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Books of Note

Universal Harvester by John Darnielle

Not surprisingly, like a lot of John Darnielle’s music, particularly those songs on the album The Sunset Tree (Pale Green Things springs to mind and is very much worth listening to), his writing only slowly reveals itself and its narrative direction. Not in any turgid or tedious fashion, but rather in an unhurried, gentler and more thoughtful way. Universal Harvester rolls gently along its path with only a few disconcerting and probably deliberate hiccups. It starts in Iowa in the 1990s with a young man, still living at home with his father but unable to leave because of the weight of his mother’s death, years before, in a car crash. The trauma tethers Jeremy and his father together like the gravitational pull of a dead star in a comfortable and predictable but numb orbit, but it’s never something that either of them can discuss openly.
Jeremy works at a VHS rental store, so we’re assuredly early-Worldwide Web era. His job is simple, repetitive, and keeps him and his father in entertai…

The Etymologicon by Mark Forsyth, aka The Inky Fool

The address at which the Inky Fool
can serve legal documents can be
found below...

It would be folly to attempt a comprehensive review of a book that reviews, meanderingly, select elements of the language of 328 million[i] Germanic Indo-European family members, especially using said language so to do – oh the irony! So, as not to disappoint those who may read more than once, here’s my particular folly, that of ignoring sage[ii] advice in the misguided belief that stubbornness and orneriness in the face of overwhelming reason was in fact the championing of the underdog in all but lost causes in some act of romantic nobleness. No windmill shall remain at which one has not tilted[iii].

What was I saying? Oh yes, The Etymologicon[iv], for that is the work to which I am referring. Of course, persiflage aside, it very much depends on what your expectations are before opening the book as to what you will take from it once you’ve finished. If you’re a devotee of the Inky Fool blog, from which this was constructed, then I am micturating against the prevailing south-easterly. If you happened to hear the Radio 4 serialisation with Hugh Dennis and thus sallied forth to infiltrate a place of purveyance (of such provisions) in order to negotiate the vending of some verbose literature, then you may, like me, have found the presentation a little breathless and the book will be a welcome respite, insomuch as the printed word is a delicacy over which one is able to take one’s time. However, if you were looking for anything but a circular and rather ambulatory stroll through the odd connections of the English language, instead, searching for a Brewer’s or similar reference work, you are likely to be disappointed. Mr Forsyth isn’t heavy on the footnotes and references, indeed falling back on a blanket “check out these sites at which I found out most of the things I know and have conveyed herein”[v] reference to take care of the details.

No matter, as what one finds in any case is really rather quite good, and again, fanatics need read no further lest they be insulted by my lack of hyperbole masquerading as fact, as what Mr Forsyth offers is a smorgasbord of tasty etymological nuggets, with a delicious cheesy fondue[vi] in which to dip them. Snack as you wish, or gorge outright, you will not really want to do anything but tell your long-suffering spouse all about every single entry to the point where he or she breaks and cancels your credit cards, shoots the dog and torches the house, parked across the street watching the flames climb higher, all Halloween orange and chimney red[vii].

Give it a punt. Sorry, a Dennis. Sorry, I should keep the puns on Twitter. Sorry.


[i] Correct as of 16th  February 2012 if correct is the right word to use of any information lifted without proofing from Wikipedia
[ii] From Middle English, coming itself from the Latin - via Old French – sapere meaning to be wise, and not, as my friend once pointed out, smelly herbs often found on pork
[iii] That sentence just made my top twenty-six of my worst sounding but grammatically correct sentences
[iv] And not The Entymologicon, which was a terrifying journey into the world of some very scary mini-beasts and one not recommended by this reviewer for anyone of a nervous or paranoid disposition
[v] Sorry, but my dad still has my copy, so I couldn’t quote from the references page at the back and therefore came up with a paraphrased version that suitably conveys the message, I think
[vi] Apologies to anyone who quite rightly spots the ongoing influence of The Cheese Shop sketch in this review – I solemnly promise to never watch Monty Python sketches on YouTube before attempting a quasi-serious review again
[vii] Sorry, Tom Waits on the iPod...

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What Readers Are Reading

Our Ancestors by Italo Calvino

Now is as good a time as any I suppose to admit that I regularly confuse Italo Calvino with Umberto Eco and when struggling for the name of one of them, invariably come up with the name of the other. What value does this add to a review of either’s work? None whatsoever. I just thought it would pay to be honest up front, so that if I start talking about semiotics, the discourse of literary criticism, or beards, then you’ll know my train of thoughts has switched tracks and is heading for a bridge under construction.
Of course, reading the Wiki pages on the two of them (to make sure I was talking about the right fellow) I noticed with some dread that Our Ancestors is one of the best known works of the most translated contemporary Italian writer (at the time of his death) and here I am, trying to make sense of it in my own personal context. Well, I’m always going to be treading down some fool’s heels so why should I care if it’s actually most people? Indeed, Calvino mentions in his own i…

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Argh, Neil Gaiman blah blah, waffle waffle, and so on.
There, that’s out of the way.
I can’t help but equate the resurgence in popularity of the Norse mythos, Icelandic sagas, and Skaldic and Eddic poetry in all their new televisual, literal and figurative forms, to the similarly resurgent popularity of comic-book- and super-heroes. In fact, they’re two sides of the same interrogative coin: one asks, “How did we get here?” whereas the other asks, “Who can save us?” for the world needs heroes, and people to blame.
I will leave it up to you to project your own personal Them into the nice Them-shaped gap that leaves behind.
You may think it very necessary and timely to have brought out such a book. Alternatively, you may be suffering from hero-fatigue and see it as all a bit unnecessary. Or you may have been seduced by the big hammer on the cover and the lovely tactile matt-finish cover. In any case and in my own humble opinion, other than talk William Warder Norton into springing for a lov…

Hannah Green And Her Unfeasibly Mundane Existence by Michael Marshall Smith

I was sold this book by Simon at the Big Green Bookshop in return for the money it cost plus a small donation towards operating costs and postage. 

In truth, I'd forgotten it was on its way, and it was a fucking lovely surprise when it arrived at my desk in work, my letterbox at the time being a tad short on width and breadth and unlikely to admit a hardback plus packaging. I recall very much enjoying reading Michael Marshall Smith, and I also enjoyed re-reading him, recently, and I documented this here, here and here. This was a book for which I hadn't realised I'd been waiting for a long time. 

However, had I not the history and warm, cosy feelings safely tucked up in the nostalgia bank, I would probably not have picked this up, going solely on the cover. There's a clock, the silhouette of a small girl, and leaves, along with a colour contrast and meandering font which brought to mind something cringe-worthily reminiscent of Alexander McCall-Smith*, or the covers of Sc…

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane by Neil Gaiman

Before you start, read this disclaimer:
Fans of Neil Gaiman beware – I don’t tolerate you very well, despite counting myself amongst you. It’s nothing personal (about you – it’s very personal to me), and I believe it’s Neil’s own fault for being such a very good writer. Please read on through the fan-bashing to the bit about the book. Thank you.

Neil Gaiman is an annoyance to me. I really (REALLY) liked American Gods but found that as soon as I mentioned this fact to anyone, I got one of two responses: nose-turned-up snobbery of the most scornful sort, or sickeningly gushing über-fanaticism, if that isn’t tautological. I don’t know which is worse. The snobs I can dismiss as most will be operating within the conceit that Gaiman is fantasy and therefore unworthy of further study or consideration – they are very unlikely to have ready anything by the author. The fans, though, start dribbling on and on about the time they met him in Bath Waterstone’s or how much better he is than the Latin …