Stuff I’m reading, instalment 1752; A slightly long and rambling view

Let me start with an aside. Why 1752? I just love that year. Changing calendars, changing the start of the year, some parts of the world dropping the period 3rd to 13th September, riots as a result. How I’d love to be able to time-travel there and back.

It must have been a truly confusing time. Just look at this excerpt from the Wikipedia entry for Old Style and New Style dates:

Occasionally using different calendars has caused confusion between contemporaries. For example one of the contributory factors for Napoleon‘s victory at the Battle of Austerlitz was the confusion between the Russians, who were using the Julian calendar, and the Austrians, who were using the Gregorian calendar, over the date that their forces should combine.[14]

I wonder what today’s equivalent would be. A merger or takeover that fails because of Outlook synchronisation problems between key people on both sides, caused by their operating in different timezones?

Anyway, to the point of this post. Some of you have expressed interest in knowing what I’m reading at a given time, so here goes:

Some Like It Hot Buttered: Jeffrey Cohen: I’ve been a big fan of his ever since I read his Aaron Tucker mysteries. Fabulous read. Jeffrey does something very rare, he has a narrative style that makes you forget you’re reading fiction. It just flows. I enjoyed him so much I landed up reading his nonfiction on Asperger’s, and now I’m trying to get involved with helping people with Asperger’s. There’s something about that whole space that makes me want to learn more about it, and to do something to help people with that condition (edited text, see comments). And some serendipity. I found the Aaron Tucker mysteries around the same time that I’d finished reading Mark Haddon’s Curious Incident of the Dog In the Night-Time, and soon after I landed up having dinner with Steve Shirley, who has such an interest in autism that’s she’s set up a foundation pretty much focused on it. So now I have to do something about it.

Back to the book. A great read, light and fast and humorous and unputdownable. Like any other fan of Rex Stout or P.G. Wodehouse or Donald E. Westlake, I’ve learnt to put the brakes on while I’m reading a new Jeffrey Cohen. Savouring each page.
Musicophilia: Oliver Sacks: I tend to read anything and everything that Oliver Sacks writes. I have no idea why. He just happens to touch subjects I find myself drawn to, ever since I read The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat and Awakenings. And I really enjoyed Uncle Tungsten. An aside. When you go to his site, you are confronted with one of the most bizarre sets of options you will find anywhere. As you scan down the left-hand column, what you see is this: Anthropologist. Awakenings. Island. Leg. Hat. Migraine. Musicophilia. Oaxaca. Seeing Voices. Uncle Tungsten. Sacks does some very strange things.

I’m fascinated by the book, subtitled Tales of Music and the Brain. In the introduction, Sacks reminds people of Arthur Clarke’s Childhood’s End, where the aliens “as a species, lack music”. He reminds us of what Steven Pinker says about music “What benefit could there be to diverting time and energy to making plinking noises? …. As far as biological cause and effect are concerned, music is useless …. It could vanish from our species and the rest of our lifestyle would be virtually unchanged”. Apparently there has been “a running debate for more than two hundred years as to whether [music and language] evolved in tandem or independently”. Sacks’ stories are designed to help rank amateurs like me understand something about the connection between music and humans.

Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant: Daniel Tammet: Wikipedia describes Tammet as a high-functioning autistic savant. The book is a Road book of sorts, but with a difference: the journey Tammet takes is all inside his head. Still only part way through the book, I marvel at how well he is able to observe himself dispassionately and objectively, and how well he articulates what he observes. Another fascinating read.

Um: Slips, Stumbles and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean: Michael Erard: Shefaly pointed me at this book via a comment made some time ago on this blog. (I tend to follow up each and every comment, but it takes time. Stephen Smoliar’s comments alone keep me pretty busy!) I’d kept a wary eye on the book ever since I’d read the Kirkus Review on it (which was that rare thing, a starred review) and Shefaly’s comment tipped me over. Here’s what Richard Lederer says on the back cover:

Some people are bird-watchers and learn a great deal about the birds they watch. Michael Erard watches word-botchers and, in the process, enriches our experience of what language is about and what makes us human. After reading Um …. you’ll never hear the thud and blunder of everyday speech in the same way.”

I also like part of the Sigmund Freud quote in the frontispiece: “….So do not let us underestimate small indications; by their help we may succeed in getting on the track of something bigger.”

Vinnie’s Head: Marc Lecard: This is not a book for everyone. You have to be comfortable in that weird space where Tim Dorsey meets Christopher Moore meets Jeff Lindsay, slightly adrift of, and much darker than, Carl Hiaasen, Elmore Leonard, Dave Barry and Donald E Westlake. I’m delighted to have found Johhnie LoDuco, I look forward to more from Lecard. Riotous.

How Much Should A Person Consume: Ramachandra Guha: I’ve read quite a lot of what Guha has written, and enjoy his stuff. I used to play bridge in Calcutta with a Ram Guha who fits his description (same age, similar education). I’ve tended to wonder if it’s the same guy. [Ram, if you used to come to my house in Moira St to play bridge with Mondip and Kini and me, then you’re the same guy. Maybe Devangshu will remember.] Excellent stuff, makes you think.

Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs: Ken Jennings: Never heard of the book, never heard of the author. I’ve read many books about trivia and about trivia freaks, I’ve done my own hard time as a trivia freak, and nobody captures the madness of a quiz addict as well as Ken does. Great stuff. A must-read for anyone who spends serious time in quiz leagues and teams.

A coda. It’s amazing just how many of the people I’ve referred to now have a blog. Things are sure changing.

7 thoughts on “Stuff I’m reading, instalment 1752; A slightly long and rambling view”

  1. I am a huge fan of your blog. However, I find it peculiar that you characterize your interest in Asperger’s as fascinating. My son is a very high functioning autistic/asperger’s boy, and I must tell you, it’s not fascinating, it’s a tragedy.

  2. Arthur, my apologies. I can’t always use the right words. “fascinating” was a poor choice of word. What I meant was that there was something about Asperger’s that drew me towards wanting to know more about the condition, and to doing something to help people with the condition. That’s what I meant, and “fascinating” was the wrong word to use. Again, my apologies.

  3. You might be interested in _Mindblindness: An Essay on Autism and Theory of Mind_ by Simon Baron-Cohen, who is director of the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge, and btw (no joke) first cousin of Sacha Baron Cohen, a.k.a. Borat.

  4. Hi JP, glad to find a ref to Arthur C Clarke’s “Childhood’s End”, which has some powerful metaphors. Ramachandra Guha – yes, he’s the same guy who used to play bridge at your place. I learnt that from him some years ago when he mentioned your father’s name.



  5. Indeed JP, it is the same Ram Guha – have his email id and contact details if you’re interested. Monjit’s as well.

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