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What I’ve been reading this month

André Aciman’s Call Me By Your Name was an emotionally intense book about adolescent lust: a deeply passionate summer crush, perhaps love, between a teenager and a slightly older lodger. I found this moving, both for the sheer force of emotion in the early part of the story (which was so intense as to be a little exhausting at times), and for the more reflective, contemplative later parts. The characters in this book will remain in mind for a long time to come. I can’t imagine how anyone made a movie about this given that it’s mostly about thought and emotion rather than anything visual – almost makes me curious enough to watch it and find out.

I was predisposed to like Kazuo Ishiguro’s A Pale View of Hills because I liked the other books of his I’ve read, but it turned out that I felt a little less certain about this one. Like his other books, this was all about life’s choices, how relationships change over time, and things that people live to regret. However, I found that the ending of this one left me with just too many unanswered questions, like a murder mystery left unsolved. I nevertheless enjoyed Ishiguro’s masterful prose as always.

The Richard Howard translation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince was a pleasant enough fairy tale about a young alien visiting Earth. This was one of those books so frequently referenced in popular culture that I knew much of the imagery and plot before I opened it, and didn’t get a huge amount more out of it for having actually read it. It reminded me a little of Gulliver’s Travels, but with earnestness replacing a lot of the wit.

Benjamin Hoff’s 1980s classic, The Tao of Pooh, described Taoism through Winnie the Pooh and friends. My overall feeling was that this was “nice” – a bit too cutesy in parts, and I didn’t feel I learned much more about either Taoism or Pooh beyond reinforcing my general level of general cultural awareness of both. It was fine – but I can’t say that I fully understand why this has become a perennial bestseller!

The Beast, by Alexander Starritt, was a satire set in the offices of a caricature of a self-important British tabloid newspaper: The Daily Mail in all but name. I struggled with it. It was full of stock characters and cliché, the predictable plot played out far too slowly, the prose is pretty clunky, and – worst of all – it just isn’t very funny. The insight of the degree to which fear can often lie behind irrational hate was well-observed, but that wasn’t nearly enough to sustain the book.

I was disappointed by Jaron Lanier’s Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. I found the arguments mostly unconvincing: there was lots of comparison between targeted social media advertising and mass media ads, made the classic popsci error of setting up falsely dichotomous groups. There has been advertising that is targeted and manipulative and actively harmful for a very long time, from tricks to convince gamblers into voluntary financial ruin to hooking people on addictive substances to pyramid schemes to timeshares. All of this context was missing and it made for a very thin set of arguments. The author used a lot of language which seemed to be intended to shock, from “shitposts” to “assholes” to branding particular sorts of websites as “bummer”, but (perhaps with the exception of the latter) without adequate definitions. So while I agree with some of Lanier’s conclusions – particularly around supported investigative journalism – this book really wasn’t for me.

This 2,370th post was filed under: What I've Been Reading.

Some recently published posts

What I’ve been reading this month / August 2019, 7 minutes long

A flying visit to Copenhagen / July 2019, 9 minutes long

What I’ve been reading this month / June 2019, 6 minutes long

Reflecting on my first ten years as a doctor / June 2019, 8 minutes long

What I’ve been reading this month / June 2019, 6 minutes long

Some random old posts

Guardian: ‘Blair defiant over Iraq judgment’ / April 2005, 1 minute long

2D: Abdication / May 2013, 2 minutes long

NatWest’s awful charter: Revisited / April 2011, 5 minutes long

Of foiled and successful terrorist attacks / July 2007, 1 minute long

The Sudoku craze rumbles on / December 2005, 4 minutes long

Review: Live from Downing Street by Nick Robinson / January 2013, 3 minutes long


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