Wednesday, 1 August 2012

What I've been reading

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Just My Type: a book about fonts
by Simon Garfield

"Just My Type is not just a font book, but a book of stories. About how Helvetica and Comic Sans took over the world. About the great originators of type, from Baskerville to Zapf, or people like Neville Brody who threw out the rulebook, or Margaret Calvert, who invented the motorway signs that are used from Watford Gap to Abu Dhabi."
An interesting and well-written book, so why did I end up feeling it could have been better? There is clearly a great deal of fascinating information and history that surrounds the use of typefaces and fonts and the transition from letters chipped in stone to pixels within an electronic matrix. Some of this fascinating information can be found in this book, but it's missing the vital spark that would have made it a gripping read. It was OK though. Damned with faint praise.

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About Love and Other Stories
by Anton Chekhov

"Elusive and subtle, spare and unadorned, the stories in this selection are among Chekhov's most poignant and lyrical. While his popularity as a playwright has sometimes overshadowed his achievements in prose, the importance of Chekhov's stories is now recognised by readers as well as by fellow authors."
So now I've tried Tolstoy, Dostoevski and Chekhov, and concluded that either I don't much like Russian books, or that they lose something essential in translation. This one was by no means as awful as Crime and Punishment, but not as easy reading as Anna Karenina, unless it was the audio format that made Tolstoy more accessible. Or that the concept of the 'short story' is interpreted differently by Chekhov. I was taught that stories have a beginning, a middle and an end, but he sometimes doesn't bother with one or more of those segments, most often omitting any form of ending - the story just stops.

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by Ben Elton

"Stark has more money than God and the social conscience of a dog on a croquet lawn. What's more, they know the Earth is dying. If you're facing the richest and most disgusting conspiracy in history, you have to do more than stick up two fingers and say 'peace'."
In 1989 I clearly thought this book was worth keeping, because it was selected for a place on the shelves, and that only happens for special books that I think I would like to read again. I picked it off the shelf during a sequence of pretty dry reading when I thought I'd like something a bit lighter and easier to read. But it is immensely annoying, written in the style that Ben Elton uses in his comedy, which might be OK for a 30-minute TV show but doesn't hold up for a whole book. Needless to say, it won't be going back on that shelf, but it did have some insight to give - I hadn't remembered that the whole global warming thing went back this far. It wasn't called global warming back then, and we had acid rain and the hole in the ozone layer to contend with, but the issues were being identified, and the root causes too. I don't think I'll still be around when an answer is eventually found to the question of how we achieve a sustainable planetary population.

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Gods Behaving Badly
by Marie Phillips

"Life's hard for a Greek god in the 21st century: nobody believes in you, your own family doesn't respect you, and you're stuck in a dilapidated hovel in north London with too many siblings and not enough hot water. Being immortal isn't all it's cracked up to be."
This was a lovely little book, and just the sort of light refreshment that I've been looking for - so thank you to Lola II for an early birthday present. It was nicely set up, an unpredictable story, and the gods came over as just the sort of arrogant yet blinkered individuals that you could imagine them to become if their powers had faded away.

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