David Blackburn

Sam Leith’s and Lewis Jones’ books of the year

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Sam Leith: The book that I’ve found myself telling other people about most has been Through The Language Glass, Guy Deutscher’s gripping pop-science book about linguistics and neuropsychology, describing how language shapes our perception of reality.

I also hope people look at the handsomely produced A Hedonist’s Guide to Art. I must confess an interest: I’ve contributed a couple of essays and it’s edited by a friend, Laura K. Jones. But it’s highly original, and stuffed with fascinating gobbets from contributors as diverse as Brian Sewell, Will Self, Gilbert & George and Genesis P. Orridge.

Lewis Jones: Chasing the Sun tells non-scientists all they might want to know about the sun, and scientists much that they probably did not know. Richard Cohen supplies plenty of dizzying figures — the sun is 32,000 light years from the centre of its galaxy of a hundred billion stars, and so on — but also considers our star from such perspectives as the mythological, literary and musical. There is an excellent chapter on sunbathing, an activity which was banned in Bournemouth until the early 1930s. Endlessly informative and diverting, Chasing the Sun is an encyclopaedic plum pudding of a compendium.

Keith Richards is not an obviously literary figure, but he turns out to be an avid reader and — with the help of James Fox — an entertaining writer. He and Mick have not composed a decent song together for several decades, and Life explains why: Mick has betrayed the blues (and the Stones) to go tarting after disco and reggae. But despite this and many other faults — snobbery, greed, inability to hold his drink — ‘Keef’ still loves him. He has vivid recall of the band’s great early years, of people met, ‘bitches’ bedded and drugs ingested. He is brilliant on the technical aspects of the music. And for all his piratical vice and criminality, he emerges as a basically decent bloke.