Tag Archives: Jorge Luis Borges

129. A Night At The Bookshop…

129. A Night At The Bookshop…

Waterstones, which boasts the largest bookshop in Europe (as I was informed by staff when I spent the night outside it recently to meet Haruki Murakami), recently turned a potential publicity nightmare into a publicity dream with some slick marketing.

When an American tourist popped to the upper floor of the Trafalgar Square branch of the chain, he came down to discover he was locked in.

Rather than roll around naked covered in all of the books, or make the coolest book-fort ever, he tweeted about it until he was released.

The fool.


Waterstones quickly teamed up with Air B ‘n’ B to offer ten lucky readers the chance to spend the night in their flagship Piccadilly shop overnight, with inflatable mattresses, celebrity guests and, of course, tea to keep them company.

For some reason, a friend of mine thought this might interest me and posted the details on my Facebook page.

All potential lock-ins had to do was to answer the question:

“…what book you would read if you were to spend the night in a bookshop, and why.”


This is, obviously, an impossible question to answer. To obvious, and hundreds of others will have answered the same. Too obscure, and you will look like you are showing off. Anything about bookshops is out, of course, and after hours of trying to think of a single book which might stand out and get me picked, I decided to do what the best students have been doing since time immemorial, and answer a different question instead: what bookS I would read!

Here is my answer: what would yours be?

“If I were to spend the night in a bookshop, I would (not wasting time sleeping for a minute, of course), do my best to read a book from each formative stage of my (reading) life so far, and finish (around coffee o’clock in the morning) with a book I have always wanted to read but never gotten around to, these being in order: my childhood (and current all-time) favourite, ‘The Little Prince’ by Antoine de St.Exupéry; my pre-teen years passion, ‘The Worst Witch‘ by Jill Murphy; my teenage companion in pain, ‘The Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 and 3/4′ by the much missed Sue Townsend; my high school graphic novel-discovery days staple ‘The Sandman‘ by Neil Gaiman; my university-days, tongue-tapping go-to ‘Lolita‘ by Vladimir Nabakov; a selection of short stories, possibly ‘Fictions, by Jorge Luis Borges to represent my (ongoing) world-travelling days; and I would finish, if there were any minutes left in the day (night?), by reading a book of poetry, a promise I often make to myself and rarely fulfil, maybe ‘The Waste Land‘ by T.S.Eliot, (with Whitman’sLeaves of Grass‘ as a potential substitute, should I somehow finish them all.)”


PS In case you’re wondering, I didn’t win. I probably should have answered the question and taken my chances. Maybe they didn’t believe I could have read all of those books in one night, but they obviously don’t know me: if I don’t sleep on overnight flights in order to watch as many movies as possible, I certainly wouldn’t be sleeping if I got to spend the night in Europe’s largest bookshop!

Since I wasn’t in the country at the time of the sleepover, not winning was probably a good thing. Although if you think I wouldn’t have paid whatever it cost to fly back to London for the night to spend the night in a book shop, you obviously haven’t been paying attention to this blog…

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Posted by on November 6, 2014 in BOOKS


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65. My Top 10 Most Favouritest Authors EVER!…(pt.1)

A little research on how to make my blog more popular in my early days of writing revealed some interesting facts: people are most likely to read blogs on Monday morning. Or on weekends. Or was it in the afternoon, after lunch? There were several conflicting theories, (often accompanied by very convincing diagrams), and in the end I gave up trying to plan my blog entries and just hoped that good writing would be found by good people, (I’m looking at you).

However, EVERYone likes a good list, so I have finally decided to set down a Top 10 of my favourite authors.

Except that my Top 10 lists, just like every personality test I’ve ever taken, will change from day to day, and I almost never manage to stick to just ten.

So here, in no particular order, is the first part of my ‘ten’ favourite writers who you may like to explore.

(Their books, I mean: please don’t molest them if you happen to see them in the street).


1. Neil GAIMANneil-gaiman_l

Probably most famous for his graphic novel series ‘The Sandman,’ (containing the most amazing mixture of mythology, literary references, fantasy, science and just all round ideas), Neil Gaiman is one of those authors whose every title I have to hunt down and own, from his 1990 collaboration with Terry PratchettGood Omens‘ to his work with graphic artists from Dave McKean to Japanese legend Yoshitaka Amano. Start with the Sandman collections, then move on to the Douglas Adams-esque fiction. You won’t be disappointed.



2. Jorge Luis BORGES g220331_u66247_Jorge_L_Borges

This Argentinian short story maestro and poet is a must-read for anyone who cares about literature, ideas, and just all-round good writing. His style is unmistakeable: fantasy, misdirection, Escher-esque whorls and loops that leave you wondering which world he is living in and, at times, which world you are living in. As mentioned previously in this blog, Borges is quite possibly the name most quoted by other authors, a fount of contemporary magical realism. Personally I would recommend reading the complete short stories, but if that sounds too daunting, start with ‘Labyrinths‘, containing many of his most famous tales, from the library of non-existent books to the man who decides to rewrite ‘Don Quixote‘…word for word. The words ‘mind’ and ‘fuck’ often occur quite close together when discussing his work.



3. François-Marie Arouet, aka VOLTAIRE

Certain parts of my French degree were a pleasure, and studying the complete works of one of the most irreverent, iconoclastic humanists in history, a leading figure of the Enlightenment, was definitely one of them. Most famous for his dry adventure tale ‘Candide‘, (which I can’t help choosing to reproduce below, if only for the sweet Chris Ware cover story), it is in fact a slightly dense (if simply rendered) philosophical treatise, (as most of Voltaire’s works were). More entry-level would be the short story ‘Micromegas‘, one of the first ever works of science fiction and a perfect Enlightenment vehicle for displaying both the enormous and microscopically insignificant position of Man in the universe. ‘Letters on the English‘ was also lots of fun.



4. Vladimir NABAKOVimages-1

It worried me at one point that my favourite book was Nabakov‘s linguistic masterpiece ‘Lolita‘, (“the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth…”), and my favourite movie was ‘Léon‘ (aka in the US as ‘The Professional). However, aside from having pre-pubescent girls as their focus, both  were also supreme works of art, and Nabakov’s mastery of the English language (not even his first languauge: there are stories that he had trouble stringing a sentence together in spoken English), coupled with a wicked sense of humour, shot him straight to the top of my list of favourite authors. ‘Lolita’ may still be my favourite book, but he has also authored two others which are among my all-time favourites, too: the dark and twisted anti-romantic novella ‘Laughter In The Dark‘ and the awesome ‘Pale Fire‘, a 999-line poem by a fictional poet, with copious notes on the poem made by a colleague of the deceased author who slowly reveals himself to be far more than just a dispassionate critic. One of the fore-runners of post-modernism, and one of the most rewarding, amusing and disturbing reads ever.



5. Richard DAWKINS Richard_dawkins

These days Prof.Dawkins is best known for his anti-religious stance, epitomised by the best-selling (and excellently argued, whatever you think of his sometimes brusque style) ‘The God Delusion‘ (a fame which has seen him enter the public domain everywhere from Twitter to South Park). However, that has tended to detract from the fact that he is also an extraordinary biologist and popular science writer who, for almost four decades, has written some of the most accessible works on evolution and human nature. His breakthrough book, 1976’s ‘The Selfish Gene,‘ is one of the few books I can say has changed my life and the way I view the world: along with Jared Diamond‘s ‘Guns, Germs and Steel‘, and maybe Steven Pinker’s ‘How The Mind Works,‘ this book leaves you feeling like you understand life better than you did before, and that can surely only be a good thing. Working my way through his other scientific works, from ‘Unweaving The Rainbow‘ to ‘The Blind Watchmaker‘ may have been what first sowed the seeds that led to my becoming a humanist, a Darwinist, and a scientist.



Whaddya think so far? Anyone here you already love, hate, or are now looking forward to reading? Anyone you’re hoping I don’t leave out later in the later part of the list? Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!


Posted by on March 4, 2013 in BOOKS


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56. ‘Imaginary Homelands,’ Salman Rushdie…

56. ‘Imaginary Homelands,’ Salman Rushdie…

Imanginary HomelandsSalman Rushdie

21 post-its: possibly the current blog record. But then again, Rushdie is one of my favourite writers, and it turns out that he has even more to say in essays than he does in his novels. And yes, all of this is justification for the terrible etiquette of not only blogging on the same author twice, but doing so in two consecutive blogs.

It is impossible to read this compilation of essays without seeing pre-emptive echoes of his recently re-ignited post-fatwa fate everywhere. Divided into 12 thematic sections, it begins with ideas on his Booker Prize winning novel, ‘Midnight’s Children,’ and in the very first essay of the collection Rushdie writes:

“So literature can, and perhaps must, give the lie to official facts. But is this a proper imagesfunction of those of us who write from outside India? Or are we just dilettantes in such affairs, because we are not involved in their day-to-day unfolding, because by speaking out we take no risks, because our personal safety is not threatened?…”

By the last section, some intense pieces on ‘The Satanic Verses,’ after the bitter irony of those earlier words have given way to his fate of living through years in hiding under threat of death, we are presented with an essay on the differences between theory and reality:

“…what I’ve described is the Balloon Debate, in which, as the speakers argue over the relative merits and demerits of the well-known figures they have placed in disaster’s mouth, the assembled company blithely accepts the faintly unpleasant idea that a human being’s right to life is increased or diminished by his or her virtues or vices – that we may be born equal but thereafter our lives weight differently in the scales…

I have now spent over a thousand days in just such a balloon; but, alas, this isn’t a game…”

The rest of the collection covers countries and continents, literature and movies, politics and art and, especially, literature: after getting through a variety of essay compilations recently, I’m starting to see the same names regularly, giving myself a few more authors to look out for in future, but also leading me to question whether people in the arts are members of such a small gang that they all read each-other, and write essays on each-other. This would explain why I always see the same writers’ names on book blurbs.

What surprised me, (maybe because I haven’t read any of his novels for quite a while), was how much humour there was in these pieces, often right next to deeper and darker thoughts. Here are some of the things I book-marked, be they pieces of inconsequential trivia or questions of life and death:

“Bad times, after all, traditionally produce good books…”

After having recently read a book on the role of translation, which featured a chapter on how authors cope linguistically with representing a foreign setting when writing a book, I enjoyed seeing this criticism of Kipling:

“In the Soldiers Three stories the Hindi/Urdu words are simply sprinkled over the text, like curry powder…”

soon followed by a possible explanation for the lack of integration of the source language into his work:

“‘Kipling’s manuscripts in the British Museum…show that he tried several times to write his name in Urdu, but oddly enough did not succeed once. It reads ‘Kinling’, ‘Kiplig’ and ‘Kipenling'”…

Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling

On the Hobson-Jobson dictionary of Anglo-Indian language:

“…a shampoo was a massage, nothing to do with the hair at all, deriving from the imperative form – champo! – of the Hindi verb champna, ‘to knead and press the muscles with the view of relieving fatigue…'”

A theory of US vs British humour, (similar to one I have been formulating, and which will soon be revealed on the release of my novel):

“It has been said that the difference between the American and the British approach to comedy is that American comedy begins with the question, ‘Isn’t it funny that…?’ …whereas British comedy’s starting-point is the question, ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if…?'”

Rushdie on Terry Gilliam on America:

“‘America bombards you with dreams and deprives you of your own…'”

Rushdie quoting South African dissident and writer Rian Malan:

“An English South African is a soutpiel, ‘salt dick,’ because he has one foot in South Africa and the other in England, ‘a straddle so broad that his cock dangled in the sea…'”

Rushdie on travelling across Australia with English travel-writer Bruce Chatwin:

“I remember many etymological snippets. ‘The word bugger comes originally from the pejorative French verb, bougrir – to make love like a Bulgarian’…”

On Stephen Hawking, (and showing the kind of humour which makes him one of my all-time favourite writers):

“Here is General Relativity itself, and Hubble’s discovery of the expanding universe. Over there is the defeat of the Steady-state Theory by the Big-Bangers, and to the right (or maybe to the left) is Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle…”

Salman also has a catty side:

“The plot of Foucault’s Pendulum (which begins on page 367 of this 629-page book)…”

although I’ll agree to disagree with him on Umberto Eco‘s prose, (I like it; Salman doesn’t).

'Foucault's Pendulum', Umberto Eco

On Augustus Caesar and Ovid:

“It is one of the great paradoxes of this war that the Sword wins almost all the battles, but the Pen eventually rewrites all these victories as defeats…”

Interviewing Michael Herr, Vietnam veteran and one of the men behind both ‘Apocalypse Now’ and ‘Full Metal Jacket’:

“‘All the wrong people remember Vietnam. I think all the people who remember it should forget it, and all the people who forgot it should remember it…'”

On religion in the sub-continent:

“A few years ago I came across a rather brave and also slightly ludicrous attempt at enumerating the total number of gods at present extant in India, from the most minor tree- or water-sprite to Brahma and Allah themselves. The figure arrived at was, astoundingly, 330 million, that is, roughly one god for every two and a quarter human beings…”

On faith:

“Life without God seems to believers to be an idiocy, pointless, beneath contempt. It does not seem so to non-believers…”

And finally, if citation is an indication of influence, then Jorge Luis Borges may well be the most influential man in literature: I have lost track of how many authors I have read who quote Borges and, specifically, his short story ‘The Garden of Forking Paths‘, (although ‘Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote‘ and ‘The Library of Babel‘ are close behind it). Here, it is used to introduce an essay on Philip Roth, who retired days after I read it. I hope it was nothing to do with me.

Borges on the Argentinian 2-peso coin

Borges on the Argentinian 2-peso coin

If you haven’t read any Borges, go out and get some before my next blog comes out.

If you haven’t read any Rushdie, ditto.


Jorge Luis Borges


Posted by on January 24, 2013 in BOOKS


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