Tag Archives: Believer Magazine

46. Books Bought & Read, October 2012…

46. Books Bought & Read, October 2012…

Books Bought, October 2012

The Boy Who Swam With Piranhas,’ David Almond/illustrated by Oliver Jeffers

The 13½  Lives Of Captain Bluebear,’ Walter Moers

Lullaby,’ Chuck Palahniuk

Don’t Eat This Book,’ Morgan Spurlock

The Essential Groucho: writings by, for and about Groucho Marx,’ Groucho Marx, ed.Stefan Kanfer

The Return Of Depression Economics,’ Paul Krugman

This Is How You Lose Her,’ Junot Díaz (P)

Look At Me,’ Jennifer Egan (P)

Wallpaper Guide to Rio

Umbrella,’ Will Self

Narcopolis,’ Jeet Thayil

The Canterbury Tales,’ Geoffrey Chaucer

The Believer Magazine, no.93, October 2012

Angels Of Our Better Nature,’ Steven Pinker

The Sense Of An Ending,’ Julian Barnes

The Invisible Hand,’ Adam Smith

Back Story,’ David Mitchell


Books Read, October 2012

The Ministry Of Special Cases,’ Nathan Englander

Thinking: Fast And Slow,’ Daniel Kahnemann

Mafia State,’ Luke Harding

Last Night,’ James Salter

The Believer Magazine, no.91, August 2012

A.A.Gill Is Away,’ A.A.Gill

The Boy Who Swam With Piranhas,’ David Almond/illustrated by Oliver Jeffers

Is That A Fish In Your Ear?,’ David Bellos

The Return Of Depression Economics,’ Paul Krugman

Ingenious Pain,’ Andrew Miller

The Art Of Fielding,’ Chad Harbach

Missing Kissinger,’ Etgar Keret

Howl, Kaddish And Other Poems,’ Allen Ginsberg

Confessions Of A Conjuror,’ Derren Brown

The Believer Magazine, no.93, August 2012

Narcopolis,’ Jeet Thayil

Umbrella,’ Will Self

Back Story,’ David Mitchell

Imaginary Homelands,’ Salman Rushdie

The Sense Of An Ending,’ Julian Barnes


Now that’s more like it! A return to big buying, big reading ways after a few months low on both counts: most of October was spent either trawling my favourite local charity shops, attending book readings and signings, or slouched in coffee shops or on my exceedingly comfortable sofa, reading.

17 books bought, 20 read, and many of them were BIG ones, too! (I’m looking at you, Kahnemann, Harbach and Self). It’s always nice to end the month with a positive balance, giving me a true feeling that, (as long as I live to be 817), I may yet be able to make a dent in the ‘To Read’ column of my life. Flicking back quickly through previous months, I see that I didn’t manage to do so in September, August or July, and indeed am starting to wonder if I ever have done: this is the very reason why I started this blog, instant stats at my computerised fingertips! (That, and the fact that these lists have helped me to spot that I wasn’t sent the August edition of my beloved Believer Magazine. An email to McSweeney’s shall be forthcoming).

One of the reasons for this turbo-reading month was the fact that, in less than a month’s time, I will be leaving my temporary home of the past nine months, Laahndon, and venturing out once more into the world. Guatemala awaits, and although I am fairly sure about 83% of my luggage will be books, there is a certain sub-category of them which won’t make the journey with me: signed books, which traditionally aren’t even allowed to leave my bedroom, let alone the country.

I broke that rule this month, deciding to try to get through as many of the dedicated books on my shelf as possible, meaning they came with me (carefully) in my bag to work, and got to enjoy the thrill of London’s many and varied bookshops, (safely wrapped in my Petit Prince book cover, of course). A whopping 13 of the 18 books read fell into this category, many of them bought earlier in the year at the Hay Literature Festival, but their number augmented by purchases made at the Booker Prize event I attended earlier this month, and after a reading in a church in Piccadilly by English comedian David Mitchell to promote his autobiography.

Since it was my birthday earlier this month, I had a dilemma when I was bought a couple of cracking books by someone who appears to know me too well: the latest novels by Junot Díaz and Jennifer Egan, both of whose previous releases I had absolutely loved, (especially Egan’s award-winning ‘A Visit From The Goon Squad‘), and neither of which I owned somehow. The dilemma? Whether to list books I had acquired, but not bought, in the ‘Books Bought’ column. I couldn’t leave them out, so with your indulgence, they have been included, with a (P) to keep them apart from their purchased counterparts.

So, signed books was the reading theme of the month, but luckily that theme led me to some absolutely stunning works. Chad Harbach‘s’ next big thing™’ novel, ‘The Art Of Fielding‘ lived up to the hype and left me volunteering to give up a day of work in order to finish reading it; I discovered a new short story writer in a friend’s toilet, (well, the book, not the writer), and subsequently polished off the twisted, cynical James Salter collection over several toilet trips; and hit the mother lode of psychology with Economic Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahnemann‘s ‘Thinking; Fast And Slow,’ which had me boring friends and tourists for weeks with his ingenious experiments, (and which I have no doubt I shall soon be boring you with in a forthcoming blog entry).

Light relief was supplied by an autobiography of my favourite illusionist, Derren Brown; the ever-informative Believer magazine; and the discovery that one of my favourite ‘children’s writers,’ David Almond, had teamed up with one of my favourite illustrators, Oliver Jeffers, to produce a fable of children, circuses and piranhas;

(This gives me an excuse to dig out a doodle Oliver Jeffers did for me on the iPad2 I was debuting for Apple at last year’s Hay Literature Festival:

Before I depart these (grey, cold) shores for Central America, I have a very short list of things to do: spend time with the people who gave me my genes, get my taxes in order, and get as many of these books de-quoted and blogged, ready to release to you over the coming weeks and months. They will all, after all, have to stay behind on the bedroom shelf, along with the several hundred which don’t make the cut for the journey…

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Posted by on November 12, 2012 in BOOKS


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41. Books Bought & Read, August 2012…

41. Books Bought & Read, August 2012…

Books Bought, August 2012

Hitch 22,’ Chirstopher Hitchens

It’s Not Me, It’s You,’ Jon Richardson

The Rough Guide To Graphic Novels,’ Danny Fingeroth

Stick To Drawing Comics, Monkey Brain!,’ Scott Adams

Pure,’ Andrew Miller

Rescuing The Spectacled Bear,’ Stephen Fry

Rant,’ Chuck Palahniuk

The Big Short,’ Michael Lewis

Very Good, Jeeves,’ P.G.Wodehouse

How I Work; the secret life of authors,’ edited by Dan Crowe 

Breakdowns; portrait of the artist as a young %@&*!,’ Art Spiegelman

The Skating Rink,’ Roberto Bolaño


Books Read, August 2012

Yoga For People Who Don’t Like Doing It,’ Geoff Dyer

Priceless,’ Robert.K.Whitman

It’s Not Me, It’s You,’ Jon Richardson

‘Believer Magazine: no.90’ 

This Is A Book,’ Demetri Martin

The Selected Works Of T.S.Spivet,’ Reif Larson

Breakdowns; portrait of the artist as a young %@&*!,’ Art Spiegelman 

The Big Short,’ Michael Lewis

Rant,’ Chuck Palahniuk

The Skating Rink,’ Roberto Bolaño

August was an anomaly of a month for me: practically no books bought by my standards, (and a third of the twelve i did get my hands on were all bought in the space of half an hour, in a fantastic bookshop in central Oxford where every book costs just £2), and a blog-era low of just ten read, (and one of them was a magazine, but The Believer packs more into its 80 pages than most novels I have ever read).

The reason? As for so much else, (my lack of sleep for two and a half weeks; my lack of income for the same period; the curious phenomenon of people in London enjoying themselves), you can blame the Olympics. From July 27th until August 12th, I sacrificed not just my job, but also my reading time to volunteering at the Olympic Volleyball venue, (regular, not beach, in case you were wondering). Shifts lasted anything from ten hours to past-last-train-o’clock, and though I loved every minute of the games, books took a back seat. Whilst I did optimistically cram a novel into the miniscule shoulder bag which was the only bag we were officially allowed to carry, it was the same one for the entire competition, and was barely ever cracked open: even train and bus journeys were spent reading the Metro, London’s free newspaper, which was packed with Olympic news and seemed to magically always last the exact length of my journey.

It was therefore quite a light month in both quantity and quality, featuring an over-sized comic, (admittedly, a deeply dark, underground comic compilation by the author of the amazing Maus); a half-comic, half-ramble of general hilarity by Woody Allen-alike Demetri Martin; a book by cheeky English comedian Jon Richardson, (albeit on the topic of the difficulties of finding a girlfriend when you have OCD!); given some gravitas by Michael Lewis‘s excellent account of how Credit Default Swaps almost ended modern economic life as we know it, (only he could make that as interesting as he does); and the conceptually fascinating notes with occasional novel attahed which is Reif Larson‘s ‘The Selected Works Of T.S.Spivet.

But you’ll have to wait for upcoming posts for reviews of those, because that’s how I’ve decided to do things from now on: monthly lists, followed by regular one-off reviews interspersed with the occasional compilations of quotes.


(PS For those of you who enjoy my little hyperlinks, which are both as apt and interesting as I can possibly make them, and take an amazing amount of time to source, there is an absolute diamond of a cross-over link this blog: see if you can find it, and enjoy the interview!

“I don’t have a Plan B, because my plans are numbered: I have a Plan 2…”)


Posted by on October 9, 2012 in BOOKS


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11. I’m a Believer…

11. I’m a Believer…

‘The Believer’ magazine, Issue 68, January 2012

There is only one, minor drawback to walking the streets whilst ingesting the wonders in each monthly copy of The Believer: a fear that strangers seeing me with it will, clocking the giant title, presume that I am some sort of fundamentalist believer: in Mormonism, Scientology or whichever incident it was that Jehova was apparently a Witness too.

In a sense, I am: discovering an early copy whilst browsing in a jaw-droppingly wonderful second-hand bookstoreshop in San Francisco a few years ago, I was unable to resist shelling out the few dollars for it after reading the name of half a dozen of my favourite authors blaring out at me from the cover. An annual subscription soon followed, (including postage fees to the UK or Japan, which cost more than the magazine itself), and when I discovered that it was produced by McSweeney‘s, whose quarterly short story compilation I had recently become equally addicted to, this was soon joined by their daily updated iPhone app, Small Chair; their new sports quarterly, Grantland; and pretty much anything with the McSweeney’s logo on the spine, (including an annual subscription to their Book Club, monthly books winging across the Atlantic, hot off the presses). In short, I am a fundamentalist Believer in good, new, alternative literature and journalism, and the Believer fulfills this spiritual craving in me everytime it comes, shrink-wrapped, through my letter-box.

Every month, in around 88 pages, editor Dave Eggers, (he of the geniusly titled ‘A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius‘, and other works of staggering genius), manages to fill my head with things I never knew I wanted to know, from the most ridiculous spectrum of subjects. One page I will be reading a fifteen page article on the origin of sofas, the next the true story of someone who decided to wander lost in the mountains for weeks, topped off with a philosophical/neuroligcal look into whether all of our decisions are pre-determined, or whether we in face have free choice. Occasionally pretentious, often roaringly funny, invariably thought-provoking, I love The Believer more than I used to love The Beano comic, Look In, Smash Hits, and 90 Minutes football magazine combined. Which, for anyone who knew me back when I wore holes in school trousers, is a lot.

To give you the general idea, I thought I would go through this month’s copy, section by section: a dissection of a literary creature, as it were, but beware: I am passionate about this magazine, (as I hope you have guessed by now), and when I am passionate, I write.

This may not be a short blog entry…

Front Cover: There were no problems with the banner title this month as the opening article, on erasure, (the literary act, not the 80’s pop group), naturally meant that the giant BELIEVER had been whited out, (a bold ploy for a magazine to eradicate its own name). It seems that The Believer’s cover structure, unaltered monthly but for a striking new colour scheme each issue, has become iconic enough to no longer need mere words.

That article comes immediately after the ever-patchy letters page, (occasionally interesting, often just a forum for readers to show that they are as clever the contributors), and is fascinating. I learned that the most recent Jonathan Safran Foer book, (his favourite novel, shorn and sheared of words and sentences to create a whole new work), which I regularly reach the brink of buying at bookshops, was far from a new phenomena.

Next: One of The Believer’s regular columns follows, Daniel Handler’s ‘What the Swedes Read’ in which he reads one work from one Nobel Literature Prize winner and reviews it, an idea so simple and sweeping that it makes me wish I’d thought of it, (even more so as I have never even heard of any of the authors so far, let alone read any of them). This month’s author, Carl Spitteler, (Switzerland; prize: 1919), revolved more around the difficulty of getting hold of any of his works in English than the actual chosen book.

Then: One of The Believer’s specialties, an out-of-the-blue article on something fascinating, obscure, and yet which left me wondering how I’d never heard of it before: the rise and fall of Polari, the sixties slang of gay British men. Full of jaw-dropping revelations, (that the commonly used English term for something not very good, ‘naff’, is in fact a Polari word for a heterosexual, an insult taken back by its targets, or that it features in places I really should have seen it before, from Morrissey album titles to entire subtitled scenes in ‘Velvet Goldmine’); fascinating history, (Polari apparently being an amalgam of argots from carnie folk, actors, criminals, Italian street performers, (hence its name, from ‘parlare’), and even “…traces of Romani, Yiddish, and Lingua Franca, the common tongue of Mediterranean ports.” Oi vey!); and linguistic debate, (is it a language? an anti-language? a creole? merely a lexicon?). It even has room for literary beauty, quoting in full a song from Polari’s immediate predecessor, the theatre and circus slang Parlyaree, the tale of a busker avoiding his landlord which is beautiful even without translation:

Nantee dinarlee: The omee of the carsey

Says due bion peroney, manjaree on the cross

We’ll all have to scarper the jetty in the morning,

Before the bonee omee of the carsey shakes his doss.

Sedaratives follows, a page-and-a-half monthly raspberry to Agony Aunt advice columns, with a guest writer invited to playfully, insultingly, sarcastically, or sometimes downright abusively reply to readers’ (invariably ironic) concerns. This month, Beth Littleford, actress and early Daily Show correspondent, earned a 6/10 for me.

Next up: a thought-provoking piece by an LA Times columnist on the rise of ‘comment culture’ due to the ability of the masses to take offence at anything and everything someone may wish to say in cyberspace, (the tone of her piece, lamenting the degradation of ‘expert (or at least informed) opinion’ was ironically highlighted by a T-shirt I saw in the street later the same day: “Democracy: the ability of two idiots to out-vote a genius…”). I often enjoy reading comments on blogs/video sites almost as much as I enjoy the pieces themselves, but it’s true that the speed with which debate and common sense so often evaporate into abuse is shocking, and makes me happy that (for now, at least…), only nice people read this blog.

A poem follows: these can be a bit hit and miss, but given the scope for pretentiousness they are generally surprisingly good and accessible, this one being very enjoyable.

Then another regular, “Musin’s and Thinkin’s,” a faux (at least, I hope it’s faux), “stroll down folksy byways”, an always amusing, nonsensical, surreal page-long ramble by an Uncle Jed Clampett Hillbilly-style character.

Next: ‘The Process,’ a newish feature “…in which an artist discusses making a particular work,” this month focusing on a gorgeous owl photo collage created solely from mesmering, expanding circles by artist Fred Tomaselli. Short and surprisingly interesting.

To follow: the regular double-page helping of cartoons, a real mixed bag of nonsense, beautiful nonsense, art, rubbish, morals, scatology and bizareness. Don’t expect punchlines: Peanuts this ain’t.

The ‘Reviews’ section comes next: for me, this is always the section I am most afraid of getting through, when reviewers with a lot to prove comment on works most people have never heard of, from limited edition poetry collections to books whose authors have been dead for decades. This month fell on the disappointing side of the divide, although a recent remit to broaden the reviews to include art installations and other non-paper-based arts saved the reviews with a report on a small North Hampshire town which had a series of pianos deposited on its Main Street one summer day for people to play, guerilla artfare carried out by British artist Luke Jerram. Lovely stuff.

A double-page spread each month is given over to some lucky graphic designers to present some usually esoteric information in an intriguingly beautiful manner. (I’d never realised before how many regular features there are in The Believer, partly due to the diversity within those features and partly due to the length and breadth of the other articles). All that said, however, this month’s was a disappointingly prosaic chart of “…Top 8 seriously anguished soul singers.”

Next: four pages of doodlings from some guy and the friends he goes skiing with every year. Seriously. I never said everything in the magazine was always good, did I?

Then: one of my least favourite sections, a “Real Life Rock Top Ten: A monthly column of everyday culture and found objects.” Deadpan, often obtuse, full of stuff which, half the time, I can’t even tell whether it’s describing a book, film, song, newspaper article, or conversation overheard in a Brooklyn Bar. This month, I could at least spot a Tony Bennett and Amy Winehouse duet, which sounds intriguing.

Anyway, it doesn’t take long to get through this double-page spread, due to an interesting typographical detail: each month, the first half of the magazine sees the pages densely laid out in three columns of print, (which can make it feel almost like a slog sometimes with less engaging articles), before at the midpoint the pages shift to an easy-reading two column format, the point at which I know I have shifted gears to a swift, slick read through to the end, and the start of the four-week wait for the next fix.

The pages in the right hand getting scarcer and scarcer, we proceed with a writer I’ve never heard of, Laird Hunt,  ‘in conversation’ with another writer I’ve never heard of, Harry Matthews, producing a not uninteresting , if sometimes pretentious back and forth which manages to both diss my beloved ‘Candide‘ and praise my beloved ‘Pale Fire‘ all in the space of a few lines.

And so to the home stretch, (I’m impressed you’re still with me. If you’re not still with me, I’m less impressed), and the article which first caught my eye in that San Francisco store all those years ago, and which I savour at the end of each reading like Robinson Crusoe would savour the last few bars of battery on his iPhone before it ran out: Nick Hornby’s on-again, off-again, thankfully on-right-now regular feature, the perfectly titled, (and perfectly written), ‘Stuff I’ve Been Reading.’

Good enough to spawn three highly recommended compilations, Hornby’s column is deceptively simple: it starts with a list of ‘Books Bought’; then a column of ‘Books Read,’ (often having as little to do with one another as a Boeing 747 has to do with a platypus); and goes on to explain with wit, passion and an incredibly accessible style why he’d bought what he bought, and read what he’d read, how good it was, and why he didn’t have time to read more, (usually involving kids, football, or the bothersome necessity of occasionally working).

I once spent practically an entire year reading more or less only the recommendations from these pages, invariably wonderful choices. Through Nick Hornby I have discovered (or, sometimes, rediscovered), entire new authors, (from Jonathan Coe to David Almond), and fantastic single books, (from Joshua Ferris’s Office-in-a-book ‘Then We Came to the End‘ to pre-movie days ‘Blind Side.’)

And then the feast is over, leaving only the bones to chew on: biographies of contributors; a teaser of next month’s contents; the end of a ‘micro-interview’ spread throughout the gaps in the magazine, (this month: Betty Cohen, “…a psychic medium and ordained Spritualist minister…”), and the postcards which are no longer required as bookmarks magazinemarks. Postcards which are, for me, the epitome of The Believer ethos: stylish, arty, and something that, for some unknown reason, you want to keep and store for a very, very long time.


Posted by on January 21, 2012 in BOOKS


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