Members recommend – March 2010

From the Holy Mountain FROM THE HOLY MOUNTAIN

William Dalrymple
Flamingo, £9.99 or £6.90 on Amazon

This rich account of a quietly remarkable perambulation sees Dalrymple retrace the steps of two sixth century pilgrims – John Moschos and Sophronius the Sophist. Their pursuit of Christian wisdom took them from the Bosphorus across modern-day Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Israel to Egypt. Along the way they stayed in remote hermitages, monasteries and caves, and recorded the thoughts of those they met, including the powerful pronouncements of pillar-dwelling stylites – the towering intellects of their time. Published in 1998, Dalrymple’s journey reveals much about the state of contemporary Christian culture in the east, from the embattled monks of eastern Turkey to the persecuted Copts of Egypt. Lines of continuity and consistency emerge between the major faiths, which makes the violence done between different groups seem both tragic and absurd. Without bravado or fuss, Dalrymple carries us into this contested and dangerous territory. Military roadblocks punctuate the narrative, the photogenically armoured walls of remote monasteries take on a functional quality, and a thick weave of massacres, expulsions, revenge and flight emerges. At the same time, there’s great beauty in this book, not least Dalrymple’s considered, elegant prose. Tim Rich

Buy on Amazon: From the Holy Mountain

Notations 21 NOTATIONS 21

Theresa Sauer
Mark Batty, £38 or £21.22 on Amazon

A book of bizarre and beautiful alternative systems for scoring music drawn from the work of composers like Stockhausen, Reich and Cage (and about a 100 others). No idea if any of them actually work, but plenty of the illustrations would make great posters. Think of them as sublime examples of aural information design. Would grace any coffee table. Roger Horberry

Buy on Amazon: Notations 21

Parrot and Olivier in America PARROT AND OLIVIER IN AMERICA

Peter Carey
Faber, £18.99 or £11.38 on Amazon

In which a not-very-disguised Alexis de Tocqueville is thrown together with an itinerant, rebellious printer / spy / mimic / stenographer, and together they set out for the new world. As you might expect from another Carey coupling, the two are rife with oddities galore, to offset their verbal felicities. And yet you get drawn in by the way they come to depend on each other as they sally forth through American adventures, likely and not. And all the while, Carey’s passion for his adopted homeland shines forth. It’s a love letter of a novel; an extremely convoluted one. Rishi Dastidar

Buy on Amazon: Parrot and Olivier in America


Dan Ariely
Harper Collins £8.99 or £5.04 on Amazon

A terrible accident led a young Dan Ariely to question how people make assumptions and to pick apart the holes in everyday logic. Now a behavioural economist of international regard, Ariely has collected some of his experiments in Predictably Irrational to show how we make flawed choices all the time – and how we fail to learn from them too. Accessible and easy to understand, always entertaining, always revealing. James Hogwood

Buy on Amazon: Predictably Irrational


English National Opera
A friend sent me an email recently, asking if I wanted to see a three-hour Philip Glass opera about Gandhi’s early years in South Africa, sung in ancient Sanskrit. He said he’d be performing “with a motley bunch of assorted misfits creating visual images out of bits of old newspaper, wicker baskets and sticky tape”. How could I resist? The opera is about Gandhi’s concept of non-violent protest, or ‘satyagraha’, and according to The Times “this show burns with white-hot conviction”. It runs until 26 March and is on at the English National Opera, London WC2. Fiona Thompson

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Seeing Things: A Memoir SEEING THINGS: A MEMOIR

Oliver Postgate
Canongate, £16.99 or £10.53 on Amazon

Oliver died last year. Millions of people who’d grown up with his characters, or brought their children up with them, felt terribly sad. But Oliver wouldn’t want that. He left behind a joyful legacy of stories and invented worlds where Noggin, the Clangers and Bagpuss lived and still live in films and books. In this memoir, Oliver’s charming, idealistic, lovable and a storyteller through and through. Later in life, as artist-in-residence at an Australian university, he sat fuming in an academic lecture: a semiotic analysis of filmmaking. Unable to contain himself any longer, Oliver exploded and raged for the creative instinct. That was Oliver. He was always for things, for life. John Simmons

Buy on Amazon: Seeing Things


The Guardian
This list of writing tips from 28 authors appeared in the Review section of The Guardian on 20 February. Most of what we write for clients is fabricated, so it contains useful pointers. Highlights include “Leave out the part that readers tend to skip” (Elmore Leonard), “If you use a computer, constantly refine and expand your autocorrect settings” (Geoff Dyer) and “Don’t drink and write at the same time” (Richard Ford). Tom Lynham

Full list here


Simon Heys
Free download

Let’s face it… if you’re a member of 26, the chances are that numbers are not your forté. For me, they’re just confusing marks best left to bookkeepers and accountants. I’m actually beginning to think I suffer from a mild form of number dyslexia, often transposing digits and being perennially useless with PIN numbers and phone numbers. So Word Clock, by the ingenious digital designer Simon Heys (currently working at the Times), is a welcome antidote to the number fascism of time. It’s a rather beautiful screen saver (for Mac, PC or iPhone), which tells you the time in written out words, which change… well… every second. You can set it as a full screen of words or a rather elegant spiral, you can change the colours or the typeface. It’s wonderfully mesmerising watching time click by in words. Get yours here. You won’t regret it. Jim Davies

A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts A MAN ON THE MOON: THE VOYAGES OF THE APOLLO ASTRONAUTS

Andrew Chaikin
Penguin, £10.99 list, or £7.66 on Amazon

Sure, we know the story. And sure, it’s just all nostalgia now, 40 years on. But whatever angle you look at the whole enterprise from: a heroic extending of man’s capabilities, a tragic waste of money, a scientific springboard or full-stop, one thing can’t be gainsaid: the sheer bloody unlikeliness of it all. That anything that bold, that brave, that impossible, could happen. You pinch yourself when Chaikin reminds you of some of the stats – the billions, the manpower – involved. And you worry that, as a species, our dreams have become more beige. Rishi Dastidar
Buy from Amazon: ‘A Man on the Moon’
Anvil! The Story of Anvil ANVIL! THE STORY OF ANVIL

Universal, £17.99 list, or £3.98 on Amazon

A real life Spinal Tap, full of unintentionally hilarious moments you just couldn’t make up. Oddly the result is somehow wonderfully life affirming. You don’t need to like heavy metal to appreciate this brilliant DVD about the trails and tribulations of Canada’s least successful rockers – it’s all about the humanity, man. Get the beers in and enjoy. Roger Horberry

Buy from Amazon: ‘Anvil!’


I can heartily recommend It’s a marvellous case of curiosities, a cornucopia of trivia, a source of temporary inspiration, and most importantly a daily distraction from the wordface of work. Martin Lee

Ghosts of Spain GHOSTS OF SPAIN

Giles Tremlett
Faber & Faber, £9.99 list, or £5.96 on Amazon

Just back from Christmas in Barcelona where I devoured gallons of white Riocha, acres of black chocolate, and this marvellous book. Giles is the Guardian’s Madrid correspondent and brings inspired investigative journalism, a love of listening, and dazzling writing which all adds up to riveting storytelling. He travels on a series of physical and metaphysical journeys to exhume the ghosts that make Spain such an evocative experience. How come Franco still exerts such a subliminal influence? How did the bikini save Spain? What do the Spanish think of sex? How do the Spanish have babies? Why is flamenco so visceral? How has corruption + entrepreneurialism proved such a feisty economic mix? Why did Islamic terrorists bomb Madrid? Why do the Spanish love chancers and rule breakers? Giles is incredibly good on language, and reflects on how dialects feed identities and shape cultures. He writes about the mysteries of Basque (which Susannah Hart explored so eloquently in our book on translation – 26 Exchanges), Basque separatism and the rise and demise of ETA. He struggles with the differences between Catalan and castellano, and discovers how Galego confuses everyone but is alive and well in Galicia. The book concludes with a revealing chapter on Pedro Almodóvar who epitomises Spain’s Transición (from suffocating dictatorship to idiosyncratic democracy) and a national characteristic –not to moralise – but to understand. Tom Lynham
Buy from Amazon: ‘Ghosts of Spain’
Gilead and Home GILEAD AND HOME

Marilynne Robinson
Virago, £5 and £3.99 on Amazon

Some of the most beautiful writing I have read from America since William Faulkner.

Two takes on an interconnected story – somewhat reminiscent of Faulkner’s ‘The Sound and the Fury’. Stuart Delves

Buy from Amazon: ‘Gilead’

Buy from Amazon ‘Home’


I haven’t been to a meeting yet, but I hear good things about this club, and I see one or two 26ers are members already. Here’s the club’s self-description: A monthly meet up in a central London venue to swap, give away, recommend and talk about business books. The kind of books that have taught you, motivated you, inspired you, improved your understanding of psychology, sociology or other ologys. Is your hero Seth Godin or Richard Templar? Freakonomics or Wikinomics? Richard Branson or Felix Dennis? Discuss this, and other things (with beer). At every event we have an active conversation with a great author speaker, book swap with other members and network our socks off.’ Tim Rich


John Logan
Donmar Warehouse, Earlham Street, until 6 February

I love Mark Rothko’s work as a painter, it seems spiritual to me. The works I’ve seen at the Tate Gallery have an emotional effect that I find hard to explain, particularly as they’re abstract paintings. I went to see John Logan’s play at the Donmar because I love Rothko and it didn’t disappoint. I went to see it a second time, and I thought it even better the second time.

There’s a repeated refrain as actors and audience stare at a painting on stage: “What do you see?” You might answer “Red”. What do you see? What else? There are other colours, particularly if you keep looking. And there are thoughts. There are emotions. And these are powerful.

There are just two people on stage throughout. Alfred Molina as Rothko, Eddie Redmayne as his assistant. You come out closer to Rothko (not necessarily a comfortable place), closer to understanding the depth of his art. It’s only on until 6 February – see it if you can. And see some Rothko too. John Simmons

Redemption Song: The Definitive Biography of Joe Strummer REDEMPTION SONG: THE DEFINITIVE BIOGRAPHY OF JOE STRUMMER

Chris Salewicz
Harper, £10.99 list or £7.66 on Amazon

Unless you are a dedicated Clash/Strummer fan, 672 pages probably represents more time than you’d care to spend in their company. But if you’re fully sold on the man and the mythology, this book is satisfyingly exhaustive. Chris Salewicz (the rock journalist and biographer who Strummer insisted on calling ‘Sandwich’) is a fair and generous chronicler, giving us a warts-and-all account of his friend, easily the most articulate voice to emerge from the Punk movement. ‘Redemption Song’ is nicely balanced and written in an easy-going style, a portrait of the age as well as the main protagonist. Strummer comes across as a complex man battling coming to terms with many contradictions – infuriating, pig-headed and selfish, yet driven, inspired and generous. In 2002, soon after his 50th birthday, Joe died of a heart attack doing nothing more taxing than sitting on the sofa reading the Guardian. Jim Davies

Buy from Amazon; ‘Redemption Song’

The Hell of it All THE HELL OF IT ALL

Charlie Brooker
Faber & Faber, list £12.99, or £5.35 on Amazon

If you’re a Guardian reader or you’ve watched any of his TV series then you’ll already have the measure of misanthrope Brooker’s musings, but that doesn’t stop them being any less entertaining. Someone make him king, please. Roger Horberry
Buy from Amazon: ‘The Hell of it All’
The Unstrung Harp: or, Mr Earbrass Writes a Novel THE UNSTRUNG HARP: OR, MR EARBRASS WRITES A NOVEL

Edward Gorey
Bloomsbury, £5.99 list, or £4.14 on Amazon

There’s something about this poignant tale of writer’s block from 1953 that seems particularly appropriate for a January. Written and illustrated by the gorgeously bonkers Edward Gorey, this is the tale of Mr Earbrass, and the struggle to write his new novel, ‘The Unstrung Harp’. Mr Earbrass is described as a ‘straying’ rather than a ‘sedentary’ type of author, and – like every writer – is endlessly distracted from his work by biscuits, cups of tea and the desire for forced greengages. If you’re suffering from January, withered verbs or adjectives that are proliferating past control, this book is a tonic. Fiona Thompson
Buy from Amazon: ‘The Unstrung Harp’

Eric Baker
Eric is design director for The O Group and a professor at The School of Visual Arts, New York. He’s also a prolific and imaginative collector of books and graphic ephemera. Every week or so he publishes an eclectic sample of images via the Design Observer blog. His mini-collections – or recollections – invite your mind to hopscotch across history. You might see an achingly beautiful modernist book jacket, a bizarre family photo, portraits of cheese, a circus poster, a business card, a fragment of poem, a government warning… Each montage opens new windows on yesterday, and every so often you find yourself leaping through a window in pursuit of an intriguing typeface, a forgotten trade show, the ghost of an author, a frightening piece of footwear… Tim Rich


Bob Dylan
Columbia £8.98 on Amazon

A work of reverence, love and good cheer in the same old-school spirit as his Theme Time Radio Hour. Dylan’s voice alternately brings to mind an old priest belting it out as he leads the congregation, a misty-eyed tramp outside the church singing along, or a magical cross between Louis Armstrong and Shane MacGowan (can you think of a better thing?). Set against the backdrop of beautifully realised musical arrangements (with a lightness of touch that has become a forgotten art form in most of the music business), the contrast is perfect.

The cynical reaction this has received from some corners of the press (chuckling on the Today Programme, and sneers from, erm, Jeremy Clarkson) shows what a strange musical climate we live in. In a world where mediocrity is routinely celebrated as genius, this is a reminder of what music is meant to be about – a communal gift that connects us all to a greater tradition. Forget it’s Dylan and put it on while you’re passing round the port – you’ll love it. Nick Asbury

Buy on Amazon: Christmas In The Heart

Encounters At the End of the World ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD

I wanted to recommend something traditionally Christmassy – something with snow, ice and existentialism – and you can’t beat Werner Herzog’s absorbing documentary for that. The film spends time with some of the 1,000 people who work on Antarctica; a crew of red-anorak’d scientists, divers, pilots, survival experts, cooks and industrial workers, each of whom has a cute sideline in something unexpected (philosophy, poetry, bad rock guitar, Aztec royalty). Nothing quite prepares you for the underwater dive scenes, where the ice becomes a sky and seals provide a Moogy soundtrack like out-takes from an early Eno album. There’s a sense that many of the talented misfits working here have slowly wandered to the end of a global cul-de-sac, as if it were a refuge from metropolitan civilisation. Herzog’s subjects perform quietly peculiar scenes, like the taciturn penguinologist who struggles to respond to the film maker’s curiosity about animal mental health. Or the vulcanologist who, perched on the rim of the caldera, briefs Herzog on the counter intuitive safety dance he must do when (not if) the volcano spits up a lava bomb. Walking down the volcano, they decide to explore a fumarole, a complex ice cave formed by venting steam. Each subterranean ice cathedral they find hints at an epiphany never to be fully grasped. Very seasonal. Tim Rich

Feed your mind - a great British miscellany. Royal Mail Special Stamps 2009 FEED YOUR MIND – A GREAT BRITISH MISCELLANY. ROYAL MAIL SPECIAL STAMPS 2009

Jim Davies
Royal Mail, £65. From larger Post Offices or

Well, if I don’t tell you about it, no one else will. I spent a large proportion of 2009 working on the Royal Mail Yearbook. It’s a handsome, limited-edition, slip-cased book which comes out towards the end of every November and contains all the stamps published during the course of the year. I was charged with telling the stories behind the stamps, which meant researching everything from Charles Darwin to Mythical Creatures, the Tudors to the Fire & Rescue Service. Oddly enough, this is the 26th Yearbook – and the fifth I’ve written. The usual format is long, running essays, but this year the designers, hat-trick, decided to ring the changes with a more lateral, ‘bite-sized’ approach, which meant dipping into obscure nooks and crannies around the central subject. It was a huge effort, but it’s paid off handsomely – it’s quirky, dippable and interesting. Kind of like QI in print. You can get hold of a copy here. If you’re baulking at the price, remember the stamps inside are worth nearly £50. Jim Davies

Important Artifacts and Personal Property From The Collection of Lenore Doolan And Harold Morris, including Books, Street Fashion and Jewelry IMPORTANT ARTIFACTS AND PERSONAL PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF LENORE DOOLAN AND HAROLD MORRIS, INCLUDING BOOKS, STREET FASHION AND JEWELRY

Leanne Shapton
Bloomsbury, £12.99 or £7.06 on Amazon

So yes it’s an auction catalogue. But it’s not just an auction catalogue. It’s a litany of what were’s, what might have beens, what should have beens, memories, days, nights, the past, the future. And a meditation on how objects filled with dreams and hopes can turn out to disappoint you in the end. Sounds like a novel right? Don’t forget, it’s just an auction catalogue… Rishi Dastidar

Buy on Amazon: Important Artifacts

Legend of a Suicide LEGEND OF A SUICIDE

David Vann
Penguin, £7.99 or £4.79 on Amazon

This fascinating book explores what happens when a man unilaterally decides that he and his 13 year old son need to live in a wooden hut on an island in the wilds of Alaska for a year. In real life, David Vann’s father killed himself, and in this book, he fictionalises the story, splintered through various points of view. They fish, they hike, they store food for the winter, and in the background there’s a sense of impending tragedy as the father gradually loses his mind. It’s cleverly written and Annie Proulx fans will love the sparse language and harsh environment. Fiona Thompson

Buy on Amazon: Legend of a Suicide

PostSecret: Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives POSTSECRET: EXTRAORDINARY CONFESSIONS FROM ORDINARY LIVES

Frank Warren
Orion, £9.99 or £6.32 on Amazon

Not the boxing promoter. An amazing book in which anonymous volunteers share personal secrets by way of homemade postcards. Intense, confessional, voyeuristic, enthralling and at time heartbreaking. Practically every postcard is a potential screenplay. Roger Horberry

Buy on Amazon: PostSecret


Whitechapel Gallery until 3 January 2010

This exquisitely spiteful exhibit of words, images and movies is served up with lashings of REVENGE! It premieres the English language version of Prenez soin de vous (Take Care of Yourself), a highlight of the 2007 Venice Biennale. Sophie invited 107 women (including a sexologist, a cartoonist, a proofreader, a romance writer, a screenwriter, a chess player…) to use their professional skills to interpret an ‘IT’S OVER’ email from her partner. The show is an incisive post mortem on The Death of the Relationship, and the saccharine language that reveals deeply submerged poisons. I went with a chum who had just spilt up with her boyfriend, and we cringed at the phraseology of irreconcilability knowing that similar drivel had come out of our mouths. The book of the show is a glorious dollop of graphic design with inserts, documents, original texts, copy corrections, DVDs and mesmerizing portraits of the women who contributed. The perfect Christmas gift for your loved one? Tom Lynham

The Best Technology Writing 2009 THE BEST TECHNOLOGY WRITING 2009

Steven Johnson (Ed)
Yale, £14.00 or £11.02 on Amazon

An American traditional that hasn’t yet made it’s way over the water is the one where a number of literary eminences are invited to select their favourite pieces of writing of the year gone by, to be anthologised, both as a record of important pieces, and a nudge towards things you might have missed. Johnson, author of The Invention of Air, has made a fine selection of essays from publications both on- and offline, which fulfil those first two criteria, as well as providing a snapshot of various debates in and around the technology community – and how it is impacting upon wider society. No doubt you’ll have read some of these already. But the book is a good way to get up to speed with some topics that will become ever-more important next year. Rishi Dastidar

Buy on Amazon: Best Technology Writing


Richard Sennett
Penguin £9.99 or £5.98 on Amazon

Richard’s philosophical toolbox of arguments around craftsmanship explores the distinctions between craftsman and artist, maker and user, technique and expression, practice and theory. In an age of carnivorous competition, he suggests that survival of the fittest leaves a lot to be desired in comparison to the resounding values of craft. Writing is a formidable mixture of craft and intellect. We not only interrogate the content of a sentence to justify its existence, but then tweak the living daylights out of it to make the reader purr with pleasure. Richard analyses an incredibly diverse range of subjects – from the National Health Service to Stradivarius to Diderot to Elizabeth David to Linux, and explores our fundamental relationship between eye, hand, emotion and ambition, and that relentless obsession to create. Tom Lynham

Buy on Amazon: The Craftsman

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