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128. Books Bought & Read, September 2014…

128. Books Bought & Read, September 2014…

Books Bought, August 2014read-this-next-cover-us

The Wake,’ Paul Kingsnorth  

Jude: Level 1,’ Julian Gough

The Cobra’s Heart,’ Ryszard Kapuściński 

The Shipwrecked Men,’ Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca

Seventeen Poisoned Englishmen,’ Gabriel García Márquez

Ender’s Game,’ Orson Scott Card

Read This Next,’ Howard Mittelmark & Sandra Newman 

1932416501Journey To The End Of The Night,’ Louis-Ferdinand Céline

Moominsummer Madness,’ Tove Jansson

Moominland Midwinter,’ Tove Jansson

Pop Charts,’ Paul Copperwaite

Vader’s Little Princess,’ Jeffrey Brown

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane,’ Neil Gaiman

Brooklyn,’ Colm Tóibín

We Are All Completely Besides Ourselves,’ Karen Joy Fowler

Le Petit Prince,’ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

God: a biography,‘ Jack Miles

Blindness,’ José Saramago

Here They Come,’ Yannick Murphyimgres

A Guided Tour Through The Museum Of Communism,’ Slovenka Drakulic

The Search For Signs Of Intelligent Life In The Universe,’ Jane Wagner

‘The Paris Review Interviews, Vols I-IV,’  ed. Philip Gourevitch

 

Books Read, August 2014

Scoop,’ Evelyn Waugh 

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Sous Le Soleil Jaguar,’ (‘Under The Jaguar Sky’), Italo Calvino

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Seventeen Poisoned Englishmen,’ Gabriel García Márquez

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Vader’s Little Princess,’ Jeffrey Brown

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Michael Rosen’s Sad Book,’ Michael Rosen & Quentin Blake

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Drown,’ Junot Díaz

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A Little Book Of Language,’ David Crystal

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The 2½ Pillars Of Wisdom,’ Alexander McCall Smith

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Moominsummer Madness,’ Tove Jansson

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Creating a World Without Poverty,’ Muhammad Yunus

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Moominland Midwinter,’ Tove Jansson

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Ender’s Game,’ Orson Scott Card

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The Fry Chronicles: an autobiography,’ Stephen Fry

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Christie Malry’s Own Double Entry,’ B.S.Johnson

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The Dog,’ Joseph O’Neil

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Jude: Level 1,’ Julian Gough

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The Doors Of Perception/Heaven And Hell,’ Aldous Huxley

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One Year: America, 2917,’ Bill Bryson

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A Movable Feast,’ Ernest Hemingway

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A Guided Tour Through The Museum Of Communism,’ Slovenka Drakulic

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25 bought, (mostly presents), 20 read: even for me, this was a busy month, fuelled by the time available on long-distance flights, some kids’ books (my first Moomins among them, which were simultaneously cute and unbelievably creepy), and a lot of time at my parents’ place working my way through my back-catalogue of signed books.

Some classics were finally ticked off, from Huxley’‘s The Doors-inspiring ‘The Doors Of Perception‘ to an Evelyn Waugh novel which wasn’t ‘Brideshead Revisited,’ but which was lots of fun. Most enjoyably, I finally got to read that staple of friends’ references, ‘A Moveable Feast‘ where Hemingway managed to make me dislike him less than I always have done – a memoir worthy of all the praise which is always being heaped on it.

A Moveable Feast from a Punchable Face. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons.

A Moveable Feast from a Punchable Face.
Photo courtesy of Creative Commons.

 

I found Joseph O’Neill’s Booker Prize shortlisted ‘The Dog‘ to be underwhelming, but balanced it with Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus’s thought-provoking book on his (accidental) life’s work, creating micro-credit institutions, which was heart-warming stuff.

One ‘new’ author I read I enjoyed so much that I have already blogged on the work here, whilst in the other direction I finally got around to reading the first work by an author I thought I knew well, Junot Diaz.

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Most enjoyable of all, for someone who likes to read books about the places he is living in/visiting, was the ever-reliable Bill Bryson‘s giant work on a single, pivotal year in American history, (whilst also, of course, taking in decades before and after). Whilst ostensibly being about one man’s race to be the first to cross the Atlantic by sea, (although this isn’t even really factually correct, as Bryson explains in detail), we are treated to everything from Babe Ruth and the Yankees to Prohibition, anarchist executions to the history of sky-scrapers.

I loved it.

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1927: quite a year…

 

The eagle-eyed amongst you are probably wondering who operated on you in the middle of the night and replaced your regular eyeballs, which is a horrible feeling to wake up to. Everyone else with normal eyes has probably noticed a new feature this month: a few friends had requested that I include some sort of ‘marks out of ten’ system so that they know what they should read and what they shouldn’t waste their time on.

(These ‘friends’ were presumably too busy to actually read the blog to get this information).

Always happy to bow to peer group pressure, this month sees the first use of my patented* ‘Books Out Of 10’ scoring system: the more Borges the better, the more Dan Browns the worse.

*Not actually patented

 

51-r5H5xvML._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_   vs     n56931

Let me know what you think…

 

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Posted by on October 27, 2014 in BOOKS

 

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68. Quote, Unquote…

68. Quote, Unquote…

A bunch of quotes I found cute, inspirational, educational or just downright well-written from some of the books I’ve been reading over the past few months, but which don’t quite earn themselves a full-on, solo review. Enjoy, and feel free to share some of your favourite quotes!

 ‘Bossypants,’ Tina Fey
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“It was always ‘Day 27’ of something in Beirut…”
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“This made no sense to me, probably because I speak English and have never had a head injury…”

Solar,’ Ian McEwan
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“Dizzy with fatigue, he began the journey staring through his smeared train window at suburban London’s miraculous combination of chaos and dullness…”
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A typically McEwan’esque cutting insight into the reflexively English middle-class psyche:

You don’t have to look at me to talk to me, he wanted to say, as he watched the traffic ahead, trying to predict the moment when he might seize the wheel. But even Beard found it difficult to criticise a man who was giving him a lift, his host in effect. Rather die or spend his life as a morose quadraplegic than be impolite…”
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solar

“It was lovers he needed, not wives…”

On a character’s relationship with his father:

“They had never discussed feelings, and had no language for them now…”

Unto Death,’ Amos Oz
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“Eight o’clock. Tel Aviv is already boiling and steaming. As if the very buildings will soon evaporate in the heat. Before we built a city on this spot the sand dunes stretched right down to the sea. In other words, we came here and forced these two furious elements asunder. As if we poked our heads into the jaws of the sea and the desert. There are moments on hot summer days when I have a sudden feeling that the jaws are trying to snap shut again…”
Telaviv-City-Beach
Comet In Moominland,’ Tove Jansson
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My first ever Moomin book, (they managed to pass me by as a child: I was more of a Smurfs fan), has sweet, descriptive chapter headings, like 18th/19th century novels, and plenty of cute, Winnie-the-Pooh’esque moomin-the-moomins-7597262-175-194wordplay:
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“‘We’d better only take the windfalls,’ said Moomintroll, ‘because mamma makes jam from these.’ But they had to shake the tree a little so that there were some windfalls…”
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On a homemade flag:
“They looked at his flag. ‘The blue on the top is they sky,’ he went on, ‘and the blue underneath is the sea. The line inbetween them is a road, the dot on the left is me at the moment, and the dot on the right is me in the future…'”
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Intelligent Thought: science versus the intelligent design movement,’ ed. John Brockman
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“Francis Crick, one of the discoverers of the structure of DNA, once jokingly credited his colleague Leslie Orgel with ‘Orgel’s Second Rule’: Evolution is cleverer than you are…”
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“The main problem with the creationist doctrine was the copious evidence of poor design…”
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“In a November 2004 Gallup assessment of public opinion, only 35 percent of respondents {in the USA} agreed with the statement that ‘the theory of evolution is a scientific theory well supported by the evidence.’ A few years earlier, another Gallup poll found 45 percent of the population in agreement that ‘God created humans pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years’…”
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Ironically, almost the entire series of essays could have been replaced by the only Appendix: the ‘Memorandum Opinion of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania,’ in their complete and detailed refusal to accept Intelligent Design as science, epitomised by the following extract:
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“To be sure, Darwin’s scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions…”
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Darwin's sketch which first hinted at his theory of natural selection

Darwin’s sketch which first hinted at his theory of natural selection

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Planet Google: one company’s audacious plan to organize everything we know,’ Randall Stross
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A slightly outdated, but still interesting, look at the founding of the company which is soon to own all of our souls…
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“By 2006, data centers already consumed more power in the United States than did television sets…”
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There were echoes of the David Bellios book I read recently on translation:
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“Using multilingual documents prepared by the United Nations as the training corpus, Google fed its algorithm 200 billion words and let the software figure out matching patterns between pairs of languages. The results were revelatory. Without being able to read Chinese characters or Arabic script, without knowing anything at all about Chinese or Arabic morphology, semantics, or syntax, Google’s English-speaking programmers came up with a self-teaching algorithm that could produce accurate, and sometimes astoundingly fluid, translations…”
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“The historic first YouTube video was an eighteen-second segment of [co-founder Jawed] Karim standing in front of a pen of elephants at a zoo, explaining with a self-mocking wink how elephants have ‘really, really, really long trunks’…”
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When this somehow failed to go viral and spark the site, soon afterwards:
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“…they decided to try a desperate measure: they would run an advertisement on Craigslist in the Los Angeles area, inviting ‘attractive’ women to upload videos of themselves. The enticement would be a payment of $100 upon submission of every ten videos. This, too, ended in failure. The advertisement drew not a single response…”
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Co-founder of Google Sergey Brin knew what people would first use GoogleMaps for, just as teachers know that new language students will immediately use their dictionaries to look up rude foreign words:
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“Anyone who took the trouble to install the software could zoom to any destination on the globe, but the one place that most users wanted to see first was their own home. (Brin had anticipated that this would be the case when he had given each of his colleagues a quick visit to their homes, one by one, when he had provided them with a demonstration of Keyhole’s software the year before)…”
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Google+Earth
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The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind,’ William Kamkwamba w/Bryan Mealer
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“The Chichewa language even has a word, nkhuli, which means ‘a great hunger for meat’…”
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“I had the appetite of a fat politician…”
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“In the villages where health care is poor, many children die early of malnutrition, malaria, or diarrhea. In hungry times, the situation is always worse. Because of this, names often reflect the circumstances of the parents’ greatest fears. It’s quite sad, but all across Malawi, you run into men and women named such things as Simkhalitsa (I’m Dying Anyway), Malazani (Finish Me Off), Maliro (Funeral), Manda (Tombstone), or Phelantuni (Kill Me Quick) – all of whom had fortunately outwitted their unfortunate names. Many change their names once they’re older, like my father’s oldest brother. My grandparents named him Mdzimange, which means ‘Suicide’…”
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Why do I support the charity Room to Read, arranging fund-raisers in many countries I live in and providing scholarships to friends for their wedding presents instead of toasters? William has the answer:
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“To think my journey had begun in my tiny library at Wimbe – its three shelves of books like my entire universe…”
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And amongst all the other things this led to, (most famously, a TED talk which led to the creation of this excellent book), he also appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart! What a guy…
 
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Posted by on May 20, 2013 in BOOKS

 

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50. Books Bought & Read, November 2012…

50. Books Bought & Read, November 2012…

Books Bought, November 2012

Angels And Ages: a short book about darwin, lincoln and modern life,’ Adam Gopnik

India: a wounded civilization,’ V.S.Naipaul

The Penelopiad,’ Margaret Atwood

The Bridge On The Drina,’ Ivo Andrić (P)

Inifite Jest,’ David Foster Wallace

Born Standing Up,’ Steve Martin

Born To Run,’ Christopher McDougall

East, West,’ Salman Rushdie

Hegemony Or Survival,’ Noam Chomsky

How Music Works,’ David Byrne

Jamie’s Great Britain,’ Jamie Oliver

Dogbert’s Top Secret Management Handbook,’ Scott Adams

The Castle,’ Franz Kafka

Slow Man,’ J.M.Coetzee

Hope: a tragedy,’ Shalom Auslander

Charlie And Lola: my wobbly tooth must not ever never fall out,Lauren Child

The Gruffalo’s Child,’ Julia Donaldson

Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: why it’s so hard to think straight about animals,’ Hal Herzog

Previous Convictions,’ A.A.Gill

Mrs.Dalloway,’ Virginia Woolf

Comet In Moominland,’ Tove Jansson

Invisible Cities,’ Italo Calvino

Speak, Memory,’ Vladimir Nabakov

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Books Read, November 2012

Dave Gorman vs. The Rest OF The World,’ Dave Gorman

This Is How You Lose Her,’ Junot Díaz

A Grain Of Wheat,’ Ngūgī Wa Thiong’o

The Thousand Autumns Of Jacob de Zoet,’ David Mitchell

Dogbert’s Top Secret Management Handbook,’ Scott Adams

The Atheist’s Guide To Christmas,’ ed. Robin Harvie & Stephanie Meyers

Working The Room,’ Geoff Dyer

Remember The Alamo: american history in bite-size chunks,’ ed. Alison Rattle & Allison Vale

Evil Machines,’ Terry Jones

Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, Philip.K.Dick

The Invisible Hand,’ Adam Smith

Hitch 22,’ Christopher Hitchens

Previous Convictions,’ A.A.Gill

Invisible Cities,’ Italo Calvino

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23 bought, 14 read, and a record for longest book title, (thanks to the sub-title of Hal Herzogs book on why some animals become steak and liver whilst others get fed and bathed). More importantly, Vladimir Nabakov’s volume of autobiography became the first I ever bought in a new continent, from Dutch Tony’s Book Emporium, San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala, (not its real name, but I don’t think most shops here have names).

Yes, this is the first blog coming to you from Central America, where I have been for exactly two weeks now, learning how to run a bar for the first time in over a decade, (El Barrio: if you’re ever in town, drop by and see me, I’m sure I can shout you a tequila shot), and enjoying the fact that, when not working three nights a week, or watching sports in the other bar in town, there is little to do but…read! (And write, of course). Lucky me, right?

There will be some travelling, around both Guatemala and its neighbours, (go look it up, I had to!), but I plan on spending most of my time jogging the mountains around the giant lake I live on, practising my Spanish and keeping you all up to date with what books I have managed to drag with me and read.

Before I left, I flitted around England, culminating in a visit to friends in Lewes and Brighton, (the former a direct result of having read Dave Gorman‘s tale of travelling the UK playing people at various games, leading me down to Sussex to play Toad in the Hole: for anyone who doesn’t know Dave, his comedy TV series/book ‘Are You Dave Gorman?‘ is one of my favourite things in the world, and his subsequent life (and book deals) are a template for the kind of life I would like to live).

Brighton’s excellent charity shop selection allowed me to pick up books on everything from Byrne on music to Martin on comedy, and also to pick up one of the books which has long been on my To Read list, (which I have kind of given up on recently, since most books I haven’t read are on it, but certain books still make their way onto it), ‘Born To Run,’ which tells the tale of a Mexican tribe who love to run dozens of miles a day for fun, and do it all barefoot, (one of the first books I devoured when I arrived in Guatemala, and soon to be reviewed).

A couple of books were bought for my niece’s upcoming visit to the UK, and another a present for my mum (which was re-gifted to someone for a Christmas present apparently!), and my last stroll around my local area yielded my first ever Moomin story, my first ever Virginia Woolf tale and a Calvino classic which has been on my list for years, three slim paperbacks which fit perfectly into the side pocket of my backpack.

As for books read, most were short-ish or comic-based affairs, or finishing off half-started books from previous months, all of which I got through in the family home, not wanting to start anything too major which I wouldn’t be able to finish. As I have pointed out, I always start a journey with a fresh book, and it was Christopher Hitchens who accompanied me on my unbelievably average American Airlines flights, (seat-back movies you can’t rewind, but have to wait an hour until they start again AA? Really? What century is this?!)

Highlights were probably David Mitchell‘s last novel, (my second different writer named David Mitchell in two months), the latter half of the latest Geoff Dyer to cross my path, (one of his previous fiction efforts being reviewed here), and re-reading (I think) the sci-fi classic and Bladerunner-spawning short story Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? after reading so many other authors who recommended reading Philip.K.Dick.

In a few days I will post a supplementary blog with a list of which books actually made the cut after my pre-travel ponderings, giving you all an idea as to what kind of reviews are to come. For now, though, feel free to browse the blog back catalogue, and thank you all for the support in helping me reach a half century of entries.

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Posted by on December 10, 2012 in BOOKS

 

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