Nothing much on books this time I'm afraid. Last month saw yet another gross imbalance between books bought and actually read. If I was a corporate, I'd be in liquidation. I therefore have waiting in the wings the new William Boyd, a half-read book on alternate universe theory, two David Lodge books on structuralism, the new Flashman (Sikh Wars, yummy), Turbulent Mirror (yet another book about Chaos theory with lots of lovely Mandelbrot plots), another Pratchett in the shape of Moving Pictures, The Difference Engine by Gibson and Sterling and more history books than I could shake a stick at. I have still to get round to the recent Eco opus and I am struggling through London Fields as I write. I really don't like Martin Amis' books yet I keep buying and reading them. Perhaps I enjoy the clever sentences rather than the storylines.
Having had amazing success on my books wanted list (see letter column), I thought I would run another query past the readers. Basically, what has happened to Gary Larson? Has he stopped doing The Far Side? The last compilation I have is Wildlife Preserves and I've seen nothing since the Pre- History. Info please, because I need a fix. PS OK, so I've solved this one now. The latest, just out at Forbidden Planet, is Wiener Dog Art and is a different size to the other nine. As for content, I think he may be losing it. I found nothing very funny and he seems to be getting more and more obscure. Sad, but inevitable. Not losing it though are Peattie and Taylor whose latest Alex complilation, Alex III: Son of Alex, is out now. The same comic formula applies but there are at least half a dozen gems that had me laughing out loud. A firm buy.
I have recently got in touch with a very useful booksearch service in the States which runs on a similar system to those in the UK, ie you let them know what books you are looking for, they find them, let you know the price with no obligation and you say yes or no. The prices quoted are in Sterling and are not unreasonable as they include postage. They have already found me a US edition of The Colour of Magic and have a lead on another book which isn't bad for three weeks work. Culpin's Booksearch International can be found at Dept A, 3827 West 32nd Ave, Denver, Colorado, USA.
A Rough Ride (Paul Kimmage, Stanley Paul #12.95) is yet another book about a man and his cycling career, but this time there is a twist. In direct contradiction to the usual 'I experienced such agony as I chased Hinault up the col' autobiographies, Kimmage makes light of his riding and tries to sell the book on claims of blowing the whistle on the substance abusers. Does he do this? Well, yes and no. What we are treated to is the whinging of a rider who obviously didn't make it as high as he had hoped and, unlike many other domestiques, packed in his pro career after a few years. Along the way he names names in an almost apologetic fashion, perhaps knowing that by 'spitting in the soup' his current job as a cycling journalist would be that much more difficult.
I don't think for a minute that cycling is 'clean' and the antics of Theunisse and probably Delgado have to indicate that drug taking is almost certainly rife. After the cynicism of the Ben Johnson affair, I am ashamed to say I even have grave doubts about Greg Lemond, but I sincerely hope he is simply an exceptional athlete. The trouble is, in the absence of any commitment from the Tour authorities, somebody needs to blow the lid off the problem.
Kimmage had the chance and the inclination, but goes off half-cock in an readily apparent welter of guilt and second-thoughts. Where he fails to make a case is in the low number of specific instances he cites. Vague generalisations such as 'Everybody used them in the post-Tour criteriums because no-one checked' are backed up by a few detailed examples of riders taking boosters. In this, former friends are named as those taking various low-key substances and in the end he succumbs himself, which makes it all the more sad that he feels he can take the high moral ground on the issue. This is a frustrated, bitter book by an essentially failed rider. I am not proud to have bought it and look forward to something a little more decisive on this important subject.
Liar's Poker (Michael Lewis, Coronet) is one of those rare beasts, an interesting book about a technical subject. It is the story of a bond salesman who worked for Salomon Brothers at the height of their money making years and explains not only the larger than life characters that made them a major player, but also the markets and his role within them. The small disappointment for me was that we quickly find that he is a salesman rather than a full-fledged trader, but with hindsight perhaps it is more interesting for that. The style is lucid and Lewis makes light of explaining the mortgage bond market and other esoteric capital markets buzzwords. The highest compliment I can pay Liar's Poker is that it reminds me most of the excellent Soul of a New Machine which tackled the apparently boring subject of computer engineering in a similar fascinating style.
Liar's Poker is not quite a modern classic but comes close, failing only in some rather strange structuring and a few slightly irrelevant sections towards the middle. What emerges is a book that not only enthralls but also educates. I for one am now much wiser than I'd like to admit about the workings of the bond markets. Liar's Poker is extraordinarily well written and keeps hold to the end, not least because the author is clearly a human being among some pretty ruthless characters. Highly recommended and my book of the month.
Sumo - Mike Siggins - Legal Notices and Other Information