the ordinary blog
THE YEAr in numbers
BUILDING UP TO THE MAIN PRIZE
Just like the Oscars I like to build up to my Ordinary Book of the Year by handing out some other awards. As my host I think I'd ask Ben Elton as he was my favourite author when I was younger and I have tickets for his new stand up show. So with that settled here we go with an award, to quote Blackadder that is "right up his alley......"
funniest book of the year
winner - sarah millican - How to be champion
runner up - one man and his bike - mike carter
sports book of the year
winner - christopher mcdougal - born to run
runner up - seabiscuit -
story of the year
winner - pierce brown - goldon son
runner up - terry hayes - i Am Pilgrim
best contribution to knowledge
winner - prisoners of geography
runner up hans rosling - factfulness
best part of ordinary special award
winner - chris hadfield - an astronauts guide to life on earth
runner up - a boy made of blocks - keith stuart
ordinary book of the year
winner - madeline miller - the song of achilles
runner up - the big short - michael lewis
October saw the first fracking in the UK despite massive local and national opposition. Our government have had to pass a law to bypass the wishes of the local councils to literaly force feed this to us. At times like these I don’t feel like I am living in a democracy. If we have a government who cares more about the gas industry than its people then what chance do we have of getting any assistance with the plastic problem and other areas concerning the long term welfare of our country? Unless it starts costing rich influential people significant money I’d say NONE.
Reading How to Give Up Plastic was uplifting, motivating and yet still ultimately depressing. The idea of going through each room and giving ways to replace plastic items started great. Our bathroom is just full of plastic so going out and getting a shampoo bar and finding it actually works was really satisfying. The bit about our clothes a revelation although I did feel a bit silly not realising that Polyester and in fact POLY anything just meant plastic. We can all decide to wear more cotton and other natural fibres and I understand the idea about buying clothes from charity shops but that maybe a step too far for me. The further we got through the house though and the harder it got. Plastic is such an ordinary part of our lives that you forget it is there or in the case of crips and crackers try and ignore it. Realising the scale of the problem is to use a Naomi Klein expression "hide behind the sofa scary".
There are also some good links to some online shops that specialise in plastic free goods and people who have managed to go plastic free. Of these www.pfree.co.uk a website created by a family who decided to see if they could live plastic free in 2016 is the most useful. To be honest I take my hat off to them, they are able to stick to their principles so much better than I can. Trying to shop plastic free in a supermarket is like trying to get all the sand off you after spending a day at the beach! In theory it might be possible but in reality you still end up with loads clinging onto your skin…and in places you didn’t expect! So to do it they have had to stop buying quite a bit of stuff they liked before which I can only admire them for doing it. I show no signs of having their willpower. Although I am eating a lot less crisps and yogurts.
Checking on their site then reveals that they have to totally avoid supermarkets and reply on local and online shops. Shopping for our family of 5+ this feels like mission impossible right now. I have bought some draw sting bags for fruit and veg but can’t use them that often so I end up forgetting to bring them and then I tried Costco but that was as bad if not worse. We do have a local butcher but he uses nearly as much plastic as the supermarkets but when I brought my own tub they were happy to use that so I finally had a plastic free shopping trip which felt brilliant.
The book moved more into increasing awareness and protesting because there is only so much we can do on our ownWith governments around the world showing no sign of taking any serious action then putting pressure on Coca Cola, Walkers and our supermarkets is a good course of action and teaching us how to protest firmly but politely makes a lot of sense. Our family drink a lot of squash so my first email was to Robinsons who are owned by Britvic. To their credit they gave me a polite reply a few days later talking up their plans to use more recycled plastic in the next few years but that’s as much as they feel the need to commit to. In the budget this week there will now be a tax for plastic that is not at least 30% recycled so it would appear that companies like Britvic are doing the minimum required. As the BBC documentary Drowning in Plastic showed very clearly recycled plastic can help but is not the answer. Robinsons used to use glass bottles and although I explained that it was the way I wanted to buy they offered no sign that they would move back in this direction. Plastic is too convenient for these companies when they take no responsibility for its disposal.
t’s going to take time but I will get better but this is why the pressure on the supermarkets is so important. I’d just like them to give people the fair choice. But there are some food industries that are 100% reliant on disposable plastic like yogurts and crisps. The option for us as consumers is to give these foods up but what is the option for Mulller and Walkers for example? Finally I worry about the cost impact which is a major consideration especially as more and more people in the UK are struggling to feed themselves. For example I thought an easy move would be to get my milk delivered in glass bottles just like everyone did when I was a lad (I remember thinking how odd it was for people to buy milk in a supermarket) so I checked price per pint and compared it to what we pay at Lidl. I thought it would be a little extra but for out current usage it will cost me an extra £250 approx per year to go plastic free!! I often feel that buying eco friendly has a tax attached its like buying things for a wedding. It seems to give companies the “green” light to make everything more expensive and this needs to be stopped and preferably reversed
So going back to the book, it is an honest appraisal of where we are today. Yes the scale of the problem is staggering just look at how much plastic is actually in your house and times that by how many homes you can imagine. Better still just watch Drowning in Plastic. Will is keen to stress that we are not to blame which is great and we need to move beyond pointing fingers, accept that plastic appeared to be a brilliant solution but just like CFC’s, Asbestos and leeches they all were flawed and need to be banned.
Reading about evolution this autumn I was reminded of the point made by in Sapiens and other books that for societies to function we need to hold opinions that in conflict with each other. Thus we can care deeply about an issue like plastic and still act at times in a way that proves the opposite and so I am reminded of my own two faces all the time these days. I need help to go plastic free and I know I am not alone!
Summer is the best season of the year. December might be the best month with birthdays, Christmas and (of course) lots of new books but summer is the season that keeps giving. Three months of better weather or in case of this year GREAT weather in England, BBQ's, tennis, the World Cup (I could go on) and of course summer holidays. Everyone seems happier. It's also great to see so many people get the chance and the motivation to pick up a book whilst working on their tan or in my case ensuring I'm not getting burnt! We went to Kemer in Turkey and this was my view while reading before breakfast. Just gorgeous.
I finally read "I am Pilgrim" which at 896 pages is almost 3 books in one. It took me 4-5 days and properly scared me so much at times I had a nightmare about it, a proper thriller. It was a great page turner and so good to be able to read it in a short space of time. A book, especially a long one is always more memorable when read over a few days, it feels like a film which funnily enough it will be in 2019. Another great reason why summer is best. When else can you do this? Here are the other books I was reading while I was away
HOLIDAY READING SURVEY
a I also thought it would be fun piece for the website to try and note down what everyone else was reading at our hotel, the Barut Kemer which was fantastic by the way. What I found was that being nosy/gathering information (depending on your opinion) was not that easy to do if I didn't want to draw attention to myself and disturb people so often i'd have a very limited time to suss out what the book was while walking past and then remember it by the time I'd get to my notebook or phone which is far easier when you recognise something about the book or author . It was quite a fun game to be honest. But I also found times during the holiday where seeing people reading a book I liked (The Big Short and A Short History of Germany) lead to some great conversations which was fantastic. Books can be social!
Onto the results of my very unscientific survey and I found were most reading the classic holiday genres Thrillers, Autobiographies and Women's literature (that's what google says Marion Keyes genre is). I love the fact that someone was reading Life of Pi.
Of all the books though I saw though only This is Going To Hurt and Munich will make it onto my to read list and they were on my horizon anyway to be honest and I never expected anyone to be reading Keane as its not good and well out of date.
In fact I am so impressed and the link between Podcasts and Books appears like it might be strong enough to add this as a section to this website. Time will tell.
The summer is nearly over and I have lots of great books on the shelf already for the rest of the year. Here is a selection of what's in store:
Most Looking Forward To (Fiction) - Golden Sun - Pierce Brown - Can the second book entertain me as much as the first, Red Rising. I really hope so.
Most Looking Forward To (Non Fiction) - Why I'm No Longer Talking To White People About Race - Reni Edo-Lodge - I like challenging reads about important subjects and this could be the non fiction equivalent of "The Sellout"
Most Potential to Inspire - No Barriers - Erik Weihenmayer - A blind man who climbed Everest! I read his first book not long after recovering from my first set of eye surgeries and was blown away by his can do attitude.
Reading Outside of my Comfort Zone - The Song of Achilles - Madeline Miller - I am not into poetry at all but this intrigues me and the fact that it is a Bloomsbury Modern Classic means it is worth a shot
New Releases on My Wanted List - There are two books due out later this year which I am really excited about. Tombland - C.J. Sansom which is the 7th Shardlake book and the only series i've ever read more than 3 of. The other is The Fifth Risk which means I can have my annual Michael Lewis fix next year.
Roll out the red carpet, prepare the trumpets and cut the tension in the air. Yes it is awards time everywhere but for me most importantly it is the third annual Ordinary Book of the Year. Who will join previous winners Marie Kondo and Martin Seligman and apart from me who will really care?
But no matter its fun and it makes good material for the website. This year i've even given last years books the countdown treatment because it's such a great visual way to see my reading year rankings.
I only finished 30 books last year and of these 9 were fiction while 21 were non fiction. When I did read fiction I mostly picked books I really liked with 4 of the 9 ranked 7th to 4th although none could repeat The Girl on the Train and break the top 3.
But it's not just about the book with the top total score which does not have to be book I liked most but is the book that combines writing and plot quality with a long lasting resonance . This is why last years other awards are decided before we get to the Book of the Year. So cue famous presenter and on with the show.
FUNNIEST BOOK OF THE YEAR
WINNER - DARA O'BRIAIN - TICKLING THE ENGLISH
RUNNER UP - BILL BRYSON - THE ROAD TO LITTLE DRIBBLING
Not that much competition here as I didn't enjoy Alan Partridge anywhere near as much as I'd hoped and never even completed Pointless but Dara's book showed no sign of ageing and was genuinely very funny
SCIENCE BOOK OF THE YEAR
WINNER - ANDREA WULF - THE INVENTION OF NATURE
RUNNER UP - YUVAL NOAH HARARI - HOMO DEUS
I really love Pop Science Books so this category is always fiercely contested with 8 books to choose from. In the end I went the same way as the rankings. I can't stress too much how good Andrea Wulf's biography of Humbolt is. Winner of the Royal Society award 2016 i've never agreed more with them
BEST IN SPORT
WINNER - JEFF PASSAM - THE ARM
RUNNER UP - ANTHONY HOLDEN - BIGGER DEAL
Ignoring the question of whether poker is even close to a sport it was a pretty poor year for my favorite leisure activity besides reading. I liked Doped and I was tempted to give it the runner up spot but I simply enjoyed Anthony Holden's year long poker tour a lot more and I found myself playing again after reading it. The Winner was in no doubt. The Arm was interesting and thought provoking asking important questions about how far kids should be pushed to achieve sporting success!
WINNER - DANIEL O'MALLEY - THE ROOK
RUNNER UP - naomi aldermann - THE power
The Rook was the best surprise this year while The Power was the best idea for a novel I've seen since in a long time. For me this category is about pure simple reading joy and for that reason the winner was never in doubt. I also love it when someone who has an ordinary day job like Daniel does and comes out and gets success because his book is that damn good.
BIGGEST CONTRIBUTION OF KNOWLEDGE
WINNER YUVAL NOAH HARARI - homo deus
RUNNER UP - happy - derren brown
I love non fiction books so this is another competitive award. Derren Brown does his homework, you can tell that from how great his shows are so I expected this book to be no different. His history of philosophy and how to live it in today's world was brilliant. But Yuval enough credit for Sapiens so I'm not going to make the same mistake twice. From a history of the front lawn to how the age of the algorithm affects us all, reading Yuval is like having a 1-2-1 with a guru. He is rightfully very popular.
BEST PART OF ORDINARY SPECIAL AWARD
WINNER - MALALA YOUSAFZAI - i am malala
RUNNER UP - PAUL BEATTY - THE SELLOUT
It might be a sign of times that the two books I've chosen this year as the standard bearers for what the best part of ordinary is all about are all about fighting to be free from repression or stupid hatred as I call it. The Sellout is a very well deserved Man Booker Prize winner that speaks from the heart but Malala wins because she and her book epitomize the very soul of this site. Freedom to enjoy an ordinary or extra-ordinary life.
ORDINARY book of the year 2018.....
WINNER - MALALA YOUSAFZAI - i am malala
runner up - ANDREA WULF - THE INVENTION OF NATURE
I have just finished Winter is Coming and Garry Kasparov ends by stressing the importance of education to beat tyranny all around the world as he says "...the Taliban did not just close the schools where 15 year old Malala Yousafzai lived in Swat, Pakistan, they destroyed them. They did not just tell Malala not to go to school, they shot her". Not only are the themes of her story so important but in a society where we are so lucky to take education for granted this story shows us what an amazing thing that is. It is brilliantly written the story is so captivating I read parts of it to my daughter and so even though I absolutely adore "The Invention of Nature" the highest scoring book this year with 37.5 out of 40 and rightful winner is Malala.
Happy New Year and a Happy 2nd birthday for The Best Part of Ordinary. I think it is fair to say on a book front I ran out of steam at the end of 2017 due to reading two long, detailed non fiction books at the same time. It's been a struggle but I've enjoyed both Chasing The Sun and more so The Time Travelers Guide but my first New Year goal (not resolution) is to not repeat this type of book choices in 2018. Thankfully the year ended on a high with the decision to park Chasing The Sun and pick up The Essex Serpent which was a fast paced, enjoyable read and a book I wouldn't normally pick up.
As a result I ended up reading fewer books this year and this was also not helped by working quite a bit of overtime and getting absorbed in the world of Skyrim on the PS4, a game I have been meaning to play for years. This also had a knock on effect on this site which I will do my best to address in 2018.
But looking back I really enjoyed most of 2017 and here's a quick list of book highlights
There is a lot to be excited about in 2018 with the shelf already jam packed and the winner of the Royal Society book award Testerone Rex on its way. So here are my reading goals for 2018
As always these are goals and not resolutions which I detest. Goals accept mistakes as just part of the process but a mistakes is a broken resolution.
Life is always full of surprises and to finish this blog post a quick story that made me laugh at myself.
I was part of a secret santa at work this year and I wanted to buy a book which could be of real value. So of all the amazing books on this site what did I spend my £10 on? Did I buy Authentic Happiness my Book of 2016 or possibly Stumbling on Happiness one of my favorite books of all time? No I ended up buying Mindset by Dr Carol Dweck which I ranked 22nd of 33 in the books of 2015!! The reason. Anitha has kids and despite everything else Dr Carol Dweck's research into the value of encouraging and rewarding hard work over results is something I would encourage every parent to take a look at, even if some of her examples like Alex Rodriguez are cringe worthy. But I did chuckle to myself as I ordered it
Anyway a very Happy New Year to everyone. I hope all your goals reading and otherwise go well and you that you can keep on trying throughout the year to make them a reality.
Here are the books that I'd really like this year. I went into Waterstones the morning after a very enjoyable drunken night watching Scouting For Girls live at the Hexagon and thought it a good idea to take photos of the books I wanted that I could see
Another summer rides off into a sunset that is upon us far too quickly each evening. It is also an end to my peak reading time and I have been doing so well that the website is still catching up. Two books complete while still having fun with the family in a week in Corfu is really good going for me.
We went to the Louis Corcyra Beach hotel and payed a little extra to get a bungalow with a sea view and got one of the best rooms, a stone’s throw from the sea which was amazing and a perfect setting for reading a good book.
This got me thinking. Does the location where you read influence the enjoyment of any book? I mean it shouldn’t really as when I am engrossed the whole world disappears. People can talk to me and I won’t hear them or even know that they are next to me. But I think it does. Books are about ambiance and feeling, a creation of the mind where like meditation you can just ‘be’. This might be why I need books rather than a Kindle. The paper connects in an earthy way that the screen can not.
I have come to realise that a beautiful sea view and the sound of the surf is my perfect place and on this years holiday I allowed myself to dream about having a little house, a sanctuary by the sea where I could read happy whenever I wished. It will probably never happen even if I think about it A LOT, unless you believe “The Secret” that is. A book that is still selling enough to stay in Amazon’s Top 100 much to my dismay.
Other places I enjoy reading:
I am also going to try and see if I can get some other opinions on this and so will tweet a few of the authors I follow and see if they respond. Is this a good idea? Not sure but it would be great to get a reply or two.
Over the summer I also read “The Soundtrack to My Life” which Dermot O’Leary uses the memorable songs as a way of introducing episodes of his life. I really liked the idea of this especially as made the difference between the songs you really love and often the ones you don’t which are the true reminders. For me a case in point is Whigfield’s 1995 hit “Saturday Night” which I really dislike but takes me straight back to being in Majorca that year.
When I first started properly reading in my teens I used to read to listen to music at the same time so that some books even had their own soundtrack. The most memorable is Teardrops by Womack and Womack which was on Now 32 and reminds me of surviving nuclear holocaust in Domain by James Herbert. I don’t mix books and music anymore but maybe I should try and see if it makes both the book and the song more enjoyable both while reading and when remembering. Watch this space.
Finally here are a few books I am looking forward to hopefully reading in the next few months:
I feel like I have lost my voice on the website this year. I am keeping the books of 2017 up to date and I'm glad I have changed the format as it is much more compact now but I haven't blog posted at all except for the awards and even that was a little rushed to be honest.
I was getting petrol early this morning (this is relevant, honest) and there were four pay at pumps and they were all being used and loads of pay at kiosk pumps. Now I normally always use the pay at pump, mind my business, get the boring task out of the way and continue my day. I reluctantly filled up at the free pumps and as I did watched a couple of other people come and queue for a few minutes for the pay at pump and it struck me that I see this quite a lot and have done it myself before. But it makes no sense why queue when you don't have to?
Having filled up I drove to the kiosk had a funny conversation with the lady about an old couple who apparently always ask for VAT receipts . Driving away it reminded me of the research that found that most people enjoyed a train journey more when talking to a stranger despite predicting they would prefer to keep to themselves. That is the reason I think the other people queued at the pay at pump this morning . My day was made slightly nicer by the interaction and yet if the pumps wouldn't of been busy I wouldn't of made that choice. We are a social species even if we can't always take that into account.
Dragging myself back to my voice on this website. I am not always comfortable writing and it is much easier to read, watch TV, complete Unchartered on the PS4 and all the other things that I do when I have a bit of time to myself at home. But even if no one takes any notice of the website I really enjoy being able to express myself and feel better once I have. I hear many people say something similar about not reading as much as they would like :)
But finally back to the books which is what this site is all about although I do get tempted to bring some music into it. I am listening to Judas, PVRIS and Against The Current who all playing at Reading Festival this year while writing this. It has been an enjoyable mostly serious year and by the end of July I will have read 21 which at 3 a month is bang on average for me.
An icy January has come and gone with only a few million mentions of Brexit, America and Mr Trump in the media!! It is also awards time with Mary Berry already celebrating and the Hollywood stars preparing their speeches for the Oscars. It also means its time for the Ordinaries, my books of the year from of all 36 that I read in 2016.
The calibre of books I read was high and included 3 Sports Books of the Year, 1 Booker prize, 1 Costa Book of the year and 1 Royal Society Science book winner as well as THE talked about book of the year. More on that later.
I read 25 non fiction and 11 fiction which is pretty much the same as 2015 when I read 23 non fiction and 9 fiction. I'm happy enough with the balance but in an ideal world I would read a bit more fiction as well as all my non fiction. Before I get into the top 10 and the overall winner I thought it would be good to give some other awards.
funniest book of the year
I am 43 and lucky to have a fantastic wife and 3 kids who give my life purpose and make it fun too. To pay the bills I am a Software Consultant and have been for the past (mostly enjoyable) 18 years.