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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…

Miracle Brew by Pete Brown

...the lure of drinkability!
Assume the usual laudatory Unbound crowd-funding preamble has taken place and we're moving forward into the realms of legitimate readerly opinion making, and on with the story!

Straight into a hangover.

I can in no way blame Pete Brown for the singularly disappointing situation in which I find myself. Yes, he talks knowledgeably and enthusiastically about the wonder of beer, it's amazing diversity and unfathomable origins, the breadth of flavour and taste experience available to the adventurous drinker, and yes, hearing about such wonderful experiences that I am not currently having begets in me such powerful feelings of want, and need, and of missing out that I have to rush out and purchase lots (and lots) of exciting and unusual beers. However, he is not to blame, for the most part, for the two-week long hangover I've been having this past, well, two weeks. I can blame only myself*.



If you get the chance,
DRINK THESE
I don't have any fondness for Mr Brown. I saw him once at a book event in Abergavenny, and he was somewhat curmudgeonly. Perhaps he was on his way for a drink and I (and the rest of the audience) was stood between him and the bar. Nevertheless, I enjoy that he enjoys his subject with such obvious enthusiasm and that he is not afraid to admit the lacunae in his knowledge (in Miracle Brew we are taken on a shared voyage of discovery as much as being lectured by an expert). He writes quite simply and with an authentic voice (a little curmudgeonly perhaps, but demonstrably honest), and in this book, he discusses the building blocks of beer, the four ingredients (and quasi-mystical art) that are all it takes to brew the world's favourite alcoholic beverage. He also drinks quite a few beers around the world. You can smell the hops crushed between the heels of his hands as he wanders the hop gardens of Kent. 

AND ALL THESE**
To be fair, it doesn't take much to make me consider going out for some beer. In fact writing this I'm itching to visit The Wild Beer Co. website to buy a crate of something sour. However, I suspect that even those whose tastes don't quite run to Belgian lambics would be tempted to go out and see what the fuss is about. Craft brewing is something to be celebrated, and Pete Brown celebrates with the best of them. He delights in learning where he'd been accepting popularly believed myths as truths, talks to some of the most avant guard brewers in the world, and visits with the foremost brewing scientists to find out just how it all works. And gloriously, the science never ruins the mystery of the art of brewing. It's truly remarkable, the journey from barley grains to urine on the steps of the magistrate's court...


The only problem now is that I risk turning into one of those old c***s you find at 'real ales' pubs writing tasting notes on a little flip-up notebook and tutting when the publican apologises that they don't have anything on tap that isn't from Anheuser-Busch InBev, SABMiller, Heineken International, or Carlsberg Group.


*Of course, I could also blame, alphabetically, Arbor Ales, Buxton Brewery, and The Wild Beer Co. (amongst others) whose fabulous beers I have been working my way through since starting this book. If you get the chance, go out and buy Buxton's Imperial IPA or Axe Edge, Arbor's Oz Bomb, and pretty much anything from The Wild Beer Co as I'm crying a little bit just thinking about their Sleeping Lemons Export and Breakfast of Champignons beers...

**Please note the quality of photography is not indicative of the quality of beer, but rather the inability of a man who has drunk all of these and more to hold still a camera.

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Our Ancestors by Italo Calvino

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Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

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There, that’s out of the way.
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I will leave it up to you to project your own personal Them into the nice Them-shaped gap that leaves behind.
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Hannah Green And Her Unfeasibly Mundane Existence by Michael Marshall Smith

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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 …