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Manny Rayner's book reviews

I love reviewing books - have been doing it at Goodreads, but considering moving here.

Currently reading

The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence For Evolution
Richard Dawkins
R in Action
Robert Kabacoff
Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies
Douglas R. Hofstadter
McGee on Food and Cooking: An Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture
Harold McGee
Epistemic Dimensions of Personhood
Simon Evnine
Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning (Information Science and Statistics)
Christopher M. Bishop
Relativity, Thermodynamics and Cosmology
Richard C. Tolman
The Cambridge Handbook of Second Language Acquisition
Julia Herschensohn, Martha Young-Scholten
Musical Chairs - Jen Knox Jen kindly sent me a copy of this book to review, and I zipped through it in a couple of days. The story begins in an AA meeting, and it reads rather like a series of episodes told in front of an AA audience. I also have an addictive/compulsive personality, so I'm sympathetic; the AA sequences in Infinite Jest were the part I liked best. When you've fucked up big-time, sharing the experience with other people seems to be a positive thing to do. Maybe I should try this, but it's not as easy as it looks. I thought of writing the review in parody-homage style, telling a similar story about how I'd fucked things up in my own life at some point, and found I couldn't do it. Jen's got more courage than me; good for her. But maybe I'll learn something from her account.

The basic story is, I suppose, unremarkable, but it's well told, and I kept turning the pages to see what would happen next. Jen grows up in a bad part of town; her parents fight, and divorce when she's about 15; she runs away from her father, who's been given custody, and gets into drink and drugs; after a while, she lands herself a job as a stripper. Later, she has to put her life back together again. I liked her descriptions of stripping, which are insightful and sensitive. It's demeaning in some ways (duh), but, something I hadn't properly understood before, it's also empowering. Jen compares it with writing. David Lodge does that too, in Small World; but I'm pretty sure that he's never worked as a stripper, and I prefer Jen's version, even though Lodge's is slicker. One point she makes is that it's much easier to do this kind of thing drunk. Perhaps I should have a few drinks myself some evening, and see if that helps me write in a new way.

I should say that I've never met Jen, despite the fact that I keep using her first name, but after reading her book I feel I know her well. She's a nice person, and has worthwhile things to tell you. Definitely one of the more interesting and memorable books I've read this year.