Books wish list (take 10 minutes): AI, trees, furious hearts, Rumpole’s poetry

We all have way too much to do, whether for work or all the rest of it. All the more reason, perhaps, to take 10 minutes here and there to read a book…

Relaxing? For sure. Develops our skills including writing? I’d say so. Reading fiction also helps us become more empathetic, I’ve often heard it said. (If it’s reasons you need.)

Here are a few books that I hope to get to in 2019. Ten minutes at a time.

Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

Max Tegmark, a professor at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), explores whether AI will help us to flourish or whether machines will outsmart us. Now there’s a question.

It was among former US President Barack Obama’s favourites last year, the Amazon blurb tells us. (One of my nephews recommends the book too, an extra reason for me to read it.)

Tegmark “writes with intellectual modesty and subtlety,” according to a review in The Telegraph. If that doesn’t count as high praise, I’m not sure what does.

Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees

I caught a few minutes of the BBC’s Judi Dench: My Passion for Trees over the holidays. (The actor plants trees in her Surrey garden to remember family and friends who have died. What a lovely idea.)

Whether Judi Dench’s woodland came first or my snooping in friends’ bookshelves when I stayed over – they would expect no less of me – no matter.

On those shelves I spotted Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees by conservationist Roger Deakin, who died in 2006, about two years before the book was published.

Wood has potential to disrupt dominance of concrete and steel

Not everyone on goodreads, for instance, raves about Wildwood, although the reviews there are generally positive and in some cases ecstatic.

Publisher Penguin describes it as “autobiography, history, traveller’s tale and incisive work in natural history.” (Deakin travelled through Britain, to Europe, Central Asia and Australia to explore our connection with wood and trees.)

“Take a moment and look at those trees. Admit it, you feel better already,” I write in another blog. (Quoting myself, how unfortunate.)

No doubt there are plenty of titles about trees since 2008, and before for that matter. If you have any to recommend, please add a comment at the end of this blog.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies

Standout storytelling. That has a nice ring to it.

This novel by John Boyne – he of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, the story of a Holocaust childhood – won the 2018 Glass Bell Award for standout storytelling.

Do you want to know a lot about a film before seeing it at the cinema? Nor do I, and it’s much the same with books. That Invisible Furies recounts someone’s search for belonging and, by all accounts, the book is funny with it – that’s enough for me.

(The novel comes recommended by a Christmas cat-sitter in Finland, if that helps sway you.)

The Heart’s… is set in Dublin and so the turns of phrase are bound to remind me of my Irish mum, who had a lovely way with language.

“Now,” I’ve often heard people say in Ireland when setting down a cup of coffee or a meal in front of a customer – Around the world in eight… expressions (blog)

From taking a couple of looks at the contents via “Surprise me”s on friend Amazon, the style seems light and accessible.

(While I’ve enjoyed Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf recently, at times I’ve also been looking forward to reading something lighter…)

“It’s not depressing, is it?”

Reasonable question. Someone asked me that when I recommended  Brooklyn, the book (then a film) by Colm Tóibin about a young woman leaving Ireland.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies doesn’t sound depressing to me. Time will tell.

Pamuk, PG Wodehouse, poetry

So many books, so little time?

Perhaps at long last I’ll get to read a novel by Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish writer and Nobel laureate. His first, The White Castle (bought six years ago for £1 in Petts Wood) has been neglected for too long.

Surely another of the bonkers but relaxing creations of PG Wodehouse (much loved by the broadcaster Terry Wogan) and hopefully another book by American novelist Anne Tyler.


More poetry? Yes please. (Excerpts from poems appear in my Halloween blog, among them: “Once I loved a spider // When I was born a fly” — Vachel Lindsay.)

Remember Horace Rumpole? The curmudgeonly lawyer. never far from a glass of plonk, was forever quoting poetry in the novels by John Mortimer.

Among my treasured old books is one that Rumpole mentions again and again: The Oxford Book of English Verse.

(My battered copy once belonged to my dad, who won it as a school prize in 1947. All the more reason to read more of it, more often…)

>>An event… National Poetry Day – ode to the road (ahead): 7 October


Stephen R Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is another “finally, read it!” note to self. And if being more efficient helps us all find that extra 10 minutes to pick up a book… please, count me in.

Update: here’s a post on LinkedIn about consolidating habits that you realise work in your favour… but you may feel slip-sliding away.

(Images from Pixabay by TanteTati, geralt, BarbaraALane, jplenio, Prawny, Clairelumley)

*What do you hope to read more of this year?
Any books to recommend?
Please add a comment below.*


10 comments on “Books wish list (take 10 minutes): AI, trees, furious hearts, Rumpole’s poetry

  1. Liz Watt on

    Thanks for this Brian. some lovely ideas for a different range of books for 2019! And I am delighted you have mentioned poetry too – not featured enough in my view.

    • Brian McGee on

      Many thanks for your comment Liz. No shortage of books to enjoy, that’s for sure. I hope you get to squeeze in those extra 10 minutes (or more) of reading here and there…

    • Brian McGee on

      Thanks a lot for your comment Shona. Yes, looking forward to reading (at least some of…) these books. I must remember to set aside those 10 minutes here and there!

  2. Keith on

    Yes Brian always worth pointing out the special experience which a good book delivers. I have just finished reading ‘Our House’ by Louise Candlish. I found it a delight not only for the time my eyes were focused on the pages but also for the way it invaded my life as I reflected on it as I went about my daily round; wondering what would happen next to the hapless central character and looking forward to the next opportunity to pick it up again.

  3. Stephen Shillito on

    Food for thought, or perhaps words for thought! Some inspiring suggestions that I’m sure will make it easier to find an extra 10 minutes to read more often. My current ‘read’ is ‘Bicycle Diaries’ by David Byrne, a cycle travelogue through various world cities. It’s really an excuse for the musician to muse on everything from architecture to the peculiarities of the British character.

    • Brian McGee on

      Thanks a lot for your comment Stephen. I confess never to have heard of David Byrne although I know of Talking Heads. An article about him in The Guardian ( includes a sentence that starts: “He has a selection box of laughs – simmering giggle, conspiratorial chuckle, strangled whinny”…
      I must read more about his “Global reasons to be cheerful” in that article. I wonder if Bryne’s ever met Steven Pinker, he of the upbeat (by all accounts) book “Enlightenment Now”?

  4. Carolyn Davies on

    I am intrigued by The Heart’s Invisible Furies and you’ve encouraged me to read it. Thanks for the recommendation. I also like the sound of David Byrne’s Bicycle Diaries. So many great books.

    • Brian McGee on

      Thanks a lot for your comment Carolyn. Yes, so many books to enjoy and discover. Still, better to have too many than too few… I add “read 10 mins, daytime” to my to-do list every morning and (sometimes) manage it. Thanks again.


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