Posted by: billpurdue | March 20, 2009

47 Light Relief

Last time I wrote about one of the best books on climate change that I had seen recently: The Hot Topic (see edition 46). On the subject of climate change and the environment, there’s a new book about James Lovelock, the man who proposed the theory of “Gaia” which postulates that our planet functions as a kind of superorganism (as described on Andrew Marr’s BBC tv programme, “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea” on Thursday 19th March). The theory helps us to understand the big changes that are happening to our planet. A definitive authorised biography of Lovelock: He Knew He Was Right by John and Mary Gribbin [ Allen Lane £20 9781846140167] came out at the end of February and has been well received. A very different biography by John Gribbin was published in January : Not fade Away: the life and music of Buddy Holly [Icon Books £12.99 9781848310346], so he’s quite a versatile chap.

guy-browningI said that after reading the book on climate change, I needed a bit of light relief and I found the very thing by Guy Browning – Maps of my Life[Square Peg £12.99 9780224082723]. It’s a kind of “scenes from my early life” type of autobiography – and very funny too. Guy explains that he has always been interested in maps (I too could look at maps for ages) and at the start of each chapter there is a map of one sort or another. For example at the beginning of the chapter entitled “Our garden, Botley”, there is a plan of the garden showing the location of his father’s “fresh air store” (presumably where he went to smoke a cigarette) and the Fatted Calf’s hut : the Fatted Calf being his older brother. There are other more exotic locations; Kidwelly in Wales ( a holiday destination ) and San Salvador in Central America where he spent the first three years of his life. He writes that he owes his love of all things Hispanic to El Salvador as well as his deep dislike of porridge – read the book and you’ll find out why. We also read about his visit to Niagara Falls ( on the Canadian side) and how there was more rain coming out of the sky than going over the falls. Then there’s his French-Canadian friend who “gave every impression of having been freshly exhumed”, or his best friend whilst staying in the USA called Miguel who “chose never to wear anything without razor sharp creases and was forever destined to travel with an ironing board”

I have to say I found Guy Browning’s style of writing and his humour just up my street. It’s laugh out loud funny and just the thing to cheer you up, if your sense of humour is like mine. There are too many books around these days which purport to be funny, but are disappointingly daft or just dull. This book is truly funny – try it and see.  You can read a selection of Guy Browning’s contributions to the Guardian here.

quirkology1It was the title of the next book that attracted me straightaway: Quirkology :the curious science of everyday lives [Pan £7.99 9780330448116] by Professor Richard Wiseman. As the title might suggest, this is no dull scientific text, but a highly readable account of the various experiments Professor Wiseman and other eminent psychologists have conducted over the years to discover (for example), how the date of your birth might affect your whole life, how to tell when someone is lying or telling the truth (it isn’t body language apparently), or to find out if there are any logical explanations for ghostly happenings and how your initials might – or might not – affect your lifespan. He also explains  how superstitious beliefs can affect house prices, the numbers of fatalities in accidents and even abortion rates and how to make a whole nation feel the urge to visit the loo at the same time!  At the beginning of the book Professor Wiseman asks the reader to draw a letter Q on his/her forehead. The way you draw it – ie. which way the little squiggle points – says something about you. I’ll leave you to find out from the book.

Next time: some countryside nostalgia

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