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1) a history of the world in 100 objects by neil macgregor, based on the acclaimed the radio 4 series as it says, accurately, on the cover. it's not intellectually taxing (i'd said about 0.8 on the in our time scale) and it has little slotted-in contributions from non-experts (grayson perry, tom bingham, richard rogers...) which were doubtless included on the radio to give a bit of audio variety but which are almost all fatuous on paper. nevertheless... it takes these ordinary, extraordinary, magical, numinous objects which sit at the crossing points of stories and cultures and trade routes and kingdoms and uses them to weave together, well, pretty much everything. i don't think i've ever read a book and learnt so many things or felt so many previously learnt things being connected at long last. the vikings, the abassid kingdoms, the tang dynasty... nor realised how many entire and sophisticated civilisations have vanished under the (metaphorical) sand and are known to us only by some chance discovery. the olmec, the oxus... the implication being that there are others out there which will never be known. which makes my hair stand on end.
2) glee. i'm a bit of a late convert to this on a/c of being mr boxed set who rarely sees tv as it comes down the pipe. and this is everything i hate. sentimentality, song 'n' dance, white white teeth, actors so cute they look as if they have a weird disney squirrel chromosomal mutation. and yet... the tightness of the performances, the script, the direction and the cinematography plus a leavening dose of barbed surreal earthiness (a hot tub is just the right temperature for sperm) turn it into a box of unputdownable chocolates.
3) hipstamatic. the iphone app. all my holiday photos now come from 1968. see below (lantic bay, 2011). and the default camera now seems utterly characterless.
rather late and it probably breaks the twelfth night card and decoration removal rule thereby incurring seven years bad luck or somesuch, but this is my son's fine christmas card...
this is the latest edition of mscsweeney's magazine. for those of you who don't know mcsweeney's - yes, it really is. previously they've produced the magazine as a bundle of newspapers, as short stories individually bound and attached to the spine by magnets, as a z-bound double hardback, as a book with attached cd soundtrack... it contains stories, reportage, scripts, poetry, artwork, comics or some combination thereof. it's the deranged brainchild of dave eggers who still edits the magazine (i think). i don't always enjoy everything in it (of course), but i don't know any magazine which is created with such zest and such obvious enjoyment, nor one which gives me such excitement when it arrives every quarter.
dave eggers is also the creator and main driving force behind 826 national, a kids literacy programme for kids all over america which is a profoundly good thing
apropos which, you really should watch this
there are now many many things to say about wikileaks, most of which have been said cogently and at great length elsewhere. from fidel castro’s unrequited love for barack obama to the astonishingly unprofessional behaviour of assange’s counsel publicly vilifying his client's accusers. one thing that i haven't seen mentioned, however, perhaps because the whole saga involves the suffering and / or endangerment of actual human beings, but which is striking me with increasing force, perhaps because i’m a writer, is that whoever wrote the script for this whole drama is an absolute genius. it started out as an elemental melodramatic stand-off between good and evil. or evil and good if your politics are that way inclined. and every subsequent twist has only served to increase the dramatic tension and complicate the morality of the whole thing. so many of the main players are deeply flawed, if not hypocritical. organisation sthemselves are riven by rivalry and in-fighting (wikileaks, the swedish prosecution service). there is out-and-out comedy and real tragedy on all scales (bradley manning; 15000 unreported civilian iraqi deaths). and the timing of events is so ironically spot-on that the american government is rubbing its hands while wikileaks supporters hang their heads and conspiracy theorist wave their arms in the air. in short, i can't help imagining some supernatural combination of dickens, de lillo and tolstoy looking down and wondering what they're going to do in the next chapter.
for the record, i still think the leaks are a fine thing. michael moore may not be right in detail when he says that if the leaks had happened earlier 9/11 might have been prevented (read this) but he is certainly right in principle. would deepwater horizon have happened, for example, if bp had not been able to keep its earlier accident in azerbaijan secret (read this).
i'm wealthy. obviously. i think of myself as incredibly lucky and i pay all my tax. it seems pretty obvious to me that's what any self-respecting person should do. so i'd be quite happy to see rich people who evade and avoid tax publicly flogged, alongside the wealthy directors of corporations who do the same, particularly at a time when the government is slashing public services. or indeed at any time. jesus, i mean how do you justify the fourth home in martinique when people are dying of starvation? come to think of it why don't we flog leading members of the coalition too, given that they have actually made it easier for those people and corporations to avoid tax by cutting funding to the already underfunded h m revenue and customs, then stuck two fingers up at the rest of the country by employing philip green as a government advisor...