Tag Archives: Nick Hornby

172. Books Bought & Read, August 2018…

172. Books Bought & Read, August 2018…

A dozen books on each side of the scales this month – the (more or less) dodecahedral theme continues!

(In case you’re wondering what dodecahedrons have to do with anything, my mathematical leanings of late are explained by the fact that this was written after the events described at the start of next month’s blog, which haven’t been released yet, and won’t for many months, but will explain everything. If you’re still reading next month. Or, for that matter, if you’re even still reading now, after this overly-long and unnecessarily opaque paragraph.)


Skimming the Books Bought column this month I’m pleased with how especially eclectic it is, from psychology to theatre autobiogs, from classic kids books to classic literature. But, as with the Books Read, one topic is coming to dominate both lists and that is: business, due to my (hopefully) impending return to what Americans quaintly refer to as ‘school’ (what I would previously have referred to as Uni). I was in New Orleans for an interview for business school, so Amazon and Whole Foods CEOs Jeff Bezos and John Mackey accompanied me, mingling with former N’orlins Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

John Mackey’s classic business manifesto ‘Conscious Capitalism‘ was an interesting insight into what sets businesses which care apart from those which only care about profits, and interestingly Amazon featured several times.

The conclusions both jibed and jarred slightly with Brad Stone’s insight into what made the online giant so great (and so feared). Clearly Amazon is a company which focuses on the big picture and customer experience more than anything else, but in doing so Bezos regularly appears to screw suppliers and producers (not to mention regular rumblings of the dissatisfaction of their own staff, from senior positions all the way down to those working at ‘Fulfilment Centers‘), key components of Mackey’s conception of Conscious Capitalism.

Politics and business clearly go hand in hand, so it was fitting that I moved on from these two books to Mitch Landrieu’s story of how (and, more importantly, why) he removed Civil War era statues from my potential future home, New Orleans, in the face of some pretty horrific opposition. Anyone who still believes that Civil War monuments are there for anything but a constant reminder to African Americans of their place should be encouraged to read this short, personal, excellently written memoir.


I needed some palate cleansing fiction after all that heavy fare, and I found it in spades with one of the best books I’ve read all year and a second, close contender.

With Russia in the news so much lately, it seemed fitting to take a Russian friend’s advice and finally dive into Amor Towles‘s ‘A Gentleman In Moscow,’ one of those books everyone seemed to be reading on the Subway at some point. Clever, erudite, poignant, not constrained by its constraints (it is essentially set in a single hotel in St Petersburg over several periods), and politically astute, don’t be put off by the length of this novel and treat yourself to a good old fashioned moral tale, beautifully served up.


As if things couldn’t get any better fiction-wise, my old friend Nick Hornby casually recommended a new author to me in the monthly Believer article he writes on his fictional forays, (which, I’ve just discovered, is available FOR FREE online. But you should also buy the magazine, which is one of my favourite things in the world, and you can pick up Nick’s compilations of these articles too).

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When one of my all-time favourite authors casually mentions that “The Wife is one of my favourite novels of the twenty-first century,” (in an article which proceeds: “…but The Female Persuasion has gone straight into my library of favourite novels ever,” adding yet another book to the infinite ‘To Buy‘ list), it won’t take me long to track it down and, given its almost novella length, devour it.


And, as always, he wasn’t wrong.

The thoughts of a wife who has frittered away her talent supporting her unfaithful writer husband unfurl backwards and forwards through time, and although the twist in the ending wasn’t much of a surprise to me, the poignancy and feeling in the writing were masterful. I’m looking forward to reading much more Meg.

Finally this month, I was encouraged to read Tao Lin’s ubiquitous ‘Trip,’ the gorgeous-covered literary autobiog which has been staring at me from every hipster bookstore shelf and table for months.

The style was unique, a bizarre blend of journalistic detachment and self-exposition; the contents informative and thought-provoking; and the overall effect disorienting.

Lin charts his fascination with Terrence McKenna, a fascinating traveller, experimenter, ethnobotanist, social advocate, and modern-day Timothy Leary. This serves as a diving off point for years of research into drugs, the self, nature, reality, all of which Lin charts in minute detail with the combined passion of a searcher for truth and the dispassion of a scientist, charting exact dosages of which drugs he consumes over time, be they ‘illegal,’ ‘over the counter’ or the everyday staples of contemporary life from coffee to cigarettes.


Seeing the world as a continuum as opposed to binaries of good/bad makes for a messy but fascinating ride, and Lin’s introspective style is amplified by the feeling that he is trying to connect with the world but often failing, (a most modern malaise, perhaps). But emerging from the fever dream of ‘Trip’ I learned more than I have from most books, and was left with far more questions than answers, always a good thing.

I guess those hipsters know a good book when they see one.

Books Bought, August 2018

Joan Of Arc: a life (Mary Gordon)

The Wolfman and other cases (Sigmund Freud)

50 Inventions That Shaped The Modern Economy (Tim Harford)

Failing Up: how to take risks, aim higher, and never stop learning (Leslie Odom Jr)

The Challenge Culture: why the most successful organizations run on pushback (Nigel Travis)

We Are All In The Dumps With Jack And Guy: two nursery rhymes with pictures  (Maurice Sendak)

Desire (Haruki Murakami)

A Life Less Throwaway: the lost art of buying for life (Tara Button)

The Battle For God:  (Karen Armstrong)

Mentored By A Madman: the william burroughs experiment (A.J.Lees)

Beautiful And Impossible Things: selected essays (Oscar Wilde)

Sea Prayer (Khaled Hosseini)


Books Read, August 2018 (highly recommended books in bold)

Conscious Capitalism (Mackey & Sisodia)

The Wife (Meg Wolitzer)

In The Shadow Of Statues: a white southerner confronts history (Mitch Landrieu)

The Everything Store: jeff bezos and the age of amazon (Brad Stone)

Trip: psychedlics, alienation, and change (Tao Lin)

The Double Death Of Quincas Water-Bray (Jorge Amado)

The Where, The Why, And The How: 75 artists illustrate wondrous mysteries of science (ed. Lamothe, Rothman, Volvovski & Macaulay)

100 Poems That Make Grown Men Cry: 100 Men on the words that move them (ed.Holden & Holden)

Sea Prayer (Khaled Hosseini)

Desire (Haruki Murakami)

A Gentleman In Moscow (Amor Towles)

Failing Up: how to take risks, aim higher, and never stop learning (Leslie Odom Jr)



Posted by on October 27, 2018 in BOOKS


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136. 2014 In (Book) Review…

136. 2014 In (Book) Review…

Blimey, writing a book takes time. Who knew?

It is the first week of March, 2015, and only now am I getting around to analysing the stats of my 2014 in books, with most of my spare time nowadays being dedicated to writing my tales of travel and trouble. (Copies of the book will be available for sale shortly, in case anyone is interested!)

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My final tally for 2014?

229 books bought, 143 read:

a net annual LG (or Literature Gap, a measurement I have just invented), of 86.

As far as this book blog went, it had a fairly impressive 6,800 views, (impressive given that, with all my travels and sports writing, this has essentially been downgraded from a weekly blog to a monthly one…at best…), and featured 358 photos. Apparently, I also usually post on a Monday.


My most viewed blog was what i was reading in October… 2013!! I like to think it was the insightful reviews of David Foster Wallace and Italo Calvino that brought you there, but knowing the internet, it was probably the photo of Hitler-cat.


Still, it made me happy that my third most popular release this year was my centennial effort, my interview with the wonderful Nick Hornby.


The blog had viewers from 111 different countries! I’m not even sure i can name that many countries! The USA took top spot, then then the UK and Portugal, which makes sense given my travels, living locations, and friendships.


My new year’s blogging resolutions include: to add to my Top 10 blogs, for both authors and books…10 is a ridiculously small number anyway!

This being my third year of blogging, I could go back to my reviews of 2012 and 2013 and calculate some averages: I buy an average of 235 books each year, and manage to read almost 160 of them. And before you ask, no, I you can’t have my life: I’m using it.

Keep dropping by for monthly updates as I make my way further into the world of the writer, and feel free to subscribe to make sure you never miss one of these irregular posts again!


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Posted by on March 5, 2015 in BOOKS


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103. ‘Freedom,’ Jonathan Franzen…

103. ‘Freedom,’ Jonathan Franzen…
Freedom,’ Jonathan Franzen
I had read Jonathan Franzen‘s earlier GAN (Great American Novel™), ‘The Corrections‘, and loved its random, depressing, realistic characters and varied storylines immensely. I had no idea if the much-awaited ‘Freedom‘ would live up to its popular predecessor: luckily for me, it did, whilst displaying the same acute insight into character and relationships.
Whereas ‘The Corrections‘ had seemed to me to be more family based, ‘Freedom‘ instead is about the strains of relationships outside of the immediate family sphere, be it romantic or best friend-based. Its content and tone reminded me of Nick Hornby’s excellent ‘Juliet: Naked,’ but whereas the latter deals mainly with the relationship between music and fandom, the weightier ‘Freedom‘ builds around a base of relationships and takes in everything from music to politics to the environment to alcoholism to a million other things.


(Incidentally, this was the third time in about a week last year that I had read about cats in North America being responsible for the death of billions of cats every year, once from a news report and the other from a fascinating book on humans’ relationships with animals, soon to be reviewed, called ‘Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Kill‘).
2013 was the year that mass birdicide was brought to my attention...

2013 was the year that mass birdicide was brought to my attention…

There’s an awful lot going on, but yet again Franzen‘s prose is so masterful that you don’t feel overburdened by the plot twists and shifts of viewpoints, much in the same way a masterful movie director makes a three hour film fly by.
Here are some of my favourite quotes, to give you an idea of the kind of thing you’re in for if you decide to give the book a try:
“…the Honorable Joyce Emerson, known for her advocacy of open space, poor children and the Arts. Paradise for Joyce is an open space where poor children can go and do Arts at state expense…”
“The first minute of the workday reminds you of all of the other minutes that a day consists of, and it’s never a good thing to think of minutes as individuals…”
“America, for Einar, was the land of unSwedish freedom, the place of wide-open spaces where a son could still imagine he was special. But nothing disturbs the feeling of specialness like the presence of other human beings feeling identically special…”
“Right, that’s the advantage of growing up in Minnesota. Everywhere you go now, the weather will be nicer…”


Minnesota! (Photo used under Creative Commons license from Wikipedia)

(Photo used under Creative Commons license from Wikipedia)

“Tall, ponytailed, absurdly young, pushing a stroller past stripped cars and broken beer bottles and barfed-upon old snow, she might have been carrying all the hours of her day in the string bags that hung from her stroller…”
“She was a grave and silent little person with the disconcerting habit of holding your gaze unblinkingly, as if you had nothing in common…”


“I’m defending your son,” she said, “Who, in case you haven’t noticed, is not one of the brainless flipflop wearers…”
And as if that wasn’t enough anti-flipfloppery, we have this a few chapters later:
“‘What don’t you like about them [young people]?” he said.
‘Oh, well, where to being?” Patty said. “How about the flipflop thing? I have some issues with their flipflops. It’s like the world is their bedroom…”.
Photo used under Creative Commons from                 The Consumerist.

Photo used under Creative Commons from The Consumerist.

Possibly the best description ever of why relationships often drag on too long:
“…a flutter in his stomach warned him to slow down and be sure he really wanted her back. Warned him not to mistake the pain of losing her for an active desire to have her…”
To finish, I give you a quote which summarises the 600-page novel in a single sentence:
“Patty had almost gone with Richard, and out of the gratifying fact that she hadn’t – that she’d succumbed to Walter’s love instead – had grown their entire life together, their marriage and their house and their kids…”
And all the problems that entails? That’s ‘Freedom‘…
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Posted by on February 9, 2014 in BOOKS


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