Lexicon – Max Barry

Its a bank holiday weekend and the sun is shining. So what could be better than to lie in the garden and read a book.

I had picked this one up because for a while I played Nation States, so I recognised Max Barry’s name on the cover.

Lexicon is immediately obviously a book about the power of words. But beyond that, things unfold gradually, so the themes of the book are horrifically spoilery. But I found it fascinating, with all the pieces not falling together until very near the end, and enough hints to keep me putting most of the picture together and such that nothing felt out of place.

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The Library Book

These days when I go to the library its rarely alone. I’ve taken my full-of-beans son, and once he’s chosen his three books (I keep it to a number I can keep track of in the house whilst he’s still pre-reading age) he just wants to use the computer and get out. So I do less browsing than I once did and more grabbing books off stands that look vaguely interesting.

Its not terribly surprising that the local library has a few copies of this book written to make the case for public libraries and to fund-raise for them. My heart always sinks when I think about the impact austerity has had on this tremendous resource, which gives everyone access to more books they can ever read and free use of technology.

The Library Book touches on all of this. It runs from the value of libraries to individuals and communities, to fantasy authors imagining worlds within the library. A series of essays and short stories, its light and interesting, even if the trigger for its existence is somewhat depressing.

In a library… a book is only a starting point.

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I Never Promised You a Rose Garden – Jon Crace

I must have moved to a safe seat, because I haven’t really noticed much in the way of election fever this year. But I noticed it in the bookshop the other week in the form of a stand of political books. I Never Promised You a Rose Garden struck me as perfect: a cynical look back at the last five years of coalition government and how it has played out.

Crace definitely delivers on what the cover of this book promises, an informed look at what was pledged on a sunny afternoon in the Rose Garden and how that has developed over this parliament’s term. He is unforgiving of all parties, not simply those in power, and undertakes an examination of where the balance of power has lain.

The big issues that have dominated this parliament are all examined, from Scotland to immigration to the Big Society (BS) to austerity along with how changes have been driven. But the message is impartial, other than to extol that everyone should use their vote.

Has anyone else been reading political books before the election?

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Unmastered (A Book On Desire, Most Difficult To Tell) – Katherine Angel

Unmastered is the most personal book I’ve read in a long time. Much more so than I was expecting when I picked up a Penguin book.

We are taken on an exploration of Angel’s adult relationships, and how key moments defined who she became. She keeps to short, modern fragments of moments and thoughts. This gradually builds up the image of a woman working out what her desires are.

When I started I did have doubts about whether this was “My kind of book”. The choppy and disjoint writing took a few sections to start enjoying and appreciating the flow of. But once I was into it, I flew through this, then flicked back to reread sections, whilst noting a few references I intend to follow up.

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The Space Machine – Christopher Priest

The Space MachineThis is a glorious tribute to H. G. Wells, borrowing strongly from both The Time Machine and War of the Worlds. Its set in that late Victorian era beloved of steampunk when Science! was happening and there were leaps of progress and borrows strongly from that early science fiction tradition.

Whilst the characters are occasionally a bit wooden in that “stiff upper lip” manner, they have some personality and backstory at least. There is even a dynamic female character who is key to the whole story, even if she is inevitably the love interest.

I do however object to the cover, as the first thing we are told about the machine is that despite first impressions it doesn’t look like a clock after all, just that style of machining. So what do they use but a picture of a clock to illustrate the cover??

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The Making of Modern Britain – Andrew Marr

The Making of Modern Britain is a well-researched book on how the British moved from being Victorians to modern Britains. It looks at political and social change and the causes behind these.

There are enough details to illustrate each point, and to see the changes progressing through the decades. It puts the history we all know into context, and allows a comparison between people of the Edwardian generation as people, not as stiff-upper lipped photographs.

It is important to remember though, that Marr is a BBC man. He criticises the abuse of power by the newspaper journalists in a way that Auntie is protected from, and the monarchy is again generally protected. This is understandable, but makes the book less impartial than it might otherwise aim to be.

Well-worth reading though, and I intend to read The History of Modern Britain, for which this book was a prequel.

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Marrying Out – Harold Carlton

I came across Marrying Out in a copy of Slightly Foxed, which gave a lovely taster of this book. Therefore when I ordered myself a Slightly Foxed subscription, I also ordered the lovely hardback, Everyman-sized copy of this book.

Its an autobiographical book about Harold becoming an adult, and working out what that means in his 1960s Jewish family. He explores the family secrets, and truths everyone holds to be self-evident, and tries to work out what being an atheist Jew means.

The unravelling of secrets at the end finished the book well, and allowed all the strands of the book to make sense.

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