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What I’ve been reading this month

Adam Kay’s This is Going to Hurt was a short-ish book of sharply observed anecdotes of life as a junior doctor, which ended with a poignant and moving description of the events which led Kay to leave the profession. Kay’s description of medicine taking over his entire life certainly rang true, and his observations about the degree to which patients dehumanise doctors were interesting too. Funny and insightful, this book deserves all the acclaim it has received since publication.
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Along similar lines in some ways, Henry Marsh’s Do No Harm is an autobiography describing the professional life of a neurosurgeon. Despite a lot of interesting insights into his branch of practice, my over-riding feeling was that Marsh was an unpleasant character. He hurled instruments around his operating theatre, yelled at his colleagues, knowingly and intentionally humiliated his juniors as a teaching technique, refused ever to have students in his clinics. Since I posted that on Goodreads, though, a couple of people have been in touch to say he’s actually a very nice man. This has made me wonder whether it’s brutal honesty and a hard assessment of his own flaws which made him come across as he did.
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Murder in the Yoga Store by Peter Ross Range has been heavily pushed at me by Amazon over the last few months, so I thought I’d give it a go. It was a fairly straightforward factual description of a murder investigation, obscured by poor writing packed with subclauses upon subclauses of extraneous detail. I didn’t take much from it.
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Naked Statistics is Charles Wheelan appealed to me because I occasionally find myself in situations where I have to explain statistics to a general audience, and appreciate the opportunity to see how others manage it! Compared to similar books by people like Michael Blastland, Andrew Dilnot and David Speigelhalter, Wheelan went much further in the statistical concepts he explored, including a section on multiple regression analysis alongside the more typical explanations of averages, p values, and simple hypothesis tests. Unfortunately for me, his examples were heavily drawn from US cultural touchstones, and I found some of these difficult to follow – I know nothing about American sports! Mainly for that reason, I prefer other authors’ attempts in this field, but nonetheless enjoyed Wheelan’s version.
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Ali Smith’s Autumn was a novel exploring time and people’s perception of it, and how that perception shifts over a lifetime. It also explored truth, and the difference between reality and perceptions of it, featuring the Brexit referendum as an example. There are some books where I find myself longing to read another little bit. Most of the time, that’s because of a driving plot. In this book, it was because every bit I read made me look at something a little bit differently. This was one of my favourite books of 2017.
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This 2,324th post was filed under: What I've Been Reading.






What I’ve been reading this month

The final instalment of Jane Gardam’s Old Filth trilogy, Last Friends focused on the life of Veneering, the third leg of the central love triangle. This was beautifully written, and despite covering lots of different stages of life and lots of different eras of the 20th century, powerfully evoked them all. I struggled a bit in parts because it’s a while since I read the first two books, and there was a reliance on recalling quite a lot of detail. So while I very much enjoyed this, I think I would have enjoyed it even more if I’d read the three in quicker succession.
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Tim Marshall’s Worth Dying For gave an entertaining and informative discussion of the history of a number of different flags. Those included were not just nation state flags, but also those of organisations like the UN and the Olympic movement, and those associated ideas, such as the white flag of surrender. I found Marhsall’s discussion of the cultural aspects of flags interesting: for example, the comparisons he drew between the treatment of the US flag by US citizens and the treatment of the Union Flag by UK citizens are not particularly novel, but are used to illustrate differences between the cultures of the nations in a fun, enlightening way. I didn’t enjoy this quite as much as Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography, but it was still a good read.
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Graham Swift’s much-loved Waterland left me bit conflicted. This was a very clever novel spanning centuries of carefully plotted family history and with a wonderfully evocative sense of the history of the Fens… but, on the other hand, there were some very long factually dense passages that were really quite dull. That’s clearly intentional and reflective of the narrator’s character, but it was also a bit of a slog to get through.
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After her election defeat, Hillary Clinton sat down and wrote about What Happened. Unfortunately, I think she did so before she had chance to get some perspective and context, leading to a book that raised more questions than it answered. I ranted a bit more about this on Goodreads. All of that to one side, the book gave an interesting insight as to what it is like to be a candidate in a modern US Presidential election, and was worth reading for that alone.
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This 2,323rd post was filed under: What I've Been Reading.






What I’ve been reading this month

Geography – let alone geopolitics – isn’t one of my strong points. I didn’t even take GCSE geography. Yet Tim Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography had me completely enthralled. Marshall explained how geography influenced the development of nations and the political relationships between countries. His explanations were based on ten maps – maps which were enlightening in themselves to me. This sounds like it should have been dry and dull, but it was a real page-turner, full of insights and new angles on topics which had me fully engaged throughout. I will look at the world differently and with a much improved understanding as a result of reading this book.
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Ian McEwan’s “masterpiece” – The Child in Time – reflected on the loss a child and the strange flexibility of time. Despite its reputation, this was my least favourite of the McEwan novels I’ve read to date, which shows how little I know. There were sections which were outstandingly brilliant – McEwan’s writing is always absolutely incredible. But the whole thing seemed a bit less than the sum of its parts to me – I found the flashbacks and messing about with time more frustrating than meaningful. I got the intent of reflecting the way time seems to work for all of us, but, as a casual reader, I just found it frustrating.
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How Not to be a Boy was Robert Webb’s autobiography, which had a particular focus on gender roles. Robert Webb came across as remarkably candid, and parts of this book were really quite moving. I was a little struck by the extent to which some of the social commentary seemed to be extrapolating generalisations from a single experience – but that might be a bit unfairly critical given that this is an autobiography. I don’t think it helped that I read this fairly shortly after Grayson Perry’s The Descent of Man which seemed to cover similar ground in a similar way, but more successfully and concisely.
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Stephen Talty’s The Secret Agent was a short biography of Erik Erickson, the Swedish oil salesman and later Second World War spy. The book concentrated on Erickson’s contribution to the US war effort, spying on – and thereby directing bombs towards – Germany’s synthetic oil plants. I wasn’t previously aware of Erickson’s remarkable story and valiant war effort. I found this book a bit unsatisfying, though: it’s brevity meant that it was hard to fully understand Erickson’s motivations, and – while it was touched on briefly – it would have been interesting to get more insight into the later psychological impact of having profited from the Nazi regime early on.
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This 2,322nd post was filed under: What I've Been Reading.






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