Sam Hooke

Bookshelf

Here’s some of what I’ve been reading over the years:

★ ★ ★ ★ ★The 99% Invisible City: A Field Guide to the Hidden World of Everyday Design, by Kurt Kohlstedt and Roman Mars
★ ★ ★The Story of the Southwold — Walberswick Ferry, by Dani Church
★ ★ ★Swallowdale, by Arthur Ransome
★ ★ ★ ★ ★Wandering Souls, by Cecile Pin
★ ★ ★ ★ ★The Second Jungle Book, by Rudyard Kipling
★ ★ ★To the Island of Tides, by Alistair Moffat
★ ★ ★ ★The Jungle Book, by Rudyard Kipling
★ ★ ★ ★ ★Swallows and Amazons, by Arthur Ransome
★ ★ ★ ★ ★Days at the Morisaki Bookshop, by Satoshi Yagisawa
★ ★ ★ ★ ★Mr Rosenblum's List, by Natasha Solomons
★ ★ ★The Village News, by Tom Fort
★ ★ ★ ★The Fens, by Francis Pryor
★ ★The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot, by Robert MacFarlane
★ ★ ★ ★ ★A World on the Wing, by Scott Wiedensaul
★ ★ ★ ★ ★The Tree Climber's Guide, by Jack Cooke
★ ★ ★ ★ ★Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson
★ ★ ★ ★ ★A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson
★ ★ ★ ★ ★The Power of Geography, by Tim Marhsall
★ ★ ★ ★ ★The Story of the British Isles in 100 Places, by Neil Oliver
★ ★ ★ ★ ★The White Cascade: The Great Northern Railway Disaster and America's Deadliest Avalanche, by Gary Krist
★ ★ ★ ★Mazama - The Past 125 Years, by Doug Devin
★ ★ ★ ★ ★The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse, by Charlie Mackesy
★ ★ ★ ★ ★The Father Christmas Letters, by J. R. R. Tolkien
★ ★ ★ ★ ★The Machine Stops, by E. M. Forster
★ ★ ★ ★ ★The Time Machine, by H. G. Wells
★ ★ ★ ★ ★The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, by J. R. R. Tolkien
★ ★ ★ ★ ★The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, by J. R. R. Tolkien
★ ★ ★ ★ ★The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, by J. R. R. Tolkien
★ ★ ★ ★ ★Longitude, by Dava Sobel
★ ★ ★ ★Never Split the Difference, by Chris Voss
★ ★ ★ ★ ★When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi
★ ★ ★ ★ ★The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, by Oliver Sacks
★ ★ ★ ★Only Human, by Sylvain Neuvel
★ ★ ★ ★Waking Gods, by Sylvain Neuvel
★ ★ ★ ★ ★Sleeping Giants, by Sylvain Neuvel
★ ★ ★ ★ ★Seveneves, by Neal Stephenson
★ ★ ★ ★ ★The Buried Giant, by Mazuo Ishiguro
★ ★Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens
★ ★ ★ ★ ★The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster
★ ★ ★ ★ ★Go Set a Watchman, by Harper Lee
★ ★ ★ ★ ★To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
★ ★ ★ ★ ★The Essex Serpent, by Sarah Perry
★ ★ ★ ★ ★All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque
★ ★ ★ ★ ★The Martian, by Andy Weir
★ ★ ★ ★ ★The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkien
★ ★ ★ ★ ★Mere Christianity, by C. S. Lewis
★ ★ ★ ★ ★The Screwtape Letters, by C. S. Lewis
★ ★ ★The Art of War, by Sun Tsu
★ ★ ★ ★Mud, Sweat and Tears, by Bear Grylls
★ ★ ★ ★Galapagos, by Kurt Vonnegut
★ ★ ★ ★Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
★ ★ ★ ★Mother Night, by Kurt Vonnegut
★ ★Something Happened, by Joseph Heller
★ ★ ★ ★ ★Getting Started with Dwarf Fortress, by Peter Tyson
★ ★ ★ ★World War Z, by Max Brooks
★ ★ ★ ★ ★Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
★ ★ ★ ★Incognito, by David Eagleman
★ ★ ★ ★ ★Breakfast of Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut
★ ★ ★ ★ ★A Brief History of Time, by Stephen Hawking
★ ★ ★ ★Dirk Gentley's Holistic Detective Agency, by Douglas Adams
★ ★ ★ ★ ★Hocus Pocus, by Kurt Vonnegut
★ ★ ★ ★ ★A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
★ ★ ★ ★ ★The Odyssey, by Homer
★ ★ ★ ★ ★The Toaster Project, by Thomas Thwaites
★ ★ ★The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
★ ★ ★ ★ ★Slaughterhouse 5, by Kurt Vonnegut
★ ★ ★ ★ ★Animal Farm, by George Orwell
★ ★ ★ ★ ★Of Mice & Men, by John Steinbeck
★ ★ ★ ★ ★The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger
★ ★ ★ ★ ★Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
★ ★ ★ ★ ★Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell
★ ★ ★ ★ ★Cat's Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut
★ ★ ★ ★ ★Catch-22, by Joseph Heller

Thoughts

Following are some quick thoughts on each book written shortly after finishing. I avoid writing any spoilers, as far as what I consider a spoiler to be. As a rule of thumb, if it appears in the blurb, I probably don’t think it’s a spoiler. That being said, sometimes blurbs do contain more than I’d like to know, so I’m probably even more restrained!

The 99% Invisible City

Around 2020 I fairly regularly listened to the 99% Invisible podcast, which talks about various interesting things that all mostly go unnoticed, and so I pre-ordered their book when it was announced. It’s the sort of book you just dive into at random, since each chapter is just a page or three, and is largely independant to the rest of the book. So at first I just cherry picked the chapters that sounded interesting and left it at that. Now in 2024 I read the book from cover to cover, and it is a very well curated book of interesting little stories. As implied by the title, each chapter focuses on a particularly interesting but hidden aspect of one or more cities, covering topics such as the decorated man-hole covers found in cities such as Seattle, to the fake building facades used to hide ventilation facilities in London and beyond. My one critique of this book is that, while some examples are from cities around the world, it generally has a very US-centric focus, with especially many examples being taken from San Francisco. Admittedly the podcast authors are based in that region, so it’s understandable that would be their bias, but I’m sure there’s a wealth of equally interesting stories from other cities around the world.

The Story of the Southwold — Walberswick Ferry

A short but interesting book covering the history of this relatively obscure ferry crossing, which has been operating on-and-off for several hundred years or more. The names of the original ferrymen are lost to time, but there is a surprising wealth of stories from the past few generations. The more recent accounts draw upon personal experience, with numerous accounts from individuals who operated or used the ferries, some in their own words. Some highlights were: learning that the river has changed course significantly over the years as the sea has shifted the shingle; that for a while it used to be a chain pontoon ferry rather than a row boat; that the pontoon ran into monetary troubles in large part because during the war soldiers used it without paying, and this issue was raised in parliament; and that depending upon who you ask, the ferry may have taken two or three circus elephants across! The book could do with some better editing, since the flow can be clunky at times and there are many grammar mistakes, but in a way this adds to the charm of a self published book about fairly niche local affairs. A good read for anyone who’s been to the area. The book is replete with pictures, in particular the chapter “Ferry Dogs” which, apart from an introductory sentence, is literally page after page of dog photos.

Swallowdale

It feels like a collection of slow paced short stories, rather than a complete novel like Swallows and Amazons. There is a lot of repetition, with a common pattern being that: an event will occur and be described by the narrator, then the characters will reflect on said event, and then the characters will relay said event to other characters. The book is about 600 pages, and it took the first 200 pages to really get going. However, Swallowdale is redeemed by having the same charm as its predecessor, as you follow the children through various little adventures as they explore the Lake District.

Wandering Souls

Read the first chapter at a bookshop in Ely and was instantly drawn in. A sincere, heartfelt and at times shocking story of a family who flee Vietnam in the late 1970s, which grapples with the emotional turmoil that unfurls, and other consequences. It is based upon real experience, and the author paints very vivid characters that really makes you empathise with their challenging situations. In addition, she skillfully uses several different narrative techniques that weave together, without wasting a single word, to unpack everything in a very powerful way.

The Second Jungle Book

A similar format to the first book, but a little darker in theme, perhaps because as Mowgli gets older and more powerful he carries out his will. It might have helped my enjoyment that this time I knew it was going to be a collection of short stories. I think I actually preferred this book, including the non-Mowgli stories. The most memorable non-Mowgli story was Quiquern, about Kotuko’s attempt to survive a perilous winter in the far north of Canada. Likewise, the most memorable Mowgli story was Red Dog, about Mowgli’s attempt to survive the deady onslaught of a pack of dholes. As a sidenote, the “Peace Rock” that appears in the 2016 film adaption of The Jungle Book appears in the first story, How Fear Came, in which we learn more about Shere Khan.

To the Island of Tides

Was not quite what I was expecting, I think I was hoping for something a bit more light-hearted and varied? It follows the journey of the author as he retraces the steps of St. Cuthbert (c. 634 - 687 AD) to Lindisfarne and onwards. Each chapter generally follows the format of the author doing a leg of the journey, weaving in some history, somewhat similar to The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot. Considered giving up, but stuck with it to the end. The theme of death begins to come up repeatedly, as the author finds themselves reflecting back on their life during this journey, and their legacy. Regardless, he paints an interesting picture of Lindisfarne, and I’d like to visit one day.

The Jungle Book

Having seen the 1967 film adaption, I naïvely assumed this book would follow the story of Mowgli, Baloo, Bagheera and Shere Khan. While this is the case for the first three chapters, the remaining four chapters follow different animals in unrelated short stories. One such story is about a seal in the Bering Sea who is determined to find a new home, safe from humans. I much preferred the Mowgli arc.

Swallows and Amazons

Wonderfully captures life as a children having adventures together in the Lake District. A timeless reminder about the joys of having a brilliant imagination.

Days at the Morisaki Bookshop

Purchased on a whim while visiting Winchester. Initially I was drawn in by the cover depicting a cosy looking bookshop, but then after actually reading the first chapter found I really enjoyed the writing style (which is captivatingly translated into English from Japanese by Eric Ozawa). The book is quite short (~150 pages), but packs a lot into each chapter. Chapters vary from a dozen pages to just two, but I found myself always wanting to read the next. There are lots of authentic moments between the characters, as we learn more about them, and they grow and help each other grow. A heartwarming and sincere read.

Older thoughts

Below this point, the thoughts were written in retrospect, sometimes many years after I read the actual book, using my best recollection.

Mr Rosenblum’s List

To become an English gentleman, Mr. Rosenblum must finish building his golf course, but his plans are troubled by the Dorset wooly-pig! A very pleasant and warm read, based on the real experiences of Jewish refugees trying to fit into life in England.

The Village News

Most of the book was very interesting. Each chapter focusses on a different village in the UK, and uses it to tell a story, or share some interesting facts about history or urban planning. The book progresses from the long past to the present day, and the final chapter looks at the future of villages. It would be better off without the final chapter, which proposes some strange ideas, such as suggesting that villages of the future should hide parked cars underground.

The Fens

A gift from my mother. I was missing the mountains after moving to Cambridgeshire from Seattle. Rather than bemoan the flatness, I thought it might help to learn more about my new surroundings, the Fens. If you care for the Fens, this book is thoroughly interesting, and covers much of the history and culture of the landscape. It is written by someone with a long, deep understanding of the area, who has conducted lots of archaeological excavations here. Introduced me to the term drove, which you sometimes see as a street name around these parts.

The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot

Started out promising with an interesting introduction to old paths in the UK, but soon turned to focus on the supposed memories of these places, and how they connect us to the past. Was not what I expected, had hoped for something a little more grounded. Did not finish.

A World on the Wing

Countless numbers of birds embark upon epic migrations each year. Each chapter weaves in stories from the author’s life-long experience of ornithology, and there is a recurring focus on the impact human behaviour has upon bird migration. A fantastic read if you are interested in birds.

The Tree Climber’s Guide

A gift from my grandad. In each chapter, the author climbs a different tree in London, and writes about the experience. A simple premise but surprisingly interesting! Enabled me to spot the London Plane trees in Seattle.

Treasure Island

Since it’s an island, I took this book to read whilst on holiday in Hawaii (the Big Island). Although the original publication was serialised (1881-1882), similar to Great Expectations, it does not suffer from the slow pacing: each chapter is exciting. I can imagine it would be an even more thrilling book if I did not already know the rough plot.

Great Expectations

The story was too slow paced for my liking. Perhaps this is because it was originally published in a weekly periodical (1860-1861), but Treasure Island was too, and was a much better read. Diligently finished the book, but it was not particularly enjoyable.

Something Happened

Given how much I enjoyed Catch-22, I took a chance on one of Joseph Heller’s other books. Unfortunately this one was not for me. I stuck with it simply to find out what did happen, but in hindsight it was not worth persevering.

Getting Started with Dwarf Fortress

Hoping to play some video games, I built a new PC, but the graphics card was dead on arrival. I began the RMA process to get a new graphics card, but it was going to take a few weeks. It turns out there are very few games you can play without a graphics card these days. Fortunately, Dwarf Fortress is one of them. With the help of this book, in those weeks I got proficient at Dwarf Fortress. I’m not sure how well the book has stood the test of time as the game has developed, but back then it was invaluable.

Brave New World

As many others probably did, I read this straight after Nineteen Eighty-Four, since it was described as a book about a different approach to controlling society, focusing more on the use of pleasure than force. Ultimately both are rooted in manipulation, with control of the many in the hands of the few.

Nineteen Eighty-Four

A timeless classic. This was my second read through. The opening line has always stuck with me:

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

Cat’s Cradle

This book got me back into reading again after a long hiatus. It was recommended to me via an ASMR video I stumbled across on YouTube. I had never read any Vonnegut before. His style of writing captivated me, and the story did not pan out as I expected, which made for a very interesting read.

Catch-22

This worn second-hand book had been gifted to me by my mother a few years earlier, but it remained unread. Then as circumstances changed, I found myself getting the train a lot and needed something to pass the time on the long journey. Having little money for purchasing books, I decided to give this one a go. From the first chapter I was hooked by the sensor of humour, though things take a darker turn as the story progresses.

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