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corblimey has got too many books

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  • 10. Great Railway Maps of the World (Ovenden). More a coffee table book to dip into now and then, but I read it cover to cover. Train trips when on holidays are becoming something I'm more and more interested in, and this has some great maps and short descriptions from around the world. My only issue with it is it's too small. I would've like to delve into some of the maps a bit more, but the size on an A4 page is just too tiny, A3 sized would have been perfect, I'd say.

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  • 11. Wiseguy (Pileggi). Basically the book of the film Goodfellas, one of my favourite movies of all time and discovering that I'd never read the book came as a bit of a surprise to me. The movie adaptation follows the book pretty closely, although some of the let's call them 'anecdotes' were left out. It takes the form of backstory for the most part, but Henry and Karen give first hand accounts of a lot of it. A recommended read. I'm off now to watch the movie again.

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  • 12. Fever Pitch (Hornby). A re-read of what was definitely my favourite Nick Hornby book, although me now and me when I first read it about 20 years ago are 2 very different people. Back then, I was as football-mad as Hornby was and could recognise myself in his addiction. Now, not so much, so the book comes off a little navel gazey at times. When written, it had been only about 2 years since Hillsborough and the good times of the Premiership and Sky Sports were still in their infancy, so the football of then bears very little resemblance to the football of today. Not that I'd know, I can barely tell you who plays for Manchester United these days. Still, a pretty good read.

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  • 13. Adrian Mole The Prostrate Years (Townsend). The eighth, and presumably final, Adrian Mole is a bit of a misery fest, veering from melancholy to outright depression with nary a bit of the wit and sparkle of the first 2 books -- still personal favourites of mine. There's an attempt at a happy ending in literally the last page of the book which feels more like something foisted on Townsend by her publisher. Just not a fun read at all.

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  • 14. The Shallows (Carr). I don't agree with the underlying premise that the internet has rewired our brains and made 'deep reading' something we no longer do as a species. However, the book itself contains interesting histories of various objects that have had the same effect on mankind down through the centuries (maps, watches, books) so maybe in 20 years time when we're all limited to 140 characters per conversation, this will be the source of truth.

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  • 15. America Unchained (Gorman). Dave Gorman attempts to buy a car in California and cross the USA, while not paying any money to "the man", staying in independent hotels, eating in independent diners and getting gas from independent gas stations. Nice idea, but it just isn't a very good book. It's not funny, at best it's wry in places, but Gorman seems sort of bad tempered throughout. Also, like most of Dave's books, the project has no jeopardy, so when, as they usually do, he fails to keep up his end, it has no downside, and he continues writing. Bit pointless.

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  • 16. 13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi (Zuckoff). An in-depth account of the attacks on American diplomatic buildings in Libya in 2012. It starts off with an all-too-brief history of the region and then segues into an episode of 24 basically. It's not great, and veers into 'America, F**k Yeah!' territory way too often.

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  • 17. The Princess Bride (Goldman). The movie has been on my to-watch bucket for a while now, but thought I'd read the book first. It's a fairly enjoyable romp, as they say, and fun and easy read, but I don't think much of the plot device that Goldman has chosen, creating a fictional author and book from which this one has been adapted. I thought it might have a deeper satirical reason, but according to wikipedia, Goldman did it because he ran out of steam on Chapter 2. I'll give it a pass for the story within the story, which should have stood on its own.

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  • 18. The Devil in the White City (Larson). Half of this book is great, dealing with the establishment, running and dissolution of the Chicago World's Fair of 1893. The other half is less so, dealing with the tale of the man widely considered to be one of America's first serial killers, H H Holmes. The connection between these 2 stories -- that they both happened in Chicago -- is tenuous at best, and each ruins the other at worst. I want a book about the World's Fair, not a mass murderer; equally I suspect people who want a book about a mass murderer are not that interested in 19th century architecture. I'll give it a pass for the World's Fair bit.

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  • 19. Think Like a Freak (Levitt, Dubner). A departure from their previous books, this one tries to impart the wisdom the authors have accumulated in the past. They try to teach the reader how to think small, make connections, be a Freakonomist basically. I'm a big fan of the great Freakonomics Radio podcast so it was a bit disappointing that so many of the show topics I've already heard were in the book, sometimes word for word. Whether the book came first or the podcast I can't say but if you've consumed one, the other doesn't add anything.

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  • 20. No place to hide (Greenwald). Quite an interesting piece about Edward Snowden and how Greenwald came to break the NSA story. It deals first with how the 2 met and the time they spent in Hong Kong. It also deals with the aftermath as the NSA various world govts and sections of the media raced to condemn and praise in equal measure both Snowden and Greenwald. In the middle of these is a dizzying chapter detailing the invasions on privacy perpetrated by the NSA which is basically wall to wall acronyms and jargon but does paint a horrifying picture of the world in which we live. I wouldn't read this if you were in any way paranoid as it will just confirm your fears but everybody else should have a look.

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  • 21. Detroit An American Autopsy (LeDuff). LeDuff catalogs some of the miseries of life in Detroit after the collapse of the motor industry in that city. He meets the bad guys - the politicians, beurocrats, the pimps and thugs - and the good guys - the policemen, firemen and workers struggling to make a difference. The divisions are very clearly delineated by LeDuff, everything appears completely black or white - there doesn't seem to be any grey there at all.
    The stories are clearly newspaper stories written by LeDuff during his tenure at Detroit News and sometimes give a little more meat. I could also have done without the various familial based stories which seemed to be a desperate attempt to personalise the situation. It's quite a depressing little read signposting the decline of civilisation but if you want to know more about living in one of Americas poorest cities, it's certainly recommended.

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  • 22. The Abbey (Culver). To go from Detroit An American Autopsy to this makes for a sort of theme, with quite different conclusions. It's actually not a bad little novel, although I'm not sure that the hook of a hard drinking Muslim family man slash detective cop as the hero really adds anything to the genre. Most of it could've come from the hand of Michael Connelly and his Bosch character.
    The story though is pretty good, quite original, and well paced, although it feels a bit strange that we don't meet his nemesis until we're about 90% of the way through the book.

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  • 23. The Burst of Creamup (Tvcream). Tvcream is a website dealing with what they call the cream years of popular culture loosely the 70s, 80s and the early 90s. Basically my formative years. This "e"book covers some of their writing from the early noughties and runs the gamut from television to music to radio to movies, all delivered in their own inimitable style which largely consists of run on sentences and nicknames for everybody. It's impenetrable in places but mostly very good and as I say I'm the target market really. It was also nice to find out the name of that song we used to watch on hard rotation on Super Channel while in college (Hello by Twinkle, but don't Google it)

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  • 24. Jony Ive, the Genius Behind Apple's Greatest Products (Kahney) [Why yes, I was on holiday, how did you know?] The book I wanted when I originally read the Steve jobs autobiography, this concentrates on the stuff Jony, an integral part of Apple's success, designed for the company. There's quite a bit o filler about his co-workers & their histories and Jobs' presence and supposed ingenuity is on display for most of it.
    I was also going to complain that for a book about design some illustrations wouldn't go astray - I found myself breaking off from reading to Google pictures of the various machines and whatnot Ivey designed during his career. However it turns out the last 100 odd pages are all illustrations and photos. Would've been good to have the described products right there as their various aspects were being discussed in words and maybe this was a quirk of the electronic version I read, but at least they were there.

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  • 25. Armchair Nation (Moran). A highly recommended history of British television from its first presentation on a screen measuring just 1.5" by .5" through its spread across the country, the advent of colour, cable, satellite and inevitably the reality laden dross we have in the 2000s. There are some odd diversions along the way like several pages about 80s show crossroads and constant references to 50s Gilbert Harding. It also gets a little self important and pompous in places (or to be technically accurate, it quotes people who are a little self important and pompous) but it's easily the best book I've read about television and looking good for book of the year.

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  • 26. Dear Luke, We Need to Talk (Moe). Made up letters and memos connected with cultural events, both fictional and non-fictional. Funny for the most part, although quite a few of them go on far too long, and some were meaningless to me, not being familiar with Gilligan's Island or Twilight. The ones that were simple and concise though often hit the mark though (like the one to Billy Joel, the Piano Man and the eponymous letters to Luke Skywalker from Darth).

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  • 27. Console Wars (Harris). I was a Sega kid growing up, I remember hiring a Mega Drive from Xtravision every weekend I could and staying up all night playing games. This book covers this period, with Sega the young upstarts against the evil empire of Nintendo. It's not in the least bit impartial, but I still have a soft spot for them (I currently own 4 Dreamcasts) so I didn't mind too much, although it got a little wearing towards the end. I was surprised by Sony's involvement in the era too, I had always considered the PSX to be a sort of afterthought when consoles started making tons of money, but Sony are right in the middle.

    One thing that annoyed me (apart from the Nintendo bashing) was the writing style, it's done in the style of a novel, and purports to describe what people were thinking and describes conversations between people as if they were transcribed. I'm not sure I believe most of the details, but the business and public side is a lot more dependable.

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  • 28. Dominion (Sansom). I really like the premise of this book, what if Churchill had never been made Prime Minister and engaged in war with Hitler in 1939. The alternate history that is painted by Sansom is quite believable and there are some nice touches throughout. I have one problem with the book though which I won't spoil for those who want to read it:
    The main protagonist has absolutely no effect on the story. He does some stuff, but in the end, the alternate history ends without his input

    That said, I did enjoy it, although could've done without the constant backtracking as he explained what each major character was doing while you were reading about a different character. It made the timeline a little hard to follow.

    Uh, maybe I didn't like it as much as I thought :D

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  • 29.The News: A User's Manual (de Botton). Quote, Alain de Botton explores our relationship with 'the news' in this book full of his trademark wit and wisdom, end quote. Zzzz.

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  • 30. London Underground By Design (Ovenden). I really enjoyed this one, part history of the underground, part in-depth discussions of the various aspects of design on offer, from stations to trains to posters to fonts. It does get a bit 'design-y' in places -- I'm still not quite sure what a finial looks like -- but overall fascinating, and had me wanting to get back over to London.

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  • 31. Sky Maul 2 (Hauser). I have a vague recollection of reading the first Sky Maul book and not being that impressed, so quite why I bought the second one, I have no idea. It's more of the same, most of it too bizarre, surreal or outlandish to actually be funny, although I admit there are a couple of chucklesome items hidden amongst the dross ("around-the-world binoculars" springs to mind). Poor.

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  • 32. Exploring Calvin and Hobbes: An Exhibition Catalogue (Watterson). Yes, it's a catalogue to a show I'll never see, but I bought it for the Watterson interview. Unfortunately, I didn't really learn anything new from it, concentrating mostly on his well publicised distaste for comic sizing and merchandise. It does have some vintage pre-C&H work in it which was interesting and of course most of the book contains C&H cartoons that never get old. In fact, after reading this, I had to break out my Complete... so that took several weeks to read :D

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  • 33. How I Escaped My Certain Fate (Lee). Stewart Lee is easily my favourite standup, and I picked up a freshly-signed copy of this at a recent show in Belfast. It consists of 4 heavily annotated transcripts from his first shows back as a standup along with more personal fill-ins describing how the shows came about and what was going on in his life. Quite interesting in the 'how does a comedian work' kind of way, but multi-page footnotes drive me batty and certainly the first 2 shows lose a lot in transcribing to the page.

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  • 34. No Shortcuts to the Top: Climbing the World's 14 Highest Peaks (Viesturs). After the success of my last mountaineering book, I was looking forward to this, but it's no Into Thin Air. It's actually kinda dull, there's no jeopardy or sense of vulnerability. He goes up a mountain, he comes down a mountain, he goes up a mountain, he comes down a mountain. Bleh.

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  • 35. The Monuments Men (Edsel). Knowing nothing about this, I was expecting a fairly dodgy movie tie-in with the Clooney/Damon vehicle. What I got instead was a faintly interesting tale of the lengths a small team of art experts went to to preserve art and cultural artifacts during the last throes of World War 2. It's not too bad, but most of the time, I was ill at ease that I was supposed to be caring about a picture or a statue when you know that men, women and children are dying all the time. It's like 'hey never mind the war for a minute, has anyone seen a Renoir around here?'. Not for me.

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  • 36. The Areas of My Expertise (Hodgman). I have no idea what to make of this. Raised very few smiles, and is so utterly dry and bordering on surreal that a lot of time, I was very out of sorts with it. I felt like I should be more entertained than I was, and it was my fault that I wasn't.

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  • 37. When to Rob a Bank (Levitt, Dubner). As economists of some reknown, Levitt and Dubner don't appear to recognise the law of diminishing returns, as this lazy reprint of blog posts from their Freakonomics website basically proves. Each post is short and pointless, offering no insights but just asking a question. Some of the longer ones get into a bit more, but these are few and far between. This will be my last Freakonomics book and I'll be wary of the podcast too, to see if they're just phoning it in now that the guest lecture circuit is obviously working for them.

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  • 38. The Girl on the Train (Hawkins). I don't know how to review this one without coming off as misogynistic or sexist, but I just couldn't get into the minds of the 3 female protagonists. They made such baffling decisions throughout, that might make sense to someone who gets the female mind. The male characters are two dimensional and only want one thing really. By the end of it, I was willing some sort of twist, but no, if you don't know who the killer is by p50, you're not paying attention.

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  • 39. Station Eleven (St. John Mandel). Another post-apocalyptic novel, this one not using reanimated corpses for some reason (did St. John Mandel not get the memo?) but a much more likely flu-like virus. The plot is all over the place, jumping from before the virus hit to just after to 15 years later and back and around, and there's a few too many characters who add very little to the story. It also gets a bit silly in places as to how people would react and what they would do, but in terms of pacing and story telling, it's one of the better novels I've read this year and finally puts an end to a run of 5 bleh books in a row.

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