Thus it is time to update the profile in the userinfo now - furthermore, I'm not 28 years old or 185-190 pounds any longer. I'm claiming to weigh 170-175 pounds, and suspect I'm actually slightly under 170 when naked. A match for the super-middleweight championship of the world beckons. This loss in weight is welcome, but my BMI is almost exactly half-way between 20 and 25 so I shall take the weight loss no further; I ascribe 20% of the loss to doing reasonably well at "five portions of fruit and veg a day", 20% of it to eating few sweets and 60% of it to glandular fever. I don't claim that that's the only way to lose weight by any means, but it's the one that has been working reasonably well for me.
Something considerably more annoying happened tonight, though. While Dad and I were out visitng Mum at the nursing home, some thieving detritus broke our nearly-15-years-old car's back left window, broke off the steering column cover and attempted to start the ignition. Happily, they were not successful at stealing our knackered old car. The car park does have a closed circuit TV system; so we shall soon see whether it has been of any use whatsoever. The same thing happened when the car was in our drive a year or two back, and we now tend to keep it in the garage overnight. *fumes silently*
9½ months and 75 posts ago (if you make it 74 then don't worry, one of them is private) I wrote comments about - not nearly "reviews of" - the first three books I had read so far this year. Resolution #1, to read 50 in a year, has gone up in smoke, but nevertheless I have read far more for pleasure this year than I ever have done in the past, thus making this resolution undoubtedly a good thing. On the other hand, I haven't been keeping up to date with writing about them. Here goes.
4. The Luck Factor by Richard Wiseman.
I read this because it was a kind Christmas present from mr_babbage, after seeing discussion of the book on the BBC website and blogging about it. He gave it to me at a bowling alley; six frames through the first game of bowling, I graunched my knee and decided it would soon be wise to retire hurt. Not a good start.
This book discusses luck, lucky people, ways in which lucky people were lucky, common factors between lucky people which might not conventionally be considered to be related to luck, whether it is possible to emulate the behaviour of lucky people and whether doing so will make you lucky,
The key point is that it's not possible to improve at matters of impersonal chance, but lucky people are frequently lucky in their relationships with other people, in love, in friendship and at work. People who consider themselves lucky may suffer the same events outside their control as people who consider themselves unlucky - the difference is that lucky people can recognise the ways in which they have been lucky, and unlucky people focus upon the ways in which they have been unlucky. Accordingly, this is more a very convincing defence of optimism with convincing practical advice to that end.
I regard 2004 as having been my best year since at least 1992. Can this book take any of the credit? Quite possibly. The book's website has an executive summary of the conclusions, but I think it's worth buying the book to get the specific recommendations and the reasoning behind them. Excellent, one of the best books I've read this year.
5. The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman.
Can I count this? It's a re-read. I read this out loud to Mum because it was one of very, very few sources of entertainment she was able to enjoy. I had previously read the second half of Northern Lights (US: The Golden Compass), its predecessor in the His Dark Materials trilogy out loud to her after reading it herself had eventually proved too difficult. (We made a start on The Amber Spyglass as well but gave up on it after about ¼ of the book when it was clear she wasn't getting so much out of it.)
Runaway boy follows cat into magical world, discovers girl he can trust, gets into wacky hi-jinks, travels between worlds and tempts a prominent scientist into abandoning her scientific upbringing to re-explore her religious past.
I've discovered that I'm rather a sucker for pieces that explore the interaction between science and religion, plus this is a rollicking moderately-low-fantasy tale in addition. It probably doesn't stand well without the first book to introduce many of the characters, and this re-reading confirmed that the ending of the book is unsatisfactory. Nevertheless, if you consider all three books together as a single work, it's a story which builds up to something with tremendous style, goes somewhat awry with the tail end of what it has been building up to all along, but this doesn't matter because the payoff is wonderfully sweet and worthwhile. Caution: others think that the payoff is a tremendous cop-out.
Excellent characters, cracking conclusion, could have done with some slightly easier-to-convey-the-significance storylines in the third book of the trilogy. Loads of fun.
6. The Book Of The Penis by Maggie Paley.
I read this because it was a kind present from huskyteer and addedentry.
Given the success of The Vagina Monologues, it's probably no surprise that there should be an attempt, or many attempts, to try something similar for the male anatomy. A small cottage industry has grown up around this, including the Puppetry of the Penis stage show and Richard Herring's Talking Cock, which is both book and stage show. I am slightly put off by a feeling that it would probably be rather like reading a year of his weblog entries end-to-end. (So, instead, why not read his weblog for a year?)
This book talks about the physiology of the penis, size (in lots of detail), a worthy but hasty section about the penis in art, an interesting but technical section about customisation - enlightening interviews with transgendered people who have chosen to gain or lose a penis during their expression of gender transfer, and a somewhat squicky part about other sorts of body mods. The second half of the book is all about function: masturbation, fellatio, coitus, interviews with a male porn star and a male prostitute and so on. The content is pretty good throughout and seems reliable, but again there's little that you can't find on the web - though you would have to wade through an awful lot of dross in order to get there. The best parts are undoubtedly the interviews, skilfully conducted with passionate, interesting interviewees; the tone of the rest is matter-of-fact and impersonal, almost to a fault.
While I feel ungrateful criticising a present (and will realise my faux pas if I never get a book as a present again!) I would comment about the physical quality of the book; it's clear that this is not a book from a mainstream publisher. The margin is small, the layout has a whiff of Microsoft Word document about it and the paper is slightly - but identifiably - less pleasant than that of other books I've read this year. The cover looks particularly amateurish, though I did enjoy the ruler motif down the spine of the book. The fact that it is not a 100% reproduction (one book inch is not 2.54 centimetres) and neither end of the book coincides with a figurative 0 inches means that it is enchantingly completely meaningless when I tell you that, according to the book's spine, my own penis reaches the 10¾" mark.
7. The Man Who Loved Only Numbers by Paul Hoffman.
I read this because Dad took it out of Stockton-on-Tees public lending library. I suspect he originally got it on his own ticket for himself, but I've nabbed it and sat upon it.
This purports to be the story of Paul Erdös - technically that should be a " above the o, not an umlaut - but is only perhaps 40% concerned with the nominal subject of the biography. The majority of the book concerns the major mathematical developments of the 20th century - at least, the ones that can be discussed at a general level! - and only tangentially touches upon Erdos' involvement with the principals. However, if they were going to write a personalised brief overview of mainstream 20th century mathematics (and mathematicians), they certainly picked the right guy, for Erdos was spectacularly well-connected.
It also is well-chosen in terms of the traditional image of world-leading mathematician as impossibly removed from normal society with patchy regard for mundane conventions. Erdos is, indeed, quite some way along the tail of the bell curve as far as specific behaviour goes, with little regard for trivial beings who do not share his passion for advancing the bounds of human knowledge. Many interesting anecdotes, not just about the big names but also about Erdos' less (in?)famous but similarly interesting colleagues. Lots of discussion of mathematics within, but not very many examples, which is typical and wise.
However, Erdos is continually painted as a thoughtful man, even though he has extremely unorthodox ways of displaying this to the world. It's happy, gentle reading. The previous two or three biographies I had read didn't grab me at the time, but I enjoyed this.
Other books read this year, with reviews to be written later, in some order:
Powerful Profit$ from Craps by Victor H. Royer
One Hit Wonderland by Tony Hawkes
Word Freak by Stefan Fatsis
Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss
Number Crunchers by David J. Bodycombe (mr_babbage, there)
24 Season 2: The Unofficial Guide by Mark Wright
Join Me by Danny Wallace
Dave Gorman's Googlewhack Adventure by Dave Gorman
Boxing's Strangest Fights by Graeme Kent
Dictionary of Riddles by Mark Bryant
Count Down by Steve Olson
Losing My Virginity by Richard Branson (re-read)
Next on the "to read" list: The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper (dezzikitty let me borrow her copy, but it hasn't caught my imagination yet) and Intellectual Foreplay by Eve Eschner Hogan.