Thoughts: The Casual Vacancy, by J. K. Rowling

I think this is what the cool kids call “late to the party”. We’ve had this on the shelf for a while and ever since we got it I’ve been meaning to read it. And as Spuggy got to the end of the book he was reading on the Kindle, I thought I may as well end my off-list detour with a bang. Crazy spoilers lie within. I’m warning you, if you want to read this book, don’t read my aimless ramblings on it.

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Thoughts: The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro

Almost caught up now. It took me this long to realise that while Spuggy was borrowing the Kindle, we actually have a book that’s on my TBR list! So I read it. Spoiler warning etc.

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Thoughts: Intelligence, by Stuart Ritchie

Well. I’ve been all very smug about my posh non-fiction reading, and when I read Intelligence something happened that had been going to happen right from the start, sooner or later:

I read something that disagreed with something I’d earlier read.

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Thoughts: The Angry Chef: Bad Science and the Truth about Healthy Eating, by Anthony Warner

I’ve managed to get through a good few of our physical bookshelf books while Spuggy’s been borrowing my Kindle! This one was personally recommended by him.

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Other thoughts: “Every Valley”, by Public Service Broadcasting

What’s this? An opinion about something that’s not a book? Yep! Every Valley is the new album by the found-sound ensemble Public Service Broadcasting, and it’s the best album I’ve heard this year.

If you’re not familiar with them, PSB build progressive post-rock songs around mostly spoken-word clips taken from old information films. It’s not that this is an original idea – a lot of rock acts have played with samples to spice up long instrumentals, from Maybeshewill to 65daysofstatic to The Books – but PSB try to do more than just go for cheap jokes or coast on the quaintness of the past. As they joke, PSB’s mission is to “teach the lessons of the past through the music of the future”.

With each album, they’ve become deeper and richer – starting with The War Room EP, which uses old Blitz Spirit propaganda films from WWII, through the mishmash of newsreels and educational films from Inform Educate Entertain, to The Race for Space, which turns real radio transmissions from the Space Race into gripping songsEvery Valley is certainly their worthiest project yet, covering the fall of the South Welsh mining industry in the latter half of the twentieth century.

God, that sounds grim, doesn’t it?

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Short story: Wei Lai and Mazu

The moment of Wei Lai’s conception was streamed live in schools across China. As the microscopic glass needle punctured the egg, Commander Xue answered carefully rehearsed questions from pupils back on Earth.

No, the baby would not be going on the colony ship to Sirius. This was just an experiment.

Yes, it would have a mummy. He or she (the gender neutrality of Mandarin pronouns is a godsend) would be implanted back in the mother on returning to Earth. Tests of the artificial wombs would come later, once the viability of IVF in space had been proven.

No, a child conceived in space should be no different to one conceived on Earth. Continue reading

Thoughts: Nomad, by Alan Partridge

I’m so behind on these. Argh.

Anyway, let me open by saying that if you come from an Alan Partridgeless existence, then may I recommend you remedying that asap.

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Thoughts: Fictions, by Jorge Luis Borges, translated by Andrew Hurley

Well, I keep doing it to myself. I keep reading universally beloved books and then having to give my useless opinions on them. Do you need me to tell you that Borges is great? Because he is great. Now you know.

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German Reading Project: Nymphs: Tödliche Liebe, by S. Luhtanen and M. Oikkonen, translated by Alexandra Stang

This is the first novel-length German book I’ve read from beginning to end (Der Kleine Prinz being very short) without interrupting it with English reading. I’m pretty proud of myself. And one day maybe I’ll read a German book that isn’t in translation! Translation is great, but I feel like I’m doing German literature a disservice by snubbing its authors…

This was a spontaneous read. Spuggy found it in a clearance bin as a preizreduziertes Mängelexemplar (when an unsold book is superficially damaged in order to sell it more cheaply) and decided that it was deliciously trashy-looking enough for my tastes. He was, as always, dead right.

So, the book I just finished is the second half of a story that was published as one book in Finnish (this seems to happen quite regularly in German translations – you see it in translated fantasy series a lot. Maybe it’s just a wordy language?) so of course my next aim in life is to find the first one. And that isn’t all the backstory I’m missing, either. It’s the novelisation of a Finnish TV series. Which I now need to see, desperately. If only to make sure I’ve understood the mentalness of this story correctly.

Because I read it all in one go, I’m not going to do a “favourite words per chapter” thing this time, but try to discuss it more like I would any other book. In addition to a spoiler warning, there is of course an”I might have misunderstood things” warning in force as well.

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Why we need more continents

In any group of geography nerds, one of the biggest peeves will be “Europe’s not a continent”. From this perspective, Europe is just a peninsula of Asia, and the listing of Europe in the seven traditional continents (Africa, Antarctica, Asia, Australia/Oceania, Europe, North America, South America) is just a result of Eurocentric bias.

This isn’t an unreasonable view – “continent” doesn’t really have a set definition, but a common one is “large area of land surrounded by water”. By this definition, Australia and Antarctica definitely fit and North and South America nearly do, as does Africa. Asia and Europe are then the weirdos, since they share a long, indefinite land border somewhere in the Urals. So you redefine this as one big continent, Eurasia, and then everything just about works.

But there’s another problem. By population, the continents are uneven. There are about 1.2 billion Africans, 750 million Europeans, 600 million North Americans, 400 million South Americans and 40 million Oceanians. That adds up to just about 3 billion people. The other 4.2 billion people on this planet all live in Asia. More people live in Asia than live in all the other continents combined. Adding Europe to the mix gives Eurasia a total population of 5 billion, or around 70% of the world’s population. What’s the point of dividing the world into continents if you’re going to have one continent with almost everyone?

In fact, what’s the point of dividing the world into continents at all?

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