I’m not sure that I get massively turned on by end-of-year retrospectives and Top Tens (you can put together a top ten ANY time – why limit it based on some arbitrary calendar point?).  However last year I was interested whilst reading Billy’s blog to see that he’d kept lists of all of the books he read in 2010, and all of the films he watched in 2010.

It struck me that this might be an interesting exercise, and so for your reading pleasure…. here are my lists!

Books I read in 2011

  • Stewart Lee – How I Escaped My Certain Fate – Hard to believe I read this right back at the beginning of the year, it made such a big impression on me.  Dry comic legend Stewart Lee’s memoirs of his comic career, alongside annotated transcripts of several of his Edinburgh shows – explaining why he’d written jokes the way he had, and at once either giving the reader a glimpse into the workings of his genius mind, or stringing a load of people along in some elaborate additional joke.
  • Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw – Why does E=mc² – An admirable foray into explaining relativity for Cox’s new-found TV audience, but swings between coddling, and impenetrable jargon.
  • Antony Wild – Black Gold: The Dark History of Coffee – Fact packed but fairly opaque working history of the coffee industry, covering economics, history & social developments.  Interesting, but not really a page-turner.  I enjoyed the sections covering Napoleon’s exile on St Helena.
  • Richard Feynman – The Pleasure Of Finding Things Out – Anecdotal transcripts from Nobel prizewinning physicist, bongo player, safecracker, and general all-round legend, Richard P. Feynman.  Reading Feynman never fails to bring a smile to the face.  Well, his biographical stuff anyway.  I’ve never tackled any of his actual physics text.
  • Stephen Davis – Hammer of the Gods – considered an authoritative Led Zeppelin biography.  Given that I wasn’t really around at the same time as Led Zeppelin, it was fascinating to get a good glimpse of the sort of stuff they got up to.  I guess they were one of the pioneering badly-behaved rock acts, and the source of many of today’s clichés for rocker behaviour.  I especially enjoyed the passage explaining how John Bonham had a penchant for throwing TVs out of hotel windows, as he enjoyed the sound they made when they exploded.  When Peter Grant was peeling off the hundred dollar bills to pay for the most recent brace of TV fatalities, the hotel manager remarked how he’d always wanted to throw one out of a window just to see how it felt.  Grant peeled off another $500 and said “Have one on us”.
  • Stefan Lasczuk – I Dream Of Magda –  Fiction about a guy who works in bowling alley, written by an Adelaide author who knows my sister in law, and who I used to know from our days as junior ten-pin bowlers.  Not a bad little read, but interesting that I immediately had visual images of most of the characters seeing as they were based on people I knew years ago.
  • Steve Martin – Born Standing Up – an autobiography by Steve Martin which was amusing enough but didn’t really engage me greatly.  Interesting to get a firsthand account of the hard graft and legwork that comedians have to do, and a useful counter to the idea that standup success is instant or overnight.
  • Charlie Connelly – Attention All Shipping – a really fascinating and funny “boy project” book about a chap who decides to visit a place in each region named in the BBC Shipping Forecast.  I’ve got a penchant for people going to great lengths to visit obscure places for thin premises, and this book’s full of them.  Lots of excellent research also, and very well told.
  • Danny Wallace – Awkward Situations For Men – another exponent of the “boy project” genre, this was unfortunately a collection of Danny Wallace’s columns from Short List, collected and bound as a paperback, rather than an actual book.  Disappointing.
  • Simon Singh/Edzard Ernst – Trick or Treatment – I bought this directly from Singh himself (possibly part of a sale to help cover some of his legal bills from the recent Chiropractic episode?); it’s an exploration of several types of complementary and alternative medicine, pertaining to the evidence validating them and explaining the harm that they can still visit on people.  Very intelligent, thoughtful, considered and balanced book.
  • Tina Fey – Bossypants – I’m not usually one for autobiographies written “in character” (I threw Rik Mayall’s away, because it was so tedious and hard to read for that reason), however Tina Fey’s contains enough information about her as a person and her life & progression to balance out the excellent silliness in tone with which she writes.  Total page-turner.  I finished this about 2 days after I started it.
  • Keith Richards – Life –  You can see by now I’ve got a thing for autobiographies.  I’m a little hesitant to get into rockstar autobio’s based on my reading of Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers: it made me want to slap him about for the repeated lapses back into drug addiction.  For that reason it might seem a weird move to tackle Keith Richards’ book.  However I thoroughly recommend it – for all the adventure and randomness, Richards comes across as an incredibly sympathetic and down to earth figure, and is remarkably lucid about the intricacies of what happened, why it happened, and displays his overriding passion for music (he’s a musician first, then a rockstar).  Just fantastic.  So glad I read that.
  • Dan Ariely – Predictably Irrational – Behavioural economist Ariely investigates several cases of counterintuitive human behaviour and establishes a case for a more psychology-driven approach to economics rather than the classical one underpinned by the ideas that people behave rationally.  Very insightful, although in a way it reminds me of my overriding view of economists as people who can look at a group of data and explain why something happened rather than people who can use an ongoing set of data and predict what’s going to happen next.
  • Edward Burns – Bad Whisky – very enjoyable account of the Victorian scandal in Glasgow where a newspaper employed the services of a doctor to covertly analyse samples of whisky from various Public Bars and other less reputable sources such as druggists and shebeens, and uncovered the extent of the adulteration of the liquid that was reaching peoples’ lips, by way of additions such as fusel oil, shellac, meths, and even sulphuric acid.  A tale of just how far some people will go in times of necessity to make a few extra pennies, and a fascinating set of correspondence back & forth via Letters pages in the paper.
  • Michael Lewis – Liars Poker – the engaging tale of the author’s experiences as a new recruit at Wall Street firm Salomon Brothers, the behaviour, attitudes & culture of people on Wall Street, and how Salomon Brothers created the Mortgage Bond market out of more or less thin air.  Equal parts instructive, depressing, and terrifying.  If more people had read this book, the Occupy Wall Street movement may have gathered more momentum.  It’s utterly infuriating to have my suspicions confirmed that hotshot traders earning “phone numbers” perform no better than chance.
  • Pete Brown – Hops & Glory – Described in one of the sleeve-quotes as “the Bill Bryson of beer”, Pete Brown embarked on a project to rediscover the origins of one of the world’s most popular current beer styles – India Pale Ale – studying old recipes and talking with historians, and then having used his extensive beer contacts to brew a barrel according to authentic original recipe, to transport it by sea from Burton-on-Trent to Mumbai.  It’s a tale of beer, travel travails, the rise & fall of the British Empire and the East India Company, and all told with a great & hilarious turn of phrase.  My copy’s already earmarked to send on to Patrick in Canberra to read (although unlike the author I’ll most likely send it airmail), however I think he’s going to have to wait for Liz to finish it first.

In a way I’m a little disappointed that the list is so short, although I suppose I’ve not had a particularly long work commute this year, and in London that’s when most reading tends to get done.  Having recently gotten myself a fondleslab (or, iPad, as most people call them), I wonder if reading will once again give way to watching episodes of US TV series.  The only way to tell is to start a new list and compare notes next year!

Oooh, and at 1400 words, that post is good enough to go out on its own!  Next, films from 2011…