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Mike Foley (UK)

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A Confederacy of Dunces (Penguin Modern Classics)
A Confederacy of Dunces (Penguin Modern Classics)
by John Kennedy Toole
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

0 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Waste of time, 31 Dec. 2014
Gave up after a couple of days when I realised that I couldn't care less about the characters in this dreary book.


Absolute Beginners (London Trilogy Book 2)
Absolute Beginners (London Trilogy Book 2)
Price: £4.68

4.0 out of 5 stars The London Boys, 29 Dec. 2014
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Colin MacInnes tale is set in 1958 London, at a time of increasing prosperity, youthful exuberance and sexual emancipation. It describes a culture of "absolute beginners", teenagers who for the first time had money as well as youth on their side. They were looking for a fresh start, a world as different as possible from that of the adult "taxpayers" who ran society.

The book follows an unnamed narrator, a freelance photographer and jazz fan, as he meanders through a kaleidoscopic gallery of characters and situations over four separate days during the year leading up to his 19th birthday. Although there is a plot of sorts, the narrator really functions as a tour guide who can take the reader to places in London and introduce us to people we might otherwise never meet. The book was probably shocking at the time; the narrator shoots pornographic photos for a living and his friends include prostitutes, pimps, druggies and characters from the gay scene. There are surprising parallels with modern England; a recession is coming to an end and there are concerns about uncontrolled immigration leading to race riots. The writing fizzes with the language, optimism, arrogance and insouciance of youth - altho the narrator admits to wishing that he'd been better educated - as well as memorable descriptions of the Soho jazz scene.

The book reminded me of some of David Bowie's early songs from the 1960s, particularly The London Boys and Maid of Bond Street. It's probably no coincidence that Bowie wrote the title track and appeared in the movie adaptation of Absolute Beginners. I don't think it's a 'great book', but it was an easy and enjoyable read and I'm glad to have visited MacInnes' London scene and met his cast of characters.


Páramo Men's Maui II Cargo Trek/Travel Trousers
Páramo Men's Maui II Cargo Trek/Travel Trousers
Price: £44.37 - £63.00

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Awful fabric: binned within days, 23 April 2014
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I have a Paramo jacket and love it; made of a soft and non-rustling fabric, it's lightweight, warm and waterproof.

These trousers are nothing like it. Straight out of the bag the fabric felt stiff and crinkly, like a cross between brown paper and cotton. I should have just sent them back but foolishly wore them a couple of times and washed them, to see if the fabric would soften up. It didn't and the trousers went into the trash.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 28, 2016 11:21 PM BST


The Escape Artist: Life from the Saddle
The Escape Artist: Life from the Saddle
by Matt Seaton
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

5.0 out of 5 stars It's not just about the bike, 28 July 2013
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I've just re-read Matt Seaton's excellent book about life, death and cycling.

It describes the arc of his early adult life; discovering love and politics at university, moving with his girlfriend to London, finding work in the media, marriage, fertility treatment and the birth of his children. Overshadowing all of this is the description of how his wife, the journalist Ruth Picardie, died of cancer soon after their children were born. Through this tale of a young man's life he weaves an account of his love affair with cycling. Initially he rode bikes for recreation and for commuting but from these casual beginnings developed into a committed racing cyclist. His descriptions of the joys and hardships of competitive cycling are memorable but even more impressive are the understated accounts of his relationships; with his girlfriend, his closest cycling friends and even with his bikes. His solid friendship with Mick, a fellow bikie, was initially based on little more than a shared love of cycling and the fact that they rode along together at roughly the same speed.

After Ruth died, his responsibilities as a single parent of infant twins meant that his commitment to cycling died with her. The realisation that his life had changed for ever, that he had to give up something he cherished in order to sustain other, more important loves is one of the reasons why this book is so poignant. To become adults we put away childish things, but in our hearts we may remain forever young, seeking freedom on a bicycle.

This is one of my favourite books, not just about cycling but about life. I can't recommend it enough.


Kind Of Blue
Kind Of Blue
Price: £5.02

5.0 out of 5 stars Best album ever?, 29 April 2012
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This review is from: Kind Of Blue (Audio CD)
I was born the year this album was released and I've been listening to music ever since I can remember. I'll try almost anything musical, from punk rock to classical; this album by Miles Davis and his astonishing group of collaborators is the best of them all.

I never tire of it; it never gets boring and there's always something new to find. My favourite time to enjoy it is after a hard day at work, with the curtains closed and a cup of coffee in hand - strong and black. It transports me away from the mundane world and, like all deep pleasures, it never becomes diminished by familiarity.

Anyone who fails to give this album 5 stars must be listening to something else.


The Grand Design: New Answers to the Ultimate Questions of Life
The Grand Design: New Answers to the Ultimate Questions of Life
by Stephen Hawking
Edition: Hardcover

18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not the answer to everything, 10 Nov. 2010
Synopsis

Two famous physicists set out to demonstrate that `philosophy is dead' and that physics can explain the entire universe.

Structure

This is a well-presented and beautifully illustrated book. It begins with the assertion that physics can explain all of mankind's important questions, such as `Where did the universe come from?' and `What is the nature of reality?' As a consequence, and in their opinion, philosophy is dead. Such a statement fails to recognise the significance of any questions which can't be addressed by physicists. `What is a good life?' and `How should I live?' spring immediately to mind.

I quite enjoy a bit of arrogance and dramatic overstatement sometimes but this smacks of ignorance. It dismisses the value of anything which can't be understood by physicists and diminishes the impact of the book.

The book then provides a rapid and well-written overview of our understanding of physical laws, beginning with Newton and Maxwell and moving through to Einstein, Feynman and beyond. At this point I began to lose the plot, since I'm not a physicist. For example, an explanation of Feynman's sum-over histories of particles in the two slit experiment suggested that each particle takes every possible path in the universe between the slit and the screen. How this can happen in a finite time, given that the speed of light isn't infinite, wasn't touched upon and I for one was left uncertain of how this explanation improves the understanding of Young's famous experiment.

The book then describes something called M-theory but it's done in such an opaque fashion that I was left uninformed by the explanation. The most informative passage in the book, for me, was an illustration of why time has no meaning before the big bang. Just as you can't travel further north than the North Pole on the curved surface of the Earth, so you can't look further back in curved space-time than the instant the whole thing started. Finally we move to the answer to the questions posed at the beginning of the book. There are an infinite number of universes and we just happen to inhabit one of the many in which the physical laws permit our existence. That's fine, and may well be true, but this explanation hardly constitutes the answer to all of the questions of philosophy.

Strengths

This is a well produced, well written and attractive book which includes a good summary of the major physical laws of the universe.

Weaknesses

The book failed to adequately explain M-theory and confused the inquiries of moral philosophy with those of theoretical physics. The authors demonstrate a degree of arrogance which doesn't engage the sympathy of this reader.

Conclusion

I enjoyed reading the book, even though I felt that it failed to achieve its purpose and convince me that physics can now provide an explanation of the universe. I think that the authors would benefit from getting out of their physics labs and maybe listening to some Beethoven.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 13, 2011 8:26 AM GMT


The Buddha, Geoff and Me:  A Modern Story
The Buddha, Geoff and Me: A Modern Story
by Edward Canfor-Dumas
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

16 of 34 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Mystical nonsense, 25 Mar. 2010
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I came to this book with high hopes, having read the positive reviews. A modern novel which demystifies Buddhism; what a good idea. I've a little experience of meditation practice and have read a variety of Buddhist literature. Usually I find myself disappointed, as what begins as a discussion of the philosophical truths and the pragmatic benefits of Buddhism degenerates into nonsense about reincarnation and past lives, or visualisation of deities and life forces, with untranslatable Sanskrit terms or Japanese paradoxes scattered about like dust to blind one's eyes.

This book is sadly no different. It begins reasonably well, if predictably; protagonist Ed has a life crisis, loses girl, loses job, asks what it's all about. He meets a down to earth Buddhist who can provide explanations and advice. Ed is reluctant to take to Buddhism but finds that it brings tangible benefits and, after the usual struggles, bows to the inevitable, embraces his new religion and lives happily ever after. He even gets his girl - but not the one he started with. The book is written competently, with nouns, verbs, grammar and spelling in all the right places, but it completely failed to grip this reader. The tone is clearly instructional and the quality of the story is obviously secondary to the author's determination to get his Buddhist message across.

Sadly the message rapidly degenerates into nonsense about the benefits of 'chanting', the effect of one's 'past lives' on one's present 'karma' and other idiocies. Apparently the author was educated at the University of Oxford but obviously not in any school which taught the benefits of rational thinking. This is a great shame, as my understanding of Buddhist philosophy is that one need not believe in gods, pixies or anything else which doesn't exist, in order to live a good and meaningful life. Buddha instructed us to be a light unto ourselves, not to fall at the feet of sages with shallow and obscure messages. Unfortunately this book fails to provide any sensible illumination of his teachings beyond New Age wishful thinking. And the pages in which the author tries to explain why 20th century European Jews suffered the Holocaust ( basically they deserved it because of bad karma in previous lives ) are beyond parody and in very poor taste.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 15, 2013 12:33 PM GMT


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