Tag Archives: Christopher Hitchens

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)


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Posted by on January 4, 2018 in BOOKS


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154. Books Bought & Read, March 2017…

154. Books Bought & Read, March 2017…

March 2017 saw me pad my early-season stats with a bingo-esque 44 books bought, 26 read.

I was almost neck-and-neck in my buying:reading ratio last month until, perhaps getting a little cocky, I visited my old friend Chris at the Central Park Strand Stand for the first time in weeks, (walking away eight books heavier, mainly the colourful edition of Vonnegut novels I have decided to re-collect all of his novels in), and found a small treasure trove of food-based books during my last shift at the Housing Works charity bookstore where I am now struggling to find time to volunteer.

The reason for both of these last facts, (kitchen reading and lack of time), is that I found myself accidentally getting a new job this month. This weekend I became a fully trained tour guide for the oldest (and the best!) food tasting tour company in NYC, the wonderful Foods of New York Tours. If you want to be led around Greenwich Village and fed by me, both literally and informationally, get in touch!


Until those tours, and a side project I have working at a small, plucky startup company called Apple kick in properly next month, I am reading as much as possible, from an advance copy on the science behind ‘Flavo(u)r’ (did you know foods can taste better depending on the colour or weight of the plate?) to the ever-informative Michael Pollan on how cooking makes us more human, (and apparently the Netflix series isn’t too bad, either).

I cleansed my palette with a surprisingly heavy diet of death…and comic books.

I found a two small collections of final thoughts from two perennial thought-provokers, (Oliver Sacks and Christopher Hitchens), and Neil Gaiman’s fun and fierce retelling of Norse Mythology kind of fit right in, as the gods go around killing whomsoever they want, (and often being killed themselves…for a while). It seems unfair that Neil Gaiman not only writes so wonderfully, but gets the most stunning covers: the 3D-feeling MjölnirHammer of Thor, making for a stunning image on the front of his latest collection of tales.



I was excited to finally read some James Baldwin, after seeing the wonderful documentary on him last month, and both Ted Talk books lived up to previous expectations, especially the one on architecture, but the surprise find of the month came from a sliver of a book which caught my eye due to its author, (not that Andy Kaufman, it turned out…)


‘All My Friends Are Superheroes’ was a wonderfully witty, wryly romantic, hipster-nerd romcom of a tale, and if you don’t feel like buying it you could probably read it in half an hour in the bookshop.

Just don’t tell them I sent you…

Books Bought, March 2017

The Fire Next Time (James Baldwin)

Peanuts: the art of charles m.schultz (ed.Chip Kidd)

Dig If You Will The Picture: funk, sex, god and genius in the music of prince (Ben Greenman) x2

Know This: today’s most interesting and important scientific ideas, discoveries, and developments (ed.John Brockman)

X: a highly specific, defiantly incomplete history of the early 21st century (Chuck Klosterman)

The Adventures Of John Blake: mystery of the ghost ship (Philip Pullman & Fred Fordham)

H Is For Hawk (Helen MacDonald)

When Breath Becomes Air (Paul Kalanithi)

The Schooldays Of Jesus (J.M.Coetzee)

Tears We Cannot Stop (Michael Eric Dyson)

Absolutely On Music (Haruki Murakami & Seiji Ozawa)

The Fireside Grown-Up Guide To The Midlife Crisis (Jason Hazeley & Joel Morris)

The Fireside Grown-Up Guide To The Hipster (Jason Hazeley & Joel Morris)

Not My Father’s Son (Alan Cumming)

McSweeney’s No.5

Flash Boys (Michael Lewis)

Go Tell It On The Mountains (James Baldwin)

All My Friends Are Superheroes (Andrew Kaufman)

How To Make Books (Esther K.Smith)

Make Trouble (John Waters)

Tales Of Ancient Egypt (Roger Lancelyn Green)

Universal: a guide to the cosmos (Brian Cox & Jeff Forshaw)

The Global Novel: writing the world in the 21st century (Adam Kirsch)

Garlic And Sapphires: the secret life of a critic in disguise (Ruth Reichl)

Flavor: the science of our most neglected sense (Bob Holmes)

Selected Poems (Edna St.Vincent Millay)

Revolution For Dummies: laughing through the arab spring (Bassem Youssef)

The Village: 400 years of beats and bohemians, radicals and rogues, a history of greenwich village (John Strasbaugh)

The Last Unicorn (Peter S.Beagle)

How To Talk To Girls At Parties (Neil Gaiman, Gabriel Bá & Fábio Moon)

The Essex Serpent (Sarah Perry)

The Food And Wine Of France: eating and drinking from champagne to provence (Edward Behr)

The Beats: a graphic history (Harvey Pekar et al)

In The Land Of Invented Languages: adventures in linguistic creativity, madness, and genius (Arika Okrent)

Home And Away: writing the beautiful game (Karl Ove Knausgaard & Fredrik Ekelund)

An Abbreviated Life (Ariel Leve)

Bluebeard (Kurt Vonnegut)

Mother Night (Kurt Vonnegut)

Sirens Of Titan (Kurt Vonnegut)

David Boring (Daniel Clowes)

The Last Interview (Lou Reed)

The New York Stories (John O’Hara)

You, Too, Could Write A Poem (David Orr)

111 Shops In New York That You Must Not Miss: unique finds and local treasures (Susan Lusk & Mark Gabor)


Books Read, March 2017 (Recommended books in bold)

Moving To Higher Ground: how jazz can change your life (Wynton Marsalis)

The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen: century – 1969 (Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill)

Why We Work (Barry Schwartz)

Patience (Daniel Clowes)

The Art Of Stillness: adventures in going nowhere (Pico Iyer)

Gratitude (Oliver Sacks)

Mortality (Christopher Hitchens)

Norse Mythology (Neil Gaiman)

Peanuts: the art of charles m.schultz (ed.Chip Kidd)

The Adventures Of John Blake: mystery of the ghost ship (Philip Pullman & Fred Fordham)

Museum Legs: fatigue and hope in the face of art (Amy Whitaker)

Bat-Manga! the secret history of batman in japan (ed.Chip Kidd)

The Fireside Grown-Up Guide To The Midlife Crisis (Jason Hazeley & Joel Morris)

The Fireside Grown-Up Guide To The Hipster (Jason Hazeley & Joel Morris)

The Future Of Architecture In 100 Buildings (Mark Kushner)

All My Friends Are Superheroes (Andrew Kaufman)

Islam: a short history (Karen Armstrong)

The Fire Next Time (James Baldwin)

Cooked: a natural history of transformation (Michael Pollan)

A Grief Observed (C.S.Lewis)

Make Trouble (John Waters)

The Global Novel: writing the world in the 21st century (Adam Kirsch)

Flavor: the science of our most neglected sense (Bob Holmes)

How To Talk To Girls At Parties (Neil Gaiman, Gabriel Bá & Fábio Moon)

Garlic And Sapphires: the secret life of a critic in disguise (Ruth Reichl)

The Beats: a graphic history (Harvey Pekar et al)


Posted by on April 4, 2017 in BOOKS


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70. ‘Hitch 22,’ Christopher Hitchens…

70. ‘Hitch 22,’ Christopher Hitchens…

Hitch 22,’ Christopher Hitchens

I only really knew Hitchens as one of the leading ‘New Atheists‘ best exemplified by this youtube clip of himself, cognitive scientist Daniel Dennett, neuroscientist Sam Harris and evolutionary biologist (and believer-baiter) Richard Dawkins sitting around, drinking and discussing the dangers of religion. Since I read my first Sam Harris last month, saw a talk by the fascinating philosopher-scientist Dennett at Hay last week, and recently blogged on Dawkins being in my Top 10 of authors, it made sense to finally post a review of pretty much the first book I read when I got to Guatemala six months ago, Hitchens‘ autobiography, where I discovered that he is as much known for his political leanings as his religious ones.

Early on in this collection of uneven reflections, ‘Hitch’ gives us this quote:

“‘Until you have done something for humanity,’ said the great American educator Horace Mann, ‘you should be ashamed to die.’ Well, how is one to stand that test?…”

But what a great test to measure yourself by!

The book contains a plethora (one of my favourite words, incidentally), of interesting ideas and trivia, from linguistics:

“The Maltese tongue is a dialect version of the Arabic spoken in the Maghreb…If you happen to attend a Maltese Catholic church during Mass, you will see the priest raising the Communion Host and calling on ‘Allah,’ because this after all is the local word for ‘god’…”

to the Oxbridge divide:

“‘At least Oxford spies for us,’ as one portly academic once put it to me,’while Cambridge seems to prefer to spy for the other side’…”

A typically vivid metaphor on visiting Cuba to see (and soon become disillusioned by) the revolutionary spirit there:

“Once you have been told that you can’t leave a place, its attractions may be many but its charm will instantly be void. A cat may stay contentedly in one spot for hours at a time, but detain it in that spot by grasping its tail and it will try to tear out its own tail at the roots…”


Describing his early political education, and the understatement inherent in the catchphrase of the ”other half,’ (which Hitch would be pleased to know is now represented by the more accurate 99%):

“…some of the visiting preachers on Sundays were unpolished ministers from tough working-class parishes, who gave us some idea how the other half (actually very much more than half) lived…”

On the 1968 uprisings in France:

“I shall never forget how the workers at the Berliet factory rearranged the big letters of the company name to read ‘Liberté‘ right over the factory gate…”

I guess the razor makers at Gillette weren’t taking part, otherwise they could have been joined by ‘Égalité.’

(OK, I know it doesn’t quite work, but I found it funny).

The humour comes through in many places, not least in this genius footnote when he describes:

“…a Gogol-like ghost job which I held for about six months before its editor said something to me that made it impossible to go on working for him. *

* ‘You’re fired,’ were the exact words as I remember them…”

On legendary English writer (and drinker) Kingsley Amis:

Kingsley had become increasingly vocally right-wing, it often seeming to outsiders that he was confusing the state of the country with the state of his own liver…”kingsley_amis-on_drink

On appreciating (and eventually moving to) the land across the pond:

“A crucial part of seeing America was also seeing how many Americas there were…”

On Salman Rushdie and the fallout of The Satanic Verses:

“He ignited one of the greatest-ever confrontations between the ironic and the literal mind: a necessary attrition which is always going on in some form…”

and on the same subject:

“It was, if I can phrase it like this, a matter of everything I hated versus everything I loved. In the hate column: dictatorship, religion, stupidity, demagogy, censorship, bullying, and intimidation. In the love column: literature, irony, humour, the individual, and the defence of free expression. Plus, of course, friendship…”

A better balance-sheet of life I can’t think of right now.

At one point in this wide-ranging memoir, we learn a shocking fact about the increasing mental instability of Saddam Hussein:

“He had a whole Koran written in his own blood…”

And finally, the most touching chapter, (in contrast to early extravagances, such as an entire section dedicated to debating whether he is a Chris or a Christopher), was on a US soldier who died after enlisting partially based on reading Hitchens‘ writings. The author became close to the soldier’s family after his death, eventually attending the funeral service when, as he describes with a beautiful, heart-breaking phrase:

“…tears seemed as natural as breathing…”


Posted by on June 3, 2013 in BOOKS


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