Phil Gyford


Friday 9 July 2004

PreviousIndexNext What webloggers are reading this summer

Lists of who’s reading what are all very well but, although I love book recommendations, do I really care what books Kate Adie or Neil Mullarkey are reading? I realised I’d be far more interested in the reading habits of people whose thoughts I read every day. So I asked a bunch of friendly webloggers what they’re dipping into when they’re not hypnotised by a monitor, and here are their replies.

Anne Galloway

A few months ago I read Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex. It was such a wonderful story that I’ve been vaguely disappointed by the novels I’ve since read. Right before it, I read Ursula Le Guin’s translation of Angelica Gorodischer’s Kalpa Imperial: The Greatest Empire That Never Was. It’s oral culture, beautifully written. I really love graphic novels, and two recent faves are Mark Kalesniko’s Mail Order Bride and NoZone #9 - Empire. I also recently reread Semiotext(e) SF — the anthology that converted me to science fiction. Otherwise, recent travels reignited my long-time obsession with Church history and the invasion and conquest of the Americas — so I’m currently reading a bunch of things on the Jesuits in early 17th century French Canada. And I’m always reading academic stuff. The book review I’m writing right now is about the aesthetics of mobility.

Ben Hammersley

I’m tied up writing two books of my own, which means all my reading is either done in the shower, arms stretched out to keep the paper dry, or via the Dog Walking/Audible/iPod holy trinity. The New York Review of Books is very good for the shower: the paper is stiff enough to stand upright on the soap tray, and Audible’s version of Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything has accompanied many a stroll lately. For actual proper honest-to-god books, Tim Guest’s My Life in Orange is proceeding well, and I’ve got The Winter Queen from Boris Akunin, and Patrick O’Brien’s Post Captain in the queue. I’m trying to improve my Italian, so I have highly improbable dreams of slogging through Umberto Eco’s latest, La misteriosa fiamma della regina Loana with a dictionary and some aspirin. Either that, or the annual summer rereading of The Quiet American, sat in a pavement bar, beads running down my beer bottle.

Chris Heathcote

I’m reading quite a few “popular food” books at the moment, which I’ll end up writing about when I’ve finished the next tranche. Jeffrey Steingarten’s It Must’ve Been Something I Ate stands out as a quick funny read. I keep on eyeing up some culinary heavyweights, Espresso Coffee: The Chemistry of Quality, and the Cambridge World History of Food.

Two design books have been highly recommended, Design Research and Designing for People.

For the imaginary coffee table, I’d like Classic Cafes, Cabinets of Curiosities and Field Studies. Other than that, I’m hoping to get a bit further through some tomes I dip into — London The Biography, and The Complete Works of Charles Fort.

Cory Doctorow

I’m just now finishing up reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy (1, 2 3), nearly 2,400 pages of absolutely superb science fiction that effortlessly blends geology, biology, and physics with sociology, political science and economics, producing a gripping, multigenerational saga of revolutions social, technological and personal. From there, I plan on reading more Robinson, Pacific Edge (a perennial fave) and its two companion volumes (1, 2). I’ll finish up with Years of Rice and Salt and Antarctica.

Also in my queue is Charlie Stross’s unpublished Accelerando, and Stealing the Network: How to Own a Continent, a promising-looking bit on nonfic.

Dan Hill

Current novel: Don DeLillo’s Cosmopolis. Echoes of Ballard, oddly — no bad thing. Current non-fiction: meandering from Concerning Archigram to RE:CP (on Cedric Price) to Content, by Koolhaas/OMA. Coffee-table action is Maximum Meaning, Minimum Means, on Abram Games. Then Henry Petroski’s Small Things Considered, on “why there is no perfect design.” Possibly Suguru Ishizaki’s Improvisational Design. Then context: Dark Age Ahead, by new urbanist Jane Jacobs and Lawrence Lessig’s Free Culture.

Tomski lent me Fate Is the Hunter, by Ernest K. Gann, on flying, war, and much more. Looks great. Comics-wise, just finished Grant Morrisson’s The Filth, and keep dipping into Chris Ware’s supersized Quimby the Mouse.

Always a couple of books in the bathroom: currently the near-perfect Nobody’s Perfect by Anthony Lane, and Colin MacInnes’s Absolute Beginners. After MacInnes’s late 50s London, I’ll either be reading London Calling by Sukhdev Sandhu — or continue the vintage angle with Orwell, Updike, or Waugh. I’m a sucker for those 2nd-hand orange-spined Penguins.

Danny O’Brien

I’m currently reading Little Bear’s New Friend by the Reader’s Digest Young Editions collection, and Moo, Baa (La La La) by Sandra Boynton. When I’m after something less demanding (or less demanding than Ada demanding that I read the above), I’ve been skimming:

David McCullough’s John Adams. I’ve started this by looking up Ben Franklin in the index, and working back. All the people I admire in the American revolution seemed to have been somewhat creeped out by John “Sedition Act” Adams, so I’m going to enjoy seeing what the other side has to say.

Foe Romeo

I started the summer with Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy and haven’t been able to let it go, following up with Lyra’s Oxford, snacking on his earlier works, and reading The Science of…. It’s been interesting to trace the development of the ideas Pullman clearly belongs to. Indulging my rediscovered delight in books for young adults, I also read David Almond’s Skellig and Neil Gaiman’s Coraline. I focused my non-fiction reading on collecting. The most pleasurable find in all of this was The Phantom Museum, a collection of responses to Henry Wellcome’s medical curiosities, by A. S. Byatt, Hari Kunzru, Tobias Hill and others. All grounded their writing in the (incomplete) museum records but then seemingly listened to the objects themselves for the stories they wanted to tell. Next up: Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake and The Blind Assassin.

Jason Kottke

I read Oblivion, a collection of fiction by David Foster Wallace, partially on trains and partially on the beach. It’s (post?)modern horror, with the ubiquitous American media/spin saturation/culture standing in for the monsters and vampires. Just the type of thing I like to read but wouldn’t dare recommend to others for fear of depressing them. Other recent reads include James Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds (if you liked The Tipping Point, you’ll love…) and Jane Jacobs’ Dark Age Ahead. Looking forward to the Chris Ware-edited McSweeney’s #13 and The Most Beautiful House in the World by Witold Rybczynski.

Matt Jones

I’m still in the middle of The Confusion by Neal Stephenson, which is taking a while to get going, and doesn’t have as much historyporn in it (at the moment) as Quicksilver did, but that took a while to get off the ground too.

I’m also reading Trigger Happy by Stephen Poole, which is a fairly lightweight look at video game culture, as a sorbet, before moving onto the all-together heavier Homo Ludens by Johan Huizinga.

For work, I’m reading Digital Ground by Malcolm Mccullough, which is an examination of pervasive / ubiquitous computing from an urbanist, architect, or even social geographer’s view point. Haunting me for about 3 summer holiday reading queues has been a book called Founding Brothers by Joseph Ellis, which looks at the prime movers of the american revolution and founding of the USA, as contemporaries, which I have set myself a deadline to read before the US presidential elections…

Matt Webb

It’s unusual for me to have any books on the stack. I usually pick books up on recommendation (or whim) and read them immediately. But currently, R Buckminster Fuller’s Synergetics, McCullough’s new Digital Ground (I loved Abstracting Craft), and On the Origin of Objects (Brian Cantwell Smith) are all waiting to be read. Oh, and Ubik, by Philip K Dick.

Three recent favourites: How We Became Posthuman, by N Katherine Hayles, is a literary view of cybernetics since the 1940s. Good head-buzz stuff. The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception (James Gibson), about how animals see (he also coined the term ‘affordances’) is one of the best books I’ve read this year. And Steve Mithen’s After the Ice is a fun overview of human history from 20,000-5,000 BC. Fascinating stuff.

Currently reading: Daniel Dennett’s Freedom Evolves, and First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game, which I’d put down for a while but is now back in hand.

Paul Mison

There are a couple of biggish new books that I’m planning to read at some point this summer, although I have a nasty habit of being distracted by sci-fi pulp, and I’ve just acquired a nicely portable edition of Neuromancer. If I avoid that, I have a copy of River of Gods, which I decided to buy after reading a Guardian review. While I’m not the sort of person who wants to spend ten months in a hut finding his inner self, I’m intrigued by a subcontinent that has the potential to become a major world power, and the review’s reference to Stand on Zanzibar, which I finally read this winter and enjoyed a great deal.

Peter Merholz

McSweeney’s Issue 13. One must be careful when waxing rhapsodic about comics, but this issue of McSweeney’s, edited by Chris Ware, is easily the most beautiful, and important, work I’ve read this summer. The gorgeous fold-out cover grabs you, the smart comics criticism engages you, and the variety of comics delights you. It’s a remarkable snapshot of The Current State of Comics, ranging from the obscene to the obscure, the quotidian to the quixotic. Worth every penny of the $24, if not more.

Dune by Frank Herbert. It’s pretty good. It’s most impressive as a history — the world that Herbert creates is remarkably rich and textured. It has a real presence. It’s less impressive as a narrative — the plot is pretty hackneyed (Christ figure story, very melodramatic good vs evil, some awkward devices to keep the plot moving). But those shortcomings didn’t prevent me from enjoying the book. And recommending it to you, dear reader.

Permutation City by Greg Egan. Some Welshman told me I had to read this book, though forewarned me that page 136 would induce an embolism. Set around the year 2050, it deals with the consequences of ever-more-precise simulations, artificial intelligence, artificial life, and their practical and ethical concerns. I’m not yet finished (though I did pass page 136 without brain damage), and while I’m enjoying the scientific savvy that undergirds the book, I wish the characters and story were more compelling.

Finally, What I Have On Hold At My Public Library: The Fabric of the Cosmos by Brian Greene; Critical Mass by Philip Ball; Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough & Michael Braungart; How Soccer Explains the World by Franklin Foer

Rod McLaren

Geoff Dyer: Yoga For People Who Can’t Be Bothered To Do It, 2003. Burning Man, Thailand, Rome, Leptis Magna, Paris, Detroit: brutal truth and bald lies in a chemically-enhanced confessional/travel memoir.

Richard Jefferies: After London; Or, Wild England, 1885, with foreword by John Fowles. Early ecofiction posited an environmental catastrophe resulting in a future society relapsing into quasi-medieval barbarism and a London vigourously reclaimed by nature. Or online here. (Bonus: big list of catastrophe fiction.)

Joseph Leo Koerner: Caspar David Friedrich and the Subject of landscape, 1990. On the ruckenfigur, the walker-philosopher, in Friedrich’s empty, purgatorial, hyper-real landscapes.

David Mitchell: Number9Dream, 2001. A beautifully written coming-of-age story: Walter Mittyesque village boy Eiji comes to Tokyo to track down the father he’s never met. (Bonus.)

Alex Scobie: Hitler’s State Architecture: Impact of Classical Antiquity, 1990. Hitler, on Nurnberg convention hall: “But if the Movement should ever fall silent, even after thousands of years this witness here will speak. In the midst of a sacred grove of age-old oaks the people of that time will admire in reverent astonishment this first giant among the buildings of the Third Reich.”

Yevgeny Zamyatin: We, 1924. Archetypal dystopia: Life in a panoptic totalitarian bureaucracy built on the principles of collective reason, mathematic/logical order; personal freedom of “the Numbers” is suppressed. The inspiration for 1984 (and perhaps THX-1138?).

Tom Coates

I’m currently reading Dave Eggers’ You Shall Know Our Velocity, which I was slightly dreading but now would highly recommend. After that I was hoping to muster the enthusiasm to have another stab at the last half of Larry Lessig’s The Future of Ideas. The arguments aren’t new to me, but I thought I should probably go back and read the man himself. I really need to start reading more fiction again. For a start, I need to catch up with my Neal Stephenson — I’ve not read The Confusion or Quicksilver yet. But I’ll probably end up trawling through the various social software related bits of social science that I’ve been meaning to read for ages (Schelling, Goffman, Olson, Hall) and bunking off occasionally to grab a bit of Kim Philby’s My Silent War. I’ve become a bit obsessed with the whole Cambridge Spy thing since starting work at Broadcasting House.

Warren Ellis

Well, it’s an election year over in the States, which is my favourite kind of spectator sport, so I’ll be digging out and re-reading my battered old paperback copy of Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ‘72 by Hunter Thompson, still the best book written on the American electoral process. I also have the manuscript of Cory Doctorow’s next book to get to, and I’ll be re-reading the manuscript of Charles Stross’ excellent Accelerando. I’m also picking up Agitator, a book on the works of the Japanese director Takashi Miike, for my next long plane ride.

Many thanks to all those who responded. My own “to read” list is now significantly longer. Damn you.


This is great post!, I was looking for exactly this for my summer reading, already added a couple of books to my amazon wish list while I try to fins which ones are available in ebook format.


Posted by ticotek on 9 July 2004, 5:16 pm | Link

Over at my "Bookshelf" site, you can see that I'm still plowing my way through "The Gulag Archipelago," though it's grinding me down from sheer scope and size. I'm also reading Jonathan Franzen's "The Corrections" which is just as wonderful as trusted friends have told me. Franzen's way of describing the thought processes of his characters reveals truths and whopping lies in equal measure. (Some scenes cut close to home too. Eek.)

Waiting in the wings: Mike Davis' "Ecology of Fear," Nabokov's "Bend Sinister," and Walker Percy's "The Moviegoer".

Posted by ted on 9 July 2004, 6:24 pm | Link

Great list. I'm currently reading Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami it great, and I don't really enjoy science fiction. I have some more mainstream picks on hold at the library- Bringing Down the House and the Davinci Code...

Posted by CheapStingyBastard on 10 July 2004, 4:24 am | Link

One of the most metrosexual book reviews ever committed to the blogging cache, and probably the most delightful...As bloggers are so fond of saying; you couldn't make it up... (chewish smile)

Let's say that the books we read fall into one of four categories: those we don't bother to finish; those we finish because we believe for some reason we should; those we finish because we enjoy them; and those we are so consumed and overwhelmed and thrilled by that merely reading them feels inadequate

Posted by Jozef on 10 July 2004, 8:51 am | Link

Tricky Business by Dave Barry
Dave Barry the novelist is just like Dave Barry the humor columnist, but rated R.

Posted by Steve on 10 July 2004, 6:26 pm | Link

picked up "the human stain" by philip roth in anticipation of the movie, and i'm loving it (only 75 pages in). recent reads i'd recommend are "hell at the breech" by tom franklin, "you remind me of me" by dan chaon, "blood horses: notes of a sportswriter's son" by john jeremiah sullivan, "the river why" by david james duncan, "cryptonomicon" by neal stephenson (although several people said they were reading some of his later books, so they've probably already read this one), and "the sparrow" and "children of god" by mary doria russell.

Posted by sam on 11 July 2004, 6:25 am | Link

This week I shall mostly be reading 'Spender: The Novel' by Jimmy Nail

Posted by Richard Hyett on 12 July 2004, 10:52 pm | Link

I spent all my time making patterns out of information, patterns out of the small that would replicate patterns out of the big. I was the evolutionary drive making random feedback loops and cybernetic patterns from information. It would be inevitable that, if I did it enough, eventually one of those would come to life:

Posted by mattw on 19 July 2004, 6:02 pm | Link

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