2021 in books (October – December)

Books

Here we are, racing into yet another new year already! I hope everyone is settled into their routines and is tackling January as best as they can.

Last year seemed to get busier as we progressed through to Christmas for me. Some of it therapy related, some of it music related (on that note, keep your eyes peeled for a new announcement by the end of the month about an exciting new project). It seems like reading time was well and truly diminished. My New Year’s resolution is to always make time for reading! Nevertheless, here are my customary reviews of the titles I did manage to read from October to the end of the year…

Child I by Steve Tasane (2018, Faber & Faber)

Lauded novelist and performance poet Steve Tasane is the son of a refugee himself. He wrote this story to highlight that which us desired by all children: the want to beling;the want to not be hungry”; the want “just to be able to laugh and play”.

The novel, aimed at young adults, focuses in a small group of unaccompanied children in a mud-soaked refugee camp. It is a sparse, poetically written and moving tale about children without any proof of identity, stateless and lost. But what caught my eye was the presentation of this book, starting as it does right at the beginning, on the very front cover

Such an unusual stylistic choice shouldn’t have caught me so off-guard, but I found myself a page or in before I realised it wasn’t merely a text-heavy cover page. Yet, it makes sense. Why would a refugee used to precious few resources waste paper?

Leah Price wrote about the layout of books in her book about books, reviewed here. Similarly, this short story (just 186 pages) certainly made me reconsider the accepted form most of our books are packaged in, and nowadays taken for granted. Why exactly do we need those introductory leaves in the same order each time?

However, the real thought-provoking issue isn’t the format in which the text is presented but the way it gives life to paperless, and in this book, nameless (each child is assigned initials, used throughout the book, as the authorities are unable to confirm their real names), children such as Child I, our eponymous narrator. This brief but beautiful book is not just for young adults, but for all.

Confronting the classics: traditions, adventures and innovations by Mary Beard (2013, Profile)

Following last month’s special instalment on Roman history titles, I found myself picking this collection of essays off the shelf of a local charity shop. And once again, it’s not a typical book. Rather, it is a series of Beard’s book reviews from the last couple of decades, collated here along with her ‘manifesto’ on whether the classics have a future, and her rationale for using reviews a means of widening historical debate. On that score, Beard will find no argument from me – as one who publishes succinct reviews of every book I read every quarter, who am I to judge?

In previous installments, I have recommended essay collections. I find them an enjoyable way to learn something on a subject where an entire book might dissuade you from reading about it altogether. They are also perfect for shorter time frames, where one chapter or subject can be finished in one sitting. In this collection, Beard praises, critiques, questions and in some cases outright savages the work of her peers,but maintains her vivid style of wit and enthusiasm throughout. She regularly highlights how source material can be selectivity interpreted when authors are attempting to make a particular argument, forcing one to rethink how we read history.

After reading Beard’s reviews, I came away with a very good sense of what the original book was getting at, without having to read it. In a sense, this books gives you over thirty for the price of one! Even the most casual fans of classical history should cast their eye over this collection.

The Monk of Mokka by Dave Eggers (2016,)

I actually read this over the summer, but as it was the only book that wasn’t in some way related to Roman history, I decided to hold back my review until this installment.

Eggers brings us a tale on behalf of Mokhtar, a Yemini raised in San Francisco. Almost through chance, an aimless Mokhtar develops a passion for coffee and sets off on a mission to bring coffee from Yemen back to the global market – just as civil war breaks out in his homeland. As well as learning about the process the beans go through before they reach our cups, we follow Makhtar’s attempts to escape the country, not only with both his shipment of coffee beans, but with his life.In all honesty, the book is propelled by the story. The narrative is engaging where the writing is sometimes not, and it is string enough to keep one reading. Recommended mainly for coffee aficionados. You can read more about Mokhtar and his foundation at his Port of Mokha website.

Scandinavians: in search of the soul of the North by Robert Ferguson (2017, Head Zeus)

Ferguson looks back through the history of the Swedes, Danes and Norwegians to draw out what links them and what gives them their unique cultural personality. These dives into history are intersected with vignettes from the author’s own life, having travelled around and lived in various parts of Scandinavia in the last five decades.

Ferguson seeks to ascertain the origins of the Scandinavian character. In terms of the ‘brooding melancholia’ one might associate with the land of long winters nights and Scandi-noir drama, he points to various moments in their history, from the cultural drought brought about by Sweden’s reformation in the medieval period to the time of (playwright) Isben and (artist) Munch and their creative work full of intense angst. Ferguson examines not just the culture itself, but the effect on how outside nations perceive these three separate but interlinked nations.

Ferguson certainly a few interesting arguments. However, there doesn’t seem to be a definitive conclusion, and the book feels somewhat unfinished as a result. Worth a read for those interested in Scandinavian culture and history. It also highlights a few interesting locations to visit if you find yourself travelling there anytime soon.

My favourites from 2021

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the Themis Files trilogy. I recommend it to any fans if science fiction looking for something a little different. I also enjoyed and recommend Yevgeny Zamyatin’s distopian tale We. These two were standouts in another good year of reading (both reviews can be read here).

I have noticed that I have shied away from music books in recent years, perhaps as they represent something of a busman’s holiday. However, there are a few music titles making their way into my to read pile along all the history and fiction, so watch this space…

As always, let me know what you’ve been reading, as well as your favourite books of 2021. In the meantime, stay safe and happy, until next time…

A year of reading: magazines & periodicals

Books

I’ve mentioned in my ongoing year of books series how I’ve actually had little time to read this year. The current COVID19 pandemic has affected my work and home life in a way that seems to have slowed down the rate I was getting through my (always increasing) to-read pile.

However, alongside my book list and the academic works I have read as part of my music therapy work, I’ve also been reading an increasing number of short-form writing. After all, an article is much easier to finish in one sitting than an entire book! I thought I’d take the time to list some of these now, before publishing my next year of books installment (covering April to June, available to read here).

Some of my regular subscriptions include:

The Week – a weekly digest of the UK (and international) news media. The editors are fairly good at providing an even tone, taking both sides of an argument (and certainly the perspective of left- and right-wing newspapers) into accounts. Useful if you find you’re not watching the news as much during lockdown!

The Musician – the quarterly trade magazine for Musician’s Union members, and always full of useful information. It can sometimes be bogged down in the nitty-gritty of union business, but what else would you expect? Prior to lockdown, they were running an invaluable ongoing series showcasing one city or town at a time and highlighting the best local live venues, studios and rehearsal spaces – useful information when you are (or at least were) planning a wider tour of the UK with your band.

The Music Therapy Journal (British Association of Music Therapists) – out twice a year, this edition was delivered at the end of June, featuring the latest academic papers in the professional field of music therapy, as well as book reviews. I wouldn’t call tis light bedtime reading, but it’s essential for my work as a music therapist.

Loud & Quiet – a music magazine, initially covering live and indie music in London, but long since branching out. This year’s pandemic forced this previously free magazine to move to a paid system, and I was happy to support the writing team with a donation for a year’s subscription, which includes free playlists of exciting new emerging artists.

The Big Issue – the famous magazine sold by homeless people to raise money for themselves. A great cause to support, especially in such uncertain times. However, it’s more then charity for charity’s sake; the articles are as well written as any national newspaper, and I especially enjoy their music & book reviews.

Guitar Interactive and Music Radar – two online-based sites which I’ve found myself returning to on numerous occasions for equipment reviews and guidance, as well as news on newly released gear. Lessons and technique tips are available too, but if I’m honest, I’m mainly there to drool over the guitars!

What magazines are you guys reading? Let me know!