Category Archives: BOOKS

My (irregular) blog on books: what I’m reading, why I’m reading it, where I’m reading it…

172. Books Bought & Read, August 2018…

172. Books Bought & Read, August 2018…

A dozen books on each side of the scales this month – the (more or less) dodecahedral theme continues!

(In case you’re wondering what dodecahedrons have to do with anything, my mathematical leanings of late are explained by the fact that this was written after the events described at the start of next month’s blog, which haven’t been released yet, and won’t for many months, but will explain everything. If you’re still reading next month. Or, for that matter, if you’re even still reading now, after this overly-long and unnecessarily opaque paragraph.)


Skimming the Books Bought column this month I’m pleased with how especially eclectic it is, from psychology to theatre autobiogs, from classic kids books to classic literature. But, as with the Books Read, one topic is coming to dominate both lists and that is: business, due to my (hopefully) impending return to what Americans quaintly refer to as ‘school’ (what I would previously have referred to as Uni). I was in New Orleans for an interview for business school, so Amazon and Whole Foods CEOs Jeff Bezos and John Mackey accompanied me, mingling with former N’orlins Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

John Mackey’s classic business manifesto ‘Conscious Capitalism‘ was an interesting insight into what sets businesses which care apart from those which only care about profits, and interestingly Amazon featured several times.

The conclusions both jibed and jarred slightly with Brad Stone’s insight into what made the online giant so great (and so feared). Clearly Amazon is a company which focuses on the big picture and customer experience more than anything else, but in doing so Bezos regularly appears to screw suppliers and producers (not to mention regular rumblings of the dissatisfaction of their own staff, from senior positions all the way down to those working at ‘Fulfilment Centers‘), key components of Mackey’s conception of Conscious Capitalism.

Politics and business clearly go hand in hand, so it was fitting that I moved on from these two books to Mitch Landrieu’s story of how (and, more importantly, why) he removed Civil War era statues from my potential future home, New Orleans, in the face of some pretty horrific opposition. Anyone who still believes that Civil War monuments are there for anything but a constant reminder to African Americans of their place should be encouraged to read this short, personal, excellently written memoir.


I needed some palate cleansing fiction after all that heavy fare, and I found it in spades with one of the best books I’ve read all year and a second, close contender.

With Russia in the news so much lately, it seemed fitting to take a Russian friend’s advice and finally dive into Amor Towles‘s ‘A Gentleman In Moscow,’ one of those books everyone seemed to be reading on the Subway at some point. Clever, erudite, poignant, not constrained by its constraints (it is essentially set in a single hotel in St Petersburg over several periods), and politically astute, don’t be put off by the length of this novel and treat yourself to a good old fashioned moral tale, beautifully served up.


As if things couldn’t get any better fiction-wise, my old friend Nick Hornby casually recommended a new author to me in the monthly Believer article he writes on his fictional forays, (which, I’ve just discovered, is available FOR FREE online. But you should also buy the magazine, which is one of my favourite things in the world, and you can pick up Nick’s compilations of these articles too).

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When one of my all-time favourite authors casually mentions that “The Wife is one of my favourite novels of the twenty-first century,” (in an article which proceeds: “…but The Female Persuasion has gone straight into my library of favourite novels ever,” adding yet another book to the infinite ‘To Buy‘ list), it won’t take me long to track it down and, given its almost novella length, devour it.


And, as always, he wasn’t wrong.

The thoughts of a wife who has frittered away her talent supporting her unfaithful writer husband unfurl backwards and forwards through time, and although the twist in the ending wasn’t much of a surprise to me, the poignancy and feeling in the writing were masterful. I’m looking forward to reading much more Meg.

Finally this month, I was encouraged to read Tao Lin’s ubiquitous ‘Trip,’ the gorgeous-covered literary autobiog which has been staring at me from every hipster bookstore shelf and table for months.

The style was unique, a bizarre blend of journalistic detachment and self-exposition; the contents informative and thought-provoking; and the overall effect disorienting.

Lin charts his fascination with Terrence McKenna, a fascinating traveller, experimenter, ethnobotanist, social advocate, and modern-day Timothy Leary. This serves as a diving off point for years of research into drugs, the self, nature, reality, all of which Lin charts in minute detail with the combined passion of a searcher for truth and the dispassion of a scientist, charting exact dosages of which drugs he consumes over time, be they ‘illegal,’ ‘over the counter’ or the everyday staples of contemporary life from coffee to cigarettes.


Seeing the world as a continuum as opposed to binaries of good/bad makes for a messy but fascinating ride, and Lin’s introspective style is amplified by the feeling that he is trying to connect with the world but often failing, (a most modern malaise, perhaps). But emerging from the fever dream of ‘Trip’ I learned more than I have from most books, and was left with far more questions than answers, always a good thing.

I guess those hipsters know a good book when they see one.

Books Bought, August 2018

Joan Of Arc: a life (Mary Gordon)

The Wolfman and other cases (Sigmund Freud)

50 Inventions That Shaped The Modern Economy (Tim Harford)

Failing Up: how to take risks, aim higher, and never stop learning (Leslie Odom Jr)

The Challenge Culture: why the most successful organizations run on pushback (Nigel Travis)

We Are All In The Dumps With Jack And Guy: two nursery rhymes with pictures  (Maurice Sendak)

Desire (Haruki Murakami)

A Life Less Throwaway: the lost art of buying for life (Tara Button)

The Battle For God:  (Karen Armstrong)

Mentored By A Madman: the william burroughs experiment (A.J.Lees)

Beautiful And Impossible Things: selected essays (Oscar Wilde)

Sea Prayer (Khaled Hosseini)


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

Conscious Capitalism (Mackey & Sisodia)

The Wife (Meg Wolitzer)

In The Shadow Of Statues: a white southerner confronts history (Mitch Landrieu)

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

Trip: psychedlics, alienation, and change (Tao Lin)

The Double Death Of Quincas Water-Bray (Jorge Amado)

The Where, The Why, And The How: 75 artists illustrate wondrous mysteries of science (ed. Lamothe, Rothman, Volvovski & Macaulay)

100 Poems That Make Grown Men Cry: 100 Men on the words that move them (ed.Holden & Holden)

Sea Prayer (Khaled Hosseini)

Desire (Haruki Murakami)

A Gentleman In Moscow (Amor Towles)

Failing Up: how to take risks, aim higher, and never stop learning (Leslie Odom Jr)



Posted by on October 27, 2018 in BOOKS


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171. Books Bought & Read, July 2018…

171. Books Bought & Read, July 2018…

10 bought, 13 read, and around a dozen seems to be my average literary intake lately: maybe 13 should be considered a reader’s dozen, rather than a baker’s dozen.

My book purchases this month came almost exclusively from California, where we were exploring everything from the Redwood National Forests, home of the world’s tallest trees, to Esalen, home of the world’s leading physical and mental retreats (as reported in last month’s blog).

More specifically, they all came from San Francisco, indeed from one street, nay one store on Valencia Street: Dog Eared Books, packed with new and used books of all genres, and most excitingly for me just about every McSweeney’s issued book, magazine, or special in varying degrees of limited edition-ness and signed state.

While I was visiting Apple’s new HQ, (and not getting in, as I hadn’t been told you need an appointment to visit The Spaceship, so I had to make do with the former location at 1 Infinite Loop), I immersed myself in Apple Lore by bringing with me the iconic Walter Isaacson biography of Steve Jobs, (incredibly informative and surprisingly easy to read), as well as a fun side of the life of my fellow countryman and Apple design genius (Sir) Jony Ive.


I also bought a lovely new Apple pen, (of the non-digital variety) only on sale at their Cupertino store, which is at once over-priced, utterly gorgeous, and my new favourite writing implement.

Both fans and haters of Apple products will find none of that last sentence surprising.


While we were travelling down the Pacific coast we stayed at a beyond-beautiful Air BnB, and the hosts had kindly left behind a fittingly adorable book I had read years previously, all about the Danish sense of ‘hygge,’ or…well, there’s no real translation for it. Cosiness comes close, and there’s a lot to do with wood and fireplaces and friends and generally hanging out, but to really understand it you’ll either have to be Danish, or read the book, (either of which I recommend highly).

And then I read his follow-up, which I’d never seen before, on why Danes (and Scandewegians generally) are so damn ‘lykke,’ or happy. Why should you trust the author, Meik Wiking, (apart from the fact that he is basically called Mike the Viking, surely one of the most awesome names ever). No real reason. Except that he happens to be literally the CEO of an institute which researches happiness named, perhaps slightly prosaically, The Happiness Research Institute.

To go with my newfound path to happiness I thought I’d have a side salad of health, provided (via my brother- and sister-in-law) by Dr.Rangan Chatterjee. He has written a common-sense medical self-help book on how to eliminate the modern scourge of chronic disease (diabetes, depression, high blood pressure, etc) without resorting to the other modern scourge of over-medication.

If you’re looking for spoilers, it boils down to a few basic things which it can never hurt to be reminded: Do exercise. Be thankful. Eat healthily. Sleep well.

So simple, yet not always so simple to do.

But somewhat easier when you’re on the road, with loved ones, taking in the beauty of the world’s most majestic flora.


Books Bought, July 2018

A Gentleman In Moscow (Amor Towles)

The Double Death Of Quincas Water-Bray (Jorge Amado)

Sanshiro (Natsume Soseki)

Burmese Days (George Orwell)

Make Good Art (Neil Gaiman)

The Wife (Meg Wolitzer)

The Geography Of Happiness (Eric Reiner)

The Where, The Why, And The How: 75 artists illustrate wondrous mysteries of science (ed. Lamothe, Rothman, Volvovski & Macaulay)

Information Doesn’t Want To Be Free: laws for the internet age (Cory Doctorow)

The Pickle Index (Eli Horowitz)


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

The Little Book Of Hygge: the danish art of living well (Meik Wiking)

How To Make Disease Disappear (Dr.Rangan Chatterjee)

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

Steve Jobs (Walter Isaacson)

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

Make Good Art (Neil Gaiman)

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

100 Poems That Make Grown Women Cry: 100 women on the words that move them (ed.Holden & Holden)

Shantytown (César Aire)

Information Doesn’t Want To Be Free: laws for the internet age (Cory Doctorow)

Strangers In Paradise (Vols. I, II & III)

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Posted by on October 21, 2018 in BOOKS


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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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