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This is an unusual book that feels like it shouldn’t be unusual. A long poem or verse novel set in the post-WWII USA, The Long Take is accessible enough that I can easily imagine a world in which it kicked off a popular interest in its form. Perhaps if it had won the 2018 Booker, for which it was shortlisted, this wouldn’t feel like the kind of thing only bookish weirdos with English degrees read, novels-in-verse would be less of a rarity, and I wouldn’t have found this one in a remaindered book shop at a knock-down price.

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I’m always delighted to approach books (and other works) with as little knowledge about them as reasonably possible. (If you’re the same, and you haven’t read The City and the City, then please forgo reading this post, which contains conceptual spoilers if not plot ones.) This novel, which sat vaguely on my reading list for some time until I received it as a Christmas present, occupied a middle ground: I vaguely knew the central conceit of its setting, but nothing beyond that. How delightful, then, to discover that my understanding was wrong. I had The City and the City categorised as sci-fi; I thought its twin cities Besźel and Ul Qoma occupied the same physical space through some quirk of physics or magic. The novel doesn’t outright contradict this, but it certainly doesn’t require it: the two cities, and the skin between them, are seemingly constructed entirely in the minds…

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I promise I don’t only read books that Katie gives me. ‘How Life Reflects Numbers and Numbers Reflect Life’: you have to admire the attempt to make inevitable title for the sequel to Alex in Numberland make sense. A more pedantic author would have gone with Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alex Found There, but then again, a more pedantic author would probably have written a more tedious book. Personally, I would have gone with Do the Fucking Maths, but that’s tenuous even if you place the stress where you need to. Alex Through the Looking Glass seemed to be perfectly pitched for someone with my level of maths education. If this is intentional, it’s an absolute disaster. I got a good maths A-level without too much difficulty, but was sufficiently baffled by parts of my further maths course that I outright failed a paper and got an overall grade…

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The Knowledge – Lewis Dartnell

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Not about the streets of London. The Knowledge attempts to summarize the essentials for ‘rebooting’ civilization after a global catastrophe. About three chapters into The Knowledge, I went to a picnic for science communicatiors and played a game of Kubb1 with the author that lasted so long it seemed entirely likely that civilization would have collapsed by the time we finished. Late in the third hour, despite some valiant cheating by Dr Dartnell, we lost. The whole experience rather took the edge off the book’s sense of scholarly authority. But it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of it. Dartnell’s explanations are clear and succinct in that way that not only makes new material easy to understand, but makes reading about things you already know strangely enjoyable. And the premise – that this is a world-rebuilding manual for the survivors of a global catastrophe – is a compelling framework for the reader…

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