Monday, 9 October 2000

Rides round Britain and About a boy

Listening to:

Mahler, symphony no. 9.

Just read:

John Byng, Rides round Britain.

I read the last of the rides on Saturday morning. Byng went to North Wales, and had ample opportunity to complain about just about every part of his experience. He also said that he would never do another tour if he had to do it on his own. By “on his own” he meant “with only a servant”. He wanted someone with him that he felt he could talk to. I guess no suitable companion took him up on this offer, because this was the last tour in the book.

Despite his frequent grumbles, I quite enjoyed reading the book, because he describes countryside from such an interesting perspective (that of the 18th century gentleman), and is occasionally pretty humorous.

Nick Hornby, About a boy.

I got this as a birthday present in 1998, and only now have I got round to it on the list. I read it on Saturday morning, and found it a very enjoyable, light and humorous read.

One of the two principal characters, Marcus (the boy of the title) is well-drawn and sympathetic, but not entirely believable. I know that I wasn’t anything like that as a 12 year old, and I can’t think of anyone I knew who was. The other principal is also very interesting; but in a “wow, what a neat idea” way. I suppose there must be people out there living off royalty payments from a parental one-hit wonder, but I haven’t met any of them, so I feel less qualified to tell you that this character is unrealistic.

Anyway, I recommend it, even if Hornby does feel compelled to portray Cambridge as some sort of unworldly hicksville.

Now reading:

Henry Petroski, Invention by design: how engineers get from thought to thing. I read the first two chapters of this on Sunday. The first was about the paper-clip, and examined some of the patents issued for designs in this area. Some were quite modern, and the point was that people really do think that designing a better paper-clip is both possible and desirable. The second was about analysing the forces that cause pencil leads to break. Interesting stuff.