Tuesday, April 25, 2017

april 2017 books…

The Idiot Brain (Dean Burnett): This is a very entertaining and illuminating book. Its front cover boldly describes it thus: “a neuroscientist explains what your head is really up to”… and that just about sums it up. It endeavours to explain such things as how the memory works, panic attacks, depression, motion sickness, forgetting people’s names, false memories… At times, I felt somewhat numbed by scientific facts, but Burnett has a wonderful knack of being able to explain complicated stuff in a very simple (frequently very funny) way. He also highlights some very bizarre examples, such as: researchers who first looked into the phenomenon of less-intelligent people being more confident were “inspired by reports of a criminal who held up banks after covering his face with lemon juice, because lemon juice can be used as invisible ink, so he thought his face wouldn’t show up on camera”. Precious!  
Wilderness Taunts (Ian Adams): This is the second of my Lent books (written by my brilliant friend Ian Adams). It’s a tough book of daily reflections/meditations – reflecting Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness. Challenging messages and, as the title suggests, taunts… but also there’s light. Maybe these taunts and challenges turn out to be gifts that help us to better understand who we are and whatever is being called of us? Despite its hard questions, I found the book both accessible, relevant and hugely thought-provoking (it also contains Ian’s beautiful, haunting photographs). A really excellent resource that I know I’ll continue to revisit.
London Transport Posters (Michael F Levey): This beautiful book tells the story of London Transport’s championing of poster art from 1909 until 1976 (thanks to the vision of Frank Pick, from the time he joined LT in 1906). I’ve always loved posters and, over the past couple of years, have been taking an increasing in the work of Fred Taylor (1875-1963) – who was born in London and designed posters for London Transport between 1908 and 1947. The book only contains 80 posters, but they’re enough to capture and highlight this particular art form born of our modern industrialised society. I really enjoyed this book… and it has also drawn my attention to several other talented artists, such as: E McKnight Kauffer, William Roberts, Oleg Zinger, FC Herrick and Charles Pears.
The Man In The Wooden Hat (Jane Gardam): Moira had recently read and very much enjoyed this book (it’s part of a trilogy), so I thought I’d give it a ‘go’. On the face of it, it really isn’t ‘my sort of thing’, but I was quite, quite wrong. It’s about a judge, his colonial upbringing and career, his long marriage, his rivalries and friendships… and told, in the main, from his wife’s perspective. It’s an evocative, charming, sometimes difficult, story about love, about people, about secrets… and about growing old. Gardam is a stunningly good writer and this was an exceptionally good book (I can’t wait to read the other two).
Book Of Longing (Leonard Cohen): Cohen has been something of a life-long hero for me. I’ve loved his songs right from the late 1960s. This book (first published in 2006) is a new collection of his poetry and writings – mainly taken from the mid-1980s onwards. For me, there are times when his work seems to have a sense of the ‘emperor’s clothes’ and leaves even me thinking: “I could have written that”, but I very much enjoyed the book. In a way, it tells the story of a life – sometimes playful, sometimes colourful, frequently erotic and occasionally angry. It also, perhaps, contains the arrogance of the idolised. Some of the pieces were subsequently used as song lyrics for the album “Ten New Songs”. One of the surprising joys, for me, was the inclusion of several of Cohen’s own illustrations (often quick, scribbled self-portraits ridiculing his ageing features!). Having finished the book in the early hours (not being able to sleep), I found the following words from his poem “I Am Now Able” wonderfully ironic (as well as not sleeping, I hardly ever use the telephone!): “I am now able/ to sleep twenty hours a day/The remaining four/are spent/telephoning a list/of important people/in order/to say goodnight…”. I’ll continue to dip into this rather lovely book.

No comments: