Terry Pratchett: The Carpet People

The author’s first published work, come out in the year the author turned 23, rewritten and republished in the year he turned 44, the year he also published his 13th Discworld novel, Small Gods, it is on par with an average Discworld novel.



It’s all superstition, of course, but that’s not to say it isn’t real.
(Pismire, p 13)


It’s hard to explain. Or easy to explain and hard to understand.
(Noral, p 43)


Pismire didn’t know why, but he felt sure that everything was going to be all right.
Or, at least, more all right than it was now.
(Pismire, p 102)



Ruth Searle: Asperger Syndrome in Adults

The first two chapters describe the symptoms and are mostly in accordance with what I have already read about the syndrome. And yes, to some degree I could tick off most of them as applying to me: difficulty in social interactions and communication, idiosyncratic patterns of speech, suffering from sensory overload, inability to screen out background noise, no interest in small talk and social chitchat, indifference to being liked and accepted, strict routines, exaggerated attention to detail, difficulty switching attention to a new topic and so on and so forth . . . The third chapter looks at the idea that Asperger’s may be just a difference, rather than a disease, with some amusing examples of how one could perceive people without it as “suffering from a neurobiological disorder characterized by preoccupation with social concerns, delusions of superiority and obsession with conformity”.

But after some time in the fourth chapter it starts to go downhill. The author concentrates on a theory of “autism as an extreme of the normal male brain”, and what she claims to be natural differences between the male and female brain is stereotypical even by my standards. In fact, I suspect that if her claims were made by a male on social media, he’d be extremely lucky get away with it. (She even does not hesitate to state, expressly and shamelessly, that men are better at some things than women!) And towards the end of the final, eighth chapter, the book actually feels more like just another generic pamphlet on “positive thinking” with hardly anything to do specifically with autism, let alone Asperger’s.

The thing is, of course: if I perceive the rest of the book as more or less a load of rubbish, why should I put any trust in what it tells at the beginning?


George Mackay Brown: Winter Tales

A collection of eighteen short stories: inevitably some are better, some worse than the others, but none really boring and none really captivating. Fairly good reading stuff for winter nights, especially if you can enjoy that somewhat old-fashioned, unhurried pace of storytelling: I was surprised to find out that with one 1975 exception all the stories were apparently written as late as 1989-95. I wasn’t so impressed with the sometimes too conspicuous Christian overtones: reading a third take on a ‘modern version’ of the same New Testament story can feel a bit monotonous, even if the theme is appropriate for the collection’s title. (Interestingly, several of the stories are also told in a ‘calendar’ format, describing a single year with a paragraph for each month.)



At the very start of the year I was in hospital, being treated for throat cancer; at its very end I was in a rehab, sober but emotionally rather burnt out. The in-between wasn’t all that magnificent either, what with the long recovery after the chemoradiotherapy, the flat I was staying at before the rehab, the (no doubt related) alcoholic relapse within, the deaths of Ray Collier, Tormod MacGill-Eain and Tom Petty (and others), the way the Brexit talks were developing, and so on and so forth.

All the same, I shouldn’t complain. For one thing, the cancer was apparently cured. Otherwise I possibly might not be here to write this any longer. Also, during the relapse the idea of leaving the town I had learned to hate for good occurred to me, and the rehab stay helped me contrive that. I even fell in love yet again after years . . .

And of course there were all the interesting books I read and iPlayer programmes I watched, meetings with my friends from the college, not to mention minor affairs like making porridge a staple of my diet, or beginning a circle beard.

Ay, as Skipinnish have it, I’m alive, and the stars are on my side. (Notwithstanding, as Jake Bugg has it, I hold two fingers out to yesterday.)


Julian D. Richards: The Vikings: A Very Short Introduction

Not bad in itself, but the author seems concerned more with debunking some popular myths by means of archaeology (indeed, at places the book almost reads like an achaeological sites’ inventory) than with telling readers what basic facts we do know about the Vikings and their lives. In fact I’m not certain one couldn’t glean more useful introductory information about the subject from Röde Orm.



Our genes determine neither the language we speak nor the clothes we wear, and cultural factors are just as important as DNA in determining who we are.


Oidhche Challainn ’17

’S ann beagan neònach a bha i, oir bha ‘lights-out’ aig uair: dìreach dar a bha meadhan-oidhche an Alba. Ach dh’èist mi ris a’ Bhig Bhen (a’ chlag ann an Lunnainn) air Radio Scotland, as dèidh sin dh’èist mi ri MP3 dhe Flower of Scotland air a seinn leis na Corries (an dà chuid dhiubh air fòn-tapaidh, tro fhònaichean-cluaise), agus leugh mi The Path of Zen le Robert Aitken as dèidh sin, ged nach b’ urrainn dhomh smocadh tuilleadh.


Peter Harvey: An Introduction to Buddhism

For an ‘introduction’ a really comprehensive book. I learnt a lot from it, and mean to read it again after some time, skipping now the passages I’m not all that interested in (like The Modern History of Buddhism in Asia) while studying more diligently those I didn’t fully comprehended and/or remember the first time round (like Mahāyāna Philosophies: The Varieties of Emptiness).



The more a person deceives others, the more he is likely to deceive himself.


Gillian Butler: Overcoming Social Anxiety and Shyness

On the one hand, I would probably get as much from a few pages briefly summarising the main points. On the other hand, all the expatiation possibly let the points really seep in. As far as I’m concerned, there were three I reckon I can make use of. First, exposure, an emphasis on which I had recently encountered in a book about overcoming OCD. Second, doing things differently, which is (again in a different context) a recurring theme in the rehab I am currently in. And third, forcefully switching focus from oneself to one’s surroundings when noticing social anxiety symptoms, which was an idea new to me.

I am trying all three these days and there does seem to be a gradual improvement, although this may be likewise due to the chairman’s post I had been coaxed into accepting, as well as to the fact that I am mostly trying them amongst people I have been in the midst of for some time. Then again, I am finding even phone calls to strangers easier to contrive, and the other day I was on trip during which I accomplished, quite composedly, several tasks which would normally make me at least a little tense.


James Boswell: The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D.

Not a bad read for killing time, despite the fact that many of the persons whose names are mentioned as a matter of course are totally obscure today. True, Mr Boswell’s admiration for Mr Johnson comes out as a bit too fawning at times, and Mr Johnson comes out as a bit too cantankerous, and a fair bit too xenophobic by today’s standards, but the only passage which is really a bother to read is the tediously long account of the movements of Bonnie Prince Charlie in the Isle of Skye region.



I was hurt to find [….] that I was so far from being that robust wise man who is sufficient for his own happiness.

A man will meet death much more firmly at one time than another. The enthusiam even of a mistaken principle warms the mind, and sets it above the fear of death; which in our cooler moments, if we really think of it, cannot but be terrible, or at least very awful.

I hoped, that, ever after having been in this holy place, I should maintain an exemplary conduct. One has a strange propensity to fix upon some point of time from whence a better course of life may begin.


Tim Armstrong: Feur Buidhe an t-Samhraidh

Chan eil mi ag ràdh nach do mheal mi an leabhar. Ach tha amharas orm gun do mheal mi e sa mhòr-chuid on a bha e sa Ghàidhlig, amharas nach mealainn nam biodh e sa Bheurla. Oir chan eil ann ach sgeulachd eile-sheòrsach eile mu dheidhinn balaich òig a ghabh gaol air caileige àlainne. Agus gu traidiseanta, tha a’ chaileag nas còire agus nas glice na tha esan – gu dearbh, tha ise gun smal. Ge be dè dona a dh’èiricheas dhan phaidhir, tha fios gur e fèinealachd no baoghaltachd an duine as coireach. (Ann an seadh, tha feimineachas ann an litreachas fada, fada nas sine na feimineachas ann am poileataigs.)


Westminster Confession of Faith

Interesting. Basically it says, “Whether you end up in heaven or in hell is entirely up to God’s whim, but you should try and be a good Christian for His greater glory notwithstanding”. Some passages are in fact more of a horror than James Hogg’s The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner; other ones reminded me of George Orwell’s doublethink.


Robert Louis Stevenson: Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes

Allegedly one of the very first hiking travelogues, Stevenson’s book is a pleasant account of a twelve-day trip in his late twenties over a mountain range in southern France, accompanied only by a jenny to help with carrying his gear.



But we are all travellers in what John Bunyan calls the wilderness of this world—all, too, travellers with a donkey: and the best that we find in our travels is an honest friend. He is a fortunate voyager who finds many. We travel, indeed, to find them. They are the end and the reward of life.

To make good resolutions, indeed! You might talk as fruitfully of making the hair grow on your head.

And yet even while I was exulting in my solitude I became aware of a strange lack. I wished a companion to lie near me in the starlight, silent and not moving, but ever within touch. For there is a fellowship more quiet even than solitude, and which, rightly understood, is solitude made perfect.

I have never thought it easy to be just, and find it daily even harder than I thought. I own I met these Protestants with a delight and a sense of coming home. I was accustomed to speak their language, in another and deeper sense of the word than that which distinguishes between French and English; for the true Babel is a divergence upon morals.


Book shopping spree

What do you do when you find out the debit card for your bank account abroad will expire soon, and you have no way of preventing the bank from sending a new one to the address where you used to stay there except by phoning them – but you suffer from phone phobia?

You spend a fifth of the remaining balance on buying all the (thirteen) Kindle books you’d noted down for buying gradually in the future, send another fifth to your best friend still in that country, and transfer the rest to your account where you stay now, only leaving a token amount in the old one.

The ‘Unread’ (meaning ‘not even begun’) collection on my Kindle now contains 27 items. Enough to read not only for the rest of this year, but also for the next I guess, especially given I like rereading one of my favourites every now and than. (But I do feel like I’ve lost another link to the country of my heart …)


Kim Knott: Hinduism: A Very Short Introduction

It did give me some basic information I hadn’t had; it did have a few surprises for me (for instance that Hinduism can be perceived as both polytheistic and monotheistic; that January is a harvest time in India; and that the Hare Krishna movement is in fact a Hindu one). Still, one of the weakest of those in the Very Short Introductions series I’ve read. Given that these are really very short books, primers as it were, there’s a lot of wasted space. One would prefer, for example, a little more detailed information about Bhagavad Gita to recurring questioning whether Hinduism can be called a religion, despite its not fitting a rather narrow definition of the term based on the Abrahamic ones.


Latent male chauvinism

The other day I began reading a short introduction to Hinduism. It’s a topic I know pathetically little about, considering; however, the first surprise had nothing to do with the religion. The forename didn’t warn me, but it soon became apparent that the author was a woman. Now the rational part of my mind always insisted that generally speaking, neither men nor women were more able in any intellectual task than the other sex. Yet now I immediately felt a slight irrational disappointment, as if the writer’s being female meant in itself a lower standard of the writing.

Perhaps the next time I come across another stupid remark by some chauvinist (whether male or female) I better remember the mote in my eye before smirking at the beam in theirs.

(Incidentally, soon after she mentioned she was also a Quaker. Which at first felt sort of reassuring, but on second thoughts, it shouldn’t do that either. On the other hand, the author’s gender does influence the outcome: when describing the Ramayana, much more attention is paid to Sita than to Rama, let alone to Ravana.)


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.