Dan Sandman

Archive for January, 2013|Monthly archive page

04: The World Encyclopedia of Musical Instruments by Max Wade-Matthews

In Books, Encyclopaedia, Non-Fiction on 25/01/2013 at 12:00 pm

For a short time I was a bookseller working for Borders. Part of my job was to arrange books in a way that would attract customers to them and I was put in charge of bargain books. After a while I got a feel for the sorts of books that end up on the bargain books display table: books about fishing for hobbyists; books about WWII with big pictures; books about Tibetan Buddhism containing quotes from the Dalai Lama; books about football clubs full of statistics; books of all sorts containing varying degrees of knowledge and wisdom.

The World Encyclopedia of Musical Instruments by Max Wade-Matthews

“you might pick yourself up a steal such as The World Encyclopedia of Musical Instruments for £1.99.”

There is a shop I like on Camden High Street called The Book Warehouse which sells bargain books. It is part of a chain of stores dotted around London from Golders Green in the north to Hammersimith in the west. The shop’s speciality is bargain books, and – among other kitsch trinkets – you might pick yourself up a steal such as The World Encyclopedia of Musical Instruments for £1.99.

Now long ago, before Wikipedia was a glint in the milkman’s eye, there were strange things called Encyclopaedias or (to give the American spelling as seen above – ahem) Encyclopedias  that contained general knowledge and wisdom on things. I remember one called The Joy of Knowledge from my childhood fondly. It was a mail order series of books, handed down to me by my brothers, and referenced throughout my time at school. Nowadays, I should think kids probably refer to the internet when putting together an English essay, in the nineties we used books.

It was books that contained the answers to life’s pondering questions. If you needed to know the capital of Australia or if you wanted to know how a volcano is formed, it was encyclopaedic books that guided you to enlightenment. They were the friendly and kind teacher; cherished for their insight, respected for their scholarly knowledge, and praised for their concise explanations. I have loved and still do love a good encyclopaedia and I think that books are yet to be beaten for enjoyably putting the answers in your own two hands.

The World Encyclopedia of Musical Instruments by Max Wade-Matthews (inside)

“The book is packed with colourful pictures, interesting facts and useful information.”

This week’s book served well as comprehensive introduction to the history, construction and use of musical instruments. Although there is a bias towards western orchestral musical instruments, it by no means ignores other cultural and historical backgrounds. The book is packed with colourful pictures, interesting facts and useful information. One can’t help being enthused when reading about Pythagoras’ early acoustical experiments or the saxophone’s rise in popularity. Reading such an encyclopaedic overview of a subject is bound to lead to further discoveries, and what better way to learn more about a subject than to pick up a good book and to start turning its’ pages.

03: Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan

In Books, Fiction, Spy on 18/01/2013 at 12:00 pm

If it’s a clear day, from my bedroom window you can see The Shard, London’s tallest building. Recently, I have been using it to measure how foggy it is outside. I see this as firm proof that my family live ‘in the centre of things’.

Primrose Hill is our home and the well know dramatist Allen Bennett lives within a stone’s throw of our house. Below our living room is a library and last year Bennett was part of a successful campaign to save our library from closure by Camden Council. As part of the campaign my mum and dad’s picture appeared in the local rag. Our library is now run by the Primrose Hill Community Association and has therefore changed it’s name from Chalk Farm Library to Primrose Hill Community Library. It is supported by donations and uses volunteer workers.

I picked it up, encouraged by the deadline enforcing 14 Day Book sticker.

The new library is well stocked, mostly because Camden donated their old books, and loans out some of the latest titles including Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan (2012). I picked it up, encouraged by the deadline enforcing 14 Day Book sticker. The renewal slip revealed that the book had been on constant loan; if this book was going to be borrowed by me, I would have act fast. I quickly read the first page and speedily exchanged my library card for the library book.

Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan (inside)

“The renewal slip revealed that the book had been on constant loan”

It was a hardback book. There’s something quite satisfying about holding one of these. They feel more expensive, the print is larger, and you can slip off the cover so it doesn’t slip out of your hands. Inside was a clever spy story, set in 1970s Britain against the backdrop of Cold War politics. It intelligently employs stories within stories and letter writing to great dramatic effect. The story is written in concise prose, well researched, and narrated in the first person. Therefore, the world created is clearly visualised, the plot is believable, and the protagonist is a fully developed character.

"you can slip off the cover so it doesn't slip out of your hands."

“you can slip off the cover so it doesn’t slip out of your hands.”

Sweet Tooth is a good book that could easily be made into a film. It revealed to me a hidden world of cultural espionage that involved big name writers such as George Orwell. The spy game is not represented by the all action James Bond type but by a group of Oxbridge graduates; civil servants working underpaid office jobs. It explores what can happen when love and literature get mixed up with power and politics. The result is an exciting mix and a good story.

02: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

In Adventure, Books, Fiction on 11/01/2013 at 12:00 pm

The book I’m now reading was discarded by a friend, the mother of one of my guitar students, and given to me two summer’s ago. She handed it to me after her daughter’s guitar lesson saying that she “couldn’t get through it” and wished me better luck. Soon afterwards, I started the book but stopped reading at about page 58.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

“It just goes to show that every discarded book deserves a second chance.”

On my first attempt, the book’s heavily embellished language and shifting narrative voices were too daunting for me. Cloud Atlas felt like the kind of book that one requires an English degree to decode and translate. I believed the opening 39 pages entitled The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing were narrated in an archaic language and therefore hard to follow. I thought that the plot was unclear and the characters were difficult to empathise with.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (side)

“I creased the book’s spine and dug in for the ride.”

Two years later, I decided to start from the beginning again; and after about one hundred pages I was fully engrossed. To my joy, delight and surprise, I creased the book’s spine and dug in for the ride. It just goes to show that every discarded book deserves a second chance.

Cloud Atlas is full of linguistic invention and rewarded my commitment with a host of intelligent story telling devises. I enjoyed how characters were brought to life by their choice of language; I marvelled at how each story was connected by a series of clues that slowly unravel: it was fun, clever and thought-provoking. I am looking forward to the forthcoming film released later this year.

01: Toast by Nigel Slater

In Autobiography, Books, Non-Fiction on 04/01/2013 at 12:00 pm
52 Books 01 Toast by Nigel Slater

“A well-thumbed copy was given to me by my mum last month.”

The book that I happen to be reading at the moment is Toast by Nigel Slater. A well-thumbed copy was given to me by my mum last month. What better recommendation could there be, than a recommendation from one’s own mother?

I’m now 29 years old,  happily living with my retired parents, and helping to care for my father who is elderly. Although, according to the well established cliché, my mum does indeed do my clothes washing, one of life’s simple pleasures that I continue to partake in is cooking. I enjoy the whole process of going to the shop, finding bargains, and then thinking of things that will go well together.

Nigel Slater is the kind of writer who’s enthusiasm and expertise for cooking, often accompanied by a warm openness for the telling of anecdotes, brightly shines from the pages of his much loved writing. But Toast, unlike Slater’s cookery books, is a memoir rather than a book about cooking. In fact, the autobiography works so well as an imaginative story depicting 1960’s Britain that it has been made into a BBC film. I’ve not seen the film yet, but my opinion of the book is as follows: it’s an easy to read, well organised memoir that will have you laughing out loud along the way. By well organised, I mean that each short anecdote is given a food based heading such as Heinz Sponge Pudding (pg.50); and by laughing out loud, I don’t mean it in the LOL sense, more in the warm smile inside of your heart sense.

If you like your books to be very English, very enjoyable, and if you like your books to be about food, then you’ll love this book. It’s a book about a boy’s hunger and a man’s obsession with relating everything to food. Whether you grew up in the 60’s or not, this book is sure to evoke many up-and-down childhood memories, and have you relating life to food long after you’ve put the book down. Toast is proof that if we write about our life organised into little categories, than somehow we’ll be saying something about ourselves, life, and stuff in the wider society.

That’s it! My first post! Book 01 of 52!