Thursday, December 10, 2015

Alrightreads: December



That'll do, maniac, that'll do. I read the equivalent of a book a day in 2015, which in reality was nothing like that. There were times I delighted in watching the flimsy titles speed past, other times I sabotaged myself with a long and arduous tome in failed attempts to snap myself out of it.

It was mostly good. Well, it was alright. Next year I'll write a book a day, it's only fair. Tedious stats coming soon.


December 2015


336. Brad Dukes, Reflections: An Oral History of Twin Peaks

2014 / E-book / 340 pages / USA

***

I recently had the pleasure of seriously creeping out my wife with a Twin Peaks rewatch, and I was itching to spend a little longer in that sinister world. I could have just wasted time on subreddits or reading a passionate blogger's desperate theories on numerology and colour symbolism, but instead headed behind-the-scenes to get the humdrum real story from the mouths of various spectral living room horses involved in the project. It was interesting, but it's fair to say the magic has been slightly ruined. Disappointingly, the book hardly even touches on the insane film.


337. Ricardo Barreiro and Francisco Solano López, Young Witches, Vol. 1

1993 / E-comics / 100 pages / Argentina

*

Alan Moore's Lost Girls introduced me to the no-holds-barred world of smutty graphic novels, and this is even more desperately perverse. I wouldn't like to know the sort of person who finds these enthusiastic renderings of myriad degrading taboos arousing. The plot is only slightly less weak than in real porn (I imagine).


338. Tina Konstant, Ten Rules of Copywriting: Bullet Guide

2011 / E-book / 129 pages / South Africa

**

I didn't learn anything new, but content-wise it's a reliable introduction to the 'art.' Actual examples would have been more useful than general anecdotes, and I would have gone with '10 Rules' rather than 'Ten Rules,' so we disagree at word one, but apart from that. Format-wise, the widescreen joke book layout and '90s clipart funnies don't exactly shout 'authority.'


339. David Scroggy, Syd Mead, Mentor Huebner, Ridley Scott, Charles Knode and Michael Kaplan, Blade Runner Sketchbook

1982 / E-art-book / 96 pages / USA/UK

***

You know when something goes wrong with a speaker cable or audio track and you can barely hear the dialogue over the amplified soundtrack and atmospheric effects? That's how I like to watch Blade Runner. I don't much care for the story, but I can watch those incredible pre-CGI visuals drenched in Vangelis' gloomy synthesiser all night. This vintage tie-in paperback takes you half-way there with concept art filling in every mundane detail of the 2019 dystopia, just BYOV.


340. Andy Maslen, 100 Great Copywriting Ideas: From Leading Companies Around the World

2009 / E-book / 209 pages / UK

***

Since there were no examples in the last writing guide I read, this helped to balance things out. Some good tips, mostly refreshers or N/A. I usually avoid these books if they're more than a couple of years old, but the author claims that his timeless techniques haven't changed much since he started out in 1986. I'd be a bit worried about that, if I were him. But who am I to argue with someone who's written more than 3,000 pieces of copy in 23 years? I think I passed that in year one.


341. Gary Wilson, Your Brain On Porn: Internet Pornography and the Emerging Science of Addiction

2014 / E-book / 180 pages / USA

***

I hadn't ever come across this guy's viral TED talk, as my rubbish, limited mobile Wi-Fi doesn't have the bandwidth for those kind of multimedia adventures. On the bright side, that physical barrier has certainly helped me to cut back on other viewing too. There's some real neuroscience in here, but it's largely anecdotal and quoted from cold turkey pioneers on Reddit and forums rather than the writer's own experiences, which are implicitly the picture of health and decency. He can't get over how ambitious and maverick he's being, treating this debilitating addiction as a specific brainwrong that his colleagues are too square and boxed-in to accept. At least he doesn't brings Jesus into it.


342. Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot

1953 / Audiobook / 109 pages / Ireland

***

It's about time I got around to this one, and since I've already missed the chance for Mayall/Edmondson and Stewart/McKellen interpretations, there's no point waiting any longer.

'Salright.


343. Martin Popoff, Rush: The Illustrated History

2013 / E-book / 192 pages / Canada

***

A band I quite like, but knew very little about. This chronological sweep doesn't linger as long as I would have liked on detailed analysis of side-long concept suites, just the basics. Still, it's nice that it's so comprehensive and undeservedly balanced, giving all those post-1981 albums the same breathing room as the good ones. That's the spirit.


344. Robert Ashton, Successful Copywriting in a Week: Second Edition

2012 / E-book / 180 pages / UK

**

Since I'm committed to reading anyway, it seemed like the responsible thing to make some of these reads worthwhile and potentially useful for the day job. But most of those turned out to be a bigger waste of time than reading about frivolous bands, since at least with those I can motivate myself to bash out an article before the album finishes. This pointlessly gimmicky book combines amateur psychology with unrealistic examples, patronising quizzes and a surprising lack of focus on online writing until you notice it's been revised and updated from a 2003 core. Just write a new one.


345. Leslie Shapiro, Understanding OCD: Skills to Control the Conscience and Outsmart Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

2015 / E-book / 203 pages / USA

**

After reading a single article online, I was fairly confident I'd diagnosed someone with OCD. This book made me less certain, while concerns that I might have it myself faded in and out (despite my ace performance on a totally reliable questionnaire). Maybe we're all a little bit OCD. But we're not all religious, so it's a bit annoying that this neuroscientist makes that presumption.


346. John Clift and Amanda Cuthbert, How to Grow Your Food: A Guide for Complete Beginners

2011 / E-book / 132 pages / UK

***

Inspiring, but not as useful right now as it will be in a few months' time when I have my first garden. It's not like I'm going to remember all those stats. A nice little book, nostalgically British but not too temperate-centric, so I'll just ignore confusing foreign terms like "winter" and "frost" and hope for the best.

Faves: Neeps, tatties, salad leaves, all the herbs.

Worsties: All the fruit.


347. Jessica Hagedorn, Dogeaters

1990 / E-book / 272 pages / Philippines

**

I'm no closer to finding the great Filipino novel, or even a fairly decent one. Being a close-to-the-bone satire on the nation's shallow, oblivious elite, while giving the criminal dregs at the bottom more sympathy than they're due, I just spent an uncomfortable amount of time in the company of various worst kinds of people.


348. Dylan Tuccillo, Jared Zeizel and Thomas Peisel, A Field Guide to Lucid Dreaming: Mastering the Art of Oneironautics

2012 / E-book / 288 pages / USA

****

It's a rarity to come across a pseudoacademic book whose philosophy and attitude I'm totally on board with. This brings together all the usual tips 'n' tricks to achieving unconscious awareness and manages to be inspiring and motivating without taking things to supernatural conclusions or advocating scary drugs. Let's see if I can get back into regular lucid dreaming without wasting the opportunity pathetically.


349. Dave Morris and Jamie Thomson, The Crystal Maze Adventure Gamebook

1991 / E-gamebook / 160 pages / UK

****

This is just about as authentic a meeting between the TV series and the 'turn to 187' gamebook format as you could get. Impressive, nostalgic and fiendish, things were looking pretty bleak for a while there in the Aztec Zone, but my fictional team pulled it together and made it all the way to a disappointing finish in the Crystal Dome. I failed at all the maths, but the logic puzzles were old chestnuts. There's a degree of flexibility that means you could play it twice before you'd be forced to repeat and coast through on memory. I assume it's for kids, but there's at least one naughty word.


350. William Blake, The Illuminated Books of William Blake, Volume 5: Milton, a Poem

1804-27 (collected 1998) / E-book / 232 pages / UK

**

Blake's attempt to join the ranks of Virgil, Dante and Milton with an epic poem of his own falls a chasm short of being a classic. It starts off deceptively artistically with the 'Jerusalem' hymn tucked away at the bottom of the preface, but after that the poetry makes way for a parade of proper nouns to further extrapolate on his weird mytharc. The art has taken a real back seat now, with naked men popping up every few plates or so. The supplementary one-pagers that barely pad out this collection aren't worth mentioning.

Faves: 'Milton, A Poem,' 'The Ghost of Abel.'

Worsties: 'On Homer's Poetry'/'On Virgil,' 'Laocoön.'


351. Robert A. Heinlein, The Menace from Earth

1941-57 (collected 1959) / Audiobook / 288 pages / USA

****

'By His Bootstraps' was already one of my favourite short stories ever. I didn't expect the rest to come close, but this is still golden age Heinlein so it's largely great. If there was any method to the seeming randomness of this collection, it could be the author or his editor striving to cover all the sci-fi bases. This is a diverse bunch in theme as well as tone, ranging from The Road-style environmental apocalypse to a silly sketch that might as well be signed off with a muted trumpet.

Faves: 'By His Bootstraps,' 'Goldfish Bowl.'

Worsties: 'Columbus Was a Dope,' 'Sky Lift.'


352. Robert Sheckley, The Game of X

1965 / Audiobook / 188 pages / USA

**

Either I've been making progressively unlucky random selections, or Sheckley isn't the overlooked genius that first book made him out to be. This one foregoes the sci-fi to poke fun at the spy genre instead, and it's exactly as funny as every single other Bond parody you've sat through. (Or was Austin Powers any good? I don't trust my teen nostalgia).


353. Alan Moore, Garry Leach and Alan Davis, Miracleman, Vol. 1: A Dream of Flying

1982-83 (collected 2014) / E-comics / 176 pages / UK

****

It's no Swamp Thing, but Alan Moore's low-profile British breakthrough made for a freestyle proving ground for his subsequent American success, as he updated a different ridiculous superhero from the naive '50s to the miserable '80s and actually made it worth reading. True, it relies on the world-wise modern characters scoffing at the lame premise of the original to get us on board, but beyond the ribbing, it honours the stupid legacy without getting bogged down in vintage parodies as he would later.


354. Kim Cooper, Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

2005 / E-book / 104 pages / USA

**

Great album, disappointing treatment. This freestyle series lets its critics do what the heck they like with their platform, and Kim Cooper takes the oral history route through this band/collective's brief life and pair of albums. The second half finally gets into the titular album's studio sessions and briefly analyses its weird lyrics, then it's over as abruptly as the band was.


355. Pete Olafson, The Morrowind Prophecies: Official Guide to the Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind

2002 / E-book / 370 pages / USA

**

The last game I really sank my teeth into (before this year's Dizzy revival anyway), I always suspected I was barely scratching the surface, and this tediously thorough book confirms it. I never realised how boring and repetitive it all was. I felt no nostalgic itch to play this time, games should have stayed 2D.


356. China Miéville, King Rat

1998 / E-book / 333 pages / UK

***

When an author, band or other artist you want to like makes you feel inadequate with their dense, intimidating works, it can be therapeutic to track down their obscure early stuff and pretend to scoff at its derivative amateurishness. There are a lot of similarities to Gaiman's (and Henry's) Neverwhere here, and it is excessively mired in poo, wee and bin bags like he's trying to weed out the pussies, but the author's distinctive style is all there. Personally, as someone who repeatedly watched that Ninja Turtles episode with the Rat King on video, it's nice to have a British version.


357. Jorge Luis Borges, The Maker

1960 / E-book / 160 pages / Argentina

**

Looking at a list of notable Borges fictions, like the clickable bibliography at the bottom of Wikipedia, almost all of them come from the first two collections. There are barely any thought-provoking, atmospheric dream tales in this one, which is mostly comprised of tiny thoughts and sketches that he couldn't even be bothered to make into poems.

Faves: 'The Maker,' 'Parable of the Palace,' 'Borges and I.'

Worsties: The rest.


358. Philip K. Dick, A Scanner Darkly

1977 / Audiobook / 220 pages / USA

**

I've been enjoying Dick's sci-fi-lite theological novels, but this similarly grounded tour through near-future-but-really-seventies drug culture didn't do it for me. I can tell it's more visceral and culturally significant, I guess I'm just more comfortable with the androids, virtual realities and zap guns after all. Pyew pyew, that's what I like.


359. Junji Ito, Black Paradox

2009 / E-comics / 240 pages / Japan

***

I've already worked through his popular ones, so it's fair enough that the rest of the catalogue isn't going to be as inspired, scary or comfortably translated. The premise is still worryingly original, unless he's just ripping off an obscure Japanese fairy tale about soul gems entering our world through portals in disembodied birthmarks, stomachs and brain tumours.


360. Haruki Murakami, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

1985 / Audiobook / 400 pages / Japan

***

Two entirely different novels mashed into the same spine, again, the major difference here from its more refined and esteemed successors like Kafka on the Shore is there's no realist coming-of-age tale to keep the weirdness grounded. Both stories are surreal and ridiculous, but one slightly more so than the other.



361. Iain M. Banks, Use of Weapons

1990 / Audiobook / 352 pages / UK

***

Nice try – your tantalisingly juxtaposed reversi chapters superficially impressed this prog rock fan, but there's so much violence, manipulation and misery, reading it was just unpleasant. It's not like I could have inferred that from the title or anything.


362. Harlan Ellison (and Robert Bloch), The Voice from the Edge, Vol. 3: Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes

1958-2009 (collected 2009) / Audiobook / USA

***

The author must have been feeling pretty down when he made these selections. Apart from a couple of escapist classics that unfailingly involve death and misery anyway, it's mainly an assortment of depressing afterlives, tragic life lessons and Ripper riffs.

Faves: 'Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes,' 'The Discarded.'

Worsties: 'Between Heaven and Hell,' 'Fever,' 'Darkness Falls on the River,' 'The Silence,' 'Base': inconsequential shorts.


363. Guy Delisle, Burma Chronicles

2007 / E-comics / 272 pages / Canada

***

Catching up with the artistic blogger's life a few years down the line, his extended excursions in the world's most depressing destinations are now dictated by the schedule of his NGO wife, and they're dragging a toddler around too. I've been to this quasi-hellhole, but as a tourist I had to stick to a rigid itinerary to make sure I'd actually have a bed every night, so I didn't get to see the real Burma/Myanmar. Seems it's basically Thailand, but worse. Or is that better?


364. Woody Allen, Mere Anarchy

2007 / Audiobook / 160 pages / USA

***

After a gap of decades, the slightly perverted funnyman put out a fourth collection of shorts that are nowhere near as funny as they used to be and come off more like a tribute album. He's still stuck on the same themes – the arts scene, philosophy, restaurants – but to prove he isn't stuck in the past, there are stories about the internet, quantum theory and scientology too.

Faves: 'Sam, You Made the Pants Too Fragrant,' 'Caution, Falling Moguls,' 'Strung Out.'

Worsties: 'This Nib for Hire,' 'Calisthenics, Poison Ivy, Final Cut,' 'Sing, You Sacher Tortes.'


365. Gene Wolfe, The Urth of the New Sun

1987 / Audiobook / 372 pages / USA

***

Part 5 of 4, this bulky coda catches up with our chronicler a century after his hero's journey and is a nice self-contained adventure in time and space. Though I was still confused about what was going on some of the time, and I've been reading along, so good luck climbing aboard here. One of the things I liked about the earlier books was that humanity's space-faring past was only alluded to, and then only with as much credibility as any dusty legend, but it's nice to finally head out there and see the myriad creatures of the cosmos in an impossibly impractical wooden ship.

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