Okay – So I Need Something New to Read. Any Suggestions?

I tweeted”randomly buying books on amazon, and it’s not making me happy… anyone got any good holiday book recommendations?” and among the replies @janetedavis suggested “Write us a quick blog on what books you’ve enjoyed & maybe we can suggest holiday books you might enjoy.”

So here it is: books I’ve enjoyed include most of what I’ve read (and I tend to ‘collect the set’ when I read an author I like) by:

– Jose Luis Borges
– Richard Brautigan;
– Terry Pratchett;
– John le Carre;
– Herman Hesse;
– William Gibson;
– Mark Manning and Bill Drummond…(?!);
– Michael Dobbs;
– Iain Banks.

That gives a flavour… (the list is far from being exhaustive, and is just off the top of my head… but I’m slow at typing and this was a quick post!)

I’ve also trawled through more than a few Harvard Business Books (new business models, management innovation, data driven business etc) and O’Reilly geeky techie books (analytics, visualisation, web 2 and mashup stuff – you can imagine…)

At the recent Festival at the Edge, a compelling story by Hugh Lupton made me realise I know nothing about the enclosure acts, so something non-fiction there would be interesting. I keep looking for books about the Luddites, but I’ve collected most things with “Luddite’ in the title or subtitle! (So I guess industrial revolution themes are in there… tales of early factories and workhouses could be interesting, and the growth of the canals… Stuff that brings to mind the dark satanic hills and mills of my upbringing in West Yorkshire ;-)

I’m definitely on the lookout for a simple intro to architecture, and keep having a scout around (so far unsuccessfully) for something to read about consumer psychology and the design and layout of supermarkets (architecture again, I guess?)

Maybe I should run this post through a term extractor and then see what Amazon recommends as a result?! ;-)

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

23 thoughts on “Okay – So I Need Something New to Read. Any Suggestions?”

  1. Would echo a twitter suggestion for Jasper Fforde – start with the Eyre Affair as the first (and possibly best?) of the Thursday Next series.

    From a few years back, but I highly recommend Carter beats the Devil by Glen David Gold.

    Architecture – not quite a basic intro, but How Buildings Learn by Stewart Brand is interesting stuff

  2. If you like Le Carre, I think you’ll like Anthony Price (if you haven’t read them already) – time-wise they refer back to WW2 and through Cold War. I got addicted to them.
    This may sound like an odd suggestion, but – if you want to read fiction & get a sense of authentic working & middle class life as the 19th c industrial revolution was changing Britain, try reading Elizabeth Gaskell novels. If you haven’t read them before, there’s a grittiness about them. Gaskell isn’t sentimental like Dickens was, & observed & thought about what effect the technological changes were having on people.

  3. Too late now, but another time…when did you last read through the Asimov novels?

  4. I second Owen’s recommendation of “Carter Beats The Devil.”

    Borges or Banks makes me wonder if you would enjoy anything by J G Ballard. Of his later stuff, Supercannes is reminiscent of le Carre’s later works, in that both show an author’s increasing anger with an aspect of the world that has gone wrong. “The Drowned World” was vaguely reminiscent of Banks’ “Canal Dreams” although much more dream-like in tone. And his recent autobiography “Miracles of Life” is very readable.

    If you liked D Adams & Pratchett, the best books of Robert Sheckley are well worth tracking down. “Dimension of Miracles”, “Mindswap”, “Options” and “Journey of Joenes” are all good. But he wrote a fair amount of dross as well.

    I think everyone who does software development should read “The Mythical Man-Month” at some point in their lives.

    As for other means to get suggestions, have you tried librarything ? It will give you both automated recommendations and human-generated ones, and its algorithms are much better than Amazon’s – mainly because they aren’t actually trying to sell you the books. Like most automated systems, it will suggest lots of obvious things, and a few complete howlers, but there’s interesting stuff mixed in there as well.

  5. Have you ever read ‘The Crying of Lot 49’? Great romp through the 60s by way of the formation of nation states and underground resistance networks. If you wanted something sci fi (but again immensely readable) maybe “Altered Carbon” by Richard K. Morgan (& if you haven’t already, Vinge’s “Rainbows End” takes the present day internet and turns it up to 11. Great companion book to ‘Spook Country.’)
    Did you ever read any of Phillip Kerr’s novels? I absolutely loved ‘Dark Matter’ the fictitious detective story of Isaac Newton’s tenure at the Royal Mint (resonance of Stephen’s Baroque Cycles and the origins of the global money system) and his Berlin Trilogy is one of the great post-WWII detective/spy seriers. All of these are, IMO, great summer books, ones that still make you think but whose pages you can’t stop turning.

    Cheers, Scott

  6. Brautigan’s wonderful, isn’t he? I’ve been looking for something like him for ages and haven’t found it. John Le Carre is also great. Add to that some of your other selections and I gather you like a story that unwinds slowly with a weirdness.

    But I’m too late anyway. I suppose I’ll get in here what has turned into a global pitch for the graphic novel Asterios Polyp, mainly because it really pushes the bounds of that form in so many ways. Buy it from your bookstore and read it in an afternoon, then return it or loan it out to friends. The story is thin, but the execution is amazing.

  7. Try The Glass Bees by Ernest Junger, it is amazing. Also, as far as supermarkets and consumer sentiment, try Don DeLillo’s White Noise—it remains one of the few books I continually return to when thinking about our moment and the internet.

    Finally, and a bit far afield, I highly recommend Dashiel Hammett’s Red Harvest, has nothing to do with anything, but it is an awesome read, and I re-read it this week, and it just got better—some hardcore American noir. Like a kick in your commie teeth.

  8. On growth of canals; “The map that changed the world”: ISBN10 0140280391

    Recent Book I enjoyed: Richard Sennett’s Respect: ISBN10: 0141007564

  9. Architecture/urbanism:

    Wolfe – From Bauhaus to our house
    Alexander – A pattern language / Timeless way of building
    Hale – The old way of seeing
    Brand – How buildings learn / Clock of the long now
    Koolhaas – Harvard Design School guide to shopping
    Jacobs – Death and life of great American cities / Economy of cities

    (Japanese) aesthetics (you didn’t ask, but anyway):

    Rudofsky – The kimono mind
    Tanizaki – In praise of shadows
    Okakura – The book of tea

    1. WOlfe – yp, someone else I missed off the list, along with Hunter S Thompson…

      Seems like Brand is a must… and as for Japanese aesthetics -= hmm, not that does sound a little different:-) Thanks…

  10. Thanks for suggestions so far – despite the damage to my credit card, I’m still fishing for inspiration:-)

    @owen why do i know the name Stewart Brand???

    @janet My better half keeps suggesting I do some of the classics, so I’ll add a Gaskell to the list :-)

    @kevin JG Ballard – yes – I have a collection or two somewhere and should have popped him on my list – some of his short stories really do it for me :-) And as for the Mythical Man Month – you’re right, and I really should read it one day…

    @scott Rainbow’s End sounds v interesting, though form the reviews maybe not quite as, err, textured(?) as William Gibson? – now on the list, anyway:-) And as for Phillip Kerr – agreed; I tried to pitch a story to him a few months ago, but apparently he’s left the likes of Gridiron and A Philosophical Investigation behind in his writing now…Actually, I ned to re-read PI with Google in mind… and 1984… and Brave New World… Hmm – what other dystopian classics am I missing…?

    @mike Weirdness? heh heh ;-) I’ve never really got on with graphic novels… but maybe i need my eyes opening…

    @stephen I’ve never really got into Bruce Sterling for some reason – whaddya suggest?

    @jim doh – of course…:-) White Noise sounds intriguing too.. I remember reading Dashiel Hammett way back when on the commute to school – and a bit of me wants to protect the memory..

    @eddie Richard Sennett sounds a bit too agendary for me; as for “The Map…”, I think i have it somewhere…bought around the same time I read The Lunar Men.

  11. North and South might be best Gaskell to try – some comparison of working class industrial North with agricultural South; contrast between middle and working classes + gender differences explored. Or, Mary Barton. Effects of mechanisation on ordinary working class man…

  12. ..and for something completely different: “The Good Women of China: hidden voices” by Xinran.

    Stories from a completely different world that made me laugh and cry. Also made me very grateful to have been born in England, despite all the stupid things that go on here at times.

  13. I agree with Scott – if you like sci fi, definitely try Richard K Morgan. Excellent writer, character-driven, great stories…if you don’t mind noirish cyber-punkish.

  14. If you like Banks then check out Christopher Brookmyre for another excellent Scottish author- his are slightly more action filled though. Also, have you looked at Iain Bank’s sci-fi books published under the name Iain M Banks?
    You might also enjoy Tom Holt for some great comic interpretations of popular mythology.

  15. Does it have to be a book? A lot of Hugh Lupton’s work is out on CD – http://www.angelfire.com/folk/hughlupton/shop.html

    And if you’re interested in the Luddites and Yorkshire, you could try Charlotte Brontë’s ‘Shirley’. You can take a look at it on Google Books – but I recommend ignoring the cover, which makes it look like slushy nonsense.

  16. I’d second Jim’s nomination of ‘White Noise’ (and a bunch of other Delillo – you’d likely enjoy ‘Ratner’s Star’ in particular, and I would NOT say that to almost anyone else ;-) though other than ‘White Noise’ I don’t know how much of Delillo I would tackle in the summer. Nah, that’s not true, ‘Great Jones Street’ or ‘Running Dog’ are both reasonable easy and rewarding reads.

    If you’ve never read Sterling, can I suggest ‘Islands in the Net’ if only for the inspiring (at least to me) vision of ‘corporate democracies’ as well as the notion of warfare via intellectual property theft (I *think* this is the one he uses that idea, vis a vis the US economy being destroyed intentionally by Chinese knock-offs). David Brin’s ‘Earth’ contains some similar notions though conjures more of a world based on use.net newsgroups.

    Quite the list you got here, pretty well any of which would be a good read.

  17. Try
    ‘The Sparrow’ by Mary Doria Russell
    for a complex story with great characters in a SciFi environment – less tech, more ‘culture’ than Iain M Banks

  18. As John Le Carre, Herman Hesse and Iain Banks are among the authors I enjoy, perhaps you may also like William Boyd (any of his novels except “Armadillo” and “Restless”) and Jonathan Coe (any novel except “THe Dwarves of Death”, but especially “The House of Sleep”).

  19. seconding Lynn Corrigan’s recommendation of LibraryThing, which, among other things, allows you to see recommendations based on books in your library . . .

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