Archive for the ‘literature’ Tag

Life in a nutshell

reading books life

Enfant Terrible No. 1 sent me this the other day – it more or less captures my worldview.

4 reasons to read The Sellout

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So we had our 15th Anniversary Book Group gathering last night and the book in the spotlight, The Sellout by Paul Beatty, was highly praised by all but one of our number, getting 9s and even 10s in our scores (for Literary Merit and Enjoyment), one of the most popular choices in the whole decade and a half.

My review on GoodreadsA dense and intense tour de force with shades of Catch 22 (absurdity), David Foster Wallace (intensity) and Candide (humanity), filled with insight about how black people are seen and see themselves in the USA (and beyond).

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Here are 4 good reasons to read this standout satirical novel:

(i) On lawyers:

The Chief Justice meekly raises his hand.

“Excuse me, Mr Fiske [the defending lawyer], I have a question…”

“Not right now, motherfucker, I’m on a roll!”

 

(ii) On education:

Two hundred kids quieted instantly and turned their attention deficit disorders toward me.

 

(iii) On weed:

“What the fuck is this, dog?” Puppet coughed.

“I call it Carpal Tunnel. Go ahead, try to make a fist.”

Puppet tried to ball his hand but failed.

 

(iv) On intellectuals:

The meetings consisted mostly of the members who showed up every other week arguing with the ones who came every other month about what exactly “bimonthly” means.”

Classic satire in the heritage of Waugh and Swift that’s laugh-out-loud funny.

Books of 2016 – suggestions for book groups

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I put out a call today for books people have read this year which really blew their socks off. It’s my turn to chose for our book group – that’s a thing that only comes round every 20 months or so, so I want to make it a goodie. I wanted to go for Jonathan Safran Foer’s Here I Am, which was bought as a gift for my birthday,  but it breaks our 300 page rule. Last time out I chose The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell which was class and memorable.

Here’s what people sent in, mostly published in 2016 (with a few oldies for variety):

  • Ragtime by EL Doctorow
  • Wake & The Beast by Paul Kingsnorth
  • A Brief history of seven killings – Marlon James
  • the vegetarian by Han Kang
  • Station Eleven, Euphoria by Lily King
  • The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot
  • Master and Margarita – Bulgakov
  • His Bloody Project – Gramme Macrame Burnet
  • Mr Penumbras 24 hour bookstore – robin sloan
  • The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley
  • The Girls by Emma Cline
  • The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney
  • Nutshell – Ian McEwan
  • Bel Canto by Anne Pratchett
  • A Man Called Ove – Fredrik Backman
  • Life After Life – Kate Atkinson
  • A god in ruins – Kate Atkinson
  • All the light we cannot see – Anthony Doerr
  • The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • The Secret History by Donna Tartt

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I went in the end with Autumn by Ali Smith (recommended by my friend Bill Thompson) as it’s very topical, one of the first post-Brexit novels, and I’m looking for some insight into how to deal wisely with the fucked up year we’ve just had. I knew I should have just gone to bed when Bowie died and slept through two winters.

Here is the list I made of suggestions for book clubs last year where the question was which book made most impact on your life.

And here’s the list of the first 10 years of our reading group’s books.

Finally here’s a list of recent titles from our group, based on email archaeology working my way back to the end of the first 10 year list (my favourites are bolded):

  • The Sellout – Paul Beatty (11/16)
  • The Looked After Kid by Paolo Hewitt (10/16)
  • The Yacoubian Building – Alaa Al Aswany (9/16)
  • A Golden Age – Tahmima Anam (6/16)

  • The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht (4/16)

  • Joyce Carol Oates:” the man without a shadow” (4/16)

  • Brooklyn by Colm Toibin (2/16)

  • Submission by Michel Houellebecq (1/16)

  • The Moor’s Account, by Laila Lalami (11/15)

  • The Good Soldier – Ford Madox Ford (9/15)
  • “In the Country of Men” – Hisham Matar (Jun 15)
  • The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (3/15)

  •  The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan (1/15)

  • “Oblivion”by David Foster Wallace (Nov 14)
  • “The Leopard”by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (Sep 14)
  • What was Promised by Tobias Hill (6/14)

  • “Stoner: A Novel” – John Williams (Apr 14)
  • “Rabbit at Rest” – John Updike (Feb 14)
  • Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage – Alice Munro (12/13)

  • May We Be Forgiven – AM Homes (11/13)

  •  Irretrievable – Theodore Fontane (9/13)

  • Wise Men -Stuart Nadler (7/13)

  •  Bring Up the Bodies – Hilary Mantel (3/13)

  • “Yellow Birds” – Kevin Powers (Jan 13)
  • “There’s no such thing as a free press…” by Mick Hume (Dec 12)
  • William Trevor’s ‘Love and Summer’ (11/12)

  • (Life and Fate – Vasily Grossman (8/12))
  • “The Uncoupling” – Meg Wolitzer (July 12)
  • A Death in the Family by Karl Ove Knausgaard (May 12)
  • Philip Roth’s “Nemesis”(4/12)

  • “Old School” by Tobias Wolff (3/12)

  • A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court – Mark Twain (Nov 2011)

So our little group has just turned 15 years old. Our next meeting is tomorrow night (The Sellout). Glad to say it’s as good for us today as it’s always been…

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Books That Changed Lives – suggestions for book groups

I’ve been in a book group with some old school friends and a motley crew of other geezers for 13 and a bit years now. Here is a summary of our first 10 years. Well it’s my turn to choose the book again now – it takes 18-24 months for the honour to come round these days so you can’t take it lightly. I put a call out to social media friends for books that had really changed their lives or ways of seeing the world. Loads of interesting suggestions came in and rather than let them fade away in the ephemeral world of Facebook etc. I thought I’d save them here so other people in other book groups/book clubs/reading groups could make use of the titles. (The quotations are from the friends making the suggestions.)

Bookshelf books

  • Out Stealing Horses – Per Petterson
  • Crossing to Safety, Wallace Stegner
  • A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
  • My brilliant friend – Elena Ferrante
  • Random Family – Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
  • Kevin Barry’s City Of Bohane
  • Don de Lillo’s Underworld
  • Marquez’ Love in the Time of Cholera
  • Fugitive Pieces, Anne Michaels – “made me think differently about how the past shapes your present/future and how as individuals we get to choose if the negative parts of our past consume our futures or not. It is also beautifully written and made me revisit poetry too.” “it is the book that taught me how beautiful words can be”
  • Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides
  • The social animal – David Brooks
  • Do No Harm – Henry Marsh
  • Andre Agassi’s “Open”
  • The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes and of His Fortunes and Adversities
  • Us – David Nicholls
  • Amongst Women by John McGahern
  • Malloy by Samuel Beckett
  • The Master by Colm Tóibín
  • The Country Girls by Edna O’ Brien
  • Foster by Claire Keegan
  • At Swim Two Birds by Flann O’ Brien
  • The Quest for Corvo – AJA Symons
  • Good Behaviour by Molly Keane
  • Birchwood by John Banville
  • How Many Miles to Babylon by Jennifer Johnston
  • The Speckled People by Hugo Hamilton
  • Love’s Work – Gillian Rose
  • The History of History – Ida Hatemer-Higgins
  • Inventing God, Nicholas Mosley – “felt my mind shifting on religion/geopolitics/Middle East. God as the greatest invention of humankind. Humanist but generous to those who have faith – a gentle riposte to the Hitchens/Dawkins approach. In a novel.”
  • A window for one year – John Irving
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving – “love, friendship and sacrifice”
  • Wild, Cheyl Strayed
  • Dracula – Bram Stoker
  • The Sisters Brothers – Patrick deWitt
  • Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
  • For whom the bell tolls – Ernest Hemingway
  • To the End of the Land, David Grossman
  • Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood – “felt the terror of teenage girls when read and re-read both as a teenage girl/40 yr old woman”
  • The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy – “felt the power and grace of the quiet man”
  • Things Fall Apart – Chinwe Achebe
  • Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother “Made me respect young people more”
  • A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini
  • The Mezzanine by Nicolson Baker “It’s very short, very unlikely and some in the group will HATE it and for others it’ll change the way they look at the world around them. You’ll never see perforations or a straw in a fizzy drink the same way again.”
  • Margaret Atwood’s The Edible Woman – “had a huge influence on my going to university and recognising the need to never find oneself in a position where you are wholly reliant on a man. All teenage girls should read it.”
  • William Leith’s The Hungry Years “taught me how not to be a food addict”
  • Cervantes’ Don Quixote “taught me to rely on my inner compass rather than external signage.”
  • Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow “showed me that our personal interpretation is where the colour and joy of the world are to be found, but to keep it just shy of solipsism”
  • Alexander Trocchi’s Cain’s Book “became my personal cultural key to unlocking New York”
  • Stoner – John Williams
  • Steppenwolf – Hermann Hesse “made me see my middle class/ inner animal struggle in a clear & cleansing light, Damn you Herman Hesse!”
  • Plumed serpent, D. H. Lawrence – “opening to the mythic underbelly”
  • Henry James’s ‘The Portrait of a Lady’ “because his characters are so compelling and so flawed. Our heroine’s youthful arrogance and stubbornness sees her turn down suitors because she values above all her freedom, only to find herself trapped in a way she could not have imagined. I was excited at her prospects and I feared for her. There were other characters I was rooting for too! Having re-read it more than 20 years later, I was interested and surprised to find I had more compassion for some characters I disliked intensely and impatience for those I felt sympathy for when I read it as a teenager. A truly astonishing, complex masterpiece.”
  • The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
  • Cormac McCarthy’s The Road “is the most piercing book I’ve read. The description of the trials faced by the father and son has stayed with me for years.”
  • 1984 – George Orwell – “”We are the dead” “You are the dead” stopped me in my 13 year old tracks. Never saw it coming”
  • Thomas Pynchon’s Against The Day – “because it really does require you to take a big chunk out of your life to read it – Rams home the idea that reading is subversive: stops you working, earning, socialising and kinda does stop time.”
  • A fraction of the whole – Steve toltz
  • Douglas Coupland’s ‘Microserfs’
  • Be Here Now – Ram Dass
  • Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
  • The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom
  • The english and their history by Robert tombs – “Amazing and definitive book that filled in every gap for me in understanding where we live and why it is how it is”
  • The Spinoza Problem by Irvin Yalom “Despite the title, it’s a real page turner. Yalom goes back and forth between Spinoza and Rosenberg (part of Hitler’s propoganda machine). My book club had a fantastic discussion.”
  • Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference by Cordelia Fine
  • Humanity: A Moral History of The 20th Century by Professor Jonathan Glover
  • Lolita -Vladimir Nabokov
  • The Bone People by Keri Hulme
  • Homage To Catalonia – George Orwell
  • The Unbearable Lightness of Beingby Milan Kundera
  • The Wind-up Bird Chronicle -Haruki Murakami – “Extraordinary writing that made me see the world differently”
  • Strangers on a Train – Patricia Highsmith
  • Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
  • House of Leaves – Mark Z. Danielewski
  • Angel by Elizabeth Taylor

Again, thanks to all those who kindly contributed to the list.

In the end I opted for The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (partly because I thought Cloud Atlas was something pretty special). Will report back on how it goes.

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