books, books, books

This is for all non-EC or peripheral-EC topics. We all know how much we love talking about 'The Man' but sometimes we have other interests.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Otis Westinghouse » Thu Jan 12, 2012 8:04 pm

Gosh, I know absolutely nothing of that poem. Will have to get hold of it. Was wondering about the title, and find this quote from here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/De_rerum_natura

explains that:

"Determinism appears to conflict with the concept of free will. Lucretius attempts to allow for free will in his physicalistic universe by postulating an indeterministic tendency for atoms to swerve randomly (Latin: clinamen). This indeterminacy, according to Lucretius, provides the "free will which livings things throughout the world have.""

A colleague and fellow Elvis fan (who's only seen him once, Bristol Colston Hall in the, I think, late 80s, but describes the performance of the opener 'I Want You' as the best single moment of a gig he's ever seen) has lent me a copy of B Thomas' The Big Wheel that he picked up from somewhere. The 2003 reprint with the intro about the Hall of Fame induction. Pretty weird reading thus far. He clearly thinks he's a bit of a writer, seems rather impressed with himself, but it's often very clunky. Looking forward to encountering Elvis though!
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Jack of All Parades » Fri Jan 13, 2012 8:13 am

Otis- that is the amazing thing about the book- this is an important text that vanished for over a thousand years and for many may still be vanished for all purposes- its ideas were and continue to be world changing in their ability to instigate thought and cast doubt on accepted dogmas like religion and authority. It is also a beautiful poem- sexy, invigorating and fresh in its lines after all these centuries. Greenblatt does a yeoman's job in framing the book, its recovery and its importance to Western thought. Both his book and the poem might be refreshing and stimulating reading. For one thing-Lucretius has taught me how not to fear death and quite a abit about how to be a human being amongst other human beings.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Jack of All Parades » Sat Jan 28, 2012 9:25 am

Enjoyed this piece from a recent New Yorker-love the irreverence of David Foster Wallace with his defacement of Cormac McCarthy's author photo on his own copy of Suttee. Have to admit I am too reverential of my own books to do the same, akin to the Faber & Faber editor quoted in the piece in that aspect:

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/b ... nalia.html
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Jack of All Parades » Thu Feb 23, 2012 6:17 pm

It is a fortuitous and enjoyable occurrence for me when a friend recommends a read of a book or an author I am unfamiliar with prior to the recommendation. Such is the case with a tremendous book that has occupied my time over the last month as it was brought to my attention by PD and I owe him a massively hearty thank you. Not because it was frothy and quickly devoured but because I suspect it will be a lifelong text that I will return to for nourishment. The book in question is Charles Taylor's Sources of the Self. It is a supremely written and argued modern political philosophical text-one of the key texts relating to contemporary philosophy as it deals with moral and political matters and the individual in society.

It is not easy to navigate through for a layman as the prose can be daunting with its ready usage of contemporary philosophical slang but a diligent, slow read does allow it to be digested. It is in essence a dialogue with the reader taking one through Taylor's advocacy for multiculturalism which combines elements of history, literature and past political philosophical thought through the reflective lens of many cultures. In essence Taylor is trying to give current meaning for us as to the old questions asked eternally by philosophers- what is good- what is valuable- what is meaningful? I like how he takes on the reductionist arguments of utilitarianism. Instead he creates a striking argument for the 'situated self' embedded in the fabric of social relations- arguing for the 'freedom of situation' as opposed to 'absolute freedom'. He is trying to provide an answer to the question 'what makes life worth living'. To boil his arguments down, which is probably wrong on my part, being modern has its roots in ideas of human good, our long historical efforts to define and attain the good- or has he writes 'the affirmation of ordinary life'. What I take from him is that a more realistic understanding of the 'self' knows of the role that social backgrounds play in one's life choices. In essence it is diversity that makes for a more complete single sense of 'self'. He develops in this book an ethic of benevolence and universal justice for all individuals.

This really only touches on the power and majesty of the arguments to be found in this book. I greatly admire how he anchors his philosophical insights within a strong underpinning of historical background- illustrated with powerful examples from literature. And as if I did not need more evidence he gives a telling affirmation to the thought and essays of Montaigne.

This is a book that will merit multiple reads- it has that depth and I suspect that much more to give a careful reader. PD is fortunate to have had him as an instructor. Taylor's is a great and generous mind. I am pleased I made its acquaintance.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby mood swung » Tue Mar 20, 2012 1:07 pm

almost done with Zadie Smith's White Teeth, which has been kind of up and down. In an up part right now. Have some Kurt V re-reading to do next.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Jack of All Parades » Fri Jun 08, 2012 4:26 pm

Always enjoy a good 'factoid' book and this one- Traffic-Why We Drive The Way We Do[and What It Says about Us} by Tom Vanderbilt was special. Road Rage as a good thing, most crashes happen on a sunny day, that we can trick ourselves into thinking that the next lane is moving faster this and so much more is digested in a funny, erudite and educational read. I love his history of driving and traffic and how this activity has irked, bemused and befuddled us for over two millennium. Ultimately he shows us how driving is a microcosm for revealing how our minds function and the myriad ways we interact with one another. Just plain well written and funny to boot.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Who Shot Sam? » Sat Jun 09, 2012 7:45 am

Was looking for this thread!

I've been reading tons since I started commuting again. I've read:

"The Fortress of Solitude" by Jonathan Lethem
"To End All Wars" by Adam Hochschild
"1861: The Civil War Awakenning" by Adam Goodheart
"Train Dreams" by Dennis Johsnon
"The Sisters Brothers" by Patrick DeWitt
"The Art of Fielding" by Chad Harbach
"The Family Fang" by Kevin Wilson
"True History of the Kelly Gang" by Peter Carey

I just started on Matthew Kneale's "English Passengers," which I am very much enjoying so far. I also have Barbara Kingsolver's "The Lacuna" and "Empire of the Summer Moon" (which is about the virtual extinction of the Comanche tribe) in my queue.

Of those listed above, I especially enjoyed "1861" (a stunningly well-researched and well-told history of the first year of the Civil War, told through the eyes of several different figures) and "The Sisters Brothers," a novel about two Old West assassin brothers in the 1850s that is sad, funny and touching at the same time - could easily be a Coen Brothers picture. Praise also for the Hochschild book, about World War I, Wilson's funny novel about two children - and later adults - tortured by their performance artist parents, and of course Peter Carey, who is almost always great. The Johnson and Harbach books have been widely praised but I had some reservations about both. "Train Dreams" is very beautiful and poetic, but it's hard to develop strong feelings for a character as loosely sketched as Grainier, the main figure in the book. It's a novella, so maybe it's asking a lot in 115 pages, but I felt a little unsatisfied and puzzled at the end. Maybe I need to read it again. The Harbach book was up for a bunch of prizes, and I enjoyed it to a point (that baseball is involved didn't hurt with me), but in the end there just seemed to be too much stuck onto it - does every character have to have a denouement that wraps everything up neatly in a bow? I loved how it started, then it kind of veered off in eight million different directions.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Jack of All Parades » Sat Jun 09, 2012 8:17 am

WSS- nice list and use of free time- have you ever read Johnson's Stars at Noon or Fiskadoro? Recommend them highly. The second is as close to Herman Melville's prose beauty as I have ever seen a post Melville writer get.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Who Shot Sam? » Sat Jun 09, 2012 8:26 am

Christopher Sjoholm wrote:WSS- nice list and use of free time- have you ever read Johnson's Stars at Noon or Fiskadoro? Recommend them highly. The second is as close to Herman Melville's prose beauty as I have ever seen a post Melville writer get.


No, I haven't. I am curious to read some of his other works. He has a very economical way of writing that is quite beautiful - probably comes from him writing poetry as well.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Otis Westinghouse » Sat Jun 09, 2012 4:46 pm

Impressive. Wishing I could commute too purely to read more. Bit hard on a bicycle. Still, at least I'm not driving. If traffic is a microcosm of what we are, heaven help us. For me driving is a concentration of everything pathetic, embarrassing and regrettable about humans. We fuck up our planet, we do over each other, and we display our sick sense of entitlement despite the obvious fact that we are making morons of ourselves in the process. And yes, I even find myself guilty of such behaviour when behind that bad old wheel.

Just back from visiting my terra materna (well, I moved there at 5) in the form of Jersey. It's something like 10 miles by 8, full of rich people and stuffed to the gills with their cars. Speed limit is 40, and they drive around ruining the engines of their performance machines, most of which are way too wide for the very narrow country lanes. My father had someone honking behind him purely because he slowed down to let two other drivers out from adjoining roads. How dare he!

Equally moronic are the modern airlines charging up to £50 for a suitcase in the hold (Ryanair's latest for a 15kg suitcase, £70g for a 20kg one). Kindle is obviously the answer, but I stick to my paper, so travelled with a magazine. Someone told me there that Waugh's Vile Bodies is their favourite book, so I'm reading it. My first ever Waugh book! It's kinda funny but too ridiculous in its depiction of craven Mayfair types of the 20s to really like.

Positive though some aspects of the Kindle may be, they'll have to go a long way with electronic paper to make art books come anywhere close to the paper ones. My aforementioned father has a big wide shelf of them, inc. the stunning Van Gogh letters in their awesome entirety. I spent a good while looking at a book of his early works and the stunning output in his last months at Auvers, where he painted an average of a painting or a bit over per day, many of which were unsurpassable. Hoping to visit his eponymous museum on a work trip to Amsterdam this week (plus the Rijksmuseum), so it was good to get stuck in this way. What I hadn't realised was that he didn't start painting until his late 20s, and so his entire, and very extensive, output came in the last 9 or so years of his 37 total. Stunning really.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Jack of All Parades » Sun Jun 10, 2012 8:03 am

Just am having a terrible time warming to the Kindle or any other electronic viewing device. They simply do not appeal to me despite their ease and portability. Cold, sterile and devoid of the character and joy to be found in real print. I do not even go to the next level and 'art' books- they would be soulless on an electronic device.

One more in the last few months and a revisit to boot. When I spent time with my wife and daughter recently on weekends walking around the lower east side of NYC, I was sparked to reread Irving Howe's World of Our Fathers. I had read this monumental history back in college and had been greatly effected by it. This revisit with my daughter was equally rewarding.The stories of those immigrants, individual and collectively, is harrowing and life affirming. I wanted my daughter to feel her heritage first hand and that is what this book does best- the facts, the history, the stories are bracing and made to seem as if they are in the present. It is powerful history writing that seems almost effortless in it's prose grace- it never seems to be just facts and their various interpretations. It always has the millions who lived this history in the forefront.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Otis Westinghouse » Sun Jun 10, 2012 6:48 pm

Re art on screen, I can however wholeheartedly recommend this, one of Google's crowning achievements, I think:

http://www.googleartproject.com/

Two great things about it are that almost every bit of functionality I've wanted it to have and thought at first it didn't turned out to be there on closer inspection and, where the medium comes into its own, you can inspect close-up in a way you can't in a gallery. Not all the world's great galleries are there, and a selection of paintings only from those that are is included, but there's enough brilliance here to keep you surfing from hours. Great way to brush up and learn more, e.g. by navigating to other paintings from the same date.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Jack of All Parades » Mon Jun 11, 2012 5:58 am

That is some tool and something I was not even aware of till now. Thank you. Look forward to playing around with it.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Poor Deportee » Mon Jun 11, 2012 2:20 pm

[quote="Jack of All Parades"]Just am having a terrible time warming to the Kindle or any other electronic viewing device. They simply do not appeal to me despite their ease and portability. Cold, sterile and devoid of the character and joy to be found in real print. I do not even go to the next level and 'art' books- they would be soulless on an electronic device.

[quote]

The great advantage of these contraptions is their storage capacity. I have a small study that, in classic 'scholarly' fashion, brims over with papers and a chaos of books. I'm not one to dispose of old books, unless they're of the trashy paperback variety, so the piles keep mounting. Add to that a certain limited tolerance on my wife's part for the colonization of the entire townhouse by my books, and you begin to see the sheer pragmatic appeal of a Kindle or comparable device.

That being said, I don't own one - and for some of the very reasons you state. I can imagine keeping my non-professional 'pleasure' reading on a Kindle, but I cannot see myself using it for books relating to my field, where I have 20 years of poring closely over the text, propping it open as a reference while I write, and heavily annotating the margins. The technology would have to improve radically in order to replicate these effects. And since it's generally aiming at the broad mass of readers - John Grisham Nation - this likely will never happen.

There also seems to be an intrinsic disposability to texts stored in devices that are built on the principles of planned obsolescence. I can imagine a time when these texts become illegible on future platforms. But this idea of books as disposable products is absolute anathema to me. I always imagined - silly me - building a personal library and passing it on, complete with my own notations, etc.. Will my grandkids be able to read my books on a Kindle? I doubt the brand name or technology will even be recognizable by then.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Jack of All Parades » Mon Jun 11, 2012 2:37 pm

You touch deeply on a tricky point for me. Space and its limitations in a marriage- expecially for my books. My vanity, too, has always been that I would be able to hand down my collected volumes and beloved Poetry collection to my heirs. Have I ever been disabused of this notion! My girls have little interest in Dad's collection unless to pilfer from it from time to time if a given book catches their fancy. Every visit to the glorious Strand Bookstore in NYC disabuses me of the notion that I have a collection that will pass on to posterity.

I, like you, will acknowledge that the device has use, particularly with Journals and newspapers and magazines which are far more disposable in my eyes. But it will never replace my Oxford Shakespeare for example- that is too well thumbed and annotated.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Poor Deportee » Tue Jun 12, 2012 7:52 am

Jack of All Parades wrote:You touch deeply on a tricky point for me. Space and its limitations in a marriage- expecially for my books. My vanity, too, has always been that I would be able to hand down my collected volumes and beloved Poetry collection to my heirs. Have I ever been disabused of this notion! My girls have little interest in Dad's collection unless to pilfer from it from time to time if a given book catches their fancy. Every visit to the glorious Strand Bookstore in NYC disabuses me of the notion that I have a collection that will pass on to posterity.

I, like you, will acknowledge that the device has use, particularly with Journals and newspapers and magazines which are far more disposable in my eyes. But it will never replace my Oxford Shakespeare for example- that is too well thumbed and annotated.


You're right to call it 'vanity'...I recall being in a used bookstore years ago and being told by the owner that he had just acquired the entire library of a notable and recently deceased professor at my university. I don't know, but I have a hard time believing that that was the fate the departed prof had in mind for his collection :? C'est la vie. Kids are extensions of ourselves in some sense or other, but not in any sense we can plan or control. No doubt most of my books will end up in recylcing depots or in the hands of buyers looking for cheap deals at the local used bookshop, who will curse my annotations for marring the pages purchased on the cheap...

I expect that the end point for guys like us and e-reading technologies will be akin to the model I've settled on with my iPod: a hybrid system where I acquire 'major' albums in CD format and more disposable material in MP3 format. I doubt the transition to new technologies is ever seamless and total for those who truly love the materials they contain.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Jack of All Parades » Tue Jun 12, 2012 9:38 am

Do not know if you are familiar with this beautiful and talismanic essay by Walter Benjamin titled On Unpacking My Books- it has always been a touchstone for me on this subject- like a modern Montaigne I would carve this paragraph on the beams of my study were I able:

"O bliss of the collector, bliss of the man of leisure! Of no one has less been expected, and no one has had a greater sense of well-being than the man who has been able to carry on his disreputable existence in the mask of Spitzweg's "Bookworm." For inside him there are spirits, or at least little genii, which have seen to it that for a collector - and I mean a real collector, a collector as he ought to be - ownership is the most intimate relationship that one can have to objects. Not that they come alive in him; it is he who lives in them. So I have erected one of his dwellings, with books as the building stones, before you, and now he is going to disappear inside, as is only fitting."

Recommend it highly if you are inclined to explore.

I note your novel approach to containing your music collection- I have to try that but first I would require an IPOD- luddite that I am. You seem to have a true handle on the disposibility problem with your approach. My fear is that I would name too many as 'major' records, hence defeating the solution.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Jack of All Parades » Wed Jun 13, 2012 7:30 am

Otis- knock me down. Even a hero is throwing in the towel. Witness this news today in the NY TImes Arts section:

http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2 ... &st=Search

Well if old Tom is going over to the 'dark' side- will I be far behind? I do note with some satisfaction at the end of the piece that Tom, himself, still reads from a print format.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Poor Deportee » Thu Jun 14, 2012 9:25 am

I just finished John Gray's The Immortalization Commission. It concerns the fin-de-siècle preoccupation with spiritualism, framing it as a reaction to the impact of Darwinian evolutionary theory - the realization of the ultimate mortality and meaninglessness of the human individual and species; an attempt to use 'science' to rescue us from the existential implications of science. The analysis then carries us into the 'God Builders' of the Russian Revolution, with particular focus upon the bizarre attempts to preserve Lenin's corpse and the blood-drenched dream of transcending the human (i.e., mortal) condition. Along the way Gray has numerous reflections on mortality and science.

This is not Gray's finest work - the discussion of the Soviets in particular suffers from drift, as it gets bogged down in cataloguing the horrors of the U.S.S.R. without adequately tying them to his overall thesis - but anything he writes is worth reading and this is certainly engaging stuff. What really fascinated me was the first half, which confronts us with the inescapable strangeness of the Victorians/Edwardians, so close to us and yet so decidedly different. The whole system of Spiritualism is fascinatingly bizarre, yet borderline mainstream in the context of its time. Worth a look.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Jack of All Parades » Thu Jun 14, 2012 9:35 am

I will look for it at the library. I liked his book about Isaiah Berlin immensely. Will be curious to see if any tie in to the scene in Declan's "You Hung the Moon" and its usage of that kind of psuedo science to touch base with the passed on. That fear of the 'unknown' territory we will all eventually pass to is palpitating.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Jack of All Parades » Thu Jun 14, 2012 11:56 am

A Jane Austen Education-How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter by William Deresiewicz. Initially thought this would be cutesy as urged upon me by my daughter. Turned out to be quite entertaining and stimulating in its discussions. I have never been the biggest Austenphile so this was a stretch for me. The life lessons that this author elaborates on in detail as he looks at each major novel are affirming and most common sensical- I particularly was intrigued by the discussion of Sense and Sensibility and how 'Love is about growing up, not staying young[witness the song signature name]- true love is a 'never-ending clash of opinions and perspectives' where 'if your lover is already just like you, then neither of you has anywhere to go.' Deresiewicz magically makes these seemingly 'moldy' classics come to life as he uses them to frame a consideration of what is truly valuable in his real life. He makes Austen and her 'life visions' very relevant in the 21st century. A good read.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Poor Deportee » Thu Jun 14, 2012 4:15 pm

Jack of All Parades wrote:A Jane Austen Education-How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter by William Deresiewicz. Initially thought this would be cutesy as urged upon me by my daughter. Turned out to be quite entertaining and stimulating in its discussions. I have never been the biggest Austenphile so this was a stretch for me. The life lessons that this author elaborates on in detail as he looks at each major novel are affirming and most common sensical- I particularly was intrigued by the discussion of Sense and Sensibility and how 'Love is about growing up, not staying young[witness the song signature name]- true love is a 'never-ending clash of opinions and perspectives' where 'if your lover is already just like you, then neither of you has anywhere to go.' Deresiewicz magically makes these seemingly 'moldy' classics come to life as he uses them to frame a consideration of what is truly valuable in his real life. He makes Austen and her 'life visions' very relevant in the 21st century. A good read.


Sounds like the sort of thing I hate and that I'd expect you to avoid - that you recommend it is very interesting! I'll keep my eyes open for it.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Jack of All Parades » Thu Jun 14, 2012 5:48 pm

Funny enough, I found it in the side store at my local library for all of a dollar. Gave it to my daughter who is an avid fan of Ms. Austen. She challenged me to read it and I did. Yes, found it worth while and a 'fun' read. He is a former literature professor at Yale and was skeptical of Ms. Austen, like me. I love it when I am taken out of my comfort zones by my daughters or friends like you or Otis. The results are often surprising for me and most affirming. After all it is almost 35 years since I approached the first work of a young Englishman, who was just a year older than I at 22, and starting a recording career, on the advice of a professor and a radio disc jockey I admired, I tried him out. Have had no regrets since. Do give the book a try.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Jack of All Parades » Tue Jun 19, 2012 12:01 pm

The Wicked Son[Anti-semitism, Self-hatred and the Jews] by David Mamet. Yes the playwright. I enjoyed his clipped prose style with its bite and rush of speech like the dialogue in his plays, it shares that ebb and flow of argument. It is street smart and alive to the way real words are spoken. What makes this book informative and readable is that Mamet does not just look at the traditional distrust and hatred that is focused on Jews but turns that inquiry inside out and ponders the question of anit-semitism from the inside and why there is so much self-hatred. To do this he uses the parable of the Wicked Son and the Passover Seder question "What does this story mean to you?". It is refreshing how he looks within while at the same time casting a cold eye on the two milennium's worth of hatred that has been placed on the Jewish tradition from the outside world, as well. He asks some tough questions and does not shy away from trying to answer them honestly. It is a destructive hatred that he takes on with real ferocity. It is a book I want my daughters to read[and sons, had I any].
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Who Shot Sam? » Tue Jun 19, 2012 2:15 pm

Who Shot Sam? wrote:I just started on Matthew Kneale's "English Passengers".


Nearly done with this one now - was suggested to me on Facebook by Jackson Monk. Very enjoyable account of an expedition to Tasmania in the mid-19th century. Involves a priggish clergyman, a naturalist with some bizarre notions about racial superiority, a crew of Manx seamen and an aboriginal named Peevay. Really lovely stuff, magnificently told, with both a generous helping of humor and a tinge of sadness. I love big picaresque novels like this. It was nominated for the Booker Prize some years ago. If there was a better book that year I'd like to read it.

Also just procured an iPad for reading on the train, which is very nice indeed.
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