Daniel Freeman, Jason Freeman: Anxiety: A Very Short Introduction

Needless to say, I knew a fair amount already (or suspected, like the role of having had “overprotective or controlling parents” – I had overprotective and controlling ones). Needless to say, I learned a fair amount of what I didn’t know (eg that environment is generally more to blame than genes). And needless to say, the book hardly gave me any advice except the obvious “maintain a healthy lifestyle; if this doesn’t help, find a CBT therapist or have some pills prescribed”.

The only thing which really surprised me was my results from the self-assessment questionnaires. Not the social phobia one (19 out of 68 possibly indicating the condition: I scored 35). But the fact that I scored much higher for OCD (21 out of 72, me 33) than for generalised anxiety disorder (60 out of 80, me 60). I pondered this and concluded it’s probably correct. While I’m definitely a worrier, and while I’m not know for exceptional cleanliness or ‘hoarding’, I’m probably more prone to obssessive-compulsive ‘checking’ and ‘ordering’ than I’m willing to admit to myself. Now, there’s something I might probably work on …


Pierre Véry: Signé : Aloutte

Un « roman policier » pour les enfants. Je dois admettre qu’il est un peu médiocre, mais j’ai un faible pour le livre : je l’ai lu la première fois quand j’était environ aussi âgé que le héros – et aussi petit, fluet et seul comme lui. (À vrai dire, il était un des amis imaginaires de mon enfance.)

Alors, jusque-là j’ai lu – en français – trois livres pour les enfants et une bande dessinée*. Ils me plaisaient tous les quatre, mais le temps est venu de lire un pour les adultes. Ainsi, j’ai commencé La soupe aux choux. Et après ça … finalement quelque chose que je n’ai jamais lu même en traduction ?

* Extraordinaire : je n’ai lu que quatre livres en gaélique écossais …


Laurence Sterne: The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman

Quite a weird experience. Half the time I had no idea what the author was on about – and yet I read on. Because the brazen playfulness with which he treated (some might say mistreated) the format was amazing. There were features I thought to have been ‘invented’ in the second half of the last century by writers like Joseph Heller or Kurt Vonnegut – yet this book was published in the second half of the eighteenth.

Some tricks I even never saw before. Example? How about just giving two following chapters numbers, leaving them otherwise completely blank; later mentioning (but not explaining) “the necessity I was under of writing the 25th chapter of my book, before the 18th” and then having the two chapters ‘bona fide’, as it were?



Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine;—they are the life, the soul of reading!


S. R. Crockett: The Grey Man

Not bad as a 19th-century semi-historical adventure book for boys. No match for, say, Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Black Arrow, but no worse than George Manville Fenn’s novels, and better than his own The Black Douglas.

My only complaint is about the first, fairly long, scene in Sawny Bean’s cave. Quite ‘Gothic’, but as of course it was obvious the heroes would survive so they could marry and live happily ever after, it was almost unbearably boring, rather than thrilling.


James Hawes: My Little Armalite

Tolerably captivating, and featuring some favourite Hawes themes like the post-Soviet East or the main hero’s fear that his life passes too fast, but nowhere near the geysers of hilarity and ordinary-life observations that were A White Merc with Fins and Rancid Aluminium. The best feature for me was one of the characters explaning something I had long been convinced about myself: you can plan your life as you will, but something brutal and quite unexpected by any average citizen (in his case the Yugoslav Wars, incidentally my favourite example) can always be just around the corner.


James Robertson: The Fanatic

I can’t say I was bored, but of the three novels by the author I’ve read so far this one was the weakest. The ‘historical’ hero doesn’t seem able to decide whether he wants to be a martyr for his faith or to save his skin at any cost; the reasons for the interest a particular contemporary of his takes in him are unclear (they were to me, anyway); and although I could find some similarities between the ‘modern’ hero and myself, there were not enough to enable me to really relate to him. So while not bored, having finished the book I didn’t even look the main characters up to see which, if any, were based on real historical persons, as I would normally do.


Pink Dandelion: Quakers: A Very Short Introduction

Very good. A concise account of the Friends’ past and present: if I had this book a few years ago, when first becoming interested in the topic, it would have saved me a lot of time and effort spent on gleaning all the information therein contained from divers internet sources. Also, the author being British, Liberal Quakerism is given a bit more space than the Evangelical and Conservative traditions. (Incidentally his name is really Ben Pink Dandelion, poor soul.)


Neil Gaiman: American Gods

A bit of a disappointment. The problem was, partly at least, that I had the book recommended by Terry Pratchett (in A Slip of the Keyboard), which led to the mistaken belief it was a comic fantasy like the Discworld novels. In fact, despite the ocassional wisecrack, it’s about as comic as a Philip Marlowe mystery. (Also, a lot of the cultural allusions/references were lost on me.) In fact, I enjoyed best the part when the hero goes to lie low for a time in a small Wisconsin town – an almost slice-of-life part. And the ‘end’ drags on and on like the end of Planxty Noel Hill . . .



No man, proclaimed Donne, is an Island, and he was wrong. If we were not islands, we would be lost, drowned in each other’s tragedies. We are insulated (a word that means, literally, remember, made into an island) from the tragedy of others, by our island nature.
(Mr Ibis, p 322)


I believe that all politicians are unprincipled crooks and I still believe that they are better than the alternative.
(Sam(antha) Black Crow, p 394)


John Gillingham & Ralph A. Griffiths: Medieval Britain : A Very Short Introduction

Despite the title, the book is about medieval England; Wales and Scotland are only mentioned in the context of English wars with them and English attempts at colonising them – there’s as much about Ireland and more about France. But given that English history of the period was what I was after, having had tolerable knowledge of Scottish history from other sources, I wasn’t disappointed.


Terry Pratchett: Thud!

There seems to be a pattern to late Discworld novels: They begin as mostly jokes, wordplay &c, but gradually the fun is being sidelined and some ethical allegory takes the centre of the stage.



No excuses. He’d promised himself that. No excuses. No excuses at all. Once you had a good excuse, you opened the door to bad excuses.
(of Sam Vimes, p 138)


      Vimes tried to think. Don’t think of it all as one big bucket of snakes. Think of it as one snake at a time. Try to sort it out. Now, what needs to be done first?
      All right, try a different approach.
(p 163)


Home was where you had to feel safe. If you didn’t feel safe, it wasn’t home.
(of Sam Vimes, p 341)


Na Daoine Sìthe is Ùirsgeulan Eile

Trì seann sgeulachdan à Earra-Ghàidheil. Fìrinn innse, mur eil ùidh mhòr agaibh ann am beul-aithris agus/no mur eil sibh gu math fileanta, cha chreid mi gun còrd an leabhar ruibh mòran. Chan eil an dàrna (agus as giorra) sgeulachd dona, ach tha a’ chiad tè ro mhì-reusanta eadhon mar fhairytale, agus an treas tè làn briathrachais co-cheangailte ri calanas.


John Haigh: Probability : A Very Short Introduction

Probability was one of the three courses I actually enjoyed at college (the others were English and one particular semester of railway building; poor result for a civil engineering institution). But as they say, “use it or lose it”: I’ve forgotten nearly all I’d learned then. Hence a decision to refresh my memory of the basics at least.

The beginning was all right, but soon came a moment when even after being told and ‘explained’ the solution I sometimes didn’t understand the explanation[1]. And once the author got to TV games and suchlike, I often failed to understand the question[2], let alone follow the explanation[3].

Now the book did remind me of some things I’d half-forgotten, and tell me some I never knew; but while not a complete failure, I have to admit it was a bit of a disappointment. (Of course, I realise that the problem may be more on my side than the author’s. But that doesn’t help me.)

[1] Eg, “Two guys play the best of five games, but have to finish when the score is 2-1. How do you divide the prize justly? Count the numbers of possible outcomes giving the overall victory to either if they did play on and make the ratio. Thus one should get 3/4, the other 1/4.” Eh? The posssible scenarios are: from 2-1 to 3-1, or to 2-2 to 3-2, or to 2-2 to 2-3. How do you from 3 possibilities, 2 winning for one side, 1 for the other, get to quarters?
[2] For instance, the way something called The Colour of Money was described, I had no idea what a possible decision of the player would result in immediately, not to say in the long run.
[3] Like, “She played the King. That means that if she had King alone, she had to play it, but if she had both King and Queen, she might have played the Queen.” I’m not willing to go and learn the rules of whist just to understand that.


René Goscinny: Le Petit Nicolas

La deuxième livre que j’ai lu en français – et je l’aimais autant que Le Petit Prince. Peut-être parce que mon français était un peu meilleur ; peut-être parce que le français de Nicholas est plus simple que le français de Saint-Exupéry ; peut-être parce que ces jours-ci, j’ai besoin de litératture humoristique. De toute façon, bien que je ressemblais (étant enfant) plus à Agnan qu’à Nicholas, j’ai apprécié les histoires : il n’est pas hors de question que j’acheterai un suite ou deux …


Terry Pratchett: Hogfather

Somehow I enjoyed it (not much, but certainly) more than the two Discworld novels I’d read just before this one, but don’t ask me why, I’ve no idea. I just did.



(Death to Albert, p 251)


Aonghas Pàdraig Caimbeul: Tilleadh Dhachaigh

Mas ma mo chuimhne, nuair a leugh mi an nobhail ghoirid seo (goirid ach annasach, inntinneach is tarraingeach) a’ chiad turas, trì bliadhna gu leth air ais, bha corr is duilleag làn notaichean agam dhe faclan is abairtean nach do thuig mi a dh’aindeoin a h-uile faclair a bha agam. A-nis, cha mhòr nach do thuig mi a h-uile rud. Cuideachd, cha chreid mi nach e gu math na b’ ainneamh a b’ fheudar dhomh coimhead ann am faclair.

Feumaidh gu bheil tuigse na Gàighlig agam a’ sìor fhàs nas fhearr – rud nach eil fìor idir, feumaidh mi aideachadh, mu dheidhinn a’ bhriathrachais ‘ghnìomhaich’ agam. Uaireannan, bidh mi a’ faireachdain mar gu bhios mi ag ionnsachadh is a’ dìochuimhneachadh is ag ionnsachadh is a’ dìochuimhneachadh agus mar sin sìos na h-aon fhaclan a-rithist ’s a-rithist …


Às-aithrisean (sgrìobh mi na ceithir seo nam leabhar às-aithrisean a cheana a’ chiad turas, ach ’s fìor thoil leam iad fhathast, oir tha iad fhathast iomchaidh):

Sin an rud a tha mi ag ionndrainn. Comann nan daoine.
(Peadar Sutharlanach, td 22)


Tha mi mar a bha mi ach nas sine, gun aois. Chaidh mìorbhail a bhuileachadh orm: am bàs fhulang gus am mealainn beatha, annasach agus coimheach ’s gu bheil e, gu h-àraidh an-seo air taobh sear an t-saoghail far a bheil mi nam shrainnsear a dh’aindeoin gach fiosrachadh a fhuair mi, a dh’aindeoin gach rannsachadh a rinn mi, agus a dh’aindeoin gach oidhirp a nì mi.
(Peadar Sutharlanach, td 39)


“Creag Alasdair a bha riamh ac’ air a’ chreig seo,” thuirt e. “Ge bith cò bh’ ann an Alasdair.” Bha e caoineadh, na deòir nan sruth sìos aodann còmhla ri uisgean nan speuran. Shuidh sinn an sin fad uair a thìde, ’s na h-uisgeachan a’ cur thairis.
“Dè bh’ ann?” dh’fhaighnich mi dha.
“O – cha robh aon rud. Bha a h-uile rud.”
(Peadar Sutharlanach agus a sheanair, tdd 59-60)


“Bha mi a’ leigeil orm,” thuirt e an uair sin. “Fad mo bheatha. Ach bha a h-uile nì dheth fìor.”
(mu Pheadar Sutharlanach, td 90)


Agus tha às-aithris san nobhail bhon leabhar eile, leabhar nach do leagh mi riamh, Terre des hommes le Antoine de Saint-Exupéry:

Aimer, ce n’est pas se regarder l’un l’autre, c’est regarder ensemble dans la même direction.


Ian Maclaren: A Doctor of the Old School

Ian Maclaren has written some fine passages (The Cunning Speech of Drumtochty in his first book) and even books (Young Barbarians, which may be nostalgic, but in a humorous way). Nevertheless, if you want to find out why the so-called Kailyard School has been the target of so much condemnation over the years, read this. I suspect not even a third-rate Holywood production would dare create something so embarrassingly over-sentimental.


Kes (Ken Loach film)

Depressing. Almost throughout. The characters – Billy Caspar, his relatives, his schoolmates, his teachers &c – just seem to quarrel, shout and fight all the time. Admittedly, there are a few scenes almost verging on optimistic, but when the climax comes, it doesn’t bring you down. You’ve already been down for quite some time.


Citizen Kane

Not a bad film, but I can’t see what made people call it the best film of all. It doesn’t matter that there’s hardly any story (a super-rich guy simply goes through his life indulging his whims), and the main character’s psychology is presented quite convincingly (I could even relate to him at moments). But it begins with a fictitious newsreel the voice-over of which is delivered in such a revolting way that I could hardly concentrate on what it said, thinking more about how nice it would be if the guy’s mouth was made to shut up, preferably by somebody’s fist. After that, as I said, it’s not bad, but much, much too long – to some degree because the actors generally move as if they had arthritis. In fact, I probably only succeeded in seeing it all because I watched it ‘in instalments’.