October tbrA bumper three non-fiction reviews today, because I’ve been doing a fair bit of reading (hooray!) and wanted to get these in before the end of the month. Two of them are dispatches from the front line of what one could loosely call sociology, talking about real-life examples; the other is a really pretty book about lovely patterned fabric! Here goes, then …

Stephen D. Leavitt and Stephen J. Dunbar – “Superfreakonomics”

(Borrowed from Sian, that inveterate lender of books and expander of my TBR)

A new book building on their previous volume (which I appear to have read on Christmas Eve 2007) and taking the same idea of marrying the techniques of economics enquiry to what they call “a rogue, freakish curiosity” about cause and effect and relationships between entities and events.

They freely admit in the introduction that the book doesn’t have a plan or an arc, and this does come through in the rather scattershot nature of the book, darting between matching the economics of prostitution and Christmas Santas, looking at how measures to improve matters often only serve to make them worse, and devoting a whole chapter to climate change. I did note this about the previous book, too, and I feel the same here as I did eight years ago: it’s all very interesting, but the lack of a unifying concept means that it doesn’t really stick in the mind after you’ve closed the book.

This book will suit … anyone with an enquiring mind, people who like pop psychology and popular science.

Laurie Penny – “Penny Red”

(20 January 2015)

Subtitled “Notes from the New Age of Dissent”, this consists of dispatches from the front line of protest, anti-capitalism and feminism, mainly written for the New Statesman magazine and published there just before I started subscribing to it.

The stories from the youth protests about the education cuts of 2010 and the experience of anti-capitalists and squatters in the run-up to the Royal Wedding in 2011 were particularly distressing to read and find out about – in fact I shed a tear on the bus when reading this on the way home from town one afternoon. I wish I’d known about this at the time, and it’s horrendous that the treatment meted out to protestors was so violent and so unreported.

My only problem with this book was that there are many problems highlighted and eloquently explained, but few solutions, apart from calls for solidarity and a commitment to telling the truth as it happened (both of which are highly laudable, of course) and some unpickings of other people’s theories and books. But I don’t think that’s what this book is for: it’s front-line reportage, often unfiltered and actually written and constructed in the thick of things, and for that it should be applauded. It’s a good work of social history, read after the fact, and it’s important to have this book out there (which is why I’m going to share it via BookCrossing rather than keeping it to re-read).

This book will suit … I fear it may preach to the converted, but I’d like people who think protests are all coordinated by a “dangerous few rotten apples” etc to read the truth as seen from inside the protests and movements to read it. However it will probably find most readers in lefty, not particularly capital-minded folks.

Orla Kiely – “Pattern”

(08 January 2015)

I bought a copy of this lovely hardback for my best friend for Christmas then wished I’d bought a copy for myself and had to hunt one down: there’s a lesson there (I also then had to buy some MORE books to make up the order to free delivery, and there’s a lesson there, too).

So, in this book, which sits a little uncomfortably with the anti-materialist stuff above, is by that lady who designs the beautiful apple and stem print materials that you see on stationery, mugs in my house, cards, or bags, duvet covers and clothes for those who are less parsimonious than me. I do love the stuff though,and thoroughly enjoyed this book, which talks about her life and business in a surprising and gratifying amount of detail. Full of gorgeous illustrations and notes helpful to business owners, professional designers and amateurs looking to make their home beautiful or wear colours and patterns, this turned out to be a good as well as a pretty read.

This book will suit … people who lust after her lovely mugs, duvet covers, bags, etc.

Well, that’s the last three out of the TWELVE books I’ve read this month, as I don’t think I’ll get “The Vicar’s Daughter” finished tomorrow. Have you had a good reading month (especially those of you who’ve had a half term or university reading week)? My November has been written on the physical calendar, it’s so busy, and seems to consist of a heady mix of peculiar runs (a half marathon consisting of laps of an airfield and my first proper cross-country race), gigs (two in two weeks!) and helping out with local efforts to collect goods to send over to refugees suffering in Europe. So I’m not sure how much reading time all that will give me …