Category Archives: Blog

General thoughts on life, the universe and everything. Stuff that doesn’t fit in the other categories!

Make Something Wonderful

Make Something Wonderful,” a collection of Steve Jobs writing and photos is… well, it’s a good thing that I write these notes for myself. You’ll already know if you’re interested.

I’m not sure there’s much new and undiscovered here, but it’s nicely collated and fascinating reading.

One highlight is the script from his Stanford commencement speech. But what I enjoyed most were the notes. The speech was almost perfect, but the notes allow you to see the process that led there. The common perception of the lone genius having a eureka moment is a lie. Jobs worked and practiced and iterated and sought feedback. Much of his work he attempted to make everything look simple and obvious, but the reality is that “effortless” takes a lot of hard preparatory work. Some might argue that this detracts from his achievements, but I’d say that the exact opposite is true.

His words are punctuated with brief explanations, but otherwise his words are left to speak for themselves.

The book is free, so if you’re even slightly interested it’s worth downloading.

The Romantic

William Boyd is one of my favourite authors. He specialises in doorstop novels that document the entire life of an interesting individual. His most famous is probably “Any Human Heart” and “The Romantic” [affiliate link] follows in its footsteps.

The story crosses the globe, starting in Ireland, moving to England, Belgium, the US, Africa, India, Sri Lanka, Italy, Austrian and others I’m probably forgetting. And it begins in 1899, so covers an interesting time in history. (I did some quick Wikipedia fact checking and it stands up!)

What makes these books work is that his characters feel real. They’re flawed. Heros sometimes, but with relatable failings that anchor them in reality.

It’s not Boyd’s best, but it’s thoroughly enjoyable and beautifully written.

Reading 2023

In a turn of events that surprised even me, I managed to exceed my reading target of twelve books this year.

I managed a decent mix of fiction and non-fiction. More politics than usual, but even that was mostly on the lighter side.

Highlights would be “Jeremy Hardy Speaks Volumes” and “How Westminster Works.” I don’t think any of the books were bad so I’m not going to share a “worst of.” You can see from the notes which ones I enjoyed the most.

I’m going to keep with the twelve book target for next year.

Depraved New World

It’s difficult to come up with a better explanation for what this book is like than the description on the back: Depraved New World (affiliate link) is a worryingly funny collection, which captures British politics at its most absurd. 

It’s a collection of John Crace’s political sketches, originally published in the Guardian, covering October 2021 to June 2023. A pretty eventful time in British politics.

Reading it now, in late 2023, is probably the perfect time. Much earlier and you can’t tell the “good” sketches or consequential events from the average ones. Much later and you’ll have forgotten some of the important details that are being written about. They’re sketches, not analysis of the events or a history. Between the chapters are occasional colour about what was going on, but, broadly, you’re on your own. Political geeks only! Some parts I’d forgotten, but smiled when I recalled. If you’d come across Braverman stepping on a guide dog’s tail on The Thick of It, you’d dismiss it as too unlikely and contrived.

If there’s a trend for the books I’ve read this year, it’s “entertaining but not a classic.” I would put “Depraved New World” in the same category.

The Last White Man

This book (affiliate link) was being promoted by my local council as part of a reading campaign. I’m not sure I would have picked it up otherwise, which, despite my misgivings, would have been a shame.

The story is about the world population spontaneously turning black, and the consequence and effects of that. It focuses on a few characters (Anders and Oona) and how it affects their lives.

The writing is unusual. I hesitate to say bad, because it’s very deliberate, but grating maybe? Each paragraph is effectively one long, run on sentence. I didn’t have the audio book, but I am curious how you’d read it without an inhuman pair of lungs.

This isn’t even the complete sentence.

… and he said it suits you too, and she said, really, and he said, really, and he added, you looked too hungry before, and she asked, and now I don’t, and he said, and now you don’t, and she smiled, and then she smiled again, her smile bigger and bigger.

The dialogue is quite convincing and some of the descriptions are beautiful, but I had a hard time seeing past the structure.

I was unconvinced by certain aspects of world changing. Not the idea of changing, which you obviously have to suspend your disbelief of, but the effects. The characters all assumed that the looks they received and the ways that they were perceived were entirely down to the fact they were no longer white. Is that fair? If you dramatically and overnight changed your appearance, would people not react?

For a short book, it took me a while to read but I’m glad I made it to the end.

Escape

Marie Le Conte is one of my favourite panelists on the Oh God What Now podcast. I thought I should make an effort to read one of her books, hence “Escape” (affiliate link). It is about how Millennials were the first generation to grow up with the internet and how they shaped it.

Whatever you make of the ideas or commentary1, one thing is abundantly clear: her personality shines through. You can hear her speaking every sentence. Fast, slightly scattered thoughts with the occasional random aside. In books of this type, it’s rare to come across lines such as:

Still, that isn’t quite the point I was trying to make

In works with less personality the preceding paragraph would have been edited out!

Another example.

(I’m very sorry, I’m going to have to pause for a moment to childishly laugh at the sentence ‘we were using our fingers instead of our mouths.’)

(Okay, I’m good.)

It’s not pretending to be a serious book, though there are serious points to make. It doesn’t quite hang together as a whole. She describes the chapters as essays, and that’s pretty accurate. Think of it as a collection of loosely related essays rather than a cohesive, single narrative.

The essays cover topics from finding your tribe to dating to how nothing is ever as good as it used to be2.

One of the serious points continues to be very relevant with the recent changes in ownership, and therefore moderation, of Twitter and Tumblr.

All we have now is this tiered internet, where everything non-sexual can co-exist — including racism, fake news, abuse, misogyny and the like — but nipples are beyond the pale.

And apparently I’m a terrible person.

I have been in full-time employment for nine years and I still bristle whenever someone sends me a short message with a full stop at the end.

I’ve seen people sign off their text messages. I don’t do that. But tapping space twice at the end of a text message feels like a small price to pay for have a full stop in the correct place3.

Overall, I quite enjoyed “Escape.” I wouldn’t say that it’s essential reading, or that it uncovers many new and unique insights, but you might find it relatable or funny.


  1. I’m not entirely convinced, personally. As a Gen X, I don’t feel substantially less online than many Millennials. ↩︎
  2. Millenials are getting old. ↩︎
  3. I guess this is the marker of me being Gen X. ↩︎