Members recommend – 2009

2666 & Girl with the dragon tattoo 2666 & GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO

Robert Bolano & Stieg Larsson

Quercus, £3.95 & Picador, £4.92, both on Amazon

I’ve been much occupied by two books in the past three months.

The first, 2666 by Robert Bolano, is an enormous doorstop of a literary novel – 900 pages, translated from spanish, five separate but connected novels crammed into one. A pattern that’s almost visible, a puzzle that’s tantalisingly in reach. A long slow difficult read but rewarding. “A masterpiece” proclaims the cover…

A marathon of a book compared to the 400 metre sprint that is ‘Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ by Stieg Larsson. If the first took me more than two months to read, the second took me less than two weeks and I found myself reading it at every opportunity. A gripping thriller with unusual characters and constant plot surprises, and much better written than, say, Dan Brown.

Both authors were about 50 when they died recently – but they have other books if you decide you want more. I’ll be reading my way, at a sprint, through the Larsson Millennium trilogy. John Simmons

Buy from Amazon: ‘2666’

Buy from Amazon: ‘Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’

Democracy Kills DEMOCRACY KILLS

Humphrey Hawksley

Macmillan, £12.99 list, or £6.47 on Amazon

Many of us have grown up with the truism that democracy is the preferable form of government in our time. For some, democracy is synonymous with progress. Or as Churchill put it, ‘It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried’. In this new book, BBC World Affairs correspondent Humphrey Hawksley questions this simplistic notion, speaking to people around the world about their views on politics, power and representation. While some would forego essentials to maintain their precious vote, others say they would trade it for security, water or electricity. How should we respond to evidence that attempts to democratise often go hand-in-hand with increasing internal conflict? Do events in Afghanistan reveal the tough realities of the road to democratic freedom or the results of imposing the wrong form of government on a country? Would you choose to live and vote in Haiti rather than authoritarian Cuba? This is a well-considered, cosmopolitan rumination on complex but vital matters. Tim Rich

Buy from Amazon: ‘Democracy Kills’

Enron ENRON

Lucy Prebble

Royal Court Theatre / Noel Coward Theatre

Enron filed for bankruptcy in late 2001. Little did we know at the time that it was the canary in the economic coal mine, and that its pioneering model of off-balance sheet investing, opacity and hubris was being built upon and expanded by investment banks around the world. Lucy Prebble and director Rupert Goold have brought life to what could be a dry tale by making vivid both the arcane accounting terminology and the egos at the hear of the company. And when I say vivid, be prepared for lizards, Siamese twins and mice, amongst other things. It’ll be our generation’s ‘Serious Money’, it really will. Rishi Dastidar

Click for ticket details.

In Search of London IN SEARCH OF LONDON

H V Morton

Methuen, £9.99 list, or £6.95 on Amazon

Some months ago I wrote about In ‘Search of Scotland’. Well, this time the intrepid H.V. goes forth in post-Blitz London, and a rather poignant read it makes. It’s the human interest and emotional resonance behind the big events that makes this so readable (and touching). Think of it as a sort of benign psychogeography 40 years ahead of Iain Sinclair, Peter Ackroyd etc. A great book for anyone fascinated by London. Roger Horberry

Buy from Amazon: ‘In Search of London’

The Habit of Art THE HABIT OF ART

Alan Bennett

National Theatre, London until March 2010

Wry asides? Check. A delicious campness? Check. A belief in the transformative power of creation? Check. And yet, and yet… this is not Alan Bennett as we might think we know him through his cuddly ‘National Treasure’ persona. This is an a times dark look at both great men – WH Auden and Benjamin Britten in particular – and the way in which their gifts, talents and appetites can warp them. Not to mention ruminations on the theatre and the sacrifices that writing takes too. You’ll laugh lots. But you’ll be thinking while you do. Rishi Dastidar

Click here for ticket details.

The Sacred made Real THE SACRED MADE REAL

Spanish Painting and Sculpture 1600-1700

The National Gallery, London, until 24 January 2010

Went to see Damien Hirst at the Wallace Collection the other day, followed by this exhibition of 17th century Spanish paintings and sculptures at the National Gallery. No contest. The National Gallery wins hands down. The sculptures are extraordinary, even if you’re not religiously inclined. Dramatically lit, it’s like a meditation, going from these lifelike sculptures to powerful paintings by de Ribera and Velázquez. Room 3 is particularly striking, where you’re surrounded by St Francis, from Zurbarán’s soulful pictures to a sculpture that belongs in Toledo Cathedral and has left it for the first time for this exhibition. Fiona Thompson

A Single Man A SINGLE MAN

Tom Ford (Director)

You might have to wait a wee while to see it, but it’ll be worth it, promise, he says, cranking up the hype machine. Ford’s debut film is an elegant (obviously) and stylish (natch) adaptation of Christopher Isherwood’s 1964 novel about a gay Englishman coming to terms with the death of his lover. It’ll make you wonder a) what Ford was doing messing around with clothes for so long, and b) about the quiet way he brings the best out of his actors. It’s handsome, controlled, sleek and devastating – as is its core, Colin Firth. The Best Actor Oscar bandwagon starts here. Rishi Dastidar

All Quiet on the Western Front ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT

Eric Maria Remarque

Vintage £7.99 or £5.49 on Amazon

Almost daily as I was reading this book, television newsreels showed Union Jack draped coffins being off-loaded at RAF airports. Published in 1929, All Quiet on the Western Front reflected Remarque’s experiences as a German soldier in the First World War. It is still a visceral condemnation of young people sent to meaningless slaughter by those in pursuit of political objectives. This book’s power comes from its humdrum observation. There is no Gung-Ho. No Heroics. No Glory. No God Is On Our Side. The impact of atrocity on human life is reported with surreal glimpses of Mother Nature’s belligerent beauty in the killing fields of Flanders. This excerpt describes the vulnerability of youngsters plucked from villages and hamlets all over Germany, given a gun, and thrown into battle. ‘You get a lump in your throat when you see them, the way they go over, and run, and drop. You want to thrash them for being so stupid, and pick them up and take them away from here, away from this place where they don’t belong. They are wearing battle dress trousers and boots, but for most of them the uniform is too big and flaps about, their shoulders are too narrow, their bodies too slight; there weren’t any uniforms in these children’s sizes.’ The Army Recruitment office in my local shopping centre is as slick as a fashion boutique. No hair shirt serge or other people’s underpants here. It has all the plasticity of a Philippe Starck television game show complete with camouflage drapes, designer sunglasses, Ron Arad chairs, virtual war play stations, and grinning chicks and dudes lingering in the doorway fishing for kids. Tom Lynham

Buy on Amazon: All Quiet on the Western Front

Flashman at the Charge FLASHMAN AT THE CHARGE

George MacDonald Fraser

HarperCollins, £7.99 or £5.48 on Amazon

More romping nonsense from the cowardly villain of “Tom Brown’s Schooldays”. As the title suggests, this volume sees Flashman becoming the hapless hero of the Charge of the Light Brigade and somehow saving India for Britain. What’s great about these books – apart from all the rogering and carousing – is the casual learning abundantly evident in the background. That’s my excuse. Roger Horberry

Buy on Amazon: Flashman at the Charge

Glaciers from space GLACIERS FROM SPACE

What do these remarkable images of glaciers have to do with business writing? Not much, which is why they’re my current favourite accompaniment to a mind-refreshing, mid-draft cup of tea. Having said that, the extended captions are rather fine. Tim Rich

Home Time HOME TIME

BBC2, Thursdays, 10pm

How about this for a line? “30? I’m not 30. I don’t measure age in years, I measure it in achievements. That makes me about 14.” Watch Home Time on BBC2, Thursday evenings at 10. Sarah McCartney

My Trade: A Short History of British Journalism MY TRADE: A SHORT HISTORY OF BRITISH JOURNALISM

Andrew Marr

Pan, £8.99 or £6.48 on Amazon

No doubt we’ll be swamped by Marr-mania in the coming weeks, as his history of slightly-less-modern Britain hits the shelves and screens, but his earlier memoir-cum-account of the rise of British journalism and his small part in it is well worth seeking out. While it doesn’t replace more comprehensive histories, the gossipy personal anecdotes flesh out his narrative – and his explanations of how political journalism and editing work are lucid and revelatory. Rishi Dastidar

Buy on Amazon: My Trade

Nobel Prize in Literature 2009 NOBEL PRIZE IN LITERATURE 2009

The winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature 2009 is Herta Muller for her “concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose, depicts the landscape of the dispossessed.” Read abouther struggles writing during the Romanian dictatorship, and her ongoing experience of Securitate terror, which is still alive and kicking twenty years after Ceausescu’s execution. Tom Lynham

Off With His Head (The Ngaio Marsh Collection) OFF WITH HIS HEAD (THE NGAIO MARSH COLLECTION)

Ngaio Marsh

Harper £9.99 or £6.39 on Amazon

There are some new editions of Ngaio Marsh’s Inspector Alleyn murder mysteries out. Three novels in each edition. Oh joy. I do read 21st century books, honest I do, but for sheer pleasure I love to read inter-war literature, particularly with the occasional unpleasant death and intelligent detective thrown in. I was distraught when I finished everything Marjory Allingham wrote; I ran out of Edmund Crispin and then I bumped into Marsh. Sheer verbal beauty with no superfluous decoration. Sarah McCartney

Buy on Amazon: Off With His Head

Real England REAL ENGLAND

Paul Kingsnorth

Portobello, £7.99 or £5.58 on Amazon

This is a very powerful book. Subtitled The Battle against the Bland, this is a polemical cri de coeur about the way that England, although for England read the UK, is being increasingly homogenised through a collection of commercial and bureaucratic forces.

The story is told through a series of case studies, making heroes of a sequence of individuals (boatmen, orchard growers, market stall holders, pub owners etc) who have all refused to buckle to conglomerate power. Inevitably, a lot of the book feels quite gloomy, but fortunately Kingsnorth is sensitive to the danger of it looking like a whinger’s charter (‘it was all so much better in the old days…’) and wherever possible, the book adopts a celebratory rather than accusatory tone.

In fact, he isn’t a type of romantic traditionalist entirely – he recognises that the world doesn’t stand still, but is looking for a way forward that has space for breadth and personality, rather than having all the traditional richness of the country stripped away. I recommend this book as much for the writing as the message – it’s engaging, poetic and hugely readable. Martin Lee

Buy on Amazon: Real England

The List THE LIST

Rosanne Cash

Manhattan Records £8.98 on Amazon

When she was 18, Rosanne Cash preferred rock music to the Country and Western her father was famous for. In fact Johnny was so alarmed that he gave her a list of the “100 Essential Country Songs” and told her that it was her education and she should learn them all.

Well, she did learn to play the songs and finally in 2009, after surgery on a benign brain condition, she cut 12 of ‘The List’ her father passed down to her.

This is a wonderful collection and I’m sure Johnny would approve of this understated album of songs. Recording with her are artists such as Elvis Costello, Bruce Springsteen and Rufus Wainwright. John Fountain

Buy on Amazon: The List

 My Name Is Charles Saatchi And I Am An Artoholic MY NAME IS CHARLES SAATCHI AND I AM AN ARTOHOLIC

Charles Saatchi

Phaidon, £5.95 list, or £4.16 on Amazon

In which noted spouse of Nigella, Adland demi-god and recluse deigns to answer questions, pertinent and impertinent, about himself, his career, his collecting and his life in general. Of course it’s egocentric and maddening. But it’s also witty, self-deprecating and playfully explains what appears an to be an under-acknowledged part of his role in the art market: bringing it to more people. Rishi Dastidar

Buy from Amazon: ‘My Name Is Charles Saatchi And I Am An Artoholic’

:59 seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot :59 SECONDS: THINK A LITTLE, CHANGE A LOT

Professor Richard Wiseman

Macmillan, £12.99 list, or £5.84 on Amazon

This book provides a fascinating and wonderful insight into the psychology that works behind the ‘self-help’ genre. Taking the big themes – and sometimes the little ones – Richard Wiseman looks at what really makes a difference. Based on real psychological research and experiments, he picks out the things you can do to change habits, become happier, become more creative, make the right decision every time, and be more motivated. And every activity takes you 59 seconds or less. An easy read as much for the psychologists among us than those looking for answers: but, I have to say, I will be trying some of them! Anna Goswell

Buy from Amazon: ‘:59 seconds: Think A Little, Change A Lot’

Dancing in the Street: A History of Collective Joy DANCING IN THE STREET: A HISTORY OF COLLECTIVE JOY

Barbara Ehrenreich

Granta, £8.99 list, or £6.74 from Amazon

Once upon a time we knew how to enjoy ourselves – feasting, jigging, reeling and rogering at the drop of a hat. But wouldn’t you just know it? Those pesky religious types – and you know who you are, St Paul – had to rain on everyone’s parade. And that’s before sour-puss Calvin came along to really ruin things. A fascinating and highly readable book that’s far more scholarly and thought provoking than the above nonsense suggests. The story of how Dionysus was quietly turned into the Devil is worth the ticket price alone. Roger Horberry

Buy from Amazon: ‘Dancing in the Street’

Love In The Time of Cholera LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA

Gabriel Garci­a Marquez

Penguin Modern Classics, £8.99 list, or £5.99 on Amazon

I’d always meant to read Marquez, but somehow never got round to it. Now I know what I’ve been missing. Full of character and characters, ‘Love In The Time of Cholera’ is a lesson in richly textured storytelling, covering all the big themes – love, sex, death, ageing, friendship – with remarkable insight and compassion. It’s also desperately funny in parts, laying bare the quirks and eccentricities that make us who and what we are. Set in an unnamed Caribbean port city at the turn of the 20th century, Marquez successfully creates a compelling fictional world, which once you’ve entered you don’t want to leave. Jim Davies

Buy from Amazon: ‘Love In The Time of Cholera’

Me Cheeta: The Autobiography ME CHEETA: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY

James Lever

Fourth Estate, £7.99 list, or £4.39 on Amazon

If you have a fondness for old Hollywood and high-grade bitching, then this ‘autobiography’ will be perfect for you. Cheeta, the co-star of umpteen Tarzan movies, has finally put paw to pen and paper – and what a story! From his discovery in Africa, through to his early exploits in New York and then his big break on the Silver Screen, followed by the wildnerness years and his re-invention as a conceptual artist, this is a tale of style, charm grace and very few bananas. Monkeys might not have got round to Shakespeare yet, but they’ve clearly got the celebrity memoir cracked. Rishi Dastidar

Buy from Amazon: ‘Me Cheeta: The Autobiography’

Museum of London, Docklands MUSEUM OF LONDON, DOCKLANDS

West India Quay, Canary Wharf, London E14

An article about a ball and chain discovered in the Thames encouraged me to visit the Museum of London in Docklands. It’s a fascinating place. Housed in a Georgian warehouse at West India Quay, it depicts the history of London as a port. I didn’t know that once the Roman Empire had fallen, the Anglo Saxons set up a new city centre around Covent Garden. There’s a great model of the original London Bridge, looking like the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, heart-rending accounts of slavery, and fascinating stories of smuggling and ships queuing for months to get into harbour. Well worth a visit. Fiona Thompson

https://www.museumindocklands.org.uk/English/

Natural Mechanical NATURAL MECHANICAL

J.O. Morgan

CB Editions £7.50 on Amazon

A single, book-length poem telling the story of Rocky, a dyslexic boy who grows up on the Isle of Skye, dropping out of school and learning his lessons from the land. Sounds old-fashioned and Wordsworthian when you sum it up like that, but it’s an amazingly fresh, assured piece of work, full of memorable episodes, all beautifully told. On a first reading, you can enjoy it purely as a great story (perfect for film adaptation). But then you can revisit it time and again just to savour the music of the language. Best thing I’ve read in a long while. Nick Asbury

Buy from Amazon: ‘Natural Mechanical’

The Jonathan Meades Collection THE JONATHAN MEADES COLLECTION

BBC DVD

£34.99 list, or £15.98 on Amazon

As Ian Dury once observed (about Steely Dan), ‘there’s people who’ve read books and there’s people who ain’t read books’. Jonathan Meades has quite unashamedly read books. More importantly, he’s managed to smuggle his personal brand of mischievous erudition into the increasingly book-free milieu of mainstream TV. Not just once, but around 50 times since the early 90s. How? Well, being funny (if a bit pompous for some) and entertaining and having an insatiable appetite for the surreal all help. This 14-programme sample – the rest are on Youtube – includes last year’s epic Magnetic North and takes in Meades’s architectural and cultural musings on Belgium, the Fens and fast food among other things. A great way of doing your brain a favour. Jan Dekker

Buy from Amazon: ‘The Jonathan Meades Collection’

The New York Trilogy THE NEW YORK TRILOGY

Paul Auster

Faber & Faber, £8 list, or £4.80 on Amazon

On the surface, these are three short detective stories set in the Big Apple. But they’re really an intricate, self-conscious exercise in overlapping plots and red herrings, and a fascinating exploration of the nature of identity and the writer’s role in storytelling. Written in a sparse, simple style, Auster never dazzles with words, but rather in the amazing dexterity which he weaves the many lines of narrative. The twists and turns can leave you feeling bewildered as well as rewarded, and – if you didn’t think so already – that being a decent writer requires a soupcon of madness. Look out for a great cover by designer/illustrator Jonathan Grey on the Faber Firsts edition – he also did the ‘Common Ground’ cover for 26. Jim Davies

Buy from Amazon: ‘The New York Trilogy’

The Ring of Fire THE RING OF FIRE

Lawrence and Lorne Blair

Available on DVD from Wisdom Books, £38.99

This is a remarkable documentary odyssey through Indonesia, shot by brothers Lawrence and Lorne Blair in the 1960s. They travel through islands rarely visited and document astounding sights, customs, rituals and characters. Forty years on, we’ve grown accustomed to white-bloke-canoes-up-river-into-jungle travelogues, but this is something much earlier, much more adventurous, much more dramatic, and, at times, much more brutal. The Blairs sometimes leave important questions or developments unresolved, which can be frustrating, but what they reveal more than compensates. You can see the five parts of this film for free online at documentary-film.net, and there are some clips here. Watch out for the man-eating dragons. Tim Rich

An Equal Music AN EQUAL MUSIC

Vikram Seth

Phoenix, £7.99 or £5.99 on Amazon

Michael is second violinist in the Maggiore Quartet. He squabbles with his quartet over Schubert and Bach, worries about no longer having the loan of his beloved Tononi violin and is haunted by Julia, the woman he loved and left ten years earlier in Vienna. When Julia suddenly reappears on the top deck of the no.94 bus, the story takes us from London to Vienna, and Venice to Rochdale, giving some fascinating insights into musicians’ passion for their instruments and music, and the bitchiness and in-fighting of life in a quartet. Fiona Thompson

Buy on Amazon: An Equal Music

Black Cab Sessions BLACK CAB SESSIONS

Lots of indie singers and bands performing in the back of London black taxis. Dip into it, including those you’ve never heard of. Personal favourites are Grizzly Bear and Richard Thompson. John Simmons

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman BLIND WILLOW, SLEEPING WOMAN

Haruki Marukami

Vintage Books, from £2.80 on Amazon

Knock-out and an inspiration for anyone interested in the genre. Stuart Delves

Buy on Amazon: Blind Willow

First Edition Prices 2008/9 FIRST EDITION PRICES 2008/9

R.B. Russell

£25 or £17.50 on Amazon

My friend Ray recently gave me a copy of this, which he writes and edits. The figures make for interesting reading, but it’s Ray’s delicious amuse-bouche profiles of authors I’d never heard of that have made this my evening reading for the last two nights. I’ve been introduced to the likes of Christopher Bush and his sixty-three novels featuring urbane investigator Ludovic Travers, and Scottish metaphysical writer David Lindsay and his epic ‘Voyage to Arcturus’. I’ve now been alerted to the controversial Hubert Crackanthorpe, not to mention Barbara Pym, who was described as ‘the most underrated writer of the 20th century’ by Philip Larkin and David Cecil in the Times Literary Supplement. There are many more, and you’ll find 1,000 reproductions of some fabulous first edition book jackets throughout, together with useful appendices on prize winners (Booker, Pulitzer, Nobel) and authors’ pseudonyms (did you know Oscar Wilde sometimes used the name C.3.3.?). Tim Rich

Buy on Amazon: First Edition Prices

Geary's Guide to the World's Great Aphorists GEARY’S GUIDE TO THE WORLD’S GREAT APHORISTS

James Geary

Bloomsbury, £19.95 on Amazon

The whole of human life is here, plus a lot more besides. From G K Chesterton: “The past is not what is was”, to Napoleon: “Men are led by trifles”, to 26’s very own Jack Gardner: “If it is gone and you are alive, you didn’t need it.” Tom Lynham

Hellfire: The Jerry Lee Lewis Story HELLFIRE: THE JERRY LEE LEWIS STORY

Nick Tosches

Penguin, £10.99 or £6.59 on Amazon

Part of Penguin’s collaboration with the Magnum picture agency, this biography of ‘The Killer’ is at once heart-gripping, head-spinning, eye-popping and soul-gouguing; a story of biblical proportions told in a suitably epic style, a rollercoaster of rock and redemption. Rishi Dastidar

Buy on Amazon: Hellfire

In Search Of Scotland IN SEARCH OF SCOTLAND

H V Morton

Methuen, £9.99 or £7.49 on Amazon

HV, as his chums called him, was a journalist and travel writer busy in the early to mid 20thC. This book, first published in 1929 and still in print, is an utterly charming tour around Scotland undertaken in the then new-fangled Bullnosed Morris. HV’s style is florid to say the least but his turn of phrase is fabulous – for example, describing a Motherwell steelworks as “a volcano under control”. Superb holiday reading. Roger Horberry

Buy on Amazon: In Search Of Scotland

Nocturnes NOCTURNES

Kashuo Ishiguro

Faber, £14.99 or £7.49 on Amazon

Proof that this wonderful, magisterial writer can be funny. Stuart Delves

Buy on Amazon: Nocturnes

Perfumes, The Guide PERFUMES, THE GUIDE

Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez

Profile Books, £20, or £11 on Amazon

If you work with a multi-millionaire perfumer and “Bubble Bath Baron”, it’s as well to know your stuff. That was just an excuse though. The reason I found myself working in a cloud of perfume is because I already loved fragrances. Turin and Sanchez’s book is full of magnificently opinionated writing about 1500 perfumes; even if you don’t care two sniffs about scent you’ve got to love people who write about a Prada men’s fragrance, “A studiedly dull, nondescript masculine, a medley of every drone cliché in recent years.” If you do have a scent obsession, you can’t help rating your own taste against their five star system. Sarah McCartney

Buy on Amazon: Perfumes, the Guide

Play The Building PLAY THE BUILDING

A month about music, or at least sound. Go and “play the building” at the Roundhouse in London. David Byrne, wonderful singer/artist/writer from Talking Heads, has come up with an extraordinary sound installation. You sit at an organ and the building responds to your pressing of the organ with a variety of sounds. I wrote more about it here. David Byrne’s latest book Bicycle Diaries is also just out, published by Faber & Faber. I’m looking forward to reading it. John Simmons

Prufrock and Other Observations PRUFROCK AND OTHER OBSERVATIONS

TS Eliot

Faber, £4.99 or £3.22 on Amazon

You all know it. You’ve all read it. So all I will say that this very slim volume fits perfectly in your pocket, and is an ideal companion for any urban explorations you might be making, especially at those junctions when refreshment might be needed. Rishi Dastidar

Buy on Amazon: Prufrock

The Music Room THE MUSIC ROOM

William Fiennes

Picador, £14.99 or £8.24 on Amazon

By William Fiennes, whose event I chaired recently at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. The story of his childhood in a 14th century moated castle with an epileptic older brother, it’s the most beautiful book I’ve read for a long time. Worth reading just for the metaphors and imagery: cannonballs are messages from gravity; a tuning fork captures the note that’s already present in the room. Touching and lyrical, full of insight, human and scientific, it’s a feast for anyone who loves good writing. Jamie Jauncey

Buy on Amazon: The Music Room

Walking In My Mind WALKING IN MY MIND

Hayward Gallery, London

The second time I went to see Walking In my Mind at the Hayward Gallery, I bumped into Tom Lynham, fellow 26er, who’d heard so many good things about it, he had to come too. It’s on until 6 September so run there now, RUN! Sarah McCartney

Meltdown: The End of the Age of Greed MELTDOWN: THE END OF THE AGE OF GREED

Paul Mason

Verso, £7.99 list, or £5.59 on Amazon

Mason is ‘BBC Newsnight’s’ economics editor and one of the most cogent, far-thinking and incisive writers on business I’ve read. ‘Meltdown’ was written as the financial crisis unfolded, and it reads both as a cold eye on the fundamental flaws in the global capital markets and an on-the-spot report detailing the hot-blooded wrestling that has taken place in government offices and corporate boardrooms. The roots of the current crisis are complex, but it’s disappointing that so many business writers (and business people) have collapsed into intellectual nihilism in response. It’s not impossible to understand what structured investment vehicles are, and why they’re affecting almost all of us in some way right now. Mason not only explains what went on, he also provides a view on what is going on, and what it might mean for the future of business, finance, workers, international relations and the world. This book is a rare example of business writing that combines clarity, sophistication and personal perspective, but it’s also an invaluable hint of business issues to come. Essential reading for anyone involved in business communications.

Paul Mason blogs here.

Tim Rich

Buy from Amazon: ‘Meltdown’

Procession PROCESSION

Cornerhouse, Manchester until 30 August. Free admission.

Remember processions? Proper processions where a whole town gets together and expresses itself through the medium of floats, steel bands and crap homemade costumes? Artist Jeremy Deller recently revived the tradition as part of the Manchester International Festival. You’ve missed the procession itself, but there’s a great exhibition documenting the event at the Cornerhouse in Manchester. Nicely done and strangely touching. Steel bands playing Joy Division. Brass bands playing Hit The North. Banners reading “We miss the World of Twist” and “Unrepentant smokers”. Well worth a look. Nick Asbury

More details here

Reading the Oxford English Dictionary READING THE OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY

Ammon Shea

Allen Lane, £12.99 list, or £8.44 on Amazon

Subtitled ‘One man, one year, 21,730 pages’, this is one of those gloriously eccentric books that could hardly have been targeted more directly at 26ers. Ammon Shea, a word lover from the moment he could learn to read, decided to set himself the ultimate challenge. Read the OED in one year, so we don’t have to. Organised into, yes you’ve guessed it, 26 chapters, each letter starts with a mini-essay, sometimes to do with his odyssey, his autobiography or some other related subject (the history of dictionary making for instance) before moving onto the words from each letter that have most piqued his interest, such as finigugal or desiderium. No, sorry, no definitions here, you’ll just have to go out and buy it. But you won’t regret it. Martin Lee

Buy from Amazon: ‘Reading the Oxford English Dictionary’

Sum: forty tales from the afterlives SUM: FORTY TALES FROM THE AFTERLIVES

David Eagleman

Canongate Books, £9.99 list or £6.99 on Amazon

This brilliant book by neuroscientist David Eagleman offers 40 different scenarios of the afterlife. In the first example, you relive your life with all similar activities grouped together, so you spend 30 years sleeping, 200 days showering and 15 months looking for lost items. In another scenario, you meet all the various possible parallel versions of yourself – both more and less successful. Each chapter makes your brain spin off in a different direction and, ultimately, the book confirms the vast potential of human existence in a very life-affirming way. Clever design by Pentagram, too. Fiona Thompson

Buy from Amazon: ‘Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives’

Temporary Measure TEMPORARY MEASURE

74 Main Street, Keswick, Cumbria CA12 6DX

The Pencil Museum is very popular on a rainy morning in Keswick. But what lifted my heart was a tiny gift shop selling words called Temporary Measure. It was the vintage pictures on canvases, bags and accessories that invited me in – and the captions that had me pottering about until I almost missed my bus. Lydia Thornley

The Winding Stick THE WINDING STICK

Elise Valmorbida

Two Ravens Press, £9.99 list, or £7.49 on Amazon

I don’t know about you, but I always find it awkward when an acquaintance asks you to read their book/listen to their record/see their show. The fear is it’ll be hideously cringeworthy and you’ll have to avoid them for the rest of your life lest you are forced to admit as much. This book, by a fellow 26er, is a glorious exception. It’s a beautifully written, hauntingly crepuscular story about the margins of society, tough and tender and full of brilliant images that stay with you. Highly readable, highly recommended and genuinely ace. Roger Horberry

Buy from Amazon: ‘The Winding Stick’

A Little Night Music A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC

I’ve been overdosing on theatre in the last few weeks. There’s a lot of good stuff on in London. I’ve just seen The Cherry Orchard (Old Vic), Waiting for Godot (Haymarket) and All’s Well that Ends Well (National) and enjoyed them all. But the best was A Little Night Music at the Garrick, a revival of Sondheim’s musical from the 1980s. Sondheim is so brilliant. He takes a film by Ingmar Bergman and turns it into a stage musical full of lovely music and joyfully clever lyrics. Loved it. John Simmons

Bonjour to Lyon BONJOUR TO LYON

One for typophiles and magaziniacs; a new typeface called Lyon became the text face for the New York Times Magazine in June 2009. It was created by the Netherlands-based studio Atelier Carvalho Bernau and is based on designs by 16th century punch cutter Robert Granjon. It makes a refreshing addition to publishing faces and has an elegant writerly feel. No doubt we will discuss further over here. Tim Rich

Ghosting: A Double Life GHOSTING: A DOUBLE LIFE

Jennie Erdal

Canongate, £7.99

This is a revealing account of the second-oldest profession – of which many of us are proud members. Ever-since-ever, writers have been putting words in the mouths of others – from Greek choruses, to celebrity ‘autobiographies’, to chairman’s statements. Jennie began her career as a translator and editor of Russian literature but she gradually became a complicit victim of a complex interdependency with her flamboyant publisher – for whom she eventually wrote two novels, a newspaper column and numerous articles. There are many reflections on the meaning of writing for others, and the complex relationships involved. Her boss Tiger is a hugely successful and capricious diva who craves attention and uses her as an emotional and professional crutch. Her eye-watering descriptions of him reminded me of quite a few clients over the years. Tiger, while affecting a boyish ingenuousness, was actually endowed with a Machiavellian shrewdness. He could flatter, disparage, coax and intimidate, interchangeably and with consummate artistry. It’s an illuminating new take on the odd couple syndrome – manically addicted to loving and loathing each other.
Writing for clients requires a lot of listening and reading between the lines, before interpreting their ambitions in a way that appeals to their audiences. We all play a game; a delicate diplomacy often danced on the knife-edge of their insecurities and our need to get a cheque at the end. It’s a business transaction. No one is under any illusions. Our mercenary status and relative anonymity is the price we pay for making a good living out of words. As Tiger is bathing in the glory of ‘his’ second novel ghosted by Jennie she broods – Language creates us and defines us, but the stuff I was producing was a curious hybrid. I could never really trust it; it was too artificial, too much like a confidence trick. In odd melodramatic moments I thought of myself as a slave, toiling away, belonging to someone else. Tom Lynham

Buy on Amazon: Ghosting

Heaven and Earth HEAVEN AND EARTH

Richard Long

Tate Britain to 6th September

Heaven and Earth is such a perfect title because this show celebrates our spirituality and physicality – from the stars in our eyes to the mud between our toes. Richard’s work blurs the idiotic boundaries between creative disciplines. He is a walking artist who rearranges the world around him as he travels. This vast production at Tate Britain is so tactile and spatial I floated around in an ecstatic daze. The scales of activity are vertiginous; from prospective walks plotted on Ordnance Survey maps, to circles, spirals, squares and lines shuffled or constructed on deserts, pastures, scree slopes and peat bogs. Thirty Seven Campfires is a walk in the Sierra Tarahumara – Mexico. Walking Flowing is a 473-mile wander across France from the Loire to the Rhône. From Pass to Pass is a 12-day hike in the Zanskar Mountains of Ladakh. The photographs, hand paintings, rocks and words make a muscular language that feels squeezed out of the land. We are confronted with sheer-drops of exquisite typography – skies of sentences, vistas of lists, streams of consciousness, mountains of observations. Punctuating the immaculate graphics, walls of splattered mud and St Austell clay look as if they have been created by the weather. Rafts of scrubbed boulders and spilt slate float on the gallery floor looking so delicious you could almost eat them. Sometimes the giant words become so multi-dimensional, they develop meanings way beyond their perceived values. Writing great stories is about distilling narratives from the chaos around us, and signposting audiences through complex territories. Our job is to help clients see the familiar in unfamiliar ways, and look inside themselves to figure out where they are going, and why they are going there. Tom Lynham

Monocle podcasts MONOCLE PODCASTS

I listen to the Monocle podcasts as I walk from London Bridge to work in Shoreditch, and they provide me with a thoroughly entertaining half hour or so. A bit like the magazine itself, you can’t help but wonder a little bit about who the core target audience is, given the sheer variety of the content. One segment might examine the emerging trends from the latest arms fair, the next might be about the provenance of food in their chosen destination, another might look at the latest J-pop coming out of Tokyo. But it all seems to hang together quite well in the end, thanks in no small part to the well-heeled charm of Tyler Brule and his contributing editors. Give them a try on your next train journey. Or something. James Hogwood

No One Belongs Here More Than You NO ONE BELONGS HERE MORE THAN YOU

Miranda July

Canongate £7.99

Miranda writes with a dangerous beauty and alarming insights into the wonders of how on earth we talk to each other. Her stories are funny and sensual autopsies of the ridiculous expectations that make adult-hood so dysfunctionally glorious. In this dazzling collection the incidents are so slight, but her insight goes so deep. Her unravellings of tiny details and flitting happenstance light up immensely complex areas of life. She explores the fragility of relationships and the perils of faking-it. The Boy from Lam Kien describes an acquaintance between a woman and the young son of a neighbour. The boy manoeuvres his way into her house, and they play a peculiar game of territorial rights; the boy daring her to let him invade her spaces, and her fears about being home-alone with a minor in a culture where such encounters are loaded. During one excruciating mention of sleeping arrangements in her bedroom she says – He gave me a long, strange stare, and my mind bent like a spoon. Their exchanges are spun around the insatiable curiosity of a child for adult life – and the mysterious acquisitions and rituals to come. And the retrospective reflections of an adult – trying to measure the experience of childhood against the reality of being a grown up. As the boy leaves her house she says – I shut my door and listen to the sucking sound. It was the sound of Earth hurtling away from the apartment at a speed too fast to imagine. Tom Lynham

Buy on Amazon: No One Belongs Here More Than You

Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative OUT OF OUR MINDS: LEARNING TO BE CREATIVE

Ken Robinson

Capstone, £15.99 or £11.99 on Amazon

I like a book that explains clearly, humorously and intelligently everything that’s wrong with our way of thinking, then gives us a plan to put it right. How about this one? Sarah McCartney

Buy on Amazon: Out of Our Minds

Poor. Old. Tired. Horse POOR. OLD. TIRED. HORSE

Institute of Contemporary Arts to 23 August

This sweet little show of works on paper at the ICA is inspired by concrete poetry and text-based practices that originated in the 60s and 70s. Robert Smithson and Carl Andre are best known for their minimalist sculpture, and Vito Acconci for his performance work. The thing I had forgotten was the sheer percussive power of the typewriter. These artists used their Remingtons like hammers and chisels to carve characters deep into the page and re-discover words. The evocative quality of letter striking ribbon striking paper is a reminder of the drama of the embossed word in these times of purring laser printers. Other artists abandon comprehensibility altogether, and pound the typewriter keyboard like a deaf Beethoven to construct blocks of letters and phrases that play off each other like poignant chord structures. The excellent catalogue – ROLAND – includes a neat essay by Douglas Coupland who talks about visual and non-visual thinkers, the erotic charge he got from his earliest encounters with the words of Lichtenstein, Warhol and Jenny Holzer – and (ahhhhh) the enduring joys of Helvetica. Tom Lynham

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