148. Books Bought & Read, September 2016…

148. Books Bought & Read, September 2016…

15 more booksworth of information is now rattling around somewhere in my brain, and 62 more booksworth of books is now most definitely not rattling around in our apartment.

This is due to the life-changing news, (for me, at least), that after a 7-hour battle I finally emerged victorious in a war with four interlocking IKEA Billy bookshelves.

Everything feels better already.

(Fittingly, the best book I ‘read’ this month was pure shelfporn: Gary Johnson’s ‘Bookshelf,’ 250-pages of incredible, often ridiculous book-storage which I will never be able to afford!)


Domestic bliss…

By the time we speak next, I should be the proud holder of a license to give tours in the once-Royal city of New York, so again this month I have mainly been studying the weird and wonderful world of Manhattan-based trivia, (ever wondered where the word ‘cookie‘ comes from?  Or what the longest ever fall from an elevator shaft which didn’t result in death was? Come join one of my tours to find out!)

I re-read a fun book on the Founding Fathers, and ploughed through a fairly fascinating, Pulitzer Prize winning 550-pager on the construction of Rockefeller Center, (not a sentence I ever thought I’d hear myself say), which didn’t leave myself much time for recreational reading.

But it was worth it to learn that they spent weeks debating whether to call it Rockefeller ‘Center’ or ‘Centre’.


All I managed to consume away from NY history was a comic or two, one more in the wonderful TED Talks series, (this one on why it’s fun to meet strangers, and how to do it), and another in the similarly quirky ‘Modern Self-Help’ vein from The School of Life on ‘How To Age‘ (sample secret: imagine yourself in another 20 years, and feel better now!)

I left myself plenty of time for recreational buying, however.

62 books came home with me, almost exclusively from my volunteer shifts at the wonderful Housing Work Bookstore and Cafe. (And no, I take no pleasure in realising that I bought one more book this month than I did last month. Well, OK, maybe a little.)

On Mondays I help beautify the actual store and recommend books to unsuspecting customers, but on Tuesdays they let me loose sorting the incoming boxes of donated books, and it’s almost a case of one for you, one for me

I really think I may be their best customer.


This is what I do with my spare time in NYC…

Thanks to the folks at the store, I have finally complete my Lemony Snicket collection, and added considerably to my latest addiction: Penguin Classic Deluxe Editions. Any ‘classic’ you find on the ‘Books Bought’ list, from Austen to Joyce, probably came from this gorgeous collection, with their ruffled edges and glimmering covers.

This continued a trend of many of the books bought being ‘doubles,’ copies I already have to give to friends as gifts, or to keep because they come in nicer covers than the ones I already own. After finally completing my collection of McSweeney’s short story collections last month, I am halfway to accumulating another complete set: they just look to good on the shelf to refuse!


I’ve realised that most of you probably don’t have any desire to read through an obscenely long list of what books I’ve bought each month, so as of this month that list has been relegated to the very end of the blog, only for the diehard fans.

In the meantime, enjoy your reading, and stay tuned for an upcoming series of blogs on my favourite bookshops in NY!

Books Read, September 2016 (Highly recommended books in bold)

Great Fortune: the epic of rockefeller center (Daniel Okrent)

The Elements Of Music: melody, rhythm and harmony (Jason Martineau)

When Strangers Meet: how people you don’t know can transform you (Kio Stark)

A Place Of Remembrance: official book of the national september 11 memorial

Batman: the dark knight returns (Frank Miller)

A Room Of One’s Own (Virginia Woolf)

How To Age (Anne Karpf)

A.D: new orleans after the deluge (Josh Neufeld)

McSweeney’s Comedy By The Numbers:  the 169 secrets of humor and popularity (Eric Hoffman & Gary Rudoren)

Unicorn Being A Jerk (C.W.Moss)

Why Unicorn Drinks (C.W.Moss)

A Wild Haruki Chase: reading murakami around the world (various)

Bookshelf (Alex Johnson)

Founding Brothers: the revolutionary generation  (Joseph J.Ellis)

The Great American Citizenship Quiz (Solomon M.Skolnick)

Books Bought, September 2016

A Wild Haruki Chase: reading murakami around the world (various)

The Art Of Procuring Pleasant Dreams (Benjamin Franklin)

When Strangers Meet: how people you don’t know can transform you (Kio Stark)

The Girl Who Married A Lion (Alexander McCall Smith)

Poetic Meter And Form (Octavia Wynne)

Classical Cocktails (Salvatore Calabrese)

Einstein’s Riddle: riddles, paradoxes and conundrums to stretch your mind (Jeremy Stangroom)

How To Talk About Places You’ve Never Been: on the importance of armchair travel (Pierre Bayard)

The Gene: an intimate history (Siddhartha Mukherjee)

The Great American Citizenship Quiz (Solomon M.Skolnick)

Unicorn Being A Jerk (C.W.Moss)

Why Unicorn Drinks (C.W.Moss)

Vacation (Deb Olin Unsworth)

The Seven Good Years (Etgar Keret)

Tortilla Curtain (T.C.Boyle)

Bagombo Snuffbox (Kurt Vonnegut)

The Power Broker: robert moses and the fall of new york (Robert A.Caro)

A Series Of Unfortunate Events No.9: the carnivorous carnival (Lemony Snicket/Daniel Handler)

A Series Of Unfortunate Events No.10: the slippery slope (Lemony Snicket/Daniel Handler)

A Series Of Unfortunate Events No.11: the grim grotto (Lemony Snicket/Daniel Handler)

A Series Of Unfortunate Events No.12: the penultimate peril (Lemony Snicket/Daniel Handler)

A Series Of Unfortunate Events No.13: the end (Lemony Snicket/Daniel Handler)

Dracula (Bram Stoker)

Just So Stories (Rudyard Kipling)

Peter Pan (J.M.Barrie)

The Picture Of Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde)

McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern No.38

The Jaguar Smile (Salman Rushdie)

Moving To Higher Ground: how jazz can change your life (Wynton Marsalis)

Good Bones And Simple Murders (Margaret Atwood)

What Is The What (Dave Eggers)

The WPA Guide To New York City (various)

Presenting Shakespeare: 1,100 posters from around the world

Shiny Adidas Tracksuits And The Death Of Camp (various)

Sandman No.10: the wake (Neil Gaiman)

How The Other Half Lives (Jacob Riis)

Kristin Lavransdatter (Sigrid Undset)

I Wear The Black Hat: grappling with villains (real and imagined) (Chuck Klosterman)

City Beasts (Mark Kurlansky)

The Haunting Of Hill House (Shirley Jackson)

How To Think Like An Entrepreneur (Philip Delves Broughton)

A.D: new orleans after the deluge (Josh Neufeld)

Tradition (Daniel Khalastchi)

Gilliamesque: a pre-posthumous memoir (Terry Gilliam)

McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern No.22

McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern No.35

McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern No.36

McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern No.37

Creating Room To Read (John Wood)

Salt (Mark Kurlansky)

Blankets (Craig Thompson)

Habibi (Craig Thompson)

The Dubliners (James Joyce)

Pride And Prejudice (Jane Austen)

That Is All (John Hodgman)

Moominpappa’s Memoirs (Tove Janson)

Paris Out Of Hand: a wayward guide (Karen Elizabeth Gordon)

Sound Bites (Alex Kaprianos)

Black Swan Green (David Mitchell)

Hard-Boiled Wonderland And The End Of The World (Haruki Murakami)

What To Think About Machines That Think (ed.John Brockman)

The Sound Book: the science of the sonic wonders of the world (Trevor Cox)

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Posted by on October 16, 2016 in BOOKS


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147. Books Bought & Read, August 2016…

147. Books Bought & Read, August 2016…


So my plan to spend a few weeks catching up on the past year of blogging didn’t quite work. On the contrary, when I finally sat down this morning, killing time before a flight to Colorado, (to visit my in-laws and, I presume, learn how to ski), I discovered that not only had I not made a dent in the missing months, but three more had passed in the meantime.

Here, at least, is August’s reading tally.

(Admittedly there are 14 hours of August left, but I will do my best not to finish any books between now and midnight; since the two which made the cut for this trip are both dense, 400-page history books, (on the life of Alexander Hamilton and John D.Rockefeller, Jr, respectively), even I should be in little danger of falsifying this month’s total.)

Whilst still awaiting my US visa, I had enough free time to read 22 books.

Awkwardly, I am now spending two of my free seven days a week volunteering at an incredible bookshop, (or ‘bookstore,’ as I still refuse to call it), which I will be writing about MUCH more in a later blog.

This is the equivalent of allowing Cookie Monster to work in the Oreo warehouse, and I am therefore getting fat on books and, since I get a frankly ridiculous volunteer discount, this volunteer job is costing me a fortune.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.


That’s how come I took home 61 books this month.

A few new trends emerged, from converting my nighttime, bed-bound reading from US history books to comics/graphic novels, (discovering the beautiful and disturbing work of Charles Burns and the minimalistic hispter-chic of Daniel Clowes), to a passion for short, educational non-fiction, covering everything from the basics of modern science to a call to feminism, and including Chip Kidd’s manifesto of mystery, (the first and last of these three being from a TED Talks series, which I will have to hunt down until I’ve caught them all).

Dragging around giant history tomes, (the thickest of which, ‘Gotham,’ I finally finished this month, making my bag 1,200 pages lighter each day), led to me buying a variety of ‘classic’ paperbacks to read on the move or on trains. The sole criteria for them was that they be no more than around 130 pages long, and therefore not add to my backache.

Many were authors I vaguely knew and never gotten around to reading, (the wonderfully creepy Doris Lessing, the fairly dull Eudora Welty), whilst one or two were names I had never heard of, but were recommended by prizes, (mainly the Nobel), title content, (in the case of one completely misleading football reference), or simply their slimness.

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Vintage International and Farrar, Straus & Giroud proved to be a good furnishers of this size of book, (and I recognise that, when you have favourite publishers based on their dimensions, you are probably far too far down the rabbithole).

Lagerkvist’s ‘Barabbas‘ was simple and fascinating, reminiscent of  Colm Tóibín’s masterpiece ‘The Testament Of Mary,’ whereas Peter Handke’s ‘experimental‘ novel, despite cover comparisons to Camus’s ‘L’Étranger,’ was just frustrating.

One final drawback to working in a bookshop is that sometimes your dreams come true...and they’re not always cheap. I have a list of half a dozen lifetime goal books I wish to obtain at some point before I die, and I discovered one of them in our ‘Rare Books’ dungeon this month: the very first edition of McSweeney’s quarterly, an ultra rare find which completes my collection.



It was actually the second book on my list which I’d uncovered down there in consecutive months. ‘What was the other?’ I hear you cry.

You’ll have to drop by next blog to find out.



Recommended books in the ‘Books Read‘ section are in bold

Books Bought , August 2016

Ghost World (Daniel Clowes)

Hangsaman (Shirley Jackson)

The Italians (John Hooper)

Barabbas (Pär Lagerkvist)

Sag Harbor (Colson Whitehead)

Super Sad True Love Story (Gary Shteyngart)

Native Son (Richard Wright)

Cleopatra (Stacey Schiff)

The Optimist’s Daughter (Eudora Welty)

Judge This (Chip Kidd)

The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett)

Where The Wild Things Are -Russian version (Maurice Sendak)

McSweeney’s no.1 (various)

Building Stories (Chris Ware)

Under Wildwood (Colin Mely & Carson Ellis)

The Great Bridge: the epic story of the building of the brooklyn bridge  (David McCullough)

Cloud Atlas (David Mitchell)

Snow White (Donald Barthelme)

Leaving The Atocha Station (Ben Lerner)

Farenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury)

The Odyssey (Homer)

The Iliad (Homer)

The Aeneid (Virgil)

Ethan Frome (Edith Wharton)

War And Peace (Leo Tolstoy)

The Fifth Child (Doris Lessing)

McSweeney’s no.31 (various)

The Laws Of Medicine (Siddhartha Mukherjee)

Collected Stories (Roald Dahl)

Flatland: a romance of many dimensions (Edwin Abbott)

How To Think Like An Entrepreneur (Philip Delves Broughton)

A Room Of One’s Own (Virginia Woolf)

Once Upon An Alphabet (Oliver Jeffers)

The Buck Stops Here: the presidents of the united states (Alice & Martin Provensen)

Dance, Dance, Dance (Haruki Murakami)

South Of The Border, West Of The Sun (Haruki Murakami)

Hard-Boiled Wonderland And The End Of The World (Haruki Murakami)

Jason And The Argonauts (Apollonius of Rhodes)

We Should All Be Feminists (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)

Buddha (Karen Armstrong)

On The Road (Jack Kerouac)

A Man Without A Country (Kurt Vonnegut)

The Double (José Saramago)

The Goalie’s Anxiety At The Penalty Kick (Peter Handke)

Charlie And The Chocolate Factory (Roald Dahl)

The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood) x2

Muhammad: prophet for our time (Karen Armstrong)

A Place Of Remembrance: official book of the 9/11 memorial

The Heart Goes Last (Margaret Atwood)

Persuasion (Jane Austen)

The Trial (Franz Kafka)

The Metamorphosis & Other Stories (Frank  Kafka)

The Last Interview And Other Conversations (Kurt Vonnegut)

The Secret History (Donna Tartt)

The Elephant Vanishes (Haruki Murakami)

McSweeney’s Presents Comedy By The Numbers: the 169 secrets of humor and popularity (Eric Hoffman & Gary Rudoren)

This Is Water: some thoughts, delivered on a significant occasion, about living a compassionate life (David Foster Wallace)

How To Age (Anne Karpf)

Johnny Got His Gun (Dalton Trumbo)

The Elements Of Music: melody, rhythm & harmony (Jason Martineau)


Books Read, August 2016

13 Days: a memoir of the cuban missile crisis (Robert Kennedy)

Black Hole (Charles Burns)

Ghost World (Daniel Clowes)

Barabbas (Pär Lagerkvist)

Judge This (Chip Kidd)

The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen: black dossier (Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill)

The Laws Of Medicine (Siddhartha Mukherjee)

The Optimist’s Daughter (Eudora Welty)

Palestine (Joe Sacco)

Gotham: a history of new york to 1898 (Mike Wallace & Edwin G.Burrows)

Safe Area Goražde: the war in eastern bosnia, 1992-95 (Joe Sacco)

We Should All Be Feminists (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)

How To Think Like An Entrepreneur (Philip Delves Broughton)

The Fifth Child (Doris Lessing)

The Ladybird Book Of Mindfulness (Jason Hazeley & Joel Morris)

A User’s Guide To Neglectful Parenting (Guy Delisle)

Redshirt’s Little Book Of Doom (Robb Pearlman & Anna-Maria Jung)

The Goalie’s Anxiety At The Penalty Kick (Peter Handke)

Lost New York In Old Postcards (Rod Kennedy Jr.)

Mastermind: how to think like sherlock homles (Maria Konnikova)

The Last Interview And Other Conversations (Kurt Vonnegut)

This Is Water: some thoughts, delivered on a significant occasion, about living a compassionate life (David Foster Wallace)


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Posted by on August 31, 2016 in BOOKS


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146. Booklyn, New York!

It has been a long time since this was anything like a weekly blog, and even monthly went out the window a while ago, but starting from next week, I hope to change all that.

Writing my book took up most of 2015, and after it was published earlier this year studying the complete history of New York (and the USA) in order to start work shortly as a tour guide took up the rest of my time. Essentially, this blog has been book-blocked by the likes of this 1,300page monster:


But I finally finished it last night, and to celebrate (along with a glass of whiskey), I am getting back into the blogging business, (different from any other kind of business in that I don’t actually make any money from it. Although someone once sent me a proof copy of their new book, which was nice).

This entry is also to tell you one of the many, many things I love about living in Brooklyn: people often leave unwanted books on the pavement, (or ‘sidewalk,’ as I’m now legally obliged to call it).

In ones or twos or a dozen, free-range or in cardboard boxes, and not (always) nonsense books: I’ve picked up a couple of Nobel Prize winners and some classics literally on the corner outside my apartment. Wednesday appears to be a particularly good day for stoop-surfing for books, apparently.

Why do people do this? I have no idea. But, obviously, I’m not complaining…


Image courtesy of Diamond Valley College

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Posted by on August 18, 2016 in BOOKS


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