Room to Read

One of the joys of travel is having time to read….often a LOT of time. I’m a pretty slow reader and although I go through phases of reading work and tv often ends up taking over. In a normal year I would probably get through six or seven books. But with all the down time this year I’ve already read over twenty (plus a few half finished ones).

Reading hasn’t just killed time it’s been a real joy to indulge in books again (in fact I’ve spent more on books than beer this year) I know I’m lucky to have had time to indulge so much but on the flip side In order to go travelling I had to give away most of my books at home which was quite a wrench.

So with that in mind and now that my bookshelf is virtual I thought I should capture what I’ve read so far with a bit of a review so it may be of interest for others looking for something to read but with less time.

Hope in the Dark – Rebecca Solnit
An interesting and quite poetic look at the history and potential future of activism and protest

Traveller of the Century – Andres Neuman
A strange mix that shouldn’t work but does. Set in Germany before the Nepolionic war and written by an Argentinean – it’s like a Russian novel (it’s long too) but in a more contemporary way.

This Book Will Save Your Life – A M Homes
A man in LA finds the meaning in his life through donuts. One of those existential deadpan books that’s super cool style but actually quite warm hearted underneath – if that’s your thing you’ll love it . A M Homes short stories are ace too

From the Mouth of the whale – sjon
I read this during a bout of bad food poising in Varanasi which may have added to the trippyiness but it’s pretty mental even without a fever. I don’t remember much detail but I remember I liked it. An imagined history of a philosopher/madman/scientist in 17th century Iceland populated by even madder people – strange and strangely enjoyable

Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls – David Sedaris
David Sedaris short stories/essay/memoirs make me actually LOL – much to the bemusement of other passengers on the bus. Odd New York tales in the vein of woody Allen but with more gin and antidepressants.

Maybe This Time – Alois Hotschnig
Short stories that are like dark episodes of the twilight zone set in suburban German. A really good find

The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt
I kept reading lots of rave reviews for this ‘great American novel’ so thought I should check it out. The plot is hard to believe and the characters not easy to like but the writing is great. It’s kind of like Dickens complete with orphans, dark secrets and artful dodgers but set in modern day New York.

Born Weird & The Waterproof Bible – Andrew Kaufman
I loved Kaufman’s ‘all my friends are superheroes’. Neither of these is quite as good but Born Wierd is the closest – a family dealing with loss and the strange powers their grandmother cursed them with. Waterproof Bible goes a bit too quirky with giant frogs and an aquatic religion but still weirdly touching. Like an indie mumble core movie with a great soundtrack.

Hallucinations – Oliver Sacks
Loads of typical Oliver Sacks stories of odd medical conditions and what they reveal about vision and the brain. The medical stories got pretty repetitive but the interludes about Sacks own life and student ‘research’ of hallucinogenic a was much more interesting.

SlaughterHouse Five & Suckers Portfolio – Kurt Vonnegut
Loads of people rave about Kurt Vonnegut and I had never read any it was good to find out why he’s so loved. Both were much less cynical/ranty than I had anticipated, particularly the short stories. Deffinately a fan now although I’m still not sure about all the scifi stuff.

A Sting in the tale – David Goulson
A book all about bumble bees. Brilliant. So much fascinating stuff to bore people with and also a nice personal tale of a scientists obsession threaded through it all.

War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
seeing as I had the time (and a kindle instead of a brick of a paperback) I thought I should give this a whirl. It is vast but also great to read and still very relevant and accessible. I kept track of all the characters by casting Hollywood stars in the roles. The writing is so cinematic it’s like watching a great movie (or massive box set) …Phillip Seymour Hoffman had a staring role in my version. Definitely worth diving into and sticking with.

Split second – David Baldacci
From the sublime to the ridiculous. I thought I should branch out and at least try one of those pulp fictions that fill airports and best seller lists with explosions and shiny letters in the cover. I managed 50 pages. Just awful. Don’t.

Stoner: A Novel – John Williams
The story of someone who doesn’t really do much and doesn’t have much success. A bit odd for a hero in US novel. The best review I read was “I really liked stoner but I don’t know why” maybe it’s more like real life than we usually care for. Very moving

Gutenberg The Geek – Jeff Jarvis
A brief history of the invention of the printing press and how it’s relevant to start ups today. Interesting stuff

Death in The Andes – Mario Vargas Llosa
All Llosas books are dark and but these is extra dark. Set in Peru during the time of the shining path war it’s like a gothic novel the ways some unspoken menace hangs over everything – In this case it’s crazy kids with Kalashnikovs and Maoist tendencies.

The Sound of Things Falling – Juan Gabriel Vasquez
An interesting story about the ripple effects of the drug trade in Colombia on average people generations apart. Nicely done but would have been much stronger just as a short story.

The Cyberiad: Fables for the Cybernetic Age – Stanislaw Lem
Brilliantly bonkers. Fairy stories meets Don Quixote meets WallE. It even has an algebraic poem in it.

Next World Novella – Matthias Politycki
An elderly man wakes up to find his wife dead. The rest of te book traces their life together with some pretty shocking elements. Short and bittersweet.
It would also make a really good stage play.

The hundred year old man who climbed out of the window and disappeared – Jonas Jonasson

This kept appearing on the kindle daily deal for a quid and got rave reviews. It’s quite fun and easy to pile through- an absurd shaggy dog story with a bit of forest gump or being there thrown in.

Binocular Vision – Edith Pearlman
Short stories about Jewish people around the world. Not as good as the reviews suggested but has it’s moments.

Other books that I keeping dipping into

The History of the World – Andre Marr
Does exactly what it says on the tin. Everything from prehistory to postwar. The early stuff and the parts about china are extra interesting. I’ve made it to 1492 so far.

The Forward Book of Poetry – Michael Symmons
Poetry is usually better in theory than practice but I live this collection of contemporary poem.

Love Letters of the First World War – Mandy Kirkby
Absolutely heartbreaking collection of letters from and to soldiers in the trenches. Each one also has a bit of background info about the couple where available. Admirably it also includes letters between German soldiers and sweethearts and some between a conscientious objector who is in prison and his wife who is shunned by their community.

And next…

We still have a few months and loooong bus rides to go so any recommendations of books would be welcome

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