Books, Chiropody, Fancy goods

Open Week Day 3: Books. I've got a bit of a problem with my reading habits. Since a couple of years ago I can't read fiction. Don't really know what happened, but I can't follow a story. So I stick to non-fiction, mostly biographies, diaries or books that are just about interesting stuff. I'm currently reading Head On/Repossessed by Julian Cope and next up I've got Nothing by Paul Morley to look forward to. The best books I've read lately are 45 by Bill Drummond, The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton, How To Be Idle by Tom Hodgkinson, Lost Cosmonaut by Daniel Kalder and A Year With Swollen Appendices by Brian Eno. There have already been some interesting suggestions for books. Anyone got any more?

I'm definitely in the same place re finding it a lot easier to read non-fiction.

Some books I've liked recently:
The Football Man - a really great evocation of a particular time even if you aren't especially interested in football.

Figments of Reality - interesting, funny thoughts on complexity, simplicity, context, evolution, the mind...

Also looks good (got it for xmas but haven't got to it yet): The Ghost Map

I shall recommend: 'Down and Out in Paris and London' by George Orwell and Angela Carter 'Nights at the Circus'. Otherwise, Australian writer Tim Winton is a wonderful storywriter if you want to tip your toes back into some fiction - perhaps you'd like 'The Turning', a collection of interwoven short stories. He does the trick for me every time.

Next on my list, 45! Thanks for the heads up.

Also, in terms of magazines on the web, I'm sure you know it, but I'll say

Books that have stuck in my mind (in a good way).

But Beautiful - Geoff Dyer
(referred to here, with a link to a review.)

When I mentioned 'England in Particular' down there, I should've given a link:

My favourite book of all time: The Last Grain Race by Eric Newby. He died last year but certainly lived a full life. After he left school Newby joined the clipper Moshulu, part of the last sailing ship fleet, carrying grain from Austrailia to Europe via Cape Horn. In the end, they made the quickest ever trip, a record that still stands, I think. On the way back WW2 broke out, and that was the end of the tall ships. Newby was also an excellent photographer, and there's a book called 'Learning The Ropes' full of pictures he took on the Moshulu.

Seconded: “England In Paricular". Without a doubt one of the best, most essential, useful and downright interesting books I have ever read. Likewise, the Lore Of The Land by Westwood and Simpson - a similar book about folklore, traditions and the just plain odd.

If you like Julian Cope, you need The Modern Antiquarian in your library. It was Cope’s labour of love - a gazeeter of prehistoric sites of the UK.

Pegasus Bridge, by Stephen Ambrose. Around the time of the D-Day landing anniversary I realised there were shameful gaps in my knowledge of this period in history. My goodness, what a vivid account. If it was a work of fiction, you’d consider it too far fetched.

Living Dangerously by Don McCullin. The autobiography of one of the world's best photojournalists. A very honest and moving book.

And any book by Geoffrey Fletcher...

John Waters'Crackpot - hilarious, touching, and more importantly for those of us with a gadfly mind, easy to read in short chunks and put down again.

Here's a few that I've enjoyed recently

The Village That Died For England by Patrick Wright.
The story of the Dorset village of Tamworth which was taken over by the British army in WWII and never given back.

The Likes of Us: A Biography of the White Working Class by Michael Collins.
An elegy for a much-derided class of people.

England Is Mine: Pop Life in Albion from Wilde to Goldie by Michael Bracewell.
Just amazing.

The best non-fiction that I read last year was by Matthew Sweet. 'Shepperton Babylon' was an offbeat history of the British film industry. 'Inventing The Victorians' rubbished the staid and conventional reputation that the Victorians have acquired and focussed instead on their passion for novelty, their lairy taste in interior decor, and their taste for melodramas and sensationalist entertainments. (Sod David Blaine. How about The Great Blondin walking a tightrope above the Crystal Palace? On stilts? Turning somersaults? And afterwards you could pick up a twist of opium from the chemists to drop in your pint. Lay off the green tea though. Everone knows that's unsettling for the constitution.)

If you want to dip your toe back into fiction, why not try the tiny but perfect micro-stories in J Robert Lennon's 'Pieces For The Left Hand?' Or take out a sub to Granta where the short fiction usually comes in a mix with non-fiction and photojournalism?

Nicholson Baker was recommended the other day. I think his first two books are the best: 'The Mezzanine' and 'Room Temperature'. These aren't so much fiction as autobiographies of the unremarkable, microscopic examinations of everyday moments and the web of associations around any one of them.

The Morley book's worth reading. Moving, entertaining and exasperating by turns. Shawn Levy's 'Ready Steady Go' is a spin through 60s London. Francis Wheen's 'How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered The World' is a compendium of credulity, a history of the relentless public appetite for bollocks.

Have fun!


P.S. 'The Likes Of Us' - seconded!

I'm probably the complete opposite, I very rarely read anything other than fiction, generally out of laziness. That said, last year I read 'Stasiland' by Anna Funder which I found absolutely astonishing. It's a history of communist East Germany and specifically the role and effect of the secret police. It's thorough well-researched history but it focuses on the personal stories of those affected and almost reads like fiction. Well worth a look, Tom.

Tom, it's funny you say it's lazy to read fiction. I always thought the same and that non-fiction was for clever folk like my dad but now I feel a bit thick not being able to follow a story. It's a funny old world...

I've really enjoyed this thread, and will definitely be seeking out some of the titles mentioned.

One old favourite of mine is English Eccentrics by Edith Sitwell. Its still in print and available, but the copy on Amazon has a gruesome cover. Get the old Penguin edition if you can.

For 60s pop culture, have you ever read George Melly's Revolt Into Style? On a similar theme, Nick Cohn's Today There Are No Gentlemen is the best, most readable account of post war men's fashions and pop culture. Worth hunting for on Bookfinder.

I'm hopelessly out of date I'm afraid. I read second hand books almost exclusively!

Hi - this is the first comment I've ever posted to a blog. 45, A Year With Swollen Appendices, and Head On/Repossessed are three of my favourite books and I have a similar non-fiction obsession - and as far as recommendations go, I know it's obvious but by the same authors, Bill Drummond's How To Be An Artist and The Manual: How To Have A Number One The Easy Way are both fantastic, as is de Botton's The Consolations of Philosophy. Bill Drummond's friend and fellow psychogeographer Iain Sinclair is highly recommended; as for my own recent favourites, Moondust by Andrew Smith, where he tracks down and interviews every surviving astronaut who stood on the moon, is really, really good. Leftfield choice: "Wind, Sand and Stars" by Antoine de St Exupery - a lyrical, philosophical and very French hymn to the early days of aviation. Hope that's helpful and since I have very similar taste in books I'm very interested to hear of any other recommendations.

For non-fiction, have you read Joe Gould's Secret by Joseph Mitchell? A touching account of the life of a well-known Greenwich Village eccentric, who may or may not have been writing the definitive Oral History of the World...

If you wanted to ease yourself gently back into fiction, I would really recommend Archy and Mehitabel by Don Marquis, if you don't know it already - very funny newspaper columns from the Thirties, supposedly written by Archy, cockroach and free verse poet.

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