170. Books Bought & Read, June 2018…

170. Books Bought & Read, June 2018…

17 bought, 11 read: failing to meet my quota for the second month running, I lost a bet with myself. I’ll put the money to good use though: buying more books…

With The Once and Future King (the thickest of the set) finished, I have finally made my way through Penguin’s beautiful (and toe-threateningly heavy) perspex-encased SciFi collection of six classic novels.

This was one of the strangest, although least science fiction-y, of the set: four uneven books linked through time and characters, swaying back and forth between a youthful King Arthur, vindictive witches, and valiant young knights, but for me reaching its pinnacle with Book 3 which follows the hapless hero Lancelot in his attempts not to destroy the Kingdom.


In a completely different mold, ‘World Without Fish,’ from journalist extraordinaire Mark Kurlansky, is a wake-up call for our future. The cartoon/science info blend may be written for kids but this book is relevant for anyone who cares about the future of our oceans, (and our dinner-plates).


I was led astray by John Searbrook’s ‘The Song Machine‘, thinking it would be one of those fascinating, sweepingly historic non-fiction books on a single topic I have such a penchant for. Instead, it was one of those fascinating, narrowly-focused historic non-fiction books on a single topic which I love just as much.


Where I thought I’d be learning about the evolution of pop music over the decades and genres, instead I was treated to the story of how a bunch of Swedes have essentially dissected music into microseconds of aurally pleasing hooks and rhythms and ‘written’ (or constructed) just about every major pop song of the past twenty years, from Britney to Backstreet, Pink to Perry, Avril to Aguilera.

My favourite nugget of knowledge explained why so many lyrics lately don’t quite seem to make sense these days. It’s not wily ambiguous lyricism from the songwriters: its Swedes not quite having a grasp on the idiom. Ever wondered why ‘(Hit Me) …Baby One More Time sounded so…well, abusive? Apparently the authors knew that you ‘hit someone up’ for their phone number, but not that you didn’t ask people to ‘hit you’ when you wanted them to call. And voilà: a pop hit was b(j)orn.

(Sorry: couldn’t resist!)


My guilty pleasure this month was a return to my youthful days of sports card collecting, when I liked nothing better than ripping open a pack of Upper Deck basketball cards and seeing which players I got. (Full disclosure: there’s still little I like better than ripping open a pack of sports cards and seeing who I got!)


‘The Card’, picked up in the $1 section of a Manhattan second-hand bookmonger’s, was a surprisingly interesting and readable history of cardboard collecting, from its innocent 19th century roots to its Wall Street-esque 1980’s gluttonous boom and bust, through the lens of the millionaire collectors (I’m looking at you, Wayne Gretzky…) and shady certifiers who took over (and, it seems, corrupted) what was once a simple, childhood hobby.

But the most interesting book I got through this month was a gift from family friends in South Carolina: ‘Stealing Fire’, a wide-ranging look at how people from a range of lifestyles (from athletes to CEO’s, Navy SEALs to Burning Man attendees) find different ways to expand their consciousness and achieve a state of ‘flow.’ From mind-expanding drugs to extreme sports, I wasn’t expecting to have my mind expanded quite as much as it was, and can recommend this to all those seeking a little something extra in life.

And what little extra did I get out of the book? Among other things, the fact that my name is not only Hebrew for ‘gift‘, (which I’d known all along of course), but also Greek for the same thing, (which I’d only had a vague inkling of), and that Pandora’s Box contained, linguistically, ‘pan’ (all) ‘doron’ (δωρον – gift), or all the gifts of the world.



Books Bought, June 2018

A History Of The Middle East (Peter Mansfield)

Kidnapped (Robert Louis Stevenson)

Rip Van Winkle and other stories (Washington Irving)

The Time Machine (H.G.Wells)

Flowers Of Anti-Martyrdom (Dorian Geisler)

The Glass House (Salman Rushdie)

The Card: collectors, con men, and the true story of history’s most desired baseball card (O’Keefe & Thompson)

White Sands (Geoff Dyer)

The Road Through The Wall (Shirley Jackson)

Conscious Capitalism (Mackey & Sisodia)

Revolutionary Suicide (Huey P. Long)

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

The Evolution Of Everything : how new ideas emerge (Matt Ridley)

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

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

We Were Eight Years In Power: an american tragedy (Ta Nehisi-Coates)

The Complete Novels (Jane Austen)


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

Dinner At The Center Of The Earth (Nathan Englander)

Classic Penguin: cover to cover (ed.Paul Buckley)

The First Four Notes: beethoven’s fifth and the human imagination (Matthew Guerrieri)

Vladimir Nabakov (Jane Grayson)

World Without Fish (Mark Kurlansky, illustrated by Frank Stockton)

The Design Of Alain Grée

Stealing Fire: how silicon valley, the navy seals, and maverick scientists are revolutionizing the way we live and work (Kotler & Wheal)

The Song Machine: inside the hit factory (John Seabrook)

Flowers Of Anti-Martyrdom (Dorian Geisler)

The Card: collectors, con men, and the true story of history’s most desired baseball card (O’Keefe & Thompson)

The Once And Future King (T.H.White)

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Posted by on October 9, 2018 in BOOKS


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169. Books Bought & Read, May 2018…

169. Books Bought & Read, May 2018…

15 bought, 13 read: a valiant effort given that we spent much of this month travelling everywhere from South Carolina to the south of England, (although a lot of the ‘Books Read’ column were thin volumes and kids books, the latter of which weren’t even being read for the first time. But they still count. They still count, I say!)

I was stocking up on geographically-relevant reading material for an upcoming California business trip, (hence the Apple– and Amazon-based biographies bought), and I discovered that one novel by a recently discovered favourite was based in a location we were soon to visit there, so I delved into it early for ‘research’.


Edward St Aubyn’s ‘On The Edge,’ was a wry look at visitors to the Esalen Institute, where we were soon to spend a wonderful weekend of yoga and onsen-soaking. It may not have been quite up to the literary heights of his Patrick Melrose novels, (and I can’t wait to find time to delve into the Cumberbatch-fuelled Showtime adaptation sometime soon), but was nonetheless a sharp and easy-to-read account of new-age mysticism meeting contemporary cynicism.

(WARNING: the following trailer may contain strong language*)

(*And by ‘may,’ I mean ‘does’**.)

(**Specifically, the f-bomb.)

(Right at the start.)

(And most of the way through.)

Just when I think I can’t love the people at Penguin publishing any more, they surprise me with yet another gorgeous series. This month I ticked off three more of the Penguin Lives biographical series, truncated in both length and physical size (they don’t quite fit right on my shelves, but they’re so cute I forgive them).

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Bitesize they may be, but not short on facts: how many of you could name the second most biographised person in history, (after J.H.Christ)? I can now, having read Paul Johnson’s ‘Napoleon: a life.‘ (For those of you in a pub quiz league: you’re welcome.)

As someone who still feels a vicarious rush when seeing all of the new pencil cases and binders on sale in shops before school starts again every Summer, you can imagine how much I nerded out on James Ward’s history of stationery. (And for those of you who always mix up ‘stationary‘ and ‘stationery,’ I’ll let you into a secret from linguist extraordinaire (and author of a frankly ridiculous 100+ books on language) David Crystal: pEns are stationEry, and cArs are stationAry. (Again: you’re all welcome!)


And then, as if to balance out this frivolity, I flew through Merle Miller’s expanded thoughts on what was apparently  “the most widely read and discussed essay of the decade,” written in response to a homophobic article in Harper’s Magazine in 1970. Humanising, heart-breaking, forceful, and as relevant as ever.


I finished the month with my favourite palette cleanser: short stories, and this time from a minimalist master of the genre I’d somehow never delved into before.

Raymond Carver’s collection (with possibly one of my favourite titles of all time) provided everything I’ve come to expect (and love) from the genre in the 1970’s, from Richard Yates to Donald Barthelme: pauses so big you can read entire tales into them, unstated sexual tension you could not only cut with a knife but package and sell, and ne’er a moral in sight.


And all these years, for some reason, I’d thought he was a writer of detective stories. Given the endless sense of (unsolved) mystery in his stories I guess, in a way, he is.

Books Bought, May 2018

The General In His Labyrinth (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

Don’t Get Too Comfortable (David Rakoff)

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

The Alchemy Of Mirrormask (Dave McKean)

Marcel Proust: a life (Edmund White)

Steve Jobs (Walter Isaacson)

The Communist Manifesto (Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels)

On Being Different (Merle Miller)

The First Four Notes: beethoven’s fifth and the human imagination (Matthew Guerrieri)

The Way Back Home (Oliver Jeffers)

The Heart Goes Last (Margaret Atwood)

Just So Stories (Rudyard Kipling)

The Ministry Of Fear (Graham Greene)

On The Edge (Edward St Aubyn)

Penguin 75: designers, authors, commentary (ed.Paul Buckley)


Books Bought, May 2018 (highly recommended books in bold)

Napoleon: a life (Paul Johnson)

The Alchemy Of Mirrormask (Dave McKean)

Winston Churchill: a life (John Keegan)

Proust: a life (Edmund White)

On Being Different: what it means to be homosexual (Merle Miller)

Stuck (Oliver Jeffers)

The Way Back Home (Oliver Jeffers)

Adventures In Stationery: a journey through your pencil case (James Ward)

Don’t Get Too Comfortable (David Rakoff)

Penguin 75: designers, authors, commentary (ed.Paul Buckley)

Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? (Raymond Carver)

On The Edge (Edward St Aubyn)

The Unnamed (Joshua Ferris)

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Posted by on September 30, 2018 in BOOKS


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168. Books Bought & Read, April 2018…

168. Books Bought & Read, April 2018…

Four months into 2018 and my intake for the first time this year overtook my consumption: 17 bought and just over half of them read.

This was due to a combination of a 40th birthday party weekend in Vegas which took a few days out of my monthly reading schedule (and a few days out of my memory, too…), a hectic work schedule, and a particularly meaty book on the food industry which took longer than expected to get through.

Like someone on a diet who gives in to temptation once and then goes on a binge, as soon as I realised I wasn’t going to keep up with the Books Bought column, I went out and bought a bunch more, (at least one of them for its Penguin Classic Deluxe cover).


The more eagle-eyed readers out there will notice one Mystery Book included in both columns, but I can’t/won’t talk about that yet. It’s good to have a little suspense in life.

When I’m not reading or working, I’m generally addicted to podcasts these days, and it always makes me smile when life synchronously presents a book to me at the very moment I’m listening to an interview with its author on the excellent Fresh Air with Terry Gross. It happened again this month with Tim Kreider’s wonderful collection of personal essays, ‘I Wrote This Book Because I Love You.‘ A blend of David Sedaris-style memoir and David Foster Wallace’s observation, the collection shows an  all-encompassing interest in life which emerges as a thing all its own. It ranges seamlessly from the painfully personal to the panoramically universal in the most fluid way, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for more of his work.


Journalist Mark Kurlansky kept me entertained in my more sober Vegas moments with his tales of culture told through the eyes of various animals and the people around them, and Michael Eric Dyson taught me about the incredible cultural meeting between Bobby Kennedy and James Baldwin in 1963, which was part of the administration’s attempt to improve race relations. After reading his highly influential and persuasive ‘Tears We Cannot Stop‘ last year, Dyson has become one of my go-to guides on the issue of contemporary race relations in the US.


The aforementioned ‘Salt, Sugar, Fat’ had me both furious at the food industry and furiously scanning labels for ingredients at the supermarket. I don’t eat or drink much processed food (chocolate aside), but I am certainly making more of an effort to eat more fruit, vegetables, and natural ingredients after consuming this hard-to-swallow exposé. You really don’t want to know how much cheese there is in just about everything we eat these days, (thanks to people switching to skimmed milk from the 1960s, and the US government’s pledge to support the dairy industry, however much they produced).

To take away the bitter aftertaste of that work, I ironically turned to one of the bitterest drinks out there. ‘The Monk of Mokha’ tells the tale of the first Yemeni coffee expert in centuries, risking his life in a civil war zone to restore some pride to the middle eastern hotspot. It is a return to form for Dave Eggers, whose non-fiction I may enjoy even more than his fiction, (see: ‘Zeitoun’ on Hurrican Katrina, ‘What Is The What’ on the Somali refugee crisis, etc).


I don’t actually drink coffee, (with the amount of sugar and milk I’d have to add just to make it palatable, I may as well just have a milkshake. Which I usually do, despite Michael Moss’s warnings), but this tale made me want to head to Blue Bottle to give it a try.

Which I may do right now.


Books Bought, April 2018

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

In Praise Of Wasting Time (Alan Lightman)

The Divine Comedy (Dante)

World Without Fish (Mark Kurlansky)

What Truth Sounds Like (Michael Eric Dyson)

The Monk Of Mokha (Dave Eggers)

F You Very Much: understanding the culture of rudeness and what we can do about it (Danny Wallace)

Berlin Alexanderplatz (Alfred Döblin)

How Not To Be A Boy (Robert Webb)

The Third Plate: field notes on the future of food (Dan Barber)

Fear Of Flying (Erica Jong)

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

Napoleon: a life (Paul Johnson)

Winston Churchill: a life (John Keegan)

Dinner At The Center Of The Earth (Nathan Englander)

Pachinko (Min Jin Lee)

Gorgias (Plato)


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

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

In Praise Of Wasting Time (Alan Lightman)

What Truth Sounds Like: rfk, james baldwin, and our unfinished conversation about race in america (Michael Eric Dyson)

F You Very Much: understanding the culture of rudeness and what we can do about it (Danny Wallace)

Salt, Sugar, Fat: how the food giants hooked us (Michael  Moss)

I Wrote This Because I Love You (Tim Kreider)

Double Indemnity (James M.Cain)

City Of Beasts: fourteen short stories of uninvited wildlife (Mark Kurlansky)

The Monk Of Mokha (Dave Eggers)


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Posted by on September 4, 2018 in BOOKS


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