Archive for October, 2010

October 25, 2010

Dangerous Liaisons: Laclos

by Andy

A work of devious, selfish, cruel brilliance that revels in French aristocratic types behaving perfectly beastly toward one another, and miles better than any of the films (even the one with Buffy the Vampire Slayer).  Good stuff.

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October 25, 2010

Man with a Blue Scarf: on sitting for a portrait by Lucien Freud – Martin Gayford

by Stuart

Martin Gayford’s quietly brilliant new book is a diary of the year and a half he spent sitting to have his portrait painted and etched by the great Lucian Freud. It’s a mesmeric account of these months; overflowing with valuable fragments of Freud’s lively conversation, and plenty of Gayford’s fond and astute critical musings. It’s a gorgeously put-together hardback;  illustrated throughout with some of the best paintings going, and featuring some of David Dawson’s amazing photographs of Freud at work in the studio.  This is my new favourite book in the Art section, and a perfect gift for anyone who has ever given two hoots about painting.

October 24, 2010

Humboldt’s Gift: Saul Bellow/In Dreams Begin Responsibilities: Delmore Schwartz

by Matt

Humboldt’s Gift is loosely based on Saul Bellow’s relationship with Delmore Schwartz who, as a short story writer and poet, in his early twenties burned as brightly as the best of them before failing to live up to the expectations that were placed on his young shoulders by the waiting literary observers. It’s impossible to unstitch the story of Delmore Schwartz, and in turn his own work as a writer/poet and teacher, from New York’s cultural landscape. At Syracuse University he taught a young Lou Reed, whose band, The Velvet Underground, would dedicate ‘European Son’ to him. In later years Schwartz’s life would be curtailed by increasing mental health problems and Bellows story begins with his narrator, ‘the successful’ Charlie Citrine, the toast of senators and Broadway (his hit play is about a character based on Humboldt’s genius) alike, hidden behind a car, spying his one time friend, in the gutter eating a pretzel stick, “the dirt of the grave already sprinkled on his face.” This is the last time that Citrine will see the older writer alive before he reads his depressing obituary (“for after all Humboldt did what poets in crass America are supposed to do.”) five years later. Back in his native Chicago to write his masterpiece on Boredom Citrine finds his own life to be in a slump. But then after a chance encounter with a small time hood at a poker game he is reunited with his old friend’s legacy and so he is forced to reavulate his own life. Whilst the premise of story is just that, this is also a book full of wisdom about the meaning of success, what it is to be ‘real’ and why America loves to see it’s poets, those who strive most of all to be real, dead. Advertised as having an introduction by the formidable Martin Amis, its mysterious omission will not hinder your enjoyment of this warm book. Read one of these books and you’ll want to read the other whilst listening to the echo of the Velvet Underground in your head.

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October 22, 2010

Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman

by Suzanne

A collection of 18 short essays devoted to the author’s life long love affair with books and language. Anne Fadiman gives a voice to the many delights that come with loving books. Eloquent and wise, a beautiful book and a must for all pathological book lovers.

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October 22, 2010

Inglorious: Joanna Kavanna

by Suzanne

A tragic comic novel and the funniest account of a nervous breakdown I’ve ever read. In a mock heroic quest for life, successful, dynamic Rosa packs in her job and leaves her settled life but her bid for freedom from the chains of everyday life turns into a blackly funny fall from grace. Kavanna has a truly original voice, a sharp, funny commentary on modern day life.

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October 17, 2010

Beyond Nose to Tail: A Kind of British Cooking: Part II: Fegus Henderson

by Matt

There was a time when bringing someone back to your humble abode it was hard to convince them of the explanation for the bucket of what appeared to be animal entrails soaking quietly in the corner of your room. Whatever I said though, they just didn’t believe me. Since those dark days, the popularity of the St John’s restaurant and it’s slogan ‘ A Kind Of British Cooking’ has spread beyond Jack The Ripper’s old stomping ground and this is Fergus Henderson’s East End restaurant’s second cookery book. These days I can reply, truthfully, that I’m  preparing Ox Tongue and it needs to soak in brine for fourteen days before being used for the delicious chicken and ox tongue pie recipe. Unlike in years gone by, when people would hastily make scrambled excuses before leaving to never return, today, they’re more likely to reply, “Really? Can I stay for tea?” Even if tea won’t be ready for another ten days.  It’s not just ox tongue, squirrel, a gratin of tripe and a whole pig’s head though, St Johns are equally revered for their regard of none-meat form and their lentils with goat’s cheese curd remain a personal favourite of mine. That said I have on more than one occasion spent my last ten pounds in this same restaurant on a bacon sandwich (the recipe for the mystery tomato sauce still not revealed, book 3?) and a coffee, and, by that evening I didn’t regret it. In fact I was richer for it.

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October 10, 2010

Hellfire: Nick Tosches

by Matt

Hands down, the greatest rock biography ever written. Unlike so many other books about musicians (maybe all of the others?) Tosches manages, with the way he writes, to capture the non-stop energy of his subject, Jerry Lee Lewis, who veers dangerously like a character from the old testament between the devil, portrayed here by the boogie woogie of the piano that Lewis is born to play, and the calling of the church that Lewis pushes away by playing the devil’s music that people beg to hear him play. Eventually he disappears on the country scene where he purges his guilt and for a while it seems he has found salvation but then he becomes an even bigger star and his downfall begins all over again. The book begins outside Gracelands at 3 in the morning. Jerry Lee has a gun and he wants to see Elvis. “You just tell him the Killer’s here!” he tells the security guard. Elvis’s response, from the bed which by now was his home, is to tell his men to call the cops. Unlike other rock biographies you don’t have to be interested in the subject to be affected by this story. A passing interest in life will suffice.

October 10, 2010

Homicide/The Corner: David Simon

by Matt

Despite the title fonts which suggest otherwise, this book, written prior to the TV show The Wire (which Simon is a co creator of) these books stand up on their own as a 360 degree portrayal of today’s American inner city, as vivid in its attention to the minute details of society  as Tolstoy was in his day. ‘Homicide’ is written from the point of view of the detectives, ‘The Corner’ from those who etch out their meagre livings on the corner. If these were novels they would be described, together, in their scope, attention to vocabulary, themes, as one of the great post 9-11 novel to rival Franzen etc, but, instead, you’ll find them in the ‘True Crime’ section along with the Myra Hindley biographies.

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October 10, 2010

Twenty-One Locks: Laura Barton

by Matt

Young woman working behind a make up counter in a small department store in an anonymous Northern town, engaged to be married to her first love meets mysterious stranger baring exotic  tales of down south. Does she or doesn’t she? In the tradition of the great Northern coming of age novels such as ‘Saturday Night, Sunday Morning’, ‘Kestrel for a Knave’ and ‘Billy Liar’ Laura Barton’s debut captures the atmosphere of north-west satellite towns with a deft feminine touch (and without mentioning Donk once, the prevalent sound listened to by young people in these places) punctuated by poetry. NB: Ignore the cover, it’s truly terrible, has little to do with what is contained apart from the title, and I would gladly tell whoever designed it this.

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October 10, 2010

The Once & Future King: T H White

by Andy

The greatest book you will never read, whether it be for the truly awful cover, the wealth of undeserved Disney connotations or the misapprehension that it’s just not for grown-ups.   A truly fabulous, breath-taking, sphincter-tighteningly thrilling read.

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October 10, 2010

Dirk Gently Omnibus: Douglas Adams

by Andy

Renowned and revered (and rightly so) for The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy, the two Dirk Gently novels are just as awesome, if not more so.  With impossible sofas, murderous electric monks, Samuel Coleridge and the Asgardian deities, these are packed tight with Adam’s typical irreverence, black humour and imaginative flair but with a slightly darker outlook and lashings of mind-bending oddness.

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October 10, 2010

Kill Your Friends: John Niven

by Andy

A nineties Britpop American Psycho; wonderfully dark, gloriously crude, and revels in making you laugh when perhaps you ought not to.

October 10, 2010

A Man on the Moon: Andrew Chaikin

by Andy

A comprehensive history of the Apollo Programme that does real justice to the incredible achievements made, a decade that was so much more than Neil Armstrong and the infamous Apollo 13.  Focussing on the people and politics that went into the missions and constructed largely from interviews with the men involved, its simple structure is the best platform for an amazing tale of genuine wonder and real determination.

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October 10, 2010

Couples: John Updike

by Andy

Adultery in 60s New England has probably never been so beautifully evoked.  Updike’s biggest strength is his characterisation; switching the narrative between a variety of apparently selfish, opposing characters and yet rendering each and every one of them sympathetic and understandable.  A complex but engrossing novel, and perhaps one of his best.

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October 10, 2010

The Forsyte Saga: John Galsworthy

by Andy

Long, sprawling and intimidating though this may appear, it is a truly stunning work of fiction thoroughly deserving its classic status and so ridiculously exciting (honestly) I wish I’d never read it so I could discover it all over again.

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October 4, 2010

The Ask: Sam Lipsyte

by Stuart

This is hands-down my favourite novel of 2010. It’s narrated by Milo Burke; failed painter, struggling toddler-dad and troubled employee in the fundraising department of a New York University. The Ask is a proper Great American Novel, about all the stuff that really matters now, and it made me laugh out loud more times than any novel I think I’ve ever read.

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October 4, 2010

Nazi Literature in the Americas: Roberto Bolaño (£7.99)

by Stuart

This is the brilliant second novel from the dead Chilean genius who went on to write the celebrated and bogglingly long 2666. It’s a weird Borgesian compendium of short biographical sketches of made-up Nazi-sympathising writers, and it is way, way funnier than it sounds.

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October 4, 2010

What The Hell Are You Doing? The Essential David Shrigley (£20.00)

by Stuart

This glorious big yellow hardback is a sort of greatest hits collection of the brilliantly cack-handed drawings and writings of our Funniest Living Artist. It would make a nice Christmas present for anyone you know with working eyes.

October 4, 2010

The Suicide Shop: Jean Teule

by Andy

If Tim Burton (pre Helena Bonham Carter) was to write a Philip K Dick novel (early Philip K Dick, without the drugs, lashings of futility, and with narratives that started and ended and went somewhere in between), and set it in France, you would probably end up with something like this.

And very good it is too.

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October 4, 2010

AD 500: Simon Young

by Andy

Bestiality.  Mad monks.  Human sacrifice.  Britain was far more interesting back then, if a tad intolerant and gruesome.  Written in the form of a travelogue for visiting Byzantines, it is a fabulously engaging snapshot of a chaotic and emerging Britain

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October 4, 2010

The Celtic Revolution: Simon Young

by Andy

The Celts, it would seem, did an awful lot; don’t let the apparent brevity of the book deceive you.  Young certainly knows his stuff and yet is one of the rare few able to effortlessly distil his arguments into something that is: –

(a)     readable

(b)    comprehensible

which always helps.

Perhaps not the most obvious topic but this is a lively and illuminating insight into an all too often unacknowledged period.

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