Give us your suggestions for an Xmas reading list?

– Currently, I am mostly reading The Strange Death of Tory England by Geoffrey Wheatcroft… it’s not a new book  but it is an important one, not least because as the downturn hits the popular vote is swinging everywhere in the western world (although, significantly, not the US) firmly to the right…

– I’m also dipping into Fareed Zakaria’s excellent The Post-American World (which is lightly written and made for a read in one go, if you can ever find the time, space and quiet to read anything that quickly in a small house full of children and dogs)… Favourite quotation so far is from Yu Yongding, former advisor to China’s central bank:

“The US financial system was regarded as a model, and we tried our best to copy whatever we could. Suddenly we find our teacher is not that excellent, so the next time when we are designing our financial system we will use our own mind more”.

– I’ll also be looking (next year) at The Great Stagnation, by Tyler Cowen. This highly influential book has a number sharp aphoristic observations on the longer term decline of the US and argues that its been coasting since about 1974 having already taken all the easy pickings. Quotation via Martin Wolf:

“…the American economy has enjoyed … low-hanging fruit since at least the 17th century, whether it be free land, … immigrant labor, or powerful new technologies. Yet during the last 40 years, that low-hanging fruit started disappearing, and we started pretending it was still there. We have failed to recognise that we are at a technological plateau and the trees are more bare than we would like to think. That’s it. That is what has gone wrong.”

– Nearer to home, I have a copy of Abandoning historical conflict with a host of quality academic writers who exam the quality of change within the most polarised communities where most of the ex combatants live to this day. They find a degree of mirroring going propelled by a ‘construction of difference’. As if to underline the parallels with other conflict zones, they offer this quote from a paper by Tzfadia and Yiftachel (PDF):

“To enhance its power, each community mobilises its members through the construction of difference, as a convenient platform for reinforcing ethic and racial solidairty. This does not take place in isolation but by groups in constant relation (often contestation) with other groups and interest. Competition for spatial, cultural and political resources includes control over territory, relation to place, and the right to cultural expression.”

– If you want something lighter for the post Christmas lull, Barry Flynn’s Soldiers of Folly is hard to go past for a brilliant retelling of the IRA border campaign of 1956 to 1962… Barry combines the brilliance of the storyteller with close attention to history at time when such skills are in too short supply. It’s a fascinating story that apart from anything else demonstrates the degree to which north and south have departed from one another whilst our chief protagonists were involved in other things.

Others on my wish list include: John Bew’s biography of Castlereagh: From Enlightenment to Tyranny; and Johnny Fallon’s Dynasties: Irish Political Families… But tell us what’s on yours, and why?

  • wild turkey

    Autobirography of Mark Twain. Vol 1.

    Why? It is brilliant laugh out loud stream of consciousness writing! Typical of Twain’s relentless thrusting off the shackles of tradition and convention even while exploring his past, Twain intentionally wrote (actually, dictated) his autobiography in a sort of stream of consciousness manner, rather than telling the story chronologically. At any given moment in the writing (dictation), he talked about what interested him the most and what most vividly came to his mind.

    The anecdotes that Clemens tells are an outright riot! Along the way he comments on famous people whom he knows, including General Grant and Theodore Roosevelt. Clemens is an astute observer of his peers…his descriptions, both physical and psychological…are uncanny and hilarious. The Victorian era (yep, even in the United States) is often seen to be a staid and tightass time, But Twains writing utterly refutes such a notion. His writing like his life bursts with energy humor and rage. Although his narrative is presented to the reader in the jargon of his day, nonetheless the language is as vibrant and colorful and witty as anything recently written .

  • Mick Fealty

    I thought about getting Pete the Pedants Revolt, but I have a notion he’d know most of it already:

    Counter knowledge by the blood crazed ferret might be more his thing:

  • Dewi

    Three weeks work but finished “Vanished Kingdoms” by Norman Davies. Superb.

  • Mick Fealty

    Great Dewi, can you give a few juicy quotes? Must get him into the Slugger shop!

  • JR

    I got ‘History of the World” by Sir Ernst Hans Josef Gombrich two years ago for christmas. I couldn’t keep my head out of it all over christmas. One of the Best books I have ever read.

  • Chris Donnelly

    Making my way through Erskine Childers’ Riddle of the Sands at present.

    An intriguing character in his own right, Childers is credited with helping establish the spy genre of which I’m a great fan!

  • michael-mcivor

    Finished The Night Stalker by philip carlo last weekend-he also wrote The Ice Man which is going to be made into a film-good reads-

    I am reading Stepen Kings 11.22.63 at the momment- about time travel and the J.F.K killing-

  • RepublicanStones

    About to finish Michael Bonner’s ‘Jihad in Islamic History – Doctrines and Practice’. It’s a good analysis of early theological underpinnings and indeed arguments as to the meaning and employment of the idea. Great sources and fascinating look at the early Warrior-Scholars during the dawn of the Islamic empire.

    After that, it’s on to Will McCants ‘Founding Gods, Inventing Nations’ – which looks at how early civilisations developed cultures and how they used earlier histories to shape their own present.

    Fiction wise and as a result Melvyn Bragg’s recent (and excellent) documentary on the author, I’m still eyeing Cannery Row by Steinbeck. It’s sitting on the shelf and is a pleasure to go back to now and again. Short compare to other Steinbeck works, but a beautifully crafted depiction of a lazy little street with an odd assortment of characters and strange friendships.

    I’m hoping for the fat communist in the red suit to bring me either Hitch’s Arguably, or Alan Partridge’s ‘autobiography’, ‘I Partridge – We Need To Talk About Alan’. I just have to find out how he beat his addiction to Toblerone, and what it means to be ‘clinically fed up’.

  • Mick Fealty

    Can you guys hack out some good quote? Hoping this one will just run gently through the holidays…

  • latcheeco

    Reading Hemingway’s ‘A Farewell To Arms’
    “I was always embarrassed by the words sacred, glorious and sacrifice and the expression in vain. We had heard them, sometimes standing in the rain almost out of earshot, so that only the shouted words came through, and had read them on proclamations that were slapped up by billposters over other proclamations, now for a long time, and I had seen nothing sacred, and the things that were glorious had no glory and the sacrifices were like the stockyards at Chicago if nothing was done with the meat except to bury” it.

  • anne warren

    As ever at Christmas time Anthony Powell’s “A Dance to the Music of Time”

    Vol 11 Temporary Kings Page 236
    “It’s been found “not in the public interest to proceed with the case”. I was hearing about it earlier in the day.A journalist I know told me some quite interesting things”

  • Id recommend the memoir of Paddy O’Hanlon, the founder member of SDLP which I purchased last month. Unfortunately Ive loaned it to a friend and I cant recall the exact title.
    I always had a soft spot for Paddy O’Hanlon, the only founding member of the SDLP not to have a ministerial post in the first power sharing Executive and who lost out in elections he fought after that.
    I always thought him to be an under-rated politician.
    Of course his contribution to the Good Friday Agreement has only recently been recognised.

    The book itself is very well written and the photographs of young folks like John Hume, Ivan Cooper, Austin Currie, Alasdair McDonnell (his hair wasnt always that colour) and folks like Paschal O’Hare, Brian Feeney, Ben Caraher…have a high nostalgia factor.

  • wild turkey

    “Can you guys hack out some good quote? Hoping this one will just run gently through the holidays…”

    “The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter–it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

    – Mark Twain. Letter to George Bainton, 10/15/1888

  • Mick Fealty


    Any mention of Hemmingway always puts me in mind of Madrid. In a very long night that began in the Cerveceria Alemana one night back in 86.

  • latcheeco

    It’s Key West for me.

  • the barry flynn

    Mick – a big thank you for the glowing plug for Soldiers of Folly! I’d be tempted to buy it myself and as Michaeleen Og Flynn (no relation) said: “talk a little treason”…….

  • Decimus

    I can thoroughly recommend the following.

    Especially for those with outlandish views about how the security forces behaved here.

  • wee buns

    On my wish list -The Leaderless Revolution by Carne Ross; caught a radio snippet of a compelling interview with Ross, a former British diplomat, in relation to Iraq and experts’ estimates of an “excess mortality rate” of over 500,000 children under the age of five. “Though Saddam Hussein doubtless had a hand too, I cannot avoid my own responsibility. This was my work; this is what I did.”

    ‘Ross bravely advocates the term anarchism (a positive absence of distant, top-down leadership), which he differentiates from anarchy, the absence of rules and the onset of chaos. He seeks a new form of engagement which borrows from the right an appeal to individual enterprise and self-expression, and from the left a sense of solidarity and community.’

    Sounds juicy but try getting time to read in a house full of teenagers at Christmas…

  • RepublicanStones

    From Steinbeck’s Cannery Row –

    “It has always seemed strange to me…..The things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second.”

  • RepublicanStones

    Btw – full disclosure…I will also be catching up a backlog of DC Comics New 52 titles.

    Particulary enjoying the various Batman arcs as well as break out title, Animal Man.

    Any other geeks out there…..hello…

  • Zig70

    I’m struggling through John Ralston Saul’s The Collapse of Globalisation. Hard work, paragraph at a time for me. Written 04/05 so pre a lot of the current crisis. I like the bit about the old council chamber of the Palazzo Communale in Siena with the 14th century fresco that defines good government with Justice at its heart. One for the holiday tick-list.


    You’ve probably got a copy of this on your shelves, but just in case….

  • Lorcan Mullen


    ‘Cannery Row’, good shout!

    Read ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ recently, and Orwell’s ‘Down and Out In Paris’ – important, deeply humane depictions of poverty, inequality & displacement, worth revisiting in this climate!

    Nick Shaxson’s ‘Treasure Islands’ and Shiv Malik’s ‘Jilted Generation’ were also a real treat this year. And if you’re looking for a funny, wise novel about Tory power, I really recommend Jonathan Coe’s ‘What A Carve Up!’

    Also, with the US primaries hotting up, ‘Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail 72’ (Hunter S. Thompson) and Joan Didion’s ‘Insider Baseball’ (you can read it here: are required reading, puncturing the artifice, inhumanity and self-sustaining inanities of virtually all the main players/ the mainstream media commentary.

    I’m looking forward to some Paul Mason, Orwell and Zizek under the tree!

  • Alias

    I’m impressed that any family man has the time to read books over Christmas (and that’s from a non-Christian).

    I wish I was one of these people who could get through a good book in an evening but, alas, it takes me a couple of weeks to finish one. Not due to interruptions and distractions: because I spent too long with ‘technical’ books and just can’t flow with books that rely on narrative.

    Sadly, even disgracefully, I’ll be reading a few articles in The Phoenix and – more than likely – manuals for digital goodies that the kids are too lazy to read.

  • Harry Flashman

    “I’m struggling through John Ralston Saul’s The Collapse of Globalisation. Hard work, paragraph at a time for me.”

    As someone who absolutely loves books and regards reading books as my number one pleasure the only advice I have is to put Mr Saul’s, no doubt worthy, tome back on the shelf, walk away and don’t think about opening it again.

    I have wasted too much of my life plodding through tedious, dull books because I had already made up my mind that they were “serious” and if I found the writer’s style to be mind-numbingly tedious and flat the fault somehow must be mine and I must plough on regardless. Heaven forbid I would ever leave a book half-read, no sir, I was a “serious” reader and like the good little boy finishing up his sprouts I would make sure I always finished a book once started.

    No longer, life’s too short and I’m getting too old. If a writer can’t write in an attractive and immediately engaging way he has no business being a writer no matter how fascinating his thoughts may appear to him.

  • Mick Fealty

    Don’t be listening to Old Harry. Give us an oul quote or two? And Harry, what about you? Any good examples of engaging brevity?

  • The yokel

    I think Orhan Pamuk’s Snow would be appropriate at this time of the year.
    “The sight of snow made her think how beautiful and short life is and how, in spite of all their enmities, people have so very much in common; measured against eternity and the greatness of creation, the world in which they lived was narrow. That’s why snow drew people together. It was as if snow cast a veil over hatreds, greed, and wrath and made everyone feel close to one another.

    From the back cover
    Orhan Pamuk’s novel evokes the spiritual fragility of the non-Western world, its ambivalence about the godless West and its fury.

  • Rory Carr

    Reading Wild Turkey’s choice of Vol. I of Mark Twain’s purposely (and unnecessarily) long-delayed autobiography I take heed of what Harry Flashman has to say on the subject of time and choice. But that may be because at my age one is all too conscious of how few books one can cram in before that final overdue notice arrives.

    I had lunch at an old friends just recently and could not help but notice an ostentatious pile of copies of all the very latest books designed to appeal to modern England’s literati, including the Mark Twain doorstop. I had a look at him and thought, ” You can stop buying right now, mate. you won’t get through this lot this time round.”

    I would have rushed to buy the Mark Twain when i was younger but now content myself with the reviews and the odd selection from therein. I have instead at the latter end of this year turned for pleasure to the biographies of two other humorist swho have given me so much pleasure. Marion Meade’s biography of Dorothy Parker, What Fresh Hell is This? and Harry Thompson’s biography of Peter Cook.

    Two interesting little snippets I learned about Cook – one is that when preparing his now famous skit based upon Judge Cantley’s notoriously biased summation at the Jeremy Thorpe trial for The Secret Policeman’s Ball the pejorative expression he had the judge use for a man with homosexual tendencies, “A player of the pink oboe,” was in fact a Glasgow euphemism provided to Cook by Billy Connolly. Young ‘uns unfamiliar with the background to the case and /or Cooks skit may learn more here:

    The second revelation came in an interview that Cook’s fellow contributor to Private Eye, Auberon Waugh gave to Paul Hamilton:

    PH: So what interests did you share?
    AW: That’s a very good question and, no, I’d say none really. Except theEye and politics a bit.
    PH: He was generally right of centre, wasn’t he?
    AW:By the end very, very far right.

    So there you have it – Harry Flashman to the left of Peter Cook.

    Mention of Hemingway, a writer I admired in my youth as much for the self-generated stories of his legendary courage (“Grace under pressure,” was his definition I seem to recall) as for his prose style, brings me to a rather episode in Parker’s biography telling of a time when Hemingway, smarting from being dumped by his wife, Pauline and apparently contemplating suicide was scathing of Parker who had made a failed suicide attempt following an abortion she had had in the wake of being thrown over by her own capricious lover. At a dinner party where both were present he insisted upon reciting a nasty little poem he had composed with reference’s to Parker’s failed affair, failed suicide and failure to appreciate bullfighting. It makes one wonder indeed at the strange psychology of a man who, himself dressed as a girl in childhood, felt so strangely threatened by women throughout his life and so compelled to project an image of himself as macho-man supreme.

    One hell of a literary stylist still though, I’ve got to admit.

  • wee buns

    Re Orhan Pamuk’s Snow
    This reminds me of John Huston’s wonderful film adaptation of Joyce’s ‘The Dead’ – a ritual essential for Xmas viewing; hope they show it this year.

    Closing paragraph from the story:
    ‘A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.’

  • Kaido

    In the Steinbeck mode and equally scathing of the American capitalist systems way of operating, try Garden of Sand by Earl Thompson. His opening chapter a real and very amusing precis of the the American rural outlook of the 1930’s and the run-up to WW II.

    “Love a place like Kansas and you can be content in a garden of raked sand. For ground it is the flattest. Big sky, wheat sea, William Inge, bottle clubs, road houses – Falstaff and High Life, chilli and big juke road houses – John Brown, Wild Bill Hickok, Carry A. Nation, cock-eyed Wyatt Earp, Pretty Boy Floyd, and shades of all those unspoken Indians. Out there on the flat, on a wheat sea, on the spooky buffalo grasses where the ICBM’s go down into the shale and salt of a prehistoric sea wherein the mighty mosasaurs once roamed and the skies were not cloudy all day”

  • Catherine Couvert

    Some serious boys’ list you have here. May I suggest Jeannette Winterson’s ‘Why be happy when you can be normal?’ for a grown-up revisit of the landscape of ‘Oranges are not the only Fruit’ , ‘Vintage Nell, the McCafferty Reader, with a foreword by Margaret McCurtain’ edited by Elgy Gillespie, ‘Just My Type, a book about fonts’ by Simon Garfield for the layout geeks among us.
    And for a mix of nostalgic and cooky, ‘Stevie, a Biography of Stevie Smith’ by Jack Barbera and William McBrien, which will make you shake your head a bit and then take another look at that old copy of Stevie Smith’s Collected Poems which you hadn’t taken off your shelves since the mid 80s (no, scrap that, it’s probably just me!)
    I did like Panuk’s Snow because it helped me understand more about the shift from left to islamist as an opposition force in some Middle East intellectual circles. A bit irritating as a novel in many ways, but a good strong read.

  • Cynic2

    The back label on a bottle of Chapoutier “Les Meysonniers” Crozes-Hermitage. I might even read it twice.

  • Having dedicated a fair bit of recent life to door-stoppers (though the reading diary hasn’t been updated for a couple of weeks), it’s time for light relief.

    Moreover, I’ve got to get into this iBooks thing so …

    A few hours with the latest Jasper Fforde. I desperately hope that there’ll be more of Thursday Next, Nursery Crimes and the promised Shades of Grey sequence. Meantime, it’s the second Jennifer Strange (with a third due for 10.11.12). Fforde’s promises are seriously unreliable, of course.

    If all early-teen fiction were as good as this, I’d be looking for an age-transplant. So to The Song of the Quarkbeast. Jennifer Strange introduces herself (or re-introduces, if you’ve already done The Last Dragonslayer, as you ought to have done):

    I work in the magic industry. I think you’ll agree it’s pretty glamorous: a life full of spells, potions and whispered enchantments; of levitation, vanishings and alchemy. Of titanic fights to the death with the powers of darkness, of conjuring up blizzards and quelling storms at sea; of casting lightning bolts from mountains, and bringing statues to life in order to vanquish troublesome foes.
    If only.
    No, magic these days was simply useful. Useful in the same way that cars and dishwashers and can-openers are useful. The days of wild, crowd-pleasing stuff like commanding the oceans, levitating elephants and turning herring into taxi drivers were long gone, and despite the advent of a Big Magic1 two months before, the return of unlimited magical powers had not yet happened. After a brief surge that generated weird cloud shapes and rain that tasted of elderflower cordial, the wizidrical power had dropped to nothing before rising again almost painfully slowly. No one would be doing any ocean-commanding for a while, elephants would remain unlevitated and a herring wouldn’t be losing anyone wanting to get to the airport. We had no foes to vanquish except the taxman, and the only time we got to fight the powers of darkness was during one of the Kingdom’s frequent power cuts.
    So while we at Kazam waited for magic to re-establish itself, it was very much business as usual: hiring out sorcerers to conduct low-level, mundane and very practical magic. You know the sort of thing: plumbing and rewiring, wallpapering and loft conversions. We also lifted cars for the city’s clamping unit, conducted Flying Carpet pizza deliveries and could predict weather with 23 per cent more accuracy than SNODD-TV’s favourite weather girl, Daisy Fairchild.
    But I don’t do any of that. I can’t do any of that. I organise those who can. The job I do is ‘Mystical Arts Management’, or more simply put, I’m an agent. The person who does the deals, takes the bookings and then gets all the flak when things go wrong – and little of the credit when it goes right. The place I do all this is a company called Kazam, the biggest House of Enchantment in the world. To be honest that’s not saying much – there are only two: Kazam and Industrial Magic, over in Stroud. Between us we have the only eight licensed sorcerers on the planet. And if you think that’s a responsible job for a sixteen-year-old, you’re right – I’m really only acting manager until the Great Zambini gets back.
    If he does.

    There’s quite a lot for Sluggerdom in this Fforde. For Dewi there’s the Cambrian Empire:

    ‘Full’ Price was another of our licensed operatives. He and his brother David – known as ‘Half’ – were famous as the most unidentical identical twins on record. David was tall and thin and lofty and prone to swaying in a high wind, while Dennis was short and squat like a giant pink pumpkin, only with arms and legs. They hailed from the ramshackle collection of warlord-controlled regions in mid-Wales that were loosely referred to as the ‘Cambrian Empire’. Details were sparse, but it seemed the Prices had refused to work with the well-named Cambrian potentate ‘Tharv the Insane’, and then made their way to the Kingdom of Hereford to escape. They joined up with the Great Zambini soon after, and had been at Kazam for over twenty years.

    For Pete there’s the eponymous quark beast:

    A Quarkbeast is a small hyena-shaped creature that is covered in leathery scales and often described as: ‘One tenth Labrador, six-tenths velociraptor and three-tenths kitchen food blender.’ I held a special affinity for these creatures. Not just because I owed my life to one, but because they were one of the Ununited Kingdom’s surviving eight species of invented animals, all created by notable wizards in the sixteenth century when enchanted beasts were totally ‘the thing’. The Mighty Shandar created the Quarkbeast for a bet in 1783 and apparently won the wager, as nothing more bizarre has ever been created since. That didn’t stop them being uniquely dangerous, and a Quarkbeast was regarded with a great deal of suspicion by the authorities – hence the issue with the Beastcatcher. An abiding fondness for metal was one of their many peculiar habits, zinc most of all. In fact, the first obvious sign of a Quarkbeast in the neighbourhood was that all the shiny zinc coatings were licked off the dustbins – the beast equivalent of licking the icing off a cake.
    I looked around cautiously, hoping to catch a glimpse of the small creature. There was no sign, so I walked back to the car.
    ‘Do you think the Quarkbeast could have been the pair of yours all the way from Australia?’ asked Tiger, doing up his seat belt.
    ‘Quarkbeasts come in pairs?’ asked Perkins, who, although quite expert in seeding ideas, was not so hot when it came to magicozoology.
    ‘They don’t so much breed as replicate,’ I explained. ‘They divide into two entirely equal and opposite Quarkbeasts. But as soon as they do they have to be separated and sent a long way from each other – the other side of the globe, usually. If a paired positive and negative Quarkbeast meet, they are both annihilated in a flash of pure energy. It was said that Cambrianopolis was half destroyed when a confluence of paired Quarkbeasts came together and exploded with the force of ten thousand tons of Marzex-4. [footnote 3] Luckily, Cambrianopolis is such a ruin no one really noticed.

    Fforde uses footnotes as a recurrent device. This one reads:

    3. A form of plastic explosive whose principal ingredient is heavily nitrated marzipan mixed with cayenne pepper. Easily shaped, it is manufactured by the Kingdom of Cumbria, which has the largest deposits of natural marzipan in the world.

    Fforde is also prolific with his “back-stories”:

    Lieutenant Colonel Sir Reginald George Stamford Bloch-Draine had been one of King Snodd’s most faithful military leaders, and had personally led a squadron of landships during the Fourth Troll Wars twelve years before.
    The point of the Fourth War had been pretty much the same as in the first three: to push the Trolls back into the far north and teach them a lesson ‘once and for all’. To this end, the Ununited Kingdoms had put aside their differences and assembled one hundred and forty-seven landships and sent them on a frontal assault to ‘soften up’ the Trolls before the infantry invaded the following week. The landships had breached the first Troll wall at Stirling and arrived at the second Troll wall eighteen hours later. They reportedly opened the Troll gates, and then – nothing. All the radios went dead. Faced with uncertainty and the possible loss of the landships, the generals decided to instigate the ever popular ‘let’s panic’ plan and ordered the infantry to attack.
    Of the quarter of a million men and women who were lost or eaten during the twenty-six-minute war that followed, there had been only nine survivors. Colonel Bloch-Draine was one of them, saved by an unavoidable dentists’ appointment that had him away from his landship at the crucial moment of advance. He retired soon after to devote his time to killing and mounting rare creatures before they went extinct. He had recently started collecting trees and saw no reason why it shouldn’t be exactly the same as collecting stuffed animals: lots of swapping and putting them in alphabetical groups. Clearly, moving trees around his estate was not something he could do on his own, and that was the reason Kazam had been employed.

    It’s only when we arrive at the quark beast sanctuary, run by

    The Once Magnificent Boo [who] stared at me intently.
    ‘Are you ready to be confused?’
    ‘It’s how I spend most of my days at Zambini Towers.’
    ‘Then here it is: Quarkbeasts breed by creating an exact mirror copy of themselves – and since the Mighty Shandar created only one Quarkbeast, every Quarkbeast is a copy of every other Quarkbeast, only opposite.’
    ‘I was blown back to front yesterday,’ I said. ‘Is that the same thing?’
    ‘No, and if I were you, I should stay that way. It will save your life.’
    ‘Right. But wait a minute,’ I said, looking at the picture of Q26, the one that paired to give mine, ‘if Q27 is the mirror of Q26 and Q28 is the mirror of Q27, then why don’t Q26 and Q28 look the same? Alternate generations must be identical, yes?’
    ‘No. It’s more complicated than that. They create identical copies of themselves in six different flavours: Up, Down, Charm, Strange, Top and Bottom. All are opposite and equal, but all uniquely different and alike at the same time.’
    ‘I don’t understand any of this,’ I said, feeling increasingly lost.
    ‘I still have problems with it after twenty years,’ confessed Boo. ‘The complexities of the Quarkbeast are fundamentally unknowable. But here’s the point: there can only ever be thirty-six completely unique yet identical Quarkbeasts, and as soon as the combinations are fulfilled, they will come together and merge into a single Quota of fully Quorumed Quarkbeasts.’
    ‘What will happen then?’
    ‘Something wonderful. All the great unanswered questions of the world will be answered. Who are we? What are we here for? Where will we end up? And most important of all: can mankind actually get any stupider? The Quarkbeast is more then an animal, it’s an oracle to assist in mankind’s illusive search for meaning, truth and fulfilment.’

    Hey up! We’ve had that before!

    Enough quotation for you, Mick?

  • By the way, I’ve been dropping broad hints about Paul Bew’s biog of Castlereagh. So, I may by tomorrow discover: have I been naughty or nice this year? Or will it be half-price (see above) on Amazon?

  • Harry Flashman

    “And Harry, what about you? Any good examples of engaging brevity?”

    Seeing as how we’re in an apocalyptic mood for 2012, I’d thoroughly recommend Mark Steyn’s “America Alone”, nothing like a laugh a minute to get you through global societal melt down.

    I’ll dig out a few quotes over the next few days.

  • Harry Flashman


    “The back label on a bottle of Chapoutier “Les Meysonniers” Crozes-Hermitage. I might even read it twice.”

    Now you’re talking.

    Just got the kids off to bed, the stockings have been filled and Santa’s pressies are being wrapped by my extremely tolerant Muslim missus, who indulgently rolls her eyes at this odd religious celebration which revolves around reindeers and jingling bells.

    I’ve put out a few biscuits for Rudolf and a rather large glass of 18 year old Chivas Regal I picked up in the last visa trip through Singapore and they’re looking very tempting.

    Happy Christmas everyone.

  • Before we get too bibulous (Green Bush, any one?), I’d note that only two of my recent reads made it into the NY Times top ten: Amanda Foreman’s A World on Fire and Stephen King’s 11/22/63. I admit I found both acceptable, but not unexceptional. Hitch’s essays, Arguably are in there, too — but that leaves seven that don’t make my juices run (what might conceivably make me want to read a study of Malcolm X?).

    For the moment, until we get to the curried turkey (about next Tuesday), I’m on lighter stuff.

    My best fiction read of the year was Kevin Barry’s City of Bohane (paperback due in April, but the “trade PB” is cheap enough on the web).

    I’d also chuck in a mention, as a Norf Lunnuner, for Ben Aaronovitch’s inspired teccy fantasy, the Rivers of London series. Sample? I thought you’d never ask! —

    Nightingale handed me a framed family photograph, obviously looted from a living-room mantelpiece, and transferred his cane to his right hand.
    ‘I need you to do two things,’ he said. ‘I need you to confirm their identities and check them both for a pulse. Can you do that?’
    ‘What are you going to be doing?’
    ‘I’m going to cover you,’ he said. ‘In case they wake up.’
    I considered this for a moment. ‘Are they likely to wake up?’
    ‘It’s happened before,’ said Nightingale.
    ‘How often before?’ I asked.
    ‘It gets more likely the longer we’re down here,’ said Nightingale.
    I crouched down and reached out gingerly to draw back the collar of the closest one’s coat. I was careful not to touch the skin. It was the face of a middle-aged man, white with unnaturally smooth cheeks and pallid lips. I checked him against the photograph, and although the features were the same he bore no true resemblance to the smiling father in the picture. I shifted round to get a look at the second body. This one was female, and her face matched that of the mother. Mercifully Nightingale had chosen a photo without the children in it. I reached out to feel for a pulse and hesitated.
    ‘Nothing lives on these bodies,’ said Nightingale. ‘Not even bacteria.’
    I pressed my fingers against the male’s neck. His skin was physically cool and there was no pulse. The female was the same. I stood up and backed away. ‘Nothing,’ I said.
    ‘Back upstairs,’ said Nightingale. ‘Quickly now.’
    I didn’t run, but I wouldn’t call what I did up those stairs casual either. Behind me Nightingale came up backwards, his cane held at the ready. ‘Get the grenades,’ he said.
    I took the grenades from the satchel, Nightingale took one and showed me what to do. My hand was shaking a little and the pin proved harder to pull than I expected – I guess that’s a safety feature on a grenade. Nightingale pulled the pin on his own grenade and gestured down the basement stairs.
    ‘On the count of three,’ he said. ‘And make sure it goes all the way down to the bottom.’ He counted, and after three we threw the grenades down the stairs and I, stupidly, stood watching it bounce down to the bottom until Nightingale grabbed my arm and dragged me away.
    We hadn’t even reached the front door when I heard a double thump beneath our feet. By the time we were out of the house and into the front garden, white smoke was billowing out of the basement.
    ‘White phosphorus,’ said Nightingale.
    A thin scream began from somewhere inside. Not human, but close enough.
    ‘Did you hear that?’ I asked Nightingale.
    ‘No,’ he said. ‘And neither did you.’
    Concerned neighbours rushed out to see what was happening to their property values, but Nightingale showed them his warrant card. ‘Don’t worry; we made sure nobody was inside,’ he said. ‘Lucky we were passing, really.’
    The first fire engine pulled up less then three minutes later and we were hustled away from the house. The Fire Brigade recognise only two kinds of people at a fire, victims and obstacles, and if you don’t want to be either it’s best to stay back.
    Frank Caffrey arrived on the scene, and exchanged nods with Nightingale before striding over to the leading fireman to get briefed. Nightingale didn’t have to explain how it would go down; once the fire was out, Frank, as Fire Investigation Officer, would examine the scene and declare that it was caused by something plausible and sanitise any evidence to the contrary. No doubt there were equally discreet arrangements for dealing with the remains of the bodies in the basement, and the whole thing would pass off as just another daytime house fire. Probably an electrical fault, lucky no one was in there at the time, makes you think about getting a smoke detector, doesn’t it?
    And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how we deal with vampires in old London Town.

    I managed to sell Aaronovitch to the Pert Young Piece, who stuck me in return with Neil Gaiman, until then an aching void in my reading. Aaronovitch’s number three was scheduled for the autumn, but is now slated for Mid-March. With luck, the next Donna Leon should come along soon after (Beastly Things, 5 April 2012).

    Anyone done Tim Robinson’s Connemara, A Little Gaelic Kingdom? It’s getting rave reviews in the TLS and places where they sing.

    Meanwhile, Season’s greetings/ Bah! Humbug! — take your pick.

  • Mick Fealty

    Memorable quote from Wheatcroft:

    AJP Taylor, the mocking progressive, missed the point, and failed to understand the invaluable concepts of remaking and invented tradition. Toryism showed a rate gift for survival and for adapting itself to changed circumstances, for co-opting one social class after another, for quietly knowing when it was beaten and often – though not always – for following the military maxim taught to generations of officer cadets in the British army: never reinforce defeat.

  • tuatha

    Mark Steyn = somewhere a village has lost its idiot.
    After claiming a couple of years ago, in Amerika Alone that only the sole hyperpower would prosper, he’s now railing against the results of the very Imperial Hubris that made him all hot’n’wet’n’sweaty.
    For an ancient view of surviving Dystopia I recommend a long banned (in WWII) & forgotten classic, Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by the pseudonomous duo M. Barbard Eldershaw.

  • tuatha

    Pseud’s Corner – “pseudonymous

  • Harry Flashman

    Actually I must have already hit the Chivas before I wrote my post and cited “America Alone” when I meant Steyn’s latest work “After America”, I can only surmise from tuatha’s comments that he hasn’t actually read either book.

  • The notion of Mark Steyn at full book-length seems thoroughly indigestible. However, his essays for the National Review are of coffee-break dimensions, witty, pithy and as provocative as they are frequently profoundly mistaken (that’s not necessarily a put-down — all commentators lack a fully-functioning tarot pack, just as Sluggerites). Try to ignore the scrolling banner with the leggy lovelies: even if that too says something about the mental state of the American Right. Now, if I’m not a leg-man, what am I?

    Steyn’s recent piece on Gingrich is worth the journey all on its own. Compare and contrast the plodding pomposity of gaol-bird Conrad Black on the same topic and at the same source.

  • Mick Fealty

    Tuatha. Can’t seem to trace a copy if you have it to hand, a paragraph or two?

  • antoinmaccomhain

    The Outsiders-Eamon Dillon.

    @Anyone done Tim Robinson’s Connemara, A Little Gaelic Kingdom?

    I’ll b sure to ‘whip’ a copy somewhere in the new year g.r.m.a.

  • Mick Fealty
  • Well, Santa didn’t oblige with Castlereagh so it’s coming from Amazon (along with Dewi‘s Vanished Kingdoms — I’ll know whom to blame there.

    One (I’m 400 pages in) that’s giving me some delight and thought is the late Harry Thompson’s This Thing of Darkness. It’s been around a few years, and was long-listed for the Booker; but I’ve only just come upon it.

    At a superficial level it’s a novelisation of the voyages of the Beagle. Beyond that, it’s Fitzroy and Darwin adjusting their ideologies and religious beliefs to experience and their observations of natural science:

    The endless struggle of good against evil still raged. God’s love was still pitted against greed, hatred and selfishness… For all the changes that advancing knowledge had wrought, man was still, at heart the same creature he always had been, lazy, venal, cunning, thoughtless and self-seeking. Perhaps, then, it was not man that had changed, not society even, but Fitzroy himself … [cheating there — that’s the page 728 build-up to the punch-line. If you know already how Fitzroy died, the end can be no great surprise.]</blockquote

    It's not crash! bang! wallop! — the blurb quotes a comparison to Patrick O’Brian, and I understand why — but I’m finding it quite compelling.

  • antoinmaccomhain

    @Have .added it Antoin:

    I’m not sure if it’s still in print but if you ever get the chance to get your hands on Timothy Neat-The Summer Walkers i’d SERIOUSLY Recommend it.

    The Flying Cloud-

    When I was young and innocent
    At beauty I may smile
    My parents doted on me then
    For I was their only child

    They bound me to a tradesman
    In Waterford the town
    Sure they bound me to a couper lad
    His name was William Brown

    I served my master faithfully
    For eighteen months and more
    Then I took a trip on the Ocean Queen
    Bound for Barbados Shore

    When we arrived at Barbados Shore
    We met in with Captain More
    Proud captain of The Flying Cloud
    A native of Stramore

    It’s with him that we did all agree
    On a slavering barge to go
    To the burning shores of Africa
    Where the sugar canes they grow

    It was eighty-five of those black slaves
    From the native land we bore
    Sure we sold them to the planters
    To be slaves for evermore

    (There’s another 18 verses in that poem alone).

  • antoinmaccomhain @ 8:48 pm‘s notice of Timothy Neat reminds me …

    Neat published the first volume of a biography of the great Hamish Henderson some five years back. We’re still waiting for the rest.

    His film on the Ceardannan (anglicised as “The Summer Walkers”) has been around for quite a while and turns up at worthy art-house showings, generally with his Hallaig (a study of Sorley MacLean) — well worth the visit. Of course, such work is less honoured than its deserts south of the Border.

    The Summer Walkers is in print, and in the Amazon catalogue. The song from Alec John Williamson is on page 45. It’s a variant of an anti-slavery ballad which was the topic for an essay (as far back as 1953) in the Journal of American Folklore []. The Flying Cloud, American-built, but later sailed by the Black Ball Line out of Liverpool, is a romantic legend in itself.

    antoinmaccomhain omits the first verse:

    Oh my name is Edward Allan boys
    As you will understand
    I was born in the city of Waterford
    In old Eirean’s happy land …

    Also on Amazon is Neat’s The Voice of the Bard: Living Poets and Ancient Tradition in the Highlands and Islands (jointly authored with John MacInnes).

    Thanks antoinmaccomhain for the nudge.

  • Brian

    “Good-Bye to All That”- Robert Graves.

    The quintessential memoir of the generation of Englishmen who suffered in World War I is among the bitterest autobiographies ever written. Robert Graves’s stripped-to-the-bone prose seethes with contempt for his class, his country, his military superiors, and the civilians who mindlessly cheered the carnage from the safety of home. His portrait of the stupidity and petty cruelties endemic in England’s elite schools is almost as scathing as his depiction of trench warfare. Nothing could equal Graves’s bone-chilling litany of meaningless death, horrific encounters with gruesomely decaying corpses, and even more appalling confrontations with the callousness and arrogance of the military command. Yet this scarifying book is consistently enthralling. Graves is a superb storyteller, and there’s clearly something liberating about burning all your bridges at 34 (his age when Good-Bye to All That was first published in 1929). He conveys that feeling of exhilaration to his readers in a pell-mell rush of words that remains supremely lucid. Better known as a poet, historical novelist, and critic, Graves in this one work seems more like an English Hemingway, paring his prose to the minimum and eschewing all editorializing because it would bring him down to the level of the phrase- and war-mongers he despises. –review by Wendy Smith

    If you haven’t read this or any WW I memoir*, I highly recommend it. Even if you have no interest in WW I this one of best memoirs I have ever read.
    *this is more than just a memoir of WWI, but that takes up 50% of the book or so and is what it is most famous for

  • antoinmaccomhain

    @Also on Amazon is Neat’s The Voice of the Bard: Living Poets and Ancient Tradition in the Highlands and Islands (jointly authored with John MacInnes).

    Thanks antoinmaccomhain for the nudge.

    Thanking you.I’ll certainly get a copy of that sometime in the new year.If the Summer Walkers is anything to go by it will make interesing reading to say the least.

    @His film on the Ceardannan (anglicised as “The Summer Walkers”) has been around for quite a while and turns up at worthy art-house showings

    I’d luv to see that.If you hear of any ‘screenings’ and you think of it could you be so kind as to let me know.Tks again.

  • fitzjameshorse1745 on 23 December 2011 @ 8:27 pm:

    Would that Paddy O’Hanlon memoir be End of Term Report?

  • Los Lobos

    “The Sister Brothers” shortlisted for The Man Booker Prize 2011! Its not unlike the “Chuckle Brothers” who used to run Stormont! Touching and dark, this cowboy noir is compelling, absorbing and has a narrator who moves from thoughtful conviction to casual murder – again the similarities between the “Old West” and the “New Northern Ireland” are startling. It offers an unexpected meditation on life, and on the crucial difference between power and strength. The assembly hasn’t quite grasped that difference yet, nevertheless this book should be mandatory reading for any MLA.

  • Zig70

    I’d recommend Saul’s Voltaire’s Bastards for any technocrats. I’ve read it three times and due another one, though for some reason the wife seems to throw it out. Just don’t quote it in a management course.

  • tuatha

    Mick – a plot outline of ” Tomorrow & Tomorrow & Tomorrow” as requested.
    The point that the book made is probably very Oz specific (and thus, for long historical/cultural reasons, might resonate with Irish readers) in that during WWII Churchill tried to countermand an order from the Oz gov that a troopship heading home, wearied from service in N Africa and Europe, be diverted to defend british Burma.
    It aroused a lot of passion in Oz that never subsided and may have seeded the later Republican push.
    The story posits that the Oz population withdrew from imperial wars and global conflagrations and moved inland while the rest of the world turned to barbarism.
    Centuries later the historian Knarf reviews the past and it becomes clear that they became socialist and, as the only still functioning society the future when the Olde Worlde is ruined & savage, the question arises whether they should try to repair a broken world.

  • antoinmaccomhain

    David Hillard-This side of glory-

    Tupac Shakurs bio-

    ‘written by Tupac at the age of 19 before his fame, before getting shot five times and before going to jail for a crime many believe he never commited. This book shows the true Tupac. The sweet Tupac that was pure and never did anything but simply tell the truth. His poems show his honesty. They reveal his true intentions and the beliefs held so stronly in his passionate heart. A preface written by Afeni Shakur, Tupac’s mother, starts off the book followed by Nikki Giovanni’s foreword and Leila Steinburg’s heart-breaking introduction. Steinburg, Tupac’s first professional manager and adult friend, shares her treasured experience of meeting Tupac. She is responsible for releasing these poems to the public. Her introduction alone, is sure to leave readers drowning in tears and, if not already, in awe of Tupac. The first poem in the book, “The Rose that Grew from Concrete

    Did you hear about the rose that grew
    from a crack in the concrete?
    Proving nature’s law is wrong it
    learned to walk with out having feet.
    Funny it seems, but by keeping it’s dreams,
    it learned to breathe fresh air.
    Long live the rose that grew from concrete
    when no one else ever cared.

    Tupac-I aint gonna change sh1t-but i promise ye dis-I spark the brain dat will change the world-

  • antoinmaccomhain

    The Moon On My Back-Pat Tierney

    Pat Tierney Remembered-A Good Bloke-

    Who out there remembers Pat Tierney? Who can recall Pat Tierney, diminutive in stature, gigantic in spirit standing in Grafton Street reciting poetry to the passing populous? Who would have stopped to listen as his belted out poems by Yeats and Kavanagh and Clarke? Who would have seen the vitality he breathed into the written word like the seanachai of old?-A must for those seeing to understand twenthieth century Ireland-A Good Bloke-

  • Dewi

    A bit of a gem -“Alex’s adventures in Numberland” = Alex Bellos.

    To work out any single number multiplication – say 8*7.

    1) write both numbers in a column:
    2) Subtract 10 from both and place answers adjacent:
    8 -2
    7 -3
    3) Multiply the values in the right had column to get the last number of the answer and then add together either diagonal to get the first number.
    56…..didn’t teach me that at school….

  • Rory Carr

    Give us a break, Dewi, recalling either the seven or eight times tables is much, much simpler.

    Here’s a practical tip for those struggling with their monthly accounts:

    If you find that your figures do not agree, check if the difference between the two figures that should agree is divisible by 9. For example if the difference is 36 or 18 or 27. If that is the case then the likliehood is that, in recording a figure in one column, you have reversed some figures, for example you may have written 7,236 as 7,263, the difference 27 is divisible by 9. Quickly run your eye up the offending column to check all figures ending in 36 or 63 to locate your error.

    Thank you, that will be twelve guineas, please.

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    Few if any are new, but books sitting on the sideboard, bought but not yet read …
    The Audacity of Hype by Armando Iannucci
    Watching The English by Kate Fox
    The Essays of Arthur Schopenhauer
    Semiotics: The Basics by Daniel Chandler
    I Curse The River of Time by Per Petterson
    Pack Men by Alan Bissett
    Loyal Women by Gary Mitchell (play)
    As The Beast Sleeps by Gary Mitchell (play)
    A Week In December by Sebastian Faulks
    The Alan Partridge book

    I may also get around this year to the big Proust tome I have sitting in the study, but only if work goes very quiet for a long time. Quite possible then …