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Traces of Dreams: Landscape, Cultural Memory and the Poetry of Basho
Traces of Dreams: Landscape, Cultural Memory and the Poetry of Basho
by Haruo Shirane
Edition: Paperback
Price: £17.71

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars caveat emptor - this book is not as stated by Amazon, 21 Jan 2014
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Buyer beware, indeed. This book is not as described by Amazon. This version is actually published by the University of Chicago Books, and is a short-run digital printing/print on demand book; not the "original" Stanford University Press publication. The print quality of cover and contents is dismal, rendering images all but useless. It is a rather nasty object.
Yes, the contents are probably as indicated in the Amazon/Book Depository description, though even this is in doubt as this version has 382 pages not the 397 in the product details.
Shoddy, Amazon...


David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants
David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants
by Malcolm Gladwell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £8.49

2 of 8 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars from tottering generalisations to embarrassing ignorance, 5 Jan 2014
Initially it is the short attention span, wow, awesome revelation format that annoyed me - so emblematic of the American hegemony in communication. Then, when I arrived at the chapter, "Rosemary Lawlor", and I was told that Catholics and Protestants had "lived uneasily alongside each other throughout the country's history" - I actually shouted at the book. Yes, technically speaking the statement has some truth, but even this early in the chapter it was obvious its simplification was going to ignore centuries of history. And it did, replete with wow and awesome generalisation callously illustrated with tragic scenes of government discrimination from the early 70s.
Employing The Troubles to make a generalised point is unacceptable.
A weakly formulaic book, appallingly researched, consistently generalising, and dangerous on account of its superficial plausibility.


Cuisine and Culture: A History of Food and People
Cuisine and Culture: A History of Food and People
by Linda Civitello
Edition: Paperback
Price: £28.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars a dreadful sham, 8 Mar 2013
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"Cuisine & Culture - a History of Food and People" is a dreadful sham. It superficially skims a surface of food and people, and scatters gobbets of history so briefly as to appeal only to those with the smallest attention span. Worst, it has nothing to do with the "culture" indicated in the book's title. It is very US-centric.

One US reviewer noted that the author erroneously informs us that Alaska became a US State in 1960 (the actual date was 1959). This is tantamount to giving the creation of Magna Carta a date of 1216, the Battle of Waterloo as 1816, or, as the author actually states in her discussion of Isabella Beeton, "at the end of the C19th, desperate peasant farmers from Ireland... went to the United States in search of a better life." The Irish Diaspora peaked over 50 years earlier in the Famine. She has a tendency for sweeping generalisations - for example, in discussing the medieval meal she states that "the best linen was used at the start..." This may have been true for a tiny minority, but certainly not the case for the greatest majority of folk. Her Latin is also lacking. Shameful from an author with a Masters in history from UCLA. How did these errors continue to exist in this "revised" edition, where were the editors?

If you want a book that gives you long-winded answers to simple pub quiz questions about food, then this is it, though the answers may not be correct. If you want a book that actually deals with food and culture then look elsewhere!


The Book of Barely Imagined Beings: A 21st Century Bestiary
The Book of Barely Imagined Beings: A 21st Century Bestiary
by Caspar Henderson
Edition: Hardcover

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars simply extraordinary, 17 Jan 2013
Caspar Henderson's research is simply extraordinary, such that I found myself Googling creatures just to make sure he wasn't having us on! Indeed, the Googling increased in frequency the more I read, and began to include expert's names. Henderson's erudition is not limited to science as he peppers the text with references to literature, poetry and even popular music. Personally, I found his predilection for quoting witch-accuser (woman killer) Thomas Browne to be annoying, but as this is personal bias, he'll not lose a star.

The book is beautifully designed and illustrated. The latter only adding to the mystery of the creatures described, which I am sure would only have been demeaned by full-colour images. It is really sad that Granta, of whom I would have thought better, decided to provide a faux-hardback binding for this £25 book. Glued spines and card covers are not the way to stem the tide of virtual books.

Rants aside, this is a brilliant work - wholly recommended!!!


The Flavour Thesaurus
The Flavour Thesaurus
by Niki Segnit
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.91

2 of 10 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars great concept lacking in execution, appalling printing and binding, 14 Jan 2013
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This review is from: The Flavour Thesaurus (Hardcover)
Firstly, this is a great idea, and has the potential to be truly inspirational, but it is marred by truly dreadful printing and binding.

At £18.99 I expect a stitched binding and decent paper - this book comes with rubbish paper and glue-binding hidden under a plaited ribbon to give the impression of stitching. However, a book like this needs to stay open at the page you are reading - the glue binding is always tugging back and snaps shut as soon as you release a page.

The indexical concept of the book lends itself to e-book publication so perhaps this is where it will end up? Better still, a truly interactive publication.

I don't think that the author's intentions are to provide step-by-step recipes, more to point in the direction of pairings and assemblages of tastes, textures and colours. As such, she has succeeded - ironically let down by the books own look and feel.

Perhaps the "revised edition" is a better production?


Stranger Magic: Charmed States & the Arabian Nights
Stranger Magic: Charmed States & the Arabian Nights
by Marina Warner
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.00

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars enchanted excellence, 9 Jan 2013
Stranger Magic offers an unparalleled open door into what lies beneath and beyond the stories of 1001 Nights. Marina Warner peppers her commentary on the tales with her usual startling erudition where other less persistent writers would rely merely on anecdote. An essential read for anyone seriously interested, even "just interested" in the history of fiction.

But, for all this, the book is fully accessible, and wonderful bedtime reading!!!


Dominion
Dominion
by C. J. Sansom
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.19

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars a shoddy brick of a book, 9 Jan 2013
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This review is from: Dominion (Hardcover)
The most saddening aspect of Dominion is an almost complete lack of palpability in any of the characters, settings or actions. Maybe this is a nod towards a misunderstood postmodernism, an intricate play on a Fascist England, but I lean more towards it being a simple case of very bad writing and editing. There is a clue to the latter in the book's Acknowledgements, wherein the author apologetically tells of his bone cancer in the same context as copious thanks to his editor - viz (maybe) the writing's bad, but thanks to the editor and the author's "name" it's still being published. Yes, this is harsh, but there are countless potentially better authors out there who are not getting published or promoted on account of publishers releasing books simply on the basis of the author's known name. Herein lies the demise of the printed book.

The characters are wooden, vacuous, entirely predictable, unwittingly teasing the reader into believing an author's fascist sympathies. The settings may convince a youthful readership (if that ever happens) - there is no palpable feeling for the omnipresent smog, nothing in its description gives you anything of the phenomenon; the bowler-hatted civil service is cartoon, façon Hergé's Thompson Twins; the "lunatic asylum" is a savage inaccuracy; the tokenist air-raid shelters (much praised in Mark Lawson's Guardian review) are gap-fillers to harbour spooks; Scots reader will be appalled by the anglocentric parody of Scottishness and the author's own imperialist views of the SNP. The plot, such as it is, is clear after just a few pages. And the misogyny... Enough!

This is a pitiful example of publishing a name, celebrity culture, insulting a readership - and very, very disappointing.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 28, 2013 12:47 PM BST


Joseph Anton
Joseph Anton
by Salman Rushdie
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.99

5.0 out of 5 stars an astonishing memoir, 21 Nov 2012
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This review is from: Joseph Anton (Hardcover)
This is a truly astonishing account of years of incarceration under the Khomeini's threat of death after the publication of The Satanic Verses. It is frightening, tragic, depressing, heartwarming, heartbreaking, and occasionally hilariously funny. It is also a brick of a book, so bedtime reading is a workout, but I don't share other criticisms of over-repetition.
Though I lived through the period described in the book I was shocked by how few supported Rushdie, who advocated his death, who blamed him for his woeful position, who disregarded him as he was "ugly"; how both conservative and labour politicians sided with the hate-filled as their constituencies had large Muslim population; how airlines refused to carry him; who was killed or attacked because of the book; and much much more.
It is a wonderful example of the strength of human spirit.


Sweet Tooth
Sweet Tooth
by Ian McEwan
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.19

19 of 32 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars beautifully written pulp, 8 Sep 2012
This review is from: Sweet Tooth (Hardcover)
There's an all-pervasive sense of déjà vu in this misogynist story woven around an ouroboros plot line featuring a dipsy short-skirted vicar's daughter turned lowest-level spy. Yes the pages fly by and the writing is wonderfully polished (with nominal subservience to US English), but as others have said - so what? Serena the spy grinds her way through men, writing, Cambridge, and sexist England in the early 70s oblivious to any notion of Feminism. The plot within the plot is not credible; the characters are wafer thin; the references to the social upheaval of the Heath/Wilson governments evoke memories (if you have them) rather than paint any lucid picture of how bad they were - it just doesn't work. After Solar I should have known better than to look forward to Sweet Tooth...
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 30, 2012 7:21 AM GMT


Capital
Capital
by John Lanchester
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars It's not even postmodern, 12 July 2012
This review is from: Capital (Hardcover)
Lanchester's nostalgia for Woolly's pick 'n mix morphed into cheap archetypes is missing the barrow boy who wisely doesn't bother to read the book as he knows that the author is "avin a larf..." Though perhaps Lanchester himself, as narrator, let's this slip on page 539 (of 577), "This would have been a very good way for the story to end." This latter should be in the blurb.

The assemblage of archetypes is itself predictable. They are vacuous caricatures who give the impression that they were culled from a single edition of a tory broadsheet. The young rogue trader, his 40 something incompetent boss and his profligate wife, his over-athletic German boss; a hard-working corner-shop muslim erroneously suspected of terrorism; a dying widow with a secret in the attic; a "fit" Hungarian nanny; some Polish builders; an outed Banksy clone; a 17 year-old Senegalese football sensation; a silly arse with an Aston; and an illegal immigrant black female vengeful traffic warden.

That nothing really happens in 577 gloomy bleed-through pages is not really the point. What supposedly happens within this nothing happening Soap is so already known that it has not had the chance to happen in the first or umpteenth place. And for all that, it's not even postmodern.

Whither even a hint of EastEnders' drums...


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