Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Groanin' Jock Book Club

AKA what I've been reading recently.
Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
Excellent novel tying together a number of lives from Victorian times to a post-apocalytpic future. Easily the best book I read in 2009, it made me hungry to read more of Mitchell's work.
Friends Like These - Danny Wallace
Entertaining tale told in Wallace's light-hearted, chatty style. A quick read, and one never destined to sit amongst the great literay tomes of our age, but an enjoyable diversion. Wallace finds an address book from his childhood and attempts to track down everyone listed in it.
The Colour of Magic - Terry Pratchett
My first foray into the Discworld, this was the the fourth Terry Pratchett novel I read, after the Gnomes trilogy back when I was at primary school. The most obvious comparison I can think of is with The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, with the same style of off-centre humour and blend of madcap imagination. I'll be back for more.
One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest - Ken Kesey
One of the classics of 20th century literature. I've not yet seen the film, and I'm glad to have read the novel first. Frequently hilarious and ultimately heartbreaking, McMurphy and the Big Nurse are two of the most finely-crafted characters I can remember from my 26 years of reading.
As Easy As Pi: Stuff About Numbers That Isn't (Just) Maths - Jamie Buchan
An interesting and entertaining look at the world of numbers and the world in numbers. Explores the history of our numbering system as well as real-life examples of where arithemtic and maths play an important, if unseen, part.
'78 - How A Nation Lost The World Cup - Graham McColl
Interesting account of Scotland's ill-fated 1978 World Cup campaign. Lacked insight from some of the key figures, most notably the late Ally McLeod. It would also have been interesting to hear the views of Graeme Souness, who barely featured in the three group stage matches, and Derek Johnstone, who didn't play at all despite having enjoyed a tremendous season with Rangers in the run up to the campaign.
The Light Fantastic - Terry Pratchett
I didn't enjoy the second Discworld novel as much as the first - it didn't seem to have the same sparkle as the first. It was still a good read, but I'd have liked to have seen more character development and a different story. I still have high hopes for the series though, which I'm way behind the rest of the world in reading.
Empire - Niall Ferguson
Thorough account of the rise and fall of the British Empire. Covers Britain's rise from an "archipelago of rainy islands off the north-west coast of Europe" to ruling the world. The reasons behind the growth of the empire, the conditions that made it possible and the events that brought its demise are all explored in incredible detail. An excellent read.
The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
Recommended by a friend of Mrs Wife's, my impression of this short novel was that it wasn't as clever as it, or its author, purported to be. Diverting enough in its own way, tracking an elderly New Yorker's journey to heaven after dying in an accident, but not as good as I'd hoped.
How To Be Idle - Tom Hodgkinson
A slacker's handbook, this book acts as a guidebook on how to live a life of little exertion, outlining the perfect lazy day, how to achieve it and why a 9-to-5 life goes against human nature. Interesting in places, its dry style eventually resulted in boredom.
Garden Of Beasts - Jeffrey Deaver
Fast-paced and entertaining pre-World War Two thriller that combined espionage, an American hitman and the 1936 Berlin Olympics, as well as cameo appearances from Jesse Owen, Himmler, Goring, Goebbels and even Hitler himself. The first book I read while on holiday in Benidorm, this proved to be a highly entertaining read.
Twilight - Stephenie Meyer
Not as good as I was expecting, this was my entry point into the Twilight fever that seems to have gripped the world. I'm a sucker for a modern-day vampire story, but Twilight too often descended into rambling monologues where Bella waxed lyrical about how beautiful Edward's pale skin and copper eyes were. Decent enough, just a little drippy for my tastes.
Pig Island - Mo Hayder
Another thriller, this one was set in Mid Argyll, an area I know well having lived there for nearly three years. This gave the book a lot of local character from my point of view, but too often Hayder made factual errors that I couldn't forgive. Taking these errors out of the equation (even if it is hard to accept that she frequently misspelled Crinan and referred to Inverar(a)y as being some kind of major shopping centre), this was a good read, with some interesting twists.
The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
I'd never read any of Fitzgerald's work before, and I'm not sure I will again after reading The Great Gatsby. I'm not sure what I expected from the book, but it failed to deliver much in the way of genuine plot until near its end.
Shakespeare - Bill Bryson
Attempting to deconstruct the myth that is William Shakespeare, Bryson eschews anything that can't be proven through reliable sources. Which doesn't leave much in the way of concrete facts, but this was nonetheless a very entertaining and informative look at the world's most famous writer.
Nineteen Eighty-Four - George Orwell
Another classic, and another that left me pondering. Perhaps because its language and messages have passed into common use (Room 101, Big Brother et al), but I was left feeling that I already knew the story of Winston's battle with the powers of Ingsoc. It remains, however, one of the high water marks in 20th Century fiction.
Hand Of God: The Life Of Diego Maradona - Jimmy Burns
The (very) unauthorised life story of the world's greatest ever footballer. This book was published almost a decade ago, and as a result doesn't cover El Diego's return from the wilderness to become manager of his beloved Argentina. A mesmerising tale of a chubby urchin blessed with incredible gifts for football and self-destruction. There are very strong parallels with the biography of Michael Jackson I read last year - the flawed genius for whom fame was both a friend and a foe.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Bongo Bongoland....

....and the Former Soviet Republic of Bulimia.
Not the fevered imaginings of Herge in his Tin-Tin books, nor countries peopled by Enid Blyton's folk of the Faraway Tree.
The Daily Mail readership - almost beyond parody.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Head In The (Oil)Sand

As a market analyst working in the oil industry, I'm on BP's press releases mailing list.
This afternoon, I received the following release - note especially the headline:
BP is Not Aware of Any Reason for Share Price Movement
BP notes the fall in its share price in US trading last night. The company is not aware of any reason which justifies this share price movement.
BP continues to keep the market updated on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill through regular announcements. The response to this incident is our top priority.
BP faces this situation as a strong company. In March, we indicated that the company's cash inflows and outflows were balanced at an oil price of around $60/barrel. This was before the costs of the incident.
Under the current trading environment, we are generating significant additional cash flow. In addition, our gearing is currently below the bottom of our targeted range. Our asset base is strong and valuable, with more than 18bn barrels of proved reserves and 63bn barrels of resources as at the end of 2009. All of the above gives us significant capacity and flexibility in dealing with the cost of responding to the incident, the environmental remediation and the payment of legitimate claims.
BP will continue to keep the market fully informed of further developments in the response to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, in compliance with its listing obligations.
Does anyone want to give them a hint as to the reasons for their "share price movement"? (That's a polite euphemism by the way - BP's share price has fallen 32 per cent in the past month).
Subtle hint to BP - if you're responsible for the worst oil spill in history, don't pretend you're "not aware" of its impact on your share price.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

All Work And No Play

In this month's issue of Four Four Two, I've just read the best description yet of New Labour drones/leadership contenders David and Ed Miliband:

"The frontrunners in their leadership race being a pair of brothers who make the twins in The Shining look like siblings you could enjoy a relaxed pint with".