Year in reading, 2012 (first half)

One of the few regular things I’ve done regularly on this blog is tracking books I’ve read; I started the year off  by defecting to Pinterest, but got nowhere with it. Something about that layout. For all that people make out Pinterest is a site for curating and collecting, it’s really a shop, isn’t it? Showing all these book covers makes it seem more like the 3-for-2 tables at Waterstones than a library…

So, here I am, back on the blog. After the jump, books from the first half of the year, summary verdicts and mistake filled summaries.

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My new photo project

It’s been over a year since I walked slowly away from Flickr; I really love Instagram, but I take Instagram photos for my Instagram friends with it. Since my quiet exit from Flickr the pictures I take with my dSLR have just been sitting on my hard disk, and every now and then I’ve taken them out on my iPad. Until now, that is: I think Tumblr is terrific and I found an excellent photo-friendly theme, so I’ve decided to try and run a daily photo blog.

It’s called Malevolent Aesthetic Bacon Takedown, just so I can prove SEO hasn’t won. That, and I’ve had the name on the shelf for too long. Take a look, daily updates, pretty pictures, it’ll be great.

Inside the Biosphere

A photo from this time last year, taken inside Montreal’s amazing Biosphere. Designed by Buckminster Fuller and built in 1967 for the World’s Fair, it’s a geodesic dome, strong, light, and enclosing a huge amount of space. It’s a beautiful building – full of benign faith in the future.

Michael Lewis: You are lucky and so there is a debt there

“This isn’t just false humility. It’s false humility with a point. My case illustrates how success is always rationalized. People really don’t like to hear success explained away as luck — especially successful people. As they age, and succeed, people feel their success was somehow inevitable. They don’t want to acknowledge the role played by accident in their lives. There is a reason for this: the world does not want to acknowledge it either.”

Michael Lewis’ speech at Princeton has some great one liners wrapped around a really interesting point, and one that’s come up in a few things I’ve been reading recently: the importance -unfashionable and anti-individualistic though it is – of luck. Or positioning, or being on the right side of big shifts. I think about it a lot when it comes to my work (digital product design), and the decline of print. I think about it when it comes to success and attention, and politics too, given the UK’s current government, and their desire to reduce the reach of the welfare state.  And I like Lewis’ speech especially because it’s not just about recognising the role of luck and saying, “yes, luck helped me”; it’s where he takes that message:

“Above all, recognize that if you have had success, you have also had luck — and with  luck comes obligation. You owe a debt, and not just to your Gods. You owe a debt to the unlucky.”

The thing is not just about the thing

“If you think you’ve got writers’ block after 45 seconds of not writing, you don’t need an app, you need someone gently to tell you that you should consider the possibility that writing is not just about writing, it’s also (and maybe mainly) about the space in between the writing, when nothing seems to be happening, or random stuff is having an incoherent party inside your head.”

Jenny Diski

Sometimes I am amazed about how much Apple’s approach has infiltrated so many areas of life. Thinking more carefully about objects, about tools, and about their design is great. It leads to improvements, to little epiphanies and moments of pleasure. But the problem with obsessive focus is when the focus is in the wrong place. A tool, after all, doesn’t have any life itself. That’s what you need to bring to it.

[via Noah Brier]

Bill Murray on dying

“You’ve gotta go out there and improvise and you’ve gotta be completely unafraid to die. You’ve got to be able to take a chance to die. And you have to die lots. You have to die all the time. You’re goin’ out there with just a whisper of an idea.”

Half decent Bill Murray interview in Esquire; I’d say he’s earned the right to give the kind of advice you’d imagine Hemingway would.

Some thoughts on the books I read last year

Yes, yes, I’m only getting round to this now. I was going to leave it, but then I was chatting with the Canadienne about The Lighthouse, a strange, light and surprisingly strong Icelandic novel I read in 2011 and I suddenly realised I had a few things to say.

Maybe I was tired at the end of the year; I had travelled a long away, after all. And maybe I was looking forward to the new year.

Just now I’ve written up my notes on the books I read in 2011. 26 books, which is pretty much the average number I get through; a higher number of non-finishes than usual, which included being extremely disappointed by William Gibson’s woeful Zero History. One thing that tracking the what I’ve read has done is make me aware that I should be more judicious of how few books I read – 26 or so a year isn’t a lot, especially when I can easily add one or two a week to my Amazon wishlist.

That said, 2011 had some real highlights, books that even on a quick scroll through the list really light up some fond memories: Edward St. Aubyn’s Some Hope trilogy was incredible, so compelling that the moment I finished it, I grabbed my coat and went looking for a bookstore to buy the sequel.

In A Strange Room by Damon Galgut was equally transcendant. The writing has the beauty of a cold, clear winter day – unflinching, technically marvellous – but there’s a tremendous empathy in it, which is often missing from literary fiction. The coldness is all on the outside of this one; the deeper you go, the softer and more human it gets.