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139. Books Bought & Read, February 2015…

65 books bought.

That’s more than many people read in a year. More than some read in a lifetime.

Any other month, having read 23 books would have felt like quite an accomplishment, even for me.

Not this month.

I blame my brother and girlfriend, enablers of the worst possible kind. What kind of brother and girlfriend take me to an annual Brooklyn Park Slope book sale? With thousands of books on dozens of rickety tables just begging to be taken to a good home?! In my defence, I repaid their kindness in books, so not all of those 65 were for me…but most of them were.

And that was before I’d even set foot in my temple, The Strand

My favourite item of merchandise from The Strand...

My favourite item of merchandise from The Strand…

Series were this month’s obsession: a gift of the classic Ursula K Le Guin trilogy and the discovery of the wonderfully messed up Lemony Snicket tales by Daniel Handler were the cause of a few hours reading, and as ever when I’m in NY there were some great kids’ books which my niece introduced me to, (I finally got to read Oliver Jeffers‘ ‘The Day The Crayons Quit,’ which I’m not ashamed to say I became quite choked up over when she told me it was her ‘favourite ever,‘ since I bought it for her).

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Whilst buying books as presents I had time to indulge in some re-reading, (something I very rarely do), of favourites such as Neil Gaiman, but there were four books which stood out and which I highly recommend for completely differing reasons:

Firstly, if you love the lost art of letters, and history, and a gorgeously bound book, ‘Letters Of Note‘ was just made for you. Originally a popular website, this was the biggest success story of the book-only crowd-funding website I love so much, Unbound, and I read it on my iPhone before gifting it to my girlfriend’s parents. If you want to read about how Elvis became Nixon’s drugs sheriff, how JFK was rescued from a desert island by carving an SOS into a coconut, or how Adolf Hitler’s nephew requested the right to join the US army to find the Nazis, all of this and more come straight from the source in one of the most fascinating, touching, educational and downright gorgeous books I have ever read.

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Secondly, if you like to know how the world works, and have a thirst for topics as wide-ranging as baseball statistics, earthquakes, betting, voting, poker and the weather forecast, Nate Silver has the book for you. My brother had been recommending this meaty tome to me for a while, and the flight from Europe to the US was perfect for finally finding out what it means when a weather forecast says there is a 40% or a 60% chance of rain, (and why it is almost never 50%); how to predict elections; and how chess computers learned to beat Grand Masters. Among many, many other things. This was like a Gladwell book on super fast-forward, (and I’m sure you know by now how much I love a good Gladwell book!)

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Thirdmost, after being incredibly disappointed by his ‘A Hologram For The King,’ Dave Eggers returned to wonderful, weird, genre-busting, hilarious form with the fantastically titled ‘Your Fathers, Where Are They? And Your Prophets, Do They Live Forever?‘ I won’t tell you anything about it. Just go and read it. It’s lots of fun.

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Finally, a gorgeous edition of a book I had never heard of, and an author I really should have, proved that not only should you sometimes judge a book by its cover, but if you’re lucky that book will be wondrously weird and also contain an introduction by one of your all time favourite authors, as Neil Gaiman was there in the opening pages to tell me that when it comes to James Thurber’sThe 13 Clocks,‘ “…there has never been anything like this before, and there will never be anything like this again.”

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It is, indeed, a gem of a nonsense children’s book, by an author I hope to explore further, but don’t let children hog all the fun.

(You can even get a free Kindle download of it here.)

).

Books Bought, February 2015

National Geographic: 100 melhores imagens,’ (National Georgaphic: the 100 best photos)

Violeta e Indigo Descobrem Picasso,’ (‘Violet and Indigo discover Picasso’), Isabel Zambuiac & Júlio Vanzelar

Violeta e Indigo Descobrem Leonardo Da Vinci,’ (‘Violet and Indigo discover Leonardo Da Vince’)Isabel Zambuiac & Júlio Vanzelar x2

Estorvo,’ (‘Nuisance’), Chico Buarque

Jerusalém,’ Gonçalo M.Tavares

The Believer Magazine’ issues 2, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11

A Man: Klaus Klump,’ Gonçalo M.Tavares

The Best Of McSweeney’s Internet Tendency’ ed. Chris Monk & John Warner

Sprezzatura,’ Peter D’Epiro & Mary Desmond Pinkowish

Barracuda,’ Christos Tsiolkas

Another Day Of Life,’ Ryszard Kapuściński

Founding Brothers,’ Joseph J.Ellis

13 Days,’ Robert Kennedy

Coach,’ Michael Lewis

Happiness: ten years of n+1′

The Little Endless Story Book,’ Jill Murphy

I Feel Bad About My Neck,’ Nora Ephron

Leaving Microsoft To Change The World,’ John Wood

The Genius Of Language,’ ed. Wendy Lesser

The Bedside Book Of Beasts,’ Graeme Gibson

I Explain A Few Things: selected poems,’ Pablo Neruda

A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius,’ Dave Eggers

A Series Of Unfortunate Events: vol.3, the wide window, ,Lemony Snicket

A Series Of Unfortunate Events: vol.4, the miserable hill, ,Lemony Snicket

A Series Of Unfortunate Events: vol.5, the austere academy,Lemony Snicket

A Series Of Unfortunate Events: vol.6, the ersatz elevator,Lemony Snicket

S,’ J.J.Abrams & Doug Dorst

Your Fathers, Where Are They? And Your Prophets, Do They Live Forever?‘ Dave Eggers

Zeitoun,’ Dave Eggers

The Convalescent,’ Jessica Anthony

The Path To The Spiders’ Nests,’ Italo Calvino

Far From The Tree,’ Andrew Solomon

The Noonday Demon,’ Andrew Solomon

Hergé: son of tintin,’ Benoît Peeters

The Time Traveler’s Wife,’ Audrey Niefenegger

The Cheese Monkeys: a novel in 2 semesters,’ Chip Kidd

Blindness,’ José Saramago

Number9Dream,’ David Mitchell

Haroun And The Sea Of Stars,’ Salman Rushdie

The Better Of McSweeney’s’

‘I Am A Cat,’ Natsume Soseki

For The Relief Of Unbearable Urges,’ Nathan Englander

Copenhagen,’ Michael Frayn

The Tipping Point,’ Malcolm Gladwell

Outliers,’ Malcolm Gladwell

A Series Of Unfortunate Events: vol.11, the grim grotto,Lemony Snicket

Atonement,’ Ian McEwan

Boy Detective Fails,’ Joe Meno

Clockwork,’ Philip Pullman

Mating,’ Norman Rush

Written On the Body,’ Jeanette Winterson

First Love/The Diary Of A Superfluous Man,’ Ivan Turgenev

Poet In New York,’ Federico García Lorca

Holidays On Ice,’ David Sedaris

The 13 Clocks,’ James Thurber

The Further Adventures Of The Queen Mum,’ Harry Hill

Myth: a very short introduction,’ Robert A.Segal

Movie Charts: comedy graphs of the films you love,’ Paul Copperwaite

The Consolations Of Philosophy,’ Alain de Botton

The Last Wild,’ Piers Torday

Emil And The Detectives,’ Erich Kästner

Rembrandt,’ Michael Brockemühl

Charlie And The Chocolate Factory,’ Roald Dahl

The Hueys In:  the new jumper,’ Oliver Jeffers

Letters Of Note,’ ed.Shaun Usher

.

Books Read, February 2015

Grandes Entrevistas Da História, vol.6′ (‘Great Interviews Of History, Vol.1)

Grandes Entrevistas Da História, vol.7′ (‘Great Interviews Of History, Vol.1)

Coach: lessons on the game of life,’ Michael Lewis

Letters Of Note: an eclectic collection of correspondence deserving of a wider audience,’ ed.Shaun Usher borges

I Feel Bad About My Neck,’ Nora Ephron

The Little Endless Storybook,’ Jill Thompson
.
The Runaway Dinner,’ Allan Ahlberg & Bruce Ingman
.

Clockwork,’ Philip Pullman

The 13 Clocks,’ James Thurber borges

Fortunately, The Milk…,’ Neil Gaiman

The Signal And The Noise: the art and science of prediction,’  Nate Silver borges

Copenhagen,’ Michael Frayn

Your Fathers, Where Are They? And Your Prophets, Do They Live Forever?‘ Dave Eggers borges

The Best Of McSweeney’s Internet Tendency’ ed. Chris Monk & John Warner borges

The Hueys In:  the new jumper,’ Oliver Jeffers

The Further Adventures Of The Queen Mum,’ Harry Hill

Movie Charts: comedy graphs of the films you love,’ Paul Copperwaite

The Wizard Of Earthsea,’ Ursula K. Le Guin
.

The Tombs Of Atuan,’ Ursula K. Le Guin

The Farthest Shore,’ Ursula K. Le Guin

The Day The Crayons Quit,’ Oliver Jeffers & Drew Daywalt borges

A Series Of Unfortunate Events: vol.1, the bad beginning, ,Lemony Snicket
.

A Series Of Unfortunate Events: vol.2, the reptile room,’ Lemony Snicket

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Posted by on July 15, 2015 in BOOKS

 

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107. ‘No One Belongs Here More Than You,’ Miranda July…

107. ‘No One Belongs Here More Than You,’ Miranda July…

Short

stories

are

BRILLIANT!

I have found myself reading a lot of them recently, and even discovering new favourite authors, from George Saunders to Etgar Keret.

They are an art form unto themselves, following different rules, logic and styles to other types of literature and, best of all, if you’re not enjoying one it’s all over soon enough and you can move onto another.

But even knowing all of this, and with glowing praise from newspapers, magazines and authors (including my beloved Dave Eggers) on the front and back covers, I was still blown away with how good Miranda July‘s 2005 debut ‘No One Belongs Here More Than You‘ was/is.

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As you can see from the website she set up to promote the book, she has a quirky, indie sense of humour which comes flooding out in the 16 tales told in this compilation, but it is a humour interwoven with an array of emotions and issues: ball-shrinking awkwardness, (‘Making Love In 2003‘ is the best excuse for paedophilia since ‘Lolita‘ only in a more sci-fi, hilarious way, if you can picture that); feminism; social awkwardness; sexual awkwardness; physical awkwardness, (it occurs to me, writing this, that there is a lot of awkwardness in there, which I probably should have guessed given the title…but awkwardness, as fans of ‘The Office‘ will know, is often amusing); and underlying it all, love.

Where we find love, how we find love, how it finds us, how it avoids finding us, what we put up with to convince ourselves we have it – these are all things you may learn reading this book. But most of all, you will have fun.

At the 2013 Hay Literature Festival I had the honour of attending a talk by the aforementioned George Saunders using a wonderful Donald Barthelme short story to deconstruct the art of the short story. (I am delighted to find that the piece itself is free to read online here). It was all about the journey and not the ending, the author leading the reader to new, unexpected places, and doing it in under incredibly restrictive parameters. (I think. I don’t remember it too well, and don’t have time to go back and listen to it, which you can do if you feel like, here).

If you haven’t read many short stories, you could do a lot worse than start here.

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Posted by on March 9, 2014 in BOOKS

 

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92. An Evening With Nick Hornby…

92. An Evening With Nick Hornby…

I can’t believe it has taken me this long to finally meet one of my favourite authors, a man who not only lives in London but loves music, books and football, as well as McSweeney’s and The Believer and a whole host of other things I also know and love.

But all that changed when around fifty people gathered on plastic stools in the back of legendary indie record label Rough Trade‘s East London megastore to hear a Q&A promoting Nick‘s latest book. A mere seven years after the first compilation of his monthly ‘Stuff I’ve Been Reading’ column for The Believer magazine, (2006’s ‘The Polysyllabic Spree‘), comes the sequel, titled simply: ‘Stuff I’ve Been Reading’.

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Part of my excitement was, naturally, due to the fact that this is the column which directly inspired the last two years of my creative life, (i.e. this book blog), and wasn’t dampened in the least when I found out that for some confusing international publishing reason I already actually owned the book, since there have been several volumes released Stateside which I have managed to pick up over the years.

Nick was excellently interviewed by Canadian journalist and author Craig Taylor, and the theme of the evening, 2013-11-14 19.23.55(and, indeed, of the monthly articles), soon became clear: you should read what you want, and what you enjoy. The Believer has a policy of not saying bad things about people or artworks, and so Nick quickly began self-censoring his To Read list and (something which I am physically incapable of doing) abandoning books after just a few pages if they were not enjoyable enough.

In other words, stop buying books like ‘Frost/Nixon‘ (the example given on the night) thinking of yourself as ‘The kind of person who reads ‘Frost/Nixon‘ in an ideal world where you had enough time to read books like ‘Frost/Nixon‘ when, if you’re honest, that copy of ‘Frost/Nixon‘  will almost certainly sit, unread, on the shelf for the rest of your life.

(Pretty soon, I was feeling kind of sorry for ‘Frost/Nixon‘ and making plans to buy it at the soonest opportunity).

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We learned of Nick‘s recent jazz obsession inspired by the book ‘Love Goes To Buildings On Fire: five years in new york which changed music forever‘ by Will Hermes, which led to a recommendation with which I whole-heartedly agree: that books which focus on a single period, (a year, a decade), but cover a range of topics are incredibly satisfying to read because you learn about things (such as sewage, for example) which you would never know about otherwise because, let’s be honest, who is going to read an entire book about sewage?

Photo courtesy of Antipode Foundation under the Creative Commons license

Photo courtesy of the Antipode Foundation under the Creative Commons license

After a few readings from the new book were given, your humble blogger actually kick-started the Q&A due to a surprisingly shy crowd, taking the opportunity to help promote Nick’s work with the fantastic after-school writing charity the Hoxton Street Monster Supplies shop, a branch of the incredible Dave Eggers-founded 826 Valencia programme. This led to further charity-based news of a forthcoming album release, with famous bands and singers recording the lyrics of students from the programme. Here is a sneak preview, (and one of the coolest things I’ve seen/heard for a while). Fans of Little Britain will be especially thrilled:

The night ended with a signing session, (sadly not a singing one), during which each and every fan was given time and a friendly chat, including a promise to my Argentine journalist friend to arrange an email interview exchange which I hope to piggyback on and share with you in the near future. The evening was such a resounding success that I even failed to take my traditional stalker’s photo…but never fear, I took one for my friend to treasure back in Buenos Aires.

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And, in fact, the night really ended with one last signing on Rough Trade’s Wall of Fame…or, in this case, asking the author to risk life and limb to add his name to their Ceiling of Fame. Ah, the perils of fame!

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Posted by on November 30, 2013 in BOOKS

 

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