Tag Archives: the believer

173. Books Bought & Read, September 2018…

173. Books Bought & Read, September 2018…

19 bought, 9 read.

After breaking my streak with a positive net gain last month, it wasn’t even close in September. Not even 50%, (aka 2:1, proportionally speaking. Sorry, I spent the past two weeks intensely studying maths for the first time in around two and a half decades in order to pass a grad school entrance exam, which both limited my available time for pleasure reading and left me with numbers and symbols floating in front of my eyes from which I have yet to recover).

The Big Issues raised by this month’s blog: do the books I received for trading in excess copies during a vicious Bookshelf Cull count as ‘Books Bought’ for the month? And is it fair, knowing I won’t surpass my Books Bought total for the month, to not read the last few pages of a couple of novels I was nearing the end of, knowing I can then count them towards next month’s tally when I finish them on October 1st? Who knew keeping a book blog would open up such a Pandora’s Labyrinth of moral quandaries?! (And more to the point, without spellcheck who knew it was spelt ‘quandaries‘ and not ‘quandries‘?)

With slim pickings on the Books Read front, I have time and space to mention that the Books Bought column was boosted by the discovery of some beautiful covers on rereleased books. These were mainly those delightful Penguin Classic Deluxes, which I continue to hunt down faster than Pokémon in Central Park, although I only seem to be finding the 600+ page editions which are putting a significant strain on our bookshelves, (see: the complete Sherlock Holmes novels and the 50th anniversary edition of Bulgakov’s ‘The Master And Margarita,’ neither of which I may ever even read, having read them both already. But they sure look stunning on the shelf).

Following on from last month’s discovery of Tao Lin, I picked up and had a crack at his breakout novel, ‘Taipei’. Confusing, frustrating, stylistically interesting but with a lead character I completely failed to connect with, I can see why he has become both such a popular and a divisive figure, (a brief internet search immediately brought up a review from NPR containing the following: “Taipei, Lin’s newest book, is…(a)t once very bad and very good, it swings between dullness and wild, excessive beauty.” It is headlined: ‘Taipei is Lifelike – But That’s Not Necessarily A Compliment.”)



On a completely different fictional plane, I have loved tracking down the bite-size books in Melville House’s incredible The Art of the Novella series, and this month I picked up and imbibed two more: a so-so Edith Wharton tale of marital folly, and Prosper Mérimée’s delightful ‘Carmen‘, inspiration for the opera and a thoroughly enjoyable 19th century romp around Spain featuring derring-do, men fallen from grace (for a change), and the laughing, cavalier eponymous heroine, a Roma traveller with a knack for getting whatever she wants. Highly entertaining.

The Prophet‘ was a gift from family friends which I had somehow never gotten around to reading, and there were some moving and relevant sections to this nearly century-old parable/fable (parafable?) I’m not sure the poetry is especially outstanding but, like Paolo Coelho, Gibran’s work presents something for seekers, and for every facet of their personalities at every important point of their life, which isn’t a bad way to achieve (eventual) popularity. This ‘something-for-everyone‘ nature of the book may explain why it’s not always looked upon seriously by critics.

‘Dream Cities’ was disappointing; Frankl’s holocaust-inspired memoir and exposition of his psychoanalytical method ‘Man’s Search For Meaning‘ was confusingly simultaneously depressing and uplifting; and R.Crumb’s baseball card-depictions of musical legends dating to the late 19th century was less informative than I’d hoped and simply pretty.

But my favourite book of the month was an early work by celebrated Spanish writer Javier Marías, discovered purely as it was put out by The Believer’s book publishing branch, and as I’m sure you all know by now I trust The Believer with my life, (or, if not my life, at least a significant portion of my finances). A faux-19th century travel adventure, ‘Voyage Along The Horizon‘ instead spends more time analysing the role of unreliable narrators and dissecting short story and  detective tropes than providing actual adventure, (not to mention conclusions), which the Italo Calvino fan in me loved.


And with that, after being behind on my blogging for most of 2018, I find myself in the rare position of being up to date with my literary comings and goings, a state which I hope to maintain.

So you probably won’t hear from me again until next December…

Books Bought, September 2018

Rules Of Civility (Amor Towles)

The Joy of X: a guided tour of numbers, from one to infinity (Steven Strogatz)

The Gift: creativity and the artist in the modern world (Lewis Hyde)

You Are Not A Gadget: a manifesto (Jerome Lanier)

On Boxing (Joyce Carol Oates)

The Touchstone (Edith Wharton)

Big Sur (Jack Kerouac)

A Sentimental Journey (Laurence Sterne)

Ceremony (Leslie Marmon Silko)

McSweeney’s Quarterly, issue.51 (various)

The Book Of Other People (ed.Zadie Smith)

A Farewell To Arms (Ernest Hemingway)

The Master And Margarita (Mikhail Bulgakov)

Sherlock Holmes: the novels (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

The Absolute Sandman, Vol.II (Neil Gaiman)

The Absolute Sandman, Vol.III (Neil Gaiman)

Fragile Things (Neil Gaiman)

Carmen (Prosper Mérimée)

The Complete Fairytales (George MacDonald)


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

Dream Cities: seven urban ideas that shape the world (Wade Graham)

Voyage Along The Horizon (Javier Marías)

Taipei (Tao Lin)

Man’s Search For Meaning (Viktor Frankl)

Heroes Of Blues, Jazz And Country (Robert Crumb)

The Prophet (Kahlil Gibran)

*********, ***! (***** ****) (Book redacted pending future update)

Carmen (Prosper Mérimée)

The Touchstone (Edith Wharton)




Posted by on December 8, 2018 in BOOKS


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172. Books Bought & Read, August 2018…

172. Books Bought & Read, August 2018…

A dozen books on each side of the scales this month – the (more or less) dodecahedral theme continues!

(In case you’re wondering what dodecahedrons have to do with anything, my mathematical leanings of late are explained by the fact that this was written after the events described at the start of next month’s blog, which haven’t been released yet, and won’t for many months, but will explain everything. If you’re still reading next month. Or, for that matter, if you’re even still reading now, after this overly-long and unnecessarily opaque paragraph.)


Skimming the Books Bought column this month I’m pleased with how especially eclectic it is, from psychology to theatre autobiogs, from classic kids books to classic literature. But, as with the Books Read, one topic is coming to dominate both lists and that is: business, due to my (hopefully) impending return to what Americans quaintly refer to as ‘school’ (what I would previously have referred to as Uni). I was in New Orleans for an interview for business school, so Amazon and Whole Foods CEOs Jeff Bezos and John Mackey accompanied me, mingling with former N’orlins Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

John Mackey’s classic business manifesto ‘Conscious Capitalism‘ was an interesting insight into what sets businesses which care apart from those which only care about profits, and interestingly Amazon featured several times.

The conclusions both jibed and jarred slightly with Brad Stone’s insight into what made the online giant so great (and so feared). Clearly Amazon is a company which focuses on the big picture and customer experience more than anything else, but in doing so Bezos regularly appears to screw suppliers and producers (not to mention regular rumblings of the dissatisfaction of their own staff, from senior positions all the way down to those working at ‘Fulfilment Centers‘), key components of Mackey’s conception of Conscious Capitalism.

Politics and business clearly go hand in hand, so it was fitting that I moved on from these two books to Mitch Landrieu’s story of how (and, more importantly, why) he removed Civil War era statues from my potential future home, New Orleans, in the face of some pretty horrific opposition. Anyone who still believes that Civil War monuments are there for anything but a constant reminder to African Americans of their place should be encouraged to read this short, personal, excellently written memoir.


I needed some palate cleansing fiction after all that heavy fare, and I found it in spades with one of the best books I’ve read all year and a second, close contender.

With Russia in the news so much lately, it seemed fitting to take a Russian friend’s advice and finally dive into Amor Towles‘s ‘A Gentleman In Moscow,’ one of those books everyone seemed to be reading on the Subway at some point. Clever, erudite, poignant, not constrained by its constraints (it is essentially set in a single hotel in St Petersburg over several periods), and politically astute, don’t be put off by the length of this novel and treat yourself to a good old fashioned moral tale, beautifully served up.


As if things couldn’t get any better fiction-wise, my old friend Nick Hornby casually recommended a new author to me in the monthly Believer article he writes on his fictional forays, (which, I’ve just discovered, is available FOR FREE online. But you should also buy the magazine, which is one of my favourite things in the world, and you can pick up Nick’s compilations of these articles too).

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When one of my all-time favourite authors casually mentions that “The Wife is one of my favourite novels of the twenty-first century,” (in an article which proceeds: “…but The Female Persuasion has gone straight into my library of favourite novels ever,” adding yet another book to the infinite ‘To Buy‘ list), it won’t take me long to track it down and, given its almost novella length, devour it.


And, as always, he wasn’t wrong.

The thoughts of a wife who has frittered away her talent supporting her unfaithful writer husband unfurl backwards and forwards through time, and although the twist in the ending wasn’t much of a surprise to me, the poignancy and feeling in the writing were masterful. I’m looking forward to reading much more Meg.

Finally this month, I was encouraged to read Tao Lin’s ubiquitous ‘Trip,’ the gorgeous-covered literary autobiog which has been staring at me from every hipster bookstore shelf and table for months.

The style was unique, a bizarre blend of journalistic detachment and self-exposition; the contents informative and thought-provoking; and the overall effect disorienting.

Lin charts his fascination with Terrence McKenna, a fascinating traveller, experimenter, ethnobotanist, social advocate, and modern-day Timothy Leary. This serves as a diving off point for years of research into drugs, the self, nature, reality, all of which Lin charts in minute detail with the combined passion of a searcher for truth and the dispassion of a scientist, charting exact dosages of which drugs he consumes over time, be they ‘illegal,’ ‘over the counter’ or the everyday staples of contemporary life from coffee to cigarettes.


Seeing the world as a continuum as opposed to binaries of good/bad makes for a messy but fascinating ride, and Lin’s introspective style is amplified by the feeling that he is trying to connect with the world but often failing, (a most modern malaise, perhaps). But emerging from the fever dream of ‘Trip’ I learned more than I have from most books, and was left with far more questions than answers, always a good thing.

I guess those hipsters know a good book when they see one.

Books Bought, August 2018

Joan Of Arc: a life (Mary Gordon)

The Wolfman and other cases (Sigmund Freud)

50 Inventions That Shaped The Modern Economy (Tim Harford)

Failing Up: how to take risks, aim higher, and never stop learning (Leslie Odom Jr)

The Challenge Culture: why the most successful organizations run on pushback (Nigel Travis)

We Are All In The Dumps With Jack And Guy: two nursery rhymes with pictures  (Maurice Sendak)

Desire (Haruki Murakami)

A Life Less Throwaway: the lost art of buying for life (Tara Button)

The Battle For God:  (Karen Armstrong)

Mentored By A Madman: the william burroughs experiment (A.J.Lees)

Beautiful And Impossible Things: selected essays (Oscar Wilde)

Sea Prayer (Khaled Hosseini)


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

Conscious Capitalism (Mackey & Sisodia)

The Wife (Meg Wolitzer)

In The Shadow Of Statues: a white southerner confronts history (Mitch Landrieu)

The Everything Store: jeff bezos and the age of amazon (Brad Stone)

Trip: psychedlics, alienation, and change (Tao Lin)

The Double Death Of Quincas Water-Bray (Jorge Amado)

The Where, The Why, And The How: 75 artists illustrate wondrous mysteries of science (ed. Lamothe, Rothman, Volvovski & Macaulay)

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

Sea Prayer (Khaled Hosseini)

Desire (Haruki Murakami)

A Gentleman In Moscow (Amor Towles)

Failing Up: how to take risks, aim higher, and never stop learning (Leslie Odom Jr)



Posted by on October 27, 2018 in BOOKS


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92. An Evening With Nick Hornby…

92. An Evening With Nick Hornby…

I can’t believe it has taken me this long to finally meet one of my favourite authors, a man who not only lives in London but loves music, books and football, as well as McSweeney’s and The Believer and a whole host of other things I also know and love.

But all that changed when around fifty people gathered on plastic stools in the back of legendary indie record label Rough Trade‘s East London megastore to hear a Q&A promoting Nick‘s latest book. A mere seven years after the first compilation of his monthly ‘Stuff I’ve Been Reading’ column for The Believer magazine, (2006’s ‘The Polysyllabic Spree‘), comes the sequel, titled simply: ‘Stuff I’ve Been Reading’.


Part of my excitement was, naturally, due to the fact that this is the column which directly inspired the last two years of my creative life, (i.e. this book blog), and wasn’t dampened in the least when I found out that for some confusing international publishing reason I already actually owned the book, since there have been several volumes released Stateside which I have managed to pick up over the years.

Nick was excellently interviewed by Canadian journalist and author Craig Taylor, and the theme of the evening, 2013-11-14 19.23.55(and, indeed, of the monthly articles), soon became clear: you should read what you want, and what you enjoy. The Believer has a policy of not saying bad things about people or artworks, and so Nick quickly began self-censoring his To Read list and (something which I am physically incapable of doing) abandoning books after just a few pages if they were not enjoyable enough.

In other words, stop buying books like ‘Frost/Nixon‘ (the example given on the night) thinking of yourself as ‘The kind of person who reads ‘Frost/Nixon‘ in an ideal world where you had enough time to read books like ‘Frost/Nixon‘ when, if you’re honest, that copy of ‘Frost/Nixon‘  will almost certainly sit, unread, on the shelf for the rest of your life.

(Pretty soon, I was feeling kind of sorry for ‘Frost/Nixon‘ and making plans to buy it at the soonest opportunity).


We learned of Nick‘s recent jazz obsession inspired by the book ‘Love Goes To Buildings On Fire: five years in new york which changed music forever‘ by Will Hermes, which led to a recommendation with which I whole-heartedly agree: that books which focus on a single period, (a year, a decade), but cover a range of topics are incredibly satisfying to read because you learn about things (such as sewage, for example) which you would never know about otherwise because, let’s be honest, who is going to read an entire book about sewage?

Photo courtesy of Antipode Foundation under the Creative Commons license

Photo courtesy of the Antipode Foundation under the Creative Commons license

After a few readings from the new book were given, your humble blogger actually kick-started the Q&A due to a surprisingly shy crowd, taking the opportunity to help promote Nick’s work with the fantastic after-school writing charity the Hoxton Street Monster Supplies shop, a branch of the incredible Dave Eggers-founded 826 Valencia programme. This led to further charity-based news of a forthcoming album release, with famous bands and singers recording the lyrics of students from the programme. Here is a sneak preview, (and one of the coolest things I’ve seen/heard for a while). Fans of Little Britain will be especially thrilled:

The night ended with a signing session, (sadly not a singing one), during which each and every fan was given time and a friendly chat, including a promise to my Argentine journalist friend to arrange an email interview exchange which I hope to piggyback on and share with you in the near future. The evening was such a resounding success that I even failed to take my traditional stalker’s photo…but never fear, I took one for my friend to treasure back in Buenos Aires.

2013-11-14 20.43.20

And, in fact, the night really ended with one last signing on Rough Trade’s Wall of Fame…or, in this case, asking the author to risk life and limb to add his name to their Ceiling of Fame. Ah, the perils of fame!

2013-11-14 20.51.04


Posted by on November 30, 2013 in BOOKS


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