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170. Books Bought & Read, June 2018…

170. Books Bought & Read, June 2018…

17 bought, 11 read: failing to meet my quota for the second month running, I lost a bet with myself. I’ll put the money to good use though: buying more books…

With The Once and Future King (the thickest of the set) finished, I have finally made my way through Penguin’s beautiful (and toe-threateningly heavy) perspex-encased SciFi collection of six classic novels.

This was one of the strangest, although least science fiction-y, of the set: four uneven books linked through time and characters, swaying back and forth between a youthful King Arthur, vindictive witches, and valiant young knights, but for me reaching its pinnacle with Book 3 which follows the hapless hero Lancelot in his attempts not to destroy the Kingdom.

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In a completely different mold, ‘World Without Fish,’ from journalist extraordinaire Mark Kurlansky, is a wake-up call for our future. The cartoon/science info blend may be written for kids but this book is relevant for anyone who cares about the future of our oceans, (and our dinner-plates).

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I was led astray by John Searbrook’s ‘The Song Machine‘, thinking it would be one of those fascinating, sweepingly historic non-fiction books on a single topic I have such a penchant for. Instead, it was one of those fascinating, narrowly-focused historic non-fiction books on a single topic which I love just as much.

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Where I thought I’d be learning about the evolution of pop music over the decades and genres, instead I was treated to the story of how a bunch of Swedes have essentially dissected music into microseconds of aurally pleasing hooks and rhythms and ‘written’ (or constructed) just about every major pop song of the past twenty years, from Britney to Backstreet, Pink to Perry, Avril to Aguilera.

My favourite nugget of knowledge explained why so many lyrics lately don’t quite seem to make sense these days. It’s not wily ambiguous lyricism from the songwriters: its Swedes not quite having a grasp on the idiom. Ever wondered why ‘(Hit Me) …Baby One More Time sounded so…well, abusive? Apparently the authors knew that you ‘hit someone up’ for their phone number, but not that you didn’t ask people to ‘hit you’ when you wanted them to call. And voilà: a pop hit was b(j)orn.

(Sorry: couldn’t resist!)

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My guilty pleasure this month was a return to my youthful days of sports card collecting, when I liked nothing better than ripping open a pack of Upper Deck basketball cards and seeing which players I got. (Full disclosure: there’s still little I like better than ripping open a pack of sports cards and seeing who I got!)

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‘The Card’, picked up in the $1 section of a Manhattan second-hand bookmonger’s, was a surprisingly interesting and readable history of cardboard collecting, from its innocent 19th century roots to its Wall Street-esque 1980’s gluttonous boom and bust, through the lens of the millionaire collectors (I’m looking at you, Wayne Gretzky…) and shady certifiers who took over (and, it seems, corrupted) what was once a simple, childhood hobby.

But the most interesting book I got through this month was a gift from family friends in South Carolina: ‘Stealing Fire’, a wide-ranging look at how people from a range of lifestyles (from athletes to CEO’s, Navy SEALs to Burning Man attendees) find different ways to expand their consciousness and achieve a state of ‘flow.’ From mind-expanding drugs to extreme sports, I wasn’t expecting to have my mind expanded quite as much as it was, and can recommend this to all those seeking a little something extra in life.

And what little extra did I get out of the book? Among other things, the fact that my name is not only Hebrew for ‘gift‘, (which I’d known all along of course), but also Greek for the same thing, (which I’d only had a vague inkling of), and that Pandora’s Box contained, linguistically, ‘pan’ (all) ‘doron’ (δωρον – gift), or all the gifts of the world.

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Books Bought, June 2018

A History Of The Middle East (Peter Mansfield)

Kidnapped (Robert Louis Stevenson)

Rip Van Winkle and other stories (Washington Irving)

The Time Machine (H.G.Wells)

Flowers Of Anti-Martyrdom (Dorian Geisler)

The Glass House (Salman Rushdie)

The Card: collectors, con men, and the true story of history’s most desired baseball card (O’Keefe & Thompson)

White Sands (Geoff Dyer)

The Road Through The Wall (Shirley Jackson)

Conscious Capitalism (Mackey & Sisodia)

Revolutionary Suicide (Huey P. Long)

The Little Book Of Lykke: secrets of the world’s happiest people (Meik Wiking)

The Evolution Of Everything : how new ideas emerge (Matt Ridley)

Mind Over Money: the psychology of money and how to use it better (Claudia Hammond)

Dream Cities: seven urban ideas that shape the world (Wade Graham)

We Were Eight Years In Power: an american tragedy (Ta Nehisi-Coates)

The Complete Novels (Jane Austen)

 

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

Dinner At The Center Of The Earth (Nathan Englander)

Classic Penguin: cover to cover (ed.Paul Buckley)

The First Four Notes: beethoven’s fifth and the human imagination (Matthew Guerrieri)

Vladimir Nabakov (Jane Grayson)

World Without Fish (Mark Kurlansky, illustrated by Frank Stockton)

The Design Of Alain Grée

Stealing Fire: how silicon valley, the navy seals, and maverick scientists are revolutionizing the way we live and work (Kotler & Wheal)

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

Flowers Of Anti-Martyrdom (Dorian Geisler)

The Card: collectors, con men, and the true story of history’s most desired baseball card (O’Keefe & Thompson)

The Once And Future King (T.H.White)

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Posted by on October 9, 2018 in BOOKS

 

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169. Books Bought & Read, May 2018…

169. Books Bought & Read, May 2018…

15 bought, 13 read: a valiant effort given that we spent much of this month travelling everywhere from South Carolina to the south of England, (although a lot of the ‘Books Read’ column were thin volumes and kids books, the latter of which weren’t even being read for the first time. But they still count. They still count, I say!)

I was stocking up on geographically-relevant reading material for an upcoming California business trip, (hence the Apple– and Amazon-based biographies bought), and I discovered that one novel by a recently discovered favourite was based in a location we were soon to visit there, so I delved into it early for ‘research’.

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Edward St Aubyn’s ‘On The Edge,’ was a wry look at visitors to the Esalen Institute, where we were soon to spend a wonderful weekend of yoga and onsen-soaking. It may not have been quite up to the literary heights of his Patrick Melrose novels, (and I can’t wait to find time to delve into the Cumberbatch-fuelled Showtime adaptation sometime soon), but was nonetheless a sharp and easy-to-read account of new-age mysticism meeting contemporary cynicism.

(WARNING: the following trailer may contain strong language*)

(*And by ‘may,’ I mean ‘does’**.)

(**Specifically, the f-bomb.)

(Right at the start.)

(And most of the way through.)

Just when I think I can’t love the people at Penguin publishing any more, they surprise me with yet another gorgeous series. This month I ticked off three more of the Penguin Lives biographical series, truncated in both length and physical size (they don’t quite fit right on my shelves, but they’re so cute I forgive them).

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Bitesize they may be, but not short on facts: how many of you could name the second most biographised person in history, (after J.H.Christ)? I can now, having read Paul Johnson’s ‘Napoleon: a life.‘ (For those of you in a pub quiz league: you’re welcome.)

As someone who still feels a vicarious rush when seeing all of the new pencil cases and binders on sale in shops before school starts again every Summer, you can imagine how much I nerded out on James Ward’s history of stationery. (And for those of you who always mix up ‘stationary‘ and ‘stationery,’ I’ll let you into a secret from linguist extraordinaire (and author of a frankly ridiculous 100+ books on language) David Crystal: pEns are stationEry, and cArs are stationAry. (Again: you’re all welcome!)

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And then, as if to balance out this frivolity, I flew through Merle Miller’s expanded thoughts on what was apparently  “the most widely read and discussed essay of the decade,” written in response to a homophobic article in Harper’s Magazine in 1970. Humanising, heart-breaking, forceful, and as relevant as ever.

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I finished the month with my favourite palette cleanser: short stories, and this time from a minimalist master of the genre I’d somehow never delved into before.

Raymond Carver’s collection (with possibly one of my favourite titles of all time) provided everything I’ve come to expect (and love) from the genre in the 1970’s, from Richard Yates to Donald Barthelme: pauses so big you can read entire tales into them, unstated sexual tension you could not only cut with a knife but package and sell, and ne’er a moral in sight.

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And all these years, for some reason, I’d thought he was a writer of detective stories. Given the endless sense of (unsolved) mystery in his stories I guess, in a way, he is.

Books Bought, May 2018

The General In His Labyrinth (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

Don’t Get Too Comfortable (David Rakoff)

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

The Alchemy Of Mirrormask (Dave McKean)

Marcel Proust: a life (Edmund White)

Steve Jobs (Walter Isaacson)

The Communist Manifesto (Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels)

On Being Different (Merle Miller)

The First Four Notes: beethoven’s fifth and the human imagination (Matthew Guerrieri)

The Way Back Home (Oliver Jeffers)

The Heart Goes Last (Margaret Atwood)

Just So Stories (Rudyard Kipling)

The Ministry Of Fear (Graham Greene)

On The Edge (Edward St Aubyn)

Penguin 75: designers, authors, commentary (ed.Paul Buckley)

 

Books Bought, May 2018 (highly recommended books in bold)

Napoleon: a life (Paul Johnson)

The Alchemy Of Mirrormask (Dave McKean)

Winston Churchill: a life (John Keegan)

Proust: a life (Edmund White)

On Being Different: what it means to be homosexual (Merle Miller)

Stuck (Oliver Jeffers)

The Way Back Home (Oliver Jeffers)

Adventures In Stationery: a journey through your pencil case (James Ward)

Don’t Get Too Comfortable (David Rakoff)

Penguin 75: designers, authors, commentary (ed.Paul Buckley)

Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? (Raymond Carver)

On The Edge (Edward St Aubyn)

The Unnamed (Joshua Ferris)

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2018 in BOOKS

 

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163. Books Bought & Read, December 2017…

163. Books Bought & Read, December 2017…

It took some willpower, (and weather cold enough to keep me curled up indoors with some honeybush tea for most of December, rather than riffling through beaten-up boxes in New York’s plentiful secondhand bookeries), but I managed to end 2017 as I had just four times in the previous year: reading more books than I bought, and continuing to eat my way into my almost infinite To Read pile, like an over-stuffed diner at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Thirteen books made their way to my once-more filled Billy Bookshelves, whilst fifteen were consigned to the past tense, and this month saw one of the highest ratio of recommended books I’ve shared for a long time. More than half of them I deemed good enough to make your winter warming list, from poetry beautiful in every sense to literature by a teenager; old English classics to modern American legends.

Firstly, (and fittingly, given the weather), this was a Penguin-heavy month. I discovered four further additions to my Penguin Classic Deluxe menagerie (Machiavelli, an African Achebe trilogy, the previously unknown Ernst Jünger, whose novel about World War I now sits incongruously next to a colourful Anne of Green Gables), whilst reading one old favourite and one complete newcomer to me, (although I only bought T.S.Hinton’s work from my new friend ‘D’ on the Southeast corner of Union Square due to its shiny 50th Anniversary Penguin Classics cover).

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Considering it was written by a 16-year-old, ‘The Outsiders‘ was an astonishingly gripping, insightful story of the grey areas between right and wrong, good and bad, rich and poor, mature and im-, and I thoroughly enjoyed the short read, a feeling reproduced days later (although with less surprise) when I revisited one of my literary crushes and polished off Graham Greene’s ‘England Made Me,’ also in a Penguin edition.

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Reading Greene again after several years was the literary equivalent of stalking an ex-girlfriend on Facebook, making sure that Greene is still beautiful but depressed, fascinating but pessimistic. I may have learned more about love, life, and how they slowly wear you down than from any other author.

Greene made up for the first ever (slightly) disappointing Borges collection I have encountered to date, (‘Brodie’s Report‘ being more prosaic than his usual magical tales), but that was washed away by the surreal, raw energy of another unknown, this time the wonderful weirdness of the prose poem ‘Grief Is The Thing With Feathers‘ in which crows come to some sort of life in the place of a loved one who has left it. Breathtakingly powerful.

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My brother has several original pieces of art on his apartment wall from a graphic novel I had never read, but due to its title had been sitting on my wife’s bookshelf since I bought her a dedicated copy at ComicCon a few years ago. This winter seemed like as good a time as any to tackle the toe-breaking omnibus compilation of Terry Moore’s ‘Rachel Rising,’ and it was a dark and funny roller-coaster of a tale, part Gaimany magic and part Stoppardian riposte and repartee, with some pretty twisted moments.

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Chuck Klosterman’s decade’s worth of collected articles (titled simply: ‘X‘) are cultural artifacts which remain a joy to browse, whilst Christopher Hitchens‘ interviews are a time capsule from another political era which seems like it was centuries ago. Both were thought-provoking and highly enjoyable, (balanced by the tale of Trumpian Brexiting which even my favourite living philosopher, A.C.Grayling, failed to make anything but depressing, if informative, in ‘Democracy And Its Crises‘).

This month, I learned how much magic goes into movie-making from legendary (and highly readable) film critic David Thompson; the danger that comes with overthrowing the Egyptian government from Bassem Youssef, (‘The Egyptian Jon Stewart‘); the wonders of a support system for the broken-hearted in yet another excellent Ted Talk book; the views on war (as if I didn’t know them already) of the ever excellent Kurt Vonnegut; and ploughed through one of the most beautiful (if awkward to read) books with a newly illustrated Walt Whitman, which proved that art and literature can go hand in hand. But sometimes shouldn’t.

And with these pages, and these words, I end the month, and the year, and invite you to follow me on another twelve month journey through the books which cross my path in 2018.

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Happy reading!

 

Books Bought, December 2017

Storm Of Steel, (Ernst Jünger)

Cuba On The Verge: 12 writers on continuity and change in havana and across the country (ed.Leila Guerriero)

Song Of Myself (Walt Whitman, illustrations Allen Crawford)

Anne Of Green Gables (L.M.Montgomery)

Grief Is The Thing With Feathers (Max Porter)

How To Fix A Broken Heart (Dr.Guy Winch)

The Last Interview (Christopher Hitchens)

Snoopy: Not Your Average Dog (Charles M.Schulz)

Walden and Civil Disobedience (Henry David Thoreau)

The Prince (Machiavelli)

The Outsiders (T.S.Hinton)

Democracy And Its Crisis (A.C.Grayling)

The Africa Trilogy (Chinua Achebe)

 

Books Read, December 2017

X (Chuck Klosterman)

Rachel Rising (Terry Moore)

Grief Is The Thing With Feathers (Max Porter)

The Last Interview (Christopher Hitchens)

How To Fix A Broken Heart (Dr.Guy Winch)

How To Watch A Movie (David Thomson)

Armageddon In Retrospect (Kurt Vonnegut)

Democracy And Its Crisis (A.C.Grayling)

The Outsiders (T.S.Hinton)

Song Of Myself (Walt Whitman, illustrations Allen Crawford)

Brodie’s Report (Jorge Luis Borges)

Snoopy: Not Your Average Dog (Charles M.Schulz)

England Made Me (Graham Greene)

Think Like A Freak (Steven D.Levitt & Stephen J.Dubner)

Revolution For Dummies: laughing through the arab spring (Bassem Youssef)

 

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2018 in BOOKS

 

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