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corblimey has got too many books

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  • 48. Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities and Software (Johnson). Started out pretty interesting, but when it got into software and internet related guff, I lost interest: partly because it's already outdated and partly because it appeared to be an ad for SimCity for the most part. The idea behind it was still quite engaging, but I'm rapidly coming to the conclusion that these sort of 'theoretical' books aren't for me.

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  • O. Imperium (Harris). I readily admit I spent a lot of the novel being confused by the various characters since about 90% of them have a name starting with C, but then I found the dramatis personae listing at the back and referred to it heavily for the rest of the book. Whether this is a failure of the book, or I lost concentration because I was only reading half a dozen pages per night, I don't know. Pretty good book nonetheless, although it reads like 2 short stories about Cicero rather than a coherent piece. It's based on historical facts with Harris' liberal sprinkling of 'this might be the way it happened' throughout and probably ends up being a lot more dramatic than it actually was.

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  • 49. Story of Ireland (Hegarty). At school, I hated History with a passion (only equalled by my hatred of Geography). I didn't retain any knowledge, and have always felt a little smaller and sadder for it. I spent this summer traipsing around Ireland's historical spots, and so when I returned, I picked up this short history which sweeps from the 5th century up to the present day. Although some aspects are summarised rather sharply and some tend to stretch (the 1916 Rising is given one paragraph, basically; the troubles in Northern Ireland seem to go on a bit), it's a great and engrossing history for someone who can only vaguely remember names like Brian Boru, Padraig Pearse and some bloke called Charles Haughey.

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  • P. Very British Problems (Temple). Typical Christmas cash-in stocking filler, so I gave it a read before passing it on. It's from the VeryBritishProblems twitter thing, which I've thought can be applied to Irish "problems" too. Mostly amusing, it's basically a compendium of past tweets with some dodgy filler material that doesn't hold up. So half the book is pretty good.

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  • Fifty extra books read this year! I'm surely the most read man in Cork.

    50. The First Crusade (Asbridge). A 'factional' account of the first crusade launched by Pope Urban's speech which fired some 100,000 Christians to go kill and destroy their fellow man in Eastern Europe for really no good reason. For the subject matter, it was extremely academically written and contained an awful lot of conjecture and guessing, albeit necessary given the lack of documentary evidence. Didn't enjoy it, and actually fell asleep in the middle of it a few times.

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  • Q. The Great British Tuck Shop (Berry). A treasure trove of half-remembered and never-encountered sweets, chocolates and drinks from the 'TV Cream' era, a fairly fluid period of time covering the late 60s to the late 90s. Being a UK production, a lot of the contents never made it to my local sweet shop but enough were familiar to me to make it worthwhile. I preferred the nostalgic summary that opened each chapter over the specifics of certain products, but it was all good.

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  • 51. Mystery Man (Bateman). Fun little book despite being overlong and having a protagonist who tips over from "eccentric" into "annoying" several times throughout. The first 'case' is also quite odd, as some things explained in it are then repeated in the second case, so I wonder if it was originally written as a short story or something. Anyway, despite myself, I enjoyed it, and I see there are several more Mystery Man novels on Amazon, so I'll definitely be up for another one next year.

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  • R. Code Name Verity (Wein). I found myself being slightly irked by the tone of this novel for a long time, as it tended towards "aren't we women silly, it being war time and all", but suddenly about 100 pages in, it just flipped a switch on me, and I realised what I was reading. If you're paying attention, it's a very rewarding book (and if you're not, it'll all be made clear, don't worry). I might have to read it again next year to get the full benefit, so this is one definitely going back on the shelf for a re-read. Recommended.

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  • 52. The Golden Spruce (Vaillant). Not the book I was expecting at all, this is about a mythic tree in Northern Canada taking in a brief history of deforestation, local Indian tribes, conservation and the logging industry. I won't say any more as I think part of its charm comes in not knowing anything about it, but I really enjoyed it

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  • 53. The Hut Six Story (Welchman). I bought this on location in Bletchely Park several years ago, and never got around to reading it. Unfortunately, I can't say it was worth the wait. It gets very technical in terms of how codes were cracked, almost academically so, but the worst part is that there's never really any indication of how the effort they went through in Hut 6 was applied to the war effort. It's basically we cracked this code today, then we cracked this code the next day, etc. Disappointing.

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  • S. McCarthys Bar (McCarthy). Englishman Pete's method of travel has me breaking out in hives a lot of the time ("hey, let's go down this road for a while"; "it's midnight in a town I've never been in before, let's find somewhere to sleep") but it's a nice little tale and a decent snapshot of life in county Cork and along the west coast over the millennium as the Celtic Tiger started to find its feet a bit.

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  • T. Kestrel for a Knave (Hines). The book of the film Kes of course, which I've never seen and probably won't bother now I've read the book. It's a fairly depressing and grim slice of Northern England life, the embodiment of the phrase "this is why we can't have nice things". The football game at school in the middle is the only saving grace (Brian Glover joyfully playing PE teacher Mr Sugden can be found on Youtube) amid the deprivation.

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  • 54. The Kite Runner (Hosseini). Reading the Amazon reviews of this great little novel, I'm glad I'm not the only person who thought it was autobiographical. In fact, I was nearly half way through when a few too many coincidental events finally convinced me otherwise. I didn't even notice that the author's name wasn't the same as the protagonist's :o. Anyway, very enjoyable book with a rewarding final act, and I think I can add Hosseini to a list of favourite authors for the year.

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  • U. An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth (Hadfield). It sounds interesting, lessons on life delivered by an astronaut at the top of his game, but it's not. It falls between 2 stools, it's not interesting enough to gain any sort of perspective into what it's like to be an astronaut, and it's not deep enough to act as a sort of self-help book that you can apply to your own life or work. It just sits there.

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  • 55. How To Be A Super Reader (Cole). It felt weird to be reading a book about reading, and having finished it, I'm pretty sure I'll never put what I learned into action. It'd come in handy if you had to read a book (or several), like coursework or something, but I'm not in any mad rush to read my books, and if I have to reread a page or so, because I started thinking about dinner, that's fine too. The methods proposed also don't lend themselves very well to reading in a comfortable chair or in bed, but at a desk (again leaning towards study aids). I guess if you're concerned about your reading speed and comprehension, it might be worth a try, but I'm not bothered.

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  • And that did it for 2013. It's been an interesting year, a real mix of good and bad, fiction and non fiction. I've found that I prefer non-fiction, although I do need to adjust my preferences for that genre, the purely theoretical ones proving to be not as compelling as the biographical and historical ones.

    I failed to count how many books I started the year with, but I read 76 and probably abandoned another half dozen. On my unread shelf right now, I've got 22; I've also got 88 on my Kindle (although some of those I have read already) and about 40 in my Amazon basket, non-purchased but pleading.

    So it looks like I'm going to try and keep this up for 2014 - the books on my unread shelf are massive though (damn you Ken Follett!), so I may not get through the same amount, but I'll stick to an hour or so per night and see how it goes.

    Good reads:
    Non fiction: 28/43 [65%]
    Fiction: 20/33 [60%]




  • 1. Me Talk Pretty One Day (Sedaris). My sister tried to teach me in the ways of David Sedaris a dozen years ago on a trip to America, but I didn't get it then. I've since heard him on various podcasts and listened to his last book Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls on audiobook, so once you get his sort of tone, the books are a lot more enjoyable. This one covers some of his childhood, but mainly talks about moving to and living in France. Good start to the year (I can tell you it's about to immediately go downhill).

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  • 2. Mile 81 (King). Ugh, dreadful. I'm not even sure it qualifies as a book, but Amazon are charging money for it, so I guess it counts. Plainly knocked up by King during a couple of lunch breaks, it has no plot to speak of, and the ending is something my 10-year-old nephew would be embarrassed to write. I've got 11.22.63 on my to-read list, but I don't think I'll bother now. Very poor.

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  • 3. Slumdog Millionaire - originally titled Q & A (Swarup). It's been a while since I saw Slumdog Millionaire, but this book bears almost no similarity to the movie as I remember it. The plot is basically the same, but the details are very different. I didn't enjoy it really, the dialogue and pacing is quite simplistic, and it doesn't ring true. If I'd read it before the movie came out, I think I might have been more impressed.

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  • 4. The Mammoth Book of Alternate Histories (Watson, Whates). Over 40 stories of general 'what-if's surrounding events like the sinking of the Titanic, the rise of Christianity and the American Civil War. Thing is, none of the stories are really that interesting, they're just meh. And none of them have anything in the way of a conclusion, for some reason, they just stop (the Titanic one for example, they go through the Panama Canal and- end). Not impressed.

    This year has gotten off to a bad start, fiction-wise.

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  • 5. Who Goes There? (Campbell). I picked this up for half nothing so wasn't expecting much, and considering this is the 'novella that inspired The Thing' and I've never seen The Thing, I wasn't sure what I'd get out of it. But I enjoyed it. Running to only 200-some pages, it got into the action quickly and got to a surprising and rewarding ending very quickly. There's a lot of Basil Exposition loaded at the start (again a result of its brevity) but once you get into the story proper, it's pretty good.

    Still no interest in seeing the movie, though, but at least it broke the chain of bad reviews.

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  • 6. The Law Of The Playground (Blyth). Every now and then, I like to leave the highbrow stuff behind and delve into the lowbrow, and they don't come much more lowbrow than this. It's the book of the website that preceded the Channel 4 show by some years. I've read it before, but I wanted something light to read for a little while. At times very funny, particularly if you can relate to the various entries from your own childhood. Taxi!

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  • 7. 12 Years a Slave (Northup). Bought this late last year, just before the movie came to fruition. I enjoyed it, although I have to say I felt the account of his slavery became sort of disconnected as it went on - his descriptions of various brutal events didn't appear to have any real emotion behind them until the final chapter. I'll wait a while before getting the movie now.

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  • 8. War Room (Holley). I've been into NFL for about 15 years, and have always found Bill Belichick a grumpy malcontent, or at least that's the persona he puts out in public. This book is about him and 2 of his shining stars, Pioli and Dimitroff as they handle day to day operations of 3 NFL teams, with particular emphasis on the Draft. It delves a little too deeply into histories of inconsequential people, and it didn't change my opinion of Belichick, but it's a very good book nonetheless. You would need some NFL knowledge to enjoy it though.

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  • 9. The 100 Most Pointless Things in the World (Armstrong, Osman). Typical Christmas TV cash-in title and stocking filler, it features 100 'pointless' things, basically anything that I guess annoys the writers. With such a loose remit, the list varies wildly in the quality of humour and I found myself preferring the Osman stuff over the Armstrong stuff. It's interspersed with "pointless quizzes" which are fun enough, although far too many anagram-based questions. Not great, but harmless enough.

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  • 10. Archangel (Harris). Unlikely Stalin-based tale which treads a lot of the same themes as the Da Vinci Code in a sort of 'what if' kind of way. But where the Da Vinci Code annoys with its incongruous 'puzzles' and crime fighting professor, this one tends to be a little more compelling in its execution and character studies building to an exciting but no over-the-top climax. I enjoyed it.

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  • 11. Radio Times Cover Story. Not a novel, but a collection of 90 years worth of Radio Times covers. Not all of them, of course, but a good selection (although I'm not altogether sure of the selection process - they're not always the best or most beautiful or more iconic). This is the sort of thing I eat up, just the evolution of the cover itself, the introduction of photos, colour, changing mastheads, the arrival of multi-channel, bar codes, all that minor stuff. Very nice.

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  • 12. Naked (Sedaris). My second Sedaris book of the year, and certainly not as good as Me Talk Pretty One Day. It deals mostly with his college-age misadventures, roaming the country and doing odd jobs. It's more whimsical than satirical or funny. And then he switches gears entirely for the last chapter to talk about a naturist holiday he went on in later life which is still less "ha-ha", more "huh". Not that great, if I'm honest.

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  • 13. The Troubles (Coogan). Impressively researched tome, albeit nearly 20 years out of date now, it's mostly impartial, well written and easy to read. The short chapter on the media is very interesting, even though it spends far longer on UK media than Irish for some reason (more media, maybe?). Not sure about Coogan inserting himself into the narrative of the peace process along the way, I'm sure he was involved, but it feels self-serving, but that would be my only qualm of the whole book.

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  • 14. Imperium (Harris). More Rome-based political shenanigans courtesy of Cicero's right hand slave, Tiro. Much the same as Lustrum which I also enjoyed, although it takes place much earlier in Cicero's career. It also suffers from the same trouble of having a large cast of characters with quite similar names, and since it's politics, a sworn enemy one day quickly becomes a friend and ally and just as quickly flips to adversary again. Still pretty good, and I'm certainly enjoying Harris' easy touch with this type of tale.

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