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What I’ve been reading this month

Nathan Filer’s novel The Shock of the Fall gave a first person narrative of mental illness. I struggled a bit with the first quarter or so of the book, because it seemed a bit heavy handed: for example, there are only so many times ‘unreliable narrator’ can be underlined, and only so much foreshadowing a reader can stand. As the book progressed, however, the authenticity of the narrative voice became stronger, and I found myself fully immersed and engaged in the plot. The first person description of the experience of mental illness was brilliant.
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I think I might have read The 39 Steps some years ago, and I’ve certainly seen a stage production, but I nonetheless picked up the first of John Buchan’s Richard Hannay novels this month. It was a short, punchy, thicky-plotted spy thriller, with plenty of implausibly resolved cliff-hangers to keep the pages turning. This series is often criticised on the basis that Hannay has no personality, but I rather enjoyed his 1915 turns of phrase and his dry humour. If nothing else, this book makes me want to bring back phrases like “the deuce of a mess”.
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“Most of what I know about myself, I have learned from playing Schumann… if Schumann had not existed, I would be less than whole.” So said Jonathan Bliss in his love letter to Schumann, A Pianist Under the Influence. His passion for the composer’s works was infectious, even for me – someone who couldn’t recognise a Schumann piece without his name at the top. A lot of the technical talk was beyond me, but Bliss’s enthusiasm for his subject shone through, and made this a very enjoyable read.
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The Descent of Man was Grayson Perry’s relatively light book on the heavy topic of gender, and masculinity in particular. I haven’t read a huge amount in this area beyond the typical weekend newspaper magazine features, and so I found it quite eye-opening (and, indeed, moving) in parts. I found Perry’s reflections on masculinity more interesting than his suggestions on what future masculinity should look like. If nothing else, I’ll never look at the the intricate patterns of camouflage clothing in quite the same way again.
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The Laws of Medicine was Siddhartha Mukherjee’s brief overview of his three personal “laws” of medicine. I particularly enjoyed the first section, where Mukherjee discussed probability in medicine, and gave perhaps the best jargon free explanation I’ve ever read of the importance of pre-test probability, sensitivity and specificity in medical tests.
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What do unpasteurised milk, 15 minute recipes and doctors working extended hours have in common? According to Carl Honoré’s In Praise of Slowness, they’re all great examples of the ‘slow’ philosophy. Unfortunately, I never quite understood what the common thread was between all the disparate things Honoré described as ‘slow’. I had the impression that it was a vaguely anti-corporate notion. It evidently has nothing to do with speed – Honoré says as much, and spends many pages praising things which are unusually fast for being ‘slow’ (like 15 minute recipes, and exercise regimes one can do in 15 minutes in office wear). Essentially, I didn’t enjoy this book and I didn’t find its arguments convincing.
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