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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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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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148. Books Bought & Read, September 2016…

148. Books Bought & Read, September 2016…

15 more booksworth of information is now rattling around somewhere in my brain, and 62 more booksworth of books is now most definitely not rattling around in our apartment.

This is due to the life-changing news, (for me, at least), that after a 7-hour battle I finally emerged victorious in a war with four interlocking IKEA Billy bookshelves.

Everything feels better already.

(Fittingly, the best book I ‘read’ this month was pure shelfporn: Gary Johnson’s ‘Bookshelf,’ 250-pages of incredible, often ridiculous book-storage which I will never be able to afford!)

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Domestic bliss…

By the time we speak next, I should be the proud holder of a license to give tours in the once-Royal city of New York, so again this month I have mainly been studying the weird and wonderful world of Manhattan-based trivia, (ever wondered where the word ‘cookie‘ comes from?  Or what the longest ever fall from an elevator shaft which didn’t result in death was? Come join one of my tours to find out!)

I re-read a fun book on the Founding Fathers, and ploughed through a fairly fascinating, Pulitzer Prize winning 550-pager on the construction of Rockefeller Center, (not a sentence I ever thought I’d hear myself say), which didn’t leave myself much time for recreational reading.

But it was worth it to learn that they spent weeks debating whether to call it Rockefeller ‘Center’ or ‘Centre’.

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All I managed to consume away from NY history was a comic or two, one more in the wonderful TED Talks series, (this one on why it’s fun to meet strangers, and how to do it), and another in the similarly quirky ‘Modern Self-Help’ vein from The School of Life on ‘How To Age‘ (sample secret: imagine yourself in another 20 years, and feel better now!)

I left myself plenty of time for recreational buying, however.

62 books came home with me, almost exclusively from my volunteer shifts at the wonderful Housing Work Bookstore and Cafe. (And no, I take no pleasure in realising that I bought one more book this month than I did last month. Well, OK, maybe a little.)

On Mondays I help beautify the actual store and recommend books to unsuspecting customers, but on Tuesdays they let me loose sorting the incoming boxes of donated books, and it’s almost a case of one for you, one for me

I really think I may be their best customer.

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This is what I do with my spare time in NYC…

Thanks to the folks at the store, I have finally complete my Lemony Snicket collection, and added considerably to my latest addiction: Penguin Classic Deluxe Editions. Any ‘classic’ you find on the ‘Books Bought’ list, from Austen to Joyce, probably came from this gorgeous collection, with their ruffled edges and glimmering covers.

This continued a trend of many of the books bought being ‘doubles,’ copies I already have to give to friends as gifts, or to keep because they come in nicer covers than the ones I already own. After finally completing my collection of McSweeney’s short story collections last month, I am halfway to accumulating another complete set: they just look to good on the shelf to refuse!

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I’ve realised that most of you probably don’t have any desire to read through an obscenely long list of what books I’ve bought each month, so as of this month that list has been relegated to the very end of the blog, only for the diehard fans.

In the meantime, enjoy your reading, and stay tuned for an upcoming series of blogs on my favourite bookshops in NY!

Books Read, September 2016 (Highly recommended books in bold)

Great Fortune: the epic of rockefeller center (Daniel Okrent)

The Elements Of Music: melody, rhythm and harmony (Jason Martineau)

When Strangers Meet: how people you don’t know can transform you (Kio Stark)

A Place Of Remembrance: official book of the national september 11 memorial

Batman: the dark knight returns (Frank Miller)

A Room Of One’s Own (Virginia Woolf)

How To Age (Anne Karpf)

A.D: new orleans after the deluge (Josh Neufeld)

McSweeney’s Comedy By The Numbers:  the 169 secrets of humor and popularity (Eric Hoffman & Gary Rudoren)

Unicorn Being A Jerk (C.W.Moss)

Why Unicorn Drinks (C.W.Moss)

A Wild Haruki Chase: reading murakami around the world (various)

Bookshelf (Alex Johnson)

Founding Brothers: the revolutionary generation  (Joseph J.Ellis)

The Great American Citizenship Quiz (Solomon M.Skolnick)

Books Bought, September 2016

A Wild Haruki Chase: reading murakami around the world (various)

The Art Of Procuring Pleasant Dreams (Benjamin Franklin)

When Strangers Meet: how people you don’t know can transform you (Kio Stark)

The Girl Who Married A Lion (Alexander McCall Smith)

Poetic Meter And Form (Octavia Wynne)

Classical Cocktails (Salvatore Calabrese)

Einstein’s Riddle: riddles, paradoxes and conundrums to stretch your mind (Jeremy Stangroom)

How To Talk About Places You’ve Never Been: on the importance of armchair travel (Pierre Bayard)

The Gene: an intimate history (Siddhartha Mukherjee)

The Great American Citizenship Quiz (Solomon M.Skolnick)

Unicorn Being A Jerk (C.W.Moss)

Why Unicorn Drinks (C.W.Moss)

Vacation (Deb Olin Unsworth)

The Seven Good Years (Etgar Keret)

Tortilla Curtain (T.C.Boyle)

Bagombo Snuffbox (Kurt Vonnegut)

The Power Broker: robert moses and the fall of new york (Robert A.Caro)

A Series Of Unfortunate Events No.9: the carnivorous carnival (Lemony Snicket/Daniel Handler)

A Series Of Unfortunate Events No.10: the slippery slope (Lemony Snicket/Daniel Handler)

A Series Of Unfortunate Events No.11: the grim grotto (Lemony Snicket/Daniel Handler)

A Series Of Unfortunate Events No.12: the penultimate peril (Lemony Snicket/Daniel Handler)

A Series Of Unfortunate Events No.13: the end (Lemony Snicket/Daniel Handler)

Dracula (Bram Stoker)

Just So Stories (Rudyard Kipling)

Peter Pan (J.M.Barrie)

The Picture Of Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde)

McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern No.38

The Jaguar Smile (Salman Rushdie)

Moving To Higher Ground: how jazz can change your life (Wynton Marsalis)

Good Bones And Simple Murders (Margaret Atwood)

What Is The What (Dave Eggers)

The WPA Guide To New York City (various)

Presenting Shakespeare: 1,100 posters from around the world

Shiny Adidas Tracksuits And The Death Of Camp (various)

Sandman No.10: the wake (Neil Gaiman)

How The Other Half Lives (Jacob Riis)

Kristin Lavransdatter (Sigrid Undset)

I Wear The Black Hat: grappling with villains (real and imagined) (Chuck Klosterman)

City Beasts (Mark Kurlansky)

The Haunting Of Hill House (Shirley Jackson)

How To Think Like An Entrepreneur (Philip Delves Broughton)

A.D: new orleans after the deluge (Josh Neufeld)

Tradition (Daniel Khalastchi)

Gilliamesque: a pre-posthumous memoir (Terry Gilliam)

McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern No.22

McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern No.35

McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern No.36

McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern No.37

Creating Room To Read (John Wood)

Salt (Mark Kurlansky)

Blankets (Craig Thompson)

Habibi (Craig Thompson)

The Dubliners (James Joyce)

Pride And Prejudice (Jane Austen)

That Is All (John Hodgman)

Moominpappa’s Memoirs (Tove Janson)

Paris Out Of Hand: a wayward guide (Karen Elizabeth Gordon)

Sound Bites (Alex Kaprianos)

Black Swan Green (David Mitchell)

Hard-Boiled Wonderland And The End Of The World (Haruki Murakami)

What To Think About Machines That Think (ed.John Brockman)

The Sound Book: the science of the sonic wonders of the world (Trevor Cox)

 
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Posted by on October 16, 2016 in BOOKS

 

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