Read Shayne Carter’s Dead People I Have Known

Dead People I Have Known - Victoria University Press

Last night I stayed up late to finish Shayne Carter’s Dead People I Have Known. I even wrote a short review on Good Reads:

Early in the book Shayne Carter says “I sometimes forget that I’m a rock star…When I do what I can do, anyone with half a brain can see it.” This is absolutely true. Only a rock star could tell their story this way.

Me, on Shayne Carter’s book on Good Reads

I’ve had the Carter catalogue on in the background as I’ve worked over the last week and revisited some more modern Flying Nun acts like Street Chant and Fazerdaze. It’s been nice to get back into all that good music.

Books I liked in 2020

I set a goal to read 30 books in 2020 and ended up finishing 32 (if you count the X-Men). Here are some that stuck with me.

Fiction

Spook Street by Mick Herron

This is the fourth volume in the Slough House/Jackson Lamb series and you’ll want to start with Slow Horses. The books are spy novels, but the spies are people who have somehow fucked up their careers or are generally useless but it’s too unseemly to fire them. I also completed the following couple books, too. The writing is fantastic and the narration on Audible is perfect.

Universal Harvester by John Darnielle

Universal Harvester sounds like a metal album by a band who’s logo looks like it’s made of very sharp tree branches that will cut you and give you splinters too. The premise–people are returning videos and noting that “there was something on it”–and prose speak to an unsettling thriller or even horror. It’s different to that and much closer to the kinds of stories alluded to in Mountain Goats songs.

Normal People by Sally Rooney

What are the odds you haven’t read Normal People. Or seen the mini-series? The book won lots of awards, has appeared on every best-of list two years running, and is every bit as engaging and enjoyable as anyone says. I finished it in a day or so last summer

The Crow Road, Use of Weapons, and, The Hydrogen Sonata by Iain Banks

Iain Banks is probably my favourite author. It took me years to get into his work now I’m collecting all his novels. I read Espedair Street years ago and enjoyed it. I had looked at his science fiction, written as the Iain M. Banks, and my allergy to impossible to pronounce sci-fi names put me off. A few years ago I took a second look with a second hand copy of Look To Windward and fell in love with Bank’s prose. The Crow Road is a family saga with a whodunnit running through it, Use Of Weapons features a cool literary technique, and They Hydrogen Sonata is a fantastic look at a story from the point of view of The Minds of The Culture. You don’t need to read any of Bank’s books in any particular order. I think any of these is a great place to start.

Non-fiction

Falter: Has the human game begun to play itself out? by Bill McKibben

I want to say I picked up Falter after listening to Bill McKibben talk to Kim Hill on RNZ but I can’t find anything on the RNZ website to say that he did. No matter. In Falter McKibben warns that the forces that changed how we live, work, and govern, that continue to accelerate climate change and inequality, are now working on technologies that can change, fundamentally, what it means to be human. It’s not a fun read by any means, but McKibben does end on a somewhat hopeful note.

The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman

I started The Daily Stoic in late 2019 when I needed a change. Every day–well, most days–I jotted a few sentences about the previous day in a notebook and read a passage while I sipped my morning coffee. I can’t say that I now a more stoic person, but I do think the book helped with *waves in the general direction of everything* this year.

Nine Lies About Work by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall

I wasn’t a people manager this year but I spent a lot of time thinking about the ups and downs of the role. The authors drift pretty close to polemic territory at times, but like Peopleware or The DevOps Handbook, This book is mostly affirms the idea that most good managers hold: time and attention are the only things that really make a positive impact.

Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman–Including 10 More Years of Business Unusual by Yvon Chouinard

I read this as I wanted to hear more about the history and philosophy behind Patagonia and the life of it’s founder. I stayed for the discussion of the values that dive the company and how they affect all the decisions from strategy to low level implementation. Great book.

Read the Jackson Lamb novels

A birdy tells me you’ve got one of mine in your lock-up.”
“That would be River Cartwright.”
“Yes, but don’t blame me. I think his mother was a hippy.”
“Smoke a lot of dope while he was in the womb, did she? That might explain today’s dipshit behaviour. And I thought he was one of your cleverer boys.”
“Mind like a razor,” Lamb agreed. “Disposable.

Per Warren Ellis’s advice I’ve been working my way through Mick Herron’s Jackson Lamb/Slough House novels over the last four months. Here’s Mr Ellis’s summary:

The Security Service, known popularly as MI5, sometimes can’t outright fire people.  Political reasons, operational reasons.  But it would still like to get rid of them. So it puts them in Slough House, a dismal set of offices intended to make those consigned there so miserable that they just quit.  Those people are known as slow horses. Slough House, slow horse.  Slough House is run by Jackson Lamb, himself a slow horse of mysterious provenance, an impressively offensive creature who looks a bit like Timothy Spall if you stuffed Timothy Spall with old pork fat and left him out in the rain for six weeks.

I liken the novels to Len Deighton’s Bernard Samson novels but brought into the Brexit age and with a bit of The Office thrown in. They are enormously enjoyable; funny and smart and, occasionally, shocking.

I’ve actually been listening to the novels via Audible. All so far have been narrated by Seán Barrett, who lends something almost like a sense of authenticity to the story. Each passage of the book is written from someone’s point of view and Barrett is easily able to capture the differences in tone and perspective. And his Jackson Lamb is perfect.

I have two novels to go out of the six currently in print. There hasn’t been a stinker yet. Highly recommended.

Cuba Libre by Elmore Leonard

I went to the local second-hand bookshop looking for an Elmore Leonard novel, any Elmore Leonard novel. I was looking for the kind of dialogue that Quentin Tarantino looks up to. I was looking for a character like Raylan Givens in Justified

Cuba Libre has a lot going for it: set in Cuba when America invades. Corrupt local soldiers. Honest local cops. A cowboy with a fast draw that gets him into trouble. A beautiful and smart blonde a long way from home. A soldier unjustifiably detained. A greedy plantation owner and the old fixer that works for him. A dumb henchman. A cold-heart-ed killer.

Unfortunately the book is only just the sum of its parts. I’ve followed Ryan Holiday’s advice and given it a few weeks to settle in and I like the book much less than I did when I finished it. The flaws have become more obvious: Some characters and plot points are superfluous. The dialog is exposition heavy rather than snappy. I didn’t buy the romantic storyline at all.

Look, the story is fine. It would be a decent holiday read. But this probably isn’t the Elmore Leonard I was looking for. 

This post is syndicated to GoodReads.