the ordinary blog
Overall – Really enjoyable historical epic with plenty of action, sex and violence. On audible it represented fantastic value for money giving 40 hours of listening to John Lee’s easy on the ear narration for a single credit!
Whenever I go on holiday I always see someone reading a Ken Follett novel, mainly blokes and he has sold over 160 million books worldwide. Popularity is never the most precise judge but over time it is more consistent and Ken has been selling books for half a century. But which to read first? I broke my Lee Child duck last year and as they all involve Jack Ryan I figured the first book was the best place to start, but for Ken I wanted the best and the overwhelming internet opinion was that Pillars was the fan favourite.
Written in 1989 meant that the introduction was of reflection from the author which reminds me of directors commentaries which I got addicted to in the bonus features age of the DVD film. He described taking a big gamble from a profitable career in the thriller genre and how the book gathered momentum from word of mouth rather than critical success. The other thing I clearly remember is his talk of cathedrals and going across the country to visit them and spending 2 days going round them!! They are central to the book and he described having to read books and speak to experts to enable him to describe effectively .
From the opening scene of the hanging there is always drama just around the corner and some of the rape and torture scenes are not for the faint hearted. Life was hard and could be brutal in the 12th century and the book does not shy away from this reality. The characters have plenty of chapters to develop and Phillip perfectly links them all together. I couldn’t help wonder whether Ramsay Bolton from Game of Thrones was inspired by arch villain William Hamley. Just when you think the plot line might be starting to calm and drift a change in direction and usually location brings fresh energy and impetus which is the genius of a master story teller. No better example is Jacks adventures in France and Spain.
The cathedral is given star billing from Tom’s initial obsession very early into the story and the authors enthusiasm is infectious. They were the skyscrapers of their time and they are significant to most of the characters for a variety of reasons including faith, power, money and for their beauty and craftmanship. There was no finer dedication to God.
Christianity was central to life but this is not a religious book like Jordon M Petersons 12 Rules. The abuse and hypocrisy especially by Bishop Waldron is countered by the genuine caring Phillip but thankfully there is no sermon from the author and he doesn’t need to. For an author of many words he knows what to omit too.
Great books like ice cream come in many different flavours. Some like Wolf Hall and The Song of Achilles may appeal to critics more for their sophistication but others like The Hunger Games, Moneyball and I am pleased to Pillars of the Earth are popular because they just as fun to read. It may take me a few years but I will be finding the time to finish The Kingsbridge Trilogy.
Audiobook - 40 hours - Narrated by John Lee
The goal is to read just a little more in 2020 while not sacrificing time with others to do so, continuing to find those pockets in time. Listening to more books through Audible will make this a lot easier as well. There is a lot on my book shelf and wish list and I want this to be a source on inspiration rather than a burden.
With regard to this site the big change is that I am planning to go back to having one main page for all the books in 2020 and use blog posts for the details. It is something I have seen in lots of other book websites and should make the overview of the year have more visual impact.
Talking of overrviews the other big addition will be an Index page where people can at a glance see all the books that appear on the site and provide links to easily get there. The use of blog pages should also make this better too. As there must be nearly 150 books now that i've read since starting this, it is quite a time consuming project but the little feedback i do get from people who view the site say it would be welcome.
Finally I want there to be more of my opinion on the site. I say this every year and find it difficult because I want my more interesting views and opinions but at the same time to keep a respectful and appreciative tone to all the amazing authors who toil mostly alone to keep me entertained. Jasper Fforde ends "Early Riser" with an apology to his readers for not writing a book for a couple of years during his "creative hiatus". I can only imagine the pressure and panic that start to build.
So here's to a fantastic 2020 to all authors and readers alike. Happy New year!
There is no bollocks, no overplay or arrogance. This is simply the situation told without jargon, politics or religion getting in the way.
People are dying now, lots more will die but we still have choices as humanity
1st half - elements of chaos
Wet Bulb Temprature - thermometer wrapped in sock - 5 degrees = NYC hotter than present day Bahrain. Heat wave in Europe in 2003 killed 35,000, at 4 degrees = normal summer
Aquafiers take millions of years to accumalate. In US wells drilling twice as deep even now and they are stil fracking in the drinking water in Kansas = Madness
Oxgen dead zones in sea. China smog 1.37 million deaths in 2013. Delhi 2017 breathing in air = 2 packs of cigarettes a day!. Globally 1 in 6 deaths due in part to air pollution
2nd half - the climate kaleidoscope
We frequently choose to obsess over personal consumption in part because it is in our control and in part as a very contemporary form of virtue
Why does climate change not make for good films or TV? No bad guy, no way for a hero to resolve
Climate depression, escapism and helplessness - all on the rise
Technology will not develop in time to save us - carbon extractors exist but we would need billions of them to make significant impact
The wheels of all communities are greased by abundance.....(without it leads to)...the dissapearance of any expectation of justice making survival suddenly a matter of entreprenaurial skill
opinion while reading
For so long I have looked up to US culture and sport and yet the more I know about climate change the less I like them. Look what they are doing to their country!! Is it because they don't have thousands of years on their land?
I am a lifelong football fan and am a season ticket holder at Reading FC. As I got more into podcasts so I have found mysef drawn to a twice weekly show "by Reading fans for Reading fans" called The Tilehurst End which compliments their website of the same name. I am so impressed by their effort and quality of work which is done in their spare time that when they asked for offers of help on the website I got in touch.
So for the first time my writing was to be judged by others which I was more nervous about than I expected. It should come as no surprise that when choosing a topic to write for them I chose the safe ground of books.
I was really pleased when they said they liked it and they even gave this site a mention and a link too which was incredibly nice of them. When the author of "The Sum of the Parts" Jon Keen liked it on Twitter too it was the icing on the cake. I have a detailed it below but it looks far better on The Tilehurst End site
royals books to ease football withdrawal
With two more months until the start of the new season what better way to get a Reading FC fix than by reading about them by the pool, drink in hand on holiday.
But which to choose? Books about specific teams are by their nature, niche but I am very pleased to say that there are a number of books about the Royals and I'll look at the three i've read below.
THE SUM OF THE PARTS - JON KEEN
What better way to keep the positive end of season atmosphere at the Mad Stad than to read about Sir Steve, the magical 106 point promotion and our two seasons in the Premier League.
Jon Keen is a founding member of the Supporters Trust so passion and accuracy are guarenteed but what could of so easily been a simple narrative of the players and major games is impressively crafted, by the questions he asks into an insightful and complete story. Was it simply the mastery of Sir Steve or were other factors equally or more important? The legacy of Alan Pardew, the evolution of Nicky Hammonds role and the crucial influence of consultantcy firm Catalyst are interwoven with the sheer joy of remembering those unforgetable moments.
If you have not read it I can think of no better book to get your Reading fix this summer. My next choice is a very different book. It is about the fallable superstar and when it comes to Reading FC this can only mean one man.....
The Greatest Footballer You Never Saw - Paulo Hewit & Paul McGuigan
Of all the great Reading players of the past only one is still frequently seen on the back of a replica shirt. Robin Friday. Yet I knew so little about the player or the man who has taken on mythical status until I read this book. A flawed genius he played and lived by his own rules, partying as hard as he played. As a Reading fan it is amazing that his star only shone bright whilst in our blue and white hoops.
Written by Paulo, a music journalist and ex Oasis drummer Paul with no prior knowledge of their subject they tell the story through the memories of family, players, Reading manager Charlie Hurley and a LOT of edited newspaper reports. I would of preferred far more from the authors themselves but stories are entertaining and I found myself wishing I could of been at Elm Park for the goal that lead World Cup referee Clive Thomas to say it was the best he'd ever seen.
The only similariy with Jon Keen's book is the tragic ending but it also a book about pure footballing genius and a memory of just how different football was in the 1970's
My final book attempts to cover the rest the rest of Reading's history in just 220 pages
The Little Book of Reading FC - Alan Sedunary
If you have lots of distractions on holiday or you prefer newspapers and social media this might just be the answer. A compilation of facts and stories of anything and everything related to Reading FC which is easy to pick up for a few minutes and can be read in any order.
Alan is a lifelong Reading fan who has written for the matchday programme for over 30 years and so he has a vast collection of stories and facts covering subjects as diverse as the history of womens football at Reading, quotes about all our former managers and the six best penalty shoot outs with the Simod Cup Semi Final getting the top spot.
Although it is a few years old now it is treasure trove of information about our club and well worth checking out.
If you have time for more football books this summer then here are three that will be on the plane with me on holiay in July
How To Be A Footballer - Peter Crouch
The summer sports blockbuster. Shortlisted for the Telegraph Sports Book of the Year, the reviews are fantastic. His podcast is really funny and this promises more of the same.
The Boy on the Shed -
A very different kind of autobiography this is a story of the superstar who never made it. Shortlisted for the William Hill Sports Book award its promises a moving account of a life in the beautiful game .
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.
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