Books

Book Haul: Mathematics, Vegan Travel and Navy Submarines

This week I hit my goal of reading seven books per week. Which was impressive, because one of them was really long. And also I’ve had a lot to do for work. But you know what they say: if you want to get something read, give it to a busy bookworm. Or something.

A Mathematician’s Apology by G.H. Hardy

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An essay describing the importance of mathematicians and how finding a career you both like and are good at can be hard, A Mathematician’s Apology is a short work that should probably be read by anyone who wants to be an academic. Hardy sometimes comes across as self-pitying, sometimes as having a superiority complex, but on the whole it’s an interesting read and brings up thoughts about the nature of mathematics and decisions about what to do with your life.

The Establishment by Owen Jones

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I’ve been meaning to read this for a while, so when I found it lying on the pavement somewhere near Angel I decided to pick it up and take it home. The Establishment: And How They Get Away With It, to give it its full title, is a left-wing rant about the institutions that control a lot of UK society.

I had mixed feelings about it. There were bits I found interesting: mainly the factual bits that discussed elements of history I’d previously not known about. But there were also bits I found overblown and annoying, too emotive and not factual enough. Having said that, the aim of the book is arguably to make people realise the sheer extent of the establishment’s reach, so I guess it makes sense to do that by making them feel something.

Still, I personally would have preferred more of a dry, factual tome. But then I’m an academic, what do you expect?

Even Dogs in the Wild by Ian Rankin

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I was gutted when Rankin retired John Rebus, his brilliant Scottish detective, and thrilled when he brought him back to work in a civilian consultant capacity. Like Michael Schumacher’s much-hyped return to F1 in 2010, however, it just wasn’t quite as good as before. Rebus has lost a little bit of his magic, due to no longer being constrained by the authorities he simultaneously worked for and batted against.

Having said that, Rebus’ adventures still make for an enjoyable read, and Rankin’s books continue to fall into the category of “novels I will buy in hardback as soon as they come out because I don’t want to wait for the paperback version”.

I’d like to see a little more of Rebus’ characteristic old grumpy flair, but he’s still a whisky-drinking hardass with a heart of gold, so still a character I want to read about.

Sittin’ on the Dock of King’s Lynn by Derek Knight

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There were bits of Sittin’ on the Dock of King’s Lynn that I enjoyed – Derek is blatantly a nice guy with a good sense of humour, which shines through in the stories he tells. He’s candid about the difficulties of being an expat, and about how life in a new place can be lonely even when you’re surrounded by people. We also share a love for staring at beautiful natural scenery. Plus, it meant I had Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay in my head for a few days, which was pleasant.

However, the book really needs a good editor. And a proofreader. There are long unnecessary forays into discussing which lamp and crockery were bought and where they were found, and minutiae of day-to-day life that I just couldn’t bring myself to care about. I suppose other people might like that, though.

On the whole, I wouldn’t have bought it (I was sent a review copy), but Derek’s experiences will make sense to expats, especially those who have moved to smaller towns. If you can skim-read well and don’t mind looking past superfluous information and the odd grammatical error, you might well enjoy it.

Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey

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This is one of those books that’s been raved about by people and critics and newspapers, but which my librarian friends (with whom I usually agree) didn’t enjoy. For that reason, I didn’t buy it when it came out, even though I kept seeing it on the feature tables of bookshops.

Then I found it in my local charity shop the other day, and it was £1, so I decided to pick up a copy.

And I loved it. It’s definitely in the running for my Books of the Year list. Maud, the main character, is an old lady at the onset of dementia. She keeps forgetting things and getting lost and muddled, but there’s a piece of paper shoved up her sleeve which constantly reminds her that her friend Elizabeth is missing. Unfortunately, no one will believe her.

Maud is scarily relatable. She calls soap “the slippery washing cake”; the toaster “the bread heater”; and the bath “a cooking pot for humans”.

My mother calls the lawnmower “the grass hoover”, and I recently referred to an airport as a “plane station”. I therefore find the protagonist of this novel both relatable and concerning.

It’s a brilliant book and you should definitely read it. Plus, you’ll love the twist at the end.

The Silent Deep by Peter Hennessey & James Jinks

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I’m not sure why I picked up a huge book about Naval submarines the last time I went to the library, but I’m glad I did. In light of the current debates around the Trident programme, it was fascinating to read about the history of the Submarine Service and how it got to where it is today.

It also had a brilliant epigraph, which I decided to turn into a pinnable/instagrammable image:

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I love the word ‘vasty’. Can we please start using it again? I can just see myself saying it in day-to-day life:

“I need a vasty cup of coffee.”
“This war is a vasty bad idea.”
“You are a vasty cunt.”

The first part of the book deals with a description of the Perisher, known to be one of the most difficult tests in the world. Which of course made me want to take it. But it’d be ridiculous to join the Navy just to see if I can pass the Perisher, right?

Maybe they’ll run some kind of blogger review programme if I ask nicely.

Dream on, scar.

There were also a few good quotes scattered throughout the book:

Ramsey reflects on the way submariners have to learn to live together in an immensely confined space: “If the world was like submarines there would be no need for submarines.” – p.31

As well as perhaps the most British perspective on impending death I’ve ever read:

“I thought, this time, these buggers want to kill us. But if I go, I shall be going in good company and we’ll all go down together. Once you’ve got over that bit, I found it relatievly simple to just get on with life. There’s no point screaming and making a fool of yourself. That would be embarrassing.” – Edward Hogben, HMS Conqueror’s Chief Engine Room Artificer, p.407

If you’re at all interested in British history or sociology, I’d definitely recommend it.

The Essential Vegan Travel Guide by Caitlin Galer-Unti

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Sometimes I experiment with being vegan. As a teenager, I was vegetarian for seven years, before getting married and going to my sister-in-law’s wedding, where vegetarianism went out the window at the sight of the hog roast.

From 2014-2015 I was vegan for several months, before caving in a while ago and going back to omnivorism. Having said that, the majority of my diet these days is still vegan, because I prefer soy milk to dairy, I don’t really buy meat, and most of the food I make consists of various vegetables thrown together in different ways.

I’ve come up with lots of excuses for not being properly vegan/vegetarian over the years, but it really boils down to one thing: I don’t want to.

However, a lot of people do. And while I was vegan, travelling was quite frequently a pain in the ass. Not because it’s impossible to find vegan food options when travelling – Caitlin’s guide proves that – but because of the nature of travelling I do. It’s all for work, and I’m usually holed up in some kind of research or conference facility for 20+ hours a day, meaning that finding places to buy food doesn’t really happen.

For those who go on holiday like normal people, though, this guide is brilliant. It has everything from eating out to staying in, and is peppered with stories throughout, making it much less dry than most guidebooks. There’s also a recipe section at the end containing things you can cook up in your hotel room using just a coffeemaker. I kid you not.

It’s brilliant and easily applicable to other dietary requirements too. You should buy it and read it.

What have you read this week? What do you think I should read next?

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