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163. Books Bought & Read, December 2017…

163. Books Bought & Read, December 2017…

It took some willpower, (and weather cold enough to keep me curled up indoors with some honeybush tea for most of December, rather than riffling through beaten-up boxes in New York’s plentiful secondhand bookeries), but I managed to end 2017 as I had just four times in the previous year: reading more books than I bought, and continuing to eat my way into my almost infinite To Read pile, like an over-stuffed diner at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Thirteen books made their way to my once-more filled Billy Bookshelves, whilst fifteen were consigned to the past tense, and this month saw one of the highest ratio of recommended books I’ve shared for a long time. More than half of them I deemed good enough to make your winter warming list, from poetry beautiful in every sense to literature by a teenager; old English classics to modern American legends.

Firstly, (and fittingly, given the weather), this was a Penguin-heavy month. I discovered four further additions to my Penguin Classic Deluxe menagerie (Machiavelli, an African Achebe trilogy, the previously unknown Ernst Jünger, whose novel about World War I now sits incongruously next to a colourful Anne of Green Gables), whilst reading one old favourite and one complete newcomer to me, (although I only bought T.S.Hinton’s work from my new friend ‘D’ on the Southeast corner of Union Square due to its shiny 50th Anniversary Penguin Classics cover).

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Considering it was written by a 16-year-old, ‘The Outsiders‘ was an astonishingly gripping, insightful story of the grey areas between right and wrong, good and bad, rich and poor, mature and im-, and I thoroughly enjoyed the short read, a feeling reproduced days later (although with less surprise) when I revisited one of my literary crushes and polished off Graham Greene’s ‘England Made Me,’ also in a Penguin edition.

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Reading Greene again after several years was the literary equivalent of stalking an ex-girlfriend on Facebook, making sure that Greene is still beautiful but depressed, fascinating but pessimistic. I may have learned more about love, life, and how they slowly wear you down than from any other author.

Greene made up for the first ever (slightly) disappointing Borges collection I have encountered to date, (‘Brodie’s Report‘ being more prosaic than his usual magical tales), but that was washed away by the surreal, raw energy of another unknown, this time the wonderful weirdness of the prose poem ‘Grief Is The Thing With Feathers‘ in which crows come to some sort of life in the place of a loved one who has left it. Breathtakingly powerful.

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My brother has several original pieces of art on his apartment wall from a graphic novel I had never read, but due to its title had been sitting on my wife’s bookshelf since I bought her a dedicated copy at ComicCon a few years ago. This winter seemed like as good a time as any to tackle the toe-breaking omnibus compilation of Terry Moore’s ‘Rachel Rising,’ and it was a dark and funny roller-coaster of a tale, part Gaimany magic and part Stoppardian riposte and repartee, with some pretty twisted moments.

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Chuck Klosterman’s decade’s worth of collected articles (titled simply: ‘X‘) are cultural artifacts which remain a joy to browse, whilst Christopher Hitchens‘ interviews are a time capsule from another political era which seems like it was centuries ago. Both were thought-provoking and highly enjoyable, (balanced by the tale of Trumpian Brexiting which even my favourite living philosopher, A.C.Grayling, failed to make anything but depressing, if informative, in ‘Democracy And Its Crises‘).

This month, I learned how much magic goes into movie-making from legendary (and highly readable) film critic David Thompson; the danger that comes with overthrowing the Egyptian government from Bassem Youssef, (‘The Egyptian Jon Stewart‘); the wonders of a support system for the broken-hearted in yet another excellent Ted Talk book; the views on war (as if I didn’t know them already) of the ever excellent Kurt Vonnegut; and ploughed through one of the most beautiful (if awkward to read) books with a newly illustrated Walt Whitman, which proved that art and literature can go hand in hand. But sometimes shouldn’t.

And with these pages, and these words, I end the month, and the year, and invite you to follow me on another twelve month journey through the books which cross my path in 2018.

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Happy reading!

 

Books Bought, December 2017

Storm Of Steel, (Ernst Jünger)

Cuba On The Verge: 12 writers on continuity and change in havana and across the country (ed.Leila Guerriero)

Song Of Myself (Walt Whitman, illustrations Allen Crawford)

Anne Of Green Gables (L.M.Montgomery)

Grief Is The Thing With Feathers (Max Porter)

How To Fix A Broken Heart (Dr.Guy Winch)

The Last Interview (Christopher Hitchens)

Snoopy: Not Your Average Dog (Charles M.Schulz)

Walden and Civil Disobedience (Henry David Thoreau)

The Prince (Machiavelli)

The Outsiders (T.S.Hinton)

Democracy And Its Crisis (A.C.Grayling)

The Africa Trilogy (Chinua Achebe)

 

Books Read, December 2017

X (Chuck Klosterman)

Rachel Rising (Terry Moore)

Grief Is The Thing With Feathers (Max Porter)

The Last Interview (Christopher Hitchens)

How To Fix A Broken Heart (Dr.Guy Winch)

How To Watch A Movie (David Thomson)

Armageddon In Retrospect (Kurt Vonnegut)

Democracy And Its Crisis (A.C.Grayling)

The Outsiders (T.S.Hinton)

Song Of Myself (Walt Whitman, illustrations Allen Crawford)

Brodie’s Report (Jorge Luis Borges)

Snoopy: Not Your Average Dog (Charles M.Schulz)

England Made Me (Graham Greene)

Think Like A Freak (Steven D.Levitt & Stephen J.Dubner)

Revolution For Dummies: laughing through the arab spring (Bassem Youssef)

 

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Posted by on January 4, 2018 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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