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168. Books Bought & Read, April 2018…

168. Books Bought & Read, April 2018…

Four months into 2018 and my intake for the first time this year overtook my consumption: 17 bought and just over half of them read.

This was due to a combination of a 40th birthday party weekend in Vegas which took a few days out of my monthly reading schedule (and a few days out of my memory, too…), a hectic work schedule, and a particularly meaty book on the food industry which took longer than expected to get through.

Like someone on a diet who gives in to temptation once and then goes on a binge, as soon as I realised I wasn’t going to keep up with the Books Bought column, I went out and bought a bunch more, (at least one of them for its Penguin Classic Deluxe cover).


The more eagle-eyed readers out there will notice one Mystery Book included in both columns, but I can’t/won’t talk about that yet. It’s good to have a little suspense in life.

When I’m not reading or working, I’m generally addicted to podcasts these days, and it always makes me smile when life synchronously presents a book to me at the very moment I’m listening to an interview with its author on the excellent Fresh Air with Terry Gross. It happened again this month with Tim Kreider’s wonderful collection of personal essays, ‘I Wrote This Book Because I Love You.‘ A blend of David Sedaris-style memoir and David Foster Wallace’s observation, the collection shows an  all-encompassing interest in life which emerges as a thing all its own. It ranges seamlessly from the painfully personal to the panoramically universal in the most fluid way, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for more of his work.


Journalist Mark Kurlansky kept me entertained in my more sober Vegas moments with his tales of culture told through the eyes of various animals and the people around them, and Michael Eric Dyson taught me about the incredible cultural meeting between Bobby Kennedy and James Baldwin in 1963, which was part of the administration’s attempt to improve race relations. After reading his highly influential and persuasive ‘Tears We Cannot Stop‘ last year, Dyson has become one of my go-to guides on the issue of contemporary race relations in the US.


The aforementioned ‘Salt, Sugar, Fat’ had me both furious at the food industry and furiously scanning labels for ingredients at the supermarket. I don’t eat or drink much processed food (chocolate aside), but I am certainly making more of an effort to eat more fruit, vegetables, and natural ingredients after consuming this hard-to-swallow exposé. You really don’t want to know how much cheese there is in just about everything we eat these days, (thanks to people switching to skimmed milk from the 1960s, and the US government’s pledge to support the dairy industry, however much they produced).

To take away the bitter aftertaste of that work, I ironically turned to one of the bitterest drinks out there. ‘The Monk of Mokha’ tells the tale of the first Yemeni coffee expert in centuries, risking his life in a civil war zone to restore some pride to the middle eastern hotspot. It is a return to form for Dave Eggers, whose non-fiction I may enjoy even more than his fiction, (see: ‘Zeitoun’ on Hurrican Katrina, ‘What Is The What’ on the Somali refugee crisis, etc).


I don’t actually drink coffee, (with the amount of sugar and milk I’d have to add just to make it palatable, I may as well just have a milkshake. Which I usually do, despite Michael Moss’s warnings), but this tale made me want to head to Blue Bottle to give it a try.

Which I may do right now.


Books Bought, April 2018

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

In Praise Of Wasting Time (Alan Lightman)

The Divine Comedy (Dante)

World Without Fish (Mark Kurlansky)

What Truth Sounds Like (Michael Eric Dyson)

The Monk Of Mokha (Dave Eggers)

F You Very Much: understanding the culture of rudeness and what we can do about it (Danny Wallace)

Berlin Alexanderplatz (Alfred Döblin)

How Not To Be A Boy (Robert Webb)

The Third Plate: field notes on the future of food (Dan Barber)

Fear Of Flying (Erica Jong)

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

Napoleon: a life (Paul Johnson)

Winston Churchill: a life (John Keegan)

Dinner At The Center Of The Earth (Nathan Englander)

Pachinko (Min Jin Lee)

Gorgias (Plato)


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

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

In Praise Of Wasting Time (Alan Lightman)

What Truth Sounds Like: rfk, james baldwin, and our unfinished conversation about race in america (Michael Eric Dyson)

F You Very Much: understanding the culture of rudeness and what we can do about it (Danny Wallace)

Salt, Sugar, Fat: how the food giants hooked us (Michael  Moss)

I Wrote This Because I Love You (Tim Kreider)

Double Indemnity (James M.Cain)

City Of Beasts: fourteen short stories of uninvited wildlife (Mark Kurlansky)

The Monk Of Mokha (Dave Eggers)


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Posted by on September 4, 2018 in BOOKS


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99. Fernando Pessoa…

99. Fernando Pessoa…

Fernando Pessoa is the most famous Portuguese poet of the 20th century, one of the most popular Portuguese writers of all time, and was one of my all-time favourite writers before I even read a word of his works. He is famous throughout the Portuguese-speaking world, and is as synonymous with Lisbon as Kafka is with Prague, or Shakespeare is with Stratford-upon-Avon. Images of him, with his distinctive hat, John Lennon glasses, moustache, and tie/bow-tie combo are ubiquitous throughout the city, on postcards, notebooks, t-shirts, statues…you name it.


Fernando Pessoa statue outside one of his regular haunts, ‘Café A Brasileira,’ Lisbon.
Erected on the 100th anniversary of his birth, 1988.


So who was he, a man so famous he used to feature on the pre-Euro 100-escudo bank note in Portugal?

The basic facts: born Fernando António Nogueira Pessoa in Lisbon in 1888, taken to live in Durban, South Africa, when his military step-father was posted there at the age of seven, (Pessoa that is, not his step-father), returned to Lisbon in 1905 at the age of seventeen, and barely left the city of his birth again. He had several jobs around the town, but as a writer he only published one work under his name, ‘Mensagem‘, in 1934, a year before his death.

Pessoa in tile form, Alto dos Moinhos metro station, Lisboa

Pessoa in tile form,
Alto dos Moinhos metro station, Lisboa


So far so simple. So what makes him so special?

Here’s what: Pessoa was writing as a critic and literary reviewer in the early 20th century, a fertile time for such work since there were poets popping up left, right and centre. And there was a reason for that: they were all him.

Pessoa took the idea of a pen-name one step further: whereas authors from Stephen King to J.K.Rowling have written under fake names, it could be said that Pessoa wrote under fake personalities. He invented what he called ‘heterónomos,’ or heteronyms, characters who became wildly famous and popular such as Ricardo Reis, Alberto Caeiro and, most famously, Bernardo Soares and Álvaro de Campos.

The exact number of heteronyms is debatable, as you’ll understand when you hear that many scholars consider Fernando Pessoa itself a heteronym separate from Fernando Pessoa the author, but a recent count has the name of separate identities at 136.

Statue in front of the house of Pessoa's birth, São Carlos Square, Lisboa

Statue in front of the house of Pessoa’s birth, São Carlos Square, Lisboa


And separate identities they were, each given their own place and date of birth and death, (some of them, having no date of death, could be said to have ‘outlived’ Pessoa himself!), not to mention personalities and styles all of their own. Caeiro, uneducated and living his short life in the countryside, wrote stunningly beautiful poetry about nature and the wonders of his village;  Campos on the other hand, as an engineering graduate in Glasgow, wrote praising the wonders of technology and travel. Furthermore, many of the fragments of Pessoa‘s personality also had their own astrological chart, and even their own signatures, and many of them wrote about places Pessoa himself had never even visited!

None of this was a secret during his lifetime: Pessoa openly discussed his alter-egos, whilst claiming that they were entirely independent of his own writing self. This led to the absurd situation of Pessoa the critic sometimes writing either complimentary introductions, or harsh criticisms of the others’ works.

As if all of this wasn’t enough, some of the writing itself is amongst the most beautiful I’ve read: the complex wrapped in the simple, the absurd and abstract represented by everyday observations and sweeping lyricism.

Here, for example, is the opening of Poem 22, by ‘Alberto Caeiro,’ the first I read and still possibly my favourite, on the glory of the River Tagus, the heart of Lisbon and the gateway from Portugal to the world:


“O Tejo é mais belo que o rio que corre pela minha aldeia

Mas o Tejo não é mais belo que o rio que corre pela minha aldeia

Porque o Tejo não é o rio que corre pela minha aldeia…”


“The Tagus is more beautiful than the river that runs through my village

But the Tagus is not more beautiful than the river that runs through my village

Because the Tagus is not the river that runs through my village…”


Beautiful, não é?

All of this explains why the centre of Lisbon features a much-photographed statue of Pessoa in front of one ofhis regular café hangouts, the Café A Brasileira; a book-headed statue of perfect absurdist proportions in front of the house of his birth; a table preserved with his belongings in his favourite café and Lisbon’s oldest, Café-Restaurante Martinho da Alcada; tiled images of him in a metro station; and why they even sell a set of four expresso cups in his honour, each one featuring a slightly different image of the author with a different heteronym written below it. Genius for a genius.


Heteronymous coffee cups


Pessoa is so important to modern Portuguese culture that he is buried in the 500-year-old Jerónimos Monastery, one of the most important buildings in all of Portugal, under a simple memorial which features three short poems from three of his many facets in a poignantly fitting tribute.


Fernando Pessoa’s tomb in the Jerónimos Monastery, Belém, Lisboa


‘Alberto Caeiro’ memorial


‘Álvaro de Campo’ memorial


‘Ricardo Reis’ memorial









I leave you with his image on the now out of print 100-escudo bank note, which features a gorgeous reverse side showing a swirling pattern in which, ever so faintly, can be made out the names of some of the more famous heteronyms.

Enjoy looking out for his many, many works!


Front of the old Portuguese 100-escudo bill


Click me for a close-up!


Posted by on January 15, 2014 in BOOKS


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