So, yeah, Christmas at home. Getting called “Robert” by six people in three days, spending all day indoors with a bad net connection and stacks of books. Turkey, potatoes, vegetables, Cadbury’s Roses, no alcohol, terrible television (except for the Animatrix on TG4), going to bed four hours before my body clock wants to sleep because lying in the dark thinking idly is pretty darn attractive, considering the alternatives. I’m back now in Dublin with our DSL connection; gosh, how did that happen?
The State of the Art, Iain M. Banks: This is a collection of short stories, with the title story apparently the first Culture piece. (For those unfamiliar with Banks’ sci-fi work, the Culture universe is one of the more thought-through ones; AI is a long way from the Skynet of the Terminator, there’s no great need to work, they consider whether they should intervene in the civilisations they come across, etc.) It’s workable. I’m glad I didn’t read it first of them; the rough edges are still there, and some of the other short stories betray Banks’ identification with the Guardian readers tribe, something I think is petty—I read widely enough that I’m impatient with anyone who thinks you are what you read, because if so, I’m pretty diluted.
English as we speak it in Ireland, PW Joyce, 1991 reprint of a 1910 book, present from the mother: Joyce was born in 1827, grew up speaking Irish and English, and spent most of his working life as a (primary school) teacher. The book is the fruit of many letters and twenty years spent writing down phrases and usage as he lived his life, and sometimes it does read as that. The scholarship, in the modern sense, is execrable; sources are barely given, nor dates, nor indications as to the extent of usage of various idioms. That said, though, it’s great. It advances the theory that the voiced and unvoiced dental fricatives—that is, /ð/ and U+03B8—end up, colloquially in Irish English, as the “d” and “t” of Irish. Which works for me, because I always had the feeling growing up that, for example, “thigh” and “tie” got pronounced differently, though not differently enough for it to be phonemic, else “turd” would have made it into our vocabulary.
Monstrous Regiment, Terry Pratchett: Funny, has weaknesses, but reads so easily that it’s hard to begrudge him them. If you like Pratchett, you’ll like this. Some people don’t, I believe, and they won’t. Meh, their loss.
Bravemouth, Pamela Stephenson: A year in the life of Billy Connolly, narrated by his wife, formerly of Not the Nine O’Clock News and currently a psychotherapist in Los Angeles. All the bits about Connolly are great; the wife comes across as a hippy flake (“I’ve never understood how Billy regards tennis as an upper-class sport ...”), but her interjections on that theme are rare enough that the book remains worth reading despite her.