nonfiction

A reading recap (2021)

This year, I had intended to write reviews of everything I read.

Obviously, with this year being this year I haven’t been able to do that for a lot of the books I ploughed through. I really wanted to record some thoughts on them, because it’s an important part of the reading process, for me: it helps bed down each book in my mind, so that I’m not taken by surprise halfway through an unintended reread by a plot development that suddenly reminds me that oh yeah, I’ve read this before.

Part of my process this year has involved the taking of notes to serve as a sort of memory aid for my reading. Generally, they require a Rosetta Stone to be sifted through, even by me, so they’re not particularly enlightening on their own, but they do allow me to crack out a couple of brief thoughts about what I’ve read this year.

Yes, there is a certain type of pen I like to use while writing these. No, they’re probably not very profound. But hey, there’s two notebooks full of them this year, so I guess that’s meaningful.

So that’s what I’m doing here.

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Book review: Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom

Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom by Nik Cohn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.

I came to this book as many did, I suspect, because it featured on that list of David Bowie’s 100 favourite books which circulated a couple of years ago. (The list also is explored in a podcast, if you’re interested.)

It makes sense that Bowie would be a fan of this work, given that it’s an enthusiastic, bitchy exploration of early rock. After all, the work is titled for Little Richard’s protean good-time yawp from ‘Tutti Fruitti’, the song that made Bowie “see God”.

And a lot of cocaine, I guess.

After a couple of years of looking, I found a copy replete with terrifying cover. It was written in 1968 and revised in 1972. Kit Lambert, erstwhile manager of The Who introduces the work and sets things rolling: the text covers a brief period in music, but one of supreme importance for everything rock-related that came afterwards. All that’s covered is the period from Bill Haley’s initial popularity until 1966 – that’s it.

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Book review: Green River Killer

Green River Killer: A True Detective Story by Jeff Jensen and Jonathan Case.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.

The Green River Killer was one of the most prolific US serial killers in history, keeping the Seattle and Tacoma area wary for at least 20 years. It’s thought that the killer, Gary Ridgway was responsible for upwards of 70 murders dating back to the early 1980s.

Bodies were still discovered as recently as 2003.

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Book review: Masters of Doom

Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture by David Kushner.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.

During high school, I had a PC. I was a bit bummed by it (largely because it wasn’t an Amiga) but that didn’t last after, in my final years, Wolfenstein 3D came out. From id Software, the game saw you eventually kill mecha-Hitler in a Nazi castle. It was, arguably, the beginning of the wave of first-person shooter games that would come to dominate computers.

You know what I love about this game? The subtlety.

It was (in ’92) the product, largely, of two guys: John Carmack and John Romero. They already had made a bunch of money through the shareware distribution of earlier games, but the duo were on the cusp of history. Just around the corner was one of the most influential and hated-by-politicians games ever: Doom.

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Book review: Adventures in Amity

Adventures in Amity: Tales From The Jaws Ride by Dustin McNeill.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars.

I don’t know how long I can make this review. I mean, this is a book about an amusement park ride.

We’re gonna need a bigger topic of interest.

And there’s not really that much you can write about a ride, even one that features Jaws.

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Book review: Blood, Sweat and Pixels

Blood, Sweat and Pixels by Jason Schreier.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.

Making games sounds fun, right? Like, you get to hang out in cool offices and make things that are fun to play that people love? Sounds great.

It’s not, and that’s not just because the gaming audience is equally likely to lob death threats into your inbox as praise: it’s because the way games are made is fundamentally fuuuuucked.

At least this guy can go home at night.
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Book review: Theatre of Fear & Horror

Theatre of Fear & Horror: The Grisly Spectacle of the Grand Guignol of Paris, 1897-1962 by Mel Gordon.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars.

The Grand Guignol was Paris’s smallest theatre, was named for a horrifying puppet, and was also a place where you could see various comedies interspersed with incredibly vivid, naturalistic horror.

And clowns. Always with the fucking clowns.

Couple of laughs and some throat-slitting? Sure, mon ami, sounds swell.

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Book review: Mother, Brother, Lover: Selected Lyrics

Mother, Brother, Lover: Selected Lyrics by Jarvis Cocker.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.

So Pulp, eh? Possibly – nah, probably – the best band to emerge from the Britpop years of hype and arse-smacking heroin chic.

The group – in existence since 1978, if you can believe it – weren’t typically sexy. I mean, there was an effort to evoke a certain PR sexiness from lyricist Jarvis Cocker’s gangly frame, but it wasn’t the body that made him sexy: it was the combination of his writing, and of sex itself.

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Book review: Islam: The Essentials

Islam: The Essentials by Tariq Ramadan.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.

I’m not a Muslim – I’m not really religious in any meaningful way – but I’ve always had an interest in Islam. This interest is probably a mish-mash of things: the lingerings of Orientalist stories from my youth, and the fact that the belief seemed such a mystery to me.

I’ve lived in areas with plenty of Muslim neighbours, but I’ve not known much about what they believe. Certainly, there’s a lot of investment in the West in presenting the faith as the origin of Everything Wrong With The World, so it’s the sort of thing I’ve long had a niggling desire to get a better handle on. Because surely tabloids aren’t the best source of qualified comment on the religion, right?

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Book review: Modernists & Mavericks: Bacon, Freud, Hockney and the London Painters

Modernists & Mavericks: Bacon, Freud, Hockney and the London Painters.Modernists & Mavericks: Bacon, Freud, Hockney and the London Painters by Martin Gayford.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars.

So hey, here’s an idea for a book: a history of artists from a certain place, and a certain time. Let’s call them London Painters and bung them together, even though there’s little to link them stylistically, or even philosophically.

Sounds like a hiding to nowhere, right?
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