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.