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139. Books Bought & Read, February 2015…

65 books bought.

That’s more than many people read in a year. More than some read in a lifetime.

Any other month, having read 23 books would have felt like quite an accomplishment, even for me.

Not this month.

I blame my brother and girlfriend, enablers of the worst possible kind. What kind of brother and girlfriend take me to an annual Brooklyn Park Slope book sale? With thousands of books on dozens of rickety tables just begging to be taken to a good home?! In my defence, I repaid their kindness in books, so not all of those 65 were for me…but most of them were.

And that was before I’d even set foot in my temple, The Strand

My favourite item of merchandise from The Strand...

My favourite item of merchandise from The Strand…

Series were this month’s obsession: a gift of the classic Ursula K Le Guin trilogy and the discovery of the wonderfully messed up Lemony Snicket tales by Daniel Handler were the cause of a few hours reading, and as ever when I’m in NY there were some great kids’ books which my niece introduced me to, (I finally got to read Oliver Jeffers‘ ‘The Day The Crayons Quit,’ which I’m not ashamed to say I became quite choked up over when she told me it was her ‘favourite ever,‘ since I bought it for her).

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Whilst buying books as presents I had time to indulge in some re-reading, (something I very rarely do), of favourites such as Neil Gaiman, but there were four books which stood out and which I highly recommend for completely differing reasons:

Firstly, if you love the lost art of letters, and history, and a gorgeously bound book, ‘Letters Of Note‘ was just made for you. Originally a popular website, this was the biggest success story of the book-only crowd-funding website I love so much, Unbound, and I read it on my iPhone before gifting it to my girlfriend’s parents. If you want to read about how Elvis became Nixon’s drugs sheriff, how JFK was rescued from a desert island by carving an SOS into a coconut, or how Adolf Hitler’s nephew requested the right to join the US army to find the Nazis, all of this and more come straight from the source in one of the most fascinating, touching, educational and downright gorgeous books I have ever read.

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Secondly, if you like to know how the world works, and have a thirst for topics as wide-ranging as baseball statistics, earthquakes, betting, voting, poker and the weather forecast, Nate Silver has the book for you. My brother had been recommending this meaty tome to me for a while, and the flight from Europe to the US was perfect for finally finding out what it means when a weather forecast says there is a 40% or a 60% chance of rain, (and why it is almost never 50%); how to predict elections; and how chess computers learned to beat Grand Masters. Among many, many other things. This was like a Gladwell book on super fast-forward, (and I’m sure you know by now how much I love a good Gladwell book!)

The_Signal_and_the_Noise_by_Nate_Silver_book_cover_001

Thirdmost, after being incredibly disappointed by his ‘A Hologram For The King,’ Dave Eggers returned to wonderful, weird, genre-busting, hilarious form with the fantastically titled ‘Your Fathers, Where Are They? And Your Prophets, Do They Live Forever?‘ I won’t tell you anything about it. Just go and read it. It’s lots of fun.

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Finally, a gorgeous edition of a book I had never heard of, and an author I really should have, proved that not only should you sometimes judge a book by its cover, but if you’re lucky that book will be wondrously weird and also contain an introduction by one of your all time favourite authors, as Neil Gaiman was there in the opening pages to tell me that when it comes to James Thurber’sThe 13 Clocks,‘ “…there has never been anything like this before, and there will never be anything like this again.”

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It is, indeed, a gem of a nonsense children’s book, by an author I hope to explore further, but don’t let children hog all the fun.

(You can even get a free Kindle download of it here.)

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Books Bought, February 2015

National Geographic: 100 melhores imagens,’ (National Georgaphic: the 100 best photos)

Violeta e Indigo Descobrem Picasso,’ (‘Violet and Indigo discover Picasso’), Isabel Zambuiac & Júlio Vanzelar

Violeta e Indigo Descobrem Leonardo Da Vinci,’ (‘Violet and Indigo discover Leonardo Da Vince’)Isabel Zambuiac & Júlio Vanzelar x2

Estorvo,’ (‘Nuisance’), Chico Buarque

Jerusalém,’ Gonçalo M.Tavares

The Believer Magazine’ issues 2, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11

A Man: Klaus Klump,’ Gonçalo M.Tavares

The Best Of McSweeney’s Internet Tendency’ ed. Chris Monk & John Warner

Sprezzatura,’ Peter D’Epiro & Mary Desmond Pinkowish

Barracuda,’ Christos Tsiolkas

Another Day Of Life,’ Ryszard Kapuściński

Founding Brothers,’ Joseph J.Ellis

13 Days,’ Robert Kennedy

Coach,’ Michael Lewis

Happiness: ten years of n+1′

The Little Endless Story Book,’ Jill Murphy

I Feel Bad About My Neck,’ Nora Ephron

Leaving Microsoft To Change The World,’ John Wood

The Genius Of Language,’ ed. Wendy Lesser

The Bedside Book Of Beasts,’ Graeme Gibson

I Explain A Few Things: selected poems,’ Pablo Neruda

A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius,’ Dave Eggers

A Series Of Unfortunate Events: vol.3, the wide window, ,Lemony Snicket

A Series Of Unfortunate Events: vol.4, the miserable hill, ,Lemony Snicket

A Series Of Unfortunate Events: vol.5, the austere academy,Lemony Snicket

A Series Of Unfortunate Events: vol.6, the ersatz elevator,Lemony Snicket

S,’ J.J.Abrams & Doug Dorst

Your Fathers, Where Are They? And Your Prophets, Do They Live Forever?‘ Dave Eggers

Zeitoun,’ Dave Eggers

The Convalescent,’ Jessica Anthony

The Path To The Spiders’ Nests,’ Italo Calvino

Far From The Tree,’ Andrew Solomon

The Noonday Demon,’ Andrew Solomon

Hergé: son of tintin,’ Benoît Peeters

The Time Traveler’s Wife,’ Audrey Niefenegger

The Cheese Monkeys: a novel in 2 semesters,’ Chip Kidd

Blindness,’ José Saramago

Number9Dream,’ David Mitchell

Haroun And The Sea Of Stars,’ Salman Rushdie

The Better Of McSweeney’s’

‘I Am A Cat,’ Natsume Soseki

For The Relief Of Unbearable Urges,’ Nathan Englander

Copenhagen,’ Michael Frayn

The Tipping Point,’ Malcolm Gladwell

Outliers,’ Malcolm Gladwell

A Series Of Unfortunate Events: vol.11, the grim grotto,Lemony Snicket

Atonement,’ Ian McEwan

Boy Detective Fails,’ Joe Meno

Clockwork,’ Philip Pullman

Mating,’ Norman Rush

Written On the Body,’ Jeanette Winterson

First Love/The Diary Of A Superfluous Man,’ Ivan Turgenev

Poet In New York,’ Federico García Lorca

Holidays On Ice,’ David Sedaris

The 13 Clocks,’ James Thurber

The Further Adventures Of The Queen Mum,’ Harry Hill

Myth: a very short introduction,’ Robert A.Segal

Movie Charts: comedy graphs of the films you love,’ Paul Copperwaite

The Consolations Of Philosophy,’ Alain de Botton

The Last Wild,’ Piers Torday

Emil And The Detectives,’ Erich Kästner

Rembrandt,’ Michael Brockemühl

Charlie And The Chocolate Factory,’ Roald Dahl

The Hueys In:  the new jumper,’ Oliver Jeffers

Letters Of Note,’ ed.Shaun Usher

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Books Read, February 2015

Grandes Entrevistas Da História, vol.6′ (‘Great Interviews Of History, Vol.1)

Grandes Entrevistas Da História, vol.7′ (‘Great Interviews Of History, Vol.1)

Coach: lessons on the game of life,’ Michael Lewis

Letters Of Note: an eclectic collection of correspondence deserving of a wider audience,’ ed.Shaun Usher borges

I Feel Bad About My Neck,’ Nora Ephron

The Little Endless Storybook,’ Jill Thompson
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The Runaway Dinner,’ Allan Ahlberg & Bruce Ingman
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Clockwork,’ Philip Pullman

The 13 Clocks,’ James Thurber borges

Fortunately, The Milk…,’ Neil Gaiman

The Signal And The Noise: the art and science of prediction,’  Nate Silver borges

Copenhagen,’ Michael Frayn

Your Fathers, Where Are They? And Your Prophets, Do They Live Forever?‘ Dave Eggers borges

The Best Of McSweeney’s Internet Tendency’ ed. Chris Monk & John Warner borges

The Hueys In:  the new jumper,’ Oliver Jeffers

The Further Adventures Of The Queen Mum,’ Harry Hill

Movie Charts: comedy graphs of the films you love,’ Paul Copperwaite

The Wizard Of Earthsea,’ Ursula K. Le Guin
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The Tombs Of Atuan,’ Ursula K. Le Guin

The Farthest Shore,’ Ursula K. Le Guin

The Day The Crayons Quit,’ Oliver Jeffers & Drew Daywalt borges

A Series Of Unfortunate Events: vol.1, the bad beginning, ,Lemony Snicket
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A Series Of Unfortunate Events: vol.2, the reptile room,’ Lemony Snicket

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Posted by on July 15, 2015 in BOOKS

 

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28. Books Read, March 2012…

28. Books Read, March 2012…

(A slightly delayed but nonetheless accurate account of) Books Read, March 2012

Inside of a Dog,’ Alexandra Horowitz

House of Leaves,’ Mark.L.Danielewski

I Like Being Killed,’ Tibor Fischer

Adverbs,’ Daniel Handler, (aka Lemony Snicket)

Spanking Watson,’ Kinky Friedman

The Possessed,’ Elif Bautman

Tough Sh*t: life advice from a fat, lazy sh*t who did good,’ Kevin Smith

The Copenhagen Papers,’ Michael Frayn and David Burke

50 Things You Need to Know About British History,’ Hugh Williams

Eating Animals,’ Jonathan Safran Foer

The Tudors: a very short introduction,’ John Guy

Ladybird: Kings and Queens of England, book 1

On Royalty,’ Jeremy Paxman

Dinosaur vs. The Library,’ Bob Shea

14 books: not a huge haul, but not terrible considering I was a) on holiday for all but a few days of March with better things to do than read, and b) also jumping on wikipedia every five minutes to review facts on the 2,000 year history of London, in preparation for my upcoming job as a tour-guide there, (hence the four UK, London and monarchy books in the list).

This blog will give me the chance to jot down a few ideas on how I found some of these books, and log some favourite quotes from them for my future reference and your current delectation. Hopefully.

Inside of a Dog,’ Alexandra Horowitz

Ever wanted to know how dog’s view the world? This was an excellent look into their psyches, involving plenty of science and comparisons with humans which was often fascinating. Below is a brief summary of some of the more interesting things I learned, and I love the fact that, intentionally or not, the title echoes one of my comedy heroes, Groucho Marx:

“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.”

-Dogs can smell cancer!!

-Foxes were partially domesticated in just 50 years through selective breeding , (speed-proof of Darwinism).

-Dogs fulfill most of the linguistic requirements for language, according to the ‘conversational maxims’ laid down by some guy called Grice I vaguely remember studying in some linguistics classes 15 years ago, such as being relevant, being truthful, saying as much as you need…only they do so without words.

-I learned about ‘flicker fusion’: “the number of snapshots of the world that the eye takes every second,” (much the same way moving images are made up of a series of rapid still images). We humans take around 60 images every second, whereas dogs beat us with 70-80. This is why TV generally means nothing to dogs, as they see the blank spaces between images which our brains don’t, although it seems that digital TV may be more attuned to their doggy brains, (although unless you get a smell feature installed, they probably still won’t be particularly interested).

-Apparently dogs, like humans, look at the right side of someone’s face slightly more often than the left! Who knew!

-“…they play into adulthood which is rare for most playing animals, including humans. Although we ritualise play into team sports and solo video game marathons, as sober adults we rarely spontaneously blindside and tackle our friends, tag them and run, or make faces at eachother…”

Speak for yourself, Alexandra! Actually, maybe that just proves her point: I’m not yet an adult. Thank goodness.

Spanking Watson,’ Kinky Friedman

I picked this unsubtly-titled novel up on a recommendation, having never read Kinky Friedman before. It turns out the recommended author had actually been Chuck Klosterman. I think: it got to that stage where, having constantly mixed up the two for no reason, I can no longer remember which one was actually recommended, so I guess I have to read a Klosterman and just judge for myself. This non-PC, faux-detective farce was fairly amusing, and threw up a couple of fun quotes. It was also set in Brooklyn, where I was reading it, which always adds a little something to a book.

“By the time we got to Williamsburg Bridge, he was still yapping away in Pakistani to the guy, and it was beginning to get up my sleeve rather severely. ‘C’mon, you’re in America,’ I said. ‘Speak Spanish…'”

“I didn’t know why [the Jews] killed her Lord. Maybe it was simply some kind of perverse social experiment to see if, thousands of years later, Sister Ulalia would spend her life hating Jews whilst simultaneously praying to one…”

I Like Being Killed,’ Tibor Fischer

I didn’t even know my new favourite novelist had written a short story compilation, (probably as I hadn’t really done any research on what he had written, besides checking the inside blurb on the couple of novels I have). They were written a while ago, and were not quite up to the level of the novels, but were still enjoyable and threw up these gems, from the pithy and vaguely racist to the deep and meaningful, a range which Fischer covers masterfully:

“‘No Russian,’ said Hugo.

‘Why not?’ asked Alzberta.

‘No Russian.’

‘Okay, we speak Ukrainian,’ and they carried on in what sounded suspiciously like Russian…”

“…enduring three-coursers with dreary Japanese suits who, given a fortnight’s preparation, couldn’t succeed in concocting something amusing to say…”

“Women were better than men. They were flustered by small difficulties, like runs in stockings, heavy suitcases, or Irish drunks on public transport, and Jim had been called in to lay down the law to mice or spiders on several occasions; but with the big uglinesses they were laudably calm; when it came to misery, pain, slow death, they were the unflinching troopers…”

“What had he learned so far? Motion looks like progress…”

“Just as light could be both wave and a particle, so a person could be both right and wrong, a train and a kangaroo in one…”

Adverbs,’ Daniel Handler

Picked up for $1 in my favourite Japanese bookshop, conveniently located in central Manhattan, I’m not sure what prompted me to pick it off the lengthy shelf. Finding out Mr.Handler was also Mr. Snicket (Lemony), didn’t alter my decision, as I hadn’t read any of his, but the excellent recommendations on the cover (from, among others, Dave Eggers), convinced me to risk the cost of half a donut. Especially when something drove me to flick inside, and saw that it was signed by the author.

I had recently been to a talk by an author called Tom Rachman on his novel, ‘The Imperfectionists,’ and how it had to be read with patience as what seemed to be several independent characters and stories all eventually came together in the end. In a somewhat similar vein, ‘Adverbs‘ consists of seventeen ‘-ly’ ending chapters, (slowly – immediately – obviously – briefly, etc.), featuring several of the same characters…or at least the same character names, in various different locations and scenarios. Whether they are the same people from chapter to chapter is either a) a clever literary device to make the reader consider the consistency of personality, b) an annoyingly pretentious affectation, but either way c) it’s deeply confusing and reminded me of struggling through the few Russian novels I’ve read.

(Ironically, I was double-fisting this novel at the same time as I was reading Elif Bautman‘s ‘The Possessed,’ the slightly stuffy academic story of one grad. student’s relationship with Russian literature, including a whole section on the use of repetitive names).

Anyway, here are some quotes…

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“…each blade of grass cut like a blade…”
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“And yet it was nothing like life, this thing he was living through. It was as far from life as pizza served on an airplane is from Italy, even if the plane is flying over Italy at the time…”
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“Just because there are more catastrophes on the way is no reason to avoid the ones that are here now…”
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“She got herself a glass of water and drank it even though she also had to pee, and this is even another thing like love. We need things and also to get rid of them, and at the same time. We need things, and the opposite of them, and we are so rarely completely comfortable…”
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“How many happy people do you think there are in the world? 12?”
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For the record, ‘Dinosaur vs the Library‘ is part of one of the greatest series of very young kids’ books I know; the Kevin Smith was a vaguely enjoyable read but almost certainly not worth buying unless he’s going to sign it for you; I now know even more than before about English history; and don’t read Safron Foer’sEating Animals‘ if you like your meat: it has pushed me back over an edge I have been teetering on and off for a year or two, and I am eating way less meat than ever before: you’ll never look at chicken, or a bout of feeling ‘under the weather’ the same way again…
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Posted by on June 2, 2012 in BOOKS

 

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22. Why is this book different from all other books?…

22. Why is this book different from all other books?…

Bonus blog: this is the last of the three blog posts I wrote for events at the 2012 Jewish Book Week, which I’m including here partially because I hope they’ll be vaguely interesting to read, but mainly out of principle: I was asked by a couple of the people running the festival to blog on some of the talks, as they weren’t getting as much social media action as they would have liked. Being the pliable, eager-to-help lapdog I am, (I mean that in a good way, but it doesn’t sound good reading it back…), I not only spent most of the talks scribbling furious notes and mentally composing blogs instead of relaxing, but I then spent my valuable time and not so valuable money hunting down something I haven’t seen since the early 1990’s, and never expected to have to use again: a cybercafe.

See, I hadn’t taken my laptop with me to London, and although I was told that they wanted the blogs written up before the next day, (with links, no less!), they couldn’t rustle up a computer for me to use. I completely understood the look of confusion on the policeman’s face when I asked if he knew where an internet cafe may be: since most people have two or three computers in their pockets and bags at any one time these days, I too had realised that I hadn’t seen one in years, possible decades. I eventually tracked one down, a dingy, windowless room underneath the smallest corner shop I’ve ever seen.

Naturally, all of the computers worked on Windows 98, and therefore crashed every five minutes. I spent four times longer than I would have done on my trusty, (if slightly wheezing) MacBook, and was paying for the pleasure, too.

Needless to say, two months and three emails later, they never used my articles on their blog.

So you get them! You lucky, lucky things…

This one may not mean much to you if you’re not a veteran of the four-hour wine-and-cracker-fest which is the Jewish festival of Passover. The ‘handbook’ to this Easter-time festival comes in as many different versions as there are [insert amusing and surprising metaphor of something of which there are a lot here], and this was the UK launch of this new edition, edited by author of one of my favourite ever books, ‘Everything is Illuminated.’

The post-talk signing event raised an interesting question, as I was wondering if it was slightly weird to get a religious book signed: apparently the authors had the same qualms, and weren’t going to do a signing for it until they saw the massive crowd of people buying the book and waiting for them afterwards. My own personal debate on whether or not to a) shell out £25 for a book of which I had dozens of copies as Hebrew school prizes rotting somewhere in an attic, and b) feel weird about getting it signed were avoided when, waiting at the very end of the queue, the temporary bookshop ran out of copies. Luckily, I’d brought with me a couple of copies of Safron Foer‘s other books, which are now be-inked and nestling happily on my two transatlantic bookshelves.

Enjoy, and prepare for the resumption of normal service…

Jonathan Safran Foer and Jeffrey Goldberg talk about their new Haggadah at Jewish Book Week, 2012.

There was only one event scheduled at Jewish Book Week for Saturday, 25th February, but it was a thought-provoking evening in front of a sell-out audience. Jonathan Safran Foer joined Jeffrey Goldberg to discuss their re-interpretation of what they described variously during the evening as the “quintessential Jewish book,” “the most radical book there is” and “the most universally recognised, oldest story there is”: the Haggadah. Quite a task.

Joined onstage by chair Maureen Kendler, Head of Education at the London School of Jewish Studies, Safran Foer took time out from the big screen, (with the recent release of the apparently awful film adaptation of his novel ‘Unbelievably Loud and Incredibly Close‘), to discuss the big table, as he recalled the pressing into service of things not traditionally viewed as tables to accommodate ever-growing families on seder nights. (Ron Arad would surely have approved). Both he and Jeffrey Goldberg intimated that becoming fathers, and therefore masters of the Passover service, had let to the creation of this new Haggadah, to add to the 4,000 or more already available: for Safran Foer in order to reshape Passover to fit what it means to him personally, and for Goldberg in order to banish memories of “arid” childhood services caused by an “archaic, unflexible” flimsy pamphlet of a Haggadah, sponsored by a coffee company and apparently common in the United States. If a Haggadah fails to impart the heart of what Safran Foer refers to as “the world’s most interesting story” then, says Goldberg, there is a failure there, which the new tome aims to set right.

How is this book different from all other books? Whilst Safran Foer explains that it would have been easy to make a beautiful, densely (and interestingly) annotated version, as editor he ended up rejecting several graphic designers and artists and instead employing a single typesetter for the book’s lay-out. Furthermore, he whittled down some twenty contributors to a bare minimum of four commentaries, in the process having to cut a contribution from Howard Jacobson which he lamented was brilliant, but not right for the project.

What remains is a nonetheless beautiful, ephemeral book. It may be without pictures but has a subtle well-thumbed, used look courtesy of pre-installed ink-blots and wine-stains. There is no overabundance of commentaries but simple, sparse contemplations on the Jewish nation historically, (by Goldberg); the Haggadah as literary criticism (by Rebecca Goldstein); the traditional Rabbinical view of the story, (by Nathaniel Deutsch); and a playful take by Daniel Handler, a.k.a. Lemony Snicket.

This is in order to present the basic, set text but to leave enough ‘space’ for the user to explore and question, making it a “flexible, living book” as Safran Foer states on the evening, (in much the same way he adapted the fixed ‘dead’ text of his favourite novel and brought it to life through erasure in his last work, Tree of Codes’). Indeed, the main theme of the evening’s talk was questioning, and the importance of it not just on this one night a year but in Judaism as a whole, a statement echoed days before by the Chief Rabbi in his discussion with Marcus du Sautoy. Responding to a question from the audience on how to deal with controversial passages, (specifically the request for G-d to ‘pour out thy wrath’), Safran Foer joked (seriously) that if there is one thing he has learned from his shrink it is that everything should be questioned and discussed, with Goldberg added the example of slavery in the Torah.

The seder service, they pointed out, is probably the only time of year when such topics can and should be addressed as a family. This cross-denominational, simply translated, (by Nathan Englander), new version of the Haggadah ‘surprised’ Safran Foer with how conservative it had turned out due to a realisation that he wanted it to be useful, as opposed to simply beautiful or interesting: as such, he feels it is a wonderful place for the discussion to begin.

Judging by the hour-long queue to purchase the book after the event, plenty of people agree.

 
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Posted by on April 13, 2012 in BOOKS

 

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