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Simon Barrett "Il penseroso" (london, england)

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Human Evolution: A Pelican Introduction
Human Evolution: A Pelican Introduction
by Robin Dunbar
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

4.0 out of 5 stars How man became, 10 Aug 2014
Did you know the human brain (2% of us by weight) consumes 20% of our daily energy intake? That's just when it's in neutral, before any actual thinking gets done. Perhaps this is just saying brains don't weigh very much - but hey, this lucid yet learned book will give any old brain a work-out. Dunbar (Professor? Minor gripe #1 is that biographical notes, distinctly cursory, are confined to the back cover) is plainly at the top of his game. In an easy yet rigorous style a dazzling range of disciplines is brought to bear on what I suppose must loosely be termed social science - which tends habitually, in my experience, to mean no science at all. Minor gripe #2: why isn't this book put in some kind of category to help us 'situate' it, as non-fiction paperbacks used to be, and LPs too (The Dinner Ladies: urban folk) though this may have been more for record companies' convenience; I certainly never had more than one LP to file under urban folk. (Though DLs WERE in a category of their own, sort of un-cool Incredible String Band. Co-founder Mick Jackson now writes books. Hello, Mick!) My chief quarrel, though, with this beautifully lucid exposition is the occasional paucity of commas. Penguin editors, please note: punctuation is a tool of comprehension; 'minimalist' punctuation serves no one. That said, this and the Economics volume augur wonderfully well for the new Pelican Introductions series; Allen Lane's shade must be resting a tad easier tonight. 4.5 recurring


Superhero Book, The
Superhero Book, The
by Gina Misiroglu
Edition: Paperback
Price: £15.70

2.0 out of 5 stars Meh, 10 Aug 2014
This review is from: Superhero Book, The (Paperback)
What! Wonder Wart-hog (aka Philbert Desanex) doessn't make the cut - have these guys NO sense of humour?

(The hog was far from a one-hit wonder either: see Vance Bass's online bibliography, from 1962 almost to date.)


A Feeling for Books: The Book-of-the-Month Club, Literary Taste, and Middle-Class Desire
A Feeling for Books: The Book-of-the-Month Club, Literary Taste, and Middle-Class Desire
Price: £17.40

2.0 out of 5 stars Straining at a gnat, 9 Aug 2014
There are two ways of reading, Janice Radway thinks, namely a cerebral and a 'less aesthetically focused' way, to which there are two possible replies: 'What? only two ways?' or 'Didn't film put paid to that kind of dichotomy?' This is a naff book about, let's face it, naff or immature people (the notional BoTMC subscribers) that hovers always on the fringe of the ludicrous and bathetic. Naive, conflicted, ploddingly - nay ball-breakingly wordy ('as the Silver Meteor eased its way into Penn Station that crystalline morning in April'), painfully un-self-aware. At times it feels like the author herself is on the couch - teachers and reviewers look down on books that exist solely to give pleasure (page 44) - wha'? the existence of the Book of the Month Club served to 'challenge' such an attitude (page 310)? - and ye gods is she dumb. 'Thinking that I had finally gotten the point, I asked Joe, "So all books have to be instructional - even fiction?" "No, that's not it," he replied.' Proceeding at a snail's pace, part-Richard Hoggart* and part-Dwight Macdonald (you don't know Dwight? lucky old you) this attempts to put a human face on that Mad Men time before 'cultural studies' (all's relative! let all have prizes!!) when taste was a contested terrain and 'cultural cringe' (status anxiety) practically a given - but at least, where culture was concerned, money didn't call the shots. Except, arguably, at Covent Garden, where, arguably, it still does. Interestingly - to me, at least - Anne Tyler (see previous review) falls on the 'non-literary' side of the divide for Radway. Hmm. I'd say her fault for BoTMC selecters would lie in the very consistency of her product, in her being - generally - not blockbustery enough. With the exception of The Accidental Tourist, a 1985 main selection.

Postscript: the BoTMC is now defunct, finally absorbed this year by down-market arch-rival the Literary Guild. Janice Radway - witness or accesory?

* 'from.. a small tract house in New Jersey.. with one small bookcase and Time, Reader's Digest and Woman's Day on the coffee table' to (gasp!) the Ivy League - well golly gee and hot diggity


The Beginner's Goodbye
The Beginner's Goodbye
by Anne Tyler
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars '..when I asked the waitress [in the scuzzy restaurant] "What is your Merlot?" she said "It's a red wine?", 6 Aug 2014
This review is from: The Beginner's Goodbye (Paperback)
Poignant, if slight. What Tyler does she does masterfully. (Mistressfully?) She captures the male tone to perfection. (A man narrates.) '"She couldn't spell worth a damn"';'"How about I come by here tomorrow, same time, once I know what's what."' It's about emotional inarticulacy, and pain - stuff like that. '"That was my daughter-in-law did those." '"It's a done deal, Nandina. Butt out."' Note-perfect. (Her only stylistic affectation is her awkwardness around 'got'. It GREW too cold? Pur-leeze!) So how come Updike wins all the prizes?

I have to say my wife would have given this a five, but she has the advantage of being a woman


Man and Camel
Man and Camel
by Mark Strand
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars 'the sound of words breathing their last', 5 Aug 2014
This review is from: Man and Camel (Paperback)
Can a book be slight yet sustaining? The best of these are like dreams - steamtrains, horses, moon, crows. Like dreams they don't go anywhere, and that's ok

'the moon, always the moon..its lone syllable like a sentence poised at the edge of sense'

The Death poems are good (I'll say this for Death, he sure doesn't give up) but there are only a couple. The one that will I think stick in the mind is Elevator - whose life, perversely, is motion or remaining unstuck. Wanna know the worst? In Marsyas and the tedious finale Strand is simply outside his (mild dis)comfort zone. The author enjoys a singularly high reputation stateside which I still haven't quite figured out. 3.6


If On A Winter's Night A Traveller (Vintage Classics)
If On A Winter's Night A Traveller (Vintage Classics)
by Italo Calvino
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Too slight for words, 4 Aug 2014
If people enjoy this, fine - just don't call it avant anything. Bullying and self-regarding, it ain't as clever as it thinks it is. But Italy felt in need of a 'modern' to balance Dante and Petrarch (or Joyce and Beckett) and we repaid the compliment; Wikipedia captures the tone nicely, dryly telling us how he was 'lionised' in England and America. (Who was it said literary reputations, once made, are very hard to lose?) Buzzati (that novelty, an Italian genre writer, a kind of Dahl or Lovecraft) is the only other, low-flying contender. (Eco is a special case.) Italy's innovators now frisk in the shallows. They would be happy, no doubt, with a larger Italian audience

Actually, reading the (fawning) account by Mary McCarthy of this jeu d'esprit (in Bolt from the Blue), I don't think I can ever have got beyond the first chapter. Whatever. I'm losing the will to live. Maybe his problem is that he's TOO accessible? No Roussel he - or Queneau (but Queneau was no Queneau, either) or even a Harry Mathews. What am I saying, 'even'? Mathews was/is a true original


The Penguin Book of Journalism: Secrets of the Press
The Penguin Book of Journalism: Secrets of the Press
by Stephen Glover
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars 'Can it be that, in thirty years' time, old hands will reminisce mistily about the 1990s?', 3 Aug 2014
Sure can. Paean to the press (and that oddity, an original Allen Lane paperback, now in Penguin) that reads increasingly like a valediction, and no less enjoyable for that


Secrets of the Press
Secrets of the Press
by Stephen Glover
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars 'Can it be that, in thirty years' time, old hands will reminisce mistily about the 1990s?', 3 Aug 2014
This review is from: Secrets of the Press (Hardcover)
I think it can. The romance of print, when printers earned more than journalists (page 109) and nobody minded, when there seemed to be jobs for all, is captured in this oddity, a handsome Allen Lane paperback original that's let down only by its catchpenny title and absurd, would-be-sultry cover. (It became a bog-standard Penguin the following year. This paean to the press now reads like a valediction and is in no wise the worse for that. Daniel Boorstin masquerades on page 104 as Daniel Borstein - but when were journalists ever to be trusted?


A Lie About My Father
A Lie About My Father
by John Burnside
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

2.0 out of 5 stars Could be the tired self-exculpation of a drunk. Oh, it is?, 2 Aug 2014
This review is from: A Lie About My Father (Paperback)
Confession of a memoir junky: I read a LOT of memoirs. A good memoir, and they are legion, is a place one wants linger (with the odd harrowing exception, like John McGahern's superlative Memoir, where once is plenty). Surprisingly for a much-published poet and novelist, this one doesn't cut it. How did such a self-regarding work, so limply written, ever find such favour, renown even? The sympathy vote? The first sign of life arises, bizarrely, on pages 37-8 in the person of Smokey the Cat. The Dobermann has his moment too, which shows how desperate I got. (Pets R not us.)

Shorn of its portentous intro, which more or less admits this was written to excuse the author's own bad behaviour, this is a standard in-your-face, feel-my-pain, maudlin misery memoir (so you hated your father? mine smoked Kensitas, too - good God, man, so get over it!) alleviated only by the following stray felicities (I list them all): disliking his fellow Catholics more than the other lot 'made for difficulties'; anyone who did anything remotely interesting was considered abnormal (we're talking early sixties); for his mother to have seen him reading the Beano 'would have broken her heart'; 'the priest.. sat gazing at me mournfully, his mouth full of home-made Dundee cake'; 'mornings after were reserved for remorse and sweet tea, just as they were all over Scotland'; 'old priests working in their gardens, too close to God now to hear confession' - and that, my friends, is essentially that

This is an angry book. Anger is always tiresome and never tragic. Guilt's there too, of course, grudgingly acknowledged (like his father Burnside has a tendency to self-dramatise) but both males are pasteboard. So cliched does the writing become that we increasingly fall back on movie references; such life as there is is in the bit players. Even the 'poetic' writing rings false: the 'swift, furtive shadows [of birds] on the rosewater-thin curtains' (rosewater-thin?); 'in the heart of a man's heart.. [God help us there's more], in the smoky, golden, myrrh-scented chambers of his own imagery'. Well, quite. What was he on? Oh, he tells us - and the druggy bits, 'partying' (being out of it - or up oneself), are as surpassingly dull as they always are unless supported by another, non-verbal art, either musical or visual. By 'My mother was a maze of contradictions' the author presumably means 'mass'. (The unfamiliar locution merely distracts.)

I found peculiarly troubling the concern this brutalized wastrel affects to show for his 'ghost brother' Rick; but then he does prime us even before the epigraphs (before the lights go down) that this whole shebang is best treated as fiction. This is called having your cake and eating it; put another way, fiction carries more conviction. The one 'truth' is that he is a liar, like his father! Can he bear to reread this? He writes better these days; his poetry is lauded and it was a piece in the New Statesman from a recent memoir (his mother again!) that caused me to persist with this sad piece of therapy. Rarely does reading a book leave such a feeling of distaste - and for all the wrong reasons. Frank McCourt, maybe? I've not read him. I see this 'multi-award winning' book actually won precisely two, a Scotland-only prize to which it was probably entitled in what may have been a thin year (though it's a shock when we finally get to hear his mother's Scots voice - on page 298!) and a Bavarian one. No doubt in German he comes across as a bit Thomas Bernhard. Thomas Bernhard with a drinking problem? Sheesh, I can see his difficulty - I just resent the time I gave this 'fanciful tale that could just as easily have been left untold'. Self-pity, who needs it? There's one more nice(ish) moment, about 'the ignominy of dying on a bus, with strangers gawping into your face, stealing your last breath and tainting it with grease and smoke' (that 'stealing' particularly good), but the whole is tainted by the very Catholicism it strives so vigorously to repudiate. Will Burnside go for the death-bed conversion, the renegade's redemption? Watch this space. Now, where's Richard Cobb - or any of several dozen others - when you need him?


In Praise of Barbarians
In Praise of Barbarians
by Mike Davis
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.53

3.0 out of 5 stars 'The road to Guernica, Warsaw, Dresden and Hiroshima began on the banks of the Tigris', 1 Aug 2014
With the American imperial war machine in one's sights it's hard to go wrong, but much of this is tired, recycled agitprop. 'Tony Blair [recently asked] fellow EU leaders to extend white Europe's border defenses into the heart of the Third World' (2004). A background piece on Iraq brings out how odious Gertrude 'It's a wonderful thing to feel the affection and confidence of a whole people around you' Bell was, but nothing in this book quite lives up to its title. What have the barbarians ever done for us? George Lansbury is too important to have his name misspelt. Apart from any other claim to fame, he was Angela's grandad


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