Saturday, 20 February 2010

Shopping and reading: what Suzy read next

It's seven weeks into my 2010 resolution: to read a book a week, every week, for the whole year.

I started with the Man Booker prize shortlist: The Children's Book by A S Byatt and Adam Fould's The Quickening Maze. Next up, business with Grown Up Digital by Don Tapscott. This was followed by Michael Palin's New Europe. A bit of light relief, with pictures.

In February I've treated myself to Purple Cow by Seth Godin, The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki and Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers.

But all this non fiction is making me a tad dull. Friends back away when I mention the genius of Tapscott. Colleagues yawn when I pontificate on Godin's idea of constant innovation.

Maybe it's time for a bit of fiction.

After some Twitter consultation (twonsultation?) here's the shopping list:

The Blue Fox by Sjon
This Thing of Darkness by Harry Thompson
Kieron Smith, Boy by James Kelman
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
My Father's Daughter by Hannah Pool
Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunnant
Saving Caravaggio by Neil Griffiths

Thanks go to @caroleagent, @meandmybigmouth and @simonjuden for general inspiration and direct recommendations on Twitter.

What else should go on the shopping list?

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

A book a week in 2010: Seth Godin's Purple Cow

"Transform Your Business By Being Remarkable" shouts the sub-title. It's a simple message. One that Godin hammers home. Sparsely laid out page after page.

It's pretty straight-forward. Now we are in the one to one marketing age, you can longer have mediocre products and services or follow your competitors. You have to be unique.

You have to have a purple cow: the new "P" on the block for traditional marketers. Something different, exciting, unique, distinguished. You no longer broadcast or dictate what people buy for any period of time.

Consumers are discerning, demanding and won't stick around long. You need to keep them intrigued, entertained, amused, happy. You have to match and reflect their values.

But understand that the traditional cash cow model no longer works. Once Purple turns to Cash, you need something new. Constant product innovation is essential. R&D restlessness rules. Building change into your business model will keep you ahead of the herd. Mass marketing no longer pays.

This is a short book with a single idea. Godin's is the master of getting to the point. He's also the master of repetition. But maybe keeping it simple and saying it a lot is what business needs.

What's clear in this book is that Godin doesn't think everyone will get it.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

A book a week in 2010: The Quickening Maze by Adam Foulds

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2009, this is a fictionalised account of the life and work of Dr Matthew Allen, the owner of an asylum on the outskirts of London in 1840.

The tale recounts the progress of Dr Allen's practice. Foulds balances the lives of those that work in the asylum, the treatment of the patients, the well-meaning Allen and his devoted, but long-suffering family.

The patients include a number of high profile writers. The naturalist poet John Clare lives within the grounds. Renowned for making a bid for freedom to explore the gardens and surrounding woods, his very existence is threatened by his total immersion in this world. Alfred Tennyson brings his brother there for treatment and finds his - and his family's - life tied to the fate of Allen in more ways than one.

Foulds manages to weave trance-like depictions of a descent into madness into the minutae of everyday Victorian life. This is a gentle, transporting and evocative depiction of the scientific and creative advances of the Victorian age. It has a dreamlike quality with occasional violent interruptions that show the underlying brutality of the age.

There is no doubt that Foulds wears his erudition lightly. It is a nice book. It is a pleasant read. These are not the words I associate with the Booker prize shortlist. I didn't find it particularly gripping, but if you like your historical fiction with a gentle literary flavour, then this one is for you.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

A book a week in 2010: Michael Palin's New Europe

New Europe is taken from the TV series of the same name that was first aired in the autumn of 2007 (and has been playing on cable ever since). The book is a collection of photographs taken during filming combined with what appears to be the script from the series.

Palin's voice is unique. You can almost hear him speaking as you read the words, and if you have watched the programmes, this gives a strong sense of deja vu. He travels around the European nations of: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Albania, Macedonia, Serbia, Moldova, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Kaliningrad (Russia), Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Germany.

It all feels vaguely Eurovision-ish: like the VTs they produce in between each song to showcase the national characteristics of each country. The producers have obviously gone to great lengths to choose a "character" to act as Palin's tour guide and provide an alternative view of life. This makes great television, but after a while, in print, it starts to wear a bit thin (olive oil wrestlers of Turkey anyone?)

But that's the prevailing spirit of Palin. The gently absurd sticking its tongue out at you from the fringe of a more considered view of the place. This is generally an enjoyable and informative coffee table read. You can brush up on your geography, have a little snigger at the bizarre habits of the population, then reflect on the scale and diversity of the continent.

New Europe is available to read on the Palin's Travels website.