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173. Books Bought & Read, September 2018…

173. Books Bought & Read, September 2018…

19 bought, 9 read.

After breaking my streak with a positive net gain last month, it wasn’t even close in September. Not even 50%, (aka 2:1, proportionally speaking. Sorry, I spent the past two weeks intensely studying maths for the first time in around two and a half decades in order to pass a grad school entrance exam, which both limited my available time for pleasure reading and left me with numbers and symbols floating in front of my eyes from which I have yet to recover).

The Big Issues raised by this month’s blog: do the books I received for trading in excess copies during a vicious Bookshelf Cull count as ‘Books Bought’ for the month? And is it fair, knowing I won’t surpass my Books Bought total for the month, to not read the last few pages of a couple of novels I was nearing the end of, knowing I can then count them towards next month’s tally when I finish them on October 1st? Who knew keeping a book blog would open up such a Pandora’s Labyrinth of moral quandaries?! (And more to the point, without spellcheck who knew it was spelt ‘quandaries‘ and not ‘quandries‘?)

 

 

With slim pickings on the Books Read front, I have time and space to mention that the Books Bought column was boosted by the discovery of some beautiful covers on rereleased books. These were mainly those delightful Penguin Classic Deluxes, which I continue to hunt down faster than Pokémon in Central Park, although I only seem to be finding the 600+ page editions which are putting a significant strain on our bookshelves, (see: the complete Sherlock Holmes novels and the 50th anniversary edition of Bulgakov’s ‘The Master And Margarita,’ neither of which I may ever even read, having read them both already. But they sure look stunning on the shelf).

Following on from last month’s discovery of Tao Lin, I picked up and had a crack at his breakout novel, ‘Taipei’. Confusing, frustrating, stylistically interesting but with a lead character I completely failed to connect with, I can see why he has become both such a popular and a divisive figure, (a brief internet search immediately brought up a review from NPR containing the following: “Taipei, Lin’s newest book, is…(a)t once very bad and very good, it swings between dullness and wild, excessive beauty.” It is headlined: ‘Taipei is Lifelike – But That’s Not Necessarily A Compliment.”)

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On a completely different fictional plane, I have loved tracking down the bite-size books in Melville House’s incredible The Art of the Novella series, and this month I picked up and imbibed two more: a so-so Edith Wharton tale of marital folly, and Prosper Mérimée’s delightful ‘Carmen‘, inspiration for the opera and a thoroughly enjoyable 19th century romp around Spain featuring derring-do, men fallen from grace (for a change), and the laughing, cavalier eponymous heroine, a Roma traveller with a knack for getting whatever she wants. Highly entertaining.

The Prophet‘ was a gift from family friends which I had somehow never gotten around to reading, and there were some moving and relevant sections to this nearly century-old parable/fable (parafable?) I’m not sure the poetry is especially outstanding but, like Paolo Coelho, Gibran’s work presents something for seekers, and for every facet of their personalities at every important point of their life, which isn’t a bad way to achieve (eventual) popularity. This ‘something-for-everyone‘ nature of the book may explain why it’s not always looked upon seriously by critics.

‘Dream Cities’ was disappointing; Frankl’s holocaust-inspired memoir and exposition of his psychoanalytical method ‘Man’s Search For Meaning‘ was confusingly simultaneously depressing and uplifting; and R.Crumb’s baseball card-depictions of musical legends dating to the late 19th century was less informative than I’d hoped and simply pretty.

But my favourite book of the month was an early work by celebrated Spanish writer Javier Marías, discovered purely as it was put out by The Believer’s book publishing branch, and as I’m sure you all know by now I trust The Believer with my life, (or, if not my life, at least a significant portion of my finances). A faux-19th century travel adventure, ‘Voyage Along The Horizon‘ instead spends more time analysing the role of unreliable narrators and dissecting short story and  detective tropes than providing actual adventure, (not to mention conclusions), which the Italo Calvino fan in me loved.

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And with that, after being behind on my blogging for most of 2018, I find myself in the rare position of being up to date with my literary comings and goings, a state which I hope to maintain.

So you probably won’t hear from me again until next December…

 

 

Books Bought, September 2018

Rules Of Civility (Amor Towles)

The Joy of X: a guided tour of numbers, from one to infinity (Steven Strogatz)

The Gift: creativity and the artist in the modern world (Lewis Hyde)

You Are Not A Gadget: a manifesto (Jerome Lanier)

On Boxing (Joyce Carol Oates)

The Touchstone (Edith Wharton)

Big Sur (Jack Kerouac)

A Sentimental Journey (Laurence Sterne)

Ceremony (Leslie Marmon Silko)

McSweeney’s Quarterly, issue.51 (various)

The Book Of Other People (ed.Zadie Smith)

A Farewell To Arms (Ernest Hemingway)

The Master And Margarita (Mikhail Bulgakov)

Sherlock Holmes: the novels (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

The Absolute Sandman, Vol.II (Neil Gaiman)

The Absolute Sandman, Vol.III (Neil Gaiman)

Fragile Things (Neil Gaiman)

Carmen (Prosper Mérimée)

The Complete Fairytales (George MacDonald)

 

Books Read, September 2018 (highly recommended books in bold)

Dream Cities: seven urban ideas that shape the world (Wade Graham)

Voyage Along The Horizon (Javier Marías)

Taipei (Tao Lin)

Man’s Search For Meaning (Viktor Frankl)

Heroes Of Blues, Jazz And Country (Robert Crumb)

The Prophet (Kahlil Gibran)

*********, ***! (***** ****) (Book redacted pending future update)

Carmen (Prosper Mérimée)

The Touchstone (Edith Wharton)

 

 

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Posted by on December 8, 2018 in BOOKS

 

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172. Books Bought & Read, August 2018…

172. Books Bought & Read, August 2018…

A dozen books on each side of the scales this month – the (more or less) dodecahedral theme continues!

(In case you’re wondering what dodecahedrons have to do with anything, my mathematical leanings of late are explained by the fact that this was written after the events described at the start of next month’s blog, which haven’t been released yet, and won’t for many months, but will explain everything. If you’re still reading next month. Or, for that matter, if you’re even still reading now, after this overly-long and unnecessarily opaque paragraph.)

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Skimming the Books Bought column this month I’m pleased with how especially eclectic it is, from psychology to theatre autobiogs, from classic kids books to classic literature. But, as with the Books Read, one topic is coming to dominate both lists and that is: business, due to my (hopefully) impending return to what Americans quaintly refer to as ‘school’ (what I would previously have referred to as Uni). I was in New Orleans for an interview for business school, so Amazon and Whole Foods CEOs Jeff Bezos and John Mackey accompanied me, mingling with former N’orlins Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

John Mackey’s classic business manifesto ‘Conscious Capitalism‘ was an interesting insight into what sets businesses which care apart from those which only care about profits, and interestingly Amazon featured several times.

The conclusions both jibed and jarred slightly with Brad Stone’s insight into what made the online giant so great (and so feared). Clearly Amazon is a company which focuses on the big picture and customer experience more than anything else, but in doing so Bezos regularly appears to screw suppliers and producers (not to mention regular rumblings of the dissatisfaction of their own staff, from senior positions all the way down to those working at ‘Fulfilment Centers‘), key components of Mackey’s conception of Conscious Capitalism.

Politics and business clearly go hand in hand, so it was fitting that I moved on from these two books to Mitch Landrieu’s story of how (and, more importantly, why) he removed Civil War era statues from my potential future home, New Orleans, in the face of some pretty horrific opposition. Anyone who still believes that Civil War monuments are there for anything but a constant reminder to African Americans of their place should be encouraged to read this short, personal, excellently written memoir.

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I needed some palate cleansing fiction after all that heavy fare, and I found it in spades with one of the best books I’ve read all year and a second, close contender.

With Russia in the news so much lately, it seemed fitting to take a Russian friend’s advice and finally dive into Amor Towles‘s ‘A Gentleman In Moscow,’ one of those books everyone seemed to be reading on the Subway at some point. Clever, erudite, poignant, not constrained by its constraints (it is essentially set in a single hotel in St Petersburg over several periods), and politically astute, don’t be put off by the length of this novel and treat yourself to a good old fashioned moral tale, beautifully served up.

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As if things couldn’t get any better fiction-wise, my old friend Nick Hornby casually recommended a new author to me in the monthly Believer article he writes on his fictional forays, (which, I’ve just discovered, is available FOR FREE online. But you should also buy the magazine, which is one of my favourite things in the world, and you can pick up Nick’s compilations of these articles too).

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When one of my all-time favourite authors casually mentions that “The Wife is one of my favourite novels of the twenty-first century,” (in an article which proceeds: “…but The Female Persuasion has gone straight into my library of favourite novels ever,” adding yet another book to the infinite ‘To Buy‘ list), it won’t take me long to track it down and, given its almost novella length, devour it.

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And, as always, he wasn’t wrong.

The thoughts of a wife who has frittered away her talent supporting her unfaithful writer husband unfurl backwards and forwards through time, and although the twist in the ending wasn’t much of a surprise to me, the poignancy and feeling in the writing were masterful. I’m looking forward to reading much more Meg.

Finally this month, I was encouraged to read Tao Lin’s ubiquitous ‘Trip,’ the gorgeous-covered literary autobiog which has been staring at me from every hipster bookstore shelf and table for months.

The style was unique, a bizarre blend of journalistic detachment and self-exposition; the contents informative and thought-provoking; and the overall effect disorienting.

Lin charts his fascination with Terrence McKenna, a fascinating traveller, experimenter, ethnobotanist, social advocate, and modern-day Timothy Leary. This serves as a diving off point for years of research into drugs, the self, nature, reality, all of which Lin charts in minute detail with the combined passion of a searcher for truth and the dispassion of a scientist, charting exact dosages of which drugs he consumes over time, be they ‘illegal,’ ‘over the counter’ or the everyday staples of contemporary life from coffee to cigarettes.

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Seeing the world as a continuum as opposed to binaries of good/bad makes for a messy but fascinating ride, and Lin’s introspective style is amplified by the feeling that he is trying to connect with the world but often failing, (a most modern malaise, perhaps). But emerging from the fever dream of ‘Trip’ I learned more than I have from most books, and was left with far more questions than answers, always a good thing.

I guess those hipsters know a good book when they see one.

Books Bought, August 2018

Joan Of Arc: a life (Mary Gordon)

The Wolfman and other cases (Sigmund Freud)

50 Inventions That Shaped The Modern Economy (Tim Harford)

Failing Up: how to take risks, aim higher, and never stop learning (Leslie Odom Jr)

The Challenge Culture: why the most successful organizations run on pushback (Nigel Travis)

We Are All In The Dumps With Jack And Guy: two nursery rhymes with pictures  (Maurice Sendak)

Desire (Haruki Murakami)

A Life Less Throwaway: the lost art of buying for life (Tara Button)

The Battle For God:  (Karen Armstrong)

Mentored By A Madman: the william burroughs experiment (A.J.Lees)

Beautiful And Impossible Things: selected essays (Oscar Wilde)

Sea Prayer (Khaled Hosseini)

 

Books Read, August 2018 (highly recommended books in bold)

Conscious Capitalism (Mackey & Sisodia)

The Wife (Meg Wolitzer)

In The Shadow Of Statues: a white southerner confronts history (Mitch Landrieu)

The Everything Store: jeff bezos and the age of amazon (Brad Stone)

Trip: psychedlics, alienation, and change (Tao Lin)

The Double Death Of Quincas Water-Bray (Jorge Amado)

The Where, The Why, And The How: 75 artists illustrate wondrous mysteries of science (ed. Lamothe, Rothman, Volvovski & Macaulay)

100 Poems That Make Grown Men Cry: 100 Men on the words that move them (ed.Holden & Holden)

Sea Prayer (Khaled Hosseini)

Desire (Haruki Murakami)

A Gentleman In Moscow (Amor Towles)

Failing Up: how to take risks, aim higher, and never stop learning (Leslie Odom Jr)

 

 
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Posted by on October 27, 2018 in BOOKS

 

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171. Books Bought & Read, July 2018…

171. Books Bought & Read, July 2018…

10 bought, 13 read, and around a dozen seems to be my average literary intake lately: maybe 13 should be considered a reader’s dozen, rather than a baker’s dozen.

My book purchases this month came almost exclusively from California, where we were exploring everything from the Redwood National Forests, home of the world’s tallest trees, to Esalen, home of the world’s leading physical and mental retreats (as reported in last month’s blog).

More specifically, they all came from San Francisco, indeed from one street, nay one store on Valencia Street: Dog Eared Books, packed with new and used books of all genres, and most excitingly for me just about every McSweeney’s issued book, magazine, or special in varying degrees of limited edition-ness and signed state.

While I was visiting Apple’s new HQ, (and not getting in, as I hadn’t been told you need an appointment to visit The Spaceship, so I had to make do with the former location at 1 Infinite Loop), I immersed myself in Apple Lore by bringing with me the iconic Walter Isaacson biography of Steve Jobs, (incredibly informative and surprisingly easy to read), as well as a fun side of the life of my fellow countryman and Apple design genius (Sir) Jony Ive.

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I also bought a lovely new Apple pen, (of the non-digital variety) only on sale at their Cupertino store, which is at once over-priced, utterly gorgeous, and my new favourite writing implement.

Both fans and haters of Apple products will find none of that last sentence surprising.

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While we were travelling down the Pacific coast we stayed at a beyond-beautiful Air BnB, and the hosts had kindly left behind a fittingly adorable book I had read years previously, all about the Danish sense of ‘hygge,’ or…well, there’s no real translation for it. Cosiness comes close, and there’s a lot to do with wood and fireplaces and friends and generally hanging out, but to really understand it you’ll either have to be Danish, or read the book, (either of which I recommend highly).

And then I read his follow-up, which I’d never seen before, on why Danes (and Scandewegians generally) are so damn ‘lykke,’ or happy. Why should you trust the author, Meik Wiking, (apart from the fact that he is basically called Mike the Viking, surely one of the most awesome names ever). No real reason. Except that he happens to be literally the CEO of an institute which researches happiness named, perhaps slightly prosaically, The Happiness Research Institute.

To go with my newfound path to happiness I thought I’d have a side salad of health, provided (via my brother- and sister-in-law) by Dr.Rangan Chatterjee. He has written a common-sense medical self-help book on how to eliminate the modern scourge of chronic disease (diabetes, depression, high blood pressure, etc) without resorting to the other modern scourge of over-medication.

If you’re looking for spoilers, it boils down to a few basic things which it can never hurt to be reminded: Do exercise. Be thankful. Eat healthily. Sleep well.

So simple, yet not always so simple to do.

But somewhat easier when you’re on the road, with loved ones, taking in the beauty of the world’s most majestic flora.

 

Books Bought, July 2018

A Gentleman In Moscow (Amor Towles)

The Double Death Of Quincas Water-Bray (Jorge Amado)

Sanshiro (Natsume Soseki)

Burmese Days (George Orwell)

Make Good Art (Neil Gaiman)

The Wife (Meg Wolitzer)

The Geography Of Happiness (Eric Reiner)

The Where, The Why, And The How: 75 artists illustrate wondrous mysteries of science (ed. Lamothe, Rothman, Volvovski & Macaulay)

Information Doesn’t Want To Be Free: laws for the internet age (Cory Doctorow)

The Pickle Index (Eli Horowitz)

 

Books Read, July 2018 (highly recommended books in bold)

The Little Book Of Hygge: the danish art of living well (Meik Wiking)

How To Make Disease Disappear (Dr.Rangan Chatterjee)

Mind Over Money: the psychology of money and how to use it better (Claudia Hammond)

Steve Jobs (Walter Isaacson)

Jony Ive: the genius behind apple’s greatest products (Leander Kahney)

Make Good Art (Neil Gaiman)

The Little Book Of Lykke: secrets of the world’s happiest people (Meik Wiking)

100 Poems That Make Grown Women Cry: 100 women on the words that move them (ed.Holden & Holden)

Shantytown (César Aire)

Information Doesn’t Want To Be Free: laws for the internet age (Cory Doctorow)

Strangers In Paradise (Vols. I, II & III)

 
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Posted by on October 21, 2018 in BOOKS

 

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