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108. ‘Angelmaker,’ Nick Harkaway…

108. ‘Angelmaker,’ Nick Harkaway…

Angelmaker,’ Nick Harkaway

                    “You seem to have fallen into a well-educated personal crisis,”

a lawyer tells the protagonist, Joe Spork, about halfway into this 500+page story, and if that isn’t a perfect summary of the book then I don’t know what is.

I had come close to buying this novel several times in the past, mainly when they had signed copies on sale in Foyle’s in London last time I was home, (and you may or may not know how addicted I am to signed books…), and equally lured by the gorgeous, die-cut cover and the stunning ‘blurb’ quotes all over it, from every newspaper imaginable and some fantastic authors, too. When I finally picked it up last week, and read it soon after, those recommendations hadn’t led me astray.

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The US cover is just as gorgeous…

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…as the UK paperback cover!

Angelmaker‘ is a sci-fi influenced,  whodunnit-flavoured, loner-deals-with-his-murky-family-past-and-comes-good mystery, and a ripping good yarn to boot.

If that sounds complicated and layered, don’t worry, the tale is wonderfully paced and unfurls steadily, (at times perhaps a little too perfectly, but that is a small quibble given the scope and downright fun of the story).

Harkaway will have you either feeling proud of all of the subtle, fleeting references and quips which characters produce, (‘lions and tigers and bears, oh my!), or possibly rushing to Google every five minutes, (à la Tibor Fischer).

Now living in London, the author either went on one of my walking tours there or is one of the few people to know crazy trivia about his adopted home town, as there are some fantastic references to the English capital, (my favourite being a wonderful throw-away line on navigating between the former residence of the Duke of Wellington and the statue of Achilles at Hyde Park Corner that both are ‘a reminder of the importance of boots’).

The range of topics brought up are a sign of an author interested in everything, from Schrödinger’s cat and quantum mechanics, to Cartesian philosophy and questions of what constitutes the self. What is so much fun about the book is that it touches on so many subjects whilst plunging the world into James Bond-esque peril, only in more of a philosophically, scientifically and existentially fascinating way, rather than with the standard megalomaniacal nuclear-toting baddie.

I won’t even mention the actual plot: if you want a horizon-broadening page-turner for a beach holiday, give this a try. And during the interrogation scenes, I dare you not to be reminded of that scene in Marathon Man…

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Posted by on March 17, 2014 in BOOKS

 

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94. Quotation Station…

94. Quotation Station…

Continuing the series of quotations from various books which didn’t quite merit a full review, but featured some turns of phrases and ideas I wanted to remember…

The Ministry of Special Cases,‘ Nathan Englander

(A wonderful, heart-breaking novel on the trauma of living through the era of Argentina’s ‘Dirty War’ of military dictatorship versus Argentine citizens in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s):

“She didn’t want to get hopeful, but outside the financial pressures which threatened to put them on the street, and the political uncertainty that kept them locked inside, it was the best in a while that their lives had been…”

“This is what set loose the panic in her, a reverse progression she’d been caught up in before. First the government declares victory, next comes the fighting, and then – as an afterthought – an enemy is picked up along the way…”

“The first line of defence for any corrupt dysfunctional system is an ignoramus guarding the door…”

“There are three things that show a person’s true self: when money is involved, when speaking in anger, and when drunk…”

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Good To Be God,’ Tibor Fischer (one of my favourite, highly-quotable contemporary authors who has already been fully reviewed here):

“I have the same problems as when I left home, but I don’t care. I’m not kidding myself. I really don’t care. And not caring about your problems is as good as not having them…”

“…I’ve never met anyone from Miami. That’s what Miami is, a city you come to, not from…”

“What galls me most about failure, is the amount of effort I’ve gone to to achieve it…”

“As you get older, you get more relaxed about being around failed individuals who are of a lower value than you, because it’s understood that they can’t be your friends, they’ve just drifted into your presence. You never lose that sentiment of caste…”

“I dislike children because they’re typically noisy and smelly; you have to spend your whole time escorting food in and out of their bodies…”

“‘I’ve no idea how this happened,’ says Gamay. I have some idea, but explaining to Gamay and Muscat that if a goldfish could move the pieces, it would beat them at chess, won’t improve anything…”

“I’m making that dish that no one can mess up: spaghetti bolognese…”

“‘I’m horrified of what I’m becoming.’ Being horrified of what you’re becoming is one of the most common human experiences…”

“I’ve had some good meals in Vietnamese restaurants, but I’ve never had good service or a trace of a smile…”

“This is what’s so infuriating about life: it occasionally works. Every so often, you need a loan, you ask a girl out, apply for a job, and you get a yes. There’s just enough compliance to keep you in the game, like the odds in casinos, carefully honed to yield enough to keep punters on the premises…”

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How To Live: a life of montaigne in one question and twenty attempts at an answer,’ Sarah Bakewell

“Another topic Montaigne shows no interest in is Jesus Christ…As the modern critic David Quint has summed it up, Montaigne would probably have interpreted the message for humanity in Christ’s crucifixion as being ‘Don’t crucify people’…”

“‘I am so sick for freedom, that if anyone should forbid me access to some corner of the Indies, I should live distinctly less comfortably’…”

(an almost direct descendant of this quote can be found in my review of Christopher Hitchens’s ‘Hitch 22’).

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It’s Not Me, It’s You,’ Jon Richardson (a notoriously dry-humoured, obsessive-compulsive English comedian)

“Once we could all get through the days without trying, we had to find some other reason to wake up each morning; we had to adopt a scoring system to see who was winning at being alive – happiness!”

On how scarily similar his OCD is to some of my, erm, funny habits:

“Some numbers are better than others, obviously. Even numbers are better than odd, excepting multiples of five, which should be used whenever altering the volume control on a television. No television should ever have to suffer the ignominy of being left at volume thirteen…”

and:

“I have always believed that there is a reason they call it the right angle, and that is because the other 359 are wrong…”

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The Hunters,’ James Salter

“DeLeo was a good companion. He had always traveled. He was at rest while moving…”

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The Brain-Dead Megaphone,’ George Saunders

“Humor is what happens when we’re told the truth quicker and more directly than we’re used to…”

“…the Himalayas, pure, Platonically white, the white there was before other colors were invented…”

“The traveler must, of course, always be cautious of the overly broad generalization. But I am an American, and a paucity of data does not stop me from making sweeping vague conceptual statements and, if necessary, backing these statements up with troops…”

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The Reason Of Things,’ A.C.Grayling

On Madness:

“‘All the world is queer, except me and thee,’ the Quaker saying has it, ‘and even thee is a bit odd at times.'”

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The Meaning Of Things,’ A.C.Grayling

On Hope:

“…you learn more about a person when you learn about his hopes than when you count his achievements, for the best in what we are lies in what we hope to be…”

On Countries:

“Oddly, patriotism is most virulent in countries which do least for their citizens in the provision of welfare – the United States and China, for instance…”

On Punishment:

“[A] Chinese saying: ‘Beat your child every day; if you don’t know what for, he certainly does’…”

And finally, on Sorrow, the single most touching and helpful thing I have ever read on how to begin overcoming grief:

“Think of those you care about; imagine them mourning when you die; and ask yourself how much sorrow you would wish them to bear. The answer would surely be: neither too much, nor for too long….If that is what what we wish for those we will leave behind us when we die, then that is what we must believe would be desired by those who have already died…”

 
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Posted by on December 16, 2013 in BOOKS

 

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54. The Year In (Book) Review…

54. The Year In (Book) Review…

My 2012 In Books

302 books bought, approximately 156 books read, in 4 countries, on 3 continents.

Not a bad year’s ‘work’ for a bibliophile.

I began this blog just over a year ago for several reasons. Partly a place to save and record my favourites quotes, partly a way of sharing my opinions of books with friends and strangers, and partly a way to keep track of my reading habits over time. Given the latter, the first blog entry of 2013 seemed an ideal time to look back over the calendar year and summarise my year in books.

Unfortunately, when I looked back over the past 12 months of blogs, I found that whereas I had been keeping a methodical list of Books Bought since Day 1, the practice of doing the same for Books Read only began in July, meaning that whereas I can say with relative certainty that I purchased a moderately ridiculous 302 books in 2012, (the equivalent of more than one every weekday), I had to extrapolate the quantity of books read from the fact that I got through 78 of the papery pleasures in 6 months.

I am therefore claiming an approximately 2:1 purchase to reading ratio, although given the fact that many of the books bought were presents to be given, and an embarrassing amount were books I already owned and had forgotten about or just felt like buying in a nicer edition, I think the ratio may be quite a lot higher than that.

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I wrote 45 blogs in 2012 which were seen by 2,719 viewers, or 7.66 readers per day, (I’m presuming the .66 were children). Apparently, plenty of you had nothing to do on January 22nd, as that was my record viewing day with 73 hits, although I’m sure we can beat that this year. I jazzed things up a bit by figuring out how to include photos in my post, and you were treated to 176 of them, with plenty more to come this year, (not to mention video links!).

Most rewarding for me was the fact that readers came from an amazing 66 different countries, with the UK, US and Japan taking top three spots, (although I expect Guatemala to catch up in the coming months).

Highlights of the year included meeting childhood heroes Michael Rosen and Sue Townsend, and adult heroes Jonathan Safron Foer and Salman Rushdie, at the 2012 Hay Literature Festival and 2012 London Jewish Book Week, (Rushdie will almost certainly be the first review of 2013 next week, having just finished his incredible autobiography ‘Joseph Anton‘), not to mention actually getting to have the briefest possible chat with the charming J.K.Rowling. Technologically, a milestone occurred when author and UK journalist Luke Harding rewteeted my review of his critique of Russia, ‘Mafia State,’ which led to me not only gaining a few more readers, both within Russia and with Russian interests, but also learning what a retweet is.

I discovered new authors, from A.A.Gill to Geoff Dyer to Tibor Fischer, and cemented relationships with favourites, from Alain de Botton to anything produced by the fine folk at McSweeney’s. In a sharing sense, as well as spreading my bookish thoughts with all of you on the interweb, I was thrilled to be chosen to physically distribute books, (in this case, the excellent ‘The Damned Utd.‘ by David Peace), when I got to take part in the incredible international event which is World Book Night.

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For the sake of completeness, here is my list of Books Bought and Read in December 2012, and it provides a bit of a shock, (to me, if not to you): for the first time all year, (and, come to think of it, possibly all lifetime), I didn’t buy a single book. Not one. Not even a pamphlet.

True, I am living in the middle of nowhere in Central America with a shelf-full of great books to get through, but even I wasn’t expecting that. The fact that I ‘only’ read seven I put down to the unfortunate circumstance of having a job at the moment, one which saw me running a fairly popular bar a mere week after arriving in Guatemala, but now that I’ve learned how to do that, there should be plenty of time to beat that target of 156 books read this year.

Come join me on that adventure.

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Books Bought, December 2012

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Books Read, December 2012

Born To Run,’ Christopher McDougall

Comet In Moominland,’ Tove Jansson

Joseph Anton,’ Salman Rushdie

Dr.Tatiana’s Sex Advice To All Creation,’ Olivia Judson

Maldicíon Eterna A Quien Lea Estas Páginas,’ (‘Eternal Curse On The Reader Of These Pages‘), Manuel Puig

Don’t Eat This Book,’ Morgan Spurlock

Hope: a tragedy,’ Shalom Auslander

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Posted by on January 8, 2013 in BOOKS

 

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