Category: books

Spirit Level

the spirit level

the spirit level

Just finished reading this book.  Really liked it.  Firstly it’s readable, second it’s funny, and third it resonates pretty well with some stuff I have been thinking about recently.  So yeah, well worth adding to your to read list (in fact that’s almost an order).

There is alot of reviews for this out there, so i’m not going to do that. Instead here’s a few bits I took my highlighter pen to.

The bit where we need to start thinking differently

Having come to the end of what higher material living standards can offer us, we are the first generation to have to find other ways of improving the real quality of life [chapter 2, page 29]

It seems sometimes we havn’t quite worked out that all this stuff that we’re supposed to be busy accumulating isn’t making us happier. I’m not sure how we collectivly wake up to it, and change the way society works so pursuit of wealth isn’t our
raison d’être, but maybe moving the focus away from GDP and economic growth might be a start.

The bit where punitive justice seems crazy

In California in 2004, there were 360 people serving life sentences for shoplifting [chapter 11, page 147]

Being this ‘tough on crime’ just seems totally disproportionate to me,  I find it a little shocking that no one thought ‘hang on a minute…” The book goes on to explain a bit about how and why attitudes to crime are tougher when it’s more unequal, and why that’s not a good thing.

The bit that made me laugh

Experiments have also shown that physical wounds heal faster if people have good relationships with their intimate partners [chapter 6, page 76]

There’s actually some good stuff in there about the links between good social bonds and physical health, which are better when life is more equal, but there’s always a bit about sex and it made me laugh that they snuck one in.

There’s lots more in the book obviously, a full exploration of why equality is better for everyone.  Well worth reading with highlighter in hand.

Just waiting

First day of tickets sales for the Edinburgh international book festival and experience tells you that the best events sell out quick. But there’s some authors that you really want to see. Answer? go in person and sit in the queue for the tickets at the EICC.

Arrived at EICC about 8.45 am, 15 minutes after the doors open, to find a number based queuing system in place and the waiting area very full of old women (well, predominately old women). The average age seems to be about 65 – most people are older, but there is a few mothers with toddlers pulling the average age down. I wonder why this is and conclude that they are well read and dedicated, but also retired, and free from the duty of work on Monday mornings.


Slowly the numbers in the queueing system creep up 9-19… …29-39… …69-79…

The announcer reminds the chosen few to make there way to the booking hall at the West of the building and I wonder how many people actually carry compasses in their handbags (any sense of direction inside the EICC seems quite a feet).

…129-139… …179-189…

It’s around this time the news of sold out events starts to come through. News that both The Hungry Caterpillar and We’re going on a bear hunt have sold out leave me felling slightly gutted. I hadn’t got either of these on my list, but they sound good, and I wonder now why they weren’t. I’m also surpirsed to hear Vince Cable is an early sell out (beating ‘Cherie’ and ‘Paddy’ who sold out much later in the morning)


A 1pm physio appointment, meant i had to leave (it really fucking hurt ‘by the way’) and come back – hoping my number wasn’t up yet – by the time i made it back at about 1.45pm it had been, but only just – so the nice man i had been chatting to earlier about what my chances of missing my slot where let me through.

So there you go tickets for Margrat Atwood, Will Self, Douglas Copeland, Monica Ali and Alasdair Gray all safely purchasd.

Tips for next year -

  • Arrive at 8.30am
  • Take a book (doh!) it’ll be along wait
  • even better take a laptop – and try internet booking at the same time as waiting in person
  • If you can find an accomplace – take shifts, on person go to collect the number – then someone else take over about 10.30/11.
  • keep the day clear of other appointments

Book Group Overview

The books we have read at book group

Scores are out of ten, and arrived at by group consensus.

Month Pick Book Author Score
January EM Life Class Pat Barker ?
February SC A Mercy Toni Morrison ?
March SG The Raw Shark Texts Steven Hall ?
April JP Dracula Bram Stoker ?
May MS The Moon is our Nearest Neighbour Ghillie Basan 5
June EM The White Tiger Aravind Adiga ?
July SC The Tin-Kin Eleanor Thom ?
August SG Persepolis Marjane Satrapi ?
September       ?
October       ?
November       ?
December       ?


Month Pick Book Author Score
January EM Martha Quest Doris Lessing ?
February SG Into the Wild Jon Krakauer ?
March SC The Kite Runner Khaled Hosseini ?
April MT Under the Skin Michel Faber ?
May MS As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning Laurie Lee ?
June JP The Poisonwood Bible Barbara Kingslover ?
July EM The Observations Jane Harris ?
August SG The Picture of Dorain Gray Oscar Wilde ?
September ? The Testament of Gideon Mack James Robertson ?
October MT Eight Feet in the Andes Dervla Murphy ?
November MS The Stars’ Tennis Balls Stephen Fry ?
December JP Under the Greenwood Tree Thomas Hardy ?


Month Pick Book Author Score
January SG Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe Fanny Flag ?
February MS Silk Alessandro Baricco ?
March MT Thank You for Smoking Christopher Buckley 6
April SC On Beauty Zadie Smith 8
May CH The Book of Dave Will Self 8
June JP Howards End E. M. Forster 7.5
July EM The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox Maggie O’Farrell 8
August SG Slaughterhouse Five Kurt Vonnegut 7
August* MT Favourite 5 Books    
September SC The Night Watch Sarah Waters 8.5
October MT Half of a Yellow Sun Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie 9
November MS The Memory Keeper’s Daughter Kim Edwards 7
December JP The Cone-Gatherers Robert Jenkins ?

*A extraordinary meeting of the group


Month Pick Book Author Score
January   The Story of Yew Guido Miria di Sospiro 2
February   We Need to Talk about Kevin Lionel Shriver 9
March MT Wise Children Angela Carter 7
April SP Angry House Wives Eating Bon Bons Lorna Landvik 7
May   Saturday Ian McEwan 5
June SG The Silver Darlings Neil M. Gunn 7.5
July PW Homage to Catalonia George Orwell 7
August   The Peoples Act of Love James Meek 9
September   A Short History of Tractors in the Ukraine Marina Lewycka 6.5
October   Veronica Decides to Die Paulo Coelho 5
November EM Greenvoe George Mackay Brown 9
December   Disgrace J M Coetzee 7


Month Pick Book Author Score
March   On the Road Jack Kerouac N/a
April   White Oleander Janet Fitch 8
May SG Snow Orhan Pamuk 5
June   Time Traveller’s Wife Audrey Niffenger 6
June   The Secret is to Keep Breathing Janice Galloway 9
July   Case Histories Kate Atkinson 6
August   The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie Muriel Spark 9
October PW The Glass Palace Amitav Ghosh 8.5
November SG 20 Years of the Year’s Best Science Fiction Various (Short Stories) 5
December JP A Christmas Carol Charles Dickens 8.5

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Slaughterhouse-Five or A children’s Crusade: A Duty Dance with Death

Kurt Vonnegut died earlier this year (April 2007) – his passing was marked with the usual review of his works; Slautherhouse-5, being the most famous. Hearing a recording of Vonnegut reading from the book, was enough for it to be added to my reading list. So it became my choice for book group.

All this happened, more or less.

The book has probably the most iconic opening sentence of any book I have ever read. First published in 1969, Slaughterhouse-5 has permeated popular culture, so much so that even coming to the book cold, its opening resonated very deeply. Half a page later another iconic catch-phrase is introduced

So it goes.

This simple phrase marks the passing of every life in the book. Poignant, casual. Momentous, fleeting Irreverent, inevitable. All the things that life and death are. Repetition used as a stylistic device is no doubt something an English lit. classes could have a field day with, but it doesn’t come across as just a device. It comes across as a conversational reflection, an aside.

To me the book felt quite disjointed, but then I read it in a very disjointed fashion, over the course of 2 months. 2 months later and still little bits of it are haunting me: Red Velvet curtains and a fern in a white pot from the bestiality photo, a plane sucking up bombs from the backward movie scene, the doctor looking at the horses bloody mouth and a wretched man slumping against a tree in a muddy muted wood (beach probably i think). I think that these details are what the book does really well. I’m not even sure what i filled in myself – but there was enough there for scenes to form and stick.

Book Group Score 7/10

Fave 5

An interesting question posed by Manda – your favourite 5 books?

So here goes, in no particular order

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

A kids classic – Max goes to the where the wild things are, has a rumpus and is made king. It the pictures what make it

Vurt by Jeff Noon

A book that kind of changed my life. I love the imagination that another world is possible and where the rules of society aren’t set in stone. Its also a great adventure through a crazy crazy world. I wanted to live there; the sex is freaky, the drugs inhabit your soul, and the city rages. Life on the flip side baby – Yeah!

The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

More than 1 book in some ways and I skip the italics, but I have still read it more than any other book. I like the epic-ness of it, the heroism and honour, and I fancy Faramir.

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

I’m too scared to read it again, but it’s a great book.

Feet in the Clouds by Richard Askwith

It inspires me, and reminds me of my childhood at the same time – a good honest yarn about ordinary folk being anything but.

And some books that could have been in this list on a diffrent day (fickle thing choice!)

Northern Lights by Phillip Pullman

Polo by Jilly Cooper

Langdale – FRCC climbing guidebook

The Wind Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami.