Book Covers

Tangentially related to the previous post…

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That’s Iain’s latest book (or maybe it isn’t – a few months have passed…) The cover is a crop of the following photograph of mine, taken with the previously maligned Natura Black 1.9:

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Not sure it’s the crop that i’d have made, but i’m notoriously bad at cropping my shots.

It strikes me as somewhat unusual to have covers that are “full bleed” photographs at the moment. Maybe it was never a thing… but certainly the current trend is to more designed and graphical covers. The IWTFY books have eschewed that direction and, to my eye, look all the more distinctive for it.

Both IWTFY covers have also been fairly abstract portraits of M., taken in the bath with a digital P&S… that is a trend which seems difficult to continue.

Maugham – Collected Short Stories Volume I

51edWkqid+LThe story ‘Rain‘ seems to be well known / famous… but it had never crossed my horizons until now. What a way to start a collection of short stories!

Simply saying that these pieces are “good” doesn’t begin to cover the range of styles, emotions and weights that they touch. And while the overall sense of ‘white man’s burden’ is obviously pervasive, it’s explored from such varied angles that it doesn’t really get repetitive.

It’ll be interesting to see if i feel the same about them at the end of the next volume.

親愛的,這是寫給你的

This will be one of the odder posts.

The I Wrote This For You book has been translated to complex chinese and published in Taiwan (and some other places… Hong Kong, Singapore, Macau, maybe Malaysia… but i’m not sure).

The publisher is doing delightful things like publicity. And, in that spirit, i present you the IWTFY promotion video!

Now i’m waiting for the Japanese publishers to get in touch… not that they haven’t already turned us down en masse!

 

Trautmann’s Journey: From Hitler Youth to FA Cup Legend

51W4BK7hBlLAn odd book.

Ostensively about a footballer, but actually a triumphant depiction of the victory of democracy over the evils of national socialism. Trautmann is the “everyman” showing how Hitler corrupted a country, turning good germans into brainwashed Nazi’s, who can only be saved by the shining purity and downright “goodness” of the English people.

Which isn’t, of course, to say that there was a good side to the national socialism, just that any nuance is lost beneath the whitewash of jolly old england riding to save the day.

And the odd part? Well, it’s an enjoyable read. Trautmann comes across as sincere and humble. As is the reaction to him by the working class people he meets as a POW in the north of england. The author makes an effort to provide balance – highlighting the incompetence / complicity of Baldwin, Chamberlian, etc. but it was beyond me to separate an individual’s story from the greater arc of english history…

Facing the Other Way: The 4AD Story

51UQXhZvu8LIt seems odd that a book should be published about a record label, and not the music that it released. However, in the case of 4AD it makes perfect sense (to me).

4AD became more than a label, a means to get music released, it became an aesthetic. A carefully curated group of bands, where by just having a catalog number was enough to tell you that it was something that you should hear. Released on 4AD? It’s probably good. If it’s not great when you first hear it, it’ll probably grow on you if you stick with it. That was my mantra as a teenager. From Bauhaus, The Birthday Party, Wolfgang Press, to Dif Juz, The Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, This Mortal Coil, and Clan of Xymox, it was all good. And it was all on 4AD. Yes, it was ruined for me with the Pixies, but in my musically formative years it was everything i needed. As they moved forward, i hung on becoming increasingly obsessive about uncovering the secrets of the back catalog.

What i hadn’t known was that the progression in the releases, was a roller coaster ride through one man’s fight with depression. If the Pixies and Throwing Muses were the attempts to hang on and run a label, giving bands indie success, releases like Hope Blister, The Red House Painters, Ultra Vivid Scene, were charting the depths of the label’s guiding light, Ivo Watts-Russell’s despair. It’s odd to think that he kept this mostly to himself, all the while broadcasting it, as a plea for help, unheard for years.

A Beautiful book. But, maybe only for those touched by the magic of probably the greatest label to chart the death of the music business.

The Circle

41FvkCfd7iLHaving not read an Eggers’ book in years, suddenly a couple in the span of a few months. Unfortunately i have many of the same comments about this one as the last.

Lets get this out at the start – this is a book about Google and the people that work there. There is just too much in the way of coincidence for things to be otherwise.

“We know where you are. We know where you’ve been. We can more or less know what you’re thinking about.”

“Your digital identity will live forever… because there’s no delete button.”

—Eric Schmidt

versus

“We don’t delete”

—Eamon Bailey

It feels like Eggers has spent enough time with insiders there to nail some of the (supposed…) atmosphere. One of the things that every one of my friends that has noted during the first couple of months that they are at the Googleplex is ‘cult-like’ atmosphere and behaviour. (Perhaps more interestingly they tend to stop talking about it after a few months… assimilation?) Which isn’t to say that he nails the language and atmosphere of the valley, or even the industry. There are places where it’s just jarringly wrong.

The plot revolves around the creation of a techno-dystopia (or utopian if you’re one of the data-randians / social-libertarians… ‘social’ in modern ‘social networking’ usage, unfortunately) and tries very hard to put a modern spin on 1984 classic, “WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH”:

SECRETS ARE LIES
SHARING IS CARING
PRIVACY IS THEFT

And at the same time update Huxley’s willing compliance and methods of technological control. These, despite not being particularly original, are the best thought out part of the book.

Where it stumbles is that, just like The Hologram in the Desert, the pudding is over egged. The effect would be better if he’d not felt the need to stray quite so far from reasonably behaviour to make the point. The allegorical  passages (the shark, for example) are blunt to the point of making you cringe at the directness. Some of it is so over the top (the chase scene with Mercer) that it loses all impact, and left me wondering if he wouldn’t be better off script writing for a hollywood blockbuster.

Anyway, you should read this, as, just like 1984 and Brave New World, it’ll become a handbook against which future totalitarian progress is measured. Also, it’ll take the shock out of hearing similar ideas when they are inevitably floated over the next couple of years… oh, and they will be.

Edit: it occurs to me that the lack of visceral impact of the “SECRETS ARE LIES” triple reflects the banality of our times. It was very hard not be hyperbolic saying that…

Autobiography

MorrisseyNot sure what i expected… Morrissey, a modern Wilde, is obviously going to be eloquent, difficult, guarded, and oblique.

All the way from childhood to his forties(?), the strongest impression is one of victimhood. There doesn’t seem to be a single situation / disagreement in which our narrator feels the need to accept any influence or responsibility for the torrent of slings and arrows flung around him. Which isn’t to say that he doesn’t accept that he is a difficult person, so presumably the expectation would be that acceptance can only happen on his terms. Given all the success, especially later in his career, it’s hard to take the lack of self-awareness.

That said, the episode with Joyce (retrospectively) claiming 25% of the Smiths earnings would probably be enough to install a sense of paranoia in even the most stoic. Unless there is more to the story than is told here, and i doubt there is, it really was a travesty of a trial, a case where it’s hard not to see an agenda behind the scenes.

The writing in the early sections is really beautiful, feeling born out of deeply felt emotions and memories. Towards the end, where life become more of a catalog of orgiastic (the only context in which it seems possible to talk in such of terms with Morrissey) tour dates, and travel experience, the shine is gone… but so too is the tortured aspect of the narration. It’s a period in which he’s succeeding on his own terms and what were major torments become minor quibbles, that can simply be accepted.

I don’t know if it’s an enjoyable read, but it’s obviously necessary if the music has any kind of impact on you over the years.

Command and Control

61hBKCSlSwLAn extract of this was pretty widely promoted, and was enough to get me hooked.

The book does a good job of covering the US side of the history of atomic weapons, mixing in enough about the personal lives, and detailed reportage of a specific Titan II disaster, that it becomes hard to put down.

I’d expected to find it an unsettling read, but the disconnect between the sense of US supremacy and the reality of a paranoid Strategic Air Command ends up being closer to farce. The primitive nature of the plans for first strike, the dawning realisation that even a small nuclear exchange would be impossible to de-escalate, that the US was caught between having an easy to decapitate centralised leadership, and a hair-trigger, rush to war, distributed command and control, makes you realise that we are actually luck to still be here. And, that’s before getting into the jerry-rigged nature of most of the weapons, the endless accidents with live weapons, and the false positives produced by the early warning systems.

The attitude of the SAC, DoD, DoE officials feels very similar to the paranoia exhibited by the equivalents currently serving with the NSA and GCHQ. The projection of absolute knowledge that cannot be challenged without it being a show of weakness to the enemy. Not that such people need an actual enemy – even after the fall of the soviet block, both sides still maintain (only just in the case of the russians, one would imagine…) stockpiles large enough to destroy europe many times over. There is a lot of money to be made keeping us on the knife edge.

Having grown up terrorised by Threads, snorts of sarcastic laughter was not what i expect from this book. We’re presumably further from the edge than when i was a kid, but that we got this far without losing a few cities along the way now seems all the more surprising.

The Luminaries

41bdVJOBoxLMan Booker Prize winners don’t usually make my reading lists, but having impulsively bought this one…

It’s an 800+ page shaggy dog story. The sort of thing that you end up reading in a day, with periodic pauses for sleep. Not really sure what else there is to say. It’s well written, engaging, and to a large degree entertaining, but at the end of the day nothing about it is life changing / groundbreaking.

Let it be said that there is obviously another level of understanding / structure available here to anyone who has an interest in astrology. I can’t really say how much said understanding would add to the reading, only that being vaguely aware of it didn’t seem to detract.

Meh out of 10, wouldn’t purposefully go out and buy more of her books.