It’s October! How did that happen? It feel like it has arrived a month too early. Had my hernia operation on the last day in August and the surgeon signed me off for three, yes three whole weeks! The MD at work wasn’t particularly enamoured about it and has extended my probation to cover the time I had off. Fingers crossed that I pass it soon. With that amount of spare time, I had hoped to read loads of books and more importantly, catch up on my reviews. managed to read ten books in those three weeks and ended up doing some work from home in the end. Got through 16 books by the time the end of the month rolled around. I read a varied selection, as you have probably come to expect now and he they are.
First up was The Rings Of Saturn: An English Pilgrimage. This was part of the summer reading book that Robert Macfarlane was running on Twitter (search for (#ReadingtheRings). Had got it out of the library, but then found a copy in a charity shop. In some ways this wasn’t a bad book, I particularly liked the narrative about his walk through the Suffolk countryside, but it veered off too far around the world in his various interests as he discovered facts about the places he was passing through. Some of the writing was very good though, and the translator had done a top job.
I was on the blog tour for my next book, Ladders to Heaven: The Secret History of Fig Trees. It was almost everything a good non-fiction should be; informative, a well-written narrative and properly researched by a scientific expert. If it had one fault, it was too short! Would have loved to have learnt about the use of figs in the pre-Christian Mediterranean and more of the wider history. Otherwise highly recommended.
Bloomsbury had kindly popped The Dark Interval: Letters for the Grieving Heart in the post to me. This beautiful hardback has been translated by Ulrich Baer and is compiled from the letters written by the poet Rainer Maria Rilke to friends and associates who were grieving after losing family, loved ones and friends, it is a collection that will comfort people these days in moments of loss. I passed this onto someone who had just lost a friend in truly tragic circumstances and they said it was a huge benefit.
Another blog tour ( I try and only do two a month) and this time it was the new science fiction door stopper from Peter F. Hamilton called Salvation. Set in an ultra-connected future world where transport is through quantum entangled portals and energy is almost limitless from the sun. Humanity has encountered one set of aliens, but the revelation is the discovery of another ship 90 light years away that has humans held in stasis. Very fast paced and a mash between a space opera and a spy thriller.
Little Toller are a Dorset based publisher and new books from them are always something to look forward to. Cornerstones is no exception to that. This book is a compilation of essays written by a variety of writers about their favourite rocks, hence the subtitle, Subterranean Writings; from Dartmoor to the Arctic Circle. There is not a bad essay in here and there are some exceptional one too and sits well with their Arboreal compilation released a couple of years ago. Thoroughly enjoyed this and it is my book of the month.
I am not sure what category The Devil’s Highway sits in. Three stories, one historical, one contemporary and one set in the future are in this book. The common thread here is that the three sets of characters all inhabit the same piece of Surrey Heath, just with millennia in between them. The book is laid out with a chapter from each time and then cycles round again. I would have preferred it if they had been three blocks, but when reading you can sense that the common threads of landscape that are present all the way through. Struggled with the language in the final part, but the message of this environmental warning is very clear.
Next up were a couple of fantasy books that were the third and fourth in a series by MD Lachlan. Gollancz were kind enough to send me the fifth and I fully intend to get that this month. First up was Lord of Slaughter. They draw heavily on the Norse and werewolf mythology, that he has brought out of North and into other countries. In this Constantinople is plagued by sinister sorcery and magic is threatening the world. All paths lead to the squalid prison deep below the city, where a man who believes he is a wolf lies chained. Valkyrie’s Song takes some of the characters from the previous book that carry the runes within their souls and puts them in the north of England currently being harried by the Norman invaders. These are dark, bloody tales with a razor-sharp supernatural edge.
The Royal Society shortlist always has a great selection of books on it, and the first from those that I got to read was Liquid by Mark Miodownik. His previous book, Stuff Matters, had won it a few years before, so was really looking forward to this one. It didn’t disappoint either, through the narrative of a flight to America, he takes us through the science of liquids in his unique and entertaining way.
Second from the shortlist was Exactly: How Precision Engineers Created The Modern World by Simon Winchester. An excellent book on the way that engineers have utterly changed the world that we live in from the first screws that fitted things together to the fact that the phone in your pocket is many more time powerful that the ship that took men to the moon.
Third from the shortlist was The Unexpected Truth About Animals: Stoned Sloths, Lovelorn Hippos And Other Wild Tales. This book by Luck Cooke sought to explain the real truth about animal behaviour and separate fiction from the real facts. Highly entertaining and I frequently laughed whilst reading it.
I had been sent this ages ago from Faber, but I finally got round to reading Cræft by Alexander Langlands. In this book, he is exploring how Traditional Crafts Are about More than Just Making, themes that are finding traction elsewhere. I liked the book but did feel that he was heading into hipster territory far too often.
The fourth book from the Royal Society Shortlist was Hannah Fry’s Hello World: How to be Human in the Age of the Machine. Almost everything that we do, online or not, has some sort of algorithm, that ‘helps’ us make the choices that are presented. However, there is a sinister side to all this and Fry makes it very clear that a lot of the algorithms we encounter have some (or a lot) of flaws. A really good book that even people who aren’t computer savvy could engage with.
Another review copy that the people at The Book Publicist had sent me was The Modern Shepherd. Written by AlBaraa Taibah it details his time spent shepherding sheep in the Sahara and the lessons he learnt and could apply in his business life. Very short book and only thought it was ok overall.
The final two this month were by the genuine and humble author Matt Haig. In Reasons To Stay Alive, he tells us his story of standing at the top of a cliff in Ibiza seriously contemplating suicide and taking the brave decision to turn around and face the demons that were plaguing his life. It is a truly heartfelt, raw and emotional book on the issues of mental health and how he dealt with them. More importantly, he gives suggestions that others suffering from the terrible affliction of modern life could use. Even if you don’t suffer from mental health, then you should read this as the insights in here could help you help someone else. Then read Notes From a Nervous Planet. This is about our addiction to social media and the benefits that it can bring, but also the things to be wary of and the best time to step away from the computer and go and do something else. I would say that this is an essential book for teenagers.