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2017 In (Book) Review…

2017 In (Book) Review…

2017 was a year of insane politics and crazy weather, upgraded apartments and new careers, social upheaval and governmental shenanigans, but mainly books. Lots and lots and lots of books.

584 of them to be precise.

One bought for every degree in a circle, (although five short of a one-a-day average, which is somewhat upsetting to the statistician in me), and one bought for each of the sum of the cubes of 2 and 6 (thanks Wikipedia...)

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360 bought, 224 read, and 2 Ikea Billy Bookshelves added in our cosy and surprisingly organised new dwelling, but that only tells half the story.

Halfway through the year, I made a promise to at least pretend to try to only buy as many books as I could read, and for the second half of 2017 I more or less managed to stick to this mid-year’s resolution. The damage had been done in the first two months of the year, however, as between book fairs and taking far too many shifts at my volunteer job at the Housing Works Bookstore, I had brought home 115 books.

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A new job at Apple meant less shifts for me (and more books available for the customers!), but I did find time to meet some of my literary heroes. February saw me join thousands of fans for an evening with Neil Gaiman, (which is always a treat), the same month in which I accidentally became George Saunders‘ escort into his own event with Colson Whitehead when we arrived at the Upper West Side Y at same time. Saunders went on to win the Booker Prize for his other-worldly ‘Lincoln In The Bardo,’ whilst Whitehead’s ‘The Underground Railroad‘ had recently won the Pulitzer Prize. It was quite an evening.

I discovered new favourites, (from James Baldwin to Simon Rich, Bill Buford to Carson McCullers, Tove Jansson to Ted Chang), and rekindled love affairs with old flames, (from Vonnegut to Borges, Gaiman to Murakami, Oliver Jeffers to Etgar Keret).

Below, I took the time to painfully eliminate all but one for each month to leave a Best Of 2017 list for you to read, enjoy, criticise, investigate, read yourselves, or ignore completely, and having gone that far I picked a favourite from the shortlist of 12. Being a Libra, however, I couldn’t pick just one, and hedged with a favourite fiction and non-fiction for the year.

Thoughts? Prayers?

Stay with me in 2018, and we’ll see if I can’t read more books than I buy for the first time since I had pocket-money and could buy my own reading material.

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BOOKS of the YEAR:
The Last Girlfriend On Earth: and other love stories (Simon Rich)
Among The Thugs (Bill Buford)
All My Friends Are Superheroes (Andrew Kaufman) (beating out Gaiman’s ‘Norse Mythology’, an hon.mention)
The Botany Of Desire: a plant’s-eye view of the world (Michael Pollan)
Lincoln In The Bardo (George Saunders) (a nose ahead of B.S.Johnson’s ‘House Mother Normal’, another hon.mention)
Jun The Member Of The Wedding (Carson McCullers)
Jul March: Books I, II & III (John Lewis, Andrew Aydin & Nate Powell)
Stories Of Your Life And Others (Ted Chiang)
The Summer Book (Tove Jansson)
Prisoners Of Geography: ten maps that tell you everything you need to know about global politics (Tim Marshall)
Here We Are: notes for living on planet earth (Oliver Jeffers)
England Made Me (Graham Greene)

 

FAVOURITE BOOKS of the YEAR:

The Summer Book (fiction), Prisoners of Geography (non-fiction)

Books Bought (by month): 43,72,44,24,22,33,32,18,20,21,18, 13 (Total: 360)

Books Read (by month): 14,20,26,10,25,23,33,13,20,16,19, 15 (Total: 224)
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Posted by on January 8, 2018 in BOOKS

 

163. Books Bought & Read, December 2017…

163. Books Bought & Read, December 2017…

It took some willpower, (and weather cold enough to keep me curled up indoors with some honeybush tea for most of December, rather than riffling through beaten-up boxes in New York’s plentiful secondhand bookeries), but I managed to end 2017 as I had just four times in the previous year: reading more books than I bought, and continuing to eat my way into my almost infinite To Read pile, like an over-stuffed diner at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Thirteen books made their way to my once-more filled Billy Bookshelves, whilst fifteen were consigned to the past tense, and this month saw one of the highest ratio of recommended books I’ve shared for a long time. More than half of them I deemed good enough to make your winter warming list, from poetry beautiful in every sense to literature by a teenager; old English classics to modern American legends.

Firstly, (and fittingly, given the weather), this was a Penguin-heavy month. I discovered four further additions to my Penguin Classic Deluxe menagerie (Machiavelli, an African Achebe trilogy, the previously unknown Ernst Jünger, whose novel about World War I now sits incongruously next to a colourful Anne of Green Gables), whilst reading one old favourite and one complete newcomer to me, (although I only bought T.S.Hinton’s work from my new friend ‘D’ on the Southeast corner of Union Square due to its shiny 50th Anniversary Penguin Classics cover).

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Considering it was written by a 16-year-old, ‘The Outsiders‘ was an astonishingly gripping, insightful story of the grey areas between right and wrong, good and bad, rich and poor, mature and im-, and I thoroughly enjoyed the short read, a feeling reproduced days later (although with less surprise) when I revisited one of my literary crushes and polished off Graham Greene’s ‘England Made Me,’ also in a Penguin edition.

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Reading Greene again after several years was the literary equivalent of stalking an ex-girlfriend on Facebook, making sure that Greene is still beautiful but depressed, fascinating but pessimistic. I may have learned more about love, life, and how they slowly wear you down than from any other author.

Greene made up for the first ever (slightly) disappointing Borges collection I have encountered to date, (‘Brodie’s Report‘ being more prosaic than his usual magical tales), but that was washed away by the surreal, raw energy of another unknown, this time the wonderful weirdness of the prose poem ‘Grief Is The Thing With Feathers‘ in which crows come to some sort of life in the place of a loved one who has left it. Breathtakingly powerful.

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My brother has several original pieces of art on his apartment wall from a graphic novel I had never read, but due to its title had been sitting on my wife’s bookshelf since I bought her a dedicated copy at ComicCon a few years ago. This winter seemed like as good a time as any to tackle the toe-breaking omnibus compilation of Terry Moore’s ‘Rachel Rising,’ and it was a dark and funny roller-coaster of a tale, part Gaimany magic and part Stoppardian riposte and repartee, with some pretty twisted moments.

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Chuck Klosterman’s decade’s worth of collected articles (titled simply: ‘X‘) are cultural artifacts which remain a joy to browse, whilst Christopher Hitchens‘ interviews are a time capsule from another political era which seems like it was centuries ago. Both were thought-provoking and highly enjoyable, (balanced by the tale of Trumpian Brexiting which even my favourite living philosopher, A.C.Grayling, failed to make anything but depressing, if informative, in ‘Democracy And Its Crises‘).

This month, I learned how much magic goes into movie-making from legendary (and highly readable) film critic David Thompson; the danger that comes with overthrowing the Egyptian government from Bassem Youssef, (‘The Egyptian Jon Stewart‘); the wonders of a support system for the broken-hearted in yet another excellent Ted Talk book; the views on war (as if I didn’t know them already) of the ever excellent Kurt Vonnegut; and ploughed through one of the most beautiful (if awkward to read) books with a newly illustrated Walt Whitman, which proved that art and literature can go hand in hand. But sometimes shouldn’t.

And with these pages, and these words, I end the month, and the year, and invite you to follow me on another twelve month journey through the books which cross my path in 2018.

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Happy reading!

 

Books Bought, December 2017

Storm Of Steel, (Ernst Jünger)

Cuba On The Verge: 12 writers on continuity and change in havana and across the country (ed.Leila Guerriero)

Song Of Myself (Walt Whitman, illustrations Allen Crawford)

Anne Of Green Gables (L.M.Montgomery)

Grief Is The Thing With Feathers (Max Porter)

How To Fix A Broken Heart (Dr.Guy Winch)

The Last Interview (Christopher Hitchens)

Snoopy: Not Your Average Dog (Charles M.Schulz)

Walden and Civil Disobedience (Henry David Thoreau)

The Prince (Machiavelli)

The Outsiders (T.S.Hinton)

Democracy And Its Crisis (A.C.Grayling)

The Africa Trilogy (Chinua Achebe)

 

Books Read, December 2017

X (Chuck Klosterman)

Rachel Rising (Terry Moore)

Grief Is The Thing With Feathers (Max Porter)

The Last Interview (Christopher Hitchens)

How To Fix A Broken Heart (Dr.Guy Winch)

How To Watch A Movie (David Thomson)

Armageddon In Retrospect (Kurt Vonnegut)

Democracy And Its Crisis (A.C.Grayling)

The Outsiders (T.S.Hinton)

Song Of Myself (Walt Whitman, illustrations Allen Crawford)

Brodie’s Report (Jorge Luis Borges)

Snoopy: Not Your Average Dog (Charles M.Schulz)

England Made Me (Graham Greene)

Think Like A Freak (Steven D.Levitt & Stephen J.Dubner)

Revolution For Dummies: laughing through the arab spring (Bassem Youssef)

 

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2018 in BOOKS

 

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162. Books Bought & Read, November 2017…

162. Books Bought & Read, November 2017…

There are a number of questions I often get asked: which is my favourite country? Where can I find those funny wireless earphone thingies? Are you still in bed? Please could you stop doing that? etc. But one of the most common is: How do you find time to read so many books? And whilst there are many answers, (my supernatural ability to simultaneously read and walk without falling foul of open manhole covers; my ability to brush my teeth without getting pastesplatter on my reading material, etc), the simple one is: I sometimes find myself reading very short books.

TED talks are, for me, the best example of this form, sharing short, punchy stories and ideas on paper with the same panache as in their short talks. This month I learned the benefits of living on Mars, the fact that birds are dinosaurs, and that the plight of refugees can be even more horrific than I realised. (The fourth one I read was the first of the series which really did nothing for me, but that’s not a bad hit rate considering how many of them I have gone through).

Before Ted, there was the School of Life series from Alain de Botton, and I found another useful and informative copy of their modern-day How To series on leadership which inspired me to either become a leader, or follow leaders, I haven’t quite decided which yet.

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Comics and graphic novels are another way to pad out my stats, but they are not gratuitous: I will read absolutely anything put out by the embarrassingly talented Oliver Jeffers, and always come away having learned something and/or feeling better about myself/the world/humanity.

I only learned recently that we are (essentially) neighbours in Brooklyn, and so it wasn’t too surprising to hear that he was appearing at The Strand to promote his latest masterpiece, ‘Here We Are.’

More surprising was showing up to the event to learn that he had brought some mates along to help, and that those mates included the creator of the Humans of New York project, the creator of the wonderful Brain Pickings website (“An Inventory Of The Meaningful Life‘), and, of course, Chelsea Clinton. And his infant son. And artisanal, book-covered cupcakes.

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Short stories remain one of my favourite ways to pass a few hours in bed before sleeping, and I can’t believe it had taken me so long to grab a copy of my hero’s latest compilation, ‘Men Without Women‘ by Haruki Murakami, (although halfway through several of the more prosaic than usual tales I often found I had read them before, in the New Yorker or another compilation. The pitfalls of the avid fan!).

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A new name in short stories (and surely one of the greatest in literature, if not the world generally) fell into my lap this month when I cracked the spine on the complete tales of Breece D’J Pancake, (his first and last names are (somehow) real; the unpronounceable middle name the result of a misprint of his middle initials). Sparse, descriptive, inconclusive, set in the midwest in fields and farms and bars and cars and often full of silence and thought, a shopping list of things which would normally turn me off a story, these were so powerful and heart-wrenching that they overcame all of those negatives to leave me depressed and in awe, sometimes all I ask for in literature.
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An underwhelming Dorothy Parker play, a bizarre Gabriel Garcia Marquez novella, a beautiful (and beautifully bound) Mark Haddon poetry compilation, a fascinating but pessimistic sequel to the excellent Sapiens, the excellent history of the Daily Show…my interests rambled from cover to cover in November, but came together in ‘The Undoing Project.’

In the interests of learning everything I can about this world we live in, I will read anything Michael Lewis writes, and when what he’s writing is the history of two of the modern age’s greatest thinkers, I’m sold. One of my favourite books ever (and most-read blog to date) Daniel Kahnemann’s ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow was the culmination of events described in Lewis’s work, and a fascinating read, if less specialised than previous works.

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Thanks to shot-sized books of facts, short stories, poetry and graphic novels, I managed to outread my purchases by the finest of margins, with 18 books bought and 19 read. Will this trend continue into the final month of the year? There’s only one way to find out…

Books Bought, November 2017

The Book: a cover-to-cover exploration of the most powerful object of our time (Keith Houston)

The Ladies Of The Corridor (Dorthy Parker & Arnaud D’Usseau)

The Talking Horse And The Sad Girl And The Village Under The Sea (Mark Haddon)

How To Be A Leader (Martin Bjergegaard & Cosmina Popa)

Here We Are: notes for living on planet earth (Oliver Jeffers)

A Child Of Books (Oliver Jeffers)

Rescue: refugees and the political crisis of our time (David Miliband)

The Misfit’s Manifesto (Lidia Yuknavitch)

Coyote vs Acme (Ian Frazier)

Sweet (Yotam Ottolenghi & Helen Goh)

How To Watch A Movie (David Thomson)

The Book Of Spice: from anise to zedoary (John O’Connell)

The Daily Show (The Book): an oral history (Chris Smith)

The Age Of Caesar: five roman lives (Plutarch)

How We’ll Live On Mars (Stephen L.Petranek)

Why Dinosaurs Matter (Kenneth Lacovara)

Men Without Women (Haruki Murakami)

Fables, Volume 5: the mean seasons (Bill Willingham & Mark Buckingham)

 

Books Read, November 2017 (highly recommended titles in bold)

A Child Of Books (Oliver Jeffers)

Here We Are: notes for living on planet earth (Oliver Jeffers)

The Talking Horse And The Sad Girl And The Village Under The Sea (Mark Haddon)

How To Be A Leader (Martin Bjergegaard & Cosmina Popa)

Rescue: refugees and the political crisis of our time (David Miliband)

The Misfit’s Manifesto (Lidia Yuknavitch)

Coyote vs Acme (Ian Frazier)

Educating Peter: how anyone can become an (almost) instant wine expert (Lettie Teague)

Homo Deus: a brief history of tomorrow (Yuval Noah Harari)

Fables, Volume 5: the mean seasons (Bill Willingham & Mark Buckingham)

How We’ll Live On Mars (Stephen L.Petranek)

Memorias De Mis Putas Tristes (Memories Of My Melancholy Whores)(Gabriel García Márquez)

Why Dinosaurs Matter (Kenneth Lacovara)

Men Without Women (Haruki Murakami)

The Daily Show (The Book): an oral history (Chris Smith)

The Undoing Project (Michael Lewis)

Stardust: illustrated edition (Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess)

The Ladies Of The Corridor (Dorthy Parker & Arnaud D’Usseau)

The Stories Of Breece D’J Pancake (Breece D’J Pancake)

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on December 27, 2017 in BOOKS

 

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