Category: Books and Writing

Recommended Reading: Books on Music UPDATED

Last year, I posted a list of recommended books about music. The initial list was made up of my selections, but when I asked for any books I may have missed, the wonderful people on Twitter sent me so many new titles that I had to compile a second list!

I have recently updated both lists with even more recommended texts, and you can check them both out here:

Recommended Reading: Books on Music (my personal list)

Recommended Reading: Books on Music – Your Choices (the Twitter crowdsourced list)

If you have any more books that you’d like to see on the crowdsourced list, please do get in touch here on on Twitter.


London pays tribute to Terry Pratchett (photos)


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Oh, I love this!

Like many, many people, I was genuinely upset when the novelist Terry Pratchett died last month. His books have been a part of my cultural existance almost as long as I can remember, and the joy they have brought into my life cannot be underestimated. So when I heard that a clever street art type had painted a tribute to him in east London, I had to go and find out what it was all about and report back to you all with photos.

And it’s wonderful.

Packed with many of Terry’s most beloved characters (and a great portrait of the man himself), this mural really is a fitting tribute to him. If you want to see it for yourself, you can find it right by the park in Code Street, off Brick Lane. I recommend you do go and have a look if you’re a fan, it’s an amazing piece of work!

RIP Terry Pratchett

“No-one is finally dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away – until the clock he would up winds down, until the wine she made has finished its ferment, until the crop they planted is harvested. The span of someone’s life, they say, is only the core of their actual existence.” – ‘Reaper Man’

They say you should never meet your heroes. Many years ago, I met one of mine, and he was lovely. Terry Pratchett’s wonderful books have been a part of my life for more than twenty-five years, read and re-read with genuine pleasure. The world was a brighter place with him in it. I only met him the once, but he was every bit as friendly and kind to his fans as you might expect. My signed copy of Witches Abroad is one of my most treasured books.

When he was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2007, we all knew it would happen some time – but the announcement of his death at the age of 66 today just seems so brutally unfair and far, far too soon. Like so many fans, the world over, I shall miss him terribly. I shall miss the delight of reading a new Discworld novel, that razor-sharp sense of humour, that fascination with humanity in all its forms, and, of course, all those dreadful puns. He will be missed beyond measure.

Oook (said sadly).

The Return of the Diagram Prize…

It’s that time of the year again – the Diagram Prize is back. For readers unfamiliar with my slight obsession over this rather strange literary award, it is an annual prize given, rather wonderfully, to the book with the oddest title of the year. It began in 1978 when Trevor Bounford and Bruce Robertson of The Diagram Group were bored at the Frankfurt Book Fair, and has run ever since (apart from 1987 and 1991, when odd book titles were sadly thin on the ground).

Now administered by The Bookseller, previous seriously odd winners have included Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice (1978), Goblinproofing One’s Chicken Coop (2012) and the utterly fabulous Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories (2003) (I still want to know if that’s a big book of horse stories for lesbians, or a big book of stories about lesbian horses). Can this year’s shortlist better those?

Here are this year’s odd contenders:

Divorcing a Real Witch: For Pagans and the People That Used to Love Them by Diana Rajchel
Nature’s Nether Regions by Menno Schilthuizen
The Ugly Wife is Treasured at Home by Melissa Margaret Schneider
Strangers Have the Best Candy by Margaret Meps Schulte
Where do Camels Belong? by Ken Thompson
Advanced Pavement Research: Selected, Peer Reviewed Papers from the 3rd International Conference on Concrete Pavements Design, Construction, and Rehabilitation, December 2-3, 2013, Shanghai, China edited by Bo Tian
The Madwoman in the Volvo: My Year of Raging Hormones by Sandra Tsing-Loh

To find out more about each of these very odd titles, visit We Love This Book.

If you’d like to take part and vote for your favourite, you can make your choice here.

You’ve got until 00:01 on Saturday 21st March to decide which of these titles is the oddest of them all – the winner will be announced on Friday 27th March. I’ll update you with details of the winning entry as soon as I can!

UPDATE 31/03/15: And the winner is… Strangers Have the Best Candy by Margaret Meps Schulte. Not the title I expected to win, but there you go! Lots more info here.

Quote of the Day: On the flexibility of the English language

You might not think it, but even things associated with the seemingly monolithic structure that is academia are subject to change. For example, I’ve recently been writing an essay on the twentieth century transformation of the nature of historical sources and the ways in which they can be used; a series of changes which have had a profound impact on the subject and are still ongoing.

And it’s not just the language we use to describe such cultural concepts that is transforming. The language we use on a day-to-day basis is changing and mutating too. While reading an article on the necessity (or otherwise) of some traditional grammar rules on The Independent’s website, I came across this quote from the journalist and author Oliver Kamm:

The English language is not static, nor are its boundaries clear. Nor is it a language tied to the British Isles. English is a river. Its content is always changing and it has many tributaries. Its characteristics include impermanence. Indeed, there can be no single definition of the English language.

Historians frequently go on about their beloved concepts of continuity and change – indeed, the one, ever continuing, fundamentally important aspect of British culture, landscape and language that tends to be overlooked or even sometimes sneered at is its non-static nature. Kamm’s words bring this innate movement and flexibility into sharp relief, reflecting the ever-changing nature of the English language.

Every generation brings new words, new phrases, new ways of using the language to the table, and this has been going on for centuries – just look, for instance, at the enormous impact of William Shakespeare’s creative vocabulary, or the beautifully influential language used by the original editors of the King James Bible. These innovations may take some time to work their way into common usage, but English is a compulsively, inherently magpie language that pinches things from a huge variety of cultures and dialects worldwide; absorbing them into a new and textured whole.

Christmas on Film: ‘Scrooge, or Marley’s Ghost’ (1901)

One of the earliest surviving adaptations of Charles Dickens’ work on film (and certainly the earliest surviving film version of A Christmas Carol), this is a remarkably ambitious piece of film-making for the time – for a start, it attempts to cram an eighty page story into a mere five minutes, which, for anyone who knows the source text well, seems quite an achievement!

Sadly, the only known remaining print is incomplete, but enough of it is left to demonstrate magician and director W.R Booth’s (1869-1938) creative approach to special effects (watch out for the scene where Scrooge’s doorknocker turns into Jacob Marley’s head, and the initial appearance of Marley’s ghost himself), some of which even now are pretty impressive.

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Recommended Reading: Books on Music – Your Choices

Well. I wasn’t expecting this when I asked you to suggest any books on music I might have missed! When I compiled my original list, I thought I might get maybe half a dozen folk recommending their favourite music texts, if I were lucky – instead, I was sent suggestions by nearly forty different people. Indeed, at one stage last night, the tweets were coming in so fast that I couldn’t keep up with them all and make a note of all the book titles you were sending my way at the same time! My apologies if I didn’t reply then – but I did see and note down all of them, and all of them are here (apart from one or two that I couldn’t find any info for).

And there are some great books here. Some I had actually read and shamefully forgotten about (Joe Boyd’s White Bicycles and Legs McNeil’s Please Kill Me for a start), some classics which I really should have read but haven’t (such as Ian Hunter’s Diary of A Rock ‘n’ Roll Star), and some I’ve never heard of but will definitely be tracking down as soon as I can (like Mark E. Smith’s autobiography, which sounds terrifying!). But they’ve all been recommended by people whose taste and opinions I respect – and therefore I happily recommend them to everyone else…

Finally, I’d like to thank everyone whose contributions made this list possible. I’d thank all 37 of you individually, but we’d be here all night and this post would be even longer than it already is. You know who you are.

This list has, like the original, been divided into three sections for ease of perusal. Biography, Autobiography and Memoirs contains exactly that – books written by or about a band, artist or music industry insider. Scenes, Eras and Places lists volumes covering specific times, locations and musical movements that have had an important impact in some way. Finally, Collected Writings covers more general texts, and compilations of music journalism and other writings. Each section is listed in alphabetical order by the author’s surname and the date given is that of first publication where known, unless otherwise stated.

23/05/15: Having just updated my personal list of music books, I asked if anyone had any more suggestions for this crowdsourced list…. and Twitter, you did it again! Thank you SO much to all of you who have contributed to the makings of this amazing list – you’ll find all your new additions in bold type below. Any glaring omissions may well be found on my original list (see link above); if not then please do get in touch here or on Twitter.

Also, many thanks to @damiella, who pointed me in the direction of this excellent post on the subject of music books over at Quirk Books, and to @maffrj, who sent me a copy of Mark E. Smith’s autobiography last time round!

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Recommended Reading: Books on Music

I’m often asked what books I would recommend to someone wanting to delve deeper into the history of the various popular music scenes of the past fifty years or so. That’s an interesting question, as there are so many fascinating volumes out there (and a fair few blatant cash-ins too, which really aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on). Rummaging through my own now-sizeable collection of music books inspired me to put together this list  – that and being a total listoholic, as regular readers will know!

When it comes down to it, I’m not necessarily saying these are the ‘best’ books on music ever because that’s such a subjective definition – I’ve chosen these books because I have read and enjoyed them all, and because I think they would be of interest to those music fans wanting to learn more about the music they know and the music they don’t. Most of them will be easy enough to find – your local library or bookshop should stock many of these titles – but you may have to track down one or two online. They’re worth the effort though…

The list has been divided into three sections for ease of perusal. Biography, Autobiography and Memoirs contains exactly that – books written by or about a band, artist or music industry insider. Scenes, Eras and Places lists volumes covering specific times, locations and musical movements that have had an important impact in some way. Finally, Collected Writings covers more general texts, and compilations of music journalism and other writings. Each section is listed in alphabetical order by the author’s surname and the date given is that of first publication, where known.

22/05/15: Having since read yet more books on music, I decided to update my list with some new additions, which are in bold type. If you’d like to contribute to the really quite brilliant crowdsourced list of music books which resulted from this original list, please do get in touch here, or tweet me. Thanks!

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National Poetry Day 2014

Today is National Poetry Day, so (just like last year) I decided to share a poem with you. As this year’s theme is Remember, I’ve gone for one of the first poems I learned by heart as a child – and still remember with pleasure…


Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory,
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.

Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Emeralds, amythysts,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.

Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Road-rails, pig-lead,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.

John Masefield

John Masefield (1878-1967) was Poet Laureate for thirty seven years between 1930 and 1967, and is also well-known for his classic childrens’ books The Midnight Folk and The Box of Delights – amongst a huge amount of other writings over his long life, both prose and poetry.

I was introduced to ‘Cargoes’ as a precocious poetry-reading child by my late mother and immediately fell in love with the tongue-twisting phrases and vivid, intriguing imagery. This is a poem to be learned, read aloud and remembered…

Thank you Toppermost!

After last month’s excellent series of guest posts on Another Kind Of Mind, it was suddenly my turn to be writing something for someone else – indeed, the nice chaps over at the very excellent Toppermost interactive music website kindly asked me to put together a playlist and an article on the solo albums of Bob Mould (ex-Hüsker Dü and Sugar), one of my favourite musicians.

So, naturally, I jumped at the chance – and you can read the finished article at Toppermost here.

And as a taster, here’s one of my favourite tracks from the Bob Mould Toppermost playlist. Turn it up loud and enjoy!