Tag Archives: California

171. Books Bought & Read, July 2018…

171. Books Bought & Read, July 2018…

10 bought, 13 read, and around a dozen seems to be my average literary intake lately: maybe 13 should be considered a reader’s dozen, rather than a baker’s dozen.

My book purchases this month came almost exclusively from California, where we were exploring everything from the Redwood National Forests, home of the world’s tallest trees, to Esalen, home of the world’s leading physical and mental retreats (as reported in last month’s blog).

More specifically, they all came from San Francisco, indeed from one street, nay one store on Valencia Street: Dog Eared Books, packed with new and used books of all genres, and most excitingly for me just about every McSweeney’s issued book, magazine, or special in varying degrees of limited edition-ness and signed state.

While I was visiting Apple’s new HQ, (and not getting in, as I hadn’t been told you need an appointment to visit The Spaceship, so I had to make do with the former location at 1 Infinite Loop), I immersed myself in Apple Lore by bringing with me the iconic Walter Isaacson biography of Steve Jobs, (incredibly informative and surprisingly easy to read), as well as a fun side of the life of my fellow countryman and Apple design genius (Sir) Jony Ive.


I also bought a lovely new Apple pen, (of the non-digital variety) only on sale at their Cupertino store, which is at once over-priced, utterly gorgeous, and my new favourite writing implement.

Both fans and haters of Apple products will find none of that last sentence surprising.


While we were travelling down the Pacific coast we stayed at a beyond-beautiful Air BnB, and the hosts had kindly left behind a fittingly adorable book I had read years previously, all about the Danish sense of ‘hygge,’ or…well, there’s no real translation for it. Cosiness comes close, and there’s a lot to do with wood and fireplaces and friends and generally hanging out, but to really understand it you’ll either have to be Danish, or read the book, (either of which I recommend highly).

And then I read his follow-up, which I’d never seen before, on why Danes (and Scandewegians generally) are so damn ‘lykke,’ or happy. Why should you trust the author, Meik Wiking, (apart from the fact that he is basically called Mike the Viking, surely one of the most awesome names ever). No real reason. Except that he happens to be literally the CEO of an institute which researches happiness named, perhaps slightly prosaically, The Happiness Research Institute.

To go with my newfound path to happiness I thought I’d have a side salad of health, provided (via my brother- and sister-in-law) by Dr.Rangan Chatterjee. He has written a common-sense medical self-help book on how to eliminate the modern scourge of chronic disease (diabetes, depression, high blood pressure, etc) without resorting to the other modern scourge of over-medication.

If you’re looking for spoilers, it boils down to a few basic things which it can never hurt to be reminded: Do exercise. Be thankful. Eat healthily. Sleep well.

So simple, yet not always so simple to do.

But somewhat easier when you’re on the road, with loved ones, taking in the beauty of the world’s most majestic flora.


Books Bought, July 2018

A Gentleman In Moscow (Amor Towles)

The Double Death Of Quincas Water-Bray (Jorge Amado)

Sanshiro (Natsume Soseki)

Burmese Days (George Orwell)

Make Good Art (Neil Gaiman)

The Wife (Meg Wolitzer)

The Geography Of Happiness (Eric Reiner)

The Where, The Why, And The How: 75 artists illustrate wondrous mysteries of science (ed. Lamothe, Rothman, Volvovski & Macaulay)

Information Doesn’t Want To Be Free: laws for the internet age (Cory Doctorow)

The Pickle Index (Eli Horowitz)


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

The Little Book Of Hygge: the danish art of living well (Meik Wiking)

How To Make Disease Disappear (Dr.Rangan Chatterjee)

Mind Over Money: the psychology of money and how to use it better (Claudia Hammond)

Steve Jobs (Walter Isaacson)

Jony Ive: the genius behind apple’s greatest products (Leander Kahney)

Make Good Art (Neil Gaiman)

The Little Book Of Lykke: secrets of the world’s happiest people (Meik Wiking)

100 Poems That Make Grown Women Cry: 100 women on the words that move them (ed.Holden & Holden)

Shantytown (César Aire)

Information Doesn’t Want To Be Free: laws for the internet age (Cory Doctorow)

Strangers In Paradise (Vols. I, II & III)

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Posted by on October 21, 2018 in BOOKS


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169. Books Bought & Read, May 2018…

169. Books Bought & Read, May 2018…

15 bought, 13 read: a valiant effort given that we spent much of this month travelling everywhere from South Carolina to the south of England, (although a lot of the ‘Books Read’ column were thin volumes and kids books, the latter of which weren’t even being read for the first time. But they still count. They still count, I say!)

I was stocking up on geographically-relevant reading material for an upcoming California business trip, (hence the Apple– and Amazon-based biographies bought), and I discovered that one novel by a recently discovered favourite was based in a location we were soon to visit there, so I delved into it early for ‘research’.


Edward St Aubyn’s ‘On The Edge,’ was a wry look at visitors to the Esalen Institute, where we were soon to spend a wonderful weekend of yoga and onsen-soaking. It may not have been quite up to the literary heights of his Patrick Melrose novels, (and I can’t wait to find time to delve into the Cumberbatch-fuelled Showtime adaptation sometime soon), but was nonetheless a sharp and easy-to-read account of new-age mysticism meeting contemporary cynicism.

(WARNING: the following trailer may contain strong language*)

(*And by ‘may,’ I mean ‘does’**.)

(**Specifically, the f-bomb.)

(Right at the start.)

(And most of the way through.)

Just when I think I can’t love the people at Penguin publishing any more, they surprise me with yet another gorgeous series. This month I ticked off three more of the Penguin Lives biographical series, truncated in both length and physical size (they don’t quite fit right on my shelves, but they’re so cute I forgive them).

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Bitesize they may be, but not short on facts: how many of you could name the second most biographised person in history, (after J.H.Christ)? I can now, having read Paul Johnson’s ‘Napoleon: a life.‘ (For those of you in a pub quiz league: you’re welcome.)

As someone who still feels a vicarious rush when seeing all of the new pencil cases and binders on sale in shops before school starts again every Summer, you can imagine how much I nerded out on James Ward’s history of stationery. (And for those of you who always mix up ‘stationary‘ and ‘stationery,’ I’ll let you into a secret from linguist extraordinaire (and author of a frankly ridiculous 100+ books on language) David Crystal: pEns are stationEry, and cArs are stationAry. (Again: you’re all welcome!)


And then, as if to balance out this frivolity, I flew through Merle Miller’s expanded thoughts on what was apparently  “the most widely read and discussed essay of the decade,” written in response to a homophobic article in Harper’s Magazine in 1970. Humanising, heart-breaking, forceful, and as relevant as ever.


I finished the month with my favourite palette cleanser: short stories, and this time from a minimalist master of the genre I’d somehow never delved into before.

Raymond Carver’s collection (with possibly one of my favourite titles of all time) provided everything I’ve come to expect (and love) from the genre in the 1970’s, from Richard Yates to Donald Barthelme: pauses so big you can read entire tales into them, unstated sexual tension you could not only cut with a knife but package and sell, and ne’er a moral in sight.


And all these years, for some reason, I’d thought he was a writer of detective stories. Given the endless sense of (unsolved) mystery in his stories I guess, in a way, he is.

Books Bought, May 2018

The General In His Labyrinth (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

Don’t Get Too Comfortable (David Rakoff)

The Everything Store: jeff bezos and the age of amazon (Brad Stone)

The Alchemy Of Mirrormask (Dave McKean)

Marcel Proust: a life (Edmund White)

Steve Jobs (Walter Isaacson)

The Communist Manifesto (Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels)

On Being Different (Merle Miller)

The First Four Notes: beethoven’s fifth and the human imagination (Matthew Guerrieri)

The Way Back Home (Oliver Jeffers)

The Heart Goes Last (Margaret Atwood)

Just So Stories (Rudyard Kipling)

The Ministry Of Fear (Graham Greene)

On The Edge (Edward St Aubyn)

Penguin 75: designers, authors, commentary (ed.Paul Buckley)


Books Bought, May 2018 (highly recommended books in bold)

Napoleon: a life (Paul Johnson)

The Alchemy Of Mirrormask (Dave McKean)

Winston Churchill: a life (John Keegan)

Proust: a life (Edmund White)

On Being Different: what it means to be homosexual (Merle Miller)

Stuck (Oliver Jeffers)

The Way Back Home (Oliver Jeffers)

Adventures In Stationery: a journey through your pencil case (James Ward)

Don’t Get Too Comfortable (David Rakoff)

Penguin 75: designers, authors, commentary (ed.Paul Buckley)

Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? (Raymond Carver)

On The Edge (Edward St Aubyn)

The Unnamed (Joshua Ferris)

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Posted by on September 30, 2018 in BOOKS


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42. ‘A.A.Gill Is Away’…

42. ‘A.A.Gill Is Away’…

A.A.Gill Is Away,’ A.A.Gill

You know the rules of creating a mix tape. I know the rules of making a mix tape. Anyone who knows what a cassette tape is knows the rules of making a mix tape. There are indigenous peoples living in huts in parts of the world untouched by modern society who, given a tape-to-tape stereo system, a stack of albums and a blank C60 tape would instinctively know the rules of making a mix tape. And yet here I am, less than a year into this blog, breaking the book blog equivalent.

Yes, with hundreds of read books to choose from, I am already writing a second review of an author I have already reviewed.

The problem is, his books are just so damn readable, (apart from his singular love of the bizarre term ‘hugger-mugger’: five times in a 300-page book, A.A? Really?). This one was a compilation of his early travel writing, (he is a reviewer of everything from TV programmes to restaurants to foreign countries for a variety of English newspapers and magazines and, according to the blurb, ‘one of the most feared writers in Britain‘), and since I have leanings in that direction myself, I like to keep an eye on the competition.

Gill is not only eminently readable, but also eminently quotable: by the end of the reading, there were no less than 22 Post-It notes poking out from the pages, waiting to be returned to and entered here, possibly a record so far. Why do I enjoy his writing so much? A commonality of taste must be one explanation: a love of travel mixed with an apparent addiction to bad puns, (chapter titles included: ‘Born To Be Riled’ for the chapter on California, ‘Hunforgiven’ for a jaunt across Germany, and the self-explanatory ‘Mad In Japan’).

The native Scot also does a good line in biting insults, (how often must he meet a celebrity he has offended? a city? an entire country?!), but probably more importantly, he clearly has a deep love of similes and metaphors, with the knack of spotting the perfect comparison to make you not only wish you’d thought of it before, but realise you had seen it before, just never made the connection. (The prefect example was this definition of the evolution of Fidel Castro’s communist stronghold:

“Forty years later, Cuba is famous for failed politics, syncopated music, immoral women and cigars, and if an island could be a person, then Cuba would be Bill Clinton…”

Or how about this unshakeable image from Tanzania:

“Hippos look and sound like the House of Commons. Fat, self-satisfied gents with patronizing smirks and fierce pink short-sighted eyes in wrinkled gray suits going ‘haw-haw’ and telling each other dirty jokes…”

Finally, Gill writes like a slightly crazy, probably slightly tipsy uncle at a family reunion, regaling you with tales of far-off lands and offering often unsought, but sometimes invaluable advice. For me, a budding author, this one came towards the end of the book, (in my least favourite chapter, a self-indulgent tale of how he came to own his first Rolls Royce, not entirely fitting with the travel theme):

“My advice to all aspiring writers: always get an agent with a really extravagant motor and an unfeasibly pretty wife. They only get 10 percent. Think what you can do with the other 90…”

And as both a traveler, and a potential travel writer, these two pearls of uncly wisdom came in the introduction:

“One of the most important reasons to travel is to learn to be a foreigner…”

“I’m a reluctant travel writer. I don’t read other people’s travel writing. I can never get over the feeling that I’m subsidizing someone else’s holiday…”


“It’s time to go. It was time to go before I got here…”

“…a family that befitted Monaco. A trailer-trash aristocracy. A princeling who was so characterless he’d get off in a police line-up of one…”

on GERMANY (specifically, the newly built Reichstag building):

“Norman Foster is having a party to hand over his beautiful re-creation to the city. It’s very impressive, with its glass dome and mirrored funnel for extracting all the hot air of German irregular verbs…”


“Patagonia is unfeasibly beautiful and vast. The beauty never lets up, it is like ocular tinnitus, a repetitive deafening of the eye…”

(‘ocular tinnitus’? What an amazing turn of phrase…)

“The girls are beautiful and bewitching, and they maybe know ways of not having sex that even the Vatican hasn’t considered. One of them is the tango. On every street corner and bar there are people being in flagrante tangoed…”

on CUBA (another genius metaphor):

“There’s music and mess and clots of policemen and 1950’s cars and posters of Che. It’s Che that really does it, really reminds you that this is the last untidied student bedroom in the world…”

on being asked to direct a PORN MOVIE (a hilarious, informative article):

“An American computer company wanted to advertise the power of the Internet by listing the top ten most popular sites. It gave up, because all of them were porn. In fact, the top twenty sites are all porn with the singular exception of the Mormons’ Doomsday Census…”


“Ask anyone who lives here what the best thing about LA is and the answer is invariably valet parking. And that tells you about everything you need to know about LA…”

on INDIA (a fittingly wide-ranging report, which staggered from the humorously scatological to the fascinatingly factual to the deeply thought-provoking):

“…farting in India is playing Raj roulette with the linen…”

“There are more beggars in Soho than there are in Bombay…”

“India is a poor place, but only in economic terms. On any other scale you care to think of, it’s rich beyond the dreams of avarice…if we measure wealth in terms of any of the things that really matter – family, spirituality, manners, inquisitiveness, inventiveness, dexterity, culture, history and food – then India would be hosting the next G7 conference and sending charity workers to California…”

on ETHIOPIA (a name apparently meaning ‘sunburnt people‘ in Greek):

“Ethiopia is the only African country that was never a European colony…”

(Can this be true? If so, it may well be the most amazing fact I have learned this year!)

“I try to make some sense out of the royal family, but it’s like juggling mud…”

(I need to start thinking more in similes…)

on UGANDA (mostly consisting of a damning indictment of Big Pharma):

“Have you ever stopped to think how weird it is that you have to take malaria pills to go to places where the population doesn’t take them? Or that you you get injections for yellow fever, cholera, typhus and hepatitis? None of the locals are immune to these things. They just suffer them…?

Finally, no compilation of travel writing would be complete without an (admittedly wholly accurate, and fairly mild) dig at the French, (whilst simultaneously defending the US, no less):

“Europeans who have grown up with American films, music and soda imagine they know who and what America is. Put that the other way round and consider what you’d know about France based solely on French TV and pop music. There is French TV by the way, just nobody watches it – not even the French…”

Time to find every other A.A.Gill book I can get my mitts on…


Posted by on October 14, 2012 in BOOKS


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