Tag Archives: Demetri Martin

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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127. ‘Two Girls, One On Each Knee,’ Alan Connor…

127. ‘Two Girls, One On Each Knee,’ Alan Connor…

Two Girls, One On Each Knee,’ Alan Connor

As a lover words, games, puzzles and things you can complete, finish and look at and say: yes, that’s done, I have always enjoyed crosswords.

But let me qualify that: I have always enjoyed 50% of the crossword world.

What’s the capital of Peru? Who wrote ‘A Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich’? How many players are there on a basketball team?

These are the kinds of crosswords I enjoy, also known as Quick Crosswords.


Having read Alan Connor‘s book on the Quick Crosswords older, respectable brother the Cryptic Crossword, I finally feel ready to give a chance to an area of puzzling I had always glanced at, got angry at, and avoided at all costs.

In this sense, it reminded me very much of Sylvia Nasar’s ‘A Beautiful Mind‘ on maths genius John Forbes Nash Jr. which was so well written it rekindled a love of numbers which I had somewhat sacrificed to words in my teens, and I rushed straight out to my university library to read some maths books.

Which I didn’t understand a word of, and which confused me.


Picture from Memebase

In other words, Connor takes a complicated topic and makes it fun and interesting, whilst at the same time giving you the half-dozen or so basic rules you need to begin to penetrate this apparently impenetrable art form – from when to look for anagrams, to dividing each clue into the two (or more) different styles of clue, direct and punning.

It was also full of fantastic trivia: how could I have gone this long without knowing that famous aficionados included literary geniuses Georges Perec and Vladimir Nabakov? Or that a Simpsons episode once revolved around the actual crossword puzzle which had featured in an American newspaper that day, allowing the Venn diagram of people who love both to have one of the most surreal experiences as they came together?


Cryptic crosswords used to be used in English literature as short-hand for England, education and intelligence in a very tweedy sense, but the form is around almost a century later, and used for everything from marriage proposals to best wishes for retiring teachers…from my old high school, no less!

The chapter on anagrams will please anyone who loves language, (and reminded me of the wonderful work of comedian/singer/writer/nice guy Demetri Martin), as well as offering an alternative to the famous Panama palindrome with:

“A dog; a plan; a canal; pagoda!”

which tickled me immensely.


Palindrome-tastic Demetri Martin


I leave my favourite crossword-based story for last though. In 1996 one of the famous crossword creators, (and the thing I took away most from this work was how impressive, consistent, inventive and world-famous these creators can be), made American solvers furious by daring to have two clues to answer: ‘Lead story in tomorrow’s newspaper (!)’, i.e. who would win the next day’s presidential election.

Was he guessing? Did he know something nobody should have done? How did he do it?

The answer is genius…and here!

You thought cryptic crosswords were difficult? They may be even more complicated than you think!


Picture from Memebase

Or, after reading this book, possibly just that little bit easier. I don’t know – I still haven’t tried to solve one yet…

(And in case you were wondering, the ‘cryptic’ book title is one of the easier clues to get…but they all feel pretty good when you get one! If you need a hint: ‘one on each knee’ is the literal clue, and ‘two girls’ is the cryptic part. Think of names, and medicine, and leave me a comment if you want to know the answer).




Posted by on October 12, 2014 in BOOKS


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41. Books Bought & Read, August 2012…

41. Books Bought & Read, August 2012…

Books Bought, August 2012

Hitch 22,’ Chirstopher Hitchens

It’s Not Me, It’s You,’ Jon Richardson

The Rough Guide To Graphic Novels,’ Danny Fingeroth

Stick To Drawing Comics, Monkey Brain!,’ Scott Adams

Pure,’ Andrew Miller

Rescuing The Spectacled Bear,’ Stephen Fry

Rant,’ Chuck Palahniuk

The Big Short,’ Michael Lewis

Very Good, Jeeves,’ P.G.Wodehouse

How I Work; the secret life of authors,’ edited by Dan Crowe 

Breakdowns; portrait of the artist as a young %@&*!,’ Art Spiegelman

The Skating Rink,’ Roberto Bolaño


Books Read, August 2012

Yoga For People Who Don’t Like Doing It,’ Geoff Dyer

Priceless,’ Robert.K.Whitman

It’s Not Me, It’s You,’ Jon Richardson

‘Believer Magazine: no.90’ 

This Is A Book,’ Demetri Martin

The Selected Works Of T.S.Spivet,’ Reif Larson

Breakdowns; portrait of the artist as a young %@&*!,’ Art Spiegelman 

The Big Short,’ Michael Lewis

Rant,’ Chuck Palahniuk

The Skating Rink,’ Roberto Bolaño

August was an anomaly of a month for me: practically no books bought by my standards, (and a third of the twelve i did get my hands on were all bought in the space of half an hour, in a fantastic bookshop in central Oxford where every book costs just £2), and a blog-era low of just ten read, (and one of them was a magazine, but The Believer packs more into its 80 pages than most novels I have ever read).

The reason? As for so much else, (my lack of sleep for two and a half weeks; my lack of income for the same period; the curious phenomenon of people in London enjoying themselves), you can blame the Olympics. From July 27th until August 12th, I sacrificed not just my job, but also my reading time to volunteering at the Olympic Volleyball venue, (regular, not beach, in case you were wondering). Shifts lasted anything from ten hours to past-last-train-o’clock, and though I loved every minute of the games, books took a back seat. Whilst I did optimistically cram a novel into the miniscule shoulder bag which was the only bag we were officially allowed to carry, it was the same one for the entire competition, and was barely ever cracked open: even train and bus journeys were spent reading the Metro, London’s free newspaper, which was packed with Olympic news and seemed to magically always last the exact length of my journey.

It was therefore quite a light month in both quantity and quality, featuring an over-sized comic, (admittedly, a deeply dark, underground comic compilation by the author of the amazing Maus); a half-comic, half-ramble of general hilarity by Woody Allen-alike Demetri Martin; a book by cheeky English comedian Jon Richardson, (albeit on the topic of the difficulties of finding a girlfriend when you have OCD!); given some gravitas by Michael Lewis‘s excellent account of how Credit Default Swaps almost ended modern economic life as we know it, (only he could make that as interesting as he does); and the conceptually fascinating notes with occasional novel attahed which is Reif Larson‘s ‘The Selected Works Of T.S.Spivet.

But you’ll have to wait for upcoming posts for reviews of those, because that’s how I’ve decided to do things from now on: monthly lists, followed by regular one-off reviews interspersed with the occasional compilations of quotes.


(PS For those of you who enjoy my little hyperlinks, which are both as apt and interesting as I can possibly make them, and take an amazing amount of time to source, there is an absolute diamond of a cross-over link this blog: see if you can find it, and enjoy the interview!

“I don’t have a Plan B, because my plans are numbered: I have a Plan 2…”)


Posted by on October 9, 2012 in BOOKS


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