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This is a question Books

We love books. Tell us about your favourite books and authors, and why they are so good. And while you're at it - having dined out for years on the time I threw Dan Brown out of a train window - tell us who to avoid.

(, Thu 5 Jan 2012, 13:40)
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This question is now closed.

William Steig
wrote and illustrated wonderful kid's books. Farmer Palmer's Wagon Ride was among the best. He was also one of the better New Yorker cartoonists.
(, Tue 10 Jan 2012, 3:03, Reply)
How to drive a tank and other every day tips for the modern gentleman
This book will get you funny looks on the train.
(, Tue 10 Jan 2012, 2:38, 2 replies)
Social History
If you want to broaden your horizons and move out of your comfort zone these three books deserve your time. The first has to be in my top 5 favorite books of all time.

Seize the Time by Bobby Seale details the Black Panther movement from one of the founders of that movement in a raw, unbeatable manner. You feel like you were there, it challenges misconceptions and is inspiring.

Autobiography of Malcolm X is a revelation as to how someones beliefs can develop and change over time, quite moving and in a way still relevant.

Another Country by James Baldwin explores sexuality, race and gender, thought provoking, poignant and definitely worth reading at least once.

Can anyone recommend any fiction or non fiction books that are the British or European equivalent?
(, Tue 10 Jan 2012, 1:37, 6 replies)
No mention yet of Norman Mailer?
Don't know if I'm surprised or not...
But maybe all those "Playboy" features he wrote were before your time?
(, Tue 10 Jan 2012, 0:57, 8 replies)
I think I have fairly eclectic tastes when it comes to reading
Historical Fiction - You can't go wrong with a bit of Bernard Cornwell in my view, but the author I've really enjoyed of late is Conn Iggulden ,particularly his Conqueror series, which charts the rise of Ghengis Khan from being kicked out of his tribe and nearly dying to becoming one of the most important military leaders the world has ever seen. These books really need to be made into a film in my view. Wake up Hollywood!

Non Fiction - I'd recommend Jon Ronson's 'Them' and the 'Men who stare at Goats' and Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything. I've just finished reading "The Monster of Florence" By Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi - anyone who has a passing interest in the whole Amanda Knox debacle should read this book. It will probably give you a somewhat different perspective on things.

Any Wire fans out there? Currently reading Homocide: Life on the Killing Streets by David Simon, apparently the basis for The Wire, still working my way through it., it's a big book and it takes me ages to read anything, but I am enjoying it so far.

Crime/Thrillers - I've read most of what Tess Gerritsen has written, unlike a lot of thriller writers, rather than sticking to one tried and tested formula, she tries to do something different with every book. Worth checking out if you like that sort of thing.

Fantasy and SciFi - Don't read a great deal of sci-fi or fantasy any more, although one book I did enjoy and would strongly recommend, is "The Left Hand of God" by Paul Hoffman. Imagine being at a school a bit like Hogwarts, except your teachers are a bunch of psychopathic monks who will kill you if you step out of line. Excellent stuff and very readable.

Other books that have left a lasting impression - Captain Corelli, Gormenghast, Dracula and The Life of Pi.

Books I've not enjoyed -
Anything by Joseph Conrad - Jesus, how can one man write so much and be so tedious.
Shadowmancer, a book that was such thinly disguised Christian propaganda it left me spitting nails by the end - or maybe it is cos I is an Atheist!
(, Tue 10 Jan 2012, 0:20, 4 replies)
Anne McCaffrey
I loved her books during teenagerness, must've read most of the Pern books at least 3 times. I will admit that her later efforts tailed off a bit, but the earlier stuff is brilliant. The first two Pern books (Dragonflight and Quest) are my particular favourites, the first two I read. There is so much more tension, and they seem far more vivid. Later books still hold up as space opera romps, but they get a bit contrived and cosy. Restoree is pretty good too, though been a while since I read it.
(, Tue 10 Jan 2012, 0:17, 1 reply)
Brighton Rock.

(, Mon 9 Jan 2012, 22:51, 12 replies)
The Sea of Fertility books by Yukio Mishima
Made a lot of sense to an exploring-sexuality, super-fit gymnast 14-15 year old me.
Not so much the extreme nationalism, staging coups or stabbing myself in the guts for honor.
Forbidden Colours wasn't too bad either.
(, Mon 9 Jan 2012, 22:10, Reply)
Robert Rankin
In particular, the Armageddon Trilogy.

It features Elvis, Jesus, Jesus's twin sister Christeen, the Dalai Lama (Dan), a time travelling Brussels Sprout called Barry, Rex Mundi and his sister Gloria and the great detective Lazlo Woodbine.

And it's fucking ace.
(, Mon 9 Jan 2012, 22:03, 4 replies)
I can't be arsed trawling back through the pages of referencing Sci Fi and fantasy shite for nerds.
To see if John Berger has been mentioned. He's primarily known for his art criticism and cultural theory work, but has written some wonderful novels.

And he is one of my cultural heroes, alongside Chuck D, JG Ballard, Nick Cave and Johnny Cash.
(, Mon 9 Jan 2012, 21:39, 8 replies)
I cant remember the fucking titles!
in secondary school in holland I read a book which had been translated from the original german into dutch. It was aimed at teenagers and tackled the thorny issue of global thermo nuclear war.

Itwas fucking brutal!

It followed a family making a journey during the aftermath of ww3.

Tons of people wilt and die. Ithink tbe daughter dies. Then the mother goes into labour with a baby which has been gestating for months in a highly radioactive environment.

Given the linguistic challenge (I was just beginning to really grasp dutch) I didnt follow that chapyer well. It ended in a death but I couldnt figure out if it was the mother or the baby. So, I re read it. I can still remember where I was when I clicked to the fact that the mother AND the sprog had snuffed it. Andthe baby had no eyes.

The book ended with some sort of plea from the children of the world to stop racing towards the abyss.

There was another book I read at about the same time (in english this time) about 2 jewish brothers who build up an oil trading empire (i remember they were jewish because there were several scenes in which they visoted their mums for matzah ball soup)

At their height one of the brothers goes to an art auction and bids a 9 figure sum for van goghs sunflowers He outbids a property tycoon and later trades the painting and a large sum of money for a prestigeous building to serve as their hq.

Anyhoo they hit the skids and end up gambling billions on the currency markets before getting well and truly fuckex when they lose it all.


they were/ are probably shit but I would like to have them in my library anyway.

(, Mon 9 Jan 2012, 20:40, 6 replies)
Childrens Books
Part 7
Shorter list. Incipient memory loss and a precocity in reading meant that I leapfrogged the teen aimed stuff-

Theodor Seuss Geisel
Aka Dr Seuss
Seems to have not got a mention yet. If you don't like Seuss I suspect you may have no soul or are you a particularly stupid robot? Still occasionally read them now and don't feel it's wasted time.

Raymond Briggs- Fungus the Bogeyman and particularly loved the plop up book. Quite dark but still holds up.

Norman Hunters Professor Branestawm books already have mention but I second the recommendation.

Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle_Any of the Molesworth books although better to start at the beginning with Down With Skool. Funny, beautifully illustrated and trans-generational. A lot of quite adult references slipped in.

And, cutting short, a specific reading of A.A Milne although Pooh deserves a place anyhow.
Winnie the Pooh as read by Willie Rushton on Jackanory. One of the rare times YouTube fails utterly. There was a VHS release so it postdates the wiping plague. Come on someone up it
(, Mon 9 Jan 2012, 19:46, 9 replies)
Fotie Photenhauer - Natural Harvest
Wouldnt say its a fav book, but I gave it to a friend for Christmas and it got many chortles
And no, we havent eaten there since.
(, Mon 9 Jan 2012, 19:36, 1 reply)
Various Children's books...
...which are funny for the wrong reasons.

I work with books, I get to see a lot of books which bring children to terms with difficult topics. Unfortunately they tend to get clumped under the category 'picture book' and are discovered by accident, usually by the child.

They are a good thing I guess, but I still like to laugh at them.

Like -

Mum and Dad Glue
Which is all in verse and has the classic line 'they're breaking up, they're breaking, it's all because of me'.

I forget the title but one is showing people with disabilities are still people - important lesson. Unfortunately it just repeats things like 'look at me, in my chair, look at me in my special chair'.

And then there is the holocaust...
So many kids books about the holocaust with various takes.
Some place the situation away from the war e.g. have a child trying to grow a plant from the other side of a fence. Others are just brutal and have very nicely drawn pictures of Nazis lining up Jewish children who have their hands on their head. Imagine a child going through books and trying to decide if 'Spot goes to the circus' will make a better book than 'Nazi child killers'.
(, Mon 9 Jan 2012, 18:56, 1 reply)
Poetry, no apologies for length
part 6
A little under represented so I'll chuck a few in the pot. Not my favourite thing but that's because I'm too lazy to do the work. The compression of meaning requires it really. I found that when I had to even stuff I disliked (E.G Philip Sydney and much of renaissance pining love poetry) opened up in interesting ways

So we start there
John Donne-Anything, read anything at all by this wonderful poet. It's a bit awkward but that gives an oddly modern feel to it. Check this out but take time over it

by John Donne

'TIS the year's midnight, and it is the day's,
Lucy's, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks ;
The sun is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rays ;
The world's whole sap is sunk ;
The general balm th' hydroptic earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the bed's-feet, life is shrunk,
Dead and interr'd ; yet all these seem to laugh,
Compared with me, who am their epitaph.

Study me then, you who shall lovers be
At the next world, that is, at the next spring ;
For I am every dead thing,
In whom Love wrought new alchemy.
For his art did express
A quintessence even from nothingness,
From dull privations, and lean emptiness ;
He ruin'd me, and I am re-begot
Of absence, darkness, death—things which are not.

All others, from all things, draw all that's good,
Life, soul, form, spirit, whence they being have ;
I, by Love's limbec, am the grave
Of all, that's nothing. Oft a flood
Have we two wept, and so
Drown'd the whole world, us two ; oft did we grow,
To be two chaoses, when we did show
Care to aught else ; and often absences
Withdrew our souls, and made us carcasses.

But I am by her death—which word wrongs her—
Of the first nothing the elixir grown ;
Were I a man, that I were one
I needs must know ; I should prefer,
If I were any beast,
Some ends, some means ; yea plants, yea stones detest,
And love ; all, all some properties invest.
If I an ordinary nothing were,
As shadow, a light, and body must be here.

But I am none ; nor will my sun renew.
You lovers, for whose sake the lesser sun
At this time to the Goat is run
To fetch new lust, and give it you,
Enjoy your summer all,
Since she enjoys her long night's festival.
Let me prepare towards her, and let me call
This hour her vigil, and her eve, since this
Both the year's and the day's deep midnight is.

Thomas Hardy-Start with Chosen Poems anthology
A good poet and an awful novelist. Technically accomplished structure and rhyme and it looks effortless.

T.S Eliot-The Wasteland and other poems
A good start. Willfully elitist and hard going. Don't sweat the detail at first. Read it through and let the total effect wash through you. Plenty of time to play literary detective smartyboots later. Nothing else like it.

Shakespeare's Sonnets
These still resonate very clearly across time. Take a small number at a time rather than piling in. Unless you are really keen I'd leave the longer stuff. A lot more background in classics, early modern social forms and courtly love make it a bit hard for casual reading. Still good just less amenable to modern minds

Sylvia Plath
Marmite choice time. If unfamiliar pick up Ariel and if it doesn't do it give up. If you already know her then you have the complete poems already. A sample. See how long it lasts as it's still copyright. If taken down just Google Medusa


Off that landspit of stony mouth-plugs,
Eyes rolled by white sticks,
Ears cupping the sea's incoherences,
You house your unnerving head–God-ball,
Lens of mercies,
Your stooges
Plying their wild cells in my keel's shadow,
Pushing by like hearts,
Red stigmata at the very center,
Riding the rip tide to the nearest point of

Dragging their Jesus hair.
Did I escape, I wonder?
My mind winds to you
Old barnacled umbilicus, Atlantic cable,
Keeping itself, it seems, in a state of miraculous

In any case, you are always there,
Tremulous breath at the end of my line,
Curve of water upleaping
To my water rod, dazzling and grateful,
Touching and sucking.
I didn't call you.
I didn't call you at all.
Nevertheless, nevertheless
You steamed to me over the sea,
Fat and red, a placenta

Paralyzing the kicking lovers.
Cobra light
Squeezing the breath from the blood bells
Of the fuchsia. I could draw no breath,
Dead and moneyless,

Overexposed, like an X-ray.
Who do you think you are?
A Communion wafer? Blubbery Mary?
I shall take no bite of your body,
Bottle in which I live,

Ghastly Vatican.
I am sick to death of hot salt.
Green as eunuchs, your wishes
Hiss at my sins.
Off, off, eely tentacle!
There is nothing between us.

Honourable mentions as this has gone on long enough to Gerard Manley Hopkins,Philip Larkin, Ben Johnson and many more. On second thoughts one more-
unless you have a heart of stone
read it and weep

On My First Son
by Ben Jonson

Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy ;
My sin was too much hope of thee, lov'd boy.
Seven years thou wert lent to me, and I thee pay,
Exacted by thy fate, on the just day.
Oh, could I lose all father now ! For why
Will man lament the state he should envy?
To have so soon 'scaped world's and flesh's rage,
And if no other misery, yet age !
Rest in soft peace, and, asked, say, Here doth lie
Ben Jonson his best piece of poetry.
For whose sake henceforth all his vows be such
As what he loves may never like too much.
(, Mon 9 Jan 2012, 18:54, 13 replies)
Dune by Frank Herbert
one of the finest pieces of sci-fi writing around. The (much less well known) books that follow it in the series are also bloody fantastic, even if they do get a bit bogged down towards the end.

The David Lynch film is also sheer, cheesy brilliance - haven't seen it for a while, but the ornithoper pilot who quotes a negative kelvin outside temperature on a desert planet always makes me smile.
(, Mon 9 Jan 2012, 18:46, 4 replies)
Oh, oh, oh...
Alan Bissett - Boyracers
Brilliant!!! Song lyrics mixed into dialogue - great characters, think Stand By Me in Scotland.

No, no, no:
Jonathan Raban - Surveillance
Like elderly relative explaining how computers work or listening to an overly, unfunny joke.
(, Mon 9 Jan 2012, 18:01, 2 replies)
Career Girls

This book i got free many years ago with (i think it was company magazine) or summat like that. this book was so bad, but at the same time so good i read it overnight finishing about 5am.

the plot is original but so contrived. its one of those books. if you can find a copy in your local charity shop i would recommend it - if only for dire sex scenes.
(, Mon 9 Jan 2012, 17:06, 1 reply)
james herbert
i absolutely adore The Fog. it has a nice level of creepy going on and is an easy and engaging read.
the rats trilogy is also very good, i've read it several times.
one of his books that nobody ever seems to mention is '48, which focuses on an alternate ending to WWII. picked it up in poundland a few years ago and i'm very glad i did. it's an excellent read, even if it is a bit slow to start.
however, don't get me wrong. i'm not saying all of his books are great, the magic cottage is utter shit. all i'm saying is that anyone can write a bad book, but that doesn't mean they can't also write some really good ones, too.
(, Mon 9 Jan 2012, 16:19, 24 replies)

Since Haruki Murakami and Michel Houellebecq have already been mentioned...
Hoping that this is less of a contest for best page and more a sharing of our favorite authors and books, here are some of my favorites:

The British novelist Ian McEwan. I like all his works, they are all a very good read.

From across the ocean Jeffrey Eugenides. Middlesex in brilliant.

From eastern Europe Milan Kundera.

somebody was asking earlier about SF. Besides the classics (Frank Herbert deserves a special mentioning)here are some of my new discoveries:
1. George R. R. Martin - A Song of Ice and Fire
2.Vernor Vinge - A Deepness in the Sky
3.Orson Scot Card - he might be radical and homophobic, but all the books in the Ender series are good, and also the Shadow series is also great.
4.Dan Simmons - Hyperion

Enjoy you're lecture whatever that will be. Keep reading.Books have been a big part of my life since I know how to read, and I hope they will stay in my life as long as it may be.
(, Mon 9 Jan 2012, 16:08, Reply)
He ‘gunned’ the car…

A lot has been written this week regarding Dan Brown-eye, some positive, some negative. There’s no denying he is successful, but in my opinion that doesn’t necessarily equate to actually being.any.fucking.good.

I, (like most of the population it seems) have read The Da Vinci Code, Angel & Demons, and the Lost Symbol**, and there is one thing that irks me even more than the overall general crap writing style*, the over use of italics, the disdain that he obviously treats his readership with (I can’t remember a more heinous example of ‘All Americans are big thickies so let’s make it reeeeeaaally obvious for them’ stereotyping in recent history), or the fact that since his early success he’s obviously writing every line with the movie rights in mind…

I could go on* but way more eloquent descriptions than this have already been posted, and these are just some of the reasons why I wish Scaryduck had literally thrown Dan (the man) Brown out of the train window, instead of just one of his books.

And this is it… I take you back to the title of this post. Why, in the name of Socrates’ splintered shite-socket, can’t the fucking twat-buckler think of another…ANY OTHER, adjective to describe driving a car at high speed?

In fact, there you go Dan. There’s one to start you off. How about ‘He drove the car at high speed’? Perhaps there are some other references within the books, but all I recall of my Dan Brown-star reading experience is rolling my eyes and waiting for the inevitable as soon as I started reading a passage that involved any kind of motor vehicle…before it was ‘gunned’ somewhere.

It just boiled my piss. Rant over.

* Yes, I am aware of the irony. Thank you. I could have peppered ‘*’ all over this post.

**Lummee it’s shit. Really….REALLY shit. As ‘ways to spend your time’ go, it’s up there with ‘setting yourself on fire as a protest against the Euro.’
(, Mon 9 Jan 2012, 15:25, 11 replies)
If I ever write a cook book on army food
I’m going to name it Boar and Peas. I’ll probably never write a cook book on army food though so budding military chefs feel free to use that one (for a small fee).
(, Mon 9 Jan 2012, 14:46, 28 replies)
Wild Swans - Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang
This is the best auto/biography/family saga/political history/contemporary work that I have ever read.

Not just a fascinating personal history of China from the late 19th Century to the 1980s - when it began to open just a crack, to the west - but a brilliantly written book and an amazing story of the author and her family's dealings with the Chinese communist party from the upper echelons of that institution.

Really - well worth a read. To give you an idea of this woman - she was (from memory) the very first Chinese student allowed to attend a western university, since the revolution. Hard to believe now that proably 5% of students on all decent courses are Chinese.

Do read it. It might make you appreciate how cushy your own life is.
(, Mon 9 Jan 2012, 14:39, 8 replies)
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
I often re-read it as it is such a ripping yarn.

Ayn Rand is a fecking right wing nutter and the book goes into great detail of her right-wing theories.

Her world is very black and white, her arguments are seriously flawed and a lot of people in the book are nothing but caricatures but I put all that aside because it is a gripping story.
(, Mon 9 Jan 2012, 14:24, 2 replies)
I'll be surprised if most of these haven't been covered, but, here goes
Anything by Haruki Murakami especially "Norwegian Wood"

Platform, Atomised etc by Michel Houellebecq - quite dark, but, very well written books, ver hard to put down

The books of the Marquis de Sade - interesting in the way that he can make the most foul act seem acceptable through the way he puts across his views and justifications.

The Dirt,Motley crue - the best Rock biography around for my money, even if you don't like the band it's a great read

Last, but, Definitely not least, the Schrodingers Cat trilogy and The Illuminatus Trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson - These books are great, well written and thoroughly enjoyable. Any book that can throw John Dillinger, many conspiracy type theories, Hagbard Celin and his Nautillus style submarine and a Pop concert that may bring about the end of the world has got to be worth reading.
(, Mon 9 Jan 2012, 14:23, 3 replies)
Has anyone done this masterpiece yet?
(, Mon 9 Jan 2012, 13:19, Reply)
Chicken Licken
My mum occasionally brings this one up. When I was little my favourite book was ‘Chicken Licken’. So much was my inexplicable enjoyment of this particular tale that I would get my dad to read it to me almost every night before bed. Eventually though my dad got a bit sick of reading the same fucking story to me every night and so chucked it in the bin outside when I was at school one day. When I predictably went looking for it on the shelf that evening the old codger denied having any knowledge of it’s whereabouts, even going so far as to try to help me find it in order to cover his tracks properly. The sneaky bastard.

I have absolutely no recollection of any of this but I admire my dad’s parenting skills nonetheless.
(, Mon 9 Jan 2012, 13:08, 6 replies)
I really enjoyed the Philip Pullman "His Dark Materials" books
I don't care that they were written for kids. They're dark, moody, unsentimental and beautiful, and Lee Scoresby and Hester are one of the best partnerships I've ever come across in a story.
(, Mon 9 Jan 2012, 12:05, 6 replies)
"Gettin' High on His own supply."
Out as soon as as I can be arsed stopping taking the piss out of him.
*It'll be a fucking tome*
(, Mon 9 Jan 2012, 11:55, 1 reply)
A question for SF fans - Is there any decent, recent stuff out there?
I've read loads of 60s, 70s and 80s Science Fiction that I've really enjoyed, but haven't come across much published during the last 30 years or so that's done anything for me. I haven't looked very hard as I don't know where to start. Can you recommend any writers?

To give you an idea, I like Michael Moorcock, Ursula Le Guin, Asimov (for the ideas, though many of his male characters are very dull and 2-D), and Philip K Dick (ditto).
(, Mon 9 Jan 2012, 11:37, 40 replies)

This question is now closed.

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