Extra library books: Railway Atlas and How to Read the Landscape

In addition to the long-form Blind Giant, I got out a couple of flick-through reference type books last time I was at the library.

Firstly was a Railway Atlas: Then and Now. This has lovely side-by-side maps showing the railway network in 1923 and 2012, where lines have been removed, what they have been replaced with (such as roads, bike lanes, light rail etc). It is a fascinating historical reference, although I’m not sure I need to buy it right now I feel more informed for having flicked through.

The second was a pocket book on How to Read the Landscape which explains the geography behind distinct landscapes and how they were created. This meant that when walking at the weekend I could recognise and understand a hanging valley for the first time.Hanging Valley Waterfall

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The Blind Giant: How to Survive in the Digital Age – Nick Harkaway

Fortunately for this book the subtitle is much more obvious than the actual title, which I still don’t understand, so I scooped it of the library shelf in a hurry.

Harkaway gives a swift tour of how technology has changed how we think in the past, and offers perspective on how we are changing now. There is a mixture of history and light Psychology, with a lot of consideration as to the interaction between our communication methods and our internal thoughts and social structures.

The hearth, once a very simple, solid thing with discrete boundaries, has been extended into the world. The telephone allows us to reach out; the television allows us to see out; the computer allows us to search, to send messages and so on. We have positioned these things within the compass of the private space, and extended its reach.

He could do with considering his privilege though: of course someone well-connected and articulate will benefit from the social media revolution. That doesn’t mean that even the majority of people will do as well from it as he has. I don’t disagree with his premise that a lot of people stand to gain from an increase in connectivity, I just think he may be overselling that aspect somewhat.

Overall there is considerable food for thought, about how we think and communicate.

There is also something delightfully meta in writing a blog post about a book about the internet.

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The Gospel of Loki – Joanne Harris

Harris has moved a long way from Chocolat with its magic so subtle that you aren’t sure whether its true magic or supersticion to pure myth.

Loki has a tale to tell of how Asgard went from his perspective, and how his choices were constrained. His sharp dialogue and explanations are interwoven with prophecy, lessons and foreshadowing, along with the knowledge anyone who knows Norse mythology has of how this all must end. But the ride with Loki can’t fail to be thrilling as it is tragic.

┬áBasically don’t trust anyone

Harris turns this epic world into a real place, with characters and relationships. The animosity of our first person narrator towards all others paints a different light on the more traditionally heroic figures.

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The Lies of Locke Lamora – Scott Lynch

Locke and his gang of Gentleman Bastards are liars. Nothing personal, its just how they make a living.

But there is of course change and conflict ahead. Locke has to work out how to navigate these new challenges and survive in a pseudo-medieval world in which lying has been essential for their entire lives.

For light fantasy there is a lack of magic or myth. Merely the world having its own mythology, but in this book at least that is all it is. Simply a pantheon of gods who stay away from the real world.

This book has been challenging me from the tbr pile for years, and now I’ve read it I’ve straight away ordered the sequel! At least waiting so long has given Lynch time to write a good part of a series.

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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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