Saturday, December 24, 2005


I'm in Chicago for xmas and I managed to sneak in some book shopping while finishing my xmas shopping today. I went to one of those temporary book closeout stores that pop up in strip malls in the suburbs. These places specialize in remainders and overstock. I was about to leave, empty handed, when I spotted the new arrivals table.

I bought a copy of Barbara Trapido's Frankie and Stankie for two bucks. Brand new, a UK edition. I don't know if it was published in the US (it came out in 2003) but I've been looking for a copy since then. She's a South African who left for England a long time ago. I think this is her first book about South Africa. (I love South Africans who leave for England and become writers. J.M Coetzee is probably the most famous one now, but until last year - when he won the Nobel - that wasn't the case. And Justin Cartwright, too. And Trapido.) Her novel The Travelling Hornplayer (first chapter)is a fantastic book - its a sprawling story about a few English academic families and what links them - but its only 250 or so pages. I don't know why but I love coincidences so much. This book is full of them and every is connected in the end. A very moving book, too. And she's a great writer. A super-impressive feat in my mind. I was thrilled beyond belief to find her book today.

And I also bought a newly republished Michael Frayn novel, Towards the End of the Morning. Its an English copy and it will look very nice on my Michael Frayn shelf. (In a remarkable act of self-restraint, I passed on an inexpensive copy of the biography of Samuel Pepys that Frayn's wife wrote. I wanted to read it based on all the laudatory reviews it got - but I realized that I am never going to read 500 pages on the life a 17 century diarist no matter how much I might want to.) Also, I bought a new copy of something called The Blackpool Highflyer by Andrew Martin - a mystery novel revolving around trains in early 20th century England. I've read reviews of a few of his books and have been looking for them for a while - but again, he doesn't seem to be published in the country.

Lastly I picked up a copy of Juno and Juliet by Julian Gough. Its set in Galway, Ireland. I have it in hardcover, unread, at home. But since I am going there in a few weeks I thought it would be fun to read before hand.

I started reading one of my two unread Ken Bruen mysteries, The Magdalene Martyrs. A few summers ago I read a review in The Guardian about his first book to be set in Galway. The Guardian review said good things about it so I ordered it from Amazon UK. And I got hooked. There were, I thought at the time, seemingly a million things wrong with the book. I kept thinking, you can't do that. But I got hooked. And really fell for him. I've read all of his other stuff since.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Fish News

The first real reader (someone who seems to read read all the time, who really loves to read, that kind of person) I ever knew just sent me a copy of Charles Clover's The End of the Line: How Overfishing Is Changing the World and What We Eat and it is a fantastic book. I read the chapter on Japan and the Tsuikiji fish market in Tokyo at lunch today (while eating sushi). Obviously, the book has me convinced that fishing and eating fish faces a bleak future so I am eating as much fish as I can while I can (though I end up feeling bad about it halfway through the meal - same with the tuna melt I ate when I read the introduction).

Clover occasionally mentions the amount of fuel it takes to sustain the modern fish economy. Trawlers burn a tremendous amount of diesel and planes fly fish everywhere. (One town in the north of England where the once legendary fishing has collapsed is now a market for fish caught all over the world - fish is flown in and distributed instead of fish caught locally and exported.) Clover slyly writes of all the carbon emitted by each flight of fish to Tsukiji. (Which reminded me of Ian Jack, editor of Granta, calculating the amount of carbon each of his potential family vacactions would emit - I believe he chose a train to France as the most sensible.)

I started reading Redmond O'Hanlon's Trawler in bed last night. Its the perfect complement to the Clover book. O'Hanlon, a former science editor at the TLS, specializes in demented travel writing. In Trawler, he goes to sea in the North Atlantic to observe a scientist friend and the crew of a trawler. But they set to sea in the worst weather imaginable and I know there's to be trouble of some sort. Its also sort of an anthropology of commercial fisherman. (Link)

Saturday, December 10, 2005


Its still early December but I can tell my plan to not buy books in 2006 is already in serious trouble. Some nice literacy group just opened a bookstore in Dupont Circle. And I paid a visit on Thursday. And the place is fantastic. Almost tailor-made for me, in fact. Most of the stock is new and inxepensive (much less than the average half off cover price at a used bookstore). And the selection was overwhelming. In 20 minutes I found Francis Wheen's biography of Karl Marx, a book that I had been looking for the past few years but had never seen in a used bookstore, for 4$, and a brand new hardcover mystery novel to be used as a gift. I found about 50 things I wanted to buy.

I've been wanting to read the Marx biography primarliy because I like who wrote it, Francis Wheen, a British journalist. A few years ago I got his book How Mumbo-jumbo Conquered the World: A Short History of Modern Delusions and really liked both it and his style. And then I found out about his Marx book and wanted to read it. (At the time I was about to go to Mississippi on vacation and thought it would be a funny book to bring along and be seen reading. No one else found this amusing.)

I found my library card and plan to return the last two books I checked out (in the summer of 1992) and will try to use the libary to save my 2006 experiment. It may work. But I'm nervous.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Smuggling, Vonnegut, and Dick

I wound up smuggling 12 years of old New Yorker magazines into my dad's basement at Thanksgiving. The plan was to throw them out now that I have them on DVD. But then I read an article in the Wall Street Journal which reminded me that DVDs won't be around forever. And then I had so much fun leafing through the copies as I packed them that I decided it would be better to keep them. My dad just had shoulder surgery so I knew he wouldn't come out to the car to help me unload when I arrived - and that meant I could sneak them into his basement without him knowing. He's been trying to clean out the basement for years but hasn't made much progress. Still, if he knew there were to be more boxes stored in the basement, it would freak him out.

I took some time over Thanksgiving to dig through boxes of books I had put into storage a long time ago. I excavated all my Kurt Vonnegut paperbacks. I've been thinking about him lately and felt like rereading some of his books. I read most of them in my early 20s and I think I have forgotten them enough to enjoy them all over. (I've also forgotton why I once liked him so much. I'm rereading God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater and I'd say its enjoyable. But there's a level of goofiness in much of his work that I don't find as thrilling as I once did. Like when teenagers read and identify with The Catcher in the Rye - it seems that if you read that book as an adult, the impact isn't the same. Vonnegut may be the same way but for people in their early 20s.)

I also dug out all my Philip K. Dick novels. I spent a few years in my early 20s buying up all the copies I could find - which was kind of hard as I remember it. Most of his work was out of print then and the Dick revival had yet to start. After looking through all the old books, I remembered why I bought them but never read them - he's not a good writer. He has some great ideas. But he's not a good writer. I suppose if he had more time to work on his books, wasn't on drugs the whole time, and had publishers and editors who valued his work, then the books would have been much better. A visionary, yes. But not a fun guy to actually read.

The other books I pulled out of the crawlspace were all old Penguins that I wanted to add to my Penguin bookcase here in Washington.

I estimate I have 20-25 large boxes of books in the crawlspace. I plan to rummage through them again at xmas in search of 1980s Vintage trade paperbacks with Lorraine Louie cover art.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

2006: The Year of the Shark

I am considering a radical experiment. I plan to not buy any books in 2006. Of course, there will be a few exceptions. But, in general, with a few exceptions, I will not buy books in 2006.

I reserve the right to buy Philip Roth's new novel in the spring. And if Ian Rankin publishes a new book in 2006, I'll get it.

I am going to Ireland in January and since I will be on foreign soil, I will be allowed to buy a few books. Truthfully, the entire trip is devoted to buying books. Kennys, a famous bookstore in Galway, is closing its shop and shifting its operations to the internet. Since my dad and I have a long history with the store, we're going to see it one more time before it closes. I was there when I was ten years old but don't remember it. I discovered the store's website in the late 1990s and got books that way. My dad has been back several times without me. So, I have to buy books on this trip, my 2006 plans notwithstanding.

A private school in the Washington suburbs has a wonderful used booksale in the spring - I'll go to that.

When the Booker Prize longlist is announced in August, I think I should be able to buy a few from the list if I feel the need to.

I have enough stockpiled to last a few years. I hope to read the rest of Peter Robinson's novels. I have a bookcase entirely filled with books by George Simenon that I need to get through. Sometimes if I am sitting in front of a bookcase, I play this game where I plan which books I would read and in what order if they were the only books I could read. I might play that game for real now. Or the game where I am about to go into the FBI's witness protection program and can only take 25 of my books along with me.

We painted the apartment this weekend and I had to move hundreds and hundreds of books in order to do get to the walls. Thousands, probably. And I saw a lot of books that I had lost track of or forgotten how much I wanted to read. I think that the only way to do this is to stop buying new books.

I'm worried how this will go. I used to hear that sharks never stopped swimming because they needed water forced through them to breathe - and if they stopped moving, they would die. I think it turns out that this is only partly true. Scientists found sharks that sort of slept in currents of water and kept breathing that way. (I have this interesting looking book called The Shark Net by Robert Drewe - an Australian memoir about life in the west of the country when a killer is on the loose - or something like that. I think I'll read it next year.) (I also really want to read, but don't yet own, Charles Clover's The End of the Line: How Overfishing is Changing the World and What We Eat but I don't own a copy yet. I could probably get a copy in Ireland. And Neal Ascherson's The Black Sea, I can read that now, too. And Redmond O'Hanlon's last book, Trawler. I gave away my copy of that book on how cod saved/shaped/changed-whatever the world. I never finished it. I could finish that.) I fear that I am shark-like with my insatiable desire to acquire books. I should stop with this shark stuff because I have a long history of getting shark information wrong - especially when it comes to fresh water sharks.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Old New Yorkers

I can't decide what to do with all of my old copies of the New Yorker now that I have the Complete New Yorker on DVD. I know I should get rid of them. I'm thinking it would be fun to save the covers and buy a hundred frames and make a wall of New Yorker covers. I know someone who did that a long time ago. It could work for me. Or I could keep them. But I know its silly to hoarde them when I have them on DVD now. I always keep crap like this so to be able to even consider throwing out 15 years of the magazine is a major breakthrough on my part. And if I tossed them, I would gain an entire closet.

More Ross Thomas books are coming in the mail each day. I got The Porkchoppers today. I read the back cover and thought it sounded stupid. When I read the first chapter at lunch, I was delighted to find that its a wonderful book. I think Thomas was cursed by bad book design. My copy of The Money Harvest has the world's worst cover. I can't find a picture of it anywhere (and there's no info on who did the art or the design - but this guy did a lot of bad stuff in the 60s and 70s). Its all red with tacky paitings (unintentional caricatures most likely) of what the artist considers dangerous/glamorous/seductive rich people lounging about. The book is so ugly that I'm a bit embarrassed to be seen reading it. If I saw someone read a book this ugly (without knowing what it was) I'd think the person was a complete loser. But its a wonderful book. There's no way to reconcile the awfulness of the cover and the nearly perfect writing inside the book. One other thing - it is set in Washington, DC - more or less in my neighborhood, too.

I ordered Michael Connelly's new book, The Lincoln Lawyer, today. And a paperback copy of Philip Roth's The Plot Against America. And I picked up Stephen King's new book, The Colorado Kid. I am not much of a King fan (of King the writer - I'm a huge fan of King the person/humanitarian) but the new book is a paperback original meant to look like a 1950s pulp novel. And its short (by his standards) so I figure its a low risk proposition.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Complete New Yorker, Ross Thomas, and Brian Hennigan

I got my copy of the Complete New Yorker today and though I have not had much time to play with it, I can still tell that it is absolutely wonderful. The first thing I looked up was a 1971 profile of Leon Edel, the biographer. I think biographers are fascinating and am more interested in biographers than biographies. I can't remember how I heard about this profile of Edel but several years ago I started to read it in the Library of Congress. When I went back to make a photocopy of it, the volume had gone missing. And it took me a few years to track it down again. I even tried to buy a copy of the magazine but couldn't find an issue for sale. I finally got a photocopy of it but lost it before I finished reading it. I found it in 30 seconds in the Complete New Yorker and now have a permanent copy of it. The second thing I looked up was a piece by Francis Steegmuller about getting robbed in Naples. I read a reference to it in, I think, Gourmet magazine, but I could never find the article. I think I had the year wrong, but I spent a ton of time trying to find it. I was researching something at the Library of Congress at the time and everytime I went, I'd look for this Steegmuller article. And would come up empty handed. The only thing I got out of this fruitless search was pages of notes about fish (the menhaden in particular). I can't remember what these notes were for. I still have them. Anyway - I found the Steegmuller story in about 90 seconds. This Complete New Yorker is a wonderful thing.

I think I have all of Ross Thomas' novels now. The Mordida Man came in the mail today. And it looks very good. I can't believe it has taken me so long to read him. Its a shame he isn't better known - his thrillers are all really good books. Many of his books are out of print but someone is reissuing them in trade paperback form with new introductions. I've been buying used paperbacks via the internet because they're cheaper. Fifteen bucks is too much for a new book in trade paperback. But I'm happy he's back in print. I finished The Eighth Dwarf the other day and started The Money Harvest today.

I'm also reading somebody named Brian Hennigan. I don't know anything about him - except that TMFTML recommended his new book The Scheme of Things. I got that from Amazon UK and it looks good. And I just got his first novel, Partick Robertson, from a used book dealer in California. I've started Patrick Roberston and am enjoying it (though The Scheme of Things looks better).

Monday, September 19, 2005

New Books

On Beauty - Zadie Smith
The People's Act of Love - James Meek
Veronica - Mary Gaitskill
Seven Lies - James Lasdun
The Seige of Krishnapur - J.G. Farrell
The Highbinders - Ross Thomas
The Eighth Dwarf - Ross Thomas
The Money Harvest - Ross Thomas
Voodoo, Ltd. - Ross Thomas
The Cold War Swap - Ross Thomas

These are all the books I picked up this weekend.

Briefly - the James Meek book looks fantastic. I wasn't crazy about the subject matter and did not buy a copy from Amazon UK when it made the Booker longlist in August - but once I read a bit of it, I knew I had to have it. Ross Thomas books are hard to find so I grab them when I can. I'll write more about him later. Lasdun seems promising, Gaitskill I bought because I always get her stuff. And the Farrell book as a nice NYRB Classics edition - much nicer than my old Penguin copy.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Coe & Ishiguro

I just re-read The Rotter's Club by Jonathan Coe. Its one of only a few books I can ever recall re-reading. I know I've read Donna Tartt's The Secret History a few times. And a few James Crumley novels (the earlier ones) I've read twice.

I got the follow up to The Rotter's Club, The Closed Circle, when it came out in August but only recently got around to starting it. And when I did, I couldn't figure out what was going on. The copy of The Rotter's Club I read I gave to someone to read - and as a result I can't find the notes I made on the book. There's a short summary of The Rotter's Club at the back of The Closed Circle but even when I reread it, I was still a bit lost. So I re-read The Rotter's Club.

And it was great fun to re-read it. I read it much faster this time around but got much more out of it. I took notes. And I saw a lot of hints at what's to come.

When I started The Closed Circle again, I realized that my confusion had more to do with Coe's style and structure at the start of the book than my not remembering enough of the first book (it turns out, I remember most all of it).

I'm also reading something called Underground by Russell James. English noir kind of thing. Its okay, sort of interesting.

I just got my copy of Ian McEwan's new novel Saturday from And having seen images of the American dust jacket and comparing them to the UK dust jacket, I think I like the American one better. And that almost never happens. I think I'll read it after The Closed Circle.

I'm waiting for my copy of the new Kazuo Ishiguro novel to arrive from I read several great reviews of it in a short period of time and got caught up in the moment and ordered it. I confess that I have never read The Remains of the Day - only saw the movie. And I skipped The Unconsoled. And I ended up not liking When We Were Orphans very much. And I haven't read his first two books. But still, I think I am a big fan of the Ishiguro brand. And that explains why I had to have this book.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

First of 2005

I reading two books now. Book no. 1 is Human Capital by Stephen Amidon and book B is The Courage Consort by Michel Faber.

In his best of the year column in the Washington Post, Jonathan Yardley listed Human Capital as one of the better works of fiction he read in 2004. In his regular book reviews in the paper, he's somewhat cold and very demanding. But in his end of the year piece, he's warm and friendly and you get the feeling that he's a really nice guy after all and that he now wants to share a few things with you. Like you've won him over after reading him all year and so he let his guard down and be nice. The effect of this change in tone is that it makes one (or me at least) really want to read the fiction he recommends at the end of the year. This year he said kind things about Human Capital. I'd seen the name Stephen Amidon before (for some reason I thought he wrote non-fiction about architecture or urban planning) but never knew much about him. I found a cheap copy of the book on ebay and my copy was waiting for me in Washington when I returned from vacation (making it my first book purchase of the year). When I started reading it I had almost no idea what it was about and really enjoyed the first chapter. I'm now 100 pages into it and can report that I am enjoying it immensely. After reading 900 pages of crime and religious history in England, it is unbelievably refreshing to read something set in America.

I'm also reading The Courage Consort by Michel Faber. I think he's from the Netherlands but moved to Scotland 20 years ago and now writes in English. I bought his first novel (Under the Skin) because I thought it was Scottish. The first book of his I read was the massive (and massively fantastic) The Crimson Petal and the White (best title for a book review ever, "Whores, Porn, and Lunatics" in the Guardian, reviewing Crimson Petal), sort of a smutty Dickens, a story about a teenage prostitute who dreams of being a writer. [I was talking with ne of my customers about Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell - which she read and which I got for xmas - and recommended to her the Crimson Petal book - but got funny looks from bystanders when I got to the pornographic Dickens part of the description. Oh well.] I bought The Courage Consort, which is three novellas, largely for the middle novella, which is about an archeological dig gone bad. But so far, the first novella, The Courage Consort, is really very good. It concerns an avant garde vocal ensemble whose rehersal session in a Belgian chateau goes horribley wrong. I'm glad I picked it up.