This is my first exposure to Neuroscience, which seems to be very fashionable these days. There was a lot of fascinating material in here but to be ho...moreThis is my first exposure to Neuroscience, which seems to be very fashionable these days. There was a lot of fascinating material in here but to be honest it took me ages to read and I was distracted a lot of the time. It does sound as if Neuroscience may be able to solve a lot of mysteries about the mind, the self, human nature etc... I'll have to explore it further later on. (less)
Having read a few reviews of the new biography of Philip Roth I got the itch to read him again and decided to pull American Pastoral off the shelf. Th...moreHaving read a few reviews of the new biography of Philip Roth I got the itch to read him again and decided to pull American Pastoral off the shelf. This novel is generally regarded as Roth at the height of his powers, after Sabbath's Theatre and commencing the great trilogy with I Married a Communist and The Human Stain.
All of the Roth books I had read up until this point feature wild, passionate, non-conformist characters talking and behaving shockingly. This novel is very different in that it is a love letter to ordinary, middle-class, responsible, suburban life, and explores the consequences of these ideals being shattered for a man that epitomises these values. Swede Levov is a champion high school athlete, a responsible, conscientious person from a loving family, a handsome, hard working man whose greatest desire is to live a good life, be a good husband and father. This all falls apart when his daughter becomes radicalised in the 60's by the Vietnam war and the counter-culture.
Some people have criticised Roth for presenting a caricatured, un-nuanced picture of left wing radicalism. I think many of these critics are missing the distinction between Philip Roth, the author, and Swede Levov, the protagonist. Roth is portraying Merry Levov, the Newark riots, the Black Panthers and the Weathermen as it would appear to a man like Swede. It isn't supposed to be an objective portrait, and I don't think this book is supposed to represent Philip Roth's personal opinions. That's the beauty of the novel.
Ultimately, beautiful though this book is, I prefer Roth in his full on, unhinged, furious, mouth foaming glory, as in Sabbath's Theatre. (less)
Good, if not as great as I thought it might be considering that it is one of the biggest, most discussed books of the last 15 years. Dave Eggers share...moreGood, if not as great as I thought it might be considering that it is one of the biggest, most discussed books of the last 15 years. Dave Eggers shares with David Foster Wallace a tone that is arch and metafictional, but also earnest and emotional, which has come to be the house style of a generation of writers. Late Postmodernism with heart. I have to say that whilst I enjoy the works of this generation of writers, I always feel that there is something wanting and they aren't up to the standard of the preceding Mount Rushmore of writers. There is always great stuff in a book by Eggers, or Foster Wallace or Zadie Smith etc... but I feel like their obvious desire to have it all, to be sophisticated experimentalists and appeal to the heart, always leaves them falling between two stools and not quite achieving either aim. They don't have the radical formal innovation of Pynchon, Delillo, Barthelme, or the searing, visceral appeal to the gut and the heart that Roth or Kerouac have. I think that Franzen is actually the best writer of this group of peers as in The Corrections and Freedom he just decided to stop playing games, stop trying to be cool and just write like a straight forward realist in the style of Tolstoy and George Elliot. The formal experiments in this book do serve a purpose, in making it possible to discuss tragic and emotional issues without descending into maudlin, tearjerker, misery memoir territory. However, the formal innovations don't seem particularly new, necessary or exciting. The first time you read Virginia Woolf or Samuel Beckett or Georges Perec the formal experimentation is thrilling, opening up previously unconceived vistas of thought and possibility. Here it seems perfunctory. I don't know what it is, but I feel like this generation of writers are not moving fiction in new directions. I don't know if it's because they all grew up absolutely saturated in popular culture but in some ways their writing seems middle brow, too close to TV and magazines and the internet. It lacks that quality that great writing of the past had, where reading it exposed you to a certain something you weren't going to get anywhere else, a unique vision and voice that wasn't part of the general cacophony. (less)
Entertaining travelogue exploring beer and pub culture across the world. Makes me seriously want to visit Belgium and Portland, Oregon. Belgium just w...moreEntertaining travelogue exploring beer and pub culture across the world. Makes me seriously want to visit Belgium and Portland, Oregon. Belgium just went from being somewhere I wasn't bothered about going to to somewhere I would like to get to this year.
I was delighted by a cameo appearance from Don Delillo in this book as he is one of my favourite writers, and as it turns out also one of Pete Brown's favourite writers. Brown is introduced to him my their shared publisher and it turns out Delillo is a massive beer fan who mostly drinks Bass ale.
I was also fascinated to learn that beer is really much more central to history and culture than I had realised, and it is also much bigger business than I had thought. At the time he wrote this book the value of beer sales in America alone was $75 Billion, more than film, music or mobile phones. He also fillets the Anheuser-Busch company throughout the book, exposing them as not only brewers of perhaps the worst beer in the world (Budweiser), but an appalling business run by an appalling family. The story of how they keep trying to crush Budvar makes for some enlightening reading.
I'll definitely pick up a Pete Brown book if I'm in the mood for a light read. (less)
Excellent diagnosis of the impact of the internet upon modern civilisation. A lot of people, myself included, have developed concerns about the effect...moreExcellent diagnosis of the impact of the internet upon modern civilisation. A lot of people, myself included, have developed concerns about the effect of being online all the time, and this book pulls together the research and arguments to clarify what is happening to us and why it is a cause for concern.
Carr argues that we are going through a revolution in human consciousness and entering a post-literate age and that feels right to me. He draws upon the work of Marshal Mcluhan as well as recent scientific research to demonstrate the effect of different forms of media on the human brain, and shows that our brains are actually being remoulded by extensive exposure to the net. He looks at the historical impact that developments such as the invention of writing, accurate maps and modern clocks and watches had upon us, and most significantly discusses what a revolution in human consciousness the invention of the Gutenberg Press and cheap and easy access to books created. Post-Gutenberg Europeans were the in many significant ways the product of books and a literary culture, which seeped into miriad aspects of life. Today this model of human consciousness is being supplanted by a new kind of person, a new model of being.
The book flavoured culture we are currently evolving out of encouraged deep engagement, long term thinking, a weighing up of different points of view to come to your own conclusions, individuality, idiosyncrasy, depth etc... The internet flavoured culture we are entering encourages breadth over depth, constant stimulation over contemplation, a flattening out of differences and idiosyncrasies and a reduction in personal knowledge. We have access to far more information, data and content than ever before but this avalanche of information is overwhelming us, and we are abdicating our need to retain hold personal knowledge or skills in our heads in favour of outsourcing it to the internet, treating it as a mental external hard drive. Neuroscientific and psychological studies show that it doesn't work the way we think it does. In fact abandoning the need to know and recall things ourselves in favour of accessing this information online doesn't free up mental space for us to use differently, but in fact just leaves those parts of the mind we would have used dormant, reducing the amount of our brains we use.
The problem is this book diagnoses an issue which seems irreversible. I suppose it is a warning about what we are entering and a swansong for what we are losing. The author originally decided to write this book after noticing that he found it increasingly difficult to concentrate for long enough to read a book or long article, or focus upon writing. His brain had become accustomed to the constant stimulation and distraction of being online, and wondered how the mentality of a grown man could be so altered. I have noticed the same thing happening to me. I have read voraciously for most of my life but I have noticed that I find it much harder to concentrate than I used to. There are books I have read before which I imagine I would really struggle with today.
As Carr acknowledges the internet is an amazing medium which brings huge benefits to us. He isn't a luddite and doesn't think there is any chance we are going to give up this technology, but he is trying to make us aware of what we are losing in the process. (less)
A bit of a mixed bag. An interesting look at the history and culture of the IPA, as well as a general history of British brewing, with some IPA recipe...moreA bit of a mixed bag. An interesting look at the history and culture of the IPA, as well as a general history of British brewing, with some IPA recipes. It confirms what I have suspected for a while, which is that the current craft beer boom is in fact a return to an older native tradition of brewing. Partizan and Kernel both produce stouts that are about 9% which are in fact late Victorian recipes which they found and revived. This book shows that the original IPA's were around 10% ABV. Beer became watered down and weaker in this country through a combination of raised taxes for higher ABV beers, pressure from temperance societies and the increasing popularity of lagers. Whenever a typical traditional ale drinker sneers at this upstart American import of strong craft beers it's good to know that you can point out that in fact this is real traditional British beer, the traditional CAMRA style ale is the upstart, and that their great-great-Grandads weren't such a bunch of pansies. (less)
Fairly good investigation of the causes and consequences of business and the private sector supplanting the role and power of government. A lot of wha...moreFairly good investigation of the causes and consequences of business and the private sector supplanting the role and power of government. A lot of what Hertz describes was already known to me. I don't know if this is because she was ahead of the curve and her ideas have gradually filtered through to wider public consciousness or because I have become more interested in political and economic issues in the last couple of years. Either way, it's worth reading. It's interesting partly because she writes from the perspective of an apostate, having once been an economist who was sent to Russia after the fall of communism to make it ready for capitalism. (less)
A decent novel. It was funny and well written. However, I did find it relentlessly bitter and negative. There weren't enough light spots to provide co...moreA decent novel. It was funny and well written. However, I did find it relentlessly bitter and negative. There weren't enough light spots to provide contrast in the gloom. Nicholson Baker has a lighter touch, Philip Roth can touch heights of passion and Joseph Heller is just funnier. (less)
Pretty funny parody of the celebrity autobiography but ultimately Partridge works better over the course of a half hour episode then he does over the...morePretty funny parody of the celebrity autobiography but ultimately Partridge works better over the course of a half hour episode then he does over the course of a 310 page book. (less)
It took me a long time to read this. It's pretty clear what the constant stimulation of the digital age has done to my ability to concentrate and read...moreIt took me a long time to read this. It's pretty clear what the constant stimulation of the digital age has done to my ability to concentrate and read epic poetry.
Wordsworth has always been my least favourite of the great sextet of English Romantic poets. I found his lyrical ballads to be a bit lachrymose, sentimental and prosey. However, I went to the Lake District for the first time a couple of weeks ago so I decided to read this as part of the whole experience. As it turns out it is great. This feels like the key text of Romanticism to me. It has all of the key themes and you can see how it fits into place amongst the other artistic revolutions taking place in this era. It intimately records Wordsworth responses to nature, demonstrating a pantheistic spirituality he later tones down in the revised 1850 edition. He shows us his joy and excitement at what appears to be the dawn of a new Democratic era in which all men are brothers following the French Revolution. The idea of writing an epic poem on the theme of your own autobiography is something I can't see happening before the Romantic era, and it is part of what makes it distinctly modern. Wordsworth shows us his childhood among the lakes, his youth, his University years, walking in the Alps and then living in France during the revolutionary period. His autobiographical insight and candour put me in mind of Rousseau's Confessions and the descriptive passages on scenery and landscape recall Caspar David Friedrich and J.M.W. Turner.
The loose, free style works well over the course of an epic poem, and you could see Wordsworth as the beginning of a tradition that would lead towards Walt Whitman, Kerouac and Ginsberg. The exploration of autobiographical, psychological themes would also eventually lead to the likes of Proust.
I think our age would really benefit from a resurgence of Romanticism, but I don't see that happening any time soon. (less)
Superb. I finished this book with a far clearer understanding of the events and culture that lead to the economic crash of 2008, and a general feeling...moreSuperb. I finished this book with a far clearer understanding of the events and culture that lead to the economic crash of 2008, and a general feeling of simmering fury. I would introduce this book as a set text in schools because as Lanchester makes clear, there is an enormous gulf in understanding of how finance and economics works between the people in the industry and the new laity. This lack of understanding is partly what has allowed the financial services sector to take over the western world, and I mean that to sound as strong as it does.
This book is short, pithy, witty and accessible. You could not ask for a better introduction to the economic crisis. What the crisis amounts to is the doom of the Anglo-American capitalist system, and we have nothing to put in it's place. The real pain hasn't even begun yet. (less)