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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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125. Books Bought & Read, August 2014…

125. Books Bought & Read, August 2014…

Books Bought, August 2014

The Art Of Travel,’ Alain de Botton

The Circle,’ Dave Eggersad_34488596_86a46fa8b11ca415_web

Zeitoun,’ Dave Eggers

One Summer: america 1927,’ Bill Bryson

‘Let’s Make Some Great Fingerprint Art ,’ Marion Deuchars

Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets,’ J.K.Rowling

Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire,’ J.K.Rowling

The Portable Dorothy Parker,’ Dorothy Parker

Everything And More: a compact history of infinity,’ David Foster Wallaceurl

Scoop,’ Evelyn Waugh

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

Lost And Found,’ Oliver Jeffers

Love, Nina: despatches from family life,’ Nina Stibbes

The Book Of Leviathan,’ Peter Blevgad

Where The Sidewalk Ends,’ Shel Silverstein

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

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki And His Years Of Pilgramage,’ Haruki Murakami x2

But Beautiful,’ Jeff Dyer

The Song Of Achilles,’ Madeline Miller

My Many Colored Days,’ Dr.Seuss118345

The Rachel Papers,’ Martin Amis

60 Stories,’ Donald Barthelme

Brazil,’ Michael Palin

The Testament Of Mary,’ Colm Tóíbin

The Dog,’ Joseph O’Neill

Girl With Curious Hair,’ David Foster WallaceBoth_Flesh_and_Not_Front_Cover

Both Flesh And Not‘ David Foster Wallace

One More Time,’ B.J.Novak

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

The Girl Who Saved The King Of Sweden,’ Jonas Jonasson

The Signal And The Noise’ the art and science of prediction,’ Nate Silver

songreader_mockup_loresInterventions: a life in war and peace,’ Kofi Annan

Eating The Dinosaur,’ Chuck Klosterman

Drown,’ Junot Díaz

Song Reader,’ Beck

Alphabetical,’ Michael Rosen

 

Books Read, August 2014

Mack The Life,’ Lee Mack

The Still Point,’ Amy Sackville

The Penelopiad: the myth of penelope and odysseus,’ Margaret Atwood

Dream Angus: the celtic god of dreams,’ Alexander McCall Smith

Judy Bloom And Lena Dunham In Conversation: two cultural icons discuss writing, feminism, censorship, sex, and a sixth-grade literary hoax’

East, West,’ Salman Rushdie

What Are You Looking At? 150 years of modern art in the blink of an eye,’ Will Gompertz

Two Girls: One On Each Knee (7): the puzzling past of the cryptic crossword,’ Alan Connor

Love, Nina: despatches from family life,’ Nina Stibbes

The Portable Dorothy Parker,’ Dorothy Parker

 

OK, so August was ridiculous, even by my standards.

Thirty-seven bought, and a mere ten of those read, (and in only two of them were books I’d bought this month: the other eight were drawn from the deepest darkness of The Cupboard where several forests’ worth of books await my eyeballs).

In my defence, (as if, by now, I need a defence for buying books: addiction requires no explanation), eleven of the books bought were gifts for two special people I am visiting in New York in September; the two Harry Potters were bought before I attended an Apple Store event featuring Daniel Radcliffe and thought there may be a chance of getting his scribble in one, (nope); and the two Murakamis were obligatory, given that I had spent 16 hours waiting to meet him at a signing event, reported here.

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The rest were a muddle of back catalogues from favourite authors, (three giant David Foster Wallaces were added to my collection), modern classics I had never read, (Italo Calvino, Scoop,’ Dorothy Parker, etc), and everything from comedy short stories to autobiographies from Novel Prize Winning former UN Secretary Generals.

The usual.

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As for the ten books I managed to put in the past tense this month, there were some absolute crackers.

I finally got round to reading Dorothy Parker for the first time, and what a start: 600 pages of her after picking up the gorgeous Penguin edition featuring high quality, ‘hand-cut’ feel folio pages, and a great cartoon cover.

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Two books from Canongate’s ‘Myths’ series from two fantastic authors, Alexander McCall Smith and Margaret Atwood allowed me to delve into both Celtic and Greek folk tales and rekindle a love of legend which has never quite left me, from the days I used to rent little but books of Norse and Roman gods from the library.

BBC’s arts editor Will Gompertz entertained me with a simple, logical and chronological history of modern art, from its ‘father’ Matisse to the modern stuff you look at and say: “That’s not art. It’s rubbish. Literally.” I now know a little more why I like what I like, and dislike the stuff I don’t like a little less for at least knowing what it is trying to do. There could have been more images, but if anyone is looking to understand the modern art world, it’s a great read.

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Will Gompertz

I enjoyed a change of pace with Amy Sackville‘s tale of a couple living in both modern England and the Victorian past, with the protagonist researching the (eventually unsuccessful) attempt of her great-grand uncle to reach the North Pole. The writing, simultaneously covering just a single day and at the same time an entire century, is impressive, and I had a shiver of déja vu (again) when the plot was taken up by reality this week with the discovery of a missing Victorian vessel which had been attempting to chart the Canadian Arctic waters.

Spooky.

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One of the books bought as a gift, (to either a great aunt or a fake aunt depending on which one got to me first), turned out to be one of the most enjoyable, and ‘Two Girls: One On Each Knee (7): the puzzling past of the cryptic crossword’ will soon feature in its own blog entry, for anyone that wants to know more about that most English of past-times, the cryptic crossword.

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A comedy autobiography which had me laughing out loud almost as much as the man Lee Mack himself does; an excellent short story collection by one of my favourites, Salman Rushdie; and a pamphlet-sized conversation sent to me by my beloved Believer Magazine rounded out the month’s intake.

And given that I’m writing this in the middle of September and I know how many books I have already read this month, I can tell you a secret in advance: the reading shows no signs of abating…

 

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Posted by on September 26, 2014 in BOOKS

 

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