip Roth. Least favourites were The Canal by Lee Rourke, Notable American Women by Ben Marcus and PopCo by Scarlett Thomas.

Some stats: Of the 43 books, five were written by women, 10 were non-fiction (one of which I read twice) and two were translations.

Here’s the full list of what I read:

January
Noir by Robert Coover
The Canal by Lee Rourke
The Tell-Tale Brain by VS Ramachandran
Take Your Eye Off The Ball by Pat Kirwan

February
A Frolic of His Own by William Gaddis
Open Doors and three novellas by Leonardo Sciascia
Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith

March
Mirage Men by Mark Pilkington
Stamboul Train by Graham Greene
The Information by James Gleick

April
The Pale King by David Foster Wallace
The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey
A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace

May
Angels by Denis Johnson
Lost in the Funhouse by John Barth
The Lime Twig by John Hawkes
Notable American Women by Ben Marcus
The Real Sebastian Knight by Vladimir Nabokov
Wittgenstein’s Mistress by David Markson

June
Inverting the Pyramid by Jonathan Wilson
The Counterlife by Philip Roth
The Facts by Philip Roth
Deception by Philip Roth
Patrimony by Philip Roth

July
Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
PopCo by Scarlett Thomas

August
Fifth Business by Robertson Davies
The Manticore by Robertson Davies
World of Wonders by Robertson Davies
All That I Am by Anna Funder

September
Take Your Eye Off the Ball by Pat Kirwan (re-reading)
Point Blank by Richard Stark

October
The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George V Higgins
All About Steve by The Editors of Fortune Magazine
A Most Wanted Man by John Le Carre

November
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
Super Crunchers by Ian Ayres
The Games That Changed the Game by Ron Jaworski

December
The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil
Memoirs of a Master Forger by William Heaney
Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson

Memoirs of a Master Forger by William Heaney

Meta: January 08 2012 // English language + Fiction + Male authors // Comment

In many ways the back-story of this book is more interesting than the book itself. Memoirs of a Master Forger was not written by William Heaney but by Graham Joyce, the author of a string of fantasy novels over the last 20 years. When it was released, in 2008, the author’s true identity was not made public.

Some time ago I stumbled across a blog post by Joyce in which he explained that the success of the novel had been somewhat galling. It had better reviews than Joyce’s previous work and went into reprint in its second week – a feat that none of his other books had managed. Joyce wrote: “It confirms some rather worrying trends in publishing.”

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26 Books: December

Meta: January 08 2012 // 26 books 2011 // Comment

Three books to bring the year to an end:

Book 41: The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil
Book 42: Memoirs of a Master Forger by William Heaney
Book 43: Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson

The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil (Shane’s book 41, 2011)

Meta: January 01 2012 // Classics + Fiction + Male authors + Translation // Comment

Well, I finished The Man Without Qualities, which is more than its author managed to do. Robert Musil died in 1942, aged 61, a mere 21 years after he began writing this mammoth book. The published edition runs to more than 650,000 words and it’s thought that the finished work would have been twice as long. I suspect that Musil would never have finished, even if he had lived until 81, or 101, or 181. The book would just have gone on and on and on.

There isn’t much of a story here. Ulrich, the ‘man without qualities’, is disconnected from life. Having spent time as a poet, a soldier and, more recently, a mathematician, he has come adrift. His father suggests that he take a job as secretary to a count, which leads to his involvement in a committee charged with organising a celebration to mark the Austrian emperor’s 70th anniversary. Continue Reading

The Games That Changed The Game by Ron Jaworski (Shane’s book 40, 2011)

Meta: December 29 2011 // English language + Male authors + Non-fiction + sport // Comment

Ron Jaworski was an NFL quarterback for more than 15 years. He spent the bulk of his career with the Philadelphia Eagles and took them to their first Super Bowl. These days he is an analyst on Monday Night Football.

In this book, Jaworski looks at seven NFL games that he believes represent important moments in the tactical development of the sport. He gives the background to the coaches and players involved and then examines the film of the game to explain how the tactical innovation in question played out. Continue Reading

Super Crunchers by Ian Ayres (Shane’s book 39, 2011)

Meta: December 27 2011 // English language + Male authors + Non-fiction // Comment

This is one of those books that feels like a good, long magazine article that has been expanded beyond the range of the material. Other examples include The Long Tail, Freakonomics and anything by Malcolm Gladwell. Indeed, Gladwell is probably the apotheosis of the form: his books feel like over-extended articles; his articles feel like over-extended anectdotes.

Ayres at least has an interesting story to tell. The rise in the practice of analysing large data sets is changing the way many areas of our lives work, from finance to medicine, shopping to wine criticism. These changes are profound and although they will help us to make better decisions, they will also make a lot of people uncomfortable, not least those who consider themselves experts. Continue Reading

Albums of the Year, 2011

Meta: December 11 2011 // music // Comment

This year I decided to do something different with my albums of the year list. I asked a few of my friends to pick their top five – and I added my own. To avoid everyone picking the same few records, nobody was allowed to pick an album that had already been chosen.

Because lots of people contributed, I can’t rank the 40 albums here so I’ve put them in alphabetical order. At the bottom of the list is a Spotify playlist, which has 31 of the 40 albums on it. The links go to iTunes.

1. The Advisory Circle, As the Crow Flies
2. Africa Hitech, 93 Million Miles
3. Bjork, Biophilia
4. James Blake, James Blake
5. Bon Iver, Bon Iver
6. Cashier No9, To the Death of Fun
7. The Decemberists, The King is Dead
8. Lana Del Ray, Video Games (EP)
9. Demdike Stare, Triptych
10. EMA, Past Life Martyred Saints
11. The Field, Looping State of Mind
12. Eleanor Friedberger, Last Summer
13. Friendly Fires, Pala
14. Fruit Bats, Tripper
15. Fucked Up, David Comes to Life
16. Gang Gang Dance, Eye Contact
17. PJ Harvey, Let England Shake
18. Tim Hecker, Ravedeath 1972
19. Julie Holter, Tragedy
20. Holy Other, With U (EP)
21. The Horrors, Skying
22. King Creosote and Jon Hopkins, Diamond Mine
23. Leyland Kirby, Intrigue and Stuff (Limited edition 12″ series)
24. Metronomy, The English Riviera
25. Thurston Moore, Demolished Thoughts
26. My Morning Jacket, Circuital
27. Okkervil River, I Am Very Far
28. Oneohtrix Point Never, Replica
29. Plaid, Scintilli
30. Roly Porter, Aftertime
31. Radiohead, King of Limbs
32. SBTRKT, SBTRKT
33. Shabazz Palaces, Black Up
34. Tune Yards, Who Kill
35. Tom Waits, Bad As Me
36. Walls, Coracle
37. Gillian Welch, The Harrow and the Harvest
38. Bill Wells and Aidan Moffat, Everything’s Getting Older
39. Wild Beasts, Smother
40. Wild Flag, Wild Flag

Spotify playlist: Best of 2011

Thanks to everyone who helped with the list, including Adam Webb, Chris Deerin, Chris Williams, Lucy Jones and Mark Birchall.

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