nonfiction

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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Book review: Beauty and Chaos

Beauty and Chaos: Slices and Morsels of Tokyo Life.Beauty and Chaos: Slices and Morsels of Tokyo Life by Michael Pronko.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.

I’m a bit of a fan of Japan. I’ve learned some [terrible] Japanese, and have travelled there several times, for holidays and for music competitions. I like the contradictions of the place, and am always looking for an excuse to journey back. This, Michael Pronko’s first collection of essays on Tokyo, offers a pretty good trip.

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Book review: Shinto: The Kami Way

Shinto: The Kami Way.Shinto: The Kami Way by Sokyo Ono.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars.

If you’re interested in Japan, you’re probably aware of Shinto imagery. Even if you’ve never been, even if you’re not really that interested in religion, you’ll know some of its signifiers. Red gates, either in profusion or alone in the sea. Trees tied with paper. Clean temples and guardian animals.

You just don’t know it yet.

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Book review: Why We Sleep

Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams.Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.

A book on the problems that problems sleeping could have. Does that sound good to you? I mean, the author has given TED talks, been hired by Google and has done the media rounds since this has been published, all on the strength of his scholarly interest in the effects of the Land of Nod.

A book on sleep. Written by a scientist. It’s pretty lucky that it isn’t a big snooze, then, isn’t it?

Any excuse.

*pause for laughter*

All right then. (more…)

Book review: Freakonomics

Freakonomics.Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars.

I studied economics for a couple of years in high school. I did not study it particularly well, nor did I remember very much.

The sum total of my economic knowledge is the term stagflation, and I only remember this because it sounds like antlers with a boner. That, and the fact that Ross Gittins wore Dunlop KT26s when he delivered my year’s economic update before the HSC. Two facts, you’ll agree, that stand me in good stead for understanding the economy as a whole.

HSC students gonna know what I mean.

This is the background with which I read Freakonomics, a collection of chapters loosely corralled together under the guise of making data answer interesting questions (such as why sumo wrestlers might cheat) instead of boring ones (involving GDP and the like).
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Book review: Morbid Magic

Morbid Magic.Morbid Magic by Tomás Prower.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars.

Death is something that most of us don’t like to talk about, or is something – if we mention it all – approached with humour. Yet it’s really the only thing, other than birth, that all humans have in common. In this book, Tomás Prower provides a tour of the world’s interpretation of the end of life.

Just hangin’.

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Book review: Pathworking the Tarot

Pathworking the Tarot: Spiritual Guidance & Practical Advice from the Cards.Pathworking the Tarot: Spiritual Guidance & Practical Advice from the Cards by Leeza Robertson.
My rating: 2 of 5 stars.

I’ve read cards for a couple of decades now, though am very much an anti-woo stalwart. I like the narratives a reading can create, and about seeking meaning from the chance juxtaposition of some printed designs.

But, like most readers, I still feel there’s more I could be getting from the decks. I mean, I’m not a Papus or a Waite, and certainly not a Pollack. And so when the option came up to read a book on pathworking, I took it.

The secret ingredient of any reading is tea. 

It’s a shame I came away a bit bummed. (more…)

Book review: Salvation on Sand Mountain

Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia.Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia by Dennis Covington.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars.

Ever since I’d first heard of its existence, I’ve wanted to read Salvation on Sand Mountain. This is, of course, largely because Younger Me was pretty obsessed with the outré nature of its subject – churches whose adherents practised snake handling – which I admit is a pretty rubbernecking approach to something.

Yeah, no reason why I’d be like HOLY SHIT, CHECK THIS OUT at all. (Picture: Jim Neel.)

I finally – some 20-something years later – managed to read the book and discovered that while there was plenty of snaketacular narrative to go around, the book is more rewarding that my youthful self, labelling of it as churchy hicks with scales could ever have imagined. (more…)

Book review: The 007 Diaries: Filming Live and Let Die

The 007 Diaries: Filming Live and Let Die.The 007 Diaries: Filming Live and Let Die by Roger Moore.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars.

Roger Moore was my first James Bond.

That’s not quite right. Ian Fleming was, as I had heard of James Bond and decided it was worth checking out some of his books from the library when I was woefully under the target age for them. But I remember discovering a whole series of movies through my parents (and a troop of babysitters). And being the ‘80s at this point, Moore was the go-to.

Of Moore’s tenure, two films still are sentimental favourites with me: The Spy Who Loved Me (which the actor considered his favourite outing), and Live and Let Die, his first time in the double-digits. (more…)

Book review: Death: A Graveside Companion

Death: A Graveside Companion.Death: A Graveside Companion edited by Joanna Ebenstein.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.

You know, there’s nothing like a graphic investigation into the imagery of death to provide a kind of mortal “oh, is that the time?” feeling in the reader. This is, undoubtedly, the role of the Ebenstein-edited tome on funerary fetishism and the culture of the crypt: to examine how humanity has dealt with its ceaseless tramp towards death through creativity. It’s certainly the way I felt while flicking through its Grim Reaper-filled pages: tempus fugit. Death is coming, but hell, people have made some strange stuff to herald its coming. (Little trees of hair, anyone?)

SPADE THAT MOTHERFUCKER, BONESY.

Aside from this, the book reiterated that skulls are cool.
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