Saturday, 18 August 2007

Some words

I commute. I am a commuter. It is how I now identify myself at parties.

"...and what is it that you do?"
"I am a commuter."

It's not really a lie, but a half truth. It sounds better than telling the truth, which is that I currently help the public sector fritter away your tax cash in return for getting mine back with a slice of yours, too. I've observed that the latter response doesn't help me to make new friends, which is why I go in for the half-truths.

There appear to be four activities which are popular with commuters whilst in the act of commuting:
  • sleeping, with or without added dribbling;
  • reading;
  • listening to music;
  • staring vacantly into space (presumably whilst having some form of thought process).

Combinations of most of the above are possible and can be observed in commuters between the hours of 7am and 9am, or between 4pm and 7pm.

I choose to read. I find that people who appear to be reading look less gormless than the average commuter. Where possible, I prefer to appear to be something other than gormless. Moreover, I choose to read books. They are better suited than newspapers to the environment of the packed commuter train, and I find they are quite useful in preventing my becoming a victim of dribble-inducing sleep.

I've read some good books recently:

Half of a Yellow Sun Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I loved this wonderfully textured book, with its believable characters and witty observation, and it's written in handy commute-sized chunks - altogether a most satisfying tome for a commuter.

The Bonesetter's Daughter Amy Tan
Slow, unremarkable, almost ponderous start, which transforms into a gripping and sensitive read, all the more effective for the effort investing in wading through the treacle of everyday life to get there. By making the very ordinary and mundane such a large part of the book, the question "Just how many of the occurrences I dismiss as boring and mundane are the thinly veiled other face of the remarkable, painful and raw" is begged. All a bit thought-provoking for the commute.

The Interpretation of Murder Jed Rubenfeld
Sadly, this wasn't one of the good ones. Interesting, intriguing at times, and then ludicrous. Increasingly ludicrous. And only ludicrous. Having finished this book, as time goes by I feel more and more cheated for having spent precious time reading what had the potential to be great, but ended up as a collection of overly manipulated characters in a forced and contorted plot. It ended up in a dizzy mess after spo much early promise. Most disappointing...

Dublin Edward Rutherfurd
Massive. Doorstop. Of. A. Book. For some reason, I found this difficult to get into. Or maybe it's just a bit daunting for the daily commute and better suited to a day or two on the beach. Family/historical sagas - I love all of that stuff.

The Lovely Bones Alice Sebold
Clever. Nice. Sweet. Enjoyable. This is a bit odd, considering that the book is written in the voice of a dismembered child. The ending is a bit light and facile, but by then I needed something to smile about, and a packed tube isn't quite the place to find yourself reduced to floods of tears ten minutes before a meeting with a new customer.

The Kite Runner Khaled Hosseini
Amazing and beautiful. I can't quite place why it is special, but I'd certainly recommend it. Well-observed, realistic sense of location, feasible plot, and a surprizingly satisfying yet open finish. I almost had to prize this book out of my hands when I arrived at work each day, it's that good.

Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood Oliver Sacks
Reminded me why I love science. Also instilled in me new seeds of doubts for having decided a few years ago to take the money and run from science and all those things I enjoyed. Also made me wonder what I'd have ended up like if my interest in science had been nurtured from early childhood. I suspect I'd be verging on being a brilliant scientist and altogether socially misfitted. In fact, I would probably have become one of those people for whom their employment is a form of care in the community*. This book is also a good commute read at the moment because the monotone front cover clearly marked me as a non-reader of Harry Potter. However, I do worry slightly that given the levels of hype, non-knowledge of Harry Potter may one day become a criminal offence punishable by death.

Wasting Police Time PC David Copperfield
One of those books that makes me want to tear my hair out for a multitude of reasons, mainly due to the exposure of ludicrous wastes of time and public money. Such illiberal views. Fancy suggesting, in this day and age, that the purpose of policing is to keep the goodies safe and catch the baddies. Also has some dangerous ideas including the locking up of criminals. A bit too illiberal for me (being of the guardian-reading persuasion), but interesting background from another part of the public sector.

Lots of Home Office publications and work-related documents
I don't intend to talk about these, not least because whilst being frightfully necessary, they are as dull as ditchwater.

On the reading pile for the next few months are:
The Contortionist's Handbook Craig Clevenger
Kuhn Vs Popper: The Struggle for the Soul of Science Steve Fuller
Suite Francaise Irene Nemirovski
Fermat's Last Theorem Simon Singh
The Gift of Rain Tan Twang Eng
A Thousand Splendid Suns Khaled Hosseini
The Language of God: A Scientist Preserves Evidence for Belief Francis Collins
The Tiger in the Attic Edith Milton
The Master and Margarita Mikhail Bulgakov
A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian Marina Lewycka
The Ptolemies Book One: The House of the Eagle Duncan Sprott

I'm almost, almost looking forward to the commute...

*Last year, I was told by a gentleman who worked at the Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils (CCLRC, now defunct) that it was inadvisable to take any action which would put any of their scientists out of work, because their employment in government-funded research was essentially a form of care in the community for the academically useful but socially crippled. Casting my mind over some of the scientists I know, I was tempted to concede he may have had a point...


KindaBlue said...

Fritering away public sector cash? Sounds like my job...

But Why? said...

Fact 1: The public purse is spacious and capacious.

Fact 2: It contains lots of people's money.

Opinion 1: I would rather that money was spent on external consultants than on shiny new nuclear weapons.

Fact 3: I can, just about, sleep at night.

Opinion 2: Sharing the burden of diverting some of that cash to peaceful outlets definitely lessens those terrible feelings of guilt I have when I turn up to work each day.


But xx

Anna MR said...

Well - out of your to-read list, I've read Master and Margarita and The Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian...the former being a classic (and a good one), the latter being really rather a good and entertaining read.

I did read a collection of short stories by Nemirovsky, and although some were good, some were indifferent and some (incidentally, the ones which took place in Finland) just plain silly-feeling.

(NB - a warning for all writers - if you wish to place a story in an "exotic" location, do please make sure you get all your details right. There was one English writer who described Finland's white nights (in a novel which wasn't much good in the first place) with "The night was unbelievably light. Thousands of stars." Oi voi...)

Right, well, enjoy your reads, Mutta-tohtori. And no dribbling.


But Why? said...


Hello there. Your comment snuck in there under my radar. I must remember to check my email more often. Many apologies. I do hope you forgive me...

Who was the offending English writer? I'm not sure I like being referred to as a But(t?)doctor - people might get the wrong ideas. And it's not a job I covet.

I shall certainly be enjoying my commuting reading. Most extensively. It numbs the pain of working.

Oi Voi?

But xx

Anna MR said...

Ha. You are forgiven, Mutta. Not that I was cross with you in the first place, I have been in a hermit-like blog-hiding for a while. The name of the offending author escapes me, as does the name of the book. You're not missing, much, though...

(Mutta is a perfectly safe name to be called in Finnish, it has no unsavoury connotations.)


But Why? said...

(See? I have remembered to check my email. This is good.)

I am very glad that Mutta has no gluteal connotations in Finnish. But I do hope it's not a common name...

And Oi voi?? What does that mean??

Mutta xx