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89. Books Bought & Read, October 2013…

89. Books Bought & Read, October 2013…

Books Bought, October 2013

Willpower: why self-control is the secret to success,’ Roy.F.Baumeister & John Tierney

More Than This,’ Patrick Ness

The Book Of Penguin, Duncan Campbell-Smith

The Canon: the beautiful basics of science, Natalie Angier

Young Bysshe,’ Claire Tomalin (Penguin 70’s series)

Utopia,’ Thomas Moore

The Complete Cosmicomics, Italo Calvino

City Of God, Paolo Lins

Lord Malquist & Mr.Moon, Tom Stoppard

For The Relief Of Unbearable Urges, Nathan Englander

Delete This At Your Peril,’ Neil Ferguson

Hugo’s Spanish In Three Months. 


Books Read, October 2013

The Bus Driver Who Wanted To Be God and other stories, Etgar Keret

Martha And Hanwell, Zadie Smith (Penguin 70’s series)

The Snobs,’ Muriel Spark (Penguin 70’s series)

Stick Man,’ Julia Donaldson & Axel Scheffler

The Snail And The Whale,’ Julia Donaldson & Axel Scheffler

The Smartest Giant In Town,’ Julia Donaldson & Axel Scheffler

Boomerang,’ Michael Lewis 

Willpower: why self-control is the secret to success,’ Roy.F.Baumeister & John Tierney

Simpkin,’ Quentin Blake

Cockatoos,’ Quentin Blake

Angelica Sprocket’s Pockets,’ Quentin Blake

Secret Lives Of Great Authors,’ Robert Schnakenberg 

Young Bysshe,’ Claire Tomalin (Penguin 70’s series)

The Great Cheese Conspiracy,’ Jan Van Leeuwen & Imero Gobbato

Jerusalem,’ Simon Sebag-Montefiore

The Cherry Orchard,’ Anton Chekov

More Than This,’ Patrick Ness

‘A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,’ David Foster Wallace

Diary Of A Bad Year,’ J.M.Coetzee

The Bear,’ Anton Chekov

The Complete Cosmicomics, Italo Calvino

Foundation,’ Isaac Asimov 

For The Relief Of Unbearable Urges, Nathan Englander

Grantland,’ issue 3

The Believer,’ issue 101

Grantland,’ issue 4


Of the dozen books bought this month, the last two were presents, so all in all a massive contrast from last month’s ridiculosity. 26 read, including a couple of kids’ trilogies whilst staying with a friend and her rugrat, and the rest was a fun mix of science, history, economics, science fiction and, mainly, short fiction.

Most of the list were read whilst on a family holiday in sun-drenched Israel, the wonderful bustle of Tel Aviv limiting my intake somewhat, (although I did get halfway through my ‘Hugo’s Hebrew In Three Months’ book…again…).

Enjoy these extracts from this month’s paper consumption!


Secret Lives Of Great Authors,‘ Robert Schnakenberg

A fairly amusing compilation of life histories and little-known (to me, at least) facts about a few dozen famous authors down the ages, focusing on their foibles and (often sexual) bizarrities. What did I learn? I’m glad you asked…

“Fans of English football…can thank [Sir Arthur Conan Doyle] for helping found the Portsmouth Football Club in 1884. Doyle also served as the team’s first goalkeeper…”

W.B.Yeats subjected himself to a rudimentary form of Viagra, known as the Steinach Operation:

“The fifteen-minute operation, in which monkey glands were implanted into Yeats’s scrotum, went off without a hitch. Yeats got his groove back…”

This wonderfully led to Dubliners nicknaming him ‘the gland old man’!

Hitler Cat photo from Monster Island

Hitler Cat photo from Monster Island, used under Creative Commons license


Finally: Gertrude Stein owned a cat called ‘Hitler,’ due to its brush moustache. This may seem a strange pet name for a Jewish artist, until you learn that she also approved of the Nazi-collaborationist Vichy government in France, and apparently felt that Hitler “…should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for ridding Germany of its troublesome Jews.” That’s quite some self-hating!


‘A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,’ David Foster Wallace
I am on a Foster Wallace binge right now, flying through every novel and essay collection of his I can find, (despite the fact that they are far from the easiest to read). This moderately slim collection of essays was everything I have come to expect from the sardonic, literate world-observer.
“Third World rebels are great at exposing and overthrowing corrupt hypocritical regimes, but they seem noticeably less great at the mundane, non-negative task of then establishing a superior governing alternative. Victorious rebels, in fact, seem best at using their tough, cynical rebel-skills to avoid rebelled against themselves – in other words, they just became better tyrants…”
A fascinating and illuminating idea on the brain states of infants, and one which simply  explains why the world seems so much more fun when we’re younger:
“One of the few things I still miss from my midwest childhood was this weird, deluded but unshakeable conviction that everything around me existed all and only For Me…this sense of the world as all and only For-Him is why special ritual public occasions drive a kid right out of his mind with excitement. Holidays, parades, summer trips, sporting events. Fairs. Here the child’s manic excitement is really excitation at his own power: the world will now not only exist For-Him but will present itself as a Special-For-Him…”
On roller coasters:
“I do not find terror exciting. I find it terrifying. One of my basic life goals is to subject my nervous system to as little total terror as possible. The cruel paradox of course is that this kind of makeup usually goes hand in hand with delicate nervous system that’s extremely easy to terrify…”

Photo used under Creative Commons License

And finally a lovely turn of phrase on tennis, (a recurring theme for child player DFW):
“The top seed this weekend is Richard Krajicek, a 6’5” Dutchman who wears a tiny white billed hat in the sun and rushes the net like it owes him money and in general plays like a rabid crane…”
Jerusalem: the biography‘ Simon Sebag Montefiore
I like to read about the places I am visiting whilst I am there, and whilst I didn’t make it to the thrice holy city this time round, this 650-page history lesson encompassed several millennia of details on the region and religions which I have always wondered about. A few gems I took from it began with the fact that:
“Jewish spoils paid for the Colosseum…”
Jerusalem at one point was wonderfully described by Chateaubriand as “…this deicidal city.” I love new/invented words…
I learned of a fascinating church in this multi-faithed city:
“Christ Church was – and remains – unique in the Protestant world: there was no cross, just a menorah; all the writing was in Hebrew, even the Lord’s prayer. It was a Protestant church designed for Jews…”
Finally, an interesting statistic, given the often-quoted ‘fact’ of America having been founded as a religious state, (despite whatever the Founding Fathers actually, specifically started in the Constitution:
“In 1776, some 10% of Americans were church-goers; by 1815, it was a quarter; by 1914 it was half…”
Foundation,’ Isaac Asimov
A single quote taken from what was (for the first two-thirds, at least), a wonderfully thought-provoking sci-fi classic, more a book of ideas than of memorable lines but this one tickled me:
“It was childish to feel disappointed, but childishness comes almost as naturally to a man as to a child…”
A remarkably similar book to ‘Foundation‘ in many ways, this book by Italian genre-inventor/breaker also had similarities to his ‘Invisible Cities,’ which I quoted from a few weeks ago. Again, the only way to get across the beautiful, bizarre nature of these vignettes, (an omnipotent being who was present for every important event in galactic history, real or imagined), is to quote the start of one in full:
“One night I was, as usual, observing the sky with my telescope. I noticed that a sign was hanging from a galaxy a hundred million light-years away. On it was written : I SAW YOU. I made a quick calculation: the galaxy’s light had taken a hundred million years to reach me, and since they saw up there what was taking place here a hundred million years later, the moment when they had seen me must date back two hundred million years.
Even before I checked my diary to see what I had been doing that day, I was seized by a ghastly presentiment…”
The Bus Driver Who Wanted To Be God: and other stories,’ Etgar Keret
To conclude this month’s summary, I was thrilled to uncover another collection of short stories from one of my favourite contemporary writers, (and one of Israel’s too, apparently). The partly-absurd, partly-disturbing tales are, each and every one of them, gems. One of them, for no reason I can discern, at one point states:
“I gave him a name; I called him Margolis, after a man who used to live in our mailbox…”
And finally, there is the conclusion to a wonderfully macabre, Grimm-esque short story, with seemingly little to no relation to the two-page fairy tale which had gone before, but beautifully put nonetheless:

“There are two kinds of people, those who like to sleep next to the wall, and those who like to sleep next to the people who push them off the bed…”


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Posted by on November 4, 2013 in BOOKS


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71. My Top 10 Most Favouritest Authors EVER!…(pt.2)

Welcome to part two of my attempt to share some of my favourite writers with you, some of my favourite readers. For those who missed pt.1, it can be found here, and you should probably catch up on it before you go any further.


Good. Here we go!!…

6. Haruki MURAKAMItumblr_luyy18ftWK1qzt1rbo1_500

I can’t remember when I first discovered Haruki Murakami, (who, thanks to years talking about him in Japan, I now automatically call Murakami Haruki, ‘coz that’s how they roll over there, name order-wise), but I think I began with ‘The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.’ After reading everything he has ever released in English, (and a couple of essay collections he hasn’t), this is still (just about) my favourite: the historical, social, magical realism of almost all of his fiction is mind-bendingly, bizarrely readable, (especially if you are into wells, cats, ears so beautiful you can’t take your eyes off them, rural locations and liminality), although his non-fiction can be less accessible. The most annoying thing about Murakami? The fact that his most famous novel, (‘Norwegian Wood‘), is his least representative, and least fun. Skip that, read all the others, and buckle in for a roller-coaster ride of randomness.


7. Kurt VONNEGUTkurtvonnegut

This entry is proof of my earlier assertion that these are in no particular order: KV is one of the most influential writers of the 20th century, and someone whose entire back I believe I may well have read. Again, his most famous book, (WWII critique ‘Slaughterhouse Five,’), wasn’t my favourite, (although still a wonderful novel), and annoyingly the book I most enjoyed by him was the first one I ever read, meaning as good as everything else was, it never quite lived up to the first, (although maybe that was just the thrill of reading for the first time someone as sarcastic, critical, science-fictiony, funny and human as Vonnegut is).

Even more annoyingly, I can’t remember whether that first novel was ‘Player Piano,’ ‘Hocus Pocus‘ or ‘Cat’s Cradle.’ Or something else. It has been around a decade and a half since I read most of them, in a reading frenzy midway through university, and I can remember almost nothing about most of them except the style, and the fact that I loved them. But I recently discovered his last work, ‘A Man Without A Country,’ whilst travelling through Mexico, so that is my recommendation. But read everything. They’re pretty short.


(And, in case you didn’t catch it in my earlier blog, now that I have figured out how to embed videos into the blog, you get this hilarious, concise, and genius proto-TED talk from the man himself direct to your eyebrain, to give you an idea of whether or not you’d like his style.)


8. Nick HORNBYimages

I love everything Nick Hornby does, (apart from being an Arsenal fan, it goes without saying). As do movie directors, apparently. From his novels, to his monthly articles for The Believer magazine which inspired this blog, to his opening of the Dave Eggers-inspired charity-based Monster Supplies shop in East London…but mainly his novels. And his articles. And…

Hornby seems to write effortlessly, about everyday people and everyday life, from the point of view of football fans, music lovers, women, even children, so there’s something for everyone. My favourite is his second novel, ‘High Fidelity,’ but I would honestly recommend pretty much any of his books, especially the first of the compilations of ‘Stuff I’ve Been Reading‘ articles, ‘The Polysyllabic Spree.’ Go get him!

EDIT: I had the pleasure, honour and luck to interview Nick at an event in London: read about it here.


9. Salman RUSHDIEimages-1

Possibly my number one in this top ten, (although that title changes daily), Rushdie makes me feel more intelligent, more learned about everything from history to myth to religion to the simple, pure art of story-telling. His essays are amusing and deeply thought-out, but it is in his novels he spreads his wings and soars, (a little too much for many people’s liking, apparently: my favourite, ‘Midnight’s Children,’ is the novel which I hear more people give up on than any other). He may not be for everyone, but for his years spent battling religious intolerance and promoting freedom of artistic speech, he deserves your respect, if not your undivided attention for 500-pages.


10. José SARAMAGOSaramgo-books

A blatant attempt to appear worldly and educated, the Portuguese Nobel Laureate was a borderline entry into the Top 10 due to the fact that, of the half dozen or so of his novels I have read, one was dull, and another was practically unreadable. But that just lets you know the quality of the others, especially his 1997 work ‘Blindness,’ (it’s surely no coincidence that he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998), later made into a slightly disappointing movie.

Saramago writes in what can be seen as either a post-modern or a pre-tentious style, generally shunning everything from punctuation to paragraphs to chapters to capital letters, which is occasionally distracting and sometimes downright infuriating, but what draws me back to him again and again is the way he takes a single, simple idea and stretches it to breaking point and beyond, always with a straight face, (although sometimes a straight face with a tongue in its cheek, and a slight wink). ‘Blindness‘ is a 300+ page thought experiment on how quickly society would degenerate if everyone suddenly turned blind overnight: my second favourite, ‘Death With Interruptions,’ charts the fate of a country which awakes one morning to find out that nobody in its boundaries can die, (which proves to be less fun than it sounds); ‘The Double‘ follows the thought process of a man who sees himself as an extra in a film, and decides he has to track him down; and so on and so forth.

Anyone out there read him?


Before you say it, let me beat you to the punch: I was shocked when I made this list to discover that there is a distinct and glaring lack of female membership. Not a single one in the entire top 10, in fact. Discovering this lacuna in my reading preferences in conversation with a friend recently, I began to wonder why that would be: Do I not read enough female writers? Are there just way more male writers than their counterpart, or is it that men’s writing appeals to me more, (a thought I instinctively flinch from: I am as feminine as the next guy!)

Some of the best books I read over recent years have been by women, (Audrey Niffenegger‘s beautiful and twisted ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife‘; Margaret Atwood, probably the closest to making the list, whose distopian ‘Handmaid’s Tale‘ and ‘Oryx & Crake‘ I adored), but I rarely find authors whose back catalogue I feel I have to devour in the way I do with Vonnegut or Rushdie. Thanks to a recent literary friendship, I have a list of new authors to explore and re-explore, from Anaïs Nin to Joyce Carol Oates, so I hope to readjust this imbalance in the coming months and years.

That said, this isn’t actually the end of ‘My Top 10 Favouritest Authors EVER’ as I have several names still on my Top 10 list who haven’t made it on, (I’ll figure out how to deal with the maths of that later). For now, let me know what you think of the Top 10 to date: who are you hoping to see in the blogs to come? Who can’t you believe made it into the first ten?

Enjoy exploring if any of these names were new to you!





Posted by on June 8, 2013 in BOOKS


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12. Books Bought, January 2012…

12. Books Bought, January 2012…

Dear Readers,

This blog began in an (I’ll admit it) fairly random and rambling fashion. Although still plagued with an overabundance of parentheses, colons (full and semi) and asides, things have calmed down somewhat into a regular, one-book-review-per-entry format.

But I like to keep you on your toes.

I originally pictured this blog being a forum for me to write anything and everything I could think of about books, and so from time to time I will throw in the occasional unfocused entry. One regular post, inspired by the man and the column which inspired this entire blog palaver, will be: Books Bought.

Nick Hornby’s monthly column in The Believer magazine begins each month with a list of all of the books he has bought that month, ranging from one, (usually a Dickens), to a fairly long and often eclectic list. But when I say ‘fairly long’ I am, as someone who can go out for a fifteen minute walk and somehow come back with half a dozen paperbacks, using the term more or less ironically. Sometimes even I don’t know where they’ve come from.

As such, after I returned from a month-long holiday I decided to keep a ‘Books Bought’ diary, and present it here, with annotated explanations, for your delectation. However, given my purchasing proclivities, I decided to limit it to a week, rather than the embarrassingly long entry which a month’s worth would provide.

So here, for the week beginning January 18th, 2012, is my first week of


‘Don’t Read This Book if You’re Stupid,’ Tibor Fischer

‘Madame Bovary,’ Gustave Flaubert

Solar,’ Ian McEwan

McSweeney’s 39

The Believer magazine, Issue 68, January 2012

‘Scouting for Boys,’ Robert Baden Powell

‘The Warden,’ Anthony Trollope

‘Atonement,Ian McEwan

‘The Ask and the Answer,’ Patrick Ness

Alice In Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass,’ Lewis Carroll

‘The Dark Tourist,’ Dom Joly

You’re a Bad Man Mr.Gum,’ Andy Stanton

‘Heart of a Dog,’ Mikhail Bulgakov

‘A.A.Gill is Away,’ A.A.Gill

‘Confessions of a Conjuror,’ Derren Brown

Penguin Publishing ‘Great Ideas’ box set, (from Seneca to George Orwell)

About an average shopping week for me, I think, which gives you a fair idea of why, when I get around to reading maybe three or four books a week in a good seven days, The Cupboard is growing in volume rather than losing book weight.

Any thoughts? Have you read (m)any? Looking forward to any of the reviews to come? As of today I have read only four of them, and two of them not in the past few years, (I bought the McEwan to finish off a three for the price of two offer, and the Alice books because I found them in a nice, new Vintage double edition for a pound in a charity shop, and couldn’t remember if I even owned them, two of my favourite ever books. It turns out that yes, of course I did, but still…) 

The Believer review you have hopefully already ingested and enjoyed in a previous blog post, and the Mr.Gum review is coming up next in a few days. As for the rest, half of them are already relegated to The Boxes at the back of my cupboard. I hadn’t even heard of Trollope, (the other book which made up the ridiculous buy-one-get-two-free offer which landed me the beautiful and highly racist Boy Scout handbook); Mme.Bovary is one of those classics which always seems to come off second best to more modern fare when choosing the next tome to read; and the A.A.Gill and Dom Joly books are fascinating-looking travel writing which I doubt will be read anytime soon, but which I bought because:

a) I have written a book of travel writing, and my agent friend told me that the best way to write better travel writing was to read more travel writing;

b) I love Joly’s TV comedy show, ‘Trigger Happy TV,’ and can imagine his writing being extremely entertaining, and Gill seems to be one of those extremely respected journalists about whom people write things like “He cannot write a bad sentence,” and;

c) Whilst the Joly was just a standard paperback, the Gill was a beautiful, sleek hardback copy which will go the distance in the Back Cupboard.

(I should probably explain here the three levels of book storage which make up the library which is my bedroom: Firstly, The Cupboard, full of the most pressing, soon-to-be-read books; then The Boxes, themselves divided into a Front Box, which contains the books ready to be promoted to The Cupboard when space permits, and the Back Boxes, which contain books I haven’t read and which, given what lies ahead of them in the Front Box, The Cupboard and shops the length and breadth of the world, are going to struggle merely to make it to the Front Box; and finally the Back Cupboard, wherein reside an even split of books I have read but don’t feel like releasing back into the wild, and books I may not have read but which are too beautiful (and usually large), to be merely left to rot in The Boxes. There are further subdivisions and annexes, from the Signed Book Shelf to the Downstairs Shelves, but you can’t give all of your secrets away, can you?).

As for the others:

‘The Ask and the Answer’ is the second in a trilogy I have been after since I read the first one a year ago, and finally found rather randomly for sale for 20p in my local library, (why the second volume and neither of the others I’m not sure, although it raises a whole new blog entry on why I would buy a fairly grubby copy of a book I’m probably not going to want to keep when I could just read it from free from the library! Stay tuned…);

the Bulgakov, (author of the wonderful ‘The Master and Margarita‘), was purchased after seeing a rather good National Theatre play on his life last month with my parents, as part of the series of plays broadcast live to cinemas across the world;

the Derren Brown, one of my favourite illusionist, was a truly ridiculous find, as I’d just wandered into a high street discount book shop wondering if they had it, and of course they didn’t. Until I walked past a worker, unpacking an entire box of them at the front door;

and the Penguin box set of gorgeous, miniature editions of twenty of the greatest literary and philosophical minds of all time is something which will look amazing on the shelf, and which I hope to be able to polish off, one by one…although it was very unkindly pointed out to me that it is only the first 20 of 100 volumes.


So, that was a sneak peak into my book-shopping, matieral-choosing and brain-thinking habits. How do you choose yours?

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Posted by on January 27, 2012 in BOOKS


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