Book Shambles Is Back – My January Books

Robin Ince's Blog

Book Shambles has returned. The first episode is with comedian, producer, director, actor AND broadcaster, Jeff Garlin.

To tie in with its return, here is my reading and seeing diary for January. Much of January has involved working on the third draft of my own book, which has hampered but also focused me. Fortunately, I have had enough traveling – Belfast, Toronto and Oslo –  to leave me in waiting rooms and in transit where I turned thumb twiddling into library time.
My reading recall is abysmal, so this exercise is partly to remind me of what I have read.

Last Look by Charles Burns (GOSH comics, Berwick st)
A creepy and disconcerting comic book trilogy of one man trying to digest, comprehend and repair his big mistake via his own nightmares and reality. Includes sweary reptiles and slimy eggs.

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philip K Dick (Oxfam Books, Berkhamsted)
It’s boom time for Philip K Dick again with his paranoid and claustrophobic dystopias being pawed over by people who hope to find solace in their reality not really being a reality at all. I found this one to be the most disconcerting of his novels that I have read so far. It is also the one where I found his shortcomings on creating female characters was at its most distracting. I’d summarise it as “Phwoar, she wasn’t wearing a bra… but would she betray him?”

Mercy on Me by Reinhard Kleist (GOSH comics, Berwick St)
I haven’t read Kleist’s comic book on Johnny Cash, but having read this one inspired by the life and lyrics of Nick Cave, I will. A fiction and a reality, based on Cave’s life it is brutal, tempestuous, elegiac and enigmatic, so it is perfect for Nick Cave admirers and anyone who wonders if they should have an interest.

I am Alive and You are Dead: A Journey into the Mind of Philip K Dick by Emmanuel Carrere (a charity bookshop on Bath Road, Cheltenham)
I have been warned that, as well-written and intriguing this biography by Emmanuel Carrere is, he does use the licence of novelist every now and again. Then again, what biographer can ever produce an objective account of a human (or Lark or Monkey). At times, Dick comes across like patriarchal movie ogre, The Stepfather, but he is never less than fascinating and this gives a good window into what paranoias were being fed off to create each novel.

What the Fuck Did I Do Last Night by Rowland Rivron (Amazon)
A very entertaining account of a drunk man persuading TV executives to make chat shows where host and guest would float in the Thames. Also a reminder of why Set of Six is brilliant and still worth visiting (when Steve Nieve read the scripts, he said “you can’t make this, it’s too sad.)
A lovely look at a pissed up innovator driven by joy and booze.

Inventing Ourselves: The Secret life of the Teenage Brain by Sarah-Jane Blakemore (Advance copy)
Do you have a teenager? Have you been a teenager? Are you a teenager? If you answered yes to any of those, this book will prove enormously useful to you understanding yourself or your offspring. Sarah-Jane is a highly respected neuroscientist and this book covers her specific area of expertise. Amazingly, it is only in the last couple of decades that the teenage brain has been considered to be in a separate class to child brain and adult brain. The book is concise, comprehensible and enlightening.

Roadside Picnic by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky (£3 bookshop in Park St, Bristol)
My favourite book of January, this book became Andrei Tarkovsky’s masterpiece, Stalker. The book is very different, but no less intriguing. It is an adventure filled with ideas – technological, scientific and philosophical. I read it in one sitting.

Sally Heathcote – Suffragette by Mary and Bryan Talbot (GOSH comics)
The story of a fictional suffragette which highlights the bravery of that movement and the brutality and dunder-headedness of many who opposed it.

Unlucky Wally Twenty Years On by Raymond Briggs (Keats and Chapman)
I love that Raymond Briggs is adored for The Snowman but rather than capitalise in that he creates books about nuclear holocausts and knobbly kneed bachelor outsiders. This is the latter.

Everybody Lies by Seth Stephen Davidowitz (advance copy)
What can we learn if we analyse google searches? Quite a lot it seems. A book on big data and how it can reveal the truth of human desires, needs and beliefs. I have learnt about horse heart left ventricles, pregnant mother needs, where racism festers and many counter-instinctual ideas that illuminate our baser natures. And all from the pen of a Leonard Cohen fan, which makes Seth trustworthy in my eyes, though the statistical research on that isn’t in yet.

The Nao of Brown by Glyn Dillon (a gift from Josie Long)
a beautifully realised comic book about a young woman trying to live with obsessive compulsive disorder

Believing is Seeing by Mary Anne Staniszewski (Oxfam, Wimbledon)  – a series of lectures on art that help change what you see in a painting and also working out when art becomes art – from Sheelah Na Gig to Neo Dada.

Oh, and I am nearly at the end of Will Eisner’s Signal from Space.

Books begun in January and to be continued

Watling Street by John Higgs – find out the mystical inspiration behind Milton Keynes

This is Memorial Device by David Keenan – discover the truth of the fictional post punk bands of Airdrie in this inventive novel (particularly delightful for anyone who still has the ink from the fanzines they made under their fingernails)

House of Psychotic Women by Kier La-Janisse – the author looks at the psychotic woman in film and uses it to explore her own mental health.

The River of Consciousness by Oliver Sacks – the final collection of Sacks’ beautiful and humane writings, these particularly focus on Darwin, Freud and William James. The opening essay on botany is delightful and will change the way you view marigolds, beetles and creepers. Just lovely.

The Mysterium – another of Jo Keeling and David Bramwell’s encyclopedias of the peculiar. a perfect contemporary take on the extraordinary for people who were brought up on The Unexplained magazine.

If This Isn’t Nice, What Is? – the collection of Kurt Vonnegut’s graduation speeches, worth choosing one to start each week with.

And So It Goes – Charles Shields’ biography of Kurt Vonnegut, worth reading to get a sense of a revered writer’s long struggle and to understand Vonnegut’s humanism and its sometime failure.

Face to Face – a collection of Richard Cork’s interviews with artists. Only read Francis bacon’s so far, but it has already changed how I look at his paintings.

Book Shambles is back this week. We start with Jeff Garlin, then Stewart Lee, Lucy Cooke, Jenny Landreth, Andy Weir, Ricky Gervais and lots more.

I am off on tour – starting in Chipping Norton then across the UK – Aberdeen, Newcastle, Hove, Exeter plus 36 more locations and ending at Soho Theatre. Details here.

Robin Ince is a multi-award winning comedian, writer and broadcaster.  As well as spending decades as one the UK’s most respected stand-ups, Robin is perhaps best known for co-hosting The Infinite Monkey Cage radio show with Brian Cox.  For his work on projects like Cosmic Shambles he was made an Honorary Doctor of Science by Royal Holloway, University of London.