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65. My Top 10 Most Favouritest Authors EVER!…(pt.1)

A little research on how to make my blog more popular in my early days of writing revealed some interesting facts: people are most likely to read blogs on Monday morning. Or on weekends. Or was it in the afternoon, after lunch? There were several conflicting theories, (often accompanied by very convincing diagrams), and in the end I gave up trying to plan my blog entries and just hoped that good writing would be found by good people, (I’m looking at you).

However, EVERYone likes a good list, so I have finally decided to set down a Top 10 of my favourite authors.

Except that my Top 10 lists, just like every personality test I’ve ever taken, will change from day to day, and I almost never manage to stick to just ten.

So here, in no particular order, is the first part of my ‘ten’ favourite writers who you may like to explore.

(Their books, I mean: please don’t molest them if you happen to see them in the street).

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1. Neil GAIMANneil-gaiman_l

Probably most famous for his graphic novel series ‘The Sandman,’ (containing the most amazing mixture of mythology, literary references, fantasy, science and just all round ideas), Neil Gaiman is one of those authors whose every title I have to hunt down and own, from his 1990 collaboration with Terry PratchettGood Omens‘ to his work with graphic artists from Dave McKean to Japanese legend Yoshitaka Amano. Start with the Sandman collections, then move on to the Douglas Adams-esque fiction. You won’t be disappointed.

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2. Jorge Luis BORGES g220331_u66247_Jorge_L_Borges

This Argentinian short story maestro and poet is a must-read for anyone who cares about literature, ideas, and just all-round good writing. His style is unmistakeable: fantasy, misdirection, Escher-esque whorls and loops that leave you wondering which world he is living in and, at times, which world you are living in. As mentioned previously in this blog, Borges is quite possibly the name most quoted by other authors, a fount of contemporary magical realism. Personally I would recommend reading the complete short stories, but if that sounds too daunting, start with ‘Labyrinths‘, containing many of his most famous tales, from the library of non-existent books to the man who decides to rewrite ‘Don Quixote‘…word for word. The words ‘mind’ and ‘fuck’ often occur quite close together when discussing his work.

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3. François-Marie Arouet, aka VOLTAIRE

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Certain parts of my French degree were a pleasure, and studying the complete works of one of the most irreverent, iconoclastic humanists in history, a leading figure of the Enlightenment, was definitely one of them. Most famous for his dry adventure tale ‘Candide‘, (which I can’t help choosing to reproduce below, if only for the sweet Chris Ware cover story), it is in fact a slightly dense (if simply rendered) philosophical treatise, (as most of Voltaire’s works were). More entry-level would be the short story ‘Micromegas‘, one of the first ever works of science fiction and a perfect Enlightenment vehicle for displaying both the enormous and microscopically insignificant position of Man in the universe. ‘Letters on the English‘ was also lots of fun.

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4. Vladimir NABAKOVimages-1

It worried me at one point that my favourite book was Nabakov‘s linguistic masterpiece ‘Lolita‘, (“the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth…”), and my favourite movie was ‘Léon‘ (aka in the US as ‘The Professional). However, aside from having pre-pubescent girls as their focus, both  were also supreme works of art, and Nabakov’s mastery of the English language (not even his first languauge: there are stories that he had trouble stringing a sentence together in spoken English), coupled with a wicked sense of humour, shot him straight to the top of my list of favourite authors. ‘Lolita’ may still be my favourite book, but he has also authored two others which are among my all-time favourites, too: the dark and twisted anti-romantic novella ‘Laughter In The Dark‘ and the awesome ‘Pale Fire‘, a 999-line poem by a fictional poet, with copious notes on the poem made by a colleague of the deceased author who slowly reveals himself to be far more than just a dispassionate critic. One of the fore-runners of post-modernism, and one of the most rewarding, amusing and disturbing reads ever.

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5. Richard DAWKINS Richard_dawkins

These days Prof.Dawkins is best known for his anti-religious stance, epitomised by the best-selling (and excellently argued, whatever you think of his sometimes brusque style) ‘The God Delusion‘ (a fame which has seen him enter the public domain everywhere from Twitter to South Park). However, that has tended to detract from the fact that he is also an extraordinary biologist and popular science writer who, for almost four decades, has written some of the most accessible works on evolution and human nature. His breakthrough book, 1976’s ‘The Selfish Gene,‘ is one of the few books I can say has changed my life and the way I view the world: along with Jared Diamond‘s ‘Guns, Germs and Steel‘, and maybe Steven Pinker’s ‘How The Mind Works,‘ this book leaves you feeling like you understand life better than you did before, and that can surely only be a good thing. Working my way through his other scientific works, from ‘Unweaving The Rainbow‘ to ‘The Blind Watchmaker‘ may have been what first sowed the seeds that led to my becoming a humanist, a Darwinist, and a scientist.

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Whaddya think so far? Anyone here you already love, hate, or are now looking forward to reading? Anyone you’re hoping I don’t leave out later in the later part of the list? Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

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Posted by on March 4, 2013 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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161. Books Bought & Read, October 2017…

161. Books Bought & Read, October 2017…

October was a month for moving apartment, reading comics, and rediscovering some old friends. Also, for turning forty, which was kind of unexpected as I still feel fourteen inside, but that averages out to twenty-seven, which may be accurate.

With all the excitement of a European adventure, a new living space to unpack and rearrange, and a new decade to celebrate, I slipped further behind in my Sisyphian quest to read more books than I acquired last month: 21 were purchased either in Heathrow Airport or at Brooklyn Library’s annual $1 Book Sale, (how am I supposed to resist?!), and 16 were ticked off the list.

Comics were the order of the month: thanks to the library sale, I reacquainted myself with the works of the wonderfully weird Daniel Clowes, whose ‘Like A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron‘ was one of the weirdest and wonderfullest things I have read in a very long time: a David Lynch nightmare of a Dada painting in comic book form. Highly enjoyable.

I also polished off the first three volumes of Vertigo’s ‘Fables’ series, a clever and fairly enjoyable romp through what fairytales would be doing if they lived in modern-day New York. From fables in the real world, to real people in a fabulous world, I also discovered Ta Nehisi-Coates‘ reworking of Marvel’s ‘Black Panther‘ character, which was a little overblown at times but an interesting blend of superhero life and contemporary African identity politics nonetheless.

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Talking of politics, my favourite book of October, (and possibly the year so far), was Tim Marshall’s ‘The Prisoners Of Geography.’ This eminently readable series of regional essays put the ‘geo-‘ very firmly into ‘geopolitics‘ with simple but wide-reaching explanations of how so much of contemporary politics can be explained through physical boundaries: from mountains allowing China and India to stay focused on other issues, to a lack of a port causing Russia to act as it has been doing in the past few decades, entirely logically based on its location and its fears. A must-read for anyone who wants to understand the daily news a little better.

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A.J.Jacobs is one of my favourite non-fiction writers out there, and in ‘My Experimental Life‘ he continues his theme of writing personally and accessibly about everyday life with a twist. I loved his year of living biblically (when he attempted to follow the Old Testament literally for twelve months), and here are nine further examples of taking stupid ideas to their extremes, be it outsourcing your everyday life to India, or practicing radical honesty.

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Most exciting of all this month was my discovery, upon walking past Brooklyn’s gorgeous indie Greenlight Bookstore, that my beloved Lyra was back in her alternate Oxford with the release of the first of Philip Pullman’s new trilogy, ‘The Book of Dust.’ Anyone who knows me will understand the heart palpitations this caused: the movie aside, Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials‘ trilogy is in my Top 10 of alltimefavouritestbooksofalltimeEVER. And somehow I hadn’t even known that this new episode was already out.

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It proved to be a mixed bag: the opening scenes take place in The Trout, my favourite Oxford pub, around the corner (and across the meadow) from where I spent a year in post-educational bliss nearly twenty years ago. The thrill of seeing some of your favourite places represented in fiction got me through the first half of the novel, which then drifted somewhat into a series of almost fairytale tableaux, and much of the story felt too much like foreshadowing for the two volumes to come.

Nevertheless, I remain stupidly excited for those two volumes. And in the meantime, I think I may have to reread ‘Northern Lights‘ and friends…

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Books Bought, October 2017

Homo Deus (Yuval Noah Hariri)

Prisoners Of Geography: ten maps that tell you everything you need to know about global politics (Tim Marshall)

My Experimental Life (A.J.Jacobs)

On Booze (F.Scott Fitzgerald)

Life: the leading edge of evolutionary biology, genetics, enthropology, and environmental science (ed.John Brockman)

Stardust (Neil Gaiman & Charles Vess)

Lincoln In The Bardo (George Saunders)

Fables, vol’s I-IV (Bill Willingham & Mark Buckingham)

Caricature (Daniel Clowes)

Wilson (Daniel Clowes)

Like A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron (Daniel Clowes)

Tales Of Belkin (Alexander Pushkin)

The Castle (Franz Kafka)

H.P.Lovecraft: against the world, against life (Michel Houllebecq)

Black Panther, vol’s I-III (Ta Nehisi-Coates)

Book Of Dust Vol I: la belle sauvage (Philip Pullman)

 

Books Read, October 2017 (especially recommended books are in bold)

My Experimental Life (A.J.Jacobs)

Gulp (Mary Roach)

Histories Of Nations: how their identities were forged (ed.Peter Furtado)

Caricature (Daniel Clowes)

Like A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron (Daniel Clowes)

Wilson (Daniel Clowes)

Fables, vol’s I-IV (Bill Willingham & Mark Buckingham)

Black Panther, vol’s I-III (Ta Nehisi-Coates)

Book Of Dust Vol I: la belle sauvage (Philip Pullman)

Prisoners Of Geography: ten maps that tell you everything you need to know about global politics (Tim Marshall)

On Booze (F.Scott Fitzgerald)

 

 
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Posted by on November 21, 2017 in BOOKS

 

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