Tag Archives: Italo Calvino

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)


Leave a comment

Posted by on October 30, 2017 in BOOKS


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

136. 2014 In (Book) Review…

136. 2014 In (Book) Review…

Blimey, writing a book takes time. Who knew?

It is the first week of March, 2015, and only now am I getting around to analysing the stats of my 2014 in books, with most of my spare time nowadays being dedicated to writing my tales of travel and trouble. (Copies of the book will be available for sale shortly, in case anyone is interested!)

Screen Shot 2014-12-24 at 11.11.10

My final tally for 2014?

229 books bought, 143 read:

a net annual LG (or Literature Gap, a measurement I have just invented), of 86.

As far as this book blog went, it had a fairly impressive 6,800 views, (impressive given that, with all my travels and sports writing, this has essentially been downgraded from a weekly blog to a monthly one…at best…), and featured 358 photos. Apparently, I also usually post on a Monday.


My most viewed blog was what i was reading in October… 2013!! I like to think it was the insightful reviews of David Foster Wallace and Italo Calvino that brought you there, but knowing the internet, it was probably the photo of Hitler-cat.


Still, it made me happy that my third most popular release this year was my centennial effort, my interview with the wonderful Nick Hornby.


The blog had viewers from 111 different countries! I’m not even sure i can name that many countries! The USA took top spot, then then the UK and Portugal, which makes sense given my travels, living locations, and friendships.


My new year’s blogging resolutions include: to add to my Top 10 blogs, for both authors and books…10 is a ridiculously small number anyway!

This being my third year of blogging, I could go back to my reviews of 2012 and 2013 and calculate some averages: I buy an average of 235 books each year, and manage to read almost 160 of them. And before you ask, no, I you can’t have my life: I’m using it.

Keep dropping by for monthly updates as I make my way further into the world of the writer, and feel free to subscribe to make sure you never miss one of these irregular posts again!


Leave a comment

Posted by on March 5, 2015 in BOOKS


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

102. Books Bought & Read, January 2014…

102. Books Bought & Read, January 2014…

Books Bought, January 2014

Our Ancestors,’ Italo Calvino 

Writing Home,’ Alan Bennett  

The Brothers Karamazov,’ Fyodor Dostoevsky  

Oeuvres,’ Antoine de St.Exupéry  

Voo Nocturno,’ (Vol De Nuit), Antoine de St.Exupéry   

Figuras E Figurações,’ Octavio Paz & Marie José Paz  

A Viagem Do Elefante,’ (The Elephant’s Journey), José Saramago  

Small Memories,’ José Saramago  

O Pátio Maldito,’ (The Damned Yard), Ivo Andrić  


Books Read, January 2014

Cartas Da Inglaterra, (Letters From England), Eça de Queirós

Small Memories,’ José Saramago  

A Viagem Do Elefante,’ (The Elephant’s Journey), José Saramago  

The Cloven Viscount,’ Italo Calvino 

Baron In The Trees,’ Italo Calvino 

The Nonexistent Knight,’ Italo Calvino 

The Ayn Rand Reader,’ ed.Gary Hull  

Introducing Lévi-Strauss,’ Boris Wiseman & Judy Groves  

Beatrice And Virgil,’ Yann Martell  

Quartéis De Inverno’, (Winter Quarters), Osvaldo Soriano

‘Sobre A Republica,’ (On The Republic),  Fernando Pessoa

De Port Said A Suez,’ (From Port Said To Suez), Eça de Queirós

The Comfort Of Strangers,’ Ian McEwan

Gilbert And Sullivan: the story of the partnership,’ Hesketh Pearson


In my life, I have somehow never lost my house keys, a wallet, or a notebook, all of which is kind of astonishing.

Until now.

Whilst out on a work-based evening team building exercise, (i.e. visiting some bars in downtown Lisbon with some co-workers), I took out my faithful Lego-edition Moleskine notebook to take down some ideas…and when it came to writing this monthly Books Bought & Read blog entry, there it was: gone.

There it was...gone.

There it was…gone.

The first time in my life I have ever lost a notebook, and it was full with book ideas, notes on the history of Lisbon and Portugal, and a million other things from the past year or so of my life, from song ideas to my beloved ‘To Do’ lists.

I am taking it Stoically, Buddhistly, and as Zen as possible. I recently discovered a new a new place to get my notebook fix, and this gives me a chance to start using them: handmade, Japanese-influenced notebooks crafted by some nice young folk here in Lisboa. Best of all, they are named after the Portuguese who invaded in the 16th century, ‘Namban‘ or ‘Southern Barbarians’, also the name of my favourite band in Japan.


Handmade notebooks…


…made in Portugal, inspired by Japan.

All of this blatant advertising, (for my favourite brands of notebook and my friend’s band), is by way of explaining that this month’s totals of books purchased and devoured is being recorded largely by memory, and may not be 100% accurate.

Six of this month’s 14 books read were either Portuguese books, or in Portuguese, or both: I got through two Saramagosone of which was bought at the museum dedicated to him in central Lisbon and featuring the cutest cover I’ve seen on a book for a while, (see the book cover collage below); the other was the slightly underwhelming ‘The Elephant’s Voyage.’ 

In a newly-discovered second-hand bookshop here, I picked up a sweet trilogy of Italo Calvino fables, (bought as one book, but listed in the ‘Books Read’ section as three. Because I’m the boss), my favourite being the fairytale earliest one, ‘The Cloven Viscount,’ (about a fighter who is blown in half by a cannonball, his evil half returning to his home town to cause trouble, before the purely selfless, and kind of annoying, better half comes back to face his ‘other half’).

I learned a lot about anthropology and Ayn Rand’s fairly terrifying libertarian philosophy from books read at the recently stumbled-upon (and reviewed), Pois Café; read an Argentinian author in Portuguese, (and was disappointed by it); and most fun of all, honoured the memory of my grandfather who, years ago, had me as a five-year old singing along to 19th century comic opera, and I thoroughly enjoyed the history of Gilbert & Sullivan which I unearthed in a gorgeous old 1935 Penguin edition. It features not only the most 1930’s English name you could want from an author, but an author’s photo to match on the back jacket:


Hesketh Pearson: enough said!


I leave you with Namban Notebook’s promotional video, and the traditional monthly cover collage of books read.

Happy February to you all!


15741216 Fernando-Pessoa-Sobre-a-Republica-Lisboa_432407431_2 Penguin 6 070 books n949 images 00740 url 654663 q1bgtk42sdebed4 capa_elefante_blog6321371


Posted by on February 5, 2014 in BOOKS


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,