Tag Archives: Kurt Vonnegut

80. Books Bought & Read, July 2013…

80. Books Bought & Read, July 2013…

Books Bought, July 2013

The Road To Wigan Pier,’ George Orwell

Made In America,’ Bill Bryson x2

The Complete Poems,’ Walt Whitman

The Consolations Of Philosophy,’ Alain de Botton

Poets On Poets,’ various, McSweeney’s compilation

One Hundred And Forty Five Short Stories In A Box,’ McSweeney’s box set: Dave Eggers, Deb Olin Unferth, Sarah Manguso

100 Selected Poems,’ e.e.cummings

Home Game,’ Michael Lewis

The Best American Essays Of The Century,’ ed.Joyce Carol Oates

The Night Circus,’ Erin Morgenstern

My Name Is Red,’ Orhan Pamuk

There’s Nothing In This Book That I Meant To Say,’ Paula Poundstone

The Time Machine,’ H.G.Wells 1992_1812_l

Authentic Libretti Of The Gilbert & Sullivan Operas,’ Sir Arthur Sullivan and W.S.Gilbert 

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles,’ Haruki Murakami

Slaughterhouse 5,’ Kurt Vonnegut

The Jungle,’ Upton Sinclair

Notes From Underground,’ Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The Complete Works,’ M.C.Escher

Carrier Pigeon Magazine: issues 6,7 & 8′  

Collected New Fiction,’ Jorge Luis Borges


Books Read, July 2013

Wolf Hall,’ Hillary Mantell

The Consolations Of Philosophy,’ Alain de Botton

The Crack In The Cosmic Egg: the constructs of mind and philosophy,’ J.C.Pearce

Comic Insights: the art of stand-up comedy,’ Franklyn Ajaye

Made In America,’ Bill Bryson

Home Game,’ Michael Lewis

Junky: 50th anniversary definitive edition,’ William.S.Burroughs

The Time Machine,’ H.G.Wells

There’s Nothing In This Book That I Meant To Say,’ Paula Poundstone

Slaughterhouse Five,’ Kurt Vonnegut

The Best American Essays Of The Century,’ ed.Joyce Carol Oates (18 of 55 essays, anyway)

The Road To Wigan Pier,’ George Orwell

In one of my very earliest blogs, (to be found here), I lamented the fact that with all the books I haven’t read, and all the ones they keep producing, I would never come close to reading all of the books that I want to. That is one of the reasons I so rarely re-read books, even my favourites, and that makes it all the stranger that a quarter of 9583301-buffalo-new-york-red-flag-pin-on-an-old-map-showing-travel-destination-300x200all the books I read this month were re-runs.

This month’s selection were consumed entirely in the much-maligned and much-misunderstood town of Buffalo, NY: not so much Manhattan’s forgotten big brother as Manhattan’s fairly alcoholic, occasionally stylish, often funny and living-far-away-from-its-younger-sibling-because-it-couldn’t-stop-borrowing-money-from-it brother.

They were also mostly purchased there, as Buffalo has an excellent mix of new and used bookshops, not to mention a never-ending schedule of garage sales and the joy of finding a cute, local library which had its entire second floor dedicated to books for sale, (and most of them not even grimy, used library books but proper book books!)

I arrived halfway through my chosen airport-book, the fantastically addictive Henry VIII history/thriller ‘Wolf Hall,’ and was soon picking up any vaguely interesting books which my hostess had laying around, from 1960’s beat and hippy tomes ‘Junky‘ by the honestly messed up William.S.Burroughs, (excellent), and ‘The Crack In The Cosmic Egg,’ (less excellent), to the fascinating interview and advice book on stand-up comedy, ‘Comic Insights,’ by Franklyn Ajaye, (who knew every third person in Buffalo is, was or will soon be a stand-up comic? I even trod the funny boards myself, briefly…)

Q. Is it coincidence that ‘comic’ and ‘cosmic’ are only a letter apart?

A. Yes.


The one I bought – US cover

Anyway, as blogged recently here, I hunted down and read an old favourite, Bill Bryson‘s history of the American language through the history of American…well, history, and also picked up a copy of Alain de Botton’s (as-ever) wonderful down-to-earth philosophical musings, fooled into buying a book I’m fairly sure I own due to its different cover.


The one I already own – UK cover

I found a day each amidst all the fun I was having to read economics specialist Michael Lewis‘s fun, slim scribblings on why being a parent often sucks; H.G.Wells‘s classic ‘The Time Machine,’ which I had never read before and am glad I finally did; and the worst of the many comic autobiographies I’ve read recently, by Paula Poundstone.

And then it was on to serious stuff, being unable to resist buying and (of course) reading a $2 used copy of Kurt Vonnegut‘s classic war critique and cheek-tonguing ‘Slaughterhouse Five,’ and continuing my attempt to work my way through Orwell‘s back-catalogue with a whizz through his 1930’s Socialist tract ‘The Road To Wigan Pier,‘ which I enjoyed more for the gritty descriptive journalism of its first part than the political preaching of its second.

Finally, for first time this month, I started a book I had no intentions of finishing: a toe-endangering slab of a volume of America’s best ever essays which the library was selling for $1, and which I left behind where I was staying. I only add it to this month’s list, (which should really only total eleven books read, and not twelve), as I read practically one-third of the essays presented, choosing only authors I already knew, or had heard good things of, or ones with particularly good titles, and being blown away but just about all of them. It has always been a point of pride with me that I never give up on a book, (or a movie, for that matter), no matter how bad, so I guess I can justify this anomaly by visiting Buffalo, and my book, sometime soon.

I leave you with this gratuitous attempt to introduce you to one of the driest, funniest, most English of comedians whom you may not know: Stewart Lee. It turns out I wasn’t the only one to discover Franklyn Ajaye, the author of the book I discovered on American comedians…although it also turns out I was the only one of us two to actually pay any attention to what he said…

9781879505544_p0_v1_s260x420 wolf-hall consolations crack_197x300 images-1 images-2 06-junky_us_penguin_2003.400 9780486284729_custom-s6-c30 bookcover images-3  



Posted by on September 1, 2013 in BOOKS


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

71. My Top 10 Most Favouritest Authors EVER!…(pt.2)

Welcome to part two of my attempt to share some of my favourite writers with you, some of my favourite readers. For those who missed pt.1, it can be found here, and you should probably catch up on it before you go any further.


Good. Here we go!!…

6. Haruki MURAKAMItumblr_luyy18ftWK1qzt1rbo1_500

I can’t remember when I first discovered Haruki Murakami, (who, thanks to years talking about him in Japan, I now automatically call Murakami Haruki, ‘coz that’s how they roll over there, name order-wise), but I think I began with ‘The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.’ After reading everything he has ever released in English, (and a couple of essay collections he hasn’t), this is still (just about) my favourite: the historical, social, magical realism of almost all of his fiction is mind-bendingly, bizarrely readable, (especially if you are into wells, cats, ears so beautiful you can’t take your eyes off them, rural locations and liminality), although his non-fiction can be less accessible. The most annoying thing about Murakami? The fact that his most famous novel, (‘Norwegian Wood‘), is his least representative, and least fun. Skip that, read all the others, and buckle in for a roller-coaster ride of randomness.


7. Kurt VONNEGUTkurtvonnegut

This entry is proof of my earlier assertion that these are in no particular order: KV is one of the most influential writers of the 20th century, and someone whose entire back I believe I may well have read. Again, his most famous book, (WWII critique ‘Slaughterhouse Five,’), wasn’t my favourite, (although still a wonderful novel), and annoyingly the book I most enjoyed by him was the first one I ever read, meaning as good as everything else was, it never quite lived up to the first, (although maybe that was just the thrill of reading for the first time someone as sarcastic, critical, science-fictiony, funny and human as Vonnegut is).

Even more annoyingly, I can’t remember whether that first novel was ‘Player Piano,’ ‘Hocus Pocus‘ or ‘Cat’s Cradle.’ Or something else. It has been around a decade and a half since I read most of them, in a reading frenzy midway through university, and I can remember almost nothing about most of them except the style, and the fact that I loved them. But I recently discovered his last work, ‘A Man Without A Country,’ whilst travelling through Mexico, so that is my recommendation. But read everything. They’re pretty short.


(And, in case you didn’t catch it in my earlier blog, now that I have figured out how to embed videos into the blog, you get this hilarious, concise, and genius proto-TED talk from the man himself direct to your eyebrain, to give you an idea of whether or not you’d like his style.)


8. Nick HORNBYimages

I love everything Nick Hornby does, (apart from being an Arsenal fan, it goes without saying). As do movie directors, apparently. From his novels, to his monthly articles for The Believer magazine which inspired this blog, to his opening of the Dave Eggers-inspired charity-based Monster Supplies shop in East London…but mainly his novels. And his articles. And…

Hornby seems to write effortlessly, about everyday people and everyday life, from the point of view of football fans, music lovers, women, even children, so there’s something for everyone. My favourite is his second novel, ‘High Fidelity,’ but I would honestly recommend pretty much any of his books, especially the first of the compilations of ‘Stuff I’ve Been Reading‘ articles, ‘The Polysyllabic Spree.’ Go get him!

EDIT: I had the pleasure, honour and luck to interview Nick at an event in London: read about it here.


9. Salman RUSHDIEimages-1

Possibly my number one in this top ten, (although that title changes daily), Rushdie makes me feel more intelligent, more learned about everything from history to myth to religion to the simple, pure art of story-telling. His essays are amusing and deeply thought-out, but it is in his novels he spreads his wings and soars, (a little too much for many people’s liking, apparently: my favourite, ‘Midnight’s Children,’ is the novel which I hear more people give up on than any other). He may not be for everyone, but for his years spent battling religious intolerance and promoting freedom of artistic speech, he deserves your respect, if not your undivided attention for 500-pages.


10. José SARAMAGOSaramgo-books

A blatant attempt to appear worldly and educated, the Portuguese Nobel Laureate was a borderline entry into the Top 10 due to the fact that, of the half dozen or so of his novels I have read, one was dull, and another was practically unreadable. But that just lets you know the quality of the others, especially his 1997 work ‘Blindness,’ (it’s surely no coincidence that he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998), later made into a slightly disappointing movie.

Saramago writes in what can be seen as either a post-modern or a pre-tentious style, generally shunning everything from punctuation to paragraphs to chapters to capital letters, which is occasionally distracting and sometimes downright infuriating, but what draws me back to him again and again is the way he takes a single, simple idea and stretches it to breaking point and beyond, always with a straight face, (although sometimes a straight face with a tongue in its cheek, and a slight wink). ‘Blindness‘ is a 300+ page thought experiment on how quickly society would degenerate if everyone suddenly turned blind overnight: my second favourite, ‘Death With Interruptions,’ charts the fate of a country which awakes one morning to find out that nobody in its boundaries can die, (which proves to be less fun than it sounds); ‘The Double‘ follows the thought process of a man who sees himself as an extra in a film, and decides he has to track him down; and so on and so forth.

Anyone out there read him?


Before you say it, let me beat you to the punch: I was shocked when I made this list to discover that there is a distinct and glaring lack of female membership. Not a single one in the entire top 10, in fact. Discovering this lacuna in my reading preferences in conversation with a friend recently, I began to wonder why that would be: Do I not read enough female writers? Are there just way more male writers than their counterpart, or is it that men’s writing appeals to me more, (a thought I instinctively flinch from: I am as feminine as the next guy!)

Some of the best books I read over recent years have been by women, (Audrey Niffenegger‘s beautiful and twisted ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife‘; Margaret Atwood, probably the closest to making the list, whose distopian ‘Handmaid’s Tale‘ and ‘Oryx & Crake‘ I adored), but I rarely find authors whose back catalogue I feel I have to devour in the way I do with Vonnegut or Rushdie. Thanks to a recent literary friendship, I have a list of new authors to explore and re-explore, from Anaïs Nin to Joyce Carol Oates, so I hope to readjust this imbalance in the coming months and years.

That said, this isn’t actually the end of ‘My Top 10 Favouritest Authors EVER’ as I have several names still on my Top 10 list who haven’t made it on, (I’ll figure out how to deal with the maths of that later). For now, let me know what you think of the Top 10 to date: who are you hoping to see in the blogs to come? Who can’t you believe made it into the first ten?

Enjoy exploring if any of these names were new to you!





Posted by on June 8, 2013 in BOOKS


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

61. Books Bought & Read, February 2013…

61. Books Bought & Read, February 2013…

Books Bought, February 2013

A Man Without A Country,’ Kurt Vonnegut

Payback,’ Margaret Atwood

Intelligent Thought: science versus the intelligent design movement,’ ed. John Brockman

Beauty Tips From Moose Jaw: travels in search of canada,’ Will Ferguson

The Man Who Loved China: the fantastic story of the eccentric scientist who unlocked the mysteries of the middle kingdom,’ Simon Winchester


Books Read, February 2013

The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Slim,’ Jonathan Coe

The Spirit Level: why more equal societies almost always do better,’ Richard.G.Wilkinson & Kate Pickett

Coin Locker Babies,’ Ryu Murakami

Speak, Memory,’ Vladimir Nabakov

Stuff White People Like: the definitive guide to the unique taste of millions,’ Christian Lander


When I first moved into my 24th century futuristic, tatami-free apartment in rural Japan in 2002, I was presented with a box of goodies which my predecessor on the JET program had left behind for me, including a single book: three years later, that brick of a book was still in the same cardboard box, at the back of my wardrobe, unopened and undusted.

Six months on a lake in rural Guatemala seemed like a good opportunity to right that unread wrong, now that I knew what the book was about: a week-long trip to Mexico City, (aka D.F. or ‘Distrito Federal,’ as I came to learn after I met someone who lived there shortly before my trip and for twenty minutes thought she lived in a Mexican village called ‘Deyefe’), gave me the perfect book to take with me, its 1,000+ pages pretty much guaranteed to last me the trip.

All of this is by way of telling you that a) I spent a wonderful week in Mehico, (a few days in the south, in beautiful, cobbled San Cristóbal, and a fantastic, manic five days in the capital itself), and b) I only got through five books this month because, since I left Guatemala on February 11th, to this very day, (a week shy of a month later), I have been working my way through this for-the-moment mystery book, hopefully to be finished within the next 48hours, and a review sure to appear within a month or so.

blog photo JEST

The good news was that, after the paucity of choices available at ‘book shops’ in Guatemala, on my final day in San Cristóbal before returning, (by 11 hour mini-bus ride…), to San Pedro, I stumbled upon a fantastic second-hand bookery, run by a very sweet American lady who told me she essentially fell into the job whilst trying to find a way to stay in the town, and who had possibly half of my favourite all time books and authors on her shelves, as well as a few I hadn’t yet read but which were on my list, and were therefore swiftly, (well, slowly, actually, after research of exchange rates, haggling, and a very generous discount for the last of my dollar$), added to my over-laden bag:

-the only Vonnegut I’ve never read;

-the wonderful Margaret Atwood on the wonderfully apt topic of the history of personal and national debt;

-a journey through Canadia, (look, it’s only logical: Australians are from Australia, so…), written by a writer whose book on his journey through Japan is still on my shelf here, awaiting spine-cracking. This seemed especially apposite, given that the ex-pat community of San Pedro seems to be consist of approximately 93% Alaskans and Canadians. (Makes sense – it’s cold over there!);

-one of those accessible-history tales of discovery in China, from an author most of whose books I have read and enjoyed on various countries and topics;

-and a compilation of science writing from some of my scientific favourites, brought together by the über-busy John Brockman, creator of the mind-expanding website The Edge and editor of possibly my favourite series of non-fiction books, an annual collection of essays from hundreds of the world’s leading thinkers in answer to a single, provocative question which Brockman thinks up every year.

As far as books read went, the Coe was fun as ever; the non-fiction on the benefits of equal societies a little repetitive, and at times not 100% convincing; I discovered a new author to explore, and one who shares a name with one of my all-time favourites; the Nabakov autobiography I found sadly lacking from a writer I consider in my Top Five favourite writers, (and since this is the third time already this blog I have mentioned ‘Favourite Authors,’ I have decided that in an upcoming blog I will make an attempt at listing a Top 10 of favourite authors, and possibly books too…though that may well end up being a Top 20…); and my arrival in Mehico City was greeted with the excellent toilet-reading of ‘Stuff White People Like,’ which should more accurately have been titled ‘Stuff White Hipsters Like, Not Like White Rednecks Or Nothing‘ but which had me chuckling out loud, somewhat self-consciously at times, name-checking pretty much a list of things I was doing that week, (yoga, brunch, even the book which began this entry), as well as staples in my life from Dave Eggers to David Sedaris.

As a final thought, this was a month which saw the most (and, indeed, the longest), subtitles in books both bought and read: do authors not trust us to read the blurb to find out what their books are about? Apparently not…


blog photo newspapers  oscar wilde


Posted by on March 12, 2013 in BOOKS


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