A Man of Parts

September 23, 2010

Pssst… We have an early candidate to be controversially overlooked by next year’s Man Booker Prize judges (and therefore a hot favourite to win the 2011 Not the Booker prize mug).

David Lodge’s latest novel

A Man of Parts

– based on the life of H.G. Wells – will be published by Harvill Secker next April. If Colm Tóibín has been writing a book about Wells as well, there’ll be trouble.


To-Read Tyranny

December 12, 2008

Sam Jordison wrote about the tyranny of the to-read pile on his Guardian blog earlier this week, reminding me that I have been neglecting mine. (Although, there is a lot of blog-neglect about – even Sam has been neglecting his, so that makes me feel better. And no-one reads blogs anyway.)

Sam’s lament is a familiar one to us all, I suspect. “Already,” he says, in a sentence which bears the whiff of a man who has read more Jane Austen than is wise, “I have intentions to read more books than I can hope to manage in a normal lifetime.”

He had been by roused another blogger (bookninja) who, echoing an article by Cynthia Crossen, the Wall Street Journal’s resident booklover, suggested that “instead of going out and buying more books you fully-intend-to but are-not-going-to read, why not examine your shelves for ones that slipped through the cracks and feel lonely and neglected.”

Coincidentally, I have recently been thoroughly examining my own shelves, in order to enter all mybooks into the database at goodreads.com (Although I do feel a tad guilty at not paying the pittance asked by the wonderful librarything to enter them all there.)

I have managed to select from the hundreds of books on the to-read shelf, a few dozen must-reads – those that I really, really want to read, but haven’t…yet.

So I’m in no position to give advice on tackling the tyranny of to-read pile, but I can confirm that the one thing you Must. Not. Do. is go to the library – all those free books! – not least in case you find yourself face-to-face with a shiny new book-about-books – which is the mistake I made today. Thus, not only do I have another book to read, but it’s a book full of other books to-read – 229 of them in total, courtesy:

The Rough Guide to Classic Novels from Don Quixote to American Pastoral

Marilyn Monroe reading Ulysses

Marilyn Monroe reading Ulysses

Thank you very much Simon Mason. Although, since you are also the author of a book called Lives of the Dog-Stranglers, I will forgive you.  Sadly I can’t say the same about wordpress – I am finding this new interface almost totally unbearable.

Peter Høeg

April 22, 2008

For a moment today I thought I was hallucinating.
I saw – and very quickly got my sticky hands on – 
a new novel by Peter Høeg which I hadn’t known existed:

The Quiet Girl

The Quiet Girl

It’s no wonder I had trouble believing my eyes – it’s been more than a decade since Høeg’s last novel (The Woman and the Ape).

The blurb describes The Quiet Girl as “a fast-paced philosophical thriller of rare quality.” I can’t wait to get stuck into it. This one is not going to be a book-I-haven’t-read-yet for very long…

The Works RIP

April 22, 2008

Sad to hear that The Works has gone into administration, although it does means the branches still open have been flogging off some of their stock dirt cheap – and it’s very hard to resist books when they are only 5p.
Embarrassingly, one I bought last week was Stuart (A Life Backwards) by Alexander Masters – a book I have previously borrowed and mentioned in this blog two years ago, but still haven’t read yet.
I also picked up a copy of The Catastrophist by Ronan Bennett, which I’ve heard is very good, although I think it was actually his second novel Havoc, In Its Third Year that I intended to read but haven’t, yet.
  Havoc at Amazon.co.uk


Impac 2008

April 6, 2008

The shortlist for the Impac awards was announced this week. As usual when I looked at the list there was one title that made me think: oh, yes – I was going to read that wasn’t I? Not so much a book-I-haven’t-read-yet as a book-I’d-forgotten-to-feel-guilty-about-not-having-read-yet:


Winterwood by Patrick McCabe 

by Patrick McCabe

And further inspection of my bookshelves reveals that copies of his novels The Butcher Boy and The Dead School also sit there unread.
I definitely did read – and enjoy – Breakfast on Pluto though.

The full shortlist for the 2008 Impac prize is:

Javier Cercas – The Speed of Light
Yasmine Gooneraratne – The Sweet and Simple Kind
Rawi Hage – De Niro’s Game
Gail Jones – Dreams of Speaking
Sayed Kashua – Let It Be Morning
Yasmina Khadra – The Attack
Andrei Makine – The Woman Who Waited
Patrick McCabe – Winterwood

The longlist ran to over a hundred titles and can be seen here.
I daren’t look.

The winner of the €100,000 prize will be announced on June 12th.


March 28, 2008

I think it was The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul  by Douglas Adams that introduced me to the concept of ‘the ultimate interconnectedness of all things’, something I was reminded of while reading
Time Out’s 1000 Books to change your life

Time Out 1000 Books

(Because I just can’t help myself – I have to keep searching out more and more books to not get round to reading.)

In an essay on how science can help us to understand what it is to be human, Kenan Malik points out that:  ‘Historically, the question of what it is to be human – who are we? Where did we come from? What defines our nature? – has been the domain of poets and philosophers, theologians and novelists.’

He goes on to mention a couple more books that have to be placed on my I-would-really-like-to-read-that-if-I-have-the-time-which-of-course-I-never-will…unless-I-ever-do-get-stranded-on-a-desert-island-and-a-copy-happens-to-wash-up-on-the-shore-beside-me list: One I hadn’t heard of before…
The Expressions of the Emotions in Man and the Animals
The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals by Charles Darwin at Amazon.co.uk

by Charles Darwin
and one I very nearly read when it came out…
The Blank Slate
The Blank Slate at Amazon.co.uk

The Denial of Human Nature in Modern Intellectual Life
by Steven Pinker

I really should have read that one.
Should have? Should? Must. Must?
In my defence, I can’t be accused of denying human nature. On the contrary, I’m facing up to my torpid nature here by admitting my literary neglect.

Gödel, Escher, Bach

March 20, 2008

I visited a library today. Always a bad move to venture into a place full of enticingly unread books, and inevitably they had something I couldn’t resist – a brand new copy of the 20th anniversary edition of another book that I doubt I will ever finish reading, still less understand:

Gödel, Escher, Bach:
an Eternal Golden Braid
A metaphorical fugue on minds and machines in the spirit of Lewis Carroll
Douglas R. Hofstadter

The question Hofstadter seeks to tackle with this mindboggling book is: “What is a self, and how can a self come out of inanimate matter?” That’s a big one. No, that’s the big one. His extraordinary efforts – weaving together art, music, mathematics, philosophy and consciousness – earned him a Pulitzer Prize in 1980.

If I ever get marooned on a desert island I hope I have a copy with me. It will certainly provide a lot for me to get my head around –
in the unlikely event that I do actually read it…

What are we and why are we here? Where is here anyway? Are we really here at all? Where did we come from, and where are we going?Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? (1897)


March 19, 2008

Very sad to hear of the death of one of my heroes today.
I grew up reading the novels and short stories of Arthur C. Clarke,
who has died at the age of 90. (Official biography here.)
The man was such a visionary, he even managed to die in the future.

The imagination behind books like Rendezvous With Rama and The Fountains of Paradise was astounding, and how many films and television shows have borrowed that iconic image of spaceships hovering over the cities of the world in Childhood’s End?

Not forgetting all those vividly memorable short stories like The Star, The Nine Billion Names of God and, of course, The Sentinel, which inspired 2001: A Space Odyssey.

There are still lots of his books I haven’t read: mainly the ones I didn’t get my sticky hands on when I was a kid. The biggest of which I have got down off the shelf tonight:

Greetings Carbon-Based Bipeds

A collection of his essays, subtitled, not immodestly,
A vision of the 20th century as it happened.’

So it’s goodbye to one of the most forward thinking carbon-based bipeds Planet Earth has ever known. We will miss your input sir.

Can’t read ’em Hall

March 11, 2008

Today brought more proof that it is never going to be possible for me to read every book I would like to read.

I managed to refrain from borrowing any more books from the library, despite there being several trying to jump off the shelves into my hand…

I had been thinking about borrowing
Changing Places
Changing Places

by David Lodge,
thanks (if thanks is the right word for someone who pushes another book under my nose) to Prole Art Threat who also blogged about Pierre Bayard’s How To Talk About Books You Haven’t Read (which I still haven’t finished reading yet after being diverted by Creation). He or she was reminded of “the great parlour game ‘Humiliation’ in Changing Places […] in which players compete to admit to the most shocking unread classic” – that sounds great fun, but the blurb put me off slightly: it sounds a bit dated; and then I remembered that I still haven’t read that other classic campus novel
The History Man
History Man

by Malcolm Bradbury
(currently sitting on a shelf to my left).
Besides, Lodge has a new novel out in a few weeks:
Deaf Sentence
Deaf Sentence

and anyway I’ve never found him all that funny.
Witty, yes, but not funny.

I also refrained from borrowing
Gut Feelings
Gut Feelings

by Gerd Gigerenzer
but I have a gut feeling that I will have a read of that sometime soon…ish.

Then this evening, disaster struck. I was watching Mastermind, and one of the specialist subjects was the novels of Jasper Fforde – an author I’d only vaguely heard of before and who, I learned, is in the habit of writing books within which characters enter other books and change things. What kind of evil temptation is that to a bookaholic? It’s like finding out that someone has started selling chocolate flavoured drugs to kiddies.

Also tonight I read that two more books on my to-be-read-(possibly)-list have been shortlisted for the 2008 Arthur C. Clarke Award for Science Fiction:

The Carhullan Army

 by Sarah Hall


The Raw Shark Texts
Raw Shark

by Steven Hall

Plus, just a cursory glance at the shortlist led to
The H-Bomb Girl
H-Bomb Girl

by Stephen Baxter
catching my interest as well.

Can’t read ’em all though.


March 9, 2008

Something else I learned about The Name of the Rose this week, without actually reading any of it, was that one of the characters is an Egyptian alchemist who attributes the creation of the world to a spasm of ‘divine laughter’. I learned this from

Creation (Artists, Gods and Origins)

by Peter Conrad

a magnificent tour de force comparing the depictions of creation in art, books, philosophy, religion and mythology – subjects of which Conrad shows an awesome breadth of knowledge.

It’s the sort of book you could give Stephen Fry for Christmas.

Don’t just take my word for it.
This is what Terry Eagleton said in the London Review of Books:

“If God spans the whole of Creation, Peter Conrad runs him a close second. This is an astonishingly erudite work, one which would still be impressive for its panoptic learning even if ‘Peter Conrad’ turned out to be the name of a committee of twenty or so scholars. Creation ranges from alchemy, the Kabbalah, Finnish mythology and primitive cave paintings to Stravinsky, Duke Ellington and Steven Spielberg, glancing en route at virtually every major European writer or artist. It is crammed with curios and choice anecdotes, all the way from Richard III’s hump to an oiled arm in a Mapplethorpe photograph probing a gaping anus. In a work which ranges effortlessly across the major arts, we are treated to learned disquisitions on Boethius, Hildegard of Bingen, Pico della Mirandola, Leonardo, Milton, Rameau, Sade, Mozart, Balzac, Darwin, Wagner, Rodin, Philip Pullman and a supporting cast of hundreds. A single page, selected at random and by no means the most thickly populated, scatters references to Conrad (Joseph), Hesiod, Rilke, Shakespeare, Plato, Mann, George Eliot, Gide and St John.”

Having been so impressed by Creation (not that I’m anywhere near finishing it, of course) I now have another big book on my must-read list – Conrad’s earlier work, exploring the 20th century:

Modern Times, Modern Places:
Life and Art in the Twentieth Century

Modern Times

It sounds equally overwhelming in its scope.


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