Last Summer we put some solar panels on our roof (4.1KW). The aim was to be able to go 5 months of the year without electricity or heating bills which we achieved. Happy to say we were part of a successful rollout of solar in Europe last year. If anyone is toying with the idea of putting some solar panels on their roof I can wholeheartedly recommend it. 🌎
The second book in Earth’s Past Trilogy by Cixin Liu. The Dark Forest takes up the story where The Three Body Problem left off but aside from the world weary cop Shi Qiang with different main characters.
By now it’s clear that this trilogy deals with overriding ideas and concepts rather than characters and that is ok with me. The book is a little two speed, the first part of the book is a little slow and only gets going later. The overall concept at the heart of the book The Dark Forest truly is dark, but somehow Cixin after setting up this terrible possibility finds a silver lining. Chilling, beautiful and touching if you can make it through to the end. 📚★★★★
The Three Body Problem is an unsloved physics problem and the key metaphor through which Cixin Liu’s The Three Body Problem is written.
Liu has written hard-fi and historical fiction, real science recast to tell the stories of two civilisations with immense imaginative leaps.
Dealing in high concepts, zooming between small and large scales and explains well it’s ideas although it helps to have some knowledge of these already. It really is imaginatively one of the most impressive books I have read for a long time. The narrative gathers pace as the book progresses and as beautifully terrifying ideas come to life. Highly recommended. 📚★★★★
The Non-fiction book Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann starts with the story of Mollie Burkhart and the brutal murders of her family. Mollie was an Osage Indian and in a weird twist of fate the Osage who were removed from their land and placed on a reservation struck lucky when oil was found there. Luckily the Osage Indians with head rights to the oil suddenly became unbelievably wealthy, or maybe it wasn’t so lucky after all. In the mid 1920’s they were being murdered, shot, poisoned, blown up. Perhaps the richest group of people on the planet were also the most hunted. Mollies two sisters and her mother were murdered. A real life murder mystery and thriller rolled into one. What was going on and how was it nobody had been caught?
The story moves on to J.Edgar Hoover and the formation of the FBI. Hoover sent in a former Texas Ranger Tom White to lead an investigation into the murders. They found their man and the brief fame of the case contributed to the founding of the FBI. The case stands at the crossroads between the american frontier and modern america in many ways. After the case faded from the public imagination and because of the dwindling oil reserves this episode in history was largely forgotten.
The third part of the book is maybe the most hard hitting. From the wiki article I found this quote which sums it up nicely
There is a kick-in-the guts half-twist at the end of the book that gives the work its moral heft and reminds the American people of the great cost of their nationhood. It’s a twist that owes everything to Grann’s diligence and intelligence as a journalist. It could not have been discovered without what he calls his “research odyssey”. - David Aaronovich
Grann talks to the relatives in the case and assembles his evidence. The terrible facts of the murder case have perhaps obscured a deeper and uglier truth, that of the murder and subjugation of the whole Osage nation. Perhaps hundreds of other murders were never solved, or even investigated. Grann shines a light on the venal greed of the so called civilised, leaving a deep impression. A must read. 📚★★★★★
Also I know a Scorsese film is coming this year based on the book. I am greatly looking forward to it. In the mean time you can watch this interview of the author.
A lovely book, at once a biography, a detective story, a piece of travel writing, and maybe also an insight into how we search both for meaning and for things.
Percy Fawcet was an explorer, a real life Indiana Jones at beginning of the 20th Century as Britain’s empire was waning and the area of the world still unexplored was shrinking quickly. Fawcett went search of the last of the unknowns on the map in the Amazon.
In his last adventure he went back into the Amazon to find the Lost city of Z a place he was sure existed against the run of mainstream thought. He was never seen again. The book is a story of what happened before, during and after the expedition and contains a beautiful modern insight from current Archaeologists in the region. A gripping and highly recommended read. 📚★★★★
Push is my yearly theme for 2023. Push out a little past my comfort zone I have built up. Maybe expand out my horizons as from last year. But the main thing I want to do is work hard on improving my Finnish language. I want to be in a position by the end of the year to take my YKI intermediate language test. Lets see how I get on….🇫🇮 📝
OK so I posted My Yearly Theme for 2022 and thought I would briefly reflect on how it’s going! The theme I chose was Consolidate and it broke down into a few key areas of my life;
more reading, writing and journaling
more quality time with my family
learn to type faster
work on my Finnish language 🇫🇮
simplify & improve my workflows
keep saving (yes)
I will quickly look over how these subcategories are going one by one.
Broadly the reading part of this has been going really well. I have added an audible subscription this year so for the first time have been listening to books also. From the writing side of things I have been writing and thinking in Obsidian and following the Obsidian book club. Not much output which I would like to improve. The journalling has been going less well. A little reflection at the end of the day often escapes me but I have been writing about most of the key events which is good enough!
Broadly speaking also has been good. Holidays and weekends doing some nice things at home. A long summer holiday during which we spent some great time all together.
I have not really done anything with this. Now and again I do some practice typing but I not managed to make this a habit yet. It is better maybe thats enough for now.
I started the year badly in this but took a new course with a new attitude in the Autumn. This is the biggest bugbear I have and its going to be the focus to a greater extent during the rest of the year. Jatka taistelua!
This is mixed. I have going from wordpress to micro.blog and blot and I am happy. I have saved some money in hosting and have greatly simplified my writing workflow. I have removed a few subscriptions but also added some so I can’t say overall that has gone well. Overall I have not sved money but I have simplified my online life.
This has gone pretty OK, but this is always provisional.
The Theme Consolidate implies a simplification and a strengthening of the core I think and so if I look at the key theme holistically I am fairly happy with that. I have made some progress and simplified some things allowing me a bit more clarity in my writing and reading goals. These can now continue leaving me to concentrate on a few personal goals in need some attention. 📝
Thinking about how hard it might be to get a random word and make something of it I wanted a way to be able to constrain myself and also that would help inspire and challenge me. @challenges
So I chose the subject of Finland, where I live but am not a native. It really helped and hopefully made the sum of the words I posted about add up to something a little more than they would have been individually. So here they all are;
figure feast license admiration exempt echo insight consensus certain minister display suspicion adjust leave aluminium franchise barrel tire novel repeat ice grazed update retain ritual commitment motivation trend fish safety
Madchester, Shoegaze and Grunge were a few of the scenes that I was introduced to in my first couple of years at college when I first left home at the beginning of the nineties. Bands like Ride, Happy Mondays, Cocteau Twins, The Fall, Pavement, Nirvana and of course Lush. At that time of life it’s often through music that you identify yourself and so those bands will always have a special feeling for me, everyone has their own band hiastory maybe.
Now some thirty years later Miki Berenyi the lead singer from Lush has an autobiography out Fingers Crossed: How Music Saved Me from Success, and it really is an involving, agoninzing and engaging read.
The book is split into two parts, Miki’s childhood growing up in London and then her time wtih the band Lush. Certainly there is a hell of a story to tell. Her upbringing is really unusual and at many points quite harrowing. This is all told delicately and with great skill, the worst of it is not really highlighted but it’s all there, involving but not showy, better and more involving writing than most biographies.
The second part of the book covering the band years is also fascinating and a knowledge of the bands is not necessary, Miki’s story is enough. The bad behaviour, sexism and hedonism is a timeless trope but it’s written about calmy and Miki doesn’t spare herself.
For my part I think Lush were underrated at the time and their melodies and lyrics are better and more intereting than most of their contemporaries. After reading the book forinsance I went back to their back catalogue. The lyrics from Light From a Dead Star especially hit hard…. It was all there in the lyrics for anyone to see all this time.
Overall it is a fantastic book that I loved and that I would recommend to anyone regardless of their own band history! 📚★★★★★
Lyrics from Light From A Dead Star
He lives his life in a world
Full of women and he takes
What he wants from their love
And he throws the rest away
I cling to him and pray
But still, he slips away
And now it’s just too late
To wish him back again
She won’t put up with this life
So she leaves him and she finds
Someone else, falls in love
And she travels far away
I say that it’s okay
And swallow all my pain
And now it’s just too late
To wish her back again
They left me here on my own
In a nightmare and I just
Can’t forgive any more
So I smile and I turn away
Don’t listen when they say
They wish that I could stay
And now it’s just too late
To wish me back again -Miki Berenyi
For the first time ever I made a summer reading list for myself in order to try and find some good books and read them in a slightly more methodical way than the almost random method I usually choose my next book from.
First I listed out all the books I had already but haven’t read adding a couple from there. Long ago I reconciled myself to the fact this list will probably only get longer over time.
Then for the first time I really tried to use goodreads and together with that go through my old lists. What books might make good listens, which I should actually read on kindle or in the flesh even. I added in a few books from booktube recommendations , and tried to mix it up with book genres I normally don’t read (see the romances bellow). I really enjoyed my reads overall and the act of making the list and thinking what to add to it was fun in itself. I think it also helped to make the reading journey a little more satisfying, It at least felt more deliberate.
Two particular favourites that made my summer were The Left Hand of Darkness and A Place to Read which was recommended by Jamie Todd Rubin so a big thanks to him for putting up a review of it.
I will be making an Autumn reading list, I think it could become a seasonal thing. A way of making selections of the books I read more thoughtful and more rewarding.
Over the three months of summer these are what I finished:
With A Brief History of Equality Thomas Piketty’s new book brings his views on economics to the public as clearly and concisely as he can. At only 277 pages versus his last book Capitol and Ideology which was 1100 pages he really has made every effort to make this as readable as possible.
It is meant to be read not just prop up a coffee table and throughout I found it easy to read and engaging. So if you thought about taking the plunge with Piketty before well this is probably the one too start with for most of us. Piketty begins with clear intentions.
This book offers a comparative history of inequalities among social classes in human societies. Or rather, it offers a history of equality, because, as we shall see, there has been a long-term movement over the course of history toward more social, economic, and political equality.
He follows through on this for the most part, with a clearly stated ambition and detailed research which he uses well enough to illustrate his points without letting the main text to get bogged down in the detail.
Along the way he deals with the key reason we are where we are today by looking back at the last 300 years of economic history.
We might classify these under a few different headings or keywords of which I have brought out a few which I think cover much of what he talks about;
So he clearly sets out the history of inequality, how and why it arose, and slow diminishing over the last 300 years. But now we are at a possible inflection point and inequality has lately been rising again.
He proposes a set of economic tools to get us back on track as it were. To address the problems that are glaringly obvious to all at the moment. It’s a welcome relief from the cheap nationalism in much Western dialogue about economics.
In this book, I have defended the possibility of a democratic and federal socialism, decentralized and participatory, ecological and multicultural, based on the extension of the welfare state and progressive taxation, power-sharing in business enterprises, postcolonial reparations, the battle against discrimination, educational equality, the carbon card, the gradual decommodification of the economy, guaranteed employment and an inheritance for all, the drastic reduction of monetary inequalities, and finally, an electoral and media system that cannot be controlled by money
I hope it is read and debated fairly. I recommend it to anyone looking to make sense of the economic forces which all buffer us but we often are unaware of and in that sense whether you ultimately agree with Piketty or not it is well worth a read.
Evocative writing, engaging story, well rounded setting, and not too forced twists meant for a lovely read. The book splits its time line in two and I think this is really well handled also, making for a more gripping plot as the feedback loop from one time periods informs the reader for the other.
I liked the two principle protagonists although perhaps Kya’s story felt a little unbelievable at times her inner voice to me was authentic.
A romance / murder mystery might be a weird split and maybe we didn’t even really need the murder? But I recommend this as a great summer holiday read. 📚★★★★
Ropa is a ghostalker a young teenage dropout with a Zimbabwean background growing up in Edinburgh. She talks to the dead taking messages back and forth for them. Soon she is caught up in a strange case of child kidnapping.
T.L Huchu creates an Edinburgh perhaps in the near future definitely in a parallel world where magic exists and society as we know it has partially collapsed. A world which gives him a great chance of writing a gripping fantasy adventure series. The Edinburgh we know is partially regressed. The Nor Loch is back and the city is broken down, more mavelovent and more interesting as a result. Slums and high society mix and overlap as do this world and the next.
His imaginative descriptions of this new Edinburgh are wonderful, I particularly loved his description of Waverley stations roof under the water. Magic is also reimagined given a history linking it back to the enlightenment, to Scotland and Edinburghs history a lovely inventive twist which feels like it fits. So as someone born and bred in Edinburgh I really love the world Huchu has created.
Ropa’s adventures definitely bring to mind Harry Potter but Ropa is a bit more hard boiled than at least the early Potter books. A book like this needs a plot that pulls you through with anticipation and I am happy to say it did this with a wider arc hinted at also by the end.
I loved this book and would recommend and especially to anyone familiar with Edinburgh they will see a new and original twist to the city and some great adventures. 📚★★★★
Super influential he coined the term cyberspace in the 1982 short story Burning Chrome and later in Neuromancer and made famous the term matrix. Hard to think of a more influential book on the look of the near future than Neuromancer. My dad gave me a copy of this book as a teenager and it helped shape my ideas of the future of what was cool, a countercultural space physically and metaphorically.
So it was a real pleasure to read it again and rediscover the thrillingly graphic descriptions which light this book up still today. The 2000 version as a nice introduction by Gibson apologising for the omission of mobile phones amongst other things, and the afterword by Jack Womack makes some really interesting points about the past and future, what they mean to science-fiction. 📚★★★★★
Part memoir, part philosophical journey into work in the digital age. Like a hypertext the very idea of work has kind of exploded, smeared across reality divorced from our location and our private lives. A Life Lived Remotely was published before COVID gripped the world in which perhaps millions more people experienced some of the problems Mckeown looks at in this book. But rather than making the book obsolete it actually reinforces much of the insight. It might be useful as a practical guide to those a little lost between working from home and the office and it might be a good introduction to the opportunities and problems with work in the early 21st C. It’s entertaining and involving even though the memoir parts of the book often take a back seat to the historical and philosophical enquiry into work itself. 📚★★★★
Alone in Berlin By Hans Fallada (Rudolph Ditzen) is a look at the lives of ordinary working class people in Berlin during WWII. It looks at the heroic resistance and amoral compliance of different people under the Nazi regime.
The original German title is Every Man Dies Alone. It’s based on the true story of Otto and Elise Hampel. Fallada was given the Gestapo files of the case by the poet Johannes Becher.
It’s a fantastic empathetic look at the psychology of people under a kleptocracy. If it really feels true in spirit it is probably because Fallada lived under the Nazi regime in fear for many years. He clearly understood the mindset of many of the characters he draws so convincingly in the book.
When I first started reading it I had trouble picking up the book as the Russians were invading Ukraine at the same time. The book all the time brought up my thoughts about that war. But soon enough I had been fully drawn into its story.
Wikipedia has a good background page on the book [Every Man Dies Alone].(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Every_Man_Dies_Alone) 📚★★★★★
This is both hard science fiction and climate fiction, and a sobering but positive peak into the immediate future where Robinson speculates how humanity can save itself from the impending environmental doom we all know is coming. Told through different narrators and jumping around it doesn’t pull a unified plot line together so much as jump on a few different strands. As a novel too it felt a little flat to me and maybe it’s a little long but it’s a political, thoughful, and as everyone says important book. Recommended. 📚★★★
Punchy fiction that takes place on an Indian reservation in South Dakota. Virgil Wounded Horse is the protagonist in the book and as a local enforcer is well placed to illustrate the seperate world in which Reservations in the USA inhabit. They sit adjacent to the law enforcement system forinstance and this reality is well used to drive forward the narrative of the book.
A crime thriller in which the characters are well sketched out as are the cultural and racial fault lines without ever getting heavy handed. No great mysteries or plot twists but with an unforced plot and a satisfying ending I enjoyed being immersed in a realistic world that was new to me. Good, sharp writing that could carry the book even as the plot ebbed and flowed a little in the middle. 📚★★★★
Photo by Grett Zheng
In response to @Jabel writing about mixtapes here I thought to write my own response. Now that I am on Micro.blog this seems to be something I can do, have proper conversations with other people over the internet who would have thought!
So the mix tape is something that is now history. I see in the way my kids consume music that it inhabits a different place for them in their lives than it did for me. Music is like water from a tap for them, the pursuit of a good half heard song, of the chance of listening to an artist that isn’t on the radio, these problems just don’t exist like they did for me growing up in Scotland in the Eighties.
When I was a teenager and CD’s were just taking over the cost of music was high. A CD was something I could afford only very infrequently. It was just much harder to hear music. How to audition the music you actually could afford to buy was pretty tough too so every purchase had to be weighed carefully and thought through repeatedly. Also how it would look to your friends? Forinstance at my school I like to remember there was a Simple Minds vs Smiths split on which I firmly came down on The Smiths side so your music taste often was part of your identity too.
The mixtape then was a window into someone elses taste, and an audio form of introduction of yourself, sometimes a love letter. As a 21 year old I went to India working and travelling for six months. The mixtape I got from my girlfriend (lots of ABBA!) when I got out there was one of my most treasured possessions out there.
Beyond the bands and tunes I discovered from friends mixtapes for me I also learnt attitudes to music, a concern with playorder and pacing that from a good DJ set, forinstance, I still love to look for.
There was an art to a good mixtape that those that lived through those times I think will remember fondly. To like music you had to be a collector, you needed to dig for records, music was limited and precious.
Collecting now is different. I still love to buy CDs (only the very few important ones). I still want to have my own mp3 collection, and Spotify is more of a place to audiiton and share music than the place that holds my ‘collection’ whatever that is anymore. Yet still I can’t give up on buying music even though it comes for free with my subscription.
As Jabel writes the imperfections of the mixtape also helped to make it what it was, through those imperfections they became personal. I would love to think that even now if you do something with love and your own personal stamp then it will be worth it whatever the medium. 🎵
Some Further Reading:
The film is based on the article The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare about the Lawyer Robert Bilott and his twenty year fight against DuPont to expose their dumping of PFAS chemicals in the groundwater of Parkersburg, West Virginia. A grittier Erin Brockovich with some strong performances but maybe some difficult editing choices and in which the color grading seems to chop around a lot which distracted me. Overall though gripping and worthy of a watch. ★★★
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami 📚 was OK. With simple and lovely prose and a low key and scattered style but added together I enjoyed it. There is a kind of banal simplicity to the writing which sometimes resonates deeply but often comes off as dry. A mock running-is-life philosophy book flecked with diary entries. Maybe one of his fiction books should be somewhere a new reader should start before this one. ★★★
Most of what I know about writing I’ve learned through running every day. These are practical, physical lessons.
My Theme for 2022 is Consolidate. I like having a yearly theme much more than a set of resolutions. It means you can take a direction for the year and adapt a set of wishes in any aspect of your life. You don’t pass or fail a theme but you can hold yourself accountable and build, with small steps, a positive cycle.
Consolidate is because the important things in my life are there already so I want to concentrate on getting the most out if it, wasting less time, doing more of the things that add value for me. There are no game changing thing I want to do or new direction I want to take, so it’s a boring theme in some ways, but that is good for where I am right now. 📝