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2010 catch-up: Books

Posted: January 4th, 2011, by Marceline Smith

Our favourite books of the year.

Tara Rodgers’ Pink Noises
A collection of interviews with women working in experimental / electronic music (I think based off of a website of the same name). It’s become an important correction to a problem I hadn’t thought existed – not just the under-representation of women artists (I expect that, without accepting it), but the way that the whole way of talking about electronic music has erased them. I’ve learned a lot even from the names on the Contents page. The interviews can be approachable, technical, gossipy and always interesting. The book shouldn’t have to exist, but I’m glad it does. (Stan Tontas)

Music, Society, Education – Christopher Small
Very dull title for a very interesting book. Singing in choirs makes me realise how ridiculously elevated you’re positioned in concerts, how incredibly formal the end-product of friendly weekly rehearsals aspires to be, and the depressingly frequent conversations with people who think they “could never sing”. An encouraging book for anyone interested in music’s role in education and the average person’s capabilities. (Pascal Ansell)

At one stage around October it felt like Jonathan Ames was everywhere I looked. It was listening to an interview with him on the highly recommended WTF podcast that really exposed me to what the man is about which appears to be David Sedaris crossed with Charles Bukowski via Woody Allen. Obviously being a writer he has been an alcoholic and after skimming through a couple of his short stories books this graphic novel of his boozy experiences really proved an incredible piece of work that left me in mixed minds but wholly in love with the guy. Of course Ames is currently best known for being behind HBO series Bored To Death which brings a life affirming fantasy life to being a writer. (JGRAM)

Stephen Batchelor – Confession of a Buddhist Atheist
A buddhist monk for many years, Batchelor became gradually disillusioned with the mystical aspects of the religion, and set out to strip the teachings on which it was based from the dogma they had accumulated over the centuries.  Equal parts memoir, travelogue and philosophical archaeology. (Alex McChesney)

A Man on the Moon by Andrew Chaikin
I got this for Christmas and it was all I could do not to sit sit down and read the whole thing from cover to cover, enormous though it is. As previously established, I’ve been a space nut since I was very small (wait, I am still very small) and this book is just a joy. It describes NASA’s Apollo program in great detail, going through each mission from the disastrous beginnings through to the six Moon landings. While sometimes bogged down by technical language and military customs, it does a great job of explaining how it all succeeded and introducing all the people who made it happen. The actual moon landings are exhilarating to read about and each mission comes with so many problems overcome that you can understand why we’ve never been back, though reading about NASA’s plans at the time for moon bases and manned missions to Mars makes me so sad. The book is also the source material for HBO’s rather great TV series From the Earth to the Moon, which is well worth checking out. My only disappointment is that Chaikin hasn’t yet done a book about the Shuttle missions – come on man, get to it! (Marceline Smith)

Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha
The field of evolutionary psychology has taken a largely dark look at the biological roots of modern man’s behavior.  Why do men sleep around?  Because sleeping with 250 floozies does more to ensure the propagation of their genes than having a nurturing wholesome relationship with one woman.  Why are humans violent?  Because we’ve been programmed towards aggression by a millennia of survival of the fittest evolution. “Sex at Dawn,” by authors Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha, takes an alternate look at the school of evolutionary psychology.  They argue that for much of man’s history, hunter/gatherers lived relatively pleasant lives of limited threats, plentiful food and lots of lots of sex! It was the advent of agriculture, 10,000 years ago, that bloodied man’s behavior. And their arguments — based on historical studies, analysis of other primate cultures and the fact that there are observable hunter/gatherers still around — make a lot of sense! It should be said that “Sex at Dawn” is not simply a starry eyed laudation of the noble savage at the expense of modern man.  Hunter/gatherers had plenty of flaws, and their egalitarianism was more the result of environment than inner virtue.  But the book — easily approachable by nonscientific types — provides plenty to think about. I interviewed one of the authors for Acid Logic (Wil Forbis)

Been re-reading older stuff this year, so things like Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and The Outsider by Albert Camus have been lighting my fire, as it were. (Stuart Fowkes)

The third edition of Jeffery Zeldman’s ‘Designing With Web Standards’. It totally nails the point of creating websites in the correct way. It also explains things in a way that will convince people whodon’t see the point. (Exciting stuff, no?) (Simon Minter)

Karen Armstrong – A History of God
Interested in Sky Fairies? Ya psycho! Perhaps best read in long stretches – incredible introduction to one of the most problematic words I can imagine, and how culture has made God their own. (Pascal Ansell)

Mountaineering Holiday by JS Smythe
This year I have mostly been reading expedition and travel books, preferably rambling monologues by over-privileged English Gentlemen. This one is from 1939, just days before WW2 broke out and describes a, well, mountaineering holiday in the French/Italian Alps where Mr Smythe climbs various mountains and describes them pleasantly with breaks to pontificate on the horrors of motor cars, war, tourists, foreigners, people who climb too slowly, people who walk too fast and women in breeches. I especially enjoyed the parts where he describes other less experienced climbers they encounter and basically says, well, they’re going to die if the weather changes. Nice. Might look him up and see if someone eventually pushed him into a crevasse. It also contains an anecdote about a man caught smuggling drugs through customs under his top hat. You don’t get that kind of thing these days. (Marceline Smith)

Marceline Smith

Marceline is the fierce, terrifying force behind diskant.net, laughing with disdain as she fires sharpened blades of sarcasm in all directions. Based in Scotland, her lexicon consists of words such as 'jings', 'aboot' and 'aye': our trained voice analysts are yet to decipher some of the relentless stream of genius uttered on a twenty-four hour basis. Marceline's hobbies include working too much and going out in bad weather.


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