Tag Archives: Bulgakov

173. Books Bought & Read, September 2018…

173. Books Bought & Read, September 2018…

19 bought, 9 read.

After breaking my streak with a positive net gain last month, it wasn’t even close in September. Not even 50%, (aka 2:1, proportionally speaking. Sorry, I spent the past two weeks intensely studying maths for the first time in around two and a half decades in order to pass a grad school entrance exam, which both limited my available time for pleasure reading and left me with numbers and symbols floating in front of my eyes from which I have yet to recover).

The Big Issues raised by this month’s blog: do the books I received for trading in excess copies during a vicious Bookshelf Cull count as ‘Books Bought’ for the month? And is it fair, knowing I won’t surpass my Books Bought total for the month, to not read the last few pages of a couple of novels I was nearing the end of, knowing I can then count them towards next month’s tally when I finish them on October 1st? Who knew keeping a book blog would open up such a Pandora’s Labyrinth of moral quandaries?! (And more to the point, without spellcheck who knew it was spelt ‘quandaries‘ and not ‘quandries‘?)

With slim pickings on the Books Read front, I have time and space to mention that the Books Bought column was boosted by the discovery of some beautiful covers on rereleased books. These were mainly those delightful Penguin Classic Deluxes, which I continue to hunt down faster than Pokémon in Central Park, although I only seem to be finding the 600+ page editions which are putting a significant strain on our bookshelves, (see: the complete Sherlock Holmes novels and the 50th anniversary edition of Bulgakov’s ‘The Master And Margarita,’ neither of which I may ever even read, having read them both already. But they sure look stunning on the shelf).

Following on from last month’s discovery of Tao Lin, I picked up and had a crack at his breakout novel, ‘Taipei’. Confusing, frustrating, stylistically interesting but with a lead character I completely failed to connect with, I can see why he has become both such a popular and a divisive figure, (a brief internet search immediately brought up a review from NPR containing the following: “Taipei, Lin’s newest book, is…(a)t once very bad and very good, it swings between dullness and wild, excessive beauty.” It is headlined: ‘Taipei is Lifelike – But That’s Not Necessarily A Compliment.”)



On a completely different fictional plane, I have loved tracking down the bite-size books in Melville House’s incredible The Art of the Novella series, and this month I picked up and imbibed two more: a so-so Edith Wharton tale of marital folly, and Prosper Mérimée’s delightful ‘Carmen‘, inspiration for the opera and a thoroughly enjoyable 19th century romp around Spain featuring derring-do, men fallen from grace (for a change), and the laughing, cavalier eponymous heroine, a Roma traveller with a knack for getting whatever she wants. Highly entertaining.

The Prophet‘ was a gift from family friends which I had somehow never gotten around to reading, and there were some moving and relevant sections to this nearly century-old parable/fable (parafable?) I’m not sure the poetry is especially outstanding but, like Paolo Coelho, Gibran’s work presents something for seekers, and for every facet of their personalities at every important point of their life, which isn’t a bad way to achieve (eventual) popularity. This ‘something-for-everyone‘ nature of the book may explain why it’s not always looked upon seriously by critics.

‘Dream Cities’ was disappointing; Frankl’s holocaust-inspired memoir and exposition of his psychoanalytical method ‘Man’s Search For Meaning‘ was confusingly simultaneously depressing and uplifting; and R.Crumb’s baseball card-depictions of musical legends dating to the late 19th century was less informative than I’d hoped and simply pretty.

But my favourite book of the month was an early work by celebrated Spanish writer Javier Marías, discovered purely as it was put out by The Believer’s book publishing branch, and as I’m sure you all know by now I trust The Believer with my life, (or, if not my life, at least a significant portion of my finances). A faux-19th century travel adventure, ‘Voyage Along The Horizon‘ instead spends more time analysing the role of unreliable narrators and dissecting short story and  detective tropes than providing actual adventure, (not to mention conclusions), which the Italo Calvino fan in me loved.


And with that, after being behind on my blogging for most of 2018, I find myself in the rare position of being up to date with my literary comings and goings, a state which I hope to maintain.

So you probably won’t hear from me again until next December…

Books Bought, September 2018

Rules Of Civility (Amor Towles)

The Joy of X: a guided tour of numbers, from one to infinity (Steven Strogatz)

The Gift: creativity and the artist in the modern world (Lewis Hyde)

You Are Not A Gadget: a manifesto (Jerome Lanier)

On Boxing (Joyce Carol Oates)

The Touchstone (Edith Wharton)

Big Sur (Jack Kerouac)

A Sentimental Journey (Laurence Sterne)

Ceremony (Leslie Marmon Silko)

McSweeney’s Quarterly, issue.51 (various)

The Book Of Other People (ed.Zadie Smith)

A Farewell To Arms (Ernest Hemingway)

The Master And Margarita (Mikhail Bulgakov)

Sherlock Holmes: the novels (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

The Absolute Sandman, Vol.II (Neil Gaiman)

The Absolute Sandman, Vol.III (Neil Gaiman)

Fragile Things (Neil Gaiman)

Carmen (Prosper Mérimée)

The Complete Fairytales (George MacDonald)


Books Read, September 2018 (highly recommended books in bold)

Dream Cities: seven urban ideas that shape the world (Wade Graham)

Voyage Along The Horizon (Javier Marías)

Taipei (Tao Lin)

Man’s Search For Meaning (Viktor Frankl)

Heroes Of Blues, Jazz And Country (Robert Crumb)

The Prophet (Kahlil Gibran)

*********, ***! (***** ****) (Book redacted pending future update)

Carmen (Prosper Mérimée)

The Touchstone (Edith Wharton)




Posted by on December 8, 2018 in BOOKS


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12. Books Bought, January 2012…

12. Books Bought, January 2012…

Dear Readers,

This blog began in an (I’ll admit it) fairly random and rambling fashion. Although still plagued with an overabundance of parentheses, colons (full and semi) and asides, things have calmed down somewhat into a regular, one-book-review-per-entry format.

But I like to keep you on your toes.

I originally pictured this blog being a forum for me to write anything and everything I could think of about books, and so from time to time I will throw in the occasional unfocused entry. One regular post, inspired by the man and the column which inspired this entire blog palaver, will be: Books Bought.

Nick Hornby’s monthly column in The Believer magazine begins each month with a list of all of the books he has bought that month, ranging from one, (usually a Dickens), to a fairly long and often eclectic list. But when I say ‘fairly long’ I am, as someone who can go out for a fifteen minute walk and somehow come back with half a dozen paperbacks, using the term more or less ironically. Sometimes even I don’t know where they’ve come from.

As such, after I returned from a month-long holiday I decided to keep a ‘Books Bought’ diary, and present it here, with annotated explanations, for your delectation. However, given my purchasing proclivities, I decided to limit it to a week, rather than the embarrassingly long entry which a month’s worth would provide.

So here, for the week beginning January 18th, 2012, is my first week of


‘Don’t Read This Book if You’re Stupid,’ Tibor Fischer

‘Madame Bovary,’ Gustave Flaubert

Solar,’ Ian McEwan

McSweeney’s 39

The Believer magazine, Issue 68, January 2012

‘Scouting for Boys,’ Robert Baden Powell

‘The Warden,’ Anthony Trollope

‘Atonement,Ian McEwan

‘The Ask and the Answer,’ Patrick Ness

Alice In Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass,’ Lewis Carroll

‘The Dark Tourist,’ Dom Joly

You’re a Bad Man Mr.Gum,’ Andy Stanton

‘Heart of a Dog,’ Mikhail Bulgakov

‘A.A.Gill is Away,’ A.A.Gill

‘Confessions of a Conjuror,’ Derren Brown

Penguin Publishing ‘Great Ideas’ box set, (from Seneca to George Orwell)

About an average shopping week for me, I think, which gives you a fair idea of why, when I get around to reading maybe three or four books a week in a good seven days, The Cupboard is growing in volume rather than losing book weight.

Any thoughts? Have you read (m)any? Looking forward to any of the reviews to come? As of today I have read only four of them, and two of them not in the past few years, (I bought the McEwan to finish off a three for the price of two offer, and the Alice books because I found them in a nice, new Vintage double edition for a pound in a charity shop, and couldn’t remember if I even owned them, two of my favourite ever books. It turns out that yes, of course I did, but still…) 

The Believer review you have hopefully already ingested and enjoyed in a previous blog post, and the Mr.Gum review is coming up next in a few days. As for the rest, half of them are already relegated to The Boxes at the back of my cupboard. I hadn’t even heard of Trollope, (the other book which made up the ridiculous buy-one-get-two-free offer which landed me the beautiful and highly racist Boy Scout handbook); Mme.Bovary is one of those classics which always seems to come off second best to more modern fare when choosing the next tome to read; and the A.A.Gill and Dom Joly books are fascinating-looking travel writing which I doubt will be read anytime soon, but which I bought because:

a) I have written a book of travel writing, and my agent friend told me that the best way to write better travel writing was to read more travel writing;

b) I love Joly’s TV comedy show, ‘Trigger Happy TV,’ and can imagine his writing being extremely entertaining, and Gill seems to be one of those extremely respected journalists about whom people write things like “He cannot write a bad sentence,” and;

c) Whilst the Joly was just a standard paperback, the Gill was a beautiful, sleek hardback copy which will go the distance in the Back Cupboard.

(I should probably explain here the three levels of book storage which make up the library which is my bedroom: Firstly, The Cupboard, full of the most pressing, soon-to-be-read books; then The Boxes, themselves divided into a Front Box, which contains the books ready to be promoted to The Cupboard when space permits, and the Back Boxes, which contain books I haven’t read and which, given what lies ahead of them in the Front Box, The Cupboard and shops the length and breadth of the world, are going to struggle merely to make it to the Front Box; and finally the Back Cupboard, wherein reside an even split of books I have read but don’t feel like releasing back into the wild, and books I may not have read but which are too beautiful (and usually large), to be merely left to rot in The Boxes. There are further subdivisions and annexes, from the Signed Book Shelf to the Downstairs Shelves, but you can’t give all of your secrets away, can you?).

As for the others:

‘The Ask and the Answer’ is the second in a trilogy I have been after since I read the first one a year ago, and finally found rather randomly for sale for 20p in my local library, (why the second volume and neither of the others I’m not sure, although it raises a whole new blog entry on why I would buy a fairly grubby copy of a book I’m probably not going to want to keep when I could just read it from free from the library! Stay tuned…);

the Bulgakov, (author of the wonderful ‘The Master and Margarita‘), was purchased after seeing a rather good National Theatre play on his life last month with my parents, as part of the series of plays broadcast live to cinemas across the world;

the Derren Brown, one of my favourite illusionist, was a truly ridiculous find, as I’d just wandered into a high street discount book shop wondering if they had it, and of course they didn’t. Until I walked past a worker, unpacking an entire box of them at the front door;

and the Penguin box set of gorgeous, miniature editions of twenty of the greatest literary and philosophical minds of all time is something which will look amazing on the shelf, and which I hope to be able to polish off, one by one…although it was very unkindly pointed out to me that it is only the first 20 of 100 volumes.


So, that was a sneak peak into my book-shopping, matieral-choosing and brain-thinking habits. How do you choose yours?

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Posted by on January 27, 2012 in BOOKS


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