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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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165. Books Bought & Read, January 2018…

165. Books Bought & Read, January 2018…

2018 began where 2017 left off: with me struggling to finish enough books at the end of the month to out-read my 20 purchases, and yet again I just about managed to keep my nose in front by single volume, (the wonderfully opaque, yet readable allegorical parable, or possibly parabolic allegory, The Schooldays Of Jesus by J.M.Coetzee).

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I also got in early for February’s  Black History Month with a ‘What If Only African Americans Had Super Powers’ Kickstarter funded graphic novel, and the excellent How To for blacks and friends of blacks in modern-day America.

It was a good reading month for me, and there are a LOT of recommendations this month, from Margaret Atwood’s recent collection of random (and surprisingly dark) short stories, to a return to form for Dave Eggers, (after the slow Hologram For The King and the dire, didactic The Circle), with the beautifully observed story of a single mother trailing across Alaska with her two young children in Heroes Of The Frontier.

Science featured heavily in January. I’m thoroughly enjoying  working my way back through journalist A.J.Jacobs‘ complete back catalogue. What’s not to like? He thinks of a ridiculous experiment and then dedicates himself to seeing it through and reporting on it, this time attempting to organise the world’s largest family reunion following the logic that we are all, essentially, part of the same (very extended) family. I now know how important Mormons are to the hereditary industry, and also wish I had A.J’s life.

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I followed this up with the wonderfully silly We Have No Idea, an illustrated manual to everything we don’t know about the universe, aimed at kids but wonderfully informative for scientifically-impaired grown-ups like me, too.

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You may have spotted a couple of geographically specific books, due to the fact that we ignored “President” Trump’s warnings and decided to fulfil a lifelong ambition to visit Cuba, thereby escaping a chunk of New York’s winter, (which seems to come around practically every year…)

Havana was old, crumbling, warm, friendly, cheap, fascinating, welcoming, just good old fashioned fun, (literally old fashioned, with the endless 1950’s classic cars on every street corner), and I could appreciate the images, symbolism and mentality a little better thanks to the excellent Cuba On The Verge, a dozen essays on everything from the history to the fashion to the feminism of this endlessly fascinating country.

Highly recommended, whether or not you’re planning on visiting.

Books Bought, January 2018

The Boiling River (Andrés Ruzo)

The Chibok Girls (Helen Habila)

Imagine (Erik Johansson)

Born To Run (Bruce Springsteen)

You May Also Like: taste in an age of endless choice (Tom Vanderbilt)

Solve For Happy: engineer your path to joy (Mo Gawdat)

Poems That Make Grown Men Cry: 100 men on the words that move them (ed.Anthony & Ben Holden)

Poems That Make Grown Women Cry: 100 women on the words that move them (ed.Anthony & Ben Holden)

Vacationland (John Hodgman)

Taste: surprising stories and science about why food tastes good (Barb Stuckey)

It’s All Relative: adventures up and down the world family tree (A.J.Jacobs)

Everybody Lies: big data, new data, and what the internet can tell us about who we really are (Seth Stephens Davidowitz)

Angels With Dirty Faces: the footballing history of argentina (Jonathan Wilson)

We Have No Idea: a guide to the unknown universe (Jorge Cham & Daniel Whiteson)

Black (Osajyefo, Smith III, Igle & Randolph)

Star Wars: les plus belles affiches/the most beautiful posters (Drew Struzan0

The Art Of Neil Gaiman (Hayley Campbell)

Heroes Of The Frontier (Dave Eggers)

Talking To My Daughter About The Economy: a brief history of Capitalism (Yanis Varoufakis)

How To Be Black (Baratunde Thurston)

 

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

Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl (Carrie Brownstein)

Stone Mattress: nine tales (Margaret Atwood)

Stranger In A Strange Land (Robert A.Heinlein)

A Tree In The Sea (Holly & Blake Kern)

Paris, Trance (Geoff Dyer)

Imagine (Erik Johansson)

Havana: a subtropical delirium (Mark Kurlansky)

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

It’s All Relative: adventures up and down the world family tree (A.J.Jacobs)

Solve For Happy: engineer your path to joy (Mo Gawdat)

Black (Osajyefo, Smith III, Igle & Randolph)

The Chibok Girls (Helen Habila)

We Have No Idea: a guide to the unknown universe (Jorge Cham & Daniel Whiteson)

Vacationland (John Hodgman)

Am I Alone Here? notes on living to read and reading to live (Peter Ormer)

Star Wars: les plus belles affiches/the most beautiful posters (Drew Struzan0

Talking To My Daughter About The Economy: a brief history of Capitalism (Yanis Varoufakis)

Heroes Of The Frontier (Dave Eggers)

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

How To Be Black (Baratunde Thurston)

The Schooldays Of Jesus (J.M.Coetzee)

 
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Posted by on March 13, 2018 in BOOKS

 

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107. ‘No One Belongs Here More Than You,’ Miranda July…

107. ‘No One Belongs Here More Than You,’ Miranda July…

Short

stories

are

BRILLIANT!

I have found myself reading a lot of them recently, and even discovering new favourite authors, from George Saunders to Etgar Keret.

They are an art form unto themselves, following different rules, logic and styles to other types of literature and, best of all, if you’re not enjoying one it’s all over soon enough and you can move onto another.

But even knowing all of this, and with glowing praise from newspapers, magazines and authors (including my beloved Dave Eggers) on the front and back covers, I was still blown away with how good Miranda July‘s 2005 debut ‘No One Belongs Here More Than You‘ was/is.

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As you can see from the website she set up to promote the book, she has a quirky, indie sense of humour which comes flooding out in the 16 tales told in this compilation, but it is a humour interwoven with an array of emotions and issues: ball-shrinking awkwardness, (‘Making Love In 2003‘ is the best excuse for paedophilia since ‘Lolita‘ only in a more sci-fi, hilarious way, if you can picture that); feminism; social awkwardness; sexual awkwardness; physical awkwardness, (it occurs to me, writing this, that there is a lot of awkwardness in there, which I probably should have guessed given the title…but awkwardness, as fans of ‘The Office‘ will know, is often amusing); and underlying it all, love.

Where we find love, how we find love, how it finds us, how it avoids finding us, what we put up with to convince ourselves we have it – these are all things you may learn reading this book. But most of all, you will have fun.

At the 2013 Hay Literature Festival I had the honour of attending a talk by the aforementioned George Saunders using a wonderful Donald Barthelme short story to deconstruct the art of the short story. (I am delighted to find that the piece itself is free to read online here). It was all about the journey and not the ending, the author leading the reader to new, unexpected places, and doing it in under incredibly restrictive parameters. (I think. I don’t remember it too well, and don’t have time to go back and listen to it, which you can do if you feel like, here).

If you haven’t read many short stories, you could do a lot worse than start here.

418x9PVeHEL  nbhmty-russianweb  images  nbhmty-hebrewweb1  Miranda July + Short Stories 

 
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Posted by on March 9, 2014 in BOOKS

 

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