Tag Archives: A.C.Grayling

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).


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.


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.


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.


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.


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)


Leave a comment

Posted by on January 4, 2018 in BOOKS


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

94. Quotation Station…

94. Quotation Station…

Continuing the series of quotations from various books which didn’t quite merit a full review, but featured some turns of phrases and ideas I wanted to remember…

The Ministry of Special Cases,‘ Nathan Englander

(A wonderful, heart-breaking novel on the trauma of living through the era of Argentina’s ‘Dirty War’ of military dictatorship versus Argentine citizens in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s):

“She didn’t want to get hopeful, but outside the financial pressures which threatened to put them on the street, and the political uncertainty that kept them locked inside, it was the best in a while that their lives had been…”

“This is what set loose the panic in her, a reverse progression she’d been caught up in before. First the government declares victory, next comes the fighting, and then – as an afterthought – an enemy is picked up along the way…”

“The first line of defence for any corrupt dysfunctional system is an ignoramus guarding the door…”

“There are three things that show a person’s true self: when money is involved, when speaking in anger, and when drunk…”


Good To Be God,’ Tibor Fischer (one of my favourite, highly-quotable contemporary authors who has already been fully reviewed here):

“I have the same problems as when I left home, but I don’t care. I’m not kidding myself. I really don’t care. And not caring about your problems is as good as not having them…”

“…I’ve never met anyone from Miami. That’s what Miami is, a city you come to, not from…”

“What galls me most about failure, is the amount of effort I’ve gone to to achieve it…”

“As you get older, you get more relaxed about being around failed individuals who are of a lower value than you, because it’s understood that they can’t be your friends, they’ve just drifted into your presence. You never lose that sentiment of caste…”

“I dislike children because they’re typically noisy and smelly; you have to spend your whole time escorting food in and out of their bodies…”

“‘I’ve no idea how this happened,’ says Gamay. I have some idea, but explaining to Gamay and Muscat that if a goldfish could move the pieces, it would beat them at chess, won’t improve anything…”

“I’m making that dish that no one can mess up: spaghetti bolognese…”

“‘I’m horrified of what I’m becoming.’ Being horrified of what you’re becoming is one of the most common human experiences…”

“I’ve had some good meals in Vietnamese restaurants, but I’ve never had good service or a trace of a smile…”

“This is what’s so infuriating about life: it occasionally works. Every so often, you need a loan, you ask a girl out, apply for a job, and you get a yes. There’s just enough compliance to keep you in the game, like the odds in casinos, carefully honed to yield enough to keep punters on the premises…”


How To Live: a life of montaigne in one question and twenty attempts at an answer,’ Sarah Bakewell

“Another topic Montaigne shows no interest in is Jesus Christ…As the modern critic David Quint has summed it up, Montaigne would probably have interpreted the message for humanity in Christ’s crucifixion as being ‘Don’t crucify people’…”

“‘I am so sick for freedom, that if anyone should forbid me access to some corner of the Indies, I should live distinctly less comfortably’…”

(an almost direct descendant of this quote can be found in my review of Christopher Hitchens’s ‘Hitch 22’).


It’s Not Me, It’s You,’ Jon Richardson (a notoriously dry-humoured, obsessive-compulsive English comedian)

“Once we could all get through the days without trying, we had to find some other reason to wake up each morning; we had to adopt a scoring system to see who was winning at being alive – happiness!”

On how scarily similar his OCD is to some of my, erm, funny habits:

“Some numbers are better than others, obviously. Even numbers are better than odd, excepting multiples of five, which should be used whenever altering the volume control on a television. No television should ever have to suffer the ignominy of being left at volume thirteen…”


“I have always believed that there is a reason they call it the right angle, and that is because the other 359 are wrong…”


The Hunters,’ James Salter

“DeLeo was a good companion. He had always traveled. He was at rest while moving…”


The Brain-Dead Megaphone,’ George Saunders

“Humor is what happens when we’re told the truth quicker and more directly than we’re used to…”

“…the Himalayas, pure, Platonically white, the white there was before other colors were invented…”

“The traveler must, of course, always be cautious of the overly broad generalization. But I am an American, and a paucity of data does not stop me from making sweeping vague conceptual statements and, if necessary, backing these statements up with troops…”


The Reason Of Things,’ A.C.Grayling

On Madness:

“‘All the world is queer, except me and thee,’ the Quaker saying has it, ‘and even thee is a bit odd at times.'”


The Meaning Of Things,’ A.C.Grayling

On Hope:

“…you learn more about a person when you learn about his hopes than when you count his achievements, for the best in what we are lies in what we hope to be…”

On Countries:

“Oddly, patriotism is most virulent in countries which do least for their citizens in the provision of welfare – the United States and China, for instance…”

On Punishment:

“[A] Chinese saying: ‘Beat your child every day; if you don’t know what for, he certainly does’…”

And finally, on Sorrow, the single most touching and helpful thing I have ever read on how to begin overcoming grief:

“Think of those you care about; imagine them mourning when you die; and ask yourself how much sorrow you would wish them to bear. The answer would surely be: neither too much, nor for too long….If that is what what we wish for those we will leave behind us when we die, then that is what we must believe would be desired by those who have already died…”

Leave a comment

Posted by on December 16, 2013 in BOOKS


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,