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163. Books Bought & Read, December 2017…

163. Books Bought & Read, December 2017…

It took some willpower, (and weather cold enough to keep me curled up indoors with some honeybush tea for most of December, rather than riffling through beaten-up boxes in New York’s plentiful secondhand bookeries), but I managed to end 2017 as I had just four times in the previous year: reading more books than I bought, and continuing to eat my way into my almost infinite To Read pile, like an over-stuffed diner at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Thirteen books made their way to my once-more filled Billy Bookshelves, whilst fifteen were consigned to the past tense, and this month saw one of the highest ratio of recommended books I’ve shared for a long time. More than half of them I deemed good enough to make your winter warming list, from poetry beautiful in every sense to literature by a teenager; old English classics to modern American legends.

Firstly, (and fittingly, given the weather), this was a Penguin-heavy month. I discovered four further additions to my Penguin Classic Deluxe menagerie (Machiavelli, an African Achebe trilogy, the previously unknown Ernst Jünger, whose novel about World War I now sits incongruously next to a colourful Anne of Green Gables), whilst reading one old favourite and one complete newcomer to me, (although I only bought T.S.Hinton’s work from my new friend ‘D’ on the Southeast corner of Union Square due to its shiny 50th Anniversary Penguin Classics cover).

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Considering it was written by a 16-year-old, ‘The Outsiders‘ was an astonishingly gripping, insightful story of the grey areas between right and wrong, good and bad, rich and poor, mature and im-, and I thoroughly enjoyed the short read, a feeling reproduced days later (although with less surprise) when I revisited one of my literary crushes and polished off Graham Greene’s ‘England Made Me,’ also in a Penguin edition.

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Reading Greene again after several years was the literary equivalent of stalking an ex-girlfriend on Facebook, making sure that Greene is still beautiful but depressed, fascinating but pessimistic. I may have learned more about love, life, and how they slowly wear you down than from any other author.

Greene made up for the first ever (slightly) disappointing Borges collection I have encountered to date, (‘Brodie’s Report‘ being more prosaic than his usual magical tales), but that was washed away by the surreal, raw energy of another unknown, this time the wonderful weirdness of the prose poem ‘Grief Is The Thing With Feathers‘ in which crows come to some sort of life in the place of a loved one who has left it. Breathtakingly powerful.

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My brother has several original pieces of art on his apartment wall from a graphic novel I had never read, but due to its title had been sitting on my wife’s bookshelf since I bought her a dedicated copy at ComicCon a few years ago. This winter seemed like as good a time as any to tackle the toe-breaking omnibus compilation of Terry Moore’s ‘Rachel Rising,’ and it was a dark and funny roller-coaster of a tale, part Gaimany magic and part Stoppardian riposte and repartee, with some pretty twisted moments.

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Chuck Klosterman’s decade’s worth of collected articles (titled simply: ‘X‘) are cultural artifacts which remain a joy to browse, whilst Christopher Hitchens‘ interviews are a time capsule from another political era which seems like it was centuries ago. Both were thought-provoking and highly enjoyable, (balanced by the tale of Trumpian Brexiting which even my favourite living philosopher, A.C.Grayling, failed to make anything but depressing, if informative, in ‘Democracy And Its Crises‘).

This month, I learned how much magic goes into movie-making from legendary (and highly readable) film critic David Thompson; the danger that comes with overthrowing the Egyptian government from Bassem Youssef, (‘The Egyptian Jon Stewart‘); the wonders of a support system for the broken-hearted in yet another excellent Ted Talk book; the views on war (as if I didn’t know them already) of the ever excellent Kurt Vonnegut; and ploughed through one of the most beautiful (if awkward to read) books with a newly illustrated Walt Whitman, which proved that art and literature can go hand in hand. But sometimes shouldn’t.

And with these pages, and these words, I end the month, and the year, and invite you to follow me on another twelve month journey through the books which cross my path in 2018.

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Happy reading!

 

Books Bought, December 2017

Storm Of Steel, (Ernst Jünger)

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

Song Of Myself (Walt Whitman, illustrations Allen Crawford)

Anne Of Green Gables (L.M.Montgomery)

Grief Is The Thing With Feathers (Max Porter)

How To Fix A Broken Heart (Dr.Guy Winch)

The Last Interview (Christopher Hitchens)

Snoopy: Not Your Average Dog (Charles M.Schulz)

Walden and Civil Disobedience (Henry David Thoreau)

The Prince (Machiavelli)

The Outsiders (T.S.Hinton)

Democracy And Its Crisis (A.C.Grayling)

The Africa Trilogy (Chinua Achebe)

 

Books Read, December 2017

X (Chuck Klosterman)

Rachel Rising (Terry Moore)

Grief Is The Thing With Feathers (Max Porter)

The Last Interview (Christopher Hitchens)

How To Fix A Broken Heart (Dr.Guy Winch)

How To Watch A Movie (David Thomson)

Armageddon In Retrospect (Kurt Vonnegut)

Democracy And Its Crisis (A.C.Grayling)

The Outsiders (T.S.Hinton)

Song Of Myself (Walt Whitman, illustrations Allen Crawford)

Brodie’s Report (Jorge Luis Borges)

Snoopy: Not Your Average Dog (Charles M.Schulz)

England Made Me (Graham Greene)

Think Like A Freak (Steven D.Levitt & Stephen J.Dubner)

Revolution For Dummies: laughing through the arab spring (Bassem Youssef)

 

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Posted by on January 4, 2018 in BOOKS

 

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152. Books Bought & Read, January 2017…

I know last blog I promised you a review of 2016, but as the legendary Douglas Adams famously said: “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by…

So that’ll be next month.

I read a large baker’s dozen of books this past month (14), but everywhere I turned I seemed to stumble across a treasure trove of Penguin Classic Deluxes, which I am slowly accumulating and which account for the elevated quantity of books in the Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott wheelhouse, as well as the tally of 43 books acquired, (including two of the Brooklyn bard’s classic ‘Leaves Of Grass.’ Anybody looking for a spare copy? I just can’t help myself from buying beautiful books…)

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I discovered a new favourite author this January in Simon Rich, ripping through two collections of short stories by this New Yorker and Saturday Night Live writer, every one of which was rye, twisted and hilarious.

Don’t let the fact that he looks 12 years old put you off: go out and read something by him, now.

(Here you go: I’ll even get you started with one).

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I gave my nod to NY history by finishing the mammoth biography of the richest man in modern times, John D.Rockefeller (Sr.), and refreshed my scientific curiosity with the short and sweetly written ‘The Ten Most Beautiful Scientific Experiments,’ a blend of history and explanation of the magical universe I greatly enjoyed.

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That set me up to read the equally delightful ‘The Pattern On The Stone,’ a simplified explanation of the theory behind computers. Terrified I would be inundated with complicated jargon and incomprehensible technical maps, this exploration of the core concepts of logic and information storage may not help me to create an iPad from scratch after the inevitable apocalypse, but was a fascinating and highly accessible read nonetheless.

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Miranda July continues to be one of my favourite people, and I finally got hold of a copy of her unclassifiable ‘It Chooses You,’ a masterclass in procrastination in which she visits, interviews and photos strangers advertising things for sale in a local newspaper which she has absolutely no intention of buying. Truly bizarre, and a little hypnotic.

A lot like this video of hers…

And, after reading two award winning novels last month, I eventually read 2016’s Booker Prize Winner, ‘The Sellout,’ in which Paul Beatty sets off from the starter’s pistol at pace and never lets up. A coiled, compact tale of race relations and twisted stereotypes packed with endless, streaming wordplay, I can’t believe it took me this long to read it.

You shouldn’t wait, either.

Books Bought, January 2017

Leaves Of Grass (Walt Whitman) x2

Privacy (Garret Keizer)

An Anthropologist On Mars (Oliver Sacks)

I Like You: hospitality under the influence (Amy Sedaris)

The Great War: july 1, 1916: the first day of the battle of the somme (Joe Sacco)

McSweeney’s No.23

On Argentina (Jorge Luis Borges)

Lonely Planet: colombia

Lonely Planet: iceland

Songs Of The Garden (Utamaro)

Twelve Years A Slave (Solomon Northup)

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (Ken Kesey)

It Chooses You (Miranda July)

Bat-Manga! the secret history of batman in japan (Chip Kidd & Geoff Spear)

Ronin (Frank Miller)

The $100 Startup: reinvent the way you make a living, do what you love, and make a new future (Chris Guillebeau)

Top 10 New Orleans (Dorling Kingsley)

Pride And Prejudice (Jane Austen)

The Polysyllabic Spree (Nick Hornby)

Shakespeare Wrote For Money (Nick Hornby)

Housework Vs.The Dirt Nick Hornby)

More Baths, Less Talking (Nick Hornby)

Today Will Be Different (Maria Semple)

The Mark And The Void (Paul Murray)

Islam (Karen Armstrong)

The Broom Of The System (David Foster Wallace)

The Strange Library (Haruki Murakami)

Fooling Houdini: magaicians, mentalists, math geeks, and the hidden powers of the mind (Alex Stone)

Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)

Emma (Jane Austen)

The Narrow Road To The Deep North and other travel sketches (Bashô)

The Gospel Of Wealth: essays and other writings (Andrew Carnegie)

The Empathy Exams (Leslie Jamison)

The Divine Within: selected writings on englightenment (Aldous Huxley)

ABC (Marion Bataille)

The Pale King (David Foster Wallace)

The Ministry Of Special Cases (Nathan Englander)

Being A Dog: following the dog into a world of smell (Alexandra Horowitz)

Writing In The Dark: essays on literature (David Grossman)

The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments (George Johnson)

Collected Essays (Arthur Miller)

Presence: collected stories (Arthur Miller)

 

Books Read, January 2017 (Books in bold are highly recommended)

The Jaguar Smile: a nicaraguan journey (Salman Rushdie)

Spoiled Brats (Simon Rich)

A Book Of Penguin (various)

The Sellout (Paul Beatty)

The Pattern On The Stone: the simple ideas that make computers work (W.Daniel Hillis)

The Last Girlfriend On Earth: and other love stories (Simon Rich)

Hallucinations (Oliver Sacks)

Titan: the life of john d.rockefeller, sr. (Ron Chernow)

The Geography Of Genius: a search for the world’s most creative places (Eric Weiner)

Privacy (Garret Keizer)

It Chooses You (Miranda July)

The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments (George Johnson)

Scepticism Inc. (Bo Fowler)

The Broom Of The System (David Foster Wallace)

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2017 in BOOKS

 

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129. A Night At The Bookshop…

129. A Night At The Bookshop…

Waterstones, which boasts the largest bookshop in Europe (as I was informed by staff when I spent the night outside it recently to meet Haruki Murakami), recently turned a potential publicity nightmare into a publicity dream with some slick marketing.

When an American tourist popped to the upper floor of the Trafalgar Square branch of the chain, he came down to discover he was locked in.

Rather than roll around naked covered in all of the books, or make the coolest book-fort ever, he tweeted about it until he was released.

The fool.

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Waterstones quickly teamed up with Air B ‘n’ B to offer ten lucky readers the chance to spend the night in their flagship Piccadilly shop overnight, with inflatable mattresses, celebrity guests and, of course, tea to keep them company.

For some reason, a friend of mine thought this might interest me and posted the details on my Facebook page.

All potential lock-ins had to do was to answer the question:

“…what book you would read if you were to spend the night in a bookshop, and why.”

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This is, obviously, an impossible question to answer. To obvious, and hundreds of others will have answered the same. Too obscure, and you will look like you are showing off. Anything about bookshops is out, of course, and after hours of trying to think of a single book which might stand out and get me picked, I decided to do what the best students have been doing since time immemorial, and answer a different question instead: what bookS I would read!

Here is my answer: what would yours be?

“If I were to spend the night in a bookshop, I would (not wasting time sleeping for a minute, of course), do my best to read a book from each formative stage of my (reading) life so far, and finish (around coffee o’clock in the morning) with a book I have always wanted to read but never gotten around to, these being in order: my childhood (and current all-time) favourite, ‘The Little Prince’ by Antoine de St.Exupéry; my pre-teen years passion, ‘The Worst Witch‘ by Jill Murphy; my teenage companion in pain, ‘The Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 and 3/4′ by the much missed Sue Townsend; my high school graphic novel-discovery days staple ‘The Sandman‘ by Neil Gaiman; my university-days, tongue-tapping go-to ‘Lolita‘ by Vladimir Nabakov; a selection of short stories, possibly ‘Fictions, by Jorge Luis Borges to represent my (ongoing) world-travelling days; and I would finish, if there were any minutes left in the day (night?), by reading a book of poetry, a promise I often make to myself and rarely fulfil, maybe ‘The Waste Land‘ by T.S.Eliot, (with Whitman’sLeaves of Grass‘ as a potential substitute, should I somehow finish them all.)”

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PS In case you’re wondering, I didn’t win. I probably should have answered the question and taken my chances. Maybe they didn’t believe I could have read all of those books in one night, but they obviously don’t know me: if I don’t sleep on overnight flights in order to watch as many movies as possible, I certainly wouldn’t be sleeping if I got to spend the night in Europe’s largest bookshop!

Since I wasn’t in the country at the time of the sleepover, not winning was probably a good thing. Although if you think I wouldn’t have paid whatever it cost to fly back to London for the night to spend the night in a book shop, you obviously haven’t been paying attention to this blog…

 
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Posted by on November 6, 2014 in BOOKS

 

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