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173. Books Bought & Read, September 2018…

173. Books Bought & Read, September 2018…

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.”)

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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.

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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)

 

 

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Posted by on December 8, 2018 in BOOKS

 

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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…)

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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.

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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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151. Books Bought & Read, December 2016…

151. Books Bought & Read, December 2016…

38 bought and 18 read on the final month of the year.

That seems about average (for me, not for a sane person), and also explains why the brand new, beckoningly empty Billy bookcase which seemed like it would never be filled when we bought it three months ago is already double-stacked and features books precariously arrayed on top of it.

My next blog will be the traditional review of the year, which I’m sure you’re all awaiting with baited breath, (why do we call it that? Doesn’t that conjure up an image of a tongue laced with a single maggot?!)

For now, you’ll have to make do with some recommendations from last month, starting with the amazing ‘Last Interview’ series from Melville House Publishing, currently standing at 18 subjects and still growing.

If, like me, you read to learn about things you know nothing about, this set of short interview collections can educate you on everything from race relations to city-planning via the Holocaust and, (mainly), literature by delving into the minds of some of the greatest thinkers, writers and creators of the 20th century.

My New York history binge continues to chug along, the highlight this month being the story of the ridiculously named punk-and-pizza-fanatic Colin Atrophy Hagendorf who wrote a surprisingly informative memoir on experiencing Manhattan by eating a slice of pizza from every pizza parlour on the island.

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My father-in-law gave me a timely nudge towards the workplace with (among many, many other things) Jenny Blake’s ‘Pivot’ appearing in my stocking this year, a motivational guide on how to harness your qualities, (and, mainly, your network of professional friends, which she seems to presume everyone already has), in order to pivot into your ideal career, which I will be working on over the coming months, (who knew you needed a job to live in New York?!).

(In fact, in an upcoming blog I will be putting some of her advice into action, and you can find out how to get your hands on some of my favourite books whilst helping me explore my entrepreneurial side. Stay tuned!)

This was just one of two vector-based book titles read this month, with the fairly fascinating ‘Swerve‘ teaching me how the Renaissance emerged, in part, due to the efforts of 15th century book-hunters (what a job title!) rescuing Roman essays and manuscripts from damp monastery cellars, and covering everything from Epicureanism to the discovery of the atom. Right up my street.

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Finally, I ticked off a couple of those ever-present ‘Award-winning,‘ ‘National Bestseller,’ ‘Book of The Year‘-stickered  novels which I had passed over on previous bookshelf-dives due to them being either too thick or too serious looking, and I am glad I did.

Teju Cole’s ‘Open City’ was the perfect book to read whilst wandering around Manhattan, but Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Pulitzer winning ‘The Sympathizer‘ was a stunning reflection on the Vietnam War from a nuanced perspective we rarely get to experience.

Both books contained some fantastic wordplay and musings on race relations, Nguyen especially nonchalantly throwing out ingenious linguistic constructions such as Vietnam having suffered a “century of avuncular French molestation,” describing a country where daughters were “frantic to squeeze into the elevator of social mobility,” and whose history he often tried to forget despite “my thoughts, devious cabdrivers that took me where I did not want to go.”

Happy new year everyone, and keep reading!

 

Books Bought, December 2017

The Death Ray (Daniel Clowes)

Work:1986-1006, Book One (Chip Kidd)

Animals (Ingela P.Arrhenius)

Titan: the life of john.d.rockefeller, sr (Ron Chernow)

White Noise (Don DeLillo)

The Broom Of The System (David Foster Wallace)

Confessions Of The Lioness (Mia Couto)

The Upright Thinker (Leonard Mlodinow)

The Pattern Of The Stone: the simple ideas that make computers work (W.Daniel Hillis)

Eternity’s Sunrise: the imaginative world of william blake (Leo Damrosch)

The Tales Of Ise (unknown)

The Song Machine: inside the hit factory (John Seabrook)

Shrinks: the untold story of psychiatry (Jeffrey Lieberman)

A Journey To The End Of The Russian Empire (Anton Chekov)

The Customs Of The Kingdoms Of India (Marco Polo)

Adventures In The Rocky Mountains (Isabella Bird)

Jaguars And Electric Eels (Alexander von Humboldt)

Escape From The Antarctic (Ernest Shackleton)

Can-Cans, Cash And Cities Of Ash (Mark Twain)

Portlandia: a guide for visitors (Fred Armisen & Carrie Brownstein)

The Crane Wife (Patrick Ness)

Snow White (Donald Barthelme)

Double Indemnity (James M.Cain)

The Shell Collector (Anthony Doerr)

The End Of The Story (Lydia Davis)

The Last Interview: David Bowie

The Last Interview: J.D.Salinger

The Last Interview: Oliver Sacks

Hallucinations (Oliver Sacks)

The Sellout (Paul Beatty)

Fate, Time And Language: an essay on free will (David Foster Wallace)

The Name Of The World (Denis Johnson)

Titanic: first accounts (ed.Tim Martin)

McSweeney’s No.11

The Magic Of Reality: how we know what’s really true (Richard Dawkins & Dave McKean)

Armageddon In Retrospect (Kurt Vonnegut)

Thunder And Lightning: past, present and future (Lauren Redniss)

The Art Of Travel (Alain de Botton)

 

Books Read, December 2017

Decoded (Mai Jia)

The Swerve: how the world became modern (Stephen Greenblatt)

Made In America (Bill Bryson)

Buddha (Karen Armstrong)

New York, Then And Now (Marcia Reiss & Evan Joseph)

The Death Ray (Daniel Clowes)

Portlandia: a guide for visitors (Fred Armisen & Carrie Brownstein)

Animals (Ingela P.Arrhenius)

Muhammad (Karen Armstrong)

Slice Harvester: a memoir in pizza (Colin Atrophy Hagendorph)

Oliver Sacks: The Last Interview and other conversations

The Island Of The Colorblind (Oliver Sacks)

J.D.Salinger: The Last Interview and other conversations

Open City (Teju Cole)

The Sympathizer (Viet Thanh Nguyen)

Pivot: the only move that matters is your next one (Jenny Blake)

The Real Madrid Way: how values created the most successful sports team on the planet (Steven G.Mandis)

David Bowie: The Last Interview and other conversations

 

 
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Posted by on January 12, 2017 in BOOKS

 

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