Tag Archives: Colson Whitehead

160. Books Bought & Read, September 2017…

160. Books Bought & Read, September 2017…

13 read, 18 bought: the pretence of out-running my addiction finally came crashing into the back of me in September, and all because of whimsy. I was pacing myself nicely, buying books in ones and twos and reading them on my travels to the UK (to visit family) and to Italy (to get away from the UK), when in my last few days in my hometown I stumbled across a charity shop selling a collection of (my beloved childhood) Puffin Books editions of Tove Jansson’s Moomins, just a month after plunging into her adult fiction. Coincidence?

Yes. But that didn’t stop me walking away with the lot of them, and throwing my monthly book-buying equilibrium out of the window. Oh well, the things we do for our passions!

This was a month of travel, and I like to coordinate my reading with my whereabouts. Being home in Southend-on-Sea with my family, (immediate and in-lawed), didn’t inspire me to any specific literature, but a brief sojourn in Italy, on the beaches of Sardinia, led to a killer history/literature one-two combo of insightful and well-written books: Tim Parks (who wrote one of my all-time favourite football/travel combo books, ‘A Season With Verona‘), walking me through Italian writing over the centuries, before John Hooper led me up and down the country and the culture. I highly recommend both, although Hooper’s ‘The Italians‘ may be the more accessible primer for anyone wanting to delve into the country’s history from scratch.

I continued my attack on the glass-encapsulated box-set of Penguin Sci-Fi classics with Ursula K. LeGuin’s ‘Left Hand of Darkness,’ which I liked in theory but not so much in practice. The story of a planet whose inhabitants are both male and female depending on their cycle is timely and thought-provoking, but the plot itself reminded me too much of the boring council scenes in the woeful Star Wars remakes, and I only really enjoyed the historical asides between chapters, self-encapsulated vignettes of unfinished stories like aborted Italo Calvino chapters.

LeGuin wasn’t the only one to disappoint me this month: Demetri Martin’s latest collection of sketches and visual one-liners wasn’t nearly as much fun as his earlier books, although an early Colson Whitehead novel, ‘The Intuitionist,’ helped dampen the disappointment, weaving the history of elevation into a near-future detective tale of racism and prejudice against…people with intuition. A better novel than I’m making it sound, and Whitehead maintains his place as one of my favourite recently discovered writers.

I enjoyed four straight collections of Amy Hempel short stories, but I enjoyed them less as they went on (maybe reading them one after the other was a mistake or maybe, despite the claims of the prologue writer, I just prefer her early works to her later ones), and I’m loving discovering classic tales I’ve never read thanks to Melville House’s ‘Art Of The Novella‘ series, (which I’ve just learned, whilst googling it, contains at least 55 books; so just the 51 or so left to collect…)


But once again, the star of my Books Read pile was a flimsy-looking tale about nothing by Tove Jansson, the Finnish artist and tale-spinner who (apparently) has published some of the most subtle and uncategorisable fiction I’ve ever read.


In ‘The Summer Book‘ we follow a young girl and her grandmother, (who often seem to change places emotionally throughout the book), doing nothing but passing time on their under-inhabited island off the Finnish coast. I’ve rarely seen an author pack so much magic, mystery and wisdom into so little space: just 22 chapters like 22 rocks tossed into a pool, rippling out in the reader’s mind. How has it taken me so long to find Tove Jansson? How long will it take me to read everything else she has written?

Books Bought, September 2017

The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter (Carson McCullers)

The Painter Of Signs (R.K.Narayan)

McSweeney’s Issue 2

Gulp; adventures on the alimentary canal (Mary Roach)

If It’s Not Funny, It’s Art (Demetri Martin)

The Acts Of King Arthur And His Noble Knights (John Steinbeck)

Bartleby The Scrivener (Herman Melville)

The White Castle (Orhan Pamuk)

Letters To A Young Scientist (Edward O.Wilson)

Histories Of Nations: how their identities were forged (ed.Peter Furtado)

Finn Family Moomintroll (Tove Jansson)

Moominland Midwinter (Tove Jansson)

Comet In Moominland (Tove Jansson)

Moominsummer Madness (Tove Jansson)

The Exploits Of Moominpappa (Tove Jansson)

Moominpappa At Sea (Tove Jansson)

Moominpappa’s Memoirs (Tove Jansson)


Books Read, September 2017 (highly recommended books in bold)

The Left Hand Of Darkness (Ursula K.LeGuin)

The Summer Book (Tove Jansson)

If It’s Not Funny, It’s Art (Demetri Martin)

The Intuitionist (Colson Whitehead)

Reasons To Live (Amy Hempel)

At The Gates Of The Animal Kingdom (Amy Hempel)

Tumble Home (Amy Hempel)

The Dog Of The Marriage (Amy Hempel)

Bartleby The Scrivener (Herman Melville)

Letters To A Young Scientist (Edward O.Wilson)

The Painter Of Signs (R.K.Narayan)

The Italians (John Hooper)

A Literary Tour Of Italy (Tim Parks)


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Posted by on October 30, 2017 in BOOKS


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150. Books Bought & Read, November 2016…

150. Books Bought & Read, November 2016…

30 books bought, 14 read in the penultimate month of 2016, and around half of them were polished off on the beaches of Bali, on my honeymoon.

After October Comic Con in New York, the early part of November consisted mainly of reading a couple of graphic novels and finishing a few more books on Manhattan history, (since I begin my fourth incarnation is a vagabond guide next week), as well as polishing off a couple more in the wonderful (and wonderfully short) Ted Talks books, which are so good they will be getting their own blog entry soon.

But from November 14 my wife and I packed up our flippers, masks and a bag each of books and decamped to the land of temples, smiles, and nasi goreng for breakfast.

In hindsight, I realise that it may be slightly strange that the three main books I read on my honeymoon involved slavery, murder, and a blend of both in apartheid South Africa, but as you can see from the list at the end of the blog, they all ended up in bold, because they were all wonderful in their own way.

After every single person I have ever read had recommended it to me, I finally used the beach time to read Donna Tartt’s ‘The Secret History,’ (which was great although it lacked a final twist I was vaguely expecting). I also finally know why Colson Whitehead’s chilling ‘The Underground Railroad‘ won just about every award going last year, for his tale of an escaped 19th century slave experiencing various incarnations of the issue of slavery on a state by state basis.

Most surprisingly was how much I enjoyed ‘Daily Show‘ host Trevor Noah‘s autobiography, and not just because I have spent a few months in his native South Africa. The comedian writes simply and smoothly, with far less comedy than expected, but with wonderful stories on the importance of languages in the incredibly multilingual Johannesburg, and how a life of crime can seem commonplace when you’re inside a practically hopeless situation.

He even manages to make an anecdote about burning down somebody’s house seem somehow innocent.


Continuing my gradual Americanisation, I managed to buy not one but two books on baseball this month…although I haven’t read either of them yet, and may well never even open them.

And talking of books to be seen and not read, most of my haul from work last month fell firmly into the ‘coffee table‘ category, (or, since we don’t own a coffee table, the ‘Top Shelf of the Bookshelf‘ category), mainly art books along with a beautiful, over-sized tome on the making of the musical ‘Hamilton‘, (the closest I will get to the Broadway show for a while, I fear).

Perhaps most exciting was finally reading a graphic novel from my old friend Sylvain, (under his pen name of Runberg), who provided me with a signed copy of his latest, (of 68!), when he came to town last month.


Go check them all out.



Books Bought, November 2016

Follow Your Gut: the enormous impact of tiny microbes (Bob Knight & Brenda Shuler)

The Botany Of Desire (Michael Pollan)

Jeter: unfiltered (Derek Jeter)

McSweeney’s No.48 (various)

Pitching In A Pinch: baseball from the inside (Christy Mathewson)

Silence (Suhusaku Endo)

Color (Victoria Finlay)

The Learners (Chip Kidd)

Day Of The Oprichnik (Vladimir Sorokin)

Peter Pan (J.M.Barrie)

1Q84 (Haruki Murakami)

Awful Auntie (David Walliams)

The Search (Geoff Dyer)

The Colour Of Memory (Geoff Dyer)

The Missing Of The Somme (Geoff Dyer)

Hamilton: the revolution (Lin-Manuel Miranda & Jeremy McCarter)

Justine (Lawrence Durrell)

Saints And Strangers (Angela Carter)

Fireworks: nine profane pieces (Angela Carter)

History Of Beauty (ed.Umberto Eco)

The Speech Writer: a brief education in politics (Barton Swaim)

Payoff: the hidden logic that shapes our motivations (Dan Ariely)

The Geography Of Genius: lessons from the world’s most creative places (Eric Weiner)

Slice Harvester: a memoir in pizza (Colin Atrophy Hagendorf)

Birth And Present: a studio portrait of yoshitomo nara

Warren The 13th And The All-Seeing Eye (Tania Del Rio & Will Staehle)

The Infidels (Marcel Dzama)

A Picasso Portfolio

Si Pangeran Kecil/The Little Prince (Indonesian version) (Antoine de Saint Exupéry)

Decoded (Mai Jia)


Books Read, November 2016

Warship Jolly Roger (Sylvain Runberg & Miguel Montlló)

Payoff: the hidden logic that shapes our motivations (Dan Ariely)

Follow Your Gut: the enormous impact of tiny microbes, (Bob Knight & Brenda Shuler)

Inside The Apple: a streetwise history of new york city (Michelle & James Nevius)

Summer Blonde (Adrian Tomine)

Naming New York: manhattan places and how they got their names (Sanna Feierstein)

Awful Auntie (David Walliams)

The Coast Of Utopia, pt.1: voyage (Tom Stoppard)

Secret New York: an unusual guide (T.M.Rives)

The Speech Writer: a brief education in politics (Barton Swaim)

Born A Crime: stories from a south african childhood (Trevor Noah)

The Underground Railroad (Colson Whitehead)

The Secret History (Donna Tartt)

Wilderness Tips (Margaret Atwood)



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Posted by on December 11, 2016 in BOOKS


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131. Books Bought & Read, October 2014…

131. Books Bought & Read, October 2014…


Don’t forget to check out and order my first ever published book, available here!


October’s reading, (and purchasing), was brought to you courtesy of a three-week holiday (vacation) to the city that only sleeps when it’s tired, or has a job interview early the next morning, or because the bars have all closed at 2am: New York.

A long flight and metro journeys between my base of Brooklyn and the island once known by the natives as Mana-hatta, (amazing what you can learn on a walking tour…), allowed me to get through seventeen wonderful, and not always short books: The Strand and various lovely, (and cheap), book sellers on the streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, allowed me to bring a further 26 home with me, (at least, the ones which weren’t left behind as presents).


The Strand, the world’s largest bookshop…

One of them, Colson Whitehead’sThe Colossus Of New York‘ came to me in the opposite direction, a lovely and unexpected gift on my 17th 37th birthday, and the perfect jazz prose-poem for somebody wandering the streets of the city, for the first or fiftieth time. A new author for me to look out for, this slim and gorgeous time gets 9/10 on the Borges/Brown scale.

(I decided to abandon grading all of the books I read: my blog was almost impossible to even get to last month, so from this month I am just awarding the Borges mark of excellence to any book on the list which I highly recommend reading.)

Bill Bryson‘s story of a single topic (aviation) in a single year (1927) in American history is fascinating, thanks to not covering just one year or one topic but everything from Communism and Prohibition to baseball and murder cases, and I highly recommend it. Since I try to match my reading to my location, I also finally read Brooklyn-based Michael Chabon’s modern classic ‘The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier And Clay,’ a beautiful tale of World War II refugees, New York life, and comic books. Perfect.


I was guilty of buying a book of which I already own two copies, but since my signed copies of Haruki Murakami’s latest offering is safe in The Cupboard in the UK, and the US version has a different, (and far more gorgeous) cover, I felt entirely justified. The book was everything I’ve come to expect from one of my favourite writers…although no more. Not underwhelming, just not as overwhelming as I’d hoped.


After returning to Lisbon to continue life and work, I flew through a couple of comic books picked up at New York’s ComicCon, which were nowhere near as much fun as their animated originals, and got back to my latest love, Portuguese literature and especially a fascinating offering from Next Great Portuguese Thing, Gonçalo M.Tavares. If you can find him in translation, I recommend his experimental style highly.


New York Comic Con…

If you like that sort of thing.

Which I do.

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Books Bought, October 2014

Burmese Days,’ George Orwell

Pastoralia,’ George Saunders

Civilwarland In Bad Decline,’ George Saunders

State By State: a panoramic portrait of america,’ ed. Matt Weiland & Sean Wilsey

The Fiddler In The Subway,’ Gene Weingarten

Manual Of Painting And Calligaphy,’ José Saramago

Adventure Time: trade paperback vol.2.

Regular Show: trade paperback vol.1.

The Graveyard Book,’ Neil Gaiman

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki And His Years Of Pilgrimage,‘ Haruki Murakami

Strong Opinions,’ Vladimir Nabakov

Stuff: compulsive hoarding and the meaning of things,’ Gail Steketee & Randy Frost

On The Map: why the world looks the way it does,’ Simon Garfield

Brief Interviews With Hideous Men,’ David Foster Wallace

Northern Lights,’ Philip Pullman

Anansi Boys,’ Neil Gaiman

Freedom Evolves,’ Daniel.C.Dennett

From Hell,’ Alan Moore & Eddie Campbell

Jerusalém,’ Gonçalo M. Tavares

Provavelmente Alegria,’ José Saramago

O Massacre Dos Judeus: lisboa, 19 de abril de 1506,’ Susana Mateus & Paulo Mendes Pinto

Antic Hay,’ Aldous Huxley

Chrome Yellow,’ Aldous Huxley

Mortal Coils,’ Aldous Huxley

Ballet,’ Arnold Haskell

Biografia De Lisboa,’ Magda Pinheiro


Books Read, October 2014

One Summer: America, 1927: ,’ Bill Bryson borges

The Rachel Papers,’ Martin Amis

The Amazing Adventures Of  Kavalier And Clay,’ Michael Chabon borges

Salvador,’ Joan Didion

But Beautiful,’ Geoff Dyer

The Song Of Achilles,’ Madeline Miller

The Testament Of Mary,’ Colm Tóibín

Civilwarland In Bad Decline,’ George Saunders

The Colossus Of New York: a city in thirteen parts,’ Colson Whitehead borges

One More Thing: stories and other stories,’ B.J.Novak

Stuff: compulsive hoarding and the meaning of things,’ Gail Steketee & Randy Frost

Regular Show: trade paperback vol.1.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves,’ Karen Joy Fowler

Adventure Time: trade paperback vol.2.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki And His Years Of Pilgrimage,‘ Haruki Murakami

Jerusalém,’ Gonçalo M. Tavares borges

Provavelmente Alegria,’ José Saramago

borges = recommended book


Posted by on December 9, 2014 in BOOKS


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