Tag Archives: sci fi

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.


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).


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.


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!)


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!)


‘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.



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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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…)


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.


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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159. Books Bought & Read, August 2017…

159. Books Bought & Read, August 2017…

My vision was 20/20 this August: 20 bought, 20 read, but it was quality and not just quantity this summer, as you can see from the many bold recommendations in the Books Read list below. But there was a depth and breadth to my literary wanderings this month, both through space and time: from world food recommendations from the lead singer of a Scottish rock band to ancient Greek thoughts on nature; bittersweet Finnish tales of nothing to Victorian English myth; race-wide contemporary African-American struggles in the USA to everyday human struggles in Israel.

Reading is my favourite way to travel when I can’t actually travel.

Food reading abounded as ever, to feed facts and fables for my food tour, and I finally got around to reading local restaurant maven Calvin Trillin, whose wonderfully conversational ramblings on eating his way across the US matched my own perfectly. Further afield, Alex Kapranos, the lead singer of Franz Ferdinand, published a regular column on what he ate on world tours, here collected by Penguin and featuring a shout-out for my beloved local Polish doughnuttery, Peter Pan’s in Greenpoint.

Hogarth Press has devised an ingenuous take on a four-centuries old staple: asking some of the best contemporary authors to come up with a modern retelling of Shakespeare tales. I managed to get my hands on advanced copies by two of the best around: Margaret Atwood’s thespian-fest take on The Tempest, and Edward St.Aubyn’s old-age home King Lear, and I enjoyed the hell out of them. The other half-dozen are now on my radar.

Whilst away on ‘vacation’ (holiday, to my former self), at a family wedding in wonderful Oregon, I followed up on a hot tip I received over a year ago from a coworker at the Housing Works. He had described Ted Chiang’s ‘The Story Of YourLife And Others’ as the best book he read all year, and it’s probably not far off mine either.


Short sci-fi stories revolving around maths and science in an updated version of Borges, (the opener about workers on the upper echelons of the Tower of Babel owes more than a tip of the hat to the Argentine genius), cover some of my favourite topics, existential angst and linguistic intrigue. Angels can appear and disappear, wreaking havoc at random, and students can have their minds altered to ignore beauty in the hope of creating a fairer society, in a tale worthy of a Black Mirror episode).

Buy this book, or at least go and see the movies which will inevitably be (and, indeed, already have been) drawn from it.


I finished the month with a deceptively simple novella by Tove Jansson. Having discovered her magical, mythical, ever-so-slightly-creepy Moomins late in life, I am now discovering even later in life than she was more than just these bizarre woodland creatures: she was a writer of subtle social observation, bitter-sweet storytelling and a creator of tales as light but lasting as the paintings which adorn the covers of her adult works. Another highly recommended quick read, with more of her to come next month.

Books Bought, August 2017

Nutshell (Ian McEwan)

Listen To This (Alex Ross)

May We Be Together (A.M.Homes)

Netherland (Joseph O’Neill)

Educating Peter: how anyone can become an (almost) instant wine expert (Nettie Teague)

How To Read Lacan (Slavoj Žižek)

You Shall Know Us By Our Velocity (Dave Eggers)

Dom Casemiro (Machado de Assis)

More Baths, Less Talking (Nick Hornby)

Tombo (W.S.DiPiero)

The End Of Love (Marcus Coral Llorente)

Between The World And Me (Ta-Nehesi Coates)

The Sandman: overture (Neil Gaiman)

McSweeney’s Issue 1 (various)

McSweeney’s Issue 2 (various)

McSweeney’s Issue 3 (various)

How We Eat With Our Eyes And Think With Our Stomachs: learn to see the hidden influences that shape your eating habits (Melanie Mühl & Diana Von Kopp)

Hagseed (Margaret Atwood)

Emma (Jane Austen)

Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)


Books Read, August 2017 (highly recommended books are indicated in bold)

The 7 Good Years (Etgar Keret)

Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine (Diane Williams)

Dunbar (Edward St Aubyn)

Break It Down (Lydia Davis)

Nutshell (Ian McEwan)

Stories Of Your Life And Others (Ted Chiang)

How To Read Foucault (Johanna Oksala)

How To Read Lacan (Slavoj Žižek)

Between The World And Me (Ta-Nehesi Coates)

Beast (Paul Kingsnorth)

The Sandman: overture (Neil Gaiman)

Hagseed (Margaret Atwood)

The Essex Serpent (Sarah Perry)

Day Of The Oprichnik (Vladimir Sorokin)

How We Eat With Our Eyes And Think With Our Stomachs: learn to see the hidden influences that shape your eating habits (Melanie Mühl & Diana Von Kopp)

Alice, Let’s Eat: further adventures of a happy eater (Calvin Trillin)

We (Yevgeny Zamyatim)

Fragments (Heraclitus)

Sound Bites: eating on tour with franz ferdinand (Alex Kapranos)

The True Deceiver (Tove Jansson)

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Posted by on October 24, 2017 in BOOKS


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