Anarchy by Stewart Binns. Ivanhoe-ish historical adventure novel set at the time of the civil war in the 1100s between Norman factions, one headed by Empress Matilda, the other Stephen of Blois.
It's an interesting period and there's plenty of adventure. The protagonist is an English knight but he roams around reaching Venice and the Holy Land. The book is balanced between attempts and being gritty and some romanticism.
There are a couple of weaknesses: the fight scenes sometimes feel unrealistic Can you really cut someone's hand off in mid-air as he reaches for the reins of your horse? and there's an awkward epistolary framing device where plot elements are given away in advance.
This books is part of a historical series but stands well on its own: the character just ends up musing on his ancestors a lot, who were characters in the other books.
Overall, not bad, but not exceptionally good.
What I'm Reading 2
The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel. Non-fiction book about a "hermit" who lived in the woods in rural Maine, living largely by stealing supplies from cabins.
Quite interesting for the details of how he survived. The winters seem to have been the hardest: he tried to put on fat for the winter and ended up a lot thinner by spring. The most difficult bit seems to have been living without fire. Always aware of the presence of people, he made an effort to look clean-shaven and well-dressed: he did not look like a hermit.
He was actually not that far from other people, but managed to find a hide-out that was naturally well-hidden. He was eventually found when a security camera caught him and an official got to him in time.
The book doesn't really get to the heart of why he wanted the solitude and apparently liked it. After being caught he was sent to prison, and then lived with his surviving family: while he doesn't seem to have enjoyed it, he didn't seem to have expressed self-pity.
Overall, fairly interesting.
What I'm Reading 3
Ghost Wall, novella about 150 pages long by Sarah Moss. A teenage girl with a violent father joins an academic project to reconstruct prehistoric British life. Very good depiction of life on all sides, from the complex mixture of love, fear and normalisation in the family relationship; to the sexism and self-indulgence of the academics, to the class antagonisms. Short book but almost perfect in what it does.
Only thing I didn't like was that it doesn't give a brief description of what happens in the long term after the crisis: would like to know if she gets out or stays, if she preserves any relationship with her mother. The book is set in the late 80s or early 90s which already feels a bit historical. If you like this author this is among her best, but it runs along her usual themes.
What I'm Reading 4
Political Ideals by Bertrand Russell. 1917 book musing on political ideals, mostly about what the goals of a political society should be: in his view maximizing creativity and liberty while providing basic security. He sketches out a basic idea of worker-owned co-ops under a democratic government to fulfill this.
I usually love his work and this had flashes of brilliance, especially on the need for a radical movement to combine short-term practical goals with inspiring long-term goals:
I think it must be conceded that a political party ought to have proximate aims, measures which it hopes to carry in the next session or the next parliament, as well as a more distant goal... enthusiasm flags when there is nothing to do meanwhile, and no partial success to lessen the weariness of waiting... I believe no less firmly that really vital and radical reform requires some vision beyond the immediate future, some realization of what human beings might make of human life if they chose. Without some such hope, men will not have the energy and enthusiasm necessary to overcome opposition, or the steadfastness to persist when their aims are for the moment unpopular.However it seemed a bit dated compared to his other books. Written before the Russian Revolution and World War Two he seems over-optimistic about the possibility of League of Nations style international organisations. He's shrewd about the possibility of a state socialist society becoming a system where managers instead of capitalists hold oppressive power. But without the examples of revolutionary Catalonia and of course later experiments like Rojava and Chiapas, in some ways he seems too skeptical about the practicality of revolutionary change.
Overall, not bad but fairly missable.
What I'm Reading 5
Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell. Classic book about the author's time fighting in the Spanish Civil War. Not overrated: poignant and informative, well worth reading.
What I'm Reading 6
Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana Influential book from 1840 describing the life of an ordinary sailor on a voyage round the Americas. It was written as a counterbalance to books about officers, to highlight the working conditions of ordinary seamen.
It's certainly informative and has some fascinating details about the time and place, particulary California. I mostly listened to the audiobook which does get a bit slow at times.
What I'm Reading 7
A Man With One of Those Faces by Caimh McDonnell. Light comedy-thriller set in Dublin with a slacker protagonist who gets caught up with gangsters. Good entertainment with a cast of appealingly eccentric characters. Not massively original but well crafted.
What I'm Reading 8
The Shepherd's Life by James Rebanks. Account of life as a working sheep farmer still hanging on to traditional sheep-farming methods in the Lake District. It's structured around the farming year but also tells the author's life story in flashback.
Well written and has lots of fascinating and sometimes gruesome detail. For instance, when a lamb dies, if there is a motherless lamb, they immediately skin the dead one and put the skin on the live one: usually the mother recognises the scent and will nurse the replacement.
Good book, worth a read.
Work's been very manic with lots of stuff going live simultaneously. Feeling pretty frazzled again: torn between so much stuff I just don't have time to give proper attention to anything.
Couldn't get childcare or time off for a few days of half term and had to look after the kid at home while I worked. Managed OK and he didn't seem too unhappy but feel a bit guilty at letting him watch TV all day.
Running going fairly well though haven't broken many records lately. Did a 39km long run last week but ran out of steam and had to walk part of the last section home. This week stuck to shorter ones. Would like to sign up for another race but just so busy it's hard to find time for anything.
Socioeconomics. Inflation Is Always And Everywhere A Political Phenomenon. The strange death of Tory economic thinking.
Video. 1960s dance.
Sci/Tech. Algorithmic Bias Was Born in the 1980s. Researchers made 3,900-Pound Boulders They Can Move by Hand. Iconic consoles of the IBM System/360 mainframes. The Data All Guilt-Ridden Parents Need. GCHQ cracks Frank Sidebottom's secret codes. 1939 speech synthesizer the Voder (YouTube).
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