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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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140. Books Bought & Read, March 2015…

140. Books Bought & Read, March 2015…
Plenty of presents and purchases in preparation for my impending new job as a tour guide in NYC which, incidentally, is where the majority of these books were bought on a flying visit to the Large Golden Delicious: 50 in total, in fact, and only a dozen read.
In yet another wildly unbalanced month, my bought/read ratio was damaged as I dedicated myself to my own novel, meaning that I was much more picky about the books I read. I finally got around to reading the seminal graphic novel ‘From Hell,’ Alan Moore’s interpretation of the Jack the Ripper murders, covering themes from royalty to masonry and the supernatural, all in a detailed, Sherlockian analysis. It was the only one of my reads this month to be awarded the coveted ‘Borges Book of Brilliance,’ by me.
The latest Gladwell was everything I expected it to be, (although nothing more), and Christos Tsiolkas‘ sophomore offering ‘Barracuda‘ does for swimming what Chad Harbach did for baseball and David Foster Wallace for tennis: the story of a teen’s on/off relationship with the sport through the social prism of modern-day Australia. It wasn’t quite as good as his debut, ‘The Slap,’ but enjoyable nonetheless.
My reading was really all over the place in March: a series of essays on language, by writers who were born in one and write in another, was only bought due to its beautiful, braille cover but proved to be fascinating, (especially for a linguist and writer like me); a bizarre kids’ classic in ‘Emil And The Detectives‘ was followed by an even more bizarre Japanese classic by the other Murakami, and later in the month I continued my slow assault on The Russians by reading my first and highly enjoyable Turgenev; and Portuguese history was joined by the always-amazing essays of David Sedaris, and this particular one on Dutch Christmas myths may be my new favourite by him.
I finished the month with another essay collection, slightly different from the Sedaris ones: ‘Sprezzatura,’ a wonderful Italian word for invention with flair, was a series of 50 three-page articles on the most famous people, inventions and historical moments in Italian (and, indeed, world) history, which left me with a deeper insight into the country I once spent six months inhabting. From St.Catherine of Sienna, (who lent her name to a school I once taught in) to St.Francis of Assisi, DaVinci to Dante, and ballet to law, there was something fascinating on just about every page of this two millennium journey.
Books Bought, March 2015
The Ask and the Answer,’ Patrick Ness
Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead,’ Neil Strauss
69,’ Ryu Murakami
Falling Man,Don DeLillo
Hopes And Prospects,’ Noam Chomsky
The BFG,’ Roald Dahl
Just So Stories,’ Rudyard Kipling
Black Mischief,’ Evelyn Waugh
Religion For Atheists,’ Alain DeBotton
Penguin: Great Ideas, Vol.II (20 book box set)
McSweeney’s Quarterly, issue 4
McSweeney’s Quarterly, issue 9
The Sometimes Cloudy Patriot,’ Sarah Vowell
The Alcoholic,’ Jonathan Ames
The Pale King,’ David Foster Wallace
A Confederate General From Big Sur/Dreaming Of Babylon/The Hawkline Monster,’ Richard Brautigan
By The Book: writers on literature and the literary life from the new york times book review,’ ed.Pamela Paul
That Is All,’ John Hodgman
David And Goliath,’ Malcolm Gladwell
Information Is Beautiful,’ David McCandless
A Child Again,’ Robert Coover
Assassination Vacation,’ Sarah Vowell
The Knowledge: how to rebuild civilization in the aftermath of a cataclysm,’ Lewis Dartnell
A Caça Ao Snark,’ (The Hunting Of The Snark), Lewis Carroll
O Incrível Rapáz Que Comía Livros,’ (The Incredible Book Eating Boy), Oliver Jeffers
Equívocos, Enganos  E Falsificacões Da História De Portugal,’ (Errors, Mistakes And Lies Of Portuguese History), Sérgio Luís De Carvalho
Grandes Entrevistas Da História,’ volume 1
Grandes Entrevistas Da História,’ volume 2

Grandes Entrevistas Da História,’ volume 3

Books Read, March 2015
The Last Wild,’ Piers Torday
Emil And The Detectives,’ Erich Kästner
69,’ Ryu Murakami
The Genius Of Language,’ ed.Wendy Lesser
From Hell,’ Alan Moore & Eddie Campbell  51-r5H5xvML._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_
Black Mischief,’ Evelyn Waugh
Barracuda,’ Christos Tsiolkas
Holidays On Ice,’ David Sedaris
First Love’ & ‘Diary Of A Superfluous Man,’ Ivan Turgenev
David And Goliath,’ Malcolm Gladwell
Equívocos, Enganos  E Falsificacões Da História De Portugal,’ (Errors, Mistakes And Lies Of Portuguese History), Sérgio Luís De Carvalho
Sprezzatura: 50 ways italian genius shaped the world,’ Peter D’Epiro & Mary Desmond Pinkowish

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Posted by on July 30, 2015 in BOOKS


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