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10 Books That Make You Look Cool

4 November, 2013 at 11:23 pm by belgianwaffle

Litlove has a great post on books that make you look cool. She has given a list of 10. She qualifies it as follows:

And I tried to think which books would engender most respect in me, if I saw someone reading them in a café. This is only a bit of fun, though, not intended to be in anyway definitive, and indeed I could have come up with about ten lists, there are so many cool books. Frankly, I think it’s cool to see anyone reading in a public place, particularly if it’s a real book with a cover that will satisfy my curiosity!

Here is my list of 10 based on books I have read myself. Feel free to do the same – in the comments or elsewhere (if you are doing Nablopomo, you may need inspiration also). I haven’t included any of Litlove’s because variety is all to the good though they are undoubtedly good ones.

1. “What I loved” by Siri Hustvedt

A truly brilliant book and a very literary one as well. You’re on a complete winner here. Just that little bit more obscure than her husband, Paul Auster, who many would consider cool but I consider utterly unreadable.

2. “Mad, Bad and Sad” by Lisa Appignanesi

A book about mental illness and women. Grand big thick book and extremely readable and genuinely interesting.

3. “Cranford” by Elizabeth Gaskell

A Victorian classic but not an obvious one. Very restful.

4. “In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote

An American classic.

5. “Portnoy’s Complaint” by Philip Roth

A completely different American classic. The funniest of all Philip Roth’s books.

6. “Stupeur et tremblements” by Amélie Nothomb

Ideally in French, obviously. Unless you live in France. A great writer with a very odd and idiosyncratic view of the world. Also, Japan is pretty weird.

7. “Aristocrats” by Stella Tillyard

This is very good, letters between four sisters in the 18th and early 19th century. But will it make you look cool? For historical biography you might be better off with “Castlereagh” by John Bew

8. “Maus” by Art Spiegelman

The obligatory graphic novel. There are a number of these that would do the trick ["Persepolis" by Marjane Satrapi also leaps to mind]. This one is clever with Nazis as cats and Jews as mice. Prepare to be depressed though.

9. “What If” Blake Morrison

This is about the case in England where two young boys murdered a toddler. It’s a great work about motivation and society. Lovely writing.

10. “Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis” by Wendy Cope

While poetry is obligatory the accessibility of the poetry I read does not make for coolness. You’ll have to put in your own cool poetry book.


24 October, 2013 at 8:28 pm by belgianwaffle

A Short History of Everything” by Bill Bryson

I love Bill Bryson. Everything he writes is beautifully written, funny and bursting with his trademark enthusiasm. I must say though, I found the physics and chemistry bits easier going than biology (possibly because I studied chemistry and physics to the end of school but gave up biology at 15; this was not on the basis that I disliked biology but rather because my parents said that I needed physics and chemistry but could always pick up biology later. I regret to say that neither of these statements has proved to be true – until now, I suppose.) I now know everything. Go on, ask me anything.

The Hounds of the Morrigan” by Pat O’Shea

This is a children’s book. The Princess was given it by her aunt who loved it when she was a child. The aunt suggested that I read it too: “It’s set in Cork, or maybe Galway.” Dublin people and their knowledge of the rest of the country. It’s set in Galway. It’s about these two children who are on a mission in a land of the fairies and being chased by the hounds. It’s a bit too magical realism for me and horribly long but it may just be one of those books you have to read at the right age.

Family Romance” by John Lanchester

This is a family biography by one of the last children of the empire. His father was born and grew up in the far east and so did he. His mother was Irish. Usually in these kinds of stories, the Irish mother is Anglo-Irish but this woman was not and he was clearly fascinated by her. She was born into a poorish farming family in the West of Ireland. She spent many years in a convent (before emerging and marrying his father) and he spends much of the book looking at her life and motivations. It’s an insider’s outsider view of an Irish life and, for an Irish person, a really fascinating slightly disorientating view. At the centre of the book (spoiler alert) is the fact that his mother lied to his father about her age. I think that this is viewed by Irish people and English people in quite a different way. He is appalled by this and worries about the affect of this life of deceit on her. But Irish people have a long tradition of lying about their age. When the state pension came in, there were armies of people who changed their age. My own great aunt’s age was only known when she began drawing the pension having seen no need to tell people (including her husband) that she was nearing 50 when she married.

It made me determined to write down as much as I know about the history of my own family. Written so far: nothing.

Tamara Drewe” by Posy Simmonds

A modern story of writers’ retreats, affairs and celebrity culture told in the form of a graphic novel. Quite appealing.

Madams, Murder and Black Coddle” by Terry Fagan

A look at Dublin’s poor in the notorious Monto district in the early part of the 20th century based on oral history from older people. Really interesting for a range of reasons. I found the tales of children searching through the rubbish heaps nearby for cinders and anything else useful quite extraordinary. It seems amazing that in the empires second city there were children picking through the rubbish dumps.

Three Houses” by Angela Thirkell

I am reading anything by Angela Thirkell that I can get my hands on, fiction for preference. This is not fiction. It’s a story of her youth, looking nostalgically at her own house, and those of her grandparents, in town and by the sea. She was related to all sorts of people through her grandmother (Rudyard Kipling, Stanley Baldwin) and her grandfather was Edward Burne-Jones so she has lots of people to draw and she has a fund of charming anecdotes. She’s a bit of a snob but that doesn’t intrude too much. This is a bit slight but very appealing.

Death of a Dentist” by M. C. Beaton

Oh how the mighty are fallen. The first time I read one of my sister’s MC Beaton detective books, I poured scorn upon it: poorly written and bland. But yet here I am addicted. Yes, since you ask, I quite enjoyed this.

Tanith Low in the Maleficent Seven (Skulduggery Pleasant)” by Derek Landy

A novella with the characters from the ever-popular skeleton detective series. As you might expect.

Light: A Gone Novel” by Michael Grant

This is the concluding volume in a series about children who are cut off from the outside world by a transparent dome. It’s more exciting than that makes it sound but the author was right to cut it off here, it was running out of steam.

Last Stand of Dead Men” by Derek Landy

Another outing for the skeleton detective and his sidekick. The penultimate in the series. For my money, too many fights and not enough intricate plotting or exposition. Also, the premise is particularly ludicrous (yes, even allowing for the fact that it is a series about a skeleton detective).

The Paris Wife” by Paula McLain

The story of Hemingway’s first wife as imagined by the author. It’s fiction not biography but based on fact. Lots of people loved it but I found it dull.

For Whom the Bell Tolls” by Ernest Hemingway

I loathed this book. I found Hemingway’s style irritating and the action tedious. Anything that was interesting, he had clearly taken from stories he was told when he was in Spain. I know I am in a minority here, but there it is.

IF you ask me, Faulkner is a far superior writer in every way; they’re not even in the same league. We can lay that literary feud to rest now, I have pronounced my view.

Dancehall Days” by George O’Brien

Oh God, a bildungsroman about a young man in Dublin in the 60s. My mother-in-law pressed this upon me. Her tastes and mine do not generally chime but she had lent me the John Lanchester book which I so enjoyed, that I was willing to give this a try. A mistake. The following is one of the few lines I enjoyed in the book:

As for the Hemingway, it obscenetied in the milk of impatience and I couldn’t be bothered to finish it..

Bonk : the Curious Coupling of Sex and Science” by Mary Roach

Oh the disappointment. Mary Roach is a terrific writer. This sounds like a fascinating subject and there are some great anecdotes in the book but, overall, it’s a little dull.

Intuition” by Allegra Goodman

This about cancer researchers and nature of truth. It’s a very enjoyable, easy read yet the themes are interesting and the characters are well drawn. I would go for one of Ms. Goodman’s books again.

I have also recently re-read all of the Noel Streatfeild books I could lay my hands on when in Cork. I think Apple Bough is still my favourite.

Jumping the Shark

20 October, 2013 at 10:17 pm by belgianwaffle

I emailed herself a link to an article about Malala Yousafzai. She emailed back, type “what does the fox say” into google. It took me a couple of moments to work this out but let me spare you that mental effort: this has nothing to do with the girl from Pakistan. It leads to a youtube cult Norwegian video. Finally, I know what the young people are looking at, although the fact that I know this means that pop culture has moved on.

This is the first time I have written the expression “jumping the shark”. I see it’s been around since 1977. I guess it’s jumped the shark.

The Rake’s Progress

18 August, 2013 at 10:04 pm by belgianwaffle

On July 11, I saw this post about candy crush. Normally, that kind of thing wouldn’t be for me but I was on holidays with the children and I had time and I thought, why not? Why not? I will tell you why not. That wretched game has taken over my summer; I’ve hardly read a book. The only saving grace is that I refuse to pay money to buy more lives so I have to stop occasionally. Otherwise I would never stop. And I understand that there are 395 levels with more added all the time. I am doomed.


2 August, 2013 at 5:08 pm by belgianwaffle

Privileged Lives, a social history of middle-class Ireland 1882-1989” by Tony Farmar

I enjoyed this very much although it’s more of a book to dip into than read straight through. It tries to give an overview of middle class lives in various years: 1882;1907;1932;1963 and 1989. I kept poking my husband and reading him out interesting bits. It is full of detail and incident entertainingly retold but the focus is almost entirely Dublin and it fails to give a larger picture of what is happening in the country. That limitation aside, there were parts of this book that were really entertaining. In ways, the format worked well, giving a sweeping view of what was happening at various points but it didn’t really allow for a narrative so you did feel as though you were jumping about with no over-arching theme (other than lives of the middle classes and that is a bit too broad to do the trick). Still, well worth a read.

TJ and the Hat Trick” by Theo Walcott with Paul May

Daniel was so entranced by this that I had to try reading it. Herself was quite sarky saying “With Paul May what, if anything, did Theo Walcott add?” But, you know, ghostwritten or no, I thought it was a grand little story for the seven year old football lover in your life. Maybe not so engaging for the 44 year old mother of three but it’s a big ask to engage both. Although, Dan is really enjoying “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” so it is possible to appeal across a wide spectrum of ages.

Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn

When I reserved this in the library, they said that I was 28th on the list. When I eventually got it, I was bitterly disappointed. It’s a detective story about a guy whose wife disappears. It’s dull. It’s a bit like “Rebecca” without any of the atmosphere or clever parts. Alas.

Death of a Gossip” by MC Beaton

Last time I read one of these, I swore I would never bother with another but I picked this up in my parents’ house as I needed something very undemanding. It worked. It is very undemanding. It’s the story of a local policeman in a small Scottish town where the murder rate is through the roof [one per book]. I am sure that people from the Highlands actually feel faintly ill when they read these books. However, they are written to a formula and we all know what we are getting into before we start and, in that way, they are rather calming. I might try another.

The Last Hero: A Discworld Fable” by Terry Pratchett, Paul Kidby (Illustrator)

Yes, I am now reading picture books, your point? Actually, I found the pictures a bit distracting; they didn’t do it for me. And neither, regrettably, did the book. I am a big Terry Pratchett fan but this is not one of his happier works. Even if does have pictures.

High Rising” by Angela Thirkell

These is a social comedy written and set in the 1930s. I found it great fun – nicely written and gently amusing. Did I welcome the fact that the character known as “the incubus” was Irish and had a mother stashed away in County Cork? Not entirely perhaps but I rose above it. She reminds me a bit of Stella Gibbons and Barbara Pym but not as sharp as either; a much more restful read though. Delighted to see that there are 28 of these books in the series (this is book 1). I intend to read them all. How wonderful to find a new writer to enjoy and see that she has a hefty back catalogue.

Wild Strawberries” by Angela Thirkell

Not as good as the first one, I fear, but still very funny in parts. The characters are, I think less good, except for the saintly Lady Emily who is hilarious. Still looking forward to reading the remaining books in the series.

War Horse” by Michael Morpurgo

Found this on one of the children’s bookshelves and decided to give it a go. It’s about a horse that takes part in the first world war told from the horse’s perspective. It’s a bit sentimental; at least one tear for every chapter. I think that you really need to be a child – or possibly a film director – to appreciate it.

Sign of the Times

18 July, 2013 at 11:24 pm by belgianwaffle

Mr. Waffle is reading Trollope. He was working his way through some 1980s edition of “Framley Parsonage” with learned notes by a professor of literature from somewhere distinguished. A note referred to a line quoted in the text stating “I have not been able to find the source of this quotation”. Total time taken by Mr. Waffle to find the source of the quotation on the internet: 30 seconds. We’re all experts now.

Not Topical

21 May, 2013 at 10:08 pm by belgianwaffle

A colleague was telling me the other day how she got stuck in New York with the ash cloud a couple of years ago. As she arrived into her hotel there, she asked whether they had WiFi and all the other things she might need. “Ma’am,” said the receptionist, “there’s a man running Norway from the top floor.” It appears that the Norwegian prime minister and his officials were stranded there also. That is all.

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