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corblimey has got too many books

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  • 14. Notes from a Big Country (Bryson). I like Bryson, the travel writer; I really like Bryson, the history enthusiast; but Bryson, the column writer - not so much. All the usual subjects are in there, taxes, driving, consumerism, crazy laws, blah blah. Bryson doesn't add anything unique to these old tropes and at times I felt like I was reading Dave Barry which I've not done since I was about 15. It's also strange that Notes from a Small Island is a very good travel book, you'd think the 'Notes from a' strand would be consistent.

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  • 15. Into The Wild (Krakauer). I've enjoyed every other Krakauer book I've read but this one didn't hit the mark for me. I think it's down to the subject matter, a college kid named Alex who decides to live off the land in unfriendly terrain of Alaska and never comes home. Frankly all the reminisces and communication from Alex makes him sound like a self deluded sanctimonious bell end and despite Krakauer's best efforts to temper that attitude with a "there but for the grace of God go I" chapter (which I have to admit is very good) the whole book left a sour taste in my mouth.

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  • 16. Frozen in Time (Zuckoff). Krakauer is also referenced in this book, in a brief exchange between the author and a guy who wants to go to Greenland to find a missing plane. The story hops between this expedition and the original story of 3 planes going down in Greenland during World War 2. For some reason, 2 of the planes are pretty much story non-grata almost immediately, and the plane Zuckoff gets involved in trying to find is one of those, so it's a weirdly structured story. But the historical element is outstanding, well paced and researched and there's a touching "what happened to them after the war" chapter towards the end. Compelling.

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  • 17. Underground (MacAulay). A look at what lies beneath our streets. I'm really not sure why I bought this book - I think it was recommended by Cool Tools which should have been a clue. I'm not at all sure who it's for, basically. It seems too advanced for kids, and too simplistic for civil engineers and too civil engineery for the rest of us. It's also quite old, 1976, so woefully outdated, I'm sure. If I knew about these things. Which I still don't.

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  • 18. Walk the Lines: The London Underground, Overground (Mason). The author follows all 11 (well 10 and a bit) Underground lines by walking the streets of London. It's an ok read, gets a bit navel gazey in places (expected as he walks some 400 miles mostly on his own and sometimes at night) and the lengthy interviews sprinkled throughout are unnecessary. I think you'd also need a knowledge of the areas he quickly passes through: it seemed more interesting to me when he was describing sections with which I am familiar (which were few and far between).

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  • 19. Empire (Ferguson) Fairly unbiased and very readable account of the rise and fall of the British Empire. The first part, describing the acquiring of the various parts of the Empire is very interesting, I had no knowledge of most of it. The second part -- the dissolution -- less so, mostly as it's a series of wars and battles that are better described elsewhere. Good read though.

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  • 20. A History of Food in 100 Recipes (Sitwell). The author describes 100 events in food history and tries to to place them in the context of a recipe of that time. The concept doesn't work very well, the recipes are tangential at best, and the events described are only really getting going when he has to stop and start a new chapter. I would've preferred an unfettered history, although it took me long enough just to read this, I suspect a full food history would take years to read. I'll give a pass for the content.

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  • 21. The Road to Little Dribbling: More Notes From a Small Island Paperback (Bryson). Back when I read Notes from a Small Island, I suggested that Bill do a follow up, and it looks like he read my review and did just that! However, this is not a great book: the title is terrible; Bryson seems cranky and in "modern life is rubbish" mode throughout; he spends most of the book in southern England, and about 10 pages in Scotland making it feel unbalanced and rushed; there are long pointless tangents throughout. It's just not up to his usual travel book standard, and perhaps another nail in the coffin for my continuing to blindly buy all his books.

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  • 22. The Spread of London's Underground (Demuth). On a recent visit to London, I bought 2 books onsite at London Transport Museum. This was one. It's basically a book of tube maps from its inception, and how it appeared at the end of each decade since, drawn in the contemporary fashion. I hate myself that I'm so fascinated by it, and it's really one to dip in and out of, not read all in 1 go like I nearly did. Great if you're into this sort of thing, you weirdo ;)

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  • 23. Story of Ireland: In Search of a New National Memory (Hegarty). One of my least favourite subjects in school was History, filled as it was with dates and murky facts. I was surprised by how much actually seeped in as I read this history though, and some of it actually started to make sense. So much sense in fact that I'd like to go back and do my history inter cert all over again, although I suspect the curriculum these days is more about iPods and Tamagotchis, and less about the Flight of the Earls so maybe not.

    Recommended. Not sure about that high falutin' subtitle though.

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  • 24. 23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism (Chang). Randomly picked up on Amazon last year, I really only cracked it open because my 'to be read' shelf is rapidly dwindling to behemothic volumes. It's fine, perfectly readable although it doesn't really make any startling statements. The history of capitalist concepts contained in each 'thing' is quite interesting.

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  • 25.City of Gold: Dubai and the Dream of Capitalism (Krane). I really enjoyed a week I spent in UAE late last year, and picked this up while I was there. The book is slightly unbalanced, spending more time on how great UAE and Dubai in particular is (with a bit too much focus on the lives of the ruling sheikhs) and less time on the consequences of what's going on out there, with its horrendous energy needs, lack of civic planning, etc. Very interesting nonetheless, and makes me want to go back and see some more of the place.

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  • 26.The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag (Chol-Hwan). I was hoping for a read similar to Nothing to Envy or even Survival in the Killing Fields but this wasn't quite on the same par. Perhaps the issue is the age of the protagonist when he's both incarcerated with his family for no good reason and then let go for even less good reason. Maybe being only 9 at the start sheltered him somewhat from the harsh realities (although what he had to do as nine-year-old is still appalling and oppressive). Once he gets out, things pick up a little, and the next stage of this life is quite interesting but it never really grabbed me. The horrendous thing of course is that this isn't based centuries ago or even the mid-20th century: this is happening right now - the camp he was in has its own Wikipedia page!

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  • 27. Robo-Hunter: The Droid Files Vol. 1 (Wagner, Gibson). I chose this ahead of starting to read the last book as I thought it'd be a good antidote. As it was, Aquariums of Pyonyang wasn't as bad as I feared, and this wasn't as good as I'd hope. Gibson was my favourite artist growing up, the work he did on Halo Jones was superb, but this is less so. Maybe he's still learning his craft or something, but it's definitely not as polished as the later work. In the meantime, the stories themselves are lengthy and meandering, something that probably wouldn't be as noticeable when you're 10 and getting 5 pages every week.

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  • 28. Isaac's Storm: The Drowning of Galveston (Larson). Superb account of the 1900 hurricane that basically wiped out Galveson, TX. Told from the viewpoint of several residents, including the employees of the US weather service, then a fairly new organisation that was just finding its feet. It includes an unnecessary brief history of the weather service and several (thankfully short) chapters describing the formation of the hurricane out in the Carribean, but the few chapters on the night of the hurricane itself makes up for any shortcomings.

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  • 29. The Great Game: On Secret Service in High Asia (Hopkirk). I think I've found my book of the year, it's definitely going to take something special to eclipse this look at 100 years of antagonism between Russia and England and how it played out in the countries of Central Asia. The subtitle makes it sound like it's going to be about the British stiff upper lip and those darned uncultured Russkies, but it's nothing of the sort, and goes some way to explaining why that region is still in such a state centuries later. Highly recommended to anyone with a love of history, Asia, stories of derring-do or just blooming good books.

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  • 30. The Poisonwood Bible (Kingsolver). Hated it. Nuff said. Okay, maybe a little more; didn't like the situation, the characters, the writing style, the mild racism, the plot or anything about it. Love the name 'Kingsolver' though.

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  • 31. Japan At War (Zavo). I applaud the effort, and while the parts of the book that deal with the situation unfolding in the Far East are interesting, albeit probably told better in other books, the vast majority of the book is given over to memoir-style vignettes from Japanese and others who were involved in the war effort. As per most memoirs, it's fairly biased ("I don't think I was doing anything wrong killing all those Chinese") and I've already decided I dislike memoirs, so it never stood a chance really. Back to actual history, I think.

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  • 32. Charlie Brooker's Screen Burn collection (Brooker). I've been reading non-books (well non-fun books) for the past few weeks, so my leisure reading has been reduced to bed time only again, like the bad old pre-2013 days. I have managed to read the 4 Charlie Brooker Screen Burn column collections, Screen Burn, The Hell Of It All, Dawn of the Dumb and I Can Make You Hate. I prefer the older stuff (being the hipster I am) when he concentrated on TV and less of the op-ed pieces, but in my increasing dotage, I'm starting to warm to the latter with each re-read.

    Hopefully, the new year will let me get back to proper reading, but I've also got to restock my bookshelves - the stuff on it right now just doesn't my skirts up.

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  • 33. Get a Life!: The Little Red Book of the White Dot (Burke). I thought this would a fun examination of why TV is "bad" and doing other stuff is "good", but it's actually taking itself so seriously, I gave up about halfway through. Plus I don't have a problem with tv watching. I could give up any time. Ooh, there's a MacGyver reboot?!


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  • 34. All in the Best Possible Taste: Growing Up Watching Telly in the Eighties (Bromley). Well that title says it all, the author grew up in the 80s, watched TV and er.... that's it. More or less a list of 80s tv shows and what they were about. No insights or wry observations or anything that would set it apart from the hundreds of lists books available. Sort of pointless.




  • 35. Real Roy of the Rovers Stuff!: Roy's True Story (Tomlinson). Barrie Tomlinson was the editor of both Tiger and Roy of the Rovers in the late 70s, 80s, during the hey day of these comic institutions. A book by him should be fascinating, dealing with day to day life at the helm of 2 of the most popular comics around, how they came to be, what were the pitfalls and what were the glories. *Should have*. Instead, it's an extremely short book divided up into several sections, all of which are short and bare bones. Roy Race's life story, a chapter about press releases (!), some pictures of a RR cutout standing near some celebrities. Finally, towards the end, there's a short section on how the strip was written and drawn, but far too short.

    Most annoyingly, Barrie tries repeatedly to assure us that Race is a real person, and anything that he did as an editor had "Roy's blessing". This implies to me that the audience for this is a lot younger than me, but this really is one for those of us who actually bought the comic, surely?!

    Terrible.




  • So 2016 stopped short of previous years. It looks like once I read my book of the year, The Great Game, I lost interest in what was left on my shelf, basically. Which is sort of true. Everything on my shelf as of early December is a tome, and I just didn't have the energy for them. So a couple of Amazon trolley dashes later and my shelves are stocked again for 2017. Here's my personal top 10 for 2016:

    Title|Author
    The Great Game: On Secret Service in High Asia|Hopkirk
    Isaac's Storm: The Drowning of Galveston |Larson
    Made in America|Bryson
    The Martian |Weir
    Frozen in Time |Zuckoff
    Story of Ireland: In Search of a New National Memory |Hegarty
    Down Under: Travels in a Sunburned Country|Bryson
    The Genius |Harris
    Penguin Lessons |Michell




  • 1. Alan Partridge: Nomad (Partridge). For a while, nobody could touch Bill Bryson's walking books for me - I even modelled my vacations on him for a while - albeit recently his travel work leaves a lot to be desired. Steve Coogan's travelogue is basically Bryson, but for idiots. His intended aim is to walk some 150 miles in honour of his father who did the same journey (in a car, mind) some years before. Very funny in places, although I'm not sure taking in the events of the AP movie was a wise move, as that movie is pretty bad. Good start to the year though.




  • 2. War Horse (Morpurgo). For me, this was a case of "you've seen the play, the movie and the tv show, NOW read the book." It's a short read and I may have been overexposed to other versions of it, but there were no surprises. It's a great book, don't get me wrong, but perhaps I should've waited a while longer before diving in.




  • 3. Collected Works of 27b/6. Victorian Edition (Thorne). Well, this was an odd thing to buy. I was expected 'collected' works, I got 100 pages consisting of one paragraph mostly taken out of context from Thorne's writing along with a 'Victorian' style picture beneath it. And... that's it. fair due to Mr.Thorne for rehashing previous books in spectacularly lazy style, but I'm done.




  • 4. $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America (Edin, Shaefer). Passably interesting account of poverty in America. It focuses on a couple of towns, and the people who live on the eponymous $2 a day, and why they can't get out of the poverty trap. It reminded me of Nickel and Dimed, which I read a few years ago, but this felt more truthful. I just wish the authors had used the phrase "$2 a day" so often, as if they were trying to make it a thing. Stop trying to make "$2 a day" a thing, Edin.




  • 5. Miracle In The Andes (Parrado). I'll be honest, when I started reading this book about a flight that crashes in the Andes with a team of rugby players aboard, I didn't it was that flight and that team, but it is. Parrado glosses over most of the "unpleasantness" and concentrates on describing the unbelievably harsh conditions in which the survivors find themselves. His journey to rescue is equally unbelievable, but of course, it's all true. There's a short section about what happened afterwards with Parrado going on to racing cars for a living (cos why wouldn't you), but the meat of the story is truly fascinating.




  • 6. The Paypal Wars (Jackson). Completely biased account of the little start-up that could, Paypal, and the monstrous thug it had to fight with on a daily basis, eBay. I'd really like to read a version from eBay of the same time period (I've added The Perfect Store to my basket in anticipation), but it's pretty good nonetheless. I do think the writer should have stopped using foreshadowing so much - every sub chapter ends with some twist on the phrase 'little did I know that things were about to get a lot more difficult...'. Poor writing choice when it's overused.


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  • 7. Waterford Whispers News 2016 (Williamson). I'd never heard of WWN before I joined Facebook middle of last year, and while its articles are relatively amusing (although these days, I have to check it's not WWN when I read something Trump has done), I was surprised it had enough of a following for there to be a book (and the third one aswell). I got it as a stocking filler and while it's very like the Onion in terms of parody and most of the time, the headline is the funniest part, the Irish slant keeps it interesting - at least until they start talking about some Irish celebrity, of whom I have never heard.


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