books

I love reading.

I should say that I love reading good books. And a good book is one that teaches me something, or makes me look at the world in a new way, or takes me to a place I hadn’t imagined before.

Good novels can do the last two of those criteria. Good biographies can do the first two. Good SF can do the last two. Exceptional books can do all three.  But, even if a book does only one of the above, I will still enjoy reading it.

I became a reader in my early teens, and the book that tipped me over into being a book-worm was “All Quiet On the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque. This was required school reading, and frankly, I’d rather have been outside playing football, than reading boring school stuff. But, at that time there was this thing called the Vietnam War, and I had cousins and school friends who were involved. Something in this book made me realise there was a dimension to life that I hadn’t considered, and that it could affect me and those around me, despite the fifty years that had elapsed. Why hadn’t we learnt?

Why could someone write a book like this, and no-one take any notice and allow things to happen just like they had before?

I discovered teenage idealism. I discovered that the human condition was what drove most of the authors I read to writing what they did.

The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.
Mark Twain

I then started to devour books.

Some years earlier I had done a speed reading course which taught me remarkable reading skills. It took a desire to read to make what I had been taught into something useful. Today, some large fraction of a century later, I still read at around one hundred pages an hour – and can quote you from the book afterwards, if you think I am just skimming at that pace.

I will read anything that anybody suggests. Until recently I never left a book unfinished, working on the belief that if an author went to all that trouble to write it, the least I could do was finish it before passing judgement. Unfortunately, my Kindle does seem to recommend crap, and most of the unfinished books have come in the last few years when I have paid attention to their recommendations. But they are few, luckily.

Here is what I am reading at the moment, recently finished books, and a set of the favourite books I have read.

  • The Year 200

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    “There could scarcely be a more opportune moment for the appearance in English of the late Cuban science fiction master Agustín de Rojas’s epic novel The Year 200…. De Rojas’s lucid fictional world intersects with many of our contemporary technological obsessions but charges them with remarkably distinct political valences..... A riveting narrative of espionage and geopolitical turmoil.” —Los Angeles Review of Books Centuries have passed since the Communist Federation defeated the capitalist Empire, but humanity is still divided. A vast artificial-intelligence network, a psychiatric bureaucracy, and a tiny egalitarian council oversee civil affairs and quash “abnormal” attitudes such as romantic love. Disillusioned civilians renounce the new society and either forego technology to live as “primitives” or enhance their brains with cybernetic implants to become “cybos.” When the Empire returns and takes over the minds of unsuspecting citizens in a scenario that terrifyingly recalls Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the world’s fate falls into the hands of two brave women.Drawing as much from the realms of the adventure novel, spy thriller, and political satire as from hard science fiction, horror, and fantasy, The Year 200 has been proven prophetic in its consideration of cryogenic freezing, artificial intelligence, and state surveillance, while its advanced weapons and robot assassins exist in an all-too-imaginable future. Originally published in 1990, just after the fall of the Berlin Wall and before the onset of Cuba's devastating Special Period, Agustín de Rojas’s magnum opus brings contemporary trajectories to their logical extremes and boldly asks, “What does ‘the greatest good for the greatest number’ really mean?”

  • The Boy in the Earth

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    Fuminori Nakamura’s Akutagawa Prize-winner plunges us into the depths of a young man’s winding, troubled psyche.An unnamed taxi driver in Tokyo has experienced a rupture from his everyday life. He cannot stop daydreaming of suicide, envisioning himself returning to the earth in what soon become terrifying blackout episodes. His live-in girlfriend, Sayuko, is in a similarly bad phase, surrendering to alcoholism to escape the memory of her miscarriage. He meets with the director of the orphanage where he once lived, and must confront awful memories of his past and an abusive family before determining what to do next.

  • Superior: The Return of Race Science

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    An astute and timely examination of the re-emergence of scientific research into racial differencesSuperior tells the disturbing story of the persistent thread of belief in biological racial differences in the world of science.After the horrors of the Nazi regime in WWII, the mainstream scientific world turned its back on eugenics and the study of racial difference. But a worldwide network of unrepentant eugenicists quietly founded journals and funded research, providing the kind of shoddy studies that were ultimately cited in Richard Hernstein's and Charles Murray's 1994 title, The Bell Curve, which purported to show differences in intelligence among races.If the vast majority of scientists and scholars disavowed these ideas, and considered race a social construct, it was still an idea that managed to somehow make its way into the research into the human genome that began in earnest in the mid-1990s and continues today. Dissecting the statements and work of contemporary scientists studying human biodiversity, most of whom claim to be just following the data, Saini shows us how, again and again, science is retrofitted to accommodate race. Even as our understanding of highly complex traits like intelligence, and the complicated effect of environmental influences on human beings, from the molecular level on up, grows, the hope of finding simple genetic differences between "races"--to explain differing rates of disease, to explain poverty or test scores or to justify cultural assumptions--stubbornly persists.At a time when racialized nationalisms are a resurgent threat throughout the world, Superior is a powerful reminder that biologically, we are all far more alike than different.

  • Any Ordinary Day: What Happens After the Worst Day of Your Life?

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    As a journalist, Leigh Sales often encounters people experiencing the worst moments of their lives in the full glare of the media. But one particular string of bad news stories - and a terrifying brush with her own mortality - sent her looking for answers about how vulnerable each of us is to a life-changing event. What are our chances of actually experiencing one? What do we fear most and why? And when the worst does happen, what comes next?In this wise and layered book, Leigh talks intimately with people who've faced the unimaginable, from terrorism to natural disaster to simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Expecting broken lives, she instead finds strength, hope, even humour. Leigh brilliantly condenses the cutting-edge research on the way the human brain processes fear and grief, and poses the questions we too often ignore out of awkwardness. Along the way, she offers an unguarded account of her own challenges and what she's learned about coping with life's unexpected blows.Warm, candid and empathetic, this book is about what happens when ordinary people, on ordinary days, are forced to suddenly find the resilience most of us don't know we have.

  • Milkman

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    In this unnamed city, to be interesting is dangerous. Middle sister, our protagonist, is busy attempting to keep her mother from discovering her maybe-boyfriend and to keep everyone in the dark about her encounter with Milkman. But when first brother-in-law sniffs out her struggle, and rumours start to swell, middle sister becomes 'interesting'. The last thing she ever wanted to be. To be interesting is to be noticed and to be noticed is dangerous.Milkman is a tale of gossip and hearsay, silence and deliberate deafness. It is the story of inaction with enormous consequences.