<> Books Read - 2004 <>

Last modified: Sunday, 14 August, 2016

+ My recent, current, and forthcoming reading is covered elsewhere, here's what I read in 2004:

* Alexander McCall Smith: The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

The world's introduction to Precious Ramotswe is a light, entertaining collection of stories. McCall Smith's writing slips down easily and the people and places in the tales are brought to life with a few, knowingly humorous, words.

* Desmond Morris: Catwatching

A book about cat behaviour by the zoologist famous for his popular studies of homo sapiens. Organised in a question and answer format, this book covers a lot of ground, not all of it well-worn. Cat lovers who want to know more about why their pet behaves as it does will find this an enjoyable and informative read. I did.

* Terry Pratchett: The Last Continent

Pratchett's "Australian" novel continues the adventures of inept wizard Rincewind from the end of Interesting Times. The people and places of a, literally, young country are portrayed with affection. The ambiguous aura surrounding events in XXXX contrasts oddly with with the interleaved jokey scenes in the familiar setting of Unseen University.

* Dan Brown: The Da Vinci Code

Murder mystery thriller that touches on the history of religion, art, architecture and secret societies. The plot twists and turns as you'd expect and the pace never relents. A fun read that gains much from the background and locations invoked.

* Lynne Truss: Eats, Shoots & Leaves

A book about punctuation for those of us who still care. A handy guide to commas, apostrophes and the rest.

* Stuart Prebble: Grumpy Old Men

Of course, I never saw the TV programme from which this is derived but, as I'm a fairly typical example of the species, I enjoyed the verve and verbal skill of the rants against the irritations of life in Britain today. Prebble and the celebrity grumpies from the TV programme (who he quotes extensively) are eloquent and very funny but the underlying dissatisfaction with the world in which we find ourselves is real and worth taking a closer look at.

* Richard Schlegel: Time and the Physical World

An introduction to the nature of time and the implications that the descriptions of the world provided by quantum mechanics and relativity theory have for our understanding of time.

* Jane Fletcher: Lorimal's Chalice

A delightful fantasy novel that packs a host of fascinating incident and invention into an unusual variation on the traditional quest scenario. As with Rowling's most recent, the wealth of realistic detail makes reading this book a deeply satisfying, immersive experience. I lingered for months reading this book so that I could really savour its wonderful atmosphere and spend as long as possible in the company of its two delightful central characters.

* Terry Pratchett: Jingo

A novel about going to war being a damaged personality's response to frustration and anger. For Pratchett to write this story in 1997 and for almost every page to resonate so strongly with events of 2003, goes to show that what's happening in Iraq now has roots that go far further back than 11th September, 2001. In his now-typical style, after three quarters of the book using the Discworld characters to take a sideways look at a real-world issue, Pratchett turns things on their head by providing a thoroughly Discworld solution.

* Nicola Barker: Wide Open

The setting of this novel is the obscure Isle of Sheppey, where my family (on both sides) comes from. Knowing the landscape depicted helps makes a difficult book more accessible but this deeply disturbing story with its profoundly troubled cast is far from easy reading.

* Robert Louis Stevenson: Kidnapped

The classic tale of the innocent who becomes embroiled in the Scots resistance to the English oppressors in the time after Culloden.

* Bill Smith: The Curious Mr Jones

First novel by my ex-boss at Nortel. Everybody underestimates Mr Jones; generally not a good thing to do. This is a short but satisfyingly complex tale written from a detached, somewhat cinematic point of view that suits the material perfectly. The plot is well constructed, the characters fairly stock, the writing taut. More please!

* J.K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Daunting in size but utterly irresistible as the most recent installment of the most popular children's fantasy series ever. Even more so than Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, this book luxuriates in the truthful detail of the human experiences depicted and has the reader so enthralled that the twists and turns of the plot are utterly compelling. Where the events of the previous episode were fantastic and extraordinary, what happens this time around is so rooted in real life experience (in all its messy complexity) that the most sophisticated adult reader cannot fail to be captivated. Rowling is a master story teller with an eye for the telling detail and the truthful depiction of just how human emotions find (or fail to find) expression in word and deed. The large cast of characters truly comes to life in her hands. Triumphant.

* Simon Winchester: Outposts

The outposts of the title are the surprisingly numerous, if unsurprisingly scattered and tiny, remaining territories across the globe that still have the status of British Colony. Aside from the places that have been newsworthy in recent years (Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands) the rest are typically sleepy islands in mid-ocean with little going for them in the way of economy and little likelihood of changing status. A rather sad collection of leftovers. The writing is wonderfully evocative of place and local attitudes, with none of the flabby padding that wearied the reader of The Map That Changed the World. A fascinating read!

* Graham Swift: Waterland

A thrilling tour de force of a novel! Swift captures perfectly the fenland atmosphere and the people it breeds. Jumping back and forth over many generations we're gradually shown a historical context for the foreground events of the mid-twentieth century. Compelling and rewarding reading that brings alive a large cast of fenland characters and makes manifest their motivations.

* Jeremy Paxman: The English

Paxman takes on the question of what made the English the kind of people we are. In particular, from where do the manifest differences between the English and their Celtic fellow Britons and their European neighbours stem. In addressing this question he considers history, geography, race and politics; all of which seem to have a bearing on the issue. As a survey of the factors that may have had an influence, this is an entertaining and interesting read and the occasional muddle and contradiction is excusable in a book that makes no claims to intellectual rigour. Highly recommended for anyone interested in the topic, and especially helpful for foreigners who have to deal with English people: appreciation of the material Paxman covers can only help smooth the wheels of intercourse.

* J.K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

The series that got kids reading again hits volume four, with a doubling of page count (compared to the previous book) that speaks volumes for the author's confidence in her audience. Incident comes thick and fast as Harry and his pals, by now fully established at Hogwarts, deal with their most complex and ambiguous adventure to date. First rate writing to captivate adults and children alike.


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