Tag Archives: philip pullman

161. Books Bought & Read, October 2017…

161. Books Bought & Read, October 2017…

October was a month for moving apartment, reading comics, and rediscovering some old friends. Also, for turning forty, which was kind of unexpected as I still feel fourteen inside, but that averages out to twenty-seven, which may be accurate.

With all the excitement of a European adventure, a new living space to unpack and rearrange, and a new decade to celebrate, I slipped further behind in my Sisyphian quest to read more books than I acquired last month: 21 were purchased either in Heathrow Airport or at Brooklyn Library’s annual $1 Book Sale, (how am I supposed to resist?!), and 16 were ticked off the list.

Comics were the order of the month: thanks to the library sale, I reacquainted myself with the works of the wonderfully weird Daniel Clowes, whose ‘Like A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron‘ was one of the weirdest and wonderfullest things I have read in a very long time: a David Lynch nightmare of a Dada painting in comic book form. Highly enjoyable.

I also polished off the first three volumes of Vertigo’s ‘Fables’ series, a clever and fairly enjoyable romp through what fairytales would be doing if they lived in modern-day New York. From fables in the real world, to real people in a fabulous world, I also discovered Ta Nehisi-Coates‘ reworking of Marvel’s ‘Black Panther‘ character, which was a little overblown at times but an interesting blend of superhero life and contemporary African identity politics nonetheless.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Talking of politics, my favourite book of October, (and possibly the year so far), was Tim Marshall’s ‘The Prisoners Of Geography.’ This eminently readable series of regional essays put the ‘geo-‘ very firmly into ‘geopolitics‘ with simple but wide-reaching explanations of how so much of contemporary politics can be explained through physical boundaries: from mountains allowing China and India to stay focused on other issues, to a lack of a port causing Russia to act as it has been doing in the past few decades, entirely logically based on its location and its fears. A must-read for anyone who wants to understand the daily news a little better.


A.J.Jacobs is one of my favourite non-fiction writers out there, and in ‘My Experimental Life‘ he continues his theme of writing personally and accessibly about everyday life with a twist. I loved his year of living biblically (when he attempted to follow the Old Testament literally for twelve months), and here are nine further examples of taking stupid ideas to their extremes, be it outsourcing your everyday life to India, or practicing radical honesty.


Most exciting of all this month was my discovery, upon walking past Brooklyn’s gorgeous indie Greenlight Bookstore, that my beloved Lyra was back in her alternate Oxford with the release of the first of Philip Pullman’s new trilogy, ‘The Book of Dust.’ Anyone who knows me will understand the heart palpitations this caused: the movie aside, Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials‘ trilogy is in my Top 10 of alltimefavouritestbooksofalltimeEVER. And somehow I hadn’t even known that this new episode was already out.


It proved to be a mixed bag: the opening scenes take place in The Trout, my favourite Oxford pub, around the corner (and across the meadow) from where I spent a year in post-educational bliss nearly twenty years ago. The thrill of seeing some of your favourite places represented in fiction got me through the first half of the novel, which then drifted somewhat into a series of almost fairytale tableaux, and much of the story felt too much like foreshadowing for the two volumes to come.

Nevertheless, I remain stupidly excited for those two volumes. And in the meantime, I think I may have to reread ‘Northern Lights‘ and friends…




Books Bought, October 2017

Homo Deus (Yuval Noah Hariri)

Prisoners Of Geography: ten maps that tell you everything you need to know about global politics (Tim Marshall)

My Experimental Life (A.J.Jacobs)

On Booze (F.Scott Fitzgerald)

Life: the leading edge of evolutionary biology, genetics, enthropology, and environmental science (ed.John Brockman)

Stardust (Neil Gaiman & Charles Vess)

Lincoln In The Bardo (George Saunders)

Fables, vol’s I-IV (Bill Willingham & Mark Buckingham)

Caricature (Daniel Clowes)

Wilson (Daniel Clowes)

Like A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron (Daniel Clowes)

Tales Of Belkin (Alexander Pushkin)

The Castle (Franz Kafka)

H.P.Lovecraft: against the world, against life (Michel Houllebecq)

Black Panther, vol’s I-III (Ta Nehisi-Coates)

Book Of Dust Vol I: la belle sauvage (Philip Pullman)


Books Read, October 2017 (especially recommended books are in bold)

My Experimental Life (A.J.Jacobs)

Gulp (Mary Roach)

Histories Of Nations: how their identities were forged (ed.Peter Furtado)

Caricature (Daniel Clowes)

Like A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron (Daniel Clowes)

Wilson (Daniel Clowes)

Fables, vol’s I-IV (Bill Willingham & Mark Buckingham)

Black Panther, vol’s I-III (Ta Nehisi-Coates)

Book Of Dust Vol I: la belle sauvage (Philip Pullman)

Prisoners Of Geography: ten maps that tell you everything you need to know about global politics (Tim Marshall)

On Booze (F.Scott Fitzgerald)


Leave a comment

Posted by on November 21, 2017 in BOOKS


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

93. Books Bought & Read, November 2013…

Books Bought, November 2013

The Marx Brothers Poster Book.‘ 

1Q84,’ Murakami Haruki

Stuff I’ve Been Reading,’ Nick Hornby

To The Letter,’ Simon Garfield

Fortunately The Milk…,’ Neil Gaiman

Pygmies,’ Chuck Palahniuk

Writings From The Zen Master,’ (Penguin Great Ideas Series)

Where I Lived And What I Lived For,’ Henry David Thoreau, (Penguin Great Ideas Series)

Toothpicks And Logos: design in everyday life,’ John Heskett

Nobody Belongs Here More Than You,’ Miranda July

Fight Club,’ Chuck Palahnkiuk

The Scarecrow And His Servant,’ Philip Pullman

The Total Library: non-fiction, 1922-1986,’ Jorge Luis Borges

Burma Chronicles,’ Guy Delisle

Speaking With The Angel,’ ed.Nick Hornby

Skullduggery Pleasant: playing with fire,’ Derek Landy


Books Read, November 2013

Grantland, issue 5

Grantland, issue 6

Grantland, issue 7

The True Tale Of Billy Dean As Tellt By Himself,’ David Almond

Monkey,’ Wu Ch’êng Ch’ên

To The Letter,’ Simon Garfield

Seven Nights,’ Jorge Luis Borges

Toothpicks And Logos: design in everyday life,’ John Heskett

Super Sad True Love Story,’ Gary Shteyngart

Fortunately The Milk…,’ Neil Gaiman

The Believer, issue 102

I, Coriander,’ Sally Gardener

The Celestial Café,’ Stuart Murdoch

Gentlemen Of The Road,’ Michael Chabon

The Imperfectionists,’ Tom Rachmann

Mother Brother Lover: selected lyrics,’ Jarvis Cocker

52 Ways Of Looking At A Poem: a poem for every week of the year,’ Ruth Padel

Utopia,’ Thomas More

Burma Chronicles,’ Guy Delisle

Hell Screen,’ Ryunosuke Akutagawa

The Scarecrow And His Servant,’ Philip Pullman

The Coincidence Engine,’ Sam Leith

Pulling ahead of the books bought/read debit column yet again, I had a very varied and enjoyable reading month. The month started, tucked up warm in the family home in Essex, devouring a trio of Grantland sports journals, (an incredible way to catch up on a year’s worth of mainly US-based sports and culture), before I made my way through a backlog of YA (young adult) books from the wonderful David Almond, Sally Gardener, Philip Pullman and my beloved Neil Gaiman.

imgres I picked up a promo copy of the interesting but slightly disappointing ‘To The Letter,’ by the imgres-2author who wrote my favourite book of the year so far, ‘Just My Type;‘  learned about design in the modern day from a short tract by Chair Professor Emeritus John Heskett; and tracked down a further episode in Guy Delisles incredible graphic depiction of life in some of the most bizarre corners of the world, (Guy being a French-Canadian artist who follows his wife on her travels with Médecins Sans Frontières from North Korea to Jerusalem to, here, Myanmar).


With a month at home between countries, (where some people are between jobs, I am usually also between countries), I took the opportunity to read some of the signed copies which are confined to my childhood bedroom cupboard, most enjoyable of which was the excellent ‘The Imperfectionists‘ by Tom Rachmann, a multi-registered, decades-long look at the life of various characters in an imaginary newspaper, which simultaneously made me want to work in journalism and deeply glad that I don’t. Quite a feat.

Mainly, this was a month of poetry. I often find myself buying poetry collections, (either because they are small volumes, or beautifully bound, or with names I feel I should know and have read), and they have slowly built up a layer of dust on a poetry shelf above my bed. Having read Stephen Fry‘s excellent introduction to poetry, ‘The Ode Less Travelled,’ last year, I finally continued my education with Ruth Padel‘s ‘52 Ways To Read A Poem,’ a weekly newspaper column which examines and explains a series of short, contemporary poems. This inspired me to read two books I have from two of my favourite singers, Belle and Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch, (who wrote a poetic, although slightly dull, computer diary), and song lyrics from Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker, although the enigmatic Cocker himself insists that lyrics are nothing like poetry).

I leave you with the final stanza from a simple, strangely beautiful and yet slightly disturbing poem by ‘folk-jazz musician’ Don Paterson entitled ‘Imperial,’ a paragraph which stayed with me after I’d finished reading all 52 poems in the collection, (which, being me, I decided to tackle five at a time: who has a year to read a book?!).

“and no trade was ever so fair or so tender;

so where was the flaw in the plan,

the night we lay down on the flag of surrender

and woke on the flag of Japan”

The most lyrical depiction of a slightly coerced taking of virginity you are ever likely to read.



1 Comment

Posted by on December 8, 2013 in BOOKS


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

26. Library musings…

26. Library musings…

The word library is literally inseparable from the concept of books, deriving from the Latin ‘liber‘ meaning ‘book.’ When I was growing up, they were certainly my major source of printed parchment, and I would look forward to my tri-weekly visits to Westcliff Library like most kids would look forward to a visit to a Saturday afternoon football match, (although I would look forward to those too: I like to think I was well-rounded).

My library fare generally consisted of a book on Norse or Roman mythology, a Choose Your Own Adventure book, and a couple of Asterix comics. (I was blown away when I found out later that not only were Asterix books not originally in English, but that the jokes and even the names of the characters were translated into dozens of different languages: that explained why sometimes you felt like a panel of the comic strip was meant to be funny, but there was no punchline there: originally, there may have been one in French which just didn’t fit in!)

My addiction to libraries didn’t last long: ever since I discovered that books could be purchased in exchange for cash, and didn’t need to be returned or risk suffering a fine, I have left the temple of the temporary book behind and nowadays only ever stop into them to see if they are selling any left-over stock. Why is this? Most of the books I buy are never read again, and if I buy them with the intention of passing them on to friends, it makes as much sense just to give them the title and tell them to get it out of their local library. There is just something about owning books, knowing I can go back and refer to them, or lend them to people, or just see how beautiful they look on my many bookcases.

For weeks I had been hunting for a book to help me with my tour-guiding, ‘Walk the Lines‘ by Mark Mason, the story of a Londoner who decides to walk every step of the London underground, going between each of the 269 tube stations on foot and full of all of the wonderful trivia I love so much, (did you know the Bakerloo line which runs past my house was named by the press as it originally ran between Baker street and Waterloo, and the Victoria line was close to being called the Viking line, as it ran between Victoria and Kings Cross?!). Not finding it in any second-hand or charity shops, but knowing I had a week to spend at home, I got my mum to order it from our local library. It must be a popular read, as it arrived weeks later, and I only had time to read the first two chapters on a flying visit home.

What to do, what to do? I considered taking it with me, then mailing it home, before realising it would probably be almost as cheap to buy a copy of the book. I have considered finishing reading it in bookshop coffee shops, as for some reason I have an aversion to buying books I have either started or already read. I will probably join my local London library somehow, and get it from them, but the fact that this was my last thought, (after reading a chapter at a time over days in a bookshop coffee shop!), means I may be underusing the wonderful facilities libraries offer.

Library use has apparently been in steep decline in recent years, with one of my favourite authors, Philip Pullman, leading a campaign to prevent them being closed down in the UK under government budget cuts in 2011. The ones I have been in recently seem to have changed with the times, being full of computers and DVDs and the suchlike, but for me, thanks to my fetish to own these compilations of paper, libraries will always lose out to bookshops.


Posted by on May 11, 2012 in BOOKS


Tags: , , , , ,