19 bought, 9 read.
After breaking my streak with a positive net gain last month, it wasn’t even close in September. Not even 50%, (aka 2:1, proportionally speaking. Sorry, I spent the past two weeks intensely studying maths for the first time in around two and a half decades in order to pass a grad school entrance exam, which both limited my available time for pleasure reading and left me with numbers and symbols floating in front of my eyes from which I have yet to recover).
The Big Issues raised by this month’s blog: do the books I received for trading in excess copies during a vicious Bookshelf Cull count as ‘Books Bought’ for the month? And is it fair, knowing I won’t surpass my Books Bought total for the month, to not read the last few pages of a couple of novels I was nearing the end of, knowing I can then count them towards next month’s tally when I finish them on October 1st? Who knew keeping a book blog would open up such a Pandora’s Labyrinth of moral quandaries?! (And more to the point, without spellcheck who knew it was spelt ‘quandaries‘ and not ‘quandries‘?)
With slim pickings on the Books Read front, I have time and space to mention that the Books Bought column was boosted by the discovery of some beautiful covers on rereleased books. These were mainly those delightful Penguin Classic Deluxes, which I continue to hunt down faster than Pokémon in Central Park, although I only seem to be finding the 600+ page editions which are putting a significant strain on our bookshelves, (see: the complete Sherlock Holmes novels and the 50th anniversary edition of Bulgakov’s ‘The Master And Margarita,’ neither of which I may ever even read, having read them both already. But they sure look stunning on the shelf).
Following on from last month’s discovery of Tao Lin, I picked up and had a crack at his breakout novel, ‘Taipei’. Confusing, frustrating, stylistically interesting but with a lead character I completely failed to connect with, I can see why he has become both such a popular and a divisive figure, (a brief internet search immediately brought up a review from NPR containing the following: “Taipei, Lin’s newest book, is…(a)t once very bad and very good, it swings between dullness and wild, excessive beauty.” It is headlined: ‘Taipei is Lifelike – But That’s Not Necessarily A Compliment.”)
On a completely different fictional plane, I have loved tracking down the bite-size books in Melville House’s incredible The Art of the Novella series, and this month I picked up and imbibed two more: a so-so Edith Wharton tale of marital folly, and Prosper Mérimée’s delightful ‘Carmen‘, inspiration for the opera and a thoroughly enjoyable 19th century romp around Spain featuring derring-do, men fallen from grace (for a change), and the laughing, cavalier eponymous heroine, a Roma traveller with a knack for getting whatever she wants. Highly entertaining.
‘The Prophet‘ was a gift from family friends which I had somehow never gotten around to reading, and there were some moving and relevant sections to this nearly century-old parable/fable (parafable?) I’m not sure the poetry is especially outstanding but, like Paolo Coelho, Gibran’s work presents something for seekers, and for every facet of their personalities at every important point of their life, which isn’t a bad way to achieve (eventual) popularity. This ‘something-for-everyone‘ nature of the book may explain why it’s not always looked upon seriously by critics.
‘Dream Cities’ was disappointing; Frankl’s holocaust-inspired memoir and exposition of his psychoanalytical method ‘Man’s Search For Meaning‘ was confusingly simultaneously depressing and uplifting; and R.Crumb’s baseball card-depictions of musical legends dating to the late 19th century was less informative than I’d hoped and simply pretty.
But my favourite book of the month was an early work by celebrated Spanish writer Javier Marías, discovered purely as it was put out by The Believer’s book publishing branch, and as I’m sure you all know by now I trust The Believer with my life, (or, if not my life, at least a significant portion of my finances). A faux-19th century travel adventure, ‘Voyage Along The Horizon‘ instead spends more time analysing the role of unreliable narrators and dissecting short story and detective tropes than providing actual adventure, (not to mention conclusions), which the Italo Calvino fan in me loved.
And with that, after being behind on my blogging for most of 2018, I find myself in the rare position of being up to date with my literary comings and goings, a state which I hope to maintain.
So you probably won’t hear from me again until next December…
Books Bought, September 2018
Rules Of Civility (Amor Towles)
The Joy of X: a guided tour of numbers, from one to infinity (Steven Strogatz)
The Gift: creativity and the artist in the modern world (Lewis Hyde)
You Are Not A Gadget: a manifesto (Jerome Lanier)
On Boxing (Joyce Carol Oates)
The Touchstone (Edith Wharton)
Big Sur (Jack Kerouac)
A Sentimental Journey (Laurence Sterne)
Ceremony (Leslie Marmon Silko)
McSweeney’s Quarterly, issue.51 (various)
The Book Of Other People (ed.Zadie Smith)
A Farewell To Arms (Ernest Hemingway)
The Master And Margarita (Mikhail Bulgakov)
Sherlock Holmes: the novels (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)
The Absolute Sandman, Vol.II (Neil Gaiman)
The Absolute Sandman, Vol.III (Neil Gaiman)
Fragile Things (Neil Gaiman)
Carmen (Prosper Mérimée)
The Complete Fairytales (George MacDonald)
Books Read, September 2018 (highly recommended books in bold)
Dream Cities: seven urban ideas that shape the world (Wade Graham)
Voyage Along The Horizon (Javier Marías)
Taipei (Tao Lin)
Man’s Search For Meaning (Viktor Frankl)
Heroes Of Blues, Jazz And Country (Robert Crumb)
The Prophet (Kahlil Gibran)
*********, ***! (***** ****) (Book redacted pending future update)
Carmen (Prosper Mérimée)
The Touchstone (Edith Wharton)