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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…)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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128. Books Bought & Read, September 2014…

128. Books Bought & Read, September 2014…

Books Bought, August 2014read-this-next-cover-us

The Wake,’ Paul Kingsnorth  

Jude: Level 1,’ Julian Gough

The Cobra’s Heart,’ Ryszard Kapuściński 

The Shipwrecked Men,’ Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca

Seventeen Poisoned Englishmen,’ Gabriel García Márquez

Ender’s Game,’ Orson Scott Card

Read This Next,’ Howard Mittelmark & Sandra Newman 

1932416501Journey To The End Of The Night,’ Louis-Ferdinand Céline

Moominsummer Madness,’ Tove Jansson

Moominland Midwinter,’ Tove Jansson

Pop Charts,’ Paul Copperwaite

Vader’s Little Princess,’ Jeffrey Brown

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane,’ Neil Gaiman

Brooklyn,’ Colm Tóibín

We Are All Completely Besides Ourselves,’ Karen Joy Fowler

Le Petit Prince,’ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

God: a biography,‘ Jack Miles

Blindness,’ José Saramago

Here They Come,’ Yannick Murphyimgres

A Guided Tour Through The Museum Of Communism,’ Slovenka Drakulic

The Search For Signs Of Intelligent Life In The Universe,’ Jane Wagner

‘The Paris Review Interviews, Vols I-IV,’  ed. Philip Gourevitch

 

Books Read, August 2014

Scoop,’ Evelyn Waugh 

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Sous Le Soleil Jaguar,’ (‘Under The Jaguar Sky’), Italo Calvino

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Seventeen Poisoned Englishmen,’ Gabriel García Márquez

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Vader’s Little Princess,’ Jeffrey Brown

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Michael Rosen’s Sad Book,’ Michael Rosen & Quentin Blake

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Drown,’ Junot Díaz

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A Little Book Of Language,’ David Crystal

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The 2½ Pillars Of Wisdom,’ Alexander McCall Smith

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Moominsummer Madness,’ Tove Jansson

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Creating a World Without Poverty,’ Muhammad Yunus

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Moominland Midwinter,’ Tove Jansson

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Ender’s Game,’ Orson Scott Card

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The Fry Chronicles: an autobiography,’ Stephen Fry

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Christie Malry’s Own Double Entry,’ B.S.Johnson

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The Dog,’ Joseph O’Neil

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Jude: Level 1,’ Julian Gough

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The Doors Of Perception/Heaven And Hell,’ Aldous Huxley

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One Year: America, 2917,’ Bill Bryson

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A Movable Feast,’ Ernest Hemingway

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A Guided Tour Through The Museum Of Communism,’ Slovenka Drakulic

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25 bought, (mostly presents), 20 read: even for me, this was a busy month, fuelled by the time available on long-distance flights, some kids’ books (my first Moomins among them, which were simultaneously cute and unbelievably creepy), and a lot of time at my parents’ place working my way through my back-catalogue of signed books.

Some classics were finally ticked off, from Huxley’‘s The Doors-inspiring ‘The Doors Of Perception‘ to an Evelyn Waugh novel which wasn’t ‘Brideshead Revisited,’ but which was lots of fun. Most enjoyably, I finally got to read that staple of friends’ references, ‘A Moveable Feast‘ where Hemingway managed to make me dislike him less than I always have done – a memoir worthy of all the praise which is always being heaped on it.

A Moveable Feast from a Punchable Face. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons.

A Moveable Feast from a Punchable Face.
Photo courtesy of Creative Commons.

 

I found Joseph O’Neill’s Booker Prize shortlisted ‘The Dog‘ to be underwhelming, but balanced it with Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus’s thought-provoking book on his (accidental) life’s work, creating micro-credit institutions, which was heart-warming stuff.

One ‘new’ author I read I enjoyed so much that I have already blogged on the work here, whilst in the other direction I finally got around to reading the first work by an author I thought I knew well, Junot Diaz.

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Most enjoyable of all, for someone who likes to read books about the places he is living in/visiting, was the ever-reliable Bill Bryson‘s giant work on a single, pivotal year in American history, (whilst also, of course, taking in decades before and after). Whilst ostensibly being about one man’s race to be the first to cross the Atlantic by sea, (although this isn’t even really factually correct, as Bryson explains in detail), we are treated to everything from Babe Ruth and the Yankees to Prohibition, anarchist executions to the history of sky-scrapers.

I loved it.

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1927: quite a year…

 

The eagle-eyed amongst you are probably wondering who operated on you in the middle of the night and replaced your regular eyeballs, which is a horrible feeling to wake up to. Everyone else with normal eyes has probably noticed a new feature this month: a few friends had requested that I include some sort of ‘marks out of ten’ system so that they know what they should read and what they shouldn’t waste their time on.

(These ‘friends’ were presumably too busy to actually read the blog to get this information).

Always happy to bow to peer group pressure, this month sees the first use of my patented* ‘Books Out Of 10’ scoring system: the more Borges the better, the more Dan Browns the worse.

*Not actually patented

 

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Let me know what you think…

 

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Posted by on October 27, 2014 in BOOKS

 

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