28. Books Read, March 2012…

02 Jun
28. Books Read, March 2012…

(A slightly delayed but nonetheless accurate account of) Books Read, March 2012

Inside of a Dog,’ Alexandra Horowitz

House of Leaves,’ Mark.L.Danielewski

I Like Being Killed,’ Tibor Fischer

Adverbs,’ Daniel Handler, (aka Lemony Snicket)

Spanking Watson,’ Kinky Friedman

The Possessed,’ Elif Bautman

Tough Sh*t: life advice from a fat, lazy sh*t who did good,’ Kevin Smith

The Copenhagen Papers,’ Michael Frayn and David Burke

50 Things You Need to Know About British History,’ Hugh Williams

Eating Animals,’ Jonathan Safran Foer

The Tudors: a very short introduction,’ John Guy

Ladybird: Kings and Queens of England, book 1

On Royalty,’ Jeremy Paxman

Dinosaur vs. The Library,’ Bob Shea

14 books: not a huge haul, but not terrible considering I was a) on holiday for all but a few days of March with better things to do than read, and b) also jumping on wikipedia every five minutes to review facts on the 2,000 year history of London, in preparation for my upcoming job as a tour-guide there, (hence the four UK, London and monarchy books in the list).

This blog will give me the chance to jot down a few ideas on how I found some of these books, and log some favourite quotes from them for my future reference and your current delectation. Hopefully.

Inside of a Dog,’ Alexandra Horowitz

Ever wanted to know how dog’s view the world? This was an excellent look into their psyches, involving plenty of science and comparisons with humans which was often fascinating. Below is a brief summary of some of the more interesting things I learned, and I love the fact that, intentionally or not, the title echoes one of my comedy heroes, Groucho Marx:

“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.”

-Dogs can smell cancer!!

-Foxes were partially domesticated in just 50 years through selective breeding , (speed-proof of Darwinism).

-Dogs fulfill most of the linguistic requirements for language, according to the ‘conversational maxims’ laid down by some guy called Grice I vaguely remember studying in some linguistics classes 15 years ago, such as being relevant, being truthful, saying as much as you need…only they do so without words.

-I learned about ‘flicker fusion’: “the number of snapshots of the world that the eye takes every second,” (much the same way moving images are made up of a series of rapid still images). We humans take around 60 images every second, whereas dogs beat us with 70-80. This is why TV generally means nothing to dogs, as they see the blank spaces between images which our brains don’t, although it seems that digital TV may be more attuned to their doggy brains, (although unless you get a smell feature installed, they probably still won’t be particularly interested).

-Apparently dogs, like humans, look at the right side of someone’s face slightly more often than the left! Who knew!

-“…they play into adulthood which is rare for most playing animals, including humans. Although we ritualise play into team sports and solo video game marathons, as sober adults we rarely spontaneously blindside and tackle our friends, tag them and run, or make faces at eachother…”

Speak for yourself, Alexandra! Actually, maybe that just proves her point: I’m not yet an adult. Thank goodness.

Spanking Watson,’ Kinky Friedman

I picked this unsubtly-titled novel up on a recommendation, having never read Kinky Friedman before. It turns out the recommended author had actually been Chuck Klosterman. I think: it got to that stage where, having constantly mixed up the two for no reason, I can no longer remember which one was actually recommended, so I guess I have to read a Klosterman and just judge for myself. This non-PC, faux-detective farce was fairly amusing, and threw up a couple of fun quotes. It was also set in Brooklyn, where I was reading it, which always adds a little something to a book.

“By the time we got to Williamsburg Bridge, he was still yapping away in Pakistani to the guy, and it was beginning to get up my sleeve rather severely. ‘C’mon, you’re in America,’ I said. ‘Speak Spanish…'”

“I didn’t know why [the Jews] killed her Lord. Maybe it was simply some kind of perverse social experiment to see if, thousands of years later, Sister Ulalia would spend her life hating Jews whilst simultaneously praying to one…”

I Like Being Killed,’ Tibor Fischer

I didn’t even know my new favourite novelist had written a short story compilation, (probably as I hadn’t really done any research on what he had written, besides checking the inside blurb on the couple of novels I have). They were written a while ago, and were not quite up to the level of the novels, but were still enjoyable and threw up these gems, from the pithy and vaguely racist to the deep and meaningful, a range which Fischer covers masterfully:

“‘No Russian,’ said Hugo.

‘Why not?’ asked Alzberta.

‘No Russian.’

‘Okay, we speak Ukrainian,’ and they carried on in what sounded suspiciously like Russian…”

“…enduring three-coursers with dreary Japanese suits who, given a fortnight’s preparation, couldn’t succeed in concocting something amusing to say…”

“Women were better than men. They were flustered by small difficulties, like runs in stockings, heavy suitcases, or Irish drunks on public transport, and Jim had been called in to lay down the law to mice or spiders on several occasions; but with the big uglinesses they were laudably calm; when it came to misery, pain, slow death, they were the unflinching troopers…”

“What had he learned so far? Motion looks like progress…”

“Just as light could be both wave and a particle, so a person could be both right and wrong, a train and a kangaroo in one…”

Adverbs,’ Daniel Handler

Picked up for $1 in my favourite Japanese bookshop, conveniently located in central Manhattan, I’m not sure what prompted me to pick it off the lengthy shelf. Finding out Mr.Handler was also Mr. Snicket (Lemony), didn’t alter my decision, as I hadn’t read any of his, but the excellent recommendations on the cover (from, among others, Dave Eggers), convinced me to risk the cost of half a donut. Especially when something drove me to flick inside, and saw that it was signed by the author.

I had recently been to a talk by an author called Tom Rachman on his novel, ‘The Imperfectionists,’ and how it had to be read with patience as what seemed to be several independent characters and stories all eventually came together in the end. In a somewhat similar vein, ‘Adverbs‘ consists of seventeen ‘-ly’ ending chapters, (slowly – immediately – obviously – briefly, etc.), featuring several of the same characters…or at least the same character names, in various different locations and scenarios. Whether they are the same people from chapter to chapter is either a) a clever literary device to make the reader consider the consistency of personality, b) an annoyingly pretentious affectation, but either way c) it’s deeply confusing and reminded me of struggling through the few Russian novels I’ve read.

(Ironically, I was double-fisting this novel at the same time as I was reading Elif Bautman‘s ‘The Possessed,’ the slightly stuffy academic story of one grad. student’s relationship with Russian literature, including a whole section on the use of repetitive names).

Anyway, here are some quotes…


“…each blade of grass cut like a blade…”
“And yet it was nothing like life, this thing he was living through. It was as far from life as pizza served on an airplane is from Italy, even if the plane is flying over Italy at the time…”
“Just because there are more catastrophes on the way is no reason to avoid the ones that are here now…”
“She got herself a glass of water and drank it even though she also had to pee, and this is even another thing like love. We need things and also to get rid of them, and at the same time. We need things, and the opposite of them, and we are so rarely completely comfortable…”
“How many happy people do you think there are in the world? 12?”
For the record, ‘Dinosaur vs the Library‘ is part of one of the greatest series of very young kids’ books I know; the Kevin Smith was a vaguely enjoyable read but almost certainly not worth buying unless he’s going to sign it for you; I now know even more than before about English history; and don’t read Safron Foer’sEating Animals‘ if you like your meat: it has pushed me back over an edge I have been teetering on and off for a year or two, and I am eating way less meat than ever before: you’ll never look at chicken, or a bout of feeling ‘under the weather’ the same way again…
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Posted by on June 2, 2012 in BOOKS


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