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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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80. Books Bought & Read, July 2013…

80. Books Bought & Read, July 2013…

Books Bought, July 2013

The Road To Wigan Pier,’ George Orwell

Made In America,’ Bill Bryson x2

The Complete Poems,’ Walt Whitman

The Consolations Of Philosophy,’ Alain de Botton

Poets On Poets,’ various, McSweeney’s compilation

One Hundred And Forty Five Short Stories In A Box,’ McSweeney’s box set: Dave Eggers, Deb Olin Unferth, Sarah Manguso

100 Selected Poems,’ e.e.cummings

Home Game,’ Michael Lewis

The Best American Essays Of The Century,’ ed.Joyce Carol Oates

The Night Circus,’ Erin Morgenstern

My Name Is Red,’ Orhan Pamuk

There’s Nothing In This Book That I Meant To Say,’ Paula Poundstone

The Time Machine,’ H.G.Wells 1992_1812_l

Authentic Libretti Of The Gilbert & Sullivan Operas,’ Sir Arthur Sullivan and W.S.Gilbert 

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles,’ Haruki Murakami

Slaughterhouse 5,’ Kurt Vonnegut

The Jungle,’ Upton Sinclair

Notes From Underground,’ Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The Complete Works,’ M.C.Escher

Carrier Pigeon Magazine: issues 6,7 & 8′  

Collected New Fiction,’ Jorge Luis Borges

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Books Read, July 2013

Wolf Hall,’ Hillary Mantell

The Consolations Of Philosophy,’ Alain de Botton

The Crack In The Cosmic Egg: the constructs of mind and philosophy,’ J.C.Pearce

Comic Insights: the art of stand-up comedy,’ Franklyn Ajaye

Made In America,’ Bill Bryson

Home Game,’ Michael Lewis

Junky: 50th anniversary definitive edition,’ William.S.Burroughs

The Time Machine,’ H.G.Wells

There’s Nothing In This Book That I Meant To Say,’ Paula Poundstone

Slaughterhouse Five,’ Kurt Vonnegut

The Best American Essays Of The Century,’ ed.Joyce Carol Oates (18 of 55 essays, anyway)

The Road To Wigan Pier,’ George Orwell

In one of my very earliest blogs, (to be found here), I lamented the fact that with all the books I haven’t read, and all the ones they keep producing, I would never come close to reading all of the books that I want to. That is one of the reasons I so rarely re-read books, even my favourites, and that makes it all the stranger that a quarter of 9583301-buffalo-new-york-red-flag-pin-on-an-old-map-showing-travel-destination-300x200all the books I read this month were re-runs.

This month’s selection were consumed entirely in the much-maligned and much-misunderstood town of Buffalo, NY: not so much Manhattan’s forgotten big brother as Manhattan’s fairly alcoholic, occasionally stylish, often funny and living-far-away-from-its-younger-sibling-because-it-couldn’t-stop-borrowing-money-from-it brother.

They were also mostly purchased there, as Buffalo has an excellent mix of new and used bookshops, not to mention a never-ending schedule of garage sales and the joy of finding a cute, local library which had its entire second floor dedicated to books for sale, (and most of them not even grimy, used library books but proper book books!)

I arrived halfway through my chosen airport-book, the fantastically addictive Henry VIII history/thriller ‘Wolf Hall,’ and was soon picking up any vaguely interesting books which my hostess had laying around, from 1960’s beat and hippy tomes ‘Junky‘ by the honestly messed up William.S.Burroughs, (excellent), and ‘The Crack In The Cosmic Egg,’ (less excellent), to the fascinating interview and advice book on stand-up comedy, ‘Comic Insights,’ by Franklyn Ajaye, (who knew every third person in Buffalo is, was or will soon be a stand-up comic? I even trod the funny boards myself, briefly…)

Q. Is it coincidence that ‘comic’ and ‘cosmic’ are only a letter apart?

A. Yes.

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The one I bought – US cover

Anyway, as blogged recently here, I hunted down and read an old favourite, Bill Bryson‘s history of the American language through the history of American…well, history, and also picked up a copy of Alain de Botton’s (as-ever) wonderful down-to-earth philosophical musings, fooled into buying a book I’m fairly sure I own due to its different cover.

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The one I already own – UK cover

I found a day each amidst all the fun I was having to read economics specialist Michael Lewis‘s fun, slim scribblings on why being a parent often sucks; H.G.Wells‘s classic ‘The Time Machine,’ which I had never read before and am glad I finally did; and the worst of the many comic autobiographies I’ve read recently, by Paula Poundstone.

And then it was on to serious stuff, being unable to resist buying and (of course) reading a $2 used copy of Kurt Vonnegut‘s classic war critique and cheek-tonguing ‘Slaughterhouse Five,’ and continuing my attempt to work my way through Orwell‘s back-catalogue with a whizz through his 1930’s Socialist tract ‘The Road To Wigan Pier,‘ which I enjoyed more for the gritty descriptive journalism of its first part than the political preaching of its second.

Finally, for first time this month, I started a book I had no intentions of finishing: a toe-endangering slab of a volume of America’s best ever essays which the library was selling for $1, and which I left behind where I was staying. I only add it to this month’s list, (which should really only total eleven books read, and not twelve), as I read practically one-third of the essays presented, choosing only authors I already knew, or had heard good things of, or ones with particularly good titles, and being blown away but just about all of them. It has always been a point of pride with me that I never give up on a book, (or a movie, for that matter), no matter how bad, so I guess I can justify this anomaly by visiting Buffalo, and my book, sometime soon.

I leave you with this gratuitous attempt to introduce you to one of the driest, funniest, most English of comedians whom you may not know: Stewart Lee. It turns out I wasn’t the only one to discover Franklyn Ajaye, the author of the book I discovered on American comedians…although it also turns out I was the only one of us two to actually pay any attention to what he said…

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Posted by on September 1, 2013 in BOOKS

 

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59. ‘Ingenious Pain’/’Pure,’ an Andrew Miller double-header…

59. ‘Ingenious Pain’/’Pure,’ an Andrew Miller double-header…

Ingenious Pain, Andrew Miller

The plot of English author Andrew Miller‘s award-winning debut novel, ‘Ingenious Pain‘, sounds like something out of a Bond movie, featuring as it does a protagonist, James Dyer, who is born without the ability to feel pain, (or, just as importantly, pleasure). Rather than leading a world revolution from a secret volcano lair, Dyer instead becomes a doctor, and the novel follows his life from an understandably difficult youth to a race through 18th century Russia on the orders of Empress Catherine of Russia.

Miller‘s style is simple, steady and often unremarkable: he summarises Dyer’s life in the first chapter, and has indeed created a protagonist with whom it is difficult, if not impossible, to relate to. But the novel was enjoyable, a minutely-researched peek into Georgian England and Russia, and did turn up a few beautiful quotes, one on our ability to turn any attribute, positive or negative, into a competition:

“Farmer Dyer, his blind daughter and lame son, are pitied. In the aristocracy of suffering, Farmer Dyer is a Lord…”

and another echoing one of my favourite authors, Alain de Botton, in his excellent ‘The Art Of Travel‘:

It is a mistake to travel in the hopes of solving one’s problems. One merely transports them and is forced to endure them amongst strangers…”

One haunting image (pun intended) on the Doctor performing surgery on himself with the aid of a mirror:

“He begins to sew up his head, drawing together the ragged lips of the gash, and with such swiftness, such unconcern, it is – as the Reverend later writes to Lady Hallam – as if he were sewing only the head in the glass…”

And finally, on the difficulty of endings, which is something which has always haunted me in my writing, and more often than not left me disappointed with others’ writing:

“‘Well,’ says Dido, ‘if I were to write a novel I think it is the ending that should give me most trouble. Perhaps it was the same for Laurence Sterne.’

‘You mean,’ says James, ‘ it was easier for him to die than to finish the book?’…”

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Pure,’ Andrew Miller

I happened to read Miller‘s latest book, the again-award winning ‘Pure,’ shortly after breaking my Miller cherry, and found a novel again intricately researched and paced to perfection. This time, we follow the life of up-and-coming French engineer Jean-Baptiste Baratte in his attempts to make a name for himself by removing a cemetery from the central Parisian region of Les Halles. The important point is the year in which these events are taking place: 1786, a mere three years before the French revolution, and the coming social and political upheaval (familiar to anyone who has seen the recent remake of ‘Les Miserables‘ as I did this week), is a shadow excellently cast across the whole novel.

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A quote on love to whet your whistle:

“But it is hard, whatever you have endured, to give up on love. Hard to stop thinking of it as a home you might one day find again. More than hard…”

and one which seemed like it could have been lifted straight from Jon Ronson‘s excellent ‘The Men Who Stare At Goats,’ (if you haven’t read any Ronson, go find some: or at least rent the wonderfully bizarre Ewan McGregor and George Clooney-led film version of ‘The Men Who Stare At Goats‘):

“‘Buildings are mostly air,’ says the engineer, quoting the great Perronet. ‘Air and empty space…'”

Finally, I was introduced to Miller at a talk where the first question on everyone’s lips in the audience, (except mine, since I appeared to be the only one who hadn’t read the book yet), was: why does the cover of the novel depict a man in a gorgeous, pale blue jacket, when Baratte, specifically purchases a green one which becomes a focal point of the novel. The answer? Authors don’t have nearly as much control over the artistic side of publishing as you would have thought, (J.K.Rowling apparently being an exception).

So, I leave you with the lush, if considerably inaccurate, cover.

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2013 in BOOKS

 

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