A Spot of Bother

A decidedly British novel, as you can tell from the title. A whirlwind of family troubles besets George Hall, who has just retired and finds a lesion on his thigh, spinning his thoughts to cancer and causing panic attacks. His daughter Katie has announced an upcoming marriage to Ray, of whom no one approves, but who is perfect for her. His son Jamie is unwilling to bring his boyfriend to the wedding, so he and Tony break up, only to reunite in grand style at the wedding. His wife, Jean, is having an affair with his old colleague, David. George walks in on them one morning and his mental faculties further deteriorate. He attempts to self-surgery the lesion off his thigh, resulting in an ambulance to the hospital and blood redecorating the carpets and walls. All in all, a quaint, readable, beach-read type book to be lightly consumed with a cup of tea.
Recommended as the best fiction Nicholas Felton read in 2007

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Books that make you dumb

We’ve all been there– you finish reading a book that saps your brain juices as you turn each page. For me, there was the accidental Candace Bushnell read.
Virgil Griffith correlated “favorite books” from Facebook college networks with the corresponding average SAT score of those colleges to give you a breakdown of books that “make you dumb“. Books <=> Colleges <=> Average SAT Scores
I would argue that you’re already at a certain level of intellectual stimulus by the time you get to college, and the books don’t influence your intelligence but are merely a reflection of it. Another big caveat to this data is the notion that SAT scores reflect your intelligence. For example, note that all “African American” books are clustered in the 800-975 range; the SAT is notorious for bias against race, or better said, bias against socioeconomic factors.
Regardless, this is an interesting classification system. I’ve snipped the “Classics” section here for your viewing pleasure, but all genres are worth checking out.

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Gipsy Moth Circles The World

Sir Francis cobbles together his impressive tale of small craft circumnavigation of the globe in this book, relying on notes from his log and long ornery recollective tales that seemed to always follow this formula:
“My leg hurts, yet I reset the sails 87 times today, repaired the self-steering mechanism, enjoyed a gin/tonic which brought on a gale and got no sleep. Haven’t eaten in days due to lack of appetite.” Substitute in a sore elbow instead of leg and you get the homeward voyage.
More faux quotes that sum up the book;
“Wah wah, the boat’s construction sucks, I get leaks into my favorite bunk, all the drawers in the cabin are sealed shut. Hoping for some flying fish to land themselves on deck for my breakfast. I put on my velvet smoking jacket and cracked some champagne for rounding the horn. Too bad it was Aussie champagne.”
Ok, so it’s not cool to evaluate this book on literary merits, and it’s unfair to rail against its incomprehensiveness because I am utterly lacking of sailing knowledge. “I gybed my f’sails and ran the halyard up the scupper.” God help me if I ever set sail.
Still, it was an interesting glimpse into the solitary life of a sailor, tossing his 19 dozen eggs overboard after they’d spoiled a few weeks out of Plymouth, constantly problem solving with the myriad of things that went wrong onboard.

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Tantalizing book recos, Kafka quotes and more

A couple of weeks ago I checked out the National Book Circle panel on New & Unrecognized Voices and came away with several book recommendations. Unfortunately, these aren’t at ye old biblioteca yet.
Clane Hayward: Hypocrisy of Disco
John Brandon: Arkansas
Ismet Prcic
The other bit of wisdom is that agents/publishers are looking for fiction with a non-fiction hook. Obviously. Today’s world can’t be bothered to truly give themselves up to imagination.
And a nice bastardized quote from Kafka: literature is the ax that cuts the frozen sea within us.


A bit seasick after reading this one nonstop for seven hours; my couch became the deck chair with cherubs on each side. On borrowed money and against legal threats, Hayden takes his four children and a crew on board the schooner Wanderer from Sausalito to Tahiti. Great story while the writing leaves something to be desired.
He writes this book as an explanation of his journey, from childhood through publication date. His love of the sea cemented early on, money problems plaguing his family from the onset. Stumbling into acting because of his height and looks after becoming friends with an AP reporter. He loathed Hollywood, saw it as diminishing his soul while paying him handsomely for doing nothing.
Trying things on for size and then dumping them. Stymied by a desire to write. Constantly trying to give up smoking and drinking. Quitting jobs and ships left and right. 6 month stint as a Communist, then reluctantly giving himself up to the UnAmerican Committee.
“To remain semi-balanced in an insane job you detach whenever you can.”
Um, and in case you don’t know who Sterling Hayden is, he was the star of The Killing (Kubrick), and the General Jack Ripper in Dr. Strangelove.

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I was curious about the book Joan Didion claims to re-read everytime she begins a work of fiction, to remind herself of the possibilities. And my first exposure to Conrad was a good experience.
The structure of the book was of interest – interweaving various time periods and points of view. The story of a solitary man who eventually finds love unwillingly.
Part 1 shows us Heyst from the perspective of the anonymous ex-pat gentlemen who tarry at Schomberg’s hotel in the Philippines, detailing the particulars of Heyst meeting Morrison, lending him money which saves his boat, in return for which Morrison insists Heyst live on his boat. We meet the hotelier Schomberg, who has a hatred of Heyst that simmers just below the surface. The Morrison/Heyst coal partnership is explained.
Part 2 is where Heyst meets Alma (later renamed Lena, but coincidentally Alma a significant name in The History of Love, which I finished right before reading this). Alma was a musician with a troupe stationed at Schomberg’s hotel, where Heyst waited patiently for Davidson (his ride back to the secluded island). One night they talked, and he fell in love with her voice, beginning to care about her and determine to free her of her entrapment at the hotel. Schomberg’s wife, the immobile statue, helped the couple escape. Meanwhile, Schomberg’s hatred of Heyst spikes when he discovers the “theft” of the girl. This section also goes into the background detail of Heyst’s wandering life (15 years of roving). After his father’s death, Heyst tells himself “I’ll drift”. Ricardo & Mr. Jones enter the tale here, and after running an illegal card game for several weeks, Mr. Jones gets bored and is persuaded by Schomberg to pursue Heyst.
Part 3 Life on the island, we meet Wang, the houseboy of Heyst. The story picks up with the runaway couple returning to the island, where they fall into a chaste but loving relationship that begins to deepen. Mr. Jones, Ricardo & their beast (Pedro) arrive dying of thirst, so Heyst saves them then waits for his fate. Ricardo and Mr. Jones then plot to find Heyst’s hidden plunder and kill him. Ricardo also hopes to catch a glimpse of the girl, about whom Mr. Jones knows nothing, having an abnormal fear of women.
Part 4: Ricardo discovers the girl, attacks her and is repelled, causing him to fall deeply in love with her. He lures Heyst down to Mr. Jones who is planning on killing him, then goes back to talk to Lena. During Heyst’s confrontation, he lets slip about the girl, and Mr. Jones catches on to Ricardo’s dishonesty. Gunshots ring out, killing Lena, then Ricardo. A fire later consumes the house and takes away Heyst.

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Top Picks of 2007

By request, for those extremely lazy folks out there who let me do their reading for them. Here are my top picks for last year (not that the books were published in 2007, but that I consumed them then). It’s all about me, you see.
The Winners
1. The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño
2. In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick
3. Jenny and the Jaws of Life by Jincy Willett
4. Girl in the Flammable Skirt by Aimee Bender
5. The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall
The Honorable Mentions
1. Falling Man by Don DeLillo
2. Flash Fiction Forward by James Thomas
3. Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert
Down & Out in Paris & London by George Orwell
5. Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris
6. The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss

The History of Love

After finishing this book, I’ve spent the last 30 minutes in stunned appreciative silence, sometimes clutching the book to my chest, sometimes re-reading the last page, letting a chill run through me again and again. I can’t recall ever giving myself up so absolutely to a book.
The History of Love is a manuscript given by Leo Gursky to his friend Zvi during the chaos of Poland overrun by Nazis. Zvi later publishes the book in Chile, translated into Spanish, under his own name, changing all characters except one: Alma, the love of Leo’s life. Leo escapes to New York, looks up Alma, who’s been married and who had Leo’s son, Isaac, destined to become a famous writer in his own right.
Tangential to that story, Alma Singer is a 14 year old named after the Alma in the book, who sees her mom struggling to hold onto reality after her father’s death. Alma’s mom is a translator, and receives a request to translate History of Love from Spanish to English for $100k. This private request is made by Leo’s son Isaac, under the pen name of Jacob Marcus.
Beautifully written.

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Just In Case

As I was finishing this on the bus ride home tonight, I began to wonder, “How exactly does one wrap-up a teen-lit story? Will she dare to kill off the main character, or is it a happy ending out of necessity?” And luckily, Rosoff strikes just the right balance of happy with uncertainty.
Justin, nee David Case, is weighted down by thoughts that fate is out to get him. He hears the voice in his head, projecting death of all sorts. David changes his name, and his look, in an attempt to fool fate. Along the way he encounters Agnes the fashionable 19 year old who whisks his virginity away along with crafting his look and snapping photos all the while. Peter is the calm genius to whom Justin retreats when booted from Agnes’ place. The days spent in the Luton airport, a plane crashing nose first just meters from him. Justin the runner, limbering into his newly long legs. His imaginary dog, Boy. The random case of meningitis that strikes him down at the end. Or does it?
I’ve previously read Rosoff, but the entry is vague and I can’t quite remember the book (How I Live Now).

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