160. Books Bought & Read, September 2017…

160. Books Bought & Read, September 2017…

13 read, 18 bought: the pretence of out-running my addiction finally came crashing into the back of me in September, and all because of whimsy. I was pacing myself nicely, buying books in ones and twos and reading them on my travels to the UK (to visit family) and to Italy (to get away from the UK), when in my last few days in my hometown I stumbled across a charity shop selling a collection of (my beloved childhood) Puffin Books editions of Tove Jansson’s Moomins, just a month after plunging into her adult fiction. Coincidence?

Yes. But that didn’t stop me walking away with the lot of them, and throwing my monthly book-buying equilibrium out of the window. Oh well, the things we do for our passions!

This was a month of travel, and I like to coordinate my reading with my whereabouts. Being home in Southend-on-Sea with my family, (immediate and in-lawed), didn’t inspire me to any specific literature, but a brief sojourn in Italy, on the beaches of Sardinia, led to a killer history/literature one-two combo of insightful and well-written books: Tim Parks (who wrote one of my all-time favourite football/travel combo books, ‘A Season With Verona‘), walking me through Italian writing over the centuries, before John Hooper led me up and down the country and the culture. I highly recommend both, although Hooper’s ‘The Italians‘ may be the more accessible primer for anyone wanting to delve into the country’s history from scratch.

I continued my attack on the glass-encapsulated box-set of Penguin Sci-Fi classics with Ursula K. LeGuin’s ‘Left Hand of Darkness,’ which I liked in theory but not so much in practice. The story of a planet whose inhabitants are both male and female depending on their cycle is timely and thought-provoking, but the plot itself reminded me too much of the boring council scenes in the woeful Star Wars remakes, and I only really enjoyed the historical asides between chapters, self-encapsulated vignettes of unfinished stories like aborted Italo Calvino chapters.

LeGuin wasn’t the only one to disappoint me this month: Demetri Martin’s latest collection of sketches and visual one-liners wasn’t nearly as much fun as his earlier books, although an early Colson Whitehead novel, ‘The Intuitionist,’ helped dampen the disappointment, weaving the history of elevation into a near-future detective tale of racism and prejudice against…people with intuition. A better novel than I’m making it sound, and Whitehead maintains his place as one of my favourite recently discovered writers.

I enjoyed four straight collections of Amy Hempel short stories, but I enjoyed them less as they went on (maybe reading them one after the other was a mistake or maybe, despite the claims of the prologue writer, I just prefer her early works to her later ones), and I’m loving discovering classic tales I’ve never read thanks to Melville House’s ‘Art Of The Novella‘ series, (which I’ve just learned, whilst googling it, contains at least 55 books; so just the 51 or so left to collect…)


But once again, the star of my Books Read pile was a flimsy-looking tale about nothing by Tove Jansson, the Finnish artist and tale-spinner who (apparently) has published some of the most subtle and uncategorisable fiction I’ve ever read.


In ‘The Summer Book‘ we follow a young girl and her grandmother, (who often seem to change places emotionally throughout the book), doing nothing but passing time on their under-inhabited island off the Finnish coast. I’ve rarely seen an author pack so much magic, mystery and wisdom into so little space: just 22 chapters like 22 rocks tossed into a pool, rippling out in the reader’s mind. How has it taken me so long to find Tove Jansson? How long will it take me to read everything else she has written?

Books Bought, September 2017

The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter (Carson McCullers)

The Painter Of Signs (R.K.Narayan)

McSweeney’s Issue 2

Gulp; adventures on the alimentary canal (Mary Roach)

If It’s Not Funny, It’s Art (Demetri Martin)

The Acts Of King Arthur And His Noble Knights (John Steinbeck)

Bartleby The Scrivener (Herman Melville)

The White Castle (Orhan Pamuk)

Letters To A Young Scientist (Edward O.Wilson)

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

Finn Family Moomintroll (Tove Jansson)

Moominland Midwinter (Tove Jansson)

Comet In Moominland (Tove Jansson)

Moominsummer Madness (Tove Jansson)

The Exploits Of Moominpappa (Tove Jansson)

Moominpappa At Sea (Tove Jansson)

Moominpappa’s Memoirs (Tove Jansson)


Books Read, September 2017 (highly recommended books in bold)

The Left Hand Of Darkness (Ursula K.LeGuin)

The Summer Book (Tove Jansson)

If It’s Not Funny, It’s Art (Demetri Martin)

The Intuitionist (Colson Whitehead)

Reasons To Live (Amy Hempel)

At The Gates Of The Animal Kingdom (Amy Hempel)

Tumble Home (Amy Hempel)

The Dog Of The Marriage (Amy Hempel)

Bartleby The Scrivener (Herman Melville)

Letters To A Young Scientist (Edward O.Wilson)

The Painter Of Signs (R.K.Narayan)

The Italians (John Hooper)

A Literary Tour Of Italy (Tim Parks)


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Posted by on October 30, 2017 in BOOKS


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159. Books Bought & Read, August 2017…

159. Books Bought & Read, August 2017…

My vision was 20/20 this August: 20 bought, 20 read, but it was quality and not just quantity this summer, as you can see from the many bold recommendations in the Books Read list below. But there was a depth and breadth to my literary wanderings this month, both through space and time: from world food recommendations from the lead singer of a Scottish rock band to ancient Greek thoughts on nature; bittersweet Finnish tales of nothing to Victorian English myth; race-wide contemporary African-American struggles in the USA to everyday human struggles in Israel.

Reading is my favourite way to travel when I can’t actually travel.

Food reading abounded as ever, to feed facts and fables for my food tour, and I finally got around to reading local restaurant maven Calvin Trillin, whose wonderfully conversational ramblings on eating his way across the US matched my own perfectly. Further afield, Alex Kapranos, the lead singer of Franz Ferdinand, published a regular column on what he ate on world tours, here collected by Penguin and featuring a shout-out for my beloved local Polish doughnuttery, Peter Pan’s in Greenpoint.

Hogarth Press has devised an ingenuous take on a four-centuries old staple: asking some of the best contemporary authors to come up with a modern retelling of Shakespeare tales. I managed to get my hands on advanced copies by two of the best around: Margaret Atwood’s thespian-fest take on The Tempest, and Edward St.Aubyn’s old-age home King Lear, and I enjoyed the hell out of them. The other half-dozen are now on my radar.

Whilst away on ‘vacation’ (holiday, to my former self), at a family wedding in wonderful Oregon, I followed up on a hot tip I received over a year ago from a coworker at the Housing Works. He had described Ted Chiang’s ‘The Story Of YourLife And Others’ as the best book he read all year, and it’s probably not far off mine either.


Short sci-fi stories revolving around maths and science in an updated version of Borges, (the opener about workers on the upper echelons of the Tower of Babel owes more than a tip of the hat to the Argentine genius), cover some of my favourite topics, existential angst and linguistic intrigue. Angels can appear and disappear, wreaking havoc at random, and students can have their minds altered to ignore beauty in the hope of creating a fairer society, in a tale worthy of a Black Mirror episode).

Buy this book, or at least go and see the movies which will inevitably be (and, indeed, already have been) drawn from it.


I finished the month with a deceptively simple novella by Tove Jansson. Having discovered her magical, mythical, ever-so-slightly-creepy Moomins late in life, I am now discovering even later in life than she was more than just these bizarre woodland creatures: she was a writer of subtle social observation, bitter-sweet storytelling and a creator of tales as light but lasting as the paintings which adorn the covers of her adult works. Another highly recommended quick read, with more of her to come next month.

Books Bought, August 2017

Nutshell (Ian McEwan)

Listen To This (Alex Ross)

May We Be Together (A.M.Homes)

Netherland (Joseph O’Neill)

Educating Peter: how anyone can become an (almost) instant wine expert (Nettie Teague)

How To Read Lacan (Slavoj Žižek)

You Shall Know Us By Our Velocity (Dave Eggers)

Dom Casemiro (Machado de Assis)

More Baths, Less Talking (Nick Hornby)

Tombo (W.S.DiPiero)

The End Of Love (Marcus Coral Llorente)

Between The World And Me (Ta-Nehesi Coates)

The Sandman: overture (Neil Gaiman)

McSweeney’s Issue 1 (various)

McSweeney’s Issue 2 (various)

McSweeney’s Issue 3 (various)

How We Eat With Our Eyes And Think With Our Stomachs: learn to see the hidden influences that shape your eating habits (Melanie Mühl & Diana Von Kopp)

Hagseed (Margaret Atwood)

Emma (Jane Austen)

Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)


Books Read, August 2017 (highly recommended books are indicated in bold)

The 7 Good Years (Etgar Keret)

Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine (Diane Williams)

Dunbar (Edward St Aubyn)

Break It Down (Lydia Davis)

Nutshell (Ian McEwan)

Stories Of Your Life And Others (Ted Chiang)

How To Read Foucault (Johanna Oksala)

How To Read Lacan (Slavoj Žižek)

Between The World And Me (Ta-Nehesi Coates)

Beast (Paul Kingsnorth)

The Sandman: overture (Neil Gaiman)

Hagseed (Margaret Atwood)

The Essex Serpent (Sarah Perry)

Day Of The Oprichnik (Vladimir Sorokin)

How We Eat With Our Eyes And Think With Our Stomachs: learn to see the hidden influences that shape your eating habits (Melanie Mühl & Diana Von Kopp)

Alice, Let’s Eat: further adventures of a happy eater (Calvin Trillin)

We (Yevgeny Zamyatim)

Fragments (Heraclitus)

Sound Bites: eating on tour with franz ferdinand (Alex Kapranos)

The True Deceiver (Tove Jansson)

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Posted by on October 24, 2017 in BOOKS


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158. Books Bought & Read, July 2017…

158. Books Bought & Read, July 2017…

My attempt to chisel away at the Mount Rushmore of Books To Be Read continued apace this month. Thanks to my bedside stack containing a number of plays and various other thin collections of interviews and whatnot, I managed to read better than a book a day, tossing off 33 books in July.

The bad news was that I also somehow managed to purchase 32 books. But every little helps.

I had picked up a stack of plays at the Book Expo I volunteered at the previous month, and they were interesting pre-sleep companions. Some were disappointing, (I’m looking at you, David Bowie’sLazarus‘), some were downright silly, (‘Ripcord‘), and some were time-bendingly fascinating, (notably the offering from Tracy Letts, who gave us the play which gave us the movie August: Osage County).

I was most exciting to finally read the original play of ‘Twelve Angry Men,’ which didn’t disappoint: I’ve always loved the movie, a throwback to the days when a lack of flashy FX meant a reliance on plot, dialogue and acting.

I ripped through three more of the ‘Last Interview‘ collection, (unearthed at the ever gloomy but often rewarding East Village Books), which led to me dabbling in my second ever Ray Bradbury, (I presume everyone in the world has read ‘Fahrenheit 451‘), and whilst ‘The Martian Chronicles‘ was an amusing series of vignettes and short stories, it didn’t quite live up to the expectations its influence on a past generation appears to have had.

The same cannot, by any means, be said of the influence of Senator John Lewis, the worst possible person President Trump could have chosen to accuse of being “all talk and no action” back when he was just President-elect, (remember those good old days?)

I may not have known much (read: anything) about Lewis’s career before the spat with Trump, but in ‘March,’ the trilogy of graphic novels recounting Lewis’s career in civil rights activism, I was left literally wide-eyed with wonder at the risks he and fellow protestors were willing to take simply to be considered human beings.


The history culminates in the books with the march on Selma, Alabama, in 1963, (about which Malcolm Gladwell recently released a fascinating podcast), and I imagine anyone who has read it will feel, like me, that it deserves to be on every school syllabus across the country.

A special mention this month goes to A.N.Wilson’s ‘The Book Of The People: how to read the bible,’ not so much for its content, (interesting in parts, overly personal and sentimental on the whole), but for having the most stunning cover I have seen for a very long time. Sometimes I buy books just for their covers: if only there were some sort of catchy folk-wisdom to advise me against such practices…


Probably my favourite novel of the month was Chris Bachelder’s excellent ‘The Throwback Special,’ an incredibly astute, simple masterpiece.

22 ‘friends’ (read: guys who meet once a year to fulfil some inexplicable rituals) meet in the same room, in the same hotel, at the same time every year to re-enact the (American) football play made (in)famous in Michael Lewis’s ‘Blind Side’: Lawrence Taylor dissintegrating Joe Thiesmann’s tibia and fibula.


Bachelder’s cycles us through the minds and misgivings of each member in turn, sometimes slower, sometimes faster, with prose that pops each of them into 3D in an endless loop of pitch-perfect psychology and thought-provoking observation. I enjoyed his debut novel, ‘Bear vs Shark,’ for its dystopian ridiculousness; I loved ‘The Throwback Special’ even more.

Books Bought, July 2017

A Child In Time (Ian McEwan)

Twelve Angry Men (Reginald Rose)

The Great Questions Of Tomorrow (David Rothkopf)

The Martian Chronicles (Ray Bradbury)

The Terrorist’s Son: a story of choice (Zak Ebrahim & Jeff Giles)

Cosmopolis (Don Delillo)

Wild Things: the joy of reading children’s literature (Bruce Handy)

How To Travel Without Seeing: dispatches from the new latin america (Andres Newman)

Food Of The City: new york’s  professional chefs, restaurateurs, line cooks, street vendors, and purveyors talk about what they do and why they do it (Ina Yalof)

Storyteller: the life of roald dahl (Donald Sturrock)

Appointment In Samarra (John O’Hara)

Food Anatomy: the curious parts & pieces of our edible world (Julia Rothman)

Beast (Paul Kingsnorth)

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

Stranger In A Strange Land (Robert A.Heinlein)

Dune (Frank Herbert)

The Left Hand Of Darkness (Ursula K.LeGuin)

Necromancer (William Gibson)

2001: a space odyssey (Arthur C.Clarke)

McSweeney’s no.1 (Various)

My Documents (Alejandro Zambra)

March: Book I (John Lewis, Andrew Aydin & Nate Powell)

March: Book II (John Lewis, Andrew Aydin & Nate Powell)

March: Book III (John Lewis, Andrew Aydin & Nate Powell)

Fragile Acts (Allen Peterson)

White Girls (Hilton Als)

Heroes Of The Frontier (Dave Eggers)

The Seven Good Years (Etgar Keret)

Alice, Let’s Eat: further adventures of a happy eater (Calvin Trillin)

The Beach Of Falesá (Robert Louis Stevenson)

We (Yevgeniy Zamyatin)

Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine (Diane Williams)


Books Read, July 2017 (recommended books in bold)

The Midnight Folk (John Masefield)

The Last Interview: Roberto Bolaño

The Last Interview: Ray Bradbury

The Last Interview: Jorge Luis Borges

The Book Of The People: how to read the bible (A.N.Wilson)

My Friend Dahmer (Derf Backderf)

The Last Temptation (Neil Gaiman)

The Complete Polly And The Wolf (Catherine Storr)

Warren The 13th And The All-Seeing Eye (Tania Del Rio & Will Staehle)

Twelve Angry Men (Reginald Rose)

The Great Questions Of Tomorrow (David Rothkopf)

The Terrorist’s Son: a story of choice (Zak Ebrahim & Jeff Giles)

How Google Works (Eric Schmidt & Jonathan Rosenberg)

The Last Unicorn (Peter S.Beagle)

The Martian Chronicles (Ray Bradbury)

The Throwback Special (Chris Bachelder)

Oslo (J.T.Rogers)

Lazarus (David Bowie & Enda Walsh)

Mary Page Marlowe (Tracy Letts)

Eclipsed (Danai Gurira)

Ripcord (David Lindsay Abaire)

The Missing Of The Somme (Geoff Dyer)

Believe Me: a memoir of love, death and jazz chickens (Eddie Izzard)

Americanah (Chmamanda Ngozi Adichie)

Fragile Acts (Allen Peterson)

My Documents (Alejandro Zambra)

The Sense Of Style: the thinking person’s guide to writing in the 21st century (Steven Pinker)

Subliminal: how your unconscious mind rules your behaviour (Leonard Mlodinow)

How To Build A Girl (Caitlin Moran)

March: Book I (John Lewis, Andrew Aydin & Nate Powell)

March: Book II (John Lewis, Andrew Aydin & Nate Powell)

March: Book III (John Lewis, Andrew Aydin & Nate Powell)

Cosmopolis (Don Delillo)





Posted by on August 7, 2017 in BOOKS


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