This is a collection of evocative, affecting, poetic, imaginative short stories. (Extremely short: microfiction, I think it’s called.) Some are slices of life, some are magical, some are funny, but they are all beautiful and satisfying to read.
Articles about books
The Pink Jumpsuit – Emma Neale
Reservoir 13 — Jon McGregor
This wonderful novel opens on New Year’s Day, and a girl has gone missing: the whole village has turned out to search for her. It seems that we are in for a missing person mystery, or possibly a whodunit. As days go by we meet some of the inhabitants of the village and learn about their own stories. There is also a lot about the mundane happenings of village life, and a lot about the natural world of plants and animals too as the days turn to weeks and months.Continue reading
The Flame of Reason — Christer Sturmark
This is quite a well-argued and eminently reasonable defence of atheism. It’s much more measured and even-handed than the likes of Christopher Hitchens or even Richard Dawkins. It may still be preaching to the choir, but at least it’s a much nicer choir.
Reality+ — David Chalmers
Reality+ is a compendium of half-baked speculation: part science fiction, part wishful techno-utopianism. The whole book is based on one very contentious, if not indefensible, premise: that it is possible for a simulated consciousness to actually be conscious.Continue reading
The Imaginary Museum — Ben Eastham
This is an essential essay on contemporary art. The author takes us on a tour through a fictional contemporary art museum containing real artworks. He talks a bit about the works, offering insights that allow us to appreciate them more. It’s like wandering through a good art gallery, having a wide-ranging discussion with a hugely knowledgeable but somewhat cynical friend.Continue reading
300 Arguments – Sarah Manguso
Think of this as a short book composed entirely of what I hoped would be a long book’s quotable passages
That’s one of the “arguments”, which neatly describes the book. It’s easy to review a book like this: all I have to do is quote a few of the aphorisms.Continue reading
Mystery & Manners – Flannery O’Connor
Flannery O’Conner was a 20th-century American writer who* I discovered through a cryptic reference in the computer game The Trolley Problem. This book is a posthumous compilation of her non-fiction writing, including some lectures she gave about writing (one of my favourite topics). Her writing is full of dry, arch humour:Continue reading
A Children’s Bible – Lydia Millet
One of the blurbs describe this as a “funny dystopia” and I can see why, though I feel that would be a misleading way to describe the book. The setup is not dystopian – it seems to be the present day, with a large group of families taking an extended holiday in a country house. Maybe the children would consider it a dystopia though – the adults seem to be various combinations of stupid, selfish and feckless. They seem a bit cartoonish and unrealistic to me, but maybe I’m just lucky to have mostly avoided such people in my life.Continue reading
The Gift of the Gab – David Crystal
This is a pretty good guide to effective public speaking – its centrepiece is a very detailed analysis of Barack Obama’s “Yes We Can” speech from 2008. Actually I didn’t like it as much as I thought I would – somehow I was expecting something less prosaic from the author of The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, “the most exciting, readable and comprehensive book on language ever written”. Still, this book does have lots of good advice and some useful tips if you are giving speeches or making presentations. But if you’re not, maybe just dip into The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language instead.
War and Peace — Leo Tolstoy
The War is Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812, which disrupts the Peace of Russian high society in Moscow, Petersburg and various country estates. We follow several aristocratic families as the war begins, gets worse, turns around and finally ends. Lots of characters, but mostly in the upper classes so everything is viewed through that lens.Continue reading