What I’m reading /2


Here are some of the books I’ve been reading over the past couple of months.

Ali Smith is a recent discovery. Her seasonal quartet – a rapid writing of four novels in response to current national and global events – is ambitious and intricate story telling. It’s difficult to ration Smith’s brilliant work to one chapter at a time. I devoured Spring in one sitting unfortunately.

Christopher Alexander was one of several recommendations from a long and deep conversation with a friend that zigzagged through design and programming language.

James Rhodes pairs his book, Fire on All Sides, with accompanying music. I have a particular soft spot for that idea. Many books are so knitted with specific music in my brain they can’t be untangled (for example, Michael Collins’ Carrying the Fire will always sound like Boards of Canada’s The Campfire Headphase).

Notes on the Synthesis of Form – Christopher Alexander
“Today more and more design problems are reaching insoluble levels of complexity. This is true not only of moon bases, factories, and radio receivers, whose complexity is internal, but even of villages and teakettles. In spite of their superficial simplicity, even these problems have a background of needs and activities which is becoming too complex to grasp intuitively.”

Fractured Times: Culture and Society in the Twentieth Century – Eric Hobsbawm
“There are three primary demands that power usually makes on art… the first is to demonstrate the glory and triumph of power itself…The second major function of art under power was to organise it as public drama… A third service that art could render power was educational or propagandist.”

Spring – Ali Smith
“After them, the real clouds above London looked different, like they were something you could read as breathing space. This made something happen too to the buildings below them, to the traffic, the ways in which the roads intersected, the ways in which people were passing each other in the street, all part of it a structure that didn’t know it was a structure, but was one all the same”

Life in Translation – Anthony Ferner
“My translations from those days would probably embarrass me now. Technically they were just about adequate, but they always missed some subtle layer of meaning beneath the meaning”

Fire On All Sides – James Rhodes
“At this point we can even hear Beethoven struggling to breathe in the music – he writes his sighs and gasps into the melody, using musical slurs to portray inhaling, exhaling and gasping, conveying through music the fact that he’s so overwhelmed with sadness he is gasping for air. This is like reading his diaries it is so intimate.”

The 4 Disciplines of Execution – Chris McChesney, Sean Covey
“In our initial surveys we learned that only one employee in seven could name even one of their organization’s most important goals. That’s right – 15 percent could not name even one of the top three goals their leaders had identified. The other 85 percent named what they thought was the goal, but it often didn’t remotely resemble what their leaders had said.”

Utopia for Realists – Rutger Bregman
“Instead, we should be posing a different question altogether: which knowledge and skills do we want our children to have in 2030?”

21 lessons for the 21st century – Yuval Noah Harari
“Humans have this remarkable ability to know and not to know at the same time. Or more correctly, they can know something when they really think about it, but most of the time they don’t think about it, so they don’t know it. If you really focus, you realise that money is fiction. But usually you don’t focus. If you are asked about it, you know that football is a human invention. But in the heat of the match, nobody asks you about it. If you devote the time and energy, you can discover that nations are elaborate yarns. But in the midst of a war you don’t have the time and energy. If you demand the ultimate truth, you realise that the story of Adam and Eve is a myth. But how often do you demand the ultimate truth?”

Bullshit Jobs – David Graeber
“We have invented a bizarre sadomasochistic dialectic whereby we feel that pain in the workplace is the only possible justification for our furtive consumer pleasures, and, at the same time, the fact that our jobs thus come to eat up more and more of our waking existence means that we do not have the luxury of – as Kathi Weeks has so concisely put it – ‘a life,’ and that, in turn means that furtive consumer pleasures are the only ones we have time to afford.”

The Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar – Martin Windrow
“A glass of wine, a cheroot, music and a contented owl: what more could a man want on a quiet evening at home?”

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